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What’s new-ish in Fox Lit

Have you been making time for fox stories in your life recently?  If not it’s time to track down two fabulous newish fox fables.  One is Outfoxed by Mike Twohy (2013) and the other is That is Not a Good Idea by the famous Mo Willems (also 2013).

Willems is well loved for his Pigeon books (starting with the hilarious, so-original Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, and the super fun beginning reader series Elephant and Piggie which is all dialogue and is the 21st century’s brilliant answer to Dr. Seuss).

That is Not a Good Idea is staged like a silent movie with the fox dressed as a sneaky villain.  Its conceit is black pages with white words like at a silent movie.  A fox sees a goose who he imagines for dinner.  And she seems willing to go along naively with his proposals such as “would you care to go for a stroll?”  The little goslings are watching this unfold and exclaiming with building urgency “that is not a good idea!”

The way Mo Willems gets to the surprise ending is fun and satisfying.

A book that is even more fun is Outfoxed.  Don’t look now, but we have another sneaky fox on the scene and he has just raided the hen house.  Uh-oh, but when he gets home he finds that what he stuffed in his coat appears to be a duck instead.  “Honestly- I felt more like chicken,” he says, “but a duck will do.”

Sounds like this duck’s goose is cooked, so to speak.  But with a little quick thinking the duck sets out to convince the fox that he is really a dog.  He sniffs Fox’s leg, slobbers all over him, and even pees on his carpet.  As the story goes along, we see fox struggling to decide whether he has a duck or a dog.

The book is illustrated simply and perfectly with very little background detail.  It is hilarious to the very end.  Preschool and first grader classes I’ve shared it with have loved it, but adults chortle hard too.

 

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All Star: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever

Batter up!  Baseball is in full swing.  Isn’t it high time for big, beautiful picture book with a giant helping of Americana?  All Star:  Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever (2010) is written by Jane Yolen and illustrated with Jim Burke’s intensively-researched paintings.  The inside flaps are decorated with memorabilia including the Honus Wagner card that sold in 2007 for almost three million dollars.

Yolen is known for her hundreds of books.  In this title, Yolen performs a marvelous feat, condensing his life from being born into a poor German immigrant family in Pennsylvania, working in the coal mines, and then making his way into pro baseball, all in just a few hundred words.  Yolen’s prose is super-efficient, dense with meaning, like a poem.

Even though he had a big nose and large head, his parents thought their fourth son was gorgeous.  His hometown had dark skies from the steel and iron mills. At age 12 Honus was loading two tons of coal a day for seventy-nine cents a day.  He worked six days a week, but fortunately he was off on Sunday and could play baseball.  We read about his  eventual rise into the greatest of shortstops, “with legs like hunting bows”.

Honus Wagner loved kids and didn’t want them using tobacco, so his cards were taken off the market.  Ironically the card’s rarity makes it valuable and helps Wagner be remembered.

All Star is a compelling look at this athlete who was at his peak a century ago.  But Yolen and Burke make Wagner much more than a face on an ancient baseball card.  So dust off your mitt and give old Honus a look.

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Middle Grade, Age: Young Adult, Non-Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews, Uncategorized

The Return of the Library Dragon

                The Return of the Library Dragon is just what book lovers need in this weird era when we’re being told the traditional format book is going to disappear any minute now.  Eighteen years after their fantastic collaboration, The Library Dragon, the crack team of author Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrator Michael P. White have returned with a very timely book.

The text of the story is preceded by a news article.  “LIBRARIAN RETIRES: Time Has Come to Turn Page Says Miss Lotty.”  Miss Lotta Scales is the lady who twenty years before was an actual dragon keeping kids from touching the books until she found how wrong she was and became a beloved school librarian and human.

          But as Miss Scales heads off to retirement, she is oblivious to a delivery truck heading toward the library.  A boy named Milo tells Miss Scales the awful thing that has happened.

“They’re all g-g-gone!”  he says.

That’s right, every book is gone, taken by Central Office.  They’ve sent a guy who says he’s IT, by the name of Mike Krochip.

Mike is going to make us feel better.  “’It’s better than a library,’ chirps Mike Krochip.  ‘It’s Media World!  The new Sunrise Cybrary!’”

You can imagine that Lotty Scales is feeling warm, even if she is still looking human.

        The author gives us lots of great groaners.  Krochip with a huge grin explains that “Books stain and tear and take up room.  Check out the Book-Be-Gone 5000.  It’ll kindle your fire!”

Young Milo tries to set him straight.  “Pardon me, mister.  We’d like our books back, um, please.”  The rest of the kids are standing behind him, backing him up.

Mike Krochip’s brain is short-circuiting.  “You want them back?  But why, when you could have 10,000 books in one handy little-“

Milo interrupts him.  “Ten thousand books on a screen all look the same.”

Then seven kids each embracing a real, actual book give their pithy arguments, including:

-Ten thousand books in a library all look and feel different.

-All I need to upload a book is my brain.

-The only way my book can get a virus is if I sneeze on it.

-And books smell!  My favorite book smells like spaghetti.

But Krochip tells them, “Give me a month.  These kids won’t remember what a book looks like!”

Now the library dragon comes out of retirement.  She roars, “You bring back every last library book or I’ll melt your motherboard!”

Just as all the dragon fire sends people stampeding out of the library, the new young librarian appears.  And it’s Molly Brickmeyer.  The little hero from the first book is now an adult ready to lead the Sunrise Elementary Library.

            Molly is there to clean up this mess.  “I love technology too,” she says, “But our kids need a library where they can UNPLUG, for the love of books.”  In fact at the thought of a children’s “cybrary”, Molly’s ears begin to smoke and you can see one finger turning into a sharp green claw.

Long live books!  I hope people will read and love Return of the Library Dragon.  Back at School 80 in 1977, our school librarian called herself the media specialist and wanted us to call the library the “media center”.  As much as technology has changed, I hope our children’s children will still read book books.

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