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Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea, written by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Gennady Spirin. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. 2015. $20.50 ages 6 and up

"I am a WOLFFISH.
My natural antifreeze keeps my blood flowing in the icy water I call home. I have fangs and crushing teeth. There are even teeth in my throat to help me crunch through the hard shells of oysters, sea urchins, lobsters, and crabs. My teeth wear down quickly, so every year I grow a new set. That's why I am the most amazing creature ..."

I like the confidence of these creatures of the sea. In first person voice, they assure the reader that each is indeed the most amazing. Who are we to tell them that they are not. Each has a pretty incredible reason for wanting readers to think of it as the 'one'.

Just as I was impressed with the information garnered and shared, the intended audience will find it astounding. It is a perfect book to be read aloud in early years classrooms, and for older children to read on their own. Everyone is sure to be amazed by the reasons voiced. I think it will send intent readers on a search for further data on their choice for most amazing.

The four earlier collaborations from these two remarkable artists have provided us with tremendously interesting reading, and we can only hope for more of the same - Ice Bears, 2008, Life in the Boreal Forest, 2009, Frog Song, 2013 and The Greatest Dinosaur Ever, 2013. In each they show that strong research makes for engaging and informative work that will appeal to many. This one is a terrific mentor text for young writers, showing them how to use what they are learning to create text of interest to others.

Gennady Spirin's exceptional close-ups of the myriad of creatures described show us what their habitat must be like, while matching the text created by Ms. Guiberson. The double-page spreads are attractive and mesmerizing for the detail provided, encouraging careful attention to the creature pictured. Readers are sure to fascinated by each, and by its reasoning.

"I am an ANGLERFISH.
As a female, I lure prey close to my mouth with the light that dangles from my dorsal
spine. With my large, toothy jaws, I can swallow animals twice my size. Smaller males
join their bodies to mine, latching on with their teeth until their skin fuses into mine.
I eat for us all, sharing the nutrients from my bloodstream. I see for us all when each
male attached to me loses his eyes. That's why I am the most amazing creature in the sea!"

It's tough to ignore that as pretty darn astonishing, isn't it?

Which creature would you choose?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle, written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 4 and up

"Misty.
      Twisty.
Where is the town?

Fog is fog unless ...
it falls down.

Patter.
      Splatter.
What is that sound?"

Exploring the forms that water can take is the subject of many books for young readers. I have not seen one like this one. In it, Miranda Paul shows her readers that water changes according to a variety of conditions.

She uses a rhythmic text to capture attention and guide us through the seasons, moving from one double page description to the next, always allowing for change by connecting it to the following spread with the invitational unless ...

Turn the page and a cup of water becomes steam when it is heated up to make cocoa to warm the siblings insides after being caught in a rainstorm.  On we go through each season. The text is spare, the meaning clear and informative. Jason Chin uses watercolor and gouache to craft a companion story of a brother and a sister engaging in all of the activities that relate to water in Ms. Paul's brilliant text. Each spread is detailed, and beautifully rendered so that we can enjoy the exploration along with them.

A closing section includes More About Water, a list for further reading and a select bibliography for those who want to know more than has already been shared.

"Water is ... important!

Water may seem to appear and disappear, but the
total amount of water on Earth hasn't changed in
millions of years and will stay the same for millions
more. Although water changes form and gets called
by different names, new water is not created and
old water is not destroyed. But that doesn't mean
we should take water for granted. In fact, of the total
amount of water on Earth, only 1% is drinkable."

Friday, May 29, 2015

Echo, written by Pam Munoz Ryan. Scholastic, 2015. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"Were they being watched? Would someone report them? How long until Uncle Gunter might be questioned, too? Once inside the house, Friedrich quickly gathered the photo of Father and Mother from his dresser, the sheet music for his audition, and his cello and bow. He patted his pocket to make sure the harmonica was still there."

Wonderfully woven into three stories that are connected by the magic of a harmonica, Pam Munoz Ryan has penned a tale that begins with Otto. He is playing games with friends when he sneaks into the forest to find the perfect hiding spot. As he waits patiently to return to the game (after everyone else has been found), he opens a book recently purchased from a Gypsy. It is of interest because the title bears his name, The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger.

He reads about three baby princesses abandoned at birth by their father the King, because he needs a male heir. Otto is so caught up in his reading that he doesn't realize the forest is becoming dark. It is only then that he realizes he is lost, cold and afraid. As luck would have it, he finds three young women in a clearing. They ask him to read his book to them. In doing so, they learn their future:

"A messenger brought you about.
One-and-the-same must bring you out.
You may not leave in earthly form.
Your secrets to a woodwind born.
YOU save a soul from death's dark door,
or here you'll languish, evermore."

Their story is unfinished. When Otto shows them the harmonica that he bought from the same Gypsy, they promise they will save him, if he promises to pass it along to another. Then, they will be able to make their own journey to save a soul. It is late, he is tired. When he awakens in the morning, the girls are gone and so is the book; he has the harmonica. He will remember their promise to him:

"Your fate is not yet sealed.
Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,
a bell will chime, a path will be revealed."

No one believes the story he tells them; Otto never forgets the promise he made or that he is the messenger. He will send the harmonica out into the world. Everything in this wonderful book has happened,up until now, before we get to the title page. As we read on we are privileged to meet the three young people whose lives are forever changed by an encounter with that harmonica. It has a magical power that improves the lives they are living and brings light to the darkness that often envelops them. Friedrich lives in Germany during WWII and struggles to help his family survive the cruelties of a police state. Mike lives in Pennsylvania in 1933, an orphan after his grandmother's death and doing his best to assure that he and his little brother will not be separated. Ivy lives in California in December 1942, excluded from public school because she is Mexican-American, and only wanting a real home for her migrant family.

This is such a very special book to read, and to share. It is magical and historical, with characters sure to tug at your heartstrings. The harmonica provides a modicum of hope in dark times. Each of their stories ends with readers not knowing what will happen to them. Each of their tales are then connected as the book finishes. The ending is hopeful and filled with the magic of the music.

Four stories woven together by this incomparable artist left me wanting more; it is so powerful and memorable.  Once begun, it was hard to put down (despite its almost 600 pages). It reads quickly and is full of mystery and music, echoing what Freidrich's father believes .

 “Music is a universal language. A universal religion of sorts. Certainly it’s my religion. Music surpasses all distinctions between people.”

Brave, tolerant and exceptionally kind, please read it!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Qin Leng. Kids Can Press, 2014. $18.95 ages 5 and up


"The day of the talent show arrived and the school auditorium thrummed with excitement. Hana waited with a walloping heart. A dozen acts, including five other violinists, had already gone before her. Finally, Hana heard the master of ceremonies call her name."

This is another of those wonderful books that should have been shared with you much earlier than today. It was published last year, and has been languishing on my 'ready to be posted' shelf for far too long. No matter ... the story is as fresh and lovely as it was when published. It is a book that is sure to be read often in coming years. It is timeless, in that sense.

As brothers (and often other family members) will do, Kenji and Koji tease their little sister when she signs up for the upcoming school talent show. They remind that she has just started playing, that she is very inexperienced, and it is likely to be a disastrous experience for her. Hana knows three lessons are not enough to make her the violinist she wants to be; she wants to play as beautifully as his Ojiichan does at his home in Japan.

"Ojiichan didn't just play songs. He could also make his violin chirp
like the crickets Hana tried to find in the tall grasses.
He could pluck the strings to mimic the sound of raindrops on the
oil-paper umbrella Hana twirled under during summer storms."

Before leaving her grandfather's home she lets him in on a secret: she wants to learn to play the violin! Taking a very special lesson home with her, Hana practices tirelessly. Everyone in the family, including her dog, her grandfather's picture are an audience to her learning. Finally, it is the night of the talent show. Is she ready to perform for a live audience? It's a long way from backstage to the microphone at the front (Qin Leng fully perfectly encapsulates Hana's long and lonely walk in her digitally colored artwork).

Bolstered by support from her family and her best friend in the audience, while channeling her grandfather's encouragement, Hana is very proud following her performance:

"And that," she said to the audience,
"is how I play the violin."
                                                                          

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Bird Is a Bird, written and illlustrated by Lizzy Rockwell. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.95 ages 3 and up

"A bird is a bird because ...
a bird starts out in an egg.

An egg can be
in a nest in a tree.

An egg can be
in a nest on the ground.

But wait!"

There are certain characteristics that only birds have. Lizzy Rockwell makes that perfectly clear to her young readers in this fine new book. Accurate and wonderfully designed to introduce a preschool audience to more than 40 different species on full and double-page spreads, she imparts much information in a simple, concise text. Each of those birds is accurately labelled, shown in their own habitat and doing what birds do.

Other animals may share some notable similarities:

"A platypus has a beak.

A fly has wings.

And a snake starts out in an egg."

Does that make them birds? Well, do they have feathers? A bird has feathers!

They need those feathers for many reasons. The artist clearly displays each of the functions in her accurate, colorful images. The birds are as varied as their size, their behaviors and their homes. Young children will learn a lot when they spend time carefully considering each illustration. The simple sentences make it accessible for the target audience.

This is a book that will be shared numerous times, making it a great addition to a classroom or a personal library for young ornithologists.

                                                                           

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, written by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Up in the garden, we snap brittle stalks, scoop rustly armfuls, and wheel away weeds for the chickens. While they squabble and scratch, we spread compost over the soil.

Down in the dirt, pill bugs chew through last year's leaves. I give a gentle poke. They roll up tight and hide in plated suits of armor, roly-poly round."

It's getting closer to garden planting time here. After a weekend rain, wind and even snowstorm, we are experiencing warm sunshine today, and a promise of normal May temperatures for the rest of the week. I can just see how quickly people are going to get to the yardwork that they so love at this time of year. That is, after they get out and walk and watch their kids play soccer in the park across the street.

My granddaughter is not likely to experience the joy that the little one in Kate Messner's lovely and informative book about gardening has with her grandmother. A gardener I am not ...

This is a book about a garden, both above the ground and below the soil. A young girl stands beside her Nana in very early spring dreaming of what their garden and raised beds might soon offer. The sun is shining, helping to melt the remaining snow, and the muddy ground sticks to their boots. It is not yet time to plant. As they let the warming dirt slide through their fingers, the little one wonders what is under the ground. Nana patiently explains what is happening below to help their garden flourish.

We watch as they tend to their garden in each season, always aware of what is happening in both places:

"Up in the garden, carrot plants sprout. Pea blossoms
bloom. Wasps are on the prowl, and honeybees visit,
legs loaded with pollen.
I wilt and weed in sun so strong even
Nana looks for shade.
Down in the dirt earthworms tunnel deep.
I'm jealous of their cool, damp, dark."

There is always work to do, discussions to have, growth to appreciate, a bounty of fresh food to nurture. It is a wonderful journey of discovery for a young girl and her grandmother as they experience the circle of life in a natural space. Each creature mentioned plays an important role in maintaining the joy to be found in their garden.

The mixed media images created to accompany the inventive text are detailed and lovely. They almost made me want to get my hands in the dirt in my own flower beds. The artist uses cross sections that  match the gentle cadence of the text, showing readers roots, bugs, constant activity as the garden moves from early spring to the return of winter.  Endpapers are awash with labelled
vegetables and flowers, while also including a few essential tools.

In final pages, Ms. Messner adds an author's note, a list for further reading and a closer look at the animals mentioned in the text.

"The tomato earthworm is the colorful larva of an insect called the five-spotted hawk moth, and it's a dreaded garden pest. Adult moths lay their eggs on tomato leaves, where the larvae emerge to eat. When it's fully grown, a caterpillar burrows into the soil to pupate, and an adult moth emerges about two weeks later to start the process over again."

This book is a celebration of family, of the joy found in the outdoors, of the satisfaction that comes with learning and a job well done, of lovely language, of elegant, textured artwork, of brilliant design.
Read it for yourself, and then share it with anyone willing to listen ... and learn.

                                                                             

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pool, by JiHyeon Lee. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"What happens
when two shy
children meet at
a very crowded
pool?

Dive in and find
out!"

He looks so lonely standing on the side of the pool, goggles over his eyes and swim cap on his head. There is no one near him; he is just staring at the water. The pool is huge, and not at all welcoming, at first glance.

As a group of other swimmers barrel past  him, he stands and watches. They look loud and boisterous; the reader hears nothing. There are no words. Soon, the pool is packed with people, toys, tubes and float boards. There doesn't seem to be an inch of space left for him. He sits at the side and dangles his feet in the cool, blue water.

The rowdies remain rowdy, and pushy. Rather than find a space for himself on the surface, he dives down - far below everyone who is floating above him. Suddenly, another swimmer comes into view: a girl. Together, they enter an imaginary world filled with curious water creatures. They play among them, and soon find themselves following along. It is a water wonderland.

When they finally resurface, they get out on one side of the pool while the rest exit on the opposite side. Removing their goggles and caps, they smile.  In the final spread another young swimmer startled when she looks back at the pool.

JiHyeon Lee, in her debut picture book, does not add color to her images until the two meet below the surface. As they swim deeper into their imagined world, the colors become more vibrant. The fish are distinctive and unusual. They are unafraid. It is true: friends can be found in the most unexpected of places.

Proof that you don't need text to tell a beautiful story, this is an amazing debut. I will eagerly await a second book!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How To Read A Story, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Mark Siegel. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Step 3
Find a cozy reading spot.

Outside is fun ... but not if it's very cold. Unless you have thick woolen blankets, and hats and scarves, and cups of steaming hot cocoa.

And not if it's very hot."

If you are looking to share a book with children that helps them understand the concept of how-to text for writing workshop, you won't have to look further than this new book by Kate Messner. If you are looking for a book for early readers that helps them understand the concept of reading aloud, and the joy to be found in it, it's just right for you, too.

Step 1 seems pretty simple - Find a Story; not necessarily true as you know if you spend time with children at home and at school. It's easy to find a storybook - not always a 'good' one. We need to be patient when trying to find the 'perfect' book for any child. It's not necessarily the one we pick first.

Ms. Messner reminds us of that is Step 2:

"Make sure your reading buddy is nice and snuggly.
And make sure you both like the book.
If you don't agree ... go back to Step 1.
Sometimes it takes a few tries to find just the right book."

There are ten steps, and each certainly acknowledges the pleasure to be found in reading. It's great fun to read out loud, which I have done often, and to myself.  I haven't read it yet to a group of children, but look forward to doing just that. I have plans to read it to the staff at our public library when I am with them on Tuesday next week. I hope it will become a favorite for all who hear it.

The ink and watercolor images that Mark Siegel has created to accompany the fresh and often humorous text add the perfect touch. Many little details encourage close attention, the colors are bright, and each illustration adds to the charm that this book holds for all those who will share it.

                                                                       

Saturday, May 23, 2015

My Family Tree and Me, written and illustrated by Dusan Perticic. Kids Can Press, 2015. $17.95 ages 6 and up

"Without my great-grandfather
and great-grandmother,
I would never have had Pops,
my grandfather, who met
his match in Nana,
my grandmother.
If I didn't have
my grandfather
and grandmother,
how could I have my
uncle, aunt, and dad?"

The two-greats grandparents that Dusan Petricic begins his book with are from his father's side of the family.

"A long, long, long
time ago there lived my
great-great-grandfather and
my great-great-grandmother."

Moving from one generation forward to the next one (and looking closely at the detailed and often humorous accompanying images), astute readers will certainly note the genetic markers that identify family members. Obviously, red hair and hampered sight are passed down, and connect back to the father and son we meet on the title page before the book even begins.

When we get to his father's generation, the three siblings show a strong resemblance to each other. The boy narrator is happy to have them. Turn the page and we see that all three are married: wedding pictures show the diversity in their choice of partners. Reaching the middle of the book, we finally get to meet the whole crew.


Not content to tell his audience about his paternal relatives, the boy moves on to tell us about his mother's family as well. For the return journey he begins in the present and traces the family backwards. The identical wedding picture of his parents for that side of the family is accompanied by his mom's brother and sister and their partners. Back we go to his two-greats grandparents on his mother's side, completing a perfect look at everyone who makes up his family tree. Brilliant!

The focus on family is strong, and full of delight. I love the reversal that begins in the center of the book, where this story is centered (on the boy and his extended family). Cleverly designed and joyful to explore, this is a terrific book to share when you want to talk with children about families. It's also a bit of a history, science and humor for those who have the chance to read it.

When asking 'what makes a family?, this book makes an inspiring introduction to the topic.

                                       
      

Friday, May 22, 2015

Prickly Jenny, by Sibylle Delacroix. Owlkids, 2015. $16.95 ages 2 and up



"Jenny is feeling
out of sorts, but
she doesn't want
to talk about it.

She just wants to
be loved."

If you have lived life with a toddler or two, you will know just exactly how 'prickly' they can be. While I have read other books about temper tantrums and toddler moodiness, few of them have captured quite so eloquently just exactly how Jenny is feeling today.

In fact, Jenny's behaviors throughout this day made me long for a chance to exhibit some of the exact same feelings ... I resist because I can. Jenny is not in a position to temper them quite so easily. She is, as toddlers are prone to do, struggling with independence and wanting reassurance. Her mood is awry from the first thing in the morning:

"Jenny doesn't say good morning
because, really, what's so good
about it?"

It only gets worse from there. The clothes picked for her are all wrong. She doesn't want to go to the fair with her dad. She in not at all interested in ice cream for dessert. Nap time is definitely not for her. Poor Jenny!

Only when she is left alone do we discover her conflicted feelings. She cries when her mom leaves, and seeks solace with her stuffed bunny. Please pay no attention to the hint of a smile, or she is sure to revert to grumpiness.

"Jenny doesn't know what
she wants today. But
tomorrow, when she's
bigger, it will get better."

It surely will!

Understanding the depth of the feelings that little ones have is captured perfectly in this wonderful book. The earthy colors are just right to convey Jenny's honest emotions - tender, sad, and funny when needed. The design makes for easy accessibility for a young audience. The text is on the left side, with accompanying images on the right. Its size is small, its message clear and its telling memorable. Bravo!                                                                             

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Storm Whale, written and illustrated by Benji Davies. Heny Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"One night, a great storm raged around their house. In the morning, Noi went down to the beach to see what had been left behind. As he walked along the shore, he spotted something in the distance. As he got closer, Noi could not believe his eyes ... "

It's hard to keep a whale a secret, especially if it's in your bathtub!
The telling events leading up to the whale's visit make this a heartfelt and sincere, yet simply told, story of family and friendship.

Noi is a small, lonely boy. We know that because we can see that he is often alone. He and his father live near a small collection of buildings on the beach. Noi's father is a fisherman, gone each day from early morning until dark. Noi spends his days with his cats for company, wandering the beach in search of treasure. On the morning following a frightening storm, Noi notices something up the beach. As he investigates he finds that a small whale has washed up there.

Noi rescues the whale, aware that it cannot be out of the water for long. His wagon offers the perfect transport. As he comforts the whale at home in the bathtub, he plays music (Sounds of the Sea, Vol II and Water Music by Handel), and does what he can to assure its comfort:

"Noi did everything he could to make the whale feel at home. He told stories about life on the island. The whale was an excellent listener."

As darkness falls, Noi worries that his father will be annoyed with their visitor. He does his best to keep his father from discovering the whale in the bathtub. To no avail ... in dealing with the situation, Noi's father makes an even more surprising discovery about his son and their life together.  

Every time I read this beautifully told story, I find one more detail in the telling images to admire. The text tells the rudimentary story basics of a boy and his father, and their life by the sea. The wonder and emotion of the tale is in the artwork. Each spread is replete with details that convey first the loneliness that both Noi and his father experience, and then the joy that comes with happy companionship. Benji Davies allows his readers to experience the depth of the those emotions in the way he showcases his characters through body language; it speaks so eloquently to those who take the time to pore over his honest, emotional illustrations.

Thoughtful, endearing and forever memorable. This is a 'keeper'!
                                                                         

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Power Up: A Visual Exploration of Energy. Text by Shaker Paleja and art by Glenda Tse. Annick, 2015. $12.95 ages 10 and up

"Electricity can be generated,
or produced, from just about
every energy source. Almost
all of it comes from transferring
a mechanical source of energy -
usually a spinning turbine (like
a big fan or propeller) - into
electrical energy, with the help
of a generator (a device kind of
like a big electric motor)."

This is a book that I would have used to help me learn about the importance of all forms of energy and how we should be use them. It is perfect for sharing in classrooms, as it  is written thoughtfully and with great care to give readers an accessible look at needed information.

It has been divided into four topics, listed in the table of contents: Introduction to Energy, Non-Renewable Energy, Renewable Energy, and finally, The Future of Energy. Each listed topic is then divided into topics that provide readers with a clear understanding of energy in its many forms. For instance, in the Non-Renewable Energy discussion the concerns are oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and unconventional oil sources.

I was surprised by some of the facts shared; I am sure that middle graders will be as well.

"Our planet has lots of oil, but we're quickly using up the 'conventional' oil that's easy to access. If we keep using oil at the rate we are now, we will have to turn increasingly to sources that are much harder to find. Most of the oil we have left is in hard-to-reach places, or in forms that are tough to extract and use."

Using pertinent and current information in text, maps, well-placed and designed images, the author assures that his readers come away from sharing this excellent book with a much better understanding. I very much enjoyed seeing the section on the amount of energy that is used daily to power common household appliances. It gives me pause to consider what is truly important, and how we can eliminate consumption with careful thought. It makes me really happy that I no longer have a freezer (which uses 723 litres of natural gas each year)!

The artwork definitely aids in the comprehension of such an important topic. A glossary, index and bibliography are most helpful. Thoughtfully done, informative and thought-provoking, this is a book that will be most useful in middle grade classrooms.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ten Thank-You Letters, written and illustrated by Daniel Kirk. Nancy Paulsen, Penguin. 2014. $18.99 ages 5 and up


"Done.
Are you finished with
your letter yet, Pig?"

"Well, no.
I thought I'd tell
Grandma about how
I'm helping Mom
with chores."

Have you ever wondered if there might be some mentor book characters to help you get your own kids or students writing letters? Your search might just  end here with Pig and Rabbit. You  have met them in their previous book, Ten Things I Love About You (Penguin, 2012).

Pig is busy when Rabbit arrives with an invitation to play. Pig explains to his friend that he wants to finish a thank-you letter to his grandma fora birthday sweater. If you remember Rabbit, you will know he thinks that's a great idea. He admires his friend a great deal. So, he borrows some paper and a pencil, and his own work begins.

His note is quick; he's ready for play. Pig has other things to tell his grandma: the weather, helping with chores, a loose tooth. Each is of importance to Pig, but the interruptions are distracting him. Pig, in the meantime, has borrowed paper, envelopes, stamps, all to ensure that his thank-you letters get sent to all those helpers that he appreciates on a daily basis. Off he goes to the mailbox, leaving Pig without the necessary supplies to finish his letter to his grandmother.

No problem, Rabbit is soon back with what Pig needs, and a surprise! Anger averted, Pig is finally ready to post his letter. In the final spread, we are privy to his grandma's delight at reading it.

"Dear Grandma,
Thanks for sending the great birthday sweater! Did you know my favorite color is purple? The weather has been cool, so I can wear the sweater every day, even when I am helping Mom wash dishes or sweep the floor ... "

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone. Written by Jordan Stratford and illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 9 and up

"It did not surprise Mary to find the house nearly silent when Mr. Franklin admitted her and took her cape. Ada was likely reading and Peebs was likely writing or planning lessons. Nodding to the ever-silent butler, she climbed the stairs to the library and found it empty of Ada. There was more nothing in the drawing room. She knocked on Ada's door. Still nothing. Curious, but hardly extraordinary."

Take two young girls who are destined to find fame and future success, adjust some of the more notable historical details, and you have the beginnings of a brand new mystery series for intermediate readers. In life Mary (Godwin)Shelley (author of Frankenstein) was much older than Ada (Byron) Lovelace. The author takes the two and puts them in a setting that allows them to become friends and fellow sleuths by shaving off some of the years that separated them. In his book, the two are closer in age that they actually were: it works!

Mary is transported daily by carriage (which also carries a young and cleverly 'invisible' Charles Dickens) to be tutored, along with Ada Byron, by a young man named Percy. Ada dubs him Peebs. He is, in fact, Percy Shelley; no one is supposed to know that. The three spend their days in pursuit of knowledge. Mary is ever so thankful to be tutored at the Byron house.

"The next two weeks progressed along similar lines: riding unchaperoned with the reading boy who pretended he wasn't there, stepping past the mysteriously silent butler (could he speak? dare he not? was he the bearer of some grim secret?), settling down to study in the drawing room, and marveling at Ada's refusal to do the same."

Ada is an entity unto herself: determined, brilliant, uncompromising, inventive, socially inept, and often unfriendly. Mary likes her despite that cool temperament. To liven up their days, they decide that they will work together to solve cases as the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency. They advertise their skills. Mary would willingly take any case; Ada is far more particular. She carefully combs through the details from the letters received, only wanting to accept the perfect set of circumstances.

The Case of the Missing Moonstone concerns Rebecca and a priceless gift given to her by her uncle. When it goes missing at her coming-out party, the maid Rosie confesses. Rebecca knows that Rosie did not steal the necklace. Ada and Mary are on the job!

Fun to read, filled with charm and humor, this is a book that is sure to garner attention and captivate readers. Those who read and love it will be anxious to get their hands on a second book. The two girls are strong and likeable, the plot moves the story along quickly, and the historical bent will attract more fans.

Be sure to check out  http://www.wollstonecraftagency.com, if you want to know more, and if you have readers keen to further investigate.

                                                                         


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Graffiti Knight, written by Karen Bass. Pajama Press, 2013. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"Karl carried Father's crutches on his shoulder like a pair of rifles. Georg packed our satchels, and I pushed the wheelbarrow. As we headed to the pharmacy, curtains on either side of the oddly deserted street fluttered to mark our passing. The neighborhood was taking note. Word would travel fast. Heinz Tauber had been beaten by the police. What had he done to deserve it? What could they do to avoid the same fate?"

The thing about TBR piles is that they never seem to get shorter; at least, mine do not. The resulting sadness is that certain books do not get the mention they deserve from me until too late - or is it?  NO! It's  never too late to read a remarkable book! That thought brings me to Wilm, his friends and a time in history that is difficult to fathom.

World War II is over. In 1947, the people of East Germany are working to bring stability and some comfort to their world gone mad. The Soviets rule the streets with oppressive control, with the help of the German police (Schupo) who do the Soviets' bidding. Playing spying games in the streets with his friends changes dramatically for Wilm one day:

"Then - the sound of something hard hitting something soft. Boots against flesh. I flinched with every thump, felt every strike in my legs, my back, my gut. I tasted mud and knew Father tasted blood. He groaned at each blow, swore. Finally he cried, "Shoot me, you cowards! What kind of animals beat a one-legged man? Shoot me and be done with it."

This senseless beating of his father, who lost his leg in the war and came home suffering mental distress at being disabled, is the final straw for Wilm. He begins a game full of much bigger risks. Daring and dangerous, he wants to humiliate the police for their actions after finding out that the Soviet soldiers have sexually assaulted his older sister, leaving her fearful and withdrawn. He is a young man possessed of a fervor, who does not recognize the repercussions for his actions should he be caught.

While working to deal with the chaos that has become his life, Wilm meets Otto, a civilian engineer commissioned by the government to assure the safety of the bridges near Leipzig. Otto provides advice and some stability for Wilm, encouraging him to stop taking such chances and look to the future for a better life. Wilm needs a father figure, given his own father's helplessness at dealing with the life he is now forced to lead.

Ever braver with each success, Wilm takes one too many chances and brings danger to everyone he loves. It forces Wilm, his sister and his friends to flee their homes and to try to find shelter in American-controlled territory, finally safety in Munich. It is a terribly scary and perilous flight.

Heart-stopping and historically accurate, this is a book that explores the lasting effects of war. The fear is evident at every moment, the hunger palpable, the need to make a statement strong. Each of the characters is brilliantly constructed, the setting is well established and the plot pulls the reader from page to page with no release.  Rebellion has consequences is its lasting lesson.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Woodpecker's Tale, written and illustrated by Sean Cassidy. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014. $18.95 ages 6 and up

"Pierce puffed out his chest.
"I've watched you, Mama.
Find an old tree.
Hammer the wood.
Eat the yummy bugs.
I can do it."
"But some bugs are nasty.
They can hurt," called Mama ..."

You will know youngsters like Pierce. They are determined, inquisitive, willing to break down any barriers to their independence. I have an 8 month old granddaughter who would find Pierce a kindred soul.

He is young and bent on leaving the nest and his mother's protection. As the young and innocent so often do, Pierce has no fear. His mother is not sure that he has learned all the lessons he will need out in the wide world. No matter!

As he explores a fallen trunk, an ancient tree, and a nearby standing tree, he makes some discoveries he was not expecting to make:

"His feathers trembled.
His tummy growled.
He wobbled among the trees
searching for food.

"Finding food is scary,"
he mumbled as he spied
an old beech tree."

Indeed it is! Having met up with a disconcerted skunk, a wise owl with a withering stare, a very grumpy raccoon and a startled opossum, Pierce eyes the perfect tree. It buzzes with bugs; they are bound to be tasty.

Could they be the nasty bugs his mother has mentioned? Don't you know ... mothers are always right when it comes to their baby's safety? Off he goes on a tear, trying to avoid the bees and warning everyone on his return path about them. Those warned appreciate his help; it isn't long until he is home and happily munching on bugs to fill his tummy and to keep his heart content.

"Pierce plunged his beak into the spongy log.
Something tickled his tongue.
He speared it and feasted on a juicy bug.
Pierce ate until his tummy was full.
He flew home to rest.
Pierce closed his eyes and chuckled.
"I knew it would be easy."

If you ask me what I love most about Sean Cassidy's art, it is his attention to detail. His animals have a personality of their own, made stronger by the many details in body, eyes and the countenance he shows his audience in these colorful images. The final two pages add information about the woodpecker itself, a game, finding insects, normal growth, a timeline, a quiz and a simple drawing technique to help readers draw their own bird.

For added fun, be sure to visit Sean's website at:
www.seancassidyauthorillustrator.com     

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sheep Go To Sleep, words by Nancy Shaw and drawings by Margot Apple. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.99 ages 2 and up

"Screeches!
Rustling!
Noisy crickets!
Sheep hear hoots
from nearby thickets.

Nighttime noises
scare the sheep.
Really, who could go
to sleep?"


Ah, a bedtime book to be added to the collection that my granddaughter hears every night before she goes to bed. It is the newest addition to a wonderful group of books that I have been reading since 1986 when I first read Sheep in a Jeep. Since then, this terrific team has collaborated to create Sheep on a Ship (1992), Sheep Take a Hike (1996), Sheep in a Shop (1997), Sheep Trick or Treat (1997) Sheep Out to Eat (2005), and Sheep Blast Off! (2008).  

This time we are counting sheep, a bedtime ritual often suggested for those who find that sleep is elusive. The five are sleepy as they head home to their hay-filled shed; noises in the night are unseen and scary. Is there anything that might help them settle? A collie wanders close, and uses his best tricks to get each of them to settle in ... one at a time.

Their needs are different and will be very familiar to those who don't like going to sleep on their own: a hug, a drink, a lullaby, a teddy bear, and a cozy quilt. Luckily, the pup is generous of time and patience. Once he can hear the gentle snores of each of his charges, he takes himself off to rest his own weary head.

"But where is the dog who looks after the sheep?
He's under the haystack, fast asleep."

A lovely rhyming text and lively colored-pencil artwork are sure to have a calming effect on little ones needing rest after a busy day. Humorous and charming, sure to sooth and a perfect gift for a new baby or a young toddler.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Yard Sale, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $18.00 ages 5 and up

"ALMOST EVERYTHING WE OWN is spread out in our front yard. It is all for sale. We are moving to a small apartment. "Small, but nice," my mom told me. She and Dad took me to see it. He showed me the fun bed that came down from the wall. "Look," he said. "It's right in the living room." "It's all nice," I said. But it didn't feel like ours." 

Eve Bunting has been telling amazing stories since 1971. At this point, she has written more than 250 books in a variety of genres. At 86, she continues to pen stories that matter. In this book, she helps her young audience see what life is like for a young girl as she faces the big changes that are happening in her family. Ms. Bunting has tremendous respect for children; she has proven that time and again.

As the book opens, we see Callie sitting on the front step and learn that her family is having a yard sale. It is necessary to help them downsize from their family home to a much smaller space. Her parents have worked hard to reassure her, taking her to the new place and showing her how special it is. When she sees all of their belongings spread on the lawn, and the many people who are picking through the family's treasures, she is unconvinced. It is a very difficult  adjustment for her. So many memories are tied up in the 'stuff' that people are loading into their vehicles.

Callie tells her friend that the move has something to do with money. She doesn't understand much else about it. How traumatic such a move must be for any child trying to deal fear and confusion. We know, as the parents try to help their daughter with the challenges presented, that they are equally upset by the circumstances. It will take time for all three to adjust to their new reality.

Lauren Castillo uses warm watercolors to match the tone of the story, capturing its emotions with care and without being too overwhelming to a young reader's understanding. She uses her signature bold outlines to show the emotions that engulf Callie at different points in her story. They will definitely tug at heartstrings. By changing perspective, she helps the audience see the scope of the loss and the sadness felt by all members of the family. She also makes us clearly aware of the love that exists. What is more important than that?

 Emotional, honest and poignant, it is a story that needs to be shared to let other children who are going through the same thing know they are not alone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Crinkle, Crackle, CRACK It's Spring! Written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by John Shelley. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"Hand in paw,
paw in hand,
the two of you set off.
"It is time," sing the
buds on the trees.
"It is time, " echoes
the breeze.
"It is time," hums
the bear.
"It is time."

Can't say NO to a bear with an invitation? You are one of the lucky ones!
In lyric text we, along with a small child who lives near the woods, are invited to accompany a bear who tells us 'it is time.' Readers will wonder 'time for what?' as I did.

Adventurous and trusting, you hear a cacophony of sounds:

"Rap, bap, tap,
crunch, scrunch.
crinkle, crackle, CRACK!"

Taking the offered paw, you trudge into the woods with your ursine companion, using your senses to understand what the bear means when he assures that 'it is time.' He makes some bear sounds, but says nothing else. A rabbit invites himself to come along as you walk the trail, all the while listening for something special. Joined by a squirrel and a beaver, you continue your journey.

As you go, you take note of the sounds, the sights (buds on the trees, nestlings, and then a huge egg).
It has a cracked shell and is responsible for all of the sounds you have been hearing as you walked together toward it. Suddenly, it bursts open!

What a lovely surprise awaits ... and you agree with the bear that you knew what was coming.

Imaginative and inviting, this is a perfect book to add to your cache used to introduce each new season as it arrives. It is a lovely, onomatopoeic addition to that collection. John Shelley uses India ink and watercolor to create its detailed accompanying images to Ms. Bauer's text. Appealing and alluring, they offer a sense of peaceful discovery.
 

                                                                         

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hippos Are HUGE! Written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"Hippos are HUGE!
Except for elephants,
no other land animals are
as large as the hippopotamuses.
They can weigh as much as
fifty men!

A full-grown bull weighs
up to 4 tons and can be 12
feet (almost 4 meters) long."

Tell me that cover illustration is not a perfect invitation to get kids into this terrific new book by Jonathan London, and I will tell you that you don't know kids who love knowing more about animals than they already know. By the time you have finished reading, I think even you will know some extremely interesting facts about hippos that you hadn't realized.

"The two bulls turn
and stand rump to rump.
Then they swing their tails
like baseball bats and
swat balls of dung
at each other -

SPLAT!
SPLOP!

It's a
smelly message ... "

The close-up mixed media image will have some kids howling with laughter and others completely disgusted. Hopefully, they will also be intrigued by the information shared. We find out that while hippos are 'huge', they are also graceful, communicative, dangerous - assumed to 'kill more people in Africa than any other wild animal does.'

In large (and often LARGE) font, the author converses with his audience in a series of interesting facts, questions, exclamations! In a much smaller font, positioned at a variety of spots on single, spot and double page spreads, we learn even more gripping details.

Fun to read and cleverly designed, this is a terrific introduction to the hippopotamus. Matthew Trueman's artwork is filled with detail, close-up observation and textures that give a true sense of the hippos' hides and almost amiable countenance as they glide gracefully through the water, lumber about on land and delight in a mud bath.

 An index and an author's note are included.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Baseballogy: Supercool Facts You Never Knew, written by Kevin Sylvester. Annick Press, 2015. $14.95 ages 8 and up

"There are 11 million kids playing baseball in North America. How many will make the "bigs"? Only about 800. See how hard it is? About 10,000 of those 11 million will make it to the various levels of the minor leagues. So, the chances of making it one to three steps away from the majors are 1 in 1,100. "

With basketball and hockey winding down, viewers can once again turn their attention to the 'national pastime', also called 'the greatest sport on earth'. Kevin Sylvester's new baseball book will provide a welcome break from the uncountable repetitive ads that bombard you as you watch any sports show.

You will browse through it for hours only to discover such facts as:

"Nine-inning games can be pretty long too. In 2006, the Orioles beat the Yankees 14-11 in the longest nine-inning game ever played - a marathon 4 hours and 45 minutes. Okay, so maybe some baseball games can be boring ... especially if they end five hours past your bedtime!"

Or:

"The shortest nine-inning game was just 51 minutes long. The New York Giants beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-1 in 1919."

Which would you rather have attended?

Every turn of the page offers a new and informative 'supercool fact you never knew': from science and psychology to mathematics and folklore. For those who love baseball, the book explores much about the game itself, the equipment used, baseball cards, and even injuries that no one could have believed might happen. The illustrations are colorful and often funny, the design allows for bouncing from one subject to another by checking the table of contents (35 separate two-page spreads), the charts and graphs help understand what is being shared, the index takes you back to your favorite facts, and a Baseball Trivia Quiz will test your knowledge. (Answers are provided, thankfully!)

Do you know someone interested in baseball, or are you? You cannot go wrong with this book. You will be able to regale your buddies with stories gleaned while reading it, for hours on end.

"Kendry Morales once hit a grand slam (a home run with the bases loaded) to help his team, the Lost Angeles Angels, win a big game. His teammates were so excited, they mobbed him at home plate. He jumped in the air, landed in the middle of the crowd, and broke his leg. Morales missed the rest of that season and the next."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

As Chimney Sweeps Come to Dust, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, Penguin. 2015. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"Which left me alone with the
Rainsmiths. I didn't have many
options. Since recent circumstances
had resulted in my becoming a
backslider in the fingernail-biting
department, I had nothing to count
upon for self-defense but my own
fists and feet. How I wished I had
taken the time to pump Dogger for
more details about the Kano system
of jujitsu ... "

Gosh! Can this really be Flavia de Luce's seventh murder mystery? It well and truly is. If you are a fan, you will not be surprised to see that Flavia's spirit remains as engaged and engaging as it ever has been. She is a character to reckon with, a girl with a brilliant mind, and a most independent spirit. She is a charmer, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. As she approaches her teens, she has the same inquisitive wonder about the world and manages to get herself caught up in yet another mystery ... far from home in Canada - at the boarding school where her mother was once a star pupil.

Miss Bodycote's Female Academy is a perfect venue for a young girl, whose knack for finding murder and mystery wherever she is, is once more at the forefront of this new story. On the very first night of residence she learns that three girls have disappeared from the school. Then, when the secret spiller hears the headmistress knock at Flavia's door, she hides in the chimney, dislodging a corpse that has mummified. Flavia's response is just what knowing fans would expect from her:

“If you’re anything like me, you adore rot. It is pleasant to reflect on the fact that decay and decomposition are what make the world go round”.

Perhaps the academy is not exactly as it has been advertised! She quickly becomes involved in the
goings-on, happy to be free of her chaperones for the trip over to Canada from England, Ryerson and Dorsey Rainsmith. She finds them vexing. She has a body to identify and a mystery to solve ... the very thing for the young sleuth, as we well know. She is never sure who can be trusted. We need not worry much about her abilities. She knows how to stay out of trouble.  

Observant, intelligent, persistent, resourceful are traits that describe Flavia to a 't'. Sad, homesick and longing for her family are new experiences for her. There is so much that is unfamiliar to her; yet, she makes the best of it in hopes that she will soon be back in the comfort of her family home and her beloved English village. I missed all of the characters who provide support and grudging acceptance of Flavia, in much the same way that she did. I look forward, as I always do, to her next case. I wonder where she will be then.  

Jack: The true story of JACK & THE BEANSTALK, written by Liesl Shurtliff. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Where's the fun in that?" Tom seemed perplexed. "No elf has ever traveled by catapult before! You should feel honored." I cracked a smile. I had to admit that it was fun. I also had to admit that I liked Tom quite a bit. Maybe he didn't understand what it was like to lose your papa, but he was exactly the friend I'd always wished for back home, someone who liked big adventure and a little mischief."

There is a lot to love about this refashioned fairy tale! As she did in Rump
(Knopf, 2013), Liesl Shurtliff uses her many storytelling skills and a host of Jack stories to write this book about love, bravery and rescue.

Jack has heard all the stories concerning his seven-times-great-grandfather, known to all as Jack the Giant Killer. Even so, when the giants come out of the sky, booming and pillaging, it is a surprise to all. By the time they have finished, the giants have destroyed everything in their path and taken many of Jack's friends and neighbors and their houses with them, including Jack's father.

That alarming visit sets up the action for  the rest of the story. Following in his grandfather's footsteps, Jack vows to do battle with the giants, find his father and bring him home. It is only possible when Jack gets the beans to grow the beanstalk outside the family home. Now, he has a way of getting to the land where those giants live. Little does he know that his little sister, Annabella, is  on the same mission. Frightened for her safety, he is also in awe of her ability to pacify animals and become friends with the pixies whose poisonous bites cause great pain for her brother:

"I looked down and yelped. My left leg had ballooned to twice the size of my right. It was more like a log than a leg. The pixie bite. In the mad rush and my anger at Annabella, I had forgotten all about it, but now that I noticed it, my brain registered a sharp pain shooting from my hip down to my toe. My foot was swelling fast, too, stretching the leather of my shoe. I scrambled to pull it off and watched my foot become as round as a ball with five fat knobs at the end."

Annabella acts as a go-between for Jack and the pixies, and she is not the only one who wants to help Jack find his father. Despite his sadness over having lost his own father, Jack's new friend Tom Thumb wants to help look for Papa.  The kingdom belongs to King Barf and is enduring a dreadful famine. King Barf is extremely greedy and using magic to garner as much gold as he can, while leaving no sustenance in the ground for things to grow and thus, feed his people.

Cleverly written to include other fairy tales and even some nursery rhymes, Ms. Shurtliff offers her readers adventure, terrific characters, and a story that is sure to keep them reading first page to last. Fun for a family bedtime read, or as a classroom readaloud.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Outstanding in the Rain:A Whole Story with Holes, written and illustrated by Frank Viva. Tundra Books, Random House. 2015. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"ICE CREAM,"
I SAY,
MY BIRTHDAY SURPRISE!
"OH NO!"
I SCREAM,
WITH TEARS IN MY EYES.
I SHOUT IN
HER
EAR,
"THIS IS ONE
CRAZY RIDE!"

Have you been to Coney Island? I have not, and have only photographs, television and stories to give me any sense of what it must be like. So, I started reading this new book by Frank Viva, not only because I have admired his other books for children, but also because of an abiding interest in New York and its many attractions. I like that this young boy and his mother are celebrating his birthday on the boardwalk there.

It is a fun time for both, and certainly for those who share it. The two do just what you would hope to do when visiting such an attraction ... they have ice cream, they slip down a huge and scary 'crazy slide' side by side, they have a birthday party picnic and a surprise gift on the beach, and finally, they ride the winding roller coaster at dark, just before catching the night train home. An apt outing for a young boy on his fourth birthday. It will leave readers envious.

More than that, they will be intrigued with the design of the book itself. The artist cuts holes in the pages themselves to create new images with each turn of the page. The decorations on a beach umbrella become those same decorations on his birthday cake. 'Night rain' becomes 'night train' as the rain begins to fall, the adventure winds down, the two move toward their trip home. It is great fun!

Playing with text and the way that it is seen is what will draw readers to this book, and have them poring over every detail of its cleverly illustrated pages. The colors are brightly displayed on ever-changing backgrounds. Original and unusual, this is a book that is rare in the children's literature field. Reading it only once cannot possibly give the 'whole' experience its due. You will want to go and read it again!

"Those sandwiches there,
they look like the best.
On the sand which is there,
we stop and we rest.”

                                                                          

Friday, May 8, 2015

My Pen, by Christopher Myers. Disney-Hyperion, Hachette. 2015. $17.99 ages 4 and up

"MY PEN MAKES
GIANTS OF OLD MEN
WHO HAVE SEEN
BETTER DAYS.
THEN MY PEN PUTS
THESE GIANTS IN THE
WARM, SWEET HANDS
OF THE SMALLEST
GIRL."

My word! What a tremendous work of art this is. It is a perfectly crafted testament to the power of the imagination! Christopher Myers shows his captivated readers just what a pen can do.

A young boy asserts that there are many 'rich' and 'famous' people who can make him feel without worth, until he remembers that he has power in his pen. He then proceeds to show us the remarkable artistic ability he has and how that creativity emboldens him. In a very honest voice, he shows us that his vulnerability is real; he also knows that his pen can change the way he feels in the face of it.

There are so many places that his pen can take him: to the clouds, dinosaur riding, sailing to Africa. While his pen has some worries, they can be overcome with love and affection. Despite its seeming insignificance, there is much that it can do. The adventures are unlimited, the possibilities joyful. But, not always right!

Using pen and ink Christopher Myers conjures the grand world of the imagination and the abundant beauty of the creative spirit. I have pored over his illustrations endlessly with awe and great admiration!

"There are a million pens in the world
and each one has a million worlds inside it.

So if you have a pen, see what you can do -
let those worlds inside your pen out!"

What a glorious invitation!
                                                                              

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Emmanuel's Dream: the True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. Written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls. Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House. 2015. $20.99 ages 7 and up

"As Emmanuel grew,
Mama Comfort told him
he could have anything,
but he would have to get
it for himself.
He learned how to crawl
and hop,
to fetch water and climb
coconut trees.
He even shined shoes for
money."

When Emmanuel is born with a deformity of his leg, his father leaves. In Ghana babies born with a disability are shunned and considered a family's curse. Luckily, his mother has the strength needed to encourage her son to be the best he can be, and not to use his leg as an excuse to forgo future accomplishments. Emmanuel proves to be as persistent as he needs to be and teaches himself to do many of the things that others might have found impossible, including hopping the two miles to school each morning, and then doing it all over again when it is time to return home at the end of the day.

He is ignored by his classmates until he earns enough money to buy a soccer ball of his own; then, he will only share it when he is allowed to play with them. While at school, he also masters the art of cycling. School does not last nearly long enough for the young boy. His mother's illness requires that he leave school to earn money to support his mother and younger siblings.

"He would have to support them.
Against his mother's wishes, Emmanuel snuck out
and boarded a midnight train to the bustling city of Accra,
one hundred and fifty miles away,
alone."

It will be two years before he sees them again. His mother is growing weaker and he returns home to be with her. Her death, and her final words, are the impetus he needs to prove something to himself and to the greater world:

"... but he knew
her last words had been a gift.
He would honor them by showing everyone
that being disabled does not mean
being unable."

Emmanuel makes a plan.. Using his ingenuity, his courage and one working leg, he would cycle around Ghana. With help from the Challenged Athletes Foundation in California, Emmanuel is able to equip himself and begin the training needed to make his dream come true.

"He completed his astounding journey,
pedalling south to the sea and back up to Accra -
in just ten days.
But Emmanuel's success goes even further than that.
He proved that one leg is enough to do great things--
and one person is enough to change the world."

The text is uplifting and filled with honor for a young man who works to bring awareness of the abilities of the 'disabled', and the need for laws that protect their rights. He is a worthy subject for this
new book, illustrated by Sean Qualls in mixed media. He fills the pages with color, pattern, and wonderful, beautiful people. Energetic and cultural, they let us in on the journey that is Emmanuel's life - through its tragedies and triumphs.

An author's note adds context and a link to Emmanuel's story, narrated by Oprah Winfrey and entitled Emmanuel's Gift. 
                                                                      
  

Hidden, written by Donna Jo Napoli. A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"The very worst has happened. He has come back to town: Alf. Alf of the eyes the color of rain - though I have not seen them again; it is only my memory that tells me this, and who can trust the memory of a girl who has witnessed the horrors of the past week? He apparently traveled by sea to Ribe, going all the way north around the tip of Jutland, then all the way south again."

In her companion novel to Hush (2014), Donna Jo Napoli introduces the younger sister of Melkorka, the Irish princess who was taken by Russian slavers in that first book. Brigid was there, jumped overboard leaving her sister to follow her, lost her and now spends her days and even years determined to find her again.

It is a tale of survival that is based on the legendary life of the first Norse female pirate Alfhild. We follow Brigid through the years as she lives first with one adoptive family, and then with another - all the while searching for any small bit of news about her sister.

Times for women are very different in the 10rh century; Brigid breaks tradition and sets out on her own with only her sister in mind. While life is arduous and often violent, Brigid lives hers guided by a love for her sister and with kindness and compassion. As I read of the grim lives that people led, I often stopped to ponder how difficult it must have been for so many.

Brigid is a girl with a mind of her own; she is not afraid to say what she feels, or to think back on the comfortable life she led as part of the Irish royalty. Nothing gets in the way of her quest to find her beloved sister. She will take any risk to move forward in her search, leaving loved ones and stability behind her. As she moves forward, she becomes skilled at those things that will hold her in good stead for her wanderings.

Knowing it will be less dangerous to convince people of a Norse rather than Irish ancestry, she introduces herself as Alfhild and assumes that role throughout her travels. Slowing the pace in the middle gave me a chance to breathe more freely as I considered the dangers that she often faces. Growing up takes time and patience on the part of both the girl and her audience. But, her transformation from young girl to bold pirate, and her many perilous adventures amp up the reading making it difficult to put it down. A rewarding ending will please those who embark on this adventure, and encourages the idea that one should never give up hope when facing obstacles to the goals we set.

Careful research is familiar to Ms. Napoli's fans. End matter helps with perspective and the history that inspired the story's origins. A glossary, an author's note and a bibliography add context.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Egg: Nature's Perfect Package, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $19.99 ages 6 and up


"A mother splash tetra leaps from the water and attaches her eggs to an overhanging leaf. The father remains nearby and frequently splashes the eggs to keep them moist. As soon as they hatch, the baby fish drop into the water."

If you read this blog regularly you cannot help but know how much I admire the work that Robin Page and Steve Jenkins do in getting accessible and instructive books into the hands of our youngest readers. I have also mentioned how in awe I am for the questions that they must ask in order to begin the research for every new book. I am sure that one thing leads to another; I honor their spirit and their consistency in creating these science books that so quickly become favorites.

So, sharing this new book with you will have me praising what I have come to expect from them: appealing design, excellent research, and lots and lots of great reading and fascinating details.

"When it's time for the common green lacewing to lay her eggs, she produces dozens of long thin stalks and attaches them to a leaf. Then she places an egg at the end of each stalk, putting it out of reach of hungry ants."

When I tell you about design and how it impacts interest in content, you need to know that the introduction is egg-shaped and gives readers a preview of the egg and its many variations - size, color, form - and where they might be found. Turn the page and  you are greeted double page spread showing a number of egg layers, and the size, color and shape of the eggs they lay. As they do so well in many of their books, the authors give perspective with a clear explanation:

"Except for the crow egg, which is shown life-size, these eggs are greatly enlarged. Silhouettes at the bottom of the page show the actual size of the eggs."

What a great lesson in seeing things as they really are for young readers.

From one spread to another we are introduced to almost anything we would want to know about this incredibly compact package. The amount of text provided is just right for the considered audience, the cut-paper, lifelike illustrations will certainly capture and hold attention as the information provided is shared. Bonus: we all come away knowing so much more than we did when we started the reading. That is why I am always so excited to see new books from this wonderfully inquisitive pair. They share their wonder at the world in a way that makes their readers wonder, too.

In backmatter, we watch a chicken and an alligator develop within that small, enclosed space. Thumbnail sketches of each of the 54 creatures included are provided and further facts accompany them. A list of additional information will lead interested readers to find out more.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, written by Tricia Springstubb and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $17.00 ages 7 and up

"In this life, many things are
beautiful:
Marshmallows
100% on your spelling test
Turtles, with their cute
thumb-shaped heads
But if Cody had to name the
most beautiful thing in the world,
it would be ...
The first day of summer vacation.
Which was today."

Summer vacation is upon her. Her camp has been cancelled. Cody is prepared for a summer of wonder, despite the fact that her brother Wyatt is in charge at home while their parents work. Wyatt is a teenager, more interested in sleep and his crush on Payton Underwood than what his little sister is doing in her spare time.

His indifference allows Cody to try to find something worthwhile to do with her time. It doesn't take much for this feisty, inquisitive and caring young girl to find ways to fill her days. First, there is Spencer, a lonely young boy, visiting his grandmother for the summer while his parents are away. MewMew is his grandmother's deaf cat. It is MewMew who brings them together, and helps establish a friendship between the two. Cody wants to use her powers of hypnotism on the cat, and on Payton. The results are not exactly stellar.

"Probably that's why they didn't take me on their
trip. Because I'd get in their way.:
Very gently, Cody started the swing swinging.
First Mom and her cigarettes.
Then the ants.
The baby skunk.
Spencer's worn-out pj's.
In this life, so many things can twang your heart.
If only she and Spencer had feelers, she'd have
touched his right now."

Cody is a terrific character. She loves and communicates with ants, cares about others, wants what is best for them, and gets herself into some hot water in her attempts to 'help'. She will be loved by those who enjoy the stories of Marty McGuire, Clementine, Lulu, Ivy and Bean. She stands alone just as they do; yet, they have similar appeal. Their stories offer a perfect read for children wanting to read chapter books independently. Cody's strength and sensitivity is balanced by her fertile imagination. This new, exemplary character is sure to find fans who hope, as I do, that this is not the last time we will hear news of Cody and her exploits.

Eliza Wheeler's black-and-white illustrations give context for those needing the extra help from visual text. They help make this new book a very satisfying read.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Question of Miracles, written by Elana K. Arnold. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"To talk to my parents and the doctors in person. And to meet me." Iris thought about that - people coming all the way from Italy just to meet Boris. She wondered if they'd be disappointed when they realized that he was just a normal kid, and that he wasn't even popular or anything. She wondered what it would be like to be in the presence of people like that, people who decided about miracles."

In a story that is quite miraculous itself, we meet Iris and her family. They have just moved to Oregon from California. Iris' mother has a new job at the university, her father is a stay-at-home parent intent on making the 'homestead' a happy, productive place for his family. He loves thinking about and planning his garden, learns all that he can about sustainability and accepts the constant rain as a daily blessing. Iris, on the other hand, hates the dreary wetness of this new place. Its gloominess is in keeping with the her sadness since the death of her best friend, Sarah, three months earlier. She misses Sarah every day, and longs for her presence.

School and the bus ride there are worrisome, as well. She doesn't want to make new friends. Meeting Boris, who is messy and lacks social skills, offers some solace. They become friends despite their differences. In Boris, Iris finds hope. Although few people are aware of it, Boris is considered a miracle baby. He should never have survived his birth; yet, he did. His aunt believes it is a direct result of her prayers. People from the Vatican want to meet him because of the miracle of his birth, and what they believe to be divine intervention. It makes Iris think that other miracles are surely possible.

Iris feels Sarah's presence in the cupboard under the stairs in the new house. That is where Sarah's tennis racket languishes, a gift from her parents to their daughter's best friend and tennis partner. Iris just wants to talk to Sarah again. Who decides on miracles?

Elana Arnold has written a beautiful story. She allows her readers, through Iris' compelling character, a close look at grief, at hope and at eventual acceptance of the small miracles that we experience every day. It is a terribly sad time for Iris. Having a friend like Boris, who is always supportive and engaging, encourages her to see life without Sarah in a new, hopeful way. It is a long, slow journey to the light on the other side.

Authentic, emotional and full of insight, this would be a perfect book to add to a middle grader's summer reading list.

Red: A Crayon's Story, written and illustrated by Michael Hall. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"His teacher thought he
needed more practice.

I'll draw a red strawberry,
then you draw a red
strawberry.

You can do this.
Really!

But he couldn't, really."

When I read this winning book to classes while visiting schools for I Love To Read, I was very interested in the response that the children had to it. They were quite indignant that the blue crayon was being blamed for something he had no control over; it is an obvious case of mistaken identity. How was he to know he wasn't red? His label said red! That's the funny thing about labels, isn't it?

This book is a strong addition to the growing collection of beautifully designed and very appealing picture books Michael Hall has created since the publication of My Heart is Like a Zoo (Greenwillow, 2009). He followed that with Perfect Square (Greenwillow, 2011), Cat Tale (Greenwillow, 2012) and It's An Orange Aardvark!, just last year. If you haven't seen any of his previous books, you are in for a special treat. Check at the library, or your local bookstore to have a good look at them. You will be impressed!  

Now, to Red. It is, as advertised, A Crayon's Story.

The colors are bright, the images sharp, the dilemma obvious from the very beginning. It is deceptive in its simplicity, which is exactly what Michael Hall wanted when he wrote it. It's message is there for us to ponder as we read it. There are a host of voices expressing concern that Red is not actually 'very good' at being red. The pencil that is telling Red's story allows those who are part of the crayon box (family and friends) to have a say while we watch Red try his best to be what he is not.

Red is an excellent artist; it is just that his images do not meet the norm. The fire truck is blue, the hearts are blue, even the squiggles on the book's cover are blue. When colors are mixed, they do not look right. In fact, they can be disgusting to others. His audience is quick to share opinions and to give advice; Red does his best to take it.

"Sometimes I wonder if he's really red at all.

Don't be silly. It says red on his label.

He came that way from the factory.

Frankly, I don't think he's very bright.

Well, I think he's lazy.

Right! He's got to press harder."

Even a good sharpening does nothing to improve Red's lot.

A subtle message, beautifully shared. Finding out who he really is brings joy and freedom for Blue! Put this one on your Caldecott watch list, and don't be surprised when award season comes round to find it at or near the top of the final list. Thank you, Michael Hall!