Staff Picks for Children

 Recommended books for kids. Comment on a review by clicking on its title. You can also write your thoughts about any book on our Facebook Wall.

You can still access reviews from pre-September 2012 for Adults and Children.

Tap the Magic Tree

Tap the Magic Tree

 

This interactive picture book is nothing but fun from beginning to end.

Presented with a bare tree, the reader is invited to tap the page. A quick page turn reveals that one green leaf has appeared. The reader is invited to tap the tree some more. You can imagine what happens. Next, the reader is asked to rub the tree to make it warm. In the warmth of spring, the tree blossoms.

This picture book encourages children to notice the world around them by allowing them to become active participants in the magic of the changing seasons. In a subtle way, it can also be used to discuss the effect we can have on the world around us. I know I have already learned a very important lesson. Don’t be surprised if in the dead of winter, you see me standing outside the library hopefully tapping on trees.

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Crankee Doodle

2013
Crankee Doodle

 

Crankee Doodle is laugh out loud funny.  When Crankee announces that he is bored, his pony suggests going to town, which Crankee promptly dismisses with a long diatribe about why would he ever want to go to town.  The pony suggests shopping.  Crankee says no.  The pony suggests a feather for Crankee's hat, which Crankee thinks is folly.  When suggested that Crankee call the hat macaroni he goes into a rampage about how feathers don't look macaroni, and when learning that macaroni is just another word for fancy he further rambles on about how lasagna is fancier than macaroni.  After insulting the pony, Crankee decides to make it up to him by going to town after all. 

The author's note at the end is narrated by the pony and is hilarious.  For example, "Macaroni really did mean 'fancy', but I think the real reason they said it is because it rhymes with 'pony'. (That's me! I rhyme!)"  This picture book received starred reviews from both Horn Book Magazine and Kirkus Reviews.  If you like this book, try The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, also by Tom Angleberger.  For another fractured version of Yankee Doodle try Mary Ann Hoberman's version, called simply Yankee Doodle.

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Becoming Babe Ruth

2013
Becoming Babe Ruth

 

George Herman Ruth got into a lot of trouble as a child, and got himself sent to a reform school (St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys) at the young age of seven.  While George didn't like most things about St. Mary's, he did like baseball.  Here, George learns to play every position there is in baseball, and he practices and practices.  He gets seen by many scouts, including Jack Dunn, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, a minor-league team, and is offered a contract.  He earns his nickname "Babe" at this time.  He is so good that his contract gets sold to the Boston Red Sox, and then it gets sold to the New York Yankees for $125,000.  That was the most any team had ever paid for a baseball player.  So even though Babe Ruth had been sent to a reform school, he grew up to become one of the best baseball players in baseball history and his name has become known as a household name, even to those who aren't baseball fans. 

An author's note is included, as well as pitching statistics and hitting statistics.  The illustrations are charming--watercolor, gouache, and pencil.  Matt Tavares has done a fantastic job bringing Babe Ruth's story to life.

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Shadow on the Mountain

This work of historical fiction is based on a true story of a boy who spied for the Resistance during the 1940 Nazi occupation of Norway.  Espen is an average teenager whose life is caught up in a time in history that is anything but typical.  Before the occupation he spent his days at school, playing soccer or participating in Scouts.  After the Nazi occupation of Norway, Espen risked his life to deliver underground newspapers for the Resistance, and soon finds himself transporting secret documents and spying on Gestapo intelligence locations.  Espen struggles with his feelings toward his best friend a likeable guy who, faced with the same situation, decided to join the Nazis.  Espen is also surprised to learn that his younger sister has secrets of her own.  She too has put herself and their family in danger by secretly journaling and sneaking ration cards to hungry Norwegians.  This sometimes grim and occasionally funny novel, is a study of the complexity of human nature and the different decisions that people made during this terrible time in human history.  While this book will appeal to those who enjoy historical fiction, it will also appeal to those who enjoy outdoor adventure as Espen travels on both bicycle and skis into the snow covered mountains of Norway.  Find a comfortable seat, because you won’t move for hours.  Recommended for grade 6-9.

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Desmond and the Very Mean Word

A Story of Forgiveness (2013)
Desmond and the Very Mean Word

 

According to the author's note at the back of the book, this story is inspired by something that actually happened to the author (Archbishop Tutu) as a child in South Africa. 

Desmond received a new bike, the only child in his township to have a bike, and wanted to show it to Father Trevor.  On his way, he had to ride through a group of boys, one of whom used a mean word towards Desmond over and over again.  When Desmond arrived to see Father Trevor he was angry and said he could never forgive them, but instead would get them back.  The next time Desmond saw the boys, he used another mean word towards them, but the "word left a bitter taste in his mouth".  Father Trevor taught Desmond that when we hurt someone, it hurts ourselves as well. 

Desmond wasn't ready to forgive the boy right away, it took him some time.  According to the book, "As soon as the words [I forgive you] were out of his mouth, Desmond felt a little stronger and a little braver and stood up a little taller.

Father Trevor eventually become Archbishop Huddleston and was one of the most important members of the anti-apartheid movement.  Archbishop Tutu and his wife named their first son Trevor in his honor.

  

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Monstergarten

(2013)
Book cover

Let’s face it - starting school can be nerve racking. Patrick is a tiny, pink furball of a monster with striped horns and a love of cowboy boots. It’s the day before he starts Monstergarten, and a first grader tells Patrick that he must be scary for school. Like all skills, Patrick needs to practice. He has several humorous and failed attempts at scaring his friend Kevin, his cat Snowball (just a heads up, you do NOT want to meet Snowball in a dark alley) and his sister. Throughout the day, Patrick works on his scaring technique. At night, he begins to feel nervous. Will he like his teacher? Will he know where everything is? And, most importantly, will he be scary enough?

The author Daniel J. Mahoney and the illustrator Jef Kaminsky excel at developing the story through both text and illustrations. The images are bright, silly and reinforce Patrick’s anxieties as he prepares for school. Be sure to check out the inside cover for a yearbook photo spread of the the Monstergarten class. Some monsters are goofy. Others are frightening. Some are sobbing giant tears. Others are holding up umbrellas to keep dry from the tears.

Monstergarten is a great read for incoming monstergarteners or kindergartners with back to school jitters. The world of monster’s is different, yet similar enough to ours that young readers will connect with Patrick’s experiences. Whether it’s learning to scare or to say your ABC’s, Monstergarten helps young students understand the questions and feelings behind starting school.

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Divide and Conquer

(2012)
book cover for Divide and Conquer

Infinity Ring; Book 2

In this second book of time travelers, we find our Hystorians, Dak. Sera, and Riq traveling to 885 A.D. to fix the break in history.  They land in Paris during the 9th century where thousands of Viking warriors are trying to capture the city. Their old enemies the SQ are also there and they are helping the Vikings.  The time travelers need to find the Hystorian and fix the break before it’s too late.

Dak is captured by the Vikings and is forced to work with them to capture the city.  Sera and Riq must help protect and defend the city.  Now Sera and Riq must try to free Dak and help keep the Vikings from succeeding.  While accomplishing this they find out that the true enemy might not be who they thought.  They must find the break, solve the codes, ciphers and clues in order to correct it.

Another underlying theme in the story is the search to find Dak’s parents who were lost during the first time travel.  Dak sees his parents at a gathering of townspeople and they are able to give him a key before they disappear.  Will this have something to do with their next time travel? 

In addition to our main characters new characters are introduced: Bill the Hystorian; Rollo a Viking friend of Dak; Vigi Rollo’s large dog; Siegfried the leader of the Vikings; and Gorm the SQ time warden.  Our three heroes develop more and learn more about each other and stronger bonds are formed.  There is a hint of a little romance, but changes because of the passing of time.

The Infinity Ring series is just what kids need to get them excited about history or what could have been history.  Divide and Conquer is a perfect blend of historical settings and fast-paced action.  This is a great read for fans of Percy Jackson or A Series of Unfortunate Events. It is definitely a book that makes the slogan “Fix the Past. Save the Future” true!

I would recommend this book for middle-school aged students and up.  For grades 4 through 6.

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Third Grade Mix-Up

(2013)
Third Grade Mix-Up

 

This fresh new series tracks two third graders with the same name spelled two ways, Sidney and Sydney.  Sidney's a guy and Sydney is a girl, and they're not sure they can be friends.  But after discovering common interests, especially in the game Galaxy Conquest and in the Halloween holiday they become great friends.  Sidney and Sydney take turns narrating the chapters and their voices ring clearly.  Full color illustrations only add to the appeal of the book. Second and third graders will enjoy reading this book, and I look forward to reading the future books in the series!

 

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Binky Takes Charge

(2012)
Binky Takes Charge

Binky is no ordinary cat; unbeknownst to his owners, he is a certified space cat, and their home is a space station!  After several adventures featuring space travel (going outdoors), battles with aliens (bugs), a daring rescue of Binky’s beloved toy mouse, Ted, and a challenge from a superior officer (foster cat Gracie), Binky has been promoted to lieutenant by F.U.R.S.T. (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel).  After busily and excitedly preparing to train his first recruit (a new pet in the house), Binky is shocked and disgusted to discover that the recruit is—NOT A CAT!  Oh, fuzzbutt, it must be a mistake, thinks Binky.   But this is no mistake.  Gordie is a tail-wagging, floor-peeing, sloppy-eating, toy-stealing, paper-shredding, goofy little puppy!  How can Binky make a certified space pet out of him?   Orders are orders though, so poor Binky tries, until he realizes that there’s more to Gordie than meets the eye--including the possibility that he’s really a double agent, in league with aliens!

Binky is an endearing white comic cat with black mask and black and pink ears that often come to a point on top of his head.  The art and humor of Binky’s graphic novel adventures reflect Spires’ knowledge of cats, their habits and antics; although there are some jokes that cat lovers will especially enjoy, Binky and his friends are all-around entertaining.   This is the fourth book in the delightful “Binky” series, which began in 2009 with Binky the Space Cat. Watch for Number 5, Binky, License to Scratch.  (For cat and graphic novel lovers who want something else to read while they’re waiting, try Frank Le Gall’s “Miss Annie” series, or Chi’s Sweet Home by Konami Kanata.)

This review is dedicated to Baby, another extraordinary cat.

“Binky Adventure” books are recommended for kids grades 2 and up.

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The Flame of Olympus

2011
The Flame of Olympus

 

Home alone during a fierce thunderstorm; Emily hears a loud thud on the roof of her top-floor Manhattan apartment. Bravely investigating, she finds a badly wounded Pegasus and learns not only that Olympus is real, but that something terrible has been happening there. Enlisting the help of surly schoolmate Joel, Emily tries desperately to keep Pegasus a secret and still get him the help he needs to heal.

Unknown to both of them, Pegasus isn’t the only Olympian to have fallen to earth. Found unconscious and brought into a hospital, Paelen’s bizarre test scores soon land him in the hands of a mysterious, unpleasant government agency determined to stop at nothing to ascertain exactly who (or what) he is.

Meanwhile, Olympus has fallen to the vicious, seemingly indestructible Nirads. Now they are heading for earth determined to stamp out the remaining Olympians and the earth as well. It is up to Emily, Joel and Paelen to somehow pull together against incredible odds and save both earth and Olympus.

 

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Hide and Seek

(2013)
Hide and Seek

 

Japanese author/illustrator Taro Gomi has hidden all sorts of normal objects such as gloves, hearts, socks, scooters, and flags inside pictures for a look and find experience for the very young.  The pictures are challenging but not too challenging for a young toddler or preschool child.  A wonderful book to share as a lap book, or during storytime to see who can spot the item first.

 

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