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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Emily Writes: Emily Dickison and Her Poetic Beginnings, by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Christine Davenier. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2020. $25.99 ages 8 and up

"She scribbles curlicues
and circles,
though not actual letters,
some round like the moon,
or a summer peach,
some the spiral of a hanging vine.
A year and a half older,
Austin already knows
how to write his ABCs."

Putting her words on paper begins early for the young Emily Dickinson. She picks up scraps in her father's study and uses discarded pencil stubs. Though she can not form the proper and accepted letters of the alphabet as her brother can, she believes that she is putting on paper what she wants to say about the natural world she so loves. Though Austin tries to teach her proper form, she prefers to use curved lines to bring her ideas to paper.

On this particular day when the story is told, her father is not responsive to his young daughter's desire to share her new poem. So, Emily takes it to Mrs. Mack in the kitchen. Mrs. Mack knows exactly how to encourage her young charge.

"Mrs. Mack studies the paper with great care.
"What does it say?" she asks.
"I don't have my glasses."
Emily giggles and points.
The glasses are on the top of Mrs. Mack's head.
"Oh, those aren't my poetry glasses," says Mrs. Mack.
"Those are my cooking glasses."

Would that all aspiring writers had such encouragement. The two spend time together sharing words, enjoying Emily's initial attempt, and eating delicious treats. Her mother, confined to bed each afternoon, cannot listen, nor can baby Lavinia whose task is to get lots of sleep. Emily must find attention elsewhere.

In the garden her senses are awash with the sights, the sounds, the touches and the smells of the world she so loves. It is perfect place to test her poem once again. On her way indoors, she finds an envelope on the floor and wonders aloud what word with it. Mrs. Mack offers the advice Emily  needs, hinting at Emily's future work. This early experiment with finding the right words for her thoughts is an apt beginning for a life spent writing. It is a lovely introduction, while also being warm and inviting.

Ms. Davenier's watercolor ink artwork is lovely, and provides a historical setting for the story being told. An author's note is both engaging and informative. A few of  Emily's poems are included, as well as a list of the three books where they are found, and a selected bibliography.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Don't Feed the Coos, written by Jonathan Stutzman and illustrated by Heather Fox. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2020. $24.50 ages 3 and up

"Wherever you are,
they will be too.
At orchestra practice.
At the arcade.
Even at karate lessons.
Your sensei will not
be pleased.
And to thank you
for feeding them,
the coos will leave poos.
Coos poos covering

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I read a lot of books every week. It is definitely one of those things I LOVE to do - and I am ever impressed by the breadth of story and information in the books I am able to share with you. To that end, I love to tell you about books that surprise and delight. This book is one of those.

It is evident from the title page that pigeons are going to be a problem for the small bespectacled girl who is the object of their full and somewhat frightening attention. It starts very innocently. Our sweet narrator provides advice for when you meet up with a 'coo' (aka pigeon). It is all innocence ... and 'adorable, peaceful, kind of silly'. Obviously, the coo is hard to resist.

"But Don't FEED the Coo!'

She continues to let her audience know exactly what will happen if you feed even one. Oh, dear! That one small mistake sets her up for a great deal of consternation as she is followed everywhere she goes by a flock of persistent pigeons. No matter where she goes, there they are! Because of the feeding, another problem is created. It's poos. They poo everywhere. It will be your own fault for feeding them in the first place. Spraying them won't work. Nor will hiding. They will read all signs, then ignore them. Finally, you are likely to accept that the coos and their poos are forever a part of your life. Unless... you are as 'clever' as this young lady!

While this story is great fun for a dramatic read aloud without showing the accompanying illustrations, the joy is amped up when you read it the second time and your listeners meet the plethora of wide-eyed coos and their yucky poos. The expressive narrator and her dilemma are sure to evoke giggles, and requests for repeated readings. You would do well to have this in your book basket.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day. Harper, 2019. $21.00 ages 10 and up

"Serenity rolls over onto her stomach. "Are you really sure about this?" "Sure about what?" "Reading this stuff in private," she says. "Instead of just asking your parents about her." "I already told you, they lied when I asked about my name. They'll probably deny the rest of it, too." "I don't know. They might surprise you." "They lied. They won't tell me anything." "I doubt that." Serenity bites her lip."

Edie has always known that her heritage is Native American on her mother's side, Her father is white. Her mother was adopted while young by a white family. Edie has been told that her mother knows nothing about her birth family. While Edie would like to know more, the three live a happy, secure life in Seattle. Until the day Edie discovers a box in the attic and sees photos of a woman who looks exactly like she does. Who is she?

The two have the same name. Knowing her mother's reticence to discuss her past, Edie does not approach the subject with her parents. She wants to find out as much as she can on her own. That creates tension with her best friends, and eventually with her parents. Through the letters, postcards, and photos she becomes aware of some of the difficulties faced by Edith while she is pursuing a career in film. The fact that she is treated poorly in that industry because of her native heritage, and that her brother Theo does work with the American Indian Movement lead to a catastrophic event when she gives birth as a single mother. It is a story Edie's parents have been hesitating to share until she is 'old enough'.

Now, it is out in the open ... and her parents do as they had always intended. They share Edith's story. In so doing, Edie learns her own mother's history as well. Painful truths and an event that is alarming to say the least are exposed, and a path to trust and healing can begin. 

This enlightening book handles aspects of the historical treatment of Native American children with dignity and assurance. Adoption and cultural identity are at its heart. Written by a debut author whose own roots are similar, it is a worthy book to read aloud for middle graders. It is a relevant read in these days of reconciliation and understanding our collective history. We continue to hope for healing and justice for all those affected.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Misadventures of Frederick, written by Ben Manley and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. Two Hoots, Publishers Group Canada, 2019. $25.95 ages 4 and up

"My Dearest Emily,

The lonely salmon makes
his ragged run upstream.

It is with bitter regret that I
inform you I may not go
swimming in the lake today
on account that I might
catch pneumonia and have
to go to Switzerland."

For Frederick, life inside is the best way to spend his days. He is more likely to get into trouble should he venture into the outdoors. To his surprise, the day comes when a paper airplane sails through his bedroom window.

It is from Emily, who can see him from the forest and says that he looks bored. A invitation to go for ice cream ends her note. Checking with his mother, he is reminded about the last time he was outside. Back he goes to return a note to Emily. Emily receives it and immediately responds from the tree she is climbing. Does he want to join her?

Frederick responds:

"My Dearest Emily,

The finches twitter in the sycamores,
startling the drowsy dormouse.

It is with bitter regret that I
inform you I may not come
out to climb trees today on
account that I might
break both of my collar bones.

Sorrowfully yours,

Emily is not a girl who gives up easily. She continues to send notes relating the joy she is finding in nature; Frederick  knows his limits and regretfully replies to each invitation. He imagines all manner of things that might happen. No bike riding, swimming, exploring for him. When Emily gives up on sending notes, and arrives with a personal greeting, Frederick cannot refuse. Let the fun begin!

Fun and friendly, the joys of the outdoors are fully displayed here and the melancholy of always being inside. Adventure vs. boredom? Which do you choose? As an added bonus to the enjoyment of a grand story, the letters may encourage young listeners to try their hand at writing one themselves.

Emily Chichester Clark uses watercolors to contrast the two worlds. Frederick's is dark and lackluster; Emily's is filled with color and joyful exuberance. Frederick waxes poetic in his notes; Emily's are short and to the point. The final spread is a surprise, and provides assurance that things have changed. Friendship prevails!

Friday, January 24, 2020

Your, Turn, Adrian. Written by Helena Orberg and illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom. Translated by Eva Apelqvist. Groundwood Books, 2019. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"Sometimes the teacher
asked me a question.

My heart was pounding.

My head was in a fog.

My cheeks burned.


Adrian is not like the other kids in  his school. Because of it, he is bullied. He would prefer never to be called on to answer questions or participate in class. He dislikes attention being paid to him. It causes anxiety, and adds to the notion that he is too different to be accepted by his schoolmates. He does like climbing trees and eating his lunch on his own. We learn quickly that he is athletic and strong, doing headstands and walking on his hands on the trip back home after school.

When he meets Heidi, a large lost wolfhound, he finds a soul mate. The two spend all their time together; Heidi even attends school with him. That makes a marked difference to Adrian's confidence and ability to cope with the demands of the classroom. Unfortunately, Heidi is reunited with her owner, Adrian has trouble coping. Once reunited with the dog, Adrian meets her owner and discovers a welcoming world where his talents come to the forefront.

Most of this poignant and heartfelt story is told through its emotional and telling artwork. Ever-changing perspectives provide a clear look at Adrian's life and emotions. Using black and white to suggest the bleakness he experiences, and then colorful images to share the love and joy is inspired and makes for a wonderful 'read'.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Dragons?! Written and illustrated by Lila Prap. Firefly Books, 2019. $16.95 ages 7 and up

"Our mom is always
finding strange books.
The last one said we are
descended from dinosaurs.

As a descendant of dinosaurs
you seem to hatch even
weirder creatures!

Who would have thought
that we have cousins that
can bite elephants?"

In this playful book about those creatures that will have interested readers begging to be the first to borrow it, said readers will find much to make them chuckle while also learning historical hype about these mythical monsters. And they will be loving what the book has to say.

Luckily, we have a a chicken, a rooster, and their brood of chicks to guide us through the pages of this book that is both entertaining and strikingly illustrated. Their opinions are shared, and questions asked in speech bubbles on every page. They provide comic relief throughout - a much appreciated respite amidst the many fearsome dragon tales.

 A statement is made at the top of each spread, accompanied by an intriguing composite image of a continually evolving dragon. Along the bottom, information is provided concerning the mythology that surrounds the term 'dragon'. From Mesopotamia to Greece, from Jason and Medea tricking a dragon into self-imploding to villagers who believed that dragons gushed water (and baby dragons) out of the ground, from Europe to Russia, stories abound.

"Killing a dragon with many heads was almost impossible.
If you didn't chop off all its heads at once, new ones would
immediately grow back."

"Vikings called their stories sagas. One saga describes Kraken,
a sea monster feared by all sailors. The Kraken was so big that
when its head was sticking out of the sea, many travelers
mistook it for an island."

All around the world, people told stories of battles, mysteries, ferocious creatures, gods, and forces of nature. Dragons are at the heart of many of them. As well, readers are reminded that Chinese dragons are worshipped as gods for their goodwill and insight.

"Most often, dragons are depicted playing with a pearl, which signifies wisdom, eternal life, strength and the moon.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Goodbye,Friend! Hello, Friend! Written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Goodbye to sitting alone ...

... is hello to sitting together.

Goodbye to outside ...

... is hello to inside.

Goodbye to snowmen ...

...  is hello to puddles!"

If you are a big fan of Ms. Doerrfeld's previous book, The Rabbit Listened, you are sure to enjoy and want to share this new book about friendship with those you love. It is story that recognizes the feelings children have for each other, and it makes certain that readers and listeners understand the importance of such emotions.

Some of the story is told in introductory pages which show a little girl who loves her dog, and accepts with sloppy licks as she tries to put her boots on before heading to school. Both are thrilled to be in  each other's company. She feeds her fish on the way out the door, past Mom who is holding the pup's leash. The opening spread shows a now worried little one saying goodbye, as the school bus pulls up to the curb.

That sad goodbye leads to a warm and welcome greeting upon arrival in her classroom. Charlie quickly introduces herself, and offers friendship from that first meeting. Stella and Charlie sit together in the cafeteria, on the bus, and play together when at home. As autumn turns to winter, they move from playing outside to being inside where they find much to keep themselves entertained.  And so it goes ... seasons pass, and the two are great companions in water play, summer hikes, butterfly chasing. When her fish dies, Charlie is there for comfort and memories. The two are friends forever. Or are they?

"But sometimes, when you least expect it, a goodbye
comes along that really feels like the end. Sometimes,
goodbye is the last thing you want to say."

Young readers will find much to see in the detailed artwork, 'made with digital ink, Dr. Pepper and a good dose of nostalgia'. Every page turn offers up something new to notice, and evidence of the years as they pass. As hard as it is to say goodbye to someone you love, it is often a fact of life.

It is true, however, that when one door closes another opens.