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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mirror, Mirror, written by Marilyn Singer.

"Rapunzel's Locks

No wonder she felt snippy.
Sweeping the floor
it took forever to manage -
all that pale, tangled, dangling hair.
Cut off,
shut up in the tower,
who was
that strange girl with the weird name?
You know,
someone said her mother was a witch.
It figures."

It is almost impossible to do any type of justice to this marvelous book, without having it in your hands. And that is why I am delighted to tell you a bit about it and to suggest (no, urge!) you to get out there and buy it for your library! It is a 10 plus and should be in every home and school collection! If you love poetry, or fairy tales and you are impressed by enchanting artwork, it should be yours.

Add to all that the fact that Marilyn Singer is a master poet, writing and sharing reversos with such skill and intrigue. A reverso is a creation of this brilliant and honored poet and she describes it this way:

"When you read a reverso down, it is one poem. When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation and capitalization it is a different poem."

So, now you have the premise and then she added a little twist...they should tell two sides of the same story. That surely adds another dimension and a bit of a puzzle. I think I would find sudokos easier to attempt than this poetic form. But, it is challenging, isn't it?

So, here you have a series of amazing reversos that are based on familiar tales and they make perfect sense - read both ways! The boldly designed artwork of Canadian illustrator Josee Masse adds deeper meaning by showing the dual nature of the characters portrayed and the events described.

I hope you have tried reading Rapunzel's poem in reverse. In case you have not, here it is in reverse:

"It figures.
Someone said her mother was a witch.
You know
that strange girl with the weird name,
who was
shut up in the tower,
cut off
all that pale, tangled, dangling hair?
It took forever to manage
sweeping the floor.
No wonder she felt snippy."


Monday, June 28, 2010

Can I Play Too? Written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Hyperion, HB Fenn. 2010. $10.50 ages 3 and up

Let's play catch!
I love playing catch with friends!"

Lucky I am to have friends who listen when I want to talk about books...and a son and daughter who love them as I do. They never complain when I read for them what's new and wonderful in the world of children's literature. Although they live far away and must share my enthusiasm over the phone, they never complain and always pretend to be listening.

When the newest in the Elephant and Piggie series arrived this week, I was almost rolling on the floor! The two friends are so excited to have each other and the chance to play catch together. Imagine their surprise when a snake slithers up with a plaintive 'can I play, too?' They look at the snake and then at each other, while the snake worries that they don't want him to play. Of course they do, but how do they explain their dilemma?

Well, you just tell the truth. When they tell him (while wearing brilliant smiles) that they are playing catch, and with their arms, the snake is unconcerned. Now, they must explain that he has no arms! Oh, you just have to get the book to enjoy the true delight of yet another adventure for the two fast friends.

When I talk with kids (and anyone else who will listen) about the joy of these books for the young reader, I don't fail to mention the brilliance of the illustrations. What Mo Willems can do with a few lines and postures is wonderful to see! You have to pore over them again and again to catch all the nuances of their responses.

I have said it before and I will say it again. What an amazing gift to give an emerging reader! These twelve books cost a little over $100 and would be a lasting treasure for someone you love. I know I just sent 4 to a friend's grandson who is soon to be 3. He will laugh right along with Grandma as they share them over and over again!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Creepy Case of Vampires, written by Kenneth Oppel. Harper, 2010. $6,99 ages 6 and up

"Giles nodded and sighed. It seemed that every time something went wrong with the genius business, everyone forgot all the successes they'd had, and only remembered the bad things. It wasn't much fun being thought of as a pest."

This series of early chapter books has just been re-released with new covers and artwork. They will appeal to young readers who are just moving to longer text in chapter book form. They will be enjoyed by both children and parents. Young readers will find comfort in a series which features familiar characters, mysterious circumstances and ultimately solutions to the problems faced by Barnes and the Brains.

Tina thinks she is the brains of the operation and certainly makes anyone who will listen think that she knows most everything. Her brother Kevin and Giles are part of the team, but play more minor roles in comparison to her outspoken leadership and expertise. Kevin is the more practical twin and often finds the solution to their problems; but, not without Giles' help, who is the real brain of the bunch. The plots are formulaic; but as anyone who has ever read series books knows, there is comfort in that formula and often reading success.

The plots move quickly along, with the three amateur sleuths encountering a problem, searching for a solution and finally coming up with the answer. Filled with dialogue which moves the story forward, there is also humor and often new learning attached.

Others in series include: An Incredible Case of Dinosaurs, A Weird Case of Super-Goo, A Strange Case of Magic, A Bad Case of Ghosts, A Crazy Case of Robots.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Who said coo? Written by Deborah Ruddell and illustrated by Robin Luebs. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster, 2010. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Lulu's room was cozy and quiet,
just the way she liked it,
until somebody somewhere said...


Lulu's teeth are brushed, the 'do not disturb' sign hangs on her door and bedtime beckons. Just as she settles to slumber, somebody disturbs her rest. It's past midnight. Mouse, also bothered, flicks on her light and the search is on. Lulu has a question for Pigeon and Owl. Who said it? Pigeon says nothing.

Back in bed and settled (although it is fifteen minutes later), another voice is heard. Disgruntled and disturbed, Lulu seeks an answer from answer.

It isn't long until another sound awakens her. This time she knows the culprits! Lulu is mad and shoos Pigeon and Owl away with angry shouts. Soon, someone is heard crying and Lulu knows who is to blame. She settles her friends in her bed and they sleep soundly until a early morning wake-up call. Lulu knows who is responsible and groggily asks rooster to come back later. Rooster agrees, Lulu settles to sleep for the morning.

And is a very soft, quiet voice someone says "Whew!"

Kids will love this story of friends, fun and bedtime. The lilting rhyme makes it a perfect read when trying to settle little ones for the night. It is a winner, right down to the little surprise at the end.

Friday, June 25, 2010

northward to the moon, written by polly horvath. Groundwood Books, 2010. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"I open my eyes and stretch. I have woken up because instead of the smooth gliding asphalt beneath the wheels, we are bumping along over potholes and spitting gravel. Then I see it is not so much a road as a long driveway. Land stretches in all directions but there is a barbed-wire fence."

What a treat it always is for me to open a new book by Polly Horvath. I have no idea where it will lead, but I do know that adventures await each turning of the page and a cast of wonderful, quirky characters is sure to be added to my list of new favorite people!

This book is a sequel to My One Hundred Adventures (Groundwood, 2008) and allows us to revisit Jane Fielding and her family which includes a sister, two brothers and a 'poor poet' mother. Its setting is their beach home in Massachusetts. She has a new stepfather, Ned and in this new novel, we watch as Jane's relationship with Ned is explored more fully. She and Ned are share the same soul when it comes to adventures and the lure of the outlaw life. As the second chapter in their life story begins, the family is living in Saskatchewan. Ned has been fired and all set to wander when he gets word that a friend is dying. The family is invited along on a new adventure...Jane is delighted! She tells us that 'Ned had promised me nothing but adventures when we got to Canada, but this is the first whiff I’ve caught of them.' Their journey begins and after a series of unexpected events, the find themselves on a ranch in Nevada where Ned's mother lives.

This then becomes a story about families and the fact they sometimes work, and sometimes don't. Dorothy is aging, has a fall and plans must be made for her care. Dorothy is adamant that she can take care of herself and lets her family know it: 'I’ll admit I may have to move somewhere where someone will assist me ...but I don’t have to put up with you all planning it behind my back like I’m senile... Sometimes I wish I’d had gerbils instead when the mothering instinct came over me.'

As Jane watches the family dynamics while they determine a course of action for their mother, she also watches her young sister develop a loving relationship with her step-grandmother. Her world changes in a number of ways. And so it goes...

Once at home on the beach again, Dorothy with them, things are normal and peaceful. That is, until the last two lines!

Now, we must wait for the third book in the life of Jane Fielding. I hope it doesn't take too long. Polly Horvath, you are a wonder!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pete & Pickles, written and illustrated by Berkeley Breathed. Penguin Group (Canada), 2008. $20.00 ages 6 and up

"Pete awoke the next day to find Pickles doing a little morning tai if she were in China.
Which she certainly was not.
On the other hand, Pete noted that his houseguest had
made a few changes to the grounds. This time Pete did
NOT say "ridiculous".

Pete is a 'perfectly practical' pig; added to that is his predictability and his lack of sophistication. Had he known what Pickles would bring to his life, he may have taken to the hills. A rainstorm sends him into a tailspin of trepidation as he awaits his worst nightmare...water and drowning! In the midst of his bad dream, he is awakened by an unfamiliar sound. Pete is not prepared for Pickles, an on-the-lam elephant with soulful eyes and a wish to be protected. Pete is quick to rat her out and the elephant is lead away!

A gift of dandelions is all that is left of his nighttime guest.

His daily walk changes somewhat and leads him to the circus tents, where he spots a long nose picking even more dandelions. Recognition is immediate. In a move that is terribly unlike him, Pete finds the key to unlock Pickles' bonds and helps her escape. Back home, Pete begins to question his decision as Pickles' snoring makes him 'perfectly unpleased'.

Pickles is game for anything and brings many changes to Pete's sedate and solitary life. She scubs his back, suggests hair-raising adventure and encourages him to explore the power of the imagination for making life more exciting. Life has certainly become 'more complicated'. When they are threatened by a broken water pipe and a home that is quickly filling with water, both Pickles and Pete do what great friends would do for each other. Of that scene, Berkeley Breathed says:

"I can't resist the great moment of truth. It's what draws me to a story. ... Most children's stories ... are afraid to bring a moment of danger and threat and potential death to a story, which I think is absolutely critical in carrying a child in through the arc that is required for him or her — as long as you show them the other end of that tunnel and the decisions made to get out of it."

Real friendship, love and big changes...they are all present in this wonderful tale.
While change will always be daunting, it doesn't have to be unbearable.

This book should not be is a '10'! and will always have a place on my 'keepers' bookshelf!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wildlife Gardening, written by Martyn Cox. DK, Tourmaline Editions, 2009. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Worms love gardeners' well-dug soil and in return make the soil healthy for growing plants. These incredible creatures eat decaying plant matter, which passes through their bodies and is deposited as a nutrient-rich cast (poop) near the surface. Their underground tunneling also improves drainage and allows air into the soil - all a big help to plants."

It's not been much fun doing any gardening this summer (although my friends would tell you that is no different than any other year for me). What with rain, wind, humidity and mosquitoes, there have been many deterrents to being out enjoying the fresh air and manual labor needed to make a garden grow. It is lovely to read that many people are developing a renewed interest in having their own gardens, and that wonderful volunteers in our city are creating neighbourhood gardens that benefit many.

This is another of those wonderful books from DK that help our youngest gardeners learn more about the pleasures that can be derived from getting your hands in dirt and watching what sun and water can do in our own backyards. A symbol guide will help those sharing this book.

Why be a wildlife gardener is the first question asked and answered. There is so much to learn about nature and such joy in watching plants and animals develop and flourish because of something you have created. The author introduces the garden as a habitat that sustains interactions between living things.

The basics are described and activities are provided to get started. Plants are suggested, and a pond encouraged. Creating a garden that will sustain life in the four seasons is advantageous to all. Each part of the garden is described with ideas for attracting wildlife.

A nature diary can record the changes that happen through the seasons. Readers are encouraged to keep track of weather, the date and where the gardener is sitting as the observations are recorded. What fun to be able to look back on an accurate account of a year in the wildlife garden!

A section about animal and activities provides instructions for making a butterfly house, a bathroom for birds, a stag beetle bucket and many others. There is no need to try everything all at once, but starting with just one project might prove successful and lead to trying another. Go for it!

A glossary and index follow the text.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Because Your Daddy Loves You, written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by R. W. Alley. Houghton, Thomas Allen. 2005. $8.99 ages 3 and up

"When the car is packed for the beach
and you can't find your other shoe,
your daddy could say,
You should put things where they belong.
But he doesn't."

The Dad is this book is often called on and, for a variety of reasons. It might be a bad dream. He could reassure his daughter with a quiet hush; but he doesn't. Instead, he climbs into bed right alongside her and stays until sleep comes again. It might be a lost shoe...again, he might offer a reminder that it helps to put things back where they belong. But, does he? Nope, he looks in every nook and cranny where that shoe might be and when found, helps tie it so that it won't get lost again.

In this reassuring homage to fathers everywhere, Andrew Clements offers up a number of scenes that are undoubtedly reminiscent of times in most kids' lives. Things do not always go well; but patience, love and strong guidance will win out in the end.

A day with Dad can be full of fun and laughter, as well as trying and tiring. This Dad may think the things that he could say, or show annoyance, or be sharp. He does not. And so, the day is a perfect one for both child and father.

R. W. Alley creates the scenes with all the fun in mind. The excursion to the sea offers up many adventures in a day filled with shared moments. Children will love to pore over the many little details that they see in the watercolor drawings. Each one may be a reminder to the child listening of a special time spent with Dad that begs sharing with friends and classmates. It is a great readaloud and offers up many small vignettes that happen between father and daughter.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Black Jack, written by Charles R Smith Jr. and illustrated by Shane Evans. Roaring Brook Press, HB Fenn. 2010. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"Black Jack was born
Arthur John Johnson
in 1878, March thirty-one,
in the state of Texas,
in the city of Galveston.
Born to Henry and Tiny,
both former slaves,
Li'l Artha, as he was called,
wasn't always so brave."

We are always looking for picture book biographies that might spark an interest in one of our students and lead to further research into that person's life. After finding this exceptional biography for older readers, I did some follow-up searching of my own.

What a story it is! Jack Johnson was the son of slaves who had read about great men. He decided that he wanted to be one of have people read about him and his amazing feats. As a school child he was bullied by others and protected by his sisters. His mother was adamant that he learn to 'fight back!' It was his calling. Soon he was beating the bullies and building up confidence. Inspired by the men he read about, Jack dreamed of becoming one of them. Boxing became a passage to travel, money and a way of life. He was good at it...with fast hands and a bright mind. It didn't hurt that he had a great right uppercut either.

Boxing wasn't his only gig...he played bass, invented a wrench and was a man about town.

"Behind the wheel of his car
Jack was just Jack,
but everywhere else
Jack was just black."

His wont was to challenge and that he did...when faced with the color line. White boxers could not fight black boxers and Jim Jeffries was the heavyweight champ, who would not fight a black man. Jack followed him from fight to fight and challenged him at each venue. Jim Jeffries retired from boxing rather than fight Jack Johnson. Jack now had a chance but again he was refused a place in the ring. Two years it took; and finally, Tommy Burns agreed to a fight.

I'll let you discover the rest of the story and you, too, might find yourself wanting to know more. In an afterword, Charles Smith adds "And Then What Happened?" and a bibliography so that you can discover the rest of the story...and a very interesting one it is!

Charles R Smith Jr is a great writer and he proves it once more. Be sure to visit his website and check out his other books. (

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Saving the Ghost of the Mountain, written by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop. Houghton, T Allen. 2009. $22.50 ages 10 and up

"Tomorrow we will begin our search for signs of leopards - tracks, poop, and places the leopard has marked with urine and scratches to warn rival leopards away and attract possible mates in the winter breeding season. Like the leopards themselves, these signs aren't easy to find."

They are called the 'ghost of the mountain' because even those who live among them rarely see one. Their beautiful spotted coats conceal them, and thus protect them as well. As they make their way through the valleys of Mongolia, they make anyone wanting to study them work extremely hard. That luckily doesn't keep Tom McCarthy from walking among them and setting his sights on a brief glimpse, just once in a while.

Tom is the conservation director for the Snow Leopard Trust, which is based in Seattle. He has dedicated his life to studying and protecting these beautiful, elusive creatures for many years. Sy Montgomery, writer extraordinaire, and Nic Bishop, nature photographer beyond compare, join one of Tom's treks to Mongolia to see if they can 'spot' the ghost and create another wonderful book for us to share.

The work is hard...long, dusty mountain trails, cold and hot weather, interminable days of searching and hoping. They lay humane snares, collect scat samples and even set up cameras, meant to be tripped by the motion of their quarry. There is much to be learned without the satisfaction of actually spotting one of these wild and stunning cats.

Sy Montgomery's narrative is personal and up-to-the-minute as she wanders with Tom and his team in their search for clues and sightings. She is a storyteller and creates text that is easy to share as a readaloud in intermediate and middle grade classes. She tells us about Mongolia, the guides, the team and their journey with love and great inspiration drawn from their dedication to the trek. This is a ten year study and we are only 'getting the goods' on one small part of it, but we know from the story told how committed they all are to protecting some of the 3500 to 7000
snow leopards still living in the wild.

If you have previously seen any of Nic Bishop's amazing photography, you know how hard he works to get just the right shot for every single image that will be used in this book. He is so patient and professional in the work that he does, and this book only adds to the admiration I already feel for his amazing art.

Did they see a 'ghost'? No, they did not. But they share their story with enthusiasm and admiration for the people who work in the field, encouraged by the thirty-four scat samples that they find one day...and a snow leopard track. They are out there...if only they would come out in the open!

After twisting her ankle twice prior to this trip, Sy Montgomery had a real worry when climbing the many slopes of the Altai Mountains and she feared: 'that with one single slip on the wrong slope, I would suddenly be reduced to splatter on stone. I surely would have been if not for Nic's strength and patience, and the kindness and care of our colleagues on this trip, always willing to extend a hand.'

And Nic Bishop says: 'Of course I never expected to photograph a snow leopard in the wild. Some people have asked if I was disappointed not even to see a wild snow leopard. But in many ways I am happy not to see one. I love that some things in nature will always remain mysterious and unseen. Just knowing that they are out there is pleasure enough.'

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Frogs and Toads All Sang, written by Arnold Lobel with color by Adrianne Lobel. Harper, 2009. $22.50 ages 3 and up


Miss Frog went in the kitchen
To bake some apple pies.
The little frogs were watching
With hunger in their eyes.
Miss Frog went in the kitchen
To make a sugar bun.
The little frogs were waiting
Until the bun was done."

Ah, Frog and Toad! I loved those stories and my kids loved them, too. I have strong and fond memories of sharing them with my grade 1 and 2 kids at Green Acres in the early 80s. My interest in children's literature had grown enormously with the arrival of Erin and Bret and I was constantly searching for books to share at home and at school. The Frog and Toad books were on every list, and were such a hit.

Seeing these new poems that were discovered by his daughter following his death, puts me right back in an Arnold Lobel frame of mind. The poems and drawings were part of an estate auction and had been given in book form to dear friends and then found again following Crosby Bonsall's death. His warmth and tender caring for the characters he created were evident on every single page...and that did not change as he went on to write more stories about these favored animal folk.

The drawings had been done in black and white. When Adrianne Lobel took them to a publisher, this project was born and she was asked to color them for publication. She pored over his later works to find the courage to try her hand at doing so. Of this process she says:

"I used Papa's preferred Dr. Martin's dyes, worked very wet, and with a big brush. I kept in mind one of the things Papa taught me as a very young artist: "Don't be afraid to color outside the lines!"

There are ten poems here...compact, charming and even comical, about frogs, toads and polliwogs. They are meant to be read aloud and shared with a new generation of Arnold Lobel fans. His books never go out of style and need to be savored and passed on to your children and their children. They just make me smile.

Here's another:


One summer night
In early June,
A frog looked upward
At the moon.
He said, "I'll jump
Right on that thing
Without the use
Of jet or spring."
He counted three,
Then jumped quite high
And hit the moon
In late July."

Watch for him there!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Curse Dark as Gold, written by Elizabeth Bunce. Scholastic, 2008. $12.99 ages 12 and up

"I didn't sleep at all that night, and no wonder, I suppose. The festival mood had evaporated, leaving the old cautious Charlotte in its wake. How could I marry Randall Woodstone? I barely knew the man; he certainly did not know me, and I was sure he would not want to. And furthermore, he lived in Harrowgate!"

In her first novel (and I certainly hope it won't be her last!), Elizabeth Bunce has created a dark and wondrous fantasy that I will be sharing with many...of all ages. It is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; but I have friends who will very much enjoy it and we have not been 'young' adults for far too many years!

The setting of the story is England. The troubles that Charlotte and Rosie share are the result of a debt that their father incurred prior to his death. That is not their only problem; there is also the fact that they are living at a time when women were not expected to run a mill, or appreciated for their ability to do so. A rival mill, equipped with mechanized looms, is giving them a run for business. Stirwaters Mill, on the other hand, is steeped in traditional methods with little money to help them make changes to the way they do business and, therefore, compete. Everything is done by hand, and their textiles and dyes are well-known. A water wheel jams and the mill is threatened with permanent closure. If that happens, the mill town will die, too. The past keeps them shackled, always in financial trouble and never making any headway.

The characters are so well cast and developed that they will live long in my memory. Charlotte is the narrator; strong, determined, independent, rarely seeking help from others as she tries to keep the mill and her friends and neighbors working. It is a huge undertaking for a young woman. She is very stubborn and there were times when I wanted to scream at her, but that is what makes her so believable and memorable. Her love of the mill and her family there is evident in each of her decisions. Rosie is stubborn like her sister, but not quite so level-headed. Our first meeting with their wayward Uncle Wheeler does not auger well for their futures. He reeks of lilacs, and garners distrust at every turn. Jack Spinner (the Rumplestiltskin character) is not evil, or terrifying. We may not like him, but he does have sadness in his past and we come to know his story.

I loved everything about this book, and it will certainly be another of my 'keepers'!

Monday, June 14, 2010

For the Love of Soccer! Written by Pele and illustrated by Frank Morrison. Hyperion Books, HB Fenn. 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"But practicing my moves
wasn't anything
compared to playing
in a real game."

As all eyes turn to South Africa and the month long celebration of the most popular sport in the world, we will be reminded of some of its most famous players. There will be video profiles, much talk and perhaps a glimpse of that special someone.

Pele is most certainly the most celebrated player of the sport. Born in 1940 in Brazil, soccer was always a part of his life. His father was a professional player until injury cut his career short. But, he was a great teacher and he taught his son the lessons that would hold him in good stead as he pursued the life he loved. His mother's concern did not deter him.

There was no money but Pele and his friends found a way to play daily and improve at the sport they loved. His skills led him to signing with his first professional team, far from home. Although homesick, he never gave up his dream. He was born to play soccer. Today he is honored for his perseverance and for the attention he brought to the game.

In his first book for children he describes his love for the game, the constant work that brought him success and the sportsmanship he exhibits that holds him in high esteem throughout the world. The story is simply told but gives its readers a sense of the boy who had great love of sport and the man he has become because of his association with it.

Frank Morrison does a wondrous job of illustrating Pele's words. He uses two visual stories to tell it...on one side we watch Pele as he plays barefoot in the streets of his small town while the facing page shows a young boy, at his birthday party, receiving a new soccer ball with great joy. As the pages turn the left side shows Pele's story and the right shows the talented young boy of today. It is a fitting tribute to the man who inspired so many to try his sport. The final two spreads show the two meeting, Pele autographing a ball and the boy kicking it with all the love and skill he has.

Pele's lesson is apt:

"Some people have called me the best soccer player in the world.
But I've never played for fame.
I play for the love of the game."


MATCH! Edited by James Bandy. Macmillan, HB Fenn. 2010. $14.99 ages 6 and up

"Ten Things...We love about BRAZIL!
Record winners!
Cool kit!
Deadly strikers!
Red-hot form!
2014 hosts!
Trophy hunters!
Classic teams!
Wicked manager!"

A month of much to see, so many to cheer on and vuvuzelas! When the games are done, and the trophy won, die-hard fans will still find much to keep them informed and interested if they have this book. It comes from MATCH!, the UK's best-selling football (well, soccer) magazine and is a handsome and full of information guide to all 32 participating teams. Its biggest stars, World Cup stories and player posters all have a place in this amazing chronicle of the world's most popular and most internationally watched sport.

It gives me insight into some of the matches, offers up more tidbits than I can abosrb, and hundreds of photos of some of the game's most watched players. It has legends, shots of the stadiums where the games will be played and a full out schedule where readers can track their team and the results of each and every game...down to the final on Sunday, July 11.

I cannot imagine that they have missed anything and it may take a few diehard fans to point out what is, in fact, missing. I now better understand the excitement of the battle for the golden ball, while also providing games, puzzles, cartoons and 'match verdicts' for many of the most celebrated contests.

If you have a soccer fan in your family, or life, this might be just the book for them!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Today I Will Fly, written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Hyperion, HB Fenn. 2007. $9.99 ages 3 and up

"Today I will fly!
You will not fly today.
You will not fly tomorrow.
You will not fly next week."

As sure as Piggie is that she will fly, Elephant is sure she will not. Piggie is just as persistent here as she is in every other Elephant and Piggie story and will not be deterred from this new goal. She is megaconfident that she will, indeed, fly. Elephant remains skeptical. She tries flying across the page, but it looks more like hopping. With renewed determination, she recognizes that she might need help. Will she get it from the dog? Well, she does end up on Elephant's head, but it seems it was a gigantic JUMP that got her there. So, no flying this time. What if she flaps her arms quickly at her sides? Nope.

But she is not one to give up, so she accepts a different kind of help. Finding a pelican appears to be the ticket. Soon, Piggie is high above Elephant's head and flying! Elephant is so excited! Piggie cannot tell a lie and so she explains that she is not really flying...she is attached to cables that are attached to pelican and that makes it seem like she is flying. Nonetheless, Elephant is duly impressed and thinks that perhaps, tomorrow, he will fly. Piggie responds with a reluctant 'good luck!'

I'm telling need these books for hours of fun, and a whole bunch of anything-but-reluctant reading!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yoko Writes Her Name, written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells. Hyperion, HB Fenn. 2008. $17.99 ages 4 and up

"That afternoon Yoko wrote
one, two, three on the blackboard.
Mrs. Jenkins gave Yoko a silver star.
But Olive said to Sylvia, "Those aren't numbers.
Those are just baby marks!"
"She definitely won't graduate!" said Sylvia."

You may have met Yoko in the first two books that Rosemary Wells wrote about her...Yoko and Yoko's Paper Cranes (both available in paperback from Hyperion, 2009). She is a young Japanese kitten who experiences some of the insecurities of being in a new country, and therefore being 'different'.

In this third story about her, Yoko is very pleased to be able to write her own name. Her mother is also proud. However, when she gets to school where they are practicing said task, Yoko is ridiculed by some of the other children for scribbling. It's enough to make her want to retreat to the safety of home and family love. Can't kids be mean?

Again, in the afternoon, when she is practicing writing her numbers, they look different. Mrs. Jenkins is impressed but some of her classmates continue the teasing, and suggest that kindergarten graduation is not on Yoko's horizon. When
'Graduation' becomes the recess game of choice, Yoko does not graduate and is 'snottily' reminded that she has much learning and work to do yet.

At home, Yoko is distracted and finally tells her mother what the others have suggested...she is not going to graduate from kindergarten! The next day is no better. She reads her favorite book but even that is not the same, since she reads from right to left. Leave it to Angelo, a friendly and sympathetic mouse. He tells her that she has a secret language and he is very interested in learning it. So, Yoko becomes the teacher in Japanese and Angelo helps her with her ABCs and numbers in English.

Does that spark an interest in her classmates? Indeed, it does! And Japanese becomes the second language in Yoko's classroom. While I may not have been so understanding and helpful, Yoko is a better person and she helps the mean-spirited Olive and Sylvia learn enough that they, too, will graduate with their friends.

With so many new international students in our schools in Brandon, the stories about Yoko are perfect springboards for a talk about tolerance and honoring differences. The illustrations are vintage Wells...softly drawn, framed pictures of beloved animal characters who show the same emotions, concerns, and insecurities found in every classroom. On each page you will find Japanese characters that correspond to English letters that label tiny pictures of familiar concepts as well as the numbers from

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Popville, designed by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud. Roaring Brook, HB Fenn. 2010. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"In the beginning, there may only be a single building at the end of a road: a barn, perhaps, or a church with a bell tower, visible from far away.
Can you see it?"

Pop-up books are a tough purchase for libraries and classrooms, but they hold so much appeal for children. This book is remarkable in design as it shows the development of a city which begins with one building at the end of a road and surrounded by trees. Each turn of the page adds details and growth. Needed buildings such as a school are added, as well as people and roads while trees are removed and greenspace falls by the wayside. Soon, more vehicles are evident and a rail line and additional roads that move cars in alternate directions. The final spread adds two fold-out sections that extend the city, adding industrial buildings and electrical wires, variety in buildings and churches, a park and even more widespread growth.

As the paper engineering ends, the authors leave us with a slight story of growth, change and some questions that encourage a second look, so that readers might find the many structures that make this new city what it is. They encourage their readers to think about their own city and how it might grow.

Kids love pop-ups and I think they would find this fascinating. Pair it with Peter Kent's City Across Time (May 20) for an in-depth study.

Kakapo Rescue, written by Sy Montgomery with photographs by Nic Bishop. Houghton, T Allen. 2010. $22.50 ages 10 and up

"But worst of all for the flightless kakapo was the arrival of Europeans after 1769. These new immigrants didn't only hunt kakapo for food. They did something even more destructive: they began to stock New Zealand's islands with all kinds of animals that didn't belong there. Each new ship was a virtual Noah's Ark filled with a flightless vegetarian bird's worst nightmares."

Sy Montgomery's writing for children began:

"Nic and I met at a nature writing conference at Boston's New England Aquarium in the mid 1990s where I was a speaker. After my talk, Nic approached me, explained he was a wildlife photographer specializing in books for children, and asked if I might be interested in working with him. He could have been an ax murderer for all I knew. But I gave him my address anyway. I had already made a point of writing for young readers—I contributed to magazines like Ranger Rick and Cobblestone - and as a conservationist, I realized that children are the most important readership a writer can reach. So I was thrilled with Nic's idea and awaited his photos to see if he was any good.

When they arrived in the mail—WOW. His were some of the most fantastic wildlife photographs I have ever seen in my life. Nic specializes in photographing small animals like frogs, spiders and insects. His photos capture the majesty, the dignity, the individuality, and especially the vivid, other-worldly lives of these little creatures.

From the moment I set eyes on them, I knew what we should do: create a line of nonfiction adventure books for kids that told, with equal parts photos and text, true stories about passionate people whose love of wild animals leads them to solve scientific mysteries and to dedicate their lives to protecting these animals and their homes. Expanded to include other authors and highlight researchers in additional fields of science, our idea became Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field series."

Lucky we are that we benefit so enormously from that serendipitous meeting. Sy has visited snakes in Manitoba, bears in Southeast Asia, dolphins in the Amazon, tarantulas in South America, tigers in India and Bangladesh and snow leopards in Mongolia...and I may have missed some. In this remarkable book, she and Nic Bishop head out to Codfish Island, off the coast of New Zealand to see what they can discover, and subsequently share, about the kakapo, the world's strangest parrot.

As is usual, she joins an expedition of scientists in the field who seek information about the gentle, large and flightless kakapo. There are only eighty seven in the world and they live on two small islands there. They are strange birds, and green. Their color is their protection on the forest floor. They only come out at night and they have a honey smell. It was that smell that targeted them for near destruction when humans brought new animal species to New Zealand.

Their protection is tantamount, as there are so few left. Codfish Island is controlled and tourists are not allowed. Researchers and scientists must disinfect themselves and everything they bring to the island to keep them viable. Scientists are trying to encourage breeding, but they know little about the ways of the bird and must work patiently to learn more.

Once again, Sy's personal perspective brings life and concern for these strange birds, making sure that there are quick facts and short stories in sidebars and inserts along the way. A small team does all it can to save this peculiar and extraordinary species...using warming blankets for the babies when the mothers go in search of food, recording each and every one to showcase their own individual and unique personalities. That work is captured in words and photos so that we may share their story, and work to protect them as best we can. Nic Bishop captures amazing images of their environment, the scientific team and the beguiling creatures they have all come to love.

Meet Lisa:

"It's hours past midnight. You'd think any self-respecting parrot would be asleep. But not Lisa.
No, despite the late hour, this huge, soft, moss-green bird, looking somewhat like a parakeet who has eaten once side of the mushroom in Alice in Wonderland and grown into an eight-pound giant, decides it is a great time to waddle out of her nest - a nest that's not in a tree, like a normal parrot's, but underground."

Now, who doesn't want to know more about Lisa?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Busing Brewster, written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by R. G. Roth. Knopf, Random House. 2010. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"By the time we turn the corner, Jules is already waiting at the bus stop. Bryan drops my hand and runs ahead. The bus turns right at the Jewish cemetery. We pass a bar and then a Catholic church. I can't wait till we get to Central. Maybe I'll learn how to swim. I wish Mama had bought me a bathing suit."

I love the endpapers...they are so inviting and give us a little insight into school activities and Brewster himself. The fact that there is a library due date stamp posted in a few places (the dates are September 1974) gets my mind thinking that the library is going to play a part and also sets the story at a certain time for the reader. It's a big city with boys on the run and we are soon introduced to Bryan and Brewster. When Bryan heads off with Jules and Big Earl, Brewster has no concerns. There is much to keep him occupied. An errant ball through a nearby window has Brewster thinking about grade one and what is in store for him at Franklin.

Imagine his surprise when Mama announces that the boys will be attending Central...the white school! Getting up early to catch the bus is not their idea of fun, but Mama is reassuring. Brewster is excited as they approach the school. Sign waving, angry parents meet the bus, with warnings that this is a 'white only' stop. Rocks are thrown through the bus windows...a sure sign of further trouble. Not an auspicious welcome on his first day of school there, is it?

Detention over a hallway ruckus lands both boys in the library for the day. Brewster is enthralled with the book-filled walls and there he finds a kindred spirit...Miss O'Grady. She reads great stories, gives good advice and evokes confidence in a young and impressionable boy and has him quickly believing that he can do anything, maybe even be president someday.

Brewster is one of the many children who were part of the 'forced busing' permitted by the Supreme Court in the early 1970s. Though it failed in many ways, it did provide opportunities for some children that they would not have had. It is amazing that Richard Michelson wrote his story in 2003, five years before a black man became president of the United States. Who knew then that sucn a momentous event would occur before this heartwarming tale was published?

The Life and Times of Corn, written and illustrated by Charles Micucci. Houghton, T Allen, 2009. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"There are more than a thousand kinds of corn, which can be grouped into four major categories: sweet, dent, heirloom, and popcorn."

This is not the first book in The Life and Times of series, and I do hope it will not be the last. I have also read about the life and times of an ant, a honeybee and the peanut. They are worth your attention.

Charles Micucci knows how to appeal to young researchers, and he does so from cover to cover in this new book about corn. Visual literacy is front and centre from the time you set eyes on this book. The ear of corn that is displayed on the front cover is surrounded by a number of images that attract the eye and get the brain considering the stories they tell. Corn flakes in a bowl, a young girl with a gardening basket, a cow staring in wonder at the scale's findings concerning her weight after a diet of corn, a scarecrow and a corn husk doll are but some of the drawings meant to grab our attention.

The table of contents tells us what is in store for us. The information is well organized, leading us from tales of maize at the time of Christopher Columbus to some of the statistics that make corn such an important part of American society today. Interestingly enough, corn is grown in every state and 'if corn were a state, it would be the fifth-largest'...pretty amazing!

Between the covers, the pages are covered with tidbits of information and accompanying illustrations to show interested readers the bounty that the growth of a corn crop has meant throughout time. Did you know that 'each year people eat more than 2 million tons of corn, and farm animals crunch and munch more than 160 million tons'? I'll bet you did not.

A clear description of the plant itself, the many types of corn grown, the ways people have popped corn through the ages and the development of corn from planting to harvesting are only some of the things that Charles Micucci shares with us. You will have to read it yourself to know as much about corn as I now know. I have only scraped the surface.

For Good Measure, by Ken Robbins. Roaring Brook, H B Fenn. 2010. $21.99 ages

"A FURLONG is 220 yards or one-eighth of a mile (201.168 meters). It's name means "long furrow" - the straight distance a farmer would plow with a team of oxen before turning then round for another row. Today it is used only to indicate the length of a horse race. A 7-furlong race is 1, 540 yards - almost precisely seven-eighths of a mile."

Leave it to Ken Robbins to create a math book that has stunning photography and so many interesting things to tell us about measurement. He is in his element when sharing nonfiction ideas with kids. We are blessed to have someone with such an abiding interest in the world sharing that knowledge and love with us.

This is a book about art, math and history. Ken Robbins tells us in his introduction that when knowing exactly what someone means in describing things 'does matter, we need standards of measurement that we can compare things to - units we can all agree on.'

Measurement can be confusing...and he sets a course in this book to dispel some of our misconceptions about it. It all starts with lengths and distances. Small units take their size from body parts...foot, span and hand, for example. Longer units from actions...mile, furlong and rod. Each is shown according to an agreed upon description of that measurement, and the metric equivalent is displayed.

It is hard to fathom that I did not know how a 'fathom' was measured. Now, I know it is the space between the tip of one hand and the other. He even explains that when we say we can't fathom something it likely means 'we can't wrap our arms around it.' That I will remember!

He uses big ideas and then goes from the smallest to largest unit in each category...lengths and distances, area, weights, liquid measures, dry capacities and time. There is so much learn and he helps it all make sense to me, as well as introducing me to some interesting tidbits that will prove useful. I knew that there were three teaspoons in a tablespoon but not that two tablespoons are one fluid ounce. That should help at some point, shouldn't it?

I also like the way he uses common objects to help his readers see the comparisons. This book belongs on our nonfiction is a worthy addition.

Little Diva, written by LaChanze and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Feiwel and Friends, H B Fenn, 2010. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"After breakfast, I get dressed. A real diva always wears outfits that are special and stylish and not like anyone else's. That's why I'm
trying on Mommy's clothes.
I turn one way and then the other."

For those little girls who love pink, purple, princesses and privilege...this book about divas is perfect! Nena is definitely a D.I.T. ...Diva in Training. She wants to be just like her Mom, a Broadway star who works very hard day and night at her craft. Who better to mentor a young daughter? Nena watches her mother closely and tries to imitate her every move.

Nena does all those things that real divas do...eats healthy meals, drinks tea with honey, dresses with pizzazz and panache. She sings, does yoga along with her mother, and is invited to attend a matinee of one of her mother's performances.

If you have ever watched Toddlers and Tiaras you might think you know a diva when you see one. All the primping and coaxing into glamorous hairdos and sequined gowns can result in a demented dynamo who spouts sass and makes the hair on your head stand on end! Be careful what you wish for!

Nena is not like the divas you may have met on T & T; she is warm, often endearing and has a wry sense of humor. She may be an aspiring star but she is also concerned when her mother must return to work in the evening...she will miss her! Ah, she is a little girl at heart.

I love Brian Pinkney's swirly, fluid artwork which brings Nena to full and glorious life on the page. Her dreamy coutenance, as she pursues her dream of following in Mommy's footsteps is there for all to see...and on every page.

An added bonus is a CD that has LaChanze reading the story and performing the 'Little Diva Song'.

January's Sparrow, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. Penguin, 2009. $28.50 ages 8 and up

"When Sadie got to the kitchen, everyone was at the table. It was groanin' with good food. They was hotcakes, molasses, eggs, bacon and grits, and fresh milk! It was the first time the Crosswhites had sat at a table in so long. Sadie eased into a chair. Then she looked out the winda."

Patricia Polacco has the ability to tell inspiring stories of family and hope as if they are her own. In her newest storybook she shares Sadie's story of slavery, sadness, hope and freedom.

Sadie is the youngest Crosswhite child and knows daily fear. She is frantic as she watches the plantation owner drag her friend January back and tie him to stakes in the ground. Sadie knew he was planning to run, and she did nothing to stop him. Now, he will be punished for that running. The plantation slaves are forced to watch his whipping. When the work of the day is done, the family knows that January has been buried in a grave dug by his own foster father.

It is a unsettling and frightening beginning to this tale based on a real event. Despite their fear, that very night, the Crosswhite family makes a momentous decision to run themselves, aware that their sons are to be sold at auction in the morning. They leave with nothing and flee over water (with help from a young girl and a rowboat)to Indiana, a free state. They travel on with continued help, bound for Canada and safety. The dogs never seem far behind. Upon reaching Marshall, Michigan and being assured that it is free and part of the Underground Railway, the family settles and finds work, and even some peace. They must tell no one that they are runaways, and they will be accepted as part of the community. It is their chance to rest before resuming their trek to Canada. Not once do they let down their guard.

Always watchful and cautious when slave catchers are in the area, the family lives in relative peace until a guarded warning arrives on their doorstep one day. It is the sparrow that January had carved for Sadie so long ago and it is meant to warn the family that they have been discovered. Soon, they are awakened by Francis Troutman and his henchmen, all from their slave plantation. They try to force the Crosswhite family into their slave wagon to take them back to their master. With the help of their friends and the people of Marshall, and the surprise appearance of their beloved January, the slave catchers are jailed for attempted kidnapping, allowing the family time to pack up and take the train to Detroit. From there they will cross the border into Canada.

Following the Civil War, the Crosswhite family returned to Marshall and lived among their old friends in peace and harmony. Their story is worthy of Patricia Polacco's inspired and heartfelt telling. Her compassion for people and the events of their lives provides grist for her unique storytelling mill and gives us memorable characters who live long within us.

"Upon January's death and shortly before her own, Sadie Crosswhite-Crosby held her most prized possession bundled in a faded piece of worn calico. Inside was a small carved sparrow. She took it to her fireplace and committed it to the flames.
Then she spoke these last words to her only son:
'It's fixin' to fly...and so is I.'"

Face to Face with Penguins, by Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott. National Geographic, Random House. 2009. $21.95 ages 6 and up

"I stayed there listening to them. They sounded like brass trumpets and buzzing bees. Suddenly, something touched my back. I held my breath and felt a pair of soft feet climbing on top of my body and walking around, exploring the new blue object on the beach. The penguin soon hopped off and waddled away, its curiosity satisfied."

This lively and entertaining book about the penguins of Antarctica was my introduction to National Geographic's FACE TO FACE series. Now, I can look forward to others, with plans to tell you about them at some later date.

A husband and wife team, armed with curiosity, love of nature and refined photographic skills, embark on a dream trip to South Georgia, 1400 km from the coast of Antarctica, to come face to face with the waddling, tuxedoed inhabitants of this cold and beautiful island. Armed with cameras and an abiding interest in learning as much as they can in their time there, Yva and John share their story in accessible text and telling photos. The informative captions give insight into the daily life of the many species of penguins who inhabit this part of the world. The 'foot'notes provide further fascinating facts about flight, communication and poop. There is so much to remember from the reading; having the book for a return visit just adds to the pleasure.

Not content to tell us what they have learned about these curious, welcoming creatures, this team offers up a dish of concern for their safety and continued existence. A concerted effort must be made by concerned citizens to ensure their survival. They are affected by the dwindling ice cap, oil drilling and spills, and the many ways in which their environment is changing. We can help!

As in all good nonfiction the back matter is important to the impact of the book. There are facts at a glance, a glossary, further learning suggestions and an index that will return the reader to what is of most interest.

National Geographic's reputation for stellar scientific works is intact with the publication of this wonderful series for children, their parents, teachers and families.

Eat Fresh Food, by Rozanne Gold and her All-Star Team. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2009. $22.50 ages 12 and up

"My brigade of young chefs produced food that truly is beautiful. Nature provides us with a rainbow of colors, and all good chefs know that we feast with our eyes first before we pop any morsel into our mouths. Our job is to simply maximize the inherent qualities of what grows every season."

Wow! An absolutely glorious book for teens interested in food and cooking. Nothing here is run-of-the-mill and could never be described as boring! It's about food we would all like to eat, from breakfast to dinner and dessert, too. Everything is made with fresh foods, and the photographs sparkle with the clean, delicious wonder of it all.'s good for you!!!

The five teens tested every recipe; their spirit and enthusiasm for the project is evident in each colorful photograph. They buy the fresh ingredients, often at farmers' markets. It's fun, healthy and looks absolutely scrumptious (and I just finished supper).

To create this book with her team of teens, Rozanne Gold followed the mantra of Marion Nestle who says: “I’ve long argued that the best way to get people to eat more healthfully is to teach kids to cook.” What a perfect place to begin.

Teenagers don't like people telling them what to do...and that works for eating, too. They have their own ideas about food, fun and like to have a say. So, instead of opting for all the greasy and not-so-good-for-you fast food, why not teach them to cook and let them make their own choices?

Healthy eating is the key to future health and the earlier we learn that the better our future is going to be. Some of the kids here have taken their cause beyond their own kitchens and inspired other teens to try cooking, too. They are surprised at how good food tastes when it isn't smothered in grease and sugar. Imagine the powerful statements that they can make to others!

The book is not meant to be a diatribe against all the things that kids have come to love; rather, the author wants them to discover that focusing on fresh food will give them more energy and make them feel better. Soon, they will forgo some old favorites for new recipes. Vegetables for supper, fruit in the fridge and on the table, and available ingredients for fresh muffins and breads. No soda in the fridge, but always a choice between water, milk and not fruit juices. They will choose from what is to be had. Eating the right foods (and not too much) means you don't have to think so much about calories and, there's a happy thought!

There are so many recipes to try here. I know that this is another of those books that will find its own place on my cookbook shelf, and I will be testing them on friends. Oh, and menu suggestions are included at the back of the, that makes it really simple to find and create a great dinner.

We all would live better sticking to Michael Pollan's adage: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These articulate and capable teens add: "MAKE IT FRESH!"

ROAWR! Written by Barbara Joosse and illustrated by Jan Jutte. Penguin, 2010. $18.50 ages 4 and up

"The forest grew deeper dark, the night grew long,
the clock tick-tocked at bedtime.
Mama tucked in Liam tight
and kissed him on the cheek good night.
He rubbed it off."

No brave and self-reliant boy hero wants his mother kissing his cheek when he settles in for the night! Liam feels exactly the same as any other boy experiencing such sentiment while trying to put on a brave face.

What an imagination! It can cause problems for the boy who sports it; for, as he imagines the bear that is making all the snapping and cracking sounds that he hears beyond his room, he also imagines ways in which he might protect himself. His mother is no help with the fears he is feeling...she's 'snore asleep'. Liam is concerned that the bear might be thinking of a mama snack and so he sets out to make a trap that will ensure her safety. Once Bear is in the trap Liam is no longer confident that is yet safe. He guesses it is hunger that has brought the bear scavenging near their home and he determines to feed his frenzy. It takes some time to hunt and gather but soon the bear seems sated and lethargic. He settles into slumber. And Liam returns to hearth and home, sleepy and satisfied that he has thwarted a vicious attack...the man of the house!

I love the carefully chosen and oh, so descriptive language that this talented and accomplished writer uses to tell this witty tale: He rumbled in the hole, slashed moonlight bloody with his claws and bellowed..." You will read it again and again!

And, the art is wonderful. It's full of details. Liam's expressions as he worries, wonders and finally takes charge are perfect. His own pirate teddy bear is mirrored in the ferocious, insatiable, fearsome one he conjures. Wallpaper takes on forest overtones and the changing perspectives (from full page spreads to framed panels) help move the story quickly along. There is so much to see and discuss!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Word After Word After Word, written by Patricia MacLachlan. Katherine Tegen Books, Harper. 2010. $16.99 ages 8 and up

"There wasn't anything to say. I knew about things that parents didn't tell you...that they were sick and maybe weren't getting better. They wrote poetry in books. They sang above the lilac bush. Who were they really? Parents thought you didn't know things, though my mama said children knew everything. What was unreal? What was real?"

Patricia MacLachlan writes so gently and elegantly. Her story of the five best friends whose writing lives change when they meet a mentor is inspiring and heartfelt. Ms. Mirabel is the visiting author and she is everything that an unknowing teacher could hope for when such an invitation is issued. Ms. Mirabel shares her spirit and words with the fourth graders and encourages them to find their own voices through writing.

The students are delighted and awestruck. Through shared dialogue we learn about each of the friends...their family issues, their worries, their joys and the many moments of magic that happen under the lilac bush as they explore what means the most to them. Their writing is insightful and filled with the small moments discovered while they search for their own voices.

It's funny, warm and eloquent. It would be a perfect book for anyone interested in encouraging young writers to put their thoughts and ideas to paper.

We'll let Russell have the final word, just as he does in this truly lovely book:

"Out of our writer mouths
Will come clouds
Rising to the sky
Dropping rain words below.
And when the clouds leave
The sun will shine down word
After word
After word
Planting our stories in the earth.
- Russell"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of Earth, written by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow, Harper. 2010. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"You want to go off, have an adventure, be your own person. But first you want to make sure that your family is all snugged in at home, not wandering loose like a bunch of stray cats. Or lost dogs. Otherwise, how do you call home for money? How do you get home in time for dinner, if no one's there cooking it up? Someone has to stay home.
Someone had stayed home. Then, one little thing went wrong - or, okay, a half dozen, a dozen, an unusually large number of things went wrong - and everyone went spinning in all directions."

I could not have said it anywhere close to as well myself! By the time we are thirty pages into this wonderful book there is no imagining what still might happen. Ry is on the train on his way to camp, Grandpa is at Ry's to look after the dogs in their new home, and his parents have gone on a 'Caribbean Sailing Idyll'.

First, Ry gets off the train that is taking him to camp when it stalls. He wants to call his grandfather to let him know that camp is cancelled and he will be home soon. He learned about it in a text message on his phone. But, the train leaves while Ry is at the top of a hill trying to get reception. Now, what? As he makes his way to the closest town, he worries, is injured and dehydrates. Luckily he meets warm and friendly people, including Del, who seems not disturbed at all to take Ry back to his grandfather. For Del, nothing is impossible and he sets off with Ry to prove it.

No one could predict their adventures, near-death experiences and the people they will meet along the way. No matter what BIG things happen, Ry is always aware of all the small and important moments that mean a lot to him. The action is frantic, improbable and yet, there was never a time when I questioned anything that was four parallel stories. Lynne Rae Perkins is a master writer who uses humor, endearing characters and an adept touch to take us along for this improbable, astonishing escapade.

No one knows what has happened to Ry, as his parents have lost their cell phone and his grandfather has fallen while walking the dogs, and has amnesia. We know this through the little vignettes shared along the way. The characters are wonderful and as a reader, I was drawn to each and every one of them. Ry could be a pain in the neck, given all that is thrown at him; but, he keeps his cool, appreciates all the help he gets, and makes it all seem quite ordinary. Del is the person we all aspire to be...considerate, warm, stubborn, fearless, funny, implacable, skilled and reticent. Because Del is who he is, Ry can be himself and lay trust in a new friend who makes everything that is happening almost comfortable.

This book is a glorious ride from start to finish and will find a space on my 'keepers' shelf.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nature Explorer, written by David Burnie et al. DK, Tournaline Editions. 2010. $16.99 ages 9 and up

"Insects are some of the finest builders in the animal world. Unlike human builders, they do not have to learn how to carry out their work. Instead, their instincts tell them what plan to follow and what materials to use."

I cannot say enough about the wonderful books of nonfiction that come to us from DK Publishing. They are filled with information that begs to be shared, the clear and brilliant photographs add much to a child's visual literacy and in this book, readers are invited to become explorers of their natural world through a number of guided and appealing activities.

The table of contents lists six different areas of learning to be undertaken when kids share this fine book. The first is as birdwatcher. A brief description of birds and their own special characteristics leads to a list of equipment that will be helpful if a child is interested in learning more about them. Instructions for building a blind and a bird table are given which will offer close-up observation. And so it goes through more than forty pages, all resplendent with new and old learning and ideas for the young researcher.

If the reader wants more...there are sections about bug hunting, star gazing, rock and fossil hunting, being a nature ranger and finally, watching the weather. Each one is filled with fascinating tidbits and a variety of activities to extend and enhance new learning.

An extensive glossary and a useful index add to the appeal and demonstrate what is so good about this publishing house's commitment to the nonfiction genre. Bravo!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bag in the Wind, written by Ted Kooser and illustrated by Barry Root. Candlewick, Random House. 2010. $23.00 ages 6 and up

"One cold, windy morning early in spring, a bulldozer was pushing a big pile of garbage around a landfill when it uncovered an empty plastic bag. The woman driving the bulldozer didn't notice the bag and drove on. It was a bag for carrying groceries, just the color of the skin of a yellow onion, and it had two holes for handles. It was a perfectly good bag, but someone had thrown it away."

How many times did you try to write a story about 'the adventures of a ...? Would you ever have considered following the trials and tribulations of a plastic grocery bag? Not me!

Ted Kooser appears to have done just that...and admirably, I might add. We follow the bag as it fills with air and is tugged along by the wind, plastered against a chain link fence, and finally lifted high over the landfill fence to find life beyond the garbage dump. It is a most perilous and somehow satisfying journey.

It makes its way along a country road until it gets caught up in a barbed wire fence. There, it is found by a young girl who sees it has perfect use as a transporter for the cans she has been collecting. When she gets to the gas station down the road, she trades in her cans for money and moves on. The woman who traded her cash for cans also has a use for the bag. And so it goes...the bag finding life and use in a number of different places.

Listeners will enjoy this tale and learn much about recycling in its wake, quietly and with clever wit about its many stops along the way. They will be pleased with the surprise ending!

A author's note talks about the need to recycle those plastic bags that we are being encouraged to stop using. There are some startling statistics shared:

"A million birds and 100,000 sea turtles and other animals die every year due to ingesting plastic bags or getting them caught around their necks, wings, or legs."

Do we need to be reminded that 'it might take anywhere from fifteen to a thousand years for a plastic bag to decompose because plastic photodegrades, which means it breaks down when exposed to sunlight."

If you get them, use them again and again. Better yet, don't use them at all. It is a small step but worth it!

This is a book that I will share often in the coming months. It is a worthy read.

I CAN BE ANYTHING! Written by Jerry Spinelli and illustrated by Jimmy Liao. Little, Brown. Hachette, 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"When I grow up,
what shall I be?
Of all the many, many jobs,
which one will be the best for me?
pumpkin grower
dandelion blower"

The list goes on and on...all the exciting things that young children might find themselves being as they make their way through the days and years of the life they live. There is such fun in the language with its descriptive, rhythmic style. Because of the many rhyming words, early readers will love it and will soon be chanting the text with gusto.

The final spread opens to a collection of cute kids doing all those things that kids love to do...the job market is endless!

The illustrations burst with vibrant color and clearly show the many occupations this young lad has in mind for himself as he journeys through life. His rabbit pals never leave his side and make the work easier when the going gets tough. Some of the pictures are full of action and expression while others are quiet and sedate, all dependent on the task being described. The adventures will have kids making their own predictions for success in the future and then trying many of the suggested jobs just for fun.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One Crazy Summer, written by Rita Williams-Garcia. Amistad, Harper. 2010. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"No one ever called a take-back "eating crispy fried chicken". They called is "eating crow", and with good reason. Not that I'd actually eaten a black crow, but with my words stuck in my throat and my eyes cast down, I knew what eating crow was."

What a wonderful read this book is! The story of three sisters and their journey to visit their mother in Oakland, California for the summer of 1968. Their father has decided that it's time for the Gaither sisters to get to know their absent mother. So, he puts them on a plane and sends them west. They are not welcomed with any great display of longing or love. Instead, Cecile greets them with disdain and a constant reminder that they are intruding on her way of life.

The sisters...Delphine, Vonetta and Fern...are amazing, well-drawn characters who put on a public face of support and love, despite their differences and quarrels. Delphine has been charged with caring for her younger sisters and she tries to do her best job. It is not always appreciated.

Oakland in 1968 is a hotbed of racial unrest. The author provides a setting that sparkles with signs of the times that are changing. The girls are very aware of the strides being made for the African-American people. It is evident in the way they watch TV: "Each week, Jet magazine pointed out all the shows with colored people. My sisters and I became expert colored counters. We had it down to a science. Not only did we count how many colored people were on TV, we also counted the number of words the actors were given to say. For instance, it was easy to count the number of words the Negro engineer on Mission Impossible spoke as well as the black POW on Hogan's Heroes."

Cecile is not really 'mother material' when the girls first arrive. She is involved with the Black Panthers, printing their pamphlets and caught up in the hysteria that follows this militant group. She is a poet, who bans her daughters from her kitchen area. The kitchen is her workspace and no one is welcome. It takes courage and strength for Delphine to insist that she will use the kitchen to cook appropriate meals for her sisters. From then on, she and her mother establish a bit of a truce in terms of space. There comes a time when Cecile seeks help from her oldest daughter with her work.

Each morning the girls go to the People's Center for breakfast and then stay for the day's activities, learning about the Black Panthers, their mandate and helping to prepare for a rally in their community. Delphine worries that their presence may put them in danger and she tries to distance them from certain activities. She is angry that she must be the caregiver, always worrying about and looking out for her sisters while their mother does little to parent. Delphine is the mother-child and she finally has her say:

"I'm only eleven years old, and I do everything. I have to because you're not there to do it. I'm only eleven years old, but I do the best I can. I don't just up and leave."

It surely isn't hugs, kisses and Disneyland; but, the girls do come to an understanding of their mother, her reasons for leaving them and eventually establish a bond with Cecile during their summer away from home:

"How do you fly three thousand miles to meet the mother you hadn't seen since you needed her milk, needed to be picked up, or were four going on five, and not throw your arms around her, whether she wanted you to or not? Neither Vonette, Fern nor I could answer that one. We weren't about to leave Oakland without getting what we'd come for. It only took Fern to know we needed a hug from our mother."
. These are characters to love and I hope to meet them again.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

JUMP! Written and illustrated by Scott M Fischer. Simon & Schuster. 2010. $18.99 ages 2 and up

I'm a bug.
I'm a bug.
I'm a snug little bug,
and I'm sleeping on a jug.
Until I see a frog,
and I...

Kids will love the rhythm and rhyme of this story about a variety of contented animals sleeping in numerous places until their sleep is disturbed by a menacing enemy with an uncanny desire to frighten them. Each time they JUMP!

If you go to Scott Fischer's website at, you will see him perform the spirited song with a group of excited kids. And it will give you a tune to share as you explore the story with each new group. It's quite catchy!

And then there's the art! Expressive, cartoony characters fill the pages in warm-hued watercolors. They sneak peeks from behind jugs, stumps, doors, logs...just where they aren't expected! They send their unsuspecting prey straight up in the air with their untimely appearance. The frightened ones JUMP, abject horror on their faces in direct opposition to the glee shown by their 'stalkers'.

Size matters here. The final JUMP causes a change in perspective, as the book must be turned sideways to get the full impact of the whale's explosion from its ocean home. Thus, the world's largest mammal ends the tale, releasing all previous captives to enjoy another day! Each erupts from the blowhole and bounces back to the starting point...a bug on a jug!

Nanook & Pryce, written by Ned Crowley and illustrated by Larry Day. Harper, 2009. $22.50 ages 3 and up

"Salty brine
Floating free
Tangled line
Out to sea"

How do they do it? Where do the ideas come from?

Open this book to the endpapers and you will stop in your tracks to take a careful look at the world-wide trek portrayed there. So much to see and appreciate before the book begins. There's another stop on the title page, as we take note of the characters who will people this story...a can of worms, an awakening curly-tailed dog named Yukon, and two yawning, parka-clad young 'uns. It's dark as they make their way to their fishing hole this early morning. The polar bears are fascinated and stick close to watch the action.

The hooks are baited, the fishing hole is drilled and the ice floe breaks free of land, without apparent concern on the part of the fishermen. Their fishing lines catch in the fins of a whale and their small ice floe embarks on a remarkable and hilarious journey filled with action and adventure. The fisherman seem oblivious to the many dangers they encounter while Yukon and the worms are NOT!

Each double page spread offers up hilarity and so many details to be pored over by both reader and listener. When their catch is carried off by greedy pelicans, Yukon is left holding knife and fork in front of an empty plate. Nanook and Pryce know when the jig is up. They head for home after one final look through the ice hole. The polar bears provide a push to get their puzzle piece ice floe back to land and the adventurers head for hearth and and worms in tow. Good nights are spoken and we are left in the diminishing light to note the peanut butter jar and empty plates atop the night table.

What fun this book is! There is so much to see. It is told in rhyming couplets which makes it a sure-fire choice for early readers. They will soon be reading it on their own. The endpapers allow a revisit of the entire adventure and will be checked and rechecked for reference when retelling the tale.

We can only hope there are more adventures in the works for Nanook and Pryce!