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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nelson Mandela, words and paintings by Kadir Nelson. Harper, 2013. $19..99 ages 8 and up

"Together they stood and fought apartheid. The state vowed to put Nelson in jail and he went underground. He wore different disguises and lived in the shadows. Empty flats, farmhouses, and bedrooms of friends became Nelson's home while he organized more rallies and protests. The police put out a warrant for his arrest but they could not find him.

Nelson Mandela, at almost 95, remains a hero to the people of South Africa and to the rest of the world. His health and well-being are a topic of conversation and concern for all those who hold him in their hearts for the work he has done and the pain he has endured.

It is obvious that Kadir Nelson has the utmost respect and admiration, as well. He has created this exemplary picture book biography with the same care and consideration for his subject as he did last year for I Have a Dream, winner of the ALA Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. You need only look at the remarkable cover to know the extent of that admiration. It is almost unbelievable that the man can seem so ageless and energetic. He appears to be looking right at his audience, filled with warmth and respect.

The book is such an homage to Mr. Mandela, telling his story simply and without embellishment. Kadir Nelson lets his elegant artwork do much of the telling, using only the exact number of words needed to let his readers come to know this very special man:

Nelson grew into a young man
and attended fine schools
in the golden city of Johannesburg,
where Africans were poor
and powerless.
Nelson became a lawyer
and defended those
who could not defend themselves.

The pairing of text and art is powerful and inspirational. Nelson grew up with village elders who taught him to take great pride in his land and its history. When apartheid reared its ugly head, he knew that he must do something. He led protests, organized rallies and worked tirelessly for racial equality. His dream came to a sudden end:

"With a vision for peace and harmony,
Nelson felt renewed and ready
to fight for his freedom.
But on a drive to town
he was captured,
arrested and taken to jail.
The people cried
"Free Mandela,"
"Free Mandela."
Wet paint
and posters
covered South African walls."

His imprisonment lasted for more than twenty-seven years and when he was released, he was an old man. But, still he celebrated and urged those who listened to forget the past and build a better future.
The oil paintings are luminous and powerful. Perspectives change, allowing young readers to see Nelson Mandela grow from determined child to brilliant leader, from young man to elder statesman, all the while showing concern for his people and their beautiful country. Whether seen through a wide-angle lens or in extreme close-up, every piece of art pays tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela. It is a very special book! 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Penny and Her Marble, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. Harper, 2013. $14.99 ages 5 and up

"Penny looked around.
No one was watching.
Penny picked up the marble.
She put the marble
in her pocket.

Then Penny raced home
with Rose.

Penny and Rose are back, and their young fans will be delighted. The two love being outside. Penny is allowed to walk Rose up and down the sidewalk, so long as they don't go any further than Mrs. Goodwin's house. Penny is satisfied with that. Rose is happy to pretend that they are walking in a big city, or through the forest, or even flying in a plane.

One bright and sunny morning while out for their daily constitutional, Penny spies something bright and shiny sitting at the edge of Mrs. Goodwin's lawn. It's a very tempting blue marble; finally, she picks it up and puts it in her pocket.

Then, she must live with the guilt of taking something that does not belong to her:

"Mrs. Goodwin was in
her yard.
Mrs. Goodwin was exactly
where Penny had found
the marble.
Penny hid
behind the curtain.
Was Mrs. Goodwin
looking for the marble?"

Kevin Henkes is incredibly adept at creating the world of the young child. I remain as in awe now as I was when I read All Alone in 1981. I haven't missed one since then, and it is wonderful that he is still able to capture the feelings of ones so young and vulnerable. Each of his illustrations is a careful study, allowing young readers to ponder the action, the feelings and the outcome. The clues they provide to the story line are sure to help them gain mastery over the text.

I love Penny as I have loved  Bailey, Bo, Owen, Lily, Chrysanthemum, Jessica, Julius and his many other wonderfully imagined characters. Thank you, Kevin Henkes for these treasures.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nobody Asked the Pea, written by John Warren Stewig and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"What a strange night I've had. First, the queen came into the garden during a storm like we've not had in an age. She's come before, only in fair weather, picked a single pea, and taken it away. This time she took only me. Of course, I am rounder, firmer, and a better color than the others."

Here's another fractured fairy tale to share with kids in intermediate and middle years classrooms. It is a worthy mentor text when talking about point of view and voice.

The cast of characters opens the book, just as if it is a play to be staged. In fact, it could work as a performance piece for reader's theatre, or the stage. There is variety in voice, and humor in the telling. It is sure to be appreciated by a wide audience.

We begin with Patrick the Pea, enjoying the sun and the attention of the gardener who has made this growing season so spectacular. He is proud to be the most impressive pea in the pod, and the patch. Even Queen Mildred seems enamored of him. She is on a tear to get Prince Harold married off; but, only with final approval for the appropriate princess going to the Queen herself. Prince Harold is in no hurry to marry as he has everything a young prince might want. He will go to see Princess Tina, and can only hope that she might be interested in hunting. He will bring her home to meet his mother's approval.

Even Mother Mouse gets in on the action, cautioning her many youngsters to stay out of the way as there is much commotion in the preparation for Tina's arrival. And so the story moves along, giving voice to Tina and her maid, the new housekeeper (who is charged with gathering a boatload of mattresses for the princess to sleep on), King Henry, the doorman, and some repeat visits to characters already met. Princess Lucy's arrival and inability to sleep with a pea tucked between the mattresses sets the 'happily ever after' part of the tale in motion leaving everyone satisfied, except perhaps Patrick. He does have a place of honor in the royal museum; it's just that the crowds are diminishing and he may find himself replaced at some point in the future.

Fonts change, conversations are enclosed in boxes set on the single and double page watercolor and pencil artwork. The characters are expressive and detailed. I would love to see a class use this book as a basis for a dramatic presentation. It could be such fun!

It's NOT About the STRAW! et al, written by Veronika Martenova Charles and illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra, 2013. $7.99 ages 5 and up

"Elsa thought, Guessing his name shouldn't be that hard. And if he doesn't help me, I'll die from hunger and cold. "I'll do as you ask," Elsa promised. So the elf rescued her."

You and I know that Rumpelstiltskin's arrogance is what gets him in trouble. Luckily, Elsa does not have to fulfill her promise to marry him. She is able to guess his name before the deadline.

On a visit to his grandmother's farm, Jake and his friends find themselves in the barn. The straw stored there reminds them of stories they have heard about a little man and his ability to spin straw into gold. That would be cool!

The three tales are similar to the familiar Rumpelstiltskin story. One comes from the German tradition, one from Ireland and the last one from Japan. Following the stories shared, the author provides a brief description for the origins of each. They are simply told, and will hold interest for beginning readers. Reading them could lead to a search for other versions of the Rumpelstiltskin story. Reading this book is sure to lead to reading the others included in the series.

"We will love it even if it is as small as the tip of a finger." And soon after then a baby boy was born to them, as tiny as a fingertip. They raised the boy with love and care, but he didn't grow. When he was one year old, he was just one inch tall."

These stories are based on the tale of Thumbelina. Lily's tiny doll in a walnut shell sparks memories this time, and again they friends share stories from around the world. From Chile, the main character called Peanut Boy is carried off by an eagle and ends up protecting her nestlings from a snake. In Japan, Little Inch must tangle with ogres to protect his young charge and change his own life. From First Nations traditional lore, Baby-Man steals a fish from four menacing fisherman to prove that a small boy can be strong and powerful and take care of his sister.

I like the way the stories connect one to the other, and the appeal that these small books will have for their intended audience. In each one of these, the main character is a boy. Comparing their stories with the original Thumbelina would be an interesting literacy lesson.

"Elok carried the box through the jungle to her village. Finally home, she opened it. Inside were jewels and rings! She put some on.'

Traditional and moral tales have always been popular with young readers.
This book again contains three stories; the theme this time is kindness and greed. Diamonds and Toads is the original tale that inspired them.

The first story shared is the German one, Three Gnomes. Ema is treated abominably by her stepmother and sent to gather strawberries in the winter. Luckily, she encounters three gnomes, shares her bread, sweeps snow from their back door. She is rewarded. Her evil stepsister is not so lucky...deservedly so! Rice Cakes from Bali concerns two sisters, Lia and Elok. It takes an unfortunate incident for Lia to realize how lucky she is to have Elok as her sister. The third story, this one from Kenya, is called Old Man of the River. Tobi is rewarded with gold by an old man who appreciates his good manners. His brother Uba does not fare as well, proving that greed can be your undoing.

"RIBBIT!" the frog croaked loudly. Suddenly, the doors flew open, and wild beasts burst into the hall. Elephants charged, and leopards and tigers growled, surrounding everybody."

Here are three similar stories that Jake, Lily and Ben share when they visit a pond in the back garden. Based on the original Frog Prince tales, they come from Scotland, Vietnam and Chile. In The Promise, a young girl gets clear water for her mother but then must contend with a noisy and annoying frog, until a begged-for cut to his skin breaks a wizard's spell. In The Frog Boy a loving mother raises her son to be smart, powerful and learned despite his form. He marries a king's daughter and is changed by the love she has for him. In The Singing Frog, one of the king's sons chooses his life partner, not for beauty but for her beautiful voice. She proves to be a perfect choice for him and for his kingdom.

"When everyone was asleep, Molly crept across the bed and switched the necklaces. Now she and her sisters wore the gold ones, and the giant's daughters wore the straw ropes."

Three stories told, similar in nature, will encourage comparison and discussion. Each one concerns a young child who uses trickery when it comes to giants and riches. Climbing a tree together inspires the three friends to share their personal versions of Jack and the Beanstalk.

The Bean Tree is rooted in Appalachian folklore. Jack visits the land in the sky and comes home with a hen that lays golden eggs, allowing he and his mother to live in comfort for the rest of their days. In Norway's Olaf and the Troll, Olaf's good nature, caring ways and quick thinking garner him silver ducks, a golden harp and great admiration from the king. Finally, the Scottish tale is called Molly and the Giant. Molly's quick thinking, brave heart and a hair bridge allow her to trick the giant twice, and steal a magic sword that does not truly belong to him.

The design of this worthy series from Tundra called East-To-Read Wonder Tales makes them very accessible to young readers wanting to move up to chapter books. The font is large, the text is double spaced and the illustrations are engaging. Readers will find each one entertaining and will surely lead to wanting to know more about the original folktale.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Notorious Bendict Arnold, written by Steve Sheinkin. Square Fish, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2010. $10.99 ages 12 and up

"Behind the band marched the prisoner. He wore a spotless officer's uniform, his long hair pulled back and tied neatly behind his neck. When he reached the clearing he saw the gallows and stopped. The color drained from his skin. He swallowed, making a visibly painful effort to force the saliva down his throat. Then he began marching again, walking steadily toward his death."

This quote comes at the beginning of the book when John Andre comes face to face with death for his part in the plot with Arnold to turn West Point over to the British. It is only one small part of this aptly sub-titled  True Story of Adventure, Heroism and Treachery. What happens in this fast paced biography reads like adventure of the highest order, and only serves to boost my admiration for Steve Sheinken's writing prowess. His years-long fascination with Benedict Arnold, and the abundance of research that he did in order to be able to tell it dramatically and in such an engaging manner is testament to his persistence and incredible talent.

This Benedict came from a long line of Benedict Arnolds, born into a wealthy Connecticut family. He was not an easy child. He lacked control and made life difficult for that family. So, he was sent away to boarding school in an attempt to have him change those ways. It had no real effect on his behavior.  When the family business failed, Benedict's father went to jail for his inability to pay his debtors and turned to alcohol to ease his troubles. Boarding school was no longer an option for his wild and unmanageable son. Benedict's return home and his family's disgrace set him on a course of education that would assure he would never feel so humiliated or vulnerable again.

He found success despite his reckless ways, and that held him in good stead for serving his country during the American Revolution. He had a great dislike for British rule and set out to guide his men against British strongholds, often of his own volition and with no acknowledgement of greater governmental power. He was dangerous and a tough opponent, always eager to lead the next rout. He is credited with success at the Battle of Saratoga, a turning point in the war with Britain. He was greatly concerned that he was not getting the accolades he felt that he so richly deserved and he became even more difficult.

Feeling that George Washington and his minions were underestimating his value, he turned to John Andre, a highly ranked British officer. He plotted with him to overthrow the American effort and might have succeeded had not a series of unfortunate events led to Andre's arrest. Up until that moment he was seen as a hero and a man whose work should have been celebrated for his courage and bravado in light of braving extremely difficult conditions to help the American effort. The bungled plot, and Benedict Arnold's duplicity in it led to his living the rest of his life in England and Canada, a disgraced and dishonorable man:

"All the while a never-ending parade of rumors and nasty newspaper articles followed Arnold - the recurring theme was the charge that lust for money had been his only motivation for changing sides."  

Once started, I could rarely stop reading this book (sleep was the only deterrent). Benedict Arnold was able to accomplish all that he did with a fearless disregard for his own safety, or the consequences of his rash actions. He was a hero, but he cultivated enemies in his headlong, headstrong quest for success and power. Great characters, impeccable research and powerful storytelling make him a man I will not soon forget! 

Dare to Dream...Change the World, edited by Jill Corcoran and illustrated by J. Beth Jepson. Kane Miller, 2012. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"The thing about Ashley Bryan
is that
when he takes your hand
all those pieces come together
like a found art puppet
like cut-paper collage
like a thing called

           -Julia Durango

Many people throughout history have brought change to our world. Each person included in this lovely new book of poetry is profiled in a biographical poem that provides a glimpse at one shining moment in their life. The poem is followed by a concise paragraph concerning that moment and accompanied by another poem that is related to its message. In one instance, the poem concerns Nicholas Cobb and is written by David Harrison. We learn that Nicholas seeing a family living under a bridge inspired him to raise money for the homeless and to found Comfort and Joy which donates coats and other necessary items to those in dire straits. Jane Yolen adds a poem about bridges and those who live under them, be they trolls, hobos, or families. Inspiring, to say the least.

Thirty poets contributed their work, subjects are wide-ranging and the poetry is varied in form, engaging and thoughtful;

"Besides, I add:
Just because I can't shoot
Or dribble
Or jump,
And I make syrup look speedy,
Doesn't mean I don't deserve to play, Girl.
And before Jessica Z can close her mouth, or kill me
I hop off the bench.
And get my slow, smiling self to mid-court to strut my stuff."

Some of the 'changers' will be familiar to readers, others will not. Each is worthy of our attention and I am hopeful that the poems and paragraphs will encourage further investigation of that person's accomplishments. They are a worthy group!

Of the grace that inspired Julia Durango to describe Ashley Bryan, Tracie Vaughan Zimmer says:

"It's bitter words swallowed
before they push past
the gates of angry lips.
It's a back turning
a head shaking
a refusal to hear
an ugly rumor,
a compromising joke,

The artwork varies in pattern, perspective and the vibrancy of color. Each one of the illustrations adds a link from poem, to person, to poem and will attract attention to the images created, while providing background. They show courage, pride and power while enhancing the poetry of the text.

Once you have read their stories, you may be inspired to dare to dream a dream that has up until now been indistinct. You might even change the world with your actions!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to go to to see what Jen and Kellee have been reading this week!

Last week I read:

This week I am reading:
Happy, happy reading week to everyone!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Center of Everything, written by Linda Urban. Harcourt Children's Books, Thomas Allen & son. 2013. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"That was before he knew about the lederhosen. Lederhosen are shorts, except not normal shorts. They are dorky green leather shorts and they're scratchy and tight and they have these crazy ladder-looking suspenders with flowers embroidered all over the place. Like the kind an organ grinder's monkey might wear. Lederhosen are what Matthew Bennet is wearing as he walks..."

OH, I love Ruby Pepperdine. She is fallible, and unsettled, and poignant. She knows what she needs to do to make everything right again, and she sets out her plan to make it happen. No one else knows:

"There are two schools of thought about the secrecy of wishes. One is that you should always tell, because you never know who might be able to help you get what you wished for. People who believe this often appear on talk shows. Share your dreams with the Universe, they say.
The other school holds the birthday candle philosophy: to tell a wish is to ruin its chances of happening."

Ruby is missing her Gigi, who was the center of everything for her young granddaughter. The two did so many wonderful and memorable things together; Ruby grieves her loss every day. When you add middle grade friendships to the worries of those days, you have much to consider. A new friend, who is a boy, threatens her relationship with Lucy:

"He didn't even know Gigi!" Lucy yells. "I did. We're supposed to be best friends! I tell you everything and you didn't tell me anything!"
Ruby searches for something to say, something that has calmed Lucy before. "Mind like water," she says.
"This is not a stupid pebble, Ruby Pepperdine! This is a meteor! You have hurled an enormous meteor into the lake of our friendship. You've caused a tsunami!"

Does that sound like a sixth grade girl? It is the most wonderful thing about Linda Urban's writing. She gives us real, believable, vulnerable characters who find a place in our hearts. As we move back and forth from what is happening now and what has happened in the past, we are privy to changing points of view. The third person narrative allows this. The reader sees life in a small town from various perspectives, humorous at times and always enlightening.

Because I love Ruby, I also love seeing the people and events that have helped shape her. We listen to their thoughts and observations while the story always comes back to Ruby. She is adept at being who everyone wants her to be, doing what is expected of her, and having things the way they are 'supposed to' be. Will her birthday wish set everything right? She's sure it will...her quarter went through the donut hole in Captain Bunning's bronze donut, didn't it? That should ensure that her wish for everything to go back to what it was will come true. Is that the way wishes work?

"She will wonder whether she had done what she was supposed to do. Sometimes she will think that she must have, and other times - like when she has fallen off her bike, or a boy has broken her heart, or she can't find her house key - she will think she must not have. But most of the time, she will think that there isn't a supposed to at all. That all she can do is her best at any particular moment. And that sometimes will lead to things feeling great, and sometimes it will not. And that is as supposed to as it gets."


The Lightning Dreamer, written by Margarita Engle. Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $19.99

"She warns me that no rich man
will ever fall in love with a girl
who loves books, but I don't care.
I will never marry a man
who thinks girls
should be

Her amazing run continues! I have just finished reading Margarita Engle's new novel in verse about Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist. It is just as wonderful
as every other one of her books. She is a remarkable poet and writer whose stories about Cuba and its history have informed and attracted a legion of fans.

Here she introduces us to Tula, also known as Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda. Tula is well known as a Cuban writer whose poetry gained her notoriety as one of the first feminist authors. Much of her writing focused on arranged marriages that were brokered for profit, even within her own family. In fact, she refused two such marriages. Her mother did not appreciate that Tula was not like most girls:

"When she catches me writing,
she calls me sinful, loca - crazy -
a manly girl, a madwoman,

From a young age, her mother wanted to arrange a marriage for Tula that would benefit the family financially. Tula was more interested in the slaves, especially Caridad, the nuns who allowed her a voice and access to their library, and books:

"In a mother's eyes,
she can be only
a monster of defiance
or an angel of obedience,
in between.

So we send her to the library,
a safe place to heal
and dream..."

As she reads, Tula learns about radical new ideas concerning the freedom due women and slaves. The laws and customs of her country do not allow the freedom that she craves as she becomes more informed. This forces her to find her own voice among the voices within and beyond Cuba. Margarita Engle allows that this is historical fiction; yet, she creates a voice so compelling and authentic that I feel I am truly cognizant of everything that Tula was feeling when she wrote. It was impossilble to put it down once I began reading, and I went back time and again to reread many passages.

Caridad, the slave, has this to say about poetry:

"Certain poems
help me feel young
instead of old.

instead of weak.

instead of fearful.

Their words are like wings,
helping me fly away
from this kitchen,
this mop,
these filthy pots and pans,
my endless chores..."

That is the power of poetry, a case in point whenever I have the pleasure of reading Ms. Engle's works.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? Written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Back in the 1830s, there were lots of things girls couldn't be. Girls were only supposed to become wives and mothers. Or maybe teachers, or seamstresses. Being a doctor was definitely not an option. What do you think changed all that? Or should I say...WHO?"

Tanya Lee Stone is a gifted writer indeed. This book about the first woman doctor in the United States attests to that, and follows other notable works concerning female astronauts, black paratroopers, Amelia Earhart, Ella Fitzgerald and even Barbie.

It was not 'proper' in the mid nineteenth century for women to want more than they already had. Elizabeth Blackwell did not fit that mold. She was a tiny girl with a big will:

"This was a girl who had once carried her brother over her head until he backed down from their fight. A girl who tried sleeping on the hard floor with no covers, just to toughen herself up."

There wasn't much she wasn't willing to try. When just one person told her that she was smart enough and determined enough to change the world, Elizabeth believed her. Mary Donaldson encouraged Elizabeth to become a doctor, knowing that other women would appreciate being cared for by one of their own gender. Belief in someone is a powerful thing.

There were many obstacles to face, not the least of which was the fact that no woman had ever wanted to enrol in medical school up until this time. Many of her friends gave reasons for her not to pursue such nonsense. Some even laughed at her. You can imagine Elizabeth's response...she was even more determined to prove them wrong. Her family was always supportive.

Elizabeth applied to medical schools:

"Twenty-eight NOs in all. In different ways, the letters all said the same thing. Women cannot be doctors. They should not be doctors."

Did it deter her? It did not. Her story is uplifting, told wittily and with spunk by this accomplished writer. Add Marjorie Priceman's glorious artwork to the mix, and you have a wonderful addition to your picture book biography list. Ms. Priceman uses brightly colored gouache to bring energy and spirit to this appealing story. Her expressive depictions of Elizabeth help readers understand how a woman such as Elizabeth would defy the odds and lead the way for other capable, caring women to follow in her footsteps.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lives of Extraordinary Women, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2000. $15.99 ages 12 and up

"Isabella's financing of Columbus's voyages to the New World became her greatest historical achievement, but at the time it was a real gamble. The prospect of unexplored lands full of heathens to convert appealed to her. And if the trips resulted in a new route to the Orient, she wanted Spain to get the credit."

It's always wonderful to find a book that has some tidbits of historical information about a person (or persons); writing  just enough to encourage the reader to search further to find out more. In this book about influential women throughout history Kathleen Krull has done just that...again!

There are twenty brief biographies here, and they are similar in style and content to the other books that she has written. Each of these biographies comprises five pages, and the author has managed to include a great deal of information about these remarkable women. There are sometimes amusing and sometimes astonishing tidbits concerning their lives and their times.

"With utter disregard for society's standards, Catherine had some twelve to twenty companions, usually intellectual younger men, each relationship lasting from two to twelve years. She enjoyed educating the men politically, and gave each one a palace when she she was ready to move on. She refused to remarry, and had three sons with different fathers. A doting grandmother, she took full charge of her grandsons' education." (Catherine the Great)

She pulls no punches in telling their stories, unpleasant or not. Readable and entertaining, while also informing her audience concerning cultural and political history, Katherine Krull adds another excellent volume to her ever-expanding bibliography. Kathryn Hewitt creates artwork that expands the appeal of this series. The oversized heads are covered with apt headgear and the figures are dressed to show their personalities with artifacts that are relatable. Colors are strong, spot pictures add interest and complement the information presented.

Their date of birth and death are recorded, as well as two short lines of description prior to reading the short biography. An Ever After section following each story chronicles further accomplishments and tributes. We are fully aware when we finish reading that these women were strong and powerful in their own right, and that their contributions are lasting.

"Each of these extraordinary women triumphed (some at a very young age) over attitudes and conditions that couldn't have been more adverse. Many of the women who are today's beloved heroines were once candidates for "Most Hated Woman on Earth" - and were spat upon, jailed, even murdered. Their electrifying personalities can seem larger than life - but are they really so different from us? What were they like as human beings? What might their neighbors have noticed?"

It feels like a labor of love.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pug and Other Animal Poems, written by Valerie Worth and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"With their goggling
Eyes and stumpy
Noses, wrinkled
Brows and hairy
Moles, they're what
Some people
Might call plug-ugly;
Perhaps because, for
Dogs, they look
A lot like people."

Steve Jenkins is a hero of mine...I collect his many books with admiration and astonishment. I use his books in workshops telling those in attendance that I believe he lies awake at night, not thinking about his day and the days to come but the next idea for a book. It is a wondrous mind he has to think about animals we should never smile at, tails that do a variety of amazing things, the number of bones in a human hand and that it only takes three more to have a whole arm, or the animals that live in six different habitats around the world and how they are protected and nurtured within that biome. So much research and such incredible accompanying collage artwork. No wonder kids love to look!

In this second collection of poems written by Valerie Worth, he again creates praiseworthy collages to attract attention and give life to just some of the remarkably small poems she wrote so well. If you haven't read Animal Poems (Farrar, 2007), you might want to check it out from your public library.

There are eighteen poems here. They are representative of the animal kingdom and include birds, wild animals, pets, fish and birds. Each one is a small gem of perfect words; meaning-filled observations that are awash with the tiniest of details. Some will find an audience in our youngest readers. Others will be better understood and appreciated by more sophisticated older readers. I love the choices made to include in this collection. One of my favorites is this one:


Papery ears
Silk fur
Slim paws

Caught by
The cat
At midnight:

Left as a
Gift on
The step."

What a keen eye she had! What a loss to the world of poetry when she died in 1994. As with so many others, her legacy to us is her incredible gift of words. Those brief moments captured in elegant text are complimented by the vivid craftsmanship of an artist whose astonishing images continue to amaze! Thank you to Steve Jenkins and the people at Farrar for bringing them to a brand new audience.

Just one more tiny gift to you as we welcome the geese back to Manitoba skies and fields:


Then, they
Wavered away
Down the cold
Sky, with cries
Like grieving;

Now, we
Hear in those
Same high voices
Returning, a noisy

Ghoulish Song, written by William Alexander. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $16.99 ages 10 and up

"THE LAST DAY OF Kaile's life did not start well. She was up before the sun bothered to be, and fumbled a bit with her bedside lantern. The flint sparked, the wick caught, and she blinked herself awake in the sudden, violent light. Then she wound up the base and watched it turn. The lantern was a music box, a shadow puppet show, and one of Kaile's favorite things."

We're back to Zombay in this companion novel to William Alexander's National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets (2012). There is no need for you to have read the first one, but for the pure pleasure of that read itself. In the second book the setting will be familiar, the characters compelling and memorable, and the story well-crafted.

Kaile is the baker's daughter and works with her parents to run their bakery and alehouse. They all work hard to make a decent living. Her mother is a skilled baker and today is Inspection Day. When a travelling acting group of goblins asks if they might perform, Kaile gives them reluctant permission aware that her parents are not likely to approve. That decision is the catalyst for the rest of the story's action.

When her mother puts the boots to the travelling troupe, they want to curse the establishment. Kaile offers food for freedom from curses and she, in turn, is given a flute by one of the goblins. Longing to play it as her grandfather had, Kaile tries her hand. The flute plays its own tune, and causes her shadow to separate from her body. It is a sure sign to all that Kaile has died...the lack of shadow is a sign of the newly dead. They hold a funeral, refuse to look at her and force her to leave her home. With her shadow Shade in tow, Kaile sets out to discover the mystery of the flute.

It seems the flute will only play that one tune. It is the song of a young girl believed to have jumped from the bridge for lost love. In her quest to find the flute's owner, she meets numerous characters who have a part to play in discovering the answers she is seeking. As the flood threatens, Kaile finds a way to help the other musicians hold the bridge together and protect everyone from an impending disaster.

Neither book title was likely to attract my interest...generally not keen on goblins, ghosts and ghouls. Having read Secrets, I was prepared for another clever and absorbing read about a young girl's courage. William Alexander creates a convincing world in Zombay, adding humor and a believable cast whose performances leave readers invested in all that happens to them. It is a magical world filled with music and the longing to return to family.

I'm already keen to read another story of Zombay and its inhabitants...human and ghoulish. I hope William Alexander is listening!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons, written by Sid Farrar and illustrated by Ilse Plume. Albert Whitman and Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Wily robin asks
earthworm back to her nest to
meet her family"


"The morning rain bursts
dandelions from the earth like
countless little suns"

I love these tiny pictures that chronicle the passing of a year through four distinct seasons. I am just wishing that we were welcoming robins in mid-April rather than hoping to see them sometime in the May or June. It is going to take time yet to melt the snow that remains piled in yards, parking lots and boulevards. I would even be happy to deal with the 'countless' sunny faces of dandelions, for goodness' sake!

This is Sid Farrar's first book although he has been writing poetry for many years. Some of the poems included are ones he wrote for his children when they were small....much younger than they are now! He begins in winter where we in Manitoba have been since so long ago we can't even remember. He creates familiar and reminiscent images just right for sharing with little ones. The words may be spare but the memories evoked and the scenes described are clear and perfect.

The journey through the constant change that each new month brings is accompanied by watercolor illustrations that capture the moment described as clearly as the words do. Jack Frost's masterpieces left on the window panes evoke the shivers of winter while also inspiring awe at the natural beauty of those frozen panes. Shifting from spots to double-page spreads Ilse Plume gives added life to the flawless text. Her lush colors and richly detailed artwork will hold attention and invite discussion.

My favorite haiku in this moment is:

"A mystery how
these endless rows of corn can
agree on their height"

So true, isn't it?

Back matter includes a description of the haiku form, a look at the cycle of life and the changes that  occur, a brief paragraph concerning each of the seasons, and a final haiku of celebration:

"Earth circles the moon
spinning a tapestry of
days, months, seasons - life."

After Eli, written by Rebecca Rupp. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $18.00 ages 11 and up

"What Walter thinks is that people are like rivers. We never stay in the same place but just keep flowing along, learning new stuff and picking up new experiences and changing all the time. So today's you isn't the same as yesterday's you and won't be the same as tomorrow's you. But Walter also thinks that there's a real perfect you that you're always trying to get to, and the better you are at living your life, the closer you come to it."

It was quite the summer for Daniel (E.) Anderson. As he looks back on it, he comes to realize how his life changed because of it. When it begins, Daniel and his family are still struggling to deal with his brother's death in Iraq. Eli signed up right after 9/11 wanting to do something rather than just sit and accept. Three years later, Danny remains angry with Eli for that decision.

To help himself cope Danny began creating a Book of the Dead. In it he chronicles the deaths of many people, when they died, how and even why? He hopes it will help him understand Eli's death. Each chapter begins with the name of a person who has died:

"VALYA STARIKOVA (1931-1944)
              Eaten by wolves.
Daniel (E.) Anderson's Book of the Dead"

His father is detached, distant and disgruntled. His mother has locked herself away from life and the living. That summer Danny meets Isabelle and her twin siblings. They are from New York and spending their time away from the hustle and bustle while their father works on a monograph and their mother paints rural landscapes. He also gets to know his much-maligned, nerdy classmate Walter. He finds work at an organic farm owned by one of his brother's friends and discovers that he loves the land and nurturing the growth of vegetables.

As the entries in his book continue to grow, Danny finds solace in his work, his first love and the loyalty of a true friend. He continues to miss so many things about Eli and their times together, the promises made for life following his tour in Iraq, of opportunities missed and life as it once was. His first person narration is quirky at times, very thoughtful at others:

“I think living or dying is just dumb luck. If Eli had taken a few minutes longer to lace up his boots that morning, or if he’d had three eggs for breakfast instead of two, maybe he’d have been in a different truck, one that didn’t run over the bomb.”

His wanton act of destruction when he trashes Eli's 'shrine' of a room is filled with all of the anger and despair he has been feeling for so long:

"I hated them all. I even hated Jim and Emma, because they were happy and I wasn't, and Walter, because he was going to have a successful life, and the twins, because they were too young to have any problems and didn't have the sense to see how lucky they were."

Despite the pervasive feeling of sadness and loss, there are moments of humor, happiness, and his own understanding that he is changing for the better. His story remains hopeful despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It will take and patience to get to a better place. You are sure to love the twins (and the other wonderful characters) and to celebrate with Danny the small steps he is able to take toward acceptance of a better future:

"Mostly, though, I don't think about Eli dying anymore. Maybe the old Egyptians were right that dying is a journey from the world of  the living to whatever comes next, and that it takes a long time. It's the same for survivors too, and for me, my journey's done. I think that maybe all this time with my Book of the Dead, I've been building a bridge between the world with Eli in it and the world without him, and now I've crossed over to the other side. I've reached what Walter calls closure, about which I guess Walter was right after all."

So good! You should NOT miss this impressive and unforgettable book.

Stardines Swim High Across the Sky, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Carin Berger. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"SLOBSTERS are slovenly,
SLOBSTERS are crude.
SLOBSTERS love smashing
and smushing their food.
Their sense of decorum
is woefully small.
SLOBSTERS don't have
Many manners at all."

I had to look back to see that I have only posted one book during National Poetry Month.! What the what? So, that run ends today with a new book by one of our favorite poets. Jack Prelutsky is back with a wondrous collection of creatures that we have not yet had the chance to meet. Until now, who knew there were stardines who swim across the sky to 'illuminate the darkest nights? Or bluffaloes who only seem so impressive and powerful? I would now like to introduce:

"CHORMORANTS are busy birds
That toil from sun to sun.
They labor over senseless chores
They're certain must be done.
They work at this, they work at that,
And never think to ask
If they accomplish anything
With any pointless task.

CHORMORANTS are serious
They have no use for jest.
They feel it is their destiny
To rarely ever rest.
They're strangers to frivolity
And neither sing nor dance.
Their days are endless drudgery -
Poor boring CHORMORANTS."

I am so NOT a chormorant! Thank goodness!! When would I have time to read?

This prolific poet fills the pages with witty wordplay and unfamiliar creatures in abundance. Each one gave me a giggle and they are sure to entertain those readers who love to be challenged. Jack Prelutsky never backs down from using sophisticated language when writing his poetry. His strong rhythms and rhymes assure meaning despite unfamiliarity with words such as 'aqueous', 'decorum', 'effervescence' and 'morose'. Kids will love the lively language, the humor and the imagination that allows for dreaming up new species with the simple addition of, or change to a letter. Brilliant!

Brilliant and incredible help to give you a sense for the artwork created by Carin Berger to accompany these imaginative and funny poems. It is described in front matter:

"The miniature dioramas in this book are assemblages created using a combination of cut paper, found ephemera, vintage engravings ( which were scanned, manipulated in Photoshop, and then printed out) , beeswax, wire, thread and wood. Once each piece was made, it was then photographed digitally to prepare the full-color art."

Enough said? I think not, but I cannot possibly do justice to the images that accompany each poem. You need to get your hands on this book and share, share, share it!

HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW BLUE SOCKS? Written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Did you look inside your box?
Did you ask your friend the fox?
I may have seen your new blue socks -
I saw some socks down on the rocks."

"Thank you, thank you, Mr. Ox!
I'm off to find my new blue socks."

Now, this is one of those books you should get into the hands of little ones wanting to read on their own! The lilting rhymes will have them helping out after the first share, and they will just go on from there to read it again and again.

Poor Duck! He's lost his new socks. We all know how that feels, I think. Losing something is tough enough, never mind when it is brand new. He looks where he thinks they might be, but has no luck. The socks aren't in the box. Fox and Ox haven't seen them either. A suggestion that there might be socks by the rocks lead to the discovery of purple socks. Duck's socks are blue. His last hope is that a flock of peacocks may have seen them. Luckily, one very observant young peacock has the answer to the mystery of the disappearing socks.

Eve Bunting's rhymes move the story from page to page in quick time. They are funny, and endearing. There is such joy in the reading. I can't wait to share it with little friends and their teachers. Sergio Ruzzier's detailed artwork allows for discussion and discovery. From the grape-eating, book-reading fox to the color-deficit artistic ox and finally to the strutting, observant littlest peacock, he grabs our attention and adds even more pleasure to this most enjoyable read.

Everyone wants to help and Duck is delighted when it is finally pointed out to him where his socks have been all the time. Joyous and full of heart, this new tale by an inspired pair of artists garners a "10" in my books!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

ABC Zooborns! By Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland. Beach Land Books, Simon & Schuster, 2012. $14.99 ages 3 and up

"...these cute and cuddly newborn zoo critters have another very important job. By allowing us to observe and study them, they help us learn how to protect their wild cousins who live in jungles, deserts, mountains and oceans around the world."

Oh, come on now! Don't tell me that you can look at that photo and not have a little 'awww' moment. I'm not always sure that we need another alphabet book but you can bet little ones are going to love poring over the photographs included in this one.

Each letter introduces a new zoo baby, accentuating the alphabet letter, spelling out the name and offering one small bit of conversation from each one:

"P is for panda.
Phew...I'm flat-out pooped from
playing with my panda pals."


"U is for Ural owl.
I wonder what's for dinner.
Mice would be nice!"

The charming and downright adorable photos of each baby animal from anteater to Zooborns will have little ones keen on a new pet. Some of the animals will be familiar, others not. It's conversational tone doesn't offer readers much in terms of learning about the animal itself. The authors have provided further information in endnotes. These notes offer a conservation key to help readers understand the status of each of the 26 animals throughout the world. They name the species, their zoo, that status and add a short paragraph concerning their appearance, food, habits:

"Species: Dhole
Home: Taronga Zoo, Australia
Conservation Status: Endangered
Jangala the dhole pup had to be hand-raised by keepers at Taronga Zoo but was eventually reintroduced to the adult group of dholes. Soon Jangala became so comfortable in the group, he took the dominant male position from his own father! Unlike most wild dog species, dholes allow their pups to eat first at mealtime."

If you can't get enough, go to and spend some time learning much, much more!

I am Raven, written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Andy Everson. More Than Words Publishing, 2007. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"First, he met Wolf returning from a successful hunt. Wolf, it seemed, had more meat than he could possibly eat and was only too happy to gift the better half of a tasty young buck to his life-long friend. "I am happy to share this with you Great Chief. After all as well as being courageous and resourceful, do we not, you and I, protect our people and provide for them?"

David says that my totem is the Canada Goose. I am honored until I remember his is the raven and I wonder if he is tricking me. He hopes that his story will help you know what your totem is. If anyone should ask you, he gives you permission to share his grandmother's story.

"I am often asked how people come to know their totems. When I am, I answer by asking this question: "If at night, when you close your eyes to travel to your dream time, if then you picture one of our wild cousins to whom you might give thanks or ask guidance, what would it be?" More often than not, your totem will be there, right before your eyes. You do not have to get fancy, just close your eyes and let it come to you. Chances are it will. It did for me."

In his grandmother's story we learn about a great chief who is known for being 'kind and wise'. Many seek his advice; people and animals. Knowing that his death is imminent, he wants to have a totem pole constructed that will act as a memorial to him. He calls together his wild cousins asking for guidance in the carving. He assures them that while he has respect for all, it is impossible to include each of them. Of course, they each want pride of place.

Beaver begins the parade of gift givers and sets the tone for the rest of Grandmother's story. He brings a gift and an entreaty to be included:

"Chief, you know me. I am the builder. I do not waste my time playing or dreaming like many of the others. From dawn to dusk, I work hard. With persistence and determination I create, much as you do. Look at what you have built here. The village was poor and run down. Today it stands as an example of what can be. Your legacy will surely be that of the builder!"

The rest of the evening brings more of the same. Each visitor offers a gift and a reason to be included on the chief's totem. From Beaver to Thunderbird, and finally to Raven who is sitting quietly and has not yet visited the Chief, they each share good reasons. When asked why he has not honored the Chief, Raven uses his gift of words and cunning to show that his gift has been ongoing. The totem is built, the potlatch is held and the chief is sure to be remembered.

Andy Everson's images are stunning and unforgettable. Readers will gently run their hands over the embossed image of Raven on the front cover and be inspired to look closely at each of the double page spreads created to enhance and interpret David's words. Of the cover Andy Everson says:

"For First Nations along the Pacific Northwest, raven has often figured prominently in our storytelling. He is often seen as a trickster and a mischievous little fellow. He is also regarded as the bringer of the day—the one who released the sun from the confines of a box. In many ways, he is the embodiment of the story on the coast as he is the subject of and the teller of many stories. True to the character of raven, he is portrayed here tirelessly squawking to the moon telling his favourite stories."

This is a lovely book that should be in school and family libraries. There is much to learn from both text and illustrations, and we are all intrigued to think about and consider what our totem might be. In the pages following his story, David has included further information about the 'animal spirit guide' totems that he uses to tell his story. He apologizes for not being able to include each of the spirit guides and makes note of a few that he has had to leave out. He also offers a bit of advice:

"The totems I have included in my telling may or may not be you. There are so many. If you are to come to  know those who guide you and who can help you through certain stages of your life, you might have to keep looking, You should learn to call on any number of spirit guides. Learn to make several your own."

white fur flying, written by Patricia MacLachlan. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster.2013. $18.99 ages 7 and up

"Phillip walked down the yard toward Kodi. He stopped partway. We could see his lips move. Kodi turned around to look at him, then bounded away from the fence down to the grove of trees and stopped to look over the fields of cows.
"He talks," I said. "Phillip said something to Kodi."
"It seems so," said Daddy.

I don't know how she does it; but, Patricia MacLachlan has written another elegant and memorable novel concerning a family's love for dogs and the healing power of the human-canine connection. She continues her run with me...I love every single book she has written and I have each one of them.

Zoe Cassidy narrates this story of her family. Her mother rescues Great Pyrenees dogs and brings them back to health  before allowing their adoption. Her father is a veterinarian who brings home strays in need of care; this time it's an African grey parrot whose name is Lena and whose favorite phrase is 'you cahn't know!' Alice, her younger sister, is the storyteller in the family. She loves to tell stories of witches, and princes.

When a new family moves in next door, the Cassidys watch as a man, a woman and a young boy make their way up the front walk. In quick time they meet Phillip and discover that he does not talk.
Rather, he peers through the fence at the dogs and the people who live there. It isn't long until Kodi, their own Great Pyr, has an impact.

Readers learn that Phillip's family is 'solving a problem' and that is why he is staying with his aunt and uncle. Their household is a quiet one, each one trying to adapt to the changes that have taken place. The Cassidy house is full of noise, warmth and shared love. It is an atmosphere that draws Phillip in and allows he and his aunt to find a measure of understanding.

When a new dog is rescued, Phillip bonds with him immediately. A rainstorm, an open gate and a new dog's unfamiliarity with his surroundings create the tension that is a culminating event for all involved. Jack runs, Phillip follows. Mom is off to find them and soon Zoe is, too. A frantic search through nearby buildings leads Zoe to them and to safety from the rain and hail.  All are safe and Jack is hailed as hero by Phillip.

This warm and moving story is beautifully told, not surprising when you consider the writer. Her innate ability to tell stories that make a difference is a gift to each one of us. She reaches for our hearts with characters who matter, with stories that are sensitive and satisfying. And, she does it every time!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wee Rhymes, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Jane Dyer. Simon & Schuster, 2013. $22.99 ages 0 and up

"Baby threw his spoon down.
Mama picked it up.
Next he threw his plate down 
And his plastic cup.
Baby clapped his hands,
And waited for some more.
"No," said Mama.
And left them on the floor."

It's always a treat to find a book that would make the perfect gift for a baby shower. I have a few favorites. I particularly like giving books of rhyme to new babies so that their parents can fill them up with the lilting rhythms of language and help them on the way to being our readers of the future. The more rhymes that children know the easier it will be for them to figure out how words and reading work.

Jane Yolen and Jane Dyer have created a brand new book of 'wee' rhymes to be shared with little ones. Mother Goose helped them just a little. Jane Yolen wrote most of the poems while Jane Dyer created the tender and radiant illustrations to accompany them. They introduce themselves as grandmothers and they have a shared belief:
"We both believe that literature begins in the cradle. Rhymes are our earliest cultural artifacts. Children who are given poetry early will have a fullness inside. Mother Goose rhymes, baby verse - that kind of singsong, sing-along rhythm - is as important as a heartbeat. Add pictures to them, and you have the whole early childhood package. Just add the love."

Here is one sample:


Mama's hug is gentle,
Daddy's hug is long,
Grandad's hug
Is warm as a rug.
And Grandma's comes with a song."

There are rhymes about tickling, belly button music, bouncing, walking, dressing - those things that are common and natural to the children who will share this wonderful collection. It's all in a day's work for them and those who love them.  The pencil and watercolor artwork shows wide variety in age, perspective, and activity. They glow with warm colors and energy, while also turning quiet and gentle to match the text. It's a perfect way to welcome a little one to a literate world!

SPEAKING from AMONG the BONES, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2013. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"You'd best run along, miss," he said. "We've work to do, and we don't need the likes of you underfoot.
Ordinarily, anyone who made such a remark to my face would go to the top of my short list for strychnine. A few grains in the victim's lunch pail - probably mixed with mustard in his Spam sandwich, which would neatly hide both the taste and the texture..."

Welcome back, Flavia de Luce. We have missed you! In her fifth investigation Flavia remains as clever, delightful and persistent as in the first four stories. Alan Bradley writes a well-crafted tale of death, intrigue and murder...all are just what the doctor ordered for the intrepid young sleuth.

It's the 500th anniversary of St. Tancred, who gave his name to the de Luce family church in Bishop's Lacey. The plan is to open his tomb. In her excitement Flavia visits the excavation site and discovers a body! Not too surprising for anyone who has been involved with Flavia's previous escapades, but surely unwelcome in their small community. Mr. Collicutt was the church organist and it is certainly a mystery that anyone would want him dead.

It appears, at least in Flavia's eyes, that Inspector Lewis is going to need assistance once again. Flavia uses all of her wily methods to collect evidence. In doing so, she makes other compelling discoveries. She collects blood samples, becomes aware of a love triangle, meets a magistrate's son who is locked away and finds a tunnel leading from the cemetery to St. Tancred's crypt. This time she has help from Adam Sowerby, an anthropologist and private detective, and Miss Tanty who loves detective novels. Each of the clues discovered helps Flavia solve the case and present her findings to the inspector.

In the midst of this sleuthing, Flavia also must contend with the knowledge that the family is in dire straits and will surely have to sell Buckshaw, their family home. It is an upsetting turn of events.  But, that is nothing compared to what her father has to tell the family as the book comes to an end. The home life of the de Luce family is terrifically important to the success and allure of these stories.

Flavia's voice remains clear and strong when describing what goes on there:

"Later, I would realize that my mind vomited up a sudden memory of snooping through Feely's unmentionables drawer in search of her diary. Having given up, I was annoyed to find that the drawer would not close completely. No matter how hard I pushed it would not budge. When I slid it forward and off the tracks, I found the diary taped to the back with strips of sticking plaster.  A lesson learned."

Alan Bradley has promised five more Flavia stories, and a made-for-television series in Britain is in the works! HUZZAH! All I really want at this very moment is to get my hands on the next story, please...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Earth Friendly Buildings, Bridges and More, written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by Stephen MacEachern. Kids Can Press, 2012. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"Hi. I'm Corry Lapont. The book you're holding is my scrapbook. I've been working on it for almost a year. Actually, I've been collecting the postcards of the structures in it for half my life. Sound weird? Mom says it's a case of the apple not falling far from the tree. (Me being the apple, and my parents being the tree.) My parents are both engineers."

Corry, her brother Riley and their parents have made many trips together. They visit places around the world, noting extraordinary accomplishments in the engineering of environmentally conscious architecture. While away, Corry has collected a multitude of memorabilia concerning the incredible structures they have visited. In terms of organization, she has categorized them into five sections: skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, domes, and dams, dikes, locks and levees. 

As readers page through her scrapbook,  they will note the entertaining graphic illustrations and speech bubble dialogue shared by Corry and Riley. They will also learn much from the information boxes that are placed on most pages. They will be individually introduced to those engineers and planners who help construct the architecture being described. They will also learn about the science that has helped to create these green buildings and structures throughout the world.

The information is presented in a number of ways. There are explanations, experiments, journal entries, descriptions of school projects, letters, jokes, and suggestions for ways to become famous.  As well as that the illustrator has created cartoon-style artwork that is sure to capture attention by adding visual appeal for the target audience.  Photographs are labelled and captioned, sharing clear knowledge of the many different structures the family has visited.

Etta Kaner has done a great job of presenting short brief descriptions of these earth friendly structures. She gives enough information to give us a taste, and will leave budding engineers wanting more. I think that is the best way to get kids involved in reading nonfiction and encouraging further exploration of their personal interests.

Imaginative and informative, it offers a balanced mix of art and photos. Readers will come away from the sharing more knowledgeable about changes being made in architectural design, as well as a look at the world of engineering and the many different types of structures they design in order for their buildings to be friendly to our environment while also having a contemporary look. There is so much for me to learn, and I love that!  

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, written by Annabel Pilcher.Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2011. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well, some of her does. Three of her fingers, her right elbow and her kneecap are buried in a graveyard in London. Mum and Dad had a big argument when the police found ten bits of her body. Mum wanted a grave she could visit. Dad wanted a cremation so he could sprinkle the ashes in the sea."

You have to admit that Jamie got your attention with that observation, did he not? He and his family are still trying to come to grips with his sister Rose's death five years ago in a terrorist bombing in London. Being only five at the time, Jamie remembers little of what happened. Like the rest of his family - Rose's twin Jasmine, his mother, and his father - Jamie is dealing with the repercussions of such a tragic event and how it has impacted the family dynamic.

Jamie's dad has found comfort in alcohol, the oblivion of its effects and an ongoing dedication to his daughter's memory. His mom is living in London with a man from her support group. The rest of the family has moved to the Lake District to get away from the memories. Dad has promised a better life.  But, Dad is overwhelmed by grief, hatred and a longing to have his daughter back. He cannot care for his children. Mom walked out on Jas's  fifteenth birthday before the cake was cut and is out of the picture completely it seems. They hear little from her.

Jas has a new boyfriend and is finding a new self, without her beloved twin sister. Jamie is alone, and confused and hanging on to the belief that his mother will come back to them...if only he wishes it so. At school it is no better. He's the new kid and picked as a target to be bullied and even beaten. His saving grace is his new friend there whose eyes sparkle, whose laughter is infectious and who makes each of his days better most of the time. Her name is Sunya and she is Muslim. That is a huge problem as his father blames all Muslims for Rose's death.

It sounds so depressing and I will admit that it was hard to read at times. There are also great moments of brilliance and humor, of great strength and understanding. The author creates a first person narrator who is honest and real. Jamie's loneliness and confusion are palpable and painful. He can't cry over Rose as he can't remember enough about her. He doesn't know how to resolve his feelings for Sunya while faced with his dad's hateful treatment of all Muslims. He keeps making excuses for his mother when she deserves none. He and Jas never speak openly about their father's drinking or his inability to parent.

It's hard not to have sympathy for parents who are dealing with a brutal and senseless murder. Neither can come to terms with the fallout, and cannot support the other as their world falls apart. But, and it's a big but, there are two other children. Who's going to give them the guidance and support needed to recover? It is a long and agonizing process. The fact that the author handles the telling with such compassion and love for Jamie is what makes it a memorable and worthwhile read.

This is an inspiring first novel. There is kindness, humor, truth, and resilience. It is ultimately uplifting in so many ways.

I thought you might like to see this trailer:"

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel. Written by Sharon McKay and art by Daniel Lafrance. Annick Press, 2013. $18.95 ages 12 and up

"There was a routine to our days. Not once had we woken up in the morning and gone to sleep at night in the same place. Scouts led the way through the bush. They were small boys who were well fed and ran fast. Some were paces ahead, some hours ahead. Everyone had a designated job. Norman, Paul and I were slaves,  like most of the schoolboys."

I read Sharon McKay's original novel in 2009 and many scenes remain strong in my memory. This graphic novel version, with art by Daniel Lafrance, will bring this harrowing story to a new group of readers. It remains hard to contemplate the journey taken by the young schoolboys, abducted from a private school considered safe from the violence that gripped Uganda. The visual representation of their terrifying journey as new recruits for Joseph Kony's LRA is dark, brutal and filled with unforgettable images.

Jacob is returning to school in Gulu when the story begins. His arrival is greeted with new precautionary measures meant to ensure safety. Armed guards patrol the school grounds. New locks secure the doors. Jacob is reassuring when speaking with his his friend Tony. Things do not go as planned and soon the boys are marching with Kony's army through dense jungle, exhausted, hungry and constantly terrorized by those in charge. Will they be forced to act as child soldiers? Will they be able to survive? What might they be forced to do as time passes and their worth to Kony diminishes?

Jacob tells his story personally to help him deal with the realities of the abduction, the forced march, the demands made of children to work for Kony and his enforcers. He needs to come to terms with what he has done in order to heal from the ordeal. His voice is realistic and heartbreaking, sharing the agony of actions taken and their eventual escape to freedom.

Sharon McKay did her research to create these characters, the terror they feel, the anguish of the march and the dreadful conditions they face daily. She spoke with former child soldiers to help her understand their plight and their experiences so that she could share them so realistically with her readers. The artist moves readers from the relative safety of home and school to the panic of the march and the fear of the unknown.  It is powerful historical fiction. It is an important story to tell, and this team has done so admirably.

Here's a video that just came to my attention: (August 24, 2013)