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Monday, October 31, 2016

Good Night, Baddies. Written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Juli Kangas. Beach Lane, 2016. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Poor old troll,
your life is tough:
a muddy wait for
three goats gruff.
You deserve a nice
long scrub,
so add some bubbles
to the tub.
Wolves, today was
not so good."

Halloween seems the perfect time to give some love to the bad guys of fairy tale fame. It rarely happens, does it? Today I am sharing a bedtime story that gives voice to those bad ones ... witch, wolf, giant, troll, gnome, dragon. You know them!

Seems they like to get together at the end of their trying days and talk together before bed. They spend time sharing news of that day, and asking questions of others who tell of their trials and tribulations. It's great for winding down.

"Baddies sit politely dining,
no one throwing food or whining.
All day long they must be vile;
now, at night, they chat and smile."

The characters are tender and kind-hearted, the background is quiet and peaceful. Ms. Underwood's rhymes are matched brilliantly by the watercolor images washed with oils. Readers will have a great deal of fun associating each of the spreads with familiar folks from their favorite fairy tales.

They begin with a chase - a terrified Jack holding the golden goose and running while a sweaty, somber giant follows in his footsteps, crushing all trees in his path. Then, each 'baddie' (including the giant) finds the way home to a cordial castle setting where there is no evident anger or animosity. There will be much discussion of and wonder at the details created by Ms. Kangas.

Strange to learn that we have much in common with those who create chaos and concern within the pages of beloved books. They, too, are tired at the end of long, busy days and seek the pleasures of a delicious meal, a warm bath and a shared story before turning out the lights.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Family Is A Family Is A Family, written by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Qin Leng. Groundwood. 2016. $.18.95 ages 3 and up

"One week Mom gets me.
The next week Dad does.
Fair's fair."

Some people say I look
like my dad and some
people say I look like
my mom. I think I look
like myself.

"My mom says that ... "

When I shared this book in a recent workshop, one of the students asked if there was a blended family. I was happy to tell her that I could not think of a 'family' that was not included. Since then, I have thought about the book, reread it a number of times, and stand by that answer.

It begins in an early years classroom. Thirteen students are seated at desks in a circle, intent on hearing their teacher's question. Why do the kids think their family is unique - not like all other families?

An observant reader will note the child with closed eyes, red cheeks, and a less than open and eager countenance. We all hear the narrator's uncertainty:

"I went last because I wasn't sure what to say.
My family is not like everyone else's."

On the following pages, we hear the voices of each of the children in the class. Those voices are real, funny, matter-of-fact, and eager to share exactly what makes their own family so special. Qin Leng's ink on paper, then colored digitally illustrations are filled with detail, color, and so much love. Kids will find themselves within these pages. That is its strength.

LOVE it!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Nobody Likes a Goblin, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke. First Second Books, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $20.50 ages 4 and up

"The farmer, the innkeeper,
and the elves chased Goblin
to the edge of the Haunted
Swamp, and there Goblin
saw adventurers pulling a
cartload of spoils. And
sitting atop the treasure was -
"Skeleton!" shouted Goblin."

I know that I have sung praises for Ben Hatke's work in other posts. This is just another example of the power he brings to storytelling. This time he tells another story of warm friendship and courage, much like Little Robot in terms of the feelings it creates for readers.

Goblin will tug at your heartstrings as soon as he awakens, gets his day started, and heads off to see Skeleton.

"He lit the torches.
He fed the rats.
He gnawed on an old boot for breakfast,
and he thought about the day ahead."

Skeleton and Goblin share the joys of days spent together until a band of adventurers burst into the dungeon, creating great havoc which ends with Skeleton's capture. Donning a crown, Goblin sets out on a mission to find his friend. Counsel from his neighbor Troll that 'nobody likes a goblin' goes unheeded. Goblin has important work to do.

Troll's warning is proven correct in subsequent meetings with a farmer, an innkeeper, some elves - they all give chase, bearing a pitchfork and a frying pan and a good deal of anger and revenge. A chance meeting with the plunderers offers just the right circumstance for Goblin to save his best friend!

A chase ensues and they are able to find refuge in a sheltered cave nearby. There, Goblin proclaims that Troll had the right idea about resentful feelings concerning goblins. Skeleton pooh-poohs such nonsense. It isn't long until others nod in agreement, and choose to defend his honor and his position of power in the face of the interlopers. You will be delighted to meet his defenders!

There is danger; there is also love, and loyalty, and showing courage in the face of any danger than threatens a friend. I admire the details, the setting, the action, and the joy exhibited when life returns to normal. Who knew a goblin had heroic tendencies and friendship in his heart? We just needed to give him a chance!

Friday, October 28, 2016

We Are Growing! Written and illustrated by Laurie Keller. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2016. $10.99 ages 6 and up

"You are growing CURLY.
I am the CURLIEST!

You are growing SILLY!
I am the SILLIEST!

We are POINTY.
We are the POINTIEST!

You are crunchy.

In this second book of the first pair in the new series, Laurie Keller introduces her readers to the world of adjectives and superlatives. There are eight blades of grass and they all talk ... well, seven do most of the talking and one does the thinking. Each one of them has a very special trait ... they mention this as they discover that they are growing!  Walt is absolutely sure about what he is not; he has no real claim to fame, it seems. OR DOES HE?

His friends want to help, but they are powerless in determining which is his best trait. When a lawn mower changes their perception of themselves, it takes their own reassuring voices to bring harmony. They know they will keep growing. Before that happens, Walt makes a self-discovery that leaves him feeling very content.

This funny, dialogue-filled book is sure to be enjoyed by early readers and is, once again, perfect for reading together. The expressive blades of grass will attract careful attention, and encourage readers to think about their own strengths ... even in the event of a big change. Ms. Keller makes watching grass grow a real adventure!

Elephant and Piggie would like to sum it up for us:

"This book is the FUNNIEST!"
"I love to read."
"Me, too."
"Do you know what that makes us?"


Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Cookie Fiasco, written and illustrated by Dan Santat. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2016. $$10.99 ages 6 and up




Stop that!
Show us the cookies!"

We all knew how much we would miss Elephant and Piggie, didn't we? So, I was very happy to receive this first book in a new series, Elephant and Piggie Like Reading. Even better to know that Dan Santat was responsible for the laughs, the learning and growing the love of little ones for independently connecting with a picture book.

Gerald and Piggie provide an introduction:

"I want to read this funny book!
Me, too!
But how can the 2 of us read this 1 book?
We can read it 2-together!"

Perfect premise for a book that is filled with grand voices and an even grander problem. There are four friends here, and only three cookies. It is Crocodile notes the dilemma and shares his discovery with great consternation.


The rest of the book is spent with the friends trying to deal with the untenable situation ... all with great drama and much hilarity. Kids are going to love reading it together. To say that Hippo, Crocodile, and the two Squirrels have a math deficiency is stating the obvious, and readers will be wanting to help them sort through their problem. What a fun way to learn about sharing, fractions and problem solving!

The color-coded speech balloons will help a group of four reading friends as they share the book, and would provide a great drama to be acted out for their classmates. Now, that is loving reading! The surprise ending simply ups the enjoyment.

Piggie and Gerald bring closure to an auspicious beginning for this brilliant new series.

"That was a fun book!"
"But now I am hungry for a cookie!
Now I am thirsty for milk!
Good books make me feel big things ... "

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I DON'T WANT TO BE BIG, written by Dev Petty and illustrated by Mike Boldt. Doubleday, Penguin. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"You can't stay small forever.
An ant stays small forever.
So now you want to be an ant?
Not really.
Don't you want to be tall?
I have you to be tall for me.
You can just carry me around. That will work out great."

I hope you recognize this incredibly expressive frog from his first rant about not wanting to be one. In 2015's I Don't Want To Be A Frog, he provided a glorious voice for reading out loud to groups of little ones who understood exactly why he had that particular complaint. Kids would often like to be something other than themselves.

This time he has decided that he has no interest in getting any bigger. Should he do so, it is bound to change his life as he lives it. His father tries to appeal to what he believes his son ultimately should want - to be bigger! Wrong! Dad offers up a few reasons; all are pooh-poohed by the youngster. He doesn't care to meet the bulgy-eyed tree frogs. He doesn't care how high food is placed. After all, he has friends big enough to help him when he needs help.

He does have some strong arguments for remaining the same ... leg and head room, being able to find a good hiding place for hide-and-seek. On a 1-10 scale for being sure about remaining as he is, he sits at 11. It is not until Pig comes along to help him really understand the value in being bigger than he is, and to recognize that being big doesn't mean you have to grow up.

Mike Boldt keeps the facial expressions absolutely in line with each personality. The concerns on each frog's part are clear and comical. This new adventure is funny and certainly great fun to read aloud. Now, I just have to find a classroom where I can share it! I will be sure to take their first book along ... just in case I have some extra time.

Oh, and there is a surprise ending that just might provide a clue to Frog's next complaint!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Narwhal, written by Solomon Awa and illustrated by Hwei Lim. Polar Bear, written by William Flaherty and illustrated by Danny Christopher. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2016. $15,.95 ages 8 and up

"Narwhals usually travel in groups of about 10 to 20 whales. A group of narwhals is called a "pod." In the winter they live in deep water that is covered in ice. In the spring, narwhals move toward land, and by the summer they live in shallower water closer to land."
Kids will learn about how narwhal raise their young in the cold Arctic Ocean, what they eat, and where they can be found, along with other interesting information, like the fact that a narwhal’s long tusk is actually a tooth!
"Most bears are land animals, but polar bears are unique! They live on the land, the sea ice and in open water. Polar bears are very adaptable. In the summer months, they can be found on land and along the shoreline. During the winter they can travel great distances out onto the sea ice, and they use the sea ice to hunt from." 
In the book Polar Bear, kids will learn how polar bears raise their babies, what they eat and how they hunt, where they can be found and other interesting information, like the fact that polar bears actually have transparent fur and black skin!

In this new nonfiction series from Inhabit Media, called Animals Illustrated, young readers will learn many facts about the featured animal. These books about animals living in the Arctic include first hand accounts from the authors who live there, and many interesting facts concerning behavior and biology. The accompanying illustrations are detailed and give evidence for the natural northern beauty of their habitat.

Each has a useful table of contents, and welcome notes on their authors and illustrators.   

Monday, October 24, 2016

Blocks, written and illustrated by Irene Dickson. Nosy Crow, Candlewick. Random House, 2016. $20.00 ages 2 and up

"Ruby has red blocks.

Ruby builds with her red

Benji has blue blocks.

Benji builds with his blue

All is well until Benji reaches across the book's gutter to take one of Ruby's red blocks. Ruby cannot hide her concern and amazement at his audacity. What is he thinking?

Toddlers know exactly what Benji is thinking, while also understanding just exactly how Ruby is feeling about it. You have heard the word "Mine" often if you are living with, or have lived with, a toddler who has not quite learned the concept of sharing and its value to play. Both children are bent on keeping hold of the red block in question ... that is, until there is a catastrophic CRASH!

What to do? As so often happens, without adult intervention, the problem is quickly solved when the two use blocks of both colors to build a collaborative project together.

An opportune turn to the final page adds a new dimension. Here comes Guy, his wagon filled with green blocks. Now, what? It is left to young listeners to decide for themselves what happens next.

Oh, my! The illustrations are beautifully designed to give context to this wonderful evolving story. The front endpapers feature red and blue blocks of all shapes. The children are center of attention as they are introduced, one working on one side of the book (verso), the other working on the facing page (recto). Both are happy and engaged until ...

Check out the back endpapers. They may give a clue that will add to any follow-up discussion.

Simple, yet stunning!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Best Man, by Richard Peck. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2016. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"So then it was fifth grade with all the same crowd plus a new kid. Our big teeth were in, and our faces were catching up. Now I was fourth tallest behind two of the Joshes and the new kid, Raymond Petrovich, who was Gifted. Except for a girl named Esther Wilhelm, who was taller than everybody and never said anything. Fifth grade was the year we had three different teachers and a lockdown ... "

Today I want to tell you about the absolutely incomparable Richard Peck's new novel. I have not yet read all that he has written but I am on a continuing quest to change that.

When The Best Man arrived I set aside everything else that I was reading to get to know Archer Magill and the amazing men in his life. His story begins with a wedding when he is 6, and ends with another when he is 12. He is an integral part of both. Being a ring bearer at 6 came as a big unwanted surprise, and he did his best to avoid being there. He was found and his trip down the aisle was the stuff legends are made of - ripped pants and no underwear underneath them, he became the star of the show and the 'butt' of a host of jokes.

In fifth grade he is living the unenviable life of many ... all the drama, the changing body and voice, challenging friendships, and coming of age. The school lockdown which hilariously welcomes a new student teacher to Archer's class brings change.Warrant Officer Ed McLeod's arrival is obviously full of drama; very soon, his good looks and skill at teaching make him a celebrity to his students. The fact that he is gay is eventually revealed when bullying becomes an issue at their school. Add to that the fact that Ed is attracted to Archer's much admired and loved Uncle Paul. When their wedding date is set, who is asked to be best man? Why Archer, of course! No untoward incidents this time. And so, the book ends as it began ... with a wedding!

The years between weddings are shared through admirable writing, and filled with the humor that I so love about Mr. Peck's stories. Archer's voice is exceptional; his view of the world is sincere, yet impossibly innocent at times. He has remarkable role models to help him navigate his ever-changing world. His father and grandfather love him and assure that he has support and advice when it is needed. Uncle Paul and Ed, and their developing relationship, help him navigate a new social climate. He learns about being a man through his many interactions with the wonderful men in his life, and about what love is.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016.$22.00 all ages

"Some people have
forgotten where I live

But along these words
I can show you the way.

We will travel over
mountains of make-believe

Discover treasure in the
darkness ... "

If you have not yet returned to some of the classic stories that your family read together, or that you read on your own after you scanned lists of books worthy of your time and attention, this might just be the ticket you need to inspire you to take that step back and reread some of them.

Two artists have merged their equally impressive talents to produce a book that pays homage to the power of story to impact and change lives. Sam Winston's fine art is displayed in museums and galleries around the globe. Oliver Jeffers has written and illustrated a number of much-loved books for children. Their collaboration is unique, detailed and full of color and action. Mr. Winston has designed wordy ingenious landscapes, while Mr. Jeffers has hand-lettered the text and added the characters and other fine details. The excerpts taken from many classic books, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales are cleverly placed to have a real impact. Together, they provide a journey sure to captivate all readers.

The child of books is keen to lead her traveling companion on a voyage of discovery across the seas, through forests, and over mountains as they navigate the adventures that books provide. Their joy manifests itself in colorful and vibrant images and words. I love the final transformation from a row of varied colorless homes into a bright gathering of real books.

There is much for the audience to read as lines from a number of works make up the landscapes - clever and inspiring. The titles of all books excerpted are listed on the endpapers in endless repetition. I have a smile on my face every time I read it. What a celebration!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill. Algonquin Young Readers, Thomas Allen & Son. 2016. $25.95 ages 10 and up

"She closed her eyes and laughed. Antain stepped backward. He felt a shiver at the sound of her laugh, as though someone was slowly pouring a tin of cold water down his back. He looked up at the paper birds hanging from the ceiling. Strange, but all of them were suspended from what looked like strands of long, black, wavy hair."

The people of the Protectorate have been brainwashed to believe that the Day of the Sacrifice (the abandonment of the community's youngest baby) is the only way to keep themselves safe from the evil clutches of a fearsome witch who makes her home in the nearby forest. Indeed, a witch does live there. She is not in any way as she is portrayed by the elders.

In fact, she is appalled by the elders' actions, and cares for those abandoned babies by feeding them starlight and taking them to loving homes on the other side of the forest where they will be happily adopted. Captivated by the beauty in her dark eyes, her crescent moon birthmark, and her obvious delight in the world, Xan accidentally feeds this baby both starlight and moonlight.

"There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fills its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that baby's heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, not to enmagic. Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like."

Xan cannot, in good conscience, find Luna a home with an unsuspecting family. So, she returns home to raise Luna along with the bog monster and dragon who are already part of her family. Luna is happy, and has no idea of the powerful magic that is hers. Xan tries to protect her with a spell meant to keep the magic in check until Luna is 13, and can better understand what it is and how to control it.

Always overwhelmed with sadness after the loss of another child each year, the people of the Protectorate feel the effects of Luna's emerging magic and they begin to change, which does not make the elders happy. Bereavement has held them captive and kept them controlled by their leaders. There are many twists and turns as the story unfolds; each strand of this somewhat complicated tale has love at its heart, and the author is able to weave those strands together in a way that is sure to satisfy readers and leave them wanting to know more about the characters they have come to know, love, and admire. There is, after all, magic involved.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Du Iz Tak, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Du iz tak?

Ma ebadow unk plonk.

Du kimma plonk?

Ma nazoot.

Ru badda unk ribble.


This entirely unique and imaginative new book from Carson Ellis is going to make some people very uncomfortable - those who need to know exactly what is going on. In fact, it is not that difficult to work out what you think these insects are saying to each other. They do speak their own language. For those who need answers, there are none. We are left to our own devices to assume we know how their conversation goes. That is what makes it so witty and rare.

From the opening spread, we are introduced to their talk as two winged and elegantly dressed creatures point to a green shoot, one asking: "Du iz tak?" The other responds: "Ma nazoot." And so it goes. They watch carefully as the green shoot grows and changes. They are accompanied by a ladybug who also has something to say.

Meanwhile, on the facing page, we spy a caterpillar as it makes its way up a twig, says its goodbye to all and quickly forms a chrysalis. The insects take note as well, making a fuss over it. They then call on the inhabitant of the log to take a look at their plant. He proffers the ladder requested, sits back to watch the action. Others are more interested during nighttime hours. The action builds, the reader becomes more involved in everything that is happening, and in the additional stories being played out.

The insects are beautifully crafted. The author uses white space to encourage our full attention to all that is happening on each spread, to the creatures' sizes, and to the seasonal changes. (I was not always sure where to direct my attention at the turn of a page - and that is part of its charm.) Their story is told solely in dialogue between the characters who are mesmerized by their quite remarkable discovery.

When all attention is focused at the very top of their plant, each one of them stops to share  amazement at its beauty ... "Unk scrivadelly gladdenboot!" Their tale is done. They quietly disappear; the scene returns, through a series of quiet actions, to its nearly original state, and to the title question. It makes one consider what is happening on the ground beneath our feet. Carson Ellis has created an
impressive version of just that might be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Red: The true story of RED RIDING HOOD, witten by Liesl Shurtliff. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"The tunnel smelled of stale earth and mold. Within five steps, we were submerged in pitch black. The only thing to guide us was the dwarf's insults echoing from the stone walls. It sounded like there were several dwarves speaking instead of one. I heard the words "ugly," "stupid," "vile," "putrid," "half-wit," and "witch" over and over." Goldie held tight to my hand, and Wolf walked closely ... "

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I really enjoyed Liesl Shurtliff's previous refashioned fairy tales - Rump (2013) and Jack (2015). Please add this new tale to your to-be-read list. It is a companion book to Rump, as it reintroduces Granny and Red from that first book.

Red has some pretty special powers, inherited from her Granny. She is somewhat reluctant to use them after a close call for Granny some years ago. Now, Granny is very ill; the potion that might make her well is called the Curious Cure-All. For the making, Red sets out to find: 5 prickly chestnuts, 1 handful of wild cherries, 1 bunch of gnomeswort, 1 drop of pixie venom, 1 pair of tree-nymph wings, 7 wolf hairs - all essential to its success.

Distracted by a grumpy dwarf with promises of eternal life should they gather the proper ingredients, Red changes course. With Goldie and Wolf as her companions, she determines that eternal life is a much more appealing alternative for a young woman never wanting to lose her much loved grandmother. It's pretty powerful magic and she needs to work quickly. Their journey forces them to realize that the dwarf has not been entirely forthright about the dangers they will face. As she becomes privy to those dangers, Red begins to wonder if her wish for Granny is in Granny's best interest. Each suggestion seems to come with excruciating results for the person they are meant to cure.

Magic both fair and foul, untold adventure, lasting friendship, bravery, life and death, and unconditional love are at the heart of this welcome addition to Ms. Shurtliff's entertaining and imaginative tales. It weaves a number of familiar stories into one, allowing for discussion between readers concerning the characters and those connections made.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Who Wants A Tortoise, written by Dave Keane and illustrated by K.G. Campbell. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016.$23.99 ages 4 and up

"I don't have a list of cute tortoise names, so I don't name him anything. "Hey, you, tortoise." He doesn't seem to mind, but it's impossible to tell what a tortoise is thinking. I decide to see what my new lump of a pet can do."

What is a girl to do when she has spent her entire life wishing for a puppy? She certainly can voice a plethora of complaints when what she gets is a tortoise. She does know her dad is allergic to dogs; what if she is allergic to cold-blooded reptiles? Anyone think about that? She should have known her birthday was going to be a big  disappointment.

Her demeanor is evident on the front cover and remains so as she contemplates life with a tortoise. She has a whole list of things it cannot do, and knows very little about what it can. On the other hand, she knows a lot about dogs, has a long list of names that might suit, and has dreamt often of the many adventures they might share. Phooey! Following the departure of her party guests, her grumpy behavior results in a time out.

In an attempt to accept her new reality, she discovers what she can do with her new pet - make him over. Paint its toenails, decorate its back, make it over into something else entirely. Mom is none too pleased at her choice, and maybe the tortoise feels the same. Grammy and Grandpa bring a book filled with information about the newest family member. As she begins to discover more can than can't, the attachment grows. When the tortoise loses itself, a search is on! She is worried about him, and counts on others to help her. It takes time; the concern grows. Will he be found in time to save him, or never?

Softly textured watercolor and colored pencil artwork provides all the context that young readers will need for this lively new book about pet ownership. Perspectives change, allowing a clear look at family dynamics, friendship and a growing attachment of the young owner for her previously unwanted companion. Front and back endpapers are evidence of a shift in attitude, and are most informative.

Can you guess what familiar dog's name you might give a tortoise whose inquisitive nature and need for fresh garden food lead to a walkabout? Give it a go ... let's hear what you think.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pinny In Summer, written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant. Groundwood, 2016. $16.95 ages 6 and up

"On the way home, Pinny
bumped into her friends Annie
and Lou. They were carrying
pails for blueberry picking.
Perfect," said Pinny.
"I'll come, too. If we
pick enough blueberries, 
I'll make my wild blueberry
cake and we can have a party
to celebrate summer."

Pinny loves life; in four short chapters we learn why.

We first meet Pinny on her own and learn a little something about her. She is on the hunt for a 'wishing rock' and doesn't even mind making a mess of her knee as she scrambles to pick up the most perfect one. Happy to be alone as she explores, Pinny takes joy in the sights and sounds of the world around her.

Then, Pinny and her friends, Annie and Lou, are lost in admiring the clouds instead of picking the blueberries they will need for the cake Pinny has promised to bake for a summer celebration. When a certain cloud reminds them that they have a job to do, they are off! A sudden rainstorm sends them scurrying for home, blueberries in hand.

Each of the two following chapters allow further insight into the little girl, her life and her love of nature. She is a sweet girl with a sunny disposition, always up for adventure and seeing the best in every situation. Isabelle Malenfant captures her joyous nature in warm artwork, created with soft pastel, graphite pencil, Q-tips and an electric eraser. Full of the charm that is Pinny and a picturesque setting full of wonder, this is a book that is sure to be appreciated.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lucy, by Randy Cecil. Candlewick, Random House. 2016. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"Suddenly he was petrified. He felt dizzy, and his hands went numb. The Paris globe fell to the stage floor with a crack. And then London, Istanbul, and Cairo, one at a time, shattered all around him. The audience fell silent as a large hook reached out and pulled Sam from the stage. As he left the theater, he turned to see Umberto the Boneless Wonder ..."

What an amazing story illustrated books can tell! Too often we push kids to move beyond them into chapter books, somehow feeling that it the next important step to really being a reader. Too often older kids miss the real pleasure of the art and voice found in illustrated books. Please don't fall into the trap of feeling they are EASY, a designation once given to all books where art and text had equal billing.

This new book by Randy Cecil proves my point exactly! It is the story of a young girl and her father. Eleanor Wische is lonely and left to her own devices while her father works. Her father, Sam, is an aspiring juggler, always practicing his craft and wanting to perform for an audience. Lucy is a little dog, fed by Eleanor in the mornings and wandering the streets for the rest of the day in a bid to procure food to sustain herself. Loneliness is evident in each of them, and all want a place to belong. That is the end of Act I.

In succeeding acts and chapters within, we watch as they do their best to make good things happen. It is a long story, told in spare, often repetitive, text and accompanied by detailed oil illustrations. There is so much to see, to enjoy and to admire about the characters, their days and their dreams. It resembles a silent movie, with its shades of gray illustrations and its heartwarming scenes. There are surprises here, but you must be diligent in poring over each page if you want to discover them.

The pace of the telling allows readers the time they need to fully appreciate its every nuance. It is a story about family, isolation, longing, Vaudeville, confidence, connection and finding home. It is humorous and hopeful. It is unlike any other book you will read this year.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

ARE WE THERE YET? Written and illustrated by Dan Santat. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"You might find yourself
saying things like,

Are we there yet?
This is taking forever.

Staring out your window
at a thousand miles of
road can get boring
pretty quickly."

Our mom grew up in Saskatchewan, moved to Manitoba to take her nursing training, and settled here when she met Dad in 1947. The rest of her family remained in Saskatchewan, in fairly close proximity to one another. That meant trips for us to visit our relatives two to three times a year - at the time, they seemed so long. We sang songs, played word games, memorized the names of every town from Brandon to Balcarres, and, while we don't remember, likely drove our parents cuckoo with constant inquiries about the number of miles left to travel. It was fun to anticipate the arrival, but it was BORING being in the car for so long.

An invitation to Grandma's birthday party is the impetus for this trip taken. Two disgruntled parents dealing with their son's rising boredom is not much fun for them. As boredom increases and the moaning and groaning becomes endless, their world is literally turned upside down. The parents are aware of their trip into the past, while the son just keeps complaining, oblivious to the action outside the car windows. As they near Grandma's house they move quickly into the future, letting go of all things past.

The son is reassured that they will soon arrive, and he slips into a quiet restful nap. He is awakened upon arrival. The party guests are all Grandma's age, bent on cheek pinching and head patting. This begs the boy's next piteous question: "Can we go now?"

Mr. Santat's humorous mixed media artwork combines comic panels with double page spreads to keep readers engaged and entertained. The sights outside the window are magical, even though the youngest member of the family has no idea, too busy with his boredom complaints. Having the action move backward, and then quickly forward is genius. The details? I will leave you to discover them for yourselves, with close observation and repeated readings. Grandma's gift is a gentle reminder that it's best to be in the present and to value what we have.

The artist dedicates his new book to his son Kyle:

"Be patient. We have all the time in the world."

What an adventure, and quite the reminder to each one of us!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Best Frints in the Whole Universe, by Antoinette Portis. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016.$19.50 ages 4 and up

"Still, on Boborp, everyone knows that frints are a good thing. And Omek and Yelfred know that best frints are the best thing of all. On Boborp, best frints do everything together. They have a nice yunch. They play eye ball in the peedle pit. "Bad frow! You go get it!" "Bad kratch! You go get it!"

This is a book you are going to have to practise reading before you read it aloud to a group. It's amazing how unfamiliar words can really tie you up when wanting to share a story.

The two frints are just fine, until one bites the other's tail off! Their language sounds a little like any toddler just learning to speak. Some words are clear, others distorted by the mix of sounds they are just learning.

Now, to their story. Here's the opening line:

"Yelfred and Omek have been best frints
since they were little blobbies."

Put that on your list of worthy first lines!

You would do well to read the front and back endpapers before embarking on this Boborpian adventure.  They give you a heads-up for understanding the language created to pen this most enjoyable tale of friendship and the bumps encountered along the way. You are definitely in for a romp when you decide to share it with young listeners. It won't take them long to realize that the author is having some fun with readers. Luckily, none of this nonsense happens on Earth. Or, does it?

On Boborp, frints use 'teef' and not words. That tail will regenerate but not before there is a breach in the way the two feel about each other. As happens on every planet, it is short-lived and soon the two friends are happy to be together once again. Remember Emily Jenkins' lovely Tiger and Badger, Sophie and Steven in Sophie's Squash Go To School, or Gertie and Mary Sue in Gertie's Leap to Greatness? Toddlers are especially quick to forgive and forget - that is exactly what Yelfred and Omek do.

You will love their games, the humor and the speed with which the story moves along, and the invitation to have young readers make up some words of their own. What fun! The illustrations are bright and inviting, and offer an alternate universe that children will find intriguing and imaginative. They also help with understanding the action and the ups and downs of 'frintship'.

You might even decide to add Boborpian to the list of languages you speak! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Superhero Instruction Manual, written by Kristey Dempsey and illustrated by Mark Fearing. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up


Cape ...

Are you thinking about what superhero you might be for Halloween this year? Or, are your kids? It might do them well to have a look at this manual that comes filled with instructions and begs the question: "Do you have what it takes to be a hero?"

Even if not as gifted as Batman, Superman, the X-Men, or Spiderman, there are seven steps you can take to unleash your inner hero. Each is set out for the reader in numbered form, and illustrated in comic book style combined with familiar illustrated spreads. The young man who is our stalwart leader through the process encourages our complete attention to each directive.

His dog and his sister are privy to all that happens, providing discreet humor. It is adventure-filled as a costume is chosen and donned, a hideout finally secured, and a superpower determined. Through a series of unsuccessful attempts to find what he is best at, we watch intently. Energy is needed to keep powered up. A huge breakfast and a secret stash of cookies are just the ticket.

Now, who's in need of a hero bent on helping? What kind of trouble will result? Who is the real hero in this humorous, engaging book?

No violence, lots of love, and being there when you are most needed are what matters while considering superhero status. Detailed and bold, these pencil and digitally colored illustrations are 'super' as you might expect. They encompass a message not mentioned in the text ... perfectly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Darkest Dark, written by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion. Illustrated by The Fan Brothers. Tundra, 2016. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"And Chris tried,
he really did, but
his room was dark.
Very, very dark.
The kind of dark
that attracts the worst
sort of aliens.
But his parents
meant it.
Chris. Was. Going. To.
Sleep. In. His. Own. Bed."

We know him as commander of the International Space Station, a Canadian astronaut admired by many for his outstanding work while he was working and since his retirement. He was the first Canadian to walk in space, a place that epitomizes our perception of 'dark'. What can be darker than outer space?

To think that fear of the dark held him in its grip as a child is almost impossible to fathom. All he ever wanted to be was an astronaut. His days were spent imagining what life in space would be like, acting out his imagined dreams, and never sleeping comfortably ... astronauts, he reasoned, were always busy and had no time for sleep. In fact, the dark caused him great concern until the night his father voiced an ultimatum.

Their neighbors were the only ones who had a television set on the island. The next day was the scheduled moon landing - July 20, 1969. Watching the astronauts he emulated, and their incredible feat was a defining moment for the young boy. He noticed something about their surroundings:

"Outer space was the darkest dark ever."

It changes the way the young Chris faces his fears ... and helps him learn that "The dark is for dreams - and morning is for making them come true."

The Fan Brothers create realistic artwork, rendered in graphite and digitally colored. I especially liked the image of Walter Cronkite as he broadcast news of the landing. It looks just as I remember it those many years ago. Then, the shadows are filled with the small alien creatures Chris feared as a child. They are everywhere, but they are only a tiny bit spooky. You will need to look closely to see them all.

Backmatter offers information about Mr. Hadfield's life, and also includes personal photos and a message from the astronaut himself.  If you know a child afraid of the dark, or with a dream, this might be just the book to share.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When Dad Showed Me The Universe, written by Ulf Stark and illustrated by Eva Eriksson. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $26.99 ages 5 and up

"Then we came to a ditch full of water. Dad carried me across so I wouldn't get wet. "We're almost there," he said. There were no streetlights at all. Dad led the way through the grass. We stopped on a small hill. "Is this it?" He nodded. I looked around. I was amazed. I had the feeling that I'd been here before, that this was the place where people walked their dogs."

In this warm and humorous father and son story, a decision has been made. Dad has decided that it is time to take his son out and show him the universe. He's old enough now for that incomparable experience. They head toward the edge of town where the glare from the surrounding lights is minimized and the two can see the starlit sky in all of its vast glory.

As they go, the boy notices everything that is part of their world. Holding hands and taking time to enjoy its sights and sounds, the two wander into the darkness as it falls around them. Down cobbled streets, over a watery ditch, up a small hill, and they are there. Their provisions are a piece of gum, which is chewed solemnly as they partake of their environs. The little one looks all around and finds much to admire.

Dad makes the suggestion that he look up, as his father has been doing.

" I looked up. A thousand stars were burning in the sky. .
Dad pointed them out. He knew all their names."

The son is not so impressed as the father is - that is, until his father steps in it! And it stinks. What, you ask. Why, it's the dog poop that's left after people walk their dogs in the exact place that shows the two the universe so admired by Dad. No longer quite as earnest as he has been, Dad leads the way home where his young son lets him mother know that the walk was worth it, and the universe is beautiful and 'funny'.

Eva Eriksson captures the warmth of the telling in softly textured illustrations that are full of color and detail. She allows the boy the freedom to notice everything in his universe, and the wonder of it all.  This is a terrific book, sure to be loved and read repeatedly.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird, by Pamela S. Turner with photographs by Andy Comins and art by Guido De Filippo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $25.99 ages 10 and up

"Whatever you think of the voices of crows, scientists classify them as members of the songbird family. Yes, that's right: crows are songsters. Just think of them as heavy metal guitarists rather than classical violinists."

I have a love/hate relationship with crows. I love that I have learned through reading and documentary watching how incredibly brilliant they truly are. I hate their raucous early wake-up calls! A family lives in a tree across the lane, and their babies are the noisiest, most  persistent 'children' I have ever heard.

I do tend to read about this bird whenever I have a chance. As you know from reading previous posts (if you have indeed read them) than I am consistently impressed with Houghton Mifflin's Scientist in the Field series. The research, the photography, the design are impeccable and I have recommended them many times for older readers, including adults. So, I came to this new edition with high hopes. I have never been disappointed!

The setting is New Caledonia. The purpose is to work with the scientists who carefully study these evil-looking masterminds of the avian world. Pamela Turner and Andy Comins do another wonderful job of eking out the most pertinent of the information collected and making it relevant and educational, while keeping a very conversational tone; thus, making reading most enjoyable as well. Their first collaboration, The Frog Scientist in 2009 was equally compelling. If you haven't read it, you should check it out from the library.

Dr. Gavin Hunt is their guide, taking them to the field and letting them see first-hand the crows' unique facility with materials that are new to them. While other animals make and use different kinds of tools, only crows and humans can make hooked tools. That is pretty darned amazing, isn't it? The clear and engaging photographs will surprise, the many additional sketches drawn by researcher and illustrator Guido De Filippo add further understanding, and the text easy to follow. We actually meet specific crows and see them as they work diligently to solve problems presented. And, we can watch as some research crows are returned to the beauty of their island world.

If I were to watch the crows in my neighborhood closely enough, I might see them playing catch with found objects, and learn that those little ones who drive me crazy so early in the morning are part of a family whose parents mate for life and whose older siblings help they grow and prosper. I would learn that they are like me when it comes to eating habits - they will eat anything. You've seen them on the highway scavenging, right? Did you know they go for the eyeball first?

Well, you have a lot to learn.

In the event that I have really piqued your interest, please watch this brilliant documentary.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Henry & Leo, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"When they reached home,
Henry woke just as Papa
turned out the light.
Immediately, Henry
realized something was
wrong. "Papa, where is Leo?"
he asked.

Henry and his family searched
high and low, inside and out,
but Leo was nowhere to be found."

Henry is a gentle-mannered boy whose surroundings include a variety of stuffed toys. Not one of them is loved as much as Leo, a stuffed lion given as a gift for Henry's second birthday. The two have been together since that day. Henry loves Leo and believes in him, knowing his likes and dislikes and not afraid to share those with his family.

When a plan is made for a walk in the Nearby Woods, Henry is happy and lets everyone know that Leo loves the woods. His sister scoffs! She knows that Leo is not real. Henry begs to differ. Off they go for a leisurely, long walk. When the sun begins to set, the family returns home. Observant listeners will note that when Henry falls asleep on his dad's shoulders, Leo can no longer be seen. Henry is the first to realize that Leo has not made that trip home. They look; it is too dark to see much. A promise is made to look again in the morning. Henry fears for his best friend.

"To Henry, Leo was as real as his mother, his father, and his sister. As real as a tree, a cloud, the sun, the moon, the stars and the wind. As real as a flower, a bee, a bird, a fox, a pebble, a brook, an ocean, or a whale."

The story slips quietly into a series of wordless spreads, showing Leo in the Nearby Woods with the other 'stuffies' from Henry's bedroom. They are now life-size and work as a concerned group to lead Leo home to the safety of the home he draws for them, exactly where the family finds him as they begin their search at sunrise. It is a heartfelt welcome for both Henry and Leo. So much love!

The mixed-media artwork transports readers to a dreamy world that is textured and captivating. They will want to take time to carefully study the pages filled with animals and the calm beauty of the  woods. Please encourage close attention to the endpapers as they complement the story's action, and answer questions they might have as they explore this story filled with love and wonder.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Rules of the House, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Matt Myers. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"You've already broken rules one through three." "So what?" said Jenny. "It's not even our house." "Doesn't matter," said Ian. "Rules are rules, and rules are meant to be - " "Listen, toady." Jenny moved toward the red door. "If you say that one more time, I swear, I'll open this door." "Rules are meant to be - "

How hard can it be to follow four rules?

"1. Remove muddy shoes before you enter the house. 2. Don't leave a ring around the bathtub drain.3. Replace any firewood you burn. 4. Never - ever- open the red door."

For Ian, the rule-follower extraordinaire, it seems simple. For his sister Jenny, it is an open invitation to mutiny. She is as cantankerous as Ian is compliant. Their time at the old cabin is spent doing those things that families do when they are vacationing ... hiking, swimming, climbing trees. All that happens outside. Then, the author reminds us that 'this is not a story about the forest. This is a story about the house.'

Ah, there's the rub! Jenny is quick to break every posted rule. Ian is full of reminders about her behaviors. The arrival of night's darkness is the catalyst for some frightening repercussions. Jenny's behavior is an issue for the bearskin rug, the bathtub and the stove who have born the brunt of her rebellious ways. Faced with their wrath, Ian does what any rule-abiding boy would do - he runs!

He soon has reservations about leaving Jenny behind, and adds a new rule: ALWAYS SAVE YOUR SISTER FROM BEING EATEN BY MONSTERS. Back he goes to the cabin where he faces down the monsters bent on eating his rule-breaking sister. Only when he points out that they, too, have broken an important rule - sure to generate dire consequences for each - do they take their leave. How does Jenny react? With a pinch, of course!

Matt Myers' humorous depiction of this brother/sister team is perfect! The bear, the bathtub, and the stove are suitably intimidating, while also adding a sense of poetic justice for Ian's bad-tempered, obnoxious older sister. The setting is just right for this imaginative romp - a rustic cabin filled with dark corners and a real sense of foreboding at every turn. EEEK!

Sharing it is sure to prompt conversations about rules, if they are needed, and how they are enforced.

Friday, October 7, 2016

What To Do With a Box, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Chris Sheban. Creative Editions, Raincoast. 2016. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"You can climb inside
and there read a
It can be
a library,
or nook.

You can lock the door
with a magical

If you have kids, grown or not, you will know the allure of the cardboard box. There is nothing it cannot be, it seems. Jane Yolen employs joyful, poetic text to fire the imagination. The boxes can be big or small, plain or not so; each one is an adventure waiting to happen.

Chris Sheban ups the appeal with paintings drawn on cardboard of all types. Two children (and their pup) creatively construct a variety of scenarios using a box, art supplies, and ingenuity. Full of light and shadow, there is a feeling of warm familiarity on each page. The illustrations invite its young audience to take a leap of their own when a new box arrives. Suggestions are made through both text and art. What these two children do with their box is only the beginning. Many transformations can lead to endless hours of fun, all the result of seeing the wonder in a box. 

Read this book to little ones, and then grab back those boxes you have ready for recycling. I would love to be the fly on the wall as they explore the many possibilities afforded them with boxes large and small.

"Let the wild rumpus begin!'

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Captain Jack and the Pirates, written by Peter Bently and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Puffin, Penguin. 2016. $14.99 ages 4 and up

"Their proud pirate flag
fluttered high in the breeze -
and then the ships sailed
into stormier seas ...

The wind became stronger.
    "Hold on to the sail!"
cried Jack as they battled
a tropical gale."

With Halloween just around the corner, you know that you are sure to have a few pesky pirates in your classroom, and at your door to collect their booty. Some kids love pirate language, pirate lore, pirate treasure and looking like a pirate. It seems we can never get enough books about them. So, I wanted to tell you about Jack's new adventure.

You may remember Captain Jack and the Dragon, 2011. Jack, Zak and Caspar are preschool friends who share time, imagination and a spirit that makes them a most pleasing trio. We find them at the beach, pails and shovels in hand, and bent on creating a new and wonderful world.

"Jack, Zak and Caspar,
                brave mariners three,
were building a galleon down by the sea.

Up rose the sides
       and the stern and the bow.
Zak, the ship's bosun, worked hard
                            on the prow."
Filled with lively language and a lilting rhyme, young listeners will be delighted to join them as they venture out to sea aboard their trusty sailboat. Their scary encounter with a swarthy band of pirates is both frightening and exhilarating.  

While the words tell one story, Helen Oxenbury fills in the many details of the imaginative play that young children so love! Her engaging artwork is full of joy and shows the real alongside the fantasy  as the three create a world that is inspiring and full of action. The warmth of the sandy seashore and the cool of the wind-whipped ocean offer a story that is most entertaining. When a storm puts a stop to their adventure, their search for treasure is realized (thanks to Dad).

Your audience will find much to 'treasure' as you share this fine tale. What fun it is to read aloud!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Artist and Me, written by Shane Peacock and illustrated by Sophie Casson. Owlkids, 2016. $18.95 ages

"But I kept being mean to him. In crowds, of course, since that is what cowards do. "There goes the fool," adults would say. "A useless fool," I'd laugh with them. There was proof that we were right. No one ever bought his art. He was very poor. That was not to be admired. We called him horrible names. We threw things at him."

Written as a journal and memoir by the narrator of this very special story, we soon become aware that he is none too pleased with his behavior as a child in Arles, France where Vincent Van Gogh spent some time painting. Van Gogh was seen as a penniless artist, and 'crazy' person by the townspeople. They often made fun of him ... not to mention the children (our narrator was one of them). Looking back, he remembers those days and his posturing as part of the crowd, while also being drawn to the artist and his work.

Van Gogh had no real interest in making a living as an artist. He was consumed with the need to tell the truth in his work. That concern for the truth helped to protect Van Gogh, as he was often able to completely ignore the way he was being treated. Perhaps, not all the time. There are two scenes that show the young boy's keen interest in the art being created ... each is a poignant moment. The final one takes place in a wheat field; the child is able to see the power that the image holds and how the artist's interpretation of the scene is quite remarkable.

As an adult, he realizes the mistake he made in not accepting a gift proffered when the artist turned to find him watching. Instead, he ran away in terror. Of course, that child knows nothing of the fame and admiration Van Gogh's work will eventually generate. It is when he takes his grandson to visit an art exhibit that he sees the 'priceless painting'. Full of regret for the past, he ends his journal with a caption for the photograph of their visit to the exhibit.

"I don't laugh at him anymore."

Sophie Casson ably matches the powerful, telling text with sensitive and quite remarkable images. They are vibrant and colorful, staying true to the famous artist's work. Backmatter includes a note about Van Gogh himself, an author's note and a source list.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier. Scholastic, 2016. $13.99 ages 8 and up

"This wind is crazy!

The ghosts love it, though.

They can't breathe on their
own, so they absorb the
essence of the world
breathing around them.
That's why you see more
ghosts on windy days.

So are these, um,
friends of yours?"

I was a fan of comics when I was an adolescent ... Archie comics, that is. I spent a few years living vicariously through those characters. I still love all things Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, Gary Larson and Lynn Johnston. I was not the mom who read comics to my kids (too much explaining) and I still don't read the comics in the newspaper. So, I was rarely pulled toward reading graphic novels. Too much really good stuff to read, I said. I am all right with admitting mistakes in judgement. Authors like Ben Hatke, Luke Pearson, Geoffrey Hayes made me take notice of some of their amazing work. Then, Raina Telgemeier! I read Smile (Scholastic, 2010) and that set me on a course to keep watch for each new novel she writes. That brings me to her latest!

It is another delight, and sure to please her many fans! Cat and her family have moved to Bahia de la Luna, a place in northern California where the sea air will be better for her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. As they explore their new surroundings, the two make some discoveries that are both exciting and disconcerting. It is a town where ghosts are real. The ghosts respond to kindness, offering friendship when they are treated well.

As the Day of the Dead celebrations ramp up, Maya wants to be right in the middle of  everything. The ghosts can't breathe on their own; readers recognize that they are much like Maya. The ghosts are not frightening; in fact, they remain blobs until a connection can be made with them. Keeping those who have died alive through memories and ghostly visits makes the celebration most enjoyable. The scarier part of the story comes not from the ghosts but from Maya's illness. Cat worries while Maya rejoices in each new experience. Their visits with the ghosts bring an awareness to the sisters concerning the future - they begin to acknowledge that Maya's life may be short. Together they learn that sadness is inevitable, but the love they have for each other will never die.

Again, the story is drawn so beautifully. Moods affect the color tones used, and expression and emotion play a huge role in balancing the joy and sadness in its many pages. Backmatter offers a 'few notes' about the book, including information about Bahia de la Luna, Dia De Los Muertos, and cystic fibrosis. A photo of the author and early sketches drawn for this newest book are included.

Emotional and engaging, fans of the remarkable Ms.Telgemeier will be thrilled to have it in their hands."

Monday, October 3, 2016

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Candlewick Press, Random House. $2016. $8.00 ages 6 and up

"At the top of the ladder, Francine stepped out onto the roof. She took the flashlight out of her mouth. She turned and shone it back on the ground, and there was Mrs. Bissinger, standing and looking up at her, all her jewelry twinkling and glowing. "Be careful!" shouted Mrs. Bissinger. "He is an extraordinary raccoon! He shimmers! He screams like a banshee! And so on!"

Poor Francine! Never has she felt so unsure of herself. Her usual self-assured persona takes a beating when she meets up with a very weird and defiant raccoon. Said raccoon has unsettled Mrs. Bissinger and she wants something done about it.

Francine's many trophies for past encounters with animals in need of trapping, and past generations of her family who have done such work, don't seem to be helping. Despite her concerns, Francine will not fear a talking ghostly varmint. She knows it cannot be real. Imagine her surprise when, facing her nemesis, it screams out the pet name her father always called her. She is so  frightened by it that she actually panics. That has never happened in her animal control lifetime!

She grabs the raccoon, loses her balance and falls from the rooftop. The body aches are matched only by the heartache caused by such failure. How will she get her confidence back?

In her Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Kate DiCamillo gives us characters to love and admire. This novel's length allows for enjoyable dialogue, a chance to get to know additional characters, and also offers a challenging read for transitional readers. Kids in second and third grade love to move up to lengthier text. Ms. DiCamillo provides both humorous and thoughtful scenarios to keep them interested and wanting more from the books they are reading.

They will be happy to welcome back characters from Francine's first tale. Friendships are strengthened, fears are faced, and Francine proves to herself that she is as capable as those in whose footsteps she walks. Chris Van Dusen ups the appeal with illustrations that match the warmth and humor of the tale. Fans will eagerly anticipate further adventures.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Rita's Rhino, written and illustrated by Tony Ross. Andersen Press USA., Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"When they reached the block where Rita lived, it was a bit of a squeeze, getting her new pet into the elevator. It is not easy hiding a rhinoceros in a small bedroom in a small apartment. Mom brought Rita toast covered with marmalade. As soon as she left, Rita gave it to her pet. "I don't like toast," said the rhinoceros. "I only eat grass from Africa."

This is classic Tony Ross storytelling - it's filled with engaging images of a small girl and a quest for a new pet. Her parents are reticent, finding pets to be stinky and greedy, and in need of time-consuming care. Rita does not want to take no for an answer. Her mother finally agrees to a 'very little pet'. What about a flea? Or a frog? How uninspiring!

Rita takes matters into her own hands. Off she goes to the zoo where she finds an amenable rhinoceros. The images that show just how difficult it is for an urban girl to hide her new pet are perfect. Rita's coat and hat certainly do little to hide much; it does provide a giggle to see that this is her solution to keeping the zookeeper at bay. More problems arise with space in her apartment, food for her new pet,  and how to get rid of the waste created by such an enormous animal.

All is not perfect for the rhino either. Making him 'stay' outside while she attends school will have everyone hooting. Her explanation for the teacher even more so. It's enough to make a rhino long for his cage at the zoo. The story ends with a gentleness that speaks to the love the two have for each other, even though they couldn't make such pet ownership work.

The watercolor and ink illustrations are classic Tony Ross. He fills the pages with joy and detail, certain to entertain and have kids wanting to hear the story one more time.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

puddle, written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2016. $19.50 ages 4 and up

It's an umbrella.

That's my blue
umbrella. Can you
draw me holding it?


Sometimes rainy days leave a lot to be desired. Although we are sure to have rain in coming weeks playing in a puddle will likely become less enjoyable as water temperatures drop and cooler air makes us shiver. In this lively book, Mom shows patience and imagination in helping her little one contemplate the joys that arise when kids are kept inside on a rainy day. We always have imagination!

Her first suggestion is drawing. That is quickly rejected.

"Don't be so grumpy.
We can have fun at home.
Do you want to draw?

I don't want to!
I'll never draw!"

Mom does what all smart moms do ... accepts the refusal and enjoys drawing on her own. You can imagine what happens. Mom first takes suggestions for her own drawings and soon her son is adding details of his own. Having a conversation and inviting creativity to draw with crayons on a big pad of paper, she is able to redirect her child from his concern that the rain is curtailing all of his favorite activities into a game that both can enjoy together. Now, he can see the many pleasures of a rainy day where once there were none.

Soon, they are donning raincoats, boots and taking their umbrellas outside to fully enjoy the puddles created by the much maligned rainy day. Wahoo!