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April 27, 2010 > Footnotes

Footnotes

With tax month upon us, I thought it appropriate to have books that take us from the jungle to the apocalypse - hah! We start with an alphabet book for younger folks:

For pre-school and up:
Wild Animals ABC, by Garry Fleming. Fleming's paintings are so beautiful that they look as if they must be photographs - horses, gorillas, snakes, orangutans - all in spectacular color. This book is sure to please the younger children just learning their letters as well as their older siblings who love looking at animals from all over the world. (Scholastic hardback, $10.99)

For pre-school:
Ferocious Wild Beasts! by Christopher Wormell. When Bear finds a very sad, lost little boy named Jack, he finds out that Jack's mom warned him that there are "ferocious wild beasts" in the forest! "Do you think they would go after a bear?" he asks worriedly. "Absolutely," answers Jack. With that in mind, Bear decides that maybe he should keep Jack company as he tries to find his way home. Soon they encounter Lion, who also worries about those wild beasts and joins them. By the time they get the boy to the edge of the forest near home, Bear and Lion have added to the group, including Elephant, Crocodile, Wolf and all sorts of others. Then they hear a roaring, terrible sound. It's the most ferocious beast of all...wait until you see! (I promise the ending is NOT scary at all, but very satisfying instead, especially for us mom types!) (Knopf hardback, $16.99)

For 1st grade:
Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth by Kate Klise. Little Rabbit wants to go to the Circus, right now! But his mom insists he must clean his very, very messy playroom first. ARG! The little bunny runs away - to the Circus, of course. He can join the troupe, but only if he has an act, and sells at least 100 tickets before nightfall.

Little Rabbit comes up with the perfect act - he has the "Meanest Mother on Earth!" He tells folks that she has two heads, green teeth, and enjoys punishing the small and innocent! Sure enough, he sells the tickets...but how is he going to convince his mom to be an act in the circus? And what is the crowd going to do when they find out that his mother is a rather nice looking rabbit, not a monster at all? Cute drawings and a charming wit result in a lovely story about the consequences of not listening to one's mommy. (Harcourt hardback, $17.00)

For 2nd grade:
Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. People who know me know that my two dogs, Abby and Buddy, run my household. I am so glad they seem content - but that is not the case of the poor canines that write to Mr. Mutt in this book. One dog writes that his owners are trying to starve him with gravel (kibble) while they let the cat have all sorts of yummy treats! Another is confused because his owners get mad when he barks, but then ask him to 'speak!' Yet another is being put into humiliating costumes that he does not like.

Mr. Mutt has great advice for them all, but he'd better be careful. There's a problem in his own house, right under his snout! Great illustrations, hilarious problems and solutions; perfect for dog lovers of all ages. (Harcourt, $17.00)

For 3rd grade and up:
Odd Jobs: The Wackiest Jobs You've Never Heard Of!, by Ellen Weiss. Did you know that when a demolition expert 'explodes' a building, she actually 'implodes' it? There's a way to set the blow-up stuff below the building so that it simply folds up on itself, nice and neatly. Did you know that there's a spooky club in New York City called the Jekyll and Hyde Club, where they have a professional guy in charge of making scary stuff? It can't be too scary, but it can't be too tame, either - and every night is different! Have you ever heard of a 'food stylist'? or a "muppet exploder'? How about an armpit sniffer? These are real jobs, honest! They're all unusual, and some of them sound like a whole lot of fun. This book has pictures and the startling jobs from all over - I want to be a 'gator aide'! (Simon Schuster paperback, $8.99)

For junior high:
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard. Skip is a runaway with a plan: make it to the big city, and survive. He soon meets other homeless folks, including the older man Billie, with whom Skip forms a loose friendship. Billie encourages Skip to do what he most wants, to draw sidewalk art and make people happy. One day out of the blue, disaster happens. The city is attacked, and there are soldiers and bombs everywhere. The pair go to the library for shelter, and there they encounter a little boy named Max. Max is waiting for his mother to come back (she doesn't).

When the city becomes too unsafe to remain, Skip and Billie take Max with them as they search for food and shelter. They hope eventually to find the life they used to have, or at least a safer one. Just as they settle into an abandoned amusement park, something happens that throws off the trio's fragile balance completely. Skip and Billie find their daily fight for food and shelter turns into a fight for life and sanity.

This is a very different book, set in a city that feels like modern day New York City. The scenes of the homeless (both teens and seniors) and the "what would happen should war invade our shores?" scenarios are terse but very effective - you'll find yourself thinking about them again and again. Amazingly, the book manages not to be depressing, as Skip finds beauty in the most unexpected places and people.(Holiday House hardback, $16.95)

For young adults:
Little Brother, by by Cory Doctorow. Marcus is a normal 17 year-old, provided that "normal" includes some excellent computer hacking skills and being part of a alternate-reality game team. One day when Marcus and his team duck out of boring classes to start following the clues around the streets of San Francisco, terrorists bomb one of the bridges in the city. Thousands of people die in the tragedy, and immediately the Department of Homeland Security moves their forces in.

Unbelievably, DHS picks up Marcus as a suspect. They take him to an unknown facility, and keep him for days interrogating him about the bombing. He keeps trying to explain that he was playing a game, but they don't believe him. He repeatedly asks about his teammate and best friend Darryl, who was wounded during the mayhem, but they refuse to reassure him. When they finally let him go back home he discovers that his parents have believe he died in the disaster. DHS threatens him into silence about what happened, so he can't even explain.

The 'security' restrictions pile up, and SF citizens' freedoms start to disappear one by one. Security cameras are everywhere, and people are constantly being stopped and searched. Marcus' father announces that the new measures make him feel safer, but Marcus is feeling as if all the things he's been taught about America and the freedom to choose and to disagree are being taken away. He decides that someone needs to fight back. That someone, it seems, will have to be him. He may have started out innocent, but you'll have to decide for yourself if the choices he makes leaves him that way! (Tor Teen paperback, $9.99)

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