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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, written by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Up in the garden, we snap brittle stalks, scoop rustly armfuls, and wheel away weeds for the chickens. While they squabble and scratch, we spread compost over the soil.

Down in the dirt, pill bugs chew through last year's leaves. I give a gentle poke. They roll up tight and hide in plated suits of armor, roly-poly round."

It's getting closer to garden planting time here. After a weekend rain, wind and even snowstorm, we are experiencing warm sunshine today, and a promise of normal May temperatures for the rest of the week. I can just see how quickly people are going to get to the yardwork that they so love at this time of year. That is, after they get out and walk and watch their kids play soccer in the park across the street.

My granddaughter is not likely to experience the joy that the little one in Kate Messner's lovely and informative book about gardening has with her grandmother. A gardener I am not ...

This is a book about a garden, both above the ground and below the soil. A young girl stands beside her Nana in very early spring dreaming of what their garden and raised beds might soon offer. The sun is shining, helping to melt the remaining snow, and the muddy ground sticks to their boots. It is not yet time to plant. As they let the warming dirt slide through their fingers, the little one wonders what is under the ground. Nana patiently explains what is happening below to help their garden flourish.

We watch as they tend to their garden in each season, always aware of what is happening in both places:

"Up in the garden, carrot plants sprout. Pea blossoms
bloom. Wasps are on the prowl, and honeybees visit,
legs loaded with pollen.
I wilt and weed in sun so strong even
Nana looks for shade.
Down in the dirt earthworms tunnel deep.
I'm jealous of their cool, damp, dark."

There is always work to do, discussions to have, growth to appreciate, a bounty of fresh food to nurture. It is a wonderful journey of discovery for a young girl and her grandmother as they experience the circle of life in a natural space. Each creature mentioned plays an important role in maintaining the joy to be found in their garden.

The mixed media images created to accompany the inventive text are detailed and lovely. They almost made me want to get my hands in the dirt in my own flower beds. The artist uses cross sections that  match the gentle cadence of the text, showing readers roots, bugs, constant activity as the garden moves from early spring to the return of winter.  Endpapers are awash with labelled
vegetables and flowers, while also including a few essential tools.

In final pages, Ms. Messner adds an author's note, a list for further reading and a closer look at the animals mentioned in the text.

"The tomato earthworm is the colorful larva of an insect called the five-spotted hawk moth, and it's a dreaded garden pest. Adult moths lay their eggs on tomato leaves, where the larvae emerge to eat. When it's fully grown, a caterpillar burrows into the soil to pupate, and an adult moth emerges about two weeks later to start the process over again."

This book is a celebration of family, of the joy found in the outdoors, of the satisfaction that comes with learning and a job well done, of lovely language, of elegant, textured artwork, of brilliant design.
Read it for yourself, and then share it with anyone willing to listen ... and learn.

                                                                             

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pool, by JiHyeon Lee. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"What happens
when two shy
children meet at
a very crowded
pool?

Dive in and find
out!"

He looks so lonely standing on the side of the pool, goggles over his eyes and swim cap on his head. There is no one near him; he is just staring at the water. The pool is huge, and not at all welcoming, at first glance.

As a group of other swimmers barrel past  him, he stands and watches. They look loud and boisterous; the reader hears nothing. There are no words. Soon, the pool is packed with people, toys, tubes and float boards. There doesn't seem to be an inch of space left for him. He sits at the side and dangles his feet in the cool, blue water.

The rowdies remain rowdy, and pushy. Rather than find a space for himself on the surface, he dives down - far below everyone who is floating above him. Suddenly, another swimmer comes into view: a girl. Together, they enter an imaginary world filled with curious water creatures. They play among them, and soon find themselves following along. It is a water wonderland.

When they finally resurface, they get out on one side of the pool while the rest exit on the opposite side. Removing their goggles and caps, they smile.  In the final spread another young swimmer startled when she looks back at the pool.

JiHyeon Lee, in her debut picture book, does not add color to her images until the two meet below the surface. As they swim deeper into their imagined world, the colors become more vibrant. The fish are distinctive and unusual. They are unafraid. It is true: friends can be found in the most unexpected of places.

Proof that you don't need text to tell a beautiful story, this is an amazing debut. I will eagerly await a second book!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How To Read A Story, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Mark Siegel. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Step 3
Find a cozy reading spot.

Outside is fun ... but not if it's very cold. Unless you have thick woolen blankets, and hats and scarves, and cups of steaming hot cocoa.

And not if it's very hot."

If you are looking to share a book with children that helps them understand the concept of how-to text for writing workshop, you won't have to look further than this new book by Kate Messner. If you are looking for a book for early readers that helps them understand the concept of reading aloud, and the joy to be found in it, it's just right for you, too.

Step 1 seems pretty simple - Find a Story; not necessarily true as you know if you spend time with children at home and at school. It's easy to find a storybook - not always a 'good' one. We need to be patient when trying to find the 'perfect' book for any child. It's not necessarily the one we pick first.

Ms. Messner reminds us of that is Step 2:

"Make sure your reading buddy is nice and snuggly.
And make sure you both like the book.
If you don't agree ... go back to Step 1.
Sometimes it takes a few tries to find just the right book."

There are ten steps, and each certainly acknowledges the pleasure to be found in reading. It's great fun to read out loud, which I have done often, and to myself.  I haven't read it yet to a group of children, but look forward to doing just that. I have plans to read it to the staff at our public library when I am with them on Tuesday next week. I hope it will become a favorite for all who hear it.

The ink and watercolor images that Mark Siegel has created to accompany the fresh and often humorous text add the perfect touch. Many little details encourage close attention, the colors are bright, and each illustration adds to the charm that this book holds for all those who will share it.

                                                                       

Saturday, May 23, 2015

My Family Tree and Me, written and illustrated by Dusan Perticic. Kids Can Press, 2015. $17.95 ages 6 and up

"Without my great-grandfather
and great-grandmother,
I would never have had Pops,
my grandfather, who met
his match in Nana,
my grandmother.
If I didn't have
my grandfather
and grandmother,
how could I have my
uncle, aunt, and dad?"

The two-greats grandparents that Dusan Petricic begins his book with are from his father's side of the family.

"A long, long, long
time ago there lived my
great-great-grandfather and
my great-great-grandmother."

Moving from one generation forward to the next one (and looking closely at the detailed and often humorous accompanying images), astute readers will certainly note the genetic markers that identify family members. Obviously, red hair and hampered sight are passed down, and connect back to the father and son we meet on the title page before the book even begins.

When we get to his father's generation, the three siblings show a strong resemblance to each other. The boy narrator is happy to have them. Turn the page and we see that all three are married: wedding pictures show the diversity in their choice of partners. Reaching the middle of the book, we finally get to meet the whole crew.


Not content to tell his audience about his paternal relatives, the boy moves on to tell us about his mother's family as well. For the return journey he begins in the present and traces the family backwards. The identical wedding picture of his parents for that side of the family is accompanied by his mom's brother and sister and their partners. Back we go to his two-greats grandparents on his mother's side, completing a perfect look at everyone who makes up his family tree. Brilliant!

The focus on family is strong, and full of delight. I love the reversal that begins in the center of the book, where this story is centered (on the boy and his extended family). Cleverly designed and joyful to explore, this is a terrific book to share when you want to talk with children about families. It's also a bit of a history, science and humor for those who have the chance to read it.

When asking 'what makes a family?, this book makes an inspiring introduction to the topic.

                                       
      

Friday, May 22, 2015

Prickly Jenny, by Sibylle Delacroix. Owlkids, 2015. $16.95 ages 2 and up



"Jenny is feeling
out of sorts, but
she doesn't want
to talk about it.

She just wants to
be loved."

If you have lived life with a toddler or two, you will know just exactly how 'prickly' they can be. While I have read other books about temper tantrums and toddler moodiness, few of them have captured quite so eloquently just exactly how Jenny is feeling today.

In fact, Jenny's behaviors throughout this day made me long for a chance to exhibit some of the exact same feelings ... I resist because I can. Jenny is not in a position to temper them quite so easily. She is, as toddlers are prone to do, struggling with independence and wanting reassurance. Her mood is awry from the first thing in the morning:

"Jenny doesn't say good morning
because, really, what's so good
about it?"

It only gets worse from there. The clothes picked for her are all wrong. She doesn't want to go to the fair with her dad. She in not at all interested in ice cream for dessert. Nap time is definitely not for her. Poor Jenny!

Only when she is left alone do we discover her conflicted feelings. She cries when her mom leaves, and seeks solace with her stuffed bunny. Please pay no attention to the hint of a smile, or she is sure to revert to grumpiness.

"Jenny doesn't know what
she wants today. But
tomorrow, when she's
bigger, it will get better."

It surely will!

Understanding the depth of the feelings that little ones have is captured perfectly in this wonderful book. The earthy colors are just right to convey Jenny's honest emotions - tender, sad, and funny when needed. The design makes for easy accessibility for a young audience. The text is on the left side, with accompanying images on the right. Its size is small, its message clear and its telling memorable. Bravo!                                                                             

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Storm Whale, written and illustrated by Benji Davies. Heny Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"One night, a great storm raged around their house. In the morning, Noi went down to the beach to see what had been left behind. As he walked along the shore, he spotted something in the distance. As he got closer, Noi could not believe his eyes ... "

It's hard to keep a whale a secret, especially if it's in your bathtub!
The telling events leading up to the whale's visit make this a heartfelt and sincere, yet simply told, story of family and friendship.

Noi is a small, lonely boy. We know that because we can see that he is often alone. He and his father live near a small collection of buildings on the beach. Noi's father is a fisherman, gone each day from early morning until dark. Noi spends his days with his cats for company, wandering the beach in search of treasure. On the morning following a frightening storm, Noi notices something up the beach. As he investigates he finds that a small whale has washed up there.

Noi rescues the whale, aware that it cannot be out of the water for long. His wagon offers the perfect transport. As he comforts the whale at home in the bathtub, he plays music (Sounds of the Sea, Vol II and Water Music by Handel), and does what he can to assure its comfort:

"Noi did everything he could to make the whale feel at home. He told stories about life on the island. The whale was an excellent listener."

As darkness falls, Noi worries that his father will be annoyed with their visitor. He does his best to keep his father from discovering the whale in the bathtub. To no avail ... in dealing with the situation, Noi's father makes an even more surprising discovery about his son and their life together.  

Every time I read this beautifully told story, I find one more detail in the telling images to admire. The text tells the rudimentary story basics of a boy and his father, and their life by the sea. The wonder and emotion of the tale is in the artwork. Each spread is replete with details that convey first the loneliness that both Noi and his father experience, and then the joy that comes with happy companionship. Benji Davies allows his readers to experience the depth of the those emotions in the way he showcases his characters through body language; it speaks so eloquently to those who take the time to pore over his honest, emotional illustrations.

Thoughtful, endearing and forever memorable. This is a 'keeper'!
                                                                         

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Power Up: A Visual Exploration of Energy. Text by Shaker Paleja and art by Glenda Tse. Annick, 2015. $12.95 ages 10 and up

"Electricity can be generated,
or produced, from just about
every energy source. Almost
all of it comes from transferring
a mechanical source of energy -
usually a spinning turbine (like
a big fan or propeller) - into
electrical energy, with the help
of a generator (a device kind of
like a big electric motor)."

This is a book that I would have used to help me learn about the importance of all forms of energy and how we should be use them. It is perfect for sharing in classrooms, as it  is written thoughtfully and with great care to give readers an accessible look at needed information.

It has been divided into four topics, listed in the table of contents: Introduction to Energy, Non-Renewable Energy, Renewable Energy, and finally, The Future of Energy. Each listed topic is then divided into topics that provide readers with a clear understanding of energy in its many forms. For instance, in the Non-Renewable Energy discussion the concerns are oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and unconventional oil sources.

I was surprised by some of the facts shared; I am sure that middle graders will be as well.

"Our planet has lots of oil, but we're quickly using up the 'conventional' oil that's easy to access. If we keep using oil at the rate we are now, we will have to turn increasingly to sources that are much harder to find. Most of the oil we have left is in hard-to-reach places, or in forms that are tough to extract and use."

Using pertinent and current information in text, maps, well-placed and designed images, the author assures that his readers come away from sharing this excellent book with a much better understanding. I very much enjoyed seeing the section on the amount of energy that is used daily to power common household appliances. It gives me pause to consider what is truly important, and how we can eliminate consumption with careful thought. It makes me really happy that I no longer have a freezer (which uses 723 litres of natural gas each year)!

The artwork definitely aids in the comprehension of such an important topic. A glossary, index and bibliography are most helpful. Thoughtfully done, informative and thought-provoking, this is a book that will be most useful in middle grade classrooms.