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Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Way to the Zoo, written and illustrated by John Burningham.Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"One night she brought
the penguins back.,
but they made a mess
splashing in the bathroom.

Then she came back with
a tiger and her cub."

 When teaching in early years classrooms in the early 1980s I loved to share would you rather?, Mr. Gumpy's Outing, Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car and Granpa. Since then, my students have loved Oi! Get Off Our Train, John Patrick Norman McHennessy, and Tug of War.  John Burningham has a way with creating books that are very special for young readers.

Today, if I were still teaching, I know they would want to hear this story on repeat! Since I am not, I will have to settle for reading it when I visit classrooms to share the joy to be found in books. It is vintage Burningham; and is sure to garner a host of new fans.

Is there a child alive who would not want to find a secret door in their bedroom? Then, imagine if that door were to lead straight to the zoo. When Sylvie makes that amazing discovery, she is dizzy with joy. She visits every single day. On each visit she chooses one animal to bring home with her. If they are small enough, they can share her bed. If not, other arrangements can be made. But, it's not just the sleeping arrangements that cause disruptions. Monkeys can be mischievous, penguins wet, and elephants can be...well, BIG!

All is well until Sylvie leaves the secret door open; the animals see it as an invitation to adventure! She returns from school to find them partying in the living room. Sure that she is going to be in big trouble with her mother, she shoos them back to the zoo and cleans up the mess...just in time!

The final line of the text will have listeners hooting when her mother greets her with: "looks as if you had the whole zoo in here!”

No discoveries are made by Mom, and Sylvie reserves a warm welcome for their continued nightly visits. Peace reigns, as is evident in each of the striking illustrations. Each of the visual images is sure to fill readers with laughter and the wonder of the imagination.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Families Around the World, written by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by Jessica Rae Gordon. Kids Can Press, 2014. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"I love weekends. No school!
Sometimes our mothers take
my brother, Joris, and me on
the train to the city. We visit
a museum or eat pannekoeken
on a boat.
Other times we ride our bikes
to the petting zoo, to the
playground or just to another

Children love books that are about other children and the lives they lead. Hopefully, they saw the companion book to this one, Children Around The World. Margaret Ruurs has done a joyful job of introducing us to the families she met as she was researching this book.

These families represent fourteen world communities, and their stories are presented in two page spreads which give readers a real sense of the lives they live daily. They come from all parts of the world. We are greeted in the family's language, and shown words for each of the family members. The families are diverse and inclusive. The voice is first person, allowing a more personal feeling for the information shared.

The beautifully rendered collage artwork allows children reading it a quick glimpse at children who live elsewhere and includes many small details that add punch to the telling. We see many types of homes, settings, and events that help us understand individual customs and favorite daily outings. By showing the reader that children around the world are much the same as they are, the author helps them focus on those things we have in common...playing, family, and the beauty to be found in our different spaces.

Meant to be an introduction to the global world, it is sure to lead those most interested to find further information. If that happens, their world view is expanded once more, as is their understanding of the some of the differences that make each of us unique.

Simple activities are suggested that parents might choose to do with their children to further enhance the reading experience. A glossary will help with pronunciation of the many cultural words used in telling these charming vignettes. It will be a helpful and enjoyable addition to family and classroom bookshelves.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Baseball Is...Written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Raul Colon. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"And baseball is the field -
that expanse of beautiful green,

with a smooth swath of brown
between the infield

and the outfield.


and foul poles..."

I am watching every Blue Jays game with a hopeful heart. I so want them to make the playoffs after such an impressive start this season. I know it's going to be a difficult finish, as they have some tough teams to face in the last two weeks of the season.

I have very much enjoyed reading Louise Borden's homage to the 'grand old game'. For anyone who loves sports, in particular the game of baseball, it is an informative and beautifully worded description of everything that makes the sport special to so many. She adeptly uses the senses to capture the essence of this summer pastime. As you can see from the opening quote, she uses carefully chosen text to bring the sights, sounds and smells to the reader. As fall turns to winter and readers continue to share the text, they will be taken back to the warmth of a summer day and the excitement of the action on the field and off.

She also shares some of the history of the game, making connections from past to present. So, that's how they made their announcements in the past! She also makes mention of how past Presidents made an impact, and some of the most honored players from baseball's history. Baseball has had a role in immigration, business and investment, armed conflict, and even the development of urban areas. Ms. Borden includes every angle of the game, and gives them equal importance.

Raul Colon uses colored pencils for artwork that glows with the golds and greens of every beloved baseball field. The textures are masterful. His double page spreads offer a close look at the game from every corner of the park, using frames to add further detail. The gatefold introduces three iconic baseball heroes to those who may not yet have met them...Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente, and Jackie Robinson.

Baseball is definitively celebrated in words and artwork. This will ensure its endurance on library shelves for everyone to enjoy time and again. It's like being a the ball park...real or neighborhood! Can't you just smell the hot dogs?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Weasels, written and illustrated by Elys Dolan. Nosy Crow, Candlewick Books. Random House, 2014. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"But technical difficulties
won't stop a weasel...
though they do like to stick
to the rules.
This is all very UNSAFE!
You'll have to find a different
way of fixing the MACHINE."

Have YOU ever taken the time to consider a weasel's actions on any given day? After reading this hilarious new book, you will come to realize that they are megalomaniacs bent on world domination. Starting with the spot illustrations that festoon the endpapers (different from front to back), you will gain knowledge of the antics they employ to infiltrate every trifling and significant facet of society.
With each turn of the page, readers are privy to the goings-on in the war room as the weasels show their true colors. Each spread is detailed, hilarious and sure to keep your readers intensely focused on the silly antics of a microcosm of weasel society whose goal is to gain control by any means. When technical difficulties shut down operations in the control room, it appears that the MACHINE is broken. If not fixed, all the plans will be for nought!

The weasels are called into action, each encouraged to bring tools and a willingness to help in getting it back up and running.

"Careful! Everything is very delicate and expensive.
We could recombobulate the hydrostability devices.
Or restart it?
I'm entirely confident that this huge drill will fix everything."

The jokes, both in dialogue and in visuals, will have readers poring over every spread carefully. There are weasels obsessed with coffee, technology wizards, many actions that would be frowned at by all Health and Safety experts...and then there are the bosses, and the red tape that is encountered in trying to solve the MACHINE's issues.

Who is that white weasel, and what is his role in the plot? I wonder if they will ever get the difficulties remedied and their quest for power back on track? It takes concentrated effort to keep track of all the action, and get all the jokes. I read it more than once; the second time I chose one weasel to watch and followed its trajectory through the entire story. You can do that again and again.
So much to see and to savor!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

March: Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"After that trip,
home never felt the same,
and neither did I.
In the fall, I started riding
the bus to school, which
should've been fun...

But it was just another
sad reminder of how different
our lives were from those
of white children."

The graphic novel seems like a perfect way to tell this first story from John Lewis's perspective on the struggle for equality for all people under the civil rights act. In it, John Lewis collaborates with Andrew Aydin as co-author, and artist Nate Powell. It is a most effective way to share this compelling memoir.

It begins on January 20, 2009. Arriving at his office in Washington prior to President Obama's inauguration, he meets a mother and her two young sons. Not knowing he is there, she wants to share some of their history by visiting Mr. Lewis's office. He is happy to show them some of his memorabilia. He tells them he is the only person still living who spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, with Dr. Martin Luther King. One of the boys has a question:

"why do you have so many chickens?'

Leave it to kids to get to the heart of the story!  He tells his personal history as a memory that begins in tough times, when his family is working their farm in Alabama, and John is in charge of the chickens he so loves. He has strong feelings about the family eating those chickens, about becoming a minister and is not afraid to say what he feels. His Uncle Otis sees something special in him and arranges a trip in 1951 that makes a lasting impression, and leads John to his life's work.

Today John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders, is serving his 13th term as a U.S. Representative. His childhood led him to take the steps that landed a meeting with Dr. King and allowed him to join the fight for civil rights. He learned about the power of nonviolence and heroism, facing unbearable treatment and almost unbeatable odds. His courage and his willingness to stand tall and work peacefully for social change is sure to inspire readers:

"Lawson taught us how to protect ourselves,
how to disarm our attackers by connecting
with their humanity, how to protect each other,
how to survive.
But the hardest part to learn --
to truly understand, deep in
your heart --

was how to find LOVE for your attacker."

Powerful, positive and presented in a perfect format for its intended audience, this is a book about people who have made a difference in our world. Bravo!

March: Book Two is due for release in December from Top Shelf Productions. It's on my wish list.

Monday, September 15, 2014

No Dogs Allowed, written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Kristin Sorra. Sterling Children's Books, 2011 $17.95 ages 4 and up

"No one

with fur,


or shells


The text is minimal, with a clear message. The storytelling is found in the digital artwork that graces it's pages. We quickly meet, and begin to understand the personality of the cafe owner whose orderly life is inadvertently pushed off course with the arrival of his first customer. That first visitor is walking a thanks, says Alberto with a quickly rewritten WELCOME! chalkboard. NO DOGS ALLOWED!

As the day moves forward and more customers arrive with various and sundry pets, that sign is continually changed to meet Alberto's new regulations. As aware as he is of the people wanting to stop by, he seems totally unaware of what is happening as a result of his rejection stance. Across the square, his customers are gathering for a party of their own, full of joy and camaraderie.

Readers and listeners will be excited to take note of the many exciting activities being shared over there. The constantly reinvented sign offers an extra dash of humor and interest. For his own sake, it's prudent that Albert sees the error of his ways before it's too late to make a welcome and appropriate reversal of the rules.

The delightfully detailed and brightly coloured illustrations are sure to grab the attention of all readers. There is much to see that they will want to spend an extended time taking a leisurely look.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All the Way to America, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Dragonfly Books, Random House. 2011. $8.99 ages 5 and up

"When Dan grew up, he married Helen. These are my grandparents. Together Dan and Helen opened a market. They sold all sorts of wonderful Italian food. Now the little shovel belonged to Dan..."

In a strong first person narrative, Dan Yaccarino shares his family's immigration story. It begins when his great-grandfather Michele Iaccarino is given a little shovel that he might use while helping on the family farm. Upon leaving home to make a better life in America, his parents gift him the shovel and add some advice for his new life...'work hard, enjoy life and always love your family.'

It is a gift that will stand the test of time. First Michele - whose American name is Michael - uses it to help him in his work at a bakery. Later, he uses it to measure foods from his pushcart. Then, his son uses it first in the market to measure out olives and beans. When he opens his restaurant, he also finds a use for it there.Then, he has a son whose life work is in owning a barber shop. There, the shovel is used to protect his clients by spreading salt on icy sidewalks. The next son is our author/illustrator who uses the shovel to help with his own terrace gardening. His grandparents' verbal gift is also passed from generation to generation.

Dan Yaccarino provides a walk through his family history in the brightly coloured and detailed artwork that evokes the love and strong familial bonds so honoured throughout their many years. Sharing it with an interested audience is sure to encourage them to begin to search out their own family stories. What wonder will be found?

As Patricia Polacco did with her keeping quilt, and recently with her blessing cup, Dan Yaccarino uses the shovel as a warm symbol of family unity and spirit over generations.


Hug Machine, written and illustrated by Scott Campbell. Atheneum Books, Simon & Schuster, 2014. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"My hugs calm
people down.

They cheer them up.

They make them go
completely nuts!

I am the
Hug Machine!"

You'll need to be an observer when you read this feel-good book! There are many funny and sweet details that are not mentioned in the words. He calls himself the Hug Machine, and I can definitely relate to his need to hug.  I LOVE hugs!

He seems the perfect person to be what he is...he is little with long arms, seemingly made for the job he has made his own. No matter who, or what, comes within range, he wraps himself around it...people, objects, family. He even hugs rocks, machines and animals with alarming characteristics. He is irresistible to all he approaches! Just watch his content countenance when the hugging begins.

In this stellar debut, author/illustrator Scott Campbell creates an open-armed character who does his best to bring joy and serenity to all who inhabit his world. The delightful watercolors, done in muted tones, assure a feeling of snuggly warmth when the first reading is done. I love looking at the perspectives, including the wonderful close-ups. Don't miss out on reading it again!

The repetitive nature of the book gives it a feeling of gentle assurance and encourages beginning readers to try it independently. Please don'to forget to check out the endpapers...front and back!  Then, get your cuddle on...and share this smart and entertaining picture book with someone you want to hug! No one will be able to resist your 'unbelievable hugging' either.

It's going on my 'keepers' shelf and will be shared endlessly with my new granddaughter, via Facetime.