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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rules of Summer, written and illustrated by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic. 2014. $19.99 all ages


"This is what I learned
last summer:

Never leave a red sock
on the clothesline.

Never eat the last olive
at a party."

If you know Shaun Tan's work, you will not be surprised to find yourself in the surreal world of two brothers thinking back on their previous summer. It is meant to be an explanation for all that was learned at that time. Yes, the lessons are curious and the illustrations that Shaun Tan has created to accompany them even more so.  This world is definitely odd, and sure to inspire much speculation from those who look at it alone, or together.

Many readers will be delighted with the rules and their counterpart artwork. Others might feel somewhat frightened by them. The boys live in a world of their own making, but that world seems familiar at the same time. In sharing some of Shaun Tan's books, readers either get it, or they don't. The more I look at the images, the more intrigued I am by all that he brings to the picture book world.

Tan's brilliantly colored acrylic and oil artwork evokes an imaginary world where kids can let their imaginations carry them to new experiences. They are puzzling, and offer no easy answers to the questions they might inspire. The rules that an older sibling voices often make no sense to the younger one. But, follow the rules they do; even if it makes them uncomfortable. Watching closely as the two navigate this game set up by the older brother gives readers a true sense of their relationship. Ultimately, the brothers experience the summer together, and with much appreciated success.
                                                                                 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jubilee, written by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $19.00 ages 8 and up

"The Temple of Peace was now the biggest building in America. It was so big that people were afraid. What if it collapsed? they wondered. Some days, the talk sent Patrick straight to bed. Some nights, it kept him wide awake with worry."

Well, I've said before, and now I am saying it again. There are many, many people whose stories I do not know. Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore is just one more of them.

Thanks to Alicia Potter and Matt Tavares, and this new collaboration, I am more informed than I was yesterday. Let me tell you a bit about Mr. Gilmore. He was born in Ireland and music was his life. He played in his town's band and sang in the choir. It started in church and moved beyond church walls:

"It was wonderful! But Patrick longed to hear more notes and even bigger sounds. And he knew just how to accomplish that. He would become a bandleader."

A move to Boston, 'the country's music capital', was where his dream came true. With the onset of the Civil War and his enlistment in the army, he took his music to the troops. He became uniquely aware that music had great power to lift the spirits of his fellow soldiers. The war's end was all the inspiration he needed to do something quite wonderful: 

"Patrick would create the biggest, boldest, loudest concert the world had ever known. The music would celebrate the bravery of the soldiers! The unity of the land! The end of the war! The concert would be a peace jubilee."

Told that his idea for a five day celebration was too everything, Patrick moved forward, and even found sponsorship for the project. Planning in earnest included construction of a Temple of Peace; once it was done, Patrick could get on with the work of the jubilee itself:

"At three o'clock, one thousand musicians tuned their instruments.
Ten thousand singers took their places beneath two angels holding olive
branches - the sign of peace. The concert was about to start!'

                                                                    

As so often happens with books for young readers, we learn here about a relatively unknown event in a country's history. Thanks to Ms. Potter's able storytelling and Matt Tavares' watercolor, gouache, ink and pencil artwork, we are captivated audience members at this bold and raucous celebration of the sounds of music.  For those readers who attend concerts today, this is a lesson from the past that helps us to understand the joy we continue to feel when we share music today.

An author's note and bibliography add essential information.                                 
                                                     

Friday, August 29, 2014

Emily's Blue Period, written by Cathleen Daly and illustrated by Lisa Brown. Raoring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.99 ages 6 and up

""Do you like this?" asks Dad. It's a soft cube you can put your feet on. NO. No. "What about this?" It's a big square rug. No. Everything is pretty, but nothing looks like home. Did you know that Pablo Picasso was so poor when he moved to Paris that he couldn't buy furniture? Really? He painted furniture on his walls..."

If you are an artist, you probably know the powerful effect that working at your craft has on your mood and your daily life. Emily is filled with the sadness that envelops a child when parents make the decision to separate.

At the same time, her teacher is introducing Pablo Picasso to her students. In honor of the artist, Emily begins thinking of a name change to:

"Emily Emilia Rosita Jenny Juanita de los Alto Igor de la Eyeball Montoya Fluffy Pinchner."

When her parents separate, Emily compares their mixed-up circumstance to Picasso's art. As she and her brother help their father search for furniture for his new space, she is aware of the cubist look of all they see. None of it looks like home to Emily and her brother. Jack strongly shows his displeasure and annoyance at the changes that are coming. Emily avoids assigned art projects, telling her mother that she is emulating Picasso:

"When Pablo Picasso was very sad he only painted in shades of blue.
And now I am in my blue period."

Using pencil and watercolor, with some digital collage, Lisa Brown chooses soft colors and simple lines to help express the feelings that are so prevalent for Emily. The chapters move seamlessly from one to the next in double page spreads that are perfectly designed.  The story is told with sympathy for Emily's struggles without being overbearing or maudlin. Emily is an artist and it is art that helps her through difficult times; finally, she is able to define the family's new dynamic in her own style when a collage of her house is her new art assignment.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

If I Had a Raptor, written and illustrated by George O'Connor. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"A baby raptor is so teensy
and tiny that she would be
easy to lose.
I'd give her a little bell
so I could always find her.

Ring-a-ding-ding!

There you are!"

Aren't puppies cute? Aren't kittens precious? Aren't babies priceless? Of course, they are! Wouldn't it be wonderful if they stayed that way? Growing can result in unexpected concerns for all. Remember your three year old? Your fourteen year old? We are shown in this tale of pet ownership just how easily things can go awry.

When she spots a cardboard box offering 'free raptors', the pigtailed, jaunty little girl is joyous. A baby raptor is chosen and toted home...'all teensy and tiny and funny and fluffy.' Are you thinking what I'm thinking? An attached bell helps keep the raptor from getting itself lost; it does nothing to stop it from growing at exponential speed. As it grows, the audience watches the gleam in its green and beady eyes. What might it have in mind for its young owner?

So much of the story's enjoyment is visual. Using pencil and watercolor, and some digital tweakery, George O'Connor offers up a story of pet ownership that could have ominous repercussions if it weren't for the self-assured stance of its high-spirited young owner. She appears to have no concerns about a predator that might have ulterior motives for remaining captive. While the words tell one story, the illustrations tell another. Plenty of white space keeps us focused on the two characters, always aware of both perspectives on the joys of having a pet to love.

Being awake early in the morning has never been such fun! What a way to start the day...

                                                                     

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, written by Sheila Turnage. Kathy Dawson Books, Penguin. 2014. $18.99 ages 10 and up

""What was that, Dale?" I said I'll sing," Dale said. "And play my guitar if I learn it good enough. If anybody wants me to." "I do," said Sal. "Then it's settled," Miss Lana said. "This is just what we need to help us focus." "She's right," Dale told his brother. "Stress focuses you right up until it sucks your brain dry. Standardized testing taught me that."

I think that I should tell you right up front that I am eternally grateful that I read both books about Tupelo Landing this summer. In this follow-up to Three Times Lucky, I was ever thrilled to be back with these amazing characters in their quirky, lovely town.

Mo and Dale are still in charge of the Desperado Detective Agency; they don't have a lot of work. When an old inn is sold at auction to an inattentive Miss Lana, their next case presents itself in the form of a ghost. Who is she? Why is she there? Coincidentally, their homework assignment is to interview someone from the past. Extra credit will be given to whoever interviews the town's oldest member. They determine the ghost to be the subject of that homework because 'ain't nobody older than dead'. As they begin to do their research, they make some interesting discoveries and uncover a number of secrets. Those secrets must be revealed in order to solve the mystery that the ghost has put in their path.

It was wonderful to slip right back into the lives of those friends I had met so recently. Once again, I found myself savoring the writing talent of Ms. Turnage. Once again, I read with highlighter in hand and 'messed up' a novel with bright orange markings. I read the passages out loud to myself again and again, even reading them to my grown children in daily calls to Winnipeg and Victoria. They laughed with me, and indulged my enchantment with each of the wonderful characters.

Mo's voice is so strong and entirely fresh and original. Please indulge me as my kids did:

"Few people know it, but waitressing is like deep cover - with tips."

"Miss Lana's built tall and slender. I'm built more like a roller derby queen, but that could change at any minute. Puberty happens."

About the subject for their interview, their teacher suggests family as a resource. Mo is quick to let the audience know that she and Dale lack in that area:

"Dale stopped breathing. Dale and me both run short on elders. Mine live somewhere Upstream. His are mostly Up the River."

Are you willing me to stop? Okay, only one more:

"The problem with having a temper is you find out what you're going to say at the exact same minute everybody else does."

Please...just this:

"Dale always claimed two speeds for forgiving: fast or never. I suspect he's developing a new gear just for his daddy. One that grinds slow. Real slow."

You need to read this to your students and children, then put it on your 'keeper' shelf. That's where my copy is, and I will be very careful about lending it. I want to read it to my new grandbaby when he or she is old enough to hear it, and we will find wonder in it together!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

fly away, written by Patricia MacLachlan. Simon & Schuster, 2014. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"I have known for a long time that Teddy can sing perfectly in tune even thought he is not yet two. We all know he doesn't speak words yet. But only Teddy and I know that he sings. He doesn't sing the words, but sings every song with "la la la." He sings to me every night, climbing out of his bed, padding into my room in the dark."

I love the warmth and quiet charm of Patricia  MacLachlan's writing. She pens family stories that are filled with love and heart, and always leave me wanting to read them again. I think they are a perfect for reading aloud in early years classrooms as a new year begins.

Lucy and her family make an annual trek to North Dakota to pay a visit to her Aunt Frankie's farm. When a forecast flood threatens, the family sets off quickly, despite Frankie's insistence that they not come and face the danger. As they travel, we learn about Lucy's family. They love music, and they sing beautifully. Well, everyone but Lucy. Even her little brother Teddy sings (only Lucy and Teddy know that).

 “Teddy has music but no words,” says Lucy. “I have words but no music. We are a strange pair.”

Lucy has taken up her father's earlier dream of being a poet. Lucy works hard to find the words that will say all she wants to say, and prove to her father how beautiful words can really be. In fact, she hopes to show him a poem that is as beautiful as the cows he so loves.

Their arrival coincides with the dangers of a rising river and rushing water. When that danger threatens her Teddy's life, what will the family do?

What a family they are; how lucky we are to get to know them through Lucy's clear and earnest voice. The characters are honest and true, the dialogue engaging and real, the action is paced to keep readers engaged from start to finish.

This novel invites readers into a family that is pure joy. We love every minute we spend with them.  All of the family members have their own specific gifts and quirks, they communicate effortlessly with one another, and the entire book feels like you have entered someone’s home and are having a lovely visit. MacLachlan creates dialogue that feels real, but even more so she has created characters that are alive and honest on the page.

Patricia MacLachlan is, and always has been, a faultless storyteller. We are blessed to have her stories to share with our children. Her work is worthy of study and sharing in many of our classrooms and homes.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy, written by Deborah Wiles. Scholastic, 2014. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"I'm just about to brag about that when I see a colored boy across the street all by himself. He's just standing there, near the telephone pole, hands on his hips, staring at the LeFlore. A man in a car with a long whip antenna on it drives by, slows down and shouts, "What you lookin' at, boy? You got some business to attend to over there all by yourself? And the boy says, "No, sir!" and the man yells..."

This is the second book in a planned trilogy about  the events of the 1960s. In her first book Countdown, Deborah Wiles used the documentary novel format to describe the turbulence of the Cuban Missile Crisis and its many repercussions in Franny's world as she worked to navigate family life, friendships and growing up.

In this companion novel, we meet two young people whose lives are disrupted by the peaceful protests and overt violence of Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. It is a marvelous read: compelling, informative, poignant. Sunny is trying to deal with her new reality, in a home with a stepmother and the children she brings to the marriage. Ray Burris is African American boy, whose impatience for integrating the pool, the movie theatre and the baseball field leads him to make decisions that will have strong repercussions.

When civil rights workers come to their town, wanting to help register black voters and open schools for black children, many townspeople are upset. Many white people question their motives and want nothing to do with changing the status quo. Those being encouraged to register are frightened and unsure. As we read each of their two stories, we also learn through archival materials including brochures, photos, quotations, even music, that the way forward is fraught with obstacles:

"'There is no state with a record that approaches that of Mississippi in inhumanity, murder, brutality, and racial hatred. It is absolutely at the bottom of the list.'  Roy Wilkins, Chairman of the NAACP"

Sunny and Raymond do meet (in a funny and telling way), and their paths cross throughout the story as events in segregated Greenwood escalate into peaceful, and not so peaceful, protests throughout the summer. Nonviolent action is the dream; bigoted violence is, at times, the reality. Sunny has never before even considered segregation as anything more than it is, thinking everyone is content with the way things are. Ray's chapters reveal for the reader the poverty, lack of education and opportunities that is reality for him. It is heartbreaking.

If you were young in the 60s, you may be like me. So many of the events from this book were being discussed; I was only vaguely aware of them as a young teen. Once you start reading this companion book, you will be hard pressed to put it down. It's a long read, and often difficult. It is also historical fiction shared in the best possible way.

This summer I have read some riveting books about Freedom Summer, and have learned much more about that period of time (when I was 13) than I have ever known. Isn't that the real beauty of books? They open our minds and our hearts to people, events and our own sense of history.

An author's note and bibliography are included.

                                                                              

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Comics Squad Recess! Edited by the creators of BABYMOUSE and LUNCH LADY. Random House, 2014. $8.99 ages 7 and up

"I developed super-awesome ninja skills! I've become a super-awesome ninja! I'm finally ready to join the SUPER-SECRET NINJA CLUB!

What are you talking about?

You know, your Super-Secret Ninja Club!"

This is a book for comic lovers, as you can so easily see! There are familiar faces here for those kids who love Babymouse and Lunch Lady. It is a very funny collection of eight stories from familiar (and perhaps not so familiar) authors and is sure to become a hands-down favorite for all.

The stories are related to school, and to recess. They will entice with the many different ways that these writers interpret recess happenings. Characters include a nerdy boy longing to be a ninja, who learns the eighteen disciplines only to find out that the club he wants to belong to has been disbanded. What can he do? There is an invitation to mash-up some of your favorite cartoon characters into a brand new being. When Lunch Lady leaves Betty in charge of Pizza Day, she must turn to the Pizzatron 2000 for help and then deal with the fallout created by letting a pizza monster loose. Not only that, a game of freeze tag introduces Jimmy Sprinkles and the Mean Green Gang. I won't go on, but you get the picture.

Readers will be snorting at the antics of these cartoon crazies. They are sure to recognize the distinctive styles of some of their favorite authors. They will be introduced to new characters as well. Every entry employs the recess theme in raucous, lively tales that are sure to have kids sharing them with each other, alone...and again and again and again!

I love Dan Santat's story about an assigned 300 word paper on The Giving Tree that is part embarrassment, part romance and a lesson in honesty. You will also want to meet Boring Becca, the fifth grade rainy day monitor called in when rain cancels a planned kickball tournament. She's got the goods!

I think you should buy more than one copy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest Cat, text by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $24.99 ages 10 and up

"Unlike the other big African cats, the cheetah doesn't roar, but chirps like a bird, mews like a kitten, purrs like a housecat (as cougars do, too) - and makes many other strange, uncatlike sounds."

Yes! Another adventure with those intrepid reporters, Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop. You know how much I admire them. This time we are in Namibia, as they do their work alongside Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and proud advocate for 'growing the cheetah range'. How wonderful to meet her, and her band of Ambassadors and their human counterparts!

The four cheetahs dubbed the Ambassadors are two years old now, and are meant 'to teach humans about the grace and gentleness of these beautiful but persecuted predators.' When their mother was killed by a farmer, the cubs were three weeks old and too young to do anything but drink milk. They were hand raised by Laurie and her team and they can no longer be returned to the wild, but they do play an important role in raising awareness.

Maps included before the text begins show readers exactly where this story takes place, and glorious panoramic photographs almost take our breath away. As we have come to expect from Ms. Montgomery, the writing is like listening in on a warm and informal conversation. At the same time, there is much to learn and great care is taken to provide what we need to know about these magnificent cats. Mr. Bishop has captured their personalities, their beauty and the setting that is so important to their existence. I am constantly in awe of his talent to capture the most personal and captivating images for all to see.

We quickly learn that dogs and goats hold the key to the survival of the species. The Cheetah Conservation Fund raises Kangal dogs. They are a perfect breed for helping to safeguard the animals (goats, cattle and sheep) that farmers were constantly protecting by shooting the cheetahs, long deemed a threat to all. The goats the CCF raises are meant to help train the dogs for protection and to encourage Namibian farming. It's a win-win situation for all!

Laurie Marker is a wonder; a disciplined and devoted scientist whose inspiring work is deserving of the attention it gets in this terrific new addition to the Scientists in the Field series.

"She sold everything she owned in 1991 and moved to a borrowed farmhouse in rural Namibia, where 20 percent of the world's cheetahs live. She started visiting farmers and asking them questions. How often did they see cheetahs? Did the cats attack their stock? What were the farmers doing to protect their animals?

Their answers led Laurie to a surprising conclusion: "The way to save cheetahs isn't by keeping them all in national parks. The way to save cheetahs is by working with people.""

She set about doing just that, and more than twenty years later, the cheetahs are making a real comeback. Impressive, to say the least.

Meet Dr. Laurie Marker:

http://youtu.be/76CcFqYAKMU

and learn even more about the Cheetah Conservation Fund:

http://youtu.be/B7GpspQIMOw


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thuderstorm, written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert. Enchanted Lion Books, 2013. $19.95 all ages

"The book is made up of one continuous illustration that is 415 inches long and unfolds over the course of the book. The story begins here [on the back cover], moves over the front cover, and continues inside without a single break in the illustrations."

It wasn't so long ago in Manitoba that we were cursing the skies for all the water they were raining down upon us! Now, we are hungering for a good soaking rain...isn't that always the way? I think we might be in for one tonight as the skies are quickly darkening.

I have always been a fan of Arthur Geisert's ability to tell a compelling story without any spoken text. In Thunderstorm he does it again. If you don't  know his work, it's worth a trip to the library to sit and savor what he manages to convey through illustrations 'produced from copperplate etchings that were first hand printed and then hand colored using watercolor paints.' AMAZING!

It's one continuous spread, as mentioned above, and an incredibly detailed look at the approaching storm as we can see from the title page. The animals appear to be seeking refuge, as they all head in the same direction. Some foxes are already safe in their dens; others are on their way. The farm truck, loaded with bales, is on the move. The leaves are blowing in the same direction and storm clouds are creating dark skies above.

As the sky continues to darken, lightning strikes and rain is seen in the distance. As spectators we are able to watch all of the action, including what the various animals are doing in preparation. The farm truck, its passengers and load arrive at the shed, which we see in cross-section. A quick check around the farmyard shows a gardener, and a roofing crew working on the garage.

With each turn of the page, we are privy to all that is happening as the storm arrives. The only visible text is a time stamp to allow for the passage of the days' time. Six hours is all it takes to change the setting from one of peaceful, patterned farmlands to the disheartening destruction of strong winds and a tornado. The storm passes, the damage is assessed and work begins to set things right once more.

It is a story about weather's awesome power, and a small community's resilience in the face of it. The cross-sections allow 'readers' a close, personal look at numerous places and things. Children have sharp eyes when it comes to the small details and will be consumed by every page in this
incredible work of art. You will be very happy to be sharing it with them!
                                                                    

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Three Bears in a Boat, written and illustrated by David Soman. Dial, Penguin. 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"One day, when their mother was out, the three bears did something they really shouldn't have, and with a crash, their mother's beautiful blue seashell lay scattered in pieces across the floor. Afraid of their mama, who, after all, was a bear, the three fled from their house..."

Have you met the three bears? Not these bears I would guess, unless you have already seen this wonderful new book from David Soman. These three bears still live at home by the sea with their mother. Their names are Dash, Charlie and Theo. Like all young ones, they sometimes get themselves in trouble. In this adventure a mishap leaves them nervous and afraid; they flee to the sea.

While hiding behind their boat, they devise a plan to get back their mother's good books. Off they go to find a replacement for the broken shell...exactly the same so that Mama will never know what happened. You just know that things will not go as easily as their plan assumes. As they set out to sea they meet other bears who have no solution for their dilemma. Finally, they are offered the best advice an old sea captain can give:

""A ways over yonder," he told them, "is an island shaped like a lumpy hat. On that island, there may be a seashell, a beautiful blue one. It could be underwater, or in the tallest tree, or on the very top of the mountain. It might even be hidden in a cave. I'm not dead certain, but if you look in the right place, I reckon you'll find it.""

A bit vague, you say. I would agree. The journey is long, a trifle scary even. Upon arrival at the island they follow the old salt's instructions to the letter, without any luck. Sad, mad and argumentative, they set sail for home. The trip home is not easy; its many hazards has a profound effect on the brothers. Their return is welcome but has its consequences.

This is a terrific picture book, and is sure to become a favorite to be read again and again. The art is stunning, the design is an invitation to linger long before you turn any page, allowing the reader and listener to savor the setting, the expressive and determined bear cubs, and all of the action on land and sea. It is warm and spirited, and will definitely leave you longing for your own epic sea adventure, so long as you find the 'right place' in the end.

 REMARKABLE!
                                                                              

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Everyone can learn to ride a bicycle, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Want to learn
to ride a bike?

First you need
to choose
the perfect bike
for you.

Let's go!

Watch everyone ride."

I think I can! I think I can! I think I can! I knew I could!

I didn't learn to ride a two-wheeler until I was twelve. Our family didn't have the money to buy my brother and I a bicycle. So, when our neighbor got a new one and offered me a chance to ride it, I was terrified. That terror led to a major crash and a great deal of pain. But, it didn't stop me from trying again the next day. There is something about the freedom such a skill allows. Off you go around the block; for most of the way no one can see you.

No matter what we try that is new to our experience, it takes patience and practice...and a ton of encouragement. The little girl in Chris Raschka's book has everything she needs to master a brand new skill. She has an impressive helmet, and her pick from a wide array of bicycles. Most of all, she has a mentor...someone who loves her, who believes in her, who stands by and watches as she faces this new challenge with some concern. It's not always easy; persistence pays off and soon she is doing just what she set out to do.

The text is simple, and it's direct. After all, this is a how-to book, isn't it? It is also filled with encouraging words, and gentle pushes to take the learning further. First, it's training wheels, and then without them. A level street offers little resistance, grass makes it a bit trickier, and a hill proves too much. There's only one thing to do.

The watercolor images so accurately portray each step in this rite of passage for many young children. The opening double page spread of the bicycle shop and its varied choices is a delight and an obvious invitation to open discussion about all that is there. Of course, she finds the perfect bike and one that is sure to evoke envy in readers. I really like the way perspectives change with page turns. From framed enclosed boxes, to white space that invites focus on the rider herself, to the many small spots that move the action along as she masters the art of bicycling. Her determination is evident, as is her joy when practice makes perfect!

                                                                              

Monday, August 18, 2014

DOG vs. Cat, written and illustrated by Chris Gall. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2014. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"However, the Buttons had
only one room for their pets.
They would have to share.
This could have been a
dangerous situation, but Dog
and Cat wanted to be very
grown-up.

Hello.

Greetings."

Don't the Buttons talk to each other in the morning? Apparently not. On the same day that Mr. Button makes a stop at the animal shelter looking for a dog to love, Mrs. Button is across town buying a new cat from the pet store. The trips home in their respective cars give readers a sense of the differences between the two new family members: Dog is shown tongue hanging out and drooling all over the back seat of the convertible, while Cat settles snugly behind the center back seat seatbelt, wondering how long it will take to get there. There's sure to be some TROUBLE!

You can't take your eyes off the pages for one minute, or you will miss the boatload of humor that Chris Gall has included in this most enjoyable story about two very different pets who are trying their best to be friendly. Moving in together strains the relationship from the beginning. Their space is divided by an evident white line, marking each one's territory and showing at first look just how opposite they are.

Dog, feet up in his recliner, is basking in a space awash with food, sports equipment, old soda cans and unmade bed, while Cat's space is a picture of order and perfection, suit jackets hung and pressed, bed made, shoes neatly placed and at the ready. The sight gags will have readers guffawing as they share each of the spot pictures that show just what makes them incompatible. The problems escalate until they make the decision to mark their own territory when it comes to the question of a litter box:

"Why can't you go outside like regular pets?

I have indoor privileges."

They cannot find a compromise. The fight rages on...until a wall is built. Only then do they begin to recognize that they might be missing each other. When a strange howling sound signals the arrival of yet another 'pet', they have to work together to find a new reality for both of them.

Chris Gall's imaginatively detailed images for this new book are full of humor never mentioned in the understated text. I have read it again and again to myself, always howling at the two. He uses full page, double page and spot pictures to ensure that we catch each joke and the many deadpan moments between the two. You don't want to miss the vintage look of the black and white photos, complete with stick-um photo corners that adorn the endpapers.

This is a great deal of fun, and you will be delighted to share it!
                                                                      

Sunday, August 17, 2014

SPIC-AND-SPAN! Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra Books, 2014. $ 19.99 ages 8 and up

"Lillian and Frank were efficient at home as well, running their house on the "Gilbreth System." Charts listed each child's "work": brushing their teeth, taking a bath, or making a bed. When the children completed the task, they placed a tick mark on the chart. Once a week, the Gilbreths held family meetings."

As I have said here before, there are SO many people of historical importance that I do, or did, not know. Monica Kulling has uppped my knowledge of some of them in a wonderful set of books from Tundra Books called the Great Idea Series. Each book in the series has been enlightening for me, and welcome. They are stories of inventors and their inventions: George Eastman, Elijah McCoy, Margaret Knight, Elisha Otis, Guglielmo Marconi. If you are not sure about their inventions, you should check them out. Now I meet Lillian Gilbreth, an ergonomics and efficiency expert.

Talk about a woman who had success in business at a time when women weren't expected to do more than keep hearth and home! Not content with the life of wealth and privilege that her early home life afforded, Lillian chose to go to university. When she married, she and her husband Frank were considered experts in their chosen field:

"They showed factory workers how to get the most done in the least amount of time. Frank thought there was one best way to do every job. Lillian thought people did their best when their workplace was comfortable and they enjoyed what they were doing. Lillian was not only an industrial engineer, but a psychologist too."

The story of a very successful businesswoman in the early twentieth century does not come without some issues. The Gilbreth's home is large and filled with 11 children (one daughter died at 5), which leads to a need for  efficiency. When Frank dies suddenly and Lillian is left to raise the children on her own, she is consumed by worries. A family meeting results in everyone staying together in their home, and leads to a need for money to support each and every one of them. To that end, Lillian and two daughters need to learn the fine art of feeding the family.

Luckily for us, Lillian found work helping companies redesign kitchen appliances and learn about efficiency in the workplace. There are so many things we need to thank her for today. Kitchen design, the electric mixer, pop-up lids on garbage cans, fridge compartments. So many things that we just take for granted that were not always there. Our everyday lives are made much better thanks to the efforts of imaginative, forward-thinking inventors like Lillian Gilbreth.

"During her lifetime, Lillian Gilbreth was an efficiency expert, an industrial engineer, an inventor, a psychologist, an author, and a professor. But she always said that her favorite role was that of a mother."     

This is a most worthwhile addition to a truly remarkable series!                   
 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This Or That, written by Crispin Boyer. National Geographic Kids, Random House. 2014. $14.99 ages 8 and up

"Choose THIS:
Swim in a crystal-clear sea
without fear of encountering
scary fish.

Or

Choose THAT:
Swim in a crystal-clear sea
surrounded by fish and
other creatures.

The subtitle reads: 'The Wacky Book of Choices to Reveal the Hidden You.' What fun to share with friends and family. The table of contents offers the following chapters: Power Up!, Good to Go, Help Wanted, Gross Anatomy, Misadventures, Friend Zone, Mad Science, Offbeat Feats, Absurd Situations. I'm not positive; I am going to guess that the first chapter checked out by kids would be Gross Anatomy! Which would you choose?

Flipping to page 64, the chapter choices in question 'offer a different sort of makeover.' The first question wonders if you would choose a prehensile tail, or a prehensile tongue? It also suggests some issues to consider before making your choice. Turn the page and the results of your choice are shared:

If you choose the tail:

"Give yourself a hand. No, really - give yourself an extra hand. A prehensile tail is like a bonus arm on your backside, able to clutch branches and grab goodies."

If you choose the tongue:

"A prehensile tongue comes in handy. Just ask a GIRAFFE! These long-necked lickers wield their 18-inch (46 cm) tongues to strip seriously prickly plants. Africa's acacia trees sprout 3-inch (8 cm)spikes as a defense against grazing animals, but a giraffe's tongue is nimble enough to navigate the thorns and grab the leaves."

So, it's up to you!

The format remains the same throughout. The first page asks the question and encourages musing on it before any decision is made, the second page offers the benefits of each and an interesting fact box about a related item.

It's great fun, and would be a blast to share in those first days of school when students are getting to know one another.

Would you choose to wake up 60 years in the future, or 25 years in the past? Food for thought...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Zoobots: Wild Robots Inspired by Real Animals. Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Alex Ries. Kids Can Press, 2014. $18.95 ages 10 and up

"The Shrewbot, like its Etruscan pygmy shrew "ancestor," can move its snout independently of its body. This allows its whiskers to 'sweep" a wide area and home in on its target. Each whisker can also move on its own, giving the Shrewbot's 
nose even more flexibility and sniff range. Because it can detect and identify objects through "active touch", the Shrewbot can be sent places where visual surveillance is otherwise impossible, such as dark or smoke-filled rooms."
 

Imagine the worth of such creations! There are twelve zoobots described in this amazing book. Each is at some stage of development; conceptual at this point, or already a working model. The range is exceptional and each of the twelve is shared in an efficiently designed double page spread filled with basic information such as the name and the development team, the specifications, realm, applications, evolution and its special operations. A status update reveals most are working prototypes and a few are in development.

Taking inspiration from the animal kingdom, the robots are sure to inspire interest as they are created to copy some of the characteristics of creatures that will be mostly familiar to you. The only one that I had heard nothing about was the black ghost knifefish:

"This dark dweller of the deep doesn't have the familiar fins of a common fish. Instead, the black ghost knifefish gets its name from a single, rippling fin along its belly. With extreme precision, the
knifefish  can slide through the murky waters of the Amazon and sneak up on prey from virtually any direction -vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. The black ghost knifefish can then stun its unsuspecting prey with a self-generated electrical charge, making it doubly deadly."

There are many anticipated uses for the bots as they are fine-tuned and prepared for use in the military, fire fighting, inaccessible spaces, oil spills, ecological monitoring. I'll bet that you have not seen many of them before, and that makes the book even more intriguing.

Graphic illustrations by Alex Ries complete the picture by bringing the robots to life for readers. The design is laid out to make it easy to get the information they want and need. Anyone interested in the fields of mechanical or electrical engineering, biology, zoology and technology is sure to be inspired by what is being done today. We can only make guesses for what the future holds. I was totally amazed at every turn of the page, and engrossed in learning as much as Helaine Becker is willing to share.

Included are a table of contents, glossary, index and some thoughts about the future of such inspired inventions. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Brush Full of Color: The World of Ted Harrison, by Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson. Pajama Press, 2014. $22.95 all ages

"Ted's father liked to sketch and draw in the evenings after work. When Ted was only two, his father gave him a pencil and paper. "Draw!" he said. "I'm sure you will like it as much as I do." He showed his son how lines on paper could make trees, a house, or a hill."

The table of contents for this lovely new book from Pajama Press entices with the promise of a foreword by the artist himself, and then goes on to let the reader know that soon they will learn about Ted's childhood, his world travels, his life in the north, and his life as a full-time artist. I couldn't wait to get started as I have been in awe of his work for many years.

He has some advice for all artists:

"I urge you to keep on reading, writing and painting. Develop your own style and keep it honest and true to who you are. Find inspiration in the world around you, and you will make the world a happier and more creative place."

Calling his work 'the School of Cheery', Ted Harrison's need to paint has ensured his place as a recognized and respected internationally known artist. He was born in County Durham, England. A happy early life encouraged education and travel, and being true to himself. He enlisted in the military as soon as he could. Following the war, with special intelligence training, Ted began military assignments in India, Egypt, and Kenya. All of those places provided inspiration for his art, and he happily filled his sketchbooks with what he was seeing. Those world travels led to a sense of determination about the art he would make:

"And he vowed that his paintings would show only positive images. "There's enough sadness and misery in the world without hanging it on our walls.""

After military service, he worked as an art teacher and was again off to far lands...Malaysia, then New Zealand and back to England to be, with his new family, near his father and sister. Fortuitously for us, his next move was to Canada's North. The children he taught there, and the surroundings he found so beautiful led to a signature style that is recognized worldwide.

The bright colors and the dancing lights of the northern skies gave him the inspiration he needed to let his imagination grow and flourish. His family's life in the Yukon, and the place itself, is depicted in the many wonderful pieces of art that are included in this welcome and inspiring book. His legacy lives on in the books he has written, in his paintings that hang in galleries, and public and personal collections, and in his wisdom shared about the need for art in schools, and in our lives:

"Art must be part of every child's education," Ted Harrison says.
"Painting is the last great freedom. You can paint what you like."

We could not agree more, Mr. Harrison!

An index is included, as is a page of sources and resources.     
                                                                         
      

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nancy Knows, written and illustrated by Cybele Young. Tundra Books, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"She remembers things
one way.

Then another.

Backwards.

And forwards.

All in  neat rows."

Anyone who has seen and admired Cybele Young's captivating books will know that she always has a surprise up her sleeve. In her newest book, we meet Nancy.
Nancy is a lot like me...lots in my head, not always able to 'thought stalk' it out of there. For people my age, we call them senior moments.

Nancy knows she has forgotten something...she just can't remember what it is. She knows that it is important. For the life of her, this time she can't capture the image. Other times, it has worked to think of many things, in hopes that it will trigger the memory needed at the moment. She uses all of her previous tactics; the ones that have helped on other occasions. She thinks of things with wheels, clothes, relaxing places, colors...the list goes on. As so often happens to me, when Nancy stops trying so hard, she REMEMBERS!

Huzzah!

 So, that's the story. I cannot do justice to the artwork that is 'rendered in graphite pencil and sculptures made with Japanese papers.'  No way...it isn't possible to capture the fascinating images. . Ms. Young fills Nancy's graphite-outlined body full of delicate, detailed paper sculptures that are so intricate you will find yourself closely taking in each and every one of them. It is almost inconceivable to think of the creative genius needed to create each tiny treasure. There are times when I just want to pick a piece up in my hands and study it even more carefully.

Full of wonder, and magical! Please don't miss the opportunity to share it.
                                                                            

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas. Written by Lynne Cox and illustrated by Brian Floca. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Early one morning, when the grass was still wet, Elizabeth hauled herself up, up, up to the top of the riverbank...and stretched out across the two-lane road. Maybe she liked the feel of the warm firmness under her belly, or maybe it was the sunshine fanning out across her back. But whatever it was, she decided to stay."

You may think that elephant seals live in oceans, return to their established colonies, live on the beach during mating season, and eat skates, rays, squid, octopus, small sharks, large fish, and eels. For the most part, you would be right. You have not yet met Elizabeth...and I'm here to change that.

If you haven't read Lynne Cox's story of this particular elephant seal, you are missing a warm and tender tale of  Michael and the people in Christchurch in New Zealand, whose encounters with Elizabeth were related to the author while on a visit there. At the time, she knew she would someday want to share the story.

Elizabeth did not choose to live in the wild ocean waters and on sandy beaches; instead, she chose the warm, slow waters of the Avon River which passes right through Christchurch. She loved the grass, the welcoming slurp of the muddy banks, and even the warm roadside. The people loved her, and recognized that she was very special:

"She was strong and powerful and regal - like Elizabeth, the Queen of England. And so they named her Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas."

Michael, in particular, loves Elizabeth and looks for her every day on his way home from school. He calls to her, always hoping she will hear him. When her adventurous spirit leads her to sunbathe on a two-lane busy road near the riverbank, concerned citizens make the decision to take her back where she belongs. Twice they try. Both times Elizabeth comes right home to where her heart is! Another solution to the problem of the seal's safety must be found.

Brian Floca infuses his pen-and-ink and watercolor artwork with all the warmth and gentleness that the tale evokes for readers. The Christchurch setting is beautifully rendered; you can understand why Elizabeth would make it her 'chosen' home. He shares his own memorable connections to the vast ocean, the passing days and nights, the concern of the Christchurch population for the seal's safety, and of the yearning felt by a young boy who only wants Elizabeth to be home and happy.

An archival picture of Elizabeth can be found in back matter alongside 'some facts about southern elephant seals'. 
 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Water Can Be...by Laura Purdie Salas. Illustrations by Violeta Dabija. Millbrook Press, 2014. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"Water is water -
it's fog, frost and sea.
When autumn comes chasing,
water can be...

Cloud fluffer
Fire snuffer

School drink - er
Bruise shrinker"

It's hard to do justice to either the inspired poetry or the beautifully designed artwork without wanting to sit down beside you and just share it! In looking at water in all of its forms and uses, this team causes readers to stop, contemplate, reread and savor their extraordinary work. I can only tell you that you need to see it, and read it, and share it to fully appreciate its wonder.

There are so many things that water does for us. The two word labels inspire careful thought and imagination as the author shares with us her many evocative descriptions. I want to quote each couplet so that you can savor the language as I have done repeatedly. But, I won't do that....

The illustrations combine traditional and digital techniques, intense colors, changing moods and soft edges to inspire long looks and spirited conversation. They are paired beautifully. Here's to science, and to language! The book is sure to motivate young writers. The back matter contains even 'more about water' in notes that explain each entry while also using scientific vocabulary in keeping with the descriptive words. For example:

"Cloud fluffer: Clouds are made of water droplets that are so tiny they float! During the day, clouds can help cool Earth by blocking some of the sun's energy and heat. At night, they are like a blanket. They trap the sun's heat near the ground and keep Earth warm."

A glossary and suggestions for further reading bring it to an end. Read it once, read it again. Each time you will notice more than you did the last time. Give your mind free rein to think about other ways to describe what water can be...

                                                                      

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Park Scientists, written by Mary Kay Carson and photographed by Tom Uhlman. Houghtom Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son, 2014. $ 24.99 ages 10 and up

"A grizzly bear eats any living or dead animal, from bison to ants, as well as feasting on dandelions, mushrooms, grasses and seeds. "Bears are opportunistic omnivores," says Mark. That means they eat pretty much anything they can find."

Three American national parks are included in another in the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series: Yellowstone, Saguaro and  Great Smoky Mountains. While scientists work to manage their natural resources, they also spend time studying the parks themselves.

Since they are all protected places, the work being done can be long-lasting and offers a clearer look at all that keeps them viable and productive. There are many scientists included, and they work together in collaborative projects that impact what we know about the parks themselves. Mary Kay Carson and Tom Uhlman worked with a  geologist, a wildlife biologist, a herpetologist, an evolutionary ecologist, an entomologist and a park biologist. Together they coordinate their projects to make the most of what they are learning:

"Park scientists track numbers of bears, eagles, and sequoia trees. They monitor volcanoes, measure glaciers, and look after caves. Scientists in parks collect weather information, restore habitats, and oversee animal populations."

Their work is very important, and young scientists will be interested in knowing about it. Each section of the book begins with a greetings postcard to welcome you to the park in question, to give you a snapshot of the park itself, and also a list of websites where more information can be found. There are many reasons for visiting these remarkable places.

In Yellowstone, the geysers and grizzlies hold our attention. The welcome to Saguaro National Park suggests that rattlesnakes, hummingbirds, sunsets and huge stands of saguaro cactus provide excellent reasons for a visit. Citizen scientists (like you and me) volunteer to track Gila monsters and measure the famous cactus for which the park is named. Finally, the Smoky Mountains beckon. Here, salamanders and firefly shows attract visitors year after year.

As is usual with this amazing series that spotlights research in so many scientific fields, the writing is conversational and explanatory; the clear, colorful photographs give us a closely observed feel for these wild, protected places. Bravo to those who work so diligently to do the research that makes a difference in the lives of those who read these books, and who encourage each of us to learn more that we ever thought possible.

"There are fireflies with yellow lights, orange flickering lights, white flashbulb lights, blue floating, glowing lights - and ones that don't light up at all. Some fireflies, like the synchronous, don't eat at all as adults, while others are voracious predators that hunt other insects, including other fireflies. Predator fireflies are the one with the bright white popping and greenish flashes."

Now, you know!

The Very Fairy Princess Graduation Girl! Written by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrated by Christine Davenier. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2014. $$20.00 ages 4 and up


"Mommy says she's sure everything will be just fine, and besides, all my friends are moving up as well. Daddy says my sparkle will brighten ANY classroom. My brother, Stewart, says I'd be a princess even if I wore a paper bag on my head. This does NOT help."

A second miss for me and my aging brain, since graduation day has passed and summer is doing that very same thing. This lively story will most definitely work as children return to the classroom with worries about the upcoming year, the new teacher, and all that a new school year entails.

For Gerry, the thought of moving on comes with some concern:

"Next year, we'll be in a NEW classroom with a NEW teacher.
To be honest, I'm having a hard time finding my sparkle about this.
(Change is HARD...even for a fairy princess.)

There are so many reasons for loving where she has been all year: her teacher, the learning, the classroom pet. Since no one knows who the new teacher will be, Gerry is awash with fears. Her parents and brother continue to reassure. Just as they are leaving Miss Pym for the final time, she makes an announcement: the new teacher will be a MAN!

The fears and concerns escalate. Graduation Day dawns, Gerry and her classmates ready themselves, and the celebration begins. When their hats are thrown into the air, Gerry's crown goes with them. (Do you remember that she doesn't like to go anywhere without it?) Poor Gerry!

Imagine her surprise when the crown is returned, and she comes face to face with her new teacher...a man after her own heart! Gerry's voice remains strong and personal as she shares major life events with her fans. She knows herself well, shows her vulnerabilities while maintaining a self-assured demeanor, and is a worthy protagonist in this wonderful series.

In illustrations that are as charming and gentle as in the other books, Christine Davenier fills her pages with the joy of schoolchildren, the expressive delight and dread that Gerry feels as her very happy year comes to a close, and the warm family conversations shared together.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

GO! GO! GO! STOP! Written and illustrated by Charise Mericle Harper. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2014. $18.99 ages 2 and up

"It was perfect timing.
Naptime was just ending.
Bulldozer was the first to
wake up. "I'm going to
surprise Dump Truck," he
said, and he pushed his load
of dirt to the top of the hill.

Soon everyone was awake
and working on the new
bridge."

Little Green knows only one word: GO! He's good at using it; so, he inspires some forward momentum in the work needed to repair a bridge. His arrival is perfect in its timing. The various vehicles have had a break, and a short nap. They get right to work...lifting, scooping, pushing, mixing, holding.

"Tow Truck towed terrifically.
Crane carried carefully.
Dump Truck dumped dependably.
Mixer mixed marvellously.
And Backhoe waved his long arms in the air."

It's all humming right along. They're working quickly, until they aren't! It's too much too fast.

Luckily, another little round dot shows up. It's Little Red. He knows only one word: STOP!
Just what the doctor ordered. Both are imperative to the task at hand. Sorting out how best to handle the conflicting directions takes time and a great deal of patience. Although opposite, they finally learn to work together. Boy, Howdy! Finally, things are very smoothly moving toward completion of the project.

Once finished, the bridge offers all the convenience they had hoped it would. It's busy, and the traffic moves briskly. Just on time, another stranger pulls into town. His additional message is the perfect solution to any problems that might arise.

The digital images created to accompany this colorful tale are just right for the target audience. Little ones will have much to discuss as they watch all the action, and even add their own voices to the directions being given.

It's quite the task to learn how to work together cooperatively. Young listeners are sure to understand that it takes everyone to make that work productive and satisfying.

Friday, August 8, 2014

SPLAT! starring the Vole Brothers. Written and illustrated by Roslyn Schwartz. Owlkids. $16.95 ages 3 and up

"Tum ti tum ti tum

Flap Flap Flap

Flap Flap Flap

OOOOOOOOOO...

Err.....

SPLAT!

What can I tell you about the Vole Brothers? I can tell you that they are worth knowing, They are funny, and endearing, and adventurous. Best of all little ones love them. Maybe it's because of the aforementioned traits...or maybe it's because Roslyn Schwartz makes them so darn lovable.

In this story, the boys are off on a jaunt together when they hear some flapping. Looking up, they notice a pigeon in the air above them. If you know pigeons, you will know that a hat is required equipment when they are in your vicinity. Unfortunately, hats were not a consideration when the brothers set out. SPLAT! One gets hit!

The other thinks it is just hilarious (as will all those captivated little ones who are listening so intently). There must be recourse for the laughter. It takes no time to determine a creative response. That leads to further hijinks. Oh, and the ending is a hoot!

This almost wordless book is told with sound effects, perfect timing and a terrific sense of humor. The ink and pencil crayon artwork fills framed boxes with changing perspective, great fun and is sure to have readers and listeners giggling with delight every time it is shared.

Make no mistake, the story will be retold with expression and great glee. Soon, you won't be reading it to them, they will be reading it to you!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage, written by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton and illustrated by Christine Davenier. Little, Brwon and Company, Hachette. 2011. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Unfortunately, Madame Danielle has a different idea. She wants me to play the Court Jester because I am so ebullient. I think that's a kind of soup, but she says it means "enthusiastic." So I guess that's okay. Tiffany gets to be the Crystal Princess."

I don't know how I missed sharing this book earlier than today. Oh, well....chalk it up to forgetfulness.

If you have met Geraldine you know her to be self-assured and quite delightful:

"Hi! I'm Geraldine.
I'm a fairy princess.
I know that I'm a fairy princess
because I FEEL it inside -
a sparkly feeling of just KNOWING in my heart."

So, when her ballet teacher creates a new show, Geraldine knows what her role will be. After all, it's called The Crystal Princess. She is sure she will be offered the lead role. Alas! That is not to be. Being Gerry, she accepts the role given and then bravely offers princess advice to the chosen dancer. It falls on deaf ears...

When the costumes arrive and the Crystal Princess dress is unveiled, Gerry is envious (as any fairy princess would be). Her court jester garb leaves much to be desired...wrong color, length, a hat and shoes with bells. How humiliating!  After much practice, performance night arrives. Wearing her crown underneath the jester's hat, Gerry is off to the show. As you might expect (and shouldn't be surprised to find) all does not go as well as it could.

There are slight blips in the stage performance; the audience is delighted, the dancers do their best, and Gerry comes to the rescue when the princess needs rescuing (as any fairy princess would).

"When we take the company photograph,
Madame Danielle puts me in the very front.
Afterward, she gives me the jester's hat and
stick as souvenirs.
Tiffany gives me my crown back.
It feels EXTRA sparkly!"

As she did in the first book, Christine Davenier uses ink-and colored-pencil to create her captivating and oh, so charming artwork. Gerry's expressions are in keeping with her ebullient personality and with the story's action. She is the fairy princess you want your children to meet...she is authentic, personable and very energetic.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Miss Emily, written by Burleigh Muten and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 8 and up

"...Mattie and Sally claimed their places at her side;
Ned and I flourished our hats
and bowed at the blanket's edge.
 
Please sit down," Miss Emily urged.
"I have news and a plan," she said,
tilting her head toward the house,
nodding her slowest of nods,
so we knew without words
that it was a Secret Plan."
 
 
In a gentle and charming bow to the reclusive Emily Dickinson, Burleigh Muten shows a side of the poet that many would not necessarily know or appreciate: her love of children. The poems spoken through Mac's first person narrative describe a series of escapades with Miss Emily, his neighbor, and with other neighborhood children.

As Prosperina, Queen of the Night, Emily invites them all to join her at midnight to welcome the arrival of the circus train. The children will have a part to play as well:

"Ah, yes, this year, I propose you gypsies join me!
After the second whistle and the hiss of the steam,
we five wily ones will watch
horses and monkeys,
and if Fortune smiles -
an elephant shall strut from the cars!
We'll see the gypsies of our clan,
the ones who travel farther and farther
than we Amherst gypsies can."

No one else must know.

This story is based on real events; the author has included real correspondence from Miss Emily to the children. Readers will be caught up in this lively, imaginary, and literary world as they are guided with joy to escapades that will keep them focused on the quiet action and the stories shared. When an accident results in admitting what they have been doing, Miss Emily takes responsibility for the plan that led the children to break rules. There are some repercussions. Miss Emily wants them to take away from their experience one important thing:

"DEAR BOYS,
Please never grow up, which is 'much better -'
Please never improve - you are perfect now.
            EMILY"

(You should know that she referred to the group of children, boys and girls, as 'boys' in her letters and notes to them.)
 
 Matt Phelan has created artwork that is as gentle and reassuring as the book itself. They perfectly match the tone of the poetry created to tell this lovely story. His use of ink and charcoal gives it a soft and muted look, thus enhancing Ms. Muten's story without ever overwhelming it. Most of the illustrations are full pages, captioned to give it a classic feel.

In back matter, the author includes historical notes about the characters she has included in the telling, an extensive bibliography for further study, and acknowledgements.

Eyewitness: Hurricane and Tornado. Written by Jack Challoner. DK, Tourmaline Editions, Inc. 2014. $10.99 ages 8 and up

"Tornadoes have many names, including whirlwinds and twisters. These high-speed swirling winds leave a trail of destruction and are a bit of a mystery. They seem to develop at the base of thunderclouds, as warm, moist air rises and passes through colder air. This draws winds that are already circulating in the storm into a high-speed whirl."

Recently, thanks to Chris at Tourmaline Editions in Canada, I received a package of Eyewitness books...all in paperback!  What that means is that some of the most interesting and informative nonfiction for young readers is more affordable now for families and classrooms. DK Publishing deserves a WHOOP! for making it so.

The first of the package that I want to share is this one, as we are all interested in how these weather phenomena form, and their impact. In Manitoba, we have certainly seen a rise in the number of tornadoes spotted in the past few years. As weather patterns change and become more extreme, that pattern is not likely to lessen. Kids are intrigued by weather, especially when it can have such an impact. This guide talks about the danger and destruction that happens when weather conditions are ripe to produce such terrifying phenomena.

The book starts with 'weather folklore' and its beginnings in Greece, where nothing was tested concerning the theories proposed. Fairly unreliable I am guessing. Early forecasting began 300 years ago, with experiments concerned with water, heat and air. It has changed greatly over the intervening years. Using fantastic contemporary and archival photos, the author captions them with clear and detailed descriptions to help to readers understand perspective, to recognize the danger and to see the repercussions of what we are doing to create these immense changes in weather patterns.

Updated from the originals, these new editions of the very popular Eyewitness series are sure to be favorites with those who long to know more about the world around them, and how weather is forecast and how it is changing with global warming.

"The world's average temperature is rising. Most climate scientists blame human activity, such as the burning of fuels. If global warming carries on at this rate, more ice at the poles will melt, causing flooding in many places this century."

Have you heard that before? I think you have...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Zero Tolerance, written by Claudia Mills. Square Fish, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $7.99 ages 10 and up

"By four-thirty, Sierra had talked to six reporters; she had left a message for the seventh, but he hadn't called her back yet. Each time she told the reporter the exact same story in almost the exact same words. By the  sixth time, it had all begun to feel like just that, a story: something that had happened to somebody else, and not to her at all."

Oh, boy! What can happen when rules are created with a no tolerance caveat?
In her new novel, Claudia Mills pens another story for middle grade readers who like their school stories to have some conflict and two opposing sides to an issue. I think they will like it!

Sierra's school has a zero tolerance policy concerning weapons: no weapon for any reason, under any circumstance. She and her parents have read the policy, signed the form. When Sierra mistakenly takes her mother's lunch bag to school, opens it in the canteen to find a paring knife for cutting the apple in it, she immediately takes it to the lunch room supervisor. That action sets off a string of events that sees Sierra serving an in-school suspension until a school district hearing can determine her fate. You can hear the gasps, and 'you've got to be kidding', can't you? Of course, she didn't mean to bring it to school. Of course, she did the right thing handing it in before anyone could get hurt. Does that matter?

When rules are set and policies established that are effective and attention-getting, the administration is bound by them. Mr. Besser, the principal at Sierra's school, is forced to follow the protocol set out, and to mete out the appropriate consequences for any violation. Sierra's parents are furious; her father, a hard-headed attorney, gets the word out. Soon, the media is covering the story and bringing a lot of unwanted attention to the school and school district.

After priding herself on her leadership, her outstanding grades and the many accomplishments she has managed to amass at school, Sierra is upset to be treated so badly. While serving her suspension Sierra spends time with students in whose company she would not often find herself. She learns a lot about them, especially Luke. In a rash moment, she does something that leads to some unexpected results. In dealing with the repercussions, and spending time with Luke and others who are also suspended, she begins to broaden her own thinking about rules and ownership for her actions.

This is a story that moves very quickly, and is sure to invite a good deal of discussion for those who share it. There is much to be considered as the story is told. As you would expect, people are going to come down on both sides of the issue, and solutions are not always cut and dried. The adults leave a lot to be desired in terms of understanding and guidance; the teens have much to say about the need for tolerance in any situation. Differing points of view are sure to be discussed and I think that might be the best thing about sharing this book in a classroom setting. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

HELP! WE NEED A TITLE! Written and illustrated by Herve Tullet. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $ 16.99 ages 4 and up

"I THINK THEY WOULD LIKE
A STORY. WHAT?

How are we supposed to do that?

COULD YOU MAYBE COME
BACK LATER?

Er, yes. That would be great.
We're not quite ready yet,
you see."

I was lucky enough to be able to share this book on Friday with Sadie and Clarke. It's so much fun to listen in on the conversations that books evoke with young listeners. Sadie, almost 7, was totally understanding all that was happening in this interactive book when Clarke, almost 4, chose to join us and see what was going on. Sadie liked the color, the characters, and the building of story. Clarke was more interested in the black smudges and why they were there, and in the photo of the writer himself. Sadie was cool in the wake of the her brother's questions. Soon Clarke went back to cars and blocks, Sadie heaved a sigh of relief and we got back to this funny and frenetic read.

Opening the cover only begins to prepare us for what's coming...we have characters, two of them. They are a pig and a princess, playing catch. They must be able to feel eyes upon them...as they are quick to acknowledge that we are watching them! Soon, others are staring and asking the reader important questions.

They are obviously not ready to tell a story. But, they find a landscape. Not much there to entice a reader. Perhaps a bad guy! Nope, that doesn't work. No one seems to know much about a story; that leads to a revelation...what about an author???

Up pops Herve Tullet, actual photo for his head and the rest of his torso crayoned in. Getting a good look at his neat-as-a-pin studio, we can see the materials he uses for his work, and a picture in progress of the characters we have met up until this point. It appears he's not ready either. He acquiesces to create a short story for the audience. Not pleased when it is considered only 'so-so', he has a suggestion:

"It was so-so?
Look, if you're not happy, you can go
and look for a story somewhere else.
THERE ARE LOTS OF OTHER BOOKS,
YOU KNOW!"

Clarke's other favorite part was to 'press here' and turn out the desk lamp, leaving all in darkness!

What better way is there to show young readers how stories work? What would now keep them from writing something of their own?  BAZINGA!

http://youtu.be/9rCV1o3wxYY

                                                                    

The Tapir Scientist, text by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Its voice sounds like a person asking a question - as we are, silently while we wait. How many tapirs live in this area? Do any have babies? Do young tapirs grow up to live in the same area where they were born, or do they move far away?"

Oh, I remember having to give a speech in grade four (a very long time ago) and the terror I felt at preparing for it. Most of all, I was absolutely panic-stricken about speaking in front of my classmates. I am convinced it did nothing to help me become a more accomplished, or even more confident speaker. While I often happily speak to groups large and small these days, my memories of that day are all about terror and tapirs. That's the topic I chose. Why?  A random finger point at the T encyclopedia's table of contents? The first topic noticed when I opened said book?  A chance to learn about something new? It is a question that may never be answered.

How I wish that Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop were older than me, and writing the amazing books they share with us today back then. I would have had a much bigger stake in learning about this 'cross between a hippo, an elephant, and something prehistoric', as Ms. Montgomery describes it. I certainly would have been more invested in the research knowing about the scientists who give their lives to better understanding and protecting such creatures of our world.

The Tapir Scientist is one of their latest collaborative projects and follows in the flawless footsteps of previous books about snakes, kakapos, tarantulas, tree kangaroos, snow leopards and cheetahs (that one is coming up soon). This time they are in Brazil's Pantanal, the world's largest wetlands. Here, field scientist Patricia Medici provides leadership to a team searching daily to know more about the tapir.

I ALWAYS begin my reading of the books in the Scientists in the Field series with the intent to skim the text, note the photos and captions, and get an overall feel for the book. I NEVER do that. I end up reading them cover to cover, marveling at the dedication of the scientific teams and being in awe (in this one) of Sy Montgomery's conversational writing style and Nic Bishop's stunning photography. I come away from the reading more informed, more concerned about animals in the wild and full of wonder at those people who give their lives to science and to research.

Sy Montgomery tells her story about the tapir research but also with beautiful descriptive passages concerning the Pantanal itself:

"The Pantanal is a bird lover's paradise. The sky blushes pink with flocks of roseate spoonbills. On the ground, a seriema, a tall bird with a crest of feathers that looks like messy hair, prances by. (It's one of the few birds with eyelashes.) Wading birds with long toes stride across lily pads, and sixty-pound ostrichlike  rheas run instead of fly. At least 470 different kinds of birds have been recorded in the Pantanal, from toucans and macaws to storks as tall as a man."

Nic Bishop is able to capture the team, the tapirs, the setting and the labor of love that is enacted every day as members of the team work so diligently to capture and tag these shy lowland animals. He brings his audience up close and personal with the actions of the team, and allows us a front row seat to the important work they do.

Readers will love to hear about Benjamin, a British school boy whose love of tapirs led him to work toward helping with tapir conservation. . He made a plea to his school pals and their parents:

"I think it's time that the under school supported a charity which helps animals," Benjamin told his audience, "since we are destroying their world and they cannot speak up for themselves." He spoke about tapirs and about Pati's work  in Brazil. Then he showed a one-minute video filmed at Pati's study site."

The kids and parents were hooked, and raised more than 1,600 pounds that year. His legacy of giving lives on, as Pati named one of the tapirs after him. Not many people in the world can say that, can they? Well, Sy and Nic can now say that, too!

Back matter includes a selected bibliography, websites, acknowledgements and an index.