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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton. Tundra, 2016. $16.99 ages 6 and up

"Hey, Narwhal, why are you
looking under that rock?
Ahoy, Jelly!
I'm looking for my pod.
Your pod?
Yep!
I read on the net the other
day that narwhals usually
travel in groups called pods.
I seem to be missing mine,
so I'm looking for it."

When Narwhal finds himself in a new part of the sea, he is interested to meet Jelly. Jelly is not as keen. In fact, Jelly is not even sure that Narwhal is real. By the end of the first chapter, each has proved to the other that they can be friends.

Two pages of fun facts let readers know just a little bit about each, including the facts that narwhals can live up to ninety years, and jellyfish a group of jellyfish is called a smack. Narwhal has just recently learned that narwhals travel in pods, leading him to search for his own. Jelly is afraid he will not find it, as he is the only narwhal ever seen in this part of the sea.

Now, Narwhal is determined to organize his own pod, and asks Shark, Turtle, Blowfish, and Octopus to join. Jelly is s bit put out that he hasn't been asked and wonders what a pod does before making a decision to join. Narwhal has some explaining to do:

"I'm not really sure!
But I imagine a pod plays
ultimate cannonball, eats
waffles, fights crime and ...

has super awesome parties!"

That's only some of the fun that will be enjoyed by early readers as they share this comic novel. The two are mentors for teaching how to make a new friendship work. They share ideas, read books and make the very best of the day to day activities that friends love to do together. Full of joy and charm, it is sure to be a hit!
                                                                           

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Thyra Heder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Tomorrow is Sleepover Under the Stars Night, Jelly!" To prepare, Penny and Jelly watched constellations beam down from her bedroom ceiling. The Big Dipper flashed. The Pleiades, those Seven Sisters, sparkled. The Dog Star, Sirius, shined. The brightest in the night sky, it was Penny and Jelly's favorite."

As we say goodbye to summer skies and welcome the harvest moon, all thoughts of a sleepover under the stars must be quickly forgotten. Luckily, Penny's invitation comes at the height of summer when excitement for sleeping under the stars is almost more than a little girl can stand. To say she is disappointed to learn that Jelly is not invited is an understatement. 

Penny and Jelly have much knowledge of the summer sky, after studying the constellations on her bedroom ceiling. Determined to feel Jelly's presence at the event, she attempts to make a stand-in for him. She does her best, but nothing can compare to her much loved pet. Paper is no match for his soft body, nor is yarn, and certainly not fleece. Not one to give up, Penny tries everything. Nothing is just right.

Her solution to the dilemma is perfect, and will be much appreciated by all pet-loving readers.

Thyra Heder's accompanying illustrations are pitch perfect, and sure to encourage listeners to take an interest in the night sky. They will also inspire them to get out their art supplies to see if they can make a reasonable facsimile of their own pets. Terrific fun!
                                                                         

Monday, September 26, 2016

Finding Wild, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd with pictures by Abigail Halpin. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Wild is full of smells - fresh mint, ancient cave, sun-baked desert, sharp pine, salt sea. Every scent begging you to drink it in.

Wild is forest-fire hot and icicle cold."

After singing the praises of Scott Sampson's How To Raise A Wild Child, I thought it would be appropriate to share this book that shows readers how close the wonder of the wild is, even if you live in the city.

Two youngsters explore the wild that is in close proximity to a subway entrance by wandering through the dense foliage they find there.  It leads them down a path where they notice wild things, both tiny and tall. There is an island-filled lake, a mountain path, gentle breezes, warm sunshine, a shoreline that begs a bracing swim. 'Wild' surrounds them with wonder, and they take the time to notice and appreciate it.

Abigail Halpin uses watercolor and colored pencils to  create lovely landscapes sure to entice and encourage exploration. Whether it's warm sunshine or stormy skies, readers will be tempted to be part of the many experiences that being in the wild offers. Senses are fully engaged whether smelling the mint, feeling the heat of the sun, tasting sweet, juicy berries, or listening to the whispers of the wind. Taking in the many fine details in the lovely images add to the joy of sharing this lovely book with little ones.

As they emerge from their first journey, the two are faced with a scene that is 'clean and paved, ordered and tidy'. What happened to their wild? Just when they least expect it, they are lead to  another, beauteous place where they can visit 'wild' once more. All is takes to discover it is a sense of adventure! Megan Lloyd obviously shares Dr. Sampson's love of nature and its importance in our lives.

Now, you can get outside and follow your own leaf to see where it takes you.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How To Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, by Scott D. Sampson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $22.95

"... a first big step in deepening children's connection with nature is for you to start noticing it. If you don't pay any attention to the natural world, it's doubtful that your children will. So when you step outside in the morning, instead of rushing to the car, pause for a moment. Feel and smell the air. Check out the clouds and trees. Listen to the birds; how many different kinds of song can you hear?"

Now is the perfect time to get started on creating a wild child! There is so much for children to see outside as summer turns to fall, and Dr. Scott Sampson makes a compelling case for the importance of kids making a connection to the nature that is part of their world.

Using research studies to show the benefits that we all get from being in nature (less stress, better immunity, and improved concentration), he walks his audience through three themes to being more aware of our natural settings which will, in turn, encourage all of us to be more likely to protect these places: experience, mentoring and understanding.

We all need to be outdoors more often, taking part in hands-on activities that have more beneficial results than learning on screen. These jaunts don't need to be mind-blowing. Many can take place in backyards and parks. As a mentor to our children and their children, we need to show a genuine interest in learning alongside them: "Being an effective mentor means becoming a co-conspirator, a fellow explorer, a chaser of clues.” Finally, we can show we value understanding by helping them see how everything connects in the natural world, and that they are a part of it. He doesn't want to completely ignore the benefits of technology, suggesting apps for using GPS in treasure hunts, watching the birds in the area, and identifying plants as nature walks are taken.

If we want our kids to be involved, we need to be there with them. Most of Scott Sampson's writing for this book is devoted to practical suggestions and advice to parents and communities to “Get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!” We can all be mentors, by acting as 'teacher questioner, and trickster'. We need to remember that: “When a child asks a question and you know the answer, it’s natural to want to share it. Providing the answer makes us feel good and we presume that kids really want to know. But this inclination can lead us astray. Often times, our response ends the interaction by cutting off curiosity. Counterintuitively, children are often looking for our engagement more than our answers, hoping that the focus of their attention will become ours too.”

 Each of the ideas for connecting with nature are practical and real. They are also simple and easily applied. One of my favorites is the suggestion to have kids start 'sit spotting':

"Sit spot allows you to get to know one little place in intimate detail. What kids of plants and animals live here? When are you most likely to see and hear the various critters?  How does this place change over the course of the day, and through the seasons? Eventually, your sit spot becomes an intimate friend you look forward to being with. And that friend has potential to be your greatest mentor in deepening nature connection. Guided by your sit spot, you'll develop a quiet mind and learn how to open your senses, both critical to being an adept mentor."

 It takes concentrated effort and a concern for the well-being of each one of us: most of all, our children. Our kids will be interested if we are. That's a pretty compelling argument, isn't it?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Apples and Robins, by Lucie Felix. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2016. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"All you need for a
birdhouse are walls
and a roof and a little
door ... and a string
to hang it with.

Now there is a place
for a robin's nest.

But all you need for
 a storm .... "

You say you want fun in the books you read? And you want smart? You get both in this clever and very inventive book that has cut outs, geometric shapes and many surprises. For instance, we are told that what we need for apples are circles and the color red. They are there on the page ... flip to the next, and three white circles on a red background become three shiny red apples on white background,  hanging delicately from a leafy branch.

We move on to rectangles, both short and long that quickly become a ladder. Or two circles that are bites from ripe and yummy apples on the following page. As each page is turned, children will 'ooh' with wonder at the transformations. Each scene is cleverly connected to what has come before and what is sure to happen next.

It will inspire readers to try their hand at creating their own art using shapes, color and space. An appealing walk through the seasons, done with thoughtful brilliance, this is a book that holds attention and appeals to the artistic nature of the young child. Cut outs are an intriguing way to create those special moments. This book captures that through the simplicity of shape and thoughtful, brilliant design.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day, written by John David Anderson. Walden Pond Press, Harper. 2016. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"The man who emerges from behind the bookcase looks like Yoda ... if Yoda were a nearsighted, five-foot-tall white man in khaki pants and a frumpy gray sweater. Pointy ears jut out of a melonish head, topped with little wisps of white hair tufting out like pulled cotton. And he's got Yoda wrinkles too, the kind that come in waves crashing down to his eyebrows. He has a haunted expression on his face ... "

Ms. Bixby is one of the 'good ones' - a teacher who 'gets' her kids and makes school a worthwhile place to be. For Topher, Steve, and Brand she is more than that. Each has his own reasons for her being someone special. She knows them. That is not always an easy task when working with sixth graders. Their days at school are purposeful because Ms. Bixby is there. She mentors them with her passionate attention to the world, praises her students for being courageous, and encourages them to be astounded by all that is lovely.

"The last kind we simply call the Good Ones. The ones who make the torture otherwise known as school somewhat bearable. You know when you have one of the Good Ones because you find yourself actually paying attention in class, even if it's not art class. They're the teachers you actually want to go back to say hi to the next year. The ones you don't want to disappoint."

So, when she has to break the news that she has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and won't be able to finish the school year because she has to begin treatment, the boys are floored. Then, when she is admitted to hospital ahead of her anticipated  'last day' with them, they feel cheated. Determined to spend that 'last day' with her, they set out on a journey that tests their resolve and strengthens their friendship. All they want to do is take Ms. Bixby to the park across the street from the hospital. All they need is an expensive cheesecake, a bottle of wine and a big bag of McDonald's french fries (her favorites) and a copy of "The Hobbit" so they can share the final 20 pages (which she wasn't able to finish).

Told in three alternating voices, we learn each boy's story and witness their growth as they embark together on a not totally successful mission. Their voices are authentic, funny, sad, and moving. They prove they are better people for having met this very special teacher: they work together with courage and hope. What power a teacher, who is mentor and friend, can have on the lives of her students!  You want to know these remarkable boys and their story!

""The truth is - the whole truth - is that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between,  the ones you get to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bella's Fall Coat, written by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Susan Gal. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"... WHIZZ!

Bella was already
outside.

She picked and plucked.

She stretched and reached.

She crunched and munched."

We should all love autumn as Bella loves it. Just before she goes out to scamper in the many piles of leaves in the yard, her grandmother mentions that Bella is growing out of her fall coat, and needs a new one. Stella doesn't want to hear about it. Out she goes.

She loves fall leaves and hopes to keep them forever. Grams has an idea for preserving them for a little while. Readers and listeners will want to take a stab at doing the same thing. Another gentle reminder from Grams about a new coat falls on deaf ears as Bella bounds outdoors after lunch. She loves the coat that her grandmother made for her, and is quite sure she will not need a new one ... ever!

With each trip outdoors, Bella's exuberance for the natural world overflows. She loves the red, ripe apples. Once indoors again, she wonders about an apple pie. Grams is always willing to hear what her much-loved granddaughter has to say. At nightfall, as Bella chases the migrating geese and longs to fly with them, her coat bursts a seam. Will Grams be able to fix it?

After a good night's sleep, Bella awakens to TWO delightful surprises ... and has one of her own for her Grams.

Lynn Plourde's lively text about the natural world and seasonal changes is also testament to family love. Susan Gal's textured, brilliantly colored artwork captures moments both wild and tender. The colors of autumn are magical as Bella explores her backyard. Her cool blue coat is a perfect contrast to the glory of the season. Then, watch as morning dawns.

I love the language, the gorgeous landscapes and the love that emanates from both Bella and Grams as the two share beautiful moments of their day together.