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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Friends, written and illustrated by Mies Van Hout. Pajama Press, 2023. $22.95 ages 3 and up





Mies Van Hout is a master at creating books with meaning for toddlers to young adolescents, and their parents. Artwork, created using chalk and pastel in carefully-chosen brilliant colors and placed on black backgrounds, give full attention to the two figures chosen to represent a single word on each double-page spread. 

The twelve words shared show friendship in a variety of contexts. The creatures differ in size, are quirky in nature and being. It is obvious that they have feelings for each other; these feelings vary through a gamut of images, exploring play, boredom, fight, hope and others. I could go on to describe each one. It would be so much more entertaining if you took the time to find this wonderful book in a bookstore or at the library. What a perfect gift it would make for a little one interested in expanding vocabulary and keen to talk about emotions felt when dealing with friends. 

Pair it with Happy (2023) to put in a Christmas basket for your favorite little one. They will find much to love about both books. Then, check out other books written by this prolific and exceptional artist.                                                                              

Friday, December 8, 2023

Stickler Loves the World, written and illustrated by Lane Smith. Random House Studio, 2023. $25.99 ages 4 and up


"Colors bursting 
like fireworks! 


Puffballs! And tomorrow 
there will be twice as many! 

Smell one. 


You cannot possibly read this book (and I have read it numerous times because it just makes me happy) without becoming joyous at the wonder Stickler sees in the natural world that surrounds him. Admittedly, he is a curious creature living in an unusual part of the forest. Stickler loves sticks more than anything else. Or does he? Rather, everything makes him happy. He, in fact, has a hidden wish to see it all again for the first time. 

Since that is not possible, he is ovejoyed to meet an alien creature with whom he can share the many wonders of his home. From morning sun, to colorful flora, to ocean creatures and waves, there is no end to the many delights to be seen, felt and heard. The alien, who looks very like a crow with a can on its head, follows along hoping to be released from its predicament. Stickler is a tremendous and gleeful guide, making their journey together one that is sure to delight readers who are accompanying them. 

"And just think of the wonders we must 
pass every day without even noticing.

When Crow is finally released from the tin can and recognized by Stickler, Crow's appreciation for Stickler's tour is evident. The two leave readers on a high note:

""Because," whispered Stickler, 
"no words can truly describe a world 
            so amazing, 
so weird, 
so wonderful.""

Young readers will giggle at Stickler's strange looks; ultimately, they will find him quite the special being. The mixed-media illustrations are awash with color, texture and humor. Molly Leach's design prowess is evident at every turn of the page and adds to the wonder. Bravo!                                                                                       

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Shade Tree, by Suzy Lee. Translated by Helen Mixter. Greystone Kids. 2023. $23.95 ages 4 and up

"The rich man went home with a big 
smile on his face. 

The traveler invited the villagers to come
and rest. "Now that the shade is mine, you 
can lie here whenever you want," he said. 

And the villagers thanked him and happily 

Suzy Lee creates such fabulous books! I am in awe of her storytelling and her brilliant art. 

This story begins with a traveler seeking shade under a large tree. The sun is hot, the shade is cool; the traveler sees that the villagers stop in the tree's shade to rest. As the traveler prepares to join them, there is a hue and cry from a seemingly rich and powerful man. He insists that everyone leave as the tree is on his land; therefore, the shade is his! 

The traveler is surprised to hear that shade has an owner. The owner is adamant, and lies down beneath the tree. The traveler is willing to buy the shade. Being greedy, the owner sees a chance to make more money. He accepts all the money the traveler has to offer. The deal is done. At the traveler's invitation, the villagers return to enjoy the cool, and the traveler explains that they can sit in the shade whenever they like. After all, it is his now. 

At sunset, the shadows grow longer and longer. Ms. Lee's gatefold of the traveler cavorting from the tree to the rich man's garden is delightful. The man's response is as expected; he is furious. The traveler's calm reminder of what the man has promised leaves the rich man with no option ... except to eventually move away from the tree and the shade it provides. 

Character silhouettes and the ever-present tree and its shade match the storytelling at every turn. A lovely retelling of a Korean folktale.  Stellar!                                                                                    

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Words We Share, written and illustrated by Jack Wong. Annick Press, 2023. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"Come on, he says, let's go down to see 
the owner together. 

My tummy is doing flip-flops by the 
time we get to the laundromat.  

"Maybe we should come back later - "
I start to say, but Dad squeezes my 
hand, and we go in.

Upon arrival in Canada from their Chinese homeland, Angie and her father speak only a few words of English. Attendance at school has made a big difference for Angie. She is able to converse easily now. Her father continues to speak Cantonese. He often needs Angie's help with deliveries, dinners out, and buying groceries; she is happy to be there for him. 

It takes time for her father to find work because of the language barrier. Work as a janitor does not require language proficiency. When he is asked to put up notices concerning employee behavior, he enlists Angie's help to print out his instructions. While helping, Angie realizes she has a talent that could help other members of their Chinese community. She offers to make signs in English for the canteen owner, the shoemaker, and the owner of the laundromat. It's a win/win situation. 

Everything is well and good, until there is a problem at the laundromat. Angie is embarrassed and afraid to sort it out with Mr. Chu. Her father offers support, and makes a discovery that totally surprises both he and his daughter. He and Mr. Chu speak Hakka; they came from the same area of China. Angie has no idea that her father speaks another language! 

"I watch Dad as we walk home. 
He looks changed, but also not. 
Because the two languages Dad 
knew how to speak were in him 
this whole time.

Detailed illustrations give readers a warm glimpse at immigrant life and the struggles faced by many. Angie and her father respect each other as they work together to make a new life, using their individual abilities. Angie's English dialogue is placed alongside her father's Cantonese (which is also translated into English) allowing those reading the story a chance to see what conversation looks like as the two work together.                                                                      

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

How To Decorate a Christmas Tree, written by Vikki VanSickle and illustrated by Miki Sato. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2023. $ 24.99 ages 4 and up


"Uncle Rob puts on the Christmas music while I 
unwrap the ornaments. Be careful! Some of them 
are very old. Some of them are very delicate. Each 
one has a different story.

Have you decorated your Christmas tree yet? If you have not but have a plan to do it soon, this would be the perfect book for this special occasion. Putting up the tree can be one of the most memorable events at Christmas time. 

The young narrator gives good advice. She suggests doing it when it's cold outside, and warm and toasty inside. Finding the right spot, setting it up with something to keep it moist, and getting out all you need to give it the sparkle it deserves comes next. Once the lights are placed and Christmas music fills the air, it's time to bring out the ornament box and share what makes them such special additions to the tree each year. 

As they are removed,  the child is reminded of important people and events through the years. One from a camping trip, one from  Auntie Celeste who lives in Japan, some made at school and saved from year to year, a popcorn garland made fresh at this moment. Each is treasured and handled with love and care - and a shared memory. The surprise comes with a brand-new decoration being added this year, to hang on the tree from today forward. 

"You're too little to put in on the 
tree yourself, but if you show me 
where you want it to go, I can 
hang it for you.

Isn't that what big sisters do for a new baby brother? 

Reading this book together as a family is sure to evoke stories from times past. The warmth displayed in the artwork, created with 'papers, textiles, embroidery thread, craft supplies, and a healthy dose of holiday cheer', is a cozy complement to the tone of the telling. Young readers will also appreciate the presence of a tabby cat who knows a thing or two about mischief. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

Snowmen's Twelve Nights of Christmas, written by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2023. $25.99 ages 3 and up

"On the third day of Christmas
my dog chased up a tree
three merry mice, 
two tubing twins, 
and an elf with a present for me.

It's the sixth book about Snowmen by this husband-and wife team. It has all the familiar characters and will be much appreciated by little ones who find joy in cumulative stories with repetitive lines and humor. 

It's nighttime again, when snowmen can romp and enjoy life without humans knowing what they are doing. Here they are joined by a dog, small snowpeople, mice, squirrels, a caroling troupe, penguins, gnomes, reindeer, shoppers, kittens bunnies, and finally, ducks. Wait! Don't forget the elf bearing a present for the narrator. 

The final spread is a delight and filled with the most intricate details to keep little ones looking long after the song has been sung. Each of the entities included have been chased up that tree by the rambunctious and persistent canine. From the smiles on their faces, it's easy tell it has been a fun romp for all. There are bright colors and constant motion to entertain little ones - and the cover lets readers know there are hidden pictures on every page. So, start your search!  

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The North Wind and the Sun, by Philip Stead. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House, 2023. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"The three sisters huddled 

They closed their eyes, and 
in the North Wind's howl 
they heard only - 

"Lies," said the first. 

"Spitefulness," said the second. 

"Mockery," said the third."

This absolutely glowing retelling of Aesop's fable about the conflict between the North Wind and the Sun will be thoroughly enjoyed by those who have already heard it, and by those who are brand new to its lesson. 

Three aging sisters and their black dog can hear the coming of a new season, and make the decision to get outside for a walk before it is too cold to do so. They dress in patchwork coats of yellow, blue, and red (with striped socks to match). A vertical view at the page turn for the next page shows them leaving their house in bright sunshine. The Sun is very pleased to see them there.

A quick turn to the opposite side shows the North Wind is not in any way enamored of their patchwork coats or the ability they have to protect the sisters. He laughs to think about it. The sisters watch as birds depart for warmer climes, in hopes of avoiding the chilly air that is sure to come. 

The Sun is impressed with the North Wind's bravado; but, doesn't want him to forget that she is also strong. So, begins a contest between the two. The wind does what the wind is capable of doing. The sisters stand their ground. The North Wind continues to roar at anything and everyone in his path. The sisters feel only pity for his loneliness and rage. They continue to hold tightly to their coats. 

Once the wind has exhausted himself, the Sun decides what she does best. She radiates her warmth upon the earth, awakening flora and fauna, and old women and old men around the world. And the sisters?

"The three sisters shed their coats. They sat down upon them, and listened to the hum of life all 
around. Memories began to unspool like brightly colored thread.

Thanking the sun for its kindness, they head back home to mend their coats and prepare for the coming winter.  

Fans will recognize Mr. Stead's colored pencils and printing techniques ... so beautifully created to tell this story of two feuding and starkly disparate entities. The elegance of his word choice, combined with the stellar illustrations ensure that this is a book to be shared countless times. It is a 'keeper'.