Fall 2004  ShoppeTALK

    San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe

If we were in charge of the world, we would add an eighth day to the week, Readingday. It would fall between Sunday and Monday. And the only thing open would be books. But the best we can do is hope we’ve given you a few extra hours by winnowing out some of our favorites from this latest bumper crop of new titles.

Delightful Candidates for the Best in Fall Reading

As we prepare the Fall, 2004 issue of the Newsletter, the presidential campaign is on simmer. By the time you read this, it should be on full boil. Like that traditional tale of the “pot that wouldn’t stop” the publishers are pouring out a seemingly endless supply of books on politics, policy and politicians. Books for children and young adults provide a slightly different flavor as ducks, kids, teens and women throw their hats in the ring.

November and the Election

A farmyard election launches Duck’s political ambitions when he rallies his fellow critters to put him in charge of the enterprise. He discovers that “running a farm is very hard work” and not much fun. So he opts for higher office and begins a successful campaign to oust the governor. He visits diners, marches in parades, attends town meetings and gives “speeches that only other ducks could understand.” And by quacky, he is elected. Once again political ambition calls. He discovers that “running the country” is not much fun either so he puts his vice-president in charge and heads back home to the farm … to write his autobiography, DUCK FOR PRESIDENT (What else?) with the help of his ghostwriter, Doreen Cronin and his ghostillustrator, Betsy Lewin. (Ages 4-8++, $15.95)

MAX FOR PRESIDENT posters and buttons are part of Max’s campaign to become class president. But Kelly wants to be president too and she runs just as organized a campaign. In fact she wins the election and wisely appoints Max to serve as her vice-president. Jarrett J. Krosoczka has written and illustrated a basic, straightforward picture book that makes us wish all elections were that clean cut. (Ages 5–8, $15.95)

Janet Tashjian’s VOTE FOR LARRY is a “must read” for middle and high schoolers (and grown-ups) who may not have even a glimmer of interest in politics. We first met “Larry” in Tashjian’s The Gospel According to Larry. He was the website persona of Josh Swensen, a bright, offbeat highschooler, whose Thoreau-like sermons acquired a mob of admirers numbering into the millions. “Larry’s” fame so overwhelmed Josh, once he was outed, that he faked his own death (pseudocide) and disappeared. Its sequel, VOTE FOR LARRY opens with Josh living in Boulder under an assumed name. His childhood friend, Beth, tracks him down and convinces him (kidnaps him, actually) to return home to run for President on a third-party ticket. Since this is fiction after all, Larry (Josh), who turns eighteen just days before the election, is instrumental in lowering the legal age for the presidency. In spite of sabotage within his own camp, he runs an effective and serious campaign. Tashjian’s book is both compelling and entertaining. She touches on many of the real issues facing young people, including a potential reinstatement of the draft and the national debt. She even includes websites and a booklist at the back for kids who want to get more involved in political action. (Ages 14+++, $16.95)

Catherine Thimmesh’s MADAM PRESIDENT; The Extraordinary, True (and Evolving) Story of Women in Politics offers an informative look at the roles of women in politics. Before women had the vote, wives of United States presidents were advising their husbands. Edith Bolling Wilson even acted secretly for President Wilson after he suffered a disabling stroke. Thimmish features several other first ladies who were notable in helping their husbands carry out the duties of their office. Along with wives of presidents, she highlights the careers of other women in politics including Congresswomen, Cabinet Members and Justices of the Supreme Court. Thimmesh points out that United States ranks way down on the world’s list for inclusion of women in political life and then gives examples of four women in other parts of the world who have served as their country’s leader. Each section of the book is linked by a running dialogue between one determined young woman who wants to be president and other helpful folks who offer up alternative possibilities. Douglas B. Jones’s illustrations, reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, have an appealing and folksy humor to match Thimmesh’s lively text. (Ages 7–13, $17.00)

In 1870, Victoria Woodhull sent a “notice to the New York Herald:  I now announce myself as a candidate for the Presidency.” Woodhull had already made a name for herself by establishing her own stock brokerage. Even though women could not vote, there were no laws that prohibited them from public office. Woodhull ran an energetic campaign that included founding a newspaper and organizing a convention for her Equal Rights Party. Kathleen Krull’s A WOMAN FOR PRESIDENT; The Story of Victoria Woodhull, accompanied by Jane Dyer’s lovely full-page watercolors pays tribute to this remarkable pioneer. (Ages 7–12, $16.95) 

SMART ABOUT THE PRESIDENTS is a handy guidebook to the Presidents. Additional pages talk about how a president can be fired, the role of the vice-presidents and first ladies, and a very interesting map of the United States which shows where the 43 presidents were born. (Virginia leads with eight. Guess which state is second.) Written and illustrated by Jon Buller and others, this is one “smart” book.(Ages 6–10, $5.99 paperback)

And while the focus is on American politics, one more title to spice up dinner table or classroom discussion is O, SAY CAN YOU SEE? America’s Symbols, Landmarks, and Inspiring Words. Author Sheila Keenan explains the concept of “symbol” and highlights some “important places” like “Plymouth Rock,” interesting objects like The Liberty Bell and Uncle Sam, and “inspiring words,” found in The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, National Anthem and The Pledge of Allegiance. Illustrations in pastel and colored pencil by Ann Boyajian are an attractive addition. (Ages 8–12, $16.95) 

Picture Books

What we think makes a picture book one to own and sustain mega numbers of readings (isn’t it amazing how many times a toddler wants to hear the same book again?) is that along with its proven (see previous lines) success with the insatiable toddler, the reality is that the grownup reader is also thoroughly enjoying the book. Case in point are Mo Willems’s appealing Pigeon titles (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Pigeon Finds a Hotdog) and his brand new KNUFFLE BUNNY. Most adults will connect with the Daddy whose trip to the Laundromat with toddler Trixie and her plush toy bunny turns into a nightmare of miscommunication. The inconsolable toddler cannot get through to uncomprehending and nearly desperate Daddy that KNUFFLE BUNNY has been accidentally left behind. Willems superimposes his marvelous cartoon images over photographic background scenes of the city (Brooklyn) to achieve another hit. (Ages 18 mos.–grownup, $15.99)

Here’s another miracle thing about a successful picture book. It doesn’t seem to matter where its creator works or lives, or of what nationality he is. If the book is “right” it will resonate with readers a world away. So meet the newest book by Taiwanese author/illustrator Chih-Yuan Chen. GUJI-GUJI, hatched along with his siblings is part of a happy duck family. Together they swim and play and are well looked after by mother duck. One day GUJI-GUJI encounters a trio of bad crocodiles who are quick to point out that he is not a duck after all, but a crocodile like them. And they plot to have him bring his duck family for a dive off a bridge where they will await them in the river below, mouths open wide. Chih-Yuan Chen relates that he was inspired to write this story because of a Korean friend who had been adopted by a non-Asian family. He hopes that he can encourage children to take a broader view of the world and to be accepting of differences in others. His artwork matches a text filled with gentle humor. Using a restrained color palette, he makes clever use of shadow and background contrasts.
(Ages 3–8, $15.95) 

And then there are picture books that are so darned funny that even the most stolid pre-teen will deign to smile along with the rest of the family. A scruffy, no-bathing quartet of cowboys so tough they can eat fried boots and lizard gizzards turn into old softies in THE TOUGHEST COWBOY; Or How The Wild West Was Tamed. John Frank and illustrator Zachary Pullen have combined a funny story with deliciously droll art. And we bet you can’t read it aloud without taking on a bit a twang. (Ages 5–8++, $16.95)

Librarian Molly McGrew sparked a reading revolution when she accidentally parked her bookmobile at the local zoo. The animals were wary until, “By reading aloud from the good Dr. Seuss, She quickly attracted a mink and a moose.” And from there, the reading sparks grew with the animals checking out books on subjects as diverse as they were. Some became writers and to “the hippo’s enormous surprise … her memoir was given the Zoolitzer Prize.” Judy Sierra’s jolly rhyme inspired the gloriously detailed, full color paintings by Marc Brown. This happy pairing will make any child WILD ABOUT BOOKS. (Ages 2–8, $16.95) 

Bill Thomson
’s exceptional paintings capture the dignity and concentration of young students attending KARATE HOUR. Simple rhyming text by Carol Nevins offers brief descriptions of the students’ lesson with a fuller explanation of the history and principles of karate following at the back of the book. Even there, the illustration of the different colored belts hanging from wooden pegs in order of rank is a stunning addition to the basic information. (Ages 4–10, $14.95)

Beginning readers will welcome the large print and simple rhyme in Ryan Ann Hunter’s ROBOTS SLITHER. And they will also appreciate the extra sound bites of information about each robot nicely placed within Julia Gorton’s colorful airbrushed acrylic paintings. It’s great to find such an accessible book for new readers on such a “hot topic”.
(Ages 4–8, $14.99)

Two for the Fall Holidays …    and Then Some

For kids with a taste for monsters, the ones who wouldn’t bat an eye for a serving of slugs or a crunchy bug, who say “ooh the yuckier the better,” spend a while between the pages of Jane Breskin Zalben and Steven Zalben’s SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE BEASTRO. Their zippy verse and colorful artwork will be a great appetizer for the Halloween season, but we bet this “beastro” will be open all year. (Ages 5–8, $15.99)

HIDE AND SEEK TURKEYS, Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon’s latest collaboration, is a turkey escapade that will last beyond the confining boundaries of Thanksgiving. Illustrator Teresa Murfin has set the duo’s zippy rhyming countdown as a school production with a group of energetic kids in turkey costumes acting out a game of hide and seek, first from the fox and then from the farmer. Kids will enjoy the antics of the turkeys while they practice their counting skills. (Ages 3–8, $15.95) 

New Fiction

The array of notable 2004 fiction features welcome new voices and the latest work of old friends. What is included in these pages is only the start of what awaits your pleasure within the bookstore.

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Professor Ogden deems EGR3 ready. It’s just a matter of finding the right situation for this prototype robot. Meanwhile, the Bell Family’s trusty Grumps is beginning to show his age. His timer is faulty and repairs are out of the question. Although still functional, it is painfully evident to the family that an assistant robot will be needed to keep the household running efficiently. Fleur Bell wishes her less than affluent professional class family could afford a LifeCorps state of the art BDC4 like her upper crust technocrat friend, Marcia. When Mr. Bell calls his old friend Professor Ogden for advice on purchasing a new robot, Ogden seizes the chance to place EGR3 into their household. The family names him EAGER, an appropriate name for this remarkable robot. There are a few shaky moments like when the inexperienced EAGER tries to wash the baby in the washing machine. Fortunately he is engineered to learn quickly, reason, and feel emotion. All of these prove vital when the fancy new LifeCorps BDC4 robots plot a rebellion against their humans. Helen Fox’s debut novel skillfully combines humor, imagination, and suspense. Our biggest concern is that this delightful story will be turned into a less than wonderful movie. (Ages 8–13, $15.95)

Thrust into an adventure not of his choosing, Jack, a young Saxon apprentice bard, and his little sister Lucy are enslaved by a Norse berserker, Olaf One-Brow and his motley crew. It’s 793 A.D. and Viking raids are just beginning 200 years of terror for coastal villagers. In a world of magic, myths and gritty reality, Jack and Lucy encounter colorful characters right out of Beowulf and other epics. Trolls, giant spiders, an enchanted crow, dragons and a giant troll boar have key roles to play in this saga crafted by Newbery Honor author, Nancy Farmer. THE SEA OF TROLLS delivers a bounteous hoard to readers eager to voyage with Jack and his companions into the realm of legends. (Ages 10-14, $17.95) (Reviewed by LW) 

In a world where humans possess superhuman GIFTS like the ability to bring forth fire, summon animals, or untie that which is knotted with merely a glance, abuse of such powers is a dangerous potential. Within the widespread Upland regions these GIFTS are passed down through generations and family tribes have learned to live in careful harmony with their neighbors. Accepted rituals have evolved for dealing with occasional territorial incursions. Orrec’s family lineage carries the gift of undoing and in that way his father, Canoc, is able to protect the people within his small holding. Canoc worries that young Orrec has not shown “the gift” and will therefore be unable to take his place. That is until Orrec accidentally destroys his own dog. Wracked by the guilt of that incident, he agrees to live blindfolded so as to protect all he loves from his “wild gift.” Ursula LeGuin has created an exquisite fantasy where love, duty and honor must co-exist and somehow triumph over the darkness of power and greed. It’s a welcome pleasure to read LeGuin’s well-crafted prose. (Ages 12++, $17.00)

Historical Fiction

The time is 1096. Peter the Hermit is leading his rabble of followers on a Crusade to regain the Holy Land from Muslim control. Their gathering in an encampment near the town of Troyes is a matter of great concern to the small community of Jews headed by the great teacher and Talmudic scholar, Rashi. Sylvia Weil’s novel, MY GUARDIAN ANGEL, drawing from the rich legacy of this beloved rabbi, centers on Rashi’s precocious granddaughter, Elvina whom the scholar had taught to read. One Sabbath afternoon a wounded boy is brought to Elvina’s home because it is rumored the Jews are healers. Both Elvina’s mother and grandmother who are skilled in medicine are away from home, assisting at a birthing. The men of the household are at the synagogue and her younger brother and cousin have gone off on a walk. With only one servant in the house, Elvina knows she is taking a terrible risk but believes it is a commandment to tend to the wounded. While she is cleaning and dressing the boy’s cut, she overhears the crusaders laughing about the capture of two young Jewish boys. They are speaking about her brother and cousin and she realizes their fate is in her hands. Although much of the story, originally published in France in 2001 as Le Mazal d’Elvina, is framed by the temporary residence of the Crusaders in the surrounding French countryside, Weil paints a rich portrait of Jewish life in the Middle Ages. (Ages 9-12, $16.95)

Realistic Fiction and a Few Good Yarns

Every so often we meet a book that reminds us why we are lucky to be children’s booksellers. (Actually there are hundreds of books like that but you know what we mean … right?) So we are thrilled to introduce you to IDA B; And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disasters, and (Possibly) Save the World, by Katherine Hannigan. The scary thing is that Ida B, with all her great plans, almost completely ruins any chance she has of accomplishing anything good at all. Her happy life living on an apple farm, being home schooled by two doting parents comes to a roaring halt when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. First of all, to pay for her mother’s (successful) cancer treatments, a small part of the farm has to be sold AND her parents decide it is time for Ida B to attend public school. Her response, she tells us, to these drastic events was to cry and cry until “my heart was a sharp, black stone that was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. It was so hard nobody could break it and so sharp it would hurt anybody who touched it.” It stayed that way for the better part of that fourth grade year in spite of her wise and gentle teacher and her patient, loving parents. Hannigan’s first novel is an endearing portrayal of a bright, articulate, off-beat child struggling to come to terms with difficult changes in her life. (Ages 9++, $15.99)

Shy fifth grader, Naomi Outlaw says the three things she is good at are “soap carving”, “worrying” and “making lists.” She and her younger brother Owen live with their great-grandmother in a trailer park south of San Diego. Their mother’s unexpected reappearance after a seven year absence and her scheme to take Naomi to live with her and her new boyfriend in Las Vegas threatens their peaceful stability. To protect the children, Gram and their neighbors take Naomi and Owen to find their father in Oaxaca. It is there that Naomi discovers the roots of her carving talent as well as the courage to stand up for herself. Pam Munoz Ryan’s BECOMING NAOMI LEON presents characters you’d be happy to know.  (Ages 8–13, $16.95) 

Now for some characters that don’t come much wilder, meet the folks in Christopher Paul Curtis’s BUCKING THE SARGE. First off, the Sarge is Luther T. Farrell’s mother who is one of the richest ladies in Flint, Michigan mostly because she owns a crowd of slum housing and group homes, and a money lending business. Luther’s goals are to graduate high school with top grades and capture a three year sweep as winner of the science fair. Along with a hectic school schedule, he works for his mother supervising one of her group homes. After highschool he plans to spend his hard earned college fund attending a top college and become the world’s best loved philosopher. His best friend Sparky is an indifferent student but a champion schemer of ways to get out of Flint. When Luther’s science fair project uncovers an environmental hazard within the community of Flint, investigations into the violations will expose his mother’s little empire. Luther is smart enough to know how to stay a few miles ahead of that lady and Curtis keeps you cheering for his hero right to the end. (Ages 12+, $15.95)

It’s July, 199l, and sixteen year old Mrs. Sally Jo Walker has begun a letter to “Mr. Teeter” about the quality of his grocery store’s prepared coleslaw with suggestions for improvement. The reader discovers, in the course of reading the letter, that newlywed Sally Jo (aka Jody) has just been abandoned by Bobby James, her husband of thirteen weeks, at a gas station in Florida. What we also learn is that he has a temper and the day before, for no apparent reason, has hit her in the face. So when he leaves her stranded miles from her hometown in Texas, she decides to make a new life for herself in Jackson Beach, Florida. Reading Valerie Hobbs’s LETTING GO OF BOBBY JAMES, OR HOW I FOUND MY SELF OF STEAM felt like we got seated next to Jody on a trip to somewhere, and we didn’t want to get off the bus until we heard her story to the end. You might never see her again, but you can’t help liking her and admiring her courage and integrity and you sure wish her well. Hobbs created a bittersweet story and infused it with humor and memorable characters. (Ages 13+, $16.00) 

Eva Ibbotson surprised us a while back with a book not about ghosts or witches and not set primarily in England. Most of the action for Journey to the River Sea was in the Amazon rain forest. Her latest, THE STAR OF KAZAN, takes us to early twentieth century Vienna. A baby, abandoned in a church, has been raised in an unconventional household by the cook and housekeeper with the permission of their employers, a trio of middle-aged eccentric unmarried siblings. Eleven years have passed and Annika is a lovely young child with many friends in her little enclave. She befriends an elderly aunt of snobby neighbors. When the old lady dies she leaves the child her trunk filled with what is thought to be costume jewelry. Around the time of the old woman’s death, Annika’s mother appears to claim her child and takes her away to the family estates in northern Germany. Ibbotson’s tale is in the tradition of The Secret Garden and other wonderful stories where a young child is good and kind and generous and is taken advantage of by scheming relatives. With its many twists and turns and an interesting cast of characters and even Lippizaner horses THE STAR OF KAZAN is a deliciously rich story to read aloud over a series of winter nights.(Ages 9–13, $17.99)

Gilbert & Sullivan, move over! Tanith Lee’s PIRATICA, a fresh tale of high adventure on the high seas, is on the horizon. When Miss Artemesia Fitz-Willoughby Weatherhouse, student at the Angels Academy for Young Maidens at Rowhampton, falls down the stairs during Deportment, it is the unlikely beginning of a world-changing enterprise. Art, after six years of amnesia, remembers her mother, the notorious pirate queen Molly Faith, known as PIRATICA. What happens when she sets off to find her mother’s crew, find the truth of her mother’s death, and set sail once again is one of the funniest and most engaging stories we’ve read all year. (Ages 12+, $17.99) (Reviewed by RH

Life is going pretty well for seventh-grader Steve (aka Sneeze) Wyatt. Except for history, where he has the formidable Ms. Pierce, school is easy. He has a part-time job working for his girlfriend’s father’s miniature golf course. His mechanical aptitude and inventive genius bring him more repair jobs than he probably wants. His troubles start when his parents decide he should skip eighth grade for the greater challenges of high school, provided he gets his failing grade up in history and joins a school club. Because he really doesn’t want to leave the few friends he has at middle school he comes up with a 101 WAYS TO BUG YOUR TEACHER to sabotage the plan. What he hasn’t calculated is that he is no match for the clever Ms. Pierce. Lee Wardlaw’s title is guaranteed to pique the interest of reluctant readers, and her humorous story will keep them reading. Grownups should not worry. Ms. Wardlaw, once a teacher herself before launching into a full-time successful writing career, gives a sympathetic portrayal of teachers and parents. Another bonus of the book is the recipe for mummifying a chicken which is Steve’s “winning” history project. (Ages 10–13, $16.99)

Damian and Anthony are in a new house and starting a new school where Dad tells them to be “excellent.” They’re missing their mother who is now “in a better place.” Damian’s shtick, ever since his mother became ill, is collecting facts about saints. He’s almost a walking encyclopedia of saint trivia and is trying hard to become one. Anthony is far more practical. He tells Damian, “Tell them your mum’s dead and they give you stuff.” One night Damian accidentally locks himself out the house and takes shelter at the back of their garden next to the railroad track where he has built himself a small “hermitage” out of old cardboard shipping boxes. He’s trying to stay warm while meditating “on the difficulties of being good.” He says a prayer to God, reminding him as Anthony has suggested, about his Mum. “God must have heard me … And you know what? He did the same thing as everyone else. He gave me something.” A train goes by, and a flying off of it is a bagful of money which was supposed to be burned in preparation for the introduction of the euro as the standard currency of Europe. Damian is convinced it has been sent by God to distribute to the poor. Anthony has other plans for the money and they only have a couple of weeks in which to spend it before it becomes obsolete. In MILLIONS, Frank Cottrell Boyce has written one of the most original, entertaining, and thought provoking novels of this year, or any year for that matter. It certainly will open up lots of discussion on the true value of money. (Ages 8++, $15.99) 

Fans of Kate Klise’s witty Regarding the Fountain; A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks will be delighted to know that she has teamed up again with her illustrator sister M. Sarah Klise to present the next episode in the life of Geyser Creek (formerly known as Dry Creek) Middle School and particularly the students of Mr. Sam N.’s class who, in this installment, REGARDING THE SINK; Where, Oh Where, Did Waters Go? are now in sixth grade. To recap, the children in the first book have made close friends with the famous California designer, Florence Waters who not only designed school’s phenomenal fountain but also helped uncover the mystery of the disappearing water supply in this small Missouri town. The final letter in the book is from the principal to Ms. Waters requesting she submit a bid for badly needed cafeteria sink replacement. So in REGARDING THE SINK there is the matter of the sink design. But Ms. Waters is missing. And there is also the matter of a sixth grade field trip for which there is no money allocated. And there is a matter also of stock investments and the principal, it seems, has invested the sink money in a sinking stock. And then there is also a senator with a penchant for beans who is getting money from spurious sources. Once more the sisters Klise have delivered an amusing tour de force through letters, memos, newspaper articles, emails and even search warrants, and with lots of witty illustrations. (Ages 9–13, $15.00) (Note: Regarding the Fountain is available in paperback, $5.99)


A Trio of Picture Book Biographies

In ODD BOY OUT; Young Albert Einstein, author/illustrator Don Brown reveals a child late to talk, prone to tantrums, and indifferent to his studies (with some notable exceptions). When Einstein was about fifteen, his father’s work required the family to move from Germany to Italy. The separation was devastating for him, and in the end he was given permission to quit school and join his family. The things that intrigued Einstein were matters of energy, light and relativity. Don Brown explains that “for the rest of us his ideas mean automatic door openers, television, space travel, and atomic energy.” Brown’s watercolors and pen and ink drawings are an inviting accompaniment to his introduction to one of the world’s greatest minds of the twentieth century.
(Ages 7–11, $16.00)

Almost a century before Einstein was born, another young man endured separation from homeland and family. John James was sent from France to his father’s American farm to learn both English and how to make money in the new world. The bird life on his father’s farm proved to be a greater attraction. He sketched and painted all he found, and pondered the questions of “Where do small birds go (in winter) and do they return to the same nest in the spring.” And he devised a way to find out. Jacqueline Davies tells of the formative years of THE BOY WHO DREW BIRDS; A Story of John James Audubon and how he became the greatest painter of birds of all time. Melissa Sweet’s delicately detailed and eye-appealing watercolors and collage art provide a sense of the Pennsylvania wilderness Audubon loved.
(Ages 6–10, $15.00)

James Rumford writes of another genius. SEQUOYAH was a man who could not read nor write. Yet in his fifties he developed a written syllabary system to keep the Cherokee language alive. Born in Tennessee in the early 1760’s, he was a metal worker for most of his life. In 1809 he began working on a writing system that was presented to the Cherokee Nation in about 1821. Rumford’s handsome artwork (“ink, watercolor, pastel, and pencil on drawing paper adhered to a rough piece of wood …”) pays tribute to a man he clearly admires. And in a fitting tribute to SEQUOYAH’s contribution, Rumford’s text has been translated into Cherokee by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby, a language training coordinator at the Cherokeee Nation Cultural Resource Center. (Ages 7–11, $16.00) 

A Pair of Titles to Add to Your Collection

For Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka we have a question: If Math was a curse is SCIENCE VERSE? Now these two fellows have gone and done it again. An irreverent collection of poetry featuring science concepts and terminology follows in the footsteps of that zany exercise, Math Curse. Using well known poems as stepping stones into the realm of outrageous, Jon Scieszka introduces a panoply of terminology and a smattering of concept that one hopes will launch kids to 1. Further explore science, 2. Further explore the original poetry freely parodied, 3. Enjoy. With Lane Smith’s cartoon-like art adding to the spoofery, we guess that anyone with more than a passing interest in science is going to find a copy of  SCIENCE VERSE quite titillating. (Here’s a short sample: “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack jump over the combustion reaction of O2 + heat + fuel to form CO2 + light + heat + exhaust.”) And P.S., the book includes a CD starring both author and illustrator and if that isn’t enough, the Periodic Table appears in the end papers. (Ages 9–Adult, $16.99)

Seventeen poems of
seventeen syllables meant
for you to enjoy.


Jack Prelutsky’s collection of Haiku, IF NOT FOR THE CAT, is illustrated with a stunning mix of paintings by Ted Rand. Read the poems aloud for a young audience to guess the animals Prelutsky paints with words. Then look at Rand’s art and linger over the vivid colors and designs.
(Ages 3+, $16.99) 

Our fascination for passing train cars has barely diminished since we were kids but in all the years of train watching we’ve never seen anything like Peter Sis’s THE TRAIN OF STATES. Here it comes “Presenting 50 Fabulous Train Cars, One for Each of the Truly Great 50 States, From Maine to California and All States in Between, Followed by a Most Marvelous Caboose, All Aboard.” The gorgeously detailed state cars depict significant people born within their borders, their wonders and historical events and in the text below are some key facts like the capital, state bird, flower and tree and also a pithy bit of trivia. The cars pass by, page by page, in order of their achieving statehood with Delaware in front and Washington, DC as the caboose. Like all of Sis’s books, this will provide hours of delightful browsing and a lovely pictorial excursion for kids who adore collecting facts as souvenirs of their reading. (Ages 6+, $17.99)

When one of our favorite illustrators, Marla Frazee read the sing-song rhythmic text of Woodie Guthrie’s NEW BABY TRAIN she was charmed by the incongruous notion of babies arriving at their proper destinations not by traditional stork, but by train. So, after researching Dust Bowl era landscapes and visiting train museums, she has painted the appropriate setting for those appealing and humorous babies heading home. Don’t wait for that inevitable “where do babies come from?,” to enjoy the Guthrie/Frazee supposition. (Ages 2–7+, $15.99) 

What matter that the true origins of Aesop’s Fables are still a mystery. Their relevance is as fresh and perhaps more necessary now than ever before. Their wisdom is dispensed in palatable doses and as a result may be even more effective. And the audience for these tales, particularly when the telling is graceful and the illustrations breathtakingly beautiful, knows no boundaries. Helen Ward’s rendering of UNWITTING WISDOM; An Anthology of Aesop’s Fables fits exactly those specifications. Her collection of twelve of the tales dressed in her exquisite ink and watercolor paintings will provide an elegant gift for all the family. (Ages 4–Adult, $18.95)

Newsletter text Copyright 2004 © by Jody Shapiro.  All Rights Reserved.