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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

This Book is Not About a Kitten, written by Randall de Seve and illustrated by Carson Ellis. Random House Studio, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"This story is not about the 
dog's people who listened, 
or the dog who stopped 
when it heard the kitten, 
hungry and dirty, 
scared and alone, 
meowing sadly, 
needing a home.

Readers are told from the beginning that this book is NOT about a kitten; yet, that tiny kitten figures into every new scenario shared in its rhythmic cumulative words. As a woman walks her dog, she is dragged toward a parked car that is providing protection for a tiny, black feline. The dog's family hears the commotion and is quick to have a friend calm the dog, while the two of them check on the dirty, hungry kitten shivering with fear beneath the car. 

Each additional concerned citizen who offers help for its plight adds to the wonderful show of community spirit, all focused on a tiny cat with no home, and needing their support. The story spreads, bringing more and more offers from the surrounding neighborhood. All work together for the greater good. With warm voices and careful persuasion, the kitten is finally captured. She is fierce and very frightened ... until settled in a box with a bowl of milk and finally, comforting arms filled with love to hold her.

"This story is about the
and listening, 
the holding
and bringing, 
the offering 
and asking 
and working together 
it takes, sometimes, to get there.

What a warm and uplifting read aloud story this is for young children. The repetitive text, the diverse community, the care and concern shown for one tiny critter is the true meaning of community. Isn't that what we all could use more of right now? 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Frizzy, written by Claribel A. Ortega and art by Rose Bousamra. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2022. $28.99 ages 8 and up

"All that time and money at the salon
down the toilet. 

Now look at your hair - 
it's a mess

I'm going to have to put it 
in trenzas. 

No, Mami, 
please not braids!

Marlene loves her natural hair exactly as it is; her mother feels differently. Every Sunday the two set off for the salon to get their hair straightened. It is excruciating for the young girl. Her mother says it's the only way for Marlene to look her best, especially for her cousin's quinceanera, Life for mother and daughter seems to always be about 'good hair', and being presentable. 

The perception within the family for the way hair should always look is the result of trying to fit in. At school, Marlene is bullied for her unruly curls. Luckily, Marlene has a supporter in her Tia Ruby, whose natural curls are abundant. She supports Marlene's feelings about wanting her hair to be natural; she encourages her niece to learn how to take care of her hair and offers welcome advice. 

This is a powerful story full of emotion, and perceptions of beauty. Marlene finds a way to have her say with her mother. The two are able to see what the other is feeling and thinking about the way things have always been. Should they be?  It takes time, understanding and hearing each other to help them come to a new way of dealing with their feelings. 

Ms. Ortega handles the issue of standards of beauty passed from generation to generation with skill and assurance as Marlene navigates her feelings with her mother. The expressive illustrations that present Marlene's family and community are impressive, allowing readers to experience the depth of emotion and the many expectations. Poignant scenes between mother and daughter, aunt and niece, and with the greater community help readers see different points of view while also supporting Marlene as she makes her way through an important transition. The graphic novel format is exactly the right way to attract middle grade readers and to hold their attention throughout the impressive telling.  

Hair for Marlene is a big deal. Her hair speaks to the way she feels about herself. In the end, readers will understand why. It is a healing journey for all involved. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes: The Adventurous Life of the First Giraffologist. Written by Karlin Gray and illustrated by Aparna Varma. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Growing up, she found plenty of 
library books about beavers, deer, 
and even elephants, but NOTHING 
about giraffes. 

Anne made a promise: one day, she 
would write a book all about giraffes. 
Her friends were amused.

This is the second book I have read this year about Anne Innis Dagg, a worthy Canadian scientist. From an early age, Anne had a very special interest in the giraffe. She did her best to discover everything she could about the elegant creature. No library held such books. Anne decided right then and there she would one day write her own book about them. Years of disappointment at school did not further her education about her beloved animal. 

When she was seventeen, she returned to the zoo where she had first seen one. A giraffe there seemed as interested in Anne as she was in it. At university her study of zoology led her nowhere. Not able to study the giraffe in Canada, she made preparations to go to Africa. Despite societal pressures that made a woman travelling alone highly questionable, Anne persisted and was soon accepted for study at the Fleur de Lys Ranch where she could see giraffes every day. 

She was welcomed there by Mr. Matthew and given free rein to begin her study. Anne spent day after day observing, identifying each one, and keeping a careful journal for all she was learning about the gentle giants. She left nothing out. While working she often felt protected by a tower of giraffes. She loved every minute of the year she spent in South Africa. 

Back home, few seemed interested in what she had learned. Universities were not willing to hire her despite her qualifications; her gender was a deterrent. Anne turned to writing about them, a promise she had made in childhood. She wrote numerous books. When a movie was made to chronicle her work and her life as the world's first giraffologist, Anne finally found success. 

Simple, telling text and cheerful illustrations work well for a younger target audience. Older students looking for more information could check out Kathy Stinson's The Girl Who Loved Giraffes and Became the World's First Giraffologist (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2021). An author's note that includes quotes from Anne is both interesting and informative. Further back matter includes an interview with Anne, and a list of resources for young learners.   

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Air Miles John Burningham, written by Bill Salaman and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"On a sunny day, with the engine roaring
and the propeller whirring, the plane sped 
across the field and rose into the air. 

Miles was flying. 

Miles was tired when he returned. 
Norman had to help him 
out of the cockpit.

What a loss to children's literature with the death of John Burningham in 2019. His bibliography includes more than thirty picture books that hold great appeal for young readers and their caregivers. In his final picture book, written with the help of his good friend Bill Salaman and illustrated by his wife, Helen Oxenbury, fans of Motor Milles (Candlewick, 2016) get a chance to see Miles embark on another adventurous journey.

This appealing sequel presents Miles in the twilight of his years. He can't run as he once did, or even walk easily anymore. His hearing is not what it had been. Perhaps Mr. Huddy, who made his car in the first adventure, can help find something to cheer Miles up. Turns out that Mr. Huddy is working on an airplane. Could Miles be the pilot for the tiny plane? 

Miles proves to be a quick study, and soon makes a solo flight. Upon his return, Miles is beat and succumbs to a long nap. All following flights are much longer. After each return, he requires more assistance. Soon, other activities stop: walks, eating, even flying. On his final day, Miles goes to the flying field where Norman lifts him into the plane. Miles takes his final flight. 

"He flew farther than ever before.
An opening note written by Helen Oxenbury, and endpapers created with John Burningham's thumbnail sketches are welcome. Touching, and full of heart. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

A Leopard Diary: My Journey into the Hidden World of a Mother and Her Cubs. By Suzi Eszterhas. Owlkids Books, 2022. $19.95 ages 7 and up


"Finally we heard movement in the bushes. 
It was Mom with her two cubs following 
behind! She flopped to the ground, right 
where we could see her clearly. She checked 
us out for a moment and then rested her head
on the grass. Bringing her cubs out in front 
of us meant she was relaxed, and it felt like 
she was giving us permission to see her cubs.

I have posted other books by Suzi Eszterhas. She is a skilled and well-known nature photographer with a keen eye and an affection for animals in the wild. In this book, she shares her personal stories from s series of visits to the Jao Reserve in Botswana. There she spent time with Kambango Sinimbo, a local guide who provided help and advice for her work in capturing stunning photos of a leopard mother and two different litters.

A great deal of patience and tracking offers readers a clear look at some of the daily teaching the mother does to ensure her cubs' safety (she hides one in a camp washroom to keep predators at bay). Food, grooming, and encouraging her young to learn on their own are all activities shown in captivating photos that will hold attention for kids interested in knowing more about these majestic cats.  

Ms. Eszterhas' love of leopards is evident on every page. Despite their ability to avoid humans, there are times when the mother seems quite comfortable with the guide and photographer. What a coup for all, as we are the recipients of the photos that chronicle these up-close encounters. A series of diary entries are telling as they follow two tiny cubs through early growth and learning, all the way through to facing the world on their own with the skills needed to survive in the wild. What could be better than that? Then, the mother begins again with a second litter. 

Many related facts are offered for further learning. This ups understanding and a love and respect for wildlife, in hopes that readers will do what they can to offer protection in the future. Your readers who have a love of animals will be intrigued and involved in learning more. 

Back matter offers an interview with Kambango, and a glossary. There is mention that a portion of the royalties from sales of this book will be donated to Children in the Wilderness. You can find out more at                                                                                  

Thursday, November 24, 2022

On This Airplane, written by Lourdes Heuer and illustrated by Sara Palacios. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"There is turbulence! 
Up, down. Up, down. 
Drinks drip drop. 
Tummies flip flop ... 

... but here is a hand
to hold and there is a 
helping hand.

We know before the story begins that a house has been sold, and bags are packed. As the young family of four boards the plane, they meet a happy pilot and take note of the other people sharing the plane with them. Those people are described in telling sentences, while the cut paper, gouache and digital media artwork adds context for young readers. 

The family shares a row of seats, and get ready for takeoff. As they make their way to their destination, the author continues introducing fellow passengers. So many of the small scenes will be familiar to those who are frequent flyers. Turbulence creates a bit of chaos and some fear. All is evident on the expressive faces and in body positions. Through it all there is a real sense of community created between travelers. 

"On this airplane, 
someone lends an earbud. 
Someone lends an ear. 
Someone makes a fuss ... 
someone makes a friend.

Welcome awaits. Soon all the luggage is loaded, and the family is on its way to ... a new home. 

Lovely, and uplifting.                                                                            

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

ICEBERG: A Life in Seasons, written by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft. Groundwood Books, 2022. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Humpback whales spiral, 
filter krill from giant mouthfuls of sea. 
Penguins dive for fish. 
Seals dive deeper to twitch-whisker hunt. 

Squid chase krill. 
Birds chase squid. 
Orca gather, linger, watch and seize. 
Short-tailed shearwaters feast then return
to their chicks. 

Who knew that making an iceberg the star of the show would result in such beauty? Those who know and admire the brilliant work done by both Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft will have guessed that it would be something. It is one of my favorite books from this year, hands down. 

The text is rich in observations made of the life cycle of the iceberg; the mixed media artwork a perfect accompaniment to the powerful descriptions for the seasons of that life. As its story begins in the last days of winter, the iceberg calves, meaning it breaks away from a glacier and makes its own place in the surrounding Antarctic waters. 

Each seasonal change transforms the iceberg itself. As in any other environment, summer brings much activity with the arrival of many birds and other species. Fall's shorter days encourage migration and preparation for the deep cold of winter when the iceberg lies motionless until the promise of another spring. Thus, this life cycle ends. 

"The iceberg twists, tilts, rocks, shears. 
It is old now - tall and small and mellow. 
It eddies into a sheltered bay, 
tips and falls.

The life of a new iceberg begins as a new dawn breaks. 

Digital illustrations created in watercolor, collage, acrylics, pencil, and ink are done in muted shades of blue, green, grey and teal in contrast to the brilliant white of the iceberg, They allow readers to see the animals that live on top of and below the ice, Careful observation results in discovering some surprises, and a gorgeous gatefold allows readers to see the many species that can be found there. 

A final page offers information about polar regions affected by climate change, a small global map and a glossary that provides help with new and pertinent vocabulary. 

Be prepared to read it once, and then again and again. Don't miss out, please.