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Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Brother Charlie, written by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete and illustrated by Shane Evans. Scholastic, 2010. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"I'm blessed to be Charlie's sister and to share so much.
I count my 'Charlie Blessings' every day. At the very top
of my 'Charlie Blessings' list is the love Charlie and I
have for each other."

We have a Holly Robinson Peete story in our family. When Carmen and Bret were living near Halifax Harbour and the proud new parents of my granddog, Percy (a personable and 'gorgeous' English bulldog), one of their favorite daily pasttimes was a walk along the harborfront. Percy (that's him at the top of the page) attracted much attention, as he is certain that the best thing in life is to visit with anyone who looks his way. He is always quick to make himself known to them, and he especially loves children. One day they met up with Holly Robinson Peete and her children, who developed a mutual admiration society with Percy. They had a long conversation and went on their way. So, when I see the front cover of this book and the apparent attraction that Charlie and Harriet the dog have for each other, I am reminded of Holly and her kids.

This is a story about those same kids, the twins to be exact. In the story they are called Callie and Charlie; but their story is reflective of the life lived by the Robinson Peete family. Their oldest son RJ (twin to co-author Ryan) is autistic. Mother and daughter want to share with other families and the reading world what their days are like living with an autistic son/brother.

Charlie's mother knew from the beginning that the twins were alike in many ways, but not exactly the same. As a very young child, when Callie was pointing out all the discoveries she was making about the world and sharing her love with her mother, Charlie wouldn't play or kiss their mother's cheek or even say 'I love you'. They quickly discovered that Charlie was incessantly determined and needed someone looking out for him. Some days were not easy. But, the 'Charlie Blessings' made up for the tough times.

Charlie can do so much and while he can't always express what he is feeling, he can show it and he does feel it. I think that the important underlying message of this heartfelt look at a day in the life of Charlie and his family is that love is 'said in so many ways' and we must look at what we can do, rather that what we cannot. That is what makes our lives as good as they can be. There are many families who know the difficulties faced by the Robinson-Peetes and the heartache felt, but they also know the joy of every new day and the 'blessing' of each remarkable achievement. This book is testament to the patience, understanding and great joy that Charlie (RJ) brings to their life, and that they, in turn, share with us.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sitting Duck, written and illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. Harper, 2010. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"'Babysitting is easy!' said Brody. 'When Anabel gets here, we'll all play together. Our only job will be to keep her out of trouble.'"

Once again the title page provides a glimpse at upcoming events. Max takes the ball bonk on the head with aplomb, and some consternation. Kids will know immediately that big problems are on the horizon. It's always that way when we seem too sure of ourselves and the task at hand. Wouldn't you agree?

The gang is gathered when Brody announces their job for the day. Max seems content to help. But, the others are quick to pack up and make a beeline for more important places! Anabel bounds in with all the enthusiasm that a playful and precocious puppy can garner. She is delighted to see her Uncle Brody, Max and Dov and they are full of the energy needed to keep her satisfied, for a short time. Soon, Brody is looking for a soft chair, and some R & R. He convinces Anabel that a story is in order and you can guess who falls asleep. Max is next on Anabel's list of entertainment. They head outside. It seems that there are more opportunities for trouble once boundaries grow broader. Anabel is relentless and soon immediate help is needed. Brody comes to the rescue, but more problems ensue. Finally, exhaustion takes it toll and Irene returns to find the babysitters and the babysittee 'down for the count'. She is assured that it's been a great day...and not a bit of trouble!

Great illustrations add to the humorous appeal of this classic story of a babysitting job gone bad. There is one in particular that had me smiling broadly. When Anabel and all the birds are catapulted out of the tree in an attempt to free her, you cannot help but be amused at the expressions and the bird's-eye view of the action. This is the fourth in the Max the Duck adventures. Fans will be delighted to see Max and his friends again!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Brand-New Baby Blues, written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Harper, 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Those good ol' days are over.
It's official, it's the news!
With my brand-new baby brother
came the brand-new baby blues!"

She was once the only child...and the whole world to her parents. She could do nothing wrong, the sun rose and set with her, the world was her oyster. All that ended with the birth of a new baby brother. What's a girl to do, but sing the blues? And sing them she does! Mama has no time to spend playing, talking or listening. Her time is taken by the baby's needs. Dad makes funny faces, and gives all of his at-home attention to the BABY. I repeat, what's a girl to do?

Well, she can sing the blues, wish for the old days when everything was perfect, when all the attention and love was hers. That baby is even using her old bed, and wearing some of her hand-me-downs. It might be better if he could do something! A closer look reveals that he has some good points...he can blow bubbles like you have never seen in your life. As the days pass, the jealousy subsides and life returns to a new kind of normal as she begins to see that brother with different eyes. He will get older, and then be of some use to her for playing, and kite flying and even for learning new lessons from his big sister.

This is the third book about babies that I have written about lately. Each is unique and offers a chance for older siblings to talk about the changes that come to families with the addition of a new baby. Using humor to alleviate some of those feelings can make the older child look with different eyes at what they find troublesome. And singing the blues is a great way to get rid of some of that pent-up hostility!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Doghouse, written and illustrated by Jan Thomas. Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son, 2008. $14.95 ages 3 and up

"Oh no! The ball went in THE DOGHOUSE.
Who will get it out?"

You'll be thinking that Jan Thomas is my new favorite author for young readers. I try never to say 'favorite' as there are so many wonderful writers plying their trade and offering up amazing books for our kids. But, I sure do like her work. This is the third book I have told you about this week....and don't forget the 'dust bunny' stories of earlier posts. She provides such joy for children and their parents at book sharing time!

Once again, her endpaper gives us knowledge for what is coming. Mouse, Duck, Pig and Cow are back, playing a game of kickball with a bright red ball. It sails over the heads of those waiting to kick it back to Cow and seems headed for the doghouse. The sky darkens and the wind picks up! As lightning strikes the gamers wonder who will go inside the doghouse to get it . Mouse decides that Cow will...she's big, brave and strong. Cow is uncertain. But off she goes...and she doesn't come out! Now, Pig, who is smart, wise and stinky (guffaw!)...and unimpressed with that description. Off he goes and doesn't come back. Mouse is in you know who's going next. Duck is petrified...and well, noisy! Same result. When Dog's fully fanged face appears at the doghouse door, and tells Mouse that he is having duck for dinner....well, you can imagine! I''ll leave you to discover what happens.

The characters are so charming, with their big eyes, expressive faces and thick outlines. Jan Thomas uses a bright color palette to bring them to glorious life and make them memorable for her target audience. They are perfect for a readaloud time as all listeners will be able to see them clearly and relate to their undisguised reactions to the events of the story.
Good morning! So much for the best laid plans. When I got home yesterday my computer was down and I didn't get it back until this morning. So, there I go missing my first day since I started, I think!

It is a harbringer of things to come in the next couple of weeks. I am off on a little winter holiday, to visit with friends and my kids. I will miss posting while I am gone, but will try to make up for it when I get back. There is no worry that the reading will take a hiatus. I always pack my books first. So, that will be good.

For the next few days I will keep the talking about books at the forefront and try to get a new bunch to you. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Boo To You! Written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster, 2009. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"That scary cat's back.
Boy, what a bummer!
Seeing that puss
could spoil
our summer."

The mice are fully prepared to enjoy the fruits of their harvesting labors; but they worry about the black cat who has no desire for their vegetarian pleasures. They know that his favorite food is meat and they fear the part they might play in his autumn repast. The cat is obviously not invited; that does not ensure his absence. They need not have worried! They are well prepared to do battle with that black monster and in this battle their ingenious artistry prevails.

"Just as we're about to dine,
That cat peeks out from behind a vine.
But we know exactly what to do.
We'll scare that scary cat...


The celebration continues as the cat scampers off!

Using her amazing talent with collage construction and an abundance of natural materials, Lois Ehlert once again astonishes her readers with double page spreads filled with torn paper, twine, tomatoes, vegetables, seeds, nuts, ribbons, berries, and pine cones.

The mice are masked to protect their identities, they nosh on a wide variety of vegetarian fare and the brilliant colors and creative images will have children aching to try their own collage work. Isn't that what we want for a response?

Following up with Pumpkin Talk, the author provides useful information and a recipe for roasting pumpkin seeds. I can almost smell them. There are photos of jack-o-lanterns and fresh-faced children enjoying the fun of the fall harvest and dress-up! She also includes cut-out photographs of the many colorful materials she used to create her brilliant artwork. Now, go back and find them in the illustrations!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Can You Make a Scary Face? Written and illustrated by Jan Thomas. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster, 2009. $16.99 ages 3 and up

"Hey, you!
Yes, I'm talking to you!
No, I changed my mind...

What fun it was to read this book recently at New Era! It was the first book of the afternoon with the kindergarten classes and I thought as I watched the childrens' delighted faces that Jan Thomas sure knows her audience. She gets what makes them laugh and uses it so well when writing books for the young.

After getting them up and going, she moves on to ask them to use their imaginations and pretend that they have a tiny bug on their nose and try to wiggle it off. You get where I am going with this? From mouth to shirt and all the while the children are encouraged to get rid of it...first by blowing it out, then by doing the chicken dance to bounce it off. When the bug sticks, listeners are appeased with the promise of a frog to eat it off! The frog that arrives with a healthy appetite is much bigger than expected and quite scary. Now, the ladybug needs help to get rid of the frog!

It's a book to be read and reenacted again and again...with no end to the hilarity it will elicit. Kids have the most unique way of looking at the world and everything can be quite believable to them when they are caught up in the fun. It will be a laugh riot when you share this book.

A Birthday for Cow, written and illustrated by Jan Thomas. Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son, 2008. $13.95 ages 3 and up

"Today is Cow's birthday...
Peg and Mouse are
going to make Cow
the best birthday
cake EVER!"

Jan Thomas is one of those authors that you want your young readers to know. She makes reading a book what it is supposed to! Her doe-eyed, grinning characters are the perfect goofy foils for the sense of humor that is a child's. I remember taking Kelsi and Bret to nursery school and listening to them tell each other the most ridiculously unfunny jokes, while laughing hysterically together. I was constantly at a loss to understand the humor that they so obviously enjoyed. Jan Thomas gets it!

In the front endpapers to this birthday book, we see Duck circling the 17th which sports large letters pronouncing 'Cow's Birthday!' Mouse has hung a banner, blown up balloons and is ready to celebrate. As Pig blows a whistle, the author begins, accompanied by joyous shouts. Turns out that Pig and Mouse are going to make a cake for Cow. Duck is dumbfounded! But Pig and Mouse are determined. They assemble their ingredients and begin. Duck provides the TURNIP! No, they won't need that. The mixing begins and again Duck offers a TURNIP! but they opt for a spoon to stir the batter. You can hear the guffawing, right?

The TURNIP doesn't go in the oven with the cake to bake or on top of the cake as a decoration either. When Cow arrives they are ready to celebrate with fresh, warm cake! Cow, unfortunately, only has eyes for the TURNIP! Despite some initial disquiet, all's well that ends well...Mouse and Pig are quite content to eat the yummy cake, Cow devours the turnip and Duck has a conversation with Cow concerning the many uses of a good turnip!

Too funny, and so wonderful to read out loud to a group. This is another of those books that we want to read numerous times to emerging readers. They will hear the words, love the unlimited laughter, and soon be reading it on their own to the great delight of anyone who will listen. Best of all, they will think that reading is a worthwhile way to spend their time and be on the lookout for similar books. If you want to raise a reader, get books just like this onto their library shelves!

Me Hungry! Written and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard. Candlewick, Random House, 2008. $17.50 ages 3 and up

"Me hungry! Me busy! Hey, me hungry! Me busy!"

When we first meet the prehistoric young man who stars in this book, we can see that his tummy is talking to him. It's in the lines that radiate from that spot and we are only on the title page. Jeremy Tankard is adept at using his art to help him tell this tale which has a limited amount of text. The boy sees his father working to open a peanut with a club and lets him know about his hunger. Two simple hungry! The father is too busy to help. Then he seeks out his mother, who is also busy tending to four young children. The hunger lingers and the boy is determined that he will solve his own problem. Off he goes to hunt for what he needs.

There are only fifty words in total to tell this simple story, and many of those are repeated; but readers and listeners will be entertained from the get-go. The expressive faces, the use of space and the determination of the hunter to find his own solution to the problem leads to an unexpected twist that will bring satisfaction to all, most especially the boy and his new friend.

This a brilliant example of the kinds of books we want in the hands of children just learning to read. It tells them that stories are worth the work and encourages them to continue finding the stories that satisfy them. Best of all, it helps them find the path to lifelong literacy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Cardboard Piano, written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow, Harper, 2008. $19.50 ages 4 and up

"He lived in Russia. He was going to travel to America for the first time, and he wanted to write a new song to play when he arrived. He was so busy writing the new song that he forgot to leave time to practice. So all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, he stayed in his little room on the ship and practiced on a pretend piano that didn't even make any sound. He could hear the music in his mind."

Debbie and Tina are best friends. They do everything together and look at the world in much the same way. There are some differences but they don't seem to matter. They make tents out of bedspreads, ride bikes and dream dreams of the future. They talk about everything and share likes and dislikes. When Debbie begins piano lessons and has to practice, Tina must find things to do on her own while she waits for her friend. They wish they were both learning. When Debbie's piano teacher tells her the story of Rachmaninoff and his pretend piano Debbie is sure she has found the perfect solution. She spends hours making a cardboard piano for Tina, using saved cardboard, and much patience. She gives the piano to Tina, and begins to teach her what she is learning at her own lessons. It doesn't take long until Tina is returning it, finding that it is not much fun and she has better things to do. Debbie cannot understand how her best friend could reject her lovingly made gift.

With a bit of time to really consider the hurt she is feeling and taking even more time to try the cardboard piano herself, Debbie realizes that Tina is probably right and that their fun and friendship is much more important than the piano, special as it is. It doesn't take long for the two best pals to find something that they can learn from their old neighbor and another reason to celebrate all that is special about being best friends!

An added benefit is an enclosed DVD with animation and a reading of the story by its author. Great addition!

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. Scholastic, 2010. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Before you could say "North Pole", the Friz herded us onto the bus. She pushed a few buttons and pulled a few levers. Then we were on our way to the Arctic Sea - a place with a completely different climate."

I had been wondering about Miss Frizzle and her adventures on the Magic School Bus. I thought I wasn't seeing any because I don't spend my days at school anymore and I wasn't keeping up! Turns out I just didn't wait long enough. Miss Frizzle has a way of making science learning and important topics resonate with kids. In this book she tackles the issue of global warming; and with a few minor adjustments she and her students are off to discover what is happening in the north, and what our climate challenge really is.

These books have been tremendously successful because of the way that they provide an abundance of information without making it seem too much at one time. That is because the sharing is done in a variety of ways...part story, part charts, maps, questions and answers and detailed illustrations that help visual learners understand what is being discussed. There is always humor, plenty of adventure and a clear explanation of the science. So, one child can read it as a story, another can pore over the information charts and another can take a careful look as the artwork that accompanies the text. Everyone will come away from the book with some new background information. In terms of what we can do to help to stem global warming, there are many useful and thoughtful suggestions. Some are so simple. Awareness provides the needed guidance to make small changes that will reap huge rewards for the world and its inhabitants. We can make a difference. This book helps us figure out how to do it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

We Are The Ship, words and pictures by Kadir Nelson. Hyperion, H B Fenn, 2008. $21.99 all ages

"Seems like we've been playing baseball for a mighty long time. At least as long as we've been free. Baseball's the best game there ever was. It's a beautifully designed game that requires a quick wit, a strong body, and a cool head."

So much has been written about this amazing book that I wonder why I want to add to the accolades. But, you cannot look at baseball books as I am doing today and not mention it. It is, without a doubt, one of the most compelling and memorable books I have read in the past year...and I read every single word of it! I am a baseball fan of sorts; I know something about the sport, like to watch it on televsion, and even enjoy the occasional visit to the ball park (for the beer and hot dog!). Once I started reading it, I was drawn to it again and again.

I knew that Kadir Nelson was an outstanding artist. I had no idea he was such a talented and compelling author as well. He has certainly left us with no doubt about that.

So, as we say goodbye to another football season tomorrow and fervently wish that the groundhog had not seen his shadow ensuring six more weeks of winter, I will leave you with three books that inspire you to think ahead to spring training, to warm sunshine and to brats and beer at the park. It won't be long!!!

Willie and the All-Stars, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Philomel, Penguin Group (Canada), 2008. $18.50 ages 8 and up

"It was 1942 and nothing came easy, not even a boy's dreams. Everything Willie loved best was there in that little apartment: Grandma, their radio, and the wad of tape and string Willie used as a baseball when he played stickball in the street."

Willie wants nothing more than to play in the big leagues. He lives and breathes baseball. His Grandma had introduced him to the game and shared her radio so that they could listen to the games from Wrigley Field at home. They could not afford a ticket. His dream kept him going when times were tough and he turned every ordinary daily task into working at his game. He loved playing stickball with his friends and sharing his dreams with his friend, Sean O'Carroll.

One night as he listened to the old men in the neighborhood sharing stories on the stoop, Willie heard them talk about players unknown to him. He had never heard of Satchel Paige, or Josh Logan and wondered why. Ol' Ezra explained about the Negro Leagues and, at the same time, burst Willie's bubble by telling him he would never be able to play in the Majors...he was the wrong color! Sad and bewildered, Willie gave Sean the news. Sean tried to reassure him.

As luck would have it, Ezra was given tickets to an exhibition game between the two leagues and he passed them along to Willie. What a day for he and Sean! They were overwhelmed by the excitement and there was so much to see. That game and watching all those amazing players gave Willie hope for his own future.

Floyd Cooper adds an author's note about the growth of the Negro Leagues and their importance to baseball across America. It is an important part of baseball's history. Avid baseball fans might have prior knowledge but many will learn something new when sharing this story.

I have always been such a fan of Floyd Cooper's work, and was especially intrigued to see him work when I attended a conference many years ago. The illustrations are described as the 'oil wash subtraction process' and is almost impossible to describe; but it is worth your interest and results in stunning, realistic art. He washes a board with color and then begins erasing parts of the color to create an image. Google him and it will lead you to a link where you can watch him work! As well as being an accomplished artist, he is an entertaining speaker.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Andre Carrilho. Schwartz & Wade, Random House, 2009. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"You gotta be kidding! You never heard of Sandy Koufax? He was only the greatest lefty who ever pitched in the game of baseball."

Jonah Winter gives voice to a fictional baseball player who shared the bench with Sandy Koufax from the time he started his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers (who then became the Los Angeles Dodgers) until he hung up his glove in a surprise retirement announcement, following the 1966 season. That season's stats are shown...the league leader in wins, strikeouts, ERA, complete games and shutouts. It was the greatest last season of any major league pitcher. Real baseball fans will know his story but many (especially those in Jonah Winters' young audience) have not likely heard of the famous and reclusive ace pitcher.

Koufax didn't dream of playing in the major leagues; rather, his early niche was basketball and he was very good at it. He also liked to pitch for his pals on the sandlot and it was from there he was recruited to try his hand at pitching in the majors. The early years did not go well. He sat on the bench, had no control and had almost decided to quit. But, spring arrived and baseball beckoned once more. That year he became the pitcher he was meant to be. We also learn something of the man and his solitary nature, his dedication to his Jewish faith and his acknowledgement that his ability to use his left arm in the future was more important than staying in the game that was ruining it. The artwork is angular and full of motion, allowing us access to the team, the man and the game of baseball at that time. There is a glossary to help readers gain an understanding of baseball terms, and suggestions for online sites that were used to garner the stats used in the text. The 3D cover is way cool and sure to get readers interested in seeing what's inside...isn't that what covers are meant to do?

I love this story: "Satchel Paige, the great Negro Leagues pitcher, would sometimes load the bases intentionally. Then he would call all his teammates except for the catcher around the pitcher's mound - and have them all sit down. He would go to strike out the next three batters - and so end the inning. The crowd loved it!"

And the final comment by the old-timer who played with Sandy through his seasons with the Dodgers:

"Who was Sandy Koufax? Sandy Koufax was a guy who finally relaxed enough to let his body do the one thing it was put on the earth to do. And what a thing of beauty that was."

Friday, February 5, 2010

War Games, written by Audrey and Akila Couloumbis. Random House, 2009. $21.00 ages 12 and up

"Petros thought of a dozen things he wanted to tell Uncle Spiro on his way to the other farm. He could hardly keep his mind on one bit of news before his thoughts turned as if blown on the wind he imagined for the kite.
He would tell Uncle Spiro Lambros was safe, of course. He'd say there were two valuables in the well. The glass marble. Uncle Spiro should know what a fine shooter it was.
And Lambros."

This is a 'novel based on a true story'. It evolved from memories and discussions from Akila Couloumbis' life in Greece, while the Germans occupied it in an attempt to control the Suez Canal during WWII. It is 1941 and life in the villages of Greece is mostly serene and peaceful. Petros and his family farm, sharing their vegetables and eggs with their neighbors and the people who live in the nearby village. Petros and his brother work hard, and play hard with their cousin Stavros and with their friend Elia. Sibling strife is common and Petros longs to be like his big brother, while never wanting Zola to know that.

The family hears that the Germans will be taking what they need from farmhouses and villagers and that a commander will take up office space in the Couloumbis parlor. They are angry and scared. In the meantime, they watch the roads carefully and help any Greek resistance fighters who show up at their door. As the time for the commander's arrival looms near, their cousin Lambros arrives to find refuge with them. He is an honored and bold man who has tricked the Germans and continues to find ways to thwart their occupation. While Lambros is hiding in their well, the commandert arrives and the family lives in terror that Lambros might be discovered.

Lambros' escape goes unnoticed and soon the family hears that he is safe. On a trip to town to deliver vegetables and eggs, Petros is able to tell Stavros (Lambros' younger brother) that Lambros has found refuge and is fine. What happens to Stavros next is terrifying, and finally, uplifting.

Petros' feelings toward the commander are complicated: "Petros saw it in the commander's face, he wanted to be one of two men. And yet he had to remain the commander. He clicked his heels together and bowed his head a little."

I liked the pace of this memoir from is very different than other books read about the war. The family comes to life through description and dialogue and the idyllic setting for the hard work they share on the farm is real and tangible.

In an author's note about the other author, Audrey Couloumbis shares insight into its evolution as a novel, basing the characters on Akila's family and the fact that many commanders occupied space in their was especially kind and they based the commander on Akila's memories of that man. They set the story at the beginning of the occupation and are happy to report that the end of the war brought a return to the United States for the family.

The Story of Snow, written by Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson and illustrated by Nora Aoyagi. Chronicle, Raincoast, 2009. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"Our story starts on a winter day,
high up in the sky,
in a cloud that is very,
very cold.
This is the story of snow."

As the eastern coast of the United States prepares, once more, for a huge storm with record snowfalls and wind warnings, I am sure there are many wishing they understood how such a thing happens. And if they are lucky enough to have access to this simple, information-filled book, with its incredible photographs of the beauty that is snow, they would have a much better understanding of what is occuring where they are. So much about snow is shown and discussed here! The way in which snow forms is clearly explained and magnified photos show the snow crystals in all their glory. Knowing that water vapor will stick to a speck of anything, from dirt to salt, and still become the delicately shaped crystals that so intrigue those of us who love them is quite astonishing. Their different shapes (stars, plates and columns) and symmetry are captured on film and brought to young readers. My assumption has always been that they are perfect...not true. There are also flaws. We get to see them all.

As a child I saw none of the amazing images that photographers now capture for their young audience. I have previously mentioned how long Nic Bishop will wait to get just the right shot whether he is watching frogs, butterflies or wombats. Mark Cassino must be endlessly patient as well. Sharing the task of creating this book is Jon Nelson whose text matches the photographs with clear, understandable bits of information that lead readers to listen to it, or read it themselves, and then take the time to peruse the accompanying photo. In that way they are not overwhelmed. The detailed illustrations help us understand the formation of the crystals and their actual size, relative to the photographs shared. The instructions on catching your own snow crystals using a collecting board, a magnifying glass and a whole lot of patience will have kids eagerly anticipating the forecasted weather this least on that east coast. This is a book that could be read to the class as a whole, or to individual and very interested young scientists.

It's a perfect book to study alongside Jacqueline Briggs Martin's Snowflake Bentley (Houghton, 1998), a picture book biography of the man from Vermont who, in the 19th century, saw the singular beauty of snow and recorded it on his camera for others to study.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Princess Pigtoria and the Pea, written by Pamela Duncan Edwards and illustrated by Henry Cole. Orchard, Scholastic, 2010. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Princess Pigtoria was very poor.
Her palace had peeling paint and collapsing plaster.
She planted pansies and petunias. She swept
and she polished."

I expect you can hear where we are going with this new version of The Princess and the Pea. This isn't the first alliterative book that Pamela Edwards has written and again, I am intrigued and entertained by the word choices made to retell this old fairy tale and make it new. I ofen used her books as mentor books when working with older students and writing process. It would be interesting to speak with this author about her own process as she goes about finding the words that she will need to tell an old tale with a single sound in mind.

Being a list maker, I wonder if she lists adverbs, verbs, adjectives, etc and then uses that list as she composes her story. Does she write the story first, and then edit using words that have the chosen sound? In reading it aloud, I found my tongue tripping over the text, and hoping that no one was sitting too close to me. My kindergarteners would have been quick to complain about the 'spitting'! The audience enjoyed the telling and that's what counts during 'I Love to Read' month.

Great fun to share, with illustrations that extend the experience and have readers (and listeners) 'poring over the pages' while 'pondering the presence of a perfectly promising princess' in the 'palace of a petty parody of a prince'. Pul-ease!!!

The Goblin and the Empty Chair, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Simon & Schuster, 2009. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"In a time long past, in a land far away, there lived
a goblin who had once seen himself reflected in a still pond.
His reflection had frightened him so much, he decided to hide
his face from the world forever, so as not to frighten anyone else."

Following his startling and very disheartening discovery the goblin spent many years in solitude. Always careful not to be seen, the goblin was walking one day in the countryside when he saw a farmer stop his work. He appeared desolate and unable to go on with what he was doing. The goblin decided to help and so, at night, he went to work and did all that the man had been unable to do. He did not realize as he worked that someone was watching. The following day he noticed that the farm woman was also unbearably sad. He did her work and was unknowingly watched once again. And on the very next day, he observed a young girl succumb to sorrow as she worked at her books. He sat and soothed the child and did not realize that she was silently watching him.

In the morning, the family sits staring at the empty chair at their table. The woman sets a place, the farmer fills the plate and the young girl throws open the door, in hopes that the goblin will join them. The goblin is frightened of what they might think of him when they finally see his abhorrent face. He need not have worried.

This lovely tale of friendship, compassion and sorrow is beautifully illustrated with soft, gentle colors and an accompanying series of border images which add a visual text for young readers. The goblin is a sympathetic and wise creature who brings joy to a house that has had little throughout the winter, since their son and brother died. The goodness that is in the goblin's heart brings some joy back. Be sure to check out the illustration on the back cover. It hints at a 'happily ever after' ending.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hello My Name is Bob, written and illustrated by Linas Alsenas. Scholastic, 2009. $ 18.99 ages 3 and up

"My name is Bob.
I'm a bear.
But I should warn you.
I'm very boring."

I don't find Bob boring at all. He simply likes what some people consider a boring lifestyle. He likes to count toothpicks, dust plants, sit, ponder in parking lots, perhaps even bake cookies on Friday night when everyone else is out whooping it up.
His pal Jack is his polar opposite...that happens in life, doesn't it? Jack loves surfing, painting, wearing bright colors and skateboarding on parking lots. Some people would find his lifestyle difficult to maintain.

Does that matter to the two friends? It does not. They are quite content being with each other, for many reasons and with great happiness. Bob speaks in short sentences, assuring that he doesn't exert too much energy. Jack flashes from one place to another with pizazz and plenty of feeling! The art reflects each of their characters with wise and witty use of color, space and expression. Bob's modest and calm demeanor, his virtually expressionless face and his simple clothing are placed on a background of white. Jack's exuberant existence, constant motion and huge grin are backed by the brilliance of a stage, a swamp or a jungle. Kids will have much to discuss about the evident differences as they share these illustrations. They may find themselves in one or the other, or perhaps in both.

In the end it matters not what attracts us to our friends. What does matter is our love for each other, our concern about their well-being and our acceptance of what makes them so special. Bob and Jack know this!

Same Same, written by Marthe Jocelyn and illustrated by Tom Slaughter. Tundra, 2009. $17.99 ages 3 aqnd up

"round things"

On the opening page we see bold backgrounds, strong colors and an apple and a globe. These two round things are facing a tambourine. As the first turn results in new images, one remains the same...the tambourine. Thus, a tambourine and a guitar move to join a bird as things musical. The bird becomes part of the group of things that fly...and so on.

What a true delight this early concept book about objects and the ways we put them in groups...sometimes by shape, others by size, color, number. This ingenious way of showing young readers how the world works is classic Marthe Jocelyn. Her concept books are perennial favorites for the young and their parents. The bold, primary colors and geometric art add a dimension to the book that is simple, yet a perfect accompaniment to the limited vocabulary which makes this book just right for emergent readers.

And as we reach the end where red things are introduced, we are right back to the apple that began it all. Listen carefully and you will hear 'please, read it again' or better yet, 'can I read it now?'

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How Figure Skating Works, written by Keltie Thomas. Owlkids, 2009. $12.95 ages 8 and up

"How do skaters jump up, turn around four times in the air, then land on one foot while skating backward? And which jump is which? Do skaters get dizzy when they spin? What do the judges look for as they mark skaters? And just who are the judges anyway?"

Surprisingly, to some and not all, most of those questions have a scientific answer. Oh no, not science!! My brain blocks....and then I sit to read this exceptional how-to piece of nonfiction and I get most of it! It is the power of the writer not my brain doing a switch to scientific principles, I am sure. But, just the same, I am smarter than I was a while ago, and that's always a good thing. It's proof positive you can teach an 'old' dog new tricks.

If you are one of those people anxiously awaiting the television coverage of the Olympic skating venue, you are sure to be a fan of everything that Keltie Thomas includes in this latest book. There is an index, a table of contents and a glossary, all of which help when you are trying to go back to certain information you recall from your first reading. The photos are full of action, brilliantly colored and captioned. Many of our favorite Canadian skating stars are included here. From one page to the next our attention is grabbed by cartoon drawings, experiments, informatinve text, time lines, anecdotes and equipment.

As with all previous books in the How Sport Works series, Thomas has done the research needed to make it authentic and accessible. I love the story about the development of the Zamboni and its inventor, who drove one to Chicago from California so that Sonja Henie could take it on the road with her. Imagine how the orders rolled in then! And how did we get the great skates used by professional skaters these days? Well, this talented and accurate author has all the info we need to answer that question, too. Legends on ice are presented at the end of each chapter, questions are asked and carefully answered. Stars are introduced in information boxes, a program blueprint is presented and costumes and skating programs discussed.

If you want to know how judges make the decisions they make, see archival photographs of skaters and skating, and learn almost anything you could dream of knowing about the sport of figure skating, you have come to the right place when you choose this book. Written to be enjoyed and understood by young readers, adults will pick it up and find much to fascinate them and to bring them back to it again and again.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Book, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Roaring Brook, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"There was a father and a mother,
a girl and a boy,
and some pets.

When the book was closed
it was night in the book,
and the family slept."

Upon coming to the breakfast table one day, the young daughter asks: “I know we live in a book, but what is our story?”

All other members of the family have an answer. The father, a circus clown, replies that he is hardworking and off to be silly for the day. The mother, a fire fighter, is off to fearlessly do her job. The brother, an aspiring astronaut, is having a tough time waiting to be old enough to leave earth for other worlds. Even the cat, the fish and the dog have their stories. Moving on to the next page, she is off to deal with her dilemma. As she goes, she meets the goose who laid the golden egg and is introduced to other famous fairy tale characters. She is sure that is not her story. As she continues on she meets a detective, a white rabbit, denizons of the deep and briny sea, prairie folk of the past, her space obsessed brother and arrives back home, with her story in mind. After dinner, she sits down to write it.

This is an intriguing journey, taking readers through a variety of genres as the young girl searches. Each page teems with familiar folk (if you, too, are a reader) and sly reminders of them and their stories. I love the 'birds'-eye view' perspective, the long shadows, and the ability to see everything from one vantage point. There is lots to be seen, but readers are not overwhelmed and there is much conversation to hear. My advice is that you spend time really looking at the is a lot of fun! Look carefully at what the family is doing before the book starts and the final image of the little girl and her cat as the story ends.

I read that this seems like a Google view of storyland and that is an apt description. It is a sign of our times, isn't it?

And just so you know that the story has ended, here is the final request to her readers:

"Dear reader, now that you've
reached the end of the book,
would you mind closing it
please? I'd like to
go to sleep.
Thank you
and sweet