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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rodeo Red, written by Maripat Perkins and illustrated by Molly Idle. Peachtree, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2015. $21.95 ages 5 and up

"I'd come home to find
my belongings all in a
jumble, my spurs missing,
or grape jelly smeared on
my favorite hat. I tried
reasoning with Slim. I
showed him the border
between his camp and
mine. But that scallywag
talked nothing but

Rodeo Red is a cowgirl through and through: from the tip of her hatted head to her pointy-toe boots. She and her hound dog Rusty live a charmed life, until Slim ...

Red and Rusty have been together since infancy. They have grown up and learned roping and riding in each other's company. When her tiny brother Slim arrives, things change for the older two. Red is not impressed from their first meeting:

"The first time our eyes met, I knew Slim was trouble.
He looked as slippery as a snake's belly in a mudslide."

He hollers and causes poor Rusty to seek help from Red in protecting his sensitive ears. Red's folks (the Sheriff and her Deputy) cannot get enough of him! Red tries, advises, watches over, and finally gives up completely. She cannot stem his mischief-making. So, she gathers up Rusty and all of her farm animals and heads for the hills.

When Rusty turns up missing, you know who is the lead suspect, don't you? Red is 'ready' to have it out with Slim. Finding Slim asleep with Rusty in his arms does nothing to deter the intrepid investigator. She wants her dog. Slim's howling and the Deputy's impatience sends Red off to conjure up other ways of recapturing Rusty. Time out for guess who!!!

A late birthday gift from her Aunt Sal gives Red the perfect ploy for getting her best friend back. But, she is cautious in offering the new toy up for the old. It's enough to make Slim green with envy and vibrant with want.

"But the sight of that dolled-up dandy was
finally too much for him. He handed over
Rusty like he was a hot coal at a barbecue."
Problem solved!

Great fun to share so long as you are prepared to use your best western drawl, and make the telling as funny and engaging as the writer gives you encouragement to do. Kids will chuckle at the descriptions shared by a reluctant older sister in the wake of her baby brother's arrival and subsequent upheaval for the household.

The muted pastel palette chosen by Molly Idle to create her visual interpretation of the story is perfect. So many fine details give readers a chance to pause and ponder. They may even see themselves in some of the threats and efforts made to bring the younger one into line.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Mary's Garden, by Tina and Carson Kugler. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Over the next few days,
they found another
scrap here,
another jumbled lump

Mary loved to
collect things
she found."

I recently spent a wonderful weekend with four fine friends in London, Ontario. It afforded us the opportunity to take a couple of short day trips around southern Ontario and pay impromptu visits to a few new spots. One was a large outdoor garden, designed and added to on a yearly basis. It was very peaceful, filled with plants and object art reflecting the artist's desire to have his visitors leave a littler happier than when they arrived. It worked its magic on the five of us. It reminded me of this picture book biography I had read just prior to leaving on holiday.

Mary Nohl was born an artist. From an early age she loved making things, and she loved to draw. 
Her big ideas led her to projects in woodworking, helping her father build a house near Lake Michigan, where she continued to live until her death. While traveling the world, she loved to draw the things she was seeing.

The long Wisconsin winters made her long for the bright colors that had been a part of her travels. She created art to bring color to the inside. But, it wasn't until she was wandering the beach near her home that she began to see what she might construct from 'found items' for placement in her garden. Mixing cement as her father had shown her, she built and decorated structures using what she so eagerly collected.

Her garden attracted many visitors, as well as some detractors. Luckily, Mary did not make her art for anyone but herself. When some of her pieces were vandalized, she just used what was left to create another unusual structure. Her home remains a legacy today to her life's work.

Perfect fare for aspiring artists, this is a book that will be appreciated for the story it tells and for the inspiration it provides. An author's note offers additional information, and explains the controversy that has often been associated with Mary's garden.

Mixed media artwork captures the joy the garden provided for Mary. Using traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers, the Kuglers show their young readers the transformation that took place over the years as Mary worked to create these works from her abundant imagination.                                                                                 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Toad Weather, written by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Peachtree, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2015. $21.95 ages 5 and up

"That's the surprise!"
Mama takes our hands
and tugs us with her,
through the drippy,
slowing-down rain,
to the end of the block.
All the while
the sound gets louder."

When Mama comes home on a rainy night asking Ally and her grandmother to join her in an excursion, the two are not impressed. They don't really like the rainy, wet conditions and can't think of a good reason for being out in it. Mama assures them they are in for a big surprise if the accompany her. Reluctantly, they agree.

As they walk Mama encourages them to take the time to enjoy what there is to see.

"So I do.
I see awnings dripping.
Cardboard boxes melting.
Passing cars pushing up waves so high
that people jump back from the curb."

They are not yet surprised; both are becoming impatient. Mama is certain they are going to love what is coming. They continue to take note of the many wet and wonderful things there are to see. Suddenly, they become aware of a different sound, one they do not hear every day. Can this be the surprise?

Indeed, it can. Soon, the three come upon a detour sign: TOAD DETOUR. What can it mean? Mama explains:

"Over a few weeks each spring," Mama says,
"when it's perfect toad weather - like tonight -
they head to the water to mate and lay their eggs."

The trouble is that the pond is on the other side of the road from where they make their homes for the rest of the year. The toads need help to make it safely to that pond. Many concerned people are there to help, including Mama, Ally and Grandma. Once they have helped the toads cross the busy road, they are ready to head back home, happy to have been of help when they were needed.

Sandra Markle is a prolific writer whose work informs and inspires. She lets her audience know - in  an author's note - that toad migration is a real event and that helpers are needed to ensure that the toads are protected as they search for a breeding ground. Thomas Gonzalez uses pastels and colored pencils to create warm images of a family on a mission, and their rain-soaked neighborhood. He ensures that we always know where Ally is by looking for her beautiful polka-dot rain boots. Infusing light into the images he creates, we experience the warm glow of the family's shared experience and bask in the wonder of community.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, written by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $`19.99 ages 5 and up

"Soon more cats came to Miss Hazeltine's home. And more. And more. So many arrived that on a Monday at five o'clock, when everyone but Crumb was fast asleep, Miss Hazeltine ran out of milk. "I'm off to fetch a bucketful," she told Crumb, "and will be back before dark." Crumb watched her go. But by the time Miss Hazeltine rounded the road back home, the sun had set."

Miss Hazeltine has a love affair with cats. Because of  that love, she becomes a heroine of the best kind. She opens her home to cats who are abandoned, or lost, or in need of a safe place to prosper.

In the beginning she wonders if there will be any cats needing her help. To her great surprise there are many ... and they have their share of fears and timidity. Crumb is the shyest of the bunch. Miss Hazeltine has great understanding for each of their foibles and wants only to help them be their best selves. Lessons are taught to build their confidence, especially when faced with the broom, or how to deal with birds.

"Miss Hazeltine began her lessons at once.
In the morning, she taught Bird Basics.
In the afternoon, Climbing Up, followed
by Climbing Down.
At night was Scary Noises."

She is not reticent to share her own fears: mushrooms, owls, and the dark. Although unafraid of the dark, Crumb worries that he will never be brave. So, when Miss Hazeltine goes for the milk and gets into some trouble, who do you think helps her and brings her home safely?

"At Crumb's meow, the cats stared down the mushrooms.
They purred to drown out the owl's hoots.
And they pounced to be sure nothing lurked in the dark.
Then they formed a chain of cats to rescue Miss Hazeltine
from the ditch."

Birgitta Sif, as she has done in every one of her other books, brings these characters to glorious life. She gives them such expression and vulnerability. Her richly detailed artwork is fresh and full of charm. White space allows readers to focus on the way that her lively illustrations match Alicia Potter's appealing text, and vibrate with personality and comfort. There is so much to see and appreciate about her interpretation of this winsome story.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Doghouse, written and illustrated by Jan Thomas. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $9.50 ages birth and up

"Oh no!

The ball went into

Who will get it out?

Cow will!
Cow is BIG!
Cow is BRAVE!"

Oh, my gosh! If you have little ones and you have not yet shared books by Jan Thomas with them, you are missing a tremendous treat!

You may have met these friends before ... Pig, Duck, Mouse and Cow. If not, check your local library or book store for A Birthday for Cow (2008). They are sure to entertain and make you laugh. It's perfect for your birthday book collection.

In this new adventure, Cow is obviously at fault when their bright red ball is kicked straight into the doghouse. YIKES! They are all terrified at the prospect of being brave enough to retrieve it. With a lot of prodding by Mouse, Cow moves forward. When she doesn't come back, Mouse is quick to suggest that there are many reasons for Pig to go next.

When Pig doesn't come back, Mouse has a new idea:

"Duck will!
Duck is uh ...
Duck is  ... well ...
Duck is NOISY!


Duck does not come back. Now, Mouse is all alone!
When Mouse quietly wonders if Duck can come out, Dog's answer terrifies him further and Mouse flees. The surprise ending is the icing on the cake for this sure-to-please tale of friendship and misunderstanding. 

Using repetition, bold colors, expressive faces and a funny premise, Jan Thomas assures that young readers will love her story and want to read it repeatedly to anyone who will listen.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Animal Colors, written by Dawn Sirett. DK Canada, 2015. $8.99 ages 2 and up

" I'm a pink baby
farm animal with a
curly tail.

I'm gray and wrinkly
with a long nose called
a trunk.

I'm dark brown and
furry, and I have long

Interactive board books for little ones can be so much fun!  The writers at DK Publishing tend to find that fun, and present it in colorful, captivating ways. In this book about colors, parents are encouraged to read with their children. While doing so, they will help them to see and remember colors, as well as a wide ranging group of animals using a question and answer style.

The format for each double page spread is the same: four questions with four colors/patterns, and a guessing game concerning the animal being described.

"I'm a big,
farm animal."

Lift that black-and-white flap and read the captioned material:

"I'm a big
cow. Moo! I eat
grass all day and
I make the milk you drink.


Fun to read while providing new information and reinforcing what they already know, this book will hold attention and provide a game-like learning experience for little ones. A final larger, colorful flap offers a look at additional animals and birds while encouraging more active participation, a search and find game and a page which allows for color memory are all found in backmatter. The clear photographs and additional illustrations help young readers with recognition.  There is lots to learn here!

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Friday, June 26, 2015

we are all made of molecules, written by Susin Nielsen. Tundra Books. 2015. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"But it wasn't a baby growing inside her. It was cancer. It had started in her ovaries, and by the time they caught it, it had spread. She died a year and three months later. Now I'm thirteen, and I still miss her like crazy, because she was a quality human being. When I was seven, my day and I bought her a mug for her birthday that read WORLD'S BEST MOM ... " 

I tore through this book in an evening this past week. I have great admiration for Susin Nielsen's writing and have read each of her worthwhile and thoughtful books. She does not disappoint here. Her stories of compassion and understanding are perfect for adolescent readers.  

Life has not been great for thirteen-year-old Stewart and his family. His mother's death, after battling cancer, has left he and his father feeling vulnerable and alone. He's happy that his father has found someone else to love; he and Stewart are moving in with Caroline and her fourteen-year-old daughter Ashley. No two adolescents could be more different than they are.

Stewart is an academically gifted and socially awkward boy who must leave the small school that has protected and encouraged his learning and individuality. Ashley is not smart, very popular, and consumed by everything Ashley. She has no intention of making life easy for Stewart. My, what a setting for a book that will make readers laugh, be horrified, and find much to admire about both Stewart and Ashley. Stewart is easy to love; Ashley takes time. Both are worth knowing, and certain to be memorable.

Told in alternating voices, we are acutely aware of the difficulties each is encountering as they forge a new way of living.


Alistair and I had an awesome morning. First, we spent a long time in the basement, working on my bicycle. This is a pet project of mine; a few months ago I bought a used ten-speed for just sixty dollars, and I'm converting it into an electric bike. I'm trying to do the entire conversion for under one hundred dollars, which is a challenge, but doable."


OH. MY. GOD!!!!

Can my life just be normal for twenty-four hours without one of my family members ruining everything? Is that too much to ask?
Lauren and I had a great sleepover. We played music really loud and sang along. We also experimented with makeup. When we were done, we voted on whose makeup job looked best and I won. Then we went to Facebook, and Lauren showed me Jared's home page, because she is 'friends' with him. "Did he friend you?" I asked. "No, I friended him," she replied, which made me feel better."

So authentic and memorable, humorous and honest. They are two classic characters who will wend their way into your heart. The focus is on family in its many guises, and is heartwarming and believable. It is also emotional and powerfully captured by a truly accomplished writer. Adolescent readers are sure to see themselves in the hallways of Borden Secondary. Finding ways to change the culture that is rampant in so many schools is a compelling read, and the ending is hopeful and encouraging - we are, after all is said and done, all made of molecules. Family life, in this new normal, is not easy to navigate for anyone involved. How each member of the blended family manages to deal with the changes is the stuff of great books.

This is a great book.