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Friday, October 30, 2020

Your House, My House, written and illustrated by marianne dubuc. Kids Can Press, 2020. $19.95 ages 3 and up


"Little Rabbit adds candies to the top of his
cake. When he's done, all he'll have left to 
do is wait for his guests! Who will arrive
he wonders.

Oh, what an apartment building to visit! The cut-away spreads allow readers to see exactly what is happening for the families living within its walls. There are three full floors and an attic for their viewing pleasure. The main floor's two apartments are occupied; the larger one with a family of rabbits easing into an early morning; the smaller one by a mama hedgehog and her baby waiting for the day papa will be home again. On the middle floor, readers will note the bear occupying the larger apartment is in bed with a cold, and the foxes in the other are awaiting the arrival of a baby. The third floor has one empty apartment (those carefully scanning the page will see who's moving in today), and the other is filled with mice -a mama, a papa and three sleeping babies. A darkened interior in the attic shows it as a storage space; on the other side, a skylight allows a peek at what looks like a studio apartment awaiting the arrival of an approaching owl. 

After taking a careful look at this first detailed page, the reader is anxious to move forward. Whether trying to see what is happening in each apartment again or choosing to watch one family at a time, there is an opportunity to spend a lot of time in looking, thinking and discussing the various scenarios. Bear's cheeks get more and more flushed, until there is the need for a doctor visit. the fox parents leave their little one with the neighbors as they leave for the hospital. The cats continue the work of moving into a new home. The owl prepares for a good day's sleep. 

It is a place filled with friendship, kindness, and never-ending activity. It's not all about what is going on inside the building. There are small stories taking place outside as well. Kids who have knowledge of fairy tales will see some familiar characters as they pay unexpected visits. Those devilish three mice in the apartment below his studio cause a sleep disturbance for the owl, but he mostly manages to sleep through the chaos. He is ready to be up and out as everyone else is settling in for a rest after a long, eventful day.   

This is signature artwork for Ms. Dubuc. She is brilliant with creating small scenes in a pastel palette. Her families and characters will delight young readers and provide opportunities for a number of repeat visits.                                                                            

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Girl Versus Squirrel, written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Renee Andriani. Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2020. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"With her hockey stick and some duct tape, Pearl extended the teacup's pole. "There," she said, "that's tall enough to stop any squirrel in its tracks." She watched, breathless with anticipated success, but was disappointed. "Drat, drat, that speedy squirrel," she groused. "I'll make the pole taller."

Pearl knows what she wants in her backyard. She wants to birdwatch. What better way to do that than with bird feeders; she builds three. They each have their own special look, and all are meant to nourish the birds they will attract. The birds visit; Pearl is pleased. 

Until a squirrel decides that peanuts are a prize, and worth persistent effort to gobble each and every one that Pearl leaves. Determined not to be outwitted by the squirrel, Pearl begins a campaign to deter it from stopping at her feeder. Pearl is no match for the enterprising rodent. No matter the work she does, the squirrel is equal to the task. 

"Drat, drat, drat you, squirrel, " growled Pearl. "You're a 
bird-feeder-crashing, teacup-smashing, peanut-poaching pest!"

Pearl doesn't give up; nor does the squirrel. When Pearl discovers what the mother squirrel is doing with all those peanuts she is stealing from the teacup, she has a change of heart. What Pearl does next will delight readers, and encourage some creative ideas of their own! 

This first-person narrative is laden with lively language, and great voice. It is a real treat to read aloud to a group of early years listeners. Ms. Andriani fills double-page spreads with action and enthusiasm for each new attempt made to bring the squirrel to its knees. Humorous, empathetic, and full of fun. Back matter adds Some Squirrelly Facts that are sure to please and inform.                                                                                         

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Girl With the Cat, written by Beverley Brenna and illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $19.95 ages 5 and up


"In the last room, I see a piece of art just my size. It's a girl in a rocking chair. She's holding a cat and her face is full of secrets. A poster tells me this is a sculpture made of something called bronze. The girl's name is Nina and her cat is Sammy. They are named after the artist's daughter and her cat."

When Caroline and her brother visit the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon for the first time, she is overwhelmed by the high ceilings, the quiet, and the beauty of the art that adorns the walls. It is not until she visits the very last room that she finds a piece of sculpture that speaks to her soul. It is exactly her size. Although a sign asks patrons not to touch, she cannot resist rocking its chair, or patting the cat. Caroline is full of questions she would love to ask Nina. 

As they leave, Caroline tosses a penny in the wishing well, assuming her wish is not likely to come true. She returns to the gallery week after week, telling Nina her secrets and concerns about the family's recent move and the adjustments she is making to living in a new place. When she sees a Moving Soon sign beside Nina and Sammy, she is disheartened. 

Instead of getting angry as she did when the family had to move, she decides to write a note to the gallery's director. She inserts coins that she and her brother have saved to help pay the cost of buying the art from its owner. It's all they have. What happens next is heartwarming, and applauds activism in the young. Back matter provides archival photos and further information about Caroline herself.                                                                           

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Protectors of the Planet, written by Jamie Bastedo. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $24.95 ages 12 and up


"Fast forward to the 20-teens. Ian has become a mighty conservation force to be reckoned with. He has another five award-winning books under his belt, on everything from wolves to whales, all showcasing the Great Bear Rainforest. For his efforts in fighting for this area, he's been honored as a "Kickass Canadian,", a Globe and Mail "Highly Accomplished Canadian", and one of TIME'S "Leaders of the 21st Century".

Their future, in terms of the natural world they live in, is of great worry to young people today. They have reason for unease as climate change and a too general lack of concern for the environment plunges Earth toward a point of no return. These young people need to know there are heroes out there working to make the world a better place. In his new book, Jamie Bastedo offers hope and heart for those who are concerned. Of course, we should all be worried; sitting around and doing nothing is not going to make the problem disappear, and will not change the helpless feelings prevalent in today's world. 

The author turns his attention to the trailblazers who live among us, and are doing their best to make a difference across Canada. He shares twelve lives, ages 7 to 97. Each is dedicated to, and passionate about something near and dear to them. Their causes are varied: climate change, rainforest, activism, bees, giraffes, sea turtles, wolves and wilderness, Inuit culture, adventure, and green cities. 

Rupert and Franny Yakelashek live in Victoria, British Columbia. They do not let their ages define them in terms of a fight for environmental issues. They are now 16 and 13 years old. In 2017 their names were listed among the "Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25."  That is when Jamie Bastedo first heard their names, and began learning about them. He quickly discovered they were veterans, having begun when they were seven and ten. Who wouldn't want to know more about such admirable young people? An interview provided much of the information the author needed for his book. The chapter about them is inspiring and would make a great read for any middle years classroom, as will the others. What stories to share with your students about the stellar work being done to make our world healthier and safer for all. 

The book is based on interviews done personally with each of these remarkable trailblazers. The research is exemplary, and the result is a book that is conversational in tone, and filled with the passion that fuels the work these amazing people do. I started with three names I knew, learning more than I already knew about Ian McAllister, Elizabeth May and Kathleen Martin. It was only the beginning. I have now read each chapter and am impressed beyond words with what I have discovered.  Be sure to take a close look at the list of "Trailblazer Tips" included at the end of each chapter. Great advice, and perhaps a shot of the motivation needed to step up. 

Their hope and optimism make our world a much better place because of the role they play in it. Blessed we are to have them in our midst, to hear their stories, and to perhaps take up a cause that opens our own hearts to something that matters. You will be inspired! 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Only a Tree Knows How to be a Tree, written and illustrated by Mary Murphy. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"Water has no color, 

but you can see it. 

It makes rivers and oceans, 

clouds and rain and snow. 

Fish live in water. 

They flash like jewels.

Everyone needs water. 

Only water knows 

how to be water.

Ms. Murphy begins with trees, letting her young readers know what makes a tree so special. She reminds them that nothing else knows how to be a tree; only a tree does. Turning from the tree itself to a nest home made by birds, she then reminds that only birds can do the things they do. 

As the words move from page to page, she talks about dogs, water, fish, even our Earth. There is no other planet like it, as far as we know. Eveything here is its own unique being, and each is different from every other thing. She turns finally to people. We number in the billions. 

"We eat and talk, 

sing and walk. 

We work. We play. We tell stories. 

Every person

has their own thoughts

in their head

and their own feelings 

in their heart.

That is the way the world works. What wonder is there in that! 

The bright and childlike artwork was drawn in brush and ink, then rendered digitally to evoke a lively and affirming mood for the inspiring and reassuring text. The children pictured move freely across each spread, showing diversity in color, culture, and ability. Visual literacy leads to animated conversation, and close observation at every turn of the page.

Quiet message received and appreciated, with thanks.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera. Written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2020. $24.99 ages 6 and up


"Not yet ... nursing. 

The grub-like larvae get all her attention. 

She checks them. 

     Inspects them. 

Feeds them a milky-sweet 

liquid made with those glands. 

On Apis's eighth day of life, 

she leaves the nursery. 

For flying?

I have seen few such beautiful books this year. Following up on Giant Squid (2016) this exceptional team invites readers to take a close look at the biology of the worker honeybee. The long, incredibly detailed poem begins in front matter as the bee emerges from its nest into a world that trembles with activity, and moves on to follow one small bee from birth until death. 

"Tongues lick.

Antennae touch. 

Bodies clamber and scramble over thin wax comb. 

The new bee rests. 

Soft, fuzzy and female - like all newly emerged worker bees - 

her scientific name is Apis mellifera, 

or Apis for short."  

Ms. Fleming then shares, in precise text, the life of a worker honeybee. The roles played seem endless;  there are many, many tasks that must be completed before Apis is ready to venture beyond the hive. Those jobs include preparing the cells, nursing, taking care of the queen, building the comb, receiving the nectar ... the list fills each and every day. Always Apis is wanting to fly; always there is an important job yet to be done. 

"At last, on the twenty-fifth day of her life - with 

the sun just rising and the dew still drying - 

she leaps from the nest and ... "

A gorgeous gatefold opens to Apis in full flight over flower-filled fields, ready at last to forage for sweet nectar and fly back to the hive. Her stomach weighing as much at the bee itself, she returns to give up the nectar to another worker, and to dance. Her dance leads other bees on a trip she will make nine more times before she rests that day. At thirty-five days old, she has covered five hundred miles in her quest for the nectar 'to make one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey'. Her life's work done, she drops to the ground and dies. In the nest, another tiny worker emerges and life begins once more. 

A captioned image of a worker honeybee's body follows. The book concludes with ways to help bees, further details about this remarkable tiny wonder, and places to find even more information than has already been shared. 


There has not yet been mention made Eric Rohmann's stunning and dramatic oil paintings. Using brown, black and yellow, he creates the detailed interior reaches of their home and the tiny creatures that inhabit the honeycomb, before bursting forth into sunshine and flowering fields. Extreme close-up details within and the glorious beauty on the outside, along with ever-changing perspectives, hold attention from start to finish. 

What an impressive collaboration this is! We are left to hope for more from this noteworthy team.                                                                              

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Science Comics: Crows, by Kyla Vanderklugt. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $26.99 ages 10 and up

"Crows are able to do such amazing things because they learn from personal encounters and by watching other crows. They use their sophisticated brains to remember what they've experienced and to think before they act. Sound familiar? Yes, as social beings, crows use their brains in much the same way as we do. The mental ability of crows is important because it allows them to solve real problems, such as where to hide surplus food and how to coordinate the movements of their family when a predator lurks nearby."

After yesterday's post about a book that was perfect fare for young readers learning about crows and what makes them special, today's post is for an older audience. It is a new release in the Science Comics series. The series itself is quite remarkable for the diversity in subject matter, and in its presentation of subjects that intrigue and enlighten middle grade readers. Other books in the series include: Coral Reefs, Dinosaurs, The Brain, Bats, Plagues, Dogs, Sharks, Cats, Robots and Drones, Trees, and more. If you haven't seen them, they are worthy of your attention and are sure to be popular in any library. 

That leads us to this book about crows. I have read other books about them, watched informative videos, and thought I knew a lot.Turns out that I still had much to learn. I knew they could make their own tools. I even knew a bit about their trickery, their ability to mimic sounds, and their raucous voices. I do not remember reading that they never forget a human face. (It makes me think carefully on how I speak to the ones near my home when they are disturbing the backyard peace.)  

Scientists are continually doing their research, and learning the many secrets of the crow's brain and how smart they truly are. Reading this book made me even more astonished and fascinated by crows and other members of their bird family (magpies, jays, and ravens). Ms. Vanderklugt's crow has personality and appeal from the opening page. Talking with companion birds, the crow is about to set up a dog for a friendly search for food beyond his own backyard. Gullible and eager, the dog is quick to accept the invitation and they are off! 

The two characters are filled with personality and expression. Buddy is keen to be on an adventure with a crow who can open the gate to let him out, find food that fills him up, and learn all that the crow has to teach. So much is explained as the two make their way around town. Readers will be fascinated by the intelligence displayed so naturally in a very conversational tone. Buddy is previoussly unaware of the crow's abilities, but accepts the learning with a great attitude toward his new friend. 

Readers will be amazed at all there is to learn about these remarkable birds! Uisng a graphic novel form to present her extensive research is clever and absolutely right on for a middle grade audience, and for anyone else who picks this book up to see what it says. Back matter includes an extensive glossary with terms in bold print, a page of notes for points made within the text, a section entitled Living With Crows 101, and a long list of books, articles and web sources that interested readers will look to for further learning.