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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Worm Loves Worm, written by J. J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

""You'll need to get rings
to wear on your fingers,"
says Cricket. "That's how
it's always been done."

"But we don't have fingers,"
says Worm.

"We can wear them like
belts," says Worm."

Is getting married ever simple these days? Weddings seem to be much more complicated than they need to be; just ask Worm and Worm. They love each other, and want to get married. It seems pretty straightforward ... until Cricket and a host of other friends feel the need to offer advice and be heard when it comes to the planning.

Cricket insists that someone be there to perform the ceremony ... and volunteers his services. Worm and Worm are now ready to be married. Beetle steps in to say he will act as 'best beetle'. Fine, now they can be married!

Do you see where I am going with this? At every turn, someone else feels the need to make a personal suggestion for the wedding. The two worms are deferential to all advice given. They respond patiently, and with aplomb. Then, the bees present ideas that require help from Spider to get the show on the road.

"But you still need
a white dress,
a tuxedo, a top hat,
lots and lots of flowers,
and a cake with frosting,"
say the Bees."

Finally, they can be married!

One more question needs to be answered - who is the bride and who is the groom?

Worm and Worm, who love each other and want to be married for that reason alone, stand tradition on its ear and come up with the perfect response. Huzzah!

Mike Curato uses white backgrounds to keep our attention focused on the cast of wedding characters as they 'worm' their way into the planning and execution of the ceremony that results following a stated desire to be together. We know which worm is which because of their eyes. What we know best is that they love each other.

And on this Valentine's Day, we can be happy that love does conquer all!
                                                                            

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Swimming, Swimming, written and illustrated by Gary Clement. Groundwood Books, 2015. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"Swimming, swimming
In a swimming pool.
When days are hot
When days are cold
In a swimming pool.
Breaststroke
Sidestroke
Fancy diving too!
Oh don't you wish you
never had anything else
to do?"

On freezing cold days on the Canadian prairies, as today is, most people living here allow themselves to dream about the weather warming and the fact that summer will come again. No matter how HARD that is to believe when the wind chill temperatures dip into the mid -40s! Perhaps that dreaming includes happy days at the pool.

This song was always a go-to favorite when I was teaching in early years classrooms. It is a song that I sing daily to my granddaughter, who doesn't mind if I am off-key, so long as I am singing. How cool is that?

With kindergartners, we used the actions shown in the video at the end of this post. It was great fun! We will try that as Sicily gets older. In the meantime, I will put this fun book on her shelf to share with her when she is next here for a visit. Maybe we will even make a trip to the pool where I once swam.

The public outdoor swimming pool at the fairgrounds was one of our haunts on hot summer days when we were growing up. The water was clear and COLD, and we loved that. I looked forward to spending time with my friends and to taking swimming lessons there. So many people, so much noise, and always a great deal of fun to be had.

This could be our story .... friends at the pool on a summer day. It's pretty ordinary but most enjoyable nonetheless.  There are four of them - three boys and a girl. The swim stroke endpapers are inviting and informative, including each of the book's characters in one of the demonstrations. The main character is obviously a swimming enthusiast. It is easy to tell by the posters that enhance his walls, the swimming paraphernalia on his floor. Once ready for the walk to the pool, he meets his friends at the end of the sidewalk and they are off for a day of exercise and sun.

It is wordless until the four are finally fully wet, and in the water. Then, they burst into a song about the joys of being just exactly where they are. Once they are out of the pool, we return to silence and depend on Gary Clement's pen and ink and watercolor images to finish their tale. The boy returns home, has dinner, feeds his fish and heads for bed. It's the end of another fun-filled summer day!

This book should be on the desks of city councillors struggling with the need to cut the budget, and planning to do so by closing community swimming pools! These pools do now, and have always, brought joy and lasting memories for those kids who flock to swim there. Please, try to remember that when making decisions about the cuts that must be made.

Check out http://www.groundwoodbooks.com/swimalong if you want to see how to act out this perennial favorite.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Over-Scheduled Andrew, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. Tundra Books, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Andrew was a natural actor, but even naturals have to practice. His teacher suggested that he work on his public speaking by joining the debate club. As Andrew's voice got stronger, so did his arguments."

There is so much that Andrew wants to, and can, do! His many interests leave him over-extended and overwhelmed at times. He just doesn't know how to put the brakes on his enthusiasm.

His love for theatre has him joining the debate team to improve his diction and public speaking skills. Then, it's ballet and karate. But, that isn't all. What about chess, the French film club ... can there be more? Indeed, there can be.

"Andrew was busy. Three days a week he stayed after school for
one of his clubs.

Afterwards, he went to ballet or karate then home for dinner, homework and bed."

To be fair, the choices made are not at the insistence of Andrew's parents. His teacher suggests the debate club; Calvin suggests chess; his coach asks him to play tennis, Chris needs a school newspaper editor; even Grandma has an idea - the bagpipes.

His friendship with Edie is faltering: he can find no more than fifteen minutes to be with his best friend. It isn't long until his work suffers at almost every turn.

"Andrew's schedule was getting all mixed up in his head.
He danced his way through debate club.

He argued his way through karate.

He honked his way through tennis.

And he backhanded his chess match."

He slept through what he most loved to do, and missed spending time with Edie. I sense a change coming!

Plenty of white space allows readers a clear look at all that Andrew is attempting to accomplish in a day. The digital images give us expressive characters in colorful outfits, appropriate to the activity being pursued. Endpapers show what Andrew's schedule looks like, including sleeping in until 5:30 a.m. on SATURDAY! What the what?!?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lizard from the Park, written and illustrated by Mark Pett. Simon & Schuster, 2015. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"In the morning, Leonard
noticed something.
The egg began to jiggle
and crack. Then a nose
busted through the shell.
It was a lizard! Leonard
watched as the lizard
busted through the rest
of the shell ... "

On a shortcut through the park, while on his way home one day,  Leonard happens upon an egg ... unlike any he has ever seen. Popping it in his backpack, he takes it with him. Leonard spends the rest of his day playing with the egg, and then sleeping with it, too.

Morning brings movement, and a great deal of excitement when he discovers that a lizard has hatched! Immediately naming his new friend Buster, Leonard takes him on a walkabout to all of his favorite city haunts. The two spend all their time together. Time passes, causing Leonard to take note of Buster's ever-changing size.

"Meanwhile, the bigger Buster got,
the more Leonard had to disguise
him so that he would fit it among the
city crowds."

The growing doesn't stop. It takes patience and a good deal of ingenuity to assure Buster's happiness in a more familiar setting.

In this most enjoyable visit to New York City, Mark Pett uses charcoal and digital paints in a muted, gentle palette for the backgrounds while keeping Leonard and Buster the center of our attention. Leonard is a dear and loyal friends who does what is best for Buster. If you were carefully watching, you will not be surprised to see that Leonard soothes his loneliness with someone who knows exactly how he feels.
                                                                       

                                                                       

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How Things Came to Be: Inuit Stories of Creation, by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley and illustrated by Emily Fiegenschuh and Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2015. $16.95 ages 8 and up

"As Inuit say it, this was the most sensible way to view the world. Did it not require a power, of some kind, to make the Sun shine? They believed that the powers of the first beings were greatest of all. So great that they could become whatever they wished. A person could become the Sun itself, or the Moon. It was will that drove all. Rage, fear, love: these could move the Land and Sea."

There are nine stories told here. Their topics range from the birth of children, to the origins of the sun and moon, day and night, even thunder and lightning. 

A detailed introduction will help young readers to understand Inuit beliefs about the Land:

"Inuit watched the Land. They understood that little things
become the great powers of the world. A snowflake becomes part of
a storm. A ripple in the water joins a great tide. A ray of light is the
sun's warmth, melting away winter snow.
One who hears a story may remember it, and with memory
may come understanding. The child grows with understanding."

A note 'about endings' and a Glossary of Inuktitut Terms bring the book to a close. In between, the nine stories will entertain and inform with clear and straightforward language. They can be read together or separately, on one day or over many. The contain new ideas that may become clearer in subsequent visits. The invite discussion with others.

"Once stone and soil had fallen, babies came. They emerged from the Land like flowers. Life came from the Land. There was little difference between animals and humans. All were equal beings. Every creature could understand every other. They lived with each other. Learned from one another. They were family."

The illustrations are attractive, and keep to the tone and imagery of the stories being shared. The colors are varied and reflect the mood of the telling. The authors are avid folklorists, sharing their stories in hopes that others will appreciate the land that gives life and sustenance to all creatures. This is another book worthy of our attention. Through its stories we gain awareness of the creation myths that have long been part of the oral tradition of the Inuit people.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. Written by Nadia Spiegelman and illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez. A TOON Graphic, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $23.95 ages 7 and up

"So, today we are going to the
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING,
and we'll be learning a bit about
the subway along the way.
What are YOUR favorite trains?

The Q train because it goes over
a bridge!
The G train because it's so little.
The L because when it goes under
the river, my ears pop."

Pablo and his family have made many moves; he has already attended five previous schools. When he arrives at his newest, he just wants his parents to drop him and be on their way. On his first day there, he discovers that he and his classmates are taking a field trip to the Empire State Building. Some start!

After a class discussion of the subway system, they are on their way. Pablo's previous changes in schools have left him wanting to make no real connections since he is likely to be leaving anyway. So, Alicia's attempts to be befriend him are met with some hesitation. However, when the two become separated from the rest of the class, Pablo tries to accept her help. With his resistance and her persistence, they are soon squabbling over what they should do.

His self-assurance soon finds Pablo alone, and trying to navigate the underground subway system to get himself to the class destination. The trip is some introduction to his new school, his new environs and perhaps a new friend.

The story is straightforward, as well as being a teacher's nightmare. Adults and young readers are sure to respond in markedly different ways to the trip. What child wouldn't love the adventure that awaits when separated from the group? It's a chance to prove oneself when facing down the butterflies felt for being on your own in a new place. It takes ingenuity and courage to be successful ... which Pablo thankfully is.

The art is what lifts the book to an even higher level. Sergio Garcia Sanchez amazes with his architectural details of the city from above the ground, and from the underground transportation system that is an iconic part of a New Yorker's life. The crowds, the ever-present signs, the map of the field trip itself, and the feeling that is evoked for anyone visiting the Big Apple are accurately  detailed and unmistakable. The cutaways add another dimension, as do the many perspective changes. We are not done there. The author and illustrator also include information concerning the construction and history of the subway systems, archival photos, and endpaper maps of both the underground and aboveground trips.

End matter includes 6 pages of details concerning subway history, more photos, and a list for further reading, including online resources. Don't miss the story of Sergio and the cop on his first day in New York. It will send you right back to reading it all over again ... and upping the joy for having such an incredible book in your hands.
                                                                    

Monday, February 8, 2016

Loula and Mister the Monster, written and illustrated by Anne Villeneuve. Kids Can Press, 2015. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"That night, Loula is too worried to sleep. She calls a meeting. "Mister, this is a serious matter. If you don't stop with the bad manners, Mama will throw you out, like an old pair of shoes! What would I do without you?" Loula gives Mister a kiss goodnight. "Don't worry, I'll think of something," she tells him as she drifts off to sleep. "I'm going to turn you into ... "

How big a mess do you suppose one Great Dane can make? Loula loves Mister with gusto. They go everywhere together ... and life is good! When Loula overhears a conversation that her mother is having about the MONSTER that is driving her mad, she assumes she must mean  the drooling, messy, bulldozer of a dog that is her best friend.

What can Loula do to make things better? She thinks long and hard, then settles on teaching him
some much-needed manners. How do you think that will go? She bathes him, dresses him in her father's tie, and tries to teach him table manners. Those darn cheese tarts are just too tempting! A lack of cleanliness and eating etiquette lead to disillusionment and a thoughtful sit on the front step.

Of course, Gilbert the chauffeur steps in, offering whatever help he might give. Lesson Three is a disaster, but Four offers promise. Five is impossible. Six is a disaster. A return home and a visit with her mother provides a surprise ending - and a reprieve for Mister and his loving owner.

Once again, Anne Villeneuve uses ink and watercolor to give her readers a real sense of the love shared, and the terror and chaos caused by an exuberant, hilarious dog. She uses every bit of each page to ensure we are thoroughly entertained while also experiencing a sense of dread over what might happen when all attempts to socialize Mister fail. Laugh out loud funny, this is a wonderful addition to this very appealing series.

If you haven't yet met Loula, you are in for a lovely time when you finally do!