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Friday, August 18, 2017

Words in Deep Blue, written by Cath Crowley. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 14 and up

"It's a relief to tell Henry, to let everything out - losing Cal, how I failed, how everything feels ruined now. It's a relief to cry and have Henry tell me this  is the correct response and to hold out his sleeve. I feel exhausted afterward. I feel almost as tired as I did in those days after we dragged Cal out of the ocean and tried to force him back to life on the beach."

There are times when I just don't want a book to end; not because I am afraid for what might happen, but because it has been such a glorious read that I just want to savor it for a while longer. And sometimes I hug those book when I do finish.

That is exactly what happened with Words in Deep Blue. It is so real! It is filled with feelings of love and loss, grief and understanding - and best of all, the importance of words, and books, and the impact reading has on our lives.

Rachel and Henry were best friends - once! But, things have changed. Rachel's family moved away from their hometown three years ago. As a final act of bravery, Rachel left a love note for Henry in the Letter Library of his family's bookstore. The Letter Library is a very unique part of the store, a place where customers are free to leave letters for others between the pages of some of the special books placed there.

"It's called the Letter Library because a lot of people write more than a note in the margin - they write whole letters and put them between the pages of books. Letters to the poets, to their thief ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who stole their copy of High Fidelity. Mostly people write to strangers who love the same books as them - and some stranger, somewhere, writes back."

Henry did not respond.

Now, following the drowning death of her younger brother Cal, Rachel and her mother are returning to Gracetown, hoping the change of scenery might spark interest in living life once again. The only drawback is that she is sure to see Henry and open old, raw wounds.

No one in town knows that Cal has died, and Rachel is not about to open her heart and tell them. We do find out that Rachel is not the only one dealing with loss, and we learn much from each of the other characters what it means to lose something you love (or think you do). Henry's parents have divorced and don't agree that selling the bookstore is an option. Henry had just experienced a break-up. His sister George is harboring a crush on someone who has been leaving notes for her in one of the books in the Letter Library.

As Henry explains to their friend Mai Li - "Life be shit, Mai Li."

I could go on and on ... but, I will not. This is another of those books you need to read for yourself. It will tear at your heartstrings. You will journey with each impressive character along their path from despair to optimism. You will look twice at second chances. You will delight in words that are powerful and uplifting.

As Henry says,  “Sometimes science isn’t enough. Sometimes you need the poets.”

This tribute to words, and to life, is worth hugging.

Bull, written by David Elliott. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 14 and up

"Personally, there's nothing
I find less attractive
Than self-pity.
Yeah, it's shitty
What's occurred.
But why hasn't the boy learned
That life isn't fair?
Word!
It's true everywhere:
Fathers often destroy their sons.
Who do you think invented guns?"

Do you want to introduce your students or your own teenage kids to Greek mythology in an enticing and irrepressible way? Find a copy of Bull, read it, and then share it with them!

It is also a book for anyone who loves mythology, irreverence, breathtaking writing, and poetry. David Elliott tells his story in voices dramatic and poetic - Poseidon, Minos, Daedalus, Pasiphae, Asterion, and Ariadne. Each is allowed to have a say in their own unique poetic form.

Poseidon proves his mettle, with intimidating perspective and swagger.

"You think a god should be more refined??
... Never belch
Or swear
Or scratch himself
Or fart?
Never
Bawdy
Raunchy
Racy
Rude?
News flash:
You don't want a god.
You want a prude."

There is nothing prudish about this book. In reading it, you will learn much about the mythology itself, from a far different perspective than any other you may have read. The connections between characters are strong, hateful, and absolutely compelling. It is bawdy, off-color, and an absolute joy to read. I laughed out loud in places, and gave careful thought in others, and loved every minute spent reading it. I WILL read it again. Just talking about it makes me want to pick it up and do just that. Alas, I have other commitments today!

A cast of characters is helpful for those new to the myth. In an author's note, David Elliott lets his audience know that the elements of the original myth are the same:

"... All of these events you will find in Bull. All else - the characterizations; the relationships between the characters; their attitudes about themselves, their world, and each other; Ariadne's blackmailing of Daedalus; the hole in the labyrinth wall - is, for better or worse, my invention."

He also adds a note about the poetic forms chosen, which I always find so educational.

I want to leave the last word to our narrator, Poseidon.

"I miss the sea!
It's mystery.
Its kelp.
Its creatures.
Crabs and corals
Devoid of complicating morals.
Its secrets.
All its saline riches.
I'm going home.


Ta-ta, bitches!"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hello Goodbye Dog, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Goodbye was a closing door.
Moose pushed through the screen.
It was time to say "Hello!"
"Hello, Moose!" said Zara.
Hello smelled like chocolate chip
cookies.

"Dogs aren't allowed to eat in the
cafeteria," said one of the lunch
ladies.  "She'll be quiet - I'll just read  to her ... "

Moose loves the 'hello' part of each day - when Zara comes home from school and they can be together again. He hates the 'goodbye' parts. Because of that, he often finds a way to break free and follow Zara to school. Zara knows just what to do when that happens. She takes Moose aside and quietly reads to him. It is all that he needs. But, dogs are not supposed to be in school.

"Goodbye, Moose," said Zara.
Moose put on her brakes.
It took Mom,
Dad,
Zara,
Mrs. Perkins,
and Ms. Chen
to get Moose to leave.

The kids love him and want him to be at school with them. Instead, Moose is seen as a constant disruption. Despite Zara's ability to calm him, he should never be there. Zara's solution to the problem is to enroll Moose in therapy dog classes. Will his presence be acceptable once his training is complete?

The colored pencil and watercolor art is perfect for this story of a dog's love. Patrice Barton adds gentle humor with expressive faces, constant canine motion, and familiar school scenes. Readers will love Moose's exuberance, as well as understand the dejection he feels every time he is returned home, without Zara.

The author adds a short note about therapy dogs and the benefits that are found in having children read to them.

" ... reading dogs provide a "pawsitive" association with reading, and especially with reading aloud, since child readers are neither judged on nor corrected for mispronunciation."
                                                                              

    

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, Penguin. 2016. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"Carla Sherrinford-Cameron, her hands clasped together at her waist like lobster's claws, was singing "The Lass with the Delicate Air," and I found myself wishing that I had thought to bring a firearm with me - although whether to Carla out of her misery or to do away with myself, I had not quite yet decided. With her huge eyes, her lank red hair, and pale buttermilk skin, she looked like a sea creature ... "

I cannot believe this the eighth novel about Flavia de Luce, child detective extraordinaire. She's back home in England at Buckshaw, the family estate that has been left to her by her mother. If you haven't met her, you need to know that Flavia is only 12, and her success at solving mysteries is quite astounding.

She arrives to find that her father is very ill, and has been hospitalized. She is not allowed to see him. She cannot stand the way her sisters continue to treat her, and is soon happy to be caught up in the middle of another death that happened under mysterious circumstances. Flavia finds the body of a local carver, and then spends the rest of the book's pages trying to find out why he died and how the contraption she finds him in might hold the key to determining the events that led to his death. He has a long, and complicated history.

Under the tutelage of her favorite police detective, Inspector Hewitt, she moves forward and is often steps ahead of him. As she uncovers what has happened in the past, she manages to make connections to a writer, another murder, and a sad, untimely death. We are introduced to these additional characters in a series of mishaps that lead, ultimately, to the real culprit.

Flavia never disappoints. Her first person voice keeps the reader personally connected. Her inquisitive nature, her proclivity for chemistry and her persistence in finding the truth hold her in good stead. Her character is as unique, spunky, and clever as ever. I love her, and think you will, too - if you have not met her in previous cases. Subtle humor provides most enjoyable breaks as Flavia works hard to solve yet another mystery and to deal with the bleak conditions of her home and her father's illness.

I wonder what she will be up to next? We can only hope we don't have to wait too long to find out.

Forget Me Not, written by Ellie Terry. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"I want to pluck
the moon from the sky,
swing it around
in circles.

Is that what it feels like
to have a best friend?

Maybe we'll hang out
every day - "

Isn't it tough enough being a middle grader? You would certainly think so.
For Calliope, you can add that her mother has just come out of another broken relationship which requires another move for the two, that she is the new kid at school, and that she has Tourette's Syndrome. That should do it. Tendency toward self-consciousness is a way of being for kids in seventh grade - just try to imagine how Calliope is feeling.

When she meets Jinsong she begins to feel hopeful. He lives in her apartment building. He goes to the same school, and he seems interested in being her friend. It soon becomes apparent to her classmates that Calliope is 'weird'. As she concerns herself with the many things she has to worry about, her tics become more prevalent and apparent to her classmates. She is soon made the target of jokes and bullying.

“Sometimes my tics
are like gentle whispers,
asking me to do things,
            to say things.
But other times they’re like a

SHOUT!

Jumping out so loud and strong
I could never hope to
stop them.”

Jinsong is a popular student and good friend. Will his popularity wane if he stands up for his new friend, a girl he finds appealing and attractive? That is certain to be a concern for any young person. If we are truthful, don't we often worry about such things?

"I walk into the boys' locker room and all I hear is:
   "The new girl wears old clothes."
   "The new girl rolls her eyes."
   "The new girl makes creepy sounds in her throat."
    It's all true. But somehow it feels wrong to hear them say it."

In honest and clear voices, one written in poetry and the other in prose, the two convey an emotional and uplifting story of fear, friendship and facing difficult times together. Will what they have learned from each other help them face Calli's next move, and keep their friendship strong despite an inevitable separation?

Because the author has Tourette's herself, the reader learns from the inside what it is like to live with the tics, the taunts and the other ways it affects Calliope and her relationships. She opens the door for understanding and meaningful conversation for those who share this story. Bravo!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stand Up and Sing!:Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice. Written by Suzanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Bllomsbury, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"At college Pete couldn't stop talking about workers' strikes and unions, the civil war in Spain, and the Nazis in Germany. He talked so much that the didn't do his homework. He lost his scholarship ... "
And finally for today, here is Susanna Reich's book about Pete Seeger and his music.

In his foreword, Peter Yarrow says this:

"In these times, there is so much that divides us, so much greed, narcissism, and other terrible threats to the dream of creating a caring, just, and peaceful society -  and to the survival of our planet. What Pete taught us was how to keep on keepin' on, how to keep on singing, how to not become cynical, and how to turn challenge and adversity into greater determination and love for one another. That was Pete."

Now is the time to teach our kids about people like Pete, who stand up for their beliefs and do the work it takes to make things better. This book opens with Pete's singing, and an invitation for his audience to join him in song and harmony. It is classic Pete Seeger.

Beginning with his birth and early childhood, the author moves quickly to his time at university, and to his love of the folk music he had heard while traveling with his family in that early life. His support for the downtrodden and worry about those who were being treated poorly led to his leaving university, and finding satisfying work with Alan Lomax in the music industry while also playing music every chance he got.

"He played all night, and he played all day, and after a while you wanted to ship him
off somewhere," said Alan's sister Bess."

His music is a tradition that has influenced many other musicians and listeners around the world. We always shared Pete's songs in the classrooms I taught, and kids loved to hear those songs as much as Pete loved playing them.

The text is dense and provides a very clear look at Pete's life and legacy. Older children will learn about civil rights, poverty, war, and taking care of the world we live in. Adam Gustavson uses 'gouache, watercolor, colored pencil and/or oil on paper, with little bits of Adobe Photoshop' to deliver a close and personal look at the man whose down to earth ways, whose love of music and its power, whose strong stands for a better world, proved his mettle time and again.

"A clean river, a peaceful planet, a living wage - as Pete got older, he continued to sing, to protest, and to inspire people to speak out for their beliefs ... Pete passed away in 2014, but his work isn't done. For in times of war, the world needs peace. In times of hatred, the world needs love. In times of injustice, the world needs truth. And wherever people gather in the name of freedom, they find strength and courage in song."

Amen.
                                                                         

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing. Written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Raul Colon. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"But that's not all.
Pete loved singing
with children,
and children loved
singing with Pete.
Thousands sang
with him.

"Abiyoyo."
"Froggie Went a-courting."
"Skip to My Lou."

This book is a perfect introduction to Pete Seeger: singer, mentor, environmentalist, protester, leader, civil rights activist, husband, father and hero. Kids should know about him, his music, his passion for life. This will help them on their way. The text is full of compassion and understanding. His impact on American folk music is shared in the song titles included.

In an author's note, Ms. Schubert writes:

"Over the course of his ninety-four years, Pete Seeger sang so much, did so much, wrote so much, spoke so much, and influenced so many people that at times he seemed to be everywhere at once."

He was an honorable man whose commitment to a better world ensured that he continues to be loved today, three and a half years since his death at 94. We sang his songs yesterday, we sing them today, and we will sing them tomorrow. If your kids don't know them, now is your chance to tell them about  him, listen to his songs and help them sing along. Then, they will pass them along later in life to their own children.

What a legacy! Long may he live in our collective memory.

Raul Colon's gorgeous artwork is filled with warm, textured color and fine, telling detail, helping children to experience the joy and sadness Pete found in life, and the spunk with which he faced every new experience.  It is a book written and illustrated with respect for a great man and a true hero of the people.

The timeline, endnotes, list of books for children and an account of recommended recordings add interest, and are sure to encourage further fact-gathering.

"Listen.
Not everybody had such courage.
Pete did.
When men and women joined hands to fight racism,
Pete sang a powerful song,
and millions sang with him:
"We Shall Overcome."
He gave people hope
when they needed it."
                                                                        

Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Written by Anita Silvey. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2016. $25.99 ages 12 and up

"To find the support and direction he needed as a child, Pete Seeger became a voracious reader, searching for information in books. After seeing what titles Pete checked out in the Nyack, New York, public library, a librarian suggested that Pete pick up the novels of Ernest Thompson Seton. Pete began to devour Seton's writings."

Most people recognize Pete Seeger as a folk singer whose impact was keenly felt during both the 20th and early 21st centuries. Many mourned his passing in 2014 at the age of 94. His legacy of bringing music to the people will have to be carried forward by others who share his commitment to social causes and environmental concerns.

Ms. Silvey looks carefully at Pete's life and shares it with a sincere concern to get it right for her intended audience. She begins with early family life, travel, divorce and Pete's separation from family when he was sent to boarding school in third grade. He saw little of either parent as time passed.

He looked to others for needed guidance. Reading made all the difference. He was introduced to the writings of Ernest Thompson Seton and found solace in learning about Native American culture, communal property and sharing. His life course was set.

"I saved my nickels and bought myself enough unbleached muslin
to build a teepee, twelve by twenty-four in size. I pegged it out,
hemmed it up, and laced up the front. I set this out in my grandparents'
cow pasture and had to install a fence around it so the cows didn't break
it down. Slept in it overnight, using spruce branches for a bed. Learned
to cook my food in it on a tiny fire. Later I took my teepee to school and
put it in another pasture, introducing others to the idea of outdoor life.
Living outdoors provided a better education for me than any other school or
university."

She follows the early stories with the further development of his love for the outdoors, writing, art and music. It wasn't until high school that Pete met his first banjo. Finding a focus for his enthusiasm eventually led him to sharing with others the folk music he so loved. And, he got paid to share it! In 1940 he met Woody Gurhrie, an event that changed his life.

Despite hard times and many bumps along the way, Ms. Silvey shows readers how, through touring with Woody and then finding success with the Weavers, Pete continued to care about social justice, in all of its forms. Then, came government branding and a long decade of harassment for his earlier political leanings. He triumphed eventually and moved on to become a musical hero to many, and a
staunch environmentalist at a time when few were worried about the earth's health and what we were doing to make it worse.

His was an oft perplexing life, here told with honor, honesty and as an homage to a personal hero and grand entertainer. The archival photos show a happy, smiling man full of charm and pizzazz who wanted to leave his world a better place than it often was.

"Over time - just as the story of Abiyoyo predicted - people realized that they needed Pete Seeger. They needed him to slay the giants. They needed his integrity and his ability to tell inconvenient truths. They needed him to do what he had been doing all along - singing about freedom and justice.

Just as he had hoped he would in childhood, Pete Seeger became many things in his life. He was an author, an activist, a tireless advocate of human dignity, equal rights, and peace; and above all he gave a voice to the feelings and hopes of people all over the world."

Back matter includes extensive source notes, a bibliography, a list of other media and an index.

Perfect for a class readaloud in science, history, social issues classes. Don't forget to have his music close by.

https://youtu.be/n-sQSp5jbSQ

https://youtu.be/Rl-yszPdRTk

https://youtu.be/Ezyd40kJFq0

Monday, August 14, 2017

To Burp or Not to Burp: A Guide to Your Body in Space. Written by Dr. Dave Willilams and Loredana Cunti, with illustrations by Theo Krynauw. Annick Press, 2016. $14.95 ages 8 and up

" ... astronauts exercise up to two hours a day in space. But the space station isn't a typical gym. Harnesses are needed to keep us on the exercise equipment, and here, no one wants to see you sweat. In fact, keeping sweat away from your body - and from everything else - means wearing dedicated exercise shirts and shorts that absorb sweat."

Did you dream of being an astronaut, or do you know someone who does? Kids are sure to find this book fascinating because it has to do with everything astronaut. There are many things we don't know, unless we have been there.

So, the authors have decided to fill us in, by answering questions we might not realize we want to ask, especially for budding astronauts. They are not afraid to speak frankly about toileting aboard a spaceship, or while wearing a suit designed to protect those who travel into space.

"A space walk  can last between six and eight hours. That's a long time to wait for a bathroom break. So, when it's time to lift off, do a space walk, or reenter Earth's atmosphere, it's back to basics. Time to bust out the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG) - better known to Earthlings as a diaper."
In ensuing chapters, the authors describe how those travelling in space manage to stay clean and neat, take care of their hair, handle the art of brushing their teeth, even blowing their noses. They describe the space suit, eating aboard the spaceship, and how food tastes in space.

"The taste of food in space is different from the taste of food on the ground. It's not that food tastes bad, it's just that it tastes ... less. For some astronauts, the bland blahs improve as the mission goes on, but for others, the sensation lasts for the entire mission."

The cartoon art and clear photographs will be a welcome addition for those interested in a future in space. I think you will find there is a lot you did not know prior to reading this informative book.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cody and the Rules of Life, by Tricia Springstubb with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"...  Cody went to see Spencer.
He and his parents lived right
around the corner with his
grandmother. This was so nice.
The not-so-nice part was that the
house was a side-by-side. And who
should live on the other side but
Molly Meen, Pirate Queen. She
lived there with her sister, Maxie.
And their father, who killed bugs
for a living."

This is the third book in a winning series starring Cody, her family, and her friends. This time, she finds herself making a trade she never meant to make. At a sleepover with Pearl, she agrees to exchange her much-loved and worse-for-wear Gremlin for the almost perfect endangered Arctic Fox. To add to the drama, her brother Wyatt's brand new bicycle is stolen. What more can happen?

Cody is astute and concerned for Wyatt, and for herself. He seems to care more for his bike than for her, even though she helped him assemble it. She thinks she knows who has the bike, and wants to help get it back. She is also very upset that she let Pearl talk her into giving up Gremlin. That feeling helps her to empathize with her brother and his dilemma. She wants to renege on her trade with Pearl; but she knows the rules. Can she follow them when she is so unhappy? How will she get Gremlin back? Her plan angers Pearl, and leaves Cody wondering about the rules concerning truth that govern her life. 

This series is terrific for those readers wanting to move on to chapter books, and a longer story. The dialogue is spot-on, the tone is full of life and often funny. I think that Eliza Wheeler's black and white illustrations are a great match for the story's action.

I have enjoyed all three of the Cody books, and highly recommend them for series readers in grades 2-4. I look forward to meeting Cody again in the future.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, by Deborah Heiligman. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $27.99 ages 14 and up

"The crisis brings out the very best in Vincent. He immediately writes to Theo and tells him the money he sends will go to Ma and Pa., not for his painting supplies. He nurses Ma with the kindness he showed the miners in the Borinage. Pa appreciates how helpful he is around the house. His relationship with both of his parents improves dramatically. When he's not helping his parents, he still works ..."

It is difficult to describe all the feelings I am experiencing having finished reading this remarkable book: melancholy, admiration, astonishment for the Van Gogh brothers and their lifelong commitment to each other. It is an impressive and incredibly descriptive biography, written with care and insight by the incomparable Ms. Heiligman. If you have not read Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (Henry Holt, 2009), this book might be all the incentive you need to find a copy and put it on your TBR pile.

The relationship between the Van Gogh brothers is complicated, to say the least. They are born four years apart (Vincent is the elder). It is not hard to tell they are brothers on the outside; they look very much alike. Their differences are evident in personality, routines, and outlook. It is their abiding love for each other, despite these many differences, that is at the heart of this carefully constructed and impeccably researched biography.

"They promise always to be close, to keep the bond between them strong and intimate. They always will walk together. They will be more than brothers, more than friends. They will be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art. Together they will achieve lives filled with purpose. And they will, when needed, carry each other's parcels."

Using the nearly 700 letters exchanged between the two, the author plots her story as a series of gallery visits, using a reproduction of one of Vincent's pieces of art to introduce each one. The letters are quoted often, and allow readers a sense of the volatile, yet always loving, relationship. The style of her writing changes according to Vincent's work at the time. He sketches, draws, paints endlessly, always learning and searching for the best way to express himself. I read an advanced reader's edition which did not include the final full-color insert from the published work. I can tell you reading it sent me time and again to carefully study his body of work.

When I mention that the back matter is extensive, it is not an understatement. Beginning with a list of the people included in its pages, and moving on to a carefully constructed look at the journey the brothers took together, the author then adds an informative author's note, a lengthy bibliography, acknowledgements, and finally endnotes and an index. IMPRESSIVE!

It is a memorable look at the lives and loves of two brothers, whose deeply touching and creative connection ensures the world can celebrate Vincent Van Gogh and his life's work.

"The world would not have Vincent
                 without Theo."

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, by Jan Thornhill. Groundwood Books, 2017. $18.95 ages 9 and up

"It had to be able to ride the surf or waddle out of the ocean no matter how high or low the tide - onto a place flat enough to lay an egg. And because it couldn't fly miles away to find food for itself, and eventually, its ravenous chick, it could only nest where there was a reliable supply of fish in the waters surrounding the rookery. These were persnickety needs."

This is, hands down, one of the best information books I have read this year or ever! I was totally absorbed in the writing from first page to last, and had a lot to learn about the Great Auk. Jan Thornhill, in her brilliant and important look at the effects of climate change and the need for conservation of the world's endangered species, shows clearly and sadly what led to their extinction.

The Great Auk, as you can see from the cover, were not unlike penguins. They lived in the north Atlantic ocean and were perfectly suited for their life there - until humans and their own adaptations changed all that. Would that we all learn the important lesson this book shares, and do our best to ensure that it does not keep happening.

They lived, at one time, in great numbers. Today, there are none - not a one! Four hundred years have wrought big changes. Ms. Thornhill tells their story in words and pictures meant to help us understand the events that led to their disappearance. The details are rich, and the whole book reads like the most compelling story. It is sad, and told with compassion for their plight and a hope that we can see the error of our ways by knowing about their demise.

She introduces through her stunning art and absorbing text a very impressive bird, with one fatal flaw:

"But wait! There was a slight glitch in this expert fish-hunter's design. Over millions of years of evolution, its wings - though eventually perfect for propelling it underwater - became so stunted, so small, they couldn't get the bird off the ground. The Great Auk couldn't fly to save its life. Literally."

And that was its downfall. As it evolved, it had to find its way to land in order to lay eggs and further the species. That made it vulnerable to hunters, of the human kind. Once humans took to the sea, the Great Auk's fate was sealed. I could go on and on describing what I learned, but I think you deserve to read it yourself. You will certainly not be sorry that you did. Your children and your students deserve to hear the story. It is quite a remarkable presentation, and will not soon be forgotten.

"By the 1860s, it seemed obvious to a handful of people that, if nothing was done, many more species could soon meet the fate of the Great Auk. A group of scientists and other concerned citizens lobbied the British government and, finally, in 1869, an act banning the killing of thirty-three species during their nesting seasons was introduced.

The conservation movement was born."

Thankfully!

A map, a glossary, a list of names given to the Great Auk, a  list of extinct species, resources for further study and a reference guide make up back matter. 

                

Thursday, August 10, 2017

There, There, written by Tim Beiser and illustrated by Bill Slavin. Tundra Books. 2017. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"In the mud, Hare sat and stared
At that poor, blind, wrinkled
creature
Whose brown skin, all slimy-
smeared
Was his most attractive feature.
Hare compared the life he had,
And he thought,
Things aren't so bad.
"Yes, I see," the hare then
sighed."

It seems that we have been waiting for rain here for a very long month, or two. We have had the rare downpour, but it hasn't been nearly what is needed for so many. Every time it showers, I want to do a happy dance. I love the smell, the immediate effect on yards and gardens, and I don't mind at all the quiet, contemplative rest it encourages.

To say Hare feels the same would be a gross miscalculation for his mood, when a daylong rainstorm forces him and his ursine roommate to stay inside! Hare is whiny, and angry, and ANNOYED. Bear does his best to placate his buddy with a chess game, tea and muffins, and the constantly
reassuring "There, there!" Hare's drama and constant complaining finally gets to Bear.

"Knock it off!" the old bear scolded.
"Let me make this very clear,
I have had it up to
                    HERE!"

Out they go. Bear reasons that Hare has little to complain about when comparing his life to that of an earthworm. The description of earthworm's lot in life is so funny. It is just what is needed to convince Hare his life is pretty darn good. As the two head back inside and the rain makes itself scarce, they leave a disgruntled earthworm behind them.

Bill Slavin uses acrylic paints on gessoed board to create textured backdrops and appealing expressive characters, that bring this humorous tale to full life for the youngsters who will get a real kick from its telling.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Flying Lessons and other stories, edited by Ellen Oh. Crown, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 9 and up

"Papi is going to yell at them
for ruining my work. Any second,
his voice will boom across the gym.
The walls will rattle. When Papi
loses his temper, it feels as if
you're trapped inside a huge storm
cloud. But as the seconds tick by,
absolutely nothing happens. I
finally turn to see that Papi has
stopped in his tracks, his hands
in his pockets ... "

Ruth Oh is cofounder of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS.   As such she has edited this collection of short stories written by writers who represent diversity in their writing and in their own lives. Each story is singular in its telling, and will hold the attention of middle grade readers.

They are boldly written by a stellar group of writers, who will be familiar to their intended audience. They tell stories of school, family, friends, sports, romance. There are 10 stories here and they are as diverse as their authors, their circumstances and will feed a reader's need for books that are both windows and mirrors. They show the importance of courage and creativity, escape and enlightenment, patience and perseverance, laughter and anger. There are stories of the past and present, of diverse settings and a more diverse world. There is so much here to enjoy, and to cause readers to pause and consider other lives lived.

A wonderful way to start the year in a middle years class - one story a day for each of the first ten days. Kids will identify with the kids in these shared stories, as they are inspired to initiate and prolong great conversation and set your classroom on a course for seeking other books to read together as the year progresses. And, it is a much needed book for all collections.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Maid of the King's Court, written by Lucy Worsley. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"With Katherine, it felt like we had gone right back tot he start, to the very day she had been so cruel to me upon my arrival. When I saw her laughing, or bossing the other girls, or flirting with the teachers, I felt I was looking at the devil in the form of a girl. Why could not everyone else see what I saw? To me she was cold, heartless, egotistical, and arrogant. I wondered how ... "

If you are a fan of Downtown Abbey, you probably know a teen who will enjoy this historical novel concerning King Henry VIII's court. After an early scandal, Elizabeth Camperdown has been trained to be a lady-in-waiting, thus more likely to find a husband who will help her to save her father's fortune. Elizabeth is a red-haired beauty. She and her cousin Katherine Howard arrive to attend to Anne of Cleves, Henry's new wife.

Henry is unhappy with Anne for her failure at marriage, and sends her from his court. Katherine becomes the object of Henry's attention, and after becoming his mistress, she subsequently is made his sixth wife. But, her fate is far worse than Anne's. She is tried and executed for adultery.

Elizabeth watches in horror (and narrates quite eloquently) the goings-on, and is careful to protect herself. She has a choice, which means she has some power. Will she become the next mistress to a bawdy, powerful ruler, or will she choose true love?

This is a look at a very particular place and time. It moves fluidly and quickly forward, packed with tension and an innate knowledge that both young women have little power over the situation in which they find themselves. Drawing from history, Lucy Worsley (chief curator at Historical Royal Palaces in London) has penned a compelling novel that is a romantic, and often terrifying look at the customs and circumstances of England in the mid 1500s. It is an auspicious debut.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, written by Drew Daywalt with pictures by Adam Rex. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Meanwhile,
in the Empire of
Mom's Home Office,
on lonely and windswept
Desk Mountain, a second
great warrior sought the
glory of battle.

And his name was Paper.

Even though he was the ... "

You want to meet these three: Rock is best in the Kingdom of the Backyard; Paper manages to defeat all challengers in the Empire of Mom's Home Office; Scissors wins every contest in the Kitchen Realm. The cover art shows just how proud each one feels about their own personal coups.

All three are looking for a real test of their awesome abilities! Will they find a worthy opponent in the 'great cavern of Two-Car Garage? I wonder. Each sets about to accept defeat, if it should come, at the hands of another. Rock defeats Scissors. Paper covers Rock. Scissors destroys Paper. It is an endless game of one-ups-man-ship.

And that, my friends, is why -

"children all around the world -
in backyards, on playgrounds, and yes, even in
classrooms - still honor the three great warriors
by playing ... "

You know they are going to love hearing it, and you will love reading it to them. Filled with action, and commotion, and terrific language, you are sure to be asked for it on an endless rotation. The text's language is filled with expression and noise. Adam Rex uses a cunning array of backdrops for the battles. It's a great performance piece!

And now, you can teach who don't yet know the game how to play!
                                                                       

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Because I Am A Girl: I Can Change the World. By Rosemary McCarney with Jen Albaugh and Plan International. Second Story Press, 2014. $16.95 ages 11 and up

"The big mango tree is gone, so is the food. Every morning I wake up with pains in my tummy because I am so hungry. We don't usually have any food at home, and most days I have to go to school without eating. Naomi says that I have to train myself not to feel hungry until the end of the day, but that is really hard to do! Sometimes I can't concentrate ...

The girls introduced and pictured in this book live all over the world and share their stories of hardship. It is impossible to imagine that children so young are dealing with the misery and insecurity that face them every single day. It is important for our children, who often live with such abundance, to see the struggles that face so many girls in world communities.

These girls are worthy of our admiration for the hope they find in each other, and the bravery with which they face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They persevere, and stand strong for others,   always working to change the world.

They are eight young women and live in Nepal, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Philippines, South Sudan/Uganda, Peru, Uganda and Canada. While you will be interested in each of their stories, I thought you might like to know a bit more about Fahmeeda, who lives in Canada and knows that she can change the world.

Her family moved from Pakistan to Canada when she was 9. A return trip to her homeland when she was 13 showed her some of the barriers faced by girls in all parts of the world. Children were working long days in factories to help pay for living in a shelter. They should have been in school.  Another young girl she met there died in childbirth because she had never had medical care. Her child was now an orphan. Today she spends her time as a Youth Ambassador for Plan's Because I Am A Girl, working to protect the rights of women and children around the world. She is now 20 years old.

These are amazing stories, and they should be shared!

Caroline's Comets: A True Story. Written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"The journey, by coach, ferry and packet boat, took twelve days. In Bath, Caroline settled into her new life, struggling with the English language and customs. William coached her, and before long, Caroline became a popular soprano and, for the first time, earned her own money. As William also needed a housekeeper, she became that too."

Caroline Herschel was a woman of many accomplishments and talents. Not only was she a fine musician, she was an astronomer well known as the Hunter of Comets, and, if you asked her brother, a helpful maid. Caroline was not as pleased with that last description.

I admire Emily Arnold McCully's work. In this book, she introduces her audience to a celebrated astronomer held captive to the mores of the times. Women were not expected to have interests outside the home. Caroline, bearing the scars of smallpox, was not even considered marriageable. What rot!

When her favorite brother William, a noted musician, asked her to move to England to join a chorus he was conducting, she agreed. She began to make a small living for herself. Her interest in astronomy grew as they spent time together.

"By way of relaxation, we talked of astronomy
and the bright constellations with which I
had made acquaintance during the fine nights
we spent on the Postwagon traveling
through Holland."

Together they went on to do work celebrated in the scientific community. Caroline made many discoveries of her own, to great acclaim and became the first professional woman scientist when King George agreed to pay her.

"In 1783, Caroline discovered fourteen previously unknown
nebulae and star clusters and two new galaxies.
All this time, Caroline also did needlework and sewing, kept
William's accounts and cleaned all the equipment."

In her signature watercolor and ink artwork, Ms. McCully gives readers a clear look at this historical period, and adds context for the story shared. She also brings awareness to some of the obstacles women faced despite being very capable, smart and talented. Unmarried women during the 18th century were offered little hope for success in life. Caroline definitely defied the parameters set by society. An author's note, bibliography, glossary, and timeline are added in back matter.

Astronomers and interested scientists will know her story. I did not, and I am delighted that this fine book introduced us.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Treasure Box, written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $23.00 ages 8 and up

"For weeks, they trudged through
mud and rain. They slept at the
side of the road, under hedges,
in ditches, huddling together to
keep warm. As the days went by,
Peter's father became very ill.
He whispered, "You must be
brave, for both of us. Promise me
you will keep our treasure safe." "I
promise," said Peter, ... "

This is a book for everyone who loves and knows the power of words and books. During the war, the library is bombed. The only book not destroyed is the one Peter's father has borrowed to read at home. It is his favorite book.

As soldiers threaten homes and the people who live in them, Peter's father uses an iron box to protect the 'treasure' that tells the story of their people.

"It's rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold,"
 he tells his son.

Forced to flee, and watching their homes burn as they begin their trek, the box is always with them. His father, sick and dying, asks Peter to do his best to protect the book. Peter keeps his promise, leaving his suitcase behind and carrying only the iron box. Knowing he cannot carry it through the mountains they must cross, he buries it under a tree.

Will he ever be able to find it again?

We do not know Peter's homeland; we do know the story of far too many people like him. The book is needed for those who come after, so they may know that shared history. Freya Blackwood's pencil, watercolor and collage artwork is muted and telling - and beautiful. The stunning details and inclusion of words from the works of other Australian authors' war stories add to the poignancy of Ms. Wild's book that considers love, loss and the importance of history.
        

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Lost Kitten, written by Lee and illustrated by Komako Sakai. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 20117. $ 26.99 ages 4 and up

"When she held the kitten,
its tummy moved in and out
and it purred deep in its throat.

"Even though it's so tiny," Hina
said, "it's alive."

The kitten gave a little mew,
as if saying goodbye to its
mother."

I am not a 'cat person', but who could possibly resist the wee feline who graces this book's cover? The little girl and her mother who find it on their doorstep are concerned that it seems sickly. The fact that the nearby mother cat seems to be asking for their help is enough to convince another mother to do her best to care for it.

Hina would choose to have a kitten from a pet shop. Her mother is undeterred, cleaning and gently caring for the waif. Hina is intrigued, becoming more and more interested as the kitten explores their home. Together, mother and daughter provide milk, comfort and a collar for their visitor. Mom leaves Hina with her grandma while she goes for cat food.

By now, Hina has fallen in love with the tiny visitor, thinking about a name and intent on watching the little one while her mom is away. But - she can't find it! After looking everywhere, she becomes concerned that the kitten has gone outside and might now be lost. She remembers being lost herself, and that brings understanding for how the kitten must be feeling.

"The cat left us her kitten. Now I have to be its mother.
I have to give it a name. I have to find it."

Distraught, she takes the search outside. But, it's cold and she needs a coat. Inside, she makes a discovery - the front closet and one of Hina's soft sweaters is a perfect spot for a kitten's first snooze. It has been an eventful day!

This is such a sweet and affecting story, made even lovelier with Komako Sakai's textured, smoky illustrations. The kitten is perfectly captured in images that move from defenseless and sickly, to content, clean and cuddly. The reader's mood is altered by her use of blues and pinks as the story progresses. What a joy to see her brilliant work again!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Great, Now We've Got BARBARIANS! Written by John Carter Eaton and illustrated by Mark Fearing. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $22.00 ages 4 and up

"Yup," said the exterminator,
"you've got barbarians, all
right. One of the worst cases
I've ever seen." Dad looked
around the house sadly. "Looks
like we're out of options," he
said. "I guess we'll have to move."

I couldn't avoid it anymore. There
was only one solution left."

Life can be very good ... until it isn't. So, when barbarians make their presence known after a young boy neglects to heed his mother's threat that the state of his room will surely encourage the arrival of pests, it should come as no surprise. His inattentive attitude doesn't change much, at the beginning. But, things change pretty quickly.

"They picked the marshmallows out
of my cereal when I wasn't looking.

They used my school supplies to scratch their hairy backs
and my toys to clean out their ears.

And when I got into bed, my blankets and pillows were gone.
The barbarians had stolen them to make forts."

It is an 'infestation' of pests and they need to be gone! The solution turns out to be an easy one. The proof is in the pudding, kids - listen to your mother! There is a little glitch, when the water doesn't get turned off in the tub. That event spawns a second visit. This time from pirates! Could there be a sequel in the offing?

A witty narration is accompanied by comic art that will have readers hooting. The endpapers are sure to encourage a chorus of 'ews!' and stories about familiar messes. Front to back papers change in relation to the story told.

Bring on the pirates!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Margaret And The Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing. Written by Dean Robins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Margaret began solving
harder and harder math
problems. It was fun working
her way through the steps.
She liked moving around x's
and y's in algebra. She liked
measuring circles and triangles
in geometry. She liked studying
curves in calculus. And then she
discovered COMPUTERS!"

Margaret Hamilton, as a young girl, had an unending curiosity about the world, and she loved to solve problems! Her curiosity led her to ask questions that few others had considered in the 1930s and 1940s.

"Why were there only DADDY longlegs?
She would call some of them MOMMY
longlegs, too.

Why didn't girls play baseball?
Margaret had a solution.
She would join the team herself.

Why didn't more girls grow up to be doctors?
Or scientists?
Or anything else they wanted?
Margaret had a solution.
She would study hard in every subject at school."

And study she did - especially mathematics. It is no wonder that this inquisitive, unwavering young woman became director of software programming at NASA. Her practice with solutions in her early life lead her to working on the Apollo 8, 10 and 11 moon missions. Margaret and her code overrode landing problems with the Eagle's computer and ensured a safe moon landing for Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crew. 

This is an excellent example of the best in picture book biographies for our children. Dean Robbins
is obviously a fan of Ms. Hamilton and it shows is his thoughtful and inspiring text. Lucy Knisley's winsome and lively illustrations, rendered in ink and paper, and colored in Adobe Photoshop are just right in keeping the biography relevant for its young audience.

This terrific tribute to a much admired woman would be welcome fare for any library. Back matter includes an author's note, bibliography and a list of books for additional reading. Well done, indeed! 

I Spy 123, text by Ulrike Sauerhofer and images by Manuela Ancutici. Firefly Books, 2017. $14.95 ages 6 and up

"Can you see what I see?

There are three hidden
soccer balls.
But it's much harder
to find the giraffe-
patterned rubber ball.

Look for three hearts and
a ball that sticks out its
tongue! Spiderman's face is hiding here ... "

Oh, my! This book is an eye-catching and quite astonishing look at the numbers from 1 to 20. Each of its pages provides a series of questions to accompany the presentation of the number and the many intricate images placed on its shape. The questions are meant to encourage a very careful look. The numerals are filled with items that are organized by theme, and often color as well.

Searchers will find familiar images, as well as many new ones. '1' is currency. '2' is shoes. '8' is mostly red. Starting with '11' the spreads move to double pages, and more detective work as the questions require looking carefully at both numbers. I loved the faces that make up '12'! There is so much to look at, and to discuss.

"14

Can you see what I can see?
Seven burgers are well hidden.
Now we'll go on a scavenger hunt.
There's no telling what you'll find!

Five fried eggs, how nice and tasty
and two oranges must be found.
Two candy canes are needed and
two chili peppers, devilishly hot.

Five green mice quickly disappear
so the two cats cannot find them.
Then look carefully and you'll
see two worms and five tennis balls."

I did find the candy canes pretty quickly!

Be prepared for a long sit. Finding the answers to the posed questions is not always easy, but totally addictive.

Yes, the answers are provided. Even those take careful consideration. Good luck!

Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive! By Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson. Walden Pond Press, Harper. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"The plant world is pretty wild! You've just read about enormous bridges that are actual living plant structures; a type of flower you could use as a nighlight; and a miracle fruit that makes sour things eaten after it taste sweet. What are the truths? What is the lie? Careful research will tell."

Can you guess?

Put this book down on a table where interested readers can find it, and watch what happens! It will hold interest and spark debate at every turn. It is, hopefully, the first in a series with stories about humans, about animals and about plants.

Three facts are provided. The premise is that only two are the truth. Which one is the lie? That is your task to consider. Descriptions are very persuasive, making the decision difficult. But, quality research and careful thought could lead to solving the mystery. You can imagine the many conversations that will be generated when sharing the content.

Each of three parts - plants, animals, humans - contains three chapters. Each chapter tells three stories. At the end of the chapter, you are meant to decide which of the three is a lie. Included photos, charts, and 'talk it out' sections may (or may not) help you with your decision.

If you want your kids to develop critical thinking skills, here is a book that is sure to help. Yes, the answers are provided in the back of the book. Before they are presented, the authors offer a research guide, sure to help if needed. Following those answers, an extensive bibliography is provided.

What a great game! Impetus for finding the truth by doing research is at the heart of it, a much needed skill in these trying times when 'fake news' is often part of the conversation.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit on a Plane?: Answers to Your Most Clever Math Questions. By Laura Overdeck. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $13.99 ages 8 and up

"Ants can't pick up much more than a crumb, a tiny leaf, or a piece of twig. But ants are tiny, so lifting those things is a big deal. Some ants can carry up to 50 or even 100 times their own weight! What would that look like for you? Take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 50.  A 40-pound kid could lift 40 x 50 = 2,000 pounds. That's the weight of a grown female giraffe."

IMAGINE THAT!

I am going to go on a run today and tomorrow, and post about books that deal with numbers and mathematics. This is the first of 6. So, here we go ...

Kids love to think about big things. There are 50 questions here from inquisitive children around the world. The author has placed those questions and her answers in five chapters: Animal Math, Nature Gone Wild, Math for Your Mouth, Your Life in Numbers, and Earth and Friends. Finally, in Chapter 6, she offers 7 Slick Tricks to Amaze Your Friends. It's all about math you can do in your head. Interested? I bet you are, and I know that your own children or your school students will be equally as keen to find out more.

The author believes that kids have an amazing capacity for understanding the world through numbers. Because they are endlessly curious and willing to ask their questions, parents can help them research to find answers.

 "How long does it take rain falling from up there to land on our umbrellas?"

By looking at the math that considers it falling from a cumulonimbus cloud, it might have started falling half an hour ago! I never would have thought of the question, never mind been able to come up with an answer.

"When will I be a billion seconds old?"

In the end, after all the math calculations, you will 'turn one billion seconds old when you've lived 31 YEARS, 8 MONTHS AND 15 DAYS'!

Who knew? Gives new meaning to what a really big number 1 billion is, doesn't it?

Check out this link to find out more, to sign up for daily email ideas, and to watch some giggly math videos.

http://bedtimemath.org

Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs. Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"Naturally, Will thought John was very annoying. Nevertheless, John was a good teacher. He taught Will how to measure temperature on a thermometer and to correctly and clearly record the information each day in tables and charts. Will found himself becoming an excellent mathematician. And a bit more like John."

Never having looked too seriously at the development of mathematical thinking, I had not heard of Scottish mathematician William Playfair. In this picture book biography, I met a man with flaws, and his own way of looking at the world. That is exactly what I find so fascinating about such books for young readers.

William's brother John, who cared for the young boy after their father died, instilled in William a love for mathematics and science. So, when he left home at a young age to find his own way, William was intrigued by the many exciting scientific ideas being developed during the 1700s that would change the world. There are references to the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the development of the Scientific Method still in use today.

Helaine Becker brings to life the man who developed the bar graph, the line graph and the pie chart for use in representing complex information. There was much drama in his life, and the author does not back down from sharing that in an often humorous way. His work was not considered seriously during his lifetime, perhaps due to his past.

"They also thought of Will as a ne'er-do-well with a long string of business failures behind
him. They couldn't - wouldn't - believe someone like that could have invented anything
truly valuable."

Digitally rendered in Photoshop, Ms. Tremblay's artwork incorporates humour as well. Comic images add context and provide a few very funny moments. She shows readers exactly how the charts work, and then the disdain with which his work was treated.

Three pages of further information are useful for those whose curiosity about William is piqued. He was not successful while alive, but his work lives on in today's world.

"Today, infographics are used everywhere - in magazines, in newspapers, on TV weather forecasts, in science papers and government documents, and in kindergarten classrooms and university lecture halls."

Counting With Tiny Cat, written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.00 ages 2 and up

 "FOUR

MORE

EVEN MORE

ABOUT A
DOZEN

LOTS"

Viviane Schwarz is a master at creating the most appealing kittens you could ever wish to meet. Here comes Tiny Cat, tongue hanging to the side of her mouth as she works diligently to juggle three red balls of yarn.

Using ink and crayon with digital coloring, Ms. Schwarz first presents a skeptical Tiny Cat, trying to come to grips with the concept of 'none'. Turn the page and there is one red ball of yarn, and on it goes until she gets to FOUR. Trying to juggle MORE creates an issue, and it gets worse until the
'cat'astrophic TOO MANY!

Perfect for little ones learning early math concepts, and for those who love a bit of humor in their picture books.

Tiny Cat looks angelic; front and back endpapers beg to differ!