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Monday, May 29, 2023

The Only Astronaut, written by Mahak Jain and illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier. Kids Can Press, 2023. $21.99 ages 4 and up


"Alpha didn't work out, but astronauts never give up. 
I need a human assistant, someone who can imagine 
life beyond Earth. 

Does Kai want to visit outer space with me? 

Kai needs help entering the rocket ship. 

Stop wiggling ... "

It's a lonely life being the one climbing aboard a makeshift spacecraft created by the 'only astronaut'. There is much to explore in the neighborhood; going solo is a tough job. There are numerous obstacles. A crash requires some work, putting an end to the original mission plan. A new mission has an important goal: find an assistant. 

Avni's dog shows little aptitude for space exploration. Might Kai be ready to blast off with her? Avni can only hope. When Kai fills his diaper, that mission must be aborted. An expanded search is long, but successful. A worthy assistant finds Avni and begins training with her. They are perfect for each other - or are they? A few bumps along the way are handled, and the two finally settle into being a commendable team, using friendship and imagination to create untold adventures. Hurray for cooperation! 

Winning pencil artwork completed digitally adds humor and creativity to the telling. The handwritten mission notes are engaging and detailed. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Wombat, the Reluctant Hero, written by Christian Timmer and illustrated by Rachel Gyan. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2023. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"She lumbered back 
to the water hole 
and got to work. 

She dug 

and dug 

and dug. 

and at long last, 
she struck water.

I have read a few picture books about wombats in the past few years. All have to do with the devastation wrought by wildfires, brought on by drought and strong winds. Those bushfires have threatened many communities and humans, and have ravaged the animal population causing untold deaths in their wake. With the loss of their homes, many animals were left to try and find shelter while the fires raged on, the wombat proved to be an unusual hero for many. 

In this tale, we learn that Wombat likes order in her home. Nothing is out of place. That was not true of her neighbors; Wombat was duly unimpressed. She left them to it. In the heat of the summer, while roaming outside her tunnel, she noticed that her neighbors were suffering. Their water hole was close to dry. Back home she went to get what she needed to dig a tunnel in search of water. Find it, she did. What a relief for everyone; they even brought gifts of thanks. 

The heat remained; more animals sought relief at the water hole. Wombat set to work again. It took a deeper dig this time. The next day, trouble came to her door. The fires were spreading; the animals were in a panic. Orderly as ever, Wombat gave guidance to all to her tunnel entrance. It was crowded, but safe for all.

"The animals sat in silence, slowly 
sipping the water Wombat gave 
them and nibbling on the snacks
she shared.

Stepping outside to see that the fire has completely destroyed their neighborhood, Wombat and her friends set right to work!

Both author and illustrator add notes at the conclusion of their story. Christian Timmer provides additional facts about the wombat, while Rachel Gyan, whose digital artwork adds extra depth to the storytelling, lets readers know that she has seen bushfires and the harm they cause firsthand.                                                                            

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Old Friends, written by Margaret Aitken and illustrated by Lenny Wen. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"Marjorie sprinkled some flour, 
perched some glasses, and with a
few floral scarves knotted, some 
lavender perfume spritzed, and 
her Mom's woolly cardigan 
buttoned, she was Undercover 

Marjorie knows what she likes: gardening, knitting, and watching baking shows. Just like her Granny did. Her friends are fine, but they don't get excited about the same things. She has no one to turn to for help when she has questions now that Granny is gone. She misses her immensely. 

When she reads a sign at the Community Center that says the seniors' group is looking for new members, she thinks she has found her people! Wanting to join the group, she heads on over. What? Only for seniors? If she wants to stay at the Center, she can go to Kids Club. 

Not satisfied with being turned away, Marjorie is determined to find a way to join the seniors. She would be just like her Granny was if she ever faced an obstacle. All it will take is a little ingenuity. Camouflage should work. Marjorie is quickly accepted as one of the group ... until dancing is the activity of the day. Her real identity is discovered, much to her chagrin. What will her 'old' friends say?  A surprise ending is sure to elicit a quiet giggle. 

Lenny Wen's digital artwork is filled with motion, color, and most enjoyable details. 

"On the outside we may look old,
but on the inside, we still feel like
kids. Just like you

Friday, May 26, 2023

Super Small: Miniature Marvels of the Natural World, written by Tiffany Stone and illustrated by Ashley Spires. Greystone Kids, 2023. $22.95 ages

"Bee Hummingbird

Nectar detector, 
nectar inspector, 
hover, hum, buzz. 

Nectar selector, 
nectar collector,
but not a bee because ... 

This backwards flier, 
gravity defier
has feathers and not fuzz. 

Turquoise attire, 
wingbeats of fire, 
bee hummingbird.


The format for this new book is absolutely sure to win fans! Tiffany Stone introduces 15 miniscule but formidable creatures that kids are not likely to recognize. That is what will make them so fascinating to them. 

A short poem, illustrated with humor and charm in an appropriate setting, is accompanied by cartoon-like panels of images that further clarify the superpower attributed to the creature introduced in the poetry. For the bee hummingbird mentioned above, the cartoon panel describes its Amazing Aerobatics. 

"Guess why they call me a
bee hummingbird!

Because we are almost the same size!

Yup! I'm the smallest species of bird. 
I flap my wings 80-100 times a second! 
I even buzz like a bee! 

Wanna see something cool? 
I can hover ... 
,,, fly backwards ... 
... and upside down. 

Show off."

I was intrigued, start to finish. Kids will be, too. There is so much to learn. The fascination is that we share the world with them, and may never have seen any of them, or know much about them. An Oribatid Mite can lift over 1000 times its weight; a pygmy seahorse is smaller than a paper clip and is an expert at camouflage; a hydra never ages; an immortal jellyfish can go back to being a baby and grow once more. Surprised? I certainly was.   

Kids are often told they are too small to do what they think they can do. In this enjoyable and informative book, they learn that doesn't have to be true at all. 

What is YOUR superpower?                                                                               

Thursday, May 25, 2023

This Is A Story, written by John Schu and illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2023. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"This is a book. 

This is a reader. 

Here are some more readers
with minds full of questions ...

with ideas to explore ... "

A little girl with a library card is talking with her dad on the title page of this new book about story. The dedication page shows her again walking along the street, book bag over her shoulder and card in hand, with dad and brother following close behind her. 

Sea is the introduced word. A turn of the page and the readers finds a book about the word sea, with a magnifying glass zeroed in on sea horse. The book's double page spread shows an underwater habitat lush with fish and fronds, and more words. 

On the library shelf that holds that particular book, there are many other books. It is shelved in the 597 section of the library - a number in the Dewey system that denotes cold-blooded vertebrates - and includes sharks, sea horse, swimmers, blobfish, toad, salamanders, puffers ... and more. Those books are there waiting for someone to come and check them out. 

In a world full of humans, the little girl and her family meet a very approachable human. He's a librarian, willing to help her make a connection with a book that is just right for her. She is not the only reader, and each of the others have found the books they need, too. The world those books represent is full of wonder, hope, imagination and a stirring of the heart. What a truly wonderful world can be found at the library! 

Using ink, watercolor, and pastel, Lauren Castillo fills pages with delightful, meaningful images. She creates a diverse neighborhood that will be familiar to many young readers and a public library that is open and welcoming for all. This book is a perfect collaboration from two creative and caring artists. What a powerful statement it makes! 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

What Will I Discover, written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and illustrated by Rachel Qiuqi. Greystone Kids, 2023. $22.95 ages 3 and up


"They know macaws have bones
inside their tongues to help them 
crack the toughest shells. 

And glass frogs have see-through
skin so they can hide in the leaves.

Do scientists know EVERYTHING? I think not, as there is something new to learn every single day. They do know A LOT more that I do. For that matter, they likely know much more than many of us do. 

The little one who makes the first statement about scientists goes on to share what scientists do know. Each statement made makes clear that there is much they know about otters, sea stars, desert sands and thorny shrubs. The list does go on from page to page and about many places, events, and even people. 

Soon there comes a time when; 

" ... I have questions. 
And no one - no one! - has the answers.

Text that follows offers an opportunity to ask the questions that have no simple, obvious answer. They are exactly what inquisitive, thinking kids are keen to ask for themselves. Just imagine what thoughts reading this book to a group kids might spark. 

Digital artwork is warm and engaging. The settings are diverse, and encourage curiosity. A final page asks readers to return to their reading and find 10 different images from the book. 

What questions do you have? What might you discover if you are creative and curious? 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Tree and the River, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2023. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"A mighty tree stands on the banks 
of a winding river, bearing silent 
witness to the flow of time and 

This wordless book has as its only constants the tree and the river. Powerful imagination and stellar illustrations allow readers to see what the tree sees through countless years of continuous change. 

In the beginning, it stands alone on the banks of the river. With each turn of the page, the scenes change to chronicle the growth of communities (one agricultural, one industrial), the overcrowding, the significant environmental impact, impending war, technological advancements, and devastating floods and destruction. 

The tree is impacted as well. It remains tall and standing even as weather and human encroachment cause it to lose its leaves, and finally it succumbs to the effects of flooding and its age. Wait, are those new leaves sprouting from a single healthier-than-others branch; is that an acorn falling into the flowing river; is that a new tree shoot poking up at a place downriver? It is ... and life begins again. There is always hope. 

As we have learned from earlier books by this very accomplished artist, he creates incredible and imaginative stories using pencil, gouache and digitally painted images that inspire, encourage and cause his audience to carefully consider all that can be said without saying a word. Remarkable!