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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Give Bees A Chance, written and illustrated by Bethany Barton. Viking, Penguin. 2017. $22.99 ages 5 and up


Why are you telling me
all this stuff?


I hope that you read a copy of Bethany Barton's I’m Trying to Love Spiders (Viking, 2015). If not, check for it at the library and take a careful look. This time, she is making a case for caring about bees. Our narrator's best friend Edgar needs a lot of encouragement to give up the terrified feelings he has for them.

"Mostly because of
their "stingers,
and attached venom sacs,
which are the cause
of painful bee stings.""

Admittedly, he was stung by a bee last Sunday. But, it was only one bee. Why would he put all bees on his 'things to be hated' list? Our narrator does a superlative job of making a case for the benefits and anatomy of bees, providing fact after interesting fact about them. All information shared is meant to persuade Edgar to give them the chance they deserve to be considered in a much more favorable light.

"They act as a
pollen delivery service,
helping give flowers
the ingredients they need.
A single bee can visit
over 1,000 flowers a day, 
making bee pollination
powers unparalleled!
Which means without bees,
there'd be a lot less
yummy stuff to eat."

Those kids who are concerned about bees meet a fellow worrier in Edgar. They will understand his reticence to just accepting all of the information provided, despite its engaging and informative style. Bee stings remain top of the list for him. They are painful, of that there is no doubt. But, there are so many other things we need to know about bees, and Bethany Barton provides us with that, in spades!

There's comedy here, as well as welcome cartoon illustrations 'rendered using inks, paper, computers, Photoshop, laughter, iced tea, exhaustion, and silliness.' Together, they work for our enjoyment and new learning. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

wishtree, written by Katherine Applegate. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"But this isn't a fairy tale, and there was no spell. Animals compete for resources, just like humans. They eat one another. They fight for dominance. Nature is not always pretty or fair or kind. But sometime surprises happen. And Samar, every spring night, reminded me that there is beauty in stillness and grace in acceptance. and that you're never too old to be surprised."

Some books come in the mail, and I can put them in a TBR pile and know that I will get to that book sometime in the future. Some arrive and go straight to the top of that pile to be read that very same day. Because I lent Katherine Applegate's incredible new book to a friend, I waited one extra day to read it. Karlyn got it back to me the day after she borrowed it, and I finished it that evening. Am I glad that I did? A resounding YES!

Red is a two hundred and sixteen year old tree - the rings prove it and offer a multitude of stories to tell. The voices of the animal and bird characters are strong, unique and amiable. The story is beautifully constructed and powerful in its treatment of intolerance as well as the need to protect our environment. Using Red as her narrator, Ms. Applegate crafts a story that will live long in the memories of those who share it. It would be a wonderful way to begin a year filled with wonderful books, if it were shared in the first days of the coming school year in any middle school classroom.

Bongo, a crow who lives among Red's branches is a terrific character - funny, caustic and supportive in the best possible ways.

"Charm," Bongo sneered. "Did you know that's
what people call a bunch of hummingbirds?"
"No, actually."
"Hummingbirds! Which, let's face it, are pretty
much just overdressed flies. But a bunch of us crows
together, guess what we get to be called?"
"A murder! A murder of crows! Can you believe
it? A bunch of trees, you're a grove. A bunch of rac-
coons? A gaze." Bongo flapped her wings. "But crows?
We're a murder."

Red plays a very special role in the neighborhood, as home to many animal families and as the depository for many personal wishes every year in early May. Those wishes are heartfelt and important to the 'wisher'. Samar is a newcomer to the neighborhood and an important human voice. Her Muslim family is the target of hate, her neighbor is a boy from her class at school whose parents also ostracize Samar's family. Both need a friend. The carved message meant for Samar's family upsets the owner of the land where Red resides. She decides that cutting the wish tree down will solve all problems. Red decides to take a stand!

Powerful, thoughtful and filled with kindness that will inspire, this is one terrific book from a very gifted author. Lucky we are to be able to share it.

I enjoyed reading this post from Katherine Applegate at Nerdy Book Club on January 17, 2017.

Red is a red oak, common and tough and beautiful. A neighborly tree in an immigrant neighborhood, it’s stood witness for over two hundred years to the best and worst of human behavior. Sadly, it’s not entirely a surprise when someone carves “LEAVE” into Red’s bark, clearly targeting the Muslim family that lives nearby. “I love people dearly,” Red says. “And yet. Two-hundred and sixteen rings, and I still haven’t figured them out.” In writing wishtree, I wanted a simple story, one where even the youngest reader would be prompted to ask that most heartbreaking of questions: why are those people being treated unkindly?  I wanted an outsider’s look at human behavior, not unlike the way Ivan the gorilla, in The One and Only Ivan, worked to understand his world. The character of Red provided me with just that kind of observer. But Red gave me something else:  hope. In Red, I found a narrator who could reassure us that — big picture — it’s going to be all right. I wanted a narrator who’d been around the block, so to speak, a historian.  ... I didn’t want to sugar-coat things. But I wanted Red to comfort readers (and me) that this, too, shall pass. That there is always goodness to be found in the midst of fear, and hope in the midst of darkness."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Way Home in the Night, by Akiko Miyakoshi. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"Most of our neighbors
are already home.
I can see their lights
in the windows.

I hear a phone ring.
Who is calling?

Mmm ...
It smells like pie."

It is SOOO quiet as mother and her youngster make their way home along dark city streets. As they go, the child notices what is happening around them - the everyday events that often bring a close to the day. The two walk until they meet up with father who then walks along with them, and is there to tuck the young miss into bed.

Once warm and prepared for sleeping, she begins to wonder about the many scenes observed, and even plays out some of them in her mind for what might have happened after they passed by.

"Is the person on the phone getting ready for bed?

Maybe the cook from the restaurant is taking a bath,

and the bookseller is reading on the couch."

Do you ever find yourself doing the same thing? I love to sit on a bench and watch passersby, and wonder what their story is. Sometimes, I dream up a story for them. Certainly, we can ask our listeners to imagine the same things, and even write about it.

For this tiny rabbit, comfort comes in knowing that, at the end of the day, 'we all go home to bed.'

Using varying perspectives and an urban environment at dusk, the reader sees through the young one's eyes and is made a keen observer for all that is happening in the neighborhood. Using charcoal, acrylic gouache and pencil on textured paper ensures that readers feel the warmth in the lights and the bunny's bedroom as she readies herself for slumber.

There is mystery in the darkness and wonder, too. It's a perfect bedtime story.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs, written by Carol Murray and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"Just Jumping Spider!

The jumping spider
has a handy-dandy
way to travel.

He spins and winds
a silky thread,
and lets it all unravel."

If you are looking to find books to read in your classroom, or at home, that have a scientific bent, this one will be perfect for you. It's poetry, to boot!

There are 29 poems here: they are mostly short, filled with information, and sure to pique any child's interest in bugs. Kids will love to listen to the rhythmic language. The insects often voice their own opinions and observances, making the poetry personal and engaging.

"Let's Hear It for Dung Beetle

I don't get much respect, and I suspect you didn't know
that I was very popular in Egypt long ago.

A sacred bug. Oh, yes, indeed! A charm with magic power.
Too bad you didn't know me in my former, finest hour."

Before the page is turned, we also learn:

"Dung beetles are ground dwellers and especially like manure piles.
They live off the waste of animals, particularly plant eaters like
cows and camels. In ancient Egypt, some dung beetles were called
scarabs. Ornaments in the form of scarabs have been found on

There you go!

Kids love reading, and hearing, text that provides a link to something they may not know. Carol Murray fills the pages with poetry and ends the book with three full pages of 'Cricket Notes', adding informative paragraphs that up the learning. Melissa Sweet's humorous and ingenious watercolor and mixed media artwork bursts with color and detail. Kids will experience an 'EWWW' moment when they see the careful look a fly has before descending upon a dessert laden table. Or the long 'probing proboscis' of the much dreaded mosquito. They will 'ahh' at the beauty of a dragonfly, and giggle as they watch the inchworm makes its way along a ruler.

Lively, entertaining ... and oh so, educational.                                                                  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stay: A Girl, A Dog and a Bucket List. Written by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"Astrid and Eli had many
things in common. They
lived in the same house,
ate at the same table, and
slept in the same bed.

There was only one
difference: Astrid was
a girl, and Eli was a boy.
And a dog."

Eli has always been Astrid's best friend. From the day her parents returned from the hospital with Astrid in their arms, Eli has been her 'personal bodyguard, her favorite pillow, and sometimes her best hiding place.' They have a mutual admiration society and are rarely apart.

As happens, Astrid grows up and Eli grows older. It is the way of life. Together, they share many wonderful moments. Recognizing that Eli is aging faster than she is, Astrid decides to create a bucket list, thus ensuring that she and Eli will experience as many adventures together as they possibly can. Not everything on the list is accessible for an aging dog. Astrid finds a way to help Eli with riding a bike, checking out library books about dogs, seeing a movie, sleeping under the stars, having a bubble bath, and a final treat that is not exactly what Eli had hoped.

As the unpredictability of aging causes Eli to remain at home, Astrid adjusts. She does check with him to make sure they have missed nothing. Eli is content.

"Being with Astrid was the only thing
left on Eli's list.
It was the only thing that had ever
been on Eli's bucket list."

Their story is so carefully and beautifully told, with accompanying acrylic artwork that adds detail and context. A gentle reminder that love wins every time!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Giant Jumperee, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Dial Books, Penguin. 2017. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"So Bear swaggered up to the
burrow. But just as he put his
big furry paw inside, he heard
a loud voice.

and I'll sting you
like a bee!"

"Help! Help!" bellowed Bear."

There's a problem, and it is apparent from the first page of this wonderful new story by a team of beloved artists. Julia Donaldson introduces a voice that is full of mystery and bravado, and heard from inside Rabbit's burrow. That voice terrifies Rabbit and has him hollering for help. With each successive helpmate comes an offer of assistance and a backing-off as soon as the voice resounds from where it is safely hidden from view. It's a big voice and no animal friend seems willing to pursue its expulsion.

Mama Frog has no such concerns. She hears their cautionary tone, and pays no heed.  Upon her arrival, the GIANT JUMPEREE repeats its warning. Mama shows no fear. In fact, she provides an ultimatum:

"Come on out,
GIANT JUMPEREE!" she said.
"You're the one we want to see,
             so I'm counting
                          up to three!"

The results are surprising to everyone but Mama Frog. Her exasperated stance is clearly shown in Ms. Oxenbury's expressive illustration, only one of many that will have all readers enthralled. Julia Donaldson proves once again that she is a master at creating suspense meant to intrigue and fascinate little ones, while making them take a bit of a step back. The rhythmic patterns in language make it accessible for early readers, matching text to animal as they worry themselves sick over the perceived threat. Helen Oxenbury is a perfect collaborator for this joyful story, enhancing its pages with watercolor images that provide a lovely setting, great variety in expression, and ultimately, a
chance for the animals to laugh at themselves.

The joy I feel in not sharing this with Sicily and Chelsea while they were here in June comes from the anticipation for sharing it with them when they make a return visit. Can't wait!

Friday, July 21, 2017

BE QUIET! Written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2017 $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Hi Rupert!
What are -

Shhhh. Be QUIET.
This book does
not have words.

Wowee, a
wordless book!"

After battling the mean-spirited bear whose house they infested while he was vacationing with his adopted goslings in Miami, Rupert, Nibbs and Thistle have given up on the hotel business and a new plan for profitability is in the works. They will publish a book! It's Rupert's idea; he knows exactly what he wants. He will be the star, and the book will be wordless.

Difficult? We don't  know the half of it, until we get a look at  just how talkative Nibbs and Thistle truly are. They have so much explaining to do:

"Hey guys,
what's with all
the shouting?

Hi Thistle! We're making
a wordless book, but I've
promised to be quiet, so
I can't tell you about it."

You get my drift?! While Rupert maintains his wish to keep it wordless, you can only imagine how many words are actually spoken as the other two (with constant direction from the book's star) discuss its merits and its meaning.

"Quiet, you!
This book will be more
than FUN. It will be
visually stimulating.

What does "vishery
strigulating" mean?

I think it means we're going
to poke our readers in
the eyeballs with pictures.

That's not what it means!
It means ... we need to
have strong illustrations."

There follows a silly discussion about the meaning of strong, which leads to total absurdity and chaos for Rupert who wants his project to be taken seriously. Impossible ... there is no stopping the two as they move hilariously from one thought to the next in quick succession and with no filters for their continuing conversation. It is a giggle fest for readers and listeners. I have read it often, each time finding something new to see in the irresistible illustrations and to relish in the telling.

The absurd nonsense, smart dialogue, and comedic pace make this a perfect piece for performance. Find three kids who appreciate the humor, have a dramatic flair and let them loose. This book is destined to be a perennial favorite at story time.

I am a huge fan of the Bruce books, Mother Bruce (Disney-Hyperion, 2015) and Hotel Bruce (Disney-Hyperion, 2016), and I am highly anticipating Bruce's Big Move in September. That being said, I would also love to read another book about Rupert and his pals. Any plans, Mr. Higgins???