The young king Tamar was awakened in darkness by the sound of elephants in his courtyard. Their jeweled tusks and golden banners proclaimed them the property of a great maharajah. In short order, a dark figure strode into the palace and demanded an immediate audience.
Tamar sighed heavily.
As his tutor reminded him, the principles of Dharma--the code of honor, conscience, and the obligation to do what is royally virtuous, meant that he could not refuse an audience to another king, no matter the lateness of the hour. Indeed, in the long-ago world of ancient India recreated in Lloyd Alexander's The Iron Ring, a king's honor is his most important possession.
The mysterious visitor, King Jaya, ruled the distant land of Mahapura where, he grandly informed his host, all was much better than in Tamar's own kingdom of Sundari. Musicians, dancers, food, all were better in Mahapura, King Jaya purred. The only distraction he sought from Tamar was a simple game of aksha. Pure luck would determine the rolls of the dice.
In all hospitality, Tamar could not refuse, although the stakes Jaya proposed would have fed the court for a month. Die-roll after die-roll, Tamar won. Then the king of Mahapura yawned and made a final wager: "Life against life."
This time the dice seemed to jump from Tamar's fingers of their own accord.
"King of Sundari," Jaya said, "you have lost."
Did you know that dogs are the top pet owned by U.S. households (46.3 million dogs, to be exact), and that beetles have the most species identified of all insects? How about the fact that extreme weather in January 2012 broke U.S. records for cold, snow, and heat? All of these facts, along with colorful pictures, are contained in the 2013 Almanac for Kids from Scholastic. Kids ages 8 and up will love to tote around this compendium of trivia, which puts more than 300 pages of statistics, charts, tables, maps, and more at their fingertips.
In Grandpa Green, Lane Smith tells the story of one man's life through his passion. Topiary gardeners shape bushes and trees into fantastic sculptures of whatever they desire. We meet Grandpa Green as a gigantic bushy baby, sprinkling tears with the words, "He was born a really long time ago," beneath.
We go on to explore Grandpa's life through the garden, with different sculptures illustrating each step in his life. He grows up on a farm, escapes into the wonder of tales like The Wizard of Oz, goes to war, and starts a family. Smith combines the lush greens of the topiary scultpures with very thin black lines for tree trunks, branches, animals in the garden, and the great-grandson who narrates the story. That choice allows the sculptures to pop off the page like a vibrant special effect.
Jeremy Draws a Monster never gets too scary. The beast in question has some horns and is a bit of a snaggletooth, but his eyes are too tiny to be that threatening. Still, this monster is this one rude dude. Jeremy seemed to just want a friend to play with. He stays inside while other children play soccer. So he takes a fancy pen and draws this creature creation.
Bears have much in common with people. We're both mammals. We're both omnivores. We are protective of our young. Also, if a bear happens to lose something very important, they will search for it. Especially if that something is their hat.
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is a clear-cut observation of a bear in his natural habitat, asking other animals if they have seen his missing prized possession.
What that description did not tell you is how unbelievably charming and oddball Klassen has made this story. Bear, standing upright, interrogates a different animal. Nearly every conversation is alike. No one has seen his hat and bear retorts, "OK. Thank you anyway." before he goes on to the next creature. The whole thing reads like a classic comedy bit.
"Crossing the street Papa says 'La mano' and he takes my hand." The love between a father and his son is apparent in Papa and Me by Arthur Dorros. The strong bond between them leaps from the colorfully illustrated pages of this book. As they begin their morning and make breakfast together and head to the bus, they revel in the joy of a simple day.
While making breakfast together, they invent a "special food." "Sabroso" they declare, delicious, as they taste the eggs and pancakes. The book uses both English and Spanish to tell the simple story. The characters are happy and they move between English and Spanish effortlessly.