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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dave Mottram. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Get comfy, readers.
This might take a while.

I love this trail
and I love that stream

and I love this cloud and
I love that cloud

and I love my backpack
and I love the view and I ... "

There are times when learning a lesson takes longer than we might think it needs to take. In her first adventure, Wordy Birdy let her talking get her into trouble. Not just any talking ... she talks incessantly! I'm sure you know someone like her. I was going to say a 'little one' just like her, but talkativeness doesn't seem to be confined to children ... at least, not in my world.

Talking too much gets many of us into trouble. Wordy's friends are very patient with her, listening as she chatters on and on. She is oblivious to much of what is going on around her, and the feelings of exasperation as the day moves from sunshine to shadow, and sleep beckons. Her friends go to bed. Wordy does not. She needs snacks. Her friends close their eyes after all the munching and crunching. Wordy does not. There is so much to see, and much to wish for now that it is fully dark.

Quiet is what everyone else wants. Wordy does not truly understand that concept. When a cougar comes calling, looking for a 'nice, quiet dinner', his visit is cut short and he rushes away with hunger in his belly. You know who's responsible, don't you?

The speech balloons, and the friends' cynical asides will delight and charm young fans. The setting will garner discussion and attention. Dave Mottram's wonderfully expressive and funny illustrations are a perfect match to the text. This would be a fun book for partner reading, and for a most enjoyable read aloud in any early years classroom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Normal Pig, bu K-Fai Steele. Balzer + Bray, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"When her parents asked
her what was wrong, she

On Saturday, Pip's mother
had an idea. "Why don't we
take a trip to the city as a
family?" Pip had never been
there before."

Pip is happily getting by being her normal self. She has many interests, including art, her family and plans for the future. When a new pig arrives at school, with a particularly ornery attitude toward Pip, Pip begins to question who she is and how to deal with the negative attention. The comments are persistent, resulting in Pip's anger and resentment affecting her family life.

Mama isn't sure what to do, but suggests a trip to the city. That trip is a real eye-opener for Pip. She hears many languages spoken, sees pigs who do not resemble the pig she is, and is astounded by the  wide selection of different foods which might, or might not, appeal to her taste buds. A conversation with an unknown pig at the picnic table gives Pip 'food' for thought.

She returns to school with self-confidence, and a suitable response to the hurtful comments made by the new pig on campus. It is all that is needed to make Pip feel quite 'normal' once more.

The illustrations are telling, and add depth to the story while also entertaining the young reader. Often subtle and certainly praiseworthy, I know you will find much to like this fine debut as both author and illustrator. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

When Sadness Is At Your Door, by Eva Eland. Penguin Random House, 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Try not to be afraid
of sadness.
Give it a name.
Listen to it. Ask where
it comes from and what
it needs.
If you don't understand
each other, just sit
together and be quiet for
a while.
Find something that you
both enjoy, like drawing ... "

I read this morning that the third Monday in January is designated Blue Monday, despite the fact that there is absolutely no scientific proof to support it being so. The holiday season has passed, winter still has many of us in its icy grip, and those who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder are definitely wishing for bright, warm sunshine to help combat the gloomy, cloudy days we have been experiencing for some time now. The winter blahs can get us down; some more than others.

So, when this very timely and sensitive book was delivered this morning, I thought I would tell you about it. Eva Eland gives sadness substance ... as a shaped, bluish-greenish being. Sadness arrives at the door of a young child, holding a suitcase and making its presence known without any advance notice. It simply arrives. We are shown that it stays close to the child, and cannot be hidden. It even feels overwhelming.

By communicating with Sadness, the child is able to chart a new path. Together, they gather themselves up to experience things they might both enjoy: drawing, music, hot chocolate, the outdoors, a walk in nature. Does it lessen the impact? It seems so for this small child. Rather than giving in to being angry about how the child is feeling, the acceptance of the emotion's presence brings some peace.

There are times when we all feel sad. What we do about it can make all the difference. The endpapers express that sentiment clearly. This book for the young offers an opportunity for discussion and action.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

the Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America, by Jaime Hernandez. TOON Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $14.95 ages 6 and up

"But the king was still not convinced.
Perhaps if I send the prince away, he wont' have to marry a kitchen maid.
In the morning, the girl could not
find the prince. She asked the king
where he was.
I sent him off to war. He must 
serve and protect his kingdom.
But the prince is not trained for battle. He is sure to die. How can I help?"

This is a fantastic read! Two of the three Latin American tales have a strong woman at the heart, and the third speaks to the power of intelligence and resourcefulness. In her Imagination and Tradition essay that introduces the tales, F. Isabel Campoy explains:

"As the stories grew and changed with every telling, the anecdotal became universal. Folktales often contain moral lessons; instead of telling us how to behave, they show us the implications of right and wrong behaviors to help us develop our social and emotional intelligence. They teach us how to be better human beings." 

For his first book for children, this talented and honored comic book creator immersed himself in folktales. Choosing three of his favorites and writing them from his own perspective, he has created a lively collection for young readers. A young and generous kitchen maid, in love with the prince, proves her mettle when slaying a dragon, stealing a gold ring, and saving the prince from certain death. A beautiful young woman marries the mouse she loves dearly only to have him fall into the soup; this time it is Dona Pepa to the rescue. Finally, three sons marry three daughters, and are tasked with the same jobs in preparation for the year's production of corn. The youngest proves the most ingenious and productive of the three, and reaps his rewards while also providing for the family.

I like that the book ends with a clear history for each of the tales told, a comprehensive bibliography, and a list of online resources for further study. The graphic panels are accessible and most enjoyable for young readers.

Terrific storytelling, and energetic artwork assure that kids are going to love it!                                                                                                             

Saturday, January 19, 2019

My Dog Mouse, by Eva Lindstrom. Translated by Julia Marshall. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"It starts to blow. We walk into the wind and we seem to be standing still but I think we're moving. All sorts of things are flying around. Mouse's ears flap like flags and he shuts his eyes to keep out the sand. I hold tight to the leash. It has stopped blowing now and Mouse's ears hang straight down again. I have two meatballs in my pocket for us to eat."

Those who love dogs will read this heartfelt book numerous times. It has such warmth and love. It exudes quiet charm, and ends with a fervent wish.

A little girl approaches a house, and asks if she can walk Mouse. She gets the expected response. Off they go. The dog is aptly described as slow, old, fat and 'with ears as flat as pancakes'. The love between the two is evident with every step they take.

The girl is patient, kind, playful, and observant of all that makes Mouse so special to her. Their path is familiar, with stops along the way for food and rest. Their pace is determined by Mouse, and the walk ends when they have returned to Mouse's house. Asked about their adventure, the child is happy to report that it has been another successful day. She watches as Mouse accompanies his owner into the house and is lost to sight.

Only then does the walker express a quiet thought  ... "I wish Mouse was mine." In the final frame, it is easy to see that Mouse feels exactly the same way.

The uncluttered double page spreads are as gentle and warm as the words they depict. It is a tender and memorable book, with light touches of humor, and sure to be enjoyed not only by those who have a special affinity for dogs.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Elephant, by Jenni Desmond. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada, 2018. $28.50 ages 8 and up

" ... the longest, most versatile nose in the animal world. Elephants use their flexible trunks - part upper lip, part nose - to smell the air and earth for nearby food and water sources, and to pick up the scent of other elephants and possible danger. They also use their hose-like noses to breathe, drink, eat, trumpet, lift things, spray themselves with dust or water, to play, wrestle, dig, wallop, and to comfort and caress."

Jenni Desmond has great concern for the endangered species in our world. She has chosen to share that concern with a young audience; the first two, The Blue Whale (2015) and The Polar Bear (2016), won praise and admiration for her ability to share her research in accessible and meaningful ways. Her realistic and and natural images of the animals she loves surely add to the appeal.

The young boy on the cover is the impetus for this new book. He, too. loves animals - of the stuffed kind (elephant included); he favors a pot of tea at his side when he settles to read his new book about elephants; his menagerie is a willing audience for what he has to share. And, there appear to be a pair of elephants outside his window listening avidly as well. There is much detail in the first double-page spread that reveals the love he feels for these gentle giants.

Ms. Desmond moves forward to help her audience learn as much as possible, adding more relevant and interesting information at every turn of the page. She provides maps, comparisons, territory, diet, anatomy, interesting and often unusual facts that are quite astounding.

"An African savanna elephant male, or bull, can reach 13 feet tall and 24 feet long, and can weigh up to seven tons. That's about the weight of four large cars. The females, or cows, are half that size. Even baby elephants are big. At birth, an African savanna elephant calf can be 260 pounds, the weight of a speedy motor scooter."

That puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

The illustration of the young boy sitting atop the pile of fruit an elephant consumes in one day will provide fodder for thought! She adds a note concerning digestion and elimination.

"Elephants don't digest their food efficiently, so that same fruit-devouring elephant might poo 12 to 15 times in one day, producing more than 300 pounds of steaming dung."

I like that she uses scientific terms without explanation, assuming her readers will understand the context within which it is shared ... and most will. The beautiful images are created using watercolor, acrylic, pencil, crayons, and drypoint in a muted palette while the boy and his friend are much brighter. The details are infinite, the realism quite amazing, and the joy in sharing so much about this truly magnificent mammal make this an essential purchase for both home and school libraries. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chicken Talk, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Harper, 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"In the kitchen, Otis smiled as he drank his coffee. And soon it happened. Outside there was a loud howl from Tripp. Otis opened the kitchen door and looked out. Tripp clutched his pillow, his tent collapsed on one side. He pointed to a message in the dirt.

You snore and there is a 
snake in your tent." 

The 12 chickens who live on the farm with Otis and his family are well-loved. Each has a name, as does the rooster. Life on the farm is pretty quiet and the days pass with little drama. Until one day, when Otis and his wife have gone to town for supplies, the children notice something very unusual.

Willie notices it first, and calls his sister over to see a written-in-the-dirt message that says:

'No more arugula." 

Since the parents are not at home and the children know it was not their doing, there is a mystery afoot. Upon their return, and after a quick visit with the chicken named Trixie, Otis feels certain that Trixie did the writing. They are afraid to share that sentiment in fear their friends will think them 'nutty'. The messages continue, each written by a different member of the flock. Finally their mailman Tripp is first to see a new message one morning while making his rounds. No one believes it when he spreads the news to the townfolk. They are in disbelief, as is he.

It takes a big surprise to convince Tripp about the writing. He is quick to spread the news. Visitors all flock to the farm to buy eggs and to see the 'chicken talk'. Finally, the seven white chickens, all named Joyce, make their true feelings known, and bring about change.

Having a voice is an important message for the book's readers. Soft, warm watercolor artwork is a match for the gentle tone of the story and the peaceful farm setting. There is a great deal of affection displayed here, and a sense of peace when the reading is done.