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Monday, June 30, 2014

weird but true! RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES. National Geographic Kids, Random House. 2014. $15.99 ages 10 and up

"The Viennese Vegetable Orchestra may be the world's weirdest group of musicians. All of their instruments are carved out of vegetables and fruit! From pumpkin drums to celery guitars, each instrument is made fresh for each performance. Audiences enjoy the unique sounds of whistling carrot flutes, crackling onion skin, squawking red pepper horns, and more..."

You will be astounded at some of the headlines there for you to read in this new Weird But True publication! Every single one is a true story, though most are unlike anything else you might have read.  Taken from today's news headlines, or from the past, they each offer a bizarre, or decidedly hard-to-believe picture of odd events.

There are 8 chapters: Wacky World Headlines, Wild Animals, Incredible Inventions, Freaky Food, Strange Science, Way-Out Travel, Weird World of Sports and finally, Culture Shock. I went first to the sports section and found this tidbit about soccer:

"Two Japanese companies put their heads together to come up with the latest in soccer technology - a toilet goalie. But the S.G.I.K. (Super Great Toilet Keeper) is not your average toilet. In just 0.1 second, two high-speed cameras on the toilet capture the destination of a soccer ball that has been kicked toward it. The toilet then adjusts its position and shoots out a smaller ball, knocking the soccer ball away from the goal. And it always puts the lid down when it's finished!"

I do want to share this which does a mom/teacher/librarian/soon-to-be-grandmother's heart good:

"Kids learn as many as 12,000 new words a year just from reading books." HUZZAH!

I could go on, but that would no fun for you...and it surely wouldn't encourage you to get yourself a copy of this fabulous new book. You will be entertained for hours, and looking for someone to share your newfound information with whenever a group of friends gets together. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My New Friend Is So Fun! Written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books, Hachette. 2014. $9.99 ages 4 and up

"Both Piggie and Brian
are so nice!

They must be having a
really fun time!

Yeah!

They must be having a
super fun time!

Wahoo...they are BACK! It seems a while since I felt their presence. As we have all come to expect, they are just as irresistible as the last time we met. In this adventure, we get to know a bit about two new characters...Brian Bat and Snake. Snake lets Gerald know that Piggie is playing with Brian, as they have just met. Turns out they are having a terrific time together.

At first, Gerald and Snake are OK with that. They are, after all, their best friends and both are really nice. As they talk about the good time the other two are having, Gerald has an epiphany. Could they be having too much fun? Might the fun they are having together be better than the fun they have always had with their best friends from the past?

It's enough to make the old friends worry...what if they like their new friends better? What if they have more fun together than they had with Gerald and Snake? What then? The two make the decision that they should bring up the subject with Piggie and Brian. Off they go!

They skid to a screeching stop when they find Piggie and Brian laughing uproariously. Both sets of friends have something to say to the others. Piggie starts the conversation, and Brian joins in:

"We have to tell you how much fun we are having? So much fun!"

It is their worst fears realized. Gerald and Snake are aghast, and speechless! As the two new friends go on and on about their time together, the concern builds and doom sits upon their old friends' shoulders. What will they do?

You know that Mo Willems is going to come up with the perfect ending, don't you?

He amazes me each and every time. These books remain favorite purchases for all children just beginning their journey to being literate readers who love books, and for those who just LOVE great stories (adults included).

Thanks again, Mo Willems!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rooting for You: A Moving Up Story, written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Hyperion Books, Hachette. 2014. $17.99 ages 3 and up

"Who are you?
Are you...
a monster?
No, Bud,
I'm a sower,
a seeder,
a mulcher,
a weeder -"

Who is the little green pea-sized thing that is so afraid of the dark that it refuses to come out? The fear of what lies ahead is something with which most children and many adults have real life experience. So, it is no surprise that a seed might feel that same way.

It likes being alone and safe, until boredom sets in. Perhaps a little root might add some amusement, and maybe a little shoot will help, too. Wait? What just bonked it on the head? Luckily, a wise worm is nearby, offering assurances that a friend is near and there is no cause for worry and concern. The worm is there to provide all the help needed.

There are things to fear, and fears to overcome on its way to the fulfillment of its real lot in life. With encouragement and taking it slowly, the seed finally reaches its full potential and brightens the world a little bit, just as it was meant to do!

Ms. Hood's rhyming text will delight young readers who know just how that small seed must be feeling as it tries to find its way in life. No matter the obstacles, the friendly worm's advice and cheerleading keeps it 'moving up'. Matthew Cordell creates warm cartoon-like artwork for the underground world that is home to the tiny, insecure seedling. He uses dark outlines, a quiet palette of browns and greens with a touch of pink for the bespectacled earthworm to call our attention to the emotions felt. The foldouts add interest and an interactive component to this tale of triumph.

I think you are going to love it!                                                                  

100 Things to Do Before You Grow Up, by Lisa Gerry. National Georgaphic KIDS, Random House. 2014. $10.99 ages 7 and up

 "#19 Try another country's cuisine...Snacks in other countries vary just as much as main meals. If you were a kid in Japan, you might snack on sardine rice crackers at the movies. In Canada - forget ketchup! French fries are smothered in poutine, a mixture of gravy and cheese curds..."

One of the things that parents and caregivers complain about as our kids are about to embark on summer vacation is the fact that they are soon complaining that there is nothing to do! If you think that might happen to your family, I have the answer to your prayers.

This is the perfect book to get kids interested in new challenges, community change, and a great deal of fun! It's a to-do list for anyone who loves being active, getting involved, and helping in a variety of ways. When they get older, there might not be the same encouragement to test the waters, and try tackling some of the suggestions made.

#1 is the best way to get started: 'Do something nice for someone but don't tell them you did it.'

There are 100 challenges and I am not going to share them all with you, or you won't get out there and get this book that is chock full of amazing things to do this summer. The suggestions are varied, and challenging at times. But, don't let that stop you from trying.

There is so much for you  to learn as you move page to page, or skip from one place to another. When mountain climbing is suggested, it is followed by expert tips from Jordan Romero, the youngest person ever to climb Mount Everest (he was 13!). He is no longer content to have climbed the seven summits, now he is on a course to climb the highest peak in each of the fifty United States.

Much easier than Jordan's quest would be to ride a roller coaster or a horse, to try yoga, or even host a board game night.  It's a book meant to challenge kids to get out there and try something they might not have not tried before, and includes writing, reading, cooking, conquering fears, and so much more. How many can they complete before it's time to return to school? Which ones might work while on a family vacation to get everyone involved?

Check them off as you go, and then add to this already fascinating and entertaining list! Take your camera, or your cell phone so that you can keep a running list of everything you accomplish. It is sure to be eye-opening for many!

#56 provides grand advice for each and every one of us: 'Make a list of 10 things you like about yourself (then read it when you're feeling down.).

Now, get out there and have some fun while learning so much!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What's That Tree? Written by Tony Russell. DK Publishing, Tourmaline Editions Inc. 2013. $10.95 ages 8 and up


"Trees are the largest, oldest, and most complex plants on Earth. They have been around for over 350 million years and cover almost one-third of the Earth's land surface. There are more than 80,000 different species (plus numerous cultivars), ranging in size from tiny Arctic Willows, just a few inches high, to Giant Redwoods over 300 feet (100 meters) tall."

Once I have a handle on the birds in my yard and neighborhood, I will start on the trees that I see daily. Some I know without question, others I cannot even offer a guess concerning their names. So, learning is sure to happen over the next few months.

We begin with identification by season and location, and move on to form, size and growth rate. When we get to leaf shapes, my interest amps up. I might be able to retain some of this information, and certainly it will help me identify common trees in the neighborhood. Information is also shared concerning leaf margins, arrangement, bark, flowers, and seeds  before moving on to the three main tree profiles:

"The trees have first been divided into three main groups: conifers; broadleaves with undivided (simple) leaves; and broadleaves with compound leaves, which have leaves made up of smaller leaflets. Within each of these tree divisions the trees are grouped by leaf shape."

Who knew there would be so many? 150 common tree species from North America are included. I am not likely to see or need to identify a number of them, but I know that I will be more informed by summer's end about the trees that are common to my stomping grounds. That's a good thing!

Because the photographs and captions are so clear and informative, this book will be useful for those kids who want to know more about the trees they see, and for classrooms where science curriculum encompasses trees, changes in nature, and growth.

What's That Bird, by Joseph DeCostanzo. DK Publishing, Tourmaline Editions Inc. 2012. $10.95 ages 8 and up

"Birds are fantastic creatures. Each species is marked by distinctive shapes and colors, calls and songs. Some have different patterns and colors according to age, sex, and season. This book cannot cover all the variations, but it gives you a good start. The size, colors, and behaviors of birds make them the most accessible wild creatures for most people. Many birds live in close proximity to people."

I often sit in my porch listening to bird song and wondering what bird is visiting my backyard. Now, I will wonder no more! This brilliant little guide is said to be perfect for beginning birders...count me in to that group. Hopefully, by summer's end, I will be more informed and more able to identify the host of critters that make their way to Manitoba in summer and grace our yards with their presence.

This pocket guide tells readers about more than 150 common birds, and informs them concerning identification:

"Learning how to identify birds requires attention to details such as shape, size, color, plumage patterns, and sound."

The full color photographs are sure to help me identify birds that make a stop in our neighborhood. Some are very familiar, others will require a quick peek at the guide to see if it can help me determine any newcomer. While I listen to robins, mourning doves, blue jays, grackles, crows and wrens every day, I want to be able to identify other less familiar birds who make their way to my yard.

Now, I can do just that!

Easy for kids to use the photos for identification, and perfect for parents who want to know more about the birds themselves, their territory and their identifying features.

Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty, written by Mr. and Mrs. Bunny. Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Groundwood Books, 2014. $14.95 ages 9 and up

"It's synchronicity," said Madeline. "You see, Flo found some Pop-Tarts that he thought were mystical and he decided to become the Dalai Lama of sugar and then we wanted to take a trip and he found out we could go free if his band played on board and he said it was synchronicity, that everything lined up in the stars so that the universe could attain its ultimate good."

Oh, Polly Horvath! How you entertain us with your deliciously funny look at the world! Mr. and Mrs. Bunny are back, thankfully. So are Madeline and her parents. Those who loved their first adventure tale are sure to be enamored of this one...it is crafted with a careful and delicate hand.

Madeline has met a new friend Katherine, who explains that she has a college fund. It becomes Madeline's mission to begin one of her own. Mrs. Bunny has decided that she wants a shot at being queen. The fact that the two meet (once again) aboard an ocean liner on its way to England can only be termed  additional 'synchronicity'.

Madeline's parents have inherited a sweet shoppe in England. They see it as their ticket to making enough money to fund the purchase of land back home on Hornby Island, where they will plant an organic garden and sell produce. Perhaps Madeline will have a college fund, after all.

Of course, this well crafted novel has no straight lines; rather, it is a series of mishaps and meetings that will entertain and delight readers who may have met these wonderful characters in their first escapade, and will recognize their foibles. Katherine is accompanying Madeline and her family. Mr. Bunny and Mrs. Treaclebunny (who has invited herself along) join Mrs. Bunny.

Ms. Horvath is her satirical self in her newest novel. There are so many characters who invite a close look, and a quiet snicker.The translator of the first Mr. and Mrs. Bunny book herself, and another novelist (known as Oldwhatshername and perhaps fashioned after J.K. Rowling), find themselves seated side by side at a book signing. Mrs. Bunny takes offense that she has not been invited to sign the books, or recognized as the author of either book (in fact, the book store owner is quite sure that the translator is simply making up a good story when she says that a bunny actually did write the book). Add to that the fact that she shops at Bunnycostycost and buys Frosted Flakes for the box tops needed to get a swell prize:

"She didn’t even check first to see if Mr. Bunny liked Frosted Flakes." "Oh well, it made excellent mulch," said Mrs. Bunny faintly. "The roses liked it, even if you did not."

I would love to go on and on with additional bits from the book, but I will restrain myself from doing so in order to allow you to enjoy every moment yourself. Please indulge me for one more minute:

"Mrs. Vandermeer’s soccer-mom friends knew that if they didn’t drive their children to some form of entertainment or find some way to keep them occupied every second from school closing until bedtime, the children would resort to staring at the walls until their heads exploded. Suburban homes were very neat, and no one wanted to be picking brain bits off the walls.”

The ironic humor and familiarity of the characters in this second novel ensure that the adults who read it to their children will love and laugh their way through it, right along with those listeners. I  happily await the next adventure; but, please don't make me wait too long. I get older every single day!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Paul Meets Bernadette, written and illustrated by Rosy Lamb. Candlewick Press, 2014. $16.00 ages 4 and up


"And then one day Bernadette dropped in. "What are you doing?" Bernadette asks Paul. "I'm going round and round," says Paul. "What else is there to do?" "Haven't you ever noticed that there's a whole world out there? There are so many things to see. Come look over here."

Ah, Paul! He is a fish with few expectations. He has clean water in his fish bowl. He has his daily routines. He seems content. All is well with him.

Then, one day, Bernadette makes her presence known. She encourages him to look beyond the simple life he is leading to discover something magical - the world beyond his fish bowl!

From this new perspective, Paul can see so much more that he has ever noticed. He is enchanted with this new perspective. Bernadette starts with a yellow thing that will look like a banana to little ones reading this book for the first time. She is quick to assure Paul that it is, in fact, a boat. And, so it goes.

There is so much to see! Although those objects she is pointing out to her new friend look quite ordinary to us, Bernadette's descriptions create a brand new world for Paul. His world becomes much fuller. Told with warmth and humor, readers will discover the power of imagination when looking at the world through another's eyes. While the two stay right where they are, their world expands with each new assurance from Bernadette about what they are actually seeing:

"Do you see that round thing off in the distance?
What do you think that is?" asks Bernadette.
"I just can't think," answers Paul.
"That," says Bernadette, "is a cactus!"

Of course, it is not. It is a clock. I can just hear young listeners with each turn of the page, trying to get the real lowdown to Paul. But, Paul is in love and the world is a much better place with Bernadette in it. He is oblivious to anything but her assurances. And, he's happy! Giggles will certainly accompany the sharing of this imaginative, uplifting love story.

Ms. Lamb creates her subtle images in oils, layered and textured to add interest for her audience. The colors chosen match the luminosity of the story itself, and invite close observation and welcome discussion for all who share it. 

                                                                       

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why Are You Doing That? Written by Elisa Amado and illustrated by Manuel Monroy. Groundwood, 2014. $16.95 ages 3 and up

"Chepito ran around the corner. He saw Dona Ana throwing corn to some chickens. "Why are you doing that?" he asked. "Because the chickens need to eat," answered Dona Ana. "What for? What for?" sang Chepito. "So that they can grow strong and lay good eggs like the ones you had for breakfast."

Do  you remember Chepito? If you read What Are You Doing? (Groundwood, 2011), you will remember him as a very young boy who was learning everything he could about those things people read, and why they do. You might also be thankful that you are not the parent or teacher of someone so full of questions. But, how else will he learn about the world?

In their second collaboration, Elisa Amado and Manuel Monroy revisit Chepito at home and in his neighborhood. This time, he knows what people are doing; he wants to know why? If your kids are grown you will have strong memories of the 'whys' that you constantly answered. If you are there right now, this, too, shall pass. There are so many things going on in a child's world; if they don't ask why, how will they learn about them?

The refrain is endless:

"Why are doing that?
What for?
What for?"

Do you feel a scream coming on? Luckily, Chepito is surrounded by adults who don't mind answering his many questions. They are patient and kind, and he learns much along the path he takes. As Chepito learns about the food grown and produced for his sustenance, we learn right along with him. A short glossary is helpful.

Manuel Monroy's illustrations were done digitally, starting with drawings in color pencil and watercolor. Chepito will be familiar to you, if you read the first book. The warmth and charm of the quiet village life are a perfect match to the affection of the text.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie, written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Betsy Bowen. University of Minnesota Press, 2014. $14.95 ages 6 and up


"Plant a pocket of prairie
in your backyard
or boulevard
or boxes on a balcony.

If you plant a pocket
of prairie,
who might come?"

It's Nonfiction Monday, and I have a wonderful new book to share with you. I know that you will enjoy it!

Much of the prairie habitat that once covered vast parts of the land is gone. Phyllis Root wants her young readers to know that it does not have to be that way. With interest and action, we can help to create small prairie environments in our own backyards and neighborhoods. It takes knowing what to plant, where to plant, how to do it, and why it's important.

On each double page spread of this fine nonfiction book, we are invited to try our hand at revitalizing a lost landscape;

"Plant foxglove beardtongue.
A ruby-throated hummingbird
might hover and sip and thrum.
If that hummingbird sips and zips
looking for something more to eat..."

On it goes, with more and more ideas for attracting animals and insects that will eventually show us what we have been missing. There is much to absorb as Ms. Root explores the dynamics of prairie life, and our role in assuring its existence. She ends her informative and accessible words with hope:

"If you plant a pocket of prairie,
and I plant a pocket of prairie,
and everyone we know plants
a pocket of prairie,
and everyone they know plants
a pocket of prairie,
one day we may look out and see

the prairie coming home."

In end matter, the author includes a map of Minnesota that shows clearly how the prairie landscape there has changed over time, a guide to planting your own pocket of prairie, further information about each of the animals and plants mentioned in the text, as well as information for those wanting to see some of the native prairie land that still exists.

The beautiful, clear woodcuts that Betsy Bowen creates to bring the prairie to life are worthy of being in an art gallery. She fills the pages with the wonder of the open prairie. You can almost hear the birdsong, and feel the gentle breeze that blows across the pages.

Inspiring and informative, this book will find a place with schools who are designing their own garden spaces, and for families who want to make a difference in their neighborhoods. It takes new learning, working together and patience; in the end, it will truly be worth the effort.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Grudge Keeper, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Peachtree, 2014. $20.95 ages 5 and up

"When Big Otto stomped on
Lily Belle's new shoes at the
spring fling, she limped off to
Cornelius and flung her
accusations at his feet.

As time went by, all the
grudges piled up. They
filled the fireplace. They
overflowed the tub."

I think young readers are going to love this story; they may even learn a lesson without really knowing that they are. Mara Rockliff introduces us to the people of Bonnyripple by letting us know that they hold no grudges against any other person in their village. All I can say is that it is lucky for them that Cornelius is a old, kind, thoughtful villager who manages any grudges brought to him with aplomb and courtesy.

Of course, the others have no worries. When they get mad at someone, or have a bone to pick, they simply put it on a piece of paper, hand it over to Cornelius and he is expected to deal with it for them. Cornelius is their Grudge Keeper; it is some task. He catalogs each grumble, grouse, quibble, peeve and complaint. His house is filled to the rafters with the inane complaints of everyone in town.

When a storm blows up a huge wind that manages to dismantle Cornelius' home, the villagers quickly come to his rescue. As they offer help, they take note of the many grudges that he has been housing for them. As they read what they have written, they recognize how silly they all seem. Together, they begin the work of repairing old wounds, leaving Cornelius without work and happy to be so:

"Tiffs and huffs, squabbles and quibbles - all the grudges
 had been tossed away, down to the last small scrap of pique.
Not a single grudge remained."

A lesson wrapped in wonderful language, with the feel of a folktale, this book is sure to be a repeat read for your young listeners. Read it once, and then read it again yourself. Be sure you take a very close look at the residents and setting created by Eliza Wheeler. With each trip through its pages, you will notice the many fine details she has created to enhance the storytelling. Ms. Wheeler uses dip pens, India ink and watercolors to bring the villagers to glorious life. The quiet palette of gold and green add authenticity to its classic feel. It's a winner!
                                                                            

Betty Bunny Wants a Goal, written by Michael B. Kaplan and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2014. $18.00 ages 5 and up

"That night at dinner, Betty Bunny could not stop talking about the next day when she would play her very first soccer game. "I am going to score ten goals!" she announced. "Just try your hardest and we'll be proud of you," Kate said. "Do I really have to go to the game?" Henry asked."

Who isn't thinking soccer these days? The 2014 FIFA World Cup is garnering media attention almost every hour of the day. It is the most popular and certainly the most accessible sport for children and adults throughout the world. It is no wonder that Betty Bunny is keen to play!

I will trust that you have met Betty in previous family stories, If not, you are in for a real treat! She is, and always has been, 'a handful'. Readers know that the moment they meet her. We also know that she loves chocolate cake, wants everything and doesn't like to take responsibility for mishaps. It is not surprising that soccer will not change her. She is happy to acknowledge that she is indeed a 'handful':

"She knew this because at her very first soccer practice, when
she picked up the ball and ran away with it, her coach said,
 "Betty Bunny, you are a handful."
Betty Bunny knew that she must be the star of the team for
her coach to say something so great about her."

She's nothing, if not confident in her own skin. So, it's not surprising that she assures her family she will be scoring ten goals in her very first game. When all does not go as planned, Betty is sad, embarrassed, and furious. She is done with soccer.

The family, as supportive families will do, encourage her to keep trying. There is no reasoning with her, until they appeal to a bright future of goals and trophies...if she keeps working at her game. The second game is no better. When her brother Bill suggests that 'maybe you're just not that good', he is assigned the task of helping to improve Betty's skills. Practice pays off when she is finally able to score that elusive goal. Now, she's again full of self-assurance and bravado!

As is the case in the earlier books, Michael Kaplan has a keen ear for humor amongst family members, especially siblings. That sense of fun allows the message from this story to quietly make its presence known without being overbearing. The dialogue between family members are cause for quiet giggles and much enjoyment.

Stephane Jorisch uses pencil, ink, watercolor and gouache in lively tones in creating a family dynamic that is worthy of our attention. His expressive faces, use of white space to focus our attention, and action-filled spreads add just the right touch to this heartwarming tale.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Curiosity, written by Gary Blackwood. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2014. $18.99 ages 11 and up

"Though I was responsible for operating the Turk, Maelzel was the one running the show. He insisted on rehearsing the act over and over until every detail, no matter how small or insignificant, was exactly the way he wanted it. Perhaps the most crucial moment was at the very beginning, when Maelzel opened the doors of the cabinet to show the audience there was no dwarf or trained monkey inside..."

Rufus is the perfect person to be the 'brain' that guides 'the Turk' to success in an age when audiences were intrigued by automata. Rufus is only twelve, with a pronounced stoop and alone in the world, since his father was thrown in debtor's prison. Early on his father recognized Rufus' unprecedented skill at the game of chess, and encouraged him to become ever more skillful. Those things and the fact that he is small for his age, ensure that he suits the needs of Johann Maelzel to a tee.

Mr. Maelzel is the current owner of The Turk, a mechanical man advertised to be 'the Original and Celebrated Automaton Chess Player'. Of course, it is a farce. Maelzel is in need of a new operator of the mechanical system, and he chooses Rufus because he is in such dire straits that he is willing to do anything for food and a place to stay. Rufus takes up the little space available to him within a hidden cabinet, and has the chess savvy to play against those opponents willing to pay to try to best The Turk. The conditions are deplorable; Rufus takes the job in an effort to make enough money to improve his father's life in prison.

The Turk was a real 19th century sensation, brought to the US in 1835, setting in motion many attempts to disprove the notion that a machine could beat a man at chess. Edgar Allan Poe was one of the many naysayers who kept a watchful eye on the automaton. He plays an imagined role in this fine novel, narrated in the first person by Rufus.

Rufus has so many strikes against him...he is alone in the world since his father has been sent to prison, barely able to survive on the streets, treated abominably by Maelzel and forced to continue working in almost unbearable conditions. Through it all, he remains strong, curious and driven to be an even better chess player. He is a worthy and honorable male protagonist. His self-deprecating voice makes for many humorous and poignant moments.

There is much here for readers to appreciate: the setting, the eighteenth century parade of exhibitions that drew curious and eager attendees, the workings of an automaton, the plight of orphans, an eclectic assortment of well-developed characters, the solving of a mystery, and the game of chess itself.

An afterword by the author acquaints his readers with some of the historical characters who are included within the text.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

That One Summer, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Groundwood Books, 2014. $18.95 ages 14 and up


"My mom screamed at my dad last night. Like SCREAMED. At my dad. They were outside in the car, but I could hear her through my window. My aunt and uncle left. Then my mom stood outside by herself for a long time. So today my dad is golfing and my mom is spending quiet time in her room."

The Wallace family has been coming to Awago Beach since Rose was a five-year-old. She is now twelve, dealing with the many issues that seem to plague young people...infatuation, family ills, waning friendship, growing up to learn things about the world you would rather not know.

While it is not her own story; Mariko Tamaki carefully reconstructs the cottage life that she experienced while growing up. She knows what draws families back each and every year; she shares that feeling on every page of this remarkable new graphic novel. Just go and ask your friends who spent childhood summers at the lake about it...in fact, you will likely have to go to the lake to talk with them about it. This is a perfect book to share with them!

There is so much here to see and appreciate, in both the text and the artwork. The two cousins earlier worked together to create Skim (Groundwood, 2010). I was really interested to read an interview in The New Yorker magazine this month that focused on their research for such a story:

“We spent a lot of time spying on kids, wherever we would find them,” Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the authors of the graphic novel “This One Summer,” said about the research process for their book...
“I’m a huge fan of talk, and am a chronic eavesdropper,” Mariko confided. She provided the script and worked closely with her cousin Jillian, the artist. “I love riding the subway or sitting in malls listening to people gossip or argue on the phone. Mostly, when I eavesdrop in schools, I hear a lot of girls talking about other people, which I’m sure was a big influence on the plot of this book...
Jillian, the artist, who grew up in Western Canada, says she did “extensive research. It was really important to infuse the sensory elements into the story. My job is to make things specific and visceral. I take notes and keep an ear out whenever I am near kids to pick up the tics and nuances, but one thing I really took away from this exercise is how loud they are.”

Fans will quickly be drawn into the story of two young girls as they navigate the many events that are part of this particular summer. They have been meeting every summer for some time, and have many shared experiences. They fall into old habits, including walks and visits to the general store for treats, due especially to Rose's interest in one of the older boys who works there. She even convinces Windy that they are old enough to rent horror DVDs from the meagre pickings; perhaps in an effort to impress him. The movies may scare them witless (and even cause nightmares for Windy), but they return for more. Being scared by a movie has nothing on the other things that are happening at Rose's house.

Her parents are in distress. Her mother is suffering from a deep depression, which we learn is the result of infertility and miscarriage a year ago...it is very difficult to watch Rose try to deal with her father being away, her mother being absent from life, and her conflicted feelings about not being enough of a family for them. Those scenes are dramatic and powerful.

A secondary plot involves the young man Rose finds so intriguing, and a teen pregnancy. Rose seems unduly interested, while Windy could care less. The drama that is created is central to Rose's formative summer as she carefully watches all that unfolds. Always watchful, she is the heart of this fine book.

We are better for having read it! Savor every page for all that the illustrations reveal, and share it with young adults who love the graphic novel format. They will be forever grateful as they share this real, emotional journey with two girls whose relationship is not likely to be the same again. Exceptional! 


 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Norman, Speak! Written by Caroline Adderson and pictures by Qin Leng. Groundwood, 2014. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"Norman didn't understand a word we said. Whenever we spoke, he tilted his head and stared. Maybe he kept forgetting his name was Norman. Or maybe nobody had trained him properly. But after a few days with Norman, we knew the truth. He just wasn't very smart."

For anyone who has a dog, dreams of having a dog, has chosen a dog from a local shelter, or just loves dog stories, I have a new book for you!

The young boy, who narrates this story of Norman's assimilation into family life, has one of his dreams come true when the family agrees to visit the animal shelter in hopes of finding the right dog for them. The choosing is difficult...there are so many. But, the family takes time and care looking at each of the twenty-four dogs, in hopes of finding the 'perfect' one for them. The boy comes up with a plan:

"I know how to choose, " I said.
"Which dog has been here the longest?" I asked the
shelter woman.
She pointed to a brown-and-white dog. Where the other
dogs had tails, this one had a stump.
"He was a stray," the woman said. "Someone found him
and brought him in. No one knows his real name."

He's called Norman, and he is the one. For good reason it seems. Norman is happy enough to be chosen that his tail wagging is a 'hula dance of happiness'. Can it get better than that?

What happens when they get him home is the stuff of memorable and heartwarming tales. Norman may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer; the family loves him anyway. He cannot follow even the simplest instructions. He does provide great entertainment and much love for each of them; he does his happy dance whenever he sees a family member.

Then one day at the park, the young boy makes a lovely and enlightening discovery. It seems that Norman can follow directions...they need to be spoken in another language. The solution to the family's dilemma is handled in a way that will have the audience smiling. Difficult? Yes! Worth the work? Oh, yes!

Qin Leng's illustrations are done in ink, and then colored digitally. They provide a warm and realistic look at each of the characters, and their daily life with Norman. They add detail and offer an invitation for further discussion of this lovely family story. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

From There to Here, written by Laurel Croza and illustrated by Matt James. Groundwood, 2014. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"There. We lived on a road. A graveled and oiled road, carved into the middle of the bush. A road without a name. Here. We live on a street. An asphalted and sidewalked street, paved into the middle of the city. A street with a name. Birch Street. I don't see any birch trees. They must be hiding in the backyards behind the fences."

I have waited 4 long years to meet up with the young girl I so happily first met in 2010,  when I read about her life in the book by Laurel Croza and Matt James called I Know Here (Groundwood, 2010). I loved that book then, and love it still. I often share it in classrooms, and also suggest it as a perfect title to help children explore the concept of moving from one place to another.

We knew from that first book that she and her family were moving from northern Saskatchewan to Toronto. In Saskatchewan her father worked at a dam site helping to provide electricity for the people of the prairies. The were moving because her father had accepted a new job.

In this book we learn that the move was precipitated by the building of a new highway in Toronto, and her father's role in that project. Everything is different from one place to the other, and she explains the differences for those who are reading her story. There is much to be missed about the 'there', and she is feeling every single change.

The text of the book is reminiscent of the author's childhood, which took her from place to place as her father worked at new sites helping to build dams. She so eloquently allows her readers a close personal look at the feelings these moves had for both she and the other member of her family, I suspect. Explored in simple phrasing, it allows those reading it to pause and consider the impact on a child to leave one much loved, rural landscape for a totally new and different urban setting.

Opening the book to the engaging map of Canada drawn by Matt James to show us both 'here' and 'there' is the perfect invitation for a discussion about the geography of parts of Canada. Toronto is located with a big red star, an imperceptible hint that the color red might figure strongly in this tale. Indeed, it does. The young girl who wears red in every spread, the stop sign, the bike, the trailer siding, the aurora borealis at their previous home, even the fire that lights the dense bush...all add cohesiveness to a story well told.

Here and there may be different, but here is made much better with the help of a friend...an important lesson to all who share this lovely new book.  It can be upsetting, and also special to move from one place to another.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Crossover, written by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Basketball Rule #3
Never let anyone
lower your goals.
Others' expectations
of you are determined
by their limitations
of life.
The sky is your limit, sons.
Always shoot
for the sun
and you will shine."

Bret and I are pretty caught up in the final series between San Antonio and Miami in the NBA basketball finals. I don't mind telling you that we are bleeding black and silver, and can hardly wait for tonight's game. Reading this terrific verse novel about basketball twins Josh and Jordan has only upped my impatience for it to get started.

Their father is a hoops legend who played in Europe, and the boys are lucky to have the drive and talent to play competitively as they approach their thirteenth birthday. As the season progresses, changes, both big and small, have Josh thinking seriously about life, and sharing his thoughts with us. Losing a bet leads to allowing Jordan to cut off Josh's long, lucky dreads. Jordan is showing more interest in a girl than in the game. Josh is too often privy to arguments and worries between his parents. His mother wants his father to see a doctor about lingering health issues. His father has earlier refused to have the knee surgery that would have allowed him to play basketball longer, and his mother is now concerned about his blood pressure. Going to the doctor is not an option for his father.

As his anger builds over these events for which he has no control, he takes it out on his brother on the basketball court:

"Today, I plan on passing the ball to JB,
but when I hear him say "FILTHY,
give me the ball," I dribble
over to my brother

and fire a pass
so hard,
it levels him,
the blood

from his nose
still shooting
long after the shot -
clock buzzer goes off."

Can things get worse? Apparently, they can.

Kwame Alexander does an exceptional job of creating a strong, rich voice that allows his audience to experience the relationships and lessons learned in this one pivotal basketball season. Full of emotions ranging from elation to devastating loss, readers will follow the action from first page to last with the speed of a basketball game. I couldn't put it down; it is a perfect read for your students who love sports stories. If they love rap and hip-hop, they will be equally impressed!

The 10 Rules of Basketball in the Bell household are shared at various points in the story, beginning with:

"Basketball Rule #1

In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court."

and ending with:

"Basketball Rule #10

A loss is inevitable,
like snow in winter.
True champions
learn
to dance
through
the storm."

Are you listening, LeBron?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $ 21.95 ages 7 and up

"Letters, books, pride
and music
filled Teddy and his brother
Trombone for Gus
Violin, oboe, clarinet and
Piano for Teddy
Benny practiced
when the kids were outside playing..."

Their lives growing up were entirely different in so many ways; and yet, they had music in common.

Benny Goodman grew up in Chicago, the son of Jewish immigrants. Free lessons stirred a love of music in him. Playing the clarinet allowed him a place in the marching band of the family synagogue. He would rather have played jazz.

Teddy Wilson grew up in Alabama, and was a multi-instrument musician. He played piano, oboe, violin and clarinet, practicing as was expected of him, mostly classical music. He, too, wanted to play jazz, emulating his heroes at the time...Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Earl Hines:

"Benny practiced
when the kids were outside playing
when his mother called him to supper
when everyone was trying to sleep
the music from his tutor
from sheets of German music
Tight, toot, formal, toot
Noone, Dodds,
New Orleans Rhythm Kings
Black and blues,  mellow and loose

Teddy practiced
Reeds and brass
recitals and concerts
Reading bass and treble clefs
With his tutor
Ping, overtures, ping, etudes, Chopin, Bach
But Duke, Fats and Hines
he copied note by note
Black and blues, mellow and loose"


Lesa Cline-Ransome captures the vibes of the jazz both men loved in the words she has chosen to tell their story. She does an incredible job of paralleling their journeys from their individual roots to a chance meeting in New York in 1935. They formed a trio with Gene Krupa, recording wonderful music that was appreciated by many. Goodman was not amenable in the beginning to performing as an integrated group in public. Finally, in April 1936 in Chicago, they appeared for the first time in public, making music history as the first interracial group to do so. It wasn't long until Lionel Hampton's inclusion made them a very popular quartet:

"Now onstage, front stage
Playing as one
With Lionel Hampton
on vibraphone
A trio grew
into a quartet
Drum and vibes
Clarinet and piano
Gene and Lionel
Benny & Teddy
together" 

Using a watercolor palette of beautiful blues, indigo and yellow, James Ransome brings the men and their music to vibrant life. In double page spreads, he shows the joy and excitement all felt in the music they shared to the lucky readers of this wonderful picture book.

Additional information about Benny and Teddy is shared in back matter, which also includes a time line of jazz music from its origins in the early nineteenth century in New Orleans to 1998 when the quartet received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, and a set of short notes on the jazz musicians mentioned within the text of this musical journey.

Truly amazing!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sea Turtle Scientist, by Stephen R. Swinburne. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Leatherbacks begin nesting on St. Kitts in March annually. Approximately sixty to sixty-five days after the mother leatherback completes her nest and returns to the sea, the eggs begin to hatch.."

I seem to repeat myself whenever it comes to a new addition to the Scientists in the Field series from this fine publisher of exceptional nonfiction for young readers. I love these books, and I think that any child interested in animals in the wild will be astounded by the amount of information that writers such as Stephen Swinburne are able to impart about the very special scientists who work so diligently in their chosen field.

Dr. Kimberly Scott is a veterinarian whose work with endangered sea turtles has helped to establish lasting and beneficial connections between the turtles themselves and the people of St. Kitts. Many fisherman once relied on fishing the sea turtles to provide food and finance for their families. As numbers begin to shrink, it is not hard to tell that there will soon be big trouble. Alternate ways to create income are being considered, and finding acceptance.

Kids love to hear stories. Stephen Swinburne is adept at telling such stories. So he begins with a compelling image, and a sober reminder about how tenuous life in the wild can be:

"One egg out of a thousand will produce an adult sea turtle.” So says Dr. Kimberly Stewart as she gently places the leatherback hatchling, not much larger than a match-box car, onto the black-flecked sand. Its front flippers begin to beat, heaving the tiny turtle toward the sea and stippling the face of the sand with miniature tracks. “This could be the one in a thousand."

Are you interested? I would think so.

Following Dr. Stewart allows Mr. Swinburne to see the love she has for these endangered creatures. Her commitment to the turtles- leatherbacks, green and hawksbill- that live on St. Kitts is enduring and has resulted in the establishment of a program that monitors the sea turtles she studies. They face many dangers:

"Are twenty-first century pressures - a polluted and plastic-filled ocean, the loss of nesting beaches, the poaching of eggs and slaughter of adults, the risk of drowning in nets - overwhelming the marine turtle population?"

That is her mission....to find out if we will lose these creatures who have outlived the dinosaurs.

We learn a great deal about the leatherbacks through accessible and informative text, and beautifully shot and carefully captioned photographs. Colorful, framed boxes add even more complete data for readers. We also meet people who are working to make conditions better, and to ensure longevity for the sea turtle population that exists today.

When St. Kitts fisherman Theo Taylor met Kimberly in 2006, he was happy to share his sea turtle harvest with her for the sake of science. She eventually convinced him to consider conservation; he was also willing to hear what she had to say about alternative income opportunities. He now advocates for them by patrolling for turtles during nesting season, and telling schoolchildren about them the rest of the year! A coup, if there ever was one!

As usual, there is so much to learn, and to admire about those scientists who work selflessly and endlessly to make our world a better place. Lucky we are to have such a consistently terrific series to share with our children and students. Every time I read a new one, I am in awe of the work being done around the world.

Back matter includes a glossary, information for helping sea turtles and even adopting one, a list of websites and books that might be accessed for further learning, acknowledgements, photo credits and an index. Then, if you aren't sure what you have missed, there is a full list of all previous titles in this incredible series.

So, get out of the dingy science labs and classrooms, and make your way to a sunny Caribbean island if you want to really know how turtles have been threatened, and are now thriving through concentrated efforts to change those conditions that were certain to lead to their being lost to us forever.




http://youtu.be/v3NZTTN0HNg

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Art of Secrets, written by James Klise. Workman Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $20.95 ages 13 and up

"Look, I mean, it's unintentionally hilarious; one chapter includes actual telephone scripts to follow when sharing unpleasant news with parents. There is, of course, no script in this whole book to use when telling an immigrant father, whose home has been lost in a fire, that valuable artwork, which is to be sold at auction to benefit him and his family, has gone missing."

This is a book that kept me reading far into the night wanting desperately to know about the Kahn family, their future, and the community who rallied round them to help them find some stability following a devastating fire.

That fire, set by an arsonist, has destroyed their apartment and everything in it. When the students and staff at Saba's private school hear the news, they are quick to take action. they arrange a charity auction the likes of which most people have never seen. In the beginning, people offer items that will entice others to attend the sale. When a brother and sister find previously undiscovered artwork by Chicago artist Henry Darger's in a back lane dumpster, it is an rare and amazing triumph.

There is mystery in Saba's story. The artwork found is authenticated, insured and subsequently, stolen from the school gymnasium. As the story progresses through a series of emails, texts, journal entries, newspaper stories, official documents and interviews, you will drawn into the mystery and keen to try your hand at solving it. There is much speculation, and rumors abound. We become aware of details that point fingers at numerous suspects. Who stole the art? Will it be returned? Will we ever know what happened to it? The answers are revealed; I was totally surprised when I reached the final pages. I was totally wrong in all my speculation concerning the events...secrets, indeed!

Variety in voice and viewpoint kept me intrigued start to finish. I thought the author kept the mystery
going until the final reveal. I think that those readers who like mystery tales will find this one a
worthwhile read.

The first thing I did when I finished it was to find out more about Henry Darger so that I had some context for the pivotal event in this story. Here is a short introduction:
 
http://youtu.be/MSzzirIP0No

He is a known as a self-taught master of outsider art, and I found myself quite mesmerized by what I did learn about him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Binny for Short, written by Hilary McKay. Hodder, Hachette. 2014. $9.99 ages 9 and up

"James was having a wonderful summer. Every morning he woke up fizzing. Every night he fell asleep gloating. The endless days of school and the dingy city flat had almost faded from his mind. They had been replaced by much more interesting things. Sunlight, old ladies, and his private tally of high tide marks on the garden fence.  His wonderful wetsuit. The sea."

Hilary McKay knows how to write a family story that is sure to make you laugh, maybe even cry. In this book about the Cornwallis family, she introduces 'Bin, Bel, Belinda - Binny for short' and a wonderfully eccentric cast of characters who make her life interesting, to say the least.

Binny has experienced two huge losses, and another one for which she feels a particular guilt. Her father dies suddenly, leaving the family without his stories, and bankrupt when all is said and done. Because of their dire straits, Binny has to give up her much loved dog, Max. To top it off, it is her mean and very cranky Aunt Violet who finds another home for him. Binny wishes the worst for Aunt Vi, and tells her so.

When the worst happens and Aunt Violet dies, Binny wonders if it might be her fault. She was, after all, very rude the last time they saw each other. Imagine the family's surprise when they are told that Violet has willed a seaside cottage in Cornwall to Binny, and her family. Binny does not want to go...she is still very angry over the loss of Max.

The chance to begin life anew is a strong draw for the rest, and soon they are off to live in the tiny cottage at the edge of the sea. It brings much needed change to their lives. Binny finds a bit of an enemy in Gareth, the angry and equally lonely boy next door:

"With Gareth nothing was needed. No admiration, no tact, no caution, no politeness, no responsibility in any way. Never before had Binny had such a perfect companion: so handy, so alien, so entirely insensitive that she didn't have to bother about his feelings at all."

She also makes new friends in Ben, who lets Binny help him crew his seal boat (and who is a handsome older boy, to boot), and Ben's sister Kate, who runs a cafĂ© and offers work for both Binny and her sister Clem. Mom finds a job that allows her little brother James to go along; all seems brighter in their world.

The family relationships give this wonderful tale heart and humor. Binny is so angry over the loss of Max, and the author lets her get that anger out in actions and in words. James is a very young boy with eccentricities that made me laugh out loud more than once. Gareth's anger over staying with his father and his future stepmother for the summer is real and heartfelt, and so annoying at times.

Please read it for the charming tale it tells, and meet some of the most memorable characters you are unlikely to meet anywhere. Focused on the Cornwallis family, we grow to love who they are and how they support one another. I can't wait to read more about them. So, I'll be on the lookout for Binny in Secret!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Highest Number in the World, written by Roy MacGregor and illustrated by Genevieve Despres. Tundra, 2014. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Gabe's bedroom was a shrine to Hayley, filled with posters, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, hockey cards and a drawing Gabe made of the two of them - both wearing number 22, of course. Gabe was counting on getting number 22 with The Spirit."

If you love sports.- just one or all - you  likely have a sports hero or two. If you are a child, that hero may consume your thoughts, and even determine what jersey you want to wear whenever you play your sport.

Gabriella, who wants only to be called Gabe, is that kind of fan. She loves hockey and she especially loves Hayley Wickenheiser! Her favorite number is 22. She has always worn 22. She is a nine year old spitfire who finds a place on the ten year old team, THE SPIRIT.

When the new jerseys are handed out and Gabe gets number 9, she is heartsick. There is no 22, or it would be hers!. A day that started with such promise no longer holds any happiness for her. It's the worst number in the world, and she doesn't even want to wear it. She takes the jersey home and hides it away.

Soon it's Grandma Gabriella to the rescue with her own team stories, and a quick lesson on the remarkable players who have also worn a number 9 sweater. You may remember some of them: Andy Bathgate, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard. Why even Wayne Gretzky wore 99! Besides all that, Grandma wore it, too until they told her she couldn't play (girls were not allowed). After that, she wore it as a fan of the many wonderful players who did wear it.

What do you think? Will Grandma's stories change Gabe's mind?

The illustrations add depth and detail to this very warm and winning sports story for young readers.
Done in gouache, Ms. Despres captures the game and the drama from a variety of perspectives. Don't miss the final image. It finishes the story up in a very special and charming way!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Starting From Scratch, written by Sarah Elton and illustrated by Jeff Kulak. Owlbooks, 2014. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"As you get older, it will become even more important to know how to cook. And no matter what you cook, remember that whenever you mix together raw ingredients to make food, you are feeding your stomach, your heart, and your soul. And hey, it's fun, too."

This is not necessarily a book that I think of as a cookbook for kids. What I do like about it is Sarah Elton's obvious love of food, and of learning about cooking it. There is so much more to it than just reading a recipe, and then enjoying the fruits of your labor.

She begins with the 'why?':

"Turning raw ingredients into a delicious meal is an art. It's like painting a picture or writing a story or composing a song. Once you get the hang of it, cooking becomes easier and easier - and the food you make will become tastier and tastier."

There are six chapters. In the first the author explores the various aspects of taste. We have favorites and some that don't appeal. Certain foods leave a bad taste in our mouths. Our taste buds are designed to recognize five: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami*. What do you have most of in your kitchen? What do you like best? Interesting to take the time to think about such questions seriously. Information boxes are frequently used to explain various aspects of taste and flavor, to present food facts, to offer challenges and quizzes. There are even boxes that provide expert advice from those who job concerns taste.

The culture of food is influenced by many things: crops, climate, animals, foods from other places. Oh, and it helps to be creative when trying something new. Just think about the differences between Greek and Mexican food. A graphic map plots the ways in which people in world communities prepare. It's very interesting, to say the least.

Each chapter has much to teach all readers about food and about cooking. In the final chapter Ms. Elton offers tips on food preparation for her young readers. 'Prepping' provides tips for the eventual task of putting the meal together. Definitions are shared, as are the ways in which foods can be cooked and where...stovetop, oven, barbecue, or in the microwave. Once again, I really like the visual page that discusses the many ways to prepare an onion, and then how it can be used for a variety of food choices. There is information about baking and food safety, and a graphic showing a table setting to match where you live, or the food you are preparing...Western, Japanese, Ethiopian, and Indian are shown.

An important message here is that if it doesn't work the first time, try and try again. Practice is the name of the game for each one of us! Basic recipes are included and a chart that suggests what flavors might be paired to make for delicious fare.

This is a great read. I cannot think of one thing that the author left out in trying to make the learning fun for everyone who shares it. It is certain to inspire discussion and encourage participation in meal planning for the family. Can't we all use a little help? Won't our children benefit from anything that inspires them to take up the challenge of helping to feed the family and themselves? Don't miss it!

*Umami This is  the new kid on the block [for taste]. Umami was first identified in 1909 by a Japanese chemistry professor in Tokyo. But it took the rest of the world many decades to accept his finding. Umami is often described as a meaty flavor. It's that rich, round taste you get in your mouth when you eat foods like bacon or Parmesan cheese. The word "umami" comes from the Japanese umai, which means "delicious".

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blue Gold, written by Elizabeth Stewart. Annick Press, 2014. $12.95 ages 14 and up

"In a rush, she explained about her sick father and her back pay. It was on the tip of Laiping's tongue to point out that it wasn't legal for the company to withhold the money she was owed, but she didn't want to seem like a troublemaker - not when she needed Miss Lau to be on her side. "This is highly irregular," said Miss Lau. "But my father is ill," Laiping explained again. "I need the money now..."

There were times when I just couldn't keep reading Elizabeth Stewart's new book about injustice and greed. She tells her story from three perspectives. Laiping is a too-young girl who has left her home in the Chinese countryside to work in a city factory in order to help her impoverished family. Sylvie and her family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo when her father was murdered in a fight over mining the rare mineral coltan. Fiona is a Canadian girl whose 'sexting' a photo to her boyfriend goes viral, and whose father is a mining executive with interests in the Congo.

Enticed by her cousin's promises of wealth and wonder, Laiping is not old enough to work in the factory where cell phones are made. She lies to get the job and, as are the thousands of other young girls who work with her, is treated abominably by the company. They work at soldering circuit boards day in and day out because they are desperate; they cannot complain for fear of reprisal. Their wages are withheld, their meals are meagre, their accommodation is one small bunk in rooms that contain thousands, and they must work harder and harder to keep up with the demand for cell phones. It is grueling, and demeaning. When Laiping asks for the money she is owed to help get medical care for her father, her request is refused. This helps her to understand why other workers are demanding better, safer, more equitable conditions for all. Laiping needs her job to help her family; she keeps away from those who want to change the system that is in place.
    
Sylvie has taken responsibility for her family in the wake of her father's death. Her mother is unable to cope with her grief, there are younger siblings to care for; Sylvie becomes the parent. She wants her brothers to stay in school. Food is scarce. More refugees mean less for everyone. When her brother Olivier joins forces with the camp warlord, Sylvie is frantic. She seeks help and guidance from the camp medical staff. They are willing to help her escape to Canada with her family, where life will be much better for them. After being promised in marriage to that same warlord by Olivier, Sylvie is in even greater danger. With help from strangers in countries around the world, who have learned of her plight through the media, Sylvie is able to escape with her family to the Canadian embassy.

As Sophie deals with the repercussions of sexting a photo to her boyfriend Ryan, she learns many important lessons about responsibility, about admitting mistakes, and about her life of privilege in comparison to what she learns about Sylvie through social media. Knowing that her father has influence and wealth, she asks for his help in getting Sylvie's family to Canada.

Each of the three fifteen-year-old girls is compelling and realistic. Their stories are well told, and are connected by coltan, the 'blue gold' of the title. They want the same things that teenage girls everywhere in the world want: friendship, love, family harmony, and a future. Their voices are clear and strong.

Elizabeth Stewart has written a story that is often uncomfortable, that is sure to have readers talking about issues of importance, and that needs to be told. It will raise awareness of world concerns  that are not often considered. An afterword will help readers to understand Ms. Stewart's need to tell her story, to find further information, and perhaps, to take some small steps of their own.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

PARDON ME! Written and illustrated by Daniel Miyares. Simon & Schuster, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up


"Pardon me.

IT'S
CROWDED
ALREADY,
DON'T YOU
THINK?"

You can tell by the look on his face that this little yellow bird has some strong opinions about what is happening in his world right now, can't you? You might even have the sense that he is a bird with an attitude. You would be RIGHT!

The genteel look of a pond greets us as we open the cover to discover cool blue endpapers with graceful waving reeds and a dragonfly dipping in the still waters. The title page shows a brightly plumed bird preparing for a landing. The clouds are fluffy, the water still and darkness is descending.

Ah, the landing is a success, the bird sits in silence on a tiny isle of tranquility. The feeling lasts through the second full page spread; but, the perspective changes. Instead of a horizontal view of his perch, we are now looking from above...perhaps a harbinger for the coming action. Take careful note of the dark shadow!

An egret lands with a polite 'pardon me'. The 'grumpy' is quick to respond nastily...'well, I suppose I can't stop you.' The tone is set, and the hilarity begins. Next comes a frog, then a turtle...each met with disdain. A fox looks on, and wants to offer an observation! It proves a bit much for the tiny bird, who responds with all the built-up anger he has been feeling, and the power of a loud and cranky voice.

His tirade works. He now has his space all to himself. The darkness deepens, the bird siestas and only the audience can see the reason for the fox's warning. Too late, the parrot realizes his mistake! The story is politeness plus right up until the final surprise!

The art is stunning, filled with diffused light and wonderful perspective for readers. I can't wait to share it!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Meaniehead, written and illustrated by Bruce Eric Kaplan. Simon & Schuster, 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Meaniehead!" Eve screamed.

"It's mine!" Henry screamed
back at her.

There's nothing sillier
than fighting about what
belongs to whom, but no
kids and even fewer adults
know that."

If you don't have a sibling you may not understand the nonsense that results when a fight breaks out over possession of something totally meaningless. Today, it's an action figure. Tomorrow, it is sure to be something else! Both Henry and Eve must have it! As anger escalates, so does retaliation. Both grapple earnestly with the toy in question causing it to fly out of their hands, and do irreparable damage to a favorite table lamp. No one will accept a share of blame for the accident. Uncontrolled rage ensues!

Henry gets a jackhammer; Eve gets a bulldozer.The resulting chaos is the stuff that kids want to read about other kids who behave badly. You just know it will not go well! It doesn't take long until the fight moves beyond bedroom walls to their home, their neighborhood, a toy store, even the San Diego Zoo and the Grand Canyon. Oh, and Earth is not exempt. Destruction is the name of the game, and all as a result of a tiff gone terribly wrong.

There is no real emotion in the telling which just makes it all funnier. The cartoon characterisation of the siblings and everyone else in their path of destruction is perfectly timed and drawn to grab the full attention of all who share this book.  The author manages to contain the constant action within black frames, which gives the feeling that all is not lost.
 
If you have read Mr. Kaplan's Monsters Eat Whiny Children (2010), you have already met these siblings. You will not likely be too surprised to see how they are developing. Lest you think that all is well when they appear to agree to a bit of a truce at the end, the endpapers will provide a sense that not much has changed!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Froodle, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Little Brown Bird
didn't want to sing
the same old song.

She didn't know what
she wanted to say.

But it definitely wasn't peep."

All the animals in this urban neighborhood go about their business as they have always done...day after day after day. They are content. Then, one morning, Little Brown Bird is not content with life 'as usual'. She wants to sing something out of the ordinary, something not heard before in the early morning. Will all the other birds follow suit? Did you know that crows can be quarrelsome, and very controlling? You will learn that....oh, and a bit of a downer, too!

Crow is not pleased with Brown Bird's waywardness, and makes that perfectly clear. You can imagine the further annoyance when the other birds follow suit. It makes life much more enjoyable for everyone, except for Crow. He flies off in a snit! Cardinal adds to the hilarity by tweeting 'lost caws.' It just ups the pleasure that kids will find in sharing this delightful new book from the imaginative, 'outside the box' Antoinette Portis. She knows how to make us giggle and think creatively, doesn't she?

When Crow returns, his mood has brightened. He is now willing to find pleasure in sharing in the cheer that is spreading throughout the neighborhood. Ms. Portis uses pencil, charcoal and ink, with digitally applied color to create the menagerie of neighborhood friends who understand Little Brown Bird's need for change. She outlines the birds in black, while making them very recognizable to her young audience. She uses full page spreads for the dialogue, and to create a perfect setting.

Listeners will love the warmth and humor of the tale, and will soon be inventing their own rhyming text to match the charm of the author's choices for her lovely avian characters. The expressions and backgrounds will encourage attention and talk. The sudden surprise of the whole book having to be turned on its end is just one of the joys of sharing the whole thing. 

Let your listeners develop bird voices to share in the reading, then sit back and enjoy!

I love it!