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Monday, January 25, 2021

Raj's Rule (For the Bathroom at School), written by Lana Button and illustrated by Hatem Aly. Owlkids. $19.95 ages 4 and up


I quite unexpectedly 
broke my own rule.

I did it. I used it!
The bathroom at school!

Anxiety at school shows itself in many ways. For those kids who prefer to forgo trips to the bathroom, it can be excruciating. Raj is one of those kids. The choices he makes to ensure avoidance are many, and quite extreme:  no drinks at the water fountain, wash your hands quickly when needed, no water play in the classroom, no playing at recess, no juice with his lunch, and no laughter! 

When faced with an intense need for a bathroom break, he cautions his audience: 

"Keep your head down, with your knees in a knot, 
and sit like a statue that's stuck in one spot.

And, for sure ... NEVER SNEEZE! Readers can feel his desperation. When there are no options, Raj is surprised at the difference it makes to break his own rule. You never know which child in the classroom might be feeling as Raj does. Sharing this book at story time may offer the confidence needed to give it a try. 

The rhyming verses are conversational, and written in first person voice. Expressive artwork allows those who hear this story to see and acknowledge the emotions felt by the young boy. Perhaps it is the impetus needed for children to discuss some of the fears they experience while at school. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

LIFT, written by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat. Disney-Hyperion, Hachette. 2020. $23.49 ages 5 and up


"When we get back home, 
I just want to be alone. 
I wish I could be anywhere but here. 



Whenever Iris's family gets in the elevator in their building, it is her job to push the button that takes them from floor to floor. Her younger brother suddenly changes that by being quicker to the task than Iris is. She is ticked! Her parents think it's wonderful that her brother is showing independence. To add insult to injury, he does it again. Even angrier, Iris presses every button. 

A workman is called to repair the damage. He tosses the old call button in the trash. Iris is not about to leave it there. Once back home, she goes straight to her room. She needs to be alone after the day's many disappointments. Little does she know the power that call button has, when taped to a wall near her closet door! 

As she explores the incredible opportunities presented, the doorbell rings. Her parents welcome the babysitter, who has come equipped with games to play after dinner. The evening does not go well. Once she is tucked in for the night, Iris is left to quietly try the elevator button once more. What wonder awaits! 

They're back! Minh Le and Dan Santat return to collaborate on their second book. Full of emotion and energy, they tell a family story of the conflict that often arises between siblings. Iris's emotions are evident at every turn, and show through her dark, expressive eyes. Frustrated by the unexpected events, her imagination helps her escape. First to the jungle, then into outer space, she travels ... returning changed from those experiences. 

Spare text and fantastic artwork will have readers engrossed with each turn of the page. Amusing, and filled with light and excitement for each part of the adventure, Dan Santat does what he does best. 

From Minh: 

"So many kids and families are doing the important but difficult work of sheltering-in-place right now. So I hope the idea of a magic elevator button that lets you travel to fantastical places from the comfort of your own home will spark something in the imagination and make staying inside a little easier. Because I don't know about you, but I feel like we could ALL use a lift right now."                                                                                

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Stray and the Strangers, written by Steven Heighton. Groundwood, 2020. $14.95 ages 8 and up


"Sometimes instead of water, they filled
her bowl with the best thing she had ever
tasted. Milch, the bearded man called 
it, and the young woman used a similar
sound, milk. While Kanella slurped it up, 
the man would crouch behind her.

Based on a true event, the author allows Kanella to narrate her own story. Kanella is a stray dog living on Lesvos, a Greek island, when refugees begin to make it a stop on their way to freedom from the oppression in their home countries. She is as wary of these new arrivals as they are of a stray, scrawny dog.  

A camp is set up as protection for the many arrivals, before they move on the next leg of their perilous journey. Many stay only a few days before moving on. Kanella becomes accustomed to the visitors to her home, and is soon friendly with the camp worker who offers water, food, and warmth. The kindness exhibited allows Kanella a sense of peace, and a chance to thrive and survive. 

As the people come and go, Kanella takes note of a little boy who stays. His parents are not with him. She has an awareness for the loneliness and fear the young boy is experiencing. He is alone as she has been. Soon, they are playing together, and eating meals provided by camp staff. When the boy has nightmares, Kanella offers comfort. They spend those nights in close contact. Their futures may be uncertain; for the time being, they can be together and appreciate what they have. Lives are changed for the better as the story comes to an end. 

Kids who read this exceptional story will surely feel the importance of understanding the plight of refugees running from untenable conditions. Seeing the tale through the eyes of a dog helps them realize the full impact of kindness and empathy for those whose lives are so very different from their own. In an afterword, the author shares that he met such a dog when he was volunteering at a refugee camp on Lesvos. He noted how special the dog was to the spirit of the camp, and the ways in which she helped those whose journey brought them to her island.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

Girl on a Motorcycle, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Viking, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 10 and up



The girl and her motorcycle take a jumbo jet 
from Paris to Montreal. Sometimes the only way
to cross an ocean is to fly. She sends a message
back home: I am alive. 
And then she fills her tank with gas, and she 
heads west. The open road is wide and shines
like leather. For days she rides, passing through 
towns like: Maniwaki, Michipicoten, Saskatoon.

This is the compelling and well-told story of Anne-France Dautheville, a female journalist who left Paris in 1973 to travel the world on her motorcycle. Her wanderings lasted for ten years, and the story of of her travels is presented in tight text and realistic detail. 

After carefully packing the supplies, clothing, and necessities for such a trip, she sets off. All alone, she experiences the freedom of making her way to Elsewhere. Despite some quiet concern about being on her own in a world that might prove dangerous, she listens to the call of the road. Canada is first; then Japan, India, Afghanistan, Turkey and part of Europe before returning to Paris. She spends her days traveling, her nights in campgrounds, and grooms herself in service station bathrooms. She meets many people who are astonished to see this young woman on her own, and on a motorcycle. 

There are obstacles; none keep her from pursuing her need for travel. She is helped along the way by many, especially other young women of the time. She visits places many people do not see, reveling in the travel and freedom. Despite setbacks, she discovers so much. 


*Tea is called chai.
*Chai is milky and sweet. 
*Drink it from a small clay cup.
*Smash the clay cup on the ground when 
you are done.

Her story is told in engaging and enlightening text. Julie Morstad provides exceptional artwork that gives context to all of Ms. Duatheville's experiences. The changing perspectives, the precise attention to the details of her travels, the colors, and the beauty of the many settings will captivate readers. It is a story of adventure, bravery, and a clear appreciation for the freedom of life on the road. 

End matter provides photos, and further information about Ms. Dautheville, and includes an author's note explaining her need to tell this amazing story.  

 "I want the world to be beautiful, and it is beautiful.
 I want people to be good, and they are good.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Find Fergus, written and illustrated by Mike Boldt. Doubleday Books, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"Fergus, that's much better! 
Wait, you're not done yet?
Okay, we'll find you. 




If you have ever played hide-and-seek with a two-year-old, you will know that all one has to do is to cover the face to be impossible to find. As that child gets a little older, the finding remains easy as the concept is a hard one to understand. Stand behind a lamp, and catching sight of that child is quickly accomplished.

That is about the age Fergus finds himself to be in this engaging and humorous book about a big brown bear learning the nuances of concealment. The speaker suggests that seeing Fergus in plain sight on the first page offers little opportunity for searching. Can Fergus find another place where he might be less conspicuous? A big bear behind a tree? We can see you!

What about a crowd, Fergus? Wait! What is a crowd? Well, more than three ... especially when the others are a fox and a duck. Not much of a challenge, is it? Another crowd - this one filled with rabbits, squirrels, and a fox? Nope. A big crowd of elephants? Nope ... too easy to spot a brown bear against their grey bodies. 

And so it goes. The speaker offers welcome hints. Fergus totally misinterprets the clues. Kids will love listening. I can hear the snickers and the advice they are willing to offer at every turn. The artwork is as much fun as the story. The gatefold, fuelled by counting down from ten to one offers Fergus his final chance to truly hide himself. Can he do it? Take some time to have a very close look. 

Finally, Fergus offers his list of things to go back and find on that fold-out page. What a hoot! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Smart George, written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Harper, 2020. $22.99 ages 3 and up


"George said, "First, you have to walk me."
So she walked him. 
Then, George's mother said, "Three plus three
equals what, George?" 
ge said, "It's time for my nap." 

I have been reading Bark, George (Harper, 1999) for twenty years. I love it as much today as I did then. It has a valued place on our 'keeper' shelf and is read often when my granddaughters are here. 

Now, I can read them a new story about George. George is not keen to play a math game with his mother. Every question she poses is met with a new request from her son. First, it's food, then a walk, and then a needed nap. His snooze sparks a dream about trees and counting. The questions are now posed to him by a long line of trees, and a cat. George shows that he can add one tree and one tree to get the right answer. 

The trees are not ready to stop there. So, they keep asking their questions and trying to trick George into showing how 'smart' he is. He continues to offer excuses for not playing their game, just as he didn't want to play along with his mother. The trees cajole, managing to move George forward from to 1 to 5. Adding three more trees has George chasing his tail, then a cat. The cat gets involved, as do the pig, the cow, and even George's vet! 

"My vet?
I don't want a shot. 
I want my mother.

We all know you're smart, George.
Now show us you can add up to ten.

He does! After waking from his nap, he excitedly asks his mother to take him out for a walk so he can show her how all the trees add up. She reminds him that in the city they don't have many trees. No matter. George knows just what to do! 

Immediately recognizable to kids who know his first story, this is a book that they will want to hear. Jules Feiffer knows little kids and here he encourages them to try their hand at math, too. They won't be able to resist. Making each of the trees a different color is the perfect way to get his audience involved, and to keep them on track while adding independently.

I love the familiarity of the artwork, the speech balloons, and especially George! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Wrench, written and illustrated by Elise Gravel. Orca Book Publishers. 2020. $19.95 ages 4 and up


"I'm looking for a wrench," Bob said.
"A WRENCH? I've got THOUSANDS. of course! 
But a wrench? Really, how boring. I have something
much better for you. Why don't you buy this amazing
FRIDGE-HAT instead? It's perfect for keeping 
your head and your food cool all day long!"
"Nice," Bob said.

Have you been visiting Megamart since the lockdown? Or have you discovered, as so many others have, that our perceived need for the accumulation for 'stuff' is one thing that has changed since it's been harder to get out and 'shop'. Being at home certainly has people thinking seriously about just how much it is we really need. 

Elise Gravel's message to her young audience is a gentler way of pointing out what having too much looks like. She handles a touchy subject with humor and concern, while showing readers how what we have and want we want to have are two very different things. Bob sets out to find a wrench to fix his broken bike. He is sure he has one; a careful search does not solve his problem. Off he goes to buy a new one! 

Heading straight to Megamart, the home of ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING, should get him what he needs. As happens, he is agog at all there is to see, and then bamboozled by a forceful salesman. Instead of the wrench, Bob goes home with a FRIDGE-HAT, then MUSICAL PAJAMAS and finally a SCREAMING MACHINE! His friends are never impressed with the ridiculous purchases he has made, and repetitively remind him about the reason for his shopping. He has no wrench! 

With each new purchase now stored in a cupboard, Bob realizes he has no money left to purchase the one thing he knows he needs. A search through a very-full closet of unused junk occurs; guess what he finds. Tada! The bicycle is back in running order. Bob doesn't t need a wrench after all. 

Observant readers will get a kick out of seeing all of those unnecessary purchases that fall from the cupboard and bonk Bob on the head. They will be able to find them again when they have a close look at the endpapers. Gravel uses humor and a fun story to bring up an important lesson for parents and their kids.