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Monday, July 30, 2012

Applewhites at Wit's End, written by Stephanie Tolan. Harper, 2012. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"Jake, as a staff member, ought to at least try to stop the roughhousing, she thought now. But he didn't. In fact, he tended to participate. If somebody punched him, he invariably punched back. What had the family been thinking of to make their resident juvenile delinquent a member of the staff?"

 In this sequel to Surviving the Applewhites, the quirky, humorous family is facing the loss of their home due to money mismanagement. What will they do to save it?

Randolph, father and creative genius, thinks he has happened on just the right plan to ensure the mortgage payments are made. They will turn their home, and its outbuildings and land, into a summer camp. Only creative children need apply and all disciplines will be considered. Jake, who was cast in the last book as Rolf in their production of The Sound of Music will be the singing coach. E.D. reprises her role as scheduler extraordinaire, always counted on for her formidable talent for order in a very chaotic household. Everyone must play a part in making Eureka! a bold success.

When the campaign to attract campers goes out, there is great hope for twelve campers. When only six apply, there are concerns; but, the show must go on. As the campers begin to arrive, we sense that events will not play out as expected. Creative and artistic children are often as emotional and fiery as their adult counterparts. Add to the diverse temperaments, a murky, muddy pond, fearsome goats, a dead possum on the side of the road, and a series of menacing missives meant to threaten the future of the camp, and you've got a story that will hold your attention and leave you with great respect for a family that works together for the greater good. Never certain about their father's grandiose plans, they are always ready to pull together to make them work. In doing so, they create a supportive and generous community for their young protegees.

E.D. and Jake do the detective work it takes to find the source of the government rules and regulations, to confront the man who keeps showing up with a clipboard and a air of suspicion about the workings of the camp, and to gather the troops to bring the threat to their home and happiness to an end.

It's good to meet up with old friends! They are back, and so familiar that you just want to hug them.

Bawk & Roll, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dan Santat. Sterling, 2012. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"The next gig will be better,"
 said Elvis. "Just chill, chicks."
"I know!" said Marge.
"Let's picture the crowd in their
underwear."
"Tightie whities?" Lola nodded.
"That should work."
But...
it didn't."

Which brings us to the further adventures of Marge and Lola, this time on tour with their idol. His attendance at the barnyard talent show resulted in his asking the hens to join him as his tour dancers. Imagine their delight!

As they board the bus and head out on the road, fame firmly on their radar, their farmyard pals offer good wishes and a hope for news from the road. They are off to their first gig at McDoodle's Barnyard and Peacock Farm. The crowd is thunderous and plentiful. Elvis seems unperturbed; not so, the hamstrung hens. They suffer their first of many performances giving way to stage fright. No matter what they try, the fear never leaves. In a burst of brilliance, they finally figure out what they are missing. Problem solved!

Again, it's the 'punny' language and deadpan humor that will keep the audience rolling in the aisles, and cheering for the chickens. The illustrations are filled with bold color, charismatic characters, entertaining  newspaper headlines and reports, effective and engaging changes in perspective and lighting that illuminates the action in all the right places. The endpapers roll right along with the tour bus. The back cover introduces Elvis' second album, aptly named Jailhouse Bawk: The Coop Sessions, that includes studio outtakes. The follow-up album's songlist is as funny as the first: Flying in the Chapel and Are You Lonesome in Flight? I wonder about the lyrics!

Chicken Dance, wirtten by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dan Santat. Sterling, 2009. $19.50 ages 5 and up

"Marge and Lola dusted themselves off and shook hay from their feathers. "Now what?" asked Lola. "We could try swimming," said Marge. Lola nodded. "Swimming chickens? Now that's talent! The chickens tottered to the pond. They jumped. They fluttered. They totally sank. The ducks swam by. "Get some floaties, chickens!"

Before I tell you about the sequel to this tale of two chickens and their rock star idol, I wanted to introduce Marge and Lola. They are enamored of Elvis Poultry and feel destined to win the grand prize in their barnyard talent show. If they win, they win tickets to the Final Doodle Doo concert tour, and see Elvis live! All bets are off for what they will do to secure that once-in-a-lifetime trip! They are certainly not encouraged by the vain and boastful ducks:

"Don't bother, drumsticks."
"Ducks win every year."
"All a chicken can do is bawk, flap, and shake."

Undeterred, they try their hand at any number of talents they feel they might showcase. Each failure brings new determination, and another attempt at surefire success. As they watch those who perform ahead of them, they are not impressed. When the cows jump over the moon, Lola is quick to respond to their performance:

"That's old."

When the ducks get a nine for their spectacular surfing safari, the chickens have second thoughts. As they take the stage, the ducks are relentless in their rude remarks. Fired by their fury over the heckling, Marge and Lola make a quick decision to show the crowd what they are best at...'let's bawk and roll!'

Dancing with the Stars might consider them as guests for the new season! They can strut with the best of them. The audience is enthralled, as is one surprise guest. That will lead to 'act two' for Marge and Lola.

Oh, that Dan Santat! He uses the endpapers to give the audience all steps needed to learn a variety of dances, including the Disco Chicken and the Chattanooga Choo Choo. It allows the fun to last long after the story is told. Having Dan and Tammi show their own dance moves is inspired. As are the artist blurbs on the back flyleaf. And we haven't touched on the illustrations in the book!

The front cover sports two star-struck biddies gaping in awe at a bling-bedecked, sunglass-sporting, poncho-wearing idol. The back cover has the song titles for his self-titled Elvis Poultry album. Songs include Can't Help Falling in Feed and Are You Ruffled Tonight? Too funny, by far! Accompanying  Tammi Sauer's wonderful wordplay and witty text, this is a book that is sure to occasion a repeat performance. It will leave listeners begging to hear some of Elvis' signature songs and perhaps even willing to try their 'feet' at one or two dance steps. The fun continues!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

William Shakespeare: His Life and Times, written by Kristen McDermott and Ari Berk. Candlewick, Random House. 2010. $24.00 ages 12 and up

"It is not known exactly when Shakespeare arrived in London, but around 1592 he began acting, perhaps for Lord Strange's Men - the company that performed his first plays, about King Henry VI. By 1594, he was listed as an actor-sharer - an actor and equal partner in the most favored theatre company in England, the Lord Chamberlain's Men."

This excellent biography is written in scrapbook form, purportedly from Shakespeare to his daughter Judith. It is meant to let her know about his life as he has lived it.

He has been away in London for a long time and is preparing to leave his theatrical life there to return home to Stratford where his family has been living without him. He worries about the upheaval it might cause:
"I have spent too little time in the spacious "New Place" I bought for us all in Stratford - you and Mother will no doubt have settled in your own ways in your fifteen years of living here, which I now mar with my quills and books and London habits."

It is packed with memories of the time he has spent acting and writing, creating a memoir for his daughter that she might know about his childhood and the schooling that was his, his life in London and the plays he wrote and acted in, the men who were his mentors and co-workers, and the changes he experienced as he lived away from his family.

He moved to London with the best of intentions - to provide for his family. He talks about his plays and adds small booklets with descriptive passages about some of the most famous ones. He tells her that each one was influences by the historical happenings of the time. Readers will enjoy the common language of the telling, the many envelopes, flaps, and descriptions that give a flavor for the famous writer himself and the world that had such an impact on him. I was intrigued by all there was included here, and leave the reading with a real sense of Shakespearean times.

It is a great introduction to his works, and would be most appreciated by anyone just coming in contact with one of Shakespeare's more famous plays. It will also appeal to those interested in the history of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The illustrations create understanding for the conditions and add depth to the telling. Sidebars include factual information adding historical context to some of his entries. It ends with his last will and testament, and a letter to Judith expressing his hopes for her future happiness:

"Just as Prospero saw Miranda married most comfortably, so too shall I rely on your making your heart's match. No need to rush, of course - young Thomas Quiney is not yet full master of his trade...HA! Methinks I see your eyes flash and brows knit with annoyance at those words, and hear you make denial that you feel more for him than kindness. Well enough."

See You at Harry's, written by Jo Knowles. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $19.00 ages 13 and up

"A tiny head pops up at the bottom of the window from inside. It has bushy brown hair. A little hand spreads across the glass and waves slowly. I smile and wave back. Inside, the restaurant's familiar sweet and greasy smell wraps around me. Charlie is sitting at the table under the window with Doll. Doll's hair has been twisted into dreadlocks and dyed green."

At the end of this book I felt that I knew Fern, and each of the characters who have an impact in her life. She is a brilliantly honest narrator, who loves her family while being so exasperated with them all that she can hardly stand it.

Her parents own and operate a restaurant cum ice-cream parlor that is the family business. Her father is consumed with finding new marketing ploys that are sure to attract  customers, even using his unwilling family in an embarrassing advertising campaign. Her mother meditates in an upstairs office to find peaceful moments away from the chaos. Her older sister Sara is grumpy and demanding, taking a year off between finishing high school and starting something new. Her older brother Holden is coming to terms with his sexuality and discussing his involvement with his first boyfriend. Her little brother Charlie, at 3 and much younger than his siblings, is a bundle of energy, annoying to the extreme at times, and loved by one and all.

Ran is Fern's school friend who has his own complicated history. He has found a way to remain calm in the face of every situation; his motto repeated often is  'all will be well'. His wisdom offers serenity when all else seems chaotic and overwhelming to Fern. Even Ran can't help when the unthinkable happens and the family is left to cope with their own grief and their feelings of guilt. As they struggle to find peace and each other, Jo Knowles keeps their story so real and absolutely unbearable. It is only as the siblings support each other and try to do the same for their distraught parents that readers find comfort in the small steps they are making toward a better place.

I have a special place in my heart for Fern as the narrator of this brilliantly written family story; each character holds its own as the story plays out. We come to know them intimately and while we do not always like their actions, we grow to honor them for the lives they live. We share their pain and live in hopes that they will find a way back from the sadness they are all feeling so strongly. Fern is tenacious in her honesty as she shares her pain and that of her family as they struggle through each new day.

Keep the tissue box close at hand and be prepared to think about this agonizing, then hopeful story in the days to come. You want to remember these people...their triumphs and their struggles, their joys and their sorrow, but most of all, their unconditional love for one another after unbearable heartbreak.

OH NO! NOT AGAIN! Written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat. Hyperion, Hachette, 2012. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Passing a current through an improvised Michelson-Morley device will minimize counter-radiation and inhibit entropy. Parametric down-conversion should commence no later than six seconds after initiation of the NIMTZ sequence to eliminate risk of lamb shift. Time dilation may occur once maximum velocity is reached."

Absolute proof that just because you can read it doesn't assure understanding. I have no idea what I just quoted from the endpapers of this hilarious new book from Mac Barnett and Dan Santat.

It has a lot to do with a time machine that is the second project of the scholarly, hard-working girl from their previous adventure in project development. Last time it was science; this time, it's history! Seems that first foray didn't deter her indomitable spirit for making things better...or so it seems.

An unacceptable grade on a history paper is the catalyst this time. One missed question about cave paintings and where they originated has her wanting to travel back and change history, assuring a perfect paper. It takes a few tries to get back to the right era, and she is willing to give it the go needed until she achieves success. Hilarity ensues as she attempts to instruct neanderthal cave dwellers to do her bidding. Mission accomplished by her own hand, and ready to hop back into her machine for the return journey, she has a big surprise in store.

Dan Santat brings his formidable talent to the telling, once again! He fills all pages, beginning with the complicated design plans on the endpapers. We are always close to the action as he uses ever-changing perspectives to keep us apprised of our young narrator's progress (or lack, thereof!). Along the way, readers get a short history lesson in the bold, expressive artwork done in Adobe Photoshop. I have read it through three times now; still, I keep finding new images and thinking new thoughts.

The cavemen are a riot and perfectly match Barnett's comical text. They stick paint brushes up their noses, chew color palettes, and seem totally unable to follow any given direction. When she brings out the spray paint they use it on each other. And, it doesn't stop there.

Kids will take great delight in poring over the pictures and practicing the dialogue. Don't miss the time transit loop which follows the story's conclusion, the inside cover of the book, or the poster that is included on the back of the paper cover. So much to see and appreciate about this fantastic team.

Funny to the point of absurdity and sure to find new fans, who will eagerly await the next spectacular installment in the life of this young miss!!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Under My Skin, written by Charles de Lint. Razorbill, Penguin. 2012. $21.00 ages 14 and up


"Elzie told me that some of the older animal people, like this Auntie Min, have been around for centuries. How's that even possible? More to the point, will it happen to us? Will we just stop aging?(...)Living forever. How weird would that be? It's be like you were a vampire without the icky blood-drinking or having to hide away all day from the sun."

I did not expect to love this book...and I was wrong, so wrong! I have read a lot of fantasy in my reading lifetime, but not in the past few years. So, when this title was the next to read on my jury list, I thought I would plow through and get it done! I had no idea! Now, I learn that Charles de Lint has 35 other novels that I had better check out. It is the great delight of being a reader, isn't it?

It is an urban fantasy, and the first in the new Wildlings series. Josh is the main character and we follow all that happens to him once he makes the discovery that he is a wildling. Nothing could have prepared him for his shape shifting ability until he becomes enraged by his mother's physically abusive boyfriend:

"He aims a kick at me and I come up off the floor. I know he's going to beat the crap out of me, but I don't care. And that's when it gets weird. It's me wanting to take a swing at him, but by the time I'm off the floor, I'm something else. Some kind of huge animal. My hand's a paw that slashes the side of his head and sends him reeling back into the hall."

It's been happening to other kids in Santa Feliz, a small California coastal city. Other teens are making headlines when they start shape shifting and become animals. It is causing wide-spread panic and has the FBI involved in trying to find each of the Wildlings.

Josh immediately tells his two friends, Des and Marina. In alternating chapters, Marina becomes the other first person narrator and helps readers understand the events from a second point of view. It is a tense and uniquely believable tale. I was interested from the get-go and always checking ahead to see if I could read 'just one more chapter'. Seems I could; I finished it quickly and with great satisfaction.

Josh deals with the changes and the huge emotional impact in such a normal way...concerned about how his life will be affected, excited that he has this new existence and ability, and wondering where it will lead in the future. Marina is unable to share her secret. She lives with the guilt that comes from that inability. There is amazing detail in this story, and the reader is never able to predict what might happen next. It's hard to determine who is trustworthy, what the implications of discovery might be, and how Josh will deal if others learn his secret.

I can't wait to hear the announcement for the release of the second book in this remarkable new fantasy series.

Fake Mustache, written by Tom Angleberger and illustrated by Jen Wang. Amulet, Canadian Manda Group. 2012. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"Inside was a huge factory floor with lots of machines and wires and conveyor belts. There was this big system of chutes that seemed to be carrying liquid snot. A machine nearest me had doors that slammed closed every few seconds. Then there'd be a whooshing sound. Then the doors would open again, and a whoopee cushion would fall out onto a conveyor belt."

Well, this is the third book that I have recently read from the pen of the prolific and very funny Tom Angleberger. While I am not a middle grade reader looking for comedy, lots of action and nonsense, surprises and very peculiar characters, I certainly understand the appeal!

I have a list of readers who will find in Fake Mustache the absurdity of a funny story well told. The author uses variety in form to tackle a number of plot twists. He uses two voices to flesh out his story of bank robbery, domination and politics.

When Lenny and Casper enter Sven's Fair Price Store intent on buying something from a long list of available products, Lenny is quick to advise:

I recommend it if you want to buy fake tattoos, fake noses, fake thumbs, fake eyelashes, fake tuxedo shirts, fake books that have secret compartments, fake laughter machines, fake fog makers, fake feet, fake teeth that you wind up, fake teeth that you stick in your mouth, fake gum that snaps people's fingers, fake dog poop, fake people poop."

But, he cautions the reader against one particular item:

"But the fake mustaches are just too good."

It's a lesson learned too late. Casper borrows money from Lenny to buy the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven. That is just the beginning of a roller-coaster ride that boasts bank robbery, passing the buck, hypnotism, and political upheaval. That mustache seems to be all Casper needs to take control of his country and then the world! Is that really all you need?
Pretty funny, well told and introducing a first person voice that leaves readers wondering if there is some other novelty in Sven's shop that might spark a dilemma of unbelievable proportions. What about the Nasal gun? Does it have some unique purpose in the real world?

While breezing through the relentless action, take time to note Jen Wang's wacky black-and-white illustrations that give readers a true sense of some of the ongoing mayhem. Be sure to check out the many mustache choices you might have if you happen to visit Sven's.

Under the Mound, written by Cynthia Heinrichs. Simply Read Books, Raincoast. 2011. $19,99 ages 12 and up

"I did. I turned to face the sea and put my hands together to say a quick word for the dead man's soul, though I doubted my prayers could aid him at that hour. Those of us still living under Margaret's influence were the ones in need of help, and so I prayed that what Paul had told me would save both me and Harald, as it had not saved him."

This was the last book that I read from my stack of 32 young adult novels sent from the CCBC for their fall Best Books for Kids and Teens journal. It was an inspiring list and, although it took up a good amount of my days throughout June and July, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to read some wonderful books I might otherwise have missed. That being said, it was a constant reminder to me of the importance of choice in the books that we read. I am an old(er) woman who lives, breathes and wonders at books on a daily basis; I found the pile daunting many days and struggled at times to ignore the other such books that were awaiting my attention.

What an introduction to this book! It took me a bit longer than I thought it would. The sage is 450 pages long; it took me longer to read than I would have thought, perhaps because it was the very last one. In fact, it was fairly easy to read once I really put my mind to it. It tracks Malcolm mac Alasdair's journey of service with Harald, Earl of Orkney. Malcolm's father has a loyalty to the Earl's deceased father and wants his son to travel with him as he seeks to regain the lands his cousin has earlier taken. Malcolm is not a willing participant. He would be much happier at home. The family is in dire straits and needs Malcolm to step up to the plate to help ensure their future success.

Malcolm is an interesting character. He doesn't really want to go; but, he does his best to deal with the hand he has been dealt. He is extremely seasick whenever they cross water, he is bullied and made fun of by the older men who make up the Earl's entourage. He is appalled by the beliefs of Thorir, a poet along to chronicle the trip, who tells stories of Odin and the Norse spirit world. He grows on the reader as the story progresses and I found myself wanting him to be happy and secure once the Earl won his rightful place.

Along the way he meets a very large cast of characters. He also experiences the cold and hunger that marked the times he is living in and the harsh environment that is Scotland and Orkney in the mid-twelfth century. Real life mixes with mythology as they shelter themselves from a wild winter storm in the mound of Orkahaugr.

Filled with action and encased in mystery, the story moves forward quickly. Each character has his own motives for accompanying the Earl and we are left to decide who we might trust. Two women play important roles, showing strength and persistence in making that role important to the telling.

This is a tale for a sophisticated reader who loves history, a lot of description and a number of people playing roles necessary to its final outcome. A list of characters and the inclusion of maps of both Scotland and Orkney prove valuable. If you like reading about other places in earlier times, this is a book to check out.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

One Special Day, written by Lola M. Schaefer and illustrated by Jessica Meserve. Hyperion, Hachette. 2012. $18.50 ages 2 and up

"Spencer was a boy.
He was strong -
strong as a

He was fast -
fast as a..."

New baby books are rarely as 'special' as this one! You know there are a lot of them, and new parents are always on the lookout. They won't find many that are as clever and heartwarming. Spencer is a boy who lives for adventure. He is like many in the animal kingdom; loving movement, noise, boasting, laughs, big messes and wild antics. When his parents bring home a new baby, Spencer adds another descriptor to his list...gentle. Spencer is a brother!

I've never seen a book quite like this for those welcoming a new sibling. Young children will love that they have a part to play in the reading, as the author allows them a chance to guess what might be described before turning the page. Thus, he was fast...and a turn of the page reveals but doesn't name the horse. Great descriptive words for budding conversationalists and lots of action as Spencer rolls from one place to the next. This is a charming and heartfelt tale.

So much is told in the digital oil pastel paintings. Before we read one word, we meet the wild and rambunctious Spencer gracing the endpapers with energy, and athleticism. The title page introduces a loving family, parents wrapping son in warmth and gentle kisses (big belly and overnight bag showing). As the car pulls away, Spencer and his babysitter watch and wave. Then, in a series of double page illustrations he spreads his wings and struts his stuff, sharing his world with a host of familiar creatures bent on showing what they do best. Then, it all changes...and Spencer does, too!

Beautiful! This is the perfect gift for a baby shower, or a first gift to the new family.

Surfer Chick, written by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Henry Cole. Abrams, Canadian Manda Group. 2012. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"So Chick and her dad
bought a shiny new board.
It was just the right size,
in a pink Chick adored.
Chick climbed on her board
to learn how to paddle.
But what happened next
was a foul-tempered battle."

I assure you that you will love this chick...she has pizazz! In her green and hot pink two piece bathing suit, she wants to learn from the best of them. She wants to be out on the water, and wrestling waves. She's got all the right stuff...and her dad can be her teacher. She is sure of that.

He does his best; she does the same. It is a learning experience in progress and takes some time. But, she is persistent, and she appears to have a natural talent. Despite that, the first wave is a disaster:

"It scrambled her focus
and filled her with doubt,
then slung her to shore -
a colossal wipeout."

Does she get right back on her board? Nope! First she sits in the sand and watches her dad and listens to his accolades. It's enough to send her straight back to the waves. This time, there may be uncertainty but there is no fear!

Henry Cole creates a charmer for his title character...she oozes spunk and determination. We watch every expression as it crosses her face, from dubious to determined, from bewildered to bent on success. Her eyes are always agog, no matter the situation. His acrylics and colored pencils fill the pages with bold color, humorous detail and glorious horizons. Kristy Dempsey uses rhyming text that begs to be read aloud and shared with anyone showing the slightest interest in being at any beach, and trying any new pursuit. What an adventure!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shannen and the Dream for a School, written by Janet Wilson. Second Story Press, 2011. $14.95 ages

 "Some children are sent to Earth for a special reason - to teach us. Such a child may only be with us for a brief time. When their purpose in life is fulfilled, the Creator calls them to return to the heavens. Shannen was an Okimaw. She taught many people. Her teachings will always guide us. Her spirit will always be there with us."

 In her acknowledgements at the back of the book Janet Wilson says: "I learned about Shannen Koostachin while collecting stories about young rights activists, mainly from poor developing countries. When I read Shannen's Peace Prize nomination, I was shocked that such injustice was happening in my own country. The determination of the children of Attawapiskat convinced me to help raise awareness by telling this story."

She was only 13 when she made the decision to get involved and begin working toward a new school for her community. The old one had been demolished when an oil spill underneath it caused health problems for all those children attending school there. The school had provided a welcome space for everyone in Attawapiskat. Now, the children attended school in old, drafty, odor-ridden portable classrooms. Many refused to attend.

Listen to Shannen's own words about education on her reserve:

"I would like to talk to you about what it is like to be a child who grows up never seeing a real school. I want to tell you what it is like to never have the chance to feel excited about being educated. It's hard to feel pride when your classrooms are cold, and the mice run over our lunches. You know that kids in other communities have proper schools. So you begin to feel as if you are a child who doesn't count for anything. That's why some of our students begin to give up in grade 4 and grade 5. They just stop going to school. Imagine that. Imagine a child who feels they have no future even at that young age. But I want to also tell you about the determination in our community to build a better world. "We are not going to give up." We want our younger brothers and sisters to go to school thinking that school is a time for hopes and dreams of the future. Every kid deserves this." 

Shannen posted a video on YouTube to show what was happening on her reserve. She wanted a decent school for her friends and their community. In the new vernacular, the video 'went viral' and people started demanding change. Shannen and her classmates made the trek to Ottawa to get even more attention for their plight. They had much to say about the underfunding for First Nations schools. The response from government officials was disheartening...15 years ahead, perhaps! Shannen would not quit.

In this fictionalized and well-written account of Shannen's quest for justice for Aboriginal schooling Janet Wilson gives voice to the issue. The young activist's untimely death in a car accident did nothing to stem the fight for a school in her home community. 'Shannen's Dream' was initiated to honor her memory, and findings concerning reserve schools were presented to the UN Rights of Children Convention this past winter. When will it change? What must be done to bring about that change? 

The captioned photographs found in each chapter, and the gathered quotes that underlie each chapter heading help readers understand the issues and give life to Shannen and her friends. The text of the book is followed by a historical note, a timeline, and a useful glossary that also includes meanings for the Cree words used in telling Shannen's inspiring story.

She left a legacy; her friends and family continue in her honor to find a way to make a difference.

 Here is a recently published timeline for their new school:

"January 17, 2012 - The project team evaluates submissions from nine general contractors. Six of the general contractors meet the qualification criteria.
January 25, 2012 - Design phase is complete. The 5,808-square-metre new school is designed to accommodate 540 students from Kindergarten to grade 8 and include a gym with a stage, a library, Cree culture and language facilities, computer labs, a home economics room, an industrial arts classroom, a music room, and a cafeteria.
January 26, 2012 - The Attawapiskat First Nation commences the tender period for the general construction contract.
February 7, 2012 - A pre-tender site visit with pre-qualified general contractors is conducted.
February 22, 2012 - Tender bidding closes.
March 2, 2012 - The Attawapiskat First Nation issues a letter of intent to Penn-Co Construction Canada (2003) Ltd. indicating its intention to hire the contractor to construct the new school."     

Environmentalists from our First Nations, written by Vincent Schilling. Second Story Press, 2011. $10.95 ages 13 and up

"Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a young woman from the Lubicon Lake Band of Cree in north-central Alberta, is a tar sands campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. She is passionate about the need to stop what the tar sands oil production is doing to the land her people have taken care of for centuries."

Education for Sustainable Development has become an important part of our children's school experience. It should be. Their world is a very different one from the one that sustained their parents and grandparents. They need to be educated to protect what is being lost every day that they live.

Aboriginal peoples have much to teach us about caring for our land, for treating it with the respect that it so richly deserves, and our spiritual connections to it. In this book, we meet ten environmentalists whose voices are being heard, and appreciated for the beliefs they share and the actions they take to protect and enlighten us and the world we inhabit. Their knowledge and commitment to environmental concerns provide leadership that informs change.

Their stories describe their own personal voyages of discovery within their communities and through the teachings of their elders, their search for better ways through study, and their leadership in change through their own social and political beliefs in respect to the environment that can and should sustain us. Each one shares ideas for making the world a better place while asking important questions about their own future. They show that being determined and having a passion for the rights of their people makes them role models who have accomplished much and have much left to do.

Here is a brief description of the ten:

"Melina Laboucan-Massimo uses her passion to stop oil extraction in Alberta’s tar sands.
Winona LaDuke is a voice for reclaiming Native lands, advocating renewable energy resources, and protecting Native cultures.
Clayton Thomas-Muller is a dynamic advocate for indigenous self-determination and campaigner against tar sands extraction.
Ben Powless brings his youthful energy and skills to addressing climate change issues.
Tom Goldtooth protects sacred sites and organizes global direct-action campaigns for the environment.
Grace Thorpe is a grandmother who dedicated her retirement years to keeping Native reservations from becoming nuclear waste dumps.
Sarah James is a voice from northern Alaska defending the Porcupine caribou herd and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Enei Begaye & Evon Peter are married activists who work as a team on environmental issues and sustainable strategies for Native people.
Klee Benally uses the media to empower Native communities in their fight for environmental justice.
Teague Allston works to ensure a tribal voice is heard in Washington DC."


I will leave you with a quote from activist Evon Peter:

"I used to think it was more about my family and my village and my people, but over the years I realized how close we are as a larger, growing global community and how acts in my own small village may affect a village on the other side of the world. When we talk about being involved in any kind of change these days, it is almost inevitable the impact will be beyond our own communities."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Great Writers from our First Nations, written by Kim Sigafus and Lyle Ernst. Second Story Press, 2012. $10.95 ages 10 and up

""I heard an elder speak of the importance of our languages and our culture. He said that our words are powerful, our stories are elastic, our languages are music; they dance, they move, and they are medicine for our people. He said they are a spirit within themselves, and we are only the channel that brings them to life. I write because I know what he said is true." (Nicola Campbell)

This is the latest in the series from Second Story Press called A First Nations Book for Young Readers. It is written in familiar form, and provides short biographical information about ten First Nations writers throughout North America.  The writers profiled are honored in the writing community for their voices and the contributions they make.

In alphabetical order they are:

Sherman Alexie, a Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Indian who lives in Seattle and has had his works published since the early 1990s. He is a poet, a writer of fiction, a film maker and the recipient of numerous awards and honors. I love this quote attributed to him in an information box that accompanies his short biography:
'If one reads enough books, one has a fighting chance. Or better, one's chances of survival increase with each book one reads."

Recently I read Louise Erdrich's newest book in The Birchbark House Series. I will tell you all about Chickadee (Harper, August 2012) soon. I have long admired her work and have read some of her adult stories. I would love to visit her bookstore in Minneapolis, called Birchbark Books. She is a prolific writer of aboriginal stories.

"Today she lives in a quiet Minneapolis neighborhood that is part of a vibrant urban American Indian community...she remains modest, describing herself as a woman from a small Midwestern town who loves words and gets more pleasure from walking in the woods than going on a cross-country book tour."

Others included are Joseph Boyden, N. Scott Momaday, Marilyn Dumont, Tomson Highway, Joseph Bruchac, Maria Campbell, Nicola Campbell and Tim Tingle. Each short chapter offers clear information and perspective for the career choices made, photos, informational sidebars and a partial list of their work to date.

In the last entry which profiles Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle, he gives advice to those who want to write:

"Learn to listen. Keep your eyes and ears open to everything around you. Listen to how people talk. Learn how to become part of the scene and step out of the scene and observe. Write what you know. But don't limit your experience to what you know now."  Great advice for every one of us!

Darth Paper Strikes Back, written and illustrated by Tom Angleberger. Amulet, Abrams. Canadian Manda Group, 2011. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"Dwight was just sort of staring at his food. He's been kind of depressed since Caroline, this girl he really liked, started going to this private school, Tippett Academy. So Dwight was moping around a lot, but he was still willing to let us ask Origami Yoda questions, which proves he's a really nice guy. He raised a finger, and there was Origami Yoda, ready to go."

Now I know why the hype for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. I did not read it, but am thinking that I had better get my hands on a copy. While the second installment can be read without the first, it would add drama and background for this seventh grade of tale of what happens following the sixth grade year and the intelligence and wisdom that Origami Yoda had shared with so many.

Seventh grade has barely had time to get underway when disaster strikes:

And then he goes, "Bom bom bom bom-ba-bomb bom-ba-bomb." Vader's theme.
And he sticks out his hand and there it is: an origami Darth Vader, made out of black paper, with shiny silver eyes and a red paper lightsaber."

Trouble has arrived in enemy form and the students turn to Origami Yoda for advice and guidance. Yoda is enmeshed in an unwanted battle with the dark side. Harvey wants to prove that Origami Yoda is fake and to that end, he wants Dwight, his creator, gone. When a cheerleader reports offensive advice given, Dwight and his puppet are suspended:

"Out of school kicked we have been."

Tommy and Kellen take it upon themselves to gather a 'case file' that will prove Dwight's innocence and have his suspension dropped. They will present the case file at a school board meeting. To that end, they gather evidence in written form from their classmates, expounding on the advice given and the value of both to his friends. Tommy gathers the stories, adding comments and allowing Harvey to have a say as well. Kellen is the artist, providing humor and pithy captions.

The drama is relevant to this book's audience and is sure to entertain. The many Star Wars references attest to its lasting impact on a new generation of movie-goers, and middle grade readers. Yoda has engaging wisdom to share, each remark is outlined to make them easy to find and revisit. Get this into the hands of 10-14 year olds on the first day in your class, and they'll be hooked and wanting your advice about what to read next. What a start to a new school year!

August is almost here! Be on the lookout for The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee, third book in the quirky and oh such fun series.

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, written by Julie Sternberg and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Abrams, Canadian Manda Group. 2011. $16.95

"Bibi loves cherries. 
Before she moved away, 
we used to sit at the kitchen table
with a bowl for me
and a bowl for her
and a bowl in the middle for the pits.
We'd eat all those cherries
and spit out the pits."

Eleanor is only eight when the babysitter she has loved since she was a wee girl must move to take care of her ailing father. Bibi will miss Eleanor as much as Eleanor will miss Bibi. It is a difficult time for our young narrator.

Her story is told in verse, with a clear voice and a great deal of honest emotion. Everywhere she looks there are constant reminders of the woman who has helped raise her, who has loved her unconditionally and who is loved back:

"Bibi is my babysitter.
She has been my babysitter my whole life.
She is the best babysitter in the world.
She makes me soup when I am sick.
She holds my feet when I do handstands.
She knows which of my teeth are loose
and which ones I've lost
and where I was when I lost them.
She rubs my back when I am tired.
She takes a needle and thread
and sews my pants
to make them fit right.
And she knows not to tickle me.
Because I hate to be tickled."

In this book that is funny and sad, ebullient and poignant, Eleanor voices her most personal thoughts and feelings. Young readers will find much in its pages that ring true for them and their own lives. She talks truthfully and with a strong voice while keeping it real from start to finish. Her parents understand how she is feeling and honor her right to say what she is thinking. They do their best to help her cope with the loss, and with all of the angst that she needs to share. Natalie, her new babysitter, is a wonder and will make sure that Eleanor has opportunity to adjust by giving her time and space to deal with her feelings about someone taking Bibi's place in her life:

"First babysitters are very special."
We started walking again.
Then Natalie said,
"I know I'm not Bibi.
And I'll never be your first babysitter.
But I'll try to be an excellent
second babysitter.
Does that sound okay?"
"Yes," I said.
And it sounded better than okay.
It sounded good."

Eleanor is coming around, and isn't that all we can ask? When a letter from Bibi arrives, Eleanor takes it to her room to read and discovers that the love she and Bibi share has not changed, while their circumstances have:

"Bibi will always be my first babysitter.
My very special babysitter.
And she will always be my Bibi.
Even if she is waiting for a breeze in Florida,
and I am far away."

Sadie and Ratz, written by Sonya Hartnett and illustrated by Anne James. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $17.00 ages 6 and up

"When Sadie grows up, she wants to be a dragon. When Ratz grows up, he wants to be a bigger Ratz. Ratz does what Sadie tells him to do. Together, they make a good team. This is what they do:

crush things up
twist and scrunch
scratch! scratch! scratch!"

What a great story! Easy to read straight through, and packing a powerful punch, it is Hannah's story. Her hands have names....you met them above. Sadie and Ratz can cause numerous problems for Hannah. Their actions are not generally pleasant, or entertaining except to themselves.

They really get busy when Hannah's pint-sized sibling, Baby Boy, is anywhere nearby. They watch his mischief and try to teach him a lesson that will keep him from repeating what he is doing. Write on the walls, expect an ear rub!

Baby Boy does not take kindly to the mistreatment and is always voices his displeasure. The typical response lands Hannah in hot water for bothering her little brother. The bad behavior escalates and Hannah is always on the hook for the trouble caused. Everyone is quick to blame her, despite her assurances that she is not the one at fault.

Fed up, she sends Sadie and Ratz on vacation. No more blaming them for things that happen. Discoveries are made that prove Baby Boy is not the upstanding citizen the family believes him to be:

"But Baby Boy was a good boy. At least, that's what everyone thought.
And then we guessed who had really been drawing on walls, spilling milk, stealing legs and breaking clocks. We all looked down at Baby Boy's hands.
Baby Boy smiled liked a happy, crazy monkey."

Wonderful charcoal illustrations perfectly match the tone and message of this truly inspired and entertaining tale. Scratchy, dark and full of expression and action, they add incredible depth to the telling.

I think that Maurice Sendak would truly appreciate Sonya Hartnett's newest book.

I do, too! And I think that you will...

Letters to Leo, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Julia Denos. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $17.00 ages 7 and up

"Don't you love that, Leo? Now we know something important. Miss Meadows likes kids AND dogs! I gave her the picture to keep. I like being a nice person, but I wish I had it back. I really love that funny picture.

Your dearest picture taker,
Annie."

I first met Annie in Remembering Mrs. Rossi (Candlewick, 2007) when she and her dad were struggling to come to grips with the death of their wife and mother. It was a gentle, loving book to share with children and teachers. That was a few years ago. Now, Annie and her dad are living in New York and welcoming a lively little pup named Leo. It has taken a while to convince her dad, and there are some issues as there seem to be with pets; but Annie loves Leo and she pours her heart out to him in a series of letters as she deals with life and the rigors of fourth grade.

After she writes them, she reads them to him. As we listen in, we hear about her worries, her triumphs, her concern for her lonely father. It's a great voice for early chapter book readers and they will be able to relate to many of the events that Annie shares with her beloved dog.

The letters come in all forms, and work as mentor writing for anyone wanting to try the format. They begin with Leo's arrival in early November and are written regularly through mid-July. Sometimes funny, often thoughtful, and even quite sad, Annie is able to share her innermost feelings through them:

"I think mostly my father looks a little lonely at night...when he falls asleep on the couch and the lights are still on and his clothes are still on and there's always a book on his belly. He dreams about my mother, and in his dream he's not lonely anymore."

There are letters and lists, rules and assignments and many wonderful detailed illustrations to accompany each. Readers will find much to appreciate and ponder when this book is shared, or read independently.

With great excitement she gives final instructions to Leo about the visitor to their summer beach home. They are off to meet her at the train from the city, and she wants Leo to be on his best behavior. She tells him that...and adds a p.s.:

"By the way and in case you were wondering, I know about the possibility of romance. I watch TV."

I hope that's a promise for more about the Rossi family. Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hand Book, written and illustrated by Jeff Newman. Simon & Schuster, 2011. $18.99 ages 2 and up

"One hand.

Two hands.

Two hands clap."

While I'm on a roll with books for early readers, I want you to know about another book from Jeff Newman. I have posted about Hippo! No, Rhino, and The Boys. I've not seen Reginald. What I have seen, I love. This is no exception.

Jeff Newman uses his formidable talent to create a set of hands that have much to share. They tell the story of life and finally, of love. Beginning with the chubby baby hands that discover one another in order to make a clapping sound, they move through the life of a child. From that early clapping to realizing they can make music, to using them for eating and balance. Then, when old enough, they hold their owner on a swing and allow him to swing free.

As we watch, the child grows, goes to school, graduates, seeks work that he loves, meets someone special and starts the cycle all over again. Just lovely!!!

The line drawings done in ink, permanent marker and gouache leave the reader feeling satisfied and in awe of what can be accomplished with short phrases, rhyme and white space. We are always focused on the hands, their development, their colors, their abilities.  A very 'hand'some book!

Squish Rabbit, written and illustrated by Katherine Battersby. Viking, Penguin. 2011. $15.00 ages 2 and up

"No one noticed Squish,
or listened to his stories.

Being little was lonely.
So Squish made a friend.

It worked for a while.

But pretend friends
can only do so much."

This book is all about a beautiful blend of text and art. Together they create a memorable story. It is a fine debut for this Australian author.

"Squish was just a little rabbit."

In fact, he's so little that he is barely noticeable. He is rarely seen or heard, and he's lonely. Who can't relate to that feeling? Tales of longing for friendship are not unusual; it is always lovely to see a fresh, new take on the difficulties faced.

When the homemade bunny doesn't solve his 'lonely', Squish tries something new. He thinks he will find a friend in the trees that are nearby. It doesn't work either. As all youngsters are wont to do when they don't get their way, or things don't work out as they had planned, Squish throws a rousing tantrum. He has no idea that someone is watching. When he sends an apple flying, the young and joyous witness anticipates a game afoot. Chasing the apple, he is unaware of the danger he is facing.

Squish is frightened by the expected outcome of the race toward the cliff edge, and cries a warning. The squirrel stops, and finds his way back to his new friend!

This is a story that will hold strong appeal for those who share it. The text is easy to read, straightforward and written without a single unnecessary word. The artwork is collage, and shares the simplicity of the story. Squish appeals from our first glimpse of him, floating through air while grasping the string of a red balloon. All expression is shown in his eyes, and his actions. Using mixed media ensures that we get a textual feel for each and every image. It's so beautiful...it makes sharing it an event!

Now you can join me as I anticipate the release of his second tale, Brave Squish Rabbit, set for release in the fall.

ME WANT PET! Written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Bob Shea. Simon & Schuster, 2012. $17.99 ages 2 and up

"Me want pet!
"Ug," grunted Mama.
"He too big.
Where he sleep?"
Cave Boy gave Woolly a hug.
"Me wish you could stay, pal."
Then Cave Boy tried again."

It is a universal story, with a great new twist. How many kids can you name that have never asked for a pet? I'll bet that number is very minimal, right? Cave Boy is no different.

He has lots, and he knows it. He doesn't have a pet. He begins a search for one. That search takes him far away and results in a woolly mammoth. It's a perfect pet...provides transportation, offers safety and warmth. You know how Mama feels.

The search resumes...not near and far this time, rather high and low. Will a saber-toothed tiger be acceptable? I think you know the answer to that question, too. Now, it's across, and over, and through! What can be wrong with a sobbing, lonely, baby dodo? There can't possibly be any issues with a tiny baby bird.

I'll leave you to discover what happens when a stampede threatens everyone, including the young dodo bird!

I guarantee you'll be talking 'cave boy' when you finish reading this book as many times as it is sure to be requested. And the kids will, too. Bob Shea creates a prehistoric world that is just as we would imagine it. The story itself is a winner! Taking an idea that many have chosen to write about, and  giving it a brand new twist is sure to make this a story time winner. The arguments are the same. The animals are quite the opposite, and yet.... Bob Shea runs with the idea in the back story creating drama and mood through use of an ever-changing color palette. The thick outlines are reminiscent of cave paintings, leaving readers feeling taken back in time to hear an age-old tale of family conflict.

I can hear the plea: Me like that story. Read again!

Love Waves, written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells. Candlewick, Random House. 2011. $18.00 ages 2 and up

"As I leave, I see you wave.
I have to go to where I must be,
serving cookies, cakes, and tea.

Tell me that you'll miss me.
I will miss you more.
I must go down in the subway train,
then up to the highest floor."

Here is another in today's group of books for early readers. It won't take long for those keen to know about words to start reading this one independently. It has detailed, charming artwork to spark interest and to reflect on some of the experiences that its readers may also have. Many parents work these days and most children must deal with separation anxiety. They need reassurance that, no matter where their parents are or what they are doing, their beloved children are on their minds. Love binds us together always!

There are two linked stories here, each describing the parents' work environments and the love they share with their little one. Mama leaves at 7 a.m. and returns in time for Daddy to go to work at 7 p.m. We watch as they work, and send their love (on love waves) from wherever they are. They wonder about their child's activities when they are not there to share them.

The soft edges of the brightly colored pastel artwork ooze charm and whimsy, while the gentle rhyming text makes this a delightful addition to a preschooler's book shelf. Parents will want to share the reassuring message, and listeners will love hearing it. The shiny teal ribbon that depicts those waves of love add sparkle and will attract attention.

Night Knight, written and illustrated by Owen Davey. Candlewick, Random House. 2012. $18.00 ages 3 and up

" I head down the hallway...

and climb the stairs.

Then I have a bath...

and brush my teeth."

I cannot do justice to this imaginative and beautifully drawn nighttime adventure. Going to bed is often a challenge for little ones; parents can attest to that. To say that for this little boy is to understate it entirely!

You get a sense of adventure, with a touch of fatigue, upon first meeting said knight on the cover. Open that cut-out invitation and discover the same young boy sporting a colander on his head. The mouth is yawning, the eyes are closed...bedtime is in the cards. Much will happen prior to the final descent into slumber.

The title page pictures the young man as artist drawing a trusty steed, fashioned after the unicorn-type model that sits atop his drawing table. A yawn erupts from both boy and knight. Their pages face each other, as both succumb at the end of a busy day. With each turn of the page we are privy to the shared adventures of the ritual...both real and imagined.

The collage artwork is glorious and heraldic; using a palette of deep burgundy, tangerine, and harvest gold, Owen Davey composes his pages to show readers what a true knight's quest might encompass. Using wide variety in perspective we watch as the young knight crosses crocodile-infested waters, bids bold dragon Rex good night, makes his way to his castle home, climbs the turret to his bedroom window, lowers his dark-inducing visor and bids his mighty steed good rest.

A simply written text, familiar to the nightly routines of most young children, is made adventurous and compelling in the detailed medieval illustrations.   Watch carefully, there is much to discover!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Boy Who Invented TV, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Greg Couch. Random House, 2009. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"Philo's father shared his wonder. On clear summer nights, as they lay in the grass and gazed at the stars, his father told him about Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, Thomas Edison and the phonograph. Inventors - these became Philo's heroes."

Television? What are your early memories? One of the best Jack and I have is of our next door neighbor, who at the time had the only television in the neighborhood, hauling it out to the front lawn so we could gather round and watch The Roy Rogers Show. It was such fun to sit with all of our friends outside and ride along with Roy and Dale. I also remember watching wrestling with the whole family, and gaping in wonder at the 'fights' each week. I am sure there are many more early memories I could dredge up; you don't need to hear them.

So, I was interested in reading this picture book biography of Philo Taylor Farnsworh and his lasting and remarkable invention. I had never even heard his name. Yet, he filed 150 patents after sharing a passion for invention with his father.

The brain is an amazing thing. The always inquisitive young man was taking care of the farm while his father worked another job when he was eight years old. It allowed him a break from school and he used any spare time he had to read his grandmother's Sears Roebuck catalogue and wonder at the power of electricity, needed for many of the articles found in those pages. His early life consisted of hard work and a great deal of learning, always asking and expecting answers to his questions.

When the family moved to Utah, they lived in a house that had electricity and a stack of old science magazines in the attic. Perfect fodder for an inquiring mind, and the start of a new passion. Philo saved whatever money he could to buy more. It was in one of those magazines that he first read the word 'television', not yet invented but on the horizon. At 14, he figured it out while sitting in a plowed field. His science teacher was impressed with his knowledge and encouraged him to study further in college; that dream ended with his father's death.

It took time, and much investigation, before Philo's obsession with television led to a chance to build his first model. He needed financial backing and got it; the stipulation was that it would be completed within a year. He worked endlessly and at last he had a demonstration model ready. It failed. More investors and more hard work. Today, he is credited for all that work. In his lifetime, he grew disheartened with it and didn't want his children to watch what was being broadcast. Then in 1969, his opinion was altered:

"...with the televised landing of an American spacecraft on the moon, he and just about every other American watched this historic event at the same time. Only then did he feel that TV was becoming the worthwhile machine he'd envisioned."

Kathleen Krull did her homework and shares Philo's life from his birth until the papers proclaimed him 'a young genius'. Now, he was on a plain with his heroes - an inventor!

Greg Couch has created inspired artwork that allows readers to gain real perspective on this little known man and his many accomplishments. Be sure to check out the endpapers which give a retrospective of the television as it has evolved through the years. The colors are vivid, the use of light and dark intriguing, and the scenes clear and inspiring...a perfect fit for the man being honored in this excellent picture book biography.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

And What Comes After a Thousand? Written and illustrated by Anette Bley. Kane/Miller, 2007. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"FOUR is for the four corners
of your favorite pillow," Otto
goes on, "and FIVE is for our
legs!" "Plus your cane," adds
Lisa. "All our legs plus my cane.
Did we get any farther?"
"SIX was for the tomato plant
stakes in your garden. SEVEN
was for the days of the week..."

Death is a very difficult concept for young children. Sharing a soft and gentle book like this might help to ease the sadness and help them understand the loss of a loved one.

Lisa and Otto are long time friends. They share walks and talks, the earth and sky, and joy and sorrow. Otto has much to share with his young friend; he's especially good at guidance and patience. They wander the farm and garden, look to the skies and wonder at the infinity of numbers:

"FIFTEEN, SIXTEEN, SEVENTEEN," Lisa and Otto count together as they spit the cherry pits onto their plates.
"Exactly SEVENTEEN EACH!" Lisa beams. "Otto, where do numbers come from, anyway?" Otto thinks for a long time. Finally he says, "I think they're just inside of us..."

When Otto can no longer get out of bed, Lisa sits with him and holds his hand, each drawing comfort from the other. And when Otto dies, Lisa does her best to understand what has happened. She misses her friend, his wisdom, his gentle winks and his companionship. Olga helps her come to terms with why he left and how much she missed him by having her imagine a beautiful and delicious birthday cake. She explains that although Lisa can't see the cake, it is there. By thinking about Otto and the many wonderful things they did together, he will stay close.

"You know, Olga," she says after a little while,
"Otto is like numbers. He's inside of us, and that will never end."

As with all beautiful picture books, the text and illustrations work in perfect harmony.  The pastel artwork in the first half of the book exudes joy in its bright colors, diffused light and happy smiles. When Otto takes to his bed, the mood is quiet and melancholy. Each page is filled with emotion. The perspectives are ever-changing and add wondrous depth to the telling. I wish I could share them all.

One of my favorites has Otto and Lisa sitting on a rock wall star-gazing. Her one arm is comfortably stretched over his round belly, while his arm encircles her and she holds his hand on the other side. Pure contentment and absolutely gorgeous. I could say the same for many others, but will leave it for you to discover when you get a copy of this soft, comforting tale of friendship and death. Despite the sadness of its message, it makes me want to join Lisa in a 'happy dance' of celebration for Otto's 'forever' place in her heart.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

the Right and the Real, written by Joelle Anthony. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2012. $19.00 ages 14 and up

"One minute, I was calmly strategizing, thinking about what a great story my teen hardships would be on late-night television someday, and the next, like a pot of water coming to a slow boil, starting right down in my gut, this huge surge of fear and pain pushed its way through my chest, slamming against my heart and into my throat. In a split second, I went from a girl with a plan to a gasping and sobbing mess."

Here is another of those young adult novels that, once begun, was very hard to put down. When Jamie meets Josh at school and falls hard for him, she begins attending his church, and encourages her father to do the same. The Right and the Real has a large membership and promises spiritual healing for those in need of it.  Jamie's father is looking for that, and he is soon swept up in all of its promises. Jamie is not so sure.

Jamie is living with her father because of her mother's substance abuse and a recent move to find a new life for herself. Her father is a recovering alcoholic whose own dying father set up a trust that allows the two to live comfortably. Jamie has dreams to moving to New York with her best friend to find work acting, when school finishes. It is her passion and she has applied to a drama school there.

At church, her father meets Mira. Jamie is happy for her father; but she has reservations about the control the church seems to be taking of their lives. When her father decides to marry Mira, Jamie acts as bridesmaid and is required to sign a pledge to follow the strict rules set by The Preacher and to live within the church community. She can't do it! She runs.

Subsequently, her life falls apart. Her father will not see her, or have any contact with her. Jamie is left on her own, with her small savings account, her car and her 'things' which she finds piled outside her father's house when she returns home from school, having decided that she will sign the pledge and have her life return to some form of normal. It's too late.

The rest of the story powers forward with Jamie learning much about life and living. She doesn't want to tell her friends about what has happened for fear they will tell their parents. If they do, she is sure that she will be sent to live with her mother, or put in the foster care system. She is months shy of her eighteenth birthday when she can legally live on her own. She finds a less-than-lovely motel that will rent her a room week to week. Terrified of these living conditions, and trying to keep herself safe, she meets LaVon. He is a caring ex-con who lives in the room next to hers, and offers friendship and protection when she needs it. He also helps her learn to cook, clean, trust, and ultimately believe in herself.

She struggles with so much pain...of betrayal and rejection, of keeping her life together as she feels it falling apart around her, of the secretive nature of her relationship with Josh now that she has been outcast from his church. She does not give up on her father, or herself. She bravely forges ahead, showing determination and a willingness to do what needs to be done to pursue her dreams and free her father.

Her first person voice takes the reader right to the heart of her struggle. She is a great character, worthy of our admiration and attention. The final tense scenes give hope that Jamie and her father may again find love and a peaceful, happy life.
 

Huff & Puff, written and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Abrams Appleseed, Canadian Manda Group. 2012. $13.95 ages 3and up

"Can You Blow Down
the Houses of the Three
Little Pigs?"


Do you need more invitation than that? I surely hope not.

In this classy little version of the fairy tale that pits pigs against a huffing and puffing wily wolf, we get to be the huffers and puffers.

I love these pigs right from the start...they are readers, and they are seriously considering visitors who might come to their new homes in their choice of book. One is reading about how 'oinkful' cooking can be, the second is learning about keeping guests happy during their visit, and the third has already scanned a cookbook and found a recipe for an inviting dessert. What more can we ask, if we are going to try blowing their houses down?

The cutout on the front cover offers an opportunity to see those pigs, and provides a  open invitation to make our way inside. We note, on the title page, that these are industrious little porkers, all with a goal in mind. They have the means, the materials and the chutzpah to get right the construction of a new house for each of them.

The text is one line per double page spread and gives an attentive preschooler all that is needed to move forward to our part in the story. Wait for it...the house is built, the pig is happy and now it's our turn. HUFF and PUFF! OOPS! Score a victory for us; leave behind one very disgruntled pig, clutching a whisk and a bowl of eggs. Dinner prep is curtailed with no house for protection.

There's a lot to see as we eagerly take the wolf's role and blow our way from house to house. Then, there are the bricks! What now?  You will never guess!!!

A perfect chance for little ones and their parents to realize the brilliance of the picture book, and the great joy to be had in sharing a story.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Oink-A-Doodle-Moo, written and illustrated by Jef Czekaj. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Oink-a-doodle-moo.

Pass it on.

Oink-a-ribbit-moo.

Pass it on."

You know where I'm going, don't you?

If you ever played the telephone (we called it 'gossip') game with your own kids, or with your school kids, you will know how much fun it can really be. It was always amazing to me how much the initial message could change, and how many times the kids wanted to repeat the game to see if it might be different the next time.

So, if you are not prepared to read this book repeatedly, or to play ten games of telephone when you have finished the multiple readings, then don't get started! I guarantee that once is not enough...

It starts with the pig, as you can tell from the cover. He has a secret to share, and he chooses to share first with the rooster. As it passes from one farm animal to the next, the message gets longer and more and more fun to repeat. Kids will be giggling when it finally gets to the cat who must pass it to the dog. The cat wants assurance that the dog can listen to and then keep the secret, of course.

Is the dog capable of the task at hand, and who is next in line for hearing it?

So, listen to the secret, check out the sound effects and try to keep a straight face as the secret words get longer and more complicated with every 'pass it on'. Be sure to watch the pig's face closely as the dog does his level best to forward the secret. Will he be defeated by it? What will the pig do next?

Laundry Day, written and illustrated by Maurie J. Manning. Clarion, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $17.99 ages 5 and up


"Hello, mister.
Did you lose this?
Now, what would I do
with a blanket so small?
Thanks for grabbing my hat,
sonny! Maybe the blanket
belongs to the noisy little fella
who's howlin' all the time?"

If you want a trip to New York City in an earlier time, check out this gorgeous book. It's great fun, and filled with images that are memorable and sure to encourage discussion.

It's tough to make money when your job is shining shoes, and most of your neighbors are trying to earn enough to put food on the table. The streets are filled with horses and carts, the skies with laundry. It's wash day!

As our young hero seeks his fortune with those who people the streets, he becomes quite disillusioned. It seems no one has money to buy his services. Sitting on a curb with his head and broken heart in his hands, his kitten at his side, he looks up to see a pigeon drop a flowing red scarf down on him. It boost his spirits and causes him to look for its source.

Above him he sees only a distant bird and lines of laundry flying in the breeze. Determined to find the scarf's owner, he begins his ascent, using boxes, balconies, laundry lines, ladders and drainpipes. His feline companion never leaves his side. The search takes him on a multicultural adventure. A Chinese woman offers a mooncake and makes a suggestion as to who might be the owner.  Nope...so, he's on to the next place, always helpful and learning something new about his neighbors.

It doesn't belong to the Ukrainian lady with the squawking baby, or the Italian organ grinder with the mischievous monkey, or the Polish sisters who would love to use it for their tea party. Will he ever find its owner? Along the way he helps where he can, learns a few new words, partakes of his neighbors' hospitality and finally finds the most grateful owner. Happy now, he returns to the street in a far less circuitous way, only to have another scarf float down to him. Perhaps it will boost his business, make him more noticeable!

The illustrations will hold attention from beginning to end for all who share this book. The graphic design holds great appeal, the ever-changing perspectives offer a real sense of adventure. The young man's ability to scale walls, thin laundry lines and balconies are sure to elicit some 'oohs' and 'aahs' as he travels from one apartment to the next, always willing to help while continuing his search. I'm still poring over the details on my third time through it. I love this book!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wumbers, writt10 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustr8ed by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle Books, 2012. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"4give me,
4 this is bel8ed,
but it seems once again
I have overinfl8ed."

Oh my gosh, my brain is working overtime trying to think of even MORE 'wumbers'. I'm sure it will be on my mind as I go about my day and will certainly be first and foremost as I write this post.

Their dedication reads: "We dedic8 this book 2 William Steig, the cre8or of C D B! (cer10ly the inspiration for this book) and so many other cla6." I hope they wanted us to see that 'for' could also have been numerated (is that a word?). If not, I was just too attuned to wumberful thinking when I got to the end of the book and read it. It is addicting, don't you think?

I clearly remember the delight that my own kids and my kids at school exhibited when we first shared C D B! and C D C? when I discovered them in the early 1980s. It was such a great way to get them thinking outside the box, and really looking at words. It is not surprising that these collaborators who love and honor wordplay would find another way to exhibit their talents.

The fun begins in the endpapers:

"Are you usually prompt, or do you 10d 2 be l8 and keep others w8ting?"

You get the addiction? It WILL be on my mind all day long. The words used are not always simple. Vocabulary becomes quite sophisticated on some of the pages, and will require careful thought at times. That is the beauty of the book...it will appeal to a wide range of readers and encourage many to take their own shot at this cool concept. If you listen carefully, you will hear readers trying out the inventive text, and offering a smug smile of satisfaction when they succeed in unravelling the mystery on each page.

Using ink, pastels, bright eye-catching color, and expressive faces, Tom Lichtenheld helps when help is needed. His illustrations create small vignettes that perfectly match the text's wordplay. Lest you think this will just encourage even more abbreviated communication than Twitter feeds and texting already do, think clearly about the knowledge of language and its sounds that young readers will need for often complicated deciphering. Then, see what happens when they give their attention to trying it for themselves. I'm off to do some of my own 'wumbering'!

To quote the collaborators: "2dles" and "L8er allig8or!"

Another Brother, written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Feiwel and Friends, 2012. $18.99 ages 4 and up

 
"So, he spent the rest of the day alone.
Wonderfully...
gloriously...
completely...
utterly...
awfully...
alone."


This is not your usual 'big brother' story...it's much funnier! Davy, his mom and dad have happily shared life and love for four years. They are a contented sheep family. Davy is the center of attention and basks in the wonder of it all. Then, Petey makes his presence known:

"When Davy sang, Petey cried.
When Davy knitted, Peter spat up.
When Davy sheared, Petey "needed potty."
And if that wasn't enough..."

The enough adds up to twelve baby brothers who love having Davy in their lives and aping every single thing that he does. It seems there is nothing he does that his brothers don't just love. Soon, it's driving Davy bananas! Since I haven't read it aloud to anyone, I have to imagine their response. There are so many spots that allow for brief pauses, rolled eyes and drama. I can't wait to share it. I think it will be especially effective in a small group or with one listener as there is so much to see in Matthew's humorous rendering of life with Davy and his siblings.

From Petey throwing up on the scarf that Davy is so meticulously knitting to the animated antics of the enamored brothers following their ovine idol in varying stages of competence, Matthew Cordell encourages eagle-eyed attention to his droll characters and his action filled pages. The parents look suitably exhausted by the mayhem and thoughtfully encourage Davy to 'hang in there' until the phase passes. When that suddenly happens and his elation subsides, Davy is not sure he likes it.

Imagine his surprise when a new voice echoes his every sound!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Voiceless, written by Caroline Wissing. Thistledown Press, 2012. $15.95 ages 14 and up

"Only the week before, Tully, Big Jerome and I lay in the straw in the loft of the big hay barn and Tully joked that when Mary and Bobby stood next to each other, they looked like a bowling ball beside a pin. I stole a guilty smile. Tully hadn't meant any meanness by it, and the image was true blue. Mary was enormous and Bobby the toothpick opposite."


Mary and Bobby and their Noble Spirit home welcome teenage foster children. Not many places do. Ghost, Char, Tully, Big Jerome and Graydon are very lucky to have such warm and welcoming foster parents and an environment that demands work while allowing for being part of a family. Everyone has chores and each of the teenagers has much in common with the rescue horses that Mary has collected. They are learning to care about each other, as much as possible given their circumstances. 


Caroline Wissing has a special place in her heart for lost children. She shared her thoughts in a recent interview with Kevin Craig at www.trythisbookonforsize.blogspot.ca:


"I dislike social injustice in all its forms, and find social injustice crops up as a theme in a lot of my writing. Homelessness is a national shame and should be everyone’s concern. In terms of teens, I was one and I remember how difficult it was to manage my emotions. I’m now parenting a teen and a preteen and I see how much they struggle with the pressures and choices that they have to make. I find teens need a parent, or at least a positive role model, more at this age than they did when they were younger, although they don’t seem to know it.

Without a stable a home, teenagers are terribly vulnerable. I think they want the same thing we all want: to feel safe. I’m not qualified to give advice to struggling teens, but it helps to remind them that these are probably the toughest years of their lives, of anyone’s life. Anyone who tells a teen that these are their best years is doing more harm than good."

She gives remarkable first person voice to Ghost, aka Annabel, whose drug-addicted mother gave her up to her grandmother years ago, and whose mother's drug-addicted boyfriend (high on drugs and looking for easy money) kills Ghost's Granny in a rage. Ghost is off to her first foster home, unable to talk and not knowing exactly why. Life up until now has been traumatic and unsettling. Her days with Mary and Bobby bring some joy and contentment, as well as temptation and torment. Graydon is last to come and to say he upsets the apple cart, is putting it mildly. Ghost falls instantly in love and refuses to see any signs that he is anything but exactly what she wants.
 
Her vulnerability leads her to strike out with Graydon for an independent and better life in Ottawa. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I found it very hard to read about her many struggles in her bid for a new life. After another terrifying and life-changing encounter she finds the strength to leave, becoming homeless and eventually ill enough to hallucinate. Following the Tully who speaks to her in her dreams, she walks into the path of a car and ends up in hospital. There, she finds the help she has needed all along...people who care for her broken legs and physio and a neurologist who makes an interesting connection to her speechless state.

With help and guidance from people who come to care about her, and a bequest from her unknown grandfather, Ghost begins to fashion a life that makes her happy. She reunites with Mary and Bobby, searches endlessly for and finally finds Tully, and forgives the others who have shared her previous life. There will be some who say that the ending is pat, and perhaps too right. I think that Ghost deserves it!  She is an admirable young woman who lives through more adversity than many can imagine. She has stamina and determination to make her life better despite all that has happened to her.  

This is not an easy read, but it is worth every uncomfortable moment, and 'Anna' is an unforgettable and honorable young woman...one who gives readers pause to consider life and what we make of it, and one who might just act as that role model another struggling teen needs. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chloe, written and illustrated by Peter McCarty. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Soon, everyone came to the table for peas, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, noodles, and sweet potatoes, all their favorite foods.
After dessert, all the Bunnies crowded around the television. Everyone except Chloe and little Bridget."

If you read and coveted Henry in Love (2010) as I did, you will not be surprised with your delight at meeting up with Chloe once more.  If you are like me, you will have a better understanding of why she captured Henry's heart. She is a captivating critter.

Born right in the middle of a family of twenty-one children (you will know how that is possible if you have read Emily Gravett's hilarious The Rabbit Problem), Chloe is content. She has lots of company, and obviously the days are full of activity. But her best time of the day is at the end, "when her whole family was together. She called it family fun time."

Obviously we don't know what generally happened during family fun time since we are just meeting Chloe's bunny family; but when a television becomes 'center' of attention and Chloe is no longer feeling in the middle, she is not pleased. She does not succumb to its allure, and convinces her little sister that there is fun to be had elsewhere. It doesn't take more than bubble wrap and a big cardboard box.

The Bunnies have it right with their chosen diet (as Michael Pollen would say...eat food, mostly plants, not too much!); and Chloe seems to have family time firmly rooted in fun. A women with a mind of her own, and a will to make things better. Well done, Chloe!

As you pore over the cream colored pages filled with soft pastel images of the Bunny family, you will wonder at Peter McCarty's talent. He makes his characters the focus of our attention with little background clutter to distract us. Each bunny is carefully drawn to give us insight into its character; you can begin to imagine that they each have a story to tell. I wonder?