Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Just like eating vegetables (Little Pea) and bedtimes (Little Hoot), cleaning the bedroom can be a major point of contention between parents and children.  As Little Oink grumbles, “When I grow up, I’m going to let my kids clean up their rooms as much as they want."

His friends are allowed to clean their rooms.  Socks neatly folded and organized by color.  Blocks alphabetized.  But not so in his house.  Proper pigs know how to make a proper mess.  His father can paint a picture and leave paint all over the floor.  His mother can water the plants and manage to spill water and potting soil.  There are half eaten sandwiches and piles of dirty laundry on the floor in Little Oink’s house.

He’d better get after it before his parents get angry.  Bed?  Unmade.  Clothes?  Unfolded.  T-Shirt?  Stained.  He even dragged in some mud for good measure.

Good enough?  “I still see toys in their bin, mister,” says his dad, “Please – Not another word until this room’s a total pigsty.”

Finally, finally, Little Oink manages to make a complete mess of things – to the great delight of his piggy parents.  And finally, finally, he’s able to do what every little piggy wants to do:

Get out the broom.  Get out the scrub brush.  Don’t forget the wash basin.  It’s time to play house.

While Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace’s latest book probably won’t have kids organizing their sock drawers or scrubbing the floor, they will certainly get them (and their parents) giggling as they read the antics of Little Oink and his parents.  And really, which one’s more important?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Swimming with Sharks by Betty Hicks

After the first two Gym Shorts books featured Henry and Goose, Rita is now the main character in Swimming with Sharks. Four of the five friends – Rita, Henry, Jazz, and Rocky – are on the swim team. (Goose is still busy becoming the greatest soccer goalie ever.) When Rita reaches the end of the pool, Miss York, the swim coach, checks her watch and announces that Rita has earned a place on the Dolphins team. Yes! Dolphins are very cool fish. Sleek, smart, friendly, and fast. Perfect for Rita.

But when Rocky, Henry, and Jazz all become Sharks and Rita realizes that their meets are on different days, her opinion changes. Dolphins are stupid.

Rita knows it’s her inability to do a flip turn that keeps her off the Sharks. Flip turns are so much faster…for those that can do them without getting water up their nose. Rita, unfortunately, is not one of them. When Jazz offers her a simple solution, a swimmer’s nose plug, Rita decides that quitting the team is easier. “I’m not a wimp. I’m just quitting,” Rita explains to her Shark friends. “When something isn’t you, it’s okay to quit.”

After a frustrating afternoon at home, wallowing in her quitting-ness, things are getting no better. When her younger sister comes home from a friend’s house riding her bike without training wheels, Rita realizes that help from a friend is just what she needs.

Jazz works with Rita on her flip turns until the pool transforms their fingertips to raisins. Her practice makes her much faster, but is this new-found ability enough to make her a Shark? Or could an ability she’s had all along be the one that gives her teeth?

The third Gym Shorts book again features friends helping friends, but the end of Swimming with Sharks is a bit different. Yes, Rita improves. Yes, her friends help her. But it turns out to be something Rita does all on her own that brings about her biggest chance for success.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

A mother is defined simply as a female parent, but no holiday has been created to honor female parents.  Mothers, on the other hand, are infinitely more.  Mothers get their own holiday.

So what's the difference?

That's answered in my latest newspaper column.  Here's the printable version.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Goof-Off Goalie by Betty Hicks

Goof-Off Goalie is the second title in the Gym Shorts series by Betty Hicks. After getting to know Henry in Basketball Bats, Goose is now the featured friend followed by readers. Goose fears he may be a wizard. On his tenth birthday he closed his eyes, made his wish, and extinguished ten of ten candles. One week later Alex Winkler vanished. Just like Goose wished.

OK, he didn’t actually vanish, but Alex and his family did move to Vermont.

Vanish/Vermont. Either way, the soccer team’s starting goalie now lives out of state. It’s the perfect opportunity for Goose. “Look at me. I’m tall. My arms are long. I can fill up more goal space than anybody.” All of this might be true, but as Henry says, Goose is a goof-off.

His tryout doesn’t go well with the coach. GOALIE = DIVE, that’s what Goose thinks. Coach points out there are other, better ways to keep the ball from the back of the net.

Henry decides to help his friend out. He develops a practice schedule. Every evening, rain or shine, it’s goalie practice. It works great! Goose’s skills improve, but unfortunately, Henry’s grades start to drop. Henry, Goose’s personal goalkeeper coach, receives a temporary parental suspension from athletics.

That’s when Rita, Rocky, and Jazz come to the rescue. They take over Henry’s practice plan, and Goose’s improvement continues. Goose finally gets the chance he’s been wishing for. He also faces a difficult choice. Henry needs help, but if Goose does what he can for Henry, he may lose his golden goalie opportunity. What should a friend do?

Here’s the best part of the Gym Shorts series. Goose, Henry, Rita, Rocky, and Jazz are true friends. They do whatever they can, whenever they can, for one another. Despite the difficulty of Goose’s choice, the correct choice is made. In the end readers will enjoy the fast-paced game action featuring Goose’s – and Henry’s – big day.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Stormy's Hat: Just Right for a Railroad Man by Eric A. Kimmel

This past Christmas, Grandpa found a new hat under the tree. Boy was he proud. A genuine Stormy Kromer he told us. “Men everywhere put these on when they leave the house and forget to take them off when they return. They’re that comfortable.” He gave me a bit of the hat’s history – Stormy was a railroad man whose hat continuously flew off in the wind until his wife created this one. The perfect hat.

Something was familiar about that story. I knew it. I’d read it. But where? I couldn’t remember the title, but I distinctly remembered reading a picture book about it. It took a few months, but I finally tracked down Stormy’s Hat: Just Right for a Railroad Man by Eric A. Kimmel.

Stormy was an engineer. He drove the Red Stack line from St. Paul to Chicago. Stormy loved everything about being an engineer except one thing. Losing hats. No hat would stay on his head in the wind. No hat was just right for a railroad man.

He complained to his wife, Ida. He’d lost his new derby hat, and that was the third one in a month! He tried a cowboy hat, but the brim got in the way and the white hat quickly turned black from the coal dust. He tried a pressman’s hat like the men who ran the Chicago newspapers, but a spark set it on fire! He tried a fireman’s helmet, but it was too heavy and too hot.

Ida had finally had enough. She had tried offering suggestions, but Stormy wouldn’t listen. He would now – she’d make sure of that. She sits him down and tells him to describe what he needs in a hat. Ida sketches and erases, sketches and erases, and together they create the perfect hat. Ida modifies one of Stormy’s old baseball hats, and when Stormy wears it, it’s the perfect hat for a railroad man. All the other railroad men want one just like his. “Would she make hats for us?” they ask.

“She might. Why don’t you ask her?” And the rest is history.

Stormy’s Hat is a great story, and Stormy’s hat is, well, a great hat. My only question is why the book shows the traditional striped engineer’s hat, but the Stormy Kromer hat of today is considered a cold weather hat. The official story is the same as the book, but the hat is different. Hmmm… I’ll have to do some more digging. In the meantime, don’t let my cap confusion keep you from enjoying a great book. (Don't let Stormy scare you either.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Basketball Bats by Betty Hicks

Henry is an athlete. To him, playing sports is better than ice cream and the circus and probably ice cream at the circus. When a basketball challenge comes from a kid dubbed Tough Guy, Henry can’t back down. This kid, this Tough Guy, thinks he can squash me like a bug? And he thinks he and his friends can beat me and my friends in a basketball game?

“We challenge you. Tomorrow. Right here – three o’clock,” challenges Henry.

“Your funeral,” responds Tough Guy.

When the Tigers, Tough Guy’s team, show up the next day, they’re wearing matching uniforms. They’re growling. And they are prepared to do all they can to win. Even cheat. That’s evident immediately when the Tiger who insists on tossing up the jump ball throws it directly to Tough Guy. In the end, however, the cheating doesn’t work. Henry and his team win, prompting cries from the Tigers of “Unfair!” and “We want a rematch! On our turf!”

When the rematch rolls around, Tough Guy’s mom comes…to be the referee. Tough Guy’s cousin is subbing for a missing player. The new player is…eh-hem…a fifth grader. A six-foot tall fifth grader who needs a shave. The rematch doesn’t go very well for Henry. His team, the Basketball Bats, do all they can to compete, and unfortunately, Henry even tries to do it himself, ignoring his teammates.

Not wanting to out-cheat the cheaters, Henry comes up with a way to outsmart them. But will his plan work? Can the Basketball Bats win the tiebreaker? Will his teammates even want to play with him anymore? All is nicely resolved and without telling exactly how, I will say that young readers will be satisfied.

Gym Shorts is a new series by Betty Hicks. Basketball Bats, the first book, introduces readers to the five main characters – Henry, Goose, Jazz, Rita, and Rocky. These five athletes all live on the same street, all have their own individual talents, and always encourage and help one another find success. Three other Gym Shorts books have been released (reviews to come) and more titles are on the way.