Monday, March 19, 2012

LOL! It’s Spring!

What could be better than the sound of four and five year olds doubled over in a good-old-fashioned belly laugh?

BETTY BUNNY LOVES CHOCOLATE CAKE by Michael B. Kaplan, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch, Dial BFYR, 2011

I’m a chocoholic, so when Betty Bunny says she loves chocolate cake so much  that when she grows up, she’s going to marry it, I smile. I get it. So do young readers. Betty can’t wait for her next taste of this delicious dessert. I get that, too.  Her strategies to short cut the much too long wait don’t turn out as she hopes however, and by the last page turn, the giggles have run away with the reader.

The author is a TV writer who has written for Rosanne and Frasier and now co-creates and executive produces I’m in the Band for Disney XD. Illustrator Jorisch includes New Year at the Pier by April Halprin Wayland among his picture book credits.

I wonder how much chocolate cake this talented duo consumed while bringing Betty Bunny to life. Neither will gain weight.  Laughter is great exercise.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wanted: Food Taster for Royal Family

Food tasters didn’t last very long in Cleopatra’s day. Food tasters were slaves. They didn’t apply or volunteer for the job. Sibling rivalry and family feuds added to the need for food tasters and a high turnover among them. Someone stirring soup in the kitchen or a servant bearing a tray of goblets, or even a guest at the banquet table was always trying out a new poison in order to take over a country or an empire. It’s a wonder Cleopatra’s children ever enjoyed dessert. That makes the life of Selene, Cleopatra’s only daughter, all the more remarkable.

CLEOPATRA’S MOON by Vicky Alvear Shecter, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011

Thirteen year old Selene is the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. In this history enriched first novel, Selene relates how she survived them all, parents, brothers, and a cast of rivals, anyone who didn’t like her or considered her a threat to their power. That seemed to be almost everyone since Selene’s ambition was to be a great and powerful queen, just like her deceased mom. Friend or foe? Hard to tell. Selene had to do some fast thinking.

The author credits a friend and bookseller for insisting she write this story about Cleopatra’s only daughter and only surviving child. Readers will be glad she listened.

Shecter brings these ancient characters to life and makes them feel contemporary with enough romance and adventure to keep all readers turning pages and enough history to amaze us at how much we enjoy classical times. Just when the reader begins to wonder what time it is, the author thoughtfully grounds her with a chapter or section heading noting the year of Cleopatra’s reign and the age of the narrator, the voice of Selene telling us what time it is, and what time it would be if her mother still reigned. A character list (oh, thank you!), author’s note, and a factual explanation make fascinating reading.  

Author Shecter delights in what she has discovered from this period and shares it enthusiastically as a museum docent, author in schools, and writer. She has also written two nonfiction books, Alexander the Great Rocks the World and Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen.

Be prepared. Your approach to mealtime is going to change. You’ll thank your lucky stars you won’t need a food taster.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Celebrate the Ten Year Old

Ten year olds are at a good place in life. They still think of parents and other trusted adults as being somewhat sensible and intelligent. They are open to new ideas but not so confident that they strike out on adventures sure to get them in serious trouble. This is why reading about ten year olds who dare to take on unfairness and injustice and participate in making the outcome a happy, successful one, are empowering, but safe. A ten year old can live in the character’s skin but put the book down and hurry to the table for dinner with his family. Hopefully, it’s there that he can ask the questions generated by his character’s conflicts.

 ESCAPE BY NIGHT: A Civil War Adventure, by Laurie Myers, illustrated by Amy June Bates, Henry Holt and Company, 2011

A mysterious notebook sets the events of this Civil War adventure in motion. It leads ten year old Tommy to discover a Yankee in hiding in his southern city of Augusta, Georgia.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Tommy lives across the street from his father’s church which has been turned into a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers. Tommy witnesses a grim wagon heaped high with wounded men rolling into town. He sees a notebook fall from the hand of a man who may or may not be dead. Tommy and his greyhound, Samson, retrieve the notebook and vow to return it to its owner whom they find inside the church turned hospital still clinging to life. 

The mysterious notebook gives a clue to what the wounded soldier is thinking and leads to Tommy’s discovery that this man is a Yankee. Horrors! He doesn’t “look” like a Yankee. The stranger treats Tommy with respect and answers him honestly even though he seems fully aware that Tommy could give him away. By the time Tommy makes several decisions centering around the Yankee and his beliefs, the reader will be ready to step in and help. But then there is Annie, the little sister who could turn all the plans into failure. What will she do?

Samson plays a major role. The author knows how important dogs are to stories. She collaborated with writers Betsy Duffey and Betsy Byars, the author’s sister and mom, to write My Dog, My Hero. It’s clear the illustrator has connected with Samson as well. The reader might not be surprised if Samson steps out of his picture and responds with a southern accent to the concerns Tommy expresses to his canine confidante.

For more about the author and illustrator, see their websites.

This is an excellent book for readers and parents to talk about. It’s not long and not daunting to reluctant readers or parents with little time who want to read it first and leave it where it’s most likely to be picked up. Escape at Night. How could anyone resist that title?

Hillview School Library