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Friday, September 30, 2016

I Won A What? Words by Audrey Vernick and pictures by Robert Neubecker. Alfred A Knopf,.Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I won a whale!
"This is impossible,"
Mom says.
"It's impractical,"
Dad says.
"But you promised,"
I say.
My parents are practical."

While being practical, his parents are also true to their word, and 'very, very fair'. So, when the boy narrator wins that whale at the local fair, they agree to give it a try and see how it goes. Nuncio makes the trip aboard a many wheeled cart, and makes himself at home in the family's swimming pool (which has been filled with salt water).

The two get along famously, sharing conversation while Nuncio fills up on mounds of krill and assorted sea creatures. Nuncio sings with gusto, and terribly. He's great on a trip to the ocean, providing adventure for the family as he hauls them through the water in their small boat. Mom and Dad are not as thrilled as their son is. But, pool cleaning? It is a tough and complicated task. Only when his parents begin to have reservations about keeping Nuncio does the young owner point to the many benefits of keeping him around ... he can help with the garden and car washing. It's enough to change minds about this new pet.

A final observation leads to a wonderful surprise ending that will thrill readers who want Nuncio to remain part of the family. There are moments when laughter seems the only response and others that warm hearts. Robert Nuebecker's illustrations, created using an Apple computer and a #2 pencil, are sure to please young readers with their bright colors and expressive characters, a solid match to the humor of this story.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. By Susan Cain, with Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz. Puffin, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 all ages

"Not everyone will understand your nature, though, even if you try to explain it. When Robby, a teenager from New Hampshire, first learned about introversion, he felt a great sense of relief. He had a tendency to turn quiet in large groups, and although he’d always felt comfortable talking and joking with his closest friends, he had a limit."

Listening to Robby explain how he felt can be heartbreaking, but also very empowering for those kids who are introverts:

“After a couple of hours I’m like, ‘Whoa, I can’t do this.’ It’s draining. There’s a wall that goes up and I don’t want to talk to anyone. It’s not physical exhaustion. It’s mental exhaustion.”

As the mom of an introvert, I was interested in having my adult son read this book and provide some insights. The most notable thing for him was that he would have liked to know he wasn't alone in feeling the way he did when he was younger. Isn't that the case for most of us? It is good to know that others are feeling some of the same things we are ... it allows for acceptance of ourselves.

Based on the tremendous success of Quiet (reprinted 2013), the author has followed it up with a 'guide for KIDS and TEENS'. It focuses on their lives in families, at school, with friends, and at their activities beyond. The stories belong to many young people who live in a world where talk and gregariousness are much valued. In their own quiet ways, they are able to find success for themselves. She also talks about further personal experiences as she explores the world of introversion.

Ms. Cain has real purpose for this guide:

 “Through the stories and experiences of other young people like you, I’ll address questions that introverts often wonder about: How do you carve out a place for yourself as a quiet person? How can you make sure that you’re not ignored? And how do you make new friends when it feels hard to muster the confidence to be chatty?”

It is not her intention to make them over; she wants young people to know they have amazing worth in the world. It is not wrong to be the quiet, thoughtful one. It is just who they are. There are certain traits exhibited by most introverts, and she points them out for her audience: they like being with fewer rather than many people, they often express themselves through the written rather than the spoken word, they prefer to be alone and to avoid any conflict, they work best when they are alone, they feel 'done in' after spending considerable time with others, they are rarely bored when focused on something they find interesting, and they would much rather be the asker of questions than the answerer.

She also makes some pretty telling and empowering observations: There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much, thinkers.”, most great ideas spring from solitude, two or three close friends mean more than 100 acquaintances, and it's perfectly fine to cross the hallway to avoid unimportant conversation. My son, an athlete, would have appreciated her game plan I'm sure: practise alone, study your game, visualize success, shrink your world, exercise solo.

Every one of us, not just kids and teens, can benefit from the insights shared and the advice given. Imagine the power that would come from parents, teachers, friends, coaches and others being empathetic to those kids who, like Bret, faced being considered insolent rather than simply quiet. It is a very important book to read!

Back matter includes an afterword for teachers, a guide for parents, source notes and an index.

I wish we had known more when our son was his 'younger' self.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton. Tundra, 2016. $16.99 ages 6 and up

"Hey, Narwhal, why are you
looking under that rock?
Ahoy, Jelly!
I'm looking for my pod.
Your pod?
I read on the net the other
day that narwhals usually
travel in groups called pods.
I seem to be missing mine,
so I'm looking for it."

When Narwhal finds himself in a new part of the sea, he is interested to meet Jelly. Jelly is not as keen. In fact, Jelly is not even sure that Narwhal is real. By the end of the first chapter, each has proved to the other that they can be friends.

Two pages of fun facts let readers know just a little bit about each, including the facts that narwhals can live up to ninety years, and jellyfish a group of jellyfish is called a smack. Narwhal has just recently learned that narwhals travel in pods, leading him to search for his own. Jelly is afraid he will not find it, as he is the only narwhal ever seen in this part of the sea.

Now, Narwhal is determined to organize his own pod, and asks Shark, Turtle, Blowfish, and Octopus to join. Jelly is s bit put out that he hasn't been asked and wonders what a pod does before making a decision to join. Narwhal has some explaining to do:

"I'm not really sure!
But I imagine a pod plays
ultimate cannonball, eats
waffles, fights crime and ...

has super awesome parties!"

That's only some of the fun that will be enjoyed by early readers as they share this comic novel. The two are mentors for teaching how to make a new friendship work. They share ideas, read books and make the very best of the day to day activities that friends love to do together. Full of joy and charm, it is sure to be a hit!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Thyra Heder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Tomorrow is Sleepover Under the Stars Night, Jelly!" To prepare, Penny and Jelly watched constellations beam down from her bedroom ceiling. The Big Dipper flashed. The Pleiades, those Seven Sisters, sparkled. The Dog Star, Sirius, shined. The brightest in the night sky, it was Penny and Jelly's favorite."

As we say goodbye to summer skies and welcome the harvest moon, all thoughts of a sleepover under the stars must be quickly forgotten. Luckily, Penny's invitation comes at the height of summer when excitement for sleeping under the stars is almost more than a little girl can stand. To say she is disappointed to learn that Jelly is not invited is an understatement. 

Penny and Jelly have much knowledge of the summer sky, after studying the constellations on her bedroom ceiling. Determined to feel Jelly's presence at the event, she attempts to make a stand-in for him. She does her best, but nothing can compare to her much loved pet. Paper is no match for his soft body, nor is yarn, and certainly not fleece. Not one to give up, Penny tries everything. Nothing is just right.

Her solution to the dilemma is perfect, and will be much appreciated by all pet-loving readers.

Thyra Heder's accompanying illustrations are pitch perfect, and sure to encourage listeners to take an interest in the night sky. They will also inspire them to get out their art supplies to see if they can make a reasonable facsimile of their own pets. Terrific fun!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Finding Wild, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd with pictures by Abigail Halpin. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Wild is full of smells - fresh mint, ancient cave, sun-baked desert, sharp pine, salt sea. Every scent begging you to drink it in.

Wild is forest-fire hot and icicle cold."

After singing the praises of Scott Sampson's How To Raise A Wild Child, I thought it would be appropriate to share this book that shows readers how close the wonder of the wild is, even if you live in the city.

Two youngsters explore the wild that is in close proximity to a subway entrance by wandering through the dense foliage they find there.  It leads them down a path where they notice wild things, both tiny and tall. There is an island-filled lake, a mountain path, gentle breezes, warm sunshine, a shoreline that begs a bracing swim. 'Wild' surrounds them with wonder, and they take the time to notice and appreciate it.

Abigail Halpin uses watercolor and colored pencils to  create lovely landscapes sure to entice and encourage exploration. Whether it's warm sunshine or stormy skies, readers will be tempted to be part of the many experiences that being in the wild offers. Senses are fully engaged whether smelling the mint, feeling the heat of the sun, tasting sweet, juicy berries, or listening to the whispers of the wind. Taking in the many fine details in the lovely images add to the joy of sharing this lovely book with little ones.

As they emerge from their first journey, the two are faced with a scene that is 'clean and paved, ordered and tidy'. What happened to their wild? Just when they least expect it, they are lead to  another, beauteous place where they can visit 'wild' once more. All is takes to discover it is a sense of adventure! Megan Lloyd obviously shares Dr. Sampson's love of nature and its importance in our lives.

Now, you can get outside and follow your own leaf to see where it takes you.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How To Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, by Scott D. Sampson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $22.95

"... a first big step in deepening children's connection with nature is for you to start noticing it. If you don't pay any attention to the natural world, it's doubtful that your children will. So when you step outside in the morning, instead of rushing to the car, pause for a moment. Feel and smell the air. Check out the clouds and trees. Listen to the birds; how many different kinds of song can you hear?"

Now is the perfect time to get started on creating a wild child! There is so much for children to see outside as summer turns to fall, and Dr. Scott Sampson makes a compelling case for the importance of kids making a connection to the nature that is part of their world.

Using research studies to show the benefits that we all get from being in nature (less stress, better immunity, and improved concentration), he walks his audience through three themes to being more aware of our natural settings which will, in turn, encourage all of us to be more likely to protect these places: experience, mentoring and understanding.

We all need to be outdoors more often, taking part in hands-on activities that have more beneficial results than learning on screen. These jaunts don't need to be mind-blowing. Many can take place in backyards and parks. As a mentor to our children and their children, we need to show a genuine interest in learning alongside them: "Being an effective mentor means becoming a co-conspirator, a fellow explorer, a chaser of clues.” Finally, we can show we value understanding by helping them see how everything connects in the natural world, and that they are a part of it. He doesn't want to completely ignore the benefits of technology, suggesting apps for using GPS in treasure hunts, watching the birds in the area, and identifying plants as nature walks are taken.

If we want our kids to be involved, we need to be there with them. Most of Scott Sampson's writing for this book is devoted to practical suggestions and advice to parents and communities to “Get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!” We can all be mentors, by acting as 'teacher questioner, and trickster'. We need to remember that: “When a child asks a question and you know the answer, it’s natural to want to share it. Providing the answer makes us feel good and we presume that kids really want to know. But this inclination can lead us astray. Often times, our response ends the interaction by cutting off curiosity. Counterintuitively, children are often looking for our engagement more than our answers, hoping that the focus of their attention will become ours too.”

 Each of the ideas for connecting with nature are practical and real. They are also simple and easily applied. One of my favorites is the suggestion to have kids start 'sit spotting':

"Sit spot allows you to get to know one little place in intimate detail. What kids of plants and animals live here? When are you most likely to see and hear the various critters?  How does this place change over the course of the day, and through the seasons? Eventually, your sit spot becomes an intimate friend you look forward to being with. And that friend has potential to be your greatest mentor in deepening nature connection. Guided by your sit spot, you'll develop a quiet mind and learn how to open your senses, both critical to being an adept mentor."

 It takes concentrated effort and a concern for the well-being of each one of us: most of all, our children. Our kids will be interested if we are. That's a pretty compelling argument, isn't it?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Apples and Robins, by Lucie Felix. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2016. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"All you need for a
birdhouse are walls
and a roof and a little
door ... and a string
to hang it with.

Now there is a place
for a robin's nest.

But all you need for
 a storm .... "

You say you want fun in the books you read? And you want smart? You get both in this clever and very inventive book that has cut outs, geometric shapes and many surprises. For instance, we are told that what we need for apples are circles and the color red. They are there on the page ... flip to the next, and three white circles on a red background become three shiny red apples on white background,  hanging delicately from a leafy branch.

We move on to rectangles, both short and long that quickly become a ladder. Or two circles that are bites from ripe and yummy apples on the following page. As each page is turned, children will 'ooh' with wonder at the transformations. Each scene is cleverly connected to what has come before and what is sure to happen next.

It will inspire readers to try their hand at creating their own art using shapes, color and space. An appealing walk through the seasons, done with thoughtful brilliance, this is a book that holds attention and appeals to the artistic nature of the young child. Cut outs are an intriguing way to create those special moments. This book captures that through the simplicity of shape and thoughtful, brilliant design.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day, written by John David Anderson. Walden Pond Press, Harper. 2016. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"The man who emerges from behind the bookcase looks like Yoda ... if Yoda were a nearsighted, five-foot-tall white man in khaki pants and a frumpy gray sweater. Pointy ears jut out of a melonish head, topped with little wisps of white hair tufting out like pulled cotton. And he's got Yoda wrinkles too, the kind that come in waves crashing down to his eyebrows. He has a haunted expression on his face ... "

Ms. Bixby is one of the 'good ones' - a teacher who 'gets' her kids and makes school a worthwhile place to be. For Topher, Steve, and Brand she is more than that. Each has his own reasons for her being someone special. She knows them. That is not always an easy task when working with sixth graders. Their days at school are purposeful because Ms. Bixby is there. She mentors them with her passionate attention to the world, praises her students for being courageous, and encourages them to be astounded by all that is lovely.

"The last kind we simply call the Good Ones. The ones who make the torture otherwise known as school somewhat bearable. You know when you have one of the Good Ones because you find yourself actually paying attention in class, even if it's not art class. They're the teachers you actually want to go back to say hi to the next year. The ones you don't want to disappoint."

So, when she has to break the news that she has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and won't be able to finish the school year because she has to begin treatment, the boys are floored. Then, when she is admitted to hospital ahead of her anticipated  'last day' with them, they feel cheated. Determined to spend that 'last day' with her, they set out on a journey that tests their resolve and strengthens their friendship. All they want to do is take Ms. Bixby to the park across the street from the hospital. All they need is an expensive cheesecake, a bottle of wine and a big bag of McDonald's french fries (her favorites) and a copy of "The Hobbit" so they can share the final 20 pages (which she wasn't able to finish).

Told in three alternating voices, we learn each boy's story and witness their growth as they embark together on a not totally successful mission. Their voices are authentic, funny, sad, and moving. They prove they are better people for having met this very special teacher: they work together with courage and hope. What power a teacher, who is mentor and friend, can have on the lives of her students!  You want to know these remarkable boys and their story!

""The truth is - the whole truth - is that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between,  the ones you get to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bella's Fall Coat, written by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Susan Gal. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"... WHIZZ!

Bella was already

She picked and plucked.

She stretched and reached.

She crunched and munched."

We should all love autumn as Bella loves it. Just before she goes out to scamper in the many piles of leaves in the yard, her grandmother mentions that Bella is growing out of her fall coat, and needs a new one. Stella doesn't want to hear about it. Out she goes.

She loves fall leaves and hopes to keep them forever. Grams has an idea for preserving them for a little while. Readers and listeners will want to take a stab at doing the same thing. Another gentle reminder from Grams about a new coat falls on deaf ears as Bella bounds outdoors after lunch. She loves the coat that her grandmother made for her, and is quite sure she will not need a new one ... ever!

With each trip outdoors, Bella's exuberance for the natural world overflows. She loves the red, ripe apples. Once indoors again, she wonders about an apple pie. Grams is always willing to hear what her much-loved granddaughter has to say. At nightfall, as Bella chases the migrating geese and longs to fly with them, her coat bursts a seam. Will Grams be able to fix it?

After a good night's sleep, Bella awakens to TWO delightful surprises ... and has one of her own for her Grams.

Lynn Plourde's lively text about the natural world and seasonal changes is also testament to family love. Susan Gal's textured, brilliantly colored artwork captures moments both wild and tender. The colors of autumn are magical as Bella explores her backyard. Her cool blue coat is a perfect contrast to the glory of the season. Then, watch as morning dawns.

I love the language, the gorgeous landscapes and the love that emanates from both Bella and Grams as the two share beautiful moments of their day together.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fall Mixed Up, words by Bob Raczka and pictures by Chad Cameron. Carolrhoda Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $23.95 ages 5 and up

"Apples turn orange.
Pumpkins turn red.
Leaves float up into
blue skies overhead.

Bears gather nuts.
Geese hibernate.

Squirrels fly south in
big figure eights."

Kids are going to love pointing out all the 'mistakes' that are evident in this silly book about all things fall. The reader will have to stop on numerous occasions to listen to their observations concerning text and art.

Bob Raczka knows about fall, and proves it by using all of the iconic features of the season in this full-of-fun book where everything is mixed up. He misses nothing. The cow being blown through a windy sky is our first clue that all is not as usual. We aren't even at the title page when that happens. Just wait ... there is so much more to see!

The first turn of the page offers a calendar of sorts - its months include Septober, Octember, Nocemnber and Devember. Try sorting that out with little listeners. I love the geese hibernating, clock at hand and totally oblivious to all the action above ground. I could go on and on, and kids will. Holidays are included and you won't believe what trick-or-treaters are getting this year in their treat bags.

The rhymes are meant to be silly. The art, created digitally and including collage elements, is as oddball as the text and invites readers to look further as they discover that there is more to the images that what is described in the text.  The days are full of wind and fun, the evenings a tad spooky.

When the reading comes to an end, an invitation is extended:

 "Go back and find all the
 things that aren't right."

Clever and comical, this book will certainly be requested time and again!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, written and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2016. $20.50 ages 3 and up

"Hello! It's time to bring
out your thick sweaters
and scarves.

Hello, puddle.

Hello! Now that the wind
has come, I often get covered with fallen leaves."

Off the young girl goes, red scarf blowing in the wind, on a visit with nature. She says hello to the cool morning of late summer and makes her way to a stand of trees whose branches are blowing, and whose trunks welcome the warmth of the sun. Her greetings include animals who speak to her and share their observations and knowledge of the changing seasons.

Kenard Pak uses watercolor and pencils to create stunning digitally enhanced artwork that shows readers just exactly what is happening as the youngster makes her way through the woodsy landscape toward town. Many details are left for readers to discover on their own as they are not mentioned in the written words. They will notice autumn flowers, and the way they lean toward the warmth of the sun. They will see all the townspeople as they go about their business and find delight in flowers shared. Her visit is short, and soon she is headed toward home again. This time she talks to the changing leaves, the early setting sun, and is prepared then to say her final goodbye to summer as she happily welcomes autumn.

The pace of her walk, her pleasant conversations, and the hushed moody tone provide a perfect interlude that takes young readers from one season to the next. It's terrific  for reading aloud in a classroom, or at bedtime with a child just learning about the changing seasons.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Wonderfall, written and illustrated by Michael Hall. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up


I've got
the spot
for this

Tat boom,
tat boom,
tat boom!"

It is an oak tree that acts as poet for this delightful new offering from the incomparable Michael Hall. The tree spends each fall day carefully considering life and the events that happen in its vicinity. It is a 'peacefall' and plentifall' existence.

There are 15 poems that take a young audience slowly, and with joy, through the changes wrought by cooler weather. Time moves slowly and our senses are heightened by the sound of the wind and the acorns dropping, before our eyes take note of a school bus and energetic squirrels gathering those acorns for winter sustenance. A farmer gathering apples, the leaves turning color, people wearing warmer clothing and a football parade are other sure signs that the season is rapidly changing. Halloween is just around the corner.


cats and
and goblins.
the streets
to you ...


The text is spare, the scenes gorgeous ... a testament to the real beauty of the season. Mr. Hall's 'digitally rendered images incorporate textures created with acrylic paint and soft pastels'. If you are familiar with his brilliant work from previous books, you will not be surprised to see bold colors, mainly white backgrounds, and warm tones. Animals play a major role in the scenes, as do those people who take on the tasks of harvest and clean-up. You know what is surely on the horizon as the autumn world quiets down!

Back matter includes short paragraphs concerning the animals, the acorns and the tree as they prepare themselves throughout the fall for winter's cold, leaving readers with much to consider and discuss as the book comes to an end.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness, written by Kate Beasley and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2016. $19.50 ages 8 and up

"Yes, yes, thought Gertie. She had never been asked to take a note to the office. Never. And she had always wanted to. Not just to taste one of the chocolates and experience that superior smoothness, but because she would've done an amazing job taking a note to the office. She would've gotten notes to the office in record time. She stretched her arm. Please, she thought."

There is a 'for sale' at the house where her mother lives. That sign sets in motion Gertie's plan to make her absent mother take note of just how wonderful and remarkable Gertie really is. It's not that Gertie is unhappy living with her great-aunt Rae and her dad. She loves them both very much; she just wants her mother to know, before she moves away with her new family, that she is "one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn't need a mother anyway. So there."

Gertie plans on proving that she can be the best fifth grader in the wide world. She is just getting started when everything she has planned is scuttled with the arrival of a new girl. Mary Sue Spivey is as determined to be the most popular, smartest, most noticed student in Gertie's class. It takes no time for her to have an impact; let's remember this is fifth grade and two of the main characters are girls!! It's not an easy place to be. There is no room for two at the top!

Mary Sue's bullying and conniving ways quickly force Gertie to ignore everything, including her best friends, as she does her best to make her plan come to fruition. Too often, wanting something so badly works to make us forget what is really important in our lives. That is exactly what happens with Gertie. As we watch her struggle with adversity and do so with spunk and confidence, we cannot help but admire her spirit. Her voice is so real, and compelling. We gladly make a place for her in our hearts, and cheer her on. Many of the kids who read this amazing debut novel will know exactly how Gertie is feeling. We all want people to like us, don't we?

Touching on themes of family, self-confidence, friendship, and bullying, Ms. Beasley has written a story that is perfect for reading in a middle years classroom. There is so much to love here. I have to hold back from sharing quote after quote, because I want you to read it for yourself and with your kids to choose your own favorites. There will be many. None maybe quite as compelling as this first line ...

"The bullfrog was only half dead, which was perfect."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $21.00 ages 7 and up

"When I get home from school, Mami asks about my day. I quickly tell her it was horrible. No, I tell her it was actually worse than horrible: my lunch box broke, my yogurt exploded, we lost our futbol game. It was hot, everyone was stinky, my collar itched, and, worst of all, Mr. Tompkins said that we have to learn the English. Truly, a day doesn't get worse than that."

Juana is an appealing and happy narrator. She lives in Bogota. Colombia and isn't afraid to share her opinions about life and living. There are numerous things to be loved and appreciated: her city, her family, reading, drawing, some foods, Astroman, and Lucas. He is her dog, and her best friend in the world.

She also has some dislikes. Most have to do with school. She doesn't like the uniform she is forced to wear, the schoolwork required of her, and she complains endlessly about learning 'the English'. It is a most difficult language! She is encouraged to work hard, and then 'bribed' to work even harder so that she might go with her grandparents when they take a trip the United States. It will be her only chance to meet Astroman!

The pages are filled with entertaining and telling artwork that will attract and engage children. Humorous and informative, with many Spanish words throughout, it has real appeal for any child wanting to know more about a new language, an unfamiliar setting, a feisty, independent female character. The charming full color cartoon artwork, the profiles of family members, and ever changing font are sure to capture and hold attention.

It is the first book in a promised series. So, get to know Juana and then wait to learn more about her in the second book.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Full of Beans. by Jennifer L. Holm. Random House, 2016. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"The New Dealers were tearing through town like a hurricane. Renovation had started on the Casa Marina Hotel. Garbage was being carted away, potholes filled in. Benches were springing up all over town for the mysterious tourists. Then there were the houses. Mr. Stone worried there weren't enough places for visitors to sleep. The New Dealers were fixing up falling-apart houses, to be rented ... "

In a companion to Turtle in Paradise (2010), this tale takes readers back to the time of the Depression and its effects on Key West where Turtle's cousin Bean is living an impoverished life. The city is strewn with garbage in the wake of a lack of money to pick it up. Bean's father is in New Jersey looking for work while his mother does laundry trying to keep the family afloat. Beans wants to help; but, what is there for a kid to do when so many are looking for work?

Combing the huge piles of garbage for condensed mile cans, after being promised payment for them, only proves to Beans that there are crooks out there looking to take advantage of him. When not compensated for his hard work, Beans accepts that adults lie to kids and that is that. Desperate, he accepts an offer to work in the smuggling business. He knows it could mean big trouble! He is filled with guilt for his illegal doings, and tries to make up for that by helping to make Key West a better place for all, and especially for an influx of tourists.

Jennifer Holm is such a skilled writer. In this book, she takes her readers right to the heart of Depression-era Key West at a time when the government makes the decision to put money into its reconstruction as a tourist destination. New Deal workers arrive with plans to transform it with paint, determination, and a good deal of hard work. There is a lot of history in its pages and even introduces Julius Stone who was sent by the government to make a difference there. As Key West is  transformed, so is Beans. Knowing that he is living an unsavory life makes him think seriously about the repercussions if he is caught, and the people who are hurt by his actions.

I love Beans, and you will, too. He is funny, charming, loves his family and cares about others. He does get older and certainly a lot smarter, but he remains true to himself and his spirit. He is accompanied by a fine cast of characters who get themselves into some hi-jinks sure to be enjoyed by all readers.

It is perfect for reading aloud with your family, or in your classroom. Have Turtle's story on hand for those who want to read more about the Curry family.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Kabungo, written by Rolli and illustrated by Milan Pavlovic. Groundwood, 2016. $14.95 ages 8 and up

""The tall house on Main Street that looks abandoned is actually Miss VeDore's house. It was a real live mansion once, according to my Uncle George. That was long before the paint flaked off, the chimney rotted like, well, a pumpkin, and the lawn grew up and decided to be a forest. The round window on the third floor has been broken for years. Once, I saw dark eyes sparkling in it."

Ever wonder what it would be like to have a cavegirl for a friend? Wonder no more! Rolli's skilled storytelling offers up a set of adventurous tales for Beverly and her best friend, Kabungo. The fact that Kabungo is a cavegirl of unknown background seems of no concern to Beverly, or to the people of Star City. They accept a child who lives alone, does not attend school, and has an air of mystery as one of their own.

Each day brings new adventure. Witty and winning, the reader follows the two from one encounter to the next with giggles and a strong need to find out what might happen. Kabungo does not know how to be socially acceptable, having never learned to be mannerly or neat and tidy. She bounds through life with enthusiasm and no sense of how her actions might seem unusual to others.

Beverly, affectionately called Belly by Kabungo, is a true friend wanting to make life better and happier for the lonely girl. She is also a strong narrator. She shares her opinions and observations, allowing readers to learn who she is while also getting to know her mysterious and likeable friend. They have great affection for each other, and show it in many ways. I love the moments that allow readers a clear look at Kabungo's cavegirl tendencies. You will howl when you learn how she gets the teeth to make her necklaces!

It is a story of friendship and adventure, sure to be enjoyed when shared in a classroom setting. Once read to your class, there will be students aching to borrow it so that they might read it again on their own. The stand-alone episodes work as short stories to be shared and savored on a day-to-day basis, making it a perfect read aloud.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Feathered, written by Deborah Kerbel. Kids Can Press, 2016. $16.95 ages 10 and up

"After school, I don't go right home. Instead, I walk to Pinky's house and ring the doorbell. I want to ask if she ended up coming to school today. I want to ask her why she never goes outside. And what her mother prays for. But nobody answers. I ring it again. And I put my ear to the door and listen hard. Call me crazy, but I'm sure I hear someone on the other side."

Poor Finch! Since her father died almost a year ago, her mother has remained numb with grief and unaware of what is going on with her children and the world. It's hard to read those beginning pages that share just how much is wrong with Finch's life at the moment.

Her brother, once supportive, is now friends with Matt who constantly bullies the 11 year old girl, her fifth grade teacher is as mean-spirited as she was when Finch was in her fourth grade class, and her excitement about having new neighbors next door is quickly quashed when Pinky and her sister are kept inside as a way of protecting them from the outer world. Finch is in need of a friend after being dumped by her former best friend. She is sure that she and Pinky can help each other.

Finch is keen to know more about Pinky and her family who are Hindu; Pinky's family is reluctant to accept strangers into their midst. Both girls know what it is like to be different, and lonely. The small moments that they spend together capture their growing friendship through Finch's clear voice. They gain confidence by being together. When Pinky's father kidnaps his daughters in an attempt to return with them to India, Finch takes action.

Finch is grieving, uncertain, ultimately courageous, and a great friend. Discussions that are sure to follow sharing her story in a middle years classroom will run deep, and are much needed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Applesauce Weather, written by Helen Frost and illustrated by Amy June Bates. Candlewick, Random House. 2016. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"Supper is almost ready,
and still my sister sits,
holding the apple,
watching the road
like it's a scientific fact
that the first apple
to fall from this tree
will somehow act
like a magnet, pulling
Uncle Arthur home to us.
It's obvious by now ... "

Will he come? Faith and Peter know it's applesauce weather when they see the first apple fall from their tree. Uncle Arthur always visits at this time of year, regaling them with stories and insistent on telling them how he lost his finger. This year, they are not so sure. Since last apple season, his and their beloved Aunt Lucy has died. Uncle Arthur doesn't have the same spark he once had.

Faith believes that he will be there. When he arrives, Uncle Arthur is not so sure they will be happy to see only him. His stories seem to have deserted him since he lost his love.

"Are the children expecting a story from me?
They're not asking - perhaps
they can see the empty place
where my stories would be
if Lucy were here to hear them.

Faith sits beside me, taking my hand
(my thumb-and-three-and-a-half fingers hand).
Is she old enough to understand how things
can go missing and never be found?
Too much silence can make a deafening sound."

Helen Frost is a word master. Her three voices, written in verse, are tender, loving, and meaningful. Love abounds in every moment. Their stories are clear and moving, all wrapped up together in a very special book about family love, grief and enduring connections.

Amy Bates' perfect pencil drawings are as delicate as the story told. Emotions are shared in shy smiles, intent listening, warm memories, entertaining stories, and the bounty of autumn. Aunt Lucy's presence continues to be felt in the songs that begin each new section of the story, as she remembers her happy life with her Arthur.

"Oh, the stories I heard him weave -
I never knew quite what to believe.
From the time we were young until we grew old,
I never stopped loving Arthur
             and the stories he told."

Please share it with your children and your students. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles, by Shari Green. Pajama Press, 2016. $11.95 ages 9 and up

"Next day Daniel and I
stop at the market
for root beer candy,
see Jasper coming out
with empty boxes -
big ones,
the kind you might use
for packing.

You're not leaving, are you?"

Bailey is looking for a miracle. Her parents are at marriage camp, while she and her brother Kevin are spending time on Arbutus Island with a grandmother they hardly know. It's unsettling, to say the least.

"Kevin's eyes bug out.
He opens his mouth
but I squash my own giggle
and shush him
before he has a chance to blurt out
My mother would never believe
that her mother
snitched a spoon -
or maybe
she would. Maybe
there's a reason
Nana Marie was last
on Mom's where-to-send-us

Luckily, as Bailey explores her new surroundings, she meets Daniel. They become fast friends and Bailey learns that Daniel has cystic fibrosis. Because of his illness, Daniel is a boy who lives each day to the fullest, and encourages his new friend to do the same. It is a tough lesson, knowing that there is nothing she can do about Daniel's health. She does learn, as the month passes by, that there are things she can change.

Shari Green has created characters who are complex, and thoughtful. Bailey's first person narrative brings awareness to the beautiful island setting, knowledge of the complex characters who people this new community, the pain inherent in keeping family secrets, a growing concern for others, and the courage to take a stand. Her support for the eccentric Jasper and her concern for a stranded dolphin are defining moments as she faces the tough challenge of growing up and into the person she will be.

This novel in verse is beautifully written. It is sure to find many fans in the middle grades, and would make a terrific readaloud for the first few weeks of school while teachers are trying to inspire  community spirit within their own classrooms.

"He pops back up,
swims to shore
in a flurry
of splashing,
runs up the steep trail
back to me,
grinning like mad.

           That was amazing, I say.
           Way to go, Kev.

Then I ask him
if he's going to do it
He shakes his head.

          Don't need to, he says.

I guess you never know
how brave you are
until you let go
of the rope."

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Boy Named Queen, by Sara Cassidy. Groundwood, 2016. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"It is wrapped in brown paper that Evelyn covered with stickers of dogs. Evelyn worked hard on the card. It's a drawing of Queen shooting baskets. She taped eight quarters between Queen's hands and the basket. They're supposed to be a ball traveling a perfect shot. The problem is that together the quarters are heavy. The card droops badly. Evelyn wishes she had chosen cardboard."

I am going to turn to novels for a few posts to catch you up on some books that you might like to share with middle grade students as the new year moves into full gear. It is through sharing stories that encourage empathy and tolerance for all members of our classrooms that we build community spirit and emotional growth.

Evelyn lives a pretty restricted family life. Her mother insists on compliance with family rules, and does things with her daughter in a very prescribed way: they buy the same shoes at the same store every year before school starts, Evelyn wears 'dresses only' to birthday parties, and the day before school the whole family observes a ritual:

"As always on the last day of summer holidays, Evelyn and her parents have spent the morning scrubbing their brown two-bedroom house that stands in a row of other brown two-bedroom houses. They've coiled the hose. They've packed up the badminton set with its rackets and birdies (Evelyn's mother, who is Scottish, calls them shuttlecocks) and stowed everything tidily in the garage. Finally, Evelyn's mother pronounces the house neat as a new pin."

It is not easy for the imaginative Evelyn to live according to such restrictive parameters. Her first day of grade five is much-anticipated and a revelation. Evelyn meets Queen, a boy who marches to his own drum and is nothing like any of their classmates. His hair is long, his neck is festooned with a variety of beaded necklaces, his jeans are torn and soon, he is her new friend. That friendship helps her learn that being fine with yourself and who you are is a worthy pursuit, despite the attention it might bring from others. Of course, that attention is not always supportive. To Queen, it matters not at all.

As the only guest at Queen's birthday party, Evelyn experiences a family markedly different from her own. They are an inspiration to her, and her visit with them is life-altering. I love this powerful and superbly written book. The characters are so clearly themselves, and certainly worthy of our admiration. The fact that two such diverse middle graders find their way to a strong and meaningful friendship is a message worth sharing.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Lion Lessons, by Jon Agee. Dial, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Step Two was Roaring.
"It's simple," said the lion.
"Take a deep breath and
roar as loud as you can into
the microphone."

I took a deep breath and
roared as loud as I could.

"Needs work," said the

As everyone heads back to school, many teachers have lessons in mind. How they teach them, and how students learn, can be two different things. In a book that pairs a stern and demanding professional lion with an eager-to-learn-the-ropes young boy, Jon Agee shows his audience how training can be problematic.

Ahead of the title page, Mr. Agee demonstrates his humorous take on the 'lessons' that consume us. As the young boy casually strolls the street, he is bombarded by signs for new learning: baking, karate, learn the violin, tutor, Spanish, knitting, yoga, classes for all ages. What to choose in our lesson-obsessed world???

The boy is intrigued by the sign on one shop's door and heads inside to learn what it professes to teach - lessons in being a lion. First, he dons a tawny suit. Then, looking lionish, he meets the very professional, and obviously qualified, instructor meant to take him through the seven steps of training. Before the real lessons begin, they must 'stretch'. Each of the steps is then presented in fearsome lion stance. The student leaves something to be desired each step along the way. He is not much accomplished at Looking Fierce, Roaring, Choosing What to Eat, Prowling Around, Sprinting, Pouncing. It doesn't look good for fulfilling the obligations of his training until the final lesson - Looking Out for Your Friends. Only then does he show his true potential and assure success, and a diploma.

As is his custom, Jon Agee fills the book's pages with amusing details, expressive characters, and wry humor.  I love the way he changes perspective, allowing his young readers the opportunity to focus on the many elements of this lively exchange between teacher and student. It is destined to be a story time favorite, and I can't wait to share it in a classroom.  

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Cranky Ballerina, by Elise Gravel. Harper, 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Miss Pointy calls
on Ada. "Let's see
your pirouette!"
Ada gets into
fourth position.

And ...


Cranky seems a totally appropriate descriptor if you look closely at Ada's demeanor as portrayed on the cover of this energetic and telling book. She is obviously irritated  as she prepares for her Saturday morning ballet class. She hates everything about the day ... tight leotard, itchy tutu, nauseating car trip, and unwanted arrival at her neighborhood sports center. Her companion monster seems much more amenable to all that is happening in class, while also commiserating with his friend for how she is feeling.

"It's not her thing!"

Unwilling to practise the suggested movements, she finally attempts a pirouette - performing it badly but with surprising results. She lands in a karate class next door where her real skills are noticed, and appreciated. Perhaps she has finally found her calling in this much more appropriate (for her) place.

Is doing what Ada wants to do more important than what her parents have decided for her? It is a gentle message ... one worthy of this quirky, spunky young lady. Told with heart, humor and a healthy dose of 'tongue-in-cheek', parents and teachers are sure to enjoy sharing this story. The funny details found in its illustrations and the welcome speech bubbles add drama and hilarity.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

My Favorite Pets: By Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski's Class, words by Jeanne Birdsall and pictures by Harry Bliss. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"My favorite pet is sheep.
We have seventeen in our
yard. Seventeen sheep are
still sheep, not sheeps.
A boy sheep is a ram.
He has horns.
The horns do not come off.
A girl sheep is a ewe. If you
say, "Hey, Ewe," she won't
answer. Even if you shout

A 'sheepish' grin on his face, Gus arrives at school with report n hand, and a gift for Ms. Smolinski.
She seems unimpressed. Then, we all get to read his report in the pages that follow. Gus has a great love for sheep, and fills the report's pages with pertinent (and humorous) observations.

"You're too big to ride on sheep, but
your little brother isn't. He will cry,
and your father will say,

"What were you thinking, Gus?"

The text is placed on lined paper, using his own script to present what he knows about the sheep at his family's farm. It adds real appeal to the text, and gives readers the sense that we are reading exactly what he has written for his teacher. The humor is wry, and Harry Bliss manages to make it more so with his hilarious interpretations of the printed text. All of Gus's various escapades in trying to deal with his unruly pets are evident in the wonderful spreads drawn in black ink and watercolor. Kids will want to return to them again and again, taking note of the many details included, the expressions and the silliness. Older readers will be quick to note the newspaper headlines and the book titles that are shared. A Gus-sponsored farmhouse tour for the sheep ends in disaster and a warning for Gus, who has gone too far this time. Or, has he?

But, the report is done, handed in and graded. Gus couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

School's First Day of School, written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"The school creaked. "Children?" "All kinds of children. They'll come to play games and to learn." "Oh," said the school, "will you be here?" "You'll see me after the school day is over," said Janitor. "Don't worry - you'll like the children." But the school thought that Janitor was probably wrong about that. Then they came, the children did and there were more of them ... "

There are such amazing artists out there working to bring outstanding stories to our children. I constantly wonder about their thought process and the ideas that become the books they write. You may have; but I have never read a book from the perspective of a brand new school as it enjoys the fruits of Janitor's labor. Everything is so clean and quiet. Janitor knows that things will soon change. School is uneasy.

As the children arrive, Frederick Douglass Elementary School voices its concerns and observations. It hears what some children are saying about being at school, watches as a young girl is carried through its doors kicking up a stink, notes the behavior of bullies on the playground and pales at the cafeteria mayhem. Then, there are the more positive goings-on: learning about shapes in the kindergarten, noting that the wailing girl is almost smiling, the joy of playground play.

We, as the audience, are privy to all of the feelings felt as the day goes on. In the end, the good outweighs the bad and the Janitor is asked to invite all of the children to return tomorrow.  He says he will see what he can do about that. Together at the end of the day, the school now understands his role and he tells Janitor:

"I thought I was your house."
"Nope," said Janitor.
"I ... suppose some other place gets
to be your house," the school added.
Janitor nodded. "That's true. But you
get to be a school. That's lucky."

Lucky, indeed.

You know I love Christian Robinson's work! He just amps up my admiration with his school scenes, both interior and exterior. He uses white backdrops to bring attention to the families, the children, the fun and the chaos of the first day. Kids starting back to school will be familiar with so much of what he presents in each and every spread. What a masterful way of looking at the start of the school year from an entirely unique and captivating perspective!                                                                       

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Maple and Willow Apart, written and illustrated by Lori Nichols. Penguin. 2015. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Later, Willow heard all
about kindergarten, again.

"We had story time in a
circle and then went
around the circle and
everyone shared something
special and I shared my
heart rock since I had one
in my coat pocket, and
tomorrow we start ... "

A new school year can be such an exciting time for young children! Maple is thrilled to be climbing on board a school bus for the first time, and on her way to kindergarten. Willow? After a summer filled with being together, Willow must face the prospect of long and lonely days without her beloved companion.

Having met Maple first in 2014, I was happy to be introduced to her new sister Willow later that same year. Although they have their differences and occasional tiffs, they are an inseparable pair who love and share many happy moments doing what they both love to do. Knowing that school is inevitable and just around the corner (tomorrow), they spend their last day of summer playing together 'extra hard'.

Willow is growing up, but she isn't old enough yet to be joining her sister in a school classroom. Her first day on her own is lonely and without anchor. Maple arrives home with endless stories to tell. Willow wants to share her news, too. She tells Maple about her new friend:

"Pip is my new friend," said Willow.
"He has a bumpy head and he is afraid of squirrels."

Listeners who have been watching the charming pencil and digitally colored illustrations will want to share that Willow is talking about an acorn. On the second day, Willow entertains herself with exploration and new delights. At the end of their days, they share news of school and daytime adventure. As the week goes by, Willow becomes concerned with all that Willow is learning while she is gone. Willow has the perfect solution for her big sister.

It's lovely to see Maple and Willow again. I highly anticipate their upcoming Christmas tale.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Sophie's Squash Go To School, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Anne Wisdorf. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"And then there was Steven Green. He sat by Sophie at circle time. Played near Sophie during recess. And watched while Sophie painted. "Stop breathing on me," Sophie said. "Steven's just trying to be nice," said Ms. Park. But Sophie wasn't interested. So the next time Steven appeared, Sophie bounced Bonnie and Baxter on her knees and said, "I already have friends."

In 2013's Sophie's Squash, Sophie welcomed Bernice's twins after a winter hibernation, and just at the end of the story. They were the progeny of her pet squash Bernice who had met her end after a long and loving relationship. Darn that rotting flesh! Now, Sophie is taking Bonnie and Baxter to school with her. Her schoolmates have questions:

"Are those toys?" asked Liam.
"Do they bounce?" asked Roshni.
"Can we EAT them?" asked Noreen.

"NO!" said Sophie.
"No, no, no! I grew them
in my garden. They're my

Sophie is content to be with Bonnie and Baxter during the time she must spend at school. All of Steven's attentive behavior toward her is lost on her. Her parents' enthusiasm for a new friendship is unwelcome. As the days go by, Sophie begins to see the value in human friendship. She knows from previous experience that Bonnie and Baxter are not 'forever' friends.

The time comes when they can no longer play the games they have always shared. Her mother gently reminds Sophie that it's time to tuck them in for a winter's sleep. She will miss them - spring 'seemed very far away'. Returning to school without them leaves Sophie longing for their presence. An argument with Steven over his attempts at friendship leaves a torn picture, hurt feelings and an angrier Sophie.

Her parents try to help, and Steven is persistent in wanting to be her friend. It gives Sophie pause and, after listening to her heart and her head, she makes certain that friendship is at the top of her list ... and Steven finally reaps the benefits.

The lovely and lively watercolor and China ink artwork ensures that young readers grasp the emotions felt by both Steven and Sophie as they navigate the uncertain waters of making new friends.
It takes skill, understanding, support and patience. Luckily, Steven has them in spades.

Love the endpapers!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer, by Davide Cali and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2016. $17.99 ages 6 and up

"At just the right
moment, my uncle
passed by in his
latest invention.

Since it was
still experimental,
there were some

You know that on the first day back at school some teachers are going to be checking with their students about summer adventures. It can be a great way to open a conversation. This book is a warning that the teacher must be patient when listening to the answer provided. Students are occasionally long-winded, and have much to share.

Such is the case with the boy who is the narrator of Davide Cali's new cause-and-effect tale. One thing happens and that leads to a series of further adventures. It all begins with a visit to the beach, and a bottle with a message. Actually, it turns out to be a treasure map! The map is taken by a nosy magpie and results in a convoluted chase  ... to the harbor, onto a pirate ship, near capture by a giant squid, rescue by a submarine captain, movie making, return of the map, a failed balloon ride ... and so on. With a successful search completed, it is left to the young man to open the buried chest he finds where the X is marked on his map. What a strange, yet enjoyable, treasure it holds!

Clever, detailed illustrations accompany this fast-paced and funny adventure. A flashback to three months before provides the perfect surprise ending. If you were a fan of I Didn't Do My Homework Because ... (2014), you will be pleased to have this book on your shelf. Furthermore, I am sure you will eagerly await their next collaboration.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Big Surprise for Little Card, written by Charise Mericle Harper and illustrated by Anna Raff. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $21.00 ages 5 and up

Little Card loved everything
about birthdays. He loved
the decorating, the games,
the cake, and the presents.

But most of all Little
Card loved the singing."

Birth - days are a spe - cial
day, you're one year
old - er, hip hoo-ray!

Living together with all of his card friends, Little Card understands that, as they grow up, each is given a suitable job. There are only two cards who haven't achieved their full potential - Long Card and Little Card have not yet grown into their destiny. Then, Little Card gets his special letter:

"Dear L.C., Congratulations! You are a birthday card. Your training starts tomorrow."

Was any card ever more excited? I think not. As expected, Little Card is a quick study and extremely happy with his lot in life. Just as he is settling into his new duties, he learns that a mix-up in the mail has given him Long Card's destiny. He is assured that he will find his new job satisfying ... and immediate. No school prep this time!

His exuberance and birthday training is quickly quashed when he finds himself inside a library, under the tutelage of Miss Penny. Quickly, he is introduced to his new owner, Alex. Together they explore the many joys of being in a library, and having a library card. Little Card even shares a soft and quiet song about it.  As they check out and leave the library,  Alex shares a very special surprise with her new 'little' friend.

The mixed-media collages are adventurous, in keeping with the joy that Little Card brings to his assignment. I love the double page spread that shows Alex and Little Card organizing a rainbow-hued collection of cleverly titled books, ready for reading and borrowing.

It is fun to read aloud, and would be perfect to share before you accompany your students to the library for the first time in this new school year.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Dial, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"But then he remembered that this was about as likely as finding a mermaid's toenail on the beach. For he had no name. He had no friends. He stank of seaweed and salt and fisherman's feet. No one would ever write him a letter."

Many of the books that I tell you about are read one time, put on my 'to be done' shelf and left there until I have the time to write a new post. Then, I reread them, look even more carefully at the images created by skilled and brilliant artists, and sit down to share another book I love with you, my readers.

That did not happen with the 'Uncorker'. I read it, went back to take particular note of the illustrations, read it again, and then once more. Since then, I have read it three more times. It is one of those 'perfect' books - a debut picture book that is filled with beautifully expressive language and a deeply personal look at a lonely man through the quiet, captivating images created by Caldecott Medalist Erin E. Stead. I won't stop reading it because this post is delivered. I can't wait to share it with children, with librarians, and with teachers returning to school with thoughts of building community in their classrooms by reading books that matter and make us care about each other.

The "Uncorker' lives by the sea with his cat for company. He is tasked with scanning the waters for bottles that contain messages meant for someone in particular. Once he has opened the bottle and  read the message, he sets off on a journey to deliver it, no matter where that journey may take him.

"Sometimes to deliver a bottle, he needed only to stroll to the nearest village.
Other times, he would journey until his compass became rusty and
he felt loneliness as sharp as fish scales."

Most recipients are very pleased with the message delivered. But he is sad thinking that, although he longs to find a message meant for himself, it will never happen to him. Nameless and friendless (and stinky to boot), he has no one to send him such a message. A bottled party invitation proves his undoing. He has no idea who it is meant for; there is no name attached. In his efforts to solve the mystery, he rides through the village asking for help in identifying the sender's script. No one has an answer for him.

Determined to deliver it to the right person, he sets off for the seashore where the party is to be held. With gift of apology in hand for not knowing who the message is meant for, he is awed by the celebration on the beach. He decides to stay, unaware that the party is for him. He does, indeed, have many wonderful friends. How kind they are ...

Erin E. Stead uses woodblock, oil pastels and pencil, and a palette as warm as the story itself, to draw us in and have us get to know the solitary man with stooped shoulders and a sad countenance. She also gives life to a lovely community of endearing characters ... I would love to meet them!

Don't miss this very special book! 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Great Pet Escape, by Victoria Jamieson. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $8.99 ages 6 and up

"It's working! The wall is
Now we just need some sort of
superstrong force to hit the wall
right here on the cracks ...
Oh no. No. I don't use my
strength anymore. I use
my words, not my fists.
Come on, Sunflower! You're
the strongest one in here!
I don't punch things anymore!"

Pets in a classroom can be a worthwhile learning experience for many students. Of course, allergies may prevent having one. If you chance to try it, know that escape can be a taxing occurrence, as is the case in this graphic novel. Then again, you and your students may not even have an inkling that it has happened.

George Washington, class hamster and unhappy detainee, has been working for long hours to free himself from the 'terrible prison' he finds himself in. In reality, it's a second-grade classroom and a comfortable cage with all the amenities ... clean bedding, plenty of food, and a glut of attention. He spends his time working on an escape machine so that he might find his pals Barry (bunny) and Biter (guinea pig) and spring them from whatever prisons hold them captive. Finally, the Escape-o-Matic is ready to be tested. It works, and GW is off to free his friends!

It just so happens that those friends are not as eager for escape as GW expects them to be. Barry leaves his grade one detention to lead GW to the nether regions of Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School where they find their once-tenacious and exceptionally tough furry friend Biter (now calling herself Sunflower) in the KINDERGARTEN classroom. She has been changed by her experiences there.

"Something was bothering me - besides Biter's evident
 frontal lobotomy - but I couldn't quite put my paw on it ...
Wait a SECOND! Your cage wasn't locked!
We don't believe in "locks" in our shared learning community."

Too funny by far! Playing on Biter's loyalty to her long-time friends, GW finally convinces her to leave with them. He is in the midst of presenting his foolproof plan when another voice is heard  ... it seems the upper elementary pets are in charge! Fourth grade white mice, accompanied by an obedient snake named Lucinda (from fifth grade) , bring that escape to a halt. Once again captured and caged, they must plot another escape, this time together and with total effectiveness.

The writing is clever and humorous, the dialogue witty and crisp, and the art is fabulous. Full of expression, bold color, terrific characters and it's just right for those early readers looking for something to read that is a bit more demanding, while also hugely entertaining.  I am a big fan of her work.

Perfect fare for a younger crowd than those who loved her very popular Roller Girl (Dial, 2015), I can't wait to see Olympig which was just reprinted by Puffin in July this year!