“Three Good Deeds,” Vivian Vande Velde, Harcourt; 2007; 147pp.

When Howard taunts an old lady living near Goose Pond in the tiny village of Dumphrey’s Mill, what does that make him? It makes him a prankster; a boy whose parents obviously haven’t taught him to behave himself with the elderly; and a silly goose. And the last description applies quite literally to poor Howard’s predicament when the old lady turns out to be a witch and turns Howard into a goose — from prankster to poultry in an instant.

Even though he honks his apologies as best he can, the old witch isn’t quite ready to forgive him for stealing goose eggs and dousing one of the geese on the pond with a can of red paint. She figures he needs to prove he’s penitent by doing three good deeds. But how does he do even one good deed when he’s a goose, not a boy?

This is a rollicking read about a cheeky little boy who learns that making amends is about much more than just saying “sorry.” To lift his score to three, Howard must do good deeds that come straight from the heart — flattery won’t count, and repeating the same deed every day won’t either. And he must do all this with wings for hands and a single-word vocabulary: honk.

The book is also a hilarious take on what life must be like for a goose. The geese on the pond are constantly trying to protect their eggs from eagles, wild animals, and up-to-no-good boys like Howard. They won’t even trust other ganders, which means that Howard has to steer clear of all the nests unless he wants to have his head pecked in. Mealtimes aren’t very appetizing, either, when they comprise pond weeds, and for variation, pond worms.

Actually, being a goose is pretty complicated when you think of it: Nesting takes forever; they look as though they’ve been plucked for the cooking pot when molting; and come winter, everyone wants to migrate.

This great little morality tale will keep you riveted, especially the funny bits where Howard makes some rather insincere attempts to do a good deed, and finds that he’s still as goose as ever. Besides, you’ll never stand on the shore after you’ve read this book and marvel at how serene the geese on the water look. Now you’ll know the truth about them.

Note: For kids ages 8 to 12.

“Miss Alaineus — A Vocabulary Disaster,” Debra Fraiser, Harcourt; 2007; 40pp.

Fifth-grader Sage experiences what it’s like to be wasted, ravaged, destroyed, ruined — also described as devastated — when she misunderstands one of Mrs. Page’s vocabulary assignments, leading to a catastrophe: meaning a momentous tragedy.

Tuesday is Vocabulary Day at Webster School, and it’s absolutely the worst day for Sage to fall ill and stay home. But she gets the assignment over the phone from her best friend Starr, “who is not ‘a luminous celestial object seen as a point of light in the sky,’ but a very smart girl.” Every week, Mrs. Page gives the class 15 words to look up in the dictionary (although Sage knows most of them already). But this time, the last word leaves her flummoxed (and if you don’t know what that means, look it up).

Miss Alaineus — now what sort of a word is that? Then Sage remembers how she went grocery shopping with her mom a year ago, and how her mom went off looking for Miss Alaineus’ things and came back with a green box of spaghetti with a picture of a beautiful woman on the top of it. Ah! So that’s who Miss Alaineus is!

But catastrophe (and you know what that means now) strikes when Sage stands up and defines Miss Alaineus for the class. Now everyone can’t stop laughing. Can Sage turn her disaster: an event bringing great misfortune, into a triumph: a true success?

The format of the book is the best part: The end of the book has 25 hidden vocabulary words; and on every page, Sage does some rather “creative complaining” for her Extra Credit Dictionary Sentences. She makes 26 sentences about being sick in bed and embarrassed in class thereafter, each containing three new words starting with one of the letters of the alphabet. My personal favorites are B: This berserk bacteria has bulldozed me badly. And O: Obliterate me, send me to oblivion — no one could outdo my stupidity.

And here’s one from me. W: This wordy tale is a worthy one, that will leave you wishing it would never end.

Note: For kids 10 to 12 years.

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