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Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Chickens Are Coming, written and illustrated by Barbara Samuels. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"The next day Winston and
Sophie went out with their
baskets to collect the eggs.

There were no eggs, but
there was plenty of chicken

Three days later -
still not a SINGLE egg. All
the chickens did was roll in
the dirt."

I love the farm eggs we get twice each month, and I have learned from our farmers the joy that comes from raising chickens on pasture. Their eggs do not taste like any I buy in a grocery store. Raising chickens as egg producers is now becoming more popular in small urban backyards.

Winston and Sophie's community has a number of families raising chickens. When their mom sees a sign offering chickens for sale due to a move, she is interested. Soon the family is involved in creating a backyard environment for the chickens advertised. They have good reason for wanting to raise those birds. The children are excited for their arrival.

Five chickens in total! They run in fear from Winston's boisterous welcome. Days pass, and there are no eggs. Lots of chicken poop, not one egg! The chickens love to roll in the dirt, offering a new form of entertainment for a little boy. No matter what the children do, the chickens show absolutely no interest in egg laying. Music doesn't help, nor do stories. As the children do their best to make the chickens feel at home, they begin to learn about each unique personality.

"Desiree was the best flier.
Delilah was the most curious.
Divina was bossy. Dawn was shy.
And Daphne bumped into things."

The children spend much of their time with these new charges. When they finally begin finding eggs in every corner of the yard, they are upset to discover that, while there are eggs, there are no chickens! Kids will be overjoyed to learn where they are finally found, and what they are doing.

The colors are bright, the chickens captivating, and the work to keep them content is full of action and accommodations. The chicken's individuality is evident from the moment they arrive, and that adds an extra element of fun and frustration.

An author's note provides additional information, and is followed by Sophie's Chicken Chart which identifies each breed, their weight, country of origin, and the color and size of the eggs produced.                                                     

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Count on me, by Miguel Tanco. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"I've tried them all,
but they just aren't
for me.

There is one thing I really
like, though ... MATH!

Math is all around us.
It's often hidden,
and I love finding it."

Anyone who knows me is likely to tell you that math is not my thing. The math this little redhead has a passion for is what I do love about it. It was while I was teaching in a grade two classroom that I came to appreciate looking at the world in terms of mathematics. My students and I would make neighborhood excursions looking for patterns, and shapes, and the way math really was a part of our larger world.

In this little one's family, everyone has a passion. While hers is not the same as theirs, hers is very important to her and that is evident on every page. She notices math everywhere she looks. She knows there are many other things that might strike her fancy; math remains top of the list.

She shares with readers the many places math is found in her daily activities, on her won, with her family and even on vacation. She uses what she knows about math every single day. We all do; perhaps, we are not as aware of it as she is.

Miguel Tanco does a very thorough and enjoyable job of showing his audience how enveloping mathematical concepts truly are. Each turn of the page shows exactly how prevalent: a checker board, the gradation in containers of art supplies, carpet design, cabinets, even the curve of a tuba ... limitless! Math is but one way to look at our surroundings.

In a personal notebook that follows the text, readers are treated to visuals of some of the math concepts explored throughout this very appealing book.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Finding Baba Yaga: A Short Novel in Verse, by Jane Yolen. Tor, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $!4.50 ages 12 and up

"The longer I am in these woods,
I learn words.
I become cornucopic
with language
which rolls around my mouth
like dark chocolate,
like butterscotch,
like peppermint.

There's no one to caution my tongue,
no one to soap my mouth,
no one to bridle my brain."

I have always been drawn to Jane Yolen's writing. Some of her books remain favorites, and have a permanent place on my 'keepers' shelf. When I read about this verse novel, I knew that I would like to see a copy. Thanks to Fernanda at Raincoast for sending it to me.

As she has done before, Ms. Yolen blends traditional folklore with present-day sensibility to bring readers an engaging story about Natasha, a runaway whose emotional journey leads her to Baba Yaga and her little house with chicken feet.

An opening poem tells readers this is a not the story they think it is going to be.

"Stories retold are stories remade.
A sorrowing girl in a house.
An old witch with iron fillings.
A hut in the wood,
in the meadow, in the hood.

This is a tale
both old and new,

borrowed, narrowed,
broadened, deepened.

You think you know this story.
You do not."

What an invitation to jump right in and be immersed in this old story, told new. In a series of chapters, readers learn what life is like in a house that has no peace. A domineering and abusive father makes life so difficult that Natasha sees no solution but to run away to find herself and some peace.

"If I'd made a plan
it wouldn't be this one.
If I'd packed a bag,
it wouldn't be my backpack.
If I'd left a letter,
I couldn't have written a word.

See, it all begins and ends
with that.
A word.
But which word:

Leaving is difficult, and frightening, and even peaceful. Eventually, she finds herself at Baba Yaga's door. The house invites her in; the meeting with the Baba is a revelation; and there are numerous jobs to be done if she intends to stay. Baba Yaga, it turns out, likes 'feisty gitls'. Boys? Not so much.

"Boys, on the  other hand, she devours whole,
spitting out the little finger bones.
Even if they can dance and sing.
Even then."

When Vasalisa arrives, Natasha meets a new best friend. Their differences soon cause strife. Vasalisa's departure to marry a prince is a blow. Natasha stays on, always learning from the witch. This is a her family now, and she will continue her life in this new role, taking over for Baba in the future. 

"She promises me I'll be the Baba ever after.
For now that's quite enough."

Beautifully written in language that is smart, sensitive, magical, and memorable. This is not the only time I will read it!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

MOLES: Superpower Field Guide, written by Rachel Poliquin and illustrated by Nicholas John Frith. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"Then back to digging, another somersault, and more pushing. Dig, somersault, push. Dig, somersault, push. It's serious work keeping your tunnels tidy. Soon the dump tunnel is plugged. But by now, Rosalie has dug far enough down her tunnel that it's time to dig a new dirt dump anyway. That's why molehills are often evenly spaced across your lawn. How shipshape! How tidy!"

Oh, what fun it was to share the first book in the 'superpower' series, Beavers (2018). This time we get to learn all we can about Moles. Ms. Poliquin advises that moles also have 10 superpowers; readers are not likely aware of them all. So, she proceeds to share them.

She begins with its architectural prowess; moves on to allow a close look at paws, double-thumb-digging ability, incredibly strong arms, squidgibility, whisker warning system, hoarding talents, perhaps toxic saliva, and finally its blood of the gods. Along the way readers discover that evolution has been pretty wonderful when it comes to moles and their adaptation to the straw they drew in terms of life on our planet.

Keeping to the format and design of Beavers, the author names her mole (Rosalie) and proceeds to share each of Rosalie's powers, with accurate information humorously presented to up both the learning and the enjoyment for finding out all we can about this little insectivore. Along the way, quizzes are presented to test attention and knowledge. The tone is bold, even cheeky at times, but always meant to grab attention while informing.

"So how does Rosalie keep her pantry worms from escaping?


Now, that would be the end for you or me, but not for worms. A
worm can grow a new head in a couple of months. But until it gets a
new head, it can't move which is just the way Rosalie likes it. Sometimes
she stores hundreds of worms in a pantry. Sometimes she just pats a few
into the walls of her tunnels."

Nicholas John Frith's illustrations are humorous and contextual. Back matter includes a glossary and a brief bibliography, which includes nonfiction, fiction, and web links.

What a terrific middle grade series this is! Ostriches is up next. Watch for it in November. Do you have any idea what it's superpowers might be?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2019. $21.00 ages 11 and up

"There is an Arabic proverb that says:

She makes you feel
like a loaf of freshly baked bread.
It is said about
the nicest
The type of people
who help you

I just spent a perfect day in the warmth of the back porch reading to my heart's content. One of the books I read was this novel in verse that shares the journey of a young Syrian girl and her pregnant mother from their war-torn homeland to a new life in the United States.

Jude's life in Syria has become increasingly dangerous. She lives there with her parents and her 'superhero' older brother. Political unrest in their homeland is causing strife within their own family. Issa is not content to sit back and do nothing. The family fears that his activism may create an even more dangerous existence for their family. He wants to go to Aleppo to help those in need. Baba, Jude's father, decides that Jude and her mother must move to Cincinnati to live with family there. Baba will stay and look after their store; Issa will not leave when he is needed to fight the oppression that threatens Syria.

Life in America is quite a culture shock for Jude and her mother. They do not speak the language, the pace of life is chaotic and loud. Their life with Jude's uncle and his family is tenuous to begin with, although her uncle is welcoming. It takes time for all to accustom themselves to a new reality. Jude's aunt is excited to have her husband's family with them. Jude's mother is reticent. Jude's cousin Sarah, in middle school as is Jude, doesn't want to garner attention for this new person in her life.

"I love the way Aunt Michelle
greets me every morning with a plate of pancakes. grader
The way she speaks slowly
so that I can understand her,
and always smiles like she understands me,
even when I know my accent is thick
and I have put the words in the wrong order."

Once school starts, Jude begins to make friends. Her ESL class offers the support of a welcoming and patient teacher. There are four students, with varying abilities with the English language and they know exactly how Jude feels. Her abiding interest in the movies and music provides Jude an opportunity to audition for the school musical. Her daily walks in the neighborhood lead her to a Middle Eastern restaurant and a new friend, Layla.

Treatment of Muslim people is not always fair and right. Jude is the object of some racist comments. Despite that, she learns to love her new home, while still holding Syria in her heart. Jude's strong poetic narrative allows readers a close look at the emotions felt as she navigates all that is happening to her. She is initially apprehensive, always brave, sometimes scared, righteously angry, and still willing to do the work it takes to find a new life with her mother and baby sister.

There are powerful moments, both uplifting and heart-wrenching. Through it all, Jude proves she has what it takes to make the best of the cards she is dealt and to find support from family and new friends.

"I shake my head and
blink away my tears.
I tell her I was thinking of Issa.
She squeezes my shoulder again.

He's going to be okay, 
and he would be so proud of you.
Her eyes wander around the room
and find Mama, who is surrounded by lots of friends.
New friends,
American friends.

He'd be so proud of all of you."

In an author's note Ms. Warga reminds us:

"I will
show that you don't need to be afraid of these children
who are fleeing from a war zone. That they want the same
things all of us do - love, understanding, safely, a chance at

We're in a period of human history where empathy is
needed more than ever. As the mother of two little girls,
I'm constantly trying to teach them the idea that no one
every grows poor from giving. That sharing what you have
does not make what you have worth any less. I guess that's
what this book is really about - the ever-growing need for

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Olive and Pekoe In Four Short Walks, by Jacky Davis and Giselle Potter. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Olive is ready to
go home to her cozy

With soggy ears and
a sagging tail,
Pekoe says, Good-bye,
Olive, enjoy your pillow. 

Olive blinks the rain
away from her eyes.
Thank you, Pekoe." 

Olive and Pekoe prove you don't have to be the same to be grand friends. In four short stories, readers learn what it takes to keep the friendship fresh and enduring, while also being true to their own character.

Pekoe is big, energetic and always on the go. Olive is older, shorter, and much less spirited. Pekoe would like Olive to catch up; Olive would like Pekoe to slow down. They don't enjoy the same things when they go for a walk. After all the exercise, they do agree that a snack is in order. That's their first walk.

While out together a second time, a thunderstorm brings wind, cold rain, and a need to find shelter. Drenched and cold, Olive wants the comfort of home. Pekoe wishes her well, and heads for home himself. The third walk features an encounter with a chipmunk. Olive does not appreciate the species; Pekoe wants to meet one, but cannot find it again. Olive knows there will be more. Finally, a trip to the dog park offers many new and different dogs. Olive doesn't need to be up-close-and-personal with any of them. Pekoe is concerned about new behaviors .... especially from a bully bulldog. Olive proves her mettle, and then offers a chance to sit back, relax and watch what is happening rather than being in the midst of it all.

The watercolor, ink and colored pencil artwork gives life and understanding to two very different, but loyal, dog pals. Through humorous scenes, Ms. Potter adds depth through her expressions and settings. The two dogs may not have much in common; their friendship is all that matters.

Warm, quiet, this is a book little ones will ask for again and again. They may soon find themselves reading it on their own.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Daddy-Sitting, by Eve Coy. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I get him ready.

Then I make his
favorite breakfast.

Daddy is full of
energy and needs
lots of exercise.

Daddy-sitting keeps
me busy ... "

The little girl narrator of this charming story has her dad's best interests at heart. That is why she takes her 'daddy-sitting' job so seriously. She has had a stand-out role model for the kinds of things one must do to keep her charge busy throughout the day, and happy to be active and entertained.

Their day begins with waking him up, feeding him breakfast and getting him the outside exercise he needs to burn off an excess of energy. Riding his bike to the park, swinging, swimming, shopping, building with blocks, enjoying a tea party, and the occasional mishap are all part of the fun the two have together. 

As the book is read, listeners are witness to an entirely different story, playing out in expressive and humorous watercolor and colored pencil artwork. The day abounds with the many shared activities, with dad doing all the work and the child enjoying the many pleasures of their time together. It is as it should be with a child so young.

Though Dad appears exhausted at times, he NEVER stops participating in and enjoying every minute spent with his much-loved daughter. She encourages him at every turn (as I am sure he has done for her) and the two are obviously joyful about time spent together. Although she assures him that he can grow up to do 'anything' he would like to do, he only wants one job.

"But Daddy doesn't want to be any of those.

He wants to do only one job,
which is always packed with adventure ...

being my daddy."