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Monday, July 23, 2018

Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World, by Christy Hale. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $23.50 ages 3 and up

"A lake is a body of
water surrounded by

An island is a piece
of land surrounded
by water.

A bay is a body of
water almost
surrounded by land."           

Your kids are going to love this one! It is truly amazing how Christy Hale uses cut pages to so clearly show water and land forms. The title page will invite little ones in, and they will be hooked. First, enjoy a gorgeous autumn day at the lake where a young girl is chasing leaves and a boy lazily fishing from a rowboat turn to that same girl on a deserted island sending an SOS signal to a completely unaware fisherman. Brilliant! A bay turns into a cape ... and so it goes.

Reading it together will provide many moments of surprise, and encourage discussion for all that is happening on its pages. All the while there is learning going on. Some words will be new vocabulary for little ones, some will be brand new learning about the word itself. Every page is engaging and beautifully presented.                                                                           

Although readers are focused on the art, it never distracts from learning about the five land and water forms she includes. The connections are clear, and children will learn as they read. The final pages include a double page spread that repeats the partners, and gives a simple description of each. Open it 'up' to find a listing of some examples of each from around the world. Open 'out' to a world map where each of the forms is labelled.

The book is beautifully designed for numerous shares, and that is a good thing. Kids will want to revisit the book often. The thick pages, the fascinating cutouts and the information provided make every look worthwhile.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees. Written by Mary Beth Leatherdale and illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare. Annick Press, 2017. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"People are screaming. Shouting. Today, they forced us to leave the Havana harbor. All day we were sitting in the ocean off the Cuban coast. Now in the middle of the night, the ship is running full steam ahead. Did we turn around? Are we back in Europe already? I jump out of bed and follow the other passengers to the captain's quarters. He explains that Jewish organizations are negotiating ... "

In this fine book we meet five young people; each is a refugee. Their stories take place between 1939 and 2006. Their profiles tell of pertinent and heartbreaking events in their lives that forced each to seek sanctuary from brutal violence and unbearable existence in their home countries.

Ms. Leatherdale begins with an introduction that concerns the plight of all refugees. She follows with a two page 'brief history' called They Came By Boat. Beginning with the Hugueonots in 1670, and ending in 1914 when Sikh passengers arrived in British Columbia and were forced to return to India, she chronicles the many people who have been displaced by events of the time in their own countries.

Ruth, an 18-year-old Jewish girl whose family has been trying to escape Nazi Germany for two years, is the first of the 'young boat refugees' whose stories are told through careful text and with empathy for their plight. The family is finally able to board the St. Louis, a ship headed to Cuba and asylum. The pages that tell Ruth's story offer a brief description of the terror in Germany under Hitler's rule, a definition of Anti-Semitism, the ship's arrival in the Cuban harbor and the harrowing days spent waiting to disembark, and Cuba's final refusal to acknowledge their travel visas, thus sending them back out to sea, bound for Germany. A time line for the voyage taken, a brief description of what happened to Ruth, and harrowing quotes from passengers and Ruth are included, as well as what happened to the passengers aboard the St. Louis:


* 28 allowed to disembark in Cuba
* 1 died of natural causes en route
* 1 attempted suicide
* 288 given asylum in Great Britain
* 224 given asylum in France
* 214 given asylum in Belgium
* 181 given asylum in Netherlands

* 254 were killed in the Holocaust after returning to Europe"

The author goes on to introduce Phu from Vietnam, Jose from Cuba, Najeeba from Afghanistan, and Mohamed from Ivory Coast. Their stories are harrowing, and personal. Readers will find sidebars that offer context, provide quotes that help to understand the urgency and terror felt by each refugee, and a section about the lives they have lived since their perilous journeys ended.  Four are still alive and were interviewed by the author. Their stories are handled with grim honesty; they are hard to read. 

Ms.Shakespeare uses collage to present these stories. Maps are helpful, as are newspaper headlines, and archival photos. The hand-written quotes make them all the more heartbreaking. Their stories act as a mirror to much of what is happening in the world today. 

This is a very important book and its stories should be shared in late middle and high school classrooms. Students need to put a human face to young people like them who face conditions in their home countries that are inconceivable. It is a timely book. The personal stories presented here add the human touch that news reports often fail to provide. You will not forget these five young people, and their stories are sure to evoke empathy and concern for the plight of so many.

"Sixty-five million of the world's seven billion people aren't so lucky. They
have been forced to leave their homes because of war, persecution, or
natural disasters. Nineteen million of these displaced people have no hope
of ever returning home safely and are seeking asylum in another country.
More than half of these refugees are children and teenagers; many are
orphans or "unaccompanied minors" traveling alone."

Do many of us acknowledge how lucky we really are?

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.