I'm Just No Good at Rhyming And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith; Little, Brown, 221 pages ($19.99) Ages 6 and up
Chris Harris, writer and producer of "How I Met Your Mother," proves himself a worthy heir to the late, great Shel Silverstein ("Where the Sidewalk Ends") with this marvelous and diverse book of poems. Lane Smith's zany illustrations add to the fun. Some gems, including "Toasted Knight for Lunch Again," "Two Roads" (a dig at Robert Frost), "The Good-Child Test" and "Jack Sprat (Updated)" are just a few lines. Others, including "Eight," cover a few pages. Amusing animal poems include the lament of "The Shortest Anaconda in the World" ("For me to get hither/I can't slink or slither. I only just flop, drop, and roll.") and a centipede named Sally trying to find shoes for her many feet. "Re-verse" is a backwards poem. "Infinity Poem," printed as a circle, could go on forever. "My Dessert Tummy" includes a delectable ode to sweets ("With alcoves for licorice, crannies for cakes, chambers for cherry pie...") There's a hilarious exchange between poet and illustrator, with Lane Smith refusing to illustrate the ridiculous "'Little Boy Blue'with some words replaced by delicious Greek food." It's likely only the "immature grownups" in the target audience will get some of the jokes. "Alphabet Book (By the Laziest Artist in the World" is two pages of the same drawing of a semicircle for every letter, representing A is for Anthill, S is for St. Louis, Y is for Yurt (there's a blank space for "N is for Nothing"). "Sometimes I Don't Want to Share," about sharing a cookie with a brother, includes the lines: "Yet now I'm expected to share from my plate/With this lazy and freeloading young reprobate?/ You're running this house like a socialist state!/ My whole life I've sacrificed, given, and lent. I've suffered a tax rate of 50 percent." "What Happened to Us Monsters (The Mummy's Lament" is a laugh-out-loud hilarious take on growing old. As with Silverstein, there are some serious poems among the nonsense. These include the lovely "The Valleys Shape the Mountains" ("the chill of late December shapes the warmth we feel in June"), the sweet "The World's Best Offer," the plaintive "You'll Never Feel as Tall as When You're Ten," the wise and insightful "The Little Hurts" and "I'm Shy on the Outside," and "Grown-Ups Are Better (1)" with the lines "children are better at dreaming... children are better at hugging.... children are gooder and grownups are badder/ At just about all things that matter."
Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eagar; Candlewick Press, 423 pages ($17.99). Ages 8 to 12.
This beautifully written and unusual novel features an 11-year-old shark-loving marine inventor named Fidelia Quail who is orphaned when her marine-scientist parents die in an accident at sea. A grieving Fidelia is abducted from her aunt's house by one-eyed Merrick the Monstrous who needs her special knowledge to retrieve valuable treasure from the ocean floor. As the creaky old pirate ship sets course toward Merrick's underwater treasure cave, a Navy ship under the command of greedy Admiral Bridgewater is in hot pursuit. Fidelia feels a strange loyalty toward her captor, Merrick, who is dying of a dread disease called the "Red Daisies" and whose secrets include a hidden library and a doomed romance. Eagar, author of "Hour of the Bees," has crafted a thrilling narrative that is part pirate adventure, part love story and part coming-of-age tale set in Arborley Island and environs, an invented Britain-like world, in an unspecified time when Fidelia's inventions of an underwater submersible, fish-finder and breathing mask were coveted and new discoveries.