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Red: A Crayon’s Story

Michael Hall. Greenwillow, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-225207-4

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Red is a crayon, and children will see his problem right away: his label reads “red,” but he’s blue. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s a poor performer in school, where his drawings are expected to be red. Hall (It’s an Orange Aardvark!) has a fine ear for dialogue, and the overly cheerful encouragement Red endures will sound familiar to any child who’s struggled to perform: “I’ll draw a red strawberry, then you draw a red strawberry,” coaches the scarlet crayon. “You can do this. Really!” But a page turn reveals two rows of strawberries, one scarlet and the other... blue. A Greek chorus of grown-up crayons lined up across a black spread makes patronizing comments: “He’s got to press harder.” “Really apply himself!” Only when Red is at his wit’s end does he meet Berry, a crayon who actually sees him. “Will you make a blue ocean for my boat?” Berry asks quietly, and that’s all it takes to change Red’s life. Stories about accepting differences abound, but this one delivers its message in an unexpectedly affecting way. Ages 4–8. Agent: Anna Olswanger, Olswanger Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise

Sean Taylor, illus. by Jean Jullien. Candlewick, $15.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7578-3

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Taylor (The World Champion of Staying Awake) sends up old-fashioned suspense fiction by contrasting his hero’s puffed-up ego with his inept plans to capture things to eat. Newcomer Jullien paints Hoot Owl as a dumpy egg-cup of a bird—not the sort you’d expect to deliver this pitch-perfect purple prose: “The terrible silence of the night spreads everywhere. But I cut through it like a knife.” Hoot Owl spots his prey and lets readers in on his nefarious plans: “I am a master of disguise. I devise a costume.” The animals he’s after—a rabbit, lamb, and pigeon—all look remarkably composed when they spot Hoot Owl in disguise. “I disguise myself as an ornamental birdbath,” he says importantly. “I wait.” The pigeon perches on the edge of the birdbath, then flies off, a small curlicue above its head signaling mild puzzlement. Fortunately, the hungry Hoot Owl is finally able to deceive and capture something—a pizza. Smart pacing, easy-to-read spreads, and complete confidence that no animals will be hurt in the reading of this book make it a winner. Ages 3–7. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Smick!

Doreen Cronin, illus. by Juana Medina. Viking, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-670-78578-0

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Writing in short, emphatic phrases, Cronin (the Click Click Moo books) introduces Smick, an eminently playful dog who happily shows off his best tricks. Newcomer Medina does a remarkable job of encapsulating Smick’s essential dogginess in just a few exuberant black lines with a crayonlike texture: aside from a slim collar that displays Smick’s name, the rough outline of Smick’s body is all that separates him from the pages’ white backgrounds. The narration assumes the voice of Smick’s unseen owner, offering commands (“Go, Smick, go!”) and praise (“Good, Smick!”). After demonstrating his ability to sit and fetch a photographic stick, Smick befriends Chick, a tiny bird who consists of a single oval flower petal, upon which Medina has drawn a beak, wings, eyes, and stick legs. There’s a tense moment when it seems like Smick might gobble up Chick (“No, Smick, No!”), but before long these two become “Sidekick” and “Sidechick,” mutually devoted friends. It’s a straightforward and satisfying friendship story in both its concept and execution. Ages 3–5. Author’s agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. Illustrator’s agent: Gillian MacKenzie, Gillian MacKenzie Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beautiful Rainbow World

Suzee Ramirez and Lynne Raspet. Two Poppies (www.multiculturalkids.com), $12.99 paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-9915340-0-5

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Originally funded via Kickstarter, this small-format tribute to global diversity (“Red, black, yellow... brown and white/ A beautiful rainbow world/ Dancing together in the light/ A beautiful rainbow world”) features photographs of children from the U.S., France, India, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, and other nations. The photos, both full- and half-spread images, include intimate portraits as well as more active shots of children interacting with each other and the world around them. In one image taken by Raspet, a girl with a baby squirrel resting atop her head looks intently at the viewer; in another, two Libyan boys joyfully run in the sand. The subjects’ styles of dress offer glimpses of their individual cultures, yet the sibling collaborators emphasize similarities alongside difference: “Languages and customs all delight/ A beautiful rainbow world/ We’re all so different, yet so alike/ A beautiful rainbow world.” A welcoming celebration of childhood that may inspire some children to learn more about the nations and cultures depicted. The song from which the book is derived, written and performed by folk singer Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou, is available for download online. All ages. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries from Joan of Arc to Malcolm X

Jeff Fleischer. Zest (HMH, dist.), $13.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-936976-74-4

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From ancient civilizations to the 20th century, 50 movers and shakers get their due in this informative and sometimes tongue-in-cheek guide, which examines Cleopatra, Judah Maccabee, Nat Turner, Michael Collins, and Che Guevara, among others. Fleischer capably places the individuals in their history milieu, zeroing in on the circumstances behind their notoriety, as well as the ways their influence has endured, while sidebars provide additional context and modern parallels (Fleischer compares Roman politicians and brothers Gaius and Tiberius Gracchus to John and Robert Kennedy). A lively narrative, an accessible length (while the profiles are dense, they are kept to roughly four pages each), and deadpan humor—particularly in captions (George Washington is “tight in tights” and Sitting Bull “sits bullishly”)—allow for irreverent, edifying reading. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Why’d They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History

Sarah Albee. National Geographic, $19.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-4263-1919-8

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Full of period images that show off every bustle, frill, and rivet, this wide-ranging guide to clothing throughout time will fascinate history and fashion buffs alike. Albee gives overviews of Renaissance, Elizabethan, and Baroque fashions (among many others), while highlighting how economic and social changes were often directly reflected in clothing—during the Great Depression, for instance, costume jewelry replaced more expensive accessories. In the 1920s, flapper dresses represented women’s liberation, and the styles of the 1960s and 1970s were sometimes inspired by current events (following the moon landing, the “space age” look became the rage). Albee also highlights the extremes to which individuals will go to conform to fleeting ideals of physical beauty—such as the practice of binding feet in China or the wearing of whalebone corsages and crinolines. An insightful study of how clothing is shaped by—and sometimes helps shape—history. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The American Revolution: Experience the Battle for Independence

Judy Dodge Cummings, illus. by Tom Casteel. Nomad (Legato, dist.), $22.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-61930-255-6

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Readers can take a hands-on approach to learning about the American Revolution in this addition to the Build It Yourself series. Each chapter begins with an “essential question” that serves as an entry point (“What factors caused American colonists to begin to resent British rule in the 1760s?”). At the end of each chapter, readers are invited to compose a thesis statement in response to the opening question. Sidebars supplement the material with vocabulary definitions, trivia, and additional information about such figures as Thomas Paine, Benedict Arnold, and Phillis Wheatley. Cartoon illustrations and 25 activities (such as preparing “firecake,” the simple bread that soldiers ate on the battlefield) create a lively learning experience, though the instructional tone makes the book an unlikely candidate for casual reading. Ages 9–12. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Historical Animals: The Dogs, Cats, Horses, Snakes, Goats, Rats, Dragons, Bears, Elephants, Rabbits, and Other Creatures That Changed the World

Julia Moberg, illus. by Jeff Albrecht Studios. Charlesbridge/Imagine!, $15.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-62354-048-7

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Moberg (Presidential Pets) celebrates animal celebrities, both well known and forgotten, with subjects that include Rin Tin Tin, Punxsutawny Phil, and Dolly the sheep. Companions to famous humans include Seaman, a Newfoundland that accompanied Lewis and Clark during their explorations; Mozart’s starling, which sang along with his musical compositions; and Peter Piper, the rabbit that inspired Beatrix Potter’s work. Moberg introduces each animal with a peppy poem, explaining why it is notable (“In nineteen fifty-two/ During the Korean War,/ A Mongolian mare named Reckless/ Joined the Marine Corps”), followed by bulleted lists of facts about the animal that offer historical and social context. Full of wild-eyed, slavering, and scraggly creatures, Albrecht’s caricatures exude attention-grabbing madcap energy, though are somewhat at odds with the tone of the text. Ages 8–12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Inventions That Could Have Changed the World... but Didn’t!

Joe Rhatigan, illus. by Anthony Owsley. Charlesbridge/Imagine!, $14.95 (80p) ISBN 978-1-62354-024-1

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For every successful invention, there are a lot of near-misses, dozens of which Rhatigan collects in this entertaining sidewise view of history, which includes b&w illustrations from actual patent applications as well as color cartoons from Owsley. Inventions that didn’t get off the ground include a parachute coat (the inventor died testing its effectiveness), a bed that ejects its sleeper to wake him or her, a “Portable Baby Cage” that hangs from the outside of a window, and a rocking bathtub (“no matter what the advertisements said, water got everywhere”). Despite cataloguing a great many failures, Rhatigan challenges readers to try their hands at inventing; as Thomas Edison puts it, in one of several featured quotations, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.” Ages 8–12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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