THE OLD PIRATE OF CENTRAL PARK, by Robert Priest. (Houghton Mifflin, $15; grades K-2.) After carefully building a replica of his former ship, the Laughing Dog, the title character--complete with eye patch and hook--launches the vessel on a boat pond in New York City’s Central Park. His perfect moment is shattered, though, when the S.S. Uppity Duchess, a grand liner owned by a retired queen, begins racing about the pond “with utter, reckless, and heedless abandon.” All-out warfare, complete with cannon fire, ensues. Priest’s fine imaginative powers are on full display here. The curious characters, riotous plot, and bold, colorful illustrations make this a wonderful read-aloud.
THE MYSTERY OF THE MAMMOTH BONES, by James Cross Giblin. (HarperCollins, $15.95; grades 5-8.) In 1801, news that huge bones had been found in a farmer’s field in New York state caught the attention of Charles Willson Peale, an artist, self-taught scientist, and the founder of the first American natural history museum. Convinced the bones held clues to a mythical elephant-sized animal, Peale launched a dogged and dangerous search to find more bones and reconstruct the complete skeleton-a search that confirmed the existence of the prehistoric mastodon. Giblin bases his account of this fascinating mystery on the diaries and letters of Peale and includes several of Peale’s drawings.
THE WAY TO SCHENECTADY, by Richard Scrimger, with illustrations by Linda Hendry. (Tundra Books, $8.99; grades 5-7.) This romp of a book stars 12-year-old Jane and her wacky family on a car trip from hell. Jane, her two brothers, long-suffering father, and cranky, nicotine-addicted Grandma head for Boston in their minivan to meet up with Mom, who’s been at a conference. Along the way, Jane and brother Bill meet a sorrowful, smelly homeless man trying to get to his brother’s funeral in Schenectady. The two agree to smuggle him in the back of the van as a stowaway, with hilarious consequences.
DIVE! My Adventures in the Deep Frontier, by Sylvia A. Earle. (National Geographic Society, $18.95; grades 5-8.) A marine biologist, Earle offers an enticing look at the perils, joys, and high-tech wonders of ocean exploration. The entertaining text takes readers to Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, the Indian Ocean, and the Grand Bahamas. It is accompanied by spectacular photographs of whales, coral reefs, and underwater laboratories.
BROKEN CHORDS, by Barbara Snow Gilbert. (Front Street, $15.95; young adult.) Once a child piano prodigy, Clara, now 17, yearns for a life as a normal teenager. Though pushed by her mother to compete in a prestigious piano competition, she is distracted by her new ballet lessons and an encounter with a handsome fellow competitor. This is a sensitively written coming-of-age novel with an appealing and gutsy protagonist.
THE EMPEROR’S OLD CLOTHES, by Kathryn Lasky, with illustrations by David Catrow. (Harcourt Brace, $16; grades K-4.) We all know the story of the emperor’s new clothes, but did you ever wonder what happened to his old duds? As Lasky and Catrow tell it, a simple farmer named Henry found the royal garments along the road where his majesty, racing to the infamous parade, dumped them. Henry, who can’t believe his good fortune, sheds his work clothes for the luxurious finery: silk stockings, billowing pantaloons, embroidered doublet, wig, and more. He heads home to impress his animals, but he looks so ridiculous that they fall down laughing in the barnyard. Both the yarn and illustrations are a scream.
--Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman