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Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Polar Bear, written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $25.95 ages 5 and up

"She read that the polar bear is also called a sea bear, and that this huge marine mammal spends most of its life on the ice and snow of the frozen Arctic Ocean. In the spring and autumn, the flexible sea ice can bend and give way under the polar bear's colossal weight. In the summer, there is virtually no ice to hunt across ... "

If you want to know more about polar bears, while also being fully drawn in by brilliant artwork, this is definitely the book for you. A little girl, obviously interested in the Far North (her bookshelf attests to that), finds the perfect book for today, and sets to reading it.

In the narrative that informs her search for facts, readers will learn right along with her. There is much to know. The weather poses little difficulty for a bear so well-equipped to withstand every harsh moment in its northern environment. Their adaptations are many, and quite remarkable. Thick fur, layers of fat, huge feet, tremendous strength and endurance, an excellent sense of direction, powerful swimming strokes, and persistence at finding the good food needed to sustain them - all important and essential if they are to survive.

Jenny Desmond writes in a conversational tone that makes the text accessible to the audience she wants to reach. She uses mixed media, finishing it digitally, to create the superb artwork that graces the pages of this lovely book. Dramatic and beautifully designed, the spreads are sure to draw readers of all ages to its high realism. Being at the edge of the ice as the bear peers into the deep blue water, and the little girl holds her tiny fishing line, you can only hope that something much too big will not rise out of the depths and tug on it. I feel as if I am sitting right beside her. The textures are impressive, the colors bold, the ever-changing perspectives are full of wonder.

And polar bears can be a little like the children who will share this book, and love what it has to teach them.

"Polar bears do not hibernate. They like to sleep though, and can sleep almost anywhere at any time. Like humans, polar bears sleep in different positions. On warm days, they might stretch out on their back with their feet in the air or lie down on their stomach. On cold, stormy days, they curl up with a paw over their snout for warmth, letting the snow cover them like a blanket."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Samson in the Snow, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $20.50 ages 3 and up

"Samson trudged through valleys and over rolling hills. The wind blew the snow into fantastic shapes - but Samson did not stop to look. "The little red bird is not made for this kind of weather," he thought. Samson swung his tail and stomped his feet ... "

Samson is the friend we all want to have, and he has no idea. In fact, he doesn't have a friend. Only after he meets a tiny red bird does he wonder what it might be like. You see, Samson loves his dandelion patch, caring for it tenderly. When the red bird asks if she might have a few of the flowers to share with a friend who's having a bad day, Samson immediately agrees. The bird flies off, and Samson is left to wonder what it might be like to have one himself.

After a peaceful sleep, Samson awakens to a storm, and bitter cold. He now wonders if the bird is all right, and worries for her safety. He is philosophical about the state he finds himself in: "It is better to walk than to worry."  Off he trudges.

Finding a tiny mouse, almost indistinguishable in the snowscape and in need of protection, Samson offers warmth and comfort. Both are looking for someone, and worried. Both admit that their favorite color is yellow, as they find rest near a patch of the bright flowers. Guess who is hidden beneath that bright spot of color? Both were searching for the same tiny red bird! Samson finds nearby shelter for the three of them, and they wait out the storm sharing tales of adventure.

We should all have a woolly mammoth named Samson for a friend, don't you think? This tale of friendship and being kind is a familiar theme for Philip Stead. He has written some of my all-time favorite books, and created some memorable characters - Bear, Ruby, Amos McGee, Bird, and Sadie and her Aunt Josephine. Kindness is at the heart of what they do, and we would do well to emulate each of them and to introduce our kids to them. Be sure to check his bibliography to see what you have been missing!

In the best picture books shared with our kids, they see that it takes both words and pictures to tell a marvelous story. Here, the wordless spreads showing Samson's dreams and the danger that faces the tiny bird speak volumes. You need it for your collection, I think.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Maple & Willow's Christmas Tree, written and illustrated by Lori Nichols. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin. 2016. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"This year, Maple and Willow were getting a real Christmas tree. Choosing the right tree was the hardest work of all. But when the work was done, the girls were convinced their Christmas tree was the best Christmas tree ... in the whole wide world."

These endearing sisters are back; and I am happy to welcome them.  Red-cheeked, smiling faces show the delight they find in the wintry wonderland and soon, their thoughts turn to Christmas. There is much to be done. They work together to hang lights, and bake cookies.

This year is very special. This year they are going to a tree farm to find their own 'real' Christmas tree. It is a much-anticipated outing and, after careful thought, they make the perfect choice. Only when they get home and bring the tree inside do they realize there is a big PROBLEM.

It takes no time until Willow notices her sister's watery eyes, red cheeks, and hears the sneezing. It lasts all afternoon. Once outside, the symptoms go away. The tree must go.

"At least we have an outside tree,"
said Maple.
"I wish you weren't allergic
to Christmas," said Willow.

"I'm not allergic to Christmas,"
said Maple.
"Just Christmas trees."

Sad that her sister is angry, Willow decides to fashion a special surprise. Using ingenuity and available resources, it is a most inventive and ideal solution! Young readers will get great enjoyment as they pore over the pictures, remembering similar Christmas joys from their own lives. Delightful!

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Toad, written and illustrated by Elise Gravel. Tundra Books, Random House. 2016. $12.99 ages 6 and up

"The toad eats mostly bugs, worms and spiders. The toad is a pretty lazy hunter: she sits and waits for her PREY to walk by her, and then catches it with her long tongue. 


Sigh. Maybe someday an ice cream cone will walk by ... "

Fans of the informative and eew-inspiring Disgusting Creatures series will have their hands out, waiting in high anticipation for the laughs and learning any addition brings. They will not be disappointed here.

With characteristic cartoon artwork and limited text, the author entertains, while also plying her readers with information about traits, food, talents, development and what causes some to squirm in their presence. There are more than 5,000 species of toads and frogs; some have very weird characteristics, and all are in constant need of having water within close range. The focus in this book is on the common toad.

Here's the moment that is likely to elicit the loudest and most animated EWWW!

"The toad sometimes sheds her skin to
keep it healthy, and that's kind of gross.
It means she gets rid of the old skin,
and then ... SHE EATS IT!"

That's right, she eats her own skin. BLECCH!

You know they are going to love it, don't you?

Fun, factual and a great addition to your collection of nonfiction for young readers.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Buddy and Earl and the great big baby, written by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff. Groundwood. 2016. $16.95 ages 4 and up

"After Earl finished cheering, he turned to Buddy and said, "So! What's a baby?" Buddy was very surprised by the question. "Is a baby something you drive around in?" asked Earl. "No," said Buddy confidently. "Is a baby something you plug into the wall?" asked Earl.
"No," said Buddy, a little less confidently."

Earl has so much to learn about the world he is living in, and Buddy does his level best to make the learning happen. Having never seen a baby before Earl obviously has many questions.

As Buddy tries to help him understand, Earl relishes the fact that he and a baby have much in common.

"Babies are small and
adorable," explained Buddy.
"And I am small and adorable,"
said Earl.
"Babies like to eat things off the floor," said
"I like to eat things off the floor," said Earl."

They are just too funny, and they will have readers and listeners smiling with great pleasure as they get to know them better. Their third adventure is as much fun as the first two. It will surely gain a legion of fans who appreciate the friendship, the fun and the endless curiosity that fuels their conversations.

The baby's arrives for a visit. His rampant destruction of most things in his path has Earl rethinking his position on a baby's assets. It isn't long until that baby finds himself looking out of the bars of a playpen. He does not want to be there. He finally settles down, but does not sleep. While everyone else takes a needed nap, Earl keeps his eye on the bundle of energy. It isn't long before the baby escapes.  Earl enlists Buddy's help to get him back.

As they search, Earl imagines the many dreadful things that may have befallen a helpless baby bent on adventure of his own. Kids will howl when the lost is found and the searchers get a good look at the mayhem he is creating. In the end, there is one important lesson learned ... and Earl is happy to share it with friend Buddy.

As in the first two, Carey Sookocheff uses her winning artwork to show both sides of the story. They clearly match the story's events and every bit of fun.

Oh, it's great to have you back, Buddy and Earl! Can't wait to see you in your next adventure.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Pigloo, written by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by Lorna Hussey. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2016. $19.50 ages 3 and up

"In the morning, Pigloo puts on his boots and mittens and hat. His mother tells him to take off his hat to eat his eggs. (Hats at the table are the sort of thing mothers of explorers don't like.) "Are you going sledding today?" she asks. "I am going to the North Pole," Pigloo says. "With Paisley."

Pigloo wants to go exploring. Loving the snow, he sets the North Pole as his destination. He even knows what it will look like - a peppermint striped pole and a polar bear are sure to be visible upon arrival. He has everything he needs, except the snow!

His family members are not sure about this exploration. They ask him to exercise caution, and patience. His sister Paisley is not very supportive at all. Once the snow falls, and before setting off, he must have breakfast, dress to suit the weather and voice his plan.

"I am going to the North Pole," Pigloo says. "With Paisley."
"You know Admiral Byrd already found it, right?" Paisley asks.
"And I'm not going."

Pigloo is brave and prepared for his trip. He knows the markers, he knows a shortcut, and he finds a hill. Sledding is his only option if he plans on being home for lunch. Off he goes ... at a fast clip. He slows when he sees the pole, the bear and Paisley. Apparently, she took a 'shorter'cut. It means they arrive just in time for hot chocolate and warm soup.

Disappointed that he saw not one penguin, and learning that they only live at the South Pole, he makes a new plan for the afternoon. What about Paisley?

Warmhearted and sure to please kids wanting to hear seasonal stories starring snow, and seeking winter adventure.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ming Goes to School, written by Deirdre Sullivan and illustrated by Maja Lofdahl. Sky Pony Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2016. $25.99 ages 3 and up

"It's where she meets new
friends ...

and introduces the old.

It's where magic fairy
castles are built from
sticks ...

and growing up takes time."

I wish I had been able to share this with you in September when school started for most children. Children entering preschool can begin at other times during the year. So, this might be just what you need as you take or welcome a new child.

The text is perfectly suited to Ming's circumstance. It is her first day. Her father brings her in and goes off to start his day. As the seasons change and the year moves forward, Ming learns alongside her classmates. There is much to do, both inside and outside. And, there is time to wait until you are ready to try something brand new and a bit challenging.

This truly lovely book is a gentle introduction to the many joys and reflective moments that a school year for a young child entails. The soft, quiet watercolor artwork that depicts the classroom, the playground, the children who share the space and the gentle, encouraging teacher adds beauty to the strength of the sweet text.

"It's where all things ...
are worth waiting for."

It's a perfect for any child who will soon leave home to spend their days in new surroundings, and would make a lovely gift to share as they anticipate the experience.