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3rd in Planet of the Dogs Series Is Best, Reviewer Says June 26, 2009

Our last blog was all about Robert McCarty’s Planet of the Dogs series. For the third in the series, I’m letting my assistant reviewer Thomas Jarvis, age 10, officiate. Take it away, Thomas!

Lake swimming at 40 feet depth

Thomas Jarvis: Lake swimming at 40 foot depth

 Two elves worry for three sleds carrying food and supplies deep in the blizzard. But that’s not their only problem- two reindeer are gone, Dasher and Dancer. Without them there will be no Christmas. Meanwhile, at the Planet Of The Dogs, the dogs hatch a plan.Well, at least those were my favorite parts. This fun story will make dog-loving readers go crazy for more. I loved it! 

Posted by Thomas Jarvis for www.magicbookshelfonline.com

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Planet of the Dog Series Barks Up the Right Tree May 31, 2009

“Out in space, on the other side of the sun is the Planet of The Dogs. This is the story of the first time dogs come to planet earth to teach people about love…” When I heard from author Robert J. McCarty about the premise of his Planet of the Dogs series, and would I like to take a look, I gave an unequivocal “Yes!” Moreover, my middle son Thomas, who’s just finished third grade, is an avid reader, particularly of  “animal stories.” We embarked on our first book co-review project.

This series for ages 6-12 (and dog lovers everywhere) from Barking Planet Productions is an impressive read that not only offers great story, accompanied by lovingly realistic illustrations by Stella Mustanoja McCarty, but conveys a refreshingly sincere, unaffected message about the necessity, nobility, loving natures, and even healing abilities, of dogs. Unlike most “dog books”, a single dog is not the hero here; the heroes are the whole race. And they save the world by following their noses with unconditional love.

I also most enjoy books from small presses and individuals because no big-publisher editors have diluted the spirit. While his message is clear, McCarty does a good job of delivering it in a non-didactic, entertaining way with good storytelling. His (and his illustrator’s) depiction of a planet where dogs roam freely and govern themselves, and their decision to journey to earth to save people from themselves, is really delightful. In fact, once we misplaced the book I was co-reading with Thomas (no finger-pointing here!), and I became pretty anxious to locate it because I truly wanted to learn what happened next!

Now I’m giving the reins to Thomas for his review based on the first two books of the series, Planet of the Dogs and Castle in the Mist. His review of the newest installment, Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale will appear soon.

“Our story begins a long, long time ago before there were dogs on Planet Earth,” the author, Robert McCarty states at the beginning of the first book of Planet of the Dogs. It’s a great read for people of all ages about the love dogs provide for humans all over the Earth. Dogs inside the book negotiate problems throughout the Earth with love as they work together with two children, Daisy and Bean. This heartwarming story shows happiness, love,healing, and teamwork as the dogs treat the world to peace. It contains realistic illustrations drawn by Stella Mustanoja McCarty, his daughter in-law.

The second book, Castle in the Mist, is very exciting. At the beginning, it introduces Prince Ukko and his guards, and we see again Daisy and Bean, the two children. But in the meantime, Prince Ukko has kidnapped the children of the Stone City ruler, who is now friends with the people of the Green Valley, thanks to the dogs. So this book is about how the dogs team up to rescue the children.  I can’t wait to finish Snow Valley Heroes.

I really recommend these books to all kids looking for some good summer reading.

–Thomas Jarvis

You can learn more about the Planet of the Dogs series and read sample chapters by visiting www.planetofthedogs.net. Libraries, bookstores and wholesalers can obtain all the books through Ingram.

Posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

 

SLJ’s Battle of the (Kids’) Books starts today! April 13, 2009

Filed under: In the News,New Children's Books — jbmcqueen @ 8:58 am

Clever children’s author Jon Scieszka’s role as Children’s Book Ambassador for School Library Journal is surely noticeable in a new program that kicks off today: SLJ’s Battle of the (Kids’) Books!

Scieszka is one of a panel of 15 authors who will preside over the event. He apparently immediately made his influence quickly felt by knocking the Newbery winner of this year, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, out of the running.

SLJ reports:

” The online contest kicks off today with the first of four elimination rounds, pitting 16 of last year’s best books for young people against one another in a winner-takes-all showdown (think college basketball’s March Madness). The winner, which will be selected by Lois Lowry, the author of the Newbery Medal–winning The Giver, will be announced on Wednesday, May 6.

“SLJ’s Battle of the (Kids’) Books is the brainchild of three educators: Monica Edinger and Roxanne Feldman of the Dalton School in New York City and Jonathan Hunt, an elementary school librarian in Modesto, CA. The competition was inspired by the Morning News’ Tournament of Books, an annual competition featuring the previous year’s best novels for adults.”

I highly suggest subscribing to SLJ’s entertaining tournament blog here! As for me, I’m going to scramble there now to learn what prompted Sciescka to deal The Graveyard Book that fatal blow. (OK, I peeked — Scieszka likes Gaiman’s work but is a bit tired of gothic-tinged fantasy, and prefers perennial favorite Sid Fleischman’s The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West. Fleischman seems to have become a biography fan following his well-received bio of Harry Houdini.)

Janie McQueen

 

Drumroll, please… the new Newberys are here February 14, 2009

About a month ago I wrote about complaints that the American Library Association’s prestigious Newbery award was stuck in a time warp. Does this still hold? Read on for the newly announced 2009 winners (and the Honor books, which often surpass the “winner” in terms of quality and sometimes even commercial success:

Here it is, direct from the ALA:

“The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

2009 Medal Winner
The 2009 Newbery Medal winner is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose. A child marked for death by an ancient league of assassins escapes into an abandoned graveyard, where he is reared and protected by its spirit denizens.

“A child named Nobody, an assassin, a graveyard and the dead are the perfect combination in this deliciously creepy tale, which is sometimes humorous, sometimes haunting and sometimes surprising,” said Newbery Committee Chair Rose V. Treviño.

2009 Honor Books

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)

Underneath the canopy of the loblolly pines, amid the pulsating sounds of the swamp, there lies a tale. Intertwining stories of an embittered man, a loyal hound, an abandoned cat and a vengeful lamia sing of love, loss, loneliness and hope. Appelt’s lyrical storytelling heightens the distinguished characteristics of this work.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle (Henry Holt & Comapny)

The Surrender Tree utilizes compelling free verse in alternating voices to lyrically tell the story of Cuba’s three wars for independence from Spain. Combining real-life characters (such as legendary healer Rosa La Bayamesa) with imagined individuals, Engle focuses on Rosa’s struggle to save everyone–black, white, Cuban, Spanish, friend or enemy.

Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group in partnership with Walden Media, LLC

This rich first-person narrative draws readers into a wild bus ride, winding through the countryside on a journey of self-discovery for Mibs Beaumont and her companions. Newcomer Law weaves a magical tall tale, using vivid language and lively personalities, all bouncing their way to a warm, satisfying conclusion.

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Books for Young Readers)

This tightly woven novel looks back on two years in a New York City neighborhood, where life changes for two 11-year-olds when a new girl joins their game of double Dutch. Bonded by Tupac’s music, the three girls explore the lure of freedom and build a friendship that redefines their own identities.”

And here’s my take: wow, sounds fresh, exciting and eclectic all around, doesn’t it? And the winner… incredibly creative and intriguing. Can’t wait to check it out.

Posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

 

Obama-mania hits the kids’ shelves January 17, 2009

Whether you were an Obama supporter or not, he is indeed our 44th President-elect. And our children need to know about him. Fortunately, to help our efforts, Barack Obama-bios abound for the juvenile market, from the board books crowd to pretty good  junior biography.

And unlike some cloying titles that appeared at election time — like the puffed up Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope —  more down to earth titles have emerged that offer useful, objective information and good profiles of our new president and even his First Lady to be, Michelle.

Here’s a little tour of some of the better Obama titles now lining the juvenile section shelves:

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Turning Back the Clock: James Thurber’s classic The 13 Clocks Revisited January 10, 2009

 “Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales…”

So begins James Thurber’s classic The 13 Clocks, a fairy tale originally published in January of 1950 and recently reissued in a spiffy new hardcover edition by the New York Review Children’s Collection. Best known as a humorist for The New Yorker, Thurber only penned a few children’s titles. This one, perhaps the best known (though his Many Moons (A Harcourt Brace contemporary classic) won a Caldecott award for Louis Slobodkin’s original illustrations, in 1943), spins the story of a wicked duke who thinks he has stopped time. It has been called “the best children’s book of all time” by more than a few critics… so why did it take so long to revive?
The L.A. Times ran a thoughtful review. And Wikipedia had this to say about Thurber’s style: “The Thirteen Clocks is a fantasy tale written by James Thurber in 1950 in Bermuda, while he was completing one of his other novels. It is written in a unique cadenced style, in which a mysterious prince must complete a seemingly impossible task to free a maiden from the clutches of an evil duke. It invokes many fairy tale motifs.[1]… The story is noted for Thurber’s constant, complex wordplay, and his use of an almost continuous internal meter, with occasional hidden rhymes — akin to blank verse, but with no line breaks to advertise the structure.”
 The new edition features an intro by British author Neil Gaiman, who calls it ”probably the best book in the world.” Clocks is on par with any modern children’s classic. It’s worth handing a child who’s mooning over the end of the Harry Potter series, to show there is life after — as there was before — Potter.

posted by Janie McQueen author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

Green Christmas December 11, 2008

My husband Josh has a Quaker background that doesn’t seem to manifest itself much in his daily life anymore — except when it comes to children’s books. Blog readers familiar with the Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, know they have a distinctly “green” streak that runs deep.

So while we were waiting for our twins’ birthdate last week — they were born Wednesday, Dec. 3 — Josh read a children’s book review in one of our oft-arriving baby magazines that had him rushing to the nearest bookstore within a day or two of John and Susannah’s birth. What did he buy? Guess How Much I Love You? Love You Forever? No, he bought When Santa Turned Green by Victoria Perla.

Newly published in October 2008, this vastly different spin on the usual Santa fare centers on an unabashed environmental theme. Santa as depicted in the illustrations by Mirna Kantarevic actually bring to my mind a much older environmentally themed book by the great picture book master: The Lorax (Classic Seuss). Remember it and its famous tag-line? “I speak for the trees!”

Perla too speaks for the trees — and the polar ice caps, and the Earth’s atmosphere… in fact, the whole planet. I love how, when Santa decides he must combat the issue of global warming, he goes straight to the people who can help the most — the children:

“He went to the real future. To you.

And your sisters and brothers and friends.

That’s right, he went to the children.

Because they have the power to change the world.”

The story goes on to detail what some individual children do to help save their world, from using reusable lunch containers to composting to getting Grandpa to buy a hybrid vehicle.

Parents and educators who don’t have much patience for didactic books may be put off by this book’s overt environmental theme, but I like it for its straightforward, non-sneaky and non-apologetic tone. My guess is When Santa Turned Green will turn out to be more than just a Christmas book, snapped up by those who embrace its message and who want to help children think more broadly than Christmas lists and sleighbells.

posted by Janie McQueen for www.magicbookshelfonline.com