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Friday, November 29, 2013

The Bear's Song, written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up


"With a bounce and a bound,
Papa Bear dashes through the
trees.
He searches every corner of the
forest, but he just can't find his
cub.
Papa Bear has run so far from the
forest that he is now surrounded
by the noise and smoke of the
big city."

Old bears and I have something in common! We love to sleep when winter moves in. While I do not totally hibernate, nothing feels better than sitting by the fire and reading when icy winds blow and roads are slick. Ah, bliss!

Papa Bear has totally settled in for his long winter's rest, but Little Bear has not yet readied himself for such drudgery. He needs to use up some of his pent-up energy on adventurous doings. It's a bee that gets it started. Little Bear hears a buzzing noise from outside the cave, and his innate curiosity sets him in pursuit of that bee. It doesn't take long for Papa to notice that LB is missing. So, his parallel search begins.

The audience is fully engaged from the beginning, keeping eyes on the bear and the bee from their cave, through the rural environs and straight to the bright lights of Paris. Every full page spread dances with details, inviting close observation and a  temptation to call out to Papa the whereabouts of the errant baby. Just when it looks like all might be lost (well, Little Bear, for sure), Papa spies him again and continues the chase. Oh my, it's the Opera House, and quite proper at that. What happens next will have young listeners doing some 'roaring' of their own!

Turns out that Little Bear has  magic up his sleeve!

There is so much to see in the accompanying artwork. Using rich detail to create drama on every page, the author invites us to be part of a lively caper with adventure and love of family at its heart.
You will enjoy the twists and the gentle, warm conclusion. It is a charmer and won't soon be forgotten!

                                                                       
 
 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Loula is leaving for Africa, written and illustrated by Anne Villeneuve. Kids Can Press, 2013. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Loula is going far away,
very far away, the farthest
away she can get from those
TERRIBLE triplets.

"Mama," says Loula, "I am
going to Africa."
"Wonderful," sings her mother
while practicing her role for
the opera. "Just don't catch a
cold."

I had only one roughhousing brother (and his roughhousing was only occasional...lucky me!); I am sure there were a few times that I wanted to run away from home to get away from him. I have no doubt that he felt the same way, too!

I was never nearly as brave as Loula. Truly, I never went further than imagining doing something as daring as leaving at all. I mean, where would I go, and how would I get there? I was enough of a pragmatist to know the limits of  my wandering.

Loula, on the other hand, has absolutely no qualms about running away from her terrible triplet brothers. She takes all the essentials...her cat, her tea set and the best drawing she has ever done. When she tells her parents, they seem unconcerned. After all, they have their own pursuits. Only Gilbert takes note of her determination and pluck. He is the family chauffeur, and offers his knowledge for traveling to Africa. He tells Loula that camels will be involved, and desert conditions, and travel by both boat and plane. That's all right with Loula. She is ready to be anywhere else!

Gilbert has a good heart, is full of good cheer, and a riotous imagination...that is just what Loula needs to help her escape the impish behavior of her bratty brothers. Their story is witty, and full of charm. When their adventures prove too much for a young and very tired Loula, Gilbert is right there with the means to take her home from Africa. He assures her that 'it is not too far away'.

The tale told in whimsical watercolors allows its audience to know the true story of the runaway. It is through those lovely and lively images that we come to know the meaning of friendship and shared imagination. As Gilbert accompanies Loula beyond the backyard tree that is her first destination, he begins a mapped trek through city streets, a nearby park, a pedal boat ride on a slow flowing river and a lovely picnic at sunset...all in the guise of their African trip. Would that we all had someone like Gilbert in our lives, and in the lives of our children..

One of my new favorite books of this year! Brava, Loula!


                                                                  
 
 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Read Me A Story, Stella, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood, 2013. $16.95 ages 4 and up

"Why are you laughing,
Stella?" asked Sam.
"This book is so funny. It
tells you how to make soup
with stones, how to teach
your cat to fly, and what to
do if a wolf knocks at your
door."
"Does your book tell you
how to build a doghouse?"
asked Sam."

How I have missed Stella and Sam! It's been four years, and I am so happy to see that they have not changed. Stella is still the patient and knowledgeable big sister, while Sam remains the ever-inquisitive and imaginative little brother. I love their good-humoured, playful conversations. Welcome back, you two!

As they spend their day happily together, there is much that Sam wants to know and much that Stella has to teach. Stella is happy reading her books. Sam is happy asking every question that pops into his head. Once the doghouse is built, they deserve a picnic at Lily Pond. Sam has some concerns about the inhabitants there; Stella reassures him that his worries are of no concern at all. Sam brings all of his many discoveries to Stella and she provides acceptable observations to satisfy his curiosity.

On their way home, Sam encourages their dog Fred to try kite flying. Fred is good, until he barks out his happiness:
"Uh-oh," said Stella. "I guess Fred shouldn't have barked."
"Will the kite get caught on a cloud?" cried Sam.
"Will it get burned by the sun?"
"Kites know their way around the sky," said Stella.
"They ride the wind until they find their way home."

And to the day goes...satisfying and filled with the everyday occurrences that can make life with siblings such fun. It all seems so right and natural. Stella is an avid reader of every genre, and helps Sam see the benefits of being one, without any overt mention of such things. She assumes that she will be able to find and share what she needs from the books that she so loves. In the end, she proves that she has learned a lot about storytelling, too. There is no parental interference, and no obvious rules about being outside and on their own exploring nature and life. I love it!

The magic that Marie-Louise Gay creates with her watercolors, pencil, pastel and collage of Japanese papers will never cease to amaze me! She uses all available white space to create scenes which are sure to entertain readers and invite careful observation. The children have an 'every child' quality, as does their dog Fred. They are familiar and oh, so sweet.
                                                                     
 
 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Musk Ox Counts, written by Erin Cabatingan and illustrated by Matthew Myers. A Neal Porter Book. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Wow. You sure are big.

Just like woolly mammoths.
I know because musk oxen
were alive back in the day.
Would you like to share your
page with me? No? Well, the
woolly mammoth didn't like
us so much either. I'm just
going to go find some animals
that can't trample me."

They are back! The zebra and the musk ox, in case you didn't meet them the first time. In their second starring roles, counting is the name of the game. The zebra remains pretentious as he takes charge of the action in the book. When the musk ox leaves the #1 page because he is lonely, the zebra has much to say to him:

"But you're ruining the book!
Now there's zero on one and three on two...
You need to go back to your page!!"

The musk ox is accommodating, or so it seems. Then, we catch a glimpse of the 'kick me' sign that has somehow attached itself to the zebra's butt. Page 2 says 2 yaks and that's what is there...well, and one musk ox but who's counting him? Will readers be confused? The musk ox is certain they will not be. The zebra begs to differ.

The jokes go on and on...in words and in images. As I read it once and then again, I could just imagine what fun it would be for two kids to read together...enjoying the banter and poring over the detailed and imaginative artwork. There is absolutely no doubt that there will be multiple readings. Perhaps a tally could be kept!

Counting has never been such fun! I love the characters, the conversation and the comic timing on every one of its pages. Always a surprise when the page is turned, it will keep young readers thoroughly entertained and full of wonder for the next turn of events.

The blurb on the back page just adds to the zaniness of the entire package:

"Erin Cabatingan grew up in the 45th state of the union where she learned to play a 4-stringed instrument with 1 bow. Matthew Myers has illustrated 5 books, all with 1 hand. He pedals to his studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, every day on a 2-wheeled vehicle."

The Wing Wing Brothers Math Spectacular! Written and illustrated by Ethan Long. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son, 2012. $8.99 ages 5 and up

"Woody tosses four more
plates.
Now Wendell only has
three plates. Wilmer has
five plates.
Wendell will not wait.
Wendell now has eight
plates. Willy still has
five plates."

The circus, comic book characters and a story that looks just like a comic strip...what's not to like when you are introducing young readers to simple math concepts? In the first act, the Wing Wing Brothers (five wingy, wild-eyed ducks) set out to teach the ideas of greater than, less than and equal to. They are Willy, Wilmer, Walter, Woody and Wendell. In comparing numbers of spinning plates, we watch them as first they have an equal number. Then, plates are added and new signs are shown, and concepts explained. All seems to be moving right along. Ten plates each, all spinning spectacularly...until they aren't! Instead, they are all smashed to smithereens and no one has anything left. At least, it's the same number...ZERO!

Addition and subtraction are the focus of acts two and three. This time, it's pies and juggling. That's another cool trick, isn't it? Three pies take no effort. Five results in chaos for everyone but Willy who ends up with only one. The rest have pie in the face. Willy doesn't want to miss out on the fun. Soon there are no pies left.

And on they go...creating a stunning show and entertaining their audience with mathematical hi-jinks, all in the name of learning something new. Well, I have to admit that there is a lot of fun to be had, as well. Ethan Long creates great comedy while introducing new math problems for the Wing Wing Brothers on every page.

Who knew that math could be such fun? Could there possibly be more entertaining teachers than these guys? Preschoolers and early graders will be giggling, before attempting some of their own math tricks. Don't leave before the final act!

Big Snow, written and illustraten by Jonathan Bean. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"So David helped Mom clean.
He put on the big yellow gloves.
He sprayed the cleaner.
He scrubbed with the heavy
brush.
But then the suds, white and
fluffy, made him think of snow.
So David decided to check the
weather.
The flakes were lying,
white and fluffy."

It's been a long time since I experienced the joyous anticipation for a 'big snow'. Our kids are grown and gone from home; I am a hesitant old(er) woman when it comes to the perils of icy roads and sidewalks. The joy that I feel, when it's stormy and lots of snow is falling, comes from not 'having' to go out in it anymore. It seems a perfect excuse to curl up with great books by the fireplace and let the flakes fall where they may.

Jonathan Bean, on the other hand, knows just exactly how it feels, or he certainly conjures up all of those feelings I remember from an earlier life in his wonderful new book, Big Snow. Our first glimpse of David sees him standing in the backyard, all bundled up and his mittened hand holding his sled's rope. He seems sad. His mother has her eye on him from the kitchen window. The family is prepared. The plant pots are empty and stored upside down beside a snow shovel on the back porch. The yard is raked. The bird feeder is full. There is darkness in the clouds. If you have grown up where winter is a natural occurrence, you will know exactly the sky I mean. There is no snow...yet!

And that is the first double page spread!

He goes inside to seek his mother's guidance on the 'when'. She has no definitive answer for him. So, David settles to help Mom bake some cookies. Seeing all the flour sends him outside to check the weather. Wahoo...soft, white flakes fall gently to the ground. It's not enough. Back inside to clean the bathroom. Soap suds remind him of ....

The snow is staying! Sheets need changing, but they are WHITE. What a distraction! Yep, there's more, but David is tired and ready for a nap. His dreams are filled with images of the coming storm. When Dad arrives home and David wakes from his nap, being outside is the only way to discover whether it is as he anticipated. What do you think?

I am such a fan of Jonathan Bean's work and eagerly await any new book. He creates such a detailed world for this little boy with his high hopes, his boundless energy and his satisfaction that finally all is just right in his world. The artist's bird's-eye views of the yard and the neighborhood where David lives helps readers see just how the 'big snow' comes to be. His story is full of the warmth of family love and a cozy home. The details are endless and will allow for extended discussion. There is so much joy, the reader cannot help but be captivated by it all!

There is magic to be had here! Don't miss it...

                                                   
 
 




                                                                 

Once Upon a Northern Night, written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. A Groundwood Book, 2013. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"Soon
the night sky filled with
sparkling specks of white,
crowding
and floating,
tumbling down to the welcoming
ground
until the earth was
wrapped in a downy blanket,
just like you."

Anyone who knows the allure of a winter's night will surely find peace and delight in this lovely poetic tribute. It is evident on every page how much the author loves those northern nights in Ontario where she lives. Her lyrical words fondly describe what happens while the young boy is snuggled down to sleep in the warmth and comfort of his own bed on a cold winter night.

She says that she painted him a picture; and indeed, she does just that. It is a picture created in carefully chosen words that reflect the dark northern skies, the snow-laden trees, and the animals whose lives are spent with its bounty:

"When you walk beneath the trees
the wind will tickle them
until they drop their snowy treasures, 
dusting your hair and
sprinkling your nose."

She describes deer, an owl, rabbits, a fox and a mouse as they find food, protection, fun, and fear while the snow falls and covers their surroundings. The voice is as soft and gentle as the new-fallen snow, conjuring pictures that Isabelle Arsenault ably depicts for those who will share it.

Ms. Arsenault uses a subdued palette of black, white, sand and blue in gouache, ink, pencil and watercolor to bring those words so softly to life. There are bits of bright color added: red for the apples still left on a tree, green needles on the pine tree, the yellow eyes and chest feathers of the swooping owl, and the telltale coat of the fox as he tries to hide himself from his prey in the deep darkness. Moonlight adds a glowing warmth as the boy awakens to look out on the brilliance of the snowy night.

Peaceful and idyllic, lovely to share on a wintry night before Christmas. It's sure to become a family favorite! 
 
                                                                             
 
 
               

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bunnies on Ice, written and illustrated by Johanna Wright. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 2 and up

"I have a lot of fans.
I can spin faster than
anyone.
I can do a figure
eight with my
eyes closed.
I can leap into the air
and land perfectly
every time, just like a
champion ice-skater.
Well, almost."

I just came into the den, after watching some figure skating from Russia. It made me want to share this very assured young bunny's tale of her prowess on the ice. In actuality, she considers herself a champion. We are made aware that she might not be 'all that'.

Of course, it takes perfect conditions. Our young bunny is prepared to wait. Little do we know when we start out that we must wait through three seasons! We wait through springtime planting, hot summer days at the pond, the cool autumn harvest. Even the bunny's doll gets a close-up at the window when the falling snow makes its first appearance. Finally, the time has come to prove her superior skill.

Once everyone is awakened, and a hearty breakfast eaten, and warm clothes found for wintry weather, it's off to the pond where her fans await. Is it worth it? You will have to check it out for yourself.

The lovely artwork is all in the details and will have young listeners poring over every scene to find the birds tobogganing, the rabbit doll that accompanies her 'girl' on every outing, the sunbathing, the Halloween scarecrow, the book-lined walls, the hot chocolate on a cold evening; all the many fine details of life with a family of rabbits in their warren and in the outdoors. It's great fun!

Filled with cheer and cozy warmth, this is a story that will find its way to the pile of books to be read on long, winter nights.
                                                              

When Charley Met Grampa, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"The station looks like a
tiny red house,
and there's a bench outside
for waiting.
Charley is crazy for trains,
just like me,
and waiting for trains,
just like me,
and I put my arm around
Charley and we started to wait."

I have shared Henry and Charley's first meeting and night together many times in the past year. I love the feeling evoked between the two, and the genuine love that they have for each other right from the very first minute. Henry did the job he promised...he took care of Charley to the best of his ability.

In their second story, Henry is keen to have Charley meet his beloved grandfather. So, he sends
Grampa a letter:

"Dear Grampa,
We got a dog. His name is Charley.
He sleeps in my room. He's a fast runner
like me, and he's got the same last name
as me. Korn. "

Grampa sends a note back quickly, giving the time to expect him at the train station.
He also adds a note about Charley:

"Now, about that dog. Is he friendly or fierce?
I've never been friends with a dog before.
I'll do my best, but no promises."

Henry can't wait for the two to meet. On Sunday, he and Charley are up bright and early, and off they go to meet Grampa. What an adventure! Snow is falling all around, and both are filled with happy anticipation as they make their down snowy streets to the train station. They wait, and they wait, and they wait some more. Charley does a lot of sighing. Henry distracts him by telling him all about his Grampa to prepare him for their meeting:

"Charley smiled when I said Grampa's the tallest Korn with the longest feet and he snores wild."

Amy Hest creates such warmth with her words and shows her audience the tender love that exists between child and pet, and between child and grandparent. Grampa is not sure about Charley; but, Charley is sure that anyone who loves Henry as Grampa does is worthy of his love, too. He comes to the rescue for Grampa and his hat, and makes a new friend.

The incomparable Helen Oxenbury uses pencil and watercolor artwork to give readers all the visual details that make this story so warm and inviting. Charley romping through the snow, the long wait with the two sitting quietly together, the shiver of cold, the excitement of the welcome...each small scene is charming and absorbing as the story is shared.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Real Boy, written by Anne Ursu. Harper, 2013. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"He had the dream again. The sky, bright and blue, luring him in. The forest, empty of people, because they had all been taken already - except for Oscar, and Wolf in a sack at his feet. The wind pushed over the wizard trees, tearing the roots from the ground, leaving great mourning gashes in the soil. The roots gulped and gasped and grasped."

Oscar works with Master Caleb, a magician, on the island called Aletheia. He is not the only boy who works with Caleb; but, he is not an apprentice as Wolf is, he is a 'hand'. His days rarely change and he is fine with that. He likes order, and knowing what is expected from him. His work is to collect flowers and herbs for his master who, in turn, turns them into charms and potions that others buy from his shop. Many people look to Caleb for his wares. Wolf is a cruel bully who makes disparaging remarks about the 11 year old Oscar, causing distress and uncertainty for the young boy.

When he is not helping with the shop's work, Oscar loves and cares for a  collection of cats and spends as much time as he can n the magician's library, unbeknownst to Caleb. He loves his life in the cellar and back storeroom, and does all that is asked of him. Everything in Oscar's life has predictability, until his master goes away and Wolf is killed. All that is known about his death is that something large and hungry killed him. It is very unsettling to everyone, and causes Oscar to begin asking questions. Meeting Callie, the healer's apprentice, sets him on a new course from his usually quiet life. Callie is a force to be reckoned with, headstrong and unafraid.

First, there is Wolf's death, then the children of Asteri become sick. The island's healer has also gone to the continent with Caleb. Callie isn't sure how to help the children improve. Together, she and Oscar must find out what is happening. What about the plague that killed so many years ago? Why are there guardian trees and what happened to some of them? Why are the 'perfect' children not as perfect as expected? Is Oscar 'real'?

Oscar is a wondrous character. He lacks many social graces:

“I cannot understand what people mean when they talk,” he tells Malcolm, an ex-magician. “I am not . . . I’m not made of the same thing as everyone else.”

But, he is smart and has an incredible knowledge of plants and how they can be combined for spells and elixirs. He makes 'maps' of information that he collects in his head and then uses that stored knowledge when it is needed. His relationship with Callie grows stronger as the story unfolds, and she influences much of the action of the tale. So much changes for the very ordered Oscar, and Callie helps him to deal with those changes.

Anne Ursu has created a wondrous fantasy world, giving her readers a history of the island, the city, the residents and the magic that permeates is pages. Her characters are strong and real. Her writing is exceptional, and the story is challenging. It is worth reading every paragraph, every page, every chapter...to fall in love with both Oscar and Callie, and to be with them as they tackle important issues, frightening situations and the many discoveries they make about their home... together:

"You don't have to yet. We can just worry about today."
"Yes," Oscar said. "I'd just like to worry about today."
This was not entirely true. He wanted to think about tomorrow, and a tomorrow after that, too, one where every day was certain, where he could see the perfect structure to it, where he could count the steps one by one - not live with this white fuzzy emptiness that was in his head. He'd always had surety, so much so that it never would have occurred to him to want it. He hadn't known things could be any other way."   

Bravo, Anne Ursu! This is a second unforgettable book from your exceptionally talented self.

follow follow: a Book of Reverso Poems, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 8 and up


"That ridiculous loser!
I am not
a slowpoke.
Though I may be
the smallest bit distracted.
I can't be
beat.
I've got rabbit feet to
take me to the finish line."

In a note About Reversos in the back matter of this jaw-dropping new book of poetry, Marilyn Singer tells her audience: "Trust me -it's not easy,". My immediate thought was: 'now there's an understatement if I ever heard one!'

In a poetic form that she created for her outstanding book Mirror Mirror (Dutton, 2010), Ms.Singer has done it again. She uses familiar (I hope), traditional tales and designs poems that present opposing points of view. The kicker is that the two poems face each other on a single page spread. The one on the left side reads from top to bottom; the poem on the facing side of the midline uses the exact same words but reverses them, taking the last line and putting it at the top and writing it again with subtle changes in punctuation.

 I wish I could just post one of them to have you wrap your brain around how truly inventive and 'not easy' it really is! Look at the poem at the top of this post, write it down from bottom to top, or just read it that way and you get some small idea of the magic that is in the words, and the form. Two different characters with entirely opposite points of view concerning the race, and they use the SAME WORDS! Mind-boggling!

There are twelve tales and each one has an appended note:

"CAN'T BLOW THE HOUSE DOWN based on THE THREE LITTLE PIGS:
Three pigs versus one big, bad wolf. The first pig builds a house of straw, the second a house of sticks. The wolf blows down the houses and eats the pigs. The last pig builds his house of sturdy bricks. When the wolf decides to come down the chimney, his goose is cooked."

Each is a delight to read, and will enchant and tease the reader's brain. Most of the stories will be very familiar. Readers will benefit from the short descriptions of each in the back matter. They might even want to follow-up with a thorough reading of the original tale. What a celebration of the written word and the power of poetry to tell a story in a unique and intriguing new way!

I love the jewel-tone colors in Josee Maase's acrylic on bristol sheet artwork. Each piece faces the mirrored poems and provides a two-sided image that is divided by a midline, just as the poems are shown on their page. Tiny spot paintings add detail to the poetry page, totally in keeping with the tale being shared. Textured and detailed, they add the perfect touch!

The introductory and closing poems provide a perfect support for the collection. Clever, and oh, so inspiring for those wanting to try their hand at a new form of poetry.

Imagine                   Upended
fairy tales                fairy tales?
upended.                  Imagine!

                                                

                                                                                  

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $20.00 ages 10 and up

"They were making their getaway, but they were making their getaway slowly. Because even when Flora's father was thinking that things were hilarious, even when he was talking like a parakeet, he still, apparently, did not believe in speeding. Flora kept looking behind them to see if they were being followed by the cops. Or Rita and Ernie. When she finally looked down at Ulysses, his eyes were still closed..."

She doesn't like romance novels, but she loves comic books. One morning, while reading, the sound of her neighbor's newest gift to his wife stopped her in her tracks. Flora found the source of the noise just in time to see that new vacuum pull Mrs. Tickham all over their yard and suck a squirrel straight into its dust bag!

"Seemingly, swallowing a squirrel was a bit much even for the powerful, indomitable, indoor/outdoor Ulysses 2000X. Mrs. Tickham's birthday machine let out an uncertain roar and stuttered to a stop."

Getting the squirrel out of the vacuum bag, not knowing its condition, makes for a very funny scene. Flora has watched what happened, propelled herself into action, shaken the squirrel out of its death trap, and given it CPR. The squirrel's thoughts are shown to readers as all of this is happening:

"The squirrel heard another voice. This voice was counting. The light receded.
"Breathe!" the new voice shouted.
The squirrel obliged. He took a deep, shuddering breath. And then another. And another.
The squirrel returned."

What an auspicious beginning for Kate DiCamillo's new book! And it only gets better.

Once the squirrel is breathing on its own, his new best friend gives him the name Ulysses, and makes the astounding discovery that his near-death experience has given him some superhero powers. They are an unbeatable team. Life changes for both Flora and Ulysses, and not always for the better. Their story only lasts for a few days, but there is a lot of action packed into its passage. The use of two points of view make it laugh-out-loud funny at times.

Flora has a warm heart, a brave spirit and is an unrelenting skeptic. She takes a stand and sticks to her personal beliefs with passion and independence. She lives by the tenets of TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! She loves Ulysses and together they love what life serves up. Ulysses is a squirrel with a new outlook, following his harrowing experience:

“His brain felt larger, roomier. It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn’t even known existed) had suddenly been flung wide. Everything was shot through with meaning, purpose, light.”

He is also a great companion for a young girl dealing with divorce, a distracted mother, and time on her hands. Their adventures are awesome because they are together. As we learn as we come to know him better, Ulysses' view of the world is quite eye-opening:

"He was a squirrel riding in a car on a summer day with someone he loved. His whiskers and nose were in the breeze. And there were so many smells!
Overflowing trash cans, just-cut grass, sun-warmed patches of pavement, the loamy richness of dirt, earthworms (loamy-smelling, too; often difficult to distinguish from the smell of dirt), dog, more dog, dog again (Oh, dogs! Small dogs, large dogs, foolish dogs, the torturing of dogs was the one reliable pleasure of a squirrel's existence), the tang of fertilizer, a faint whiff of birdseed, something baking, the hidden hint of nuttiness (pecan, acorn), the small, apologetic, don't-mind-me odor of mouse, and the ruthless stench of cat."

Sorry...I just couldn't stop myself! Not for bedtime reading because of its often frenetic pace, it is a perfect family read on long, cold winter nights. Comic panels scattered throughout the telling add to the appeal and to understanding as the story moves along. They also speak to Flora's love of the black and white medium. Inventive and witty, this is a story that begs to be read out loud, and then to be read again. It is poetic, irreverent, and magical. It is filled with beautiful writing What a truly engaging gift at Christmas for any middle grade reader, or for your family!

       
 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ten Birds Meet a Monster, written and illustrated by Cybele Young. Kids Can Press, 2013. $18.95 ages 5 and up



"The fifth bird,
always diligent,
joined in.
Together they became
a Bristling Fang-Mangler.
But the monster
didn't seem to care."

This is the second counting book that Canadian artist Cybele Young has created about a flock of  birds. Equally as innovative and beautifully drawn as the first one, called simply Ten Birds (Kids Can, 2011), perhaps this one will also be in the running for the Governor General's Award for Illustration. The first was the winner in 2011.

It promises to engage readers fully with its incredibly detailed images of birds caught up in an adventure with a perceived monster. Their playthings are dress-up clothing, exactly what so many children look to when they want to disguise themselves for a hazardous undertaking. In this case, the birds are frightened by a shadowy monster in the next room, and must use what is at hand to try to scare it away. The first bird initiates the action:

"The first bird, always inventive,
became a Vicious Polka-dactyl.
But the monster didn't budge."

Perhaps you can imagine what that dressed-up bird might look like from its descriptive name. They are some dinosaurs you want to meet! Each successive bird does its level best to add to the power and size of the dashing defender. As the ever-growing brute gains girth and ferocity, the monster next door remains unfazed. What will it take to chase him away?

Luckily for all, the tenth bird has little patience left by the time they get to him. He is a wandering sort, and soon finds himself in close proximity with the offensive creature. Aha, the problem is quickly solved!

The language chosen for the telling is spot-on. Again, Ms. Young makes such careful choices for her descriptions of the ever-changing bird monster. It's a perfect book to read without showing the artwork the first time around; let your listeners try to imagine what she is so deliciously describing.
Her pencil and ink visuals are filled with detail and expression. Young readers are sure to notice the dismay the birds are feeling as the monster refuses to react to their threat. And don't miss out on how cleverly she displays each of the numbers on the facing pages. Beautifully designed and sure to capture rapt attention, this is a book that will be shared many times over.

                                                                          

Cat Champions, written by Rob Laidlaw. Pajama Press, 2013. $14.95 ages 8 and up

"Twelve-year-old Aundrea Hirschmiller's main hobby is rescuing cats. After more than eight years of volunteering, she can no longer count the number of cats she has rescued. Aundrea works with a group called East County Animal Rescue in El Cajon, California. The group traps cats, spaying the females and neutering the males." 

Have you seen the most recent video of cats who usurp dogs' beds? Too funny for words. Poor dogs, they just don't know what to do.

While those cats who 'people' the Internet obviously have enamored owners and caregivers, there are too many who end up homeless or feral, or sick and in need of specialized care because of abuse. This books talk about those (mostly young people) who have taken up the cause to provide shelter, attention and hope for so many of our feline friends.

Rob Laidlaw is himself a champion, having worked for more than thirty years to advocate for and protect animals. He speaks with thousands of people every year about our responsibility to ensure better conditions for all animals.

In his introduction, he talks about hope:

"For anyone who cares about cats, there's a lot to be concerned about. But there is also a reason to hope. Thousands of people around the world are doing their part to help cats. You'll find many organizations on the Internet."

He then begins with a close look at 'felis catus', providing an overview of cats and their world. It includes sidebars of useful information and excellent clear photographs of these acrobatic charmers. He also shares pictures of various breeds and talks about The Hemingway Cats that live in the house and on the property that was Hemingway's home and is now a national historic site:

"Many people believe the cats are descended from a six-toed cat named Snowball, a ship captain's gift to Hemingway in the early 1930s. The cats go wherever they please, and the museum staff cares for them."

Other chapters discuss feral cats, shelters, fostering cats, adoption, and raising funds and ensuring that the plight of so many cats gets the attention it deserves. There is much to consider when weighing the options for cat care, and enduring myths about which cats might, or should, be adoptable. But, the best part of the whole book comes when Mr. Laidlaw describes the 'champions' in detailed profiles, for the work they do to ensure that cats are safe, well fed and loved.

"When Rachel Cohen was nineteen, she had an amazing idea: Why not connect homeless teens with shelter animals? The teens would learn to care for animals, and the animals would get the love and attention they needed. In 2009, Rachel's inspired idea became Hand2Paw, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania organization that helps service agencies and animal shelters develop programs for dozens of homeless teens and thousands of animals."

There is plenty of good advice for those new to cat ownership, asking that all aspects of having a feline friend be considered before making any decision. He notes the costs, and the work involved whenever anyone decides to add a pet to the family.

An index and a guide to resources adds interest. There are ideas galore that can be shared to help improve the lives of the many kittens and cats that are in need of help throughout the world. Just one of them might appeal to you and your family. Check it out!

I'm a Frog! Written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2013. $9.99 ages 3 and up

"FIVE MINUTES AGO
SHE WAS A PIG!

NOW SHE IS A FROG!

RIBBIT!

What if I become a frog?
Hopping all day...
Eating flies!"

Poor Elephant! Piggie is so adept at creating chaos in his life. But, let's remember...she is his best friend, and also brings great joy to many of his days. Can this be their 20th
adventure? Indeed, it can!

Gerald is ever the cautious one, while Piggie displays exuberance at every turn, whether she is playing a trumpet, bird sitting, or loving a new toy. As is usual, Gerald is not quick on the uptake when Piggie tries to convince him that she is a frog. He is baffled by her assertion, and even begins to doubt himself about what is really happening:

"You are a ...frog?
Yes!
I did not know that.
I was sure you were a pig.
You look like a pig.
And your name is "Piggie."

Piggie is nothing, if not persistent. Even when she calmly explains what is really happening, Gerald is a little discombobulated. She has to carefully clarify for him what 'pretending' is. He is impressed!

I cannot wait to read this book to my first group of little ones, or adults. The results will be the same. It's sure to please and get a rousing response. I can't imagine any books that have such an impact on early readers as these books do. They just beg to be read aloud, and kids beg to read them on their own.

And the illustrations??? Fantastic, just splendid! Right on, Mo Willems...errrrr, I mean WRITE ON!!!

                                                                       

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Leaf Can Be....written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Violeta Dabija. Millbrook Press, Lerner. 2012. $22.50 ages 4 and up


"A leaf is a leaf -
a bit of a tree.
But when cool days
come chasing,
it also can be...

Wind rider

Lake glider..."


Have you ever wondered about the wonder of a leaf?  I can't say that I have; although I have been awed by their beauty, their size and their color. Just looking at the many different leaves that found their way into my yard this fall made me stop in wonder. Now, Laura Purdie Salas has captured the many things a leaf can be in her lovely poetic book.

The rhyming text and beautiful language is sure to attract attention, and give the reader pause to consider the ways we use words for apt and unusual description. In sharing her ideas, Ms. Salas provides text that begs to be read repeatedly in order to savor the beauty of those words: 'soft cradle', 'frost catcher' and 'bat shelter' are but a few of them.

Each two-word descriptor is paired with a rhymed partner. They encourage you to close your eyes and imagine for yourself what they might look like. If you can't conjure a picture, you don't need to do that. Violeta Dabija has crafted illustrations using traditional and digital techniques that bring each pair of words to glorious life. They are filled with light, and the palette is ever-changing to evoke the beauty of their impressive surroundings.

 An appendix includes explanations for each of the phrases the author uses to describe leaves:

"Skin welter: Not all leaves are nice to touch. Poison ivy will cause red, itchy bumps - or welts - to form on skin.

Ground warmer: When fallen leaves cover the ground each autumn, they have a job to do. They help warm the ground below them for the winter. That helps the grass underneath survive until spring."

A glossary and a list of books for further reading are also included here.

Be on the lookout in April 2014 for Water Can Be... I know I will be!


 
 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

All the Truth That's In Me, written by Julie Berry. Viking, Penguin. 2013. $19.00 ages 14 and up

"To say nothing is an answer
of a kind.
To answer is another.
To lie could protect you.
Would you believe what you
wanted to?
To tell the truth would make me
loathsome in your eyes.
Even more than I already am.
I pledged to give you all the truth
that's in me."

Julie Berry certainly doesn't need another positive review for her remarkable new novel. But, I need to tell you how much I loved reading it. So, here I am.

There is only one thing that Judith has ever wanted...Lucas. Their families arrived in America on the same boat, and Judith did nothing but stare at him throughout the long and arduous voyage. That is what her mother has told her. So much has happened in the intervening years, and still she loves only Lucas.

The entire novel reads as a letter written to him. They live in a small puritan community, and a traumatic event has caused the people of Roswell Station to totally ignore her. Judith disappears from their community for two years, and when she returns she can not tell people where she has been. Someone has cut her tongue out. If that is not harrowing enough, even her own mother treats her as a servant and will not speak her name.

Because she cannot speak for herself, the people around her act as if she cannot hear and assume that she is simple. Judith has many secrets; she shares none of them. Instead, she watches everything that is happening around her. She is smart. She is compassionate. She does what is expected of her at home. When she hears that Lucas is to be married, her heart breaks but she treats his future wife with kindness. Eventually, they become good and supportive friends.

As she recounts her life and its events, we begin to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. She alludes to her time away throughout the telling. While we are aware of the time in history, the treatment of those who did not meet the expectations or obey the rules of the puritanical townspeople, the dreadful rejection of her own mother, and the innuendo and lies that could result in degrading public punishment, we are constantly focused on the distinct and unforgettable characters who people its pages. We revile them, or we agonize with them.

"Poor Lucas. No one wants to see a neighbor publicly
shamed at meeting. If I could, I would read you Darrel's
book about the French girl. There's a lesson in it for would-
be heroes. The people you save won't celebrate you. They'll
gather the wood and cheer while you burn."  

Judith's voice is so beautifully fashioned that the reader cannot help but feel what she is feeling; all of the longing, loneliness, shame, regret, anguish, determination, love.

"I feel you beside me, strengthening me.
I will speak, though my sounds are crude. I will use words
long denied to me, with no apology for how corrupt they
sound. My listeners will hear what they choose to hear."

Nothing is certain until the final page is read...and as has happened before, I did not want to turn that page and have this wondrous read come to an end. Extraordinary!

Locomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Men came from far away
to build from the East,
to build from the West,
to meet in the middle.

They cleared the rocks
and dug the tunnels.
They raised the hammers
and brought them down -

"Three strokes to the spike,
ten spikes to the rail!"

You cannot possibly walk away from reading this book without having acquired an immeasurable amount of knowledge concerning steam trains, history, and the incomparable work that one creative spirit will produce to bring it all to a rapt and thankful audience.

'SIX STARS' and counting....incredible and absolutely deserving of the accolades. Brian Floca spent years researching his passion for the steam engines that rode the transcontinental railroad once it was completed and fit for travel.  That research, he assures us in his SOURCES list at the back of the book, did not all have to do with bookshelves and the computer screens:

"In Essex, Connecticut, through the Valley Railroad Company, I had the experience of sitting in the engineer's seat and driving a steam locomotive myself. It was only for an hour...

Then a drive along the route of the first transcontinental rail line showed me firsthand the landscape through which that road ran and got me to people and places who helped me learn more about the railroads of the time. (A drive instead of a trip on a train? Lines have changed since the nineteenth century, and it is easier today to follow the 1869 route by road than by rail.)"

He uses free verse to tell his story of a pioneer family who are traveling by rail to California. As we travel with them, we learn about the two rail lines that would be joined with a golden spike at the Promontory Summit in Utah:

"It took two companies to build this new road,
and it takes two companies to run it.
Now you'll change from one to the next.
The Union Pacific has got you this far,
the Central Pacific will finish the job.

It began as a fairly simple idea...to describe a steam locomotive, how it worked and how it got from one place to another. In an interview with Julie Danielson (http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings) at Kirkus on September 16, 2013, the author explains that it became so much more than that:

"There was nothing contained about the transcontinental railroad, though. It sprawls. It's history, it's engineering, it's the landscape, it's the West!...
The more I learned about how the machines worked, the more interesting they became to me—in the same way that a puzzle can become more interesting as you begin to solve it. And the more I thought about and read about and then saw the landscape through which the transcontinental line traveled, the more amazed I became. Some of that landscape is beautiful and frightening in its openness, emptiness, grandeur."

His second person voice ensures that the reader is right there with him for every step of this amazing journey:

"In the cars
it's time to sleep -
or at least it's time to try.

In better cars, there are better beds;
porters pull them from the ceilings,
they make them from the seats.

In your car, for a bed
you use your bench.
Get as comfortable as you can."

 It is so informative and inviting to see the sights and hear the sounds while learning just exactly what each member of the train's crew is responsible to do. I was flabbergasted by the amount of information that is included and how truly interested I was in each page. The endpapers add to our accumulating knowledge of locomotives and train travel. The front endpaper maps the railroad line from Omaha to San Francisco, offering a glimpse at the history of the time, and adding a brochure describing the trip west. At the back, a clear explanation of steam power is provided, accompanied by a detailed and captioned illustration of the locomotive and tender. A train schedule and price list adds a finishing touch.



We, as readers, experience all that those early travelers experienced from sitting in the engineer's seat to praying that the rickety looking trestle bridge at Dale Creek will hold until the train clears the far side. The ride is full of wonder and discovery.



Majestic in scope and brilliant in execution, Mr. Floca's watercolor, ink and gouache artwork is a celebration for everyone lucky enough to share this extraordinary book.  YOU NEED TO HAVE YOUR OWN COPY!  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Come Back, Moon, written by David Kherdian and illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"No one knew where
the moon had gone.
"It's gone," said Fox.
"Where did it go?"
asked Skunk.
"I miss the moon,"
said Opossum.
"Maybe someone stole it,"
Raccoon said."

Poor Bear! No matter what, he just can't go to sleep. He thinks that the bright light from the moon must be the cause of his insomnia, so he up and steals it. The other animals of the forest are bewildered by its absence. Each seeks advice from another until wily fox leads them to wise owl for guidance.

It is Owl who watched as Bear took the moon, and Owl is quick to offer that observation. It sets the rest of the animals on a path to Bear. Fox makes the suggestion that Crow tell Bear a story that will put him to sleep. Once Bear is safe in slumber, they are able to set the moon back in its place. Great joy abounds!

The text is perfect for a young audience and a wonderful story for those just learning to read. The elegance of Nonny Hogrogian's illustrations are a perfect match to the images created by David Kherdian's gentle words. This husband and wife team have collaborated once again to create a lovely, lovely story to be enjoyed by all who share it.

It's enough to make you dance in the moonlight, too!

                              
 

Max and the Tag-Along Moon, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Philomel Books, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"Max giggled as he watched
the beautiful bright orb flicker
through the passing trees,
trailing behind the car as it
traveled home, this way and
that, playing peekaboo.
Up a hill, down a hill,
the moon was ever there.
Over a bridge, around a
curve, the moon bounced
along!"

Max loves his grandfather with all of his heart. When it is time to leave Grandpa's house for home, Max has a very difficult time. Grandpa wants him to be worry-free; so, he promises Max that the moon will always be shining for him right there in the dark sky. As they travel Max keeps his eye on the moon, and it shines brightly for him. Then, as storm clouds roll in, his pleasure lessens and he worries that the moon will disappear, which it does.

He feels lonely for his Grandpa, and sad that the moon's disappearance means that his grandfather's love could also do the same. He has much to think about as he watches the dark night sky looking for the moon, and then heads to bed. As the moon reappears when the sky clears, Max understands that his grandfather's love, like the moon's light, will go on forever.

"Max knew then that whenever he saw the moon, he would think of Grandpa, on and on.
And he slept soundly, embraced in soft yellow light."

Soft light, luminous artwork and the joy of familial love brings a special glimmer to this lovely, warm story. I have been a fan of Floyd Cooper's since I heard speak many years ago. I am always on the lookout for anything new, and still feel a sense of awe at seeing the beautiful illustrations he creates using an oil wash on board, and his stretchy eraser. It is truly wonderful to watch him erase paint to make astonishing pictures. He calls it a 'subtractive process' and although, I could never even begin to describe it to you, I will never forget watching him create 'magic'. He adds color later to bring out the details for the image he is creating.


 

The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler's List, written by Leon Leyson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, 2013. $19.99 ages 9 and up

"My family had already spent our safety net of gold coins, and my father's savings had disappeared. All we had left to barter were the last of my father's suits. When we were most desperate, Father once again asked his friend Wojek, who lived outside the ghetto, to sell one on the black market. As before, after taking a cut for himself, Wojek gave us the remaining coins."

Leon Leyson was the youngest person on Schindler's list. Saved from the death camps that were the fate of so many, Leon and his parents were approved for immigration in 1949. He was nineteen years old. He lived in the United States for many years following WWII, teaching high school and sharing his personal experiences of the Holocaust. Sadly, he died early this year before this memoir was published.

When the war began, his working class family lived in Poland. Theirs was a happy life, living with friends and relatives in the countryside and loving the freedom that life afforded. When his father moved to the city to make a better life for his family, he was sorely missed. Finally, he was able to move his wife and five children to the city. It was an exciting time for each of them, although they missed everything they had left behind them.

When the war broke out, Hitler and his henchmen changed their lives forever. It was no time before the Jewish people of Poland were stripped of any human rights, all that they owned, and finally their freedom. The family was moved to the ghetto where they did their best to endure and survive. With little food, and nothing left to trade for more, they lived in constant fear of the power of the Nazis and for their lives. As the ghetto grew and became overcrowded, people were chosen for transport. It might be to a labor camp, but more likely that meant a death camp.

Luckily, for the Leyson family, Leon's father was given work in Oskar Schindler's factory. That work brought with it a small sense of security, but little to fully support his family. Admiration for Schindler came for his mission to save as many Jews as he could. Leon had many conversations with him, and often was given extra rations and changed work assignments because of the young boy's hard work and resilience during the war. It was because of this close connection that most of Leon's family survived the horrors of the Nazi occupation.

Told from his perspective as a young boy, this book has tremendous power for its readers. The voice is so strong and real:

"After the soldier left, the gates swung open. I was in shock. We all were. We had gone from years of imprisonment to freedom. I felt confused, weak, and ecstatic all at once.
Disoriented and uncertain, we continued to drift around the Brunnlitz camp for two days. I couldn't
absorb the fact that we were now liberated, even as our enemies, the vanquished German soldiers, streamed past us by the hundreds. I stood and watched them, the once confident troops now dejected prisoners of the Soviets. Hour after hour they trudged by, their heads down, their expressions sullen. Some of the Jewish workers contemplated revenge. A few grabbed the soldiers' boots and tossed their own wooden clogs at them in exchange. I didn't join in. There was no way to "even the score" with the Nazis, no matter what I did. All I wanted was to remember those hours forever, remember the sight of the once proud soldiers straggling past us in abject defeat."

His telling has tremendous impact. His testimony concerning the Holocaust has been heard by many, and Leon's story now has permanence in this harrowing, but hopeful book. It is worthy of your attention.

The Golden Day, written by Ursula Dubosarsky. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 12 and up

"The little girls wandered away. They were not interested in Morgan. But Miss Renshaw was. She leaned against the seawall with him, and they looked out at the Pacific Ocean and Morgan told her all about himself. Morgan worked in the Ena Thompson Memorial Gardens, mowing lawns, pulling out weeds, planting flowers, trimming bushes, sweeping paths, cutting branches from the trees..."

This was a quick read because it elicited such a response from me. I was thoroughly intrigued by the well-crafted tale and the beautiful language, and satisfied and a bit shaken by its ending. It is set in the late 1960s in Australia. We meet 11 girls from an all-girls boarding school, and their teacher Miss Renshaw in its opening pages:

"Miss Renshaw was tall, noble, and strong. Her hair was red and springy. She was like a lion....

Theirs was a very small class. There were only eleven of them, like eleven sisters all the same age in a large family. Cubby, Icara, Martine, Bethany, Georgina, Cynthia, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth, and silent Deirdre."

When the early morning news features the story of a man hanged and because of her aversion to capital punishment, Miss Renshaw decides that the class will head off to a memorial garden where they will be in the right place to consider death. It seems a strange pursuit. When they arrive they meet Morgan, a man who cares for the gardens and who shares Miss Renshaw's love of poetry. While there, Morgan leads them on an expedition to see paintings in a nearby seaside cave. When they become too anxious about their circumstances, the girls make the decision to leave the cave and get themselves to safety in the garden. Miss Renshaw and Morgan do not reappear. After waiting what seems a very long time, the girls return to school alone.

Aghast at this strange turn of events, the girls draw closer together and deal with the changes wrought by Miss Renshaw's disappearance. Sworn to secrecy by their teacher about their meetings with Morgan, the girls maintain a silence that is palpable. The school leaders are overbearing and deserve no credit for helping them deal with their loss. The girls learn by listening to conversations, and by sharing things they remember seeing and hearing. When the authorities become involved, everyone learns more about Morgan and fears the worst for Miss Renshaw.

The author uses subdued bits of humor to release the reader from an overwhelming feeling of unease:

"Amen" said Mr. Broome.
"Amen," said the eleven voices in response.
Mr. Broome stopped rocking up and down on his feet and
stood up very straight, like a soldier, looking out.
"I can see every girl in this room. Every girl in this room."
That was what he always said in chapel, but here it was less
impressive. After all, it was not very hard - there were only
eleven of them."

We are there with the young girls as they experience every event, each conversation, their concern for their teacher, and their need not to tell all that they saw. Beautifully written and totally compelling, it is a book I could not put down until the final page was read. It is a book that I will remember for a very long time.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things, written by Cynthia Voigt. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Max stood at the window, watching the woman and her child leave the ice cream shop and turn to walk away down the street. The mother's fingers were wrapped around the little boy's hand. A fist squeezed his heart, and he thought he wasn't going to be able to wait for word of his parents. "Max?" Gabrielle asked, as if to call him to attention. "What's your other name, Max?"

When a letter arrives inviting his parents to travel to India to set up a theatre group, Max gets set to leave with them. On his way to the ship, he makes a stop and by the time he arrives at the wharf, his parents have departed. Did they mean to leave him behind, or was it an accident? He sets himself the task of answering that question.

In this first of a trilogy of books about Mister Max by the remarkably talented Cynthia Voigt, we spend a lot of time learning about the boy, his family and his need to earn a living despite being a 12-year-old. It turns out that without having realized it, he is quite adept at solving mysteries. The people who hire him are pleased with his work. First he finds a lost boy, then a dog, a silver spoon and finally the true identity of his supportive friends.

He is practiced in the theatrical arts, having worked with his parents from a young age; he uses those skills to create new characters while detecting. He is a good boy, reliable, helpful, caring and honest. I like his heart and his mind.

I have great admiration for Cynthia Voigt's ability to bring us memorable characters. She creates believable scenarios that keep me reading and wanting to know more. I liked each of Max's quiet adventures, and his ability to cope with the hand he has been dealt. As Max, who is himself a lost thing, is able to return other lost things to their proper place, he also finds a new version of himself. His work is satisfying, he is able to support himself, and he makes life better for those around him.

If you find yourself in need of a solutioneer, you would do well to look for Mister Max. You may just have to wait until his next story is on book shelves. It will be worth the wait, I am sure.

  

Warning: Do NOT Open This Book, narrated by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. A Paula Wiseman, Simon & Schuster, 2013. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Why did you turn the page?

Didn't you see the warning?

Stay on this page.
You are safe here.

This is a good page.

I like this one."

Who is going to be able to resist doing just exactly what they are told not to do? You know it won't be you, don't you?

Kids won't be able to take the advice given either, and will be itching to move forward, despite all the admonitions to just leave it alone!  Isn't that the best thing about books that are meant to engage our children in a fun reading experience that does nothing but encourage them to learn how to read it, too?

One lone monkey takes an unbelieving peek at the reader...what are you doing, he seems to ask. Turn another page, and here they come. They have paint cans, paint brushes, tubes of paint and even a guitar. You know it's going to get messy. The monkeys don't appear to be concerned. They are, after all, creating a happy place for themselves and they aren't too worried about anyone else. Once they have completed each of their chosen projects, they are content to sit back and relax. Don't get too comfortable, monkeys! There is more in store for you.

Can you hear the giggling? It won't be long until they can read it for themselves and soon there will be a chorus of voices sharing the hilarity with expression and delight. It's left to readers to help contain each of the new arrivals within the confines of the book. Can they do it? I think they can. Just keep careful watch on little fingers each time the book slams shut!

One of my favorite forever books to read out loud is The Monster at the End of This Book. It always gets such a wonderful response from listeners. This is a great addition to all books of that type and will ensure response and love for those who share them.

Matt Forsythe's earthy tones and always growing cast of characters add to the chaos that is so catchy, and so inspiring as little ones take the opportunity to break all rules while listening very carefully to the 'don'ts'! Can't you just hear the joyful voices as they screech out their own warnings, after they have listened again and again?