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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park, by Celia Godkin. Pajama Press, 2017. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Other animals build homes at the beaver ponds too. Muskrats make homes like beaver lodges, using rushes instead of sticks. Muskrat homes make good platforms on which ducks build their nests. Other birds nest among the rushes bordering the ponds."

The year was 1995. Thirteen wolves from Canada were delivered to Yellowstone National Park in an attempt to build new hope for the park's ecosystem. One year later, another ten were added. Twenty-two years later, that introduction has made a tremendous difference, and is proof positive just how successful carefully planned environmental projects can be. From that twenty-three, there are now about one hundred living in the park. It's an important story!

Celia Godkin does a truly admirable job of presenting the project in terms children will understand. The language is clear, the telling is positive and brings awareness for the remarkable results. She shows the natural course of events, beginning with a large herd of elk listening to a sound they have never heard. The wolves call to each other, and head straight toward the elk. It is the first kill for the wolf pack. The elk, of needs, find a safer place to graze.

As their valley home responds with new growth, it now provides an invitation to birds and bears to feast on its abundance. Beaver build dams, forming deep ponds that become home to various bird species, insects, fish, frogs ... even otters and birds of prey. It is an amazing transformation.

Those changes are portrayed in detailed mixed media artwork. The double page spreads clearly show the park and its dramatic change - all through the introduction of the gray wolf. The settings beautifully display the grandeur of the park, and the interdependence of the species living there. Don't miss having a close look at the endpapers. The illustrations there may result in further research for interested children.

Written for a younger audience, it will have impact for older readers as well. While much is learned about biodiversity and the environment, it is presented in a most appealing format. Never did I feel that it was written to teach me something. It is simply a story of life in a very special environment.

In final pages we are told a bit about the history of the wolf in North America, and the events that led to its near disappearance in both the United States and Mexico. Once the wolf was placed on the US Endangered Species list people began to ask to have it reintroduced into the country's wilderness. The Yellowstone Park project proves it can be a huge success.

Friday, June 23, 2017

a Letter to my Teacher, words by Deborah Hopkinson and pictures by Nancy Carpenter. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I hope you remember me.
I was the one who marched
to school that first day,
splashing through every
puddle I could find. I wore
a bright yellow raincoat and a dark, stormy frown - because for me, school meant sitting still ... "

It's second grade. For one small girl, it's her teacher who makes all the difference. As a teacher, I had a special place in my heart for the kids who didn't fit the mold, who acted out, who needed understanding and acceptance. They made me a better teacher every day, and I was grateful to have them in my class so they could teach me what I needed to know. I can only hope that I had the kind of impact this teacher did.

The child remembering her year in second grade knows a lot about herself. She can't keep her voice down, she likes to be the class clown, she needs constant supervision on field trips. She marches to the beat of a different drummer. She remembers how her teacher helps her find what she does best, and guides her through her days encouraging her to acquire the skills needed to be a friend and to find success in a place that holds little appeal for her. With each new success, things get better.

Nancy Carpenter captures every nuance of the memories the now grown woman shares in this emotional and memorable book. Those emotions are beautifully displayed throughout, in illustrations that capture the exuberance and unleashed energy exhibited. The teacher stands out on every page for the patience she shows and the guidance she gives when the going gets tough. She makes room for a 'different' learner in her classroom. Humor is evident as the two work together to form a lasting bond, one the teacher may not necessarily remember so many years later. The girl does not forget.

Her year end gift is testament to the difference a caring teacher can make, and her career choice is proof positive that teachers make differences in children's lives ... every day, and in so many ways.

"For a long time now
I've been wanting to write to tell you
that even though I didn't always listen,
and I know I was exasperating,
second grade really was the best year ever."

What a tribute ... and what a lovely gift for a teacher at the end of the school year. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Imagine That! let your mind run wild, by Yasmeen Ismail. Bllomsbury, Raincoast.2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Lila ...
Slow down!
What are you

Nothing ...

I am the queen of
super speed! Nothing
can stop these noble ... "

It's a pretty normal day for Lila's mother. They are on their way to spend some time with Grandpa. For Lila it is just another occasion for allowing her imagination to take flight at every turn. Her mom has a need to keep Lila on task as they get ready to leave, and as they make their way to the meeting place. Lila's mind is full of so much more than following her mom's linear line of thought.

What an imagination she has! Young readers will be delighted to see that Lila loves pretend just as they do. Moving from page to page, we are carried on wings of whimsy. One double page spread puts us in real time - Mom trying to get Lila to pay attention. The next, filled with Lila's fanciful imaginings.

"FLIP and spring and ZOOM and tumble,
I won't slip, I NEVER fumble!
I boing and bounce!
I ping and pong!
I'm quick and swift
and super STRONG!"

On they go, with her mother following closely as Lila tears through the street lost in her own world.
When they finally meet Grandpa, she has a story to tell him. Surprise! It turns out that Grandpa has been waiting patiently for someone to come along whose flights of imagination match his. It's always better to share such experiences with a friend, isn't it?

The gorgeous watercolor artwork fills the pages with motion and joy. Kids are going to love listening to it, and will surely want to hear it again. It will surely spark fanciful stories of their own. And, they will LOVE Lila. She has a force to be admired.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Falling Over Sideways, written by Jordan Sonnenblick. Scholastic, 2016. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"I moved forward so I was next to Matthew, standing over our father's knees. I wanted to say something helpful or something brave. Something useful and mature. But nothing came. I stood and stood and stood there, but my lips wouldn't move. Mom stepped up from behind and put one arm around me and the other around Matthew. "It's all right, Claire Bear. Just say anything ... "

Ugh! Grade eight ... it's never easy. Claire knows that the very first day. It only gets worse. What can be worse than zits, mean girls, changing friendships, and boys? You would think that's all a girl can take.

In Claire's case, it is undeniably untrue. Our introduction to Claire is a bit of fun. She starts with her father's constant support and witty candor, and the father-daughter dance. Then, she flashbacks to one year earlier. She and her friends are having a sleepover for her birthday, and it looks like rain. Seven of her thirteen birthday parties have been spoiled by rain. Her brilliant, accomplished brother is bothered by the girls and the noise that is interrupting the sleep he needs to be ready for tomorrow's soccer training session. Can things get worse? Yes, they can and they do. The angst just increases when Claire learns that she is being held back in dance class, while her best friends move forward. It's just not fair!

When she expresses her anger and sadness about the dance class, her father makes his usual joke. Claire is far from impressed.

"I quit. I am not talking about this with you. You don't
understand what it's like to have to struggle. Every story you ever
tell about your childhood is about how you got the best
grades without trying, or how you were the best drummer in
the school. Well, I have to work really, really hard, Dad - and
it still doesn't do any good!"
"Honey, I've struggled."
"Well, maybe you need to struggle some more!"

Those words will come back to haunt her. It isn't long before a traumatic event changes the course of events for Claire's family. She and her father are at the dining room table when he suffers a stroke. Claire is the only one home, and must take charge. Her father's hospitalization and long recovery are heartbreaking, and life-changing. Her mother and brother step up to do the best they can to keep the family from falling apart. The trauma of being the only one there, and then seeing her father so changed is unbearable. Claire withdraws to her eighth grade self, worrying about those things that may seem inconsequential to many, but are of great importance to this young teen. It is her way of coping. Her brother is finally able to get through to her, and Claire makes the changes necessary to help with her father's recovery.

Claire's voice is so authentic it makes the reader feel present in every moment of the book. She is confused, honest, vulnerable, angry and eventually, hopeful. Mr. Sonnenblick's articulate depiction of a family in crisis and the process for recovery following a stroke is compelling and heartfelt. It impacts everyone, including everyone who reads it.

If you are not familiar with Jordan Sonnenblick's work, this is a great introduction. It will surely lead you to look for more ... Drums. Girls and Dangerous Pie (2014), Zen and the Art of Faking It (2010) among others, and the upcoming The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade (September, 2017).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Birds Make Nests, written and illustrated by Michael Garland. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"These nests are
shaped like mounds.
American Flamingo

Some birds make nests
on the ground.
Common Ostrich

Some birds make nests
in holes in trees.
Great Horned Owl"

I love watching a pair of robins in my backyard as they make repairs and upgrade their nest from last summer. Well, I suspect they are the same ones. We are told they come back to the same spot year after year. Last year they successfully raised two families of three.

Kids will be fascinated to learn about the many different nests birds build, and the very interesting places they find to build them. First, the parent birds want their eggs to be safe; then, they want a protected space for the chicks they hope to raise.

The text is simple; the beautifully designed artwork created with woodcut and digital tools is perfect.
It is a celebration of the tenacity and ingenuity of the many birds here shown. Each illustration includes a serene setting, the common name for the bird in question, and the shape of the nest itself. Often, we even catch a glimpse of the eggs or chicks.

Little ones, for whom this book is written, will be drawn to the short descriptions, the beauty of the birds, and a feeling of satisfaction for what they are seeing. The images will certainly encourage questions and further learning. Not all birds presented will be familiar - just another reason for sharing it with someone you love.

This is a pleasing and most useful introduction to the nesting habits of many familiar and unfamiliar birds. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Short Stories for Little MONSTERS, by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"When I was young, I knew
a lot of big words.
So, everybody knows big
What happened to my shorts?
Yeah, well, when I was one
year old, I knew the word
So, everybody knows that
Maybe this elastic will work."

Just when you think you have seen it all, Marie-Louise Gay pens a new book unlike anything she has previously done. This one is full of the color, the fun, and the terrific detail we have seen in her other books. This time, she tells nineteen 'short' stories, giving kids pause for concern and some careful thought.

A few of the titles in the table of contents express kids' sentiments:

"When I Close My Eyes

What Games Do Cats Play?

Lies My Mother Told Me

Who, Me?

The Secret Life of Rabbits"

To say you will be amused is putting it mildly. You have no idea! Each of the nineteen 'stories' is presented on double page spreads (except What Do Cats See? and What Games Do Cats Play?) and designed in comic book style. Each is sure to engage the audience in discussions, and perhaps even quiet contemplation of those big questions that can cause little ones to stop and ponder.

Take the classroom in Who? Me? where the kids do their best to avoid answering their teacher's history question?

"OK. Let's see who studied their history lesson last night ... in what year ... ?

If I don't move, she won't ask me.

If I look like I'm exploring different answers, she won't ask me.

If I blow my nose, she won't ask me.

If I pretend to pick up my pencil, she won't ask me.

If I look calm and relaxed, she won't ask me.

If I don't look at her, she won't ask me.


If she thinks I know the answer, she won't ask me."

HA! So they think ...

The author's  mixed media illustrations use text box dialogue that is sure to attract attention and hold interest. There is a lot of mischief making, and the subject matter is sure to please. Both smart and funny, your kids are going to LOVE it!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Penguin Day: A Family Story. By Nic Bishop. Scholastic, 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Mama Penguin had a big journey ahead of her. She and the other penguins will travel far to get food for their families.

They will scamper over hills ...
... and climb down cliffs.

They will hop across sand ...
... until finally they reach
the sea."

Let me just tell you this: life in not a 'bowl of cherries' for a southern rockhopper penguin chick. When they are first born, they are cold. It's the Antarctic, after all. Lucky they are to have parents who understand that, and can protect them. Next, they are hungry - all the time. Again, they are blessed with parents (this time, a mother) willing to head out to sea in spite of the cold and the dangers inherent in facing orcas, sharks and sea lions. Finally, it's boring waiting for a parent to return when you are hungry. So, finding a friend to commiserate with is a necessity. Finding none, our little guy (or gal) heads off to explore and learns a well-learned lesson, we can only hope!

Papa does do parenting duty while Mama is off filling her belly with fish and krill. It's advantageous that Papa has an eye for trouble, and recognizes the danger inherent in a skua's need for food. He keeps his chick safe, and the two return to the colony following the chick's exploratory shenanigans. Guess who's waiting for them? Then, it's supper and bedtime for one tired and satisfied baby - and the same for its parents.

Nic Bishop amazes me with every new book he writes. His photography is exemplary, often stunning his readers with unique and astounding views of the natural world. The lengths to which he goes to get them are equally surprising:

"The author spent three weeks photographing rockhopper penguins for this book. Severe gales and freezing temperatures often made things difficult for him but never daunted the penguins. Every day they ventured into stormy seas and climbed home over tall cliffs, meeting each challenge with feisty determination."

An author's note provides helpful information about the penguins themselves. Might I just add that they are quite stunning with their bright beaks, red eyes and distinct crown!

Check out more about Nic at his website:

My Daddy Rules the World: Poems about Dads, written and illustrated by Hope Anita Smith. Henry Holt and Company, Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

 "Some dads go to offices
and wear a suit and tie.
And some dads wear a uniform
and fly across the sky.
Some dads have a briefcase
full of all the work they do ...

...Some dads go to meetings
and spend hours on the phone.
But my dad has the greatest job -
he's a dad that stays at home."

This book is going to get a whole lot of love and much well-deserved attention. You can count on that! I am hoping that if it the first book you have read by the amazing Hope Anita Smith, it won't be your last! You need to read her powerful poetry and see her gorgeous torn-paper collage artwork. I am adding a few spreads from this new book at the bottom of the post. You can see for yourself just how special they really are.

The dedication is perfect, and meant for many:

"This book is dedicated to dads, daddies, pops, and poppas.
To every man "fathering" a child and to those who stand in the
gap offering guidance, love, and support to children in need.
This book celebrates you."

It is, indeed, a celebration and a perfect book to share with kids and their dads today, and every day! The bonds are clear and strong. The times shared are shown here with humor, heart and candor. There are so many things that children do with those who 'father' them. In a series of sixteen poems Ms. Smith describes making breakfast, being strong, sharing books, teaching a child to ride a bike, even snoring.

" ... But when Daddy is sleeping
he isn't quiet.
He makes a noise
that's as loud as a riot!

It sounds just like horses
galloping fast,
getting louder and louder
as they rumble past.

I have a drum set
and a real horn that blows,
but Daddy is loudest
when he plays
his nose!"

What joy to share these poems with little ones and their families, allowing them to think about and describe the many things they do that make time so special when spent with Dad, or Papa, or Uncle Jack. The illustrations are faceless, yet still strongly show the love and comfort felt between the two. The child narrators aptly note their feelings for a very special man in their lives. They are small moments that are forever remembered and that mean a great deal to each and every one of them.