Calvin Coconut: Zoo Breath by Graham Salisbury, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers (Wendy Lamb Books 2010)
Calvin’s mom threatens to send his dog back to the animal shelter. Streak has bad dog breath and gets into anything and everything that smells, making matters worse. His fourth grade teacher assigns a class project; to ask a discovery question, and answer it. Calvin and his friend Julio team up and research, “Things that stink,” in the hopes of finding a solution to Streak’s problems. Grossness and smells, especially bodily odors are still a source of much humor for boys of this age group. A competing duo of girls, Maya and Shayla are working on the question, “Why do boys have to smell everything?” and hope to be the winners of the “Detective Research Project.” They spy on the boys, create a presentation and humiliating photo op to present in class. As the story evolves, Calvin discovers how much he misses his father, who lives in another state, and burying those feelings won’t make them go away. A newfound compassion for Shayla develops, after Calvin finds out she is dealing with a similar family situation. Not all “stinks” are considered “bad stinks.” Calvin begins to brush Streak’s teeth regularly with pet toothpaste which helps her bad dog breath. He even begins to bathe her more often, making everyone at home happy. The biggest concern comes when Calvin gives Streak a bowl of human mouthwash, which is highly dangerous, and she drinks it all. Luckily, the dog doesn’t get sick, even though it can be toxic. Fans of Calvin will enjoy this addition to the series. Newcomers can read this title and won’t feel lost or confused without reading the prior two books. The “Captain Underpants” audience will continue to read and laugh when they are ready for these longer and more challenging Calvin Coconut chapter books. Ages 7-10
J-R—Anne Beier (Hendrick Hudson Free Library)
The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Knopf Books For Young Readers, 2010)
While finishing sixth grade, Bindi faces a lot of change in her life creating a multitude of confusing emotions. Her parents are separating, causing her mother and Bindi to move from their comfy house to a small apartment above The Dancing Pancake, where her mother will begin work. The success of this new venture is financially important to Bindi’s aunt, uncle and mother. At the same time, Bindi and her two closest friends seem to be drifting apart. Told in verse, this outstanding story offers the message that if one focuses too much on the door that is closing, one may miss the wonderful opportunities of the door that is opening. While helping out in the restaurant, Bindi’s learns a lot about the larger world from interacting and observing customers and employees. She develops a close friendship with a classmate, Albert, whose parents divorced a few years ago, and he helps her discover a lot about herself. The writing is tight and vivid. Some line art drawings are included, perfectly complimenting text that “shows and doesn’t tell.” Ages 9-12
J-Recommended * —Anne Beier (Hendrick Hudson Free Library)
Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys by Norton Juster, illustrated by Domenico Gnoli (Random House/Yearling 2010)
Watching people offers endless pleasure. In these three tales we find a simple farm lad looking for his life’s calling in the great world beyond, two kings who must find out whether other kings live like they do, and a boy who refuses to have opinions until he is transported into a painting where he must take sides. Juster keenly observes how people act. All of his characters undergo transformation.. Alberic, a young peasant, tries unsuccessfully to become an artisan; first he apprentices himself to a stained glass artist, then a stone cutter, goldsmith, leather worker, and glassblower. Finally, he gains success from telling stories about his life. But even that becomes too confining and he gives up a position in court to become a traveler of the open road. A less compelling tale is “She Cries No More.” In this story a youngster Claude refuses to have opinions because he is indifferent to everything. That is, until he goes to a museum and sees a painting of a young girl. Suddenly he finds himself in the painting and converses with Elena. Elena’s father, the king, has been murdered and there is fighting between those loyal to her father and the evil attackers. Claude fights for Elena. But all too soon he is back in his own world and he returns to an attitude of indifference. The final tale shows two kings who become dissatisfied with their lives. One is poor and wants to know whether that is the fate of other kings. The other is rich and wants to know whether other kings are even richer. Juster turns the tables on these two and resolves the story with an imaginative twist. These tales would make an interesting discussion and are probably best appreciated when read aloud.
J-Recommended—Lillian Hecker (PEL)
While this book received starred reviews and has an attractive cover and title, I found it very hard to get into and read. David Greenberg is a huge fan of TV anchorman Jon Stewart (who I think most kids in grades 5-8 don’t know) creates videos starring himself and his hamster and puts them on You Tube. Meanwhile, David misses his mom who has abandoned his family, he has trouble with his friend Elliott, and then the ultimate tragedy–David’s hamster passes away. The story and characters are hard to relate to, are slow moving and dull.
J-Additional Purchase— J/YA Crossover, R—Tee C (Port Chester/Rye Brook)
What do you get when you get 4 modern families and have them spend 2 months living a 1890s lifestyle named Camp Frontier? Chaos, laughs and a big appreciation of modern living (things like air conditioning, grocery stores, indoor bathroom and plumbing etc) Meanwhile 13-year-old Gen Walsh (the main character of this book) manages to sneak her cell phone inside the camp and is able to blog to the outside world how her summer vacation is really going. Obviously no one in the camp realizes this, nor does Gen whose blog turns out to be a bigger hit than anyone could have realized. Readers will find this a fast paced and comic read with several surprises.
J/YA Crossover, R—Tee C (Port Chester/Rye Brook)
Eleven year-old Turtle is sent to live with her Aunt, Uncle and four, unruly male cousins in Key West, Florida, during the summer of 1935, after her single mother finds employment as a live-in housekeeper for a family who doesn’t like children. Turtle’s eldest cousin of the same age, and his buddies are scoundrels. Fortunately, she is resilient, observant and wise beyond her years. As the only female in the “hood,” Turtle is savvy enough to walk a fine line to fit in, and maintain her integrity. Many obstacles and suspenseful adventures await her throughout this coming-of-age story. Some are comical. Some are dangerous. Along the way she manages to outlast and outsmart the boys. She matures beyond the reader’s expectations, while uncovering some surprising and life-changing family secrets. This powerful book inspired by stories and
folklore from the author’s great-grandmother and her family will beguile readers. Ages 9-12
J, R*—Anne Beier (Hendrick Hudson Free Library)
Bree Davies, the only child of two high-powered journalists living in upscale Santa Monica, fills the void left by her unavailable parents by focusing on her lovable border collie, Danny. The absence of her mom causes a large wake of resentment, but intensifies as Bree finishes 6th grade, when she needs mother. Right before Danny’s worn out collar is to be replaced, he escapes the family’s fenced in yard after Bree’s mother forgets to lock it. Of course Bree is devastated. The plot kicks into high gear as deeper friction grows between daughter and mother, and the broadening search for Danny continues with the help of an unlikely new friend from school who is also a dog-lover. Bree befriends an elderly neighbor after Danny’s collar is found in her yard. She becomes a dedicated volunteer at an animal shelter after meeting quirky, but lovable Rayleen, who mentors her and helps search for Danny. Pet lovers will enjoy this title with a strong story arc, and likable characters, despite two flaws. The ending wraps up too neatly. And, there is no mention of microchipping until the last quarter of the book, which is a well-known, common tracking device used with outdoor pets, and always recommended by vets and shelter workers. The absence of this thread of the story might not ring true for it’s intended audience.
J, R—Anne Beier (Hendrick Hudson Free Library)