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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

They All Saw a Cat, written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"The cat walked through
the world, with its
whiskers, ears and
paws ...

and the fish saw
and the mouse
saw A CAT."

This absolutely unique and gorgeous book is ALL about perception. Each of the featured creatures saw a cat; they did not all see the same thing. It depends on the eye of the beholder, it seems.

The child sees a loving, friendly pet. The dog sees a sneaky, slinky, bony apparition with huge yellow eyes and an oversized bell around its neck. Too noisy for the dog? I wonder. The fox sees lunch, while the cat is focused on the terror of the chase. And so it goes ...

After a number of sightings, the reader is reminded that:

"The cat walked through the world,
with its whiskers, ears and paws ... "

looking just as we suspect everyone sees that cat. But, no! It is not true.

The text is rhythmically repetitive, and certainly easy to read and to follow. Set alongside Brendan Wenzel's attention-grabbing images, we see exactly how perception alters our view. The description for the art that graces the book's pages reads:

"The illustrations in the book were rendered in almost everything imaginable, including colored pencil, oil pastels, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, Magic Marker, good old number 2 pencils, and even an iBook."

How lucky are we that he is so adept with each?

Everyone sees the cat differently. How that cat is perceived affects reaction and feelings toward it. They all did see a cat, we are reminded. The artistic style changes with each new observer. This is a book about science and art, about readers and empathy, and about imagination and wonder. It is a personal and beautiful thing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sleep Tight Farm: A Farm Prepares for Winter, written by Eugenie Doyle and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"We shake straw over berry plants to blanket them from winter's frosty bite. Next April and May they'll leaf out green and blossom white. In June they'll give fruit so red and juicy we'll make jam and freeze berries to eat till summer comes again."

Is there ever rest for farmers? After producing crops of 'strawberries, raspberries, vegetables, honey, and hay' over a long growing season, the family is now working hard to put the farm to bed for a long winter's sleep. There is much to do, and everyone lends a helping hand.

As they blanket the strawberries with hay's protective cover, they look toward next year's harvest. The gardens are cleared, the vegetables stored and awaiting winter consumption. The fields are planted and covered to feed the soil. The raspberries are pruned to prevent wind damage, and the brush burned. There is so much to do.

Wood must be cut and stored for winter warmth, and for fueling the fires to boil sap into syrup come spring. The chicken coop is repaired, and then rigged with lighting and heat to ensure eggs for hardy winter breakfasts. There is so much to do.

Beehives are protected from winter winds, and to shelter the bees. The farm stand offers plentiful delights for the upcoming holidays. Farm equipment is stored, warm candles are lit and happy holiday lights are hung, meant to warm the hearts of all who live there. The family says goodnight.

"The farm is ready
for down quilts of snow,
the shh-shh of the wind.
Dad tucks us in.

Good night, farmers,
sleep tight."

The painted images of the farm work being lovingly shared are as calm as the quiet, lovely words.
They leaves readers (and listeners) with a feeling of peace, while also learning much about the farm itself and all that it produces to sustain this family. Take time to have a careful look at the many wonderful details included on every single page. It is worth your while.

An author's note is the perfect ending!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ugly, written by Robert Hoge and illustrated by Keith Robinson. Penguin, 2016. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"Plus, my eyes still sat more than twice as far apart as they should have been. There were so far apart I couldn't use both of them to focus on one thing at the same time. If I wanted to look closely at something like a toy or a book, I either had to pick it up and move it around to the side of my head or turn my head to bring one eye in line with it."

When Robert was born with horrendous physical abnormalities that affected his face and his legs, the doctor suggested that he be left at the hospital. His mother refused to see him. His four older siblings chose his future, wanting to take him home where he was fully supported to have as normal a life as possible.

Who he is today is the result of that upbringing, and his own unique and wonderful personality. Countless surgeries, including amputations on both legs, did not stop him while it did slow him down. Robert praises the doctors for the many attempts they made to give him a face that was as close to normal as was possible. He talks about the bullying, the taunts, the many bumps in the road he travelled.

A move to a new school in fifth grade was not easy:

"Four weeks in I was being called half a dozen names that weren't Robert - cripple, spastic, legless, and the dreaded Toe Nose. Even though some of my friends had come to the new school as well, sometimes it felt like the loneliest place in the world. I'd pick up a new nickname every six months or so. Some would go out of fashion, to be forgotten for a year or two, and then come back in vogue. Some would slowly lose their power to hurt me and would fall into disuse."

He goes on to describe his top ten favorites, including for each the origin, the originality, the hurt factor, the laugh factor, and how he got over it. Seeing the world through a window into Robert's reality is painful and personal. He challenged himself to remain active and upbeat. He got lots of support along the way. His family defended and encouraged him to try anything he wanted to try. He longed to be part of any sports team, despite his disabilities.  In sixth grade, he helped 'coach' the rugby team. By eighth grade he had given up his dream to participate in competitive team sports, and that is when he discovered lawn bowls. Amazing! Finally, at 14, he is encouraged to make his own decision about any further surgery.

Humorous, honest and enlightening about his life's challenges, Robert Hoge has written a book that is sure to encourage discussion and inspire empathy, especially if you are to share it alongside R. J. Palacio's Wonder (2012).

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Nanette's Baguette, words and pictures by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"But on the way ...

Nanette sees

And Suzette!

And Bret
(with his clarinet)!"

Who among us would ever doubt Mo Willems' unique ability to get to the heart and soul of a child's struggle for independence? Nanette is sure that she can run a very important errand for her mother. Today's the day that Nanette is tasked with getting the baguette. It is her biggest job yet.

You can bet she is ready for the task at hand. But, there are some distractions along the way. After meeting some dear friends, she also encounters Mr. Barnett and his pet, Antoinette. Oops! Not to be deterred from the task at hand, Nanette is soon on her way. She buys her baguette from Baker Juliette.

There is just one big problem - have you ever handled a warm, aromatic, fresh from the oven baguette? It is just too tempting. Soon, the baguette is eaten and Nanette must return home to tell her mother. What other option does she have? " A jet to Tibet?" Mom knows the allure of a fresh baked baguette, and offers to 'reset' the errand, with a little parental help. Will Mom be as tempted by its deliciousness as Nanette was? I wonder .

The cast of green frogs is sure to set tongues wagging as the story does its level best to make readers laugh out loud. The art created for this terrific book is described as 'composed of photographed handcrafted cardboard-and-paper constructions digitally integrated with photographed illustrations and additions". Now, you can really pore over them to see what you see, and there is a lot there. The endpapers help us see exactly what happened to that first baguette.

You'll need to read this out loud to yourself a few times before you are ready to share it. But, share it you will, and then again and again. Too much fun to read only one time ... your listeners won't allow for that!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs. Written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2016. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Yaks yak.
to yak = to talk.

Dogs dog dogs.
to dog = to track or
to follow.

Badgers badger.
to badger = to bother

For today, these are my three favorite spreads of the eighteen presented. The yaks, cross-legged and carefully holding their tea cups, are having an animated conversation about who knows what? One listens intently to the other. Three dogs, noses to the ground and following in close formation, have tails wagging as they explore the ground beneath them. Two badgers, one with an apple, while the other harangues with its need for that very same apple and all the reasons it should be shared or given away.

How clever is this book when you are wanting to build vocabulary and grow a child's understanding of the world? The collaboration of text and image is just right! The definitions are set in strategic places on each double page spread to help with understanding. Back matter offers two pages of notes about the derivation of the animal's name and the meaning for the action word that matches it.

The watercolor and ink images are funny and full of expression, adding context for the seemingly simple writing. If you ask me tomorrow about this clever book, I am sure I will have some new favorites ... think Bats bat, Ducks duck and Steers steer. Enjoy!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Benny and Penny in HOW TO SAY GOODBYE, by Geoffrey Hayes. A Toon Book. Publihsers Group Canada, 2016. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"What are you going to do
with him?
Put him in a safe place.
Hey! That's my pail!
I need it!
Let's ignore him.
Inside the little cave?
Too creepy!
In the sandbox?
Benny would find him.
Come on."

It's always lovely to welcome Benny and Penny, the tiny mice who like to argue as much as they like to show understanding of the other and unconditional love. In their new book, they are dealing with death. Penny is upset to see that Little Red, a salamander, has died. Benny shows no concern, even voicing the opinion that he's 'not sorry'. It seems Benny has been scared by Little Red's quick moves on more than one occasion.

Melina is there to help Penny. Penny wants to find a safe place for the body. They come up with a plan, and leave Benny out. Benny follows them as they make their childlike arrangements for a burial, and he listens to the memories that the two share. As he listens, Benny has a revelation. It causes great sorrow. Penny, as she so often does, includes Benny, asking him to help them find things to keep Red company in the spot where they have buried him.

Geoffrey Hayes' colored pencil images provide a feeling of warmth and understanding, and even a bit of humor. The death of the salamander is treated matter-of-factly, while also allowing young readers to see that the emotions surrounding death can be very different. Sensitive and forthright, it assures young children an opportunity to consider death and will allow for discussion for those in need of it.

Pair it with Margaret Wise Brown's The Dead Bird (Harper, 2016).

Thursday, November 24, 2016

First Snow, written and illustrated by Bomi Park. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"Pit, pit, pit
against the window.
Glistening, floating
in the night.

Here we are in the middle of the prairies, still waiting for snow. It is all around us, and has been on the ground for a few days in Winnipeg. We have none of it. I'm sure there are many young children waiting impatiently to watch it fall softly down and turn the ground around them white and sparkly. Maybe Monday, the weatherman says today. Before that, we are meant to have three sunny, above zero days! It's very unusual.

The little one in this book is experiencing snow for the very first time, and what joy it brings. A white snowsuit, a bright red scarf, mittens, hat and boots ... fully prepared to go exploring in the dark of night. A puppy is her tiny, enthusiastic companion.

Through the yard, down the street, across a field, and into the woods, she pushes a snowball that grows larger and larger with each step. Dark gives way to sparkling light; the child enters a winter wonderland. There, she is joined by other children. Each one stands beside a huge snowball, not unlike the one she has been pushing.

Turn the page to a splendid sight! The snowballs become snowmen, then a sky filled with floating children and snowmen. Another page turn and we return to a tiny girl catching snowflakes on her tongue, before the final turn that shows a red-scarfed snowman perched in the backyard and watched over by a tiny white dog.

What a welcome to the first snow of the season! Quietly magical it is.

Book Uncle and Me, written by Uma Krishnaswami. Groundwood, 2016. $14.95 ages 8 and up

"But why was it so perfect for me?"

I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but I can't help myself. I am puzzled and it just comes bursting out that way. "Ah," he says. "That is a very good question." "Thank you, " I say. "But what is the answer?" "Sometimes you have to let the perfect book sit in your mind for a while before fit begins to mean something."

Yasmin has set a goal for herself. Every day she visits Book Uncle, the owner of a free library on her street corner. He is why she has made a pledge to read a new book every day ... until forever.

Book Uncle has one goal ... to find "the right book for the right person for the right day." He has an uncanny ability to do so, and Yasmin is the happy reader to prove it. When his lending library is shut down because of a zoning bylaw, Yasmin makes it her mission to get him back in business. He has no money to pay for the permit being required by local legislators. He loans his own books free of charge to anyone who wants to read them.

Yasmin's determination has her finding help within her community, and with her friends who also borrow from Book Uncle. The mayoral election being held, and the candidates in the running, provide a perfect scenario for getting municipal leaders to look at the issue itself, and to listen to what Yasmin has to say.

Yasmin is a worthy adversary for those wanting to win the election. She has a strong voice, fierce determination, and a powerful sense for what is fair and reasonable. She shows her potential for leadership at every turn, and soon has the support needed to make a real difference.

Book Uncle also gets what he needs to open his library again, and to begin doing what he loves to do.

"Karate Samuel is carrying on. "I understand that Mr. Book Uncle makes it possible for children to get good books. Can you think of a better thing to do? The TV person says no, he can't. "He is a symbol of our city's pride in elderly people, children and literacy."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Lines on Nana's Face, written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo. Flying Eye Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $25.95 ages 5 and up

"And how about this?"

"This is the best picnic
I have ever had by the

"And those?"

"Oh, those are from
the night I met your

It's Nana's birthday! Her granddaughter wants to be there because she knows how much Nana loves having everyone together. The wee one thinks Nana is  happy.

"But sometimes it looks like she might also
be a little sad, and a little surprised,
and slightly worried, all at the same time."

Having to look at my aging face in the mirror every day, I know exactly what the little girl means.

And so, the talk begins about those lines. Luckily, Nana doesn't mind having all them, as they mark important times in her life. Those lines store all of her wonderful lifetime memories. They talk about each one. As Nana recalls the special events that are so memorable for her, she lets her granddaughter know about a mystery solved, a picnic at the sea, a roller coaster ride, a special present, a sad goodbye, and great joy.

Each memory shared is then depicted on a lovely two page spread that brings meaning to them. Emotional and personal, this book certainly evokes memories of my own grandmother. I didn't see her often and she has been gone for many years. I know we never talked about her 'wrinkles', but I have warm memories of the rare times we did visit each year and some of the stories she shared.

Beautifully conceived and heartwarming, this book ups my admiration for Simona Ciraolo's talent. I will certainly anticipate sharing her lovely book with my granddaughters when they are old enough to consider all the lines on my face! And, I will look forward to any new book.

I will pair this with a book that has been on my favorites shelf since 1992, when it was first published. It's called Grandma, According to Me (Beil, Doubleday). I hope you can find a copy.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Animals By The Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics, by Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $24.99 all ages

"... so the figures given for their biomass are based on what scientists have learned about an animal's population and average weight. Most people have never seen a bristlemouth, a small deep-sea fish. But some scientists think that bristlemouths and termites might outweigh every other kind of animal ... "

Get this one for the kids who love facts, and figures! I don't know a child who doesn't love Steve Jenkins' books. They are filled with the most amazing information and splendid images of animals, always with  further learning in mind.

In this new book he presents an incredible array of animals, all while trying to help his readers understand them in terms of number. He suggests that numbers help with much of our learning about the world. He then uses visuals to bring an ever clearer understanding about some of the many things they can do.

"Many animals survive by being swift fliers,
runners, or swimmers. Animals use their speed
to catch prey or to avoid becoming prey

On the graphic chart that accompanies that bit of information, Mr. Jenkins shows that the peregrine falcon's maximum speed for an animal in the air, on land, and in water is 200 mph (322 kph)! Are you kidding? The slowest is the humpback whale at 16 mph (26 kph). Who isn't fascinated at such a comparison? The realistic cut-paper collage images of a peregrine and an Australian tiger beetle are accompanied by a factual caption that is relevant to the pages presented.

Steve Jenkins knows his audience (including adults) and constantly pens books that entertain and educate. What he presents is a sure bet with kids and what they want to know. The design makes the text to accessible and easy for readers to grasp the concepts. Human feats are always part of the presentation, allowing readers to see themselves within its pages.

Helping children understand the power of nonfiction is evident throughout this very useful book. Kids get to see graphs and charts, a timeline, a flow chart, symbols, keys, a table of contents, bibliography, websites, and an author's note concerning the compilation of the data he has included.
Perfect for practicing how reading nonfiction is so very different from reading fiction, and as compelling as every other book by the articulate and prolific Steve Jenkins!  It is another one of those books for browsing to tempt all readers and encourage learning.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Year of Borrowed Men, written by Michelle Barker and illustrated by Renne Benoit. Pajama Press, 2015. $21.95 ages 7 and up

"Every day the borrowed men went out to the fields to help run the horse plow or milk the cows. It was my job to bring them lunch. Mummy would pack up one of our horses, and I would lead her out toward the fields. The horse always knew where the men were."

This is a book that has been on my shelf for far too long. Today, I will remedy that by telling you about it. It is a story of Germany at the end of World War II. Based on her mother's memories of that time in her life, Michelle Barker chooses to tell it in clear, understated prose.

Gerda and her family 'borrow' three French prisoners to help them with keeping their farm productive. They will only stay until the war ends. They are there because the German army has 'borrowed' her Papi to help fight the war.

"We had cows, pigs, 150 chickens, and six horses to pull carriages and help with the work in the field. We were lucky compared to others in our German village. We had milk and butter, meat, eggs, and produce to sell to people in the nearby city. But it was a lot to take care of."

They are tasked to treat the three men as the enemy. The family cannot do that. Rather, they treat them with respect and kindness, thankful for their help. They sleep in the pig kitchen where they are warm and well-fed. The one time they are invited inside the farm home, someone reports them. Mummy is taken to the village and warned by local police that another such invitation will lead to her own imprisonment. They are scary times. At war's end, the men return to their homeland, free at last. They leave knowing they have made some very special friends.

A young narrator's voice lessens the horror that surrounds the family in wartime. This story of kindness, friendship, and a loving family is illustrated realistically with watercolor, colored pencils, and pastel to evoke the warmth of the situation at a time when there was little hope for many. The addition of family photos and an author's note add clarity.

This is a story to be shared at any time of year. It would also work well at a Remembrance Day Service (sorry I missed telling you about it a bit earlier) or at Christmas, a time of giving and for being kind and thankful.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

LEAVE ME ALONE! By Vera Brosgol. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2016. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"So she made her bed
as neatly as she could.
She swept the floorboards
until they more or less
She drank tea from her
She packed up her
things in a big sack,
and as she left she
shouted back ... "

The poor grandmother! She looks so happy to be in her rocking chair, knitting needles in hand and a huge pile of yarn at her side. We all know what she is interested in doing! Turn the page ... and we quickly understand why she is yelling so loudly on the front cover. Her house is bursting at the seams with children, children, children  ... her very own grandchildren.

She has a job to do before winter sets in, and being with all those kids allows no time for getting it done. The children are full of wonder at the many balls of yarn, not knowing what to do with them..

"Were you supposed to hit
the ball with a stick?

Could you eat it?

Could you make your
brother eat it?

Why did the ball get smaller
and smaller as you chased it?"

What a mess! After thoroughly cleaning her house, she wants to be left to her own devices. The bears in the forest are an annoyance. The goats on the mountain find the woolly snacks too delicious to ignore. Frustrated and determined, she climbs onto the moon. She is quite the attraction for the moon men. So, she makes her way through a wormhole - peace at last!

Perfectly paced and just right for reading to a group of preschoolers, this is a book that requires a bit of acting. Your listeners will be keen to help with their loudest voices whenever they see that repeated phrase - LEAVE ME ALONE!

As we move rapidly toward Christmas, we all have days when we feel just exactly what the grandmother is feeling. Look for a wormhole!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Motor Miles, written and illustrated by John Burningham. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $23.00 ages 3 and up

"So Mr. Huddy started to make the car for Miles. And every day after school, Miles and Norman would go to see the car being made. Finally, Mr. Huddy finished the car and it was ready for Miles. "We will have to give you driving lessons," said Mr. Huddy to Miles. Miles practiced going right, going left, and going backward. Quick STOP! After many lessons, Miles had learned to drive."

Miles is new to the Trudge family. It wasn't until Norman and his mother adopted him that they learned he could be unyielding. He had some dislikes:

"Miles did not come when he was called,
did not like going for walks,
and did not like his food ...
or the rain.
He barked too much ...
and he didn't like other dogs."

He did, however, love car rides. So, Mr. Huddy who lived next door, decided to build a car just for Miles. Once finished, Miles needed driving lessons. He took to his new skill with joyous abandon. Norman was pretty keen, too. He liked being driven to school by Miles, going on trips to the sea, and all manner of more adventure. Satisfied with his life, Miles began to change ... he was much easier to manage. Soon, Norman was too big to accompany Miles. The car was put away.

And now that the car is no longer viable, what does Mr. Huddy has up his sleeve?

John Burningham is a storytelling genius. His sober narration of the story's facts makes Miles a completely believable character and his motoring skills most enjoyable. As he has done so often, Mr. Burningham uses watercolor, ink and pastel to give his story life and character. Miles is a formidable and lovable friend to Norman and his mother.

Based in part on a family dog much like Miles, Mr. Burningham has penned a story sure to delight those who love dogs and want what is best for them. I am such a fan. I know you will be, too.

Friday, November 18, 2016

I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!) Written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin. 2016. $21.99 ages 2 and up

"I smell bread.
I'm hungry!

I smell toast.
It's burnt!

I smell the pizza.

I smell the cheese.

What a fine celebration of the senses this is! There are five parts to it - one for each of the senses. They are coded by color, which only makes it even more appealing for little ones. The children who describe those things they are hearing, smelling, seeing, touching and tasting add personality and connection for the children who will take great enjoyment from listening to them.

It is a day in the life of many young children as they experience the old and the new. Onomatopoeic words will be most appreciated and echoed as the book is sure to be read often. Discussion will certainly result as they pore over the many spot pictures reflecting that daily life, and think about other things that they have smelled, touched, seen, heard and tasted.

I love that there are do and don't images that will surely encourage explanation, caution and understanding.

"I smell the rain.

I smell the grass!
It's so fresh!

I don't like to smell cow poop."

Simple, yet revealing. Expressive at every turn. Often humorous. These vignettes are engaging and very entertaining.

Why a pickle? you ask.

"I taste the pickle.
It's sour.
I smell the pickle.
It's spicy.
I see the pickle.
It's green.
I touch the pickle.
It's slippery.
I hear the pickle ...


Ta da! A jar of dills might be the perfect follow-up.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

the Water Princess, written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. G. P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Water, come!
Do not make me wake
before even the sun is
out of bed!" I demand.
"Come, please," I say.
But the water
won't listen,
and I know
we will have to
walk so far
to the well"

In a book based on the childhood experiences of model Georgie Badiel, we learn about Princess Gie Gie who lives with her parents in a small village in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Every day the women of the village place cloth rings on their heads before hoisting the pots that will carry the precious well water back to their families. The walk for miles ...

Princess Gie Gie loves her home; she is happy and content to sing and dance when she is not worried about water.

"But I cannot make the water come closer.
I cannot make the water run clearer.
No matter what I command."

As they walk, mother and daughter sing and dance, share a lunch to give them the energy to move forward and finally, arrive at the well where they talk with friends, collect the water and begin the long trek back to their village. Only now can they cook their food, wash their clothes and quench a neverending thirst. Tomorrow, they will do it all over again.

The story is told with warmth and compassion for the plight of so many around the world. Peter Reynolds has created appealing characters and a spectacular West African backdrop. He uses browns, oranges and golds to invite readers into the warm brilliance of the African days, and blues and violets for the stunning expanse of the night sky. While sharing a sense of the beauty, they also evoke feelings about dust and heat and the need for clean water to sustain each of us.

In an endnote, we are asked to think on this:

"Imagine if you couldn't go to school because you had to spend each day walking for miles just to get water and not even know if the water you reach will be clean. This is true for nearly one billion people around the world. That's one of every six who doesn't have access to clean water."

Inspiring in its scope, we can only hope that sharing this book will move our children and others to look beyond themselves to problems being faced around the world, and in our own backyard. If you want to know more about how you can help, here are two websites.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Little Penguins, words by Cynthia Rylant and pictures by Christian Robinson. Scwartz & Wade, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 2 and up


Many mittens.

And matching scarves.

One for each foot."

The weather report for Manitoba released today says we should expect much cooler temperatures by the weekend, and perhaps some flurries. That is good news for many, as we have often had Halloween visitors arrive in snow boots and parkas. No snow until past the middle of November - lots of people will be celebrating that news! Happy times ahead for little ones who can't wait to see the first flakes fall, and for winter to bring its brilliant beauty to streets and yards.

The small penguins in this spirited book that celebrates winter's first snow cannot contain their excitement. Their first glimpse of the wintry wonderland has them scrambling for mittens, scarves, socks and boots, all perfectly matched for easy access. Once outside, they head off with enthusiasm, towing a sleigh and making a path for those who follow. The snow is deep, always deeper. Mama follows with the fifth, and reticent, little one in tow.

As night falls, the troop heads inside for warmth and treats following a long day of activity. Mama must be relieved when all five are tucked in for a long winter's sleep.

 What a delight to have Christian Robinson interpret Cynthia Rylant's spare and telling text! His spreads are filled with northern scenes and the bright white of falling snow. Done in acrylic paint and cut paper collage, he interprets the joy felt in every scene. He outfits his tiny tots in matching duds and gives readers a sense of their individual personalities as we follow them into the wide, white world.

Sure to be a bedtime favorite as we move from fall toward the many joys of winter!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Real Cowboys, written by Kate Hoefler and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"They're on cattle drives
for hours, or days, or
weeks, but they don't
mind. Real cowboys
are patient. Even on a
fast horse, they have to
move with the slow
rhythm of the herd, and
it can take a long time ... "

Kate Hoefler uses poetic language for this homage to the modern cowboy. She shares a realistic picture of the daily work that keeps a real cowboy busy. She does so with a quiet grace that shows cowboys to be quiet, thoughtful of others, gentle in their handling of the animals in their charge, and peaceful while singing songs to keep the howling of coyotes at bay when settling their herds.

They are tireless travelers, keen listeners, and they stay safe in the face of hot sun, and the other dangers in their environment. They are patient, strong and willing to ask for and give help whenever it is needed. Their dogs are integral to their work:

"Real cowboys are good to their dogs.
They have a special way of talking to them.
Cowboys say "Go by" and "Look back,"
and their dogs listen, driving in a lost heifer."

In the event of a real disaster, cowboys are known to show they care. They work together protecting their herds, eating their food, and catching some shut-eye. They are many colors, and both genders. They are wanderers and wonderers, deserving of our admiration. The reader comes away from the book with a greater appreciation of the hard work these men and women undertake on a daily basis.
It is a wondrous book, quietly read.

I always eagerly anticipate new artwork done by Jonathan Bean. I am a huge admirer of his work! His artwork is described for this book: "The illustrations are hand-stenciled shapes and textures layered with the computer and printed in four Pantone colors." Blending that palette, he creates a remarkable world of cowboys in profile, and focused on the work at hand. Shadows and light play a vibrant role in making the reader aware of all aspects of that work. Moods change as his stunning backgrounds move from frightening to sad to cheerful to contemplative.

This book is very special.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Panda Pants, written by Jacqueline Davies and illustrated by Sidney Hanson. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"You have FUR. You
don't need pants to keep
"Pants would be warmer."
"Are you cold?"
"No, but I could be.
At any moment."
"You will not be cold.
At ANY moment ... "

Have you ever had a word war with your kids, or your students? Somehow you know that no matter what you say, there is going to be a rebuttal to your statement. I am sure most of you have been there at one time or another. It is a conversation that papa and his little one are having as they travel through the bamboo forest. Wait - is someone following them?

Little panda has decided that 'pants' will make him happy, and he is determined to sweep aside any objection that his father has. He has all the right arguments. They are warm, soft, impressive, and needed. Papa is not convinced. No amount of dialogue seems to change either mind.

As they pass a scarecrow he borrows its pants. Rushing to catch up with his father, he arrives just in time to face an intimidating snow leopard who has been furtively following them. Little panda's quick response to the inherent danger, a watermelon and the support of his animal friends - and his pants -  make quick work of that threat. He then takes the pants and gives them to a rabbit friend. Papa wonders why, and Little Panda has the perfect response.

Familiar, funny and having huge appeal for little ones who know how to be oppositional, this is a story that you will be asked to share many times. The gorgeous mixed media images are full of charm and perfectly placed page after page to bring the two main characters to expressive life.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dory Fantasmagory: Dory Dory Black Sheep, written and illustrated by Abby Hanlon. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2016. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Rosabelle comes running over. "Rascal! Why are you eating your lunch before school again?" "I'm not eating it all. I'm sharing it with ... " I start to say but then stop. I don't want to tell Rosabelle that a lamb escaped from my embarrassing babyish farm book. "Oh, never mind," I say. "Oh," she says, and looks disappointed."

If you have not yet met Dory Fantasmagory, you need to do that! If you have, you won't need me to tell you much about her third adventure. You are likely to be anticipating its publication, especially if your children are fans as so many are. I share this post because I, too, am a fan.

I don't want anyone to miss the chance to meet Dory. So, here I go. Dory is an independent, outspoken and struggling first grader. Reading is not her strong suit. She doesn't like the 'baby' books she must read to help her improve her skills. Her reading partner is George, an 'old' friend.

"George and I have a basket of Easy
Reader books. I take them out of the bin one by
one. "This one is about farm animals ... this one
is about farm animals ... farm animals ... farm
animals ... Every single one of these books is
about farm animals! These books are terrible!"
I say."

Their teacher thinks they are perfect for them. Dory would much rather be reading with her 'new' friend, Rosabelle. She can read 'thick chapter books' in her head. That is not going to happen. So, Dory (as she so often does) turns to her imagination to make her life better. She imagines a black sheep named Goblin right out of the pages of one of their farm books ... and the fun begins again!

Dory enlists help from her fairy godmother, Mr. Nuggy. He concocts a potion to help Dory with her reading. Dory's enemy Mrs. Gobble Cracker intercepts, drinking it down in one gulp. Oops, one wrong ingredient and the magic has disturbing results.

"I figured it out! Gigi is Mrs. Gobble
Cracker! As a kid!" I try to look scared,
but I can't help smiling because I love this

The adventure continues when Dory visits Rosabelle in her castle, becomes Superhero Captain Puff, saves Rosabelle's spying little brother, and returns Goblin to his family. It's fast-paced, filled with lively drawings that are just right for the storyline and for its early readers.

You don't want to miss it. You will love Dory, her imaginary world and her transformation from being a hesitant reader to one who is determined to get better at it.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home, by Paul Griffin. Dial, Penguin. 2016. $22.99 ages 8 and up

""Four years, Flip. Less than four. Three years, nine months and twenty days until I turn sixteen. We can hang in that long, right?" He cocked his head and licked my lips. He was the best study partner. He really did love when you read to him. Monday morning I dropped him off at the Mold house. He looked a little sad as I left. "Come on now, Flip bud. You know I'll be back soon. I promise."

Foster care has not been good for Ben. When he is finally adopted by a mother who loves him, the 10 year old is content. Living in Coney Island only adds to his satisfaction with life in general. He loves everything about his life there.

He finds comfort in time spent at the library with Mrs. Lorentz, a caring librarian who allows him a safe place, an occasional Chips Ahoy! cookie, and meaningful books to read. This time it's Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson, a favorite of her daughter. He's okay with most of it.

"But I had to stop when I read the next thing Frannie's teacher said about these so-called special moments. 'Some of them might be perfect, filled with light and hope and laughter. Moments that stay with us forever and ever.' This was a lie. Nothing lasts forever. It's scientific fact. Things happen and they're over and you can't get them back."

After one of his visits to the library, Ben befriends Flip, a 'shivering mess' of a dog who follows him home and whose main claim to fame is kissing on the lips any person who gets close enough. It is thanks to Flip that Ben meets Halley, Mrs. Lorentz's daughter. Flip is enrolled to become a therapy dog which will allow him help with the Reading to Rufus program at the library. Ben and Halley  become fast friends, spending their time together and working on a collaborative story. Through their relationship and the time spent writing The Magic Box we learn about the trauma in both lives, and their dreams for the future.

When Ben's mom dies suddenly, he goes to live with his aunt ... it is not a happy place. He's 12, and already quite sure that nothing that is good lasts. You can appreciate that this book could be so depressing; it is not. Reading the rest of Ben's story left with me with hope for a world where people  face unimaginable heartbreak, and come out of their experiences stronger. Everyone Ben meets impacts his life in ways that help him become who he will be. As misguided as some of them are, each helps him to understand that love and friendship trump the hardships. He can then learn to trust again, and to know that he deserves a place of belonging.

Honest, heartbreaking and hopeful, I am so happy to have read it and to share it with you.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Canada Year by Year, written by Elizabeth MacLeod and illustrated by Sydney Smith. Kids Can Press, 2016. $21.95 ages 10 and up

"1970 October Crisis

In the 1960s, some people wanted Quebec to be independent from Canada. Among them was a group called the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ), which began setting off bombs in Montreal. Their terrorist actions killed 6 people and injured at least 40."

Here's a book for building your Canada collection for older kids, as we get even closer to celebrating Canada's 150th birthday! Elizabeth MacLeod has chosen one important event for each year since Confederation. It might just inspire future historians to do some research of their own, and try their hand at this same type of text.

There are 10 chapters, and the book is arranged chronologically from 1867, beginning with A New Country 1867-1884 and ending with Great Canadians. The topics that the author has chosen to share show the wide variety that is the experience of those who have lived in Canada during those years.

"Throughout its long history, Canada has been a place where people have come to make their homes. Before becoming its own country, it was part of the French colonies called New France, and later part of the British colonies of British North America. Even today, about 250,000 newcomers arrive in Canada each year, bringing skills that help make the country a better place to be."

There are so many things to include: medicine, 'firsts', music, art, education, sports, literature, and politics, to name some of them. Canadians have been to war, participated in strikes, fought for the right of women to vote, written remarkable music, produced brilliant films, developed festivals to celebrate our multiculturalism, put aboriginal children in residential schools, showed racism ... many of our triumphs and our tragedies are shared here.

The text is written with a personal touch, making it easy for middle graders to access and assimilate. As I was reading it today, I found myself turning to the pages that describe our involvement in wartime conflicts. I read about life in the trenches, the inventor of the gas mask, John McCrae, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, the Halifax Explosion, the Battle of Britain, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum (located right here in Brandon) and so much more.

This is another of those 'browsing' books, so needed for reluctant readers and for those who love to read factual information. It will find many fans, and deserves a place in our classrooms and libraries where interested readers can have a look at our history with pride and a boost of understanding.

Sidebars, quotes, trivia, mini-biographies and timelines are interesting highlights, as is the final list of some very special Canadians. Of course, people, events, places are left out. If not, it would not be a book that gives readers a sense of the heritage that is so special to those who call themselves Canadian. It would be cumbersome and daunting. What it does is encourage readers to look further and see what else they might discover about Canada on their own.

Put it on your desk as we approach January 1, 2017 and see what your students can discover about their home before the calendar turns to a new year.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hurry Up, Henry, written by Jennifer Lanthier and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant. Puffin, Penguin. 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"The only person who
didn't seem to mind how
slowly Henry moved was
Grandma. Grandma never
hurried. Sometimes she took
more time than Henry. If
they needed to be somewhere
at a certain time, Grandma
made sure they got there.
They just left a little earlier."

In this world of hurry-up, some of our children need life to slow down. Henry is one of them. His interest lies in the world around him. He has no need to hurry through it. He likes to take time to relax, look around, bask in the beauty that is there and the joy to be found in  kids on the playground, chalk paintings on the sidewalk, birds in the sky and ants on the ground.

His family is always encouraging him to rush as they live their over-scheduled lives. Simon, his best friend, is the exact opposite of Henry. He is always on the go, facing constant scolding for being in a rush to get things done. Henry likes Simon's visits, but they tire him out. Only Grandma seems to appreciate Henry's need to move more slowly - she is the same. In fact, she might even be slower!

Henry's upcoming birthday has Simon seriously considering the best gift he can give. He enlists Grandma's help. It is PERFECT!

The writing is as calm and lovely as Henry wants his days to be. It's so important for families to find ways to keep everyone in the family in tune with the others, sharing lovely moments of joy. The color and details shown in Ms. Malenfant's lovely artwork perfectly complement the story's tone. She makes evident exactly how Henry is feeling, depending on the action in his days.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I am Josephine (and I am a living thing), written by Jan Thornhill and illustrated by Jacqui Lee. Owlkids Books, 2016. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"I am Josephine,
and I am a mammal.

I am a mammal, and
so is my mom, and so
is my dog, Cosmo, and
so is a groundhog.
And so is that cat
that's always following
me around. (Shoo,

Josephine is many things - mammal, animal, living thing, human - but, she is also her very own self. She makes that clear from her opening gymnastic vault into our presence. Using an easel and a variety of useful instruments including paint brushes, markers and crayons, she provides an illustrated example of just one of the things that make her unique.

She has spunk, and clear knowledge of how important she is to her parents and her brother; the feeling is mutual. As we wander through the book's pages with her, Jacqui Lee provides colorful and detailed backdrops for each new designation. Josephine's street is filled with the many houses and humans who are her neighbors. When the page is turned on this descriptive two-page spread, readers are asked to count the human beings found in spot pictures on the next one.

Mammal is next. Josephine quickly categorizes others like herself, and moves us on to ask if we can find more. All of the details shown and the appealing characters provide humor and interest for a young audience. Josephine is a friendly guide to the learning, and joyously leads readers from one page to the next, always encouraging participation in many new experiences.

The writing is clear and easily accessible for its intended audience. The artwork is colorful and filled with charming detail. The illustrations offer plenty of opportunity for discussion and understanding. The classification of living things is not often so clear for little ones trying to cement their place in the natural world.

The lists provided in back matter add to the learning, showing just what it takes to be part of each of the four classifications.

Josephine leaves readers with a question to ponder:

"What makes you different from other human beings?"

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Bear Who Wasn't There, written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $19.50 ages 3 and up


Excuse me, but have
either of you seen a Bear?

I haven't seen a bear around
here. Are you sure you are in
the right book?
Try the next page."

There is evidence everywhere that a bear is in the vicinity! But, where on earth is it? As the narrator, who is becoming more and more anxious, asks first one animal  and then another about that bear, there are no acceptable answers. Even the tree cannot help!

The duck, the mouse, the turtle and each of the other assorted animals are consumed by their own needs. They have no time for helping to search for a bear that has never made an appearance. Becoming zanier with every turn of the page, the narrator finally asks for an audience with the author. She appears, but seems also to be befuddled by the bear's absence. She obviously thinks that she has drawn the bear being sought, and is very surprised to see all that she has created.

"Did I draw all this?"

Apparently so, her goofy characters fully fill the following pages. Many have something to say about the situation they find themselves in, and are happy to share those observations:

"Why are we all here?"
"We are still looking for the bear."
"Nobody told me I'd be on page 24! What's my line?
Hey buddies, this isn't a birdbath."
"I can't believe I walked all the way from page 20 for this."
"What is going on here?"

Oh, they are so expressive! There is a lot of humor here, some very funny gags, and a lot of enjoyment for those who have a chance to share it. It is a pretty special set-up! I can hear the snickers when the bathroom door is opened on a clearly embarrassed and unsuspecting giraffe. That mouse is a troublemaker, for sure.

Do they ever find said bear? I will let you discover that for yourself.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Adrift At Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of Survival. Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, and Illustrated by Brian Deines. Pajama Press, 2016. $22.95 ages 8 and up

"I jump over rocks and
bushes, running to the boats. Guns fire. One bullet pierces a clump of dirt by my foot. I stumble and roll, head
over heels. I get up and keep running. Soldiers shout. My heart pounds."

Today we are all aware of the refugee crisis that grips the world. Too many people are forced to flee their homes in search of safety and a better life, away from the strife and danger in their own villages, towns, cities, countries. We see their faces, hear their stories and share their hopes for a happier future.

In 1981, the 'boat people' from Vietnam are struggling to deal with what has happened in their own beloved country. They, too, see their only hope is in leaving. Tuan Ho's father and sister have been gone for a year, looking to find a home for the rest of their family and sponsor their journey to Canada. Today, after school, he learns that preparations have been made for the rest of the family's  flight to freedom. They must leave their smallest sister behind, as she is too young to be taken safely.

Trucked to the sea and running from the soldiers' bullets, they board a skiff filled with 60 people and begin their four day journey. On the second day the skiff springs a leak, on the third the motor dies. They are adrift for three more harrowing days - with little food, almost no water, a blazing sun, and hope. Their rescue comes in the form of an aircraft carrier whose crew brings them on board, gives them food and refuge.

The authors include personal photographs of Tuan's family, before their escape and following their  settling in Canada, to help readers understand this historical moment in time. Added information includes a map, archival and family photos, and an explanation for the need to leave.

"It is a testament to how horrible life was that so many thousands of Vietnamese were willing to risk their lives for a chance to escape. For twenty years following the Fall of Saigon, people tried to escape Vietnam any way they could. The only way out was by sea, and those who could afford it would bribe government officials in order to get their documents and a boat. Those who didnt' have the money had to sneak away secretly and without travel papers. Rich or poor, they all ended up in boats not made for long travel on open water."

The dangers were many, their journeys harrowing, and the time spent in refugee camps often too long. Still, they stayed the course and eventually many settled in "the United States, France, Australia, and Canada."

Brian Deines (as he always does) has created truly beautiful artwork using oils on canvas to bring Tuan's story to this book's readers. From the lush, tropical street in Ho Chi Minh City, the dark seashore, the blistering heat of a sun-filled sky, the clear blue beauty of the sea beneath them where dolphins play, to the almost overpowering arrival of the aircraft carrier, we journey with the family as they make their courageous way to a new life.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

BASEBALL Then to WOW! Sports Illustrated for Kids. 2016. $23.95 all ages

"At Fenway Park, for instance, the rightfield pole is just 302 feet from home plate, but the fence in deep centerfield is 420 feet away. Meanwhile, the leftfield wall is 310 feet away - and 37 feet tall!"

The CHICAGO CUBS won the World Series! 108 years! I cannot even imagine the joy felt by those fans who have cheered their team on for years. I saw an interview with a 108 year old woman who was born two months before the last win, and is still here to cheer them on this year! What an amazing story to tell!

So, while our attention has turned to other sports, we will not soon forget the 2016 series ... and know that it will only amp up excitement for books about the sport itself. If you have kids still wanting to check out your baseball books, have this one on hand. It is filled with more information than they will be able to assimilate in their first reading. It is sure to lure them back again and again.

From the pinstriped endpapers and the opening images of 'then' and 'now' baseballs through its 80 fact-filled pages, it gives readers amazing visuals on double page spreads in four sections: The Basics, The Players, Play Ball! and Fan-tastic! A timeline is used to help young fans see the progression in the rules of the game from 1845 through to 2014 ... and on it goes.

Every single turn of the page offers readers a different aspect of the game, and how things have changed through the years it has been played. The uniforms, gloves, catcher's masks for each decade of play are all mentioned. Stadiums are described, as are the improvements made when new ones are developed and opened.

There is so much for kids to love in this book - not the least of which is to see how nonfiction can be organized in a new and different way. They will see how information collected can be placed on timelines, in comparison charts, even right on the playing field. It is an incredibly diverse way of sharing so many facts. It does not have to be read from front to back - it can be read according to what first strikes a reader's fancy. Sports fans will go back again and again, always discovering more.

The archival photos, the statistics, the names (new and old), and the history make it a most valuable addition to any collection. And remember:

"Over  the years, baseball has become more and more about keeping spectators entertained and engaged. A candy bar with Babe Ruth's name on the wrapper? I'd buy that! Trading cards with pictures of the game's most beloved players? I want a pack! A free bat just for walking through the gate? Well, duh! Today's fans can have Cracker Jack and sushi while they sit in the stands and enjoy nine innings of fun."

Get a copy and take all the time in the world to enjoy it! Baseball won't be back until spring training.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Girls Can Do Anything: From Sports to Innovation, Art to Politics, Meet Over 200 Women Who Got There First, written by Caitlin Doyle and illustrated by Chuck Gonzales. Firefly Books, 2016. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"In August of 1948, Mother Teresa put on the blue-and-white robes she would wear for the rest of her life and left for the city. Her goal was simple but broad - to aid the unwanted and unloved. She quickly set up a school and a hospital in Calcutta, creating a new organization called the Missionaries of Charity."

 My friend Don would call this a book for 'browsing'. And, he would be right. Not everyone who picks it up is going to begin at page 1 and continue through to page 320, reading every entry from top to bottom. They are more likely to page through it, stopping here and there at women whose lives interest them - someone they know, someone they want to know more about, someone who is unfamiliar and intriguing. No matter what, they will find much to hold their attention within its pages.

The tributes honor women from every walk of life - each one is included because of historical significance. They are included in four sections: Arts and Literature, Politics and World-Building, Science and Innovation, and Sports and Endurance. There is an introduction, an epilogue, a section called Sea Change: Waves of Feminism, a conclusion, an extensive bibliography, a glossary and an index. The design is appealing and the text personal and easy to follow.

The entries in each section are chronological, and worldly. Readers will very much enjoy the 'browsing'. These exceptional women inspire with their determination, their skills, their unbending will to make the world a better place. A table of contents is included within each section, allowing readers easy access to 50 single and double page entries. Following each are two lined pages where readers can add 'great women' of their own.

In her conclusion, the author adds:

"As you'll have noticed, time and again, individual entries cross-reference to other women in the book. These include Beyoncé supporting the Girl Scouts campaigns, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg working as a director of the ACLU (co-founded by Helen Keller), paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey hiring Jane Goodall to work on her first chimpanzee field project, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee being inspired to take up sports after Babe Zaharias' story on TV."

Canada ABC, by Paul Covello. Harper, 2016. $12.99 ages 2 and up

"D is for

E is for

F is for

G is for

Are you starting to build a collection of books that you can share in celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary in two short months? If you are, you should check this one out.

It's a board book, sturdily made and bigger than the usual size. It begins in the Arctic and ends with a Zamboni cleaning the ice in anticipation of further fun at the rink. Paul Covello includes the many unique and wonderful Canadian images that are an integral part of our identity as a country. Four of the letters are set on a double page spread. To see the grandeur of the totem, the book must be held vertically. All others are set on single pages.

A child's focus will surely be attracted to the brilliance of the color palette, the bold images, the detailed backgrounds, and the opportunity afforded for discussion and discovery. Little ones will not be familiar with everything the artist has chosen to include; that is a plus. Parents and caregivers can spend the time needed to listen and familiarize them with those things that are celebratory of Canada: its geography, seasons, sports, cities, attractions and events.

Very well done, and worthy of a place on your bookshelf. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Plants Can't Sit Still, written by Rebecca E. Hirsch and illustrated by Mia Posada. Millbrook, Thomas Allen & Son. 2016. $30.99 ages 4 and up

"Plants can creep.
They slither underground
or crawl through tall grass
searching for the things
that all plants need:
water, sunshine, and
room to grow. And as
they search, plants can ... "

Who knew that plants moved in so many ways? Kids will be impressed with the learning this book presents in such an impressive and seemingly simple way. The text is not wordy. It moves across the double page spreads with the same grace as the plants themselves, offering up just enough information to satisfy its young audience. Word choice is exceptional, as you can see from the opening quote.

The watercolor and collage artwork fully captures the elegance of the flora described as they wiggle, reach, search , climb, surprise, nod and fold. I could go on. The images show plants as seeds, vines, flowers, fruits; each is as glorious as the next. They move for good reason, and we are witness to each search for the perfect spot to grow and flourish.

This is such a striking collaboration of words and pictures. It is sure to become a favorite for young scientists wanting to know about the natural movements of mostly familiar plants.

In back matter, the author adds a section that provides further information:

"Although scientists understand the reasons for many plant movements, sleep movements are mysterious. It is not always clear why plants fold or droop at night. For some plants, this may help keep them warm during the dark, cold night. For others, sleep movements may prevent nighttime animals from munching on them."

Older readers will be impressed with this. She goes on to describe each of the pictured plants and its species with a short paragraph of pertinent facts. Following that, there is an author's note meant to describe some of  her research, a glossary, and a list of books and websites to satisfy those wanting to learn even more.

I thought you might find the following videos enlightening and worthy of your attention. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Great Antonio, written and illustrated by Elise Gravel. Toon Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $18.95 ages 6 and up

"Little is known about
his childhood. Maybe
his parents were

Or maybe, just maybe
he came from another
planet where he was
raised by BEARS."

I knew nothing of Montreal strongman Antonio Barichievich. The illustrated biography is my introduction to his story, and it is most welcome. It would be very difficult to walk away from the reading without feeling admiration for him and some sadness for his notoriety.

Ms. Gravel begins her book by assuring this reader that it isn't surprising that I don't know his story:

"We don't know much about Antonio Barichievich.
He came from Europe. His dad may have been a
woodcutter. One thing we do know is ...
... that he was a

She goes on to share some comical explanations for his size, and his background.  She continues the story with his arrival in Canada, his size, his appetite and those things that he loved most ... especially wrestling! His strength and his many feats were legendary and much admired. I liked learning about some of the habits that made him even more special: he liked to wear a tux, sing Italian arias, sleep on the floor, wear his hair in long braids and had an abiding love for children. When a love affair failed, he took to the streets where he lived for the rest of his life.

"His office was a donut shop.
It was the only place he could be reached."

Eccentric, bold and friendly, he was much loved and admired and his 2002 death resulted in many visits to his favorite bench at the donut shop, as mourners stopped by to pay tribute to a 'great' man. This book is a fitting and heartfelt homage to a spirited strong man who made his mark in Canadian history.                                                                          

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

From WOLF to WOOF! The Story of Dogs. Written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"The boy picked up the
bone and tossed it back.
Again, the wolf pup caught
it and dropped it nearer the
boy. Over and over, the boy
threw it back, each time
moving a little closer. Soon
they were close enough to

In his "myth of origin", Hudson Talbott shows his audience how the enduring friendship between humans and dogs may have developed. He begins with wolves, roaming the land in packs and finding the food needed to stay healthy and strong. In one such pack, a small orphaned cub is shunned by the leader. Determined to be useful, he sets to watching for "enemies".

He is a keen scout during the day, but the night sky offers some concern for a lonely young wolf cub. His howls break the night's silence. An orphan boy, scavenging for his own food, wants the howling to stop interfering with his hunting. He throws the cub a bone. Perfect! The bone lasts for days. Soon, the  cub is hungry again; the boy hears, throws another bone and the two are satisfied.

This goes on, until the cub is familiar enough with the routine to get ever closer. It is the beginning of a lasting friendship and mutual assistance. Other 'misfits' join them, allowing for successful hunts:

"The secret was in the teamwork.
Wolves surrounded the prey
so hunters could spear it from
a distance.
Everyone worked together
and shared the food.
No one was left out."

You know the ending. Today, dogs have evolved to share the lives of their humans, bringing joy and so much more. Kids who like some facts with their stories are going to love this book -  just imagine how much more, if they also have their own perfect pal sharing their lives.

Hudson Talbott does spot-on artwork, using watercolors, colored pencils and ink, to bring this story to glorious life for everyone who has ever owned, dreams of owning, or is in the process of convincing a parent that a dog is a must for every family. He draws the reader in with the facts, steals hearts with the story and reminds us that wolves are still here and in need of protection if they are to survive in the world today.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Bone Sparrow, written by Zana Fraillon. Orion, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"Some of the oldies ask me to draw them things. Sometimes they ask me to draw them things I haven't ever seen, and they have to talk and talk until I can see in my head what they have in their rememberings. Queeny says they only do it is so that I shut up for a bit and stop pestering them for more stories. She reckons the only time I'm ever quiet is when I'm being told a story."

Let's begin November with a novel. I have read some pretty amazing ones this past month, and want to share them with you. To say this one held my attention from first page to last is definitely understating the impact it had on me!

I knew absolutely nothing about the Rohingya people of Burma. I am not happy with myself for that. After reading this compelling and heartbreaking story of Subhi and his family, I wanted to know more. That is the power that books have for all of us - they teach us about the world and its ways. They make our hearts ache and soar, and they provide windows into the lives of others.

Subhi's family is persecuted for their religion and forced to leave their village home. Their journey ends in an Australian detention camp, where Subhi is born. Ten years later, it is the only life he knows. To say it is not a good experience is putting it mildly. Subhi loves to hear his mother's stories of life in Burma, but she is slowly losing her will to live and the stories have become few and far between as her health declines. The family lives in hope that Subhi's father will find them there.

Despite the abusive guards, the terrible food, and the hopelessness felt by so many, Subhi does find friends. Each helps to sustain him and his sense of hope for a better future. It does not look promising. Each of these friends is worthy of the young boy's admiration. Harvey, one of the guards, is as kind as he can be when no one else is watching. Eli, also a refugee, is an older boy whose tireless attempts to make things better have an impact on his young friend. Subhi believes that the Great Sea is bringing signs from his father of better times. He dreams his dream often.

Then, there's Jimmie. Jimmie is an illiterate girl who lives outside the detention center fence. The two meet by chance, and Jimmie begins coming into the camp so that Subhi can read the stories that her dead mother has left in a notebook for her. She cannot read them herself. Several chapters of the book are written to focus on her life when she is not at the camp.

Subhi's narrative is strong and personal. Through his eyes, we are witness to moments of loss, anger, fear, and injustice. We also see tiny glimpses of love, hope and redemption ... and we come to know that stories do heal, even in the most brutal conditions.

This is not a easy book to read. It is quite lovely as well. It made me cry, and smile. It caused me to ache for those who live where there is no freedom, where conditions are deplorable, and where happiness is a distant dream. The friendships are strong, the characters unforgettable, their story eye-opening. Subhi, Eli, and Jimmie share personal stories that have helped to make their lives bearable. That is the true message of the book for me - the need for stories in our lives.