A crocodile encounter and a trip to the moon

A recent trip to the bookstore led me to these two new releases. Both are fun, lighthearted summer reads.

— "Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite" (2013, Nosy Crow/Candlewick Press, written by Nick Bromley, illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne, ages 3-7).

Watch out. The first page begins with "Once upon a time," accompanied by a sweet illustration of the "The Ugly Duckling" tale. But the story is quickly interrupted.

"Wait a minute! What's that?" says the ugly duckling, who is actually quite cute donned in a red ski cap. He steps out of the story. "There's something in this book that shouldn't be here!" he says. A bold red arrow points to a spiked tail on the page. We soon find out that a crocodile has invaded the book. The slyly grinning croc begins to gobble up letters, particularly O's and S's and moves on to entire sentences. "Let's try rocking the book from side to side," suggests the duckling, hoping the croc will nod off to sleep. This works, but a peacefully sleeping croc is too tempting for the duckling. "If you're going to eat our words, Mr. Crocodile, then we're going to draw on you!"

Soon the croc is decorated with a pink bow and tutu. When he wakes up, less than pleased, he makes a run for it. With some help from the reader, he succeeds in escaping from the book through a cleverly placed hole in the back cover.

This book is witty, cute and hysterical, from the large, bright watercolor characters to the engaging, interactive text.

— "How to Bicycle to the Moon to plant sunflowers (a simple but brilliant plan in 24 easy steps)" (2013, Roaring Brook Press, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, ages 4-9) begins with a section entitled "How It All Began."

Our main character is pictured looking out the window with his parents. He asks them why the moon looks so sad.

"It's probably lonely," they say. "Nothing lives there."

The boy gives this some thought and hatches a plan. Since he's too busy to actually carry out the plan, he writes it, step by step, for the reader to follow.

Step one: preparing the bicycle. Step two: borrowing around two thousand used truck inner tubes (with a hint that the character's Uncle Russell, who has a tire store, might be able to assist).

And so it goes, borrowing 238,900 miles of garden hoses, making a slingshot to shoot the hoses to the moon, writing to NASA to borrow a space suit and practicing riding the bike up the garden hose rope.

Step 13: "On a bright day, when the moon looks like a pale silver nickel, attach the earth end of the hose to a faucet. Turn on the faucet. Put your bike on the hose. Your mother will be sobbing."

Step 17: "Space will be very quiet. The loudest sounds will be your Heart Beating, your Stomach Gurgling, and the Electric Buzzing Hum of your Nervous System."

By step 24, our instructor is back home, telling the reader to water the seeds and watch the moon through a telescope. "I'll be watching too," he says.

Caldecott winner Mordicai Gerstein offers his expressive, detailed line and watercolor illustrations in a comic book style to bring this lighthearted, yet deeply felt book to life.

Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com), the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children, recently celebrated the release of her 2013 picture book biography, "Gandhi: A March to the Sea" (Two Lions Press, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez). McGinty also directs a summer writing camp, Words on Fire, for teens.

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