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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Come Home Already! Written by Jory John and illustrated by Benji Davies. Harper, 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"I'm just so bored!
I wonder what ol' Bear
is doing right this second.
I bet he's having so much
fun without me."

"Ugh. There's got to be
an easier way to set up
a tent. Ah, never mind.
I'll figure it out later.
Time for some fishing."

Duck and Bear are back, and I couldn't be happier! I love reading these books, and kids love hearing them. I was recently reading at a K-8 school that I have been visiting every year for a while. In fact, this year was the tenth anniversary of my first visit there.That means that some of the kids have been there every year since I started. It is lovely to be with them, and hear their comments about years past. When I pulled out this book to read to the grade 7/8 class, there were fond remembrances of the first two books. When I asked for a descriptor for Duck, the answer came quickly ... annoying!

Yep! Duck is annoying. His daily visits to the sedate and solitary Bear next door can certainly cause consternation. Duck doesn't change, and Bear adjusts. So, when Duck makes his daily ebullient trip over for a visit, he is stopped in his tracks by a sign on the door reporting that Bear has gone fishin' and will be back in a week. FISHING! How could Bear go without telling Duck, without asking him along, without considering how lonely Duck will be without his friend.

In the meantime, Bear plods along a forest path to his favorite camping spot, alone and quiet and without his pesky neighbor. He is joyous in the quiet solitude of the woods. Back at Duck's house, Duck is trying to make sense of a day without Bear, and decide what to do. Nothing comes to that will fill the void. He calls loudly for Bear to 'COME HOME ALREADY!'

Bear is beginning to rethink his fishing trip. It's hard to set up his tent, it starts to rain, the fish aren't biting, and he's hungry! With Bear sighing about his troubles, and Duck sighing over his missing friend, Duck makes a decision that is sure to change the trip entirely.

The characters are polar opposites, the drama always perfect for reading aloud, and the expression-filled illustrations laugh-out-loud funny. They perfectly complement the writing and make this a duo readers want to meet again and again. Thanks to Jory John and Benji Davies for perennial favorites!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

If Wendell Had a Walrus, written by Lori Mortenson and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"Then they'd jump on
Wendell's bike and pedal
right past Old Mrs. Quimby's
house. Wouldn't she be
They'd climb trees,
build forts,
fly kites,


One day while out riding his bike, Wendell takes note of a walrus-shaped cloud. That gets him thinking about a real walrus, and that he might like to have one. Should he find one, he has the perfect name for it - Roger. They would share a love of jokes, the 'punnier' the better. They would surprise Mrs. Quimby as they sped past her garden, Roger being pulled in a wagon by Wendell on his bike.

Some of his imaginings fall flat when he remembers that walruses can't climb trees, build forts without incident, or fly kites. No matter. They would love being together, and spend as much time as possible having the time of their lives.

But, Wendell doesn't have a walrus.

Maybe Uncle Zed's Pet Emporium has one for sale.

"Sorry," said Uncle Zed.
Unfortunately, he didn't
expect a walrus shipment
in the foreseeable future."

So, Wendell stuffs a note in a bottle and launches it into the ocean, asking any walrus to come visit. What he gets instead is a new friend!

Matt Phelan uses pencil and watercolor to create the warmth and energy of the setting, while also ensuring that the humorous encounters between the walrus he wants to have and Wendell himself are lighthearted and engaging. 

The final image is a real hoot!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Albert's Tree, written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2018. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"My tree is crying. I'm trying to cheer it up," said Albert. "Well, when I'm sad, I eat grass," said Caribou. So Albert and Caribou gathered lots of grass. "We've brought you some grass, Tree," said Albert. "Please cheer up." But the tree just kept wailing. Why is your tree crying, Albert?" said Squirrel. "I don't know," said Albert with a sigh."

Seasons come and go, and there is much to like about each one of them. We all know bears sleep in the winter, and awaken in the spring with a need for food and perhaps even friendship.

Albert is no exception. In spring, he races to his favorite place in the forest - his tree. Albert loves its branches, its beauty, its secluded spot and its serenity. Perched on its most comfortable branch, Albert is suddenly aware that there is a noise coming from his tree. It is crying ... no, wailing!

But, everything about the tree is just as Albert remembers it. He begins to inspect it from every angle, and remains puzzled by the noise. Rabbit hops up, with a question and a suggestion. Might digging holes help? Nope, the crying does not cease. Caribou wonders about grass. Grass always makes Caribou happy. Second failure! The tree just keeps howling!

Albert begs it to stop. Nothing helps, until Albert thinks about what makes him happy. He asks a whispery question, and the tree is finally able to explain why it is sad.

"Because I'm scared of the big hairy monster."

Only then does Bear realize that their is another creature in residence in the tree with a reasonable fear, and he knows just what to do.

Artwork is created in mixed media, and makes for a grand read. The endpapers offer up a special treat. Jenni Desmond's use of texture, white space, and bold color keep readers in constant contact with the soft, gentle bear that is full of love for his tree. You just want to reach out and give him a hug. My grandgirls are going to love it!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gordon: Bark to the Future, by Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press, 2018. $16.99 ages 8 and up

Where is his secret lab?
Where is his bed?
Where is his dish?
Where is his bone?!?



Only one agent can protect the humans from alien attack. His partner Binky has been captured, calls to P.U.R.S.T (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) have not been answered, and the humans need help. Is Gordon too late? There is no time to test his new time machine to ensure it can do what it is designed to do. He will have to take a chance, go five days back in time, and attempt to thwart the contemptible flies wanting to make his humans' lives unbearable.

A 'bug' in the machine causes him to go back FIVE YEARS. Is there nothing to be done? He has no fuel to get home, he can't change what has happened because of its effects for the future, and dogs are the enemy. Can a dog do what needs to be done to change the future?

You may be missing Binky, but Gordon certainly helps ease that pain. We are constantly aware of Gordon's thought processing and decision-making, as well as his occasional senior moments - balls and steak can be real distractions. Gordon must depend on his mental acuity to find a solution. Can he do it?

Laugh-out-loud funny, witty, full of action and angst, kids new to the series will want to go back and find all books that have led Gordon to this time in his life. Emerging readers will love it, fans will be thrilled to have another adventure to enjoy, and all will look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Greetings From Witness Protection, written by Jake Burt. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 12 and up

"The first time I crashed a new school midyear was a disaster. The second time was ... well, okay, that was a disaster, too. By the third time, I started getting the hang of it. I guess that's one of the reasons the marshals picked me - I've done this sort of thing before. Granted, not as Charlotte Trevor, and not with people's lives at stake, but I know enough by now to have a plan ... "

I read a review of this novel, and knew that I wanted to read it. Thankfully, I did just that - and in one day! I only hope to meet Nicki and her new family at some future date, to see how they are doing.

Nicki is a foster kid, with some issues. The Trevors are a family in need of help. The U.S. marshals are taxed with putting the Trevors into the Witness Protection Program, and finding a way to keep a deadly crime organization from finding them. What if they change the family composition, move them to a new home, and let them start over with Nicki/Charlotte as their daughter? What could possibly go wrong?


Nicki/Charlotte is an crackerjack character - abrasive and charming, a pick pocket when nervous, thoughtful and kind, and looking to be loved. She is 13. Her life can only get better, she hopes. She does her best to maintain a quiet, inconspicuous life and keep her new family out of trouble. Her relationship with her new 'brother' is funny, and often contentious. Her past is not particularly conducive to her fitting in, but she does.

The Trevors love her and value the help she gives to keep them out of the public eye. She does nothing to make herself visible. She's not nearly as cool as she really is, she gets average grades, she makes few friends, and she doesn't do as well as she could do at basketball, even though she could be fantastic. Flying under the radar is not easy; it takes a lot of work and diligence to keep it that way.

Nicki's first person narration is powerful and strong, real and endearing. You will be happy to meet her. The pace of the story is quick, the bonds are strong, and there is a lot of fun mixed with the frightening chance for revenge if they are found. The ending is powerful, and will have readers hoping Jake Burt has another great story to tell.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Summer Color, written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zoe Persico. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2018. $23.49 ages 4 and up

"The wind starts to stir.
A few drops pitter-patter,
and critters that creep in
the grass quickly scatter.
Rain batters down on the
blustery scene,
as cardinals fly into
treetops so green."

The family has gathered to have a cool drink together on a warm summer day. Two children can't ignore the allure of summer freedom and are off to explore the countryside. Away from the yard, down the path past the well, and through the meadow they run. Realizing they are a distance from home when a storm blows up, they must make a mad dash for  safety. As they go, they continue to take note of their beautiful natural surroundings - a creek, a waterfall, the nearby lake and the meadow.

"Our soggy shoes squeak when we race through the door.
We crowd by the window and watch the rain pour."

I like the way the author weaves common colors through the entirety of her verse. The pace picks up  quickly as the children notice the dark gray clouds and run home, in contrast to the drowsy and relaxed pace at the beginning while the family enjoys refreshment in the summer heat. Readers will enjoy the setting, and the day's action, noting the many affable details included in Zoe Persico's lively digital artwork.

It will strike an agreeable note with little ones as they enjoy the rhyme and rhythm of the text, and their introduction to the colors in this wondrous world.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night, by Rob Laidlaw. Pajama Press, 2018. $22.95 ages 9 and up

"Sometimes bats enter buildings through tiny holes or gaps that lead into attics, basements, or spaces between walls. People often want them removed, but if pups are present, the bats should be left alone until the pups have weaned and both females and pups have left for the season." 

Young readers love knowing as much as they can about bats. Rob Laidlaw writes terrific nonfiction on topics that kids love to read. It's a win-win situation. No one will be disappointed when sharing this new book.

Rob's writing style is conversational, and personal. He provides clear information, based on up-to-date study and creates a book that is perfect fare for his target audience.
He begins with a useful table of contents, one of the features I like to see to help kids find what interests them most. There are five main sections: It's A Bat World, Unbelievable Bat Biology, Bats for a Healthy World, Bat Challenges and Solutions, and finally Being a Friend to Bats.

The introduction is concise, offering a quick look at what we can expect from the book. A number of topics are covered in each section. These are far-ranging, and accompanied by numerous photographs, "Bat Facts" and "Batty Ideas" boxes to add appeal and enhance learning. "Bat Citizens" are frequently introduced with text explaining what each does to improve conditions for the animals they love.

In an entry called Safe Havens for Bats, a 'batty idea' box asks "Which Roost?" And we learn:

"Maternity roosts are where female bats gather to bear their young.
Their combined body heat may help to create a warm environment
for the helpless pups.
Hibernacula are winter hibernation roosts. During
winter, bats need stable, cool temperatures that do
not change very much, and moist air that helps reduce
the loss of body fluids."

On the facing page we learn about Dara McAnulty, a 13-year-old Irish conservationist "who does whatever he can to help bats and other wild animals. Dara blogs about bats, his own wildlife sightings and research, and his thoughts about wildlife conservation. He constructs bat boxes for local gardens, schools, and other organizations. He also goes out with a local group to do bat detecting, and he contributes his findings to a database that helps scientists studying bats."

Pretty admirable stuff!  And he's not the only one. I counted 11 entries for Bat Citizens. Worthy work they are doing for bats, for scientists, and for our planet. Kids will enjoy reading about their work, and thinking about what they might do to make the world a better place.

The information provided throughout is easy to follow, answers most common questions and leaves readers with a good amount of knowledge concerning these oft-maligned creatures. The final section provides ideas for being a friend to bats. Making sure that buildings are safe for bats to make their homes there, bat mapping, understanding how important bats are to a healthy world, raising money to help fund bat research, and celebrating their place in the world. A list of 14 Ways You Can Help Bats, and a list of the many organizations that help bats around the world are presented. A glossary and index follow.

 Impressive and well-researched, as are other books by Rob Laidlaw, there is much to like about this fine book.

“I hope this book changes the way you think about bats and inspires you to get active helping them.”

                                                                                                          (-Rob Laidlaw in his introduction)