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March 2011

Book Reviews

Spring Books

By Mary Quattlebaum

Books about seeds, bees, cherry blossoms and a Capitol squirrel.


babies/toddlers


One More Egg
by Sarah Emmanuelle Burg. NorthSouth, 2010 board bk., $7.95
In this charming board book, a young chicken tries to help a bunny in need of an egg. The two visit an array of animals, but the horse, pig, cow and mole all say, basically, the same thing: egg laying is not my job. The critters go on to explain that their work involves cart pulling, piglet tending, milk making and tunnel digging. When a hungry wolf scares chicken and bunny back to the hen house, the chicken discovers—surprise!—that she herself can produce the desired egg. Sarah Emmanuelle Burg’s humorous text and colorful pictures make this book a read-aloud treat.


ages 3 – 6


Seed, Soil, Sun
by Cris Peterson, photographs by David Lundquist. Boyds Mills Press, 2010, $17.95
This beautifully photographed work of nonfiction shows how food is grown, “from seeds planted in the soil, moistened by the rain, and warmed by the sun.” Photos of children gardening, looking at earthworms and happily chomping on celery, apples and ears of corn enhance the book’s kid-friendliness as do the brief, accessible text and helpful resources. Easy-to-understand explanations of photosynthesis, the growth cycle and the importance of plants, which “produce oxygen for us to breathe,” round out this spring offering. Why not share this book with your child before breaking ground for your home garden? That way the whole family can anticipate the sowing, tending, harvesting, cooking and green goodies to come.


Madeline at the White House
by John Bemelmans Marciano. Viking, 2011, $17.99
In Madeline at the White House, the iconic Parisian school girl journeys to the nation’s capital, thanks to John Bemelans Marciano, the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, who created the original Madeline (1939) and five companion titles. With this new book, Marciano finishes a project begun by his grandfather and Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961, a year before Bemelmans’s death. After years of studying his grandfather’s illustrative technique, Marciano is able to capture the playful, spontaneous look of the earlier books. In this rhyming tale, Madeline, her 11 compatriots and teacher Miss Clavell visit the young, lonely daughter of the President of the United States. When night falls, the French miss and First Daughter embark on a magical tour of Washington, D.C., and glimpse the “awesome” cherry blossoms. Kids will get a big kick out of seeing familiar buildings—the Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument—from the perspective of these two lively girls. The end papers show the 12 French students and Miss Clavell paying their respects at Arlington Cemetery, a fitting tribute to Bemelmans, who is buried there.


ages 7 - 10


Cappy Tail’s Capitol Tales
by Peter Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes. VSP, 2010, $16.95
Rodents make engaging Washington guides, at least in the hands of Peter and Cheryl Barnes, a talented Virginia couple who created Woodrow, the White House Mouse and other picture books about civics and American government. In Cappy Tail’s Capitol Tales, the buck-toothed critter of choice is a squirrel who shares information about the U.S. Capitol, the cornerstone of which was laid by President George Washington in 1793. In deft rhyme, Cappy explains the history and significance of the Statue of Freedom, the Rotunda, the “bustling chamber” of the House of Representatives and the Senate “well.” Hidden throughout the colorful pictures are images of four wild creatures, and readers will enjoy trying to spot them as they learn about this very real building, which is also an important symbol of democracy.


Lost and Found in the Mississippi Sound
by Katie Carpenter and Mary Carpenter. Tenley Circle Press, 2010, $13.50
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, it created a 30-foot-high storm surge that devastated miles of shoreline, flooded the surrounding area, killed countless wild creatures and rendered thousands of people homeless. Sisters Katie Carpenter (a wildlife documentarian) and Mary Carpenter (a science writer) help young readers to understand the impact of the hurricane and its aftermath by focusing on a real-life animal rescue. When the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, is destroyed, many of its sea lions, seals and birds are swept out to sea. Also lost are the aquarium’s eight bottlenose dolphins, including Eli, a young calf, and his mother Jackie. Born at the Oceanarium, Eli has never seen a shark nor caught his own fish. The trainers know that, if he’s still alive, the calf is in grave danger in the open ocean. Adding to the suspense is the need to find the dolphins before another hurricane (Rita) storms in. This tautly paced work of nonfiction will keep readers turning the pages, eager to see what happens to these memorable dolphins and their trainers.


ages 11 and up


The Hive Detectives
by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, $18
This latest, stunningly photographed volume in the acclaimed “Scientists in the Field” series sets up a mystery: How did 20 million honeybees at Hackenberg Apiaries simply vanish in 2006? And why? As this riveting nonfiction whodunit unfolds, readers learn about the recent sharp decline nationwide not only in honeybees but also in butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects. Their loss seriously affects our food sources. Without these pollinators, field crops and fruit trees simply cannot produce. Trying to find the answer, four scientists immerse themselves in research and fieldwork as do the commercial beekeepers Hackenberg father and son. They research a virus that weakens honeybees and examine environmental factors—a less nutritious diet, destructive mites, recently introduced systemic pesticides—that might further compromise insect health. The research is ongoing, but at this point, these hive detectives believe the catastrophic hive collapses may be caused by a constellation of these factors. Changes have been introduced to safeguard the well-being of domestic and wild honeybees. What might individual families do to help? Backyard wildlife and deck container gardens can make a big difference. Author Loree Griffin Burns recommends “providing healthy habitat: lots of native flowers and no pesticides.”


The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
by Wendy Wan-Long Shang. Scholastic, 2011, $16.99
Debut author Wendy Wan-Long Shang opens this fresh and funny novel with an old Chinese proverb that describes how “something good may turn into something bad, or vice versa.” Lucy Wu believes this sums up her sixth grade year: good things keep going bad. She lives for basketball, but now her practice time is cut by Saturday morning Chinese school and marred by athletic, bullying Sloane. And she’s suddenly forced to share a room with her late grandmother’s sister from China. It’s not fair! Lucy reluctantly finds herself learning more about a heritage and history, including the Cultural Revolution, that she tended to ignore. With her spunk and foibles, Lucy is a memorable character, and the school dynamics—with crushes, mean girls and a loyal best friend—are wholly believable. The endearing, fractious Wu clan is one of the most likable families in recent middle-grade fiction.


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 maryquattlebaum.com, which has information on her 15 award-winning children’s books, school presentations and writing workshops.