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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND! Written and illustrated by Peter Brown. Little Brown, Hachette. 2011. $18.50 ages 3 and up

"Come back here and have fun
with me!
That's when things got ugly.
"You won't get any snacks
unless you start liking me
You WILL be my friend!"

If you've been holding your breath waiting for Lucy's return, you are sure to be pleased with her new adventure. You will remember that she adopted a boy in Children Make Terrible Pets, only to discover that her mother was right. It was not an easy relationship.

The minute her toes touch the floor one morning, she is bent on finding a friend among all the 'fun creatures' that share her habitat. There are lots of them, to be sure! Full of optimism, she bids her mother farewell and is off to put her plan in action. You can tell from her eager demeanor that things are not likely to go quite as planned.

She is nothing, if not enthusiastic, and she runs about the forest floor full of anticipation for the life she and her 'new' friend will share:

"I CANNOT WAIT to make a new friend!
We're going to do cartwheels!
And climb trees!
And have picnics!
And go swimming!
And have a dance party!"

Do you know anyone among the forest's creature who will fit that bill? Lucy is zealous in her search, scaring frogs from their pond, annoying a giraffe's midday snack, trying to de-scent a know where I'm going with this. Time after time she tries...each attempt is met with failure, and even humiliation.  She roars, she threatens...nothing works. With a final "DOESN'T ANYBODY WANT TO BE MY FRIEND?!", she collapses near a lonely tree stump convinced it's a hopeless hunt.

Astute observers will have noticed the lone, and apparently 'different' flamingo from the previous scene and will not be too surprised when Lucy finds just exactly the friend she has been looking for all day. It's obvious that they both might be marching to their own drummers. Ah, bliss!

Young readers will recognize Peter Brown's earthy palette from Lucy's first story. Once again, he uses voice bubbles, expressive characters and a funny premise for his tale of friendship and longing. It is clear to young readers that you are better being yourself than trying to be someone else, you have to be a friend to make a friend and no matter what you do, you cannot force friendship on someone who is disinclined to want to spend time with you. Important lessons for all, right??? Friendship takes time, patience, and it is so worth every minute spent. Bravo, Lucy!

Where's Walrus, by Stephen Savage. Scholastic, 2011. $18.99 ages 3 and up

Not to be confused with the other 'W'  who also tries to lose himself in a variety of venues, Walrus is a zoo denizen and lives in the big city. It must be mid-afternoon (at least, that is when I am most likely to nod off for a quick nap) and all the zoo occupants are dozing, including the zookeeper.

For the adventurous and wayward walrus, it seems the perfect time to escape. He slyly observes the non-action and quickly skedaddles. He doesn't get too far...the fountain right outside the gate provides his first perfect hiding spot. He places himself opposite the resident mermaid, striking a pose that will hopefully help him blend into the scenery. The keeper is perplexed. He's got his net, and a stunned look as he searches for his charge.

Kids will be hooting and hollering in an attempt to help him, or enjoying the hilarity of said walrus spouting water while reclining in the fountain's damp. Next, we see him seated in a diner with four other customers (a la Edward Hopper). The joy is in the attention paid by those sharing this lively and imaginative tale. Kids will see the culprit immediately as there is not a whole to distract them from their search; while wise adults will make the connection to the famous painting and other familiar scenes. Enjoyment to be had by all.

The keeper remains oblivious to his quarry, and we watch as the walrus takes his place among models, workmen, fire fighters, can-can dancers. and even a line of landscape artists. His painting is definitely funnier than the rest and there for all to see. His comeuppance comes when he takes his place with a line of high board divers. His dive is so spectacular that everyone notices...the zookeeper included.

While the crowd cheers and the judges offer their perfect scores, the zookeeper is stunned; it gives him pause. The final page shows the result of that thinking!
So much can be told without one word being spoken. Stephen Savage sets his formidable talent to the task of creating a memorable story without saying so much as one word! His pacing is perfect, taking his young audience from page to page with wide-eyed anticipation. The bold illustrations show only what needs to be shown. There are no superfluous details. What a chase!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lost & Found, by Shaun Tan. Scholastic, 2011. $24.99 ages 12 and up

"This all happened a few summers ago, one rather ordinary day by the beach. Not much was going on. I was, as usual, working tirelessly on my bottle-top collection and stopped to look up for no particular reason. That's when I first saw the thing."

What??? Three of Shaun Tan's mesmerizing books in one place? If you are a fan, you need this book. If not, you need to get your hands on it and be amazed by this tremendously talented artist.

I'm guessing that many did not know Shaun Tan's talent until they heard he won an Oscar last year for his animated short film...The Lost Thing. While I have no idea what impact the Oscar win has had on his career, I can only hope that many more people have given themselves the chance to take a close look at his work. With this omnibus, middle grade and high school readers have the opportunity to really study it.

First up is The Red Tree, a somewhat dark tale of a girl having a really tough day. As she plods through it she is confused, and terrified of so much. She's never sure what to expect and thus, has few expectations of the day itself or her future. Despite her gloomy demeanor and the oppressive tone of the story, observant readers will note the red leaf that makes its appearance on every page and, in doing so, offers a smidgen of hopefulness as the story ends.

The second story is The Lost Thing, the tale of a young boy searching the beach one day to top up his bottle top collection when he comes upon a something that looks lost. No one else seems to notice it, so he decides to take a closer look. He wanders its perimeter and finds that he gets a response when he starts talking to it. When no one shows up to claim it, the young boy seeks guidance from people on the beach and finally from his friend Pete:

"It's pretty weird. Maybe it doesn't belong to anyone. Maybe it doesn't come from anywhere. Some things are like that-" he paused for dramatic effect "-just plain lost."

When his parents won't let him keep it, and after much searching, he finds a place for it to be, where he thinks it can be happy. Really, who knows if that is true?

In the final book of the collection, Shaun Tan illustrates a book written by Australian author John Marsden called The Rabbits. Not the rabbits that are likely to come to mind. These rabbits 'came many grandparents ago' and evoke fear and terror on the people who live there. They arrive on ships, and the inhabitants are warned that they might mean trouble. They slowly take over, exploiting the land and its many natural resources:

"Where is the rich dark earth, brown and  moist?
Where is the smell of rain dripping from the gum trees?
Where are the great billabongs,
the river-swollen lakes,
alive with long-legged birds?
Who will save us from the rabbits?"

No happy ending here.

Both the artist and the writer add a detailed note about their work at the end of the book. Very interesting stuff.  It's a book that I will read again and again, and always find something new to see, or to ponder. If The Arrival and Tales of Outer Suburbia are familiar to you and you admire Tan's work, you can now add this worthy compilation to your library.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cookiebot, written by Katie Van Camp and illustrated by Lincoln Agnew. Balzer + Bray, Harper. 2011.$17.99 ages 4 and up

"There was only one problem. For some reason, Mom had placed the cookie jar way up high, too high for Harry to reach. But as always, Horsie knew exactly what to do."

Even the most imaginative friends, who are content to play for hours designing and building block cities, will occasionally hear a tummy rumble. When that happens for Harry and Horsie, the only snack that will satisfy the hunger are cookies. Rats! The cookie jar is well beyond Harry's reach. What's a little boy to do?

Well, as I said, there is no lack of imagination here. Horsie knows precisely what must be done, and Harry sets about building:

"So Harry found his toolbox and got to work.
Once the sprockets were secure
and the speed control was set, Harry's invention
was finally finished."

Ta Da!!! Cookiebot!

Lincoln Agnew's vertical double page spread is just what young readers need to see the enormity of the 'bot' and to be awed by it. Adventures await...once Cookiebot has a taste for his main food staple, chaos ensues. He's out of control! Harry is aboard for the ride, leaving Horsie far behind them. It doesn't take long for the little boy to remember that, while CB has an 'on' switch, there is no way to shut him off. It is sure to lead to catastrophe unless Horsie knows what to do for the second time.

Taking a page from King Kong, Cookiebot is willing to widen his search and climbs up a tall, tall building to the Empire Sweets Cafe, there to assuage his hunger. Wait, what's that he hears??

Once again, I love the graphic feel of the homage to the pop art style. The colors are bold, the perspectives ever-changing and the pages are filled with adventurous action. This book leaves fans eager to see their third tale. 

Exploring the World of Wolves, written by Tracy C. Read. Firefly Books, 2010. $6.95 ages 6 and up

Physical strength and stamina are key to a wolf's hunting success. To target and track its much bigger prey, a wolf pack roams tirelessly over a large territory."

Kids have a real interest in wild animals that live in the same vicinity as they do. They want to know all there is to know about them, and they look to books such as this one to provide useful information.

Some of my most vivid memories as a kid are of the small zoo that  housed a few wild animals, in our exhibition grounds. Not a particularly lovely place at all. I remember being scared, and sad. There was a wolf, and I thought it amazing that I got to see it up close; but my strongest memory is of the smell, the emaciated body and the fact that that beautiful, frightening animal (because of stories I had heard) paced, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. What a life for the largest member of the dog family!

The gray wolf does not fear game larger than it itself; in fact, its prey is often much bigger. Elk, caribou and moose to name but a few. What is its power for stalking and capturing such game? We know it is very strong, with long legs and 'massive molars'. It is well equipped for a life on the move. Since it isn't sure where its next meal might come from, the wolf has a large enough stomach that it can 'gorge on some 20 pounds (9 kg) of meat at one time'.

We need nonfiction books just like this one to provide young readers with facts that make the wolf more real to them. They will learn that the wolves live in packs, which gives help when caring for the young pups, finding enough food and in communication. Clear, captioned photographs provide an abundance of accessible facts for those wanting to know more about this majestic animal.

By seeing what this book has to offer, budding naturalists may become advocates for protecting it in the future. Let's hope that happens.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Scritch-Scratch, a Perfect Match. Written by Kimberly Marcus and illustrated by Mike Lester. G. P. Putnam's, Penguin. 2011. $21.00 ages 4 and up

went the man, and the dog
with the flea, as they trucked
through the muck till their
feet got free."

Kids are going to love this book and will want to hear it again and again! I guarantee it! For the adults who will be reading it for the first time, get your vocal chords limbered up and your lungs loaded for a huge dose of onomatopoeia....sound effects that go on and on...and on!

The poor dog is totally unprepared when the flea 'flit-flit's in and takes a chomp at his back. He howls as he jumps straight up in the air. The man just happens to be in the wrong place when the dog comes back to earth, landing on his back...poor 'old' man!

Down the hill they roll on a course set for the nearest mucky bog. A dog shaking uncontrollably, a man trying to avoid flying muck, offer hilarious entertainment for two cardinals positioned nearby. The man's plan for a walk has taken a sideways course and he decides he better help the dog. Under a thunderous sky they find their way to the general store, hoping to find a remedy. The storeowner is distraught at their appearance and wants them OUT!

And so it goes! Flea powder sends the flea in search of another body, and he finds refuge on a skittish cat's tail. As the man and dog find happiness and companionship with each other and head for the hills together, we are left to watch what happens with the cat and the lady who has been its landing place.

The sound effects and the rousing rhythms make this a brilliant readaloud for all ages. I know that the teachers I read it to, and also our student teachers, will enjoy every silly turn of the page. Mike Lester adds to the fun with his hilarious action-filled drawings, showing a crazed dog trying to rid himself of the itchy torture. The expressive faces, the ongoing motion and his sense of all the fun to be had begs for multiple visits.

I just love the double page spread that shows a blissful dog, free of the flea and sighing contentedly. Nothing more needs to be said.

What a's like being swept up in a whirlwind; but, a lot more fun!

Cloudette, written and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Henry Holt, 2011. $16.99 ages 3 and up

"Cloudette could see them in the distance, doing all sorts of important cloud things. This made her want to do big and important things, too."

Cloudette likes many of the responses she gets to her small size. The other clouds take care of her and call her pet names that she loves. Others, who are scared of the bigger clouds, seem to like her and want to be her friends. She takes up little space, and that can be a very good for watching fireworks, or hiding, or sleeping on a crescent moon.

When those other clouds have gone off to do something important, Cloudette is content. But, she has dreams and aspirations:

"She wanted to make a garden grow.
She wanted to make a brook babble.
She wanted to make a waterfall fall.
And she thought nothing would be more
fun than giving some kids a day off from

She wonders how she might help; but nobody has need of her. Poor Cloudette!

A change in location, that comes with a big storm, is just the push she needs to find someone to help.

Tom Lichtenheld introduces an expressive and lovable character in this little cloud. He gives her a sunny disposition, and a helpful nature. He chooses his words and dialogue carefully, to assure that young listeners pay attention and find humor in his story. As well as all that, he adds details along the way to guarantee a return performance of this tale, with a need to stop and have a more careful conversation about what is on each page.

In my first reading, I was tickled to see the cow on the  moon where Cloudette spends her nights, and loved to look at her world from a variety of perspectives.Tom makes the change of venue clear and interesting, lodging her for the second part of the story in a densely forested area. The bigger clouds lend support and offer up additional humor with their alliterative responses to Cloudette's good work. If you keep a concentrated watch, you will find little surprises everywhere!

You might even be rewarded in finding Tom Lichtenheld's delightful dedication (with thanks to the bigger clouds for alliterative inspiration):

"The illustrations are rendered in ink, pastel, colored pencil, and watercolor. The water part of the watercolor was collected in a bucket during a rainstorm, so this book is partially made of clouds. Thank you, clouds."

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs, by Jennifer Dussling. DK, Tourmaline Editions. 2011. $4.99 ages 4 and up

Bugs look scary close up.
But you don't need to worry.
Most bugs are a danger
only to other insects.
They are the bugs
that really bug
other bugs."

Disgusting? Yes! Informative? Yes, indeed! This is the book that early readers (who love bugs, or are disgusted by them) want to read when they are learning about the little critters that might be found where those children are.

As we have come to expect from the DK Readers, the pages are filled with brilliant, colorful photographs of some of the many insects that inhabit our world. Too many of them for me, and kinda gross to see them so close up. That will not deter young scientists who have a passion for everything 'buggy'!

The text is accessible for those showing an interest in reading, offering simple sentences that have a strong connection to the photos shown and tagged. In double page spreads information is provided about a wide variety of these critters, from the praying mantis whose front legs do the trapping and gathering of its prey to the hornet who so closely resembles the harmless hoverfly that no one knows whether to flee in fear, or not.

The final page offers a collection of facts that kids might find interesting and is certainly informative. An index allows a return to certain intriguing information and shows young readers how the best in nonfiction informs their learning.

Five Thousand Years of Slavery, written by Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen. Tundra, 2010. $29.99 ages 12 and up

"The first African slaves arrived in America in 1619 on a Dutch warship. A Virginia colonist wrote to London that the ship was in desperate need of supplies, and had nothing to sell "but 20 and odd Negroes" that the governor and merchant bought in exchange for food."

Once started, I found that this book was hard to put down. Five thousand years is right...from the Sumerian epic called Gilgamesh and other types of slavery of the time and place to Greece and Rome, all the way through to today, when slavery remains a world-wide issue for far too many.

Sisters Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen are accomplished storytellers. Topics of slavery change as chapters unfold. They consider how slaves were bought and sold, how the laws governed slaves and their owners, the work and living conditions of slaves and, for the lucky ones, how they could become free. There are numerous maps to help place their stories and countless illustrations add resonant images for those who share this book. The captions are detailed and the sidebars (in boxes with a green background) introduce key concepts, explain artists' renderings of the times, tell individual and personal stories throughout history.

They include accounts of slavery in Europe from the time of the Vikings, in Islamic lands, and in Africa and America before colonization. Their attention to the slave trade in South America, the Caribbean and North America is not unusual since much of their research material would concern what has been reported close to home. They also discuss slavery in Asia and the South Pacific, including debt bondage in India and the selling of female children in China. It is an honest look, without drama, at the issue. It is informative, balanced and enlightening.

In the final chapter, titled "Slavery Is Not History: The Modern World", they offer short entries on some of the atrocities of more recent times. They include the Aleuts who would not see compensation for their slavery until 978, the Soviet prison system that curbed all freedom of expression, Nazi Germany, the forced labor camps of China, the communist regimes of North Korea and Cuba, the child fighters in Uganda, Sierra Leone and other parts of the world, the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast, and the list goes on. It is hard to fathom what young children and other peoples of the world are still facing.

Efforts are being made around the world to bring attention to these examples of slavery today. The book offers some advice for ways in which we might help, rather than turn a blind eye to the disgraces still being felt by too many. From far beyond the borders of North America to within them, people are enslaved and treated abominably. Educating ourselves helps to bring empathy to the plight of others and shows our children a larger slice of life. The slavery that exists in the world today is both global and local. How can we change that?

If you read my post about Sold by Patricia McCormick, you know just one of the stories. Another book that offers a detailed look at slavery is found in a book from Groundwood by Kevin Bales and Becky Cornell, simply named Slavery Today (2008). Chilling and heartbreaking, it will open your eyes as it did mine.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A my name is Andrew, written by Mary McManus Burke and illustrated by Donna Ingemanson. All About Kids Publishing, 2003. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"My name is Margarita and I live in Miami. One misty Monday morning during the month of May, Mama made a mountain of marvelous mango muffins for Miguel and me. Mr. Mendoza, our mild-mannered mailman, managed to arrive at mid-morning just in time for Mama's memorable munchies."

I'm busy looking for books that concern names, and also first days at school. In my reading I learned about this book and quickly ordered it. I think it serves as a mentor text for young writers, just as Joe's alphabiography serves the same purpose for middle grade writers. I think it could be a lot of fun for a class book, as it would be done and published in quick time.

It could be about the special places found in your city, town or even neighborhood. It will help to teach a listing strategy for young writers and afford them words that might be used when they set about doing their name's letter. Starting with one gives practice, before trying more than that. It also helps to work on alliteration which they will find authors using in the books they read.

It's a bit of an adventure, and a new take on the alphabet. It might even be a way to start the year, with each new student taking their first name's letter and telling something about themselves while using as many words that begin with their letter as they can. Of course, it won't be perfect, and some letters will have to be assigned but it could be a lot of fun for an early guided writing task.

The language chosen can be silly, or not:

"My name is Enrica & I live in El Paso. I enjoy encouraging my enthusiastic elephant, Esperanza, to engage in energetic, exhilarating exercise early each morning at eight. Esperanza has an endless amount of endurance. She's an eyeful in her elaborately and exquisitely embroidered exercise outfits, and her engraved enamel earrings."

So, start making your own lists and see what you can do with your name, or your city, state or province. The possibilities are endless.  Then, encourage your kids or your students to have a go, too. It could be a lot of fun!

The Quite Contrary Man, written by Patricia Rusch Hyatt and illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Abrams, 2011. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"Not just any wispy, wimpy beard, Joseph Palmer's mighty beard broke all boundaries. It flowed from chin to belly and from elbow to elbow. If Joseph Palmer faced the wind, his whopping whiskers swept over his shoulders and flapped down to his hip pockets. His neighbors were shocked."

Joseph Palmer was born a very stubborn child and he grew to be a 'pig-headed' man as his mother is bent on telling readers of this fine picture book biography. Neighbors knew him to be a most contrary boy. His mother constantly lamented her son's future, sure that nothing good would come of that contrariness.

People of the time were appalled by his daring to grow a beard. Remember, people liked proper; and a beard most certainly was NOT! Joseph was not the man to bow to pressure from his friends and neighbors. Many tried to sway him from his resolve. His neighbors were shocked and angry. The minister admonished him in church. People who did not know him stared and shouted at him.

When four neighbors were thwarted in their attempt to shave his beard, they reported that Joseph had attacked them. He was fined ten dollars which he was not willing to pay; as a result, he was thrown in jail for a year. While there, he refused to shave, too. When his family made their daily visits with food and conversation, he sent letters to be delivered to the paper. He told of the appalling conditions in the jail...and was punished further.

It did not stop him. The next letter resulted in better conditions. Finally, he was released from prison. The release came on condition that he pay for the biscuits and water he had consumed while can imagine his reaction.  This spunky, cantankerous man had a point and was willing to pay the price for his convictions, not the price assigned for a sentence that he deemed unfair. He is a lesson to each of us.

Filled with motion and detail, Kathryn Brown's wood-framed text and old-fashioned artwork evoke an early nineteenth century culture where doing what was expected was the only way to live life...contrary to Joseph Palmer's view.

Miss Dorothy and her Bookmobile, written by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb. Harper, 2011. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Finally, one bright spring day,
Dorothy graduated,
ready to be a librarian
in a fine brick library
just like the one in the center
of the square
in her hometown."

Dorothy loves books and people, and is willing to loan her books to friends so that they might find the delight in them that she does. She is destined to be a librarian. Where better than her own town library? It's her plan; but the execution of that plan does not have the result imagined.

That being the case, Dorothy will ply her trade elsewhere:

"Her new husband wanted to move to a farm
in a land she had only seen on maps
but had read about in books,
a land of high blue mountains,
with deep green valleys
and cascading streams
splashing silver,
shaded with oak, maple, and fir,
at the base of high Mount Mitchell
in the Blue Ridge Mountains
of North Carolina."

While her new life turns to green gardens, new friends and endless time for reading, there is no library and nowhere for Miss Dorothy to be the librarian she is trained to be. An elderly man in the community remembers a time when there was a visiting library, taken 'from place to place in wooden crates on an oxen wagon'. Dorothy cannot conceive of such a thing. But, determination wills out. The people of her town collect money to buy a bookmobile and make Dorothy the librarian.

The die is cast and Dorothy finds satisfaction in a job well done, instilling in her friends and clients a love of books. While it may not have been her dream come true, she leads a life of wonder and satisfaction with the people of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Of Miss Dorothy, Gloria Houston has this to say:

"Dorothy Thomas was one of my heroes as a child. Her little green van with a fresh batch of books would arrive every two weeks at the store my family operated. During alternate weeks, she would drive into the school yard. I checked out new books from her every week!"

Sold, written by Patricia McCormick. Hyperion, Hachette. 2006. $19.99 ages 14 and up

"I have been beaten here,
locked away,
violated a hundred times
and a hundred times more.
I have been starved
and cheated,
and disgraced."

How inconceivable is it to imagine being sold for a motorcycle, or a few hundred rupees? When Lakshmi's stepfather needs money to shore up a stake for his gambling, he sells her to a woman who promises further payment and a good job in the city for the thirteen year old. It is Lakshmi's dream to go to the city and earn enough money to buy her family a tin roof so that they will no longer have to worry about the coming rains.

Her mother is grateful to have a man in her life, following the death of her husband.The family is treated with little concern for their welfare by this new man. He takes everything they have to gamble at night. He does not worry that there is no food to sustain them, or rice in the field. Still, her mother is compliant and offers advice to Lakshmi for her future with a husband:

"If your husband asks you to wash his feet, you must do as he says, then put a bit of the water in your mouth."

When he sells her, he has little sympathy for the mother or daughter, showing how little value women have for him. We do not know if he willingly sells her into child prostitution, but that is the outcome. As she leaves her beloved mother and brother behind, she makes this observation:

"What I Carry

Inside the bundle Ama packed for me are:
my bowl,
my hairbrush,
the notebook my teacher gave me for being the number one
girl in school,
and my bedroll.

Inside my head I carry:
my baby goat,
my baby brother,
my ama's face,
our family's future.

My bundle is light.
My burden is heavy."

What she has experiences at home at the hands of her stepfather can, in no way, prepare Lakshmi for the life she leads as a sex slave. She is appalled when she learns her fate and refuses to be with the men who come to Mumtaz' house. To make her compliant, she is starved, drugged, raped, and humiliated. Yet, she also finds kindness within the walls of her prison.  Always, she is hopeful for a time when she will no longer be indentured to Mumtaz, and will find freedom again. 

Patti McCormick did her homework, travelling to Nepal villages and the red-light district of Calcutta to learn about the many young women working in these brothels and some who have been rescued. That personal research is clearly evident in her deft handling of the story she tells. She shines a light on these brave, and honorable young girls. The story is sensitively told in unforgettable first person descriptions that take place over the course of a year. Although it is intensely difficult to read of the horror that she must endure, Lakshmi is a young woman to be admired for her tenacity and strength of character.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Totally Joe, written by James Howe. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2007. $6.99 ages 10 and up

"Anyway, we have each other and we don't really care what other people say about us. We know that the Gang of Five totally rocks. And now, after running for student council a few weeks ago (and losing, but, oh, well) and actually having the nerve to get up in front of the entire school at the campaign assembly, maybe we're not the only ones who think so."

Addie from Addie on the Inside has a great friend in Joe. Reading this book is all the proof needed. I love Joe...he is funny, loyal, smart and gay. There is no misery or gloom about it. Joe is out and he's fine with that.

Joe is twelve and in grade seven. His English teacher Mr. Daly has charged his class with an interesting assignment called an 'alphabiography'...self-explanatory really and not so appreciated by the narrator as it is by the reader. In an opening letter, Joe explains that telling the truth about himself was an initial concern. Also the life lessons that are to end each chapter:

"Oh. My. God. That is so Oprah."

Finding something to talk about for every letter of the alphabet is a daunting task, but Joe explores it so thoughtfully that readers will feel empathy, admiration and a real connection to this young man. In an early chapter he talks about Boys:

"Well, I'm used to being called a girl, but, excuse me, is that supposed to be an insult? What's wrong with girls? Some of my best friends are girls! But I know what Kevin H. and all the other (um, no name-calling, so you'll have to use your imagination here) _________s mean when they say it. They mean I'm not a boy."

Well, he may not be a boy like them, but he is a boy. He goes on to discuss dating, family, kissing, and even xylophones and the ten things you need to know about them...very funny! Not to mention religion, surprises and Zachary. Have I got your attention?

Joe is refreshingly comfortable being himself. He loves fashion, cooking, and Cher. He wears an earring, paints his nails, and is understanding of Colin who cannot bring himself to admit to anyone else that he is gay.

Joe is so frank and likable. He seems little bothered by being called names, and recognizes that those other boys are just not so progressive in their thinking as he is.

Lucky Joe to have the understanding and accepting family he has, including Aunt Pam who gives him support and strength at every turn. He is also extremely lucky that Mr. Daly, his English teacher, offers a safety net for Joe to voice his opinions, feelings and insecurities. There is much for everyone to learn in reading this heartwarming and heartfelt book, a worthy companion to Addie's story.

The ending is hopeful, and perfect:

"LIFE LESSON: Alphabiographies should be full of italics, CAPITAL LETTERS, and exclamation points! (Just like life!) And they should never end with the words "The End." They should always end with:


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Dazzling Display of Dogs, written by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Michael Wertz. Tricycle Press, Random House. 2011. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"Bert the Mutt's a tough old guy.
He's had a long career.
Scars on his nose.
Missing claws.
Nicks on one of his ears.
Balding spot on one back leg.
No whiskers on the right.
He struts around
like he owns the park,
and he's earned it
with every fight."

Pages filled to the brim with concrete poems about dogs, dogs, dogs! It is a most welcome companion book to Betsy Franco's earlier A Curious Collection of Cats (Tricycle, 2009). As happens with concrete poems, it is the collaboration of word and art that makes each one work. And work they do! Each new page offers a single poem and 'a dazzling display' of art and poetry. The vivid colors change, the poetic form changes and we meet an abundance of delightful dogs whose personalities shine through for us.

There's Baloo the poodle whose escape is sure to lead to a 'bellyful' of whatever food he can find in his bid for freedom. Poor Al...he's a retired greyhound who just can't seem to lose his habit of running on an oval track, even at the beach where he could run back and forth forever. Or Old Lottie whose walk takes her around the block and that's it...though she encounters much along the way, she is only too happy to be right back home and resting her old bones. Poor Waffle always has her ears in the air to hear the constant commands coming her way. Cassandra is not such a lady in the car when her gas makes it impossible for the family to enjoy the ride. Old Jimbo who finds a way to ensure that the chair he loves is his for the taking:

"The chair with the ruffly trim
was always off limits to Jim,
Till he chewed
it to bits,
made it threadbare
with slits -
now no one sits
on it but him."

That peppy rhyme finds its shape in the form of an easy chair! I love the way concrete poetry affords the head a real workout, as the reader works to follow the words as they are placed so carefully on the page. Betsy Franco knows dogs, and uses a humorous voice to share their foibles in each of the thirty-two poems. It won't take long for readers to choose their favorites.

The copyright information says that 'the illustrations were started in pencil and finished using monoprints and Adobe Photoshop. I don't know how that process works; Michael Wertz obviously does. His love of dogs and their very unique temperaments is evident on every colorful, fun-filled page.

Have I got you thinking about Christmas gifts yet? What a welcome gift for a pet-loving child this two volume set would be!

A Red Herring Without Mustard, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday, Random House. 2011. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"I had already learned that sisterhood, like Loch Ness, has things that lurk unseen beneath the surface, but I think it was only now that I realized that of all the invisible strings that tied the three of us together, the dark ones were the strongest."

Oh, I love that Flavia de Luce! She is a worthy and mesmerizing character. This is her third case, and Alan Bradley's mastery of this eleven year old's voice and singular personality does not wane. She is impertinent, shrewd and extremely well read. She is unlike many of the eleven year old girls that I have known; but, she can also be self-absorbed, bent on retribution, and even foolhardy. All that being said,  I really like her!

She shares so much of herself, her reasoning, her education and her family life as she tells her tale of a brutal beating and murder. She also shares the hurt she feels at the hands of her older sisters, the longing she feels for her dead mother, and her better understanding of her father's self-indulgence and lack of connection to his daughters.

Bishop's Lacey hasn't changed much since we were here in the first book. However, along with Flavia and her bicycle Gladys we travel the streets and discover little corners we may not have seen in previous visits. Many of the people remain small-minded, and it offers just the right setting for a murder or two. The local constabulary is efficient and not too proud to accept Flavia's help when needed; they also would like her to stand back and leave the sleuthing to them when possible. Flavia sees no sense in that, and lets little stand in the way of her solving this murder mystery. She gets her information in bits and pieces from the townsfolk and from keen observation, and shares it when she thinks it should be shared.

We're only halfway through the book when she makes this observation:

"It was all so confoundedly complicated: the attack upon Fenella, the gruesome death of Brookie Harewood, the sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Porcelain, Harriet's firedogs turning up in not one but three different locations, the strange antiques shop of the abominable Pettibones, Miss Mountjoy and the Hobblers, Vanetta Harewood's long-lost portrait of Harriet, and underneath it all, like the rumble of a stuck pipe organ, the constant low drone of Father's looming bankruptcy."

Alan Bradley weaves a tightly plotted story that concerns community feelings about the gypsies who travel nearby roads, a lost baby, and old religious practices. He never gives away too much, and it is not easy for the reader to know what is likely to happen next. Flavia is at the heart of every scene, using her wit, her tenacity and her indomitable spirit to push the story to its inevitable conclusion, leaving us wishing that the next case was at the top of our TBR pile. I understand the next one is due very soon...just in time for Christmas and a lovely holiday read!

I want to leave you with just one of my favorite lines from the young woman herself:

"I had long ago discovered that when a word or formula refused to come to mind, the best thing for it was to think of something else: tigers, for instance, or oatmeal. Then, when the fugitive word was least expecting it, I would suddenly turn the full blaze of my attention back onto it, catching the culprit in the beam of my mental torch before it could sneak off again into the darkness.

"Thought-stalking," I called the technique, and I was proud of myself for having invented it."

Those of you reading this, and who are close to my age, will understand exactly what she is saying. I think I will use 'thought-stalking' as description from here forward. Thanks, Flavia!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Honeybee Man, written by Lela Nargi and illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2011. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Near the edge of the roof is another, tiny city. It has three houses, each with two white stories and one red story, and inside, thousands of tiny rooms made of wax. From the outside, the tiny city also seems quiet."

It was coincidental that on the same day I read this book I heard a news report about the concern in Manitoba over the future of the honey business here. Millions of bees died last winter and in this year alone more than 27,000 colonies have been lost. Is it a virus? A parasite? A late fall which left the bees unprepared for our cold winter? Whatever it is, it has our bee farmers concerned for the future.

As scientists ponder the Colony Collapse Disorder that has killed millions of bees since 2006, it is reassuring to read this story about Fred and his rooftop apiary. We go with him as he checks his hives, sips his tea and thinks about the sweet treat that his bees are preparing for him. He has great admiration for all of those bees...the young ones as they make their first flights, the older ones as they make familiar trips away from the hive to collect nectar for their queen and her worker bees. It isn't long until he collects the honey, puts it in jars and shares it with family and friends.
The whole book shows the gentle love Fred has for the bees and their work:

"Inside their houses, the three queen bees and their thousands of worker bee daughters don't answer. But Fred knows they are busy. The queens are laying eggs. Some workers are building wax rooms, some are feeding babies, some are making the hive tidy. Others are getting ready to forage in flowers abloom all across Brooklyn."

I love watching this urban beekeeper as he savors the many familiar aspects of the work that his bees do daily. He notices everything about them...the weight of their bodies as they return from gathering nectar, their neverending cycle of work to produce honey for his use, and their honeycombs that offer up golden goodness for the people of Brooklyn. It is a book for the senses, and a celebration of the community and its people...and bees!

The warm colors used by Kyrsten Brooker for her accompanying mixed media artwork add to the book's charm. The familiar Brooklyn scenes, the gentleness that is Fred fills the book. Her informative and detailed endpapers provide a clear look at the bees, their hives, the frame foundation, the flower and even their 'waggle dance'. Clear captions give us all the information needed to understand the process. Then, just in case we don't have enough information, the author adds 'some amazing facts about honey, honeybees and beekeepers'.

On her website Lela Nargi describes the inspiration for her story:

"John Howe, for years an apiarist in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and the founder of the NYC Beekeeping meet-up, was the heart and brains behind Fred. He told me almost everything I know about honeybees and even introduced me to his hives. Even though until March 2010, it was illegal to keep honeybees and other "wild animals" in New York City. Now, almost everyone seems to have gone crazy for urban bees and honey!"

What an informative and inspiring book!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Big Bad Wolf, written and illustrated by Frank Asch. Kids Can, 2011. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"By now it was getting dark outside. As Momma Pig brought in the birthday cake, Poppa Pig turned off the lights and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to the Big Bad Wolf.
"Now we EAT!" declared the Big Bad Wolf."

I have always loved sharing alternate versions of fairy tales with my children at school and my own children at home. Some of them are so deliciously crafted. Frank Asch joins the party with this skewed version of the Three Little Pigs. The three are Poppa, Momma and Little. They are horrified to find the Big Bad Wolf knocking at their door on a quiet afternoon. So, they hide.

When Little Pig considers that it might just be the wolf's birthday, he has second thoughts and offers a big SURPRISE! when the wolf comes in the door. Momma and Poppa, sensing disaster, decide to offer up their good wishes, too. Wolf is bewildered. But, the pigs insist they want to throw him a party and he agrees, even opting for  the cake flavor that Little suggests. He knows it is all too good to be true:

"Hmmm....Pigs for dinner and cake for dessert," thought the Big Bad Wolf. "That sounds just fine to me."

While readying the cake, Momma and Poppa quietly make plans for escape. Little offers up everything else that makes birthdays special...a wrapped present, a song, the cake with the requisite wish and candles. All of this is new to Big Bad and he gets right into the celebration. However, while the house is dark with candlelight, the pigs make their escape!

Poor Wolf...first he is angry, then sorrowful to be all alone. Little will have none of it. Poppa and Momma must follow. So, they continue the party, and finally share the cake that was so thoughtfully made. But, not before supper.

Humorous, clever and brightly illustrated for young readers, this story of friendship and redemption will delight its audience and will be requested time and again.

The Busy Beaver, written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland. Kids Can, 2011. $16.95 ages 3 and up

"The beaver woke up in the hospital with a bent tail, two broken limbs, three cracked ribs, four big bruises, five sprained fingers, six twisted toes, seven little cuts, eight stinging scratches, nine sore muscles and ten nasty slivers."

Just look at those woeful eyes, and tell me you have no interest in opening the cover of this new book by Nicholas Oldland. That beaver looks a bit overcome by it all and that leads me to wonder why.

I know that I truly loved this author's first two books about the animals of this familiar wood. We met Bear in Big Bear Hug, giving hugs to everything in sight, including the woodsman who had come to cut down one of his beloved trees. We met Moose in Making the Moose of It, stranded on a desert island while trying to change the trajectory of his life. They are pals of Beaver; but are not enamored of his 'felling' techniques.

He seems oblivious to the chaos he creates when he takes no notice of his surroundings, or of the animals that share his habitat. He is, in fact, very destructive. He bops Bear on the head with a felled tree, gnaws Moose's leg because he mistakes it for a tree. The animals are annoyed. His slipshod work leads to a disaster for Beaver himself. Without paying attention to where the next tree might fall, he is surprised and distressed to learn that he is in the way.

A hospital stay for multiple breaks and contusions leads to down time, something that has never happened to him. He's always been too 'busy'. As he heals, he has time to think. He realizes, when he takes a careful look at the destruction left in his wake, that he has been rash. He must make amends. A full-out rehab program has him strengthening his body and practicing his 'I'm sorry's.

It takes time for the others to understand that he has seen the error of his ways. It also takes a lot of work. But, Beaver is bent on doing better, and it makes him tired.

Great characters, subtle lesson learned and all is well!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tell Me the Day Backwards, written by Albert Lamb and illustrated by David McPhail. Candlewick, Random House. 2011. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"Before that, I lay on top of the big rock, sunning myself. It made my fur get toasty!"

"And before that?"

Here's another lovely book with an interesting premise. It was a game the author's wife played with their children at the end of their day. Albert Lamb says that while his wife gave him the title, the bears are his. And so we begin...

It is bedtime. Timmy wants to play a game with his mother that they played last summer. Mama remembers, and offers an invitation for Timmy to get the story started. As they go, with Timmy remembering the day's events and Mama helping him along, the reader sees that there were times when lessons were learned for the next day. Brushing his teeth was the last thing that he did before hopping into bed, but many other events made his day special.
Timmy remembers most of the day and Mama adds details when needed. Finally, they get all the way back to early morning. Mama prods him to remember even before that and Timmy offers this memory:

"Before this morning, I slept and slept and slept; you and me and Papa Bear, we slept a deep sleep all through the whole, long, cold winter. "

And so begins another year of growth for a young bear, and for his parents. Imagine the adventures he might remember tonight at bedtime...when he 'tells the day backwards'.
Don't you think that this could be a fun way for you and your children to think about all the special events of their day? It would offer time to consider the fears, joys and learning that take place every day in the life of a young child.

David McPhail’s soft, gentle watercolors offer up the quiet peace of bedtime, while also showing each of the adventures experienced throughout an eventful first day of awakening after a long sleep. The soft edges of each illustration offer comfort, and the muted tones keep listeners rooted to the tender quiet of bedtime.

Read it. Then, be prepared to relive your child's day...backwards.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle Books. 2011. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"He slowly folds his boom back in,
And then with one last sleepy grin,
He tucks himself in nice and tight (sigh!)
Then cuddles up and says goodnight."

Goodnight to you, Crane Truck!

I know...and you know...the children who are going to love this lullaby for construction vehicles; it might even do the trick for the rambunctious young listener with whom this book is shared. It is sure to be a favorite for just the right kids.

It's not easy to get young children to calm at the end of the day, in preparation for a good night's sleep.  I would not have thought to pair a bedtime story with a crane, a cement mixer, a dump truck, a bulldozer and an excavator. Luckily, you weren't counting on me to pen such a tale. Equally lucky you are that this mother of two boys saw the need, and had the talent and energy at the end of her very busy days to do just that!

It is her first book, and I am hoping that coping with two lively, curious sons will be the inspiration for another one soon. We meet said vehicles as dusk approaches:

"The sun has set, the work is done;
It's time for trucks to end their fun.
So one by one they'll go to bed
To yawn and rest their sleepy heads,"

And as promised, each completes one last task before giving in to fatigue and taking a much deserved rest.
The rhyming verses that move readers from the active busy day to the quiet peaceful evening have a gentle tempo, and are perfect for reading aloud prior to settling in for the night.

Tom Lichtenheld's artwork is praiseworthy, creating a construction site that exemplifies the work needing to be done by this cast of expressive characters. I love watching the sunset with them, as they recognize that another busy day of work is coming to an end. As we say goodnight to each of them, he lends personal traits to each that have no voice in the words of the text. While the crane holds a light-filled star to keep dark shadows at bay, he also cuddles his teddy bear. I will leave you to find out how each of the others settles to sleep. It is absolutely worth the read!

Begin the reading day with Jon Scieszka's Truckery Rhymes; but be sure to end it with this one, for those construction loving kids in your life.

Requiem, written by Paul B. Janeczko. Candlewick, Random House. 2011. $19.00 ages 14 and up

"I am Miklos.
The younger boys in L410
call me Professor.
Because I know many words?
Because of my large glasses?
Because I like to write
in a small notebook
that I conceal from the guards
in my shoe?

I am fragile
with fear."

In his afterword Paul Janeczko says:

"What set Terezin a apart from Nazi death camps was the nature of many of its inmates. Terezin became 'home' for many of the Jewish intellectuals and artists of Prague. As a result, it became a prison in which the arts were tolerated, then encouraged as a Nazi propaganda tool."

That was not the only propaganda. Here is part of a poem from SS Lieutenant Theodor Lang, describing what happened when the King of Denmark insisted that the Red Cross inspect Terezin to be sure that the Jews were being treated well:

"The inspectors
were in our town for a short time,
only long enough to see
what we wanted them to see.
No more.
They saw enough
to know that we were treating the Jews
in a civilized and humane manner.
We waited a few months
to resume the transports.
The town was getting crowded
and the ovens of Auschwitz waited."

Chilling? Yes it is! Paul Janeczko has given voice to many in this powerful book of thirty poems about the Terezin ghetto. It is, as you would expect, a grim exploration. For these poems that represent many whose history includes this temporary station on the journey to the gas chambers, he has used selected resources, websites and unforgettable art created by Terezin inmates found after the war ended. The poems come from captive and captor, the voice of the townspeople and raw observations:

"Magnolia blossoms riot
over the fence
of the home of the Kommandant.
What could they want
on this side?"

It is impossible to read this book without being overwhelmed by the emotions it stirs, and heartbroken for the plight of so many caught up in the horror of the Holocaust.  Before being liberated in the spring of 1945, 140,000 men, women and children who passed through the gates of Terezin were killed. Of the title chosen for his indelible collection of voices, Paul Janeczko says:

"I chose Requiem as the title of this collection because I saw many of the poems in it as solemn songs to the memory of the people who died within the walls of Theresienstadt."

"Blue sky
barbed wire.

I wish I were

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Sea Wolves, written by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read with photographs by Ian McAllister. Orca Book Publishers, 2010, $19.95 ages 11 and up

"Wolves are usually born in dens hidden in the rainforest, but when the cubs are old enough to travel short distances, the pack will often move to what's called a rendezvous site. These sites are usually close to the ocean, where wolf pups can forage for food when the tide goes out."

Well, it happened again! I knew what to expect this time; so, I was prepared for another great read. I found it difficult to put the book away...not my usual reaction to nonfiction, as you can just browse and return as you wish. Not me, I started and  I just kept reading until the final 'wolf bite'. Wow!

This second wonderful book considers the coastal wolves who share the rainforest with the salmon bears of their first book. Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read begin with a bit of information about the historical journey of the wolf...often badly treated and certainly misunderstood by many. Then, they takes us into the world that the wolf packs inhabit, sharing their remarkable lives as they fish, swim, and hunt.

Their story follows the seasons, giving readers a clear picture of their ways and offering much information that is new to me. Their survival depends on a combination of things and is threatened by some of the same issues that threaten their most unusual and beautiful habitat. Logging and oil are the most dominant. The authors have a great fascination with these wolves, and they share the same respect for them as the First Nations people of British Columbia do. They show us that the social nature of the wolf is similar to our own, and allow us to see these impressive animals as they live in family groups, take a designated role, enjoy play and teach their young the ways of their rainforest world. 

Efforts are afoot to protect them and there is much information included in the last chapter about these. If people can understand that each element in an ecosystem has a pivotal role to play in the survival of that habitat, they may survive. It will take concentrated work by many to make sure that happens.

I really appreciate the personal storytelling style that the authors use to share their research and their concern for these little-known creatures. It makes for a relaxed read, and a most enjoyable one. The Wolf Bites are created in the form of pertinent questions that a young scientist might ask:

"Do other animals prey on wolves?
Adult wolves don't have natural predators, but cougars, eagles, and grizzly bears may kill and eat wolf pups if they get the chance. Humans don't eat wolves, but we do hunt and kill them for sport or their fur. Coastal wolves are not protected from hunting and trapping in BC, so they are killed all the time."

The photographs are exceptional and give us an amazing personal look at their many activities throughout the year. Few of us would ever have the chance to see what Ian McAllister sees through his camera lens. The captions are informative and very accessible to their target audience of middle years readers. One of my favorite photos shows a wolf carefully observing a salmon as it flips up out of the water. The accompanying caption reads:

"Because of their fondness for salmon, coastal wolves are sometimes known as fishing wolves. This wet wolf going after a salmon on a bright fall morning illustrates why. A pack of wolves can catch more than two hundred salmon in a single evening of fishing."

If the salmon population is depleted by overfishing, what happens to the coastal wolves? And what about everything that then depends on the wolves? The more educated we become about the dangers that face so many of the world's animals and the more we know about the animals themselves, the less likely we are to be the hunter...unless we follow in Ian McAllister's footsteps and do it with our cameras.

After reading this book and discovering how intelligent these beautiful creatures are, you may even change your long held notion that all wolves are 'big', 'bad' and unworthy of our respect and protection.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Body, edited by Charlie Gardner. DK, Tourmaline Editions. 2011. $13.99 ages 4 and up

"Our bodies are fascinating pieces of machinery. We hope this body book will encourage children to ask questions about how their bodies work, on the inside and the outside."

And here's the second one in the series, this time with plenty of information about the body. Safety is a concern, as it should be in all great books which offer experiments for little ones.

First, little kids want to know what is inside. Begin with a life-size piece of paper and a friend. It is that friend's job to take a marker and draw all the way around your body. With life-sized, cut-out organs and some tape, put those organs where you think that they go....the brain, lungs, heart, liver, stomach and intestines are shown. Lift the flap and the reader learns a little about those body parts, and is encouraged to try to make a skeleton using available materials such as pasta.

On we go to listening to the heart, breathing, muscles and facial expression, sight, sound, taste and touch. All instructions are clear and doable with supervision for safety, and even a little help. The instructions help the children move from point to point, always allowing time to make discoveries and discuss them.

The young scientists are appealing, the discovery work well explained, and the learning unavoidable. Once again, there is a useful glossary to help with unfamiliar terms, and a shopping list that means one trip would get you everything you need to expand your child's knowledge about the body and the many amazing things it can do!

Two other titles are available in this series...Backyard and Kitchen. Get out there and take a look. That should keep you busy until the little ones are happily back in the classroom. Thanks to DK Publishing for their great work on behalf of our kids!

Water Fun, edited by Charlie Gardner. DK, Tourmaline Editions. 2011. $13.99 ages 3 and up

"Dear Scientist,
Let's find out about the world you live in. You can be a great science
detective if you look for clues, ask questions, and try to answer
them. Carry a notebook to make drawings and to write down your thoughts. Have a box for collecting things."

The front pages offer an invitation to children and their adult supervisors to come on in and have some fun, while learning about the science of the world. Information about water itself is followed by instructions on how to be safe while you are experimenting with it. The colorful photographs that anchor the pages give a taste for what will be found inside!

Each page gives step-by-step instructions for exploring water and its many properties. The photographs are clear and a 'stuff you need' box shows captioned objects that will be part of the upcoming learning and fun. The first set is about floating and sinking. Two tests are shown, and a flap on the right side explains the 'science stuff' concerning what has just been discovered and includes a 'follow up' for further learning.

Motion, color, hot and cold, melting, the water wheel, surface tension and the music that can be made with varying amounts of water follow. Each is numbered, clearly captioned for method and accompanied by clear, large photos to help the young scientist learn about the principles of water.

A glossary and a shopping list ensure the usefulness of this little gem. If you find yourself running out of fun things to do with the kids before school starts, it would provide hours of fun while teaching them much about water itself.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Addie on the Inside, written by James Howe. Simon & Schuster, 2011. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"and I resist the temptation
to praise the alliteration
and instead pray for release
from this purgatory of
the middle school years
when so many things
that never mattered before
and will never matter again


I stopped at nineteen post-it notes and decided that I couldn't share them all with you anyway. Truly, nothing would make me happier! I will be singing the praises of this book for weeks. I will recommend it to my sweet and spunky friend Victoria, who turned 13 one week ago and hope that she tells her friends about it, too. And, I will read it again...and wish I were teaching in a middle grade classroom so that I could make it the first shared read of the upcoming school year.

I asked my daughter Erin, a tenacious reader of many different types of books, how a man who is about the same age as her mother could possibly write a book that comes from the heart of a 13 year old girl, and do it with such compassion and strength. She quickly answered that that is what great writers do! Simple, huh???

Well, James Howe does it remarkably well. He has created a tender, involved, outspoken middle grader who deserves our attention and our admiration. If I were in seventh grade, I would want her to be my friend. She stands up for what she believes in, and supports those who must deal with the narrow-mindedness of others.
"Who do you see when a girl

like Addie walks down the hall,
sharp-eyed, tall,

when a girl like Addie
raises her hand in class
for the hundredth time

offering opinion as fact
and outrage as opinion,
wearing her attitudes

more comfortably than her
less than awesome clothes? "

Those who have read the first two books about The Gang of Five will know Addie...but not so intimately as they will know her when they finish reading her amazing story. She has opinions and is not afraid to share them. She also has uncertainties about many things. These doubts are considered from the 'inside' in this remarkable novel in verse:

"And what do I talk about if not clear skin and straight hair?
I talk about Nadia and about Mariam, married at eleven
to a man thirty years older than she, and beaten
for being unable to bear him a child.

I talk about the poems of Naomi Shihab Nye.
I talk about Sold by Patricia McCormick.
I talk about suffering and how I don't know
anything about it."
This novel in verse is so strong, so elegant, so poignant. I love the way James Howe changes his verse forms, using each to tell about her family life, her beloved grandmother, her two cats, her friends, her first love and her growth as a person of quality and substance.

He goes from humor:

"The Omigod Chorus, or What I Have to Listen to Every Single Day

Omigod, did you know?
      Omigod, I hate him so.
Omigod, I love your dress!
      Omigod, your hair's a mess!"

to uncertainty:

"My mind is full of not knowing,
and if it's true that not knowing is a kind
of strength, then at the rate I am going,
I will soon be the strongest girl
in the world."

to sadness;

"Johnson eats for two -
a cat growing fat from grief,
tasting memories."

to confidence:

"I am who I say I am,
I'm not some fantasy
of how you think you think you know me
of who I ought to be.

I am a girl who is growing up
in my own sweet time,
I am a girl who knows enough
to know this life is mine."

So, now my TBR pile has grown by 3...The Misfits, Totally Joe and Sold. I guess that is what the best books do...make you yearn for more!

Bravo, James Howe!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chamelia, written and illustrated by Ethan Long. Little, Brown. Hachette, 2011. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"When others zig...
Chamelia zags.
When others twist,
Chamelia shouts.
When others rock,
Chamelia rolls..."

 The message is clear, while not being overplayed. Most chameleons appreciate their ability to blend into their backgrounds. Not so for the bold, flamboyant Chamelia. She likes being 'out there'. She chooses bright colors that call attention to her, and always makes her fashion choices with diligent care.

There can be problems! A long, flowing skirt cannot always escape the closing door of the school bus. A costume fit for a princess renders Goldilocks unrecognizable to the three bears. High heels and sequined dresses don't seem appropriate for a budding soccer star. As is often the case, those who 'stand out' draw negative attention from others, exclusion and ultimately, sadness for Chamelia.

Her parents have a suggestion:

"But Chamelia's parents say standing out isn't the only way to feel special. Joining in can be just as fun!"

Aha, I think they are onto something here!

Ethan Long's collage illustrations done with bright, colorful fabrics make Chamelia a stand-out...just what she wants to be. Keeping the parents and school friends a much more subdued green while Chamelia sports a darker, more unique green allows young readers quick access to her on each page.  Everything about Chamelia is special. Now she knows it, and so do her friends.

Caramba and Henry, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood, 2011. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"Henry wouldn't share anything. He squished Caramba's favorite caterpillars. He threw Caramba's cheese omelets out the window. Henry didn't talk. He yelled. Or howled. Or screamed. All the time. Caramba had to wear earplugs."

All that hype about practice makes you a better writer must be true! Marie-Louise Gay proves it with her newest book about Caramba and his baby brother, Henry. She just gets better and better!

I have a 'little' brother; so, I know what I am talking about here. They can be tiresome and quite a bother. Caramba wanted a brother, one of those brothers who would love the things that Caramba loves and do things that Caramba likes to,  collecting caterpillars, cheese omelets, sharing secrets. What Caramba gets is Henry! Henry is nothing like the brother Caramba had imagined for himself.

Henry is obstinate and contrary. Portia, Caramba's best friend, shares some ideas but Caramba is unconvinced that they will work. The final straw comes when Henry takes flight. Why fly rather than swim? Caramba doesn't understand. Now that Henry is mobile, mother leaves the care giving to Caramba when they are outside. He is impossible to tether. A shopping bag doesn't work. Neither does a butterfly net. Caramba is at his wit's end, until he cottons on to tying Henry to a string like a balloon. Henry hates the captivity and soon breaks free.

What is a big brother to do? He and Portia search high and low, through an ever darkening sky. They take to the pond on a raft and are off in search of a little lost brother. It's impossible to see him. Thankfully, Henry has had a lot of practice screaming and it is that voice that sets them off in the right direction. With love and patient guidance Caramba coaxes Henry from the tall tree and offers calm in response to panic. It is no surprise that Henry utters his first word at the end of this terrifying adventure...."Car-r-r-amba."

The exceptional storytelling ability of Marie-Louise Gay is evident on every single page. The little scenes, the thoughtful word choice and the matchless mix of watercolor, pencil, pastel and acrylic paints are endearing and filled with the charm we have come to expect from her. Each illustration offers new delight - the ever-changing perspective, the expressive characters, the play of light and shadow - all add to the appeal of this wonderful new book by a beloved artist. Thank you, Marie-Louise!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Few Blocks, written and illustrated by Cybele Young. Groundwood, 2011. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Viola handed him a piece of cardboard and said, "Don't let the king see you like this. He needs his bravest knight to fight the fierce fire-breathing dragon who has stolen the princess."

If you have kids, or know some, you have likely used many of the same tricks that Viola finds herself using while trying to coax her little brother through the 'few blocks' it takes to get to school. Ferdie does not want to go.

He has work to do:

"But Ferdie had eleven cars to wash, the highest tower ever to build and a snake drawing that wasn't done yet."

His iguana Spike doesn't have to go, and he seems content. Viola does what needs to be done to get Ferdie out the door and on the way. First, it's a superfast cape and rocket blaster boots. Conquering all evil causes a fuel shortage and by the time they land to refuel, Ferdie has had enough. Viola is a pro at persuasion, and soon she has inspired her little brother to captain a ship in search of buried treasure.

Finally, there is only one more adventure:

"He followed the smell of burning wood in the forest, pushed through thickets, crawled through tunnels and stumbled upon some giant twisting trees.
A sooty snort sounded above his head. He saw the princess hanging there, clutched tight in the dragon's claws."

Once the princess is freed, she is very tired. Now, she refuses to budge. In a most pleasing twist, Ferdie must turn the tables on his sister, and the adventurous trek to school is accomplished.
The artwork that Cybele Young creates for her second picture book is very dramatic. When the children are not involved in some new adventure, there is little color and a great deal of white space. However, each of their fantastic flights of fancy allows them access to a world of paper-cut images, filled with action and color.

Each new escapade takes time to invent and abundant energy from Viola; then it must be carefully considered by Ferdie. This makes the 'few blocks' a journey worth making, and worth a revisit!

Louise the Big Cheese and the Back-to-School Smarty-Pants, written by Elise Primavera and illustrated by Diane Goode. Simon & Schuster, 2011. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"Louise imagined that Mrs. Pearl had pearly white teeth, blond hair the color of pearls, and that Mrs. Pearl wore lots of pearls.
With a teacher like that, getting straight As would be a cinch, Louise decided."

You may have met Louise in earlier books. If not, you are about to be charmed. First, you have to get past the endpapers. What absolute fun they are! There are some 'big cheeses' there...Marie Curie, Louisa May Alcott, Hillary Clinton, who did get straight As. There are some 'little cheeses' who did, too. You may not know them!

This is a perfect book to read at the beginning of another school year. Louise dreams of being a big cheese. On the night before school starts, she talks with her sister who makes the announcement that she is already studying for a year of straight As.  Louise (and her dog) have a comment:

"To get straight As you have to be real smart, like Albert I Spy.
I think it's Albert Einstein. (this from the dog!)
I Spy, Einstein - he's smart, right?'

Not to be outdone by her older sister, Louise vows to get straight As this year, too. She thinks seriously about the many things that will happen when she does. Friends, grade skipping, promotion to college...the possibilities are endless.

She knows who her teacher is going to be and she imagines just how glorious she will look, how thrilled she will be to have Louise in her classroom and that learning with Mrs. Pearl is likely to lead to those coveted As she so desperately wants. Turns out that Mrs. Pearl is not quite what Louise has imagined, and 'she never gives As'.

Mrs. Pearl has high expectations for her students and Louise does not quite measure up. She tries hard, but is met with a 'you can do better, Miss Cheese' after each assignment. Some people get As...not Louise. It doesn't take long for Louise to be less enamored of her teacher. Her unease about the upcoming report card leads to a sleepless night.

Imagine her surprise when Mrs. Pearl is nowhere to be seen, and a substitute takes her place. No report card...Louise is very pleased. As luck would have it, Louise gets her first A under Miss Sprinkles' tutelage. Drat! So did everyone else! Hmmm... By the end of the day, Louise finds herself missing her teacher, and even worrying about her. She is thankful to find Mrs. Pearl in her rightful place the following morning. And, she is quite pleased with her report card, too. Is Louise worthy of being a big cheese? I think so!

Diane Goode's sassy artwork matches Louise's personality. It is full of expression, character and adds a generous dose of humor. Readers' attention will be focused on her vivid imagination, her conversations with her canine companion and her concerns as her hope fades about second grade being the year of straight As.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Loon, written by Susan Vande Griek and illustrated by Karen Reczuch. Groundwood, 2011. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"So two little loons
plop themselves in.
Close to Mama and Papa
they float,
paddle little feet,
and peer,
never left behind."

Here's the second beautifully designed and illustrated nonfiction book for today. It is the story of two chicks who hatch in June. It takes them no time at all to get into the water and do what loons do. They also like to ride on their parents' backs when they need a bit of rest and comfort.

At hatchlings there are many things to threaten them. Their parents provide the safety needed until they find a peaceful spot where the babies can be lowered into the water. Soon they are paddling in the coves and shallows where they learn to keep each other close with their soft calls. As the days pass, they become more independent and learn from their parents about finding food, oiling their feathers and and finally, flying. When they are old enough to care for themselves, the parents fly off. The young ones are left to get stronger before following small flocks to warmer water where they will spend the winter:

"Through the fog of winter,
the sun of summer,
they ride the waves, sit on the sea.
For three or four years
they live on the ocean
with a loose flock of others,
drifting constantly."

As adults they will make their way north to a distant, deep, fishing lake, find a mate and start a new generation.

This is both a book about birds...the common loon whose plaintive call brings joy and peace to many who live on, or near, the lakes where they raise their young. It is also a book of art...beautifully rendered details in acrylic on canvas, lending depth and texture to the world of the loon. We see that world from the loon's perspective, from a distance, up close, and even into the watery depths. It is a celebration of all that we can see and learn when we take time to wonder about the mysteries of nature.

It is an inspiring lesson. It makes me want to get to one of those lakes and listen late into the night!

The author adds a two page note on the common loon. It includes informational extensions for much of what she has shared in her poetic tale. She gives advice for helping to keep the loon from extinction and follows it up with a list of books for further reading.

A Butterfly is Patient, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2011. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"Wings can help butterflies camouflage, or hide, themselves in the environment. One kind of butterfly, the peacock butterfly, makes a hissing sound by rubbing its wings together when it is alarmed."

What a wonderful companion book to the two previously done by this collaborative team! Each section is two pages in length and offers a simple four word statement which is followed by brief highlights of a butterfly's life. Young readers will find the information accessible and useful whether reading for a research report, or just adding to their world knowledge. A lovely, detailed watercolor image offers clear visual connection to the text.

Becuase the illustrations have clear labels, this is very useful as an identification guide. I love the front piece that shows great variety in caterpillars and then, the back that shows the butterflies that they become. It's a bit of a matching game...and children will learn, as I did, that every page of the book must be read to make all the matches. My eyes were constantly roving back and forth to check out a new species.

From caterpillar to chrysalis to adult is a journey that young naturalists will find awesome, and quite spectacular! Ms. Aston shows how butterflies help flowers, how they get the nourishment they need, the variety in size, how they protect themselves and that:

"A rainbow of shiny, powdery scales cover the wings of a butterfly, scales stacked like shingles on a roof. Without scales, its wings would be as transparent as the wings of a bee or a dragonfly."

The author obviously does her research! She reads, watches and even puts some under a microscope for a much closer look. Be sure to take a close look yourself at the page about the 'puddle club'...who knew? Sylvia Long has very obviously done the same thing. She uses watercolors to create her beautiful, realistic images. It must be a long and patient process to get them 'just right'. Both must learn a lot as they go about creating such a special book!

I hope I have piqued your interest in this book. If so, be sure to check for An Egg is Quiet and A Seed Is Sleepy by this creative team.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Follow the Line to School, written and illustrated by Laura Ljungkvist. Viking, Penguin. 2011. $19.50 ages 5 and up

"Elephants live in Africa and Asia. How many elephants do you see? Many chickens live on farms. What other animals here might live on a farm? Whales live in the ocean. What other animals shown here also live in the water? Follow the line to the library..."

I said I would keep my eye out for this book. I so enjoyed the first one, and am totally intrigued by the concept. In this one, we take a journey with the line that leads us from room to room at school. Perfect for sharing with newcomers, or with a kindergarten class.

We used to do a gingerbread chase to help my new kindergarten kids find their way around the school and become familiar with their new environs. We would decorate a gingerbread man that my Mom made every year, and then let him rest while we read some variants of his story in the library. When we got back to the classroom, he was always gone; but, he left a note or footprints that led to the next place...gym, office, grade four class, music room, washrooms.
Everyone in the school was on board, and they would be adamant that they had, in fact, seen him but he had escaped. They would offer an idea about where to look next...and so on and so on...until we returned to the classroom to find him, exhausted and resting. The end result for the hard work of chasing him all over the school was a delicious piece of gingerbread. Mmmmm! We had a photographer with us as we searched, and someone scribing some of the fun of the chase as we went along. They provided our first class book, and it was shared often throughout the school year. Later, it was placed in the library. Those kids were still coming back in grade five to relive the action!

This book reminds me of that chase. As in Laura Ljungkvist's first book, we follow the line as it runs continually through the school. It leads us past many familiar items...scissors, crayons, notebooks and then in through the front doors. As we explore we make stops in a variety of rooms, noting signs, objects, posters and many other familiar scenes. Every spread offers a new room, and all that it holds. We move from the welcoming opening scene to the science corner, the library, the art room, and back to the classroom. Lunchtime means a trip to the cafeteria, and then out to the playground for some well-deserved play. Then, we're off to the math area, the music room and back to the classroom in time to go home.

There is much to see, and discuss...and questions to be answered. Each one helps with new discoveries about the place where many days will be spent. So much thinking, and so many opportunities for makes for a dynamic, fun-filled read.  There are always surprises to be discovered.

I found myself following that line with my finger from room to room, place to place and out the door at the end of that first day of school. It will evoke memories as you gaze at the collage art, the varying textures, the archival photographs and the many other reminders of your own school days. Every time I read it, I find make new discoveries. Imagine the fun for someone who is just waiting to make that first foray into formal education!

Should I Share My Ice Cream? Written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Hyperion, Hachette. 2011. $9.99 ages 3 and up

I share my

What could be more perfect for a hot summer day than an ice cream cone? Gerald is incredibly excited when he sees the ice cream cart and is quick to make a purchase. He is not quite so decisive about what to do with it.

If you know Gerald, you will know that Piggie is his best friend. You will also know that Gerald is about the best friend in the world anyone could have. He is always thoughtful, and kind, and concerned, and generous, and well, you know! 

So, here's his dilemma. He knows that Piggie loves ice cream just as much as he does. Before he takes his first lick, he stops to think. Should he share his cone with Piggie? Maybe Piggie won't like the flavor. Piggie is nowhere to be seen. He could finish it before he sees her. She wouldn't even know he had it. Is that what he should do?

If you know Gerald...right, I have said that earlier. His imagination turns to a sad, inconsolable Piggie whose sadness might be assuaged by the very ice cream cone he has in his hands (well, feet!).  Before he imagines one more scenario, he looks down to find his ice cream has melted. He is so sad!!

As only Gerald's luck would have it, guess who comes along with an ice cream cone in hand (well, hoof!)? You guessed it...and guess what Piggie suggests. And, while it was not his has a happy ending, just the same!