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Friday, November 21, 2014

Voices From the March on Washington, poems by J. Patrick Lewis & George Ella Lyon. Wordsong, Raincoast. 2014. $19.95 ages 12 and up

"I was old enough to go.
I was in college.
I wasn't there
because I didn't
see a problem.
Being from Georgia,
what they called
separate but equal
was working fine for me.
Everybody has their place
was what I was taught."

I have mentioned in previous posts that I was astonished with the learning I did this summer and fall, thanks to the publication of a number of books about the civil rights movement. In their new book, J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon (poets extraordinaire), give voice to some of those people who may have been present at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. A pivotal event in the history of civil rights in the United States, it drew hundreds of thousands of people to march for jobs and freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. made his 'I Have a Dream' speech and shared the program with other civil rights leaders and artists. The March played a huge role in making the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act realities in following years.

Here, the poets use mostly first-person 'voices' to share the spirit of those who were there. There are 70 poems, in voices young and old. They represent the myriad of attendees who marched together for a better life, a better home, a better country. They are compelling and worthy of your attention.

"FOR ALL, 1963 

If you contend the noblest end
of all is human rights, amend
the laws: The beauty of the sun
is that it shines on everyone."  p. 4


I came hungry
into the world,
and for that,
look no further
than my Pa.
A history buff
and a small-p
poet, he built
so many book-
shelves, our house
became the local
lending library.
At least to those few
who knew a book
to be a friend."  p. 21


...When he says he has a dream,
I have one too, my dream
blinking off and on like neon
in windows on Georgia Avenue.
My tightrope-wire nerves jolt
and jangle, ripple and trip, and
I know I will no longer look
back at who it was I was, but
keep my eyes fixed ahead
on who I am becoming."  p. 81

Powerful? Indeed!

Included in back matter are an authors' note as guide to the voices, a list of historical voices, other notables whose names appear in the book, imagined voices, a bibliography, relevant websites, further reading and an index by title, and then by voice.

Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.50 ages 9 and up

"16 rolls of paper towels
24 rolls of toilet paper
2 large packages of napkins
4 packages of paper plates
2 packages of paper cups

I look at our food. I wonder if we have enough supplies for a power outage that lasts two days, four days, a week.
I wonder what will happen if a tree falls on our house."

There is so much to love about Rose. She has some very special loves herself: she loves homonyms, her dog Rain, prime numbers, rules, her Uncle Weldon. But, her life is also fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is her father.

Her father works during the day, and spends his evenings drinking at a nearby bar. One night, he finds a dog alone in the rain and brings him home. He gives the dog to his daughter and allows Rose to choose a name. Rain (found in the rain) keeps Rose company when she is alone. Rose collects homonyms daily, and adds them to her continually changing list. If she runs out of space on the alphabetical list, she starts the list all over again, in order to include the new set of words. When Rain's father loses patience with her, as he often does, she turns to Rain for comfort, and to her Uncle Weldon who takes her to and from school each day, helps her gather homonyms, and calms her when her father frightens her.

A coming storm is disconcerting for Rose as the weather forecasters are predicting big problems. She and her father prepare as best they can. They cannot prepare for Rain's disappearance, and Rose is very upset with her father's actions. He is the one who let Rain out during the storm, and didn't think to let he back in. Now, Rain is gone and they have no way of looking for her because they are stranded in their yard by swirling, high waters.

"The power is out everywhere. Millions of people are in the dark. Millions. It could take weeks to restore it. And your school won't open until the power is back.
But I need my routine.
Most of all I need Rain."

Without her father's help, Rose thinks up a plan for finding Rain. She makes a list of all the animal shelters that are close by, and phones them to see if they have seen her dog. Rain is not at any of them. Uncle Weldon helps when they can finally get off their property. Eventually, using Rose's well-devised plan, they do find Rain. There, they make a heartbreaking discovery. The news leads Rose to take matters into her own hands, and do what a girl consumed by rules knows is the right thing.

What a voice Ms. Martin has created for the forever memorable Rose! She speaks clearly and honestly about her day-to-day life, its challenges and its joys. Her writing is full of wit, angst and understanding. Despite Rose's preoccupations, she shows awareness and integrity when dealing the one momentous decision she feels compelled to make.

It is a powerful portrayal of a young autistic girl, told skillfully and with great heart. I think we would do well to share it in any middle years classroom setting. It is sure to spark conversation and encourage empathy for this character whose presence is so strongly felt, and whose personality is presented with such care and understanding:

"I think about the homonyms soared and sword. They're an interesting pair, because soared is a very nice word, especially when you imagine musical notes swooshing through the evening air, but sword indicates weaponry, so that isn't a nice word at all. That's one of the many things I like about homonyms. Most of them seem unrelated, some seem to be opposites, like soared and sword, but a few make lovely connections if you're open to changing your perspective when you think about them."

Emotional and honest, this book is about autism, yes. It is also about family, love, and hope. It is a book that deserves to be on the Newbery list for 2014. Don't miss it!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is there a dog in this book? Written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $$19.00 ages 3 and up

"OH, NO!

What is a dog?

Dogs are snappy and
yappy, smelly and
noisy, hairy and scary...

and dogs HATE cats!"

If you spend any time at all with small children you will know just how much they love books that encourage them to take part in the conversation. Viviane Schwartz uses that knowledge to craft yet another book about Tiny, Moonpie, and Andre, three cats who get their audiences totally involved in the tales they tell!

This time they are sure that they can smell a dog in close proximity. It seems that things are disappearing and they surely don't want to blame the reader. Another SNIFF! and Andre is sure he can smell that dog. There is great cause for concern, if that is so. They hide in as many places as they deem safe. Tiny seems less concerned than the others:

"The dog is
like me!
Can I touch
it? I want to
pet the dog!


They beg their audience to help. They must hide! As they hide in a variety of spots, we can see that the dog seems totally unconcerned with finding them. He is much more interested in exploration. While the closet hides them, the dog creates mayhem. Finally, his nose puts him onto them, and he leaps and yaps with excitement. Perhaps, Tiny is right!

With order restored and the cats happy with their new friend, we are invited to join the party...only to scare that puppy straight off the page. Will we be able to find him again?

The flaps that invite inspection will be worn out before your reader ever loses interest in this funny, and entertaining story of friendship! Keep the scotch tape close. I'm just saying....

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Born in the Wild: Baby Animals and Their Parents, written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"The baby is hungry.

All mammals begin life
nursing on their mother's

Grizzly bear cubs nurse for
several months before they
start eating grasses, berries,
insects and a little meat."

Who doesn't love a baby? Who could resist that happy, much-loved baby giraffe on the front cover of Lita Judge's newest nonfiction book? Just look at the love in his mama's eyes!

The readers who have a chance to see this book are certain to be enamored of the small creatures (very much like them) that grace its pages. You will hear a lot of 'awwing'; I am sure of that.  There are 26 mammals here, and they ALL have babies...cute, cuddly, gentle, inquisitive, and with the same needs. They need to be fed, to be protected, to be sheltered, to be moved, to feel the love of family and to know its role in teaching play and life lessons in the wild:

"Kits and joeys, cubs and colts -
every baby mammal needs gentle
care and teaching...

just like you!"

There is great diversity in the animals brought to our attention. Ms. Judge uses soft lines and a welcome degree of gentle humor to invite readers to learn about their lives in the wild, the care given and the love bestowed on each one. The short sections begin with a single sentence, meant to bring attention to the needs that all babies have. The informational text does not overwhelm and is carefully placed beside the endearing, realistic images.

Backmatter includes 'more about the animals in this book', such as:

"A mother chimpanzee holds her infant constantly during its first five to six months of life. Later the youngster clings to her stomach and back. Young chimpanzees play, climb, and wrestle, and learn to build nests and groom one another. They also learn how to use tools like sticks to fish for termites. Females help one another with babysitting. They young aren't weaned until four to six years of age. They live in forested zones in west and central Africa."

Also included are a glossary, a list of sources and good websites that have information on animals.

Warm and celebratory, this is a book not to be missed!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, written and illustrated by John Himmelman. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $15.99 ages 6 and up

"Sherman saw that Isabel was still right behind him. He gave it all he had. When he reached the tree, he was running so fast, he ran a whole extra mile before he could stop. Finally, Isabel caught up. "Did you let me win?" asked Sherman. "I did at first," she said. "But as soon as you thought you could win, you won."

Isabel is a very accomplished young bunny, when it comes to martial arts. That is not all she is good at; in fact, she's very good at using the skills she is learning to make a difference in her world.

In a series of short stories that are just perfect for children wanting to read a chapter book, Isabel exhibits her smarts, her courage, her feelings for others to entertain and engage readers. Isabel is a problem solver, in the best sense of the word.

The stories presented have just the right amount of text, accompanied by action-filled, expressive images of all of the characters who make Isabel's days so interesting. Mr. Himmelman uses black lines to create his characters on a white backdrop, and adds dashes of red for Isabel's Gi and to keep young readers focused on the action contained in each story.

Each story has a very quiet ending that leaves us with something to think about before moving on to the next one, or to savor if we quietly consider each one on its own. The fact that the stories concern the martial arts will widen the audience, and the effective storytelling suggests to readers that being smart outweighs being strong, almost every time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Brilliant! Shining a Light on Sustainable Energy, by Michelle Mulder. Orca Book Publishers, 2013. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"About 2,700 years ago, people in Persia developed sails that they attached to buildings. The wind turned the sails of the windmill, which then turned the grindstones to grind grain. Over a thousand years later, in the fourteenth century, people of the Netherlands used windmills to pump water out of flooded land..."

I know that I have mentioned it before...these are books that should be in classrooms everywhere. They are brilliantly designed and truly informative for children wanting to know more about the footprints we leave in our world. In the Orca Footprints series, Brilliant! follows Down to Earth (2013), Pedal It! (2013), Every Last Drop (2014) and precedes Take Shelter (2014) which I will tell you about in an upcoming post.

Brilliant! is meant to inform concerning our need to think hard and creatively about how we are using energy at home and in the greater world. Unless we begin to do that, the Earth of the future will be very different than it is today. Fossil fuels are disappearing and our environment is crumbling around us. If we, as adults, do not express concern and act to make things different, our children will have no one showing them how to do it.

In her new book, Michelle Mulder makes reasonable and thoughtful suggestions for changing the way we treat our homes and communities. She begins at the beginning:

"No one knows for sure when our ancestors discovered how to control fire for their own use. Some say it was at least 400,000 years ago. A family would bring fire into a cave and keep it alive for months, or sometimes even years."

She explains that energy is all around us, and takes us on a trip backwards in time to how we first used fire, wind, animal power and water. Then, coal and gasoline. In succeeding chapters, she explains fossil fuels, and alternate fuels developed to make our lives easier and more productive. I was fascinated to learn about the many scientists who work to create new sources of fuel for our use:

"The Indian state railway planted millions of jatropha plants along the rails and uses the oil from its seeds to help fuel each train trip. Jatropha can grow in dry places with poor soil, where other plants would never survive, and the seeds are not edible, so it's not like using food for fuel."

She goes on to explain the many other ingenious ways that alternative fuel sources are being developed. . Kids will love learning about the soccer ball that 'has a machine inside that captures the movement energy of a rolling ball.' A battery inside is charged and then used to power a lamp! So many inventions on the horizon. For now, we need to be acutely aware of those things we can do to use less fuel. It's up to us!

As has been the case with the previous books in this series, the illustrations and clear photographs give essential meaning to the text. The 'Power Lines' and 'Energy Facts' boxes add personal observations and humor, as well as much needed information. Get it for your classroom, your library, or your home to provide food for thought and action! Put on your own thinking cap, and try to visualize new ways to improve life on our planet.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Vanilla Ice Cream, written and illustrated by Bob Graham. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2024. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"He is young.

He is curious...

and bold.

Bold as a truck-stop

The sparrow is free
to go where he pleases."

I love how clearly and wondrously Bob Graham looks at the world. He writes gentle, thoughtful books that have strong appeal for all who share them. The events that concern him may seem unremarkable, until he sets his pen to paper and uses his signature watercolor artwork to make them memorable and satisfying. 

This one is initially set  in India, on a hot and dusty day! A dhaba offers food and beverage, while   two young children play hopscotch barefoot and sparrows peck in the dust beside them. One bird proves his bravery and curiosity by landing on a child's finger. The driver of a rice truck stops for lunch, and is not willing to share with the inquisitive bird. Little does he know that his cargo offers an even more tempting snack. When the truck leaves, so does the sparrow.

A journey begins, and our experience is heightened by all we see in the wordless images that take the bird from country to city, from rice truck to a cargo ship:

"Like all wild birds,
he follows the food."

The cargo ship makes its ocean crossing in a series of perfectly paced and framed illustrations, all the way to a bright and exciting city where he finds a wee girl named Edie, and her grandparents. It's a perfect opportunity for another feast...despite a very scary moment! Turns out that the sparrow is not the recipient of this new taste delight! Being young and curious, as the sparrow also is, it is young Edie how discovers a brand new world of taste.

Now, get out there and discover your own small and spectacular moments. What might have led to this very moment in time? Can you imagine it? This perfect picture book speaks to those events which connect our world, despite the distances that separate us.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sweet Dreams: 5-Minute Bedtime Stories. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $16.99 ages 2 and up

"This is the way bedtime is
SUPPOSED to be. But some
nights it is not. Some nights I
have bad dreams and my sister
has to save me.

Because sometimes when NIGHT
comes, my dreams

My bed is in the middle of the ocean!"

It's scary for me to think that parents have 'no time' to read to their children at night. What can they possibly have left to do that they can't take the time to cuddle up, snuggle in and read a story to those amazing children they brought into this world. Imagine the peace and contentment both would feel as sleep settles in, and their time together with a book ends that young child's day!

That being said, I do not often pay much attention to a book title that pronounces it is filled with stories that can be read in 'five minutes'. We don't have more than five minutes to spend reading with our kids, showing them how important reading and literacy are to the most special people in their lives? Of course, we do...unless we have fallen into that trap that allows us to think we are always too busy.

Luckily, I set aside the tendency to ignore such a book. When I opened the cover and discovered the ten stories that had been collected for bedtime reading, I was delighted to see some familiar favorite titles and that encouraged me to read on and make new discoveries!

We all know Curious George and the man with the yellow hat; thankfully, George finally succumbs to dreams of the sweet kind in Sweet Dreams, Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey. You may not know the young boy who finds reading hard, and refuses to read the book no matter what danger might befall him in Cece Meng's I Will Not Read This Book. I know you will be happy to meet both   him and his mom. Lucy learns a lesson about how difficult it can be to put a monster to sleep, even one of your own creative imagination in Go To Bed, Monster by Natasha Wing. Joanne Ryder's lilting tale of hugs from morning to night ensures sleepy time contentment in Won't You Be My Hugaroo?  I can't think of a better way to spend the day and early evening than sharing hugs with those you love! Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime by Myra Wolfe introduces a young girl with plenty of swashbuckling oomph until a night without sleep (which she sees as the ultimate pleasure) makes scarce that joie de vivre and leaves her in a pickle.

 In Margot Apple's Blanket, Mom makes the decision that Blanket must be washed. The young narrator is lost and lonely without it. Luckily, her animal friends and the wind rectify the situation. Alice Schertle's Very Hairy Bear uses gorgeous language to take us through the seasons with a bear who has no concern for his 'no-hair nose' until it's time for a long winter's sleep. In The Dream Jar by Lindan Lee Johnson, one sister helps the other learn about changing bad dreams into good ones with imagination, and sometimes with the help of a dream jar. Kerry Arquette takes us on a trip around the animal world to discover, in rhyming text, what each has been doing in her story called What Did You Do Today? She ends with a small child thinking back on his day's doings, too.

The collection ends with Don and Audrey Wood's witty and lavishly illustrated Piggies. It's a perfect way to end a book about bedtimes and glorious stories to share at the end of a long day:

"Sometimes they're
good little piggies,
but not at bedtime.
That's when they skip down
my tummy,
dance on my toes,
then run away and hide.
I put them all together, all in a row,
for two fat kisses,
two smart kisses,
two long kisses,
two silly kisses
and two kisses goodnight."


To think I might have missed it! In back matter, information is included about each of the authors and illustrators and a bibliography of the books shared in this thoughtful collection.