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Monday, June 27, 2022

Like, written by Annie Barrows and illustrated by Leo Espinosa. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up


Mushrooms grow, like we do. They need 
air and water and food, like we do. They
make more mushrooms, like we do (okay,
okay, we don't make mushrooms; we 
make people).

But mushrooms don't have anything to say, 
and even if they did, they wouldn't have a 
way to say it. They don't have mouths. 
They don't have brains either. 

It's not a rude thing to say. It's the truth."

I LIKE this book. 

A child narrator speaks directly to readers, relating that we are all people and that makes us different from most other things that live on Earth with us. First up is the tin can. There is not one thing that makes people similar to a tin can. What about a swimming pool? We have 'water, chemicals and dirt inside us.' A bit like a swimming pool is what we are. 

There are ways children are like mushrooms. But the differences outweigh the similarities. So, readers are moved to the next comparison: an excavator! Before turning the page, what do readers think? Are we the same in any way to an excavator? Can it do things better than we can? Then, what about a hyena? 

I love that this book asks readers to think about comparisons between a wide variety of objects. Each additional character comes a little closer to being 'like' humans. 

"Hey, It's me! And there's you! 
Look at us! 
Are we alike? 

We are not exactly alike." 

What a terrific book to use with kids to inspire critical thinking. How many other comparisons can they make?. With guidance and discussion, this book also offers an invitation to do some follow-up writing. 

Colorful, energetic artwork by Leo Espinosa is sure to appeal to listeners as they watch this family work together to consider comparisons and be an important part of the learning. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Marie Mitchell. Written by Laura Alary and illustrated by Ellen Rooney. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"The captain wasn't so sure. What could a girl 
possibly know of mathematics and machines? 
But what choice did he have? Maria set to work, 
her mind whirling with numbers, calculations, and 
measurements as tiny and precise as the springs 
and gears of the chronometer. 

She did not make a single mistake."

Born in the early 1800s, there were expectations of Maria to do what all young girls and women did at the time. There was so much more Maria wanted to do with her life. Balancing the duties expected of her with her innate curiosity, she made time to get outside in the wider world and extend her collections. She gathered natural elements that she found while, at the same time, ideas and words filled her thoughts. She was constantly on the lookout for something special. 

Even as an adult, her search for more was continuous. She longed to leave her island home in search of more. Whaling ships did not provide a solution; her interest in the stars and the role they played in guiding those ships was more to her liking. She looked to her father, a man of science, to teach her how to use a sextant to learn about the sky and its many wonders. She noted every discovery in her notebook. On the day her father was unavailable to help a ship's captain get his chronometer fixed; Maria stepped in and did the job. Her father was quick to reward her with a quiet place to do her writing and dreaming. 

Maria was a determined child and woman, never content to do what others expected of her. 

"She was a dreamer. 
A wonderer. A collector. 
She had to keep looking. 

But she also had to make a living."

Maria was not one to sit still. She started her own school. She became a librarian which led to new learning, and finally an opportunity to be the first person in the world to spot a new comet. Her search ended with a brand-new discovery, and a chance to make a name for herself in scientific circles. Offered a job as a professor of astronomy in New York, she found her calling and a use for all the knowledge she had gathered.  It took tenacity to be the teacher she wanted to be, and to encourage her students to do as she had done: ask questions, learn as much as possible, and put a rest to the expectations of others for the life they wanted to live. 

She passed the message to young family members as well, encouraging them to question everything. It remains an important lesson today. Well-written and appealing, this book offers readers a chance to learn about a woman of science whose wonder at the world led her to discover much about herself. 
Ellen Rooney uses collage artwork to take readers back in time, providing context for the information presented about a woman whose life is not well-known, and should be. 

Back matter includes an author’s note about life in Mitchell’s era, her Quaker background, and her belief in freedom of choice for boys and girls, as well as a list of resources. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Oliver Bounces Back! Written by Alison Hughes and illustrated by Charlene Chua. North Winds Press, Scholastic, 2021. $16.99 ages 4 and up


"At recess, Oliver dropped his muffin in 
the dirt, stepped in a puddle, and totally 
soaked his shoe. Then a third-grader 
dropped his ball cap into the mud. 

Oliver just sat there, 
not playing soccer,
not climbing on the 
climbers, not doing 

We ALL have them - bad days! In fact, Alexander had a 'terrible, horrible, no good, very bad'  day. I read that wonderful book by Judith Viorst many, many, many times when our kids were young. I still have a copy to share with my granddaughters. 

Oliver knows exactly how Alexander was feeling so long ago, and I am sure he knows the same about the kids and adults are having bad days today. They are inevitable; it's how we handle them that makes all the difference. His day from beginning until recess is filled with some of the things that have happened, at one time or another, to most of us. 

His hairbrush tangles in his hair, his favorite shirt is still in the wash, and his baby sister throws a banana that hits him in the face. What a way to get started on a new day! After the difficulties at home, getting to the bus adds to his frustration. A dropped juice box, a delay on the way to school, and being late only makes things worse. 

Luckily, Oliver has sympathetic people in his life willing to narrate what is going on with him. His mother, father, friend, bus driver, teacher, and classmates willingly share the mishaps and problems. Recess doesn't make things any better. Oliver wants nothing to do with anyone after his ball cap ends up in the mud. Things begin to look up; lunch time brings a big change. His day gets much better when he decides that bouncing back is the way to change his state of mind. His friends join him; the mood is brightened. 

" ... It was a terrible morning. But I finally stopped 
thinking about everything that went wrong.

Inviting illustrations and a confident outlook inspire listeners to share their own stories. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

A Brave Cat, written and illustrated by Marianna Coppo. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"A fearless explorer. 

And a hunter, 
through and through. 

More or less."

In another case of what is said to be happening in the text is not really the truth of the events taking place in the illustrations, Olivia describes herself as an adventurer. She may be that, in her own mind. Actually, she is a pretty indulged house cat. Her adventures take place in a cardboard box, in a plant-filled room, rolling around on a artfully painted desert landscape, and under the bedcovers. She is a hunter of shoelaces, and endlessly spoiled with toys, a comfortable bed, and the run of the house. She loves her perfect world, and wants nothing more to do than the fearless exploring she does every day. 

"Besides, from what she's seen, 
the world outside isn't all 
that it's cracked up to be.

The world outside is for cats
without any imagination.

Then, imagine her surprise when she falls out a window while chasing a fly. First off, she does not land on her feet. As she explores the yard, she is confronted by a barking dog. Fear sends her up the nearest tree. What can she do? As all fearless explorers are likely do, she takes a leap of faith and lands on the roof of the house, From that vantage point she is content; and delighted when her owner sees and rescues her. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Children of the Forest, written and illustrated by Matt Myers. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House, 2022. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"The sun is low. 
We must make our camp.

I teach sister the ways of survival. 
High ground is more dry.
Red sky means no rain tonight. 

Tent poles are not to eat."

The siblings in Matt Myers' new book are looking for adventure. They don't have to go far! In fact, they can stay right in their own backyard and have the most wonderful and imaginative experiences. The boy wears a green hoodie that would make Robin Hood jealous, and carries a toy bow and arrow. His sister wears a bright red wool cap and stoops to pick a handful of purple flowers. There are wild 'children of the forest', bent on using all the skills they have learned from their upbringing with wolves, raccoons, and owls. They are well-equipped for survival. 

"I teach Sister 
which native plants 
are not to eat ... 

and how to brew tea
with ancient herbs.

We find a pioneer cabin."

While the cabin owner (their dad) sleeps, they stealthily remove only what they need. Confronted by a mountain lion (aka pet cat), Brother tries to lead his sister away from danger. She is much more interested in the food they have been able to secure. Pulling her away, their concern then becomes hunger. A fierce beast (aka their Saint Bernard) makes its presence clear, they know they are in line for a fancy feast. As the sun goes down, they set up camp - no fire and a long line of noise-making warning signals to keep intruders at bay - they are safe. Or are they? 

With marvelous storytelling in both text and art, Matt Myers uses contrast to great success. The narration is dramatic and attention-getting, while the very detailed pencil and watercolor images spin an entirely different reality. Equally witty and brilliant, this is a book that will be read numerous times. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

How To Make a Mountain: in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years! Written by Amy Huntington and illustrated by Nancy Lemon. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2022. $25.99 ages 9 and up


"When continents collide, rock along the edge
can crumple up. Think of your continent like 
a rug. If you push the rug toward the center, it will 
crumple into folds. Those are your mountains. 

Except this isn't a rug. It's solid rock. 
And this is a do-it-yourself project, 
so you will be doing the crumpling. 


While it may only take nine steps start to finish to make a mountain, those set steps will take millions of years to complete the task. An unseen narrator takes the role of guiding three characters on an often-arduous journey from rock to mountain. A young girl, a raccoon and a woodpecker are companions for the long and demanding adventure. 

It's quite the challenge, and begins with finding exactly the right rock for the job. It must be BIG! Once found, that rock must go through many movements and changes as continents collide and even crumple. That work is an assignment for the girl; not easy by any means. When the mountain range is finally created, there is even more work to be done. Water and weathering are needed to create interest in the mountainous shapes. Much has yet to happen, which is what takes ALL the time. 

The design and organization, the comparisons used, and hands-on activities included help with understanding this complex process. Illustrations created in pencil and gouache, then finished digitally, help readers see how the mountain forms from one page to the next through all nine steps. Each image is a double-page spread that details the formation over countless years. In the end, a mountain has been built to become its own spectacular habitat, with growth from bottom to top - deciduous forests at the bottom, conifer forests, alpine meadows and moss and lichens at the very top. 

Now, comes the time to enjoy and protect it. There is still work to be done in keeping it healthy and welcoming for all visitors. 

Back matter includes a glossary of mountain features. In an afterword, the story of the Earth's growth and continued development is explained. There will always be changes as the years pass by.                                                                                          

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Kunoichi Bunny, written by Sara Cassidy and illustrated by Brayden Sato. Orca Book Publishers, 2022. $19.95 ages 3 and up





Saya and her dad are out for a sunny walk when she notices an altercation between two cats. Selflessly, she throws her stuffed bunny into the fray. That bunny's name is Kunoichi, the Japanese word for female ninja. It works. The two cats spring apart, and then contentedly move back together to have a good sniff at the interloper. Saya calls out, letting her dad know she needs her bunny. 

On they walk to catch the bus. Once they are seated, Saya notices a young woman with her little one in a stroller climb aboard. As she reaches into her purse for payment, the stroller begins to roll toward the open door. It's Kunoichi to the rescue once again! Alertly, Dad saves Kunoichi for his young daughter. Then it's to the park where they meet their friends. While the adults talk, Saya explores. As she watches a mama duck and her ducklings waddle past, she notices one duckling tries to jump over the storm grate and falls through an opening. 

Saya's quick thinking, with Kunoichi's help, has her rescuing the duckling. What superheroes they are! As happens with many superheroes, their work goes mostly unnoticed by others; that is the way they like it. One more accident averted and it's time for Dad and Saya to make their way home. Kunoichi is recovered once more, and the two catch their bus for the ride home. Kunoichi's final act of the day is to bring a smile to the face of a lonely, older woman who shares the bus with them. 

As they walk back the way they came, Saya falls asleep and drops her bunny on the sidewalk. Dad notices, and saves Kunoichi once more. A quick launder and the battered bunny is ready for a bedtime snuggle and a grateful kiss from Dad. 

The design, using a graphic format, is appealing for children. The story is charming from start to finish, and the pencil artwork finished digitally is exceptional. While there is the drama of the many heroic actions, the father-daughter dynamic is loving and invites careful attention. Those who share this fine picture book will find much to discuss, and will enjoy mimicking its many sounds.