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Monday, February 29, 2016

Dance, Dance! Underpants! Written and illustrated by Bob Shea. Disney-Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $10.99 ages 3 and up

"What do you mean?
Super-high leaps are
the best part of ballet.

Leaping seems like
showing off. Pointing
toes is classy.

What?
Super-high leaps are
what makes ballet so ... "

Bob Shea knows exactly how to tickle the funny bone of early readers. He does so with great success!
In this second book about the boisterous and bossy Ballet Cat, we are introduced to another of her accommodating friends - Butter Bear. After reading the first book you will know Ballet to be centered on herself and the thing she loves to do most ... ballet! She wants ALL of her friends to be just as keen about it as she is.

Knowing that leaping into the air is the highlight of ballet, she tries to persuade Butter to try it for herself. Butter Bear knows her limitations and does everything she can to avoid disappointing Ballet  while also keeping herself safe and free from ridicule. Ballet is persistent.  Every time Ballet begs her to leap, Butter Bear has another excuse ready to avoid doing so! It gets so bad that Butter Bear uses hibernation as a ploy to avoid any leaping.

"Oh, my goodness,
you are right!
It is very late.
No wonder I am so
tired. I must go to
sleep for the winter.
See you in the spring,
Ballet Cat.

Not so fast!
You are not going anywhere
until we do the super-high
leaps that I showed you." 

Only then does Butter Bear share her concerns about leaping in front of an audience. She is worried that the audience members will LAUGH at her underpants! Most assuredly not, Ballet responds.
Once they see how talented Butter Bear is at leaping, they will be astounded and not even think to make fun. Butter Bear is not convinced. 

Can you hear the giggles as the audience chants UNDERPANTS! with great glee. When the leaping begins will Ballet Cat be right, or will Butter Bear be embarrassed?

The cartoon-like art and colorful speech bubbles attract attention and encourage readers to share the drama, by taking parts. The speech bubbles match the color of the character speaking. That makes for greater understanding and ease of sharing. The dialogue is spot-on and will have fans quickly turning pages to keep the action going. Enjoy!

                                                                    
 
 
 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Set You Free, written by Jeff Ross. Orca, 2015. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"We move around Dumpsters and garbage bags, staying away from the few remaining lights as much as possible. I begin to run toward the car, and one of Grady's too-big shoes slips from my foot. I trip and go down. It seems as if I've barely hit the ground before I feel Grady's hands beneath my arms, lifting me back up. "You okay?" he says. I glance down at my knees which seem fine."

Lauren loves five-year-old Ben. She is his babysitter and is devastated when he disappears. What makes it even more disconcerting is that Lauren's brother Tom goes missing at the same time. Because of that and because Tom was last seen near Ben's family home, the police make him their prime suspect in the kidnapping.

Laurel is loyal to her brother and sure that he has nothing to do with it. The police are not convinced and put a tracker in her phone, hoping that she will lead them to her brother. When she meets Tom's friend Grady ( a skilled hacker), she realizes she has an accomplice willing to help clear his name. Together, they manage to evade police and hack into the computers belonging to members of Ben's family. There, they discover secrets about his sister and brother. Not only that, they make some damning discoveries about Ben's father, the mayor.

Convinced that the mayor has something to do with the disappearance, their search leads them to a secret cabin. Ben is not there, but Lauren finds clear evidence concerning the mayor's questionable actions. She assures protection for herself by sending all evidence to the media and to the police.

A surprise twist brings the story full circle. Tense and fast-paced, I was engaged in the reading from start to finish. Teen readers will be intrigued by the mystery, sympathetic to the situation, and caught up in the plot's action. It leaves room for discussion concerning the laws broken, and certain moral issues. Ultimately, it provides a reading experience that I think its intended audience will find most satisfying.

Shattered Glass, written by Teresa Toten. Orca, 2015. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"The streets were deserted. I had a thousand questions about the party, but I used all my willpower to keep my mouth shut. He, too, was quiet, lost in thought. It was like we had the city all to ourselves. Every so often Cassidy would stroke or squeeze my arm, but every so often he would also shake his head and sigh. Just a little. I didn't think he even knew he was doing it."

This is one of a series of seven tales, meant to introduce us to the seven oldest orphans from the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls which burns to the ground in June, 1964. It leaves those girls and everyone else living there to face a very different existence. As with each of the other 'oldest' girls, Toni is sent out into the bigger world with cash and three items that may hopefully lead her to learn about the circumstances of her birth: a release certificate from the Toronto General Hospital, a restaurant menu from the Noronic, and a club playbill from a place called Willa's. They are the only clues to her real identity.

Her sheltered world is about to take a dramatic turn. The small town existence that is all she has known has certainly not prepared her for Toronto. Arriving without any plan, and hope in her heart, she is able to find a room, get a job and begin the search that may eventually lead her to discover the reason for the fiery nightmares that have tormented her since her arrival at the orphanage. What about the scars on her skin and the hatred she feels for the mother she cannot really remember?

Toni is bright, but very naïve. Her experiences in the orphanage have in no way prepared for all that she encounters as she tries to plot a course for this new existence. Many big city experiences threaten to overwhelm her, and misunderstandings concerning language lead her to a very dangerous place. Through it all, she manages to gather a wonderful group of friends who become her new family, supportive and understanding as she makes mistakes and learns from them.

As she probes the clues shared, she learns the identity of both her father and mother, the sadness of her mother's life left alone with a small baby following her father's death, and the reasons for her scars and her nightmares. Ethan, the young man who is always on hand to help and to protect her, is worthy of her love and trust.

Teresa Toten is an accomplished storyteller, writing her stories with beautiful language and thoughtful detail. There were often times when I found myself going back to reread a passage:

"I didn't say anything. I decided this was going to be my new strategy in the face of my intolerable stupidity. I was getting real sick of not knowing what people were talking about. From now on, I'd keep my mouth shut, and in the ensuing, uncomfortable silence, the deliverer of the unknown word, phrase or concept would feel compelled to explain."

"And she was clearly refreshed. Weeks and weeks of watching Mrs. Grady Vespucci up close had let me in on the telltale clues. Grady was swaying on the inside. This was what she described as "the sweet spot." Thing was, she rarely stopped there."

I combed my transgression memory box and came up empty. My panic was in full bloom by the time I got to the office."

"Did I shrug while I shook? Stupid, stupid girl.
I was gulping down shame in batches so sticky that I couldn't free the words to thank him. I couldn't even look at him."

If you know readers who will enjoy this book, they are likely to want to read the other six books in the series.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Gone Crazy in Alabama, written by Rita Williams-Garcia. Amistad, Harper. 2015. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"We had been gone long enough. Long enough, I hoped, for Big Ma to forget why she had us `git` to begin with. The smells of cabbage, potatoes, and meat on top of burned cornstarch, lavender and metal from an afternoon of ironing saluted me when I walked inside Ma Charles`s house. I was hungry, and ashamed, but glad to be back. I hugged my apology to Big Ma and for all of a second, she let me, and then she pushed me off her."

In her final story about their family, following One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven, the three Gaither girls are sent to Alabama to spend the summer with their grandmother, Big Ma, and her mother, Ma Charles. Their father warns them that this summer will be very different that the one they spent with their mother in California. He advises that there should no talk about black pride in the southern small town where the two live. Life is noticeably different there.

 “None of that black power stuff in Alabama. Black Panthers strut about in Brooklyn and in Oakland, but they’re not so loud and proud in Alabama and Mississippi.”

Delphine's first-person voice is strong throughout the telling. She has worries about how the family is changing: her mother in California, her father remarried and expecting a new baby, her grandmothers and Uncle Darnell living together in the South. There is a whole lot to learn about the extended family the girls meet while visiting. The three are very unsophisticated about southern ways, and are surprised to learn that their family has a Creek Indian great-grandparent, that Ma Charles has a half-sister living nearby and the two never communicate, and that the town's white sheriff is definitely a member of the Klan, and may even be its leader.Their cousin, James Trotter, is also an important character in helping them adjust to the family dynamics.  It is a diverse and unsettling group.

All three girls remain true to the characters developed in the first two books. Delphine is the oldest, the 'mean and bossy' one. Vonetta is unwilling to forgive her uncle for betraying them earlier and likes to incite unrest, running back and forth between the two feuding sisters, stirring the pot at every possible opportunity. Fern is observant and trying her hand at expressing herself through poetry, in keeping with her mother' particular talent. The voices are so strong and real, you imagine sitting in on all of their bickering. There is humor, angst, and a great deal of love.

When a tornado and its aftermath threaten one of them, they ALL stand together in loyalty and love.
It is the perfect ending for an brilliant trilogy that explores family, history and family history. I will never forget these fine, flawed, lovely people.  Please don't miss spending time with them.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World, written by Vivian French and illustrated by Angela Barrett. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $22.00 ages 5 and up

"The first of the suitors came to the palace the next day. He brought a hundred roses and a blue-tailed lovebird. "Very beautiful," said the queen. "But not the most wonderful thing in the world," said the king. The second suitor brought a snow-white horse."

Princess Lucia is well-loved and fiercely protected by doting parents. Her parents, the king and queen, suddenly come face-to-face with the fact that she will one day be the reigning monarch. That sets them on a quest to find her a husband.

To that end, they send a letter to Old Angelo, believed to be the wisest man in the kingdom, asking how they might best choose a suitor and husband for their beloved daughter. Old Angelo suggests that they choose a man who brings them 'the most wonderful thing in the world'. Thus, the two begin examining the many items brought to them, meant to be representative of what they are seeking.

Meanwhile Lucia, tired of  being protected within the walls of the castle, goes in search of someone willing to show her the city. She meets Salvatore, Old Angelo's grandson, and he agrees to be her tour guide. As they wander city streets, visiting markets, shops and other interesting sights, the royal parents are being bombarded by interested suitors and their many examples of what they think are the most wonderful things - airplanes, artwork, performing dogs, magical beasts, a wind machine  and more. It is an endless display.

It isn't until they have wandered the streets for days, that Salvatore learns the identity of the young woman he has been escorting. He is distraught when he talks with his grandfather about the improbability of any future for the two. Old Angelo is confident that things will work out, Salvatore does not agree.

When her parents realize Lucia is not in the palace, they become anxious and begin asking for information concerning her whereabouts. They learn that she has gone to Old Angelo's island with Salvatore. They follow her. There, after all their searching for a suitable partner, they are jubilant to hear Salvatore's brilliant response to their quest. It's the 'happy ever after' ending expected for a fairy tale!

Angela Barrett's elegant and graceful watercolor artwork is rife with lovely color and brilliant detail, creating a world that will capture attention. You don't want to miss the chance to savor every single page. She creates the magic that makes this new fairy tale a winner!
                                                                        




Moonpenny Island, written by Tricia Springstubb. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2015. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Above her, the air goes electric, then hollow. Something swift and silent scoops it clean, and Flor flings her hands over her head. The grass beside the road parts, and she can sense the owl, his spread wings, his sharp beak and steely talons. Eeek! A pitiful scream rises from the grass. It cuts off abruptly, and the night closes back up, once more deadly quiet, except for that small whimpering sound." Which is her. Flor herself."

Poor Flor! Everything about the serene life she lives on Moonpenny Island is about to change ... and in big ways. Those changes involve her family, her best friend and a strange girl who seems to be watching every move that Flor makes.

Life on Moonpenny Island has been perfect until this summer.  Flor can ride her bike over every part of her island, her school is small and she and her best friend Sylvie are the only sixth graders, she knows everyone in their small island community and the beauty of the idyllic setting soothes her soul. Then, Sylvie is shipped off the island to attend school on the mainland. Why would her parents do that?  Flor's mother leaves to take of her ailing grandmother and be with her extended family. Is it because she and Flor's father fight all the time? Will her mother come back? Her sister is acting in very peculiar and secretive ways. And, what about her little brother, and Sylvie's brother who seems bent on making as much trouble as he can for Flor's father, the only policeman on their tiny island.

Flor shows great concern for all of them, and worries about their future and her own. How can so many things change at one time, and will it ever be the same again? As she comes to grips with all that is changing in her life, she begins to realize that there might also be new experiences and new friends. Meeting Jasper and her unusual father, offers Flor a chance to see her island home through another pair of eyes, and perhaps to see it more clearly.

The book's setting is like an additional character, bound up in the story in every way. The descriptions are often lyrical, the scenes filled with a love for its natural beauty. Flor's love for her island home is emotional and always evident. Flor is an outstanding character: loyal to her friends and family, protective of her island and its occupants, and accepting change as best she can.

This is a story of friendship and family, loss and transformation, secrets and discovery, and always hope. Beautifully written, with fully realized characters and an incomparable setting, it is a book that will find new fans for Ms. Springstubb's superb writing. Every scene is memorable, leading readers through honest and realistic family drama to an ending that will soothe hearts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Listen, Slowly, written by Thanhha Lai. Harper, 2015. $21.00 ages 9 and up

"For decades, Ong's Brother has prepared meals out here on the three-prong clay "stove" that sits right in the middle of the cement porch. Maybe not the exact same stove, but I have a feeling the same design has been around since people discovered clay.  The stove, shaped like a big pot with three feet, has a bottom made of mesh wires where the fire is built. A pot or kettle sits on a rack on top ..."

I read this book a few months ago. It is a story of family, and a culture that was unfamiliar to me. I am so glad that I read it. I remember every scene. I read it because I admired Thanhha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again. This is a welcome companion to that first book.

Mia, and American-born child of Vietnamese descent, has a Vietnamese name (Mai) which she prefers not to use at school and with her friends. Mia has big plans for a summer spent at Laguna Beach with her best friend, imagining her first chance at romance. That plan is scuttled when her parents insist that she travel with her grandmother, Ba, to Vietnam for as long as it takes Ba to find out what really happened to her husband during the war. No choice is given, despite Mia's arguments.

Mai loves her grandmother; still, she is unsure how she will be able to care for her on such a long and arduous journey. She just hopes that they will find the information they are seeking in quick time. Then, she will be back at the beach to finish out her summer vacation.

Despite her heritage, Mai is an outsider when she gets to Vietnam. She is plagued by mosquitoes, has trouble digesting all of the foreign food. As she spends time with her grandmother and the extended family living there, she begins to see things differently. The land is quite beautiful, the food becomes more palatable, the family is entertaining and helpful. She starts to understand and speak this new language and to learn more than she has ever known about Vietnamese culture.

As she accompanies Ba to the meetings that may lead to information about her grandfather Ong, Mai learns to love her family's homeland through conversation and travel. With Anh Minh as their guide, she makes her way through the hustle and bustle of both Hanoi and Saigon, marvelling at the experiences and eventually wanting to prolong their visit.

Mai's voice is strong as she first shares her annoyance at being asked to change her summer plans,  then her growing interest and enthusiasm for all that she is learning. She shares her journey,
showing compassion for her grandmother, a growing love of family, their traditions and culture, and the resulting maturity that such an experience is sure to bring.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who Done It? Written and illustrated by Olivier Tallec. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Who forgot a
swimsuit?

Who's trying
to scare you?

I know that kids will love the look of this book. It is a rectangular shape with the spine at the top, and has three somewhat apprehensive characters huddled between the title words. Open it up, the title page shows two new characters: one full of confidence, the other does not seem so.

The first question is asked on a page showing two rows of characters (top and bottom) and is meant to focus the reader on finding the answer. Terrific characters, each with their own story for us to imagine, look back at the reader as a choice is made. Some of the questions are easily answered, while others take more considered thought.

The focus throughout this welcome book is the variety in emotions. Young readers may find themselves within its pages. If so, they are likely to want to share their stories. You can't help but take a very careful look at each of the characters while checking to see if there is only one answer. It's  great for getting the very young interested in a search and find type of book, with hopes that it will lead to more complicated texts. If you are not sure of the answer, there's a key at the back.

Olivier Tallec knows his audience. Once again, he gives us a book that will entertain and engage. I'd love to listen in on the conversations that arise as it is shared. Be sure to look for it!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Tea Party in the Woods, written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi. Kids Can Press, 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up


"Grandma's house was on
the other side of the woods.
Kikko set out, following her
father's tracks in the fresh
snow. The woods were very
still. And so quiet. Kikko's
footsteps were the only
sound. After a while, Kikko
spied a figure up ahead in a
long coat and a hat. "Papa!"
she called ... "

It is a winter wonderland in the morning when Kikko awakens. Her father is quick to head off to clear the snow at Grandma's house. When Kikko realizes he has forgotten to take the pie her mother baked, she offers to catch up to her father with it. Off she goes!

Her father is near enough to see. So, she follows in his footsteps until she stumbles and lags behind. No matter ... she can still see him when she is back on her feet. She continues to follow his familiar form; but, when that familiar form leads her to a house she has never seen before, she is at a loss. She peeks through a window to see a large bear removing his hat and coat. Where is she?

A little lamb assumes she has come to the tea party. In they go! The animals inside, dressed like humans and very reserved at first, are able to communicate with Kikko. They make her welcome, offer her food and drink. When they learn that the pie she was taking to Grandma is ruined, they  share theirs by boxing up a variety of beautiful pieces and packaging it with a red ribbon. Excitedly they walk with her to her grandmother's house, where she is met with surprise that she has made the trek on her own. Kikko looks around for her animal friends, and sees nothing. She does have an assurance for her concerned family:

"You're never alone in the woods," Kikko answered, smiling.
She was sure her new friends were listening."

What a gorgeous new storybook that has some of the elements of the always popular Little Red Riding Hood! Magical and mysterious, it will draw young readers in with its kindness, and the way in which the animals accept and welcome a small human 'intruder' to their party - and then help to solve the dilemma of the smashed pie.

The atmospheric artwork is beautifully accomplished using charcoal, pencil, and color ink. In fact, there is little color. That just adds to the sense of mystery and mood. Color is introduced to highlight the little girl and then the growing warmth she feels in company with her new friends.

Check every lovely image and you will fall in love with this book as I did. I will be sharing it tomorrow afternoon in K-4 classrooms and can't wait to hear the children's reaction to it. Then, I will put it on your 'keepers shelf' to be shared again and again. 
                                                                       

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Roller Girl, written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $14.99 ages 9 and up

"ASTRID!

I just want to tell you, you don't have to worry. I won't say Hi to you at school. I'll never say another word to you again!

I didn't want to hurt your feelings.

Who wants to hang out with you anyway? You're boring! And shallow!"

Graphic novels have changed enormously in past years, and I am indebted to those authors and illustrators who have created such brilliant works that I can now actually call myself a fan! I seek out titles that have come to my attention through review journals, or blog posts. I am rarely disappointed in the stories being told, and the characters portrayed.

That being said, I hope it won't be long until you meet Astrid. She and her friend Nicole are best buds, and always together. The summer between sixth and seventh grade is often a watershed year for those girls who have always looked to the other for support and friendship. It is a time when growing up can be very difficult to face alone. When Astrid signs up to go to roller derby camp, she takes it for granted that Nicole will be right by her side. If you are reading and watching carefully, you will know that Nicole is not nearly so keen to try this new sport. She prefers to attend ballet camp, leaving Astrid on her own in this new venture.

No matter ... Astrid is sure that roller derby is just the ticket for her awesome talents. She has few qualms about the skills she brings to it. It doesn't take long for her to realize that she is out of her league. The learning curve is enormous. Every day is a new lesson in taking the bumps and bruises that come when your skating skill is lacking and you hit the floor more often than not, in being hit while practicing how to avoid those hits by other team members, and the exhaustion that comes from being constantly on the move.

Fans of roller derby and those who don't yet know they are fans will find much to love about Astrid's story. The joys of the derby itself are presented in the way the sport is coached and its participants mentored, in the names that are chosen or given to each of the players, in the players themselves and
the mechanics of a match. Along the way, Astrid meets a new friend, Zoey, and makes some interesting discoveries about herself, friendship, and the roller derby. It takes hard work and stamina to learn a new skill, and this graphic novel demonstrates that clearly and with heart.

Honest and realistic, it encourages readers to consider the ups and downs of friendship. They are sure to react to the emotions shared, and the changes that come with growing older and realizing that there can be cheerful compromise and support when it is least expected. This is one terrific graphic novel and I don't want you to miss it!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. Written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Harper.2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Then he said to himself, "There is something special about that Bear." He felt inside his pocket and said, "I shouldn't." He paced back and forth and said, "I can't." Then his heart made up his mind, and he walked up to the trapper and said, "I'll give you twenty dollars for the bear."

Imagine yourself asking your mother for a bedtime story. Can you do it? Then, imagine that your mom decides that she will tell you a true story of her great-grandfather, a Canadian war veteran and veterinarian. Finally, imagine that on a trip across Canada by that great-grandfather, on his way to care for soldiers' horses in preparation for deployment to Europe, a fortuitous stop at a train station results in the acquisition of a bear cub.

That 'small, loving gesture' is at the heart of this lovely nonfiction book that will have young readers captivated and engaged from beginning to end. The veterinarian, Captain Harry Colebourn, affectionately names the bear Winnipeg in honor of his hometown. 'Winnie' is quickly adopted as a mascot for Harry and his fellow soldiers, winning hearts at every turn. The bond between the two is so strong that, when finally faced with making the ocean voyage to England, Harry decides to take Winnie with him.

Winnie thrives and brings great joy to the military men who love her. The orders come that the fight in France will soon begin. Harry realizes that his job there caring for the horses must take precedence. He  makes the difficult decision to take Winnie to the London Zoo where she will be safe and loved:

""There is something you must always
remember," Harry said. "It's the most
important thing, really. Even if we're
apart, I'll always love you. You'll always
be my Bear."

So, the story ends? Not by a long shot!

The ending to Harry and Winnie's story leads to another ... Mom tells Cole about Christopher Robin, his visits to Winnie at the London Zoo, and his father's stories about Christopher, his stuffed bear Winnie-the-Pooh and their many adventures.

Perhaps those will be the next bedtime stories Cole's mother shares.

There are many things to love about this book: the fact that it is a family story told with loving care, Cole's questions interspersed throughout that add charm and context, the beautifully, expressive watercolor artwork done by the distinguished Sophie Blackall to bring Winnie to glorious life through all parts of his life's journey, the family tree to help young readers understand the connection between the author and Captain Harry Colebourne, and the accompanying album of archival photos and artifacts that connect every element of this wonderful true story. It's a winner!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan. Written by Rui Umezawa and illustrated by Mikiko Fujita. Groundwood Books, 2015. $18.95 ages 12 and up

"Akana nodded faintly and allowed Samon to lead him by the hand into the hut. Samon directed his weary friend to a cushion and laid a tray of food in front of him. They say Akana covered his face with his sleeve at the sight, as if the smell nauseated him. Samon could not hide his irritation. "I'm sorry if my humble efforts do not please you. However, this was the best I could do."

I thought this would be one of those books where I could read a story when I had time, and just keep returning to it. I was dead wrong! Once started, I continually checked to see how long it would take to read the next one ... then the next ... and finally I was through it. The tales are eerie, and memorable. What fun to share in a classroom where you are considering the short story or folktales themselves! Your readers will surely appreciate the time spent and will see how the old stories have influenced life in Japan today.

There are eight tales told. Each is carefully sourced, and is likely to cause a touch of unease. They deal with topics of deception, trickery, jealousy, hatred, malice, conceit and esteem. They grab attention and engage readers from start to finish, often leaving us with questions for the inherent actions. They are not an easy read; once caught up in the action, they are impossible to put down. They are stories from the author's childhood and, as such, are treated with care in their contemporary retellings.

They are old classic tales, made modern for a new audience. They are often cautionary in tone, but I never felt that they were meant to teach a hard lesson. They are rich with supernatural beings, commanding in the telling and short ... which isn't always a good thing. It is, however, likely that it ups the appeal for many teen readers. For me, they were done too quickly and left me wanting more.
Each tale is accompanied by a pencil illustration that matches the tone of the story and adds a ghostly, meaningful setting. They are detailed and evoke one of the critical scenes from each of the tales shared. 

Whether it is the human element that readers can relate to, or the setting that is so aptly described, every reader will find a favorite ... and perhaps more than one. They will leave those readers wanting to spend time thinking about what they have just read and to pose lingering questions, perhaps even wanting to talk about it with a friend or group of friends. It is a terrific read and definitely worthy of our attention.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Transferral, written by Kate Blair. Dancing Cat Books, 2015. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"There must be another way to find the girl, a safer way. There's another crate here, a step out of this nightmarish market. I slip in my haste to get out. Where's the exit? I've been spun around, I don't know which way is south. I'm hemmed in on all sides by the graffiti-strewn walls of the estate, by the foggy rain, by the people and the smell of sweat, the sour scent of alcohol on breath ... "

I have read a few dystopian novels in the past few months - they are not my usual fare. They were on the reading list for a book jury for the Canadian Children's Book Centre. Whenever I read the books on our list, I am astounded by the variety of books being published in Canada. I always read some that I was not likely otherwise pick up. It is a real learning experience for me, and for my fellow jury members.

One that I found intriguing is this one. Talia lives in London, and is the daughter of a man wanting to be Prime Minister. The reality of Talia's life is that she is shielded from the world of poverty and desperation that many 'criminals' inhabit.  She is living at a time when society's criminals are sentenced to be injected with a variety of diseases, dependent upon the crime they have committed. Shoplifting may result in a cold or the flu; more serious crimes might have the criminal infected with polio or something worse (is that possible?). She supports her father's position on crime - until she comes face to face with the results of a misunderstanding and machinery of political power.

Guilt is evident for all those who display any type of illness or disease. Their place in London is one of alienation and despair. There is much in Kate Blair's story to attract attention and to engage her intended audience ... conflict with one's parents, political corruption, romance, the contrast between those who have everything and those who have nothing, the treatment of those people considered criminal for any number of minor and unpredictable reasons. She maintains a quick pace and assures that her readers are carried along, always wondering what the final pages might bring.

Talia is complicated, living with the guilt that she could not save her mother and younger sister from a homicidal maniac. She wants to live in a world where such a thing will never happen again. But, she makes discoveries about all that she has been given to believe when she does what she thinks is right for Tig. only to discover that nothing was as it appeared. As she learns more, her motivation is strong to make things right. Life is not always black and white, as she has been led to believe.

The dystopian world built by the author is compelling, realistic,  and frightening. It left me asking myself some uncomfortable questions, as I am sure it will do for all readers. I think it would make a terrific readaloud for a middle years classroom, or an awesome novel study with a group of interested teens. It's worth your time and attention.

Baba Yaga's Assistant, written by Marika McCoola and illsutrated by Emily Carroll. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $20.00 ages 10 and up

"Masha thought back on all the stories in which children outwitted Baba Yaga. In one, a young girl bribed Baba Yaga's dog to be quiet. And gave her cat a piece of fish in return for directions.

But that's all about escaping! I need to get in.

Then she remembered the gate."

A graphic novel that uses Russian folklore as a central theme is sure to give readers a bit of a scare due to its dark and dangerous feel. Her now deceased grandmother had always shared Baba Yaga stories with Masha. She spoke about living with the old witch, in a house that walked on chicken legs. Familiarity with that character through her grandmother's tales encourages Masha to apply for the advertised job as Baba Yaga's assistant. It seems a step up from the life she is living with her inattentive father and his new family.

Baba Yaga is a formidable taskmaster, demanding that Masha complete a series of tests; the first is to actually get into the chicken-legged house. With much praise and a bribe, she makes her way inside to find a list of tasks: '1. clean house. 2. care for pets 3. prepare dinner'. They are not easily accomplished. Masha gets help by remembering her grandmother's stories. Using these old stories brings a bit of modern magic to what Masha has learned from them. Baba Yaga is frightening in her demands and demeanor. Masha is able to bring humor to the telling with acerbic dialog, accomplishing the tasks given with success. If she had a chance to tell us, I think Baba Yaga would let us know that she is cheering for the bright, inventive, young girl.

Emily Carroll's digitally created artwork is in keeping with the drama of a story well told. She uses an entirely different style for the flashbacks to the Baba Yaga tales, and to the memories of stories shared between grandmother and granddaughter. It is a very effective way of keeping readers connected to how the present is influenced by the past. The addition of sketches for Masha, Grandma, the house, and Baba Yaga herself have additional appeal.

All fairy tale fans would do well to find a copy at the library or your local bookstore. Savor it, as it is a very special modern take on a traditional folktale ... and in graphic form, no less!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Day The Crayons Came Home, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel Books, Penguin. 2015. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"Hey Duncan, I'm sure you don't recognize me ... after the horrors I've been through. I think I was ... Tan Crayon? or maybe  ...  Burnt Sienna? I don't know ... I can't tell anymore.
Have you ever been eaten by a dog and puked up on the living room rug?"

If you are still reading The Day the Crayons Quit to your kids because they love it so much, I am sure you know that The Day The Crayons Came Home is more of the same. Parents will get a kick out of literate crayons being able to voice their discontent for the life they lead. Fans of the first are sure to chuckle right along as you share it.

Cleverly written and meant to turn our perception of the lowly crayon on its ear, the book features another set of postcards sure to raise some questions for their recipient, Duncan. The crayons have, and are allowed to voice their many complaints:

"Dear Duncan,
No one likes peas.
No one even likes the color
PEA GREEN. So I'm changing
my name and running away
to see the world.

Sincerely,
Esteban  ... the Magnificent!
(the crayon formerly known as PEA GREEN)

Often hilarious, certainly insightful, it can provoke thoughts with reader and listener about how we treat others in our lives - inanimate or not. The place that the various crayons find themselves in will be familiar to those who share their postcards. These are likely to evoke some sympathy, and encourage imagination as readers carefully consider Oliver Jeffers' surprising artwork. I can only imagine how excited they will be to discover the 'glow in the dark' crayon's memory. (And the spread glows in the dark!)

And how funny is this card:

"Hello Duncan,
It's me, BROWN crayon. You know
EXACTLY why I ran away, buddy!
Everyone thinks I get all the great coloring
jobs -candy bars, puppies, ponies. LUCKY me,
right? But they don't know what else you
used me to color, do they? I didn't think so.
The rest of that drawing was great,
but did it really need that final
brown scribble?
I'll come back, but please let's
stick to CANDY bars, ok?

Your VERY embarrassed friend,
BROWN CRAYON"

You need to know that the postcard is faced with THAT drawing entitled - "Bear goes in the woods."

These crayons don't mince any words when explaining to Duncan that they have needs, and better treatment. The vintage postcards, the asides, the continuing story of Esteban, and Duncan's solution for keeping everyone content ensures a happier ending. Rescue accomplished; wishes granted.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Enchanted Air, written by Margarita Engle. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2015. $19.99 ages 10 and up

“It really is possible to feel
 like two people
at the same time,

when your parents
grandparents
memories
words
come from two
different
worlds.”

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you will know Margarita Engle and her brilliant writing. I am in awe of her skill with words and her ability to use poetry to tell the most memorable and heartbreaking stories. Every word is chosen with extreme care, and used to create stories that need to be shared.

Her stories of Cuba, where her mother was born and where Margarita spent lovely family vacations, are lessons in culture and caring about others. In Enchanted Air, she writes about growing up in Los Angeles while loving both countries. The strain between the two have a tremendous effect on the entire family, and cause great anxiety for the young girl. It is her own story; yet, it speaks to the many who come from other countries to settle in a new and unfamiliar place with questions needing answers about fitting in and finding a home.

 “Is there any way that two people
 from faraway places
 can ever really
understand each other’s
daydreams?”

The two lives - life on the island and life in Los Angeles - could not be more different for her. As the war between Cuba and the United States worsens, her worry increases. Her fears for those who live in Cuba and the plight of the Cuban people living in America are expressed in the writing that we are blessed to share. It is such a personal story, allowing us to see into her heart and feel the pain that she is feeling, and into her head to see the sense of hope that comes from writing it down. Her love of words and the books that house them is the same in both places.

"The ugliness of war photos
and the uncertainty of TV news
join the memory of FBI questions
to make me feel like climbing into
my own secret world.

Books are enchanted. Books help me travel.
Books help me breathe.

When I climb a tree, I take a book with me.
When I walk home from school, I carry
my own poems, inside my mind,
where no one else
can reach the words
that are entirely
completely
forever
mine."

This heartfelt memoir simply ups my admiration, encouraging me to continue to read every story from her skilled hands.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Worm Loves Worm, written by J. J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

""You'll need to get rings
to wear on your fingers,"
says Cricket. "That's how
it's always been done."

"But we don't have fingers,"
says Worm.

"We can wear them like
belts," says Worm."

Is getting married ever simple these days? Weddings seem to be much more complicated than they need to be; just ask Worm and Worm. They love each other, and want to get married. It seems pretty straightforward ... until Cricket and a host of other friends feel the need to offer advice and be heard when it comes to the planning.

Cricket insists that someone be there to perform the ceremony ... and volunteers his services. Worm and Worm are now ready to be married. Beetle steps in to say he will act as 'best beetle'. Fine, now they can be married!

Do you see where I am going with this? At every turn, someone else feels the need to make a personal suggestion for the wedding. The two worms are deferential to all advice given. They respond patiently, and with aplomb. Then, the bees present ideas that require help from Spider to get the show on the road.

"But you still need
a white dress,
a tuxedo, a top hat,
lots and lots of flowers,
and a cake with frosting,"
say the Bees."

Finally, they can be married!

One more question needs to be answered - who is the bride and who is the groom?

Worm and Worm, who love each other and want to be married for that reason alone, stand tradition on its ear and come up with the perfect response. Huzzah!

Mike Curato uses white backgrounds to keep our attention focused on the cast of wedding characters as they 'worm' their way into the planning and execution of the ceremony that results following a stated desire to be together. We know which worm is which because of their eyes. What we know best is that they love each other.

And on this Valentine's Day, we can be happy that love does conquer all!
                                                                            

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Swimming, Swimming, written and illustrated by Gary Clement. Groundwood Books, 2015. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"Swimming, swimming
In a swimming pool.
When days are hot
When days are cold
In a swimming pool.
Breaststroke
Sidestroke
Fancy diving too!
Oh don't you wish you
never had anything else
to do?"

On freezing cold days on the Canadian prairies, as today is, most people living here allow themselves to dream about the weather warming and the fact that summer will come again. No matter how HARD that is to believe when the wind chill temperatures dip into the mid -40s! Perhaps that dreaming includes happy days at the pool.

This song was always a go-to favorite when I was teaching in early years classrooms. It is a song that I sing daily to my granddaughter, who doesn't mind if I am off-key, so long as I am singing. How cool is that?

With kindergartners, we used the actions shown in the video at the end of this post. It was great fun! We will try that as Sicily gets older. In the meantime, I will put this fun book on her shelf to share with her when she is next here for a visit. Maybe we will even make a trip to the pool where I once swam.

The public outdoor swimming pool at the fairgrounds was one of our haunts on hot summer days when we were growing up. The water was clear and COLD, and we loved that. I looked forward to spending time with my friends and to taking swimming lessons there. So many people, so much noise, and always a great deal of fun to be had.

This could be our story .... friends at the pool on a summer day. It's pretty ordinary but most enjoyable nonetheless.  There are four of them - three boys and a girl. The swim stroke endpapers are inviting and informative, including each of the book's characters in one of the demonstrations. The main character is obviously a swimming enthusiast. It is easy to tell by the posters that enhance his walls, the swimming paraphernalia on his floor. Once ready for the walk to the pool, he meets his friends at the end of the sidewalk and they are off for a day of exercise and sun.

It is wordless until the four are finally fully wet, and in the water. Then, they burst into a song about the joys of being just exactly where they are. Once they are out of the pool, we return to silence and depend on Gary Clement's pen and ink and watercolor images to finish their tale. The boy returns home, has dinner, feeds his fish and heads for bed. It's the end of another fun-filled summer day!

This book should be on the desks of city councillors struggling with the need to cut the budget, and planning to do so by closing community swimming pools! These pools do now, and have always, brought joy and lasting memories for those kids who flock to swim there. Please, try to remember that when making decisions about the cuts that must be made.

Check out http://www.groundwoodbooks.com/swimalong if you want to see how to act out this perennial favorite.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Over-Scheduled Andrew, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. Tundra Books, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Andrew was a natural actor, but even naturals have to practice. His teacher suggested that he work on his public speaking by joining the debate club. As Andrew's voice got stronger, so did his arguments."

There is so much that Andrew wants to, and can, do! His many interests leave him over-extended and overwhelmed at times. He just doesn't know how to put the brakes on his enthusiasm.

His love for theatre has him joining the debate team to improve his diction and public speaking skills. Then, it's ballet and karate. But, that isn't all. What about chess, the French film club ... can there be more? Indeed, there can be.

"Andrew was busy. Three days a week he stayed after school for
one of his clubs.

Afterwards, he went to ballet or karate then home for dinner, homework and bed."

To be fair, the choices made are not at the insistence of Andrew's parents. His teacher suggests the debate club; Calvin suggests chess; his coach asks him to play tennis, Chris needs a school newspaper editor; even Grandma has an idea - the bagpipes.

His friendship with Edie is faltering: he can find no more than fifteen minutes to be with his best friend. It isn't long until his work suffers at almost every turn.

"Andrew's schedule was getting all mixed up in his head.
He danced his way through debate club.

He argued his way through karate.

He honked his way through tennis.

And he backhanded his chess match."

He slept through what he most loved to do, and missed spending time with Edie. I sense a change coming!

Plenty of white space allows readers a clear look at all that Andrew is attempting to accomplish in a day. The digital images give us expressive characters in colorful outfits, appropriate to the activity being pursued. Endpapers show what Andrew's schedule looks like, including sleeping in until 5:30 a.m. on SATURDAY! What the what?!?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lizard from the Park, written and illustrated by Mark Pett. Simon & Schuster, 2015. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"In the morning, Leonard
noticed something.
The egg began to jiggle
and crack. Then a nose
busted through the shell.
It was a lizard! Leonard
watched as the lizard
busted through the rest
of the shell ... "

On a shortcut through the park, while on his way home one day,  Leonard happens upon an egg ... unlike any he has ever seen. Popping it in his backpack, he takes it with him. Leonard spends the rest of his day playing with the egg, and then sleeping with it, too.

Morning brings movement, and a great deal of excitement when he discovers that a lizard has hatched! Immediately naming his new friend Buster, Leonard takes him on a walkabout to all of his favorite city haunts. The two spend all their time together. Time passes, causing Leonard to take note of Buster's ever-changing size.

"Meanwhile, the bigger Buster got,
the more Leonard had to disguise
him so that he would fit it among the
city crowds."

The growing doesn't stop. It takes patience and a good deal of ingenuity to assure Buster's happiness in a more familiar setting.

In this most enjoyable visit to New York City, Mark Pett uses charcoal and digital paints in a muted, gentle palette for the backgrounds while keeping Leonard and Buster the center of our attention. Leonard is a dear and loyal friends who does what is best for Buster. If you were carefully watching, you will not be surprised to see that Leonard soothes his loneliness with someone who knows exactly how he feels.
                                                                       

                                                                       

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How Things Came to Be: Inuit Stories of Creation, by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley and illustrated by Emily Fiegenschuh and Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2015. $16.95 ages 8 and up

"As Inuit say it, this was the most sensible way to view the world. Did it not require a power, of some kind, to make the Sun shine? They believed that the powers of the first beings were greatest of all. So great that they could become whatever they wished. A person could become the Sun itself, or the Moon. It was will that drove all. Rage, fear, love: these could move the Land and Sea."

There are nine stories told here. Their topics range from the birth of children, to the origins of the sun and moon, day and night, even thunder and lightning. 

A detailed introduction will help young readers to understand Inuit beliefs about the Land:

"Inuit watched the Land. They understood that little things
become the great powers of the world. A snowflake becomes part of
a storm. A ripple in the water joins a great tide. A ray of light is the
sun's warmth, melting away winter snow.
One who hears a story may remember it, and with memory
may come understanding. The child grows with understanding."

A note 'about endings' and a Glossary of Inuktitut Terms bring the book to a close. In between, the nine stories will entertain and inform with clear and straightforward language. They can be read together or separately, on one day or over many. The contain new ideas that may become clearer in subsequent visits. The invite discussion with others.

"Once stone and soil had fallen, babies came. They emerged from the Land like flowers. Life came from the Land. There was little difference between animals and humans. All were equal beings. Every creature could understand every other. They lived with each other. Learned from one another. They were family."

The illustrations are attractive, and keep to the tone and imagery of the stories being shared. The colors are varied and reflect the mood of the telling. The authors are avid folklorists, sharing their stories in hopes that others will appreciate the land that gives life and sustenance to all creatures. This is another book worthy of our attention. Through its stories we gain awareness of the creation myths that have long been part of the oral tradition of the Inuit people.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. Written by Nadia Spiegelman and illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez. A TOON Graphic, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $23.95 ages 7 and up

"So, today we are going to the
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING,
and we'll be learning a bit about
the subway along the way.
What are YOUR favorite trains?

The Q train because it goes over
a bridge!
The G train because it's so little.
The L because when it goes under
the river, my ears pop."

Pablo and his family have made many moves; he has already attended five previous schools. When he arrives at his newest, he just wants his parents to drop him and be on their way. On his first day there, he discovers that he and his classmates are taking a field trip to the Empire State Building. Some start!

After a class discussion of the subway system, they are on their way. Pablo's previous changes in schools have left him wanting to make no real connections since he is likely to be leaving anyway. So, Alicia's attempts to be befriend him are met with some hesitation. However, when the two become separated from the rest of the class, Pablo tries to accept her help. With his resistance and her persistence, they are soon squabbling over what they should do.

His self-assurance soon finds Pablo alone, and trying to navigate the underground subway system to get himself to the class destination. The trip is some introduction to his new school, his new environs and perhaps a new friend.

The story is straightforward, as well as being a teacher's nightmare. Adults and young readers are sure to respond in markedly different ways to the trip. What child wouldn't love the adventure that awaits when separated from the group? It's a chance to prove oneself when facing down the butterflies felt for being on your own in a new place. It takes ingenuity and courage to be successful ... which Pablo thankfully is.

The art is what lifts the book to an even higher level. Sergio Garcia Sanchez amazes with his architectural details of the city from above the ground, and from the underground transportation system that is an iconic part of a New Yorker's life. The crowds, the ever-present signs, the map of the field trip itself, and the feeling that is evoked for anyone visiting the Big Apple are accurately  detailed and unmistakable. The cutaways add another dimension, as do the many perspective changes. We are not done there. The author and illustrator also include information concerning the construction and history of the subway systems, archival photos, and endpaper maps of both the underground and aboveground trips.

End matter includes 6 pages of details concerning subway history, more photos, and a list for further reading, including online resources. Don't miss the story of Sergio and the cop on his first day in New York. It will send you right back to reading it all over again ... and upping the joy for having such an incredible book in your hands.
                                                                    

Monday, February 8, 2016

Loula and Mister the Monster, written and illustrated by Anne Villeneuve. Kids Can Press, 2015. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"That night, Loula is too worried to sleep. She calls a meeting. "Mister, this is a serious matter. If you don't stop with the bad manners, Mama will throw you out, like an old pair of shoes! What would I do without you?" Loula gives Mister a kiss goodnight. "Don't worry, I'll think of something," she tells him as she drifts off to sleep. "I'm going to turn you into ... "

How big a mess do you suppose one Great Dane can make? Loula loves Mister with gusto. They go everywhere together ... and life is good! When Loula overhears a conversation that her mother is having about the MONSTER that is driving her mad, she assumes she must mean  the drooling, messy, bulldozer of a dog that is her best friend.

What can Loula do to make things better? She thinks long and hard, then settles on teaching him
some much-needed manners. How do you think that will go? She bathes him, dresses him in her father's tie, and tries to teach him table manners. Those darn cheese tarts are just too tempting! A lack of cleanliness and eating etiquette lead to disillusionment and a thoughtful sit on the front step.

Of course, Gilbert the chauffeur steps in, offering whatever help he might give. Lesson Three is a disaster, but Four offers promise. Five is impossible. Six is a disaster. A return home and a visit with her mother provides a surprise ending - and a reprieve for Mister and his loving owner.

Once again, Anne Villeneuve uses ink and watercolor to give her readers a real sense of the love shared, and the terror and chaos caused by an exuberant, hilarious dog. She uses every bit of each page to ensure we are thoroughly entertained while also experiencing a sense of dread over what might happen when all attempts to socialize Mister fail. Laugh out loud funny, this is a wonderful addition to this very appealing series.

If you haven't yet met Loula, you are in for a lovely time when you finally do!
                                                                    


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sing A Season Song, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Lisel Jane Ashlock. Creative Editions, Raincoast. 2015. $27.99 ages 3 and up

"Snow, snow,
shiver and blow.
Icicle popsicles
drip, drop and
dropsicles.

High-balling,
low-balling,
and it keeps going
on snowing."

We were expecting snow today; it did not materialize. We do have high winds and much cooler temperatures to remind us that Super Bowl Sunday in Manitoba means winter for a while yet!

You can tell from the opening quote that wordsmith Jane Yolen is ready to fill our heads with images of the seasons and the songs they are sure to evoke in an accomplished poet. In this book, the seasons pass in a forest environment. As one season ends, another begins.

"Frogs, trees,
hum-bumble bees,
blossoms and possums
and gossamer breeze."

Lavish and lovely words are accompanied by double-page spreads filled with brilliant color, the lively range of animals who call the forest home, the serenity and beauty that each season brings. It is a celebration, moving us seamlessly from one winter through the passing year until winter comes round again.
                                                                                  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"At first it felt difficult to imagine a story, so she looked harder at the picture. Are the bears best friends? she wondered. Maybe the Blue Bear is bringing honey as a gift. Bears love honey. BLUE BEAR'S VISIT - now, that's a good title, she thought. Then she began to tell herself a story: Blue Bear arrived on the first day of spring. He promised ... "

If you have not had the pleasure of poring over Pamela Zagarenski's exceptional mixed media paintings in other works, you are in for a real treat. Please give yourself the time needed to examine every small detail. You will come away from the book in awe of such talent and beauty. Of her work she says:

"I could go on and on about my specific reasons for why I paint people the way I do, my use of imagery such as crowns and teacups, wheels, bowls, bees, foxes, and whales ... and why I use bits of my great-grandmother's passport from Lithuania in almost every painting. But what I honestly wish for the children and adults looking at my paintings is the chance to imagine the stories and reasons for themselves."

What an invitation for joyful attention to the pages of this new book that tells the tale of a red-caped girl who is blessed with a love of stories and a teacher who recognizes and encourages that love. Noticing a mysterious book on a high shelf, the girl reveals a curiosity about it. The teacher lends it, promising magic in the stories it contains. In her excitement to get home and get started at the reading, the girl is unaware that, as she runs, the words are tumbling out of its pages. When she gets home there are no stories, only pictures. What will she do?

A wind's whisper offers advice:

"Dear little girl, don't be disappointed.
You can imagine the words.
You can imagine the stories.
Start with a few simple words and imagine from there.
Remember: beginnings, middles, and ends of
stories can always be changed and imagined differently.
There are never any rules, rights or wrongs in imagining -
imagining just is."

The text runs along the bottom of the pages in accompaniment to the glorious spreads above. As she narrates her own stories for the pictures, leaving them always incomplete, readers will understand that they may have tales of their own to tell ... and tell them they can.

The fox, present and watching on each page, eventually returns the words to the little one. It is then she realizes that she no longer has any need for them. In a nod to one of Aesop's beloved fables, the fox asks for and accepts needed help to get the grapes he covets -  and a new ending for his own story! His story is told on the splendid endpapers.
                                                                         

Friday, February 5, 2016

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis. National Geographic, Random House. 2015. 28.99 all ages

"How could
one slight
slit,
just a tiny bit
of a crack
in the cover
of clouds,
permit
such a pouring of sun
that engulfs
EVERYONE?"

This poem by Constance Levy is only one of the more than 200 that J. Patrick Lewis, anthologist extraordinaire, has included in his companion book to 2012's National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry.

The poems are penned by past and present writers who celebrate the natural world in carefully chosen words and scenes meant to inspire readers with wonder. Accompanied by astonishing photographs that celebrate the beauty of this natural world, this new collection should always be within sight of children and adults so that they might daily enjoy the splendor of the combination of word and image.

It is a testament to the inspiration that sends writers looking for pen and paper. Lucky we are to share in the joy and wonder they feel when presented with nature's beauty!

"When It Is
Snowing

When it is snowing
the blue jay
is the only piece of
sky
in my
backyard.

- Siv Cedering"

"Sun Dogs

The sun made a special appearance
on his balcony, above the crowd,
surrounded by a halo
of diamond dust and clouds.

On either side of him there stood
two sun dogs, north and south,
keeping almost silent guard,
growls slipping from their mouths.

When the sun excused his audience
and disappeared in the dark,

he dismissed the sun dogs,
one and two, to guard the city parks.

                             - Janet Wong"

"Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

                          - W. H. Davies"

Breathtaking!

Now, get out there with pen, paper, camera, paints, pencils ... whatever sparks creativity for you and find something to ache to represent such beauty. Surprise yourself!
 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mango, Abuela, and Me. Written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 5 and up

"The rest of the winter, while Mami and Papi are at work, Abuela waits for me to get home from school. Then we bundle up in thick socks and handmade sweaters to walk in the park and toss bread to the sparrows. My espanol is not good enough to tell her the things an abuela should know. Like how I am the very best in art ... "

In a story that will resonate with children who live far away from their grandparents, especially those who speak a heritage language that is largely unknown to their grandchildren, we meet Mia and her Abuela. Abuela has left the sunshine of her home country to come to live with Mia and her family in a snowy city. The apartment is small; the two must share a bedroom. Despite their close proximity, there is a language barrier that creates a problem for them. Abuela doesn't know English, Mia doesn't know Spanish.

Mia has a plan: she will teach her Abuela the language she needs to make life in her new home more satisfying, and much happier.

"Then I remember the word cards we taped in our classroom to help Kim. So, while Abuela fries our empanadas, I put up word cards, too, until everything is covered - "

A colorful parrot is added to the mix after a visit to the pet shop. He will remind Abuela of home and keep her company while the family is away during the day. It is a  terrific match, with Mango and Abuela learning language together. It isn't long until Mia's grandmother is feeling much more comfortable in her new home. Her smiles grow brighter and life takes on new meaning as she is able to share stories of home and family with Mia.

This is a lovely intergenerational story, narrated in Mia's clear voice. Angela Dominguez matches the warm tone of the telling with her 'ink, gouache, and marker, with a sprinkling of digital magic' art. The colors are as bright as Mango's glorious feathers. The friendliness of the community is evident in the urban setting she creates. The growth in love and understanding that both Mia and her Abuela experience is lovely to watch as each page is turned ... a warm celebration of family and culture.
                                                                            

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Big Bear, little chair, written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"Big Plant

little cocoon

little umbrella

Big Bird

Big Zebra

little broom

little butterfly

Big Rock"

Lizi Boyd, as she has done before, captivates her audience in this newest book that considers opposites in unusual ways. The word pair, little and big, focuses her readers on the concept of size of objects in relation to one another.

There are four distinct sections. First is Big Bear little chair, the second Big Chair little bear, and the third returns to Big Bear little chair - this section includes the addition of the word 'tiny'. The final two pages are the culmination of everything has come before this point in the book.

While the text is simple, the concept itself looms large with the addition of Ms. Boyd's brilliant and creative gouache illustrations. The book's  design is so attractive and perfect for little hands, leaving a lasting image when young children think on the concept of size. Changes in font to describe what they are seeing helps them when considering the unique stories being told in its art. The thin, seemingly tall, book assures that it is unique in its presentation. The illustrations are mostly black, gray and white, with bursts of red. They allow children to look closely and use their imaginations to determine the stories being told.

"Big bear
little bear
tiny stories ...
everywhere!"

Lizi Boyd is a master storyteller and a marvelous artist. This book proves it one more time! Every time you share it you will find something new. Enjoy!

                                                                          

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Love You Already! Written by Jory John and illustrated by Benji Davies. Harper. 2016. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"We can spend some
quality time together."
"No."
"I'll tell you my life's
story."
"No."
"You'll tell me your
life's story?"
"No."
"We'll get some exercise."
"No."

I love to read new stories which feature characters I admire. When I read Goodnight Already! I couldn't help but fall for Bear and Duck. They are such an opposing pair! Bear seeks comfort in quiet times and solitude. Duck waddles through life with more enthusiasm and spunk than a flock of his own kind. As we learned that last time, Duck thinks that being with Bear is pure bliss and will provide much needed 'together' time.

When morning breaks and Bear is lazing about his house for a quiet weekend, he prepares tea and heads for his favorite chair. Next door, Duck is in bed, dipping cookies in something that can be sipped through a straw, while reading a book called 101 Walks to take with BEARS. Something is in the offing; we are about to see once more that Duck is keen to get the day going with Bear in tow. The humor is as welcome as ever. Though the two are at opposite ends of the action spectrum, they make quite the pair.

 Bear, glasses poised on top of his head for reading the pile of books that sit on the floor beside him, with music playing and hot tea at hand, is roused from the quiet by loud banging on his front door and an insistent declaration that the two are going for a walk. Oh no, they are not! Bear is BUSY. It doesn't seem so to Duck who peers through the door's window. The conversation goes back and forth from outside to inside until Bear relents and they are off. The walk does not improve Bear's grumpiness until it appears that Duck might have been injured in a fall from a tree. That is exactly when the love between friends becomes evident to Duck. He is most appreciative and willingly offers daily visits!

"I've got 
to stop
answering
my door."   Bear concludes.

Benji Davies captures both personalities with wit and great affection. The humor is amped up with the many details he adds to his engaging illustrations. The colorful backgrounds, the bold colors, and the many spot images allow young readers to see the interaction between the two from start to finish.

Kids are going to love it! Just wait until they can read it for themselves.  
                                                               
                                                                 
 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Here Comes Valentine Cat, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Valentine's Day doesn't
have to be all mushy.
Why don't you make a
valentine for a friend?
Your stuffed squid?
Yes, I'm sure Squiddy
would like a valentine.
But maybe someone
who isn't a stuffed animal?"

That cat is back! Tactless as ever, Cat is not impressed with the upcoming Valentine's Day hoopla. Communicating with the ever-present, never seen, person who asks the questions needing answers, Cat uses carefully written signs and other appropriate materials to make a point. Turns out that Cat has no other friend to enjoy the arrival of a sent valentine.

A bone is thrown over the fence at a very opportune moment and the suggestion is made that perhaps Dog (the new one next door) would be the grateful recipient of a card from a feline friend. Friend? Cat doesn't think so! This is not the first bone thrown. Thinking that the dog is out to make life miserable for his new neighbor, the Valentine missive sent does not evoke welcome or mimic the endearing message generally sent.

"Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
Who's the worst
neighbor?
I think it's you!"

Oh, boy!

Next up, Cat prepares to build a rocket to send Dog to the moon! The pointed tip soon captures a valentine from Dog that leaves Cat feeling just a tad sheepish. Now what?

As in past Cat tales, Claudia Rueda matches the winning text with ink and colored pencil drawings that offer a ton of white space, making Cat the center for all of our attention. The emotions felt are evident on every page, and provide an abundance of humor and charm. This is a joyful and wickedly funny addition to the other Cat adventures; you need to have this book!