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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton, by Meghan McCarthy. A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"As Betty grew bigger,
so did her dreams.
When most kids turn
sixteen, they get a license
to drive a car.
Betty got one to fly a
She even made the

Who was Betty Skelton? I did not know. Once again, that is what I find so compelling about the spate of exceptional biography being written (and published) for young readers today.

Now, I know another hero. Born in 1926 with a compelling 'need for speed', Betty Skelton was consumed by flight. When she did her solo flight on her 16th birthday, she had already spent four years in the cockpit of an airplane. She hadn't told anyone for fear she would be in big trouble (and her father, too).

Despite her success and desire, she could not apply for a commercial pilot's license. She was a woman, and women could not fly commercially at that time. The navy was not an option; so, Betty became a stunt pilot:

"She soon became famous for the inverted ribbon cut. Betty would swoop toward the ground while upside down and cut a ribbon with her propeller. Amazing!"

When flying lost its appeal in the early 1950s, it didn't take long for Betty to find another passion...race car driving! She faced much danger and many obstacles. With records being broken in the sky and at the racetrack, Betty turned to the water...becoming the first female boat jumper. Was there anything left to try?

You might be surprised at the answer if, like me, you don't know Betty's story.

Engaging and filled with personal quotes that make it feel very personal, readers are sure to be inspired by Betty's personality and tenacity. She is an inspiration to all who follow in her footsteps.
Through the engaging text and acrylic cartoon-like artwork, you will come to know a woman of admirable character. Add to that the fun facts, Betty quotes, a time line and a list of books for further reference, and you have a book that will please and perhaps even astonish its readers.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Outside the Box: A Book of Poems, written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Diane Goode. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"The wolves are having trouble
finding tasty sheep to eat.
They wish they could
for sheep taste good;
they have the nicest meat.

But wolves are having trouble,
for the sheep cannot be found.
The sheep are rare,
but everywhere,
flocks of wolves abound."

Ah, this is fun! It's a great collection, with grand artwork and unlimited appeal for its target audience. Reading it with your family or to your students will provide laughter and light-hearted entertainment at every turn of the page.

Karma Wilson dedicates her book to the man who immediately came to my mind as I opened the box that contained it:

"To Shel S.,
who encouraged every child to play with words,
and in doing so, encouraged them to learn how to love,
fight, and reach others with words as well."

Off we go with a tongue-in-cheek welcome, and encouragement to find something inside to love and share. Thinking 'outside the box' is at the heart of this collection. There are poems to remind readers of stories from their own lives...telling fibs, tattling, arguing with sisters and brothers. There are flights of imagination and some wild new creatures that will live long in our memories.

"Definition of a Unicorn

Is it...
a horse with a horn?
Or just one ear of corn?"

Growing up can be such fun! The poet sets out to prove it's true. In more than 100 poems, Ms. Wilson celebrates what makes a child a child, the events that hold special memories, the joys and sorrows of family life and the creative spirit:

" My brother built a car today.
He said, "Hop in. We'll drive away."
Might take a while gettin' there.
The wheels my brother made are square."

Diane Goode's accompanying artwork, done with ink and capturing the comedic spirit of the writing, is perfect. In just a few strokes of the pen, she conjures up moments that match the words on the page and give definition to the concepts shared.

Celebrate Poetry Month before it's too late!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Skydiver: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World, by Celia Godkin. Pajama Press, 2014. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Over the next few days, the female peregrine lays four eggs. They rest in a shallow depression the pair has scraped out on the ledge. While the large female guards the eggs from predators, the smaller male hunts for both of them."

At one time, we had peregrine falcons nesting on one of our downtown buildings. I am not sure that they are still there, and couldn't find any recent information that would assure me that they are. That doesn't change the fact that I was really interested in reading Celia Godkin's newest book which is subtitled: Saving the Fastest Bird in the World.

The fastest bird in the world? I had no idea. It upped the ante to find our more about them. Find out more I did:

"Wanting to impress the female with his mastery of the skies, the male greets her with a spectacular aerial display. First he flies high in the sky. Then, with breathtaking speed, he plummets toward the earth. No animal on earth travels faster than a diving peregrine."

I did not know that, and so much more!

The informative text and detailed accompanying artwork show young readers the birds in their airy habitat, on the edge of a rock ledge. After hunting for needed food, the male is on his way back to the nest when he spots people nearby. One of those people climbs down to the nest, carefully removes the eggs and climbs back to the top of the cliff.

What is she doing? We learn that she is a researcher who knows that the female will lay other eggs this season, and there is no need to be concerned. Only one of the three new eggs produces a chick. Not to fear, the first clutch will be raised by humans, in hopes of ensuring the peregrine's future:

"The team takes the eggs to a sanctuary and places them in an incubator. In this warm, protected place, the fragile eggs have a better chance to survive. Sure enough, three weeks later, four downy chicks hatch into a strange new world."

The author assures that  her readers understand  the danger that these beautiful birds have faced, and how their numbers are improving because of  the care and concern shown by leading scientists. Of course, the chicks cannot always be protected from their natural predators; so, other measures are put in place to try to ensure their survival.

An author's note encourages readers to find out more and includes this startling statistic:

"Estimates vary, but one National Geographic team clocked a peregrine in a power dive at 242 miles(387 kilometers) an hour."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Written & photgraphed by Susan Kuklin. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $26.00 ages 14 and up

"Crap! That group? Three more years with them. Crap! My mother said, "It's a new school and a new year. Leave everything behind you. You're there to be educated." I took her advice and I tried. I really tried hard. I thought my life would become better if I just studied and stayed away from the girls, but it actually became worse."

We all need to read this book, and boost our understanding of the issues that face transgender teens in our society. The more we know, the more compassionate and understanding we become of all people in our world. It is not just a book for teens; it is necessary for far too many adults as well.

In six chapters the courageous teens  tell their stories of being transgender. Ms. Kuklin conducted numerous interviews, fashioned the stories from that collected data, and encouraged the teens to be sure that their stories are told as they wanted them told. The author adds context in italics to help with our understanding of gender as a broad issue, and for us to see some of the many and varied challenges these teens face. No matter how balanced their lives are, they must deal with misunderstanding and ridicule:

"Coming out trans is very exposing. It opens you up to a lot of mockery. The reason I wrote the poem I did was to come out with a bang. I wrote it also to clear away some of the criticism that I knew would be coming. If you get up on stage and say "I'm trans" by doing a poem - that is hopefully an all right poem - it is more impressive that just coming out. At least it was for me."  (Luke)

Meeting these brave young people is revelatory. Blessed we are that Susan Kuklin uses her listening and photographic skills to bring us their stories. They speak so honestly about their relationships with family and friends, and about the time and endless patience it takes to transition. There are humorous moments and heartbreaking ones.

The author includes author's notes, a very informative four-page question and answer section with Dr. Manel Silva, a helpful glossary and an extensive further resources section. Through her captioned black and white and color photographs, we have the privilege of meeting six amazing, strong, complicated teens and learning their stories.

Meet Cameron, who reflects seriously and expresses enlightened thinking about gender, his thoughts captioning a gallery of color photographs shared by Ms. Kuklin:

"Gender is more fluid and more complex than society assumes.

The easiest way to explain it is to draw a line to represent gender, with
arrows on either end. Put an M on one end and an F on the other.

A person can be anywhere on the line. Or it's like a spectrum and you can be
anywhere on the spectrum.

But for me, even describing it as a spectrum is too limiting because gender is explained as somewhere between girl and boy. This identifies gender the way society indicates, and that's
not what it's about. There are other genders our there that don't fit onto the spectrum range.

Gender does not have endpoints. It's three-dimensional. Males float around somewhere, females float around somewhere else, and some people just don't float at all - they swim.

What I mean is, unlike the floaters, swimmers control where they're going. The
swimmers do their gender instead of be their gender. Or at least they direct their

And I guess that's what I do.

But I was kind of annoyed when my mom said, "I see someone else today."
And you know what she was talking about? Me, before I came out. It was
annoying because she was not looking at a different person: she was looking
at a different gender.

Some days I'm masculine, and that's pretty weird. Some days I'm
feminine, and that's pretty weird, too.

A week ago I wore a girl-cut T-shirt. It was a girly day.

I felt great about it."

What an amazing voice!  This is a sensitive and powerful sharing of information we all will be better knowing. It is a necessary discussion to have. These candid teens help us on our way to being more informed and more compassionate. Thank you!

Very Short TALL TALES to Read Together, written by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Michael Emberley. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2014. $19.00 ages 8 and up

This book is full of funny tales
That are both short and tall.

Both short and tall at once, you say?
I don't get that at all.

They're short because they are
not long.

Well, that is plain to see;
But how can they be tall as well?"

You are about to see just how that might happen. In their newest collaboration for children, the prolific Mary Ann Hoberman and the ingenious Michael Emberley are back with thirteen tall tales. An introduction helps with the story form:

"The tall tale is a unique form of American storytelling. Its heroes and heroines are larger than life, and their deeds are amazing. Some of these characters were actual people, while others were created out of whole cloth. In all the tales, exaggeration is primary, the more the better! And in their repeated retellings over the years, they have become an important part of our American literature."

On with the characters who people this book's pages, beginning with Annie Oakley. She is a legend who knew how to shoot accurately from when she was a small girl. The story tells of her move west, and her showing of these incredible skills to the folks who lived there. She happened to really impress one of them...Frank E. Butler. She also impressed many worldly people who came to see the Wild West Show, and her fame grew:

"Sitting Bull was struck with awe,
Was amazed at what he saw,
Made her an adopted Sioux,
Named her "Little Sure Shot," too."

As is the format for the other books from this series, the text is set up to be read by two voices. The text changes color to help readers determine which part is theirs to printed in red, one in green. The part where both read together is purple. I have watched many children relish the joys of shared reading, starting with books just like this one.

The tall tales include Davy Crockett, John Henry, Slue-Foot Sue and Pecos Bill, Febold Feboldson, Johnny Appleseed, Alfred Bulltop Stormalong...and six more. I have heard of many; some are brand new to me. Their stories are surely entertaining, and often unbelievable.

"Davy Crockett's tales are mixed -
Parts are tall and parts are true;
But either one, they are all fun!
You read to me, I'll read to you."

The text is a bit more demanding than some of the previous volumes, and the stories more complex. That will not deter readers from sharing the fun with a partner, and wanting to share them with others as well. I think I have mentioned how perfect this type of reading is for performance assemblies. In teaching tall tales to others, you are also encouraging students to share their growing reading skills with their audience.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Papa Is a Poet, written by Natalie S. Bober and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $19.99 ages 8 and up

 "Evening time meant a short walk after supper with Papa to watch the sun go down, hear the birds sing softly, and smell the soft mist rising from the meadow. After our walk, we settled in the parlor."

It was in that parlor, night after night, that Robert Frost's children learned how much their parents loved to read:

"They read from books that they loved, passing the book back and forth between them. We were allowed to stay and listen until we became sleepy. Then Mama let us cuddle up and go to sleep in whichever bed we chose."

The beauty to be found in the picture book biographies that we share with children often comes from learning about a new person's life, or even about the background for someone whose work is familiar to us. I love Robert Frost's poetry and knew nothing about him as a father and husband.

Using the voice of his daughter to tell his story immediately makes it more personal, and more appealing to the audience. The author focuses on Frost's love of nature and family. Upon returning to the United States following two years in England, her father is told that one of his books has been published. His work had been published in England, but her father knows nothing of the American
release. Off he goes to learn more.

As the family awaits his return Lesley thinks back on the life lived prior to moving to England. Their farm in the New Hampshire countryside is remembered with fondness for the happy times they experienced:

"Papa had cleared the underbrush with an axe and clippers, and Mama would sit on a board bench that Papa had nailed between two young pine trees. She would mend stockings or read aloud to us. We would build dams, play house using plantain leaves as our dishes, or hunt for mayflowers."

The children were taught by their parents as they lived far from town. Their lessons were varied and literacy was at the heart of what they did together: writing personal stories, buying books they loved, rereading for pleasure, and loving words as their parents did. It was an unconventional upbringing.

As she recalls farm life, Lesley acknowledges that 'the cupboard was often bare, yet life was filled to the brim'. She describes those daily events that spawned the poems included in Robert Frost's much loved and admired books.

"When Papa listened carefully to the speech of all his farmer neighbors, he heard words that had the ring of pure poetry. "The sentence sound often says more than the words," he told me. He wanted to make music out of words. Papa could hear the melody in a sentence.

       He gives his harness bells a shake
       To ask if there is some mistake."

Illustrations done in acrylic ink, colored pencil and watercolor offer a clear and gentle look at the life the family lived. They enhance the text and inform readers of times past. The back matter is most interesting and includes an author's note, archival black and white photographs, Robert Frost quotations, and selections from the poet's work.

The final image shows a librarian (or teacher) reading poems by this beloved writer and is accompanied by this final sentence:

 "The "road" Papa took was the road - or life - of a poet. Now the world can hear the beauty of my papa's words."

And we do!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Caminar, written by Skila Brown. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 10 and up


I walked beside him. We were
the same height, same size, same,
except he was not afraid
of the bullets on his chest,
except he knew what he was
doing, except
he had a plan.
I asked Paco, "Your Mama
let you be a rebel?"

If you have read my blog prior to today, you will know that I am enamored of the power of words, and particularly of a writer's ability to pen a verse novel. That, to me, must be one of the most difficult writing to attempt. It requires careful research to fill one's head with all of the pertinent information the writer wants to share, and then paring it down to beautifully chosen words that carry the story and impact the reader.

I had read only one review of Caminar. It sparked my need to know more about the war that raged in Guatemala for so many years (1960 to 1996). When it arrived this week, I was keen to sit and learn more.

It is dedicated 'In memory of the more than 200,000 people who were killed or disappeared in Guatemala' and adds 'May they always be remembered."

With that thought in mind, Skila Brown embarks on a fictional story of the village people of Guatemala, and the seemingly endless war that changed their lives forever. It begins in Chopan, Guatemala, 1981, with a boy named Ah Xochil (Carlos). He is young, obedient, and just old enough to provide some help. His mother keeps him safe from harm, and discourages his burgeoning need to be 'a man', saying he is not yet ready. Carlos is a good son, and his mama is proud of him.

The first poems give readers a clear view of village life, of Carlos and his friends, and of some of the conflicts that play out among its inhabitants. The war and its resulting unrest are a constant threat to all who live in the mountains. The beautifully descriptive poems reflect Carlos' point of view as to what is happening all around him. The army camps nearby for a time, seeking help in ferreting out  traitors and threatening those who might protect them. A band of rebels also passes through, without threat, but garnering discomfort. People living in remote villages know little about the civil war, and fear everyone.

Young boys are convinced or forced to join the military, or the rebels, as the fighting escalates. Protesters often disappear, never returning to their village and its people. Suspecting that villagers harbor fugitives and rebels, the army often annihilates a whole village in a bid for power and the upper hand.

His mother has a warning for Carlos:

  "Listen to me. You
will run, When you hear
the first sign of trouble,
         you will go.

We will meet in the mountains,
      go as deep as you can.
Do not slow down, do not
           look back."

While gathering mushrooms for his mother's soup, Carlos hears the gunfire and the screaming that comes from his village. He does as he is told, and runs. When the noises cease, he begins the upward climb to his grandmother's mountain village. Along they way he meets up with a rebel group on their way to a larger camp. Spending time with them, and hearing their stories, forces Carlos to think seriously about his future. Ensuing events precipitate his final decision.

This is a powerful read, clearly and carefully written to allow us knowledge of this young boy, his experiences and his emotions. It offers a picture of a country in conflict, and the mental and physical toll war takes on children whose lives are turned upside down by events beyond their control.

An opening note to the reader, a Spanish glossary and a short question and answer section with the author will encourage interested readers to learn more.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Written and illustrated by Dan Santat. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2014. $ 19.00 ages 5 and up

"The real world was a
strange place.
No kids were eating cake.
No one stopped to hear
the music.
And everyone needed

Then he saw something

Beekle is an imaginary friend whose lot it is to fact, he's almost been too patient! A child has yet to lay claim to him. Many of the other inhabitants of his island have been called into service. Beekle is patient...until he isn't anymore.

Discouraged and tired of hanging around waiting for his turn to come, he boards a boat and goes in search of a child to befriend him. He encounters many scary sea creatures; he is buoyed on his dangerous journey by the idea that he will find that friend.

Arriving at a seaside city, he is astounded to find the world so drab, and almost colorless. He wanders the streets until he spies a somewhat familiar tail. Following that tail he finds himself in a land made brighter and more appealing by the children playing there. Many have imaginary friends; Beekle recognizes them as those who have gone before him.

No matter where he wanders in the park, he cannot find that friend. So, he climbs a tree in hopes that he might spot one. Guess what? After much thought about what led him to this place, and the  overwhelming feeling of sadness that no friend is about to appear to him, he hears a welcome 'hello!'.

Dan Santat is brilliant. He imagines a world that will delight and charm his readers. The warmth of belonging ends Beekle's long search, and creates the perfect 'ahhh!' moment for all. Bravo!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Most Magnificent Thing, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press, 2014. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"When she is finished, she steps back to admire her work. She walks around one side. Her assistant examines the other side ...
It doesn't look right. Her assistant picks it up and gives it a shake. It doesn't feel right...either."

There are times, for each one of us, when we become overwhelmed and frustrated by things that don't go as we had hoped they would. How we react to those feelings determines future success. It is not surprising that this 'regular' girl succumbs to disappointment when what she sees in her head and draws with her hands, does not prove viable.

She gives it her best shot. No matter what she tries, it doesn't become the magnificent thing she imagined. Her loyal bulldog assistant is with her every step of the way, offering company and little else:

"The girl tinkers and hammers and measures...
...while her assistant pounces
and growls and chews."

With each new attempt at creating what she has so diligently designed, she encounters disaster. As she fails miserably time after time, she becomes more and more frustrated by the process. Her assistant remains by her side, impressed by her persistence in the face of such adversity:

"The girl saws and glues and adjusts.
She stands and examines and stares.
She twists and tweaks and fashions.
She fixes and straightens and studies."

The process is endless. When acute anger overcomes her, it is her assistant that comes to the rescue.    He sits down beside her, leash at the ready. A walk allows attention to be given to the neighborhood and its many sights, sounds and smells.

"Bit by bit, the mad gets pushed out of her head."

Now, she is ready to try one more time!

Ashley Spires uses a red polka-dot dress to keep our attention firmly on the young artist, and changing perspectives to draw her audience into the constant action. She also makes us acutely aware of the range of emotion felt by her protagonist and mirrored by her worthy assistant. I love the black lines of the neighborhood background, the worth her neighbors find in her discarded experiments, and the joy she and her pal experience when 'the most magnificent thing' is realized!

Well done, young lady!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Winter Sky, written by Patricia Reilly Giff. Wendy Lamb Books, Random House. 2014. $17.99 ages 8 and up

"Long ago, astronomers noticed something unusual about Sirius. The star didn't sail across the sky in a straight line as they expected it to do. It took years to find out why. Sirius wasn't alone. A genuine white dwarf star traveled with her, the two circling the sky together. One looking after the other. The white star couldn't be seen, not even by Sirius. But it was there. Sirius was never alone."

I have long admired Patricia Reilly Giff's writing. I shared her stories with my own children, and in my classrooms. I would also love to share this new story of Siria, a young lady born on New Year's Day and named for the star Sirius by her mother.

"But here, where the mother lived, only a glimpse of it
could be caught in August. But it January it shone in
the sky, huge and glowing, the month of her baby's
The star was called Sirius.
"That's what we named our daughter," the mother
said. "Siria, for the brightest star."

Siria remembers little about her mother, who died when Siria was a small girl. She knows stories from her father and she has a star book that belonged to her mother. She also has a belief that her mother trusts her to take care of her father, a firefighter. To that end, Siria and her best friend Douglas sneak out at night to follow sirens that might be leading her father into danger. She knows it's taboo, and she knows that she will be in big trouble if she gets caught. She can't help it. She has a need to know that he is always safe. Her fire chasing builds tension for readers of this fine family story.

When she sees evidence of other fires being set, she tells no one. She fears that it is the work of an arsonist, and she is determined to discover the source of the fires. When a piece of evidence, and a few other clues, lead her to believe that her friend Douglas is the fire starter, she confronts him. He is astounded that she would believe such a thing.

Siria's story is told with heartwarming attention to the family that surrounds her. She has her Pop, the fire fighters at his firehouse, her babysitter Mimi, her friends Laila and Douglas, a scary-looking, stray dog and the people of her neighborhood. All play a part in a story of a girl who is feisty and courageous, while also being compassionate and clearly connected to those who love her.

The plot twist that has to do with the wolf-like, hungry dog will satisfy those who love stories of rescued animals. The story would make a wonderful readaloud in an intermediate classroom, and offers many opportunities for discussion of a variety of important issues. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Feathers: Not Just for Flying. Written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Charlesbridge, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $14.95 ages 6 and up

"Feathers can dig holes
like a backhoe...
After bank swallows
mate they make a home
together. First the male
uses his bill and the tough
feathers on his lower legs
to dig a two-foot-long
tunnel in a stream bank."

Feathers...who knew? Thanks to the flawless research done by both the author and the illustrator of this fine book, the reader finishes it with a clear, and even surprising, understanding for the many amazing purposes feathers actually have for birds:

"Birds and feathers go together, like trees and leaves, like stars and the sky. All birds have feathers, but no other animals do. Most birds have thousands of feathers, but those feathers aren't all the same. That's because feathers have so many different jobs to do."

Each successive double page spread begins with a leading line that acts as a descriptor. Ms. Stewart
follows it up with a short explanatory paragraph. The text is accompanied by art that offers a journal-like account of the feathers, the habitats, many small details, and a captioned, clear drawing of the bird itself.

The text is clear and informs without being too difficult for young nature lovers. The images she creates with her words are lovely and descriptive. The short, concise paragraphs are enclosed in boxes that make them easy to access. The watercolor illustrations show a 'photograph' of  the bird, often appearing taped, pinned, pasted onto the journal's pages. The small details add to the information garnered. The sixteen birds included will be mostly familiar to those who share this nature study. The ways in which their feathers have helped them adapt to their surroundings are often eye-opening:

"On sizzling summer days a male sandgrouse cools off by soaking his belly feathers in a watering hole. Then the proud papa flies to his nest. While dad guards his chicks, the little ones suck on the feathers to quench their thirst."

The book ends with a classification of the variety in feathers: one that many scientists agree to use. There is also an author's note that explains the evolution of the book itself.

"For this book, I spent three years tinkering with the text. I wrote countless drafts and did four complete overhauls before I finally latched on to the idea of comparing feathers to common objects in our lives."

Lucky we are for Melissa Stewart's persistence in creating books that will matter to children!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles, poems and drawings by Douglas Florian. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2014. $18.99 ages 8 and p

"I hate broccoli.
I hate peas.
I hate liver
And Swiss cheese.
I hate milk
And I hate bread.
I hate lettuce -
every head.
I hate green beans,
Short or long.
I love French fries
All day long."

In the days following your National Poetry Month celebration, you might be happy to check out Douglas Florian's new book of funny verse. It pretty much assures that you are going to have kids who will love the laughs and long to share it with others. As often happens, poetry begets poetry. I know you will have students in your classrooms who will want to try their hand at using some of Florian's most enjoyable work to mentor their own writing. Of course, the other advantage of sharing poetry is that it is more accessible for less capable readers, and it encourages them to keep working at fluency as they enjoy one verse after another. It's a win-win for all, isn't it?

With his signature artwork and his uncanny ability to play with words in unique and humorous ways, Douglas Florian creates a collection that is full of brief observations and runs the gamut of appealing subjects. There are 11 aisles to choose from: Wit and Whimsy, Chortles and Chuckles, Funny Bones and Belly Laughs, Giggles and Glee and Tons of Teehee, Willy-Nilly Sillies, Tons of Puns, Jests and Jives, Rib-Ticklers and Sidesplitters, Jokes and Pokes and  Funny Folks, Hee-Haws and Great Guffaws, and Miles of Smiles. There is something here for everyone.

I love wordplay, so I started with Tons of Puns over in Aisle 6:

"...And when I took the garbage out,
I put it up a tree.
I placed a dozen tulip bulbs
Inside of lightbulb sockets,
And tried to squeeze three bowling balls
Inside of my back pockets.
Today my head is in a fog.
A fog is in my head.
Until the weather's better there,
I'm going back to bed."

Exactly what happens to me when spring arrives with its dirt and dust, and job after job to be done. I do get them started, but am easily sidetracked from finishing up.

Make sure that your middle graders get this book in their hands. They will enjoy the topics presented and the appealing, short and fun poems they will find within its pages. Then, let them use the art and the words to inform their own work. They are sure to find inspiration here.

The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, written by Jill MacLean. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008. $11.95 ages 10 and up

"Guilt's like the undertow at Gulley Cove - once it's got you, it works you over. I hate your dirty I see why people buy those time travel books where the hero goes back into the past and changes the way things happened. Wish I could go backward and get rid of the snow. No point in wishing I had the nerve to take off on Dad's Ski-Doo, There's limits."

Had I not met Sigrid Sugden (The Hidden Agenda of Sigrid Sugden, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013), I might never have moved Travis and his story to the top of my TBR pile. Isn't that the best thing about finding an author to admire?

Travis' story is sure to capture your attention, and keep you reading until you can close the book and think back on the characters who people his new town of Ratchet, NL, and the events that help to make it 'home' for Travis and his dad.

Told in first person, and allowing readers to feel the pain and hurt that come from such important issues as death, bullying, abuse and an unwanted move, Travis is a character to be admired. He is only 11, and a victim of circumstances that seem to be beyond his years and his own control; his actions lead him to find new friends, make some dangerous decisions, and eventually show his true character.

New in town, Travis becomes the next target for bully Hud Quinn and his pals. Life is not going to be easy. He does make friends with Prinny, a young girl whose family circumstances make her an object of ridicule for classmates and lead to her being ostracized by them, and with Hector, whose mother is over-protective and rarely allows Hector any independence. When told that Gulley Cove is haunted, Travis is determined to find out for himself. There, he finds feral cats in need of care, and sets himself the task of being sure they are fed.

He is able to enlist the help of both new friends to feed and water the cats, all the while knowing that if his father discovers that he is wandering so far afield, he is going to be in big trouble. Bad weather, expensive cat food, and wild dogs are slight problems when compared to the havoc that Hud can create, and does.
Ms. MacLean develops complicated, worthy characters who are real and gritty. They face complex issues that motivate their actions, thus making them memorable to those who know their stories. They are definitely worthy of our admiration, each and every one of them.

A perfect readaloud for any intermediate classroom, this is a book that will spark feelings of goodwill and community for those children who spend their school days together. Could we ask for more than that?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fraidyzoo, written and illustrated by Thyra Heder. Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2013. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"WAKE UP, Little T!
Today is the PERFECT
day for the zoo!


We could be the FIRST ones
Hurry up!
What if there is a

Who thinks of such imaginative and entertaining stories for children?

Thyra Heder does. She makes one incredible debut with her seemingly common place tale of a family's trip to the zoo! Many readers will have been to the zoo, while others might find this their first foray into a zoo's environs. It is a perfect substitute if you don't have one nearby, or it's too cold yet, or you have a child (like Little T) who has a fear about being there.

Everyone is ready for the family outing when Little T makes her voice heard:

"So...What if someone was AFRAID of going to the zoo?"

She knows she's afraid, and she can't remember why. In her loving and dramatic family, her feelings are understood and honored. To try to help her remember which is the scary animal that has her not wanting to make a return visit, they begin a brilliant alphabetic animal guessing game. It starts with an alligator: Dad uses his arms and outstretched fingers to imitate the alligator's always menacing jaw. As they move from bull to camel, to deer, elephant and flamingo, the costumes (fashioned from everyday materials sure to be found in most homes) become more elaborate and hilarious.

The day moves forward, the guessing game continues, and Little T remains unafraid of those animals being portrayed. At the end of the day, as bedtime nears, she has one more question:

"So...What if someone WANTED to go to the zoo?"

What about tomorrow? Following sweet slumber, the family is off on their adventure. Before they even make their way through the gate, Little T. remembers the scariest thing. It is the perfect surprise ending for everyone, including big sister!

I cannot begin to describe the joy that saturates every single page of this wonderful book. I have read it again and again, wanting so badly to share it with someone on a daily basis. This is a family that oozes love and caring. Lively imagination is rampant on every page. When you have finished sharing it, be prepared for a day filled with object collecting and artistic endeavor! Don't miss the final endpapers to ensure that all of your guesses about the animals portrayed throughout are correct.



Friday, April 18, 2014

half a chance, written by Cynthia Lord. Scholastic, 2014. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Up close, he was bigger than I expected, magnificent and strange: a velvety black head, a sharp tapered bill, a band of white stripes around his neck, and a windowpane pattern on his wings - like he was dressed up for a fancy concert, wearing a striped necktie and checkered vest. The loon swam quickly away from me, his head turning side to side. I yanked my camera out of my life vest and starting shooting...."

Lucy has moved TOO many times...her father is a photographer, always on the hunt for new subjects and places to explore his artistic talents. This move takes them to New Hampshire and an old, needy cabin on a small lake. It is more a summer place for most of its residents, and Nate is the first person that Lucy meets when they arrive. Nate is there for the summer, with his family and his grandmother who loves the lake setting and the loons who make their summer homes nearby.

As soon as they arrive, her father leaves for work. Lucy and her mother are left to settle in, and make the most of this new home. Lucy is an aspiring photographer. She finds focus for her photography in a contest that her father is set to judge. She decides to see if she can meet the requirements of the list given, and Nate is a willing assistant. He offers new perspective, and thoughtful ideas.

While getting to know Nate, his grandmother, their family and another summer visitor named Megan, life moves beyond photography for Lucy.  She helps with loon patrol, comes to understand dementia and the toll it takes, and discovers that winning a contest just might not be the most important event in a summer full of new learning.

This a beautifully written middle grade novel. Family is at the center of the telling, and she manages to bring attention to the various ways they work. Lucy and her mother miss her father while he is away from them, accompany him on each move, and learn to deal with the changes that occur as he works at his craft. Nate's family is concerned for Grandma Lilah's deteriorating health, and her anger and acceptance for the changes she is experiencing. Then, there is the loon family and its tenuous existence due to both natural and human elements.

Honest, quiet and uplifting, this novel proves once again that Cynthia Lord has an incredible ability to tell stories that matter, give us characters who will remain forever memorable, and give our heartstrings a much needed tug that honors family.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, written by Karen Foxlee. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2014. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"But if she retrieved the key for him, then she could at least say she had helped. She could probably find his name too. He probably hadn't even tried to think about it - really think, sit down with a freshly sharpened pencil and go through the alphabet, which would be the methodical, scientific thing to do. That was what you had to do in these sorts of situations."

Ophelia and her family are reeling from her mother's recent death. In an attempt to distract his daughters from the overpowering sadness of it, their father accepts an invitation to curate a new exhibit of swords to be opened just prior to Christmas. The museum is located in a 'foreign city' where it constantly snows. Aha! The first clue.

Her father and sister are busy; Ophelia is left to her own devices in exploring the many floors and exhibits housed in the strange and almost empty museum. It is through this wandering that she discovers a locked door and inside, a 'marvelous boy'. He explains that he has been locked away for more than three hundred years. He needs someone to help him escape; three days from now the spell that has protected him will end and the Snow Queen will kill him, turning everything to ice. Ophelia, scientific to the nth degree, has great difficulty in believing his fantastic tale.

While uneasy, she cannot just leave him there to die. So, she sets out to find the three keys he needs to defeat the Queen, and to search for the 'One Other' needed to bring the Queen's power to an end. As she ignores her father's instructions to remain with her sister, and to cease exploring on her own, the tension for readers builds. She visits various floors of the museum facing many terrifying creatures, encountering much danger, and performing daring deeds in an attempt to keep the Queen from succeeding in her quest.

The twists and turns in this engaging plot keep the reader moving forward with speed. Ms. Foxlee's
inspired retelling of the Snow Queen story has all of the elements of fairy tales, while also incorporating a young girl's journey from disbelief to bravery in the face of great odds. As Ophelia worries about her family and their troubles, she also finds the courage to do what needs to be done to help a new friend, and protect her family from the evil clutches of a formidable foe. Her mother's voice is a constant beacon of love and support as Ophelia deals with the many obstacles that she faces to do what is right.

Magical, mysterious and firmly steeped in praiseworthy storytelling, this new book by Karen Foxlee is sure to please her many fans and to garner new ones, myself included.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Starring Me and You, written and illustrated by Genevieve Cote. Kids Can Press, 2014. $16.95 ages 2 and up

"I want to do MY play!

I want to do it MY way!

Grr...When I'm angry,
I grumble and pout.

When I'M angry,
I kick and SHOUT!"

Wahoo! Piggy and Bunny are back. I welcome them with open arms, much as I do Piggie and Elephant whenever they have a new story to tell. If you haven't read their first two stories (Me and You and Without You), you should!

In this third tale of friendship (with all of its ups and downs), the two search through a dress-up trunk with putting on a play in mind. The trunk has all the props they need. Once the curtain is hung between two step ladders, with the help of Frog and Butterfly, the stage (as they say) is set. On with the show!

That's when it starts to fall apart...Bunny is pretty shy and can't seem to get past the stage curtain. While Bunny finds hiding the solution to her shyness, Piggy 'smiles'. It's awkward to be at odds, and it exacerbates the responses they each have to their own performance. Once those little idiosyncrasies are in the open, perhaps the show can go on.

Well, no! Now, they have to agree on what kind of show they will present. The choice is not easy, and leads to more extreme reactions...that is, until they both see the light and recognize the need for compromise.

"Whatever we are, whatever we do,
the stage is always big enough for
me and you."

Mixed media artwork ensures that young readers know exactly how each of the friends feels at all times. Don't miss even the smallest detail on each page as Ms. Cote explores, once more, the many facets of friendship and emotion.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Children of the King, written by Sonya Hartnett. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $17.00 ages 10 and up

"Her host at Heron Hall was, in appearance, like a wily criminal from an adventure tale. He was tall and lean, and his face was shadowy, and he wore his dark hair long, like a mane, which May had never seen a real-life man do. His eyes, too, were very black, as if only night-time sights were invited into them. There was something mysterious about him..."

Oh, I could go on and on, sharing paragraphs and pages of perfect prose. Sonya Hartnett is an exemplary storyteller. Here, she continues her impeccable writing about the effects of war on children and families.

We begin in World War II London, in the days before the Blitz. The Lockwood family, without their father, is sent to the countryside to live at Heron Hall with Uncle Peregrine. Cecily, Jeremy and their mother are not happy with the decision made for them. At the train station there are other refugee children, alone and wondering who might provide care for them. Cecily convinces her family that they should help. She chooses May. Cecily likes the idea that she will take charge of the younger girl. May has other ideas. She is independent, headstrong, and does not easily accept being told what to do.

It is May who discovers the Snow Castle while wandering the surrounding countryside, and the two young boys who hide within its ruins. The boys are an interesting pair:

"From behind the wall, unhesitating, stepped a younger child. If the boys were indeed brothers, the first must have taken after one parent, the second after the other, for they did not look much alike. One seemed a collector of stamps, the other a player of rough games. The younger's face was not wary but cheerful, his frame not gangly but robust. Both of them, however, had pretty, dove-grey eyes and both of them wore their mousy curls long, all the way down to the collar. It took Cecily a moment to remember who else kept their hair like that, in a lion's mane, and realised it was her uncle Peregrine. And Cecily, who knew a bit about clothes, saw that those the brothers were wearing - linen shirts, velvet jackets, leather boots, calf-length cloaks - were well-made and costly, and something else as well, something she couldn't immediately define."

Now, we are set to hear the story within a story...Peregrine is willing to share his tale of Richard III and his nephews, and connect it to the Snow Castle that holds such intrigue for the children. As he shares pieces of it on successive evenings, the two stories merge into a truly mesmerizing tale of historical fiction that will have readers (and listeners) glued to their seats and making many connections. As we are firmly rooted in the story that compares the uncertainty and terror of the German attacks on London to the peaceful tranquility of the Lockwood estate, we also gain knowledge of a harrowing time in Britain's long history, when power also reared its ugly head:

"We don't know every single detail of what the King said and did; but we do know that, in the quest for power, truth is always the first thing left behind. Most people doubted the King had promised to marry another, but the Duke chopped the heads off a few people who said so aloud, and after that nobody argued. The King was dead, crazy Clarence was dead, the princes supposedly weren't royal, and the Duke was the only person left standing to claim the crown. He made a show of refusing it; his friends begged him to reconsider; he reconsidered and agreed. On a tide of lies and disloyalty, the Duke had become King."

Two stories told seamlessly, in the hands of an incredibly accomplished teller of tales. Complex and compelling, this is truly historical fiction at its best.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Silver People:Voices From the Panama Canal, written by Margarita Engle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"The tourists ask for whole collections
of rare butterflies for their children -
wild butterflies, caught and pinned,
not just a few drifting wings,
like the ones I find after migrations.
And they want skins. Jaguar. Puma. Snake.
And crocodile teeth, peccary tusks,
fossil shark teeth from the Serpent Cut.
Anything sharp, so they can pretend
they know danger.

No! She does not yet disappoint on any level. I remain in awe of Margarita Engle's unerring research and her beautifully poetic and flawless ability to tell stories that matter to her...and to make them matter to us!

In her newest novel in verse, she uses an impressive collection of voices to tell the story of the construction of the Panama Canal. The story begins with Mateo, from the island of Cuba. He has good reason to think that finding work anywhere will provide a better life than the one he is living:

"I am not an ordinary war orphan.
Papi is alive, but the family part
of his mind
is deeply wounded.
He drinks so much rum
that he believes I am
his enemy - a Spaniard
from the country
that lost the war
and left so many
of its soldiers
I'm only fourteen, but I'm strong
for a starving boy."

A recruiter promises the world to those who have nothing, and want anything. Mateo convinces him with lies to take a chance on a too young boy. Might it be a mistake?

"Hunger at sea for three days
feels like a knife in the flesh -
twisted blade, rusty metal,
the piercing tip of a long
called regret."

I wanted to take him in my arms and protect him from what is yet to come.

There are recurring voices from the forest: the howler monkeys, glass frogs, blue morpho butterfly, trees, eagle, sloth, tree viper. Each is affected by the workers who come to cut a path through their home, with little concern for the balance of nature and the damage being done. We also meet Anita, a young girl who gathers herbs from the rain forest and Henry, a Jamaican worker who has no status among the workers because of the color of his skin and who faces death and degradation each and every day:

"We also watch the medium-dark
Spanish men, relaxing as they sit
on their train tracks, grinning
as if they know secrets.

We have no place to sit. Not even
a stool. So we stand, plates in hand,
and undignified."

Augusto is a Puerto Rican, a geologist who sees promise in Mateo and offers him some reprieve (on Sundays) from the dreary, backbreaking work that he has promised to do. Through his connections with these people, Mateo finds a place in his new 'home', and we can leave him knowing that he will be all right.

Voices of historical figures, including Theodore Roosevelt, reflect some of the thinking of those in charge of this mammoth undertaking. Creating lovely language and memorable characters is what Margarita Engle does so well. Here, she makes an important page in history come to life for her readers. There is so much to learn about the pervasive racism, danger, wage discrepancies, conditions, ecology and character.

In an interview with Robyn Hood Block (, Ms. Engle had this to say about the choices she makes in writing verse novels:

"The two things I sacrifice in exchange for using the verse novel form's magic are:

1. dialogue---When I encounter dialogue in a verse novel, it usually feels disorienting, so I search for other ways to have characters communicate.
2. detail---I feel the need to research like a maniac, and then omit most of what I have learned. This forces me to only include those aspects of history that seem most important to me. In other words, it forces me to remain constantly aware of what I am really trying to say to young readers.

Powerful words to add to the power of the words you will enjoy when you read this moving account of an historical event.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Open Very Carefully, words by Nick Bromley and artwork by Nicola O'Byrne. Nosy Crow, Candlewick Press. Random House, 2013. $18.00 ages 3and up

A really big scary one!

What's he doing in
this book?

He might bite your
finger or scratch your

Crocodiles like to do that.

You know there's foul play afoot when the warning 'Open Very Carefully' appears stamped across the book's inside title, The Ugly Duckling. Not only that, but there is a scribbling across Hans Christian Andersen's name below that title. In its place, we see that Nicola O'Byrne is responsible for the illustrations and Nick Bromley has created the text. Seems suspicious, wouldn't you agree?

The pastoral scene that accompanies the first page of text seems innocuous enough, doesn't it? A mama duck followed by three perfect yellow ducklings and one bigger white bird wearing a red knit cap. They are at ease, and enjoying their time on the pond. Check out the text that faces this family outing and you are sure to notice a long, spiky green and yellow tail:

"I'm trying to read you the story "The Ugly Duckling", but there's something in the book that shouldn't be here!"

OOPS! Sure enough, it's a crocodile, and it's bound to cause quite the interruption. You should be very, very careful when there's a crocodile in your vicinity. He's eating the letters on the page! Now, words and sentences! Perhaps a rocking motion with book in hand will inspire sleep. It works!

Will messing him up with a crayon while he sleeps send him looking for greener and more accommodating pastures? Can we help him leave? You'll never guess how he makes his escape!

The tiny red-capped swan acts as our narrator and guide in this delightfully interactive tale, allowing all young listeners to play a role is ridding the book of this obstreperous interloper. Kids love books that allow them to play a role in its outcome. They are sure to want to help get that crocodile set on a new path. They will delight in the many problems that his presence creates, and in his solution to escape the trap in which he finds himself.

Oh, please read it again...and again...and again! You won't be sorry.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Moonday, written and illustrated Adam Rex. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2013. $17.99 ages 4 and up

"From Dad's shoulders,
I brushed the moon with
my fingertips.

It was chalky and cold.

I climbed into a crater.

"I'm going to have a look around."

With my kids living in different cities than I do, and the opportunities to see them not always plentiful, I find that I take comfort in knowing that the gorgeous full moon that I see is the same one they are seeing. It is a peaceful, easy feeling!

What if that moon actually made its way to your backyard? What a remarkable and unsettling experience to go to sleep while travelling in the car and then awaken to bright moonlight right in your own backyard! In the morning the moon continues to shine through the bedroom window and entices the family outside to see it. Filled with wonder and with bewilderment at its failure to disappear, it does provide adventure:

"I walked over
and under
and around
to where Mom and Dad waited." 

Everywhere else, darkness remains. People go to work in the dark. Children fall asleep in school. Even the teacher can't get her act together in trying to connect the moon to each of the day's lessons. I love the double page spread that shows how yawns pass from one person to the next, all the way through the park to follow the young girl home.

Mom and Dad are working to hide the moon, but they can't hide it enough to control the tides. When water begins to engulf their backyard, they know it is time for action. Another drive in the country entices the moon  to follow, and it eventually lands at the top of the trees where the family first saw its glow.

What a visual and imaginative treat this book is! Not only does it allow a child's imagination to go where it may never have dreamed, it offers a luminous adventure for one family. The two car trips are perfect; the first encourages the moon to follow them home, the next returns it to its place in the night sky. It is a practical, and somewhat humorous, solution to the dilemma of MOONDAY.

Adam Rex fulfills a promise to his readers with the luminous artwork he creates beginning with sunset in a small rural area. Turn the page and you can see darkness settle in, lights begin to illuminate windows, and a rising full moon. That moonlight marks every page, glowing with welcome, brilliant light. You can almost touch it. Even when the family tries to disguise it, it offers a translucent glow. Once the moon has been returned to its place in the sky, the sun can bathe the village in early morning light. A new day dawns!

Truly captivating!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2014. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"He brightened at once. "Can you keep a secret?" he asked.
I nearly laughed in his face. Of all the billions of people who have ever trod the face of planet Earth, none of them - not a single blessed one! - has ever been as much a master of the zipped lip as Flavia de Luce. I crossed my heart and my lips and showed him the two-fingered bunny-ear sign."
When we left Flavia and the de Luce family at the end of the fifth book in this wonderful series, Speaking from Among the Bones, they were in shock. Then, we were left to wait until the sixth volume of the Flavia chronicles (as I have to come to call them) was written and published. Luckily, we didn't have to wait too long. Thanks to you, Mr. Bradley!

There are some surprises. Flavia is almost twelve now, and has experienced a year that would knock the wind out of most people. Flavia is definitively NOT most people. She is a force to be reckoned with by almost every single person and event encountered. Some things remain unchanged. Her father is still distant. Her older sisters are still annoying. But, facing the truth of the revelation at the end of the last book sets the family on a new, mysterious and sometimes treacherous course.

Off they go to meet the train that is carrying her mother home. Who is the young man who tries to get a message to Flavia, and ends up dead on the train tracks? Why is Winston Churchill at the station? Why does he have a message for Flavia? Does it have something to do with her parents and their travels during WWII? We are left to is the case with all of Flavia's mysterious adventures.  
This book is not so much about murder, as the others have been, as it is about a story of the de Luce family itself. Their family home will soon be theirs no longer. When her mother is returned to the family, they are left to deal with the many repercussions of her death and to wonder if it was an accident in the mountains that actually caused it.
I so love the characters that Alan Bradley has created for this series of books. In this one he adds a number of quirky and authentic  characters whose presence is absolutely necessary to solving this new mystery. We meet Tristam Tallis, who now owns Flavia's mother's plane, Blithe Spirit. What does he know? The funeral brings a rarely seen cousin into the family fold. Lena de Luce and her daughter Undine add a touch of humor, and some drama. Undine is very bright, outspoken and an immediate thorn in Flavia's side. Their encounters are worth rereading. Aunt Felicity and Dogger play an ever-increasing role in Flavia's attempts to make sense of everything that is happening around her.

Flavia holds her place as one of my very favorite characters from all of my reading. She is an astute and capable narrator. Her charm, wit and intelligence continue to strengthen my admiration...and she is so funny! She loves a challenge and does not back down from any new development. She is growing up, and I am keen to see what the future has in store for her. Emotional and touching, this is a book that changes what we might expect in the final four books planned for her. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems, written by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian with pictures by Jeremy Holmes. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2014. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"That`s not brown paint,
It`s chocolate fudge.
And here and there,
A whipped-cream smudge.
The light on top`s
A real cherry!
They sell this car
At Motor Dairy -
This Model T(spoon`s)
One sweet deal.
Besides, it`s got
Put two very clever poets together to pen a collection of poems that honor 'crazy cars' and you are in for a great deal of fun. This is a book that will have strong 'appeal' for all...full of lively language, flights of fanciful imagination, mobile oddities, and packed with wordplay (a not uncommon expectation considering the poets and their reputation for such).

Their cars of the future are crazy indeed, and inspired. They find life in many recognizable forms, including the High Heel Car, the Bathtub Car, the Hot Dog Car and my personal favorite, the Mini-Mini Car! There is no stopping these gentlemen once they get started...and it's the same for their wacky and wittily designed vehicles.

"Balloon Car

My daddy drives a car that floats
an inch above the street -
a hundred colorful balloons
tied to a bucket seat.

And once he blows his car up,
Daddy never wants to stop.
But boy, does he get mad at me
When I call out - "Hey, Pop!"

The possibilities are seemingly endless. Read this once, and then read it again. See what happens when young listeners are allowed to let their imaginations run free...what type of crazy car might they dream up to take them to sea, to space, or to the next town? It is perfect for young readers...I can hear a poem coming on...order this one today and share it often. Your children and students will almost certainly be inspired to create their own wacky cars. Quite the journey for all involved.
Jeremy Holmes has created his own souped-up version of the poems. The art notes state that he uses pencil and watercolor, that were then digitally colored to create the detailed spreads that stretch across the pages. His color palette is fresh, and ever-changing. The pages are busy, in keeping with the motion created in the poems themselves. The table of contents is stellar, including a blueprint for each of the upcoming vehicles. Tire-tracked endpapers add to the appeal, and promise a good deal of driving fun!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Fox and the Crow, written by Manasi Subramaniam and illustrated by Culpeo S. Fox. Karadi Tales Company, 2014. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"When the moon slithers
into the open skies,
surely some trickery
is afoot.

Fox raises her neck
and howls.
Oh, she's a temptress,
that one."

I think when you can take an old story (in this case, a fable) and tell it in a totally fresh way, it should be celebrated. This familiar tale of two creatures who are consumed by pride, greed and trickery is brilliantly cast in dark, textured artwork alongside beautifully crafted language.

While they have nothing to say to each other, the author creates an almost explosive battle between the two over a piece of stolen bread:

"Fox sneaks towards Crow -
she always sneaks."

In the twilight of a forest night, Fox awaits his chance to use his cunning to take food from the mouth of his adversary. All the while, we are in close proximity to the action on pages alive with powerful illustrations that bring these animals near enough to touch. The fading light of dusk seems the perfect time to sneak in and grab what smells so good. Crow is not afraid to take that chance. Fox is determined to have the spoils of Crow's daring. The action is tense and happens slowly, keeping the reader's focus every step of the way. All the while a wise owl watches with a sense of indignity at the wily cunning of the victor. It's tough not to feel sympathetic toward the proud and greedy crow.

There is palpable drama here, and an ending not unfamiliar. The freshness of the telling, the captivating allure of the poetic text, and the stunning ever-changing perspectives that invite both horizontal and vertical consideration of the action will put this on your list of books to be shared, and soon.

You will love it for your ears, and for your eyes. It is quite remarkable!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Outdoor Crafts. DK Publishing, Tourmaline Editions, Inc. 2013. $15.99 ages 7 and up

"Grow a secret fairy ring in a hidden spot in the backyard. You never know, you might attract some fairies! A circle of ornamental grasses, along with delicate sweet-smelling flowers, looks magical and makes a great place to play or have a picnic. Don't forget the fairy cakes!"

The temperature is above freezing today and the weather forecasters say that we might see mid-teens this week! Oh, my gosh! I read yesterday that this has been the coldest winter in Winnipeg since 1898...a weather record that even outdates me! In fact, there is no one now alive who experienced it! Let's hope it takes another 116 years to break that record!

So, believe it or not, we are beginning to think spring here in Manitoba. That invites looking at books that will inspire you and your children to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty of your yard, and perhaps think about what you might do to add your own little touches to it.

This collection of lovely, enjoyable projects is sure to inspire a desire to get out there and make a difference to your surroundings. Its three sections are Make It, Cook It and Create It. Within each of these sections you will find numerous ideas for things that your children can do on their own, some that will require some help from an adult, and all that will offer a sense of satisfaction when completed.

Plants offer food, aroma, and beauty for the yard. In Make It, there are instructions for markers and labels, for creative containers, decorations and more. Each project is accompanied by useful and clear photos and suggestions. They also encourage recycling of common household odds and ends. There are numbered step-by-step instructions and cheery photos of finished efforts that make the backyard sparkle with life, color and individuality.

The recipes in Cook It are mouth-watering, with fairly simple instructions sure to result in tasty morsels to be shared. I'm going to start saving my little yogurt cups now. In the summer, I plan on making the lemonade ice pops using real lemons and honey. YUM! Today, I'm going to try the carrot chips for a tasty snack.

Finally, Create It offers a host of ideas for adding wonder to your backyard while also encouraging natural critters to find food and safety there. If you have ever wanted to try topiary, there are clear instructions for getting started. A new hobby?

A bug quiz, a two page section on cool plants to grow, a glossary and an index complete the book. It is just one of the books in DK Canada's Earthly Pleasures Boutique. Check it out!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

big bug, written and illustrated by Henry Cole. Little Simon, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $16.99 ages 2 and up

"Henry Cole grew up in Virginia.
Little farm 
Big family


Now he writes and illustrates.
Little books
Big joy!"

It is SO interesting to see things in perspective!

It's a different world for little ones than it is for the rest of us. Not only are they trying to find their place in the grand scheme of things, they are also trying to figure out the world itself. While to themselves they seem big, put them next to an older sibling and that size diminishes. A sunflower plant may seem tall in comparison to themselves; plant it next to a tree and their perception changes.

Henry Cole does an admirable job of showing a young audience the concept of size and scale in his newest book. When you look closely at the front cover, you can see that the ladybug in question is indeed BIG. There is literally no space for anything else in the frame. The endpapers change that perception, showing a multitude of these tiny creatures crawling on a pale green background. Move further inside to the title page, and the font dwarfs the tiny beauties as they find themselves crawling on the much bigger letters.

He then takes us back to the original concept...big bug! Turn the page and a leaf shows the ladybug's true size:

"Little bug        Big leaf"

As we move forward, he keeps changing our look at this natural world, always adjusting the lens through which we see it. He tells an engaging tale as we go...of a farm and its environs, its buildings and even its inhabitants. All the while he compares one object to another. Once we can appreciate the vastness of the blue prairie sky, he moves us away and gives us a different perspective which offers incentive to stop and talk about what is actually happening in his beautiful artwork.

Bravo, Henry Cole! The text is spare and meaningful, the concepts of scale and spatial relationships are clearly laid out for our youngest readers, and the 'little' surprise at the end will elicit quiet murmurs of delight.

Friday, April 4, 2014

dust of eden, written by Mariko Nagai. Albert Whitman and Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $18.99 ages 11 and up

"Then the first bus started to move, 
and everyone became quiet. People
outside. People inside. All of us quiet...
We were all sad, but put on smiling faces, like we did not care, like our hearts were not breaking, though if you listened hard, if you ignored the engines, you could hear thousands of hearts breaking, shattering, into pieces."

How on earth would a 13 year old girl begin to understand the thinking behind the internment of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942?

In clear verse Mariko Nagai helps her readers experience the confusion, the terror, the utter sadness that engulfs Mina Masako Tagawa and her family. She goes from being a middle-school girl singing Christmas carols one day, to having her father imprisoned for a year with no contact, to first one camp in Washington and finally, to Idaho where the family (mother, brother and grandfather) endures spending their days under the watchful eyes of camp guards - all because of her Japanese heritage, and a unrealistic fear that all people of Japanese descent were enemy spies following the unprovoked attack in Hawaii.

It is a piece of history that cannot be erased, despite public apologies to those who were so poorly treated and unjustly detained. Stories such as these should be heard. Hearing it through the eyes of a young, confused girl makes it seem more real for its intended audience. Mina misses her father, her best friend Jamie, her home and all that was once familiar. She is shocked by the conditions that they must endure, and by the constant fear of what might yet happen to them. She is virtually immobilized by the uncertainty of it all.

Mina tells of the less than adequate living conditions in both camps. The food is unfamiliar, and often repetitive. The lines are long. Injustice is at every turn. Her grandfather has little to hold his interest, or to encourage a will to live. Her mother works long hours in the camp kitchen, often falling into bed as soon a she returns from her work day. Her brother Nick is full of anger and resentment at what has been done. As a final injustice, the American government asks young Japanese men who are there to join the service and fight for 'their' country - the very country that has imprisoned them!

Letters from Mina to Jamie and back again let her know that their home is being cared for, about school in Seattle and evoke a yearning for the friends to be together once more. Mina writes to Nick following his enlistment and receives news back from him concerning the war effort and his part in it.

One of her saddest lines for me is:

"We held our breath for three
 years. We did not have anything to call
our own …”

What they did have was isolation, stress, lengthy separation, loss. Father does come back to them, a changed man. Grandfather dies while in the camp. Nick finds his place in Japan following the war, and writes a letter to his family that is the epilogue to this compelling tale:

"It's strange to be here;
everywhere, I see people
who look like me,
who look like Dad and Mom,
but to them, I am American.
Maybe it's the way I walk,
maybe it's my bad Japanese,
maybe it's my uniform,
but I don't look Japanese to them,
and I don't feel
Japanese. I know, more
than ever, I'm just an American,
pure and simple."

A historical note is added.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Good Night, Sleep Tight, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek. Orchard Books, Scholastic. 2013. $18.99 ages 2 and up

"We love it!
We love it!"
said Bonnie and Ben.
"How does it go?
Will you say it again?"

"Some  other time," said
Skinny Doug.
"But I'll tell you another
I heard from my mother:"

Ah, Poetry Month and what better way to celebrate than with books that make readers bounce with rhythm while learning all about rhyme...especially nursery rhymes. Not a lot of children know them these days! It's sad.

I am happy to share Mem Fox's belief that most children who know six nursery rhymes by heart before they are four years old are likely to be successful readers by the time they are eight. That's a pretty encouraging statistic, isn't it? I spent a bit of time with eight month old Bentley just this past weekend. He and I had a great time dancing and singing; I also spent time sharing some of my favorite nursery rhymes with him, from my heart rather than a book. He was totally attentive to the sound of my voice, to the fun of clapping along with the rhythms, and to some of the silliness that can be a part of such sharing.

In planning for books I might post this month, and considering the joy that children find in words, I remembered that I had not shared this book with you. What I was thinking?

This charmer was published first in 1988, and meant to help young children delight in those rhymes that we have shared over many years. Following their success with Where Is the Green Sheep? (Harcourt, 2004), Ms. Fox and Judy Horacek have teamed up to create a new, bold version of that original bedtime story. I love the premise, and the promise of it!

Skinny Doug is the absolute favorite sitter of all time for Bonnie and Ben. They are thrilled with his presence on a Friday night. After a few shared games, it's time for bed:

"Good night, sleep tight.
Hope the fleas don't bite!
If they do,
squeeze 'em tight
and they won't bite
another night!"

Who wouldn't want to hear that again? Skinny Doug is not so keen on repeating that verse, but he goes on to share six others (that he learned from his mother!). With each repetitive refrain from the children, he is encouraged to add to their repertoire. It will take no time at all for your listeners to be independently moving the story along for you.

The text is perfect for little ones! Mem Fox is incredibly adept at creating stories that encourage them to want to read on their own. Her books have been favorites of mine through the years, and I have a special place on my 'keepers' shelf for each one of them.

Judy Horacek matches the text perfectly with artwork that is visually stimulating,  not bogging children down with too many details. She has chosen watercolor and ink to complement the joy in the rhymes, while also allowing the children to imagine themselves part of the action. There is lots of movement, and a range in presentation that will hold their attention and encourage the plea: 'please, read it again!' Bedtime is delayed, children are happy!

While I have ALWAYS loved sharing Mem Fox's books with young readers, no one reads them better than the author herself!