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Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Like You, written by Marla Stewart Konrad and illustrated by Lin Wang. Zonderkidz, Harper. 2010. $17.99 all ages

"On the day you were born, I looked
in your eyes, cuddled you close, and knew
the world would never be the same.
I counted your fingers and toes, whispered
in your ear, and sang you a lullaby."

The earthy tones of the endpapers plot a world map where the babies introduced in this loving book are born. In an author's note Marla Konrad talks about the book's expression of joy felt when her own children were born. As her family grew she found herself thinking of other families in the world, and about the many shared similarities from one family to the next. Each baby is shown in its mother's arms, beneath a paragraph that parallels the one quoted. The family's shared joy and way of celebrating is described before the baby is tucked in, with the universe's stars shining down. All beautiful babies...just like you.

The babies hail from China, the Amazon, Russia, the Arctic, Egypt, Africa, India and Australia. Each is welcomed according the customs of their home country and each is loved beyond imagining.

Marla Konrad ends with her own special message to newborns:

"On the day you were born, God wrapped his gentle arms around the whole world. He looked into the eyes of every tiny baby and laid them in their mother's arms. He counted the hairs on each little head.
And he called the angels to sing a lullaby of joy."

If you are looking for a special book for new parents...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil, written and illustrated by Hanoch Piven. Schwartz & Wade. Random House, 2010. $20.99 ages 4 and up

"When Grandma comes to visit, she asks so
many questions about school.
This time, instead of giving her the same old
boring answers, I have an idea..."

The show is on. When Grandma asks her usual questions about school, her teachers and her friends, our young artist friend decides that showing is the best way of introducing the people in her life. She has a brief description of each; but it is the art that will bring the most 'aahs!'

I will share the first one:

"Mrs. Jennings talks in a voice
as sweet as candy
(except when she is very excited).

She can spell anything,
without making one mistake!

And she smells soooo
lovely - as lovely as flowers.

But you gotta be careful:
she notices everything,
just like a pair of glasses."

Turn the page and you come face to face with Mrs. Jennings.

Her face is a slate, with blue button eyes, a kazoo-like horn for a nose, a wrapped pink candy for her mouth, magnetic alphabet letters for her hair and a gouache designed body . She holding a notebook with a big red A+ on it.

You know where I'm going with this...what fun to share it and then let aspiring artists go to it....with their dogs, friends, family, soccer team, whatever comes to mind.

It is not just an art book. The words that describe the people included are carefully chosen and most appropriate. There is humor, thoughtful consideration and fun to be had. The endpapers are a brightly colored collection of the items used to create the zany works in this most entertaining book, and more.

I immediately put a previous book, My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks on my wish list. I will look forward to its arrival!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

One Fine Trade, retold by Bobbi Miller and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Holdiay House, Thomas Allen. 2009. $

"As he rode down the winding road, it gave way to a meadow. All around, daisies were a-dancing and clovers were a-swaying. Along old woman, leading a old hound dog."

Perhaps the peddlar will finally be able to make the trade he needs to get a silver dollar so his daughter can buy a wedding dress. But the old woman doesn't have the dollar and can only trade for her hound dog. Better than a cow? The peddlar will take a chance and hope so.

This retelling is in keeping with many other folktales of its type...try trading one thing for another until you get what you need. It seems that the trades go from bad to worse, but persistence always pays off.

The author uses well chosen conversational speech for her telling. She takes us back to a time when trading/bartering was the way things were done. It makes a perfect story for reading aloud, while listening for the laughter from the silliness of it all. As the peddlar makes his way along, meeting one character after another, he passes through ever-changing scenes, all described to make us feel we are right there with him.

Will Hillenbrand's friendly, loose artwork matches the tone of the telling. The charaters seamlessly play their part in the story. There are a number, and they do their best to help the peddlar get his task accomplished. The notice hung on the store mirrow is our clue to the solution for the next part of the search...a veil. A chicken for a nanny goat which was just what the doctor ordered. 'Quick as bees buzz" Dadaw brought his daughter a shiny dime to buy that veil. Ah, life is good and Georgy Piney Woods has proved his mettle as a fine peddlar once more!

I would pair this with some of my 'old' favorite folktales...Airmail to the Moon , Soap, Soap, Don't Forget the Soap! and Look Out, Jack! The Giant is Back!

Alvin Ho, by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Schwartz & Wade. Random House. $20.00 ages 6 and up

"I wanted to say no way. Nobody wants a girl desk buddy,, except for maybe a girl. The scary thing about girls is that they are not boys. Most girls are no good at robbery and mayhem. They can't punch. But they can kick, which hurts. They skip rope too fast. They are boring. I opened my mouth to tell her all this, but...
My tongue turned to sandpaper."

The cover says that Alvin is allergic to girls, school, and other scary things...what else is there in a second grader's life? He's also afraid of elevators, tunnels, thunder, wasabi, the dark, scary movies, shots, only as a starter list. There are some things that he loves: his dog, Plastic Man, Wonder fact, all the superheroes known to mankind. Prior to preschool, he was a superhero himself, Firecracker Man. Now that only happens on weekends when he's not in school.

Did I tell you he's afraid of school? I hope so. When at school, Alvin cannot speak...not a single word. Because of his mutism he thinks he needs a plan for making friends who don't need to hear him talk. There are those willing to help him come up with a PDK, a personal disaster kit.

I love Alvin and I am just itching to get started on his new book which I hope to tell you about here tomorrow. He is, articulate (when not at school), full of wisecracks, Shakespearean curses, unlimited curiosity, and such a person he is! Here is his description of his dad: “My dad is not only a gentleman, but he is da man, which is a lot like being da dad, which means he can handle quite a lot.” Or about his mom: "My mom is da mom. She never had another life, like my dad, who was probably secretly a gung fu action hero spymaster assassin before he was a dad. She was always a mom - she was practically born that way - but that's okay. She is really super-duper. She is not afraid of heights." Good thing since Alvin needs rescuing from a tree where he is hanging upside down like a roast duck.

What a great gift to your favorite second grader...or to the family for fun-filled reading times. It is a keeper and I am on my way to get started on the next....see you next time!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Poetrees, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster. 2010. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Giant Sequoias

Ancient seers
Of three thousand years.
Heavenly high.
Friends to the sky.
Spongy thick bark.
Large as an ark.
Gargantuan girth.
Anchored in earth.
Grow by degrees
To world's tallest trees.
Never destroy a
Giant sequoia."

I have come to expect so much from Douglas Florian...and he never disappoints. I love and use every single book of poetry that he has written, regaling avid and attentive listeners with his wordplay, his humor, his research and learning and his unabashed enjoyment of the English language as he explores animal species, space, dinosaurs, pets and now, trees. What a remarkable poet, who helps kids to see there is poetry everywhere, that hard work will help you find the right word to use and that looking at the world with a clear lens will help you discover so much you have not yet seen.

In his new book, he turns his attention to trees: their leaves, roots, rings, bark, seeds and the many different types of trees that are indigenous to countries around the world...thirteen to be exact. He keeps to his usual pattern, with a color-filled illustration to match each poem. This book is read lengthwise, which provides real perspective for all material included...from the front matter to the 'Glossatree' following the final poem. In this 'glossatree' he includes further information about each of the trees included. In an author's note, Florian tells his readers that he loved trees as a child and still does, now understanding how much they mean to our good health and the health of our planet.

I was immediately drawn to his illustrations...he reports that they are crafted on primed paper bags using mixed media that includes watercolors, colored pencils, stamps, pastels, and collage. They are full of texture and intriguing to ponder. Placement of art and text adds another dimension to the enjoyment of the 'whole' book.

Add to that his signature strength when choosing words and phrases to describe his subject. He is a master at wordplay and leaves us thinking about a turn of a phrase, a word choice and line breaks.


"Coconut Palm

I'm nuts about the coconut.
I'm cuckoo for the coco.
I'm crazed for this amazing nut.
For coco I am loco.
I'm never calm to climb this palm.
I scurry up and hurry
To knock one down onto the ground,
Then eat it in a flurry."

Instructions, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess. Harper. 2010. $15.99 all ages

if any creature tells you that it hungers,
feed it.
If it tells you that it is dirty,
clean it.
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain."

If I were to embark on a journey, I would want the words of Neil Gaiman singing in my ears...he has such a powerful and gifted way of giving 'instructions'.

Follow his advice, walk proudly through the unknown gate in the wall and revel in the discoveries you are about to make. The landscape seems somewhat familiar; there are characters and places you will recognize. Do your best to be the best you can be, and move forward.

As you journey on, there will be obstacles. Take them in stride or turn back. There is no harm in that. If you choose to go on, there is so much more. There is much to remember and to learn...if you put your trust in others, and do not lose hope.

"Trust dreams.

Trust your heart,
and trust

After your adventure, return home to where your story began.

It is wonderful to have another book by these amazing collaborators to share and to savor. Their book, Blueberry Girl, continues to be one of my favorite birth gifts. Now, I have one for graduates and anyone else embarking on a new path. Take heart and go forward with bravery, thirst and a willingness to listen and learn.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Buzz on Bees, by Shelley Rotner and Anne Woodhull. Photographed by Shelley Rotner. Holiday House, T Allen. 2010.$21.50 ages 8 and up

"Honeybees are master pollinators. We can thank them for about one out of every three
mouthfuls of food that we eat.
Without bees, but especially without honeybees, there would be fewer cantaloupes, cucumbers, blueberries, peppers, broccoli, soybeans, watermelons, peaches, tomatoes, pumpkins, onions, and almonds. So many of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat depend on honeybees for pollination."

There has been much in the news in recent years about the disappearance and death of bees. This informative, easy to understand book helps readers of all ages begin to recognize the problems that are arising with the loss. Shelley Rotner took her camera along as she sought some answers to her questions about bees, and used it well to help her readers 'see' through her eyes the wonders in the world of bees.

Beekeepers are confused by the change of events with their bees. They have seen nothing like it in a lifetime of work. When Dave Hackenberg made his discovery four years ago, he began speaking with others in his industry and found that they were experiencing the same thing. "People were shocked to learn that in just four years, about one-third of the honeybees in the United States had disappeared without a trace."

The loss of the many bees that make our world a better place is alarming, and should be! The trickle down effect is felt in every aspect of modern agriculture. Rotner describes the many species of bees that work to make our world better and more viable. She tells us how they are transported across country to help in all areas of farming. There have been other times when losses were reported by beekeepers but nothing in history has been so catastrophic. Scientists are calling it CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder. Many people are working to try to determine the causes.

Some of their questions are concerned with disease, viruses, stress, drugs, diet, loss of habitat, global warming, air pollution, chemicals and electromagnetic fields. There are many questions and no real answers as yet. Why is this happening and what can we do? This award winning author provides some answers and suggestions. Then, she encourages us to find out more with a list of important resources and ends with a very interesting Did you know? page which includes:

"Honeybees have a dancing language. They dance to let other bees know the location of flowers."

"A bee can visit ten flowers a minute."

"Honeybees collect nectar from more than a million flowers to make one pound of honey."

This book is worth a look and careful consideration.

Muddy As A Duck Puddle, by Laurie Lawlor and illustrated by Ethan Long. Holiday House, T Allen. 2010. $21.50 ages 8 and up

"What is a simile?
This figure of speech compares two different things,
actions, descriptions or feelings. Most similes are
introduced by as or like. A simile
can create a fresh, surprising description. A simile
can even make us laugh when it sets up the opposite
of an expected meaning."

What an absolutely inventive way to present the alphabet...again! I never tire of the amazing thinking that produces books that are such fun for our children. The first is 'Alike as two peas. Now, that makes sense and is quite a common comparison. And so it goes! I hope that no one was walking past my house tonight (the windows and front door were allowing the fresh April air in) as I laughed out loud at some of the inane and charming similes that grace the pages of this, my newest, alphabet book. You've likely heard 'Jittery as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs'; but what about 'Lazy as a hound that leans against the fence to bark'?

My friend Judi will totally understand the last one: 'Zany as a chigger chased around a stump.' Oh, those chiggers!

As I read through it again, and then again, I was thinking how much fun kids would have using this book as a guide to trying their hand at writing their own similes. They could start with sensible, move on to nonsense and even try for an alphabetic grouping. They could choose a theme, or try to write a story that explains a familiar or a newly minted simile came to be...the imagination runs wild. Of course, you could even use the pattern that Laurie Lawlor has established in creating your own alphabet book of similes. The ideas never end!

Once you have read the similes, go back and really examine the wonderful illustrations created to help readers understand the meaning in the words. There are many stories there. Ethan Long's art is colorful and humorous, adding to the total effect with panache. Enjoy, and then try some similes for yourself!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Animal Habitats, edited by Lorrie Mack. DK, Tourmaline Editions. 2009. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"In each of six chapters (Coral Reef, Rain Forest, Water Hole, Desert, Mountain, and Arctic), you can follow five specific animals as they go through a day and a night, learn lots of fascinating facts about all the other creatures that share their habitat. Then, as you go through your day - having breakfast, going to school, playing with your friends, eating supper, getting ready for bed - you'll know exactly what all your favorite animals are doing at the same time!"

Now, there's an apt description of this entertaining and engaging book - another winner from a fantastic publisher whose task is to present relevant, realistic and readable books for children whose passion is the natural world. DK Publishing knows just what it is doing! They constantly encourage children's quest for knowledge about the world by providing exceptional books for their reading pleasure.

The introduction describes the premise for this book. It is only when you get the reading journey started that you discover the real treasure that lies within. We begin with dawn in the coral reef. If you have never visited one, and are not likely to do so in the next few months, these amazing close-up photos will have you thinking you have just made that visit. The morning is a busy time! A numbered box describes the creatures pictured while a series of photos and captions on the facing page describe what they are doing at this time of the day. One we go through each hour of the day, with more information and clear photos of the many creatures found on the reef. We finally say good-bye at 4 am as the baby turtles and scramble to safety in the sea.

It takes some time, and will spark many 'aha' moments as readers browse through the many images presented and the information included. Hours of fun and learning...just what makes DK Publishing a resource that perennially garners great reviews for the nonfiction they provide.

What's The Big Idea? written Helene Becker and illustrated by Steve Attoe. Maple Tree, 2009. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"But many inventions truly made life easier. Ships for transportation by water, wheels for travel by land, iron for plows to till the soil, and pumps to water fields all began to appear. Soon, human life looked nothing like our old hunter-gatherer days - we were farming the land."

Here's a history of technology as it has evolved over the past 4000 years, divided into four sections and telling readers about the amazing inventions that have 'changed life on earth forever'. The table of contents begins long, long ago and then moves to long ago, and finally not so long ago, before asking what next. In each section some inventions are described on two page spreads, 'Big Thinkers' get fair treatment and close-ups describe various places and the many useful articles found there.

The needle is described first...invented by 'damp, depressed and very chilly women 40,000 years ago. The explanations are accessible sounding like conversation and catching the listener's ear as the text moves forward. There is much information to digest. She adds Spinoffs boxes where she describes other items that resulted from the targeted invention. With needles, she talks about socks, buttons, bikinis, and even silk.

Anyone interested in inventions and how they came to be will find some of what they are looking for here. The illustrations add fun to the pages and will help readers better understand some of the concepts. As with nonfiction you don't need to read it cover to cover. An index will help fans find their favorite topics, take them there and then do it again. If you have an inventive mind, this might be just the book for you.

Inventions, written by Glenn Murphy. Simon & Schuster, 2008. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Inventions can change the world almost overnight, like the World Wide Web. Other inventions may not catch on for centuries, such as the submarine, which was invented in 1620 but didn't come into wide use until 1900. Look around and consider hwo many things we use every day that had to be invented."

Kids will be drawn to this book by the intriguing cover...

Once inside, there is much to discover about those things created that had never existed prior to their invention. The timeline that precedes the text is just right for young readers. It plots each age in a vertical list beginning with prehistory and moving quickly along to the digital age, each box including the most important tools, machines and technologies for each period of time.

Easily accessed and useful, it is a great invitation to look further and discover more about each age. The first inventors recognized the need for cloth and sewing, weapons, and tools for heat, catching food, cooking and storage. The author then focuses, one page at a time, on the most amazing ideas...beginning with the wheel, sail, clock, windmill, printing press; ending with surgery, bionics, and the internet. It is an amazing ride and will leave its readers much more knowledgeable than when they began the reading.

The amount of information is not daunting, despite the subject. Captions are included to describe each illustration and a timeline is logged at the bottom of the page, showing the invention's development across the years. Very enlightening without being overpowering. Kids will come away from the reading inspired to think of something else that might make life easier.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Birdie's Big-Girl Shoes, written and illustrated by Sujean Rim. Little, Brown, Hachette. 2009. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Whenever Birdie's mother got ready in the morning,
Birdie was there to help.
She would start by picking out the sparkly jewelry.
Next she would find the perfect pair of sunglasses.
Then her dog, Monster, would help her choose just
the right perfume."

Here's a story for Erin...a true blue show aficionado! She loves her shoes, and would love to be a poster girl for Fluevog's. I don't remember her as a little girl (Birdie's age) being especially enamored of them, but she certainly got more discriminating as she grew up.

Birdie loves helping her Mom get ready for the day...and she longs to wear her fashionista mother's shoes! The double page that shows Birdie's dreamy countenance admiring each and every pair is such fun! Birdie believes she's ready but Mom is not so sure. She reminds her young daughter that there will be many years ahead to wear high heels. In her imagination Birdie ponders how much better life would be...if only!

Maybe just for a little while? Mom succumbs to the pleading eyes and the constant pleas...Birdie is off with a promise to be very careful. She can't believe the beauty in the mirror. She and her dog Monster stand ready to begin their routine day, but something seems to be standing in the way of all their fun. Within minutes, she is scraped and aching, and disgusted by the lack of fun. Birdie makes a might be able to guess what it is!

The watercolor artwork for the lively and lovely book is wonderful. Birdie's expressive face evokes every emotion felt on her quest to be a 'big girl' and her decision to be herself. White space allows for much action, and the wonder of her imagination. Great fun for a readaloud...and another one of those books I will keep on Erin's bookshelf for some future time.

Just as an added bonus, here is a picture of a birthday cake created for Sujean's first reading of her first picture book for children. Check out other amazing cakes at

Felicity Floo Visits the Zoo, written and illustrated by E. S. Redmond. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"All the animals down at the zoo
Are snuffling and snorting and sneezing ACHOO.
The lions won't roar, and the tigers just mew."

We could have used this book in every classroom as we struggled to contain the H1N1 virus in the fall and spring. Reminders to wash hands, and cough into sleeves and a campaign to immunize as many people as possible seemed to keep it at bay, for the most part. Watching Felicity's trek through the zoo and the chaos she leaves behind her may have sparked some interesting discussions in homes and classrooms.

The sentiment for the story is evident on the endpapers, colored a gruesome green (remind you of anything?) and little handprints everywhere you look. On to the witty dedication: 'This book is for Kevin, who always has a tissue, and for Eden and Griffin, who always need one.' It's cleverly displayed on the signpost behind a sickly looking girl, wrapped in a long striped scarf and doing damage even to dandelions with her germy breath.

Poor animals...they look dismal, downhearted and dreading the arrival of guests. Even the hyenas are crying, not laughing. The zookeeper can't figure it out, but he knows he's got trouble. Ah, to the heart of the story...only the storyteller knows the truth. It seems Felicity is the cause, all right. Upon arrival she wiped her 'sniffly' nose without a tissue and you know how that turns out. As she visits each animal, she spreads those germs through touch and then goes on her way, leaving the zoo with the Floo.

It's fun and filled with light humor. Kids will love searching for all of those green handprints...yuk!

Red Ted and the Lost Things, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Joel Stewart. Candlewick, Random House. 2010.$20.00 ages 4 and up

"One day a little bear named Red Ted was left on a train.
He found himself being put on a shelf by a Man in a Hat."

As I began reading this lovely book about a lonely and determined lost bear, I was taken back to our readalouds in kindergarten with Corduroy. Red Ted is sad because his owner left him on a train and now he finds himself in the lost and found, along with shelves and shelves of other lost things. It does not look promising. His shelf partner is a crocodile who is desolate as well. He thinks that his lot might never change. He can't even remember who lost him.

Stevie, his owner, is firmly in Red Ted's mind and he is resolute about finding her again. She will have no idea where he is! So, while the Man in the Hat is out of sight, he takes a leap and plots a course for reunion with his beloved Stevie. Crocodile asks to be included in the adventure, little knowing where it might lead. Following the signs to get them out of the building and a chance meeting with Cat prove to be just the thing. Soon, they are off with the melodious Cat leading them. As they walk, she sings a telling tune. Nothing deters them from their goal...not rain, or dog or locked door.

Red Ted keeps his cool and is rewarded when Stevie and her mother return home. In her excitement to see her brave teddy returned, Stevie does not forget those who helped him find his way back home. Soon, Crocodile and Cat are also welcomed to a new home and all is well in the world.

Joel Stewart does wonders with the art, creating a world that keeps the main characters always in focus. I like the graphic storybook format and the spirit he brings to the determined bear and his friends as they roam the city streets in search of 'home'.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I Know Here, written by Laurel Croza and illustrated by Matt James. Groundwood. 2010. $18.95 ages 6 and up

"This is where I live. I don't know Toronto. I know here.
I know this road, the one I am walking on. One end goes
to the dam and the other end stops at my school. I count
the trailers on my side of the road. There are seven and
mine makes eight."

When her brother makes the announcement that they are moving to Toronto because the dam is soon to be completed, our young narrator knows that everything is about to change. Currently, they are living in a trailer park in Saskatchewan while her father works at the dam site. Her life here is what she knows. She doesn't know Toronto.

As she walks the roads that have been her home she is reminded of all that she has come to love in her time here. She knows the trees, the animals, the sounds of night, and the smell of a fox. She knows the hills, the man who brings their groceries and the trailer that serves as her school.

As she considers the move, knowing that it is inevitable, she draws a picture of the things she has seen and the memories she wants to keep when she leaves this place she so loves. She will fold up everything that she draws and has memories of into a small bundle that can be carried in her pocket and take it with Toronto, when summer comes and they must move on.

This is a book that will find fans in those who have loved a place and moved from it, or those who anticipate a move from the country to the city, or the other way around. It will prompt discussion of wonderful memories and fear of change. In the end, it leaves readers with a sense of promise for the future. Lovely!

Petit, the Monster. Written and illustrated by Isol. Groundwood. 2006. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"Do you know Petit? Petit is a good boy who plays with his dog.
Petit is a bad boy who pulls girls' hair."

I think we all know a Petit, or may have been one. One minute good, one minute later not so good. His mother wonders how her son can be so good and do such bad things. Petit does not have the answer.

But, it spurs him to think about the question posed and to consider his actions. He is doubtful that he will ever be able to determine the answers to his many concerns. He knows that he sometimes does things that make people angry, but he also does much to make them happy. He takes care of his toys but doesn't want to share them. Is he good or bad?

As he ponders these seemingly unanswerable questions, he wants two things:

"Petit just wants a little peace and quiet.
And a how-to manual to clear up his doubts."

Other images creep into his thinking. Why does he feel sorry for Gregory if Gregory is such a terrible boy? Why does Laura sit next to him even when he pulls her hair?
Who hasn't felt such things?

In the end he admits to his mother that he must be good-bad. There is no other way to explain his behavior. His mother appears to be understanding. But...

"Mother is good because she understands and bad
when she sends me to bed without dessert.

Could it be that it runs in the family?"

Perfect in every way!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yucky Worms, written by Vivian French and illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $21.00 ages 5 and up

"There's still a lot of goodness left in the things a worm eats, and when the goodness comes out again as poop, it helps plants to grow BIG and STRONG. And as the worms move around, under and on top of the soil, the poop gets spread around the garden."

Insects I am not so keen on, but I don't mind worms. That is where our young narrator and I differ. Grandma loves the little critters but her grandson cannot abide them. He wants them thrown away. Grandma is appalled. She is keen to have him realize the goodness that worms bring to gardens and flower beds. She begins a lesson in learning when they put a worm in the dirt and watch it tunnel underground. Grandma patiently explains the many advantages of having worms work their magic, while burrowing in the dirt.

As she describes their work and the benefits they bring to our world, she dispels a few of the myths that her grandson has to share. They watch and listen and there are many discoveries to be made. Much of the information shared comes in the story; however, the author chooses to add much more as we make our way through the pages of this very enlightening book. There are captions to describe the parts of the earthworm's body, informative sentences to confirm and expand upon Grandma's knowledge, humorous, detailed drawings and sidebars, too. In the end readers are invited to become 'wormologists' and learn even more than has been shared here. It adds so much fun and helps young researchers make their own discoveries with a little help and some fine suggestions.

Insect Detective, written by Steve Voake and illustrated by Charlotte Voake. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"Right now, all around you, thousands of insects are doing strange and wonderful things. But you can't always see them right away. Sometimes you have to know where to look."

In a smaller font that accompanies this page of text, we are regaled with additional information: there are about 200 million insects for every single person! Yuk and double yuk!!

The author encourages his readers to listen to the world around them and they might hear wasps scraping a post to collect wood. What do you think that wood will be used for? Yes, after mixing it in her mouth and making a soft pulp, it will be used to help build a nest of paper. I know you have seen such things. Steve Voake tells us about ants, bees, and other insects found, if we just look closely. There is much to know about these creatures. But, not everything we find in cool dark places will be an insect. Remember, an insect has six legs only!

He ends with dragonflies and provides some very interesting 'stuff' about those iridescent hunters. And he entreats us to make our own discoveries by opening a door and stepping outside! He provides clear and easy ideas for becoming a detective on the hunt for the many insects that share our world.

Two different fonts, engaging watercolor art with detailed illustrations that show exactly what the author is describing in print and an sincere invitation to learn more about the world...that makes a great book.

Our World of Water, written by Beatrice Hollyer. Henry Holt, H B Fenn, 2008. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"We forget what a miracle water is. We forget that it supports everything that lives - humans, animals, plants; the sea, the rivers, the mountains; the atmosphere, the air; when we study other planets in the solar system we know for certain that only those with water could ever have sustained life. Without water, we're nothing at all."

I really like the design of this book. A world map welcomes us and shows us the six stars of the show, a note from each child and their region posted on the map; Dahlys is from the US, Lucas from Peru, Khadija from Mauritania, Barfimoh from Tajikistan, Saran from Bangladesh and Gamachu from Ehtiopia. The table of contents shows that we will visit each country, learn more about water and its importance to us and to the world. There is a glossary and a short added note revealing additional information about each country visited.

Zadie Smith, in her foreword, reminds us that we are very, very lucky if we have plentiful water; but, she also trusts that we learn from what we read to be more careful with this very precious resource. The children in this book have much to teach us, and we have much to learn about something we take for granted.

We learn about 'out world of water' from the children. In six page entries we are introduced to the child, the life they live and through photos, some of their activities. The captions are easy to read, the quotes are bolded in a different font to make it known to the reader what each child has to say. We are richer for the time spent. 'What to Know About Water' is included in a two page display as the visits come to an end. Informative and helpful.

Dizzy in Your Eyes, written by Pat Mora. Knopf, Random House. 2010.$19.99 ages 12 and up

"I carry your smile
and faith inside like I carry
my dog's face,
my sister's laugh,
creamy melodies,
the softness of sunrise,
steady blessings of stars,
autumn smell of gingerbread,
the security of summer on a chilly day."

In the fifty poems included in this collection we are privy to love of all sorts...there is a multitude of voices and the many experiences that loving someone or something brings to a life. This astute and very accomplished poet and author includes poems that have Spanish language and an occasional translation. This is teen love magnified, written in free verse and a variety of other poetic forms. In order to give readers a heads-up about the variety, Pat Mora includes a definition on the facing page where needed.

The feelings are strong, and will be heard by any attentive teen listener. It is a great book for reading aloud to the group or for personal attention to the ups and downs of love. There is so much uncertainty for teens stricken by feelings of love, whether they be between a boy and girl, parents and child, friends, family, pets, social events, at school or elsewhere in a teen's world. Much of the verse written here speaks to that love and validates the feelings that overwhelm and engage teens at home and away.

The collection flows so well from one poem to the next and invites readers to return to poems that have personal meaning for them at this particular time in their lives. The voices are powerful, the poems intense and sensitive, and the many facets of love are explored with care and compassion for those sharing some of the same issues.

We are left with hope and love of self in the poem, My Song:

"So many memories,
and I'm still young.
So many dreams,
my song's just begun.

Sometimes I hear
my private melody grow,
then the sound vanishes,
but returns, I now know.

I've heard my heart break;
wounded, I've felt alone,
but slowly I learned
to thrive on my own.

I want to keep learning,
to deepen my song;
in whatever I work,
may my best self be strong."

Alchemy and Meggy Swann, written by Karen Cushman. Clarion, T Allen & Son. 2010. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"Meggy and the carter had arrived in London earlier that day while the summer evening was yet light. Even so, the streets were gloomy, with tall houses looming on either side, rank with the smell of fish and the sewage in the gutter, slippery with horse droppings, clamorous with church bells and the clatter of cart wheels rumbling on cobbles. London was a gallimaufry of people and carts, horses and coaches, dogs and pigs, and such noise that made Meggy's head, accustomed to the gentle stillness of a country village, ache."

We come to the London streets with Meggy, when she is dropped unceremoniously on her father's doorstep and left to fend for herself...something she has never had to do. Meggy was born with a hip displasia that keeps her from walking upright, and without aid. Her gran has always cared for her in the small village where they lived. When her father called for her, her mother was only too happy to see her off. Her arrival is a surprise to her father, who was expecting a boy and not a crippled girl. He sent for the child expecting help as he works to find the magic elixir of youth through the study of alchemy. Meggy has much to learn, and she does so quickly!

She meets Roger on her first evening. Upon his asking her about the walking sticks that she uses, she angrily replies: "Beware the ugglesome crookleg, the foul-featured cripple, the fearful, misshapen creature," and growls at him to boot. It is not the most auspicious introduction and does foreshadow what their future holds...constant quarreling, insulting each other and finally, friendship. As Meggy struggles to find her way around the neighborhood, and beyond, she meets a number of people who will become part of the life that she makes for herself. She does so with persistence, pride and patience.

I love historical fiction and have always eagerly awaited new books by Karen Cushman. She never disappoints. She immerses herself in the times she is depicting, creating a setting that reeks of the streets of Victorian England, memorable and admirable characters who give of themselves to help others, and a story that moves quickly from start to finish. You live in those streets as you read of the struggles of the people who inhabit them, and you rejoice in the smalll triumphs that these fine people experience. It's a keeper!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fearless Female Journalists, written by Joy Crysdale. Second Story Press. 2010. $10.95 ages 12 and up

"The women is this book are truly courageous. That doesn't mean they didn't feel fear, or anxiety, or darkness. It means they went ahead anyway and did what they believed they had to do. It was their journalism that was fearless, and through it, each of these women changed the world in some way."

I like these books that give a taste of the lives of the people they are describing. They are well-researched and provide pertinent and important glimpses into those lives. In this book we meet ten women whose business is journalism and writing. They have risked much to tell their stories and to keep the world attuned to events that impact world communities. They work in radio, television, print media and on the Internet. They show us the importance of journalism to our society, and their stories force us to come to terms with the difficulties they face in trying to bring them to light. They all take risks. Too often we are bombarded with celebrity and sports gossip that has little impact on us, but encourages the feeling that we are entitled to know the most intimate and personal details of those lives.

These women show strength, tenacity and bravery, while facing ridicule and giving up much personally, as they bring us news from all corners of the world.

The stories begin in 1823 with the birth of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, an abolitionist who worried not a whit about making people angry. She seemed to glory in doing so. She was the first black woman editor in North America and she stood tall and proud as she strove to abolish slavery and make life better for her people. Nellie Bly was adventurous and daring. She went inside an asylum to report conditions there. She proved that she could go around the world in 72 days, because she said she would. Margaret Bourke-White decided early that she wanted to do everything that women of the time were not allowed to do. Her photographs of the despair on the faces of the people of the Dust Bowl led to her work with Life magazine.

Doris Anderson was not a young woman who 'knew her place'...she wanted a voice at a time when women were encouraged to be seen and not heard. She became editor of Chatelaine magazine, changing its focus and encouraging its female readers to learn to take care of themselves. Barbara Frum (can it be almost 20 years since her untimely death?)asked for a pony when he was 6, her mother said 'no' the neighbors would not like it. She promptly marched up and down the street to check her mother's story, returning with a paper signed by all saying they didn't mind if she had a pony. Now, that's feisty and a sign of things to come. Her advice for interviews was to 'use as few words as possible to ask your questions and then get out of the way'...wise advice for the ages. Katie Couric was the first woman to host morning TV. When she was interviewing Barbara Bush in 1992 and a genial President George Bush offered an impromptu visit and talk, she made national headlines...a first! Russian Anna Politkovskaya's words did not win favor with her country and its government and she was murdered for speaking out against what she believed was an unjust war...of racial hatred and abuse. Pam Oliver helped pave the way for women who were interested in sports journalism. She worked tirelessly at reporting and once refused a job with ESPN, thinking she did not have the experience needed. She has achieved great success as a sideline reporter in the NFL.

Afghani Farida Nekzad fled her home, never to return, when the Taliban came to power. Five years later, she returned home hoping to help her people. Life as a journalist in Afghanistan is full of threats and constant danger, but she will not back down. She runs an independent news agency and fights for her daughter so that she will have the freedom of speech so many do not have. Thembi Nugbane from South was a black woman who recorded her own fight against AIDS, chronicling what she was experiencing and thinking as an AIDS sufferer. She thought her writing and speaking would encourage others to let go of the shame and deal with the illness.

What a truly worthy group of women!

The Frog Scientist, written by Pamela S Turner and photographs by Andy Comins. Houghton Mifflin, T Allen. 2009. $22.50 ages 10 and up

"Amphibian means "double life". Most amphibians begin their life in a watery world, breathing through fishlike gills. Then they transform into an entirely different creature: an air-breathing animal."

I look forward to each new publication in this wonderful Scientists in the Field series. They are filled with the wonder of nature and the dogged determination of scientists whose task is to find out about their preferred field of study and then pass what they are learning on to us. They do it in a way that makes even the most reluctant science student (me!) more knowledgeable and fascinated with their topic.

In this fine book we meet Dr. Tyrone Hayes, who has a love for frogs and does much needed research on the effects of pesticides on the amphibian population. A rapid decline is happening around the world in these animal groups and pesticides may be one of the causes. We accompany him to a research site in Wyoming and then back to California. As we go he explains exactly what he is doing, how he does it, and why it is important. Despite the fact that he is a brilliant scientist, he seems like a friend as he works hard but takes time for laughter and enjoyment of the time spent with his family and the 'Frog Squad' students who look to him for guidance and blossom under his tutelage.

The organization of material is outstanding and clear. We can see visually the process of the experiments and understand the need to know what is happening. Color photos are brilliant and add to our understanding in clearly visible images.

Here is science in action and a clear call for more of the same. Bravo to Dr. Turner, his students and to Houghton Mifflin for making this wonderful series available for study. Let us not forget the storytelling ability of Pamela Turner...she makes a scientific study such a pleasure to read, or Andy Comins' photography which puts us on the front line to learning. The images are spectacular, in his first book for children. Let's hope it is the beginning of a long career in literature for our kids.

Two parts scientific study, one part biography and one part mystery...put them together and they add up to one fine book...worthy of your attention.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

One World, One Day, by Barbara Kerley. National Geographic, Random House. 2009. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"At dawn, as the sun slips over the horizon,
kids around the world get up
wash up
and celebrate a new day."

Barbara Kerley lived in Nepal for two years in the early 80s. While there she noted that, while some aspects of life there were quite different from her American home, there was also much that was the same. 'The children got up, went to school, came home, helped around the house, and the whole family gathered in the evening to relax and spend time together'. At school she found the same thing. She learned that the people of the world are alike in many ways.

In this fine book, filled with breathtaking photographs, she brings that discovery to full and vibrant life. There are few words, but the story is told on the faces of the children as they celebrate each day in all corners of the world. The settings may be diverse but the experiences are so is a lovely sentiment.

A most useful, and informative, addition is found in the book's final five pages. The author provides location, a caption to describe the photograph and a note from the photographer explaining the occasion that inspired the picture. It adds a deft touch. Finally, a world map places each photo and includes a description, the page number and the location of the published photograph.

So Close, written and illustrated by Natalia Colombo. Tundra, 2008. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Mr. Duck is going to work like he does every day.

Mr. Rabbit is also going to work, like he does every day.

They always walk past each other."

It doesn't take many words to make a point and, it can be done gently as this wee story proves.

Two neighbors cross paths every single working going one way, one the other. They see each other early in the morning, and then again when work is done. It doesn't matter if they are in a hurry, or not. It matters not their transport.

'They never say hello.'

Their lonely sad faces fill two full double page spreads following that statement being made. We are reminded that one word can make a difference.

What a powerful message that is for all of us, in this world where communication is too often reliant on electronic devices! Saying hello with a smile can make someone's day, can lead to time spent together, can ease a lonely existence. It is such a small thing!

Monday, April 19, 2010

SIT-IN, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Little, Brown, Hachette. 2010. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"We must...
meet hate
with love."

"These were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words that got them started.
Four hungry friends. Eager to eat.
Each took a seat at the Woolworth's lunch counter
in Greensboro, North Carolina."

It often takes a small act to make a big impact. Four friends, disturbed by the injustice of segregation decided that they would take a stand together to bring attention to the issue. To that end, they sat themselves at the lunch counter in a Woolworth's department store and waited patiently to be served. When they were not, they did nothing but sit. They were standing up for themselves and what they believed. There was no fuss!

They were ignored but they refused to leave. They thought integration was worth it. They sat with Dr. Martin Luther King's words in their hearts: "Be loving enough to absorb evil." A police officer could do nothing as they were breaking no law. When the store closed they went home and came back the next day; this time they had supporters. More students joined them. They ordered, were ignored, waited and we silent. They read, they wrote, they did their homework and they waited.

It started in Greensboro and soon spread throughout the land...the sit-in. Many did not care. People pelted them with hot coffee, milkshakes, pepper, ketchup and hatred. The students practiced peace. Soon, they were on TV and the sit-ins grew bigger and spread further. When taken to jail, they remained calm. So much to be proud of doing...they were helped by many.

When John F Kennedy saw what was happening, he stepped up and in. He urged people to treat each other with dignity and he expected Congress to take action...resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The students were pleased with the progress and celebrated. They were served and returned to be served again. They said it was worth the long wait.

The art created for this compelling story has such an impact for readers. It is bold, brightly colored, and filled with wonderful characters and scenes from this defining moment in American history. There is motion and emotion as they sit to wait for the momentous change that is sure to come. They celebrate their learning with a recipe for integration, coffee and a doughnut. It is a victory.

A timeline is included for the Civil Rights Movement, beginning in 1954 and ending with the Civil Rights Act of 1964...ten long worth-it years! Andrea David Pinkney adds the final helping with a description of this real life event. Bravo!

Mama Miti, written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. 2010. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"The woman and her children returned home
and planted trees with their strong hands,
one by one. In the years to come, when flowering
season was over, the family ate the shiny round
fruits. They shared with their neighbors, who carried
home the seeds, planted them, and grew their own
mubiru muiru trees."

Such an important message to be shared...Thayu nyumba Peace, my people.

I remember sharing Wangari's story in a previous post. This story has some of the same elements, but the telling is unique and most worthy of your time. As a child Wangari listened to the stories of her people, and grew to love the trees that were part of the elders' tellings. Wangari never forgot her roots, and planted trees in her backyard, knowing they would bring peace to her mind in the middle of the city where she was living. Wangari was wise in her ways and women sought her counsel. One woman did not have enough food to give her family sustenance. Wangari suggested she plant trees that would help to feed her family. Another walked long miles to find firewood for cooking...her travels took so long she had no time to prepare meals. She was counselled to grow her own wood, from another special kind of tree. As each woman did as Wangari suggested, she shared her learning with neighbors and friends.

The women kept coming. Each had a concern, and looked to Wangari for the solution to the problem. Wangari was always ready with sage advice. And she always sent the women away with a wish for peace. As the trees that had been depleted returned to the rural areas where they had once flourished, Kenya became 'strong and peaceful', too.

"Wangari changed a country, tree by tree. She taught her people the ancient wisdom of peace with nature. And now she is teaching the rest of the world."

In creating the artwork for this uplifting book, Kadir Nelson used mixed media...cloth and paint. The effect is stunning. He wanted his illustrations to reflect the beauty of Kenya and the people who live there. He did just that. And he helped to create a book that reminds us that change begins with one person, or one small gesture.

Blockhead, written by Joseph D'Agnese and illustrated by John O'Brien. Henry Holt, H B Fenn. 2010. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"That's the way I am with numbers. I have loved them since I was very little.
Everywhere I looked in my parents' home, there was something to count."

Well, reading about a brilliant mathematician sure doesn't help me understand the math, but it gives me great perspective on the life of Fibonacci. In this picture book biography that introduces him to a younger audience, Joseph D'Agnese provides some historical details ('based on the few things we know - and a bit of make-believe') and a clear explanation of the number sequence this genius discovered in nature. If you can be funny about math, there is humor here. It is a book that anyone interested in mathematics will find useful and enlightening. Those who love math might find inspiration in the dogged determination that led to Fibonacci's ideas about the patterns he was seeing.

I am intrigued by the information that can be shared in picture book biographies. Even young readers have access to the life and times of so many important people in accessible text that is partnered with illustrations that makes the understanding more clear. John O'Brien takes us back to medieval times with his artwork and uses the swirls, spirals and patterns that so inspired 'Blockhead' to work diligently toward new discoveries.

There is a 'can you find...' section at the end of the book that will encourage its readers to look back to find what may have been missed. There are also other suggestions for checking out the reliability of the sequence in a child's world.

"There was a man who put two baby rabbits in a field. It takes rabbits one month to grow up and be ready to have babies. And it takes them one more month to give birth to a pair of baby rabbits.
Every month a pair of grown-up rabbits gives birth to a new pair of baby rabbits.
How many pairs of rabbits will the man have at the end of a year?"

I could give you the answer but won't it be more fun to use Fibonacci's sequence to figure it out for yourself?

Sharing the Seasons, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by David Diaz. Simon & Schuster. 2010. $28.99 ages 4 and up

Lee Bennett Hopkins


always -
always -
cloud-bursting showers

April fools
fledglings on wing

no thing

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to share poetry with everyone. My kids know it because I often phone them to read special new poems I love. I share poetry in school classrooms, and with friends. We are blessed to have an amazing group of poets writing poetry for children today.

When speaking of American poets, Lee Bennett Hopkins comes immediately to mind. He is a 'pied piper' for children and poetry. He is an anthologist, a poet, and a much-admired mentor. In his new book, he has both written and selected poems across the seasons, that are meant to be shared and shared again. It is a wonderful collection!

As we come to each new season, its introduction is a quote. The first is from Longfellow and it leads us to an original poem written by Lee B Hopkins about spring for this fine book. What follows are eleven poems, making an even dozen each time, from poets whose work we have admired through the years. Summer is introduced by Henry James. So it goes through each season from spring to winter, exploring the markers that remind us of the year's passing. Some poems may be familiar to you, others will not. Each will delight the ear, inspire sharing and perhaps even provide encouragement for you, and for your children and students, to 'give it a go'...look with your senses at all that is there for you to see, touch, taste, hear and smell. Use your heart and head to help find the words to describe our world and its wonders.

You will have experienced much of what is described here. The early warmth of the spring sun, the intense heat of summer that encourages you to do nothing but sit, the first gentle snow of November and the bitter cold that takes your breath away in winter...they are all here. They will conjure up memories of past seasons for you, some to share and others best forgotten.

David Diaz uses mixed media to create a gorgeous backdrop for the poems chosen. They provide a batik-like background, shining with brilliant colors and filling each page. There is so much to see as the eye wanders from one image to the next, always aware of the season's passing while reminding us of its beauty. I know you will have a favorite...or more! I love the children jumping rope and riding their scooters, a sure sogn that 'road rash' on knees and elbows is just around the corner. Being a ferris wheel rider, I could feel my stomach lurch as the wheel reaches its full height amidst fireworks, summer heat and sno-cones.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Track of a Panda, written by Nick Dowson and illustrated by Yu Rong. Candlewick, Random House. 2007. $9.00 ages 4 and up

"High on a mist-wrapped mountain,
cradled in a leafy nest,
Panda holds her newborn cub
gently in her giant paw.

Small as a pinecone,
pink as a blob of
wriggling sunset,
he sinks, squawking, into
his mother's fur
until her warm milk
fills his mouth."

The cover illustration of a book for children says so much about what they might expect when they open it. The gentle feelings evoked on the cover of this lovely book do much to encourage young readers to take a chance. Once they are inside, they will not be disappointed.

While learning about the birth and development of a young panda, they are also enveloped in the warmth of the relationship between mother and child. The mother tends to her own needs when time allows and this assures that her cub will get the care and nurturing it needs to grow strong. As the cub grows and changes and their food supply is depleted, the mother must lead her cub on a journey to a new home.

Once that journey begins they encounter hardship and danger...from the cold, lack of food, predators and their environment. The mother is persistent in moving forward to a new mountain with abundant bamboo. There, they are safe and well fed. When villagers approach with their axes and begin chopping down nearby trees the mother panda, once again, leads her young cub toward a new home.

Along with the story, the author includes text to further inform his audience. Using two fonts helps young readers separate the story from this additional information. A simple index gives them a quick route back to anything of special interest. The artwork is gentle and full of warmth, and the perfect accompaniement to its text.

Let's Save the Animals, written and illustrated by Frances Barry. Candlewick, Random House. 2010. $16.00 ages 3 and up

"I wish we could save all the endangered animals in the world!
I'd save the African elephant, stomping across the plains
and showering at the lake. (Humans are taking over the land where
elephants live. Sometimes elephants are killed for their ivory tusks."

Kids love 'lift the flap' books, and the fact that they are learning about the world and its animals is an added bonus. A world map on the endpapers and a 'did you know' list helps add to what they will learn once they turn the first page. The animals encountered are placed on the map, one from all areas of the world. The list includes some things that I have never read.

"The black rhinoceros can run faster than an Olympic sprinter."
"Each Amur tiger has a different pattern of stripes."
"Every night orangutans make a new nest to sleep in, high in the trees."

Each animal is given two pages, one to repeat the 'I'd save' pattern and one to stress a second type of movement. The verbs are well chosen and in bold print. The animal names appear to be block printed to give them attention. Additional information is placed in varying spots on the two page entries. There are flaps and cut-outs to add interest and to encourage young readers to pay attention.

This is a book that works for entertainment value and along the way, our earliest learners add to their store of world knowledge.

Be sure to look for other books by Frances Barry, most notably Big Yellow Sunflower and Little Green Frogs. Both are from Candlewick, Random House (2008).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Circus Ship, written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $20.00 ages 4 and up

"Through chilly water, all night long,
the animals swam on,
until they reached an island beach
just before the dawn.
They pulled themselves up on the shore -
bedraggled, cold, and beat -
then staggered to the village
on weary, wobbly feet."

If you are looking for a book that's great fun for your kids as time for the annual circus in May looms, you might want to look for this one!

The weather worsens and the captain prepares to drop anchor and wait it out. He is admonished by a nasty, greedy circus boss whose name, incidentally, is Mr. Paine and forced to continue their voyage. No matter the danger, the circus needs to be in Boston the next day. When the ship runs aground and everyone is thrown overboard, Mr. Paine has no concern for anyone but himself. The animals are left to their own devices in order to survive...and survive they do, with a little help from the island dwellers who appreciate their presence. That appreciation comes as a result of the heroic efforts of Tiger and his special circus skills.

Life is good until a rumor surfaces that Mr. Paine is looking for his charges and approaching the village. The townspeople take a cue from the earlier rescue of Emma Rose and protect their new friends from a return to circus life. Their ploy works and life on the small island returns to one of peaceful cohabitation. The final stanza sums it up:

"And from that day they like to say
their lives were free of "Paine".
It was a happy, peaceful place
upon that isle in Maine."

In an author's note we are told that this story had its beginning in response to an actual event. If you want to know more about that, check for information on the Royal Tar, a steamer that once sailed between St. John, NB and Portland, ME.

The illustrations take us back in time to the early nineteenth century when it was not unusual for a sailing ship to transport the circus from one port to another. In wonderfully expressive artwork with constantly shifting perspectives, we meet the animals, their island neighbours and their obnoxious owner. The double page spread that asserts their safety will have young readers making discovery after discovery. The lilting rhythms and happy ending will assure repeated readings!

Henry Aaron's Dream, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Candlewick, Random House. 2010. $22.00 ages 8 and up

"Some white folk called Henry "nigger".
Some even sent him letters, threatening to kill him if he kept playing.
Some fans stopped coming to the games.
Some of the fans who came threw rocks at him.
Pitchers fired fastballs at his head.

Henry didn't understand why they hated him.
All he wanted to do was play baseball.

A glaring 'WHITES ONLY' sign is posted on the baseball field that heralds the beginning of this thoughtful, informative picture book biography of an American baseball icon. Henry Aaron grew up with a dream...he wanted to be a big-league player. His father tried to discourage him but Henry held fast to that dream.

In Mobile, Alabama when Henry was a boy, black kids and white kids were not allowed to play baseball was against the law. There was only one park in the city where 'coloreds' were welcome. So Henry spent his days at Carver Park. He loved playing on a real field. Henry was only thirteen when Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers...that changed Henry's world. Henry became his biggest fan, and followed his career with keen interest. He admired Robinson's tenacity, his courage in the face of much racial prejudice and his natural ability. He was a worthy mentor for the young dreamer.

With hard work and a willingness to follow his baseball dream wherever it took him, Henry became the best player that he could be. When times got tough, he looked to his hero and remembered that he, too, had faced innumerable obstacles to find success. He did his time playing in the final innings of games and then one day, he saw his name on the starting roster. His play was exemplary and led to his first major league contract. He realized his dream that day and never looked back.

The final pages include an author's note, Henry Aaron's complete and amazing stat form and a further reading list for those who have need to know more than is shared in this wonderful biography for fans of all ages. Way to go, Hank!

The Inside Tree, written by Linda Smith and illustrated by David Parkins. Harper, 2010. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Mr. Potter could not get that tree out of his mind. It nagged at him like
an itch that would not go away. Somehow, it didn't seem right that the tree
was never invited in or allowed to sit by the fire..."

Only a real softie would look outside, spot a lonely dog and decide to invite it inside to share warmth and company. The dog is delighted and soon asleep by the pot-belly stove. With the dog inside, the tree outside seems lonely. What's a man to do? Leave the tree alone in the cold, with no one to love it? Nope...a shovel, some hard work and a hole in the floor is the just the ticket. Now, the tree has a home and everyone is content.

Well, don't trees grow? Yes, it seems they do. Soon the tree is reaching for the outside light. A hole in the roof is helpful. After all, the birds can find their favorite branch and now the tree seems happy with its lot again. Oh, but what about the rain...and rain...and rain? The tree has taken over and Mr. Potter and his dog must find a new home. Luckily the barn is cozy and spacious and just the right place for a man and his grateful companion. Then Mr. Potter notices a very lonely looking cow! Oh, my! The dog has learned from experience and teaches Mr. Potter a lesson not to be forgotten.

What a fun readaloud! Kids will enjoy the wry humor, the bright and colorful illustrations and the dilemmas that keep finding a very kind and sympathetic Mr. Potter.

Ubiquitous, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrations by Beckie Prange. Houghton Mifflin, T Allen. 2010.

"The ants, the ants
on tips of plants,
on sticks, on stones,
on ice cream cones:
beneath the ground
they ebb and flow,
precisely know
who's friend, who's foe."

The endpapers show the journey we are about to take. Our starting point is 'Earth, newly formed, 4.6 billion years ago'. The long and complicated trail that leads to our end point is drawn to a scale of 1 cm equalling 1 million years. It is hard to fathom...even when it is right in front of our eyes!

As we move along the maze line that leads us, we come upon bacteria (first life) and for many millions of years, nothing else. A diamante describes it and on the facing page, a scientific report about life's beginnings in the form of single-celled organisms is visible. Moving forward, we come upon the mollusks which are described in poetic form, using similar format to add interest and research for the reader. Then lichens, sharks, beetles, diatoms, geckos, ants, grasses, squirrels, crows, dandelions, coyotes and humans. We are at the end of a long line of survivors living on 'Earth today, home to more than 1.8 million known species'. It is an amazing journey!

It is a unique and fascinating format also used in their previous book, Song of the Water Boatman: a paragraph of factual information, a beautifully researched illustration and a poem -- all about a certain form of life.

There is a helpful glossary, acknowledgements to those who helped with the accuracy of the text and a note from both author and illustrator. They are worthy of our attention.

Joyce Sidman reminds her readers that the success stories throughout evolutionary time are indeed remarkable. The illustrator says that the timeline created to help us understand the vastness is actually 46 meters of cotton string. It really opens our eyes to the immensity of it all.

14 poems and so much more. I can't do justice to have to see them for yourselves, but I will include this one:

"Come, come with us!
Come kindle the blue twilight.
Come croon in the wild chorus,
come vanquish the tranquil night."

Fancy Nancy, Poet Extraordinaire, written by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin P Glasser. Harper, 2010. $14.99 ages 4 and up

"We don't talk much, but sometimes we put the radio on.
Music often gives you inspiration. (That is a tres fancy
word for something that helps you get good ideas.)"

Ah, here she is again in all her 'fancyness'. Fancy Nancy Clancy ('her name rhymes so she is naturally poetic') has a teacher who shares poetry each and every day that Nancy is at school...and she encourages her students to try their hand at writing their own poems, too. Now, there's a teacher I admire!

The class is doing a survey. They are trying to find out everyone's favorite poem. Nancy is busy recording answers, including photos. Each respondent has a different answer, and is willing to share their thoughts about the poetry they love.

At school, there is a poet-tree for the student's compositions and they will have a chance to read them on Family Day. Mrs. Glass responds to the children's work with a note of encouragement. If you have met Bree and Nancy in other books, you will know that they have a called the Palace of Poetry. They go there to write poetry when the school day is done. They don't need to talk much. They are searching for inspiration and so create a place of tranquility that allows ideas to flow. Bree seems to have an endless stream of ideas, while Nancy is experiencing the dreaded WRITER'S BLOCK!

Mom has a suggestion. It doesn't work! Mrs. Glass has some helpful hints about poetry and its rules. Nancy is not encouraged. When the family goes to the store for Grandpa's birthday celebration, she finds inspiration. Any teacher would be delighted with the result!

Nancy's anthology of some of her favorite poems is included. Each is illustrated, the poet is given credit and explanatory notes have been added by the collector when needed. On the final page, Nancy lets her readers know that she is on the lookout for a poem about tea parties, as she so loves them. Then, she encourages us to try keeping a journal of our own favorites...what a great idea.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Heart Is Like a Zoo, written and illustrated by Michael Hall. Greenwillow, Harper. 2010. $22.50 ages 2 and up

"My heart is like a zoo -
eager as a beaver,
steady as a yak,
hopeful as a hungry heron
fishing for a snack..."

When I recently met Noah, the grandson of my very good friends, I took him this book. I know how he loves to paint, and is very creative. He is also learning new words each and every day, and becoming quite the conversationalist. I was thrilled when Grandma told me that his immediate reaction was to try to repeat each and every rhyme as they read it together.

I love the rhyming language and the similies that describe the many animals depicted on its pages. It has a knee-slapping rhythm and moves quickly from page to page encouraging the reader to change voice, tone and movement. In that way, it gives delight to the very young reader. It also adds new and sometimes unusual words to their repertoire. You will have some 'splainin' to do' when sharing.

Each animal is constructed using heart-shaped cut papers in the most wonderful ways. The colors are bold, the backgrounds provide contrast and kids will be interested in trying their hand at creating new and different images using the artist's style.

For budding numbers experts, how about trying to see just how many hearts Michael Hall used to create his first picture book for the young set.

My Garden, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow, Harper. 2010. $21.99 ages 2 and up

"My mother has a garden.
I'm her helper. I water. I weed.
And I chase away the rabbits
so that they don't eat all the lettuce.
It's hard work, and my mother's garden is very nice,
but if I had a garden..."

Ah, the warmth of the April sun is upon us and thoughts are turning to planting and growing. I am a bit apprehensive, with the weather so unusually warm, that we haven't seen the last of winter's bite. What we do know is that any cold won't last for long, and soon gardeners will be on their knees in the dirt, planting row after row of vegetables and flowers.

The little girl in Kevin Henkes' latest book is content to help her mother water and weed. She knows her her help is needed to keep the rabbits at bay and the plants productive. Her garden would bear no comparison. The garden she imagines would be without weeds, and abundant with everlasting blooms. She could think changes in her flowers and voila, they would be different. Her garden would only have chocolate rabbits, who didn't eat but were eaten. And seashells would grow more seashells. And jelly beans would grow on bushes....ah, can you just imagine???

Kevin Henkes is so adept at creating the perfect story for our youngest readers. It amazes me that he has been writing for almost thirty years and continues to keep these young fans clearly in mind with each new book. His illustrations for this book are full of color, warmth and the strong lines that are his trademark style. He fills each page with the dreams of a young gardener. Spare, but perfectly chosen, text accompanies his detailed artwork and tells a tale that will have all young dreamers sharing ideas for their own imaginary garden.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

SHARK vs TRAIN, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2010. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Shark vs Train. Who will win?
Well, that depends on if they're...
in the ocean...
or on the railroad tracks."

People often ask me about my favorite book...and I have no answer for them. I can tell them some of the titles that are among my favorites; but, since I am always reading new books of all kinds for toddlers to young adults, that list is in constant flux. Lucky we are to live at a time when so many brilliant writers and artists are sharing those talents in the pages of books for young people. I have added a new favorite to that list this week with the arrival of Shark vs Train! I shared it in a grade ten English class yesterday and they were hooting. Of course, standing at the front of the room where many don't get to see the hilarious art and speech bubbles is not perfect. I will share it wherever I go this spring and summer. It is a book that needs to be pored over. There is so much to see!

A stuffed toy box graces the endpapers...sounds emanate from each side of the page and the shark and train are visible. As two boys rush to the box, toss what they don't want and choose what they do, we get an inkling of what's to come. Or so we think! In fact, the story becomes a contest between a trash-talking shark and challenge-spewing train! Winning depends on the circumstance and they become increasingly ridiculous! Who wins in the ocean? Who on a train track? That is simply answered! But what about a seesaw, and a hot air balloon? And then, there is the pie eating contest vs the burping contest! Who might win the high dive? And who will get more customers at the carnival rides...the shark tank or the train? The boys are no longer part of any is all shark vs train and it is a laugh riot. When lunch is called, we are back to the reality of the situation and the toys are left hurling challenges for the next time.

This is one of those books where text and art are a perfect match! Fans will pore over page after page, reveling in the expressive cartoon-like images while guffawing at the contests suggested. What a great gift, and addition to a child's library...go out and get it!

Waiting for Winter, written and illustrated by Sebastian Meschenmoser. Kane Miller, H B Fenn. 2009. $20.50 ages 4 and up

"Squirrel hasn't seen it snow.
He usually stays inside in winter.
But not this year!
This year, Squirrel is going to see it snow."

I thought I would wait to share this 'winter' book with you but I cannot do it. It is just too good!

Squirrel, as you may have gathered, is badly wanting to discover snow. Deer has described it as 'white and wet and cold and soft'. And so Squirrel waits...and waits...and waits, always anticipating something amazing. In a series of images we watch Squirrel's head droop, then his shoulders, then he bolts upright and begins to weaken again, until he is sprawled full out on the bare branch. Being bored with the wait is not going to help him with his discovery. The double page spreads showing his frenetic attempt to stay alert are hilarious! As he tears around, he awakens Hedgehog and convinces her to join him in the quest to see snow. When staying awake becomes difficult, they sing 'sea shanties' and rouse Bear, who lumbers over to confront the noisemakers. Bear will help. Again, they define snow...'white and wet and cold and soft'.

Since they don't know snow, they think they should check to see if it has arrived without their knowledge. A search is begun, and Hedgehog finds a toothbrush. Naivete wins out and it is determined that it is 'white, wet and cold and the first snowflake'. Imagine when snow fills the air! Then Squirrel finds an empty tin is 'white and cold, and inside a little wet'. What will winter be like when Squirrel's snow falls? Bear reminds them of the other descriptor...soft. Bear has truly found old white sock. It meets all the criteria! As the three friends ponder Bear's 'winter', something begins to fall from the sky. Ah, winter!

So much is conveyed through the amazing images that accompany this delightful story! The endpapers at the front of the book show birds as they take flight for their journey southward. On the title page you can feel the wind as it blows leaves and grasses toward winter. Throughout there are pages that have no words, but have much to tell just the same. Finally, the endpapers at the back of the book remind us of our story journey and leave us with a big smile. Perfect!

Be sure to see if you can find Sebastian's other fine book, Learning to Fly (Kane Miller, 2006) about a penguin who wants to fly, and about believing in yourself. Don't miss it!

Who Would Like a Christmas Tree? Written by Ellen B Obed and illustrated by Anne Hunter. Houghton Mifflin, T Allen. 2009. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"'We would like a Christmas tree in January,' answer the black-capped chickadees.

Our breakfast, lunch and supper are in the Christmas tree. We hang upside down to look for moth eggs and little spiders under the bark. We like to peck what's left over from the cones that were growing high in the tree."

Once again, why am I telling you about a Christmas book when Christmas is not on our radar? I know there must be some people out there who are already filling their shelves with next year's Christmas gifts and if you love to give books as I do, you might consider this one. It is not really about Christmas, rather it is about the tree that tends to define Christmas for us.

It is a month to month question and answer book that gives information and comfort as it describes 'a tree for all seasons'. We know about January. In February, it is the field mice who find sustenance in the roots of the Christmas tree, and safety, too. In March, the deer find food as well. And so it goes, from one month to the next. Finally, December brings great joy as the tree is chosen by a family who will enjoy its fragrant scent, the beauty of its branches for hanging favorite ornaments and the comfort of yearly traditions.

In an afterword, the author interviews the Christmas tree farmer who inspired the book and shares her answers about the yearly work that assures our purchase of healthy, hardy fir trees in December...just in time for another holiday season.

There you informative seasonal book that can be shared throughout the year and still enjoyed at Christmas!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Oleg Lipchenko. Tundra, 20009. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"Alice thought the whole thing absurd, but they all looked so grave that she did not dare laugh; and, as she could not think of anything to say, she simply bowed and took the thimble, looking as solemn as she could."

I recently received word that the IBBY ((International Board on Books for Young People) has announced that Oleg Lipchenko has been named the winner of the 2009 IBBY Canada Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award for his remarkable new illustrations for this much-loved classic.

Of it, the jury said:

“This is a captivating book in every way – Oleg Lipchenko has turned this classic story into a rich experience for readers greeting Alice for the first time, as well as for readers those who know the original. The windowed book cover, gold embossed pages, detailed end pages, and faded, old-photograph colouring of the illustrations, are all visual pieces that work together to make reading it a special adventure. Lipchenko’s illustrations are more than images on a page, they are a homage to the surreal quality and humour of Lewis Carroll’s text, as well as a meticulously and brilliantly constructed original vision of a longstanding tradition in children’s literature.”

You know the story...or maybe not. If you have not read it, did not see the movie and have not listened to it at some point in your life, this would make a lovely addition to your school or home library! It is going to grace my shelves.

My Father Knows the Names of Things, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Simon & Schuster. 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"He knows which mosses are the fuzziest,
He knows which insects are the buzziest,
And when we're sailing on the sea
He tells the names of fish to me."

What a perfect way to pay tribute to the man who taught his children so much! Jane Yolen dedicates this book to her late husband David Stemple, who shared his 'awesome knowledge and fierce curiosity' with this three children and who inspired some of the writing that she so lovingly makes a part of our reading lives.

This father stands proud and tall as he explores the world with his young son. They notice birds, dogs, people, the many colors of blue and so much more about the natural world. Their shared days are rife with new discovery, full of love for each other and awash in the patience that encourages questions as they march boldly toward each new experience.

If you are looking for a book for a new Dad, a son, brother, uncle, father or grandfather for Father's Day in June, this might be one to consider.

"He points out everything we see
And teaches all the names to me."

The Clever Stick, written and illustrated by John Lechner. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $17.00 ages 5 and up

"To his amazement, he discovered that he could draw lines to look like things.
The stick began to draw vigorously in the sand. A giant tapestry emerged from
the dust. As he scibbled, the plants and animals gathered around and watched in
rapt attention."

The clever stick had a head full of amazing and wondrous things. He had been 'sharp' from the beginning...he could do math, float, write poetry, listen to birdsong; but, he could not make his thoughts known. He had no voice. He wanted to help his neighbors with their many pursuits. Silence was a big drawback for him.

On one of his many daily treks, he made a fantastic discovery. He could make marks on the ground...and his life changed! He drew what he was thinking and feeling, and his friends noticed. They stopped to watch...he did not notice them. He was so enamored of his new way of communication. He was finally free to express himself.

A discovery about rain and it's ability to destroy his masterpiece does not deter. 'He knew at last he had found his voice.'

A thoughtful and creative message to all of us!