Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hot Rod Hamster and the Wacky Whatever Race! by Cynthia Lord -- ADVISABLE

Lord, Cynthia Hot Rod Hamster and the Wacky Whatever Race! Illustrated by Derek Anderson and Greg Paprocki. Scholastic Press, 2014. $3.99. Content: G.

Hot Rod Hamster is thrilled to participate in an upcoming box car race, and he and his friends have a wonderful time building his car from scratch. But when the car runs out of steam partway through the race, it looks like Hamster's going to lose. He needs to come put with a new plan -- and fast!

This story feels lively, with its colorful, energetic illustrations and ambitious, enthusiastic characters. The interactive element adds a bit of fun and some room for predictions, with Hamster asking the reading audience which box, which paint job, and which wheels they would choose (although, of course, he just goes ahead and chooses for himself so the story can continue). It is also nice to see Hamster try extra hard when his car stalls out, instead of simply giving up.

EL (K-3) -- ADVISABLE. Reviewer

Sea Monster! by Jordan Quinn -- ESSENTIAL

Quinn, Jordan Sea Monster! (Kingdom of Wrenly #3), illustrated by Robert McPhillips. 115 pgs. Little Simon, 2014. $15.99. Content: G.

The Kingdom of Wrenly has been plagued by rough seas, but no storm is coming. Prince Lucas knows what's wrong, though: there's an angry sea monster on the loose, and only he and his friend Clara can discover what's bothering it and bring it -- and the kingdom -- some peace. First they have to find the creature, though.

Like the other books in the series, this one has a good mix of mystery and adventure, all set in an enchanting fantasy world filled with castles and dragons and magic. The overall messages about respecting other creatures and not littering are implied in a respectful way without being overbearing. Children who pay attention to the delightful (and frequent) illustrations will see some hidden clues to the story that may help them anticipate a few of the twists.

EL (K-3) -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewer: Caryn

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Landry Park by Bethany Hagen -- ADVISABLE

Hagen, Bethany Landry Park, 384 pgs. Dial Books, 2014. $17.99. Language: PG (8 swears; 0 'f') Sexual Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13.

It is two hundred years in the future, after war and disease have devastated America and a miraculous invention has saved it. As the heir of society's pinnacle family, Madeline Landry is used to having everything. But when a scandalous incident opens her eyes to society's treatment of the poor, she realizes that her extravagant lifestyle comes at great cost to others. It's not easy to turn her back on everything she's been raised to believe, however, and a tempestuous relationship with a handsome but changeable society boy only heightens her confusion.

With its scandals and mysteries and mix of old-fashioned and futuristic lifestyles, the world of Landry Park is rich and fascinating -- especially once the story gets going. While the text is wonderfully accessible, the varied vocabulary, hauntingly beautiful images, and political insights lend it a deliciously literary feel. Although there is some resolution, the ending makes it clear that there will be at least one more in the series.

HS -- ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Caryn

Friday, September 12, 2014

Yellow Is My Color Star by Judy Horacek -- OPTIONAL

Horacek, Judy Yellow Is My Color Star. Beach Lane Books, 2010. $16.99. Content: G.

Although blue, and green, and all the other colors are good, this boy has a special favorite: yellow. After making this announcement, the text begins a series of back-and-forths, with the boy asking the reader his or her favorite color, then again claiming that, as for him, he thinks yellow is the best.

This is a nice story for young readers, especially because of the interactive element, but it does not particularly stand out in a world of books about colors. Also, while the interactivity is fun for children at the outset, asking them to pick out their favorite color multiple times begins to feel repetitive and uncreative; it would have been nice for the text to go beyond the simple, "I like yellow. What's your favorite color?" repetition.

Pre-K, EL (K-3) -- OPTIONAL. Reviewer: Caryn

Katy Duck's Happy Halloween by Alyssa Satin Capucilli -- ADVISABLE

Capucilli, Alyssa Satin Katy Duck's Happy Halloween, illustrated by Henry Cole. Simon Spotlight, 2014. $16.99. Content: G.

When Halloween finally arrives, Katy Duck is thrilled. She can't wait to go trick-or-treating in her dancing-unicorn costume. But when she sees her friend Alice's costume, Katy immediately deflates. Katy is gorgeous in her shimmering, glimmering mermaid costume. Can Katy keep her jealousy from interfering with what's supposed to be a super fun night? With its large font, colorful illustrations, and relatable story, this is a good one for young readers, and the festive theme will help get kids into the Halloween spirit.

Pre-K, EL (K-3) -- ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Caryn

Dinosaur Days by Joyce Milton -- ESSENTIAL

Milton, Joyce Dinosaur Days, illustrated by Franco Tempesta. 48 pgs. Random House, 2014. $3.99. Content: G.

This updated version of the 1985 edition has a revised text and all new illustrations. The pages give basic information on dinosaurs, then go into more detail about many different types, before addressing related creatures such as plesiosaurs. Pronunciation guides help students sound out some of the more difficult words, and the colorful illustrations are appealing and lifelike. Each dinosaur profile has enough information to be interesting without bogging down the reader in too many details. While this is an early reader with fairly large type, the longer page count and challenging words make it best for more practiced readers, or for those who have direct adult support.

EL (K-3) -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewer: Caryn

Shoe Dog by Megan McDonald -- NOT RECOMMENDED

McDonald, Megan Shoe Dog, illustrated by Katherine Tillotson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014. $17.99.

All Shoe Dog wants is a loving home, so when he is finally adopted he thinks his life is now perfect. Unfortunately, his new owner's house is full of terrible, delicious temptation: shoes, shoes everywhere. Shoe Dog can't help it; over and over he settles in for a new snack, even after being repeatedly punished for it. Can Shoe Dog ever be reformed?

While the illustrations in this book are adorably quirky and they bring the text to life well, I find the story itself depressing. Every time Shoe Dog chews another pair of shoes I cringe, knowing that, once again, he has put his only chance for a loving home at risk. And every time his new owner ostracizes him or screams, "Bad, bad dog!" at him it makes me sad. Yes, many dogs need training, but the owner's reaction seems unnecessarily harsh. My discomfort is only somewhat assuaged when Shoe Dog finally learns his lesson -- for the time being, at least.

EL (K-3) -- NOT RECOMMENDED. Reviewer: Caryn