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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, Penguin. 2016. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"Carla Sherrinford-Cameron, her hands clasped together at her waist like lobster's claws, was singing "The Lass with the Delicate Air," and I found myself wishing that I had thought to bring a firearm with me - although whether to Carla out of her misery or to do away with myself, I had not quite yet decided. With her huge eyes, her lank red hair, and pale buttermilk skin, she looked like a sea creature ... "

I cannot believe this the eighth novel about Flavia de Luce, child detective extraordinaire. She's back home in England at Buckshaw, the family estate that has been left to her by her mother. If you haven't met her, you need to know that Flavia is only 12, and her success at solving mysteries is quite astounding.

She arrives to find that her father is very ill, and has been hospitalized. She is not allowed to see him. She cannot stand the way her sisters continue to treat her, and is soon happy to be caught up in the middle of another death that happened under mysterious circumstances. Flavia finds the body of a local carver, and then spends the rest of the book's pages trying to find out why he died and how the contraption she finds him in might hold the key to determining the events that led to his death. He has a long, and complicated history.

Under the tutelage of her favorite police detective, Inspector Hewitt, she moves forward and is often steps ahead of him. As she uncovers what has happened in the past, she manages to make connections to a writer, another murder, and a sad, untimely death. We are introduced to these additional characters in a series of mishaps that lead, ultimately, to the real culprit.

Flavia never disappoints. Her first person voice keeps the reader personally connected. Her inquisitive nature, her proclivity for chemistry and her persistence in finding the truth hold her in good stead. Her character is as unique, spunky, and clever as ever. I love her, and think you will, too - if you have not met her in previous cases. Subtle humor provides most enjoyable breaks as Flavia works hard to solve yet another mystery and to deal with the bleak conditions of her home and her father's illness.

I wonder what she will be up to next? We can only hope we don't have to wait too long to find out.

Forget Me Not, written by Ellie Terry. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"I want to pluck
the moon from the sky,
swing it around
in circles.

Is that what it feels like
to have a best friend?

Maybe we'll hang out
every day - "

Isn't it tough enough being a middle grader? You would certainly think so.
For Calliope, you can add that her mother has just come out of another broken relationship which requires another move for the two, that she is the new kid at school, and that she has Tourette's Syndrome. That should do it. Tendency toward self-consciousness is a way of being for kids in seventh grade - just try to imagine how Calliope is feeling.

When she meets Jinsong she begins to feel hopeful. He lives in her apartment building. He goes to the same school, and he seems interested in being her friend. It soon becomes apparent to her classmates that Calliope is 'weird'. As she concerns herself with the many things she has to worry about, her tics become more prevalent and apparent to her classmates. She is soon made the target of jokes and bullying.

“Sometimes my tics
are like gentle whispers,
asking me to do things,
            to say things.
But other times they’re like a

SHOUT!

Jumping out so loud and strong
I could never hope to
stop them.”

Jinsong is a popular student and good friend. Will his popularity wane if he stands up for his new friend, a girl he finds appealing and attractive? That is certain to be a concern for any young person. If we are truthful, don't we often worry about such things?

"I walk into the boys' locker room and all I hear is:
   "The new girl wears old clothes."
   "The new girl rolls her eyes."
   "The new girl makes creepy sounds in her throat."
    It's all true. But somehow it feels wrong to hear them say it."

In honest and clear voices, one written in poetry and the other in prose, the two convey an emotional and uplifting story of fear, friendship and facing difficult times together. Will what they have learned from each other help them face Calli's next move, and keep their friendship strong despite an inevitable separation?

Because the author has Tourette's herself, the reader learns from the inside what it is like to live with the tics, the taunts and the other ways it affects Calliope and her relationships. She opens the door for understanding and meaningful conversation for those who share this story. Bravo!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stand Up and Sing!:Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice. Written by Suzanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Bllomsbury, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"At college Pete couldn't stop talking about workers' strikes and unions, the civil war in Spain, and the Nazis in Germany. He talked so much that the didn't do his homework. He lost his scholarship ... "
And finally for today, here is Susanna Reich's book about Pete Seeger and his music.

In his foreword, Peter Yarrow says this:

"In these times, there is so much that divides us, so much greed, narcissism, and other terrible threats to the dream of creating a caring, just, and peaceful society -  and to the survival of our planet. What Pete taught us was how to keep on keepin' on, how to keep on singing, how to not become cynical, and how to turn challenge and adversity into greater determination and love for one another. That was Pete."

Now is the time to teach our kids about people like Pete, who stand up for their beliefs and do the work it takes to make things better. This book opens with Pete's singing, and an invitation for his audience to join him in song and harmony. It is classic Pete Seeger.

Beginning with his birth and early childhood, the author moves quickly to his time at university, and to his love of the folk music he had heard while traveling with his family in that early life. His support for the downtrodden and worry about those who were being treated poorly led to his leaving university, and finding satisfying work with Alan Lomax in the music industry while also playing music every chance he got.

"He played all night, and he played all day, and after a while you wanted to ship him
off somewhere," said Alan's sister Bess."

His music is a tradition that has influenced many other musicians and listeners around the world. We always shared Pete's songs in the classrooms I taught, and kids loved to hear those songs as much as Pete loved playing them.

The text is dense and provides a very clear look at Pete's life and legacy. Older children will learn about civil rights, poverty, war, and taking care of the world we live in. Adam Gustavson uses 'gouache, watercolor, colored pencil and/or oil on paper, with little bits of Adobe Photoshop' to deliver a close and personal look at the man whose down to earth ways, whose love of music and its power, whose strong stands for a better world, proved his mettle time and again.

"A clean river, a peaceful planet, a living wage - as Pete got older, he continued to sing, to protest, and to inspire people to speak out for their beliefs ... Pete passed away in 2014, but his work isn't done. For in times of war, the world needs peace. In times of hatred, the world needs love. In times of injustice, the world needs truth. And wherever people gather in the name of freedom, they find strength and courage in song."

Amen.
                                                                         

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing. Written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Raul Colon. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"But that's not all.
Pete loved singing
with children,
and children loved
singing with Pete.
Thousands sang
with him.

"Abiyoyo."
"Froggie Went a-courting."
"Skip to My Lou."

This book is a perfect introduction to Pete Seeger: singer, mentor, environmentalist, protester, leader, civil rights activist, husband, father and hero. Kids should know about him, his music, his passion for life. This will help them on their way. The text is full of compassion and understanding. His impact on American folk music is shared in the song titles included.

In an author's note, Ms. Schubert writes:

"Over the course of his ninety-four years, Pete Seeger sang so much, did so much, wrote so much, spoke so much, and influenced so many people that at times he seemed to be everywhere at once."

He was an honorable man whose commitment to a better world ensured that he continues to be loved today, three and a half years since his death at 94. We sang his songs yesterday, we sing them today, and we will sing them tomorrow. If your kids don't know them, now is your chance to tell them about  him, listen to his songs and help them sing along. Then, they will pass them along later in life to their own children.

What a legacy! Long may he live in our collective memory.

Raul Colon's gorgeous artwork is filled with warm, textured color and fine, telling detail, helping children to experience the joy and sadness Pete found in life, and the spunk with which he faced every new experience.  It is a book written and illustrated with respect for a great man and a true hero of the people.

The timeline, endnotes, list of books for children and an account of recommended recordings add interest, and are sure to encourage further fact-gathering.

"Listen.
Not everybody had such courage.
Pete did.
When men and women joined hands to fight racism,
Pete sang a powerful song,
and millions sang with him:
"We Shall Overcome."
He gave people hope
when they needed it."
                                                                        

Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Written by Anita Silvey. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2016. $25.99 ages 12 and up

"To find the support and direction he needed as a child, Pete Seeger became a voracious reader, searching for information in books. After seeing what titles Pete checked out in the Nyack, New York, public library, a librarian suggested that Pete pick up the novels of Ernest Thompson Seton. Pete began to devour Seton's writings."

Most people recognize Pete Seeger as a folk singer whose impact was keenly felt during both the 20th and early 21st centuries. Many mourned his passing in 2014 at the age of 94. His legacy of bringing music to the people will have to be carried forward by others who share his commitment to social causes and environmental concerns.

Ms. Silvey looks carefully at Pete's life and shares it with a sincere concern to get it right for her intended audience. She begins with early family life, travel, divorce and Pete's separation from family when he was sent to boarding school in third grade. He saw little of either parent as time passed.

He looked to others for needed guidance. Reading made all the difference. He was introduced to the writings of Ernest Thompson Seton and found solace in learning about Native American culture, communal property and sharing. His life course was set.

"I saved my nickels and bought myself enough unbleached muslin
to build a teepee, twelve by twenty-four in size. I pegged it out,
hemmed it up, and laced up the front. I set this out in my grandparents'
cow pasture and had to install a fence around it so the cows didn't break
it down. Slept in it overnight, using spruce branches for a bed. Learned
to cook my food in it on a tiny fire. Later I took my teepee to school and
put it in another pasture, introducing others to the idea of outdoor life.
Living outdoors provided a better education for me than any other school or
university."

She follows the early stories with the further development of his love for the outdoors, writing, art and music. It wasn't until high school that Pete met his first banjo. Finding a focus for his enthusiasm eventually led him to sharing with others the folk music he so loved. And, he got paid to share it! In 1940 he met Woody Gurhrie, an event that changed his life.

Despite hard times and many bumps along the way, Ms. Silvey shows readers how, through touring with Woody and then finding success with the Weavers, Pete continued to care about social justice, in all of its forms. Then, came government branding and a long decade of harassment for his earlier political leanings. He triumphed eventually and moved on to become a musical hero to many, and a
staunch environmentalist at a time when few were worried about the earth's health and what we were doing to make it worse.

His was an oft perplexing life, here told with honor, honesty and as an homage to a personal hero and grand entertainer. The archival photos show a happy, smiling man full of charm and pizzazz who wanted to leave his world a better place than it often was.

"Over time - just as the story of Abiyoyo predicted - people realized that they needed Pete Seeger. They needed him to slay the giants. They needed his integrity and his ability to tell inconvenient truths. They needed him to do what he had been doing all along - singing about freedom and justice.

Just as he had hoped he would in childhood, Pete Seeger became many things in his life. He was an author, an activist, a tireless advocate of human dignity, equal rights, and peace; and above all he gave a voice to the feelings and hopes of people all over the world."

Back matter includes extensive source notes, a bibliography, a list of other media and an index.

Perfect for a class readaloud in science, history, social issues classes. Don't forget to have his music close by.

https://youtu.be/n-sQSp5jbSQ

https://youtu.be/Rl-yszPdRTk

https://youtu.be/Ezyd40kJFq0

Monday, August 14, 2017

To Burp or Not to Burp: A Guide to Your Body in Space. Written by Dr. Dave Willilams and Loredana Cunti, with illustrations by Theo Krynauw. Annick Press, 2016. $14.95 ages 8 and up

" ... astronauts exercise up to two hours a day in space. But the space station isn't a typical gym. Harnesses are needed to keep us on the exercise equipment, and here, no one wants to see you sweat. In fact, keeping sweat away from your body - and from everything else - means wearing dedicated exercise shirts and shorts that absorb sweat."

Did you dream of being an astronaut, or do you know someone who does? Kids are sure to find this book fascinating because it has to do with everything astronaut. There are many things we don't know, unless we have been there.

So, the authors have decided to fill us in, by answering questions we might not realize we want to ask, especially for budding astronauts. They are not afraid to speak frankly about toileting aboard a spaceship, or while wearing a suit designed to protect those who travel into space.

"A space walk  can last between six and eight hours. That's a long time to wait for a bathroom break. So, when it's time to lift off, do a space walk, or reenter Earth's atmosphere, it's back to basics. Time to bust out the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG) - better known to Earthlings as a diaper."
In ensuing chapters, the authors describe how those travelling in space manage to stay clean and neat, take care of their hair, handle the art of brushing their teeth, even blowing their noses. They describe the space suit, eating aboard the spaceship, and how food tastes in space.

"The taste of food in space is different from the taste of food on the ground. It's not that food tastes bad, it's just that it tastes ... less. For some astronauts, the bland blahs improve as the mission goes on, but for others, the sensation lasts for the entire mission."

The cartoon art and clear photographs will be a welcome addition for those interested in a future in space. I think you will find there is a lot you did not know prior to reading this informative book.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cody and the Rules of Life, by Tricia Springstubb with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"...  Cody went to see Spencer.
He and his parents lived right
around the corner with his
grandmother. This was so nice.
The not-so-nice part was that the
house was a side-by-side. And who
should live on the other side but
Molly Meen, Pirate Queen. She
lived there with her sister, Maxie.
And their father, who killed bugs
for a living."

This is the third book in a winning series starring Cody, her family, and her friends. This time, she finds herself making a trade she never meant to make. At a sleepover with Pearl, she agrees to exchange her much-loved and worse-for-wear Gremlin for the almost perfect endangered Arctic Fox. To add to the drama, her brother Wyatt's brand new bicycle is stolen. What more can happen?

Cody is astute and concerned for Wyatt, and for herself. He seems to care more for his bike than for her, even though she helped him assemble it. She thinks she knows who has the bike, and wants to help get it back. She is also very upset that she let Pearl talk her into giving up Gremlin. That feeling helps her to empathize with her brother and his dilemma. She wants to renege on her trade with Pearl; but she knows the rules. Can she follow them when she is so unhappy? How will she get Gremlin back? Her plan angers Pearl, and leaves Cody wondering about the rules concerning truth that govern her life. 

This series is terrific for those readers wanting to move on to chapter books, and a longer story. The dialogue is spot-on, the tone is full of life and often funny. I think that Eliza Wheeler's black and white illustrations are a great match for the story's action.

I have enjoyed all three of the Cody books, and highly recommend them for series readers in grades 2-4. I look forward to meeting Cody again in the future.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, by Deborah Heiligman. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $27.99 ages 14 and up

"The crisis brings out the very best in Vincent. He immediately writes to Theo and tells him the money he sends will go to Ma and Pa., not for his painting supplies. He nurses Ma with the kindness he showed the miners in the Borinage. Pa appreciates how helpful he is around the house. His relationship with both of his parents improves dramatically. When he's not helping his parents, he still works ..."

It is difficult to describe all the feelings I am experiencing having finished reading this remarkable book: melancholy, admiration, astonishment for the Van Gogh brothers and their lifelong commitment to each other. It is an impressive and incredibly descriptive biography, written with care and insight by the incomparable Ms. Heiligman. If you have not read Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (Henry Holt, 2009), this book might be all the incentive you need to find a copy and put it on your TBR pile.

The relationship between the Van Gogh brothers is complicated, to say the least. They are born four years apart (Vincent is the elder). It is not hard to tell they are brothers on the outside; they look very much alike. Their differences are evident in personality, routines, and outlook. It is their abiding love for each other, despite these many differences, that is at the heart of this carefully constructed and impeccably researched biography.

"They promise always to be close, to keep the bond between them strong and intimate. They always will walk together. They will be more than brothers, more than friends. They will be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art. Together they will achieve lives filled with purpose. And they will, when needed, carry each other's parcels."

Using the nearly 700 letters exchanged between the two, the author plots her story as a series of gallery visits, using a reproduction of one of Vincent's pieces of art to introduce each one. The letters are quoted often, and allow readers a sense of the volatile, yet always loving, relationship. The style of her writing changes according to Vincent's work at the time. He sketches, draws, paints endlessly, always learning and searching for the best way to express himself. I read an advanced reader's edition which did not include the final full-color insert from the published work. I can tell you reading it sent me time and again to carefully study his body of work.

When I mention that the back matter is extensive, it is not an understatement. Beginning with a list of the people included in its pages, and moving on to a carefully constructed look at the journey the brothers took together, the author then adds an informative author's note, a lengthy bibliography, acknowledgements, and finally endnotes and an index. IMPRESSIVE!

It is a memorable look at the lives and loves of two brothers, whose deeply touching and creative connection ensures the world can celebrate Vincent Van Gogh and his life's work.

"The world would not have Vincent
                 without Theo."

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, by Jan Thornhill. Groundwood Books, 2017. $18.95 ages 9 and up

"It had to be able to ride the surf or waddle out of the ocean no matter how high or low the tide - onto a place flat enough to lay an egg. And because it couldn't fly miles away to find food for itself, and eventually, its ravenous chick, it could only nest where there was a reliable supply of fish in the waters surrounding the rookery. These were persnickety needs."

This is, hands down, one of the best information books I have read this year or ever! I was totally absorbed in the writing from first page to last, and had a lot to learn about the Great Auk. Jan Thornhill, in her brilliant and important look at the effects of climate change and the need for conservation of the world's endangered species, shows clearly and sadly what led to their extinction.

The Great Auk, as you can see from the cover, were not unlike penguins. They lived in the north Atlantic ocean and were perfectly suited for their life there - until humans and their own adaptations changed all that. Would that we all learn the important lesson this book shares, and do our best to ensure that it does not keep happening.

They lived, at one time, in great numbers. Today, there are none - not a one! Four hundred years have wrought big changes. Ms. Thornhill tells their story in words and pictures meant to help us understand the events that led to their disappearance. The details are rich, and the whole book reads like the most compelling story. It is sad, and told with compassion for their plight and a hope that we can see the error of our ways by knowing about their demise.

She introduces through her stunning art and absorbing text a very impressive bird, with one fatal flaw:

"But wait! There was a slight glitch in this expert fish-hunter's design. Over millions of years of evolution, its wings - though eventually perfect for propelling it underwater - became so stunted, so small, they couldn't get the bird off the ground. The Great Auk couldn't fly to save its life. Literally."

And that was its downfall. As it evolved, it had to find its way to land in order to lay eggs and further the species. That made it vulnerable to hunters, of the human kind. Once humans took to the sea, the Great Auk's fate was sealed. I could go on and on describing what I learned, but I think you deserve to read it yourself. You will certainly not be sorry that you did. Your children and your students deserve to hear the story. It is quite a remarkable presentation, and will not soon be forgotten.

"By the 1860s, it seemed obvious to a handful of people that, if nothing was done, many more species could soon meet the fate of the Great Auk. A group of scientists and other concerned citizens lobbied the British government and, finally, in 1869, an act banning the killing of thirty-three species during their nesting seasons was introduced.

The conservation movement was born."

Thankfully!

A map, a glossary, a list of names given to the Great Auk, a  list of extinct species, resources for further study and a reference guide make up back matter. 

                

Thursday, August 10, 2017

There, There, written by Tim Beiser and illustrated by Bill Slavin. Tundra Books. 2017. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"In the mud, Hare sat and stared
At that poor, blind, wrinkled
creature
Whose brown skin, all slimy-
smeared
Was his most attractive feature.
Hare compared the life he had,
And he thought,
Things aren't so bad.
"Yes, I see," the hare then
sighed."

It seems that we have been waiting for rain here for a very long month, or two. We have had the rare downpour, but it hasn't been nearly what is needed for so many. Every time it showers, I want to do a happy dance. I love the smell, the immediate effect on yards and gardens, and I don't mind at all the quiet, contemplative rest it encourages.

To say Hare feels the same would be a gross miscalculation for his mood, when a daylong rainstorm forces him and his ursine roommate to stay inside! Hare is whiny, and angry, and ANNOYED. Bear does his best to placate his buddy with a chess game, tea and muffins, and the constantly
reassuring "There, there!" Hare's drama and constant complaining finally gets to Bear.

"Knock it off!" the old bear scolded.
"Let me make this very clear,
I have had it up to
                    HERE!"

Out they go. Bear reasons that Hare has little to complain about when comparing his life to that of an earthworm. The description of earthworm's lot in life is so funny. It is just what is needed to convince Hare his life is pretty darn good. As the two head back inside and the rain makes itself scarce, they leave a disgruntled earthworm behind them.

Bill Slavin uses acrylic paints on gessoed board to create textured backdrops and appealing expressive characters, that bring this humorous tale to full life for the youngsters who will get a real kick from its telling.