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April 4, 2008 Edition

John Smith Escapes Again, by Rosalyn Schanzer


John Smith is best known today for his role in the founding of the Jamestown colony, but did you know he was considered a hero in Hungary? That he nearly died as a slave in Turkey and was nearly killed by a stingrayís sting (but took his revenge on it by eating it for dinner)? His quick mind and knowledge of many languages saved him many times, allowing him to work on a French ship, sightsee in Italy, and make friends with natives in America. The one thing he never managed to do was return to America after he left it and had to content himself with writing about the land and convincing others to emigrate. (America was his favorite place, perhaps because it offered him so many challenges!) Based on his own writings and illustrated with great attention to authenticity, youíll be amazed and amused at the life story of a man who was the Houdini of life.

The Charcoal Forest, by Beth Peluso


Did you know there are different kinds of forest fires? And that even though a burned forest may look dead, itís really full of life? Some species of birds, insects and plants need forest fires to survive, while others are able to adapt to new lives in burned-out areas. Peluso, a Juneau author, introduces readers to the black fire beetle (which lays its eggs under the bark of burned trees), the snowbrush bush (whose seeds are so hard that they need a fire to crack them open), and many other species that are quick to appear after a fire. Well-organized, with two appendices, a glossary of the bold-faced words in the text, and an index, this exceptional book is easy to use, and the well-chosen facts and the superb illustrations (many with accompanying detailed scale drawings) make this a fascinating read.

Who was First? Russell Freedman


We all know that Christopher Columbus discovered America, right? Well, not really. Aside from the fact that millions of people were already living on the North American continent when Columbus sailed up, thereís lots of evidence that the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria werenít the first ships to brave the long ocean journey. Freedman presents the evidence for Chinese and Viking expeditions, and even takes on the continually emerging history of the colonization of the Americas by people from Siberia. Clearly written text, illustrated with lots of maps, sketches, and photos, and a thorough index make this book an excellent choice for casual and informational readers alike.

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian


Look out, then work your way in and out again with these short poems about the universe and everything in it. Florian starts by grounding young readers in their own back yard, binoculars or telescope in hand, looking out at the stars and planets. After poetically defining the universe, he leaps into a concrete poem about galaxies and then hones in on solar systems and the sun and planets in ours, working outwards from Mercury to poor Pluto. Exuberant paintings swirl around the poems in this great read-aloud for young space fans.

Chaucerís Canterbury Tales, retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams


Chaucer for children? Well, yesÖ Williams has conjured up a lively retelling of several of the best-known tales that kept the travelling party company during the long pilgrimage from London to Canterbury. The comic book style characters taunt, tease, berate, and cajole each other in Chaucerís English, but the narrator uses modern English to make everything clear for readers. Young readers will probably delight in Chaucerís bawdiness, older readers will welcome this as a means of bringing their English homework to life.

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