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Saturday, February 24, 2018

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, story by Dave Eggers and art by Tucker Nichols. Chronicle Books,. Raincoast. 2015. $29.50 all ages

"This time he asked for help. One of his helpers was Leon Moisseiff. Leon had come to the USA from Latvia and had become one of the most respected bridge designers in the world. He designed the Manhattan Bridge ... "

The two books that I am posting today will be shared by all those interested in landmarks and their historical significance, as well as the path taken to be where they are today.

I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge through fog and blinding rain. We were on a road trip home from southern California and passed through San Francisco at the peak of rush hour traffic in the early evening. Luckily, I wasn't driving and could catch a glimpse of the bridge through the rain splattered window. What an awesome sight, although I could not tell what color the bridge was from my vantage point!

In this book, Dave Eggers puts his research  skills to work to tell the story of its construction, from start to finish. It is as if he is speaking directly to each reader in telling his story. Mr. Eggers describes the city and its Bay area, allowing his audience to understand the need for a bridge to be built. Much had to be done before construction could begin ... all complete before the color of the bridge was even considered. Most bridges are gray, not orange.

Along the way there were many obstacles, not the least of which was the question of marring the beauty of the bay with a monstrous span. Color was a tough sell, but Irving Morrow, an architect, made a case for using orange because of its beauty. He would not be deterred from that decision.

 “This bridge, built to span this beautiful land against this beautiful sea, had to be beautiful itself.”

The construction paper collage artwork created by Tucker Nichols fill the thick, over-sized book with full spreads, bold color, and lovely backgrounds. He has an eye for compositions that completely suit the text, and allow readers to understand all that is happening as the text moves forward. The bickering between talking heads as people complained about construction, design and color are attention grabbing, and add context for young readers.

Playful and often humorous, Dave Eggers has written a non-fiction book that defies what we expect of the genre. Make no mistake, it is a book for all ages.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Windfall, written by Jennifer E. Smith. Delacorte, Penguin Random House, 2017. $24.99 ages 12 and up

"The money arrives on a rainy day in the middle of March. For the past seven weeks, Teddy has been doing a very convincing impression of a contestant on one of those game shows where they set you loose in a store with a bucket of cash and a ticking clock. With his growing assortment of credit cards, he's already managed to run up a debt so big it would've given pre-jackpot Teddy a heart attack."

Alice is not alone, although she lost her parents when she was far too young. Following their deaths, she moved from San Francisco to Chicago. There she lives with her aunt and uncle and their son, Leo. She has been with them for nine years. Leo and Alice are best friends, always looking out for each other and happy to let Teddy into their tight knit kinship. In fact, Alice has hidden feelings for Teddy.

Not knowing what to get him for his 18th birthday, she buys him a lottery ticket. It's a winner - a huge win! More money than anyone can imagine. Teddy's life with a single mother and an absent father, has not been easy. He is happy with this wondrous gift, and the incredible wealth that will allow a real reversal of fortune. He offers to share it with Alice, who turns him down. Her decision causes a rift between the two. Alice has always struggled to be like her parents ... helping others, working with the needy, selfless. She finds it hard to watch Teddy squander what he has been given, when he could do so much with it.

Funny, poignant, courageous, and even annoying at times, their story is one that will appeal to many. The characters are real, certainly flawed, but worthy of the reader's attention and even admiration. How wealth might impact a life is what those who buy lottery tickets try to imagine. In this book we certainly see how it affects friendship, family, acquaintances,  and the three teens themselves. It does change everything that came before the win.

The story has an interesting premise, and is handled well by Ms. Smith. It gives readers pause for thought, and deals with issues that make us consider how lives are shaped by circumstances, luck, and even perhaps how we make our own choices for the future.

What might you do if it happened to you?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ban This Book, by Alan Gratz. Starscape, Macmilllan. Raincoast. 2017. $22.99 ages 9 andup

"But I had never seen each book as such a valuable thing before. Even the books I wasn't interested in reading were like gold. It didn't matter what was inside them. One man's junk was another man's treasure, as my grandmother said. The same thing was true with books. One person's Captain Underpants was another person's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler."

I am going to start with a short apology ... my computer has been in the hospital for the past week, and that means I have fallen behind with posting. I am sorry for that as I work pretty hard to post a book a day. Now, I am two days behind. So, I will try to play some catch up here and get back on track.

I loved this book! It begins with a brave young girl (she's in fourth grade) and her discovery that her favorite book of all time has been removed from the shelf in her school library. It is not the only one. Amy Anne, a book lover and avid reader, asks a few pertinent questions of her librarian, Mrs. Jones. She learns that Mrs. Spencer, a school parent, wanted it removed for a number of reasons. Thus, it's gone; no questions asked or comments sought from the students, or librarian. It happens far too often, doesn't it?

As more and more books are removed, Amy Anne decides to take matters into her own hands and establishes a secret lending library in her locker. The banned titles are stored there, and those who want to borrow them make arrangements with Amy Anne. The number of borrowers grows and the donations increase. There is constant fear of discovery, but Amy Anne is determined to show that "Nobody has the right to tell you what books you can and can’t read except your parents.”

When she is caught with the books, she is temporarily suspended by the same principal who fires the librarian for inviting Dav Pilkey, author of the banned Captain Underpants books, to talk with students. We hear both sides of the story, and you know which side of the argument I support. There are many serious moments, and some humorous ones.  Many of the books on the banned list will be familiar to readers ... if not, they will have a new list of wonderful books to read when they finish reading this one. Amy Anne would fully support any attempt to see what the books are all about, and why they were put on such a list in the first place.

Amy Anne is a strong character who stands up for her belief that she should be able to read any book her parents, of she herself, deem appropriate. She has the support of good friends. Together they face the obstacles meant to stop them, and come up with an ingenious plan to have the books returned to library shelves where they will be available to anyone who wants to read them. Amy Anne's family life is an interesting and a thoughtful part of her story, as well. Through her experiences, Amy Anne grows and changes, and finds her voice. That voice matters!

What a great book to read in a middle years classroom setting!

"Trust me," Trey said, "books have been challenged for all kinds of crazy reasons. I looked up some challenges on the Internet. The easy ones are anything that's got witchcraft or supernatural stuff in it, anything with bad words, anything with gay characters, anything with violence, and anything that mentions sex in it." He blushed when he said the last one, and we all found somewhere else to be looking."

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Witch Boy, by Molly Knox Ostertag. Scholastic, 2017. $16.99 ages 10 and up

"Something is taking our boys. Something that sneaks through our boundaries and evades us at every turn. It may be an animal spirit, but what would its motivation be? It may be a demon we've never encountered before. We need to stay on guard. We need to find out how this monster is getting to us, and where it's keeping our boys. I refuse to believe they're ...  not alive."

Graphic novels hold appeal for many. Not surprising when the books just keep getting better and better. I heard from one of the kids I know who loves them that I should read this one. So, I did ... and now I can tell you all about it.

Aster, at 13, is finally old enough to recognize his animal spirit. It is the animal that will allow him to shape-shift. One small problem, or perhaps an insurmountable one, is the fact that Aster has no interest in that destiny. He is far more interested in magic, only taught to girls. Witchery is forbidden for the boys in his community.

As his Aunt Vervain teaches her craft to the girls allowed to learn it, Aster takes careful notes from a hiding place close by. When caught, his mother has a family story to relate. She tells him that his grandmother's twin brother was also attracted to witchery, and his forays into the forbidden art ended in adversity for the villagers. He was forced to leave. She doesn't want her son to face the same fate.

Aster accepts the danger, but cannot let go of his dream. So, he practises when he is alone and far from the village. Charlie, a female outsider, sees him, understands the way he feels, and becomes his friend as he deals with his wish to be different from the others. When two of the village boys are taken by an unknown being, Aster knows he can help to find them. Can he admit what he knows and how he knows what he does? Can he help to bring them home?

Ms. Ostertag builds a credible world in distinct images filled with color and emotion. The characters are likeable, and focused. Readers cannot help but feel sorry for Aster's plight, despite his skill at witchery. He feels ostracized by his community for his differences, and looks to Charlie for the support he needs. She is a fine friend, and does all she can to support him.

Fans of graphic novels will find much to like about this one.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bear and Wolf, written and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada, 2018. $24.95 ages 5 and up

"The snow was slowing as they came to a great clearing in the woods. Both Bear and Wolf had been here before, but that was in the summertime, when the forest was green and bursting with sounds and smells. In the summertime, this place was a round blue lake."

During the winter, when the two meet, that lake is no longer blue. It is 'a huge, flat circle of white.' You can feel the cold of the lake right through to your bones. Daniel Salmieri has created an atmospheric tale of companionship and admiration between two denizens of the forest.

Their interlude on a snowy winter day begins when both are out walking in the forest. Bear is first to notice another form in the snow. The two walk toward the other, each recognizing a kindred spirit. They decide to travel together. As they go, they note the sights, smells, and sounds of their winter environment.

The language is as quiet and lovely as the winter landscape.

"No, I'm not lost. I'm out for a walk to feel the cold on my face, and to enjoy
the quiet of the woods when it snows. What are you doing?"

"I'm out for a walk to feel the cold under my paws, and to listen to the crunching
of the snow as I walk."

As they walk together in companionable silence and thoughtful conversation, the two thoroughly enjoy the experience. The time comes when both must return to family ... bear to his den and family for a long winter's sleep, and wolf to his pack and the winter hunting that will sustain them.

"I really liked walking with you," said Bear.

"I really liked walking with you, too," said Wolf.
"I hope that we'll meet again."
Using gouache, watercolor, colored pencils, and crushed colored pencil shavings, the artist evokes the winter woods. The atmospheric images are softly textured to provide a sense of wonder and calm, despite that fact that the two animals are often considered fearsome and worthy of worry. Having the text spread across the bottom of each double page spread allows readers to experience the calm of the animals' time together and the wonder in their friendship. 

Just lovely!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Unraveling Rose, written by Brian Wray and illustrated by Shiloh Penfield. Schiffer Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son, 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Life was just the way she
wanted it, and Rose did
everything she could to
keep it that way.
 
If the books on the shelf
weren't straight, Rose
wanted to straighten them.
 
At tea time, Rose made sure ... "

My granddaughter Chelsea has a very special companion. Her name is Lady Grey, and she goes anywhere that Chelsea goes. The nearly two year old  is not always careful with her rabbit. In the summer, while they were here visiting, Lady Grey made a few toilet plunges.  Chelsea is reprimanded by her older sister for being careless in caring for her. Sicily has been known to pick her up from the sidewalk and carry Lady Grey, letting everyone know that Chelsea 'is not a good listener'; she should not be left in charge of her best friend's safety. Chelsea loves that wee bunny with everything in her, and is seldom seen without her close by. I now have a special love for stuffed bunnies.

Rose is a sweet little bunny, and readers will feel an immediate connection to her. The little boy who loves her is much like Chelsea. The two doing everything together ... bedtime hugs, park play, reading stories. All is well until the day Rose notices a loose thread on her arm. Rose likes things to be orderly, and that tiny thread throws her off her game. She experiences such concern that she cannot concentrate on the many things she loves to do. She can only give her full attention to that loose thread.

She must fix it. As she tries, the thread gets longer, and longer, and longer. Rose is ashamed that she can't keep from pulling on the thread, always trying to fix it. Rose's arm becomes unstuffed. It takes up all of her attention, and means she can't do those things she usually loves to do. Finally, gathering up all of her courage, she works to fix her arm. In doing so, she begins to understand that not everything needs to be perfect.
 
A gentle introduction to OCD, and an opportunity to begin a discussion about differences, the author
offers a hopeful tale for children and parents, as well as some helpful advice in back matter.   

                                                                             

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ducks Away! Written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek. Scholastic. 2018. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Wait! It was four little ducks.

What? It was five little ducks,
except just then ...

a sudden gust of wind swept the
last little duck right into the river
below!

"Oh,  no!" quacked Mother Duck.
"What should I do?  ... "

I may have told you this in an earlier post. I love Mem Fox and her wonderful books! When I was working in a school library, and with early learners, we used every one of them as incentive for independent reading. Young children love the repetition, the word choice, the rhyme and rhythm that is evident in each one. Mem works hard to pen these brilliant books, and I appreciate her talent and  love of literacy.  If you want to learn more about her, go to www.memfox.com for a visit.

So, I am always on the lookout for a new book to add to my collection. Ducks Away arrived in the mail last week with a box full of new books from Nikole at Scholastic. I am grateful to her for sending it along; and I want to share it with you.

Mama Duck and her babies are off on an excursion that includes crossing a fairly high bridge. Mama leads the way and her ducklings follow right behind her. There are five of them. Unfortunately, just as the last little one catches up, a gust of wind blows her off the bridge and into the river below them. Mama is worried, of course. One in the river, four on the bridge! While the wee ducklings seem unconcerned, it is not the same for Mama. What is a mother to do? So it goes with each of the little ones  ...

"Oh, no!" quacked Mother Duck.
"What should I do?
Where should I go,
with three on the bridge
and two below?"

The text is so perfect that kids will soon be worrying right along with Mama, and they won't recognize that they are learning early math concepts as they go.

Judy Horacek has collaborated with Ms. Fox for other delightful titles: Where Is The Green Sheep?, This and That, and Good Night, Sleep Tight. She  uses simple images and lovely color to adeptly match the carefully written  text. Action is focused squarely on the duck family. Kids are going to love it!