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Saturday, July 21, 2018

I'm Sad, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Redpath Ohi. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Why do sad things happen? 
That's just the way it is.
But WHY is that just the way 
it is? 
Because if it were any other
way, then THAT would be
the way it is and it's not that
way. It's this way.

That doesn't make any sense 
at all."

Poor Flamingo! Filled with sadness, and concerned that the misery will never leave, he shares his thoughts with a lively little girl, and a potato. After a lot of empathetic sighing, the potato suggests that some cheering up might help. The little girl, exuberant and full of ideas, suggests ice cream, hockey, jungle adventures, spy stuff. All the while she is smiling and coming up with further suggestions, potato has only one solution ... DIRT! Nothing works.

Flamingo expresses another worry:

"Will you still like me if 
I'm sad again tomorrow? 

I don't like you just 
when you're happy. 
I like you all the time. 
When you're sad or angry 
or bored or anything else."

What a wonderful way to help young readers make some connections and gain understanding for feelings, and how we express them!  The two creators perfectly communicate the dialogue that happens between the three friends by using color coding - a different color for each speaker. It provides an ideal book for a shared and expressive read. What fun for all!

The text is appealing, and shrewd. The digital artwork matches the tone of the telling with plentiful white space and lovable characters whose demeanor is always obvious. Potato's final response, both verbal and evident in its depiction, provides a lighthearted moment and a splendid outcome. 

Don't miss this one ... and if you haven't yet read I'm Bored (Simon & Schuster, 2012), check that one out as well. You will not be sorry; nor will your listeners be.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Seven Pablos, written by Jorge Lujan and illustrated by Chiara Carrer. Translated from Spanish by Mara Lethem. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $26.95 ages 6 and up

"There is also a Pablo living in
Ecuador. His home is in a part of
the Amazon jungle that is almost
impossible to reach. His mother
picks fruit for a living.
One day, a group of musicians
cross the dry riverbed and arrive
in his village. They add their songs
to the trills of the jungle. Pablo and
his mother are moved by their music.
Later, when the musicians drive off
in their ramshackle truck ... "

It is so important for all children to know the stories of other children who live in our world. There is much to learn when you consider those children, their circumstances, and respect the differences that exist child to child. Not only do they learn about other cultures, religions, and the wants and needs of each, they also learn about other places in the world and the history of those places. Kids have so many questions about everything ... they are constantly inquisitive. Sharing the lives of others builds understanding and empathy.

This story of seven boys, all named Pablo and living under varying circumstances in both North and South America, will be eye-opening and enlightening for every child who has a chance to hear their stories through thoughtful and memorable text. Jorge Lujan introduces each boy and offers a brief look at the life they lead. Each of their stories is told on two double page spreads and accompanied by telling images created by Chiara Carrer in color and graphite pencil. From Chile, to Ecuador, to Mexico, to New York, to Peru, to Rio de Janeiro, and ending in a trip from Mexico to the United States ...

"Pablo was born in Chiapas, Mexico, and is now on his way
to the U. S. border by train. His father was the first to cross,
followed by his mother. Both walking.

After two failed attempts, when border patrol sent him back,
Pablo sets out again. This time he wears his mother's
wedding ring around his neck."

These are children we don't often see, and we need to know their stories.

It is a book that is never too much for the children sharing it; it does, however, suggest some very complex issues. We learn only a little about each of the Pablos; the observations shared leave readers with questions concerning their future. What an excellent way to begin important conversations!  Honest and compelling, it deserves your attention.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Mason Jar Science: 40 Slimy, Squishy, Super-Cool Experiments, by Jonathan Adolph. Storey Publshing, Thomas Allen & Son. 2018. $22.95 ages 8 and up

"You think growing bigger takes a long time? Try being a stalactite. Those drippy columns you see in caves grow just a few inches every thousand years! You can observe how they do it by growing your very own string of stalactite crystals. The best part is, it won't take a thousand years! (More like a week.) Set up your experiment where no one will touch it, check your drip bowl every day, and watch what happens."

The table of contents shows that the purpose for this fun book begins with the importance of science, the reason for using mason jars, and also for using the scientific method to solve some of the mysteries of the natural world. The five sections include learning in chemistry, earth science, botany, biology and physics. That seems to cover it! Back matter has a glossary, a metric conversion chart, a barometric pressure chart and finally, an index. It is filled with fun, and a whole lot of learning.

The title reveals that there are forty experiments to try. The kids have been home now for a while, and might be looking for something new and different to do with new discoveries to be made and understood. This book is sure to inspire them. It would be a great instruction manual for a summer science camp.

The author begins each new section with a description of the science being explored, and then goes on to share ideas for activities sure to entice readers into making their own discoveries by following a clearly designed plan for each. An introductory paragraph gives pertinent facts and connections. A list of materials needed and clear instructions for using those materials follow. Experimenters are encouraged to observe carefully what happens, and are given an explanation for what they see. Information boxes are useful, citing Science In Real Life, Speak Like a Scientist, Tell Me More, and Take It Further.

The mason jar is the perfect container for many reasons; they are very effective as the reader moves from one experiment to the next, all the while using this versatile, inexpensive, and often found in the home receptacle. Clear and useful photographs accompany the investigations. So much here to try for those who are 8 and up, but also fun to do with little ones as long as they have some adult supervision while making their discoveries.

Low-cost and easy to try, while teaching children what they need to know about the science that is part of our every day life, this is a book that will make some long summer days more exciting and informative. Perfect for summer diversion, but worthwhile for any middle grade science class as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Step Up To The Plate, Maria Singh, written by Uma Krishnaswami. Tu Books, Lee & Low, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"After communion, everyone got back onto their trucks and drove the short distance to the picnic area at Los Picachos. Usually the Mexican Hindu families talked over each other at the tops of their voices, a small, tight community in the larger world that did not understand them. Today, the conversation was subdued. Even Tia Manuela was quiet, her laughter dampened. The sun shone cheerfully upon those low hills west ... "

Historical fiction brings new learning and interest in others to many young readers. It provides an opportunity to live in times past, and to develop an understanding for those whose lives have not followed the same path as their own. It has long been a favorite type of book for me. I absolutely love it when I read a book that teaches me about something I had not known.

That is exactly what happened when I read this wonderful book about Maria Singh and her adha-adha community. Adha-adha means half and half. Maria's father is from India and a Sikh, while her mother is from Mexico and a Catholic. Such communities were not unusual in California in the 1940s, following World War II.

Maria's story concerns both cultures; the men who came to the US through Mexico due to anti-Indian immigration laws. Their Hispanic wives have journeyed north with them, and they have settled on land, often rented. This means that their lives there are determined by their landlords. When the man who owns the land her father has farmed decides to sell, the family is thrown into unease. The government will not allow him to buy the land as he has no standing in the country.

That is not Maria's only concern. Maria loves baseball, and one of the teachers at her school is willing to coach a girls' team. Maria wants to play, but must first convince her father to allow it. Then, she must enlist her mother's help to make her father see that shorts, not a dress, are needed for her to play well. Finally, she must 'step up to the plate' in support of a new baseball field in their community.

Though the two cultures are very different, the author handles the storytelling with great care in helping readers see that working together and having respect for each other goes a long way toward tolerance and acceptance of those differences. Some problems are significant; others not as life-changing. Maria learns this, learns from the discoveries she makes and moves forward to a better understanding. There are a number of issues presented, but the author manages to keep her readers engaged as they consider the impact of each on Maria, her family and her community.

There is much to learn in this well-written and emotional tale about Indian independence, about racism and conflict, about community, and about culture. It is eye-opening and hopeful in the story it presents.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Hollow Under the Tree, by Cary Fagan. Groundwood, 2018. $16.95 ages 9 and up

"Ninety years ago, when these events occurred, parents didn’t worry so much about children being outside on their own. From a young age they walked to school alone and visited friends or went to the store to fetch a tin of baking powder or a spool of thread. But even then, children were not supposed to be out at midnight. Sadie did feel bad about deceiving her father, but she couldn’t see any other way."

I don't know about you; I love to read books that seem implausible while also being remarkably plausible. Kids do, too. Such books make them feel less vulnerable, I think. I finished reading this fine book on Sunday while I was watching the ball game, and wanted to get right to telling you about it. Many readers will find it worth their time.

Sadie Menken lives with her father, the pieman. They live in Toronto in 1925, at the very time a circus train car derails and a wary, frightened lion is let loose to find shelter and protection from the elements. That lion makes its new home in High Park which is very near where Sadie lives. Sadie loves the park but doesn't have time to visit it regularly. Her job after school is delivering pies to her father's many customers. Her final stop each day is at the Kendrick family mansion. There she meets the young boy of the family, Theodore Junior. The two become firm friends.

One of her few visits to the park has Sadie coming face to face with the lion, who has found the perfect hiding place in a 'hollow under the tree.' He is hungry, and Sadie begins trading pies with the butcher to get scraps of meat to feed him. The arrangement doesn't last long; Sadie must find a new source of food. That is where Theo Junior becomes an accomplice in feeding and in keeping quiet about the new park resident. Together, they visit their new friend and work to keep him a secret.

Miss Clemons, a retired librarian and newspaper enthusiast, boards with the Menken family and loves to share news items. One is of the monster that is living in High Park and killing animals and birds at will. A police search reveals no monster, thanks in large part to the action taken by Sadie and Theo Junior, who have found the lion a temporary refuge in the Kendrick garage. Until a group of school bullies make a startling discovery when harassing Theo and Sadie late one evening.

What happens next will bring smiles of delight to readers, and a sense of contentment. This is an amusing and entertaining story that is sure to please readers wanting books to read on their own. It moves along quickly, and offers numerous topics of interest.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Tale of Angelino Brown, written by David Almond and illustrated by Alex T. Smith. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"When Betty and Angelino get home after school, Betty starts making Bert's favourite: shepherd's pie with carrots and cabbage and lots of gravy. It's not the kind of food for Angelino, so she makes him a little bowl of raspberry jelly with banana yogurt and three mini gumdrops on top. It's dark when Bert comes through the door, and the stars are starting to shine. Bert kisses Betty. He pats Angelino's little head."

I'm reading some terrific middle grade novels this week. This is one of them.
I have great admiration for David Almond's writing. He is adept at character development and creating stories that draw young readers into this world that can be quite magical. Such is the case with Angelino Brown, and his very supportive 'family.'

Bert Brown is a grumpy bus driver, not much enjoying his passengers, his route or his daily grind, when he experiences a strange feeling in his chest. Thinking the worst, he supposes he is having a heart attack until he reaches into his shirt pocket and finds a tiny angel there. Bewildered by the turn of events and knowing that he should take the angel straight to his wife, he takes the tiny mite home with him. Betty opens her arms and welcomes the tiny angel into their home with love, food, and a place to sleep. The two, who lost their own young son, have love to share. They name him Angelino and he quickly becomes part of their family.

Betty takes him to the school where she works preparing food for staff and students. The children take to him immediately, and Angelino has a home away from home. The Acting Head of the school is not nearly as pleased as she is doing her best to keep a low profile and win back favor with higher authorities. Never mind that, the children do their best to teach him to communicate and to play soccer.

No one knows that two scoundrels are watching Angelino's every move; they have plans to kidnap  and sell him. The opportunity arises and Angelino disappears, leaving the Browns and his school friends overcome with worry and emotion. They do everything they can to find him and get him back. In the meantime, readers learn something about the two who have kidnapped him. They have not had easy lives. Bullied and abandoned, they are working hard to better themselves. Readers will feel empathy for their plight, and for their run-in with Basher.

Mr. Almond's storytelling hits at the heart, showing that every one of us is influenced by our upbringing and environment. A little love and understanding (with an angelic touch) can make all things more promising, and bring a change of circumstance for almost everyone involved.

Humorous, heartfelt, kind and magical. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sun, written and illustrated by Sam Usher. templar books, Candlewick. Penguin Random House, 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Granddad said, "Let's have a
rest." And I said, "What else
are we looking for, Granddad?"
And he said, "Somewhere with
a cool breeze."

So Granddad navigated and I
looked out. I said, "What
about this way, Granddad?"

The sun beat down."

The past two weeks here have been hard to bear with heat and high humidity. I know I may be one of the few who voice a complaint - our winters are long. But, the high humidity causes problems for many and has the weather network constantly offering heat advisories and reminding people to stay inside, keep hydrated and lessen their movement if they must be outside. It is good advice.

It definitely makes this third in a series of weather books from Sam Usher apt for today. Following Snow (2015) and Rain (2017), today I want to tell you about SUN. 

It is a very warm read, both figuratively and realistically. It features the same young boy and his ever-patient and congenial Granddad. It's sunny in the early morning. The boy wants an adventure.

"I said, "It's hotter than broccoli soup,
hotter than the Atacama Desert,
and hotter than the surface of the sun."

Granddad said, "It's the perfect day     
for a picnic."

After packing their provisions, and making the decision for who would navigate and who would scout, they are off on the day's adventure. Their search for the perfect place to have their picnic is hindered by the intolerable heat from the blazing sun. It beats down on them every step they take. The road is long. Granddad often needs a stop to rest, allowing more time to navigate and decide on their next plan of action. Granddad voices his requirements for the ideal spot as they walk on: picturesque, shade, a cool breeze. Their arrival at darkened cave brings a cool place and a big surprise!

Their experience at navigation and looking out holds them in good stead with those who arrived in the cave before they did. A shared picnic also wins them favor. An adventure, indeed, and a boisterous picnic to boot! What more could a grandfather and his beloved grandson ask? Their long journey proves that you never know what you will find unless you keep looking.

Look, then look again and again. There is a lot to see in the watercolor illustrations that help to tell this story of family love and friendship. Kids will be especially attracted to the double page spread of the many provisions needed to ensure a grand adventure and delicious picnic for two. Checking it out is sure to inspire some stories of their own.