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Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.50 ages 9 and up

"One year. Not two. One. Which meant I would be allowed exactly half the education of Travis. The injustice of it overwhelmed me. Then what popped into my head was the question that - the moment it came to me - I realized I'd been waiting to ask my whole life. I said, "How is that fair?" Father and Mother stared at me as if I had sprouted another head. "Indeed," murmured Grandaddy ... "

How wonderful to spend time with Calpurnia Virginia Tate once again! Picking up this book and not putting it down until I had read it start to finish was a joy. Calpurnia is one of my favorite fictional characters - a girl with a love of science, family, critters, and learning.

Callie, now age 13, and her grandfather continue their scientific studies together. Whenever she has a question about the discoveries she is making, she heads straight to the library where her grandfather is most often found. Granddaddy encourages her learning, giving her tasks to help her answer her many questions on her own. She tracks her observations and questions in a Scientific Notebook:

"Saturday, September 8, 1900. Vy cloudy, SW winds. Strange bird on lawn, looks like this:"

Accompanying the note is a sketch of the bird she sees. Before going inside, she notes that her barometer shows the air pressure has dropped dramatically. In the library she finds a bird that matches her sketch. She shows it to her Grandfather. It sets him to thinking seriously, recognizing that a terrible storm is coming. His warning does not help those living in Galveston, where thousands die. Among the survivors is Aggie, Callie's cousin, who comes to live with Callie and her family while her parents try to salvage their life in Galveston.

We also meet the other members of the Tate family, and come to know Callie's brother Travis well. He loves animals with a passion, and is always bringing home strays. Knowing how he loves them, Callie does her best to help when he needs assistance. It often gets the two in trouble. It also leads to their work with a local vet, and a growing understanding that Callie has a natural proclivity for animal husbandry. Luckily, her mother knows little about these escapades.

There is so much science explored in the adventures that are a part of Callie's everyday life. She is interested in Charles Darwin and his writings, in dissection, in the care of animals, in the stars, and in being outdoors. At the same time, she is acutely aware of the inequity in life when you are a girl in the early twentieth century. The opportunities for her six brothers are very different than they are for a young girl. She is expected to learn skills that will make her a good wife and mother; education is not considered an option. Her courage to speak out, and her insistence that she be treated fairly make her an admirable character, while also being fallible and human. She deserves the opportunity to forge her own path in life. I am sure that she will.

In the meantime, before she grows up too much, I hope to meet her again. I am content to wait six years again just to spend more time with her.  Please!!!

Friday, July 31, 2015

The First Flute: Whowhoahyahzo Tohkohya, written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Don Oelze. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2015. $24.95 all ages

"Dancing Raven was often
called upon to lead in the
Buffalo hunt. Yet his heart
was in the dance.

Kohne Waci, ohena pte
odaypi cheepe gash
chonteh etunhun waci
echena cheen."

This is, once again, a winning collaboration by author, artist and musician. David tells me that it is his eleventh book written with a First Nation language translation. The design is impressive; the accompanying CD shares the story in English, French and Dakota. Jan Michael Looking Wolf's haunting flute playing is wonderful and adds special meaning to David's retelling of this traditional Dakota story.

The naming ceremony is of great importance; it has value, honor and respect for the person named. Dancing Raven lives on the plains. His life is quite ordinary, except for his ability as a dancer.

"He was the best and most renowned dancer among all nations."

He learned the many skills needed for all young men - hunting, trapping, racing, shooting, wrestling, and tracking. He proved himself to be a wise leader; but, dance was his calling. When he fell in love and wanted to marry, he was rejected by the girl's father.

"What can you offer my daughter?" the respected
Elder asked. "What do you have to offer that has
any worth or value? Dancing will not feed my
daughter, nor will it feed my grandchildren."

In sadness, Dancing Raven sought solace with Grandfather Cedar, and the Creator. To his surprise, there he found the gift that he had been seeking. Thus, the first flute helped the young man prove his worth to his village and to the woman he loved.

Dan Oelze's detailed images are infused with light, and set in the beauty of the prairie landscape. His fascination with North American Native life is evident on every page, giving readers clear context for Dancing Raven's life and experiences.

David is a very accomplished flutist himself, and thankful for that first flute, I am sure!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova. Written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"The story unfolds.
A sleeping beauty
opens her eyes
... and so does Anna.
Her feet wake up!
Her skin prickles.
There is a song,
suddenly, inside her.
Now Anna cannot sleep.
Or sit still ever."

How lovely! The words are spare, but the telling significant, in this book about the graceful, beautiful Russian ballerina. She was born into poverty, the child of a laundress in a country where there were few opportunities for the poor. Her life changed immeasurably on the evening she attended her first ballet. From that day forward, Anna dreamed of nothing but ballet.
She was so young; when her mother finally allowed her the chance to attend a boarding school for training, she was turned away. She was eight years old. She would wait (impatiently) for two additional years before acceptance to train ... and train hard.

"The work begins.
The work?
The work!

and down
and back and turn
and on and on
and to and fro
and third position!

Anna was not like the other girls. They were sturdy, she was slight. Her back was weak, her feet arched. All that did was make her more determined to dance! Her career was stellar, dancing 'the lead role in all the great ballets'. She travelled the world in the belief that 'ballet was for everyone'. She didn't need accolades. She danced for the love of it. She wanted other dreamers to know that the dream could be theirs ... and so, she taught. When a winter cold turned to pneumonia, and left her unable to perform, Pavlova was distraught. It was her first missed performance. With her untimely death, the world lost an inspirational artist and exceptional person.

This is a lovely, quiet story, enhanced by beautiful art created by Julie Morstad using ink, gouache, graphite, pencil, and crayon. Her setting is clear and detailed. She uses white backgrounds to focus on Pavlova and her love of dance, her elegance, and her determination to share that love throughout the world.

An author's note, a bibliography and quotation sources follow.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Great Bear Sea: Exploring The Marine Life of a Pacific Paradise, written by Ian McAllister and NIcholas Read, with photographs by Ian McAllister. Orca Book Publishers, 2013. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"The Great Bear Rainforest and Sea abound with remarkable creatures, but if you were asked to name the most remarkable creature of all, what would it be? The spirit bear? The grizzly? The wolf? It may surprise you to know that most people who live in the rainforest would choose the salmon. That's right, the fish."

I knew little about the Great Bear Rainforest until my daughter moved to Victoria, and I wanted to be more familiar with her new home in British Columbia. In the reading that I have done since then, I have been greatly impressed with two earlier books by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read ... The Salmon Bears (2010) and The Sea Wolves (2013). They were such enjoyable and informative reads; I often recommended them to middle graders and their teachers. Now, the team has penned an equally memorable book about the creatures that inhabit the waters close by.

"But rich as the forests of the Great Bear are in bird and animal life, its marine environments are even richer. The waters off the forest's rugged coast contain more creatures than the forest itself - creatures that form the basis of food webs that extend all the way up to the great whales, great bears and the even the great trees."

We know little about the sea. The authors assure that were it not there, the Great Bear Rainforest would not exist. In nine chapters they guide readers from the smallest (plankton) to the largest (whales) inhabitants, allowing a clear look at the impact that the Great Bear Sea has on all life in the rainforest. It is a most interesting and accessible journey of discovery. Concluding with the need to protect these waters from oil tanker traffic which is ever-increasing, they leave us with a sense of urgency to do something.

"But people opposed to the pipeline are making themselves heard. Despite the vocal support of the Government of Canada, it's no longer certain that the pipeline will be built. Too many people have stood up and said, "No." ... Working together to make the right decisions and take the right actions will make all the difference. As long as we do that, there's no reason why the Great Bear Sea won't remain wild and wet and teeming with life for years to come. It all depends on us."
As in the two previous books, the setting is so beautifully presented and described. Because it feels like a conversation, readers will be totally engaged in all that the authors have to share; and share they do. Informative sidebars, dubbed Maritime Morsels, well-written captions for gorgeous, telling photographs kept me reading chapter after chapter ... and learning. I like the comparisons they make when creating perspective for their young audience. Even the science made sense to the non-scientist in me!  

The diversity in sea life is astounding. How the various creatures manage to live and thrive in their surroundings makes for very compelling reading, and is always informative.

"Even so, when it comes to the Great Bear Sea, cute doesn't come any cuter than sea otters. With their round heads, marble eyes, large noses and long absentminded-professor whiskers, they're as cute as cute gets in the marine world. A video of two of them holding each other's paws in the Vancouver Aquarium has attracted more than eighteen million hits on YouTube. Now that's cute."

We know that our kids need to spend more time outside, learning to love nature and its many pleasures. It keeps them healthier and more connected to the importance of the greater world itself. It establishes a concern for the natural world, and its inhabitants. If we are going to change what is happening, we need to be informed and sympathetic to some of the concerns expressed so eloquently in this wonderful series of books. They show us that there is hope; it's up to everyone to help preserve our future.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Americanine, written and illustrated by Yann Kebbi. Translated from the French by Sarah Klinger. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $24.95 ages 6 and up

"When the subway goes underground, you wind through tunnels that seem to go on forever.

On subway platforms, there are miniature houses that fit just one person. Apparently, only people in blue are allowed to live inside.

If you love trains, you've got to see Grand Central Station. It's swarming with people."

If you are in need of a guide for a trip to New York City, look no further. On his return to his Parisian pals, and sporting an American flag on his back, our canine friend expounds on his recent trip.

"For starters, there are some really hilarious things about New York. Would you believe I actually saw people through windows who were running hard but never left their spot, and no ball ever showed up? I even saw people painting other people's paws."

Much of the dog's perspective is tongue-in-cheek, and recounts what he finds interesting about the many cultural areas of the Big Apple. He talks about Manhattan and Ellis Island, the ferries, the bridges, the subway, the hustle and bustle and noise associated with the city streets. An elevator ride allows a look at the many skyscrapers, and some of the iconic buildings that are familiar to so many of us through various media sources.

Each new revelation is accompanied by a loose-lined pencil crayon image, and followed by a full double page spread that further details it. For instance, a pet store with puppies in the window to be adored and entertained by those outside is followed up with a spread of a dog walker tied to eleven dogs by leashes attached to his belt.

"New York is full of museums,
but they also like to put us on display and everyone adores us!
There are even people whose entire job is
to escort us around town."

A note tells us about Yann Kebbi's art:

"The illustrations for Americanine were made with colored pencils. Though influenced by the sketching Kebbi did in New York as a student, the images for Americanine were all created in Paris, sparked by emotion and memory."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Leo: a ghost story, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 ages 4 and up

"Leo was glad to have
company. On the first
night, he made them mint
tea and honey toast. Leo
thought he was being a
good host.

But the family saw
things differently."

Poor Leo! He has been living in this house for many years, with only himself for company. His life is sedate, yet pleasing. Then, when a new family moves in, he does his best to make them feel at home. The family is not enamored of the idea at all. They are afraid of ghostly doings, and the son doesn't like tea! As they sit together in the bathtub trying to decide what to do, they make it clear how they feel about the idea of having a ghost in their new home.

"The family called in a scientist, a clergyman,
and a psychic to get rid of the ghost.
But they should have saved their money: Leo
knew he was unwanted. He said goodbye to
his home and left."

Having been a home ghost for so long, Leo looks on this new stage in his life as an adventure. He will be a roaming ghost. But, the city has changed; he doesn't like the noise, or the fact that places are not as he remembers them. No one can see him, he can't ask questions, he is lonely. Then, one afternoon, he meets a girl who can see him. Jane notices him right away. Leo introduces himself, and becomes part of Jane's lively, imaginary world.

When Leo learns that Jane thinks he is imaginary, he is afraid to tell her the truth. As the story plays out, Leo must finally admit to her that he is a ghost. She readily accepts this new knowledge, liking him even more because of it.

Christian Robinson acrylic paint and construction paper in blues and blacks to match the tone of Mac Barnett's text. The child-like drawings on the endpapers are an invitation to young readers to 'come on in' and see what's happening. On the title page, we watch as Leo walks through the wall, and in the final frame, we see him walk out on the other side. In between, we are witness to the difficulties and delights that as testament to life lived as a ghost.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

The GREAT and the GRAND, written by Benjamin Fox and illustrated by Elizabeth Robbins. Familius LLC, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 all ages

"The NEW is surrounded
by things to touch.

The OLD is surrounded
by touching things.

The NEW knows softness.

The OLD knows life can
be hard."

Having just taken my only grandchild to the airport after a month long visit, I have a special place in my heart for this truly touching family story. While it is not meant to be a book to read to a young child, it can be shared with older ones. It is certain to have an impact on older generations for its message of hope and renewal.

It is the story of two: a baby and its great-grandfather. Both are preparing to meet for the first time. It appears that they have nothing in common. The baby is new, the great-grandfather is not. The baby has not seen much of the world, the grandfather has seen, perhaps, too much. They are family; that is their connection, and they have much to share.

The tone is tender and quiet. On facing pages, the author compares the lives that the two lead. Each pair of images is sure to inspire memories for those who share it. The circumstances are so different, so poignant in ways that are lovely and sometimes sad. The paintings that accompany the text are full of light, love and anticipation. The events that lead to the two meeting are carefully plotted and make for a very special ending.

"They are the past and the future.
They are family.

Having just met,
each finds the other
not only great, but

Very special!