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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, written by Kathleen Benson and illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"By the time they were teenagers, most of Benny's friends went to work in the fields full-time. But Benny was miserable there. Every row of crops was the same as the other row. The hot sun beat down through the straw hat on his head. The hoe was heavy in his hands. Benny dreamed of leaving. He did not have a clear plan, but he knew the first step ..."

In this brief look at Benny Andrews, his life and art, Kathleen Benson shows her admiration for the man and his mission. She begins with a lovely and telling note about the man himself, who knew that children in New Orleans were suffering following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

"The artist Benny Andrews traveled from New York City to Louisiana to work with those children. He showed them how to draw pictures of what they had seen, to use art to express their feelings about what they had been through. He knew from his own experience how important this kind of self-expression was."

He most certainly did. For years, Benny had been drawing life as he saw it. He was only 3 when his art career began. He took a careful look at his world, and made art from his surroundings. While attending church he created mind pictures that he would later put to paper. At school, the other children knew he was an artist. He was constantly drawing what he saw and heard.

While his friends went to work in the cotton fields, Benny dreamed of being anywhere but there. He knew that he needed further education, and was allowed to attend high school. He walked there and back, always thinking about a bigger world. Upon graduation, he went to college, then joined the air force. Following his service, he moved to Chicago for art school.

Inspired by the people he saw, he honed his craft and became a 'master of movement' on the painted canvas. Always working at his art, Benny became an advocate of art for everyone. His success as a working artist allowed him to share that art, and teach his students to draw what they saw ...just as he did.

As moving as the story of his life's work is, the artist's own art graces the pages to give readers a clear look at the man and to honor his art.

A 2003 photograph of the artist faces an author's note and list of sources and resources in back matter. An extensive and detailed timeline chronicles his amazing life and his many worthy accomplishments. Finally, each of the images used to illustrate this excellent picture book biography are described by title, medium and date.

The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices, written by Joan Bransfield Graham and illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker. two lions, 2014. $17.99 ages 8 and up

Step on -
I am wheels
and gears,
I am speed.
I will heed
your slightest
I will take you
I am wind ... "

Have you ever experienced writer's block? There are days for me when sitting to think about and write a post for a new book just doesn't happen. Luckily, on other days, it seems that words come easily and posts are quickly written. But, I have NEVER known the kind of problem Ryan O'Brian is experiencing. Ryan can't STOP writing poetry; thankfully, that is what assures his story will be of real interest to this book's audience.

It is constructed as one poem that tells the whole story. Included in the story are 22 poems enveloped by Kyrsten Brooker's energetic, textured mixed media artwork. Ryan's poems are reflective of his days and experiences. He continuously scribbles words, on anything and with any medium ... all day and all night. Will he ever be able to stop?  What will it take?

In back matter readers will find pages from Ryan's notebook constructed as a glossary to describe the fifteen poetic forms used to tell his story, as well the five voices used to create them. Examples are provided, and all are sure to influence aspiring poets and writers.

It's a great ride, and a useful mentor text for middle years classrooms.                 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

HOOT OWL: Master of Disguise. Written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"And here I come!

The night has
a thousand eyes,
and two of them
are mine.
I swoop through
the bleak blackness
like a wolf in the air.
And look there ... "

Hoot Owl knows that he is expert at predatory exploits. He has no concern whatsoever for tracking, tricking and taking the food that he needs to sustain himself. He does so with a healthy dose of confidence and villainy. Rather than chase, he disguises himself.

His prey (a rabbit, a lamb, a pigeon) are remarkably unconcerned with his sly hunting tactics. Each time he tries to prevent discovery, the prey catches on and makes an hasty exit. Hoot Owl is always willing to wait. When all seems lost, he spots the perfect victim. Once again he disguises himself; this time, he is a waiter which seems appropriate since that is all he has been doing in his attempts at securing sustenance. His final opportunity comes with a totally unexpected prey that cannot flee. His hunger finally sated, the Owl is tired of trickery and ready to be himself again. All is well.

The repetitive text, and its exceptional accompanying artwork are sure to have little ones begging to hear it 'one more time, please!' You won't mind one bit. Just listen to Hoot Owl's refrain:

"Everyone knows
owls are wise.
But as well as
being wise,
I am a master
of disguise.

I devise a costume."

The fact that he disguises himself as a carrot, a mother sheep, and a birdbath add to the silliness, and will encourage little ones to try reading parts on their own. Hoot Owl has no mean bone in his body: each time he devises a costume, he merely sits patiently and waits while doing nothing about capturing a meal. It endears him to the audience, for sure.

Be sure to read this aloud with your family and with your students. It begs an emotive tone, and a strong, persuasive voice. You will have a ball!

Sweep Up the Sun, written by Helen Frost, with photographs by Rick Lieder. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"Spread your feathers,
sweep up the sun,

ride the wind and explore.

Take off in a new direction -
sweep and soar."

As they did so beautifully in Step Gently Out (Candlewick, 2012), Helen Frost and Rick Lieder bring their impressive talents to a new book focused on many common North American birds. Once again,  Ms. Frost has written one poem. Mr. Lieder's arresting close-ups provide a brilliant accompaniment to her lyrical words.

Most of the birds are in flight; the theme of the book, once again, is to provide encouragement for her young audience to get outside and see their world with new and focused eyes. Exploration is sadly lacking for so many children today. The beauty of the photographs begins with the front endpapers ... two tiny robins begging for food. Our robins are back in Manitoba; hopefully, it won't be long until they are nest building and family rearing.

Ms. Frost encourages those reading this gorgeous book to spread their wings, take careful risks and 'fly'. In back matter, the 11 birds shown so elegantly are described in detailed paragraphs. A visit to the backyard, some close observation might just be the ticket to a new pursuit ... birding. What joy awaits!



Friday, April 24, 2015

A Violin for Elva, written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"When she could have
been learning subtraction,
or should have been going
to sleep, she was playing
music only she could hear.
Summer, autumn, winter,
spring, Elva played. And
Elva grew. She outgrew her
sleeves, outgrew her shoes."

Elva is a dreamy young girl, wearing overalls and soaking her feet in a nearby stream when we first meet her. She seems delighted with the world. As she picks up her boots for the walk home, she stops in her tracks when she hears music. She watches through a hedge; but. she doesn't tell her parents. All she says to them is:

"I want a violin."

She is polite, she is self-assured. Her parents refuse. Elva has a solution ... she pretends. As she walks home from school, she uses a tennis racket and a tree branch for her performances. At home, she uses her toothbrush to prepare for her future success. Music consumes her. Throughout the seasons, throughout the years, Elva uses her imagination to make the music she loves.

Although she is very busy with her job, Elva never forgets how much she once wanted to play.

"I'm much too busy," Elva said, though she began to borrow records from the library downtown. At home, she listened to them. And then she felt she had picked up her violin again."

When she returns the records, the music stops. Nothing but silence. She does her best to fill the silence. And, she works. Years pass, Elva flourishes at her work and life. Suddenly she is too old to play the violin - or is she? Buying a much-loved instrument is the least of her worries. Learning to play on her own is a most difficult undertaking. There is so much to learn. Despite her ineptitude she perseveres.

Then, one day ... a solution presents itself in a newspaper ad.

Tricia Tusa's watercolor and ink artwork allows readers to dream along with Elva as she grows from young, impressionable girl to responsible working woman, and finally to an aging music lover with recurring dreams of making the music she loves. The pages are full of life and action; music permeates its pages. When Elva finally realizes her lifelong dream, we cannot help but smile seeing her stand with all of Madame Josephina's beginning students, proudly showing their skills in recital.

Brava, Elva!

Raindrops Roll, by April Pulley Sayre. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Raindrop spangles
mark angles.

They cling to curves
and cover cocoons.

Raindrops settle.
They slip.
They dot.
They drip."

This morning, here in Victoria, the raindrops are rolling. They are soft and gentle, and make the air feel cool and refreshing. I can already see spots of blue sky. I might be doing the same thing that April Pulley Sayre did in writing this beautiful new book ... gazing in wonder at the beauty that is rain!

With lively text and stunning photographs readers are drawn to the wonder of a rainstorm, and the beauty of the sunlight sparkle that often follows. Taking the time to be awed by natural phenomena is one of the real pleasures that can be found to do with no money at all. We just need to let our curiosity lead the way to the beauty of our own backyards and neighborhoods.

April Pulley Sayre uses the rhythm of our language to engage our ears while we observe the many amazing things that happen well before the rain starts, through the storm, when it subsides. Little has escaped her attention. Her camera, ever ready, captures the most delightful small moments while celebrating the storm.

Stunning in design, this book will capture attention and hopefully do just what its author intends ... get us out there with cameras and open eyes to see what we can see. The day matters not; the sensitive observation is what counts. There is such joy in this wondrous world of ours.

In the concluding pages, aspiring scientists are sure to be enticed by the information shared. Rain is explained in terms of its science: how clouds form, what raindrops look like, the many things that tiny raindrops do.

"You return raindrops to the sky. Your breath is moist and full of water. The water you breathe out may become part of a cloud. It may fall as rain on a mountain, far away. When your tears dry, the water vapor goes into the air and could someday rain down again too."

If you want to know more, Ms. Sayre provides a list of further resources.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything, written and illustrated by Calef Brown. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.95 ages 6 and up

Pigeon Frogs

Pigeon frogs!
Pigeon frogs! ...
All day long
they hop and flutter.
Snatching crumbs
and catching flies
with bobbing heads
and bulging eyes."

Can you see yourself asking your students to choose two animals they might combine for their similarities, create a new animal and write a poem about it? Using the above poem might be just the impetus they need to try their hand at that type of writing.

If they wrote with the irreverent humor that Calef Brown employs in his poetry, you would have some wonderful writing to post on your classroom door as an invitation for others to join you. Maybe then you could  also invite them in to share the fun that fills the pages of this new book. There are more than 80 entries and each is full of nonsense and wacky wordplay.

If you have read any of his earlier books, you will be anticipating full concentration and a lot of thinking as kids read and then reread his poetry. They will enjoy the way he plays with words, always creative and oftentimes gross. Little ones will be intrigued by the details of the silly drawings that so cleverly accompany these descriptions of strange animals, people and other creatures. Want poetry that is silly? Here, you have it!

Be sure to check out the footnotes, like the one that ends this poem:

Lou Gnome

Look who came back home
to Hoboken--
it's Lou Gnome!
Like the G in his name,
Lou is silent.
Completely nonviolent.
He doesn't speak,
even when spoken to.
None of the Gnomes in Hoboken do.

Those that are gnome-schooled
are required to recite the Pledge of the Wee-Gents,
sometimes at huge events.

'Gnome-schooled'? Witty is right ...


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking. Written by Elin Kelsey, with artwork by Soyeon Kim. Owlkids, 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"All around you,
creatures seek solutions.

Pigeons procrastinate.
Bees calculate.
Elephants innovate.
Bears keep count.

When orangutans feel
puzzled, they stop and

I wonder if you remember You Are Stardust, 2012. If you read it at the time, I am sure that you can see some of its beautiful dioramas in your head. In this second book, Elin Kelsey returns to science to help us think deeper.

She begins by explaining how difficult problems can be for those facing them. Facing them can, at times, result in the most remarkable discoveries. We don't have to look far to see how animals have adapted to their environment, and achieved more that any person might have thought possible. For us to make such discoveries, we just have to be willing to open our eyes to possibilities and to look closely so that we miss nothing.

"Step outside.
If squirrels can learn to cross roads
   by watching people,
      what can you learn by watching squirrels?"

There is much to see, and consider if you will just allow yourself to look with clear, bright eyes. Young readers are encouraged, in mindful lovely language, to look and learn from those around them, to use their imaginations, to see if they find solutions to some difficult problems. There is so much to see and to appreciate when you give yourself over to discovery.

The fascinating and exquisite dioramas constructed by Soyeon Kim have amazing textures that are sure to have all readers wanting to return to this book's pages to savor the details, the imaginative scenes, the variety in media. The cool green endpapers are festooned with sketches of the animals and their problem solving abilities.

Read it once, then twice, and then whenever you seek inspiration and beauty.


Please check this site:

Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero Waste World, written by Michelle Mulder. Orca Book Publishers, 2015. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"...But a few decades ago, here in Victoria, BC, my time on the beach would have been very different. From 1908 to 1958, city workers loaded all of Victoria's garbage onto barges and dumped it in the ocean. The tide washed it back to shore, though, and picnickers brought rakes to clear places to sit on the sand!"

A slight blip in the road today; this is not a book of poetry. It is a celebration for Earth Day. Enjoy!

I look forward with great anticipation to each new Orca Footprints edition. They have been beautifully designed, well researched and blessed with terrific writing. This one is no exception.

Michelle Mulder wants her readers to know the many ways in which garbage has become an issue around the world. As well she makes them aware of the inventive ways people are dealing with the trash that we create.

She has designed four chapters to share her research: a history of trash, what happens to our garbage when we sent it to the landfill or throw it in our waters, the organizations and people who are trying to make use of what many deem disposable, and the initiatives that are being developed to help deal with the massive amount of garbage we are producing.

As she has done in previous books, Ms. Mulder writes as if she is having a personal conversation with her audience. She includes personal observations and anecdotes from her travels and from her life in Victoria today to make us cognizant of simple solutions to some of the ways in which we dispose of unwanted and unneeded objects. Some of the information shared is astonishing and almost impossible to imagine. Take the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located north of Hawaii. The amount of garbage that floats at its centre is six times bigger than the entire United Kingdom, causing the death of one million birds and 100,000 marine animals every single year. How tragic is that ?

Many talented and determined people work endlessly, and with great success, to make a difference.
They find ways to distribute surplus foods, use discarded materials and other recyclables to construct new homes, furniture and even musical instruments. Governments around the world encourage variety in ways to deal with trash, from banning plastic bags to teaching how other people's junk might become treasure for someone. There are many useful suggestions for families wanting to do their part in creating a 'zero waste' world.   
The "Trash Facts" are interesting and inspiring. A wealth of impressive color photos, a table of contents, an index and a list of additional books, movies and websites add to the appeal and to the value of this thoughtful new edition. 

"Even so, sometimes recycling makes environmentalists nervous. First of all, melting down used materials to make a new product takes a lot of energy. In most places, the factories that recycle our waste use electricity made with coal. Coal is a fossil fuel, and burning it releases harmful gases that contribute to global warming. Also, many materials- like plastic- can only be recycled a few times. Each time, the product becomes more flimsy and more likely to wind up as garbage eventually. Second, much like burning garbage, recycling often makes people feel better about using something once and tossing it away. But the best thing for the environment is to throw away less in the first place."

Once again, she gives us pause to think and to change our ways.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Special Delivery, written by Philip E. Stead and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Please be gentle with him.
Do not bend him, or drop
him, or shake him much at
all. He is fragile and very
easily might break."

"You'll need a lot of stamps,

Even before I read the wonderful interview that Julie Donaldson did with Philip Stead and Matthew Cordell at a while back, I had made a personal connection with John Burningham's Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present (Candlewick, 2007). I love that book and it remains part of our Christmas collection of stories to be read every year! Now, I will add Special Delivery to my 'keeper' shelf as well.

What a premise! Sadie is a brave and resolute young girl with a purpose in mind, and the wherewithal to get the job done. She wants to send a package to her much-loved Aunt Josephine who lives alone and doesn't have much company. The package just happens to be an elephant. Sadie knows a mailbox won't work, so she goes straight to Jim at the post office. Sadie has specific instructions; Jim has a caution. When he shows her just how many stamps it will take, Sadie is pretty quick to find another option.

When one door closes, Sadie simply opens another one. Her neighbor Mary has a plane and a bit of a concern. Sadie is not one to be discouraged by naysayers. Soon, they are in flight and quickly in trouble. When they crash, an alligator catches Sadie's eye and proves reliable for the next phase of the journey.

Will Sadie succeed in her grand effort to show love and concern for dear Great-Aunt Josephine? Does she have the mettle to face all obstacles? Will she fulfill the promise she makes to the alligator as her way of thanking him for the assistance? I would bet on Sadie any day of the week, month, or year. If you want speed and unpredictability, this is the book for you. If you love to revisit a favorite story that has so much heart that you can hardly stand it, this is the book for you. If you love books where the art is as necessary to the telling as the words themselves, this is the book for you.

Matthew Cordell uses jaunty lines in pen and ink with watercolor to match the action and humor of this most enjoyable tale. The unrestrained motion and amusing details are brilliant in their execution and are sure to hold attention as young audience members pore over them once the reading is done.
Silly and totally captivating, this is a book you need to share!

In a recent post for the Nerdy Book Club, Philip E. Stead provided a perfect description of his new book for member nerds:

"Special Delivery is a book about postage stamps, and mail, and elephants, and monkeys, and bean eating, and kindness, and ice cream sandwiches, and ridiculousness, and alligators, and bubble gum, and determination, and airplanes, and hot chocolate. It's my most jumpy and disjointed absurd book yet. And, so, it's a bit surprise to me that I know that exact moment when this book came to life. One day over morning coffee a friend said to me, "Last night I dreamed I brought an elephant to the post office." "Oh, yeah?" I asked. "Where did you mail it?" "Nowhere," she answered. "I couldn't afford the postage."

Melvis and Elvis, written by Dennis Lee and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard. HarperCollinsPublishersLtd., 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Open this book,
And you will see
A secret path
Called POETRY.

Follow the path,
And you will find
A home for your heart,
And a treat for your mind."

Hooray! Dennis Lee is back, and we are happy to 'hear' his voice once again. Some of the poetry we loved to share when the kids were young were Alligator Pie, Garbage Delight, and Jelly Belly. They still have pride of place on our poetry shelf, and will surely be shared with my sweet granddaughter whenever she visits.

This new collection concerns Melvis (a monster) and Elvis (an elf), how they become friends and then find a book that suits both readers. It's strange; Melvis wants to read about elves while Elvis wants to read about monsters. Guess where they meet? In the library, of course. When they find a book about both elves and monsters, they settle in to share it.

Now, we can move on to page 2. The rest of the book comes directly from that shared book. Each short story is told in verse, and will surely tickle the funny bones of those reading it. Dennis Lee penned many poems before settling on the ones that would perfectly fit together for this brand new book for a young audience. There are more than thirty new verses, including:

To a Bully

We don’t like the measles,
And we don’t like the flu.
We don’t like bullies,
And we can’t stand you.

Each poem is full of fun and sure to entertain all who read them. It won't be long until you hear your little one repeating them endlessly. There are many Canadian references, a real bonus to my mind. They deal with subjects that kids find most charming and compelling: dinosaurs, food, animals, the playground. The rhymes are nonsensical at times, and full of witty wordplay. That makes them as enjoyable to read from the adult perspective as they are to be heard from the listener's.

Jeremy Tankard, as he is wont to do, creates boldly colored images to perfectly match the joy of the poetry. Every single one is illustrated according to its mood, whether quiet or boisterous. It is quite the magical pairing.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Should You Be A River: a poem about love, by Ed Young. Little, Brown & Company, Hachette. 2015. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"Should you be
a great forest,
I'll caress your
branches and make
you sway.

Should you be
a breeze,
I'll be ripples
dancing to
your tunes."

When Ed Young's wife died in 2007, his two daughters were young. In his role as single parent, he was tasked with loving them and learning to let them fly on their own. In this poetic reminder of the power that love has for each of us, he conveys a sense of his protective nature and his ability to let his girls take responsibility for finding themselves as the days and years passed.

The striking collages that accompany his poetic calligraphic text are made from torn paper and placed alongside photographs of trees, water and the sky. Every image is as powerful as the words they are designed to match. It is an engaging and lasting tribute to his wife and to their family, built be penning couplets that evoke the power of nature as it compares to the true power of love. They come from the heart, showing the pain of losing a loved one and honoring her memory.

It  is a brilliant journey, and a treasure to be kept in your own personal library.