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July 2010

Book Reviews

Summer Books

Fun with fireflies, gardens and outdoor adventures.

By Mary Quattlebaum


book coverTime for Bed, Baby Ted
by Debra Sartell, illustrated by Kay Chorao.
Holiday House, 2010, $16.95

Do summer's light-filled evenings ratchet up your little one's bedtime resistance? Take a tip from the tot and his father in this appealing picture book. Ted pretends to be a different animal for every preparing-for-bed action, and Dad enters into the playful spirit of the game while still guiding his son from one task to the next. Dad guesses his quacking boy is a duck wanting a snack, then a frog hopping to the potty, a penguin waddling to bed and finally a mouse sneaking under the covers. Kay Chorao's whimsical gouache-and-watercolor paintings wonderfully complement Debra Sartell's text, which is chock-full of kid-pleasing rhymes and onomatopoeia. Little ones will love mimicking the animal sounds and movements and maybe even making up a few of their own.

ages 3 - 7

book coverAmy's Light
by Robert Nutt. Dawn, 2010, $8.95

A little girl nervous about nighttime shadows suddenly notices a glow beyond her bedroom window and discovers "billions and zillions of flickering lights." She slips outdoors and captures several fireflies in a "warm glowing jar." When their lights go dim, though, she realizes that the little bugs can shine best when free and releases them, watching dreamily as they flicker away. Robert Nutt's verse and photo illustrations beautifully capture that magical quality of fireflies and summer nights. Too often static photos fail to convey a sense of story flow, but Nutt's digitally enhanced photo illustrations succeed as stunning images that dynamically illustrate a narrative. Two added bonuses: a "Did You Know?" page with facts about these luminescent beetles and the knowledge that the child so tenderly featured is the author/illustrator's own daughter.

book coverWe Grew It--Let's Eat It
by Annie and Veda, as told to Justine Kenin. Photographs by Becky Lettenberger. Tenley Circle Press, 2010, $15

The Obama's White House vegetable garden has proven inspiring to families across the country. Close to home, it recently helped activate the green thumbs of D.C. twins Annie and Veda, who wondered how, as apartment-dwellers, they could follow the First Family's example. Enter neighbor Ida and her plot in a city community garden. The girls' story, as told to mom Justine Kenin, is a lively chronicle of their planting, tending and sowing experience. Especially funny and realistic are the twosome's comments--"eeuw," "it's heavy" and "yum"--about compost, wheelbarrows and homegrown tomatoes, respectively. Becky Lettenberger's photos marvelously capture the tasks and joys involved, from picking bright raspberries and new lettuce to cooking and eating the harvest. Back matter includes a list of gardening titles and recipes, with the blackberry buttermilk cake looking particularly delectable. As well as being a delightful read, this book may well "root" the idea of recording green adventures in the minds of other families.

book coverZapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off
by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benitez. Albert Whitman, 2010, $14.99

A good-humored protagonist, intriguing mystery and short, fast-paced chapters will engage kids learning to read on their own. Who sent Freddie Ramos the purple sneakers that make him speedy as "jet wheels on a runway"? As Freddie investigates, he discovers that brain and zapato (shoe) power also help him solve the mysteries of a friend's missing lunch and puppy. Humorous line drawings by Miguel Benitez add to the playful energy as does the fun-to-say "Zoom! Zoom! Zapato!" refrain. Eager and reluctant readers alike will zip through this chapter book by Jacqueline Jules quicker than Freddie in his winged shoes.


ages 8 - 11

book coverS Is for Smithsonian
by Marie and Roland Smith, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Sleeping Bear Press, 2010, $17.95

Alphabet books can reach a larger audience than just preschoolers, as evidenced by this fine take on the Smithsonian Institution museums of Washington, D.C. Each page is devoted to a specific letter and includes a four-line poem and detailed sidebar about, and illustration of, a particular museum artifact. The book can help organize a family trip to the National Mall and ensure you hit the highlights. You might start with "A" for aviatrix Amelia Earhart, whose plane is at the National Air and Space Museum, and move forward to "Z" and a peek at zoo critters, or skip around, letting each family member choose a favorite letter or artifact. (Mine would be "O" for Owney, the beloved canine mascot at the National Postal Museum, though my tween daughter would prefer "H" and the blue Hope Diamond at the National Museum of Natural History.)

book coverA Nest for Celeste
by Henry Cole. Tegen/HarperCollins, 2010, $16.99

Henry Cole, acclaimed for exuberant picture books, explores new artistic territory with his first illustrated novel. The winsome heroine is a 19th-century mouse whose cozy home has been rendered unsafe by a hungry house cat and bullying rats. Searching for a new one, she befriends Joseph, the teenage assistant to John James Audubon, the famed bird painter. Celeste also helps free a caged thrush, learns to love music and, in mourning the loss of Joseph when he must move on, makes a new feathered buddy. Cole's tale has all the charm and poignancy of great animal fantasies such as Watership Down and Charlotte's Web. His extraordinary artwork contributes to that effect as it builds suspense and accurately depicts rural Louisiana two centuries ago.

ages 12 and up

book coverJump
by Elisa Carbone. Viking, 2010, $16.99

Maryland author and veteran rock climber Elisa Carbone delivers a heart-in-your-throat outdoor adventure that also explores themes of self-acceptance, honesty and trust. Short, tautly paced chapters cut between P.K. and Critter, two teenagers planning and then executing a dangerous climb. But when P.K. discovers that Critter has been withholding and prevaricating personal information, she wants to put as much distance between them as possible. The distinct first-person voices of this girl and guy will pull readers into their experience as will the evocative details of the climb. A thrill-filled, thought-provoking tale.


Mary Quattlebaum is a mother and the author most recently of Sparks Fly High, a colonial American folktale, and Jackson Jones and the Curse of the Outlaw Rose, a humorous chapter book. Contact Mary through, which has information on her 15 award-winning children's books, school presentations and writing workshops.