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Monday, August 8, 2022

A Blue Kind of Day, written by Rachel Tomlinson and illustrated by Tori-Jay Mordey. Kokila, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"They waited because feelings cannot be rushed. 
They waited because it was okay that Coen felt blue. 
They waited because they knew that Coen's 
blue feelings would not last forever. 

They waited until Coen was ready."

Blue is a color often associated with sadness. Coen is having a very blue day. His sadness is palpable in every move he makes as the morning begins. Hard to get out of bed, even harder to see his face in the mirror, and hard to quell the feelings of being trapped, tense and hurting. The only thing he can do is go back to bed. 

"Coen was never going to get out of bed ever again.

Mom does her best to encourage him. Coen digs deeper into his blankets. Dad invites him outside for a football toss. Coen pulls the blankets tighter. His sister jumps on his bed. Coen cannot find the words to let her know how awful it all feels. A joke, a funny face, a snuggly teddy - nothing helps. Coen turns away from them. 

His family is concerned. Mom sits patiently on his bed, saying nothing. The family sits in his room, silent and caring. When he is ready, Coen can appreciate the love and warmth that surrounds him. His blue feelings subside little bit by little bit. Hugs, smiles, and a story bring calm. With everyone's love and complete support, Coen is able to loosen his blanket and smile once more.

"And then he wondered what tomorrow might bring.

Childhood depression is challenging for the children themselves and for their families. Children don't often have the words to describe the overwhelming feelings they are experiencing. There are symptoms that may alert parents, and they are shared in an author's note. Ms. Tomlinson also offers guidance for ways to support a child through difficult times. 

Tori-Jay Mordey’s digital images are done in a palette of gentle blues and pinks to comfort and inspire empathy for Coen and his loving family. They are emotional and telling as Coen's day moves forward with needed support.  Changing perspectives add depth, and Coen's stuffed bear is an absolute delight.                                                                                

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Lizzy and the Cloud, written and illustrated by The Fan Brothers. Simon & Schuster, 2022. $21.99 ages 4 and up


"She named her cloud Milo. 
It seemed like a good name. 
Naming your cloud was the first
instruction in the manual. There were 
more steps than she had been expecting.

In an earlier time, Lizzy lives with her parents and loves a Saturday walk. The park is the perfect place, and the Cloud Seller the perfect vendor. Lizzy heads right over. Not many people pay him a visit. Lizzy is enchanted with his wares. There are sooo many! 

Lizzy pays her money and makes her choice - an ordinary cloud. The cloud is her companion on the return trip home. It comes with a care sheet. Following instructions, she names her cloud Milo. Five additional rules are included. Lizzy waters Milo daily, per instructions. Milo returns the favor, watering Lizzy's plant collection. Milo tolerates warm days; but prefers rainy ones. 

Through winter and spring, Milo expands. Lizzy's ceiling is covered. What happens if Milo continues growing? There are no clear instructions in her manual. When Milo pummels her room with a storm, the cloud seems sorry. Only then does Lizzy remember a very important rule when caring for clouds. 

"Never confine a cloud to a small space."

Problem solved. 

The artwork is dream-like, designed with pale colors and gray shades. It is magical, and thoughtful, and 
fascinating. It pulls at heartstrings when Lizzy must follow the care guide for what is best for her much-loved cloud. The details, as fans have come to expect from these remarkable artists, are exemplary. They invite close observation and imagination, offer scenes meant to promote discussion, and leave readers in awe.                                                                            

Saturday, August 6, 2022

And J.J. Slept, written by Loretta Garbutt and illustrated by Erika Rodriguez Medina. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"J.J. fussed. He kicked. 
He balled up his little 
fists and waved them 
in the air. 

Dad held him close, 
fed him and changed his 
diaper. Mom sang her 
best version of "Hush, 
Little Baby."
But, still J.J. would 
not sleep.

In this lively story of the adoption of a newborn baby, readers will meet his new family in quick order. Four siblings, parents and an exuberant pup are at the door, and filled with wonder at seeing J.J. The arrival of the baby does nothing to stem the action or the noise that filters through the house every moment of the day. 

The older children are busy, the household noises range from beeping, thundering, drumming, yelling, to the dog barking and more. All the while, J.J. sleeps. This is one very content baby, doing normal things and enjoying every bit of attention. No matter what is happening, he quickly settles.

When the weekend comes and the children are off at a variety of activities, Mom and Dad finally catch a break from the noise and chaos of a large family. J.J. is not pleased with the quiet; in fact, he is confused by it. He makes his parents aware in no uncertain terms. He cannot be comforted. They have no idea how to help him. 

As the door bangs open, the children return with their normal enthusiasm and commotion.  

""I'm home!" Harvey shuffle - hop - stepped 
his way inside.
"Listen to my new piece," Ada plunked 
herself down at the piano. 
Etta went on and on about her wagon
ride at the apple farm. 
CRASH! Sebastian knocked over the 
potted plant. "Sorry."

Can you guess what J.J. does? As pandemonium returns, J.J. closes his eyes and goes straight to sleep. 

A lively pace for the text, and warm, joyful digital images are sure to entertain young readers at story time. Anyone with a baby in the house will be able to share vignettes from their own experiences, and discussion will center on the many noises and disturbances that have no effect on a comfortable and content baby boy. 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Can You Believe It? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts, written by Joyce Grant and illustrated by Kathleen Marcotte. Kids Can Press, 2022. $19.99 ages 9 and up

"While fake news can be cheap and easy to 
publish, real news is expensive. You have to 
pay a news team to gather facts and check 
them. Also, lots of real news can seem kind 
of dry and boring. That's because the mission 
of a news organization is to give facts and 
information, not create excitement.

Isn't everyone concerned with internet safety these days? If we, as adults, have trouble figuring out what is real and what is fake in the news, how do we make sure that our kids have access to learning the truth? Kids are not going to read the newspaper. Knowing that, Joyce Grant sets out to help them (and us) become more media literate. 

The book's design presents an introduction, six chapters, a conclusion, and back matter. The introduction asks a question about four headlines. Which one is fake? She goes on to wonder why people write stories that are not true.

" ... fake news spreads faster than the truth. 
In fact, lies are 70 percent more likely to be 
shared on Twitter than real news ...

It's important to know the difference, and Ms. Grant spends the rest of the book helping her readers learn to spot real and fake news. Six chapters: Real or Fake, The Good Stuff, Whoops! Mistakes Happen, Not Quite Fake, Not Quite Real, Become An Investigator, and And Now the Good News! are sure to set readers on a path of discovery. 

She writes about responsible journalism; in print on-air, or online. She offers ways to research sources, spot bias and errors, understand advertising, how a bit of the truth makes a lie more believable, and how to investigate by always being skeptical. She uses appropriate amounts of text to keep her readers interested, but not overwhelmed. Sidebars, blocked text, highlighted headlines, even conversations that mimic screen grabs engage and enlighten readers.   

There is humor in the graphic illustrations, as there is in the text. The art adds context for more difficult concepts. This is a very important topic for middle grade classes. Sharing one chapter at a time, and providing time for student discussion and opinion will go a long way in helping kids learn what they need to know. Some concepts are not easy to digest; critical thinking is often encouraged. She also suggests skepticism and fact-checking before deciding if the information should be shared online.  

Should we believe everything we read online. Of course not! Taking time to find out why is a great use of time spent today and every day. What and who can you trust? This fine book puts readers on the road to knowing. 

Back matter features a glossary, an author's note, sources and an index. 

Here are a few quotes from an interview with Joyce Grant concerning TKN: 

We have now passed a decade producing kid-friendly news articles. The articles are written by me (Joyce Grant) and a small but incredibly dedicated group of professional journalists who volunteer their time.  We also write original and interesting “Think & Discuss” prompts for every article and ensure that the site is understandable for kids, and that it’s relevant for teachers and homeschool parents. 

Not only “teach kids the news,” but have them understand it, think critically about what they’re hearing, and then apply their knowledge to the real world. And then, maybe, go out and make a difference. Those kinds of critical thinking skills are more important that they have ever been. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

On Baba's Back, by marianne dubuc. Princeton Architectural Press, Raincoast. 2022. $14.95 ages 1 and up

“Oops! Koko pees
on Baba’s back.”

Koko and Baba are never apart. Koko does everything on Baba's back. When curiosity overwhelms at the sight of a lovely, flitting butterfly, Koko makes a run for it - alone. No need for worry. It is a successful adventure, and Koko makes a happy return as bedtime nears. Koko knows there is safety with Baba, and open arms and a strong back. 

Independence can be a difficult rite of passage for caregivers like Baba; patience and pride pay off with being able to watch the joyful result of letting go. Ms. Dubuc knows young children and shows that by giving Koko recognizable and childlike behaviors. It is a 'just-right' book little ones because of the repetitive text structure. 

The pencil and watercolor images will be familiar to fans of this fine artist. She creates a setting that is true to the Australian habitat, where koalas live. It is full of charm and worthy of repeated readings. The simplicity of the text is enhanced by that same restraint in creating the lovely illustrations. 

Don't miss the ladybug! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Itzel and the Ocelot, written and illustrated by Rachel Katstaller. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.99 ages 5 and up


"That night, as her nana slept deeply, 
Itzel took her flute and left home in 
search of the river and the mysterious
giant snake. 

The full moon cast shadows teeming 
with threatening shapes.

Itzel felt her way through the trees
but then, all at once, 
she lost her footing and plunged down, 
tumbling and tumbling 
deep into the jungle.

Itzel loves to play her flute, and to listen to her nana's stories. In one difficult year, there is not enough rain to germinate the seeds that provide food for the two, as well as market produce. There will soon be nothing to eat. Itzel's favorite story is told of the awakening of a giant snake who brings the rainy season. The story is rarely told anymore, and the snake has disappeared. 

If the snake would return to 'the place where the water is born', perhaps the rains would come. Without her nana's knowledge, Itzel sets off in the night to find the snake. Her flute is her only companion. In the darkness, she falls deep into the jungle where she meets an ocelot. The ocelot is surprised to hear Itzel knows of the snake. Being thirsty in such a dry season, the ocelot decides to accompany the girl. Along the way, they meet an opossum, an agouti, a kinkajou, and more. All need water for many different reasons. 

None know where the water was born; at the end of their quest the riverbed is dry. All hope gone; Itzel plays her flute while tears run from the eyes of all searchers. With a lot of noise and the sight of the snake rising into the sky, water begins filling the riverbed. The water sends the travelers back downstream. Each creature finds their way back home. Finally, there is nana. Together, the three watch the nourishing and vital rain fall. 

Artwork rendered in 'colored pencils, acrylic paints and gouache' are bright and detailed, allowing readers to see Itzel's emotions at all times, and to live in a jungle setting that is home to so many. A glossary lists both Nawat and Spanish words from El Salvador. An author's note tells of the stories she has heard all her life, and invites readers to learn more.  

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Year We Learned To Fly, wrritten by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House,. 2022. $24.99 7 and up

"That was the autumn our rooms felt too big and lonely
with only us in them and the darkness coming on so
But while we hugged ourselves against the too-quiet 
of it all, we remembered that we didn't have to be stuck
anywhere anymore.

Being inside has no appeal on stormy August afternoon for the two children whose story is told here. Luckily, they have a grandmother who encourages them to close their eyes, use their imaginations, and take themselves to a better place. It works! They fly over a city suddenly changed. It is a special summer for them - a time when they learned to fly. 

If they are arguing about turns, or fighting about other unimportant things that make them mad, their grandmother reminds them:

"Lift your arms, 
close your eyes,
take a deep breath, 
and stop being mean about everything. 
Somebody somewhere at some point
was just as mad as you are now.

So they fly again, and lose all the anger they are feeling. The summer passes with thoughts of taking themselves away in times of trouble. The seasons pass. They no longer need their grandmother to remind them they have freedom to think, to dream, to imagine. They teach new friends to do what they do. 

Mixed-media artwork explodes with color and add real connection to the wise and eloquent text. The scenes are filled with energy and wonder through the seasons as the children face difficulties, and overcome them. 

An author's note relates the ways enslaved people used stories of freedom to lift out of the despair of bad times. Ms. Woodson also reveals that reading Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly helped her understand that she was flying through the words she wrote.  

A companion book to The Day You Begin (2018), it is equally reassuring.