For July 4th, Read I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez

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I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez with illustrations by Patrice Barton is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

 

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I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez with illustrations by Patrice Barton, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Independence Day is just around the corner, and for many of us that means barbecues, fireworks, and parades. Of course, the celebration includes the pride of being or becoming an American, and that’s the focus of I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez and illustrated by Patrice Barton (Alfred A. Knopf; $16.99; ages 3-7).

Young Libby must lead her class in the school flag ceremony, and her great aunt Lobo is getting ready for her citizenship ceremony. They both must learn the Pledge of Allegiance, so they decide to practice together. They practice in front of their cat, Libby’s stuffed animals, and each other, and during the week, Libby learns Lobo’s story about coming to America and becoming a citizen.

“Why do you want to be a citizen?” I ask.

“Mi querida, I was born in Mexico and went to school there, but the United States has been my home for many years. I am proud to be from Mexico and to speak Spanish and English. Many people are proud of the places where they were born or where they grew up. But a long time ago…my father wanted a safer place for us to grow up, and we came to the United States. The American flag—read, white, and blue—wrapped itself around me to protect me.”

This sweet story artfully weaves the themes of patriotism, immigration, citizenship, history, and family. It’s a wonderful introduction to the importance, history, and meaning of the Pledge, as well as a reminder that no matter where we come from, we are all together under the flag.


The Timmy Failure Series Written & Illustrated by Stephen Pastis

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The Terrific Timmy Failure Series
Written and Illustrated by Stephen Pastis
is Reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Introducing “the greatness that is Timmy Failure,” world class detective.

Timmy-Failure-Mistakes-cvr.jpggMove over Inspector Jacques Clouseau, author/illlustrator Stephan Pastis has created your youthful equivalent in a humorous series about an overly-confident and hilariously clueless detective who dreams of taking his neighborhood detective agency global. Unfortunately there are some obstacles: his mother – who insists he goes to school, school – where he’s not doing so well, Rollo – his less than brilliant best friend, and Total – his 1500 pound polar bear partner. A polar bear for a partner? Yes, after hooking up with Timmy, Total insisted that the agency name start with his. Hence the less than inspirational agency name of “Total Failure.” (Timmy Fayleure’s name was changed to Failure).

Timmy is also challenged by his evil arch enemy, a fellow student so despised that her “…name shall not be uttered” and her face is blocked out in the deceptively simple illustrations in Timmy’s journal – a history of his invaluable expertise.

Timmy-Failure-Now-Look-cvr.jpgHighly imaginative situations, clever word plays, and puns on popular culture are part of the series’ humor and mask some deeper issues. Superficially we have a young bumbling Clouseau-like detective who misses the most basic of clues. When investigating the death of a friend’s hamster, Timmy doesn’t ask obvious questions like has it been fed lately? Rather he asks if the hamster had any enemies. Another friend hires Timmy to find out who toilet papered his house. Timmy initially deduces that only monkeys could have climbed high enough to hang toilet paper from the treetops. Readers will quickly grasp that Total Failure, Inc. is not exactly on the road to international success.

We also see Timmy struggling with an active imagination which causes him to lose focus, impacting his school performance. He has difficulty forming healthy relationships: when frustrated, he refers to other people as “stupid.” He is obsessed with his goal and sees everything in relationship to his detective agency. He treats his mom like an employee, scheduling teleconferences, annual reviews, etc. However, poignant moments emerge: when his detective instincts tell him that his mom seems troubled, he tells her she doesn’t have to read him a bedtime story. Eventually, Timmy benefits from sympathetic adult support. His mom takes charge, structures his life, sends him to a therapist and encourages him to become more involved in the world around him. A new teacher finds an innovative way to engage him in school by “hiring” him to “investigate” the “mysteries” of fractions, and photosynthesis. By the third book, Timmy and the other main characters show much personal and social growth.

Timmy-Failure-We-Meet-cvr.jpgWhile this is not another Diary of a Wimpy Kid spinoff, it will be enjoyed by that series’ fans and reluctant readers. Sophisticated humor, including popular culture references (like “A Hitchhikers Guide to Grade School” chapter title) will tickle the funny bone of older readers. Challenging issues (single parent families, learning styles, and successful relationships) and amazing vocabulary (debilitating, farce, intimidating, and Timmy’s favorite outcry “mendacity”) will engage all readers. This middle grade fiction novel is highly recommended for ages 8-12.

Pastis, creator of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip, has an awesome Timmy Failure website with links to YouTube videos, information about the books, author interviews, vocabulary flashcards and more. Visit it here at www.timmyfailure.com.

Series Titles and summary (all titles written and illustrated by Stephen Pastis and published by Candlewick Press):

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (No.1). 2013. $14.99
In which we are introduced to the young CEO and president of Total Failure, Inc., “…the best detective agency in town…” and the obstacles he faces (mother, school, and an evil nemesis) in realizing his goal of global expansion.

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done (No. 2). 2014. $14.99
In which our extraordinary detective enters a school contest to find a stolen globe … but is someone trying to prevent him from solving the case? Join Timmy, Total, and his kooky Aunt Colander, as they set out to solve the mystery of the missing globe, avenge the integrity of the competition, and hopefully win the $500  prize.

Timmy Failure: We Meet Again (No. 3). Release date: October, 2014. $14.99
In which we find our intrepid detective on academic probation and forced to collaborate on a nature report with his evil nemesis. He is hired by a desperate student to find the lost Miracle Report, an old research paper that could give Timmy and others an A++++++. Surprises abound!


Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book by Lucy Cousins

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Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book by Lucy Cousins is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

 

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Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press, 2014.

My youngest daughter adores a certain mouse by Lucy Cousins, so Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book (Candlewick Press, 2014; $11.99, Ages 3 and up) was a huge hit with her. With over 50 activities, it’s perfect for doodling, coloring, drawing, and, most importantly, using imagination. Each of the pages has a prompt and an illustration to inspire little hands to get busy with crayons, markers, or pencils. For example, your child can give these mugs some pretty patterns or can help draw some food that she [Tallulah] would like to eat. The prompts help children learn or reinforce colors, patterns, shapes and content knowledge.

As with all Maisy books, the illustrations are splendid in their simplicity, and Maisy’s friends are there to join the fun. Draw lots of teeth for Charley so he can crunch on this tasty carrot. Make his shirt striped. Panda has been eating tomato soup. Draw the TERRIBLE MESS he has made on his face and everywhere else!

The pages are 12.5” x 9”, so there is plenty of space to color. When we’ve been on our way to dine out, I’ve torn pages from the book and taken them with us. That way, my daughter has her placemat(s) at the diner, as well. In her words, “You could color it, look at it, and it’s fun.”

Check out this terrific My Friend Maisy/Maisy’s Fun Club site for kids.

 


A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

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Boy-and-Jaguar-cvr.jpgA Boy and a Jaguar written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by CáTia Chien is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

Starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.

“Moving and sweetly resonant.”
—Kirkus Review, starred review

 

Alan Rabinowitz, author of the new nonfiction picture book A Boy and a Jaguar (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 2014; Ages 4-8), grew up as a stutterer, someone who has trouble forming words and getting them out. His difficulties speaking, and a lack of understanding by those around him, caused him to feel “broken” and separate from people. As a boy he spent much of his time with animals. They never hurried him or made fun of him for stuttering. In fact, when he spoke to animals, he didn’t stutter at all! He makes a promise to his pets and to his favorite animal, a sad caged jaguar at the Bronx Zoo.

“…if I can ever find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm.”

In A Boy and a Jaguar, illustrated by CáTia Chien, Rabinowitz has found his voice. By doing so, he has given hope to people of all ages, that no matter what their personal obstacle, with hard work and a sense of purpose, that obstacle can be transcended, and great things can be achieved.

While in college, Rabinowitz finally learned to speak without stuttering, but still didn’t feel whole. He enjoyed his study of bears in the Smoky Mountains, but found that he was more comfortable in the jungles of Belize tracking and studying jaguars than he was anywhere else. Rabinowitz never forgot the jaguar at the zoo from his childhood, or his promise to the animals, and so he convinced the prime minister of Belize to set up a preserve to save jaguars from the trophy hunters who were killing them. Quite an accomplishment, stutterer or not!

By the end of the book, Rabinowitz speaks fluently, feels whole, and has a very special close encounter in nature. This is a beautiful inspirational story in and of itself, but Chien’s use of charcoal pencil and acrylics enhances the mood of the book. Solemn grays and blues, peaceful forest greens, and bright and cheery golds compliment the metamorphosis that occurs for Rabinowitz.

Bonus: There is a Q&A with the author himself on the back cover flap, where we discover Dr. Alan Rabinowitz has devoted his life to being the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves, whether animal or human.

Here’s a link to Publisher’s Weekly interview with Rabinowtiz.