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Monday, March 20, 2023

We Are Lions, words by Jens Mattsson and pictures by Jenny Lucander. Translation by B.J. Woodstein. Groundwood Books, 2023. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"One day, my brother doesn't want to run 
around the savanna. His stomach hurts. 

I call him a poopy gazelle, but he doesn't 
even growl. He just whines. It's boring. 

My brother has to go to the doctor."

Here are two boys whose imaginations allow them adventure as lions out on the savanna. They are hungry, noisy, and very brave. Gazelles and wildebeest should be very worried. They are silent as they pursue their prey. Then the scene quickly changes from an imagined plain to their own backyard, but the envisioning continues. 

Things change even more quickly when the big brother gets sick. A trip to the doctor is quickly arranged; the little one stays home with his mom. The trips to the doctor become more frequent and medicine is plentiful, finally followed by time in the hospital. The endless time spent there is hard on the young boy; he is told to be calm and still. He cannot control his wildness. While he turns the bathroom into a wet and slippery place, his brother roars weakly from his bed. The lions are having trouble adapting. 

When the opportunity presents itself, the two make a break for it with the wheelchair; off to the savanna where they cause chaos for some of the older patients. It isn't long until they are captured, chastised for being naughty, and returned to the sick room. Their days spent together in the hospital become a sharing time for the two. Tales from preschool, long hours spent lying together in the hospital bed, and the wam comfort of family. 

They may not be lions for now; they will be again. They will hunt once more. 

This book is a wonderful example of what happens when a story beautifully told is matched by equally strong and wonderful artwork. Using line drawings, watercolor, and digital collage, Ms. Lucander helps readers understand the story to be serious and heartbreaking. Filled with tenderness, it provides opportunity for discussion for all who share it. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Llama Is Not An Alpaca and Other Mistaken Animal Identities, written by Karen Jameson and illustrated by Lorna Scobie. RP Kids, Hachette. 2023. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"Turtle or tortoise? Got you beat? 
Guess who paddles with webbed feet. 


Turtle vs. Tortoise

Slow and steady! Most turtles have 
webbed feet for swimming, although 
sea turtles have flippers. Tortoises 
are land dwellers with short, stubby 

I was talking with my granddaughter about this book this morning. Sicily has embarked on researching some animals and preparing information sheets for what she is discovering during spring break. The first two animals she has chosen are the Siberian tiger and the sun bear. She was diligent in her research and had lots to share. I wondered if she knew the difference between a llama and an alpaca. She explained that the main difference is that llamas have a tendency to be 'spitters' while alpacas are much friendlier and 'cuddly'. 

I explained I had read only one thing about each. I also mentioned that people often mistake one for the other. 

"Alpaca? Llama? Big surprise.
One of them comes SUPERSIZE!


Alpaca vs Llama: 
Lickety-spit! Llamas are almost twice the size and have 
longer, curved ears. Alpacas have shorter ears and chubby, 
furry faces. Both like to spit!"

And now we know! Ten pairs of animals are mentioned as ones that are often mistaken for the other. This book sets young readers straight. The answers are often humorous, while answering the question correctly. Poetic text is accompanied by colorful, enjoyable artwork sure to attract the reader's attention. There is always a page turn before the answer is given, to allow children a chance to guess the answer. Illustrations corroborate what the text offers. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Gold, written and illustrated by Jed Alexander. Creston Books, Thomas Allen and Son, 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"Who belongs and who doesn't? 

Do members of the same family 
all look the same?

So much is shared in this wonderful wordless book! The endpapers present a city street, and an invitation to step inside. Three bears who live in a gold-colored house are preparing for an outing on their bicycles. Observant readers will note that there are four bikes, and only three bears. They don helmets, and warm scarves for protection from a rather windy day. 

The title page shows them embarking on their ride. Turn the page to see a small girl, dressed in golden-hued clothing step from a school bus of the same color. It spins away, leaving her to walk up the hill. She arrives at the only golden house on the street. (Remember those bears!) Letting herself in, she drops her outdoor clothes and shoes as she heads toward the kitchen. She gets right to work preparing a big pit of food. 

Obviously, she has done such a thing before now. She takes a steaming bowl to the table as attention is drawn outside to the bears making their return, A welcome smell awakens their taste buds as they enter the house. Papa returns the bikes to their place. Little hangs scarves at the door, and Mama retrieves the dropped clothing from the floor as they head toward the delicious odor emanating from the kitchen. 

What delight awaits? Steaming bowls of food, a little girl sound asleep on the sofa, and a warm welcome as she awakens. Dinner is served, dishes are done, and sleep comes to a very tired bunch. 

Much is presumed in the first reading of this book. That only encourages readers to go back and read it all over again. Is this a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story? Well, no! But it will certainly have readers who know that story make some predictions about what is sure to happen here. Does it? You will have to check for yourselves. You won't be sorry you did. 

Not one word ... none needed. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Baker by the Sea, written and illustrated by Paula White. Templar books, Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"My father is not a fisherman. 

He is the baker. Every day before the sun rises
and the boats come in, he is safe and warm inside, 
busily baking. The comforting aroma of fresh bread
welcomes a new day.

In this story of community, a young boy describes the place he loves and the people who live there. It is his home, and he is proud to be part of it. The people who live there work hard; the sea provides a living for many; and everyone works hard to provide for all.

"The sea is the beating heart of all we do.

Tired when their day is done, the workers go home to rest and get ready for their next day of work. The fishermen are fishing. Despite the hard work and harsh weather, the boy dreams of being a fisherman like so many others. He tells readers that his father does not fish. He spends his time inside where he is warm, and busy with his baking. He feeds many in the seaside village. 

The son wants to know if his father has ever been to sea. Yes, but it wasn't for him he tells him. Instead, he found his calling in baking. What would happen without the bread, buns, and biscuits he makes to sustain the workers and other folks in their village? That is surely food for thought, and perhaps a new view for the importance of his father's work. 

Using pencil and ink, Paula White creates cozy scenes of people working hard in their village to provide what is needed to sustain it. Grays, blues, and yellows offer a clear look at a way of life from the past, while also sharing the pride of all villagers.  An author's note adds context and one of her grandfather's recipes ends the book.                                                                                        

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Scaredy Squirrel Visits the Doctor, written and illustrated by Melanie Watt. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Dr. Vet begins Scaredy 
Squirrel's health exam. 

She weighs and 
measures him ... 

takes his temperature
and pulse ... 

checks his ears, 
fur and teeth ... 

looks at his X-ray ... "

Scaredy Squirrel fans will have been anticipating this new book. Kids who worry about making a visit to the doctor are sure to be calmed as they learn about Scaredy's first ever visit. To say Scaredy is scared is hardly a surprise. In other books, readers have learned about the many worries that plague him, and how he deals with them in the funniest ways. 

Scaredy remains anxious, and quite ingenious in his attempts to avoid anything that ups his stress level. He does everything he can to keep himself healthy, and stay away from the clinic. When a brochure arrives that announces every animal should pay a visit to get a health certificate, it takes him aback. He begins to think more seriously about seeing the doctor. 

Preparation is extensive. Once ready, he heads to the clinic, stealthily and incognito ... until the doctor lifts the crate causing Scaredy to go into full panic mode. Hilarity ensues for fans. Finally, Scaredy is put through the paces. 

"Scaredy sees it doesn't hurt at all 
to get a checkup. In fact, he feels 
good knowing everything is A-OK.

Dr. Vet ends the visit with suggestions for keeping Scaredy's anxiety at bay. Scaredy thanks the doctor and takes his health certificate home with him.  

As with other books in this fine series, children discover they are not the only ones with worries. Sharing this book will allow for questions and discussion to help alleviate fears they might have as well, and will encourage them to try some of the exercises the vet has suggested to keep Scaredy from worrying all the time. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Invitation, written by Stacey May Fowles and illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Groundwood, 2023. $19.99 ages 4 and up


"Fern worried so hard and wondered so long 
that she didn't even notice her friend Fawn 
appear on the front lawn. 
"Beautiful fall day!" Fawn called. "What's 
that you have there?" 
"I don't really know," Fern replied sadly. 

"Then you should OPEN IT! OPEN IT! 
OPEN IT!" called Fawn, swatting away 
the storm. "Whatever it is, we'll face it 

When Fern finds a yellow envelope in her mailbox, she expresses concern. She pays no attention to anything going on around her as her head fills with worries about what she might find in that envelope. Her worries keep her from checking that mail. Her mind fills with what if? questions. Fawn's arrival goes unnoticed until a question about the envelope is asked. Fern knows nothing about it. Fawn encourages Fern to open it, and promises to stand right beside her as she does. 

It is an invitation to a surprise at the museum. Fern is averse to surprises; Fawn promises to accompany her. As they walk along, Fern expresses more worries about timing, accidents, a bear's hunger, a bear's toothache, the guests they will see at the museum. Each worry voiced gets a positive and reasonable response from Fern's good friend. As they arrive, they agree that perhaps the two can introduce all the creatures they have met along the way to those in attendance. Once there, Fern sees that all guests have the same yellow envelope. They have all been invited. What a party awaits! 

It seems all's well that ends well, when you have a confident friend by your side. Similar future experiences such as this one are likely to help Fern deal with her anxiety one small step at a time. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Van Buren Sisters vs. The Pants Police, written by J.F. Fox and illustrated by Anna Kwan. Kids Can Press, 2023. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"By 1913, a new century had come roaring in, 
and for Addie and Gussie a new favorite sport
reigned supreme - MOTORBIKING!

Zooming around town, the sisters had little 
time for stuffy opinions and frilly fashions.

Addie and Gussie Van Buren were not raised as most young girls who were born in the late 1800s. Their mother died when they were young; their father raised his children to be 'confident, competitive, and capable'. Like him, they all loved sports. The girls were skilled at numerous ones. In 1913, their favorite was riding their motorbikes everywhere. 

When the war broke out in 1914, young women were not able to enlist as soldiers. Because of their prowess on their bikes, they felt they would be useful as couriers on the battlefield. To prove they could do it, they set out to ride from New York to California to prove their mettle and convince others they could do it. Little did they know the challenges that would face them as they made their way from one side of the country to the other - 6500 kilometers. 

They packed all they would need, and spoke with crowds before setting off.  Some bystanders were not impressed to see young women dressed in pants and attempting such a thing on their own. Not only that, they were not welcome in many towns along the way because of a code that said only men could were pants there. Two months later, they arrived as their destination, proud and happy with the accomplishment made on their own terms. Their lives following that journey were also quite triumphant. 

The second book in the Head-to-Head history series, it is told with humor, and inspiration. Today, descendants of the Van Buren sisters continue to make the same ride in their honor with other women bikers. Anna Kwan does a commendable job of placing the story in a clear historical setting with detailed artwork and hints of humor. Back matter adds notes for context, a glossary, and a list of print and digital sources.