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Monday, September 18, 2017

Bob, Not Bob! Written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick with pictures by Matthew Cordell. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"Today, Little Louie's
nose was clogged.

His ears crackled
and his brain felt full.
(He didn't know of what.)

But mostly, his nose.
It was disgusting.

Little Louie didn't want to color."

I defy you to read this book aloud before you have done a lot of work on the voice needed to share it. In fact, the directions on the front cover are clear: 'to be read as though you have the worst cold ever'. I want to hear my friend Don read it!

It is funny, and very, very ingenious. And a test for your storytelling skills! Louie has a COLD. I mean, it is a cold of colossal proportions. He is disconsolate. The only 'thing' that brings comfort is his mom! Maybe hot chocolate? It not even a close second to the attention needed every three minutes from his mother. You know those days, don't you?

Hearing his cries for Mom which sound more like BOB than MOM, his Great Dane, ever responsive, slobbering dog Bob comes quickly to his rescue. Bob is ignored in a plea for BOB! To say Bob the dog is confused is an understatement. With each demand made of his mom, Bob comes running. So funny! Kids will be howling with excitement.

Matthew Cordell is the perfect artist for capturing the craziness of the situation. Bob drools endlessly and everywhere; Louie's head expands as his cold worsens; his mom's patience is in jeopardy; the ever expanding mess of an untended home is evident; until, one afternoon of total bed rest (with mom and Bob) brings lasting relief. Unfortunately, it is not the case for Mom.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

THE SECRET PROJECT, by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books, Simon and Schuster. 2017. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Outside the laboratory, nobody knows they are there. Outside, there are just peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, artists are painting beautiful paintings. Outside the laboratory, in the faraway nearby, Hopi Indians are carving beautiful dolls out of wood as they have done for centuries."

With all the rhetoric being reported between the United States and North Korea in the past month, I think this book is highly appropriate for sharing in homes and classrooms. Look for it at your library or in your favorite bookstore. It is sure to inspire conversation and connections to current world affairs.

Jonah Winter does a first-rate job of introducing readers to the development of the first nuclear bomb. It will cause readers to think and ask questions about the scientists who worked under mysterious circumstances to build that bomb.

"Night and day, the greatest scientists in the world
conduct experiments and research in the laboratory.
They are working on something they call the "Gadget."
What they are trying to invent is so secret,
they cannot even call it by its real name."

Jonah manages to capture the intensity of the work alongside the majesty of the desert environment. The color of the outside world shifts to the darkness and obscurity where those scientists work secretly, without rest. Readers are witness to the work, and the events that lead to the countdown to detonation.

"Crouching down in their bunker,
the scientists prepare themselves
for something so loud,
so earth-shattering,
so huge,
it is hardly even imaginable."

Jeanette Winter's artwork is exemplary, using black (and darkness) to great effect in creating a mood that is memorable and frightening. The utter blackness of the final spread, following the spectacular images of the bomb's power reflects the silence it inspires.

 It is an 'awesome' introduction to a very scary time in history, though none of that is mentioned until a very informative and frightening Author's Note. In it he includes this " ... as of 2016, there are 15,700 nuclear weapons still in existence throughout the world. Hopefully some day that number will be zero.” Or, perhaps that number is on the rise. The facts are in the text of the book. Mr. Winter's own comments are in the note he places in back matter. It is not written with a message for readers.

Jonah Winter believes:

"As a nonfiction author, my job is to tell the truth.   And my mission as an author is to introduce young children to chapters of history which have been systematically omitted from their education. For instance, the making of the atom bomb – the topic of my book, The Secret Project. It’s a picture book about how scientists and the American government created the first nuclear bomb.   Their collective motivation as a character, as they were creating their “gadget” (as they euphemistically referred to it), was to conceal. My motivation as a character, in this book and various books I’ve written for children, is to reveal."

He and his mother, a brilliant and gifted artist, ensure that all readers will know this part of history.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tony, written by Ed Galing and illustrated by Erin E. Stead.A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017.$23.99 ages 3 and up

" ... and pulled a milk
truck for Tom, the young
Tom Jones,
in the early hours of the
pulling the wagon loaded
with milk, butter,
and eggs ... "

Tony and Tom are of a bygone age. Their love for each other and the work they do together is fully in view here, through words and pictures. I love this quietly beautiful homage to community and the past.

Before delivery trucks and big grocery stores, families bought butter, eggs and milk from delivery horses and their drivers. Ed Galing obviously had a love for one of those horses.

" ... but I was up, and would
go out and pat Tony with
my gentle arms, and
his head would bow down
and his eyes would glow ... "

He quietly describes the nightly visits in a gentle poem, inviting readers to share that earlier time. Erin E. Stead uses Gomuban monoprinting and pencil for her reminiscent images that show what each day was like for Tony and Tom as they provided a service remembered only by those who lived back then. The warm glow from the barn light is matched by streetlamps along the way, the porch lights that welcomed the two at houses on their route, and finally the joy of dawn. The pencil sketching in soft green and grey allows for a textural and detailed portrait of the horse, and his work.
Children with their natural affinity for animals will admire everything about Tony, a horse remembered and honored here with great affection.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Ring Bearer, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Philomel, Penguin. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"The music starts and Sophie
takes off. Grandpop nudges
Jackson to get him going, too.
Jackson walks slow and steady
while Sophie skips ahead,
ignoring Grandpop's advice.

Mama's having a wedding,
and Jackson has
an important job to do,
no matter what ... "

No one is more fun to watch at weddings than the children in attendance, especially those who are part of the ceremony itself. You never know what might happen. You know, for sure, they are going to be precious to watch. It is, with great delight, guests gaze on in wonder as they make their way up the aisle. Later, they will join in the merriment with less pressure for performance, thank goodness.

Jackson is ring bearer for his mom's wedding. Sophie is the flower girl for her dad. The two youngsters, who will soon become a new family, have an important role to play. Jackson is a bundle of nerves, wondering how this new family will work, and worrying about the very important job he has during the ceremony.

"Jackson smiles on Bill's shoulders,
but inside he thinks, Mama's having a wedding
and I have to carry the rings,
but I don't want to trip in front of everyone
and mess it all up.
Maybe Bill should
carry the rings!"

Sophie has no such worry, hurrying off with her basket in hand and strewing flower petals at a furious clip as she goes. When he notices that Sophie is heading for disaster, Jackson quickly assumes the 'big brother' role and sets things right!

Perfection! This family story is shared with warmth and great affection. Simply told and easy to follow, it is also sharp and expressive in comparing Jackson's two roles ... at the wedding and in the new blended family. Reassuring and accompanied by Floyd Cooper's winning portraits of the day's stars and wedding scenes, it's the 'just right' gift for those who assume such important duties on a very memorable day.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $26.50 ages 8 and up

""It is unnerving to be told you're bad for children," Andy confessed. But he learned two things from writing Stuart Little: a writer's instinct is his best guide, and "children can sail easily over the fence that separates reality from make-believe. A fence that can throw a librarian is nothing to a child." Later in the same year that book came out ... "

Continuing on a writer's theme today, I want to share another superb picture book biography. In this celebration of beloved author E. B. White, Melissa Sweet does double duty.  She shares his life story with great success, while also creating remarkable artwork to accompany her luminous text. She is an admirer and does all she can to provide readers with an expert accounting for his life and work.

The three years she spent working on it were filled with many discoveries; first, through a relationship with Mr. White's granddaughter who provided access to primary sources that included photos, notes, drafts, letters, sketches; next, through keen attention to his many writings from childhood journals to his work at The New Yorker, to his much loved books for children; and finally, to his barn where she found inspiration for much of her artwork. This is a carefully and beautifully researched portrayal.

E.B. White had a lifelong career as a writer. He wrote as a child with the encouragement of his parents and family. He wrote for The New Yorker throughout his lifetime, while also penning the three children's classics that have so endeared him to children, their parents and their teachers - Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte's Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970). He was co-editor of The Elements of Style, a book used by many writers, some of whose quotes concerning its impact on their own writing are included here and much appreciated.

"The poet Joyce Sidman, a Newbery honoree, writes, "White's points in his "List of Reminders' are the fundamentals on which I have built my own writing style. 'Be clear' but 'Do not explain too much' and 'write with nouns and verbs' would be, indeed, the recipe for good poetry."

Gorgeous collages feature watercolor illustrations, homemade paper, wood scraps, and maps merged with cartoons, family photographs, handwritten rough drafts, and other archival material. It is an artistic wonder. An author’s note, an afterword by White’s granddaughter, source notes, a selected bibliography, and a chronological list of his books bring the book to its conclusion.

There is so much to see and savor in this original, stunning and innovative labor of love! I could go on and on. I am sure you have had enough - so, I will simply suggest that you find a copy, fall in love with its story and art, and place it tenderly on your 'keepers' shelf, as I have done. 

If you are interested in knowing more, please check out this link:

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Poem for Peter, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, with pictures by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. Viking, Penguin. 2016. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"From the hand of a man
whose life and times,
and hardships,
and heritage,
and heroes,
and heart,
and soul
led him to you.

Yes, you, little boy ... "

As a long-time fan of Ezra Jack Keats and his work, I was delighted to learn that Andrea Davis Pinkney had written a picture book biography starring the man himself. I did not know Peter would play such a role in the telling. What a marvelous feat it is!

Using poetry to tell the story of  a child of Polish immigrants seeking refuge from the oppression of Jews, Ms. Pinkney delves deeply into his life, his love of art, his motivation to share Peter with the world in The Snowy Day. Life in America was not easy for the Keats family. 'Jacob Ezra Katz' felt the sting of discrimination in his own life.

Still, there was wonder in the world.

"But when it snowed,
oh, when it snowed!
Nature's glittery hand
painted the world's walls a brighter shade.

Snow made opportunity and equality
seem right around the corner.
Because, you see, Snow is nature's we-all blanket.
When Snow spreads her sheet, we all glisten.
When Snow paints the streets, we all see her beauty."

After stops and starts along his artistic path, and harboring his childhood dream of making art his life's work, Jack returned to a world where jobs were scarce for Jews ("No Jews Need Apply"). He changed his name to make life somewhat easier, and it did.

"Discrimination had formed Ezra's
understanding of what it meant to be
This also led to you, brown-sugar boy."

The photos of a cherubic, confident child - ones Ezra had cut from a Life magazine years before - and a chance in 1954 to illustrate a picture book someone else had written was just the beginning for this amazing artist.

"And then, Ezra's invitation came
to write and illustrate his own story.
And then - oh, then - you!
You popped up!
You! Ezra's true jubilation.
You had been waiting to be born.
And yet, you were there all along."

1962 - the first mainstream children's book to present a child of African-American heritage in a leading role. What a wonder! Peter was embraced by children and adults alike. He remains a favorite character for my grown kids. He will find his way into my granddaughters' hearts. Today, we continue to share Mr. Keats wonderful books in families and classrooms.

The writing is brilliant and memorable. I have returned to this book time and again to savor the telling. Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson bring their formidable talent to creating the collage images that pay respect to the man and the boy, their world and their stories. It is an impressive and unforgettable collaboration.

Back matter includes Ezra's Legacy, Keats, The Collage Poet, a bibliography and a list of sources.

"He dared to open a door.
He awakened a wonderland.
He brought a world of white
suddenly alive with color."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Fog, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Tundra Books, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Happy to see a human again,
Warble offered her insects to eat.

She liked them.

The human, in return, offered
Warble gifts and showed him
how to fold intricate paper

And there they stayed ... "

Warble is a small, and very observant, yellow warbler living on an icy island that affords him great joy in his life. He loves to watch the many different people who visit this special place. When a fog envelops it, he does his best to help it dissipate. When that doesn't work, he asks his avian neighbors what they think of it. They barely notice it, expressing little concern over the changes occurring.

Warble is concerned. With no visitors to watch, and without much to see beyond the mistiness of this new grey world, Warble adopts a sense of ennui himself. Then, one morning, he sees ' a colorful speck' approaching. (#673 RED-HOODED SPECTACLED FEMALE (JUVENILE)). The two find each other. Warble can't believe his good luck! They enjoy many of the same things.

After some time spent together, he mentions the fog. The human also sees it.

"Warble asked the human if she thought there
were others who saw the fog too. She was unsure.
How could they find out?"

Two heads are better than one. They do their research, and make the discovery that others have also noticed the fog. Perhaps, with help, they can make a difference to its hold on the island.

Kenard Pak 'used pencil, watercolor and digital work to make the illustrations for this book'. Brilliantly, I will add. The threat of the fog and the joy found in human interaction add just the right touch to this lovely story. There is humor, and poignancy as well. Be sure to spend time pouring over the endpapers front and back to meet just some of the human characters Warble has observed as they spend time on his beautiful iceland. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World, written and illustrated by Allan Drummond. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincaost, 2017. $24.99 ages 7 and up

"At first the demonstrations
were great fun. People even
held parties in the middle of
the road. "Give us back our
streets!" they cried. Crowds
gathered outside the Dutch
prime minister's house. They
chanted songs and called for
change. Children banded
together and proclaimed
that some roads should ... "

School is back. Along with the buses' arrival this morning, I saw a bunch of kids riding their bikes, and a few teachers, too. It is that kind of day. That being said, I thought I would tell you about a book that I found very interesting.

In the 1970s people were protesting a number of things. An activist mom in Amsterdam started a movement to make the streets safer for all who chose to ride bicycles. Today, if you were to visit Amsterdam, you would see people riding their bicycles everywhere in the city, and for many different reasons. There are more bikes than there are cars.

" ... over canal bridges,
down narrow streets,
 across busy roads.

To school, to work,
to shop, to visit friends.

All kinds of bikes."

This book is a testament to the persistence of people who believe in something, and will work hard to accomplish what they feel is important. The streets were so busy, that people felt they had no space for themselves on their roads. The route to finally have the laws change meant a lot of meetings, many demonstrations, publicity for the cause, and unfortunately the death of a child. Her father, a reporter, published a chilling statistic.

"This year, five hundred children have been killed on the roads of
our country. Many of them were riding bikes."

It was the impetus needed to push for better conditions for all Dutch cyclists, and the beginning of a movement toward protecting the environment and encouraging people to be more active. And that is how Amsterdam became 'the capital city of cycling'. Readers will enjoy Allan Drummond's pen and ink and watercolor artwork. He fills the pages, including endpapers and front matter, with detailed images that accomplish his wish to have those who read his book see how much fun riding can be. Full of energy and movement, this is a book that will be fun to share when your school is hosting a bicycle rodeo.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Refugee, written by Alan Gratz. Scholastic, 2017. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Rain lashed Isabel as she shoveled water out of the boat. Scoop, pitch. Scoop, pitch. The bottom of the boat filled as fast as they could bail it out. Isabel, her mother, her father, her grandfather, Luis, Ivan, Senora Castillo, they all worked feverishly, none of them talking - not that they could hear each other over the storm. The only ones not bailing were Senor Castillo, who looked like a ghost ... "

Three families, three countries, three conflicts ... years apart, yet the effects for the families are equally devastating at any time. The three main characters, whose parallel stories are told in this heartbreaking book, have much in common despite their many differences.

Josef is a Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany in 1939. His father has been in a concentration camp for a year before being released, with the instructions to leave Germany within hours. With his family at his side, they board the MS St. Louis bound for Cuba. When unrest breaks out in Cuba in 1944, Fidel Castro allows anyone who wants to leave the chance to flee. Isabel, her family and neighbors board a makeshift boat headed to Florida in hopes that they can land before being caught at sea, In such an event, they will be returned to Cuba. Mahmoud is a boy from 2015 Aleppo where his own government is bombing his city, leaving far too many without a place to live and with nothing to call their own. His family must use any means to make their way to Europe where they hope to find safety.

They have much in common - a dictator, an escape by boat, a fervent desire to find peace and safety for each family. They endure terror, loss, hope, and are unbelievably brave in the face of tragedy. Nothing is easy here, and their stories offer a realistic look at families forced to leave the homes they love. Alan Gratz manages to share their stories through brilliant writing, all the while drawing parallels that end each of their chapters with heart-stopping action. The fact that he connects the three is quite a remarkable feat!

Using historical fiction to bring these three remarkable characters to his readers, he is respectful of their circumstances, aware of the emotional toll, and fills his pages with the suspense that will not allow the reading to stop. Urgent, dangerous action and full of empathy for the plight of migrants, this is a book that should be shared in middle and high school classrooms.

Timely, and necessary - of that there is no doubt!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window, written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Peter McCarthy. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"The older girl was quiet and proper. The younger was lively, with dark hair. When they visited the factory, she would play by the canal or write by the kitchen window. She wrote for hours. Even when her father called her, she wrote. The tree loved the sight of her."

Choosing a tree to tell the Frank family story during World War II in war-torn Germany allows Anne's story to be shared with a younger audience, without chronicling the many horrors of the time. Anne described the chestnut tree that stood outside the window of the annex, where she and her family lived for two years, in a diary entry:

"The two of us looked out at the blue sky,
the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew,
the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver
as they swooped through the air, and we were
so moved and entranced that we couldn't speak."

Granted the story is limited to what the tree can see happening in the streets (and not do anything about it), and in the house that its shade protects. It watches through the curtained window of the attic that houses eight people as they seek shelter from the Nazi regime and its determination to annihilate the Jewish people living there. The tree watches as the energetic and gregarious Anne writes in her diary, and is an observer to her first kiss. After the family is taken away, the tree keeps watch through
passing seasons and years.

The tree, of course, does not understand why the family must be there for such a long time; nor, can it reason why they have to leave. In that way it echoes some of the feelings that many readers will have about the fate of so many, and the reason for such a war to have happened.

Never dramatic, yet always touching, the author writes of those moments that are so defining in stories told about Anne, her diary, and her life in hiding. The father's return at the end of the war, his discovery of Anne's diary, and the tree that lived for so many years, keeping watch. Then, as life had come to an end for Anne, so does life for the 172 year old tree.

"The summer the girl would have turned eighty-one,
a storm snapped the tree's trunk in two.

Just like the girl, she passed into history.
Just like the girl, she lives on."

In an afterword, Jeff Gottesfeld adds information about Anne and the tree. While Anne lives on in the pages of her diary, the tree's saplings have been planted at a variety of American locations, all 'notable in the quest for freedom and tolerance'.

Peter McCarty's wondrous sepia artwork reflects the sombre tone of the events, showing readers just how sad and serious the situation was for the people who found shelter near the tree's lofty branches.
His shapes are softly rendered, the fine details add realism to the story told. The portrait of Anne in the final pages is quite lovely.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Falcons in the City: The Story of a Peregrine Family. Written by Chris Earley with photography by Luke Massey. A Firefly Book, 2016. $9.95 ages 8 and up

"Raptors are known to fiercely protect their nest sites, and peregrine falcons are no exception. With their impressive flying abilities and sharp talons, peregrines can do serious damage to a potential predator, such as a raccoon or an arctic fox. Peregrine parents have been known to drive away ... "

Somehow, this book got lost on the shelf that houses nonfiction books waiting to be posted. I'm sorry it has taken such a long time to review it here.

I was suitably intrigued by the subject because our city once boasted a long-time pair of peregrine falcons nesting on a downtown building. I am not sure that they are still there, but I found it fascinating to learn so much more about them when I first read this book.

It is beautifully illustrated with clear, often breathtaking photographs of these masters of the sky. The story begins with Chicago resident Dacey Arashiba. He was surprised to find not one, but two, falcons sitting on the railing of his balcony, 28 floors above the ground. Chris Earley writes his story, and Luke Massey provides the incredible images that accompany it.

Mr. Earley writes in chapters that move from discovery and identification, to every aspect of the learning done concerning these amazing predators. The information provided is detailed, and very clear. I love that it also tells the human story of particular peregrines and the journey made with them.
It makes the learning for young readers more personal and attractive. I can't imagine there is much more to learn about these beautiful birds.

"When peregrines feed they first have to pluck away many of the
prey's feathers. Feathers are not very nutritious, so eating them isn't
worthwhile. Then they use their sharp beaks to tear small bits off
of the prey to swallow. Peregrines usually eat on the ground,
especially if the prey they kill is too heavy to fly off with. If the
prey is small enough, they often carry it to an elevated perch.
Sometimes they eat small prey in the air as they are flying."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Whose Moon Is That? Written and illustrated by Kim Krans. Random House, 2017. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"The tree is wrong,"
said the bird with a song.

"The moon belongs to me."

"I found it first!"
said the bear in a burst.
"And I don't like to share."

"Is this a joke?"
The mountain spoke."

The moon was definitely in the news last month. In the past few days, it deserves our attention once again. I love looking out and thinking that my family and friends are seeing the same harvest moon that I am seeing. It is quite beautiful.

I had never considered that animals and the earth itself might be looking upon it with slight avarice. But, each mentioned in this lovely book from Kim Krans seems to think that the moon belongs only to them. The cat starts it, wondering just who might claim ownership of the sparkling orb so evident in the night sky. The tree is fast to respond, and the bird is quick to dismiss the claim, and make the same claim itself. And on it goes, until the many entranced by its wonder add a similar assertion.

The moon has the final word.

When darkness falls,
I'm a light for all.
Yet no one owns my glow.

If you fight all night
over wrong or right,
you'll miss the mystery."


Rhyming, gentle text makes this a perfect story to share at bedtime. As in previous books, Kim Krans uses bursts of color, and contrasting black and white to attract attention. The moon shines out in bold white, touched with black dots and illuminating everything it touches. Gorgeous!

Despite this new learning for the cat, there is another question at sunrise.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. Translation by Jill Davis. Harper, 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Mom sat at her desk,
quietly writing, while
I destroyed Martians.
Actually, I was just pressing the
same button over and over.

I wished Dad were here.

"What about a break from your game?" Mom growled.

I have had a few magical do-nothing days lately. I can tell you that I enjoyed them immensely. We too often don't take time to care for ourselves. With school starting and all the fall activities revving up, many parents and kids will begin to feel the tension that comes with always being on the go. I hope that this book will remind them of the joy to be found in sitting back and taking note of the joys inherent in NOT always having a plan!

It's the weekend. Time spent at the cabin should be fun; but, it's raining outside and there's nothing to do. Mom is busy at her desk, writing. Her daughter is languishing on the sofa, video game in hand. Tired of watching her daughter do 'nothing', the mom takes the game and puts it away. Before she heads for the outdoors, the girl finds the game and sets off.

Trusting her game to keep her from boredom in the rainy environment, the girl makes her way downhill to the pond and some very enticing rocks, just meant for jumping. Alas, the game falls into the pond!

"Without my game, I had nothing to do.
The rain felt like rocks were hitting me.
I was a small tree trapped outside in a hurricane."

Now that sounds like a girl with gumption. As she slowly follows snails along a path, she is fascinated by the smells, sights and sounds of her surroundings.

"I climbed a tree and looked out
as far as my eyes could see.

I breathed in air until my lungs
were bursting.

I drank the raindrops like an
animal would.

I noticed bugs I had never seen before."
I absolutely love the colors, textures and shapes found in the artwork. Using gouache, oil, collage, and wax pencils, Beatrice Alemagna invites readers into a natural, rainy world. A neon orange raincoat keeps our attention on the small girl as she experiences the beauty of a world she rarely notices. It is quite the magical place. The story is so beautifully told. In the end, it leaves readers back in the cabin where mother and daughter savor cups of steaming hot chocolate while not saying a word.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Second Grade Holdout, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Tyler's sisters say second grade is really hard. And Mr. Glazer's class is hardest of all. You have to learn the presidents by heart. Forward AND backward. Ready for the kind of spelling words he gives? Platypus. Rendezvous. Discombobulated!"

Our poor narrator!  Despite all the good things that happened in first grade, he is once again apprehensive about a brand new school year. All of his anxieties resurface, and he shares them with his parents.

"We probably won't get fun jobs to do every day. "Your job is to be a good student," Dad says. That's just one example of why second grade is not for me. Also, Tyler's going to be in Mrs. Herman's class. And I'll be in Mr. Glazer's class."

His parents are unwilling to consider any of his solutions to the problem. Going back to first grade would be so easy! No minds are changed. Tyler's sisters don't help in any way, gleefully filling his head with images of how tough Mr. Glazer is. Even the playground is different this year!

When the girls admit they have been playing with his head, they turn to their own brother, regaling him with problems in Mrs. Herman's class. It takes no time for the boys to catch on to the tricks being played on them - after all, they are second graders!

Matthew Cordell's cartoon-like pen and ink and watercolor images are perfectly matched to the story's nervous narrator. Readers can see how apprehensive he is about a new school year (as are so many other children) in expressive variety on every page. The spot illustrations, and word bubbles, 
add warmth and humor. Every emotion is faced and shared.

As I have said before, the anticipation is often worse than the reality. Tell that to the kids who are NOT so eagerly anticipating school starting today! Change can be sooo tough. Hopefully, reading this book to your class (or your own kids) will help make the transition a bit easier.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Here Comes Teacher Cat, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Dial Books, Penguin. 2017. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Cat? ... Cat?

That might be too loud
         for the ...
... class next door.

Maybe something else?
Building time?
That sounds fun!"

Cat is back! I am so happy to see this funny feline once again. The kittens' teacher, Ms. Melba, is off to an appointment with her doctor. A substitute is needed, and Cat agrees to take charge of the class. Kitty School is not a familiar concept to this 'emergency' substitute and there is much to learn for all involved.

Rudely awakened by the telephone, Cat has a plan for all-day napping. When that call comes in,  plans change.

"Dog is on vacation.

And I suspect Santa Claus, the
Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy
aren't available either."

It takes a bit of persuasion.

"Oh, Cat. Ms. Melba has always
helped YOU out.

Remember how she made you that
nice catnip pillow?

And brought you soup when you
were sick?" 

Keeping to the amusing bent of the other books, the narrator's voice and the subtle expressions displayed in soft images with ink and colored pencils are perfection. Cat works adeptly to determine the nature of the job and then the responsibilities associated with a day spent in a classroom filled with young charger. This familiar and loved character will make it a perennial request for reading aloud, and it is destined to be a great addition to the classroom baskets in the reading center: an author's work, or a favorite character series, or a funny stories basket. You choose where it best fits. Your students won't mind where they find it, as long as it there.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

I Quit Grade One! Written by Nancy Wilcox Richards and illustrated by Tom Goldsmith. Scholastic, 2017. $7.99 ages 5 and up

"I said that we should do art three or four times a week. Ms. Carter only did art once a week, but I'm sure she would want us to have it more often. The new teacher should have boxes of glitter, different sizes of googly eyes and paint - not just boring colours either. We need colours like Ocean Blue, Raspberry Red and Jungle Green."

Stella loves Ms. Carter, and she is not the only one. When she learns that Ms. Carter is going to finish the school year early to welcome a new baby, Stella's worrying begins. No substitute teacher can replace her. No substitute teacher will know the way Ms. Carter did things. What will happen to the first graders without her?

Stella lets her parents know how she is feeling. They seem unconcerned, assuming Stella will like her new teacher as much as she likes Ms. Carter.

"How will the new teacher know that I need
help tying my shoelaces?

Or that I don't sit next to Liam because,
when no one's looking, he tries to pinch me? 

Or that I only like to read books from the
blue bin because they have more pictures?"

Totally familiar concerns for little ones, and legitimate in any brand new situation. I like that Stella decides to take her worries to the top, wanting to see the principal. He is not available. A letter might work! It takes effort and expresses her ideas for training the new teacher. She receives a reassuring reply from her principal, who issues an invitation. Often, the anticipation for change is much worse than the change itself!

The art is traditional brush drawing with watercolor washes, and is a perfect complement to the tone and emotions felt by a young girl with legitimate worries. Keep it in mind when reassurances are needed.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

My Amazing Body Machine, by Robert Winston with illustrations by Owen Gildersleeve. DK Canada. 2017. $25.99 ages 10 and up

"When you sleep, your breathing and heart rate slow down. At first you go into a deep sleep, and it is difficult to wake up. Then you pass into dreaming sleep, when your brain is busier and you dream. These stages of sleep happen several times each night ... Your eyelids close, and your eyes do not move much, except during dreaming sleep."

Nonfiction books from DK are always so wonderfully designed for the children meant to be their readers. The format is clear, and makes perfect sense even when the amount of information shared means there is a lot for young readers to grasp.

In Robert Winston's clear description of each of our body parts, he provides a guide that shows how the body machine works.

"It takes trillions and trillions of tiny living parts, called cells, to build just one amazing body machine. Guided by detailed instructions, these cells are organized into bigger parts that work together to make you, a unique human being."

We are invited to visit every part of the body to see how it works on its own, and how one part connects to another part. Included are text boxes filled with facts, captioned photos and illustrations to enhance understanding, thus making it easier for readers to take in all the information provided before turning to a new page. The illustrations are terrific, using cut paper images that give each a dimensional feel.

It is a special journey and will be much appreciated by readers wanting to know more about their own bodies, and how they work. He misses nothing, and we are the lucky recipients of his research and skillful writing. This is just another perfect example of the commitment DK Publishers have to their audience and to learning.

"The most important part of your brain
is the cerebrum, in particular, its thin,
wrinkly outer layer. Here, billions of
nerve cells linked by trillions of
connections make your body work,
and make you, you!"
Be sure to check out their thoroughly entertaining and enlightening where you will find more information than you ever thought you needed to know.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Everywhere Bear, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. Macmillan Children's Books, Publishers Group Canada, 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"He has bus rides with April
and horse rides with May.
He eats burgers with Billy
and jelly with Jay.

With Lee Wu he's a pirate,
with Kevin a king.
And Callum and Clare
push him high on the swing.
He bounces with Bev
and does handstands with Holly."

Everywhere Bear is a very busy guy! It is his lot to go home every weekend with a child from Class One. While there, he takes part in whatever the family chooses to do in the time they have with him.  He, like bears in other early years classrooms, comes back to school on Monday. His weekend caregiver then regales classmates with pictures and an accounting of the weekend's adventure. Such bears may be the impetus for show-and-tell, or travel with a diary in which the family weekend is described in print, or even be a listening pal while early readers are practicing reading skills using classroom books they have borrowed.

Matt is new to Class One. It's his turn to take Everywhere Bear home. While returning to school with Bear in his backpack, Matt bends to give a wee striped kitten a pat. Bear falls out and into a puddle, leading to the adventure of a lifetime. We are privy to all that is happening to Bear, as Matt is opening his backpack at school and wondering about Bear's whereabouts.

The adventure is unprecedented for the furry boy. He has never seen so many places, smelled so many smells, been handled by so many creatures. Who knew that he would eventually end up in a perfect place, bringing joy to some familiar faces?

This is one of those books that I will be putting on my granddaughters' keepers shelf. I know they will love knowing Everywhere Bear's story and will definitely want to do some talking about all that they see on the beautifully illustrated spreads. Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cole are a perfect pair to tell this tale that not only focuses on the bear, but also on the children and their interests, the classroom and its welcoming spirit, the people who work to make their community vibrant, and to visit a very special gathering place that has always been a haven for those who love to read and learn.

Back at school after their weekly visit to the town's library, the children are listening to the last story of the day. Bear looks on, thinking about his own personal adventure that led him right back to this place.

"I've been in a puddle, I've been in a drain.
I've been in a boat and I've been in a crane.,
I've been in a shop and I've been on a skip.
I've been on a lorry, I've been on a tip.
I've been in a beak and I've been in the air.
No wonder they call me the Everywhere Bear!"