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April 10, 2009 Edition

Kapow! written and illustrated by George O’Connor


Calling all living room superheroes! American Eagle and Bug Lady are here to vanquish evildoers (especially Rubber Man) and right wrongs. But there’s a reason that the kids aren’t allowed to roughhouse in the living room – and that reason soon comes crashing down. When Mom hears the noise, the game is up! The kids think they’re in big trouble… but when their superhero alter egos take over, it turns out the game is still on. O’Connor captures the fluid switches between reality and the world of kids’ imaginations through pictures (on one page, Bug Lady has ladybug wings, buggy eyes, and wears a leotard, while on the next, her little girl alter ego wears a set of wings over her t-shirt and shorts, and cute little antennae on her barrettes) and through dialogue (grand pronouncements like “Prepare to be snapped, Rubber Bandit!” give way to “Mom says no hitting!”) Lighthearted fun for kids and parents.

It’s not Fair! written by Amy Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld


Written to be read aloud (it would make a great short skit!), this multispecies book celebrates lots of different unfairnesses in the world. In bright cartoony pictures an envious three-legged stool, a petulant one-eyed alien, a giraffeless girl, a boxless boy, and a wingless pig all bemoan their fates. Nicely rhymed phrases will have kids quickly chiming in with the chorus in this delightful romp.

Garmann’s Summer, written and illustrated by Stian Hole


This unusual picture book from Norway is a thoughtful meditation on change, fears, and keeping up with the Joneses (or, in this case, the twins next door). For 6 year-old Garmann, summer is almost over, which means soon he’ll be going to school for the first time. He’s nervous about this, and worries that he can’t read or spell “rhubarb” and hasn’t even lost any teeth yet. When the three old aunts come for their annual end-of-summer visit, Garmann is surprised to find that each of them is afraid of something, and so are his mother and father. This is a quirky book whose photocollage illustrations don’t stint on the reality of wrinkles and chin hair and yet veer effortlesslyinto fantasy when Garmann imagines Auntie Ruth borrowing his skateboard. Though I initially found these illustrations somewhat off-putting, they have grown on me and now I find them a fascinating and witty contrast to the quiet voice of the text.

The Composer is Dead, written by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Carson Ellis, and with music by Nathaniel Stookey


Snicket returns with his trademark humor to introduce the parts of an orchestra to kids via a little murder mystery. When the composer is found (decomposing), the Inspector on the case settles down to interrogate the suspects. What he finds is that everyone from the violins and violas to the flutes, clarinets and percussion, has an alibi and no one has a motive… except, perhaps, for the Conductor. But when the Inspector tries to arrest the Conductor for murder, the instruments rise up in protest. Accompanied by a CD on which Snicket reads the story, backed by the gamut of musical instruments, this story functions similarly to Peter and the Wolf as an introduction to orchestras and the music they play.

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