Summer 2006  ShoppeTALK
San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe 

Welcome to the Summer Newsletter. We’ve tried to give you a sampling of what’s new and encourage you to stop by to see what else is on display for your summer reading enjoyment.

Exploring the World of Summertime
We’re beginning this summer newsletter with Douglas Wood’s celebration of NOTHING TO DO because once in a while, in our wildly overscheduled existence, comes a day where there is NO PLAN, no class to attend, homework, practice, camp, appointment; a day with nothing on the calendar. So how do you enjoy such a luxurious day? Wood suggests activities mostly experiential, sensory and day dreamy like taking off shoes and walking in green grass or mud, watching clouds or ants, flying paper airplanes. Or re-reading a favorite book and we have to add, of course, spending extra special minutes looking at Wendy Anderson Halperin’s detailed watercolor illustrations for this book. Her attention to detail is always a gift to the reader with the luxury of unstructured leisure time. She was an inspired choice to create the illustrations for this book. (Ages 4+, $16.99)

Long after you’ve summered at the BEACH, Elisha Cooper’s picture book re-creation of a day at the seashore will be a reminder of its pleasures. We have long marveled at Cooper’s skill as a watercolor painter, particularly his use of white space on a page and his light touch of both art and text — never overworked yet capturing the essence of the subject. One of our favorite illustrations in this evocation of BEACH is the double-paged spread of three views of the same beach in a time-lapse sequence, as more people arrive and array themselves across the sandy foreshore.  (All ages, $16.99)
We know many four-year-olds who’d rather be outside hunting roly-poly bugs than playing with any plastic battery-operated contraption in their overstuffed toy boxes. And for them, the perfect book is I’M A PILL BUG by Yukihisa Tokuda with softly colored cut-paper collages by Kiyoshi Takahashi. The pill bug confesses he is the “scavenger of nature” with a huge appetite for dead plants, newspapers, leftover human food, and even his own outgrown and shedded shell. With a simple, straightforward and very informative text, this is a non-fiction gem for any pre-schooler.
(Ages 2–5, $7.95 paperback)

WOW! AMERICA! is artist Robert Neubecker’s spectacular first introduction to the regions and special features of the United States. Like his earlier picture book, Wow! City!, spare text borders scenes filled with sizzling color and action. And when the generously sized two-page spreads are insufficient to properly showcase the magnificent Mississippi River and Grand Canyon, an extra page folds out for dramatic emphasis. From New England lobsters to the volcanoes of Hawaii and the giant glaciers of Alaska, young children get a pictorial tour that makes even grown-up readers say “Wow!”. (Ages 3–7, $16.99) (Suggestion: Pin up a world map and use this book as an early lesson in geographic literacy.)

Two heroes in American sports annals overcame great odds to achieve lasting fame.
The first was Wa-tho-huck, a Sac and Fox Indian, born in Oklahoma in 1888. We know him as Jim Thorpe, one of the most gifted athletes of the twentieth century. Don Brown’s BRIGHT PATH: Young Jim Thorpe describes a youngster far more comfortable in the great outdoors than in the confined spaces of a classroom. Brown describes Thorpe’s displeasure at being trapped at Carlisle Indian School “like a quail in a cornstalk snare.” But it was at Carlisle that Thorpe’s extraordinary gifts were discovered and the doors were opened to a world beyond the confines of the Oklahoma prairie. When he competed in the Fifth modern Olympic Games in the summer of 1912, he set a still unequaled world record in the pentathlon and a decathlon record that stood for twenty years. Brown’s watercolors accompany his lively, picturesque text.
(Ages 6–11. $17.95)

Yona Zeldis McDonough, with the assist of paintings by Malcah Zeldis, relates the story of HAMMERIN’ HANK: The Life of Hank Greenberg, who did not have the natural athleticism of many sports heroes. Although he was given a basketball scholarship to New York University, he dropped out after only one semester to pursue his true calling, baseball (much to his parents’ disappointment). It was hard work and perseverance that ultimately paid off in landing a job in the minor leagues for the Detroit Tigers in 1930. His presence on the Tigers made a huge improvement in their league standings and he was voted the American League Most Valuable Player in both 1934 and 1940. The Tigers lost their star when he enlisted in the United States Army and served from 1941 until 1945, returning again to lead the league in home runs in 1946. Perhaps because Greenberg was not a born athlete, his story, like many other athletes who have overcome great odds to succeed, has strong appeal. (Ages 6–10, $16.95)

First of all, JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE & BEN is NOT a study of the Beatles, but rather Lane Smith’s zany and irreverent (but what else would we expect from Smith?) look at our founding fathers (Tom Jefferson is also featured). Smith has identified a notable characteristic of each of these distinguished gentlemen, and created a short humorous vignette to illustrate it. Indeed he has taken liberties with historical fact but there is an educational component revealed in the ambiance of his artwork that utilizes the props of early Americana. He also attempts to set the reader straight in a follow-up “true or false section.” We showed the book to a precocious four year old girl of our acquaintance who insisted the characters with their considerable hair were girls. Nevertheless several re-readings of the book were requested to hear about Paul Revere’s loud voice, George’s way with an ax, Ben’s freely offered advice, John Hancock’s particularly large signature, and Tom’s independent spirit. (Ages 4–8, to grown-ups with a sense of humor, $16.99)

“Climbing mountains” is both metaphor and reality. We know people who embrace one interpretation or the other. TIGER OF THE SNOWS by Robert Burleigh with Ed Young illustrations will resonate for both groups. This combination of poetic text and stunning pastels is a tribute to the life of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa guide who, with Edmund Hillary, became the first climbers to reach the peak of Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain on May 29, 1953. In the afterword more information is provided including mention of Norgay’s career path and the reality that it took more than 300 carriers to help the two men accomplish this challenge.
(Ages 7–10+, $16.95)
With her SNAPSHOTS; The Wonders of Monterey Bay, Celeste Davidson Mannis offers photographic views of California’s central coast with two layers of text. Read her simple poetry and you have a picture book for young children who revel in the natural wonders of the great outdoors. For older readers and for younger children whose curiosity and attention span are more developed, the second level of text provides explanations of the photographs with more scientific information. Even the format, with generous two page spreads of the scenery, has secondary, smaller pictures inset discreetly below or beside her featured photographs. (Ages 3–8, $16.99)

Beginning Readers

It’s a lucky time for children beginning to read as publishers and authors are now being recognized with a literary award for the genre and we anticipate a new crop of books will join some old favorites like the Frog and Toad series, zany Amelia Bedelia, and The Golly Sisters.

Prolific writer, Marion Dane Bauer has two new books in the Ready-to-Read series for “level 1” on Wonders of America. Both THE GRAND CANYON and NIAGARA FALLS are illustrated in fairly detailed watercolors by John Wallace and should appeal to kids who want books about real topics and can handle simple stories with approximately one sentence per page. The pair has a third title on THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS due out this fall. They have paired previously on books about weather for the series. In an interview, Bauer says she likes writing non-fiction for early readers because she herself tends to pare down information into simple specifics. (Both books are for ages 4–7, $3.99 each, paperback)

James Howe, whose books also span early reading like the Pinky and Rex series to popular middle grade series on the vampire bunny, Bunnicula and beyond to young adult titles like Totally Joe, has a new three chapter early reader. HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA is about competition, friendship and doing things in one’s life that are FUN. Catina wants to write to become famous and poor Houndsley doesn’t know how to tell her that her writing isn’t very good. Then Houndsley enters a cooking contest and muffs it. Both friends decide they are good at being each others friend. Marie-Louise Gay combined watercolor, collage and pencil to invite us into their world. (Ages 4–7, $14.99)

We suspect that because the glorious, award winning illustrator, Jerry Pinkney is now a grandfather (at last count there were nine), he was inspired to recreate THE LITTLE RED HEN with his own full-bodied and luxuriant paintings. Using a combination of graphite, ink and watercolor, he achieves a hen worth her weight in red feathers with a healthy brood of golden chicks. And we imagine he couldn’t resist a surprise for his own grandkids by painting himself into the story as the generous miller who not only grinds hen’s wheat into flour, but gives her a jar of berry jam, besides. Among the extra touches in the design of the book is the color coded text enabling a beginning reader to recognize “little red hen” on the page because it is printed in red ink. The other animal names also appear in other colors. A new reader will love participating in telling the story with the help of the color prompts.  (Ages 2–7, $16.99)

Middle Grade Fiction

Nine-year old FERGUS CRANE is finally able to attend school … but the reader figures out that the free School Ship Betty Jeanne is unconventional, and even perhaps a bit dicey. He lives with his loving mother who creates tasty pastries at the bakery shop next door to his apartment house. His father seems to be lost somewhere, off on an expedition and has never returned. For the past three nights a mysterious flying box has appeared at his window with messages. The last one, from his long lost Uncle Theo warns him he is in danger and help is coming. Help arrives in the form of a mechanical flying horse that whisks him far away to his uncle’s The Fateful Voyage Trading Company. There he learns something more of his family history and the truth of the School Ship Betty Jeanne. Author Paul Stewart and illustrator Chris Riddell have crafted an imaginative adventure with a certain zing; at once both curiously old-fashioned yet refreshingly innovative. The illustrations are embedded neatly into the text and are designed to appeal to readers prepared to leap into more complicated stories while not discouraging older readers who like the comfort of slightly larger text font and illustrations. (Ages 8–12, $14.95)

When Ted Hammond sees someone in the window of an abandoned house one early October morning while delivering the local newspaper, he returns after school to investigate. Ted lives in a small town in Nebraska with a population so diminished there are only nine remaining students in his school. While his teacher divides her time between the four fourth graders and four eighth graders in ROOM ONE, Ted, the lone sixth grader, is happy to retreat into his favorite pastime of reading mysteries. His real life mystery of “The Case of the Face in the Window” turns out to be a girl about his age, who, along with her brother and mother are hiding out after their car has broken down. The father of the family was killed in Iraq and they are enroute to relatives in Colorado from Texas. At first Ted offers to bring them food, but then realizes they need more help then he alone can provide. Ted enlists the townspeople whose kindness to a bereaved military family attracts national publicity, giving people a chance to rebuild their lives and a town to revitalize. This is another winner by Andrew Clements, author of thought-provoking novels like Frindle and The Report Card. (Ages 8–12, $15.95) (Note: Both Frindle and The Report Card are now available in paperback, $5.99 each)
Two years ago, Blue Balliett wowed young mystery readers with a sophisticated story, Chasing Vermeer, about two classmates who get involved in the theft of a painting. Now the young detectives add a third member to their team, Calder’s old friend Tommy who has just moved back to Chicago. Tommy’s apartment has a rare view of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Robie House which is in danger of being torn down. They call themselves THE WRIGHT 3, and their mission is to save the wonderful old house from the wrecking ball. Once again with Calder’s pentominoes (this time they are 3-D) and secret code, Petra’s sleuthing and intuition, and the addition of Tommy’s uncanny skills at excavation and his propinquity to the famous landmark, they are able to capture some would-be thieves and to rescue the building. Along the way the author builds some historical details about architect Wright and sprinkles a bit of magical realism into the plot, along with the issues of three classmates working out a friendship. (Tommy is jealous of Calder’s friendship with Petra, formed while he was away, Petra feels threatened by Tommy’s reappearance at the end of the school year to reclaim his old friendship with Calder, with poor Calder caught in the middle.) Anyway THE WRIGHT 3, with Brett Helquist’s illustrations, is all very satisfying and will provide a jolly read this summer.  (Ages 9–13, $16.99) (Chasing Vermeer available in paperback, $6.99)

Bravo for Three Terrific First Novels for Middle Grade and Young Adult

Readers, especially ones who like interesting words and intriguing adventures, are the perfect audience for Lesley M. M. Blume’s tale of CORNELIA AND THE AUDACIOUS ESCAPADES OF THE SOMERSET SISTERS. Cornelia is a lonely youngster living in Greenwich Village. Her mother, a world famous concert pianist is either touring or recovering from touring or practicing for the next tour, leaving Cornelia in the care of a chatterbox French nanny. To ward off most adults and schoolmates, Cornelia hides behind a prodigious vocabulary she memorizes from her collection of dictionaries and thesauruses. But one day she meets new neighbors who have moved into the adjacent apartment and discovers a world far more interesting than the narrow confines of her predictable and sheltered life. The new residents are an aging writer named Virginia Somerset, her companion/servant Patel and a French bull dog named Mister Kinyetta. Each room in the apartment has been decorated to commemorate a place in the world toured by Virginia and her three madcap sisters, beginning in Morocco in 1949. Virginia is Cornelia’s kindred spirit with her love of words but she uses them to connect, not hide behind. She is a storyteller in the tradition of Scheherazade, spinning tales of the four adventurous Somerset sisters. Cornelia blossoms under the lovely attention in that exotic household, keeping her visits there a secret from her mother and the housekeeper. She is furious when she discovers her mother in Virginia’s apartment. It is through the older woman’s intercession between mother and daughter, that the two begin to reconnect. Blume’s story of a unique friendship between a young girl and a wise old woman is a pleasure to read alone or to share as a family read-aloud.  (Ages 8–13, $15.95)
Fifteen-year old D. J. Schwenk is the DAIRY QUEEN. She spends her time doing just what she is told, which on a dairy farm means tending to a lot of cows. But when the handsome (though highly obnoxious) quarterback for a rival town’s football team points out to her that she might have some similarities with her cows, D.J. realizes that it’s time to start thinking for herself. This includes training the highly obnoxious quarterback for his upcoming football season, cutting off her hair so she can go out for her own school’s football team, and getting her uncommunicative family to talk to each other. First time novelist, Catherine Gilbert Murdock has created a thoroughly engaging character, no girly-girl, but smart, funny, and honest. And she just might have the most embarrassing attempt at a first kiss. Ever.   (Ages 11+, $16.00)
Review by Lynn Becker

Simone is quick to point out that in spite of how perfect her family sounds on paper, there are certain imperfections that are noticeable. For starters, her dark, almond shaped eyes and olive skin, set her apart from her fair-haired family. Then she learns that her birth mother wants to meet her. Much of Dana Reinhardt’s A BRIEF CHAPTER IN MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE deals with Simone at age sixteen, getting to finally meet and know her birth mother who is quite different than her lapsed Christian parents. Simone is funny, irreverent, (her mother is an ACLU lawyer, her father a political cartoonist), a late bloomer among her friends (her best friend, Cleo is already sexually active), and has yet to experience her first real kiss (see review above for matching bad first kiss experiences) and would like a boy friend (she has a crush on Josh who is on the school paper with her), and she thinks she’s an atheist, but isn’t even sure about that. And maybe she is little too whiney about her life being “impossible” because she really does have nice parents and a great brother. Fans of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series will find A BRIEF CHAPTER… a treat to read, and don’t forget the tissues. I have to confess I started crying about three-fourths of the way through the book, and was still at it when I finished. And the other part of the confession is that I always think a book is better if it makes me laugh or cry and this did both.  (Ages 12+, $15.95)

Fiction for Older Readers

Sportswriter Mike Lupica moves the action from the basketball court of his first best selling YA novel, Travel Team, to the pitcher’s mound on the Little League Field in his latest, HEAT. It’s no secret that Michael (Miguel) Arroyo wants to help get his team to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. That was Papi’s dream too. What is secret is that Michael and his brother Carlos are orphans, barely holding on until Carlos turns eighteen so he can become Michael’s legal guardian. Trying hard to stay under the radar, they tell people that their father is helping out with a sick relative in Florida while the two boys remain in New York, living in the shadow of glorious Yankee Stadium. In the meantime, Michael’s considerable talents come under the scrutiny of the opposing teams’ coaches who don’t believe he is only twelve years old. They demand to see his birth certificate which they discover Papi had failed to bring with them when they had escaped from Cuba. As a result, Michael is temporarily suspended. Lupica tells a dramatic story filled with decent folks (not counting the bully and his equally unsavory dad on the opposing team!) who are trying to help the two brothers. This is one of those stories you just know will end up as a movie but why wait when you can read HEAT between innings this summer. (Ages 9+, $16.99)
(Note: Travel Team available in paperback, $6.99)

Living with Aunt Jane and Uncle Stephen since he was orphaned at three-years old, hasn’t been easy for Luc Grayson. As he approaches his thirteenth birthday he feels himself changing in ways he cannot understand. A pacifist up until now, he hits back at a bully in the playground and he has started to have recurring dreams in which he is a beast. Then he loses his best friend, the school’s fastest runner, when he beats him in the school jog-a-thon. Things have deteriorated at home with his uncle and he falls wretchedly ill. Miraculously a stranger named Ranger appears and carries him away. At first Luc doesn’t understand his own situation. Of course, the title of R. L. LaFeversWEREWOLF RISING gives its readers the clue to Luc’s true nature. Once he is taken into his late parents’ community, the changes he is experiencing begin to make more sense. And he learns why it was vital for Ranger to rescue him ahead of his important thirteenth birthday even though it means putting the entire pack at risk. LaFevers constructs a compelling coming of age fantasy around the myths of werewolf culture, drawing from the story of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who founded the city of Rome.  (Ages 10–14, $16.99)

Once, before fifth grade, Jamie Reardon had a real house, delicious homemade dinners, a cat named Mister and a dad. Then before he knew it, the cat was killed, his dad left home, and his Aunt had a work related accident that required Jamie and his mother to move from Battle Creek to Aunt Sapphy’s mobile home in Traverse City. His mother has a job working nights at the local cherry cannery and she certainly isn’t making good dinners any more. The problem with Sapphy is that, although she remembers everything that ever happened to her from before her accident, she has lost the ability to make new memories. Jamie says her memory loss is like a scratch on a record and if they can just get past that scratch, as one doctor has suggested, she might be cured. At the same time while the family struggles to reclaim Sapphy’s memory loss, Jamie is trying hard to bury his own memory of something bad that has happened to him. In the trailer park lives a classmate named Audrey. She’s a strange, quirky kid but ultimately nags at Jamie enough to force him to come to terms with his own troubled memory of attempted child molestation. The resolution of Sarah WeeksJUMPING THE SCRATCH is stunning and deftly handled. The entire novel is beautifully crafted to keep the reader entertained enroute to the outcome. (Ages 10+, $15.99)

Perhaps our most astonishing read of this season is Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF. Set in the outskirts of Munich through the period building up to and during World War II, Death is the narrator. Although he does his task of gathering souls with efficiency and compassion, he admits he has a problem dealing with survivors whom he usually avoids. But in the case of Liesel Meminger, her theft of a book, “The Grave Digger’s Handbook” intrigues him. At nine-years old, she is a child who cannot read, and therefore does not even know the name of the book she has discovered in the snow where her younger brother has just been buried. She doesn’t understand why her mother has abandoned her to strangers, the Hubermanns, who will become her Mama and Papa. Describing her arrival at their house on Himmel Street, Zusak writes “… you could still see the bite marks of snow on her hands … the frosty blood on her fingers. Everything about her was undernourished. Wirelike shins. Coat hanger arms. She did not produce it easily, but when it came, she had a starving smile.” The book is filled with Zusak’s exquisitely written portraits of the people who are part of Liesel’s world. Curiously, THE BOOK THIEF was published originally as an adult book in Zusak’s native Australia, but in The States, it was released for the young adult market. For high school students who are reading novels and memoirs of the Holocaust, including Elie Wiesel’s Night, THE BOOK THIEF will provide another view of life in Germany during World War II. Adults who have read many of the other fine novels on this topic, including Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River, will find this compelling and unforgettable.  (Ages 13+, $16.95)

Staying Busy & Healthy
Along with packing a stack of good reading for summer, there are always those reliable Klutz activities that make back seat car travel more tolerable. One of our favorites, STOP THE WATCH, has been redesigned and ready to be placed into eager record breaker backseat action. Along with suggestions in the accompanying book, creative families can come up with all sorts of invented things to time. We like, “How long will it take before anyone says ‘When will we be there?’” Everyone can wager a guess. See who goes the longest without whining.  (Ages 6+, $12.95)

And riding on the popularity of “pirate mania” is EVERYTHING KIDS PIRATES PUZZLE AND ACTIVITY BOOK by Beth Blair and Jennifer Ericsson, that has about a hundred pages of word games, mazes, and puzzles. Pack a pencil and relax. The publishers have other books in the series so if “pirates” isn’t yourrr pleasurrr, there’s more to choose from.
(Ages 6+, $7.95)
We give you fair warning that once you read Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson’s CHEW ON THIS: Everything You Don’t Want to Know about Fast Food, you will have a hard time walking through those golden arches to grab a quick burger and fries. This adaptation of Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation published in 2001 (and currently required reading in many of our local high schools) will not only be useful for health and nutrition classes for middle-schoolers, it adds support for advocates of healthier diets at home and at school. Because the fast food industry has studied child behavior and targeted children in advertising and promotions, it is time for thoughtful discussion with children about how they are being used. The authors lay out the facts on agribusiness, slaughterhouse practices, and the links between childhood obesity and growth of fast food outlets. We recommend parents and teachers read this first and discuss the “mcnuggets” of facts with their children. We would love to know what impact CHEW ON THIS will have on the way they think about what they eat and drink. (Ages 11+, $16.00)

Give kids a head start on understanding the principles of good nutrition with THE MONSTER HEALTH BOOK; A Guide to Eating Healthy, Being Active & Feeling Great for Monsters & Kids by Edward Miller. This illustrated guide is almost like an expanded checklist, with sound bites explaining the basic food groups, the importance of mealtimes including starting out with a real breakfast, explanations of eating disorders, the role of exercise and saying no to smoking, alcohol and drugs. It provides a great starting place for talking about and getting a handle on good health.
(Ages 6-10, $16.95)

Newsletter text Copyright 2006 © by Jody Shapiro.  All Rights Reserved.