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January 2011

Book Reviews

A Sampling of Snow Books

By Mary Quattlebaum

'Tis the season for snowmen, sledding and snuggle-time books.


Carry Me: Babies Everywhere
text by and photos selected by editors
Starbright, 2009, $6.95

Babies love to look at pictures of other babies—and this sturdy board book offers a round-the-world peek. The simple rhyme explores the way babies are carried in different countries, be they cuddled in front packs (Scotland) or hoisted on backs (Ecuador), swaddled in blankets (China) or tucked into slings (Kenya). The result is a kaleidoscope of different cultures, skin colors and clothing, with an emphasis on a great commonality: the delight family members take in one another. This playful introduction to the world's many cultures is sure to charm babies—and their older siblings.

ages 3 – 5

Old Bear and His Cub
by Olivier Dunrea
Philomel, 2010, $16.99

Youngsters will relate to lively Little Cub, while parents and grandparents will see much of themselves in pragmatic Old Bear. The loving twosome sets off for a wintry walk that soon becomes a contest of wills. Little Cub refuses to tie his scarf, climb down from a big rock or take a nap in the snow. Old Bear reacts with neither anger nor leniency. He firmly holds to the rules and Little Cub capitulates. On the way home, though, the situation reverses, and it is Little Cub who asserts rules of scarf-tying, resting and tea-drinking to a sneezing Old Bear. Preschoolers will love repeating Little Cub's, "No, I won't," refrain even as they absorb this story of two caretakers who set limits to protect one another.

A Sweater for Duncan
by Margaret Gay Malone
illustrated by Lorraine Dey
Raven Tree, 2010, $16.95

In this humorous bilingual English/Spanish story, Duncan, a penguin chick, starts losing tufts from his fuzzy coat. He begs his mother to knit him a sweater to hide his bald spots, and she lovingly complies. But the first sweater is too tight, the second too short and the third proves unnecessary because Duncan has developed into a sleek penguin fellow. Margaret Gay Malone's tale of growing up and letting go is accompanied by Lorraine Dey's whimsical illustrations, which depict an expressive little bird, his Antarctic buddies and three incongruous items of clothing. Kids (and parents) learning Spanish, English or both will enjoy listening to and eventually reading this bilingual book on their own.

ages 6 - 8

Gunner, Football Hero
by James Ransome
Holiday House, 2010, $16.95

With professional football sweeping toward Super Bowl Sunday next month, this pudgy picture-book protagonist reminds young readers that it's not about winning but how you play the game. And how does Gunner Smith play? Well, at first, not very well. But he shows up early for every practice, studies the playbook and finally gets his chance, as third-string quarterback, during the Pee Wee championship game. Gunner is an underdog who makes good in surprising ways. The biggest surprise, though, remains the identity of the opposing team's "small player with fast feet" who steals the ball—and the game. Brimming with humor, heart and football lingo, this book will appeal to skilled and reluctant readers alike.

Franklin's Big Dreams
by David Teague
illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Disney Hyperion, 2010, $16.99

Dream and reality intriguingly blur in this debut picture book by David Teague. Over the course of several weeks, Franklin, an avid moon gazer, receives three visits from a mysterious man who builds first a railroad, then a runway and finally a canal right through Franklin's bedroom. Franklin watches excitedly as a train, a plane and a cruise ship pass through. Each time he catches a brief glimpse of particular relatives, acquaintances and the oddly familiar back of a boy's head, complete with cowlick and "memorable" ears. Each visit is followed by an adventurous dream. When the man arrives for the fourth time, Franklin announces that he has "figured out what's going on"—and so may have the alert young reader. The clues lie in the shadowy pictures by Boris Kulikov and include Franklin's toys and the resemblance of his head to that of the man's. Teague and Kulikov never spell things out for the reader, though, but instead allow the story ending to resonate with a vivid pictorial allusion to the power of dreams.

Bugs and Bugsicles
by Amy Hansen
illustrated by Robert Kray
Boyds Mills, 2010, $11.95 pbk.

What happens to summer's creepy-crawlies when the weather turns cold? Maryland author Amy Hansen tracks eight insects from fall through spring to show how the Monarch butterfly migrates, the Ladybug hibernates and the Arctic Woolly Bear Caterpillar turns itself into a frozen bugsicle, which thaws when the days grow warmer. Hansen's conversational style draws in and informs the curious reader, while Robert Kray's realistic paintings portray, with a sense of respectful wonder, the changes in insect and season. Experiments in the back of the book encourage kids to create and explore their own frozen worlds.

ages 9 and up

Paris Pan Takes the Dare
by Cynthea Liu
Scholastic, 2009, $16.99

What better way to while away a snowy night than with a spooky book? Paris Pan, a new girl in town, must deal with two scary things: the ghost of a dead girl and seventh grade bullies. Paris has to take the Dare, which involves spending the night in the woods where a young girl was murdered twenty years ago. Though she elicits the help of cute, geeky Tom, it is Paris herself who solves the mystery, puts the ghost to rest and stands up to the bullies while befriending a girl picked on by them. The middle-school dynamics are especially well drawn and the suspense hooks readers from the opening page.

Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing
by Karen Benke
Trumpeter, 2010, $14.95

The start of a new year calls for adventure—and that spirit pervades this book of "open-ended writing experiments." Exercises involving shape-shifting, wacky word lists, nonsensical metaphors and memories encourage kids (and writers of all ages) to explore their inner world. This is no pristine text to tuck on the shelf but a guide to play with and scribble in. Karen Benke, an experienced writer, has gathered together writing prompts that have worked for her in the classroom—and added others by esteemed authors for children and young adults, including Avi, Annie Barrows, Lemony Snicket and Naomi Shihab Nye. Benke's lively writing style and the book's creative layout invite young people to jump right (write!) in.

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. You can contact Mary at, which has information on her 15 award-winning children’s books, school presentations and writing workshops.