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Orangutan Houdini by Laurel Neme

Written by Laurel Neme
Illustrated by Kathie Kelleher
(Bunker Hill Publishing, Inc.; $17.95, Ages 3-7)


Fu Manchu, a crafty and clever orangutan in a Nebraska zoo, longed to roam outside the boundaries of the enclosure that he shared with four other orangutans. Although their outdoor play area allowed them to exercise and explore, Fu had his sights set on visiting a stand of elm trees growing near the elephant corral.

One day, Fu secured a loose wire from a light fixture. He concealed it in his mouth until he found an opportunity to fiddle with the enclosure’s door lock. Wiggling and juggling the wire, Fu soon popped the lock, unbolted the door and signaled to the others that an unauthorized adventure was in store!

ORANGUTAN HOUDINI, Neme’s debut picture book, is based on the true story of an adult male orangutan at the Henry Doorly Zoo in 1968. With gentle humor and mild suspense, Neme skillfully conveys the intelligence and capability of this mischievous ape with a penchant for escape. We, the readers, are in on the joke from the start, knowing how Fu was able to pick the lock. But poor Jerry Stones, the zookeeper, was repeatedly outsmarted by Fu and his friends, finding them at play in the elm trees on several occasions.

The zookeeper warns his staff to be more careful with the locks. They double check the locks, and search the enclosure for possible lock-picking tools. Finally, they concede defeat and build a new enclosure for the orangutans. Fu then reveals the wire that he has kept carefully concealed in his mouth all along, and thus earns an honorary certificate from the American Association of Locksmiths.

The attractive illustrations by Kathie Kelleher are colorful and nicely detailed, capturing the bemused and carefree attitude of the apes in contrast with the confused and frustrated zoo staff. Elephants, giraffes and a tiny chipmunk are also sprinkled periodically through the story, showing the disparity in the size of the zoo creatures and wildlife.

ORANGUTAN HOUDINI will appeal to budding naturalists and those with an interest in animal intelligence. Neme includes a helpful author’s note that discusses the orangutans’ ability to make deliberate plans, devise tools, and deceive others in a playful fashion. The book is a great springboard to talk about ape intelligence and the careful design of stimulating and safe zoo habitats. And for those wanting even more information, Neme’s extensive website includes a wonderful teacher’s guide to accompany the book, as well as helpful information on orangutans, endangered species, and protection of international wildlife habitats.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey


Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of ORANGUTAN HOUDINI from my local library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks

PENGUIN IN PERIL, written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks, is reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

Penguin in Peril written and illustrated by Helen Hancocks, Templar/Candlewick Press, 2014.

What’s black and white and read all over? The front page of the Daily News when a penguin is stolen from the city zoo!

Author-illustrator Helen Hancocks makes a big splash with her first children’s picture book, Penguin in Peril, (Templar/Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-7).

Three hungry cats sit around their kitchen table and devise a plan for the greatest fish caper ever!
All they needed was … a penguin.

Hancocks could have used the stereotypical raccoon for her three masked thieves sneaking into the zoo and kidnapping the unsuspecting penguin, but she likes to draw cats, and cats in striped sweaters and masks are laugh-out-loud funny.

Everything was going along swimmingly, except the cats didn’t speak penguin, the penguin felt he was in peril, and the cats discovered that a penguin is surprisingly good at hiding in plain sight as they chase him throughout the city. Habit-clad nuns and waiters in coats and tails make convenient camouflage for a penguin. Our little tuxedo-clad friend finds his way back to the zoo just in time for a fishy supper.  The cats however don’t fare quite as well though they do manage to make the front page of the paper when they’re put behind bars!

I loved the illustrations done in mixed media, the bright pops of red, green, and yellow, and the artful use of black and white, so necessary to the story. Hancocks’ use of background characters who are seen throughout the book is brilliant. She’s truly tapped into a child’s imagination with this story. What a wonderful debut!

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Kohl’s Cares Beginner Books – A Great Way to Help Kids!




Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 6.34.33 PMEvery season the Kohl’s Cares program creates a great new reading opportunity for families at affordable prices. We’ll never tire of sharing the $5 book offers every chance we can. And what we love most is that Kohl’s Cares not only supports children’s health and education initiatives nationwide, but it also offers parents a terrific selection of some of the best picture books around at a low, low price making it easy to own new Beginner Books, encourage reading at home and start your own collection.

In addition to the books, the Kohl’s Cares program also sells plush toys and cookbooks for the hard-to-resist price of $5 for any item. That’s not a typo! It’s just the Kohl’s Cares philanthropic platform of the Kohl’s Department Stores. Your purchase of products from the Kohl’s Cares cause merchandise program helps Kohl’s give back not only to help children’s initiatives, but to support the fight against breast cancer and champion environmental issues, too. Click here now to be connected with the online program or head to your local Kohl’s.

Customers can buy these products on sale now through April 5th both online (including several online exclusives) or in stores, but don’t wait so that your first choices are gone. Choose from the following children’s books (recommended for ages 3 and up) and coordinating stuffed animals, along with cookbooks for adults:


Put Me In The Zoo by Robert Lopshire, and Zoo character plush

1526388*Go, Dog, Go! by P. D. Eastman, and Dog plush    *A GRWR Blog Fave!


The Nose Book by Al Perkins with illustrations by Joe Mathieu, and Elephant plush


Hand, Hand, Fingers Thumb by Al Perkins with illustrations by Eric Gurney, and Monkey plush



Big Dog … Little Dog by P. D. Eastman, and Fred and Ted plush toys – ONLINE EXCLUSIVE



For adults, check out the following:

15263751526422Cook This, Not That! Skinny Comfort Foods by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding
including 125 fast recipes © 2012 Rodale

Delish – Just Four Ingredients Fast!  from ACP Magazines Limited including 152 recipes
© 2013 Hearst Books

For more info about Kohl’s philanthropic programs, please visit

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Holiday Gift Guide – Fraidy Zoo by Thyra Heder

Fraidy Zoo by Thyra Heder – a roaring
great read for kids!

A GRWR recommended picture book
for Christmas gift-giving.


Cover art from Fraidy Zoo by Thyra Heder, Abrams, 2013.
Cover art from Fraidy Zoo by Thyra Heder, Abrams, 2013.

Fraidy Zoo, by Thyra Heder (Abrams Books for Young Readers, $16.95, Ages 4-8), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

What would you do, if you were afraid of the zoo?  If you weren’t sure why, then what would you do?  This is an inventive, alphabetized romp through the efforts of a highly creative family trying to help the youngest member get over her fears about visiting the zoo.

Kids will giggle and roar at the clever ink and watercolor illustrations that depict a menagerie from A to Z constructed from ordinary household items. Silly Dad adorns himself with a pink tutu, pink socks, and pink sticky notes to question whether Little T is afraid of flamingoes. Sister suggests that perhaps it is parrots by sporting a green turban, soda can, and terry towel wings. With cardboard, newspaper and miles of tape, the entire family even recreates bigger critters like a rhino, snake and T-Rex.

Fraidy Zoo interior image by Thyra Heder.
Fraidy Zoo (Abrams, 2013) interior illustration by Thyra Heder from The Cardboard Collective,


Lively, captivating dialogue moves the story along at just the right pace, while subtle jokes and hints abound.  Even after young readers have guessed all of the animals, they’ll want to re-read the story to find the sweet black and white cat hidden on every page.

A tiny twist at the end will surprise and delight readers, and reinforce the idea that it is easier to face your fears when you rely on the love and support of those around you. Give this charming and witty book as a gift with a few rolls of tape, and Fraidy Zoo fans will enthusiastically recycle your holiday boxes and wrappings into an incredible assortment of creative creatures!

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.  Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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