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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Freedom Over Me, by Ashley Bryan. Athenenum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

“No matter what work I do
on the estate -
even learning carpentry
from Stephen -
I think of drawing.
I plan one day
to draw freely
from free Negro people.
I will create
loving portraits
of their strength  ..."

In an author's note following the text, Ashley Bryan explains how this beautiful and necessary book came to be written:

"A name. An age. A price.
    People like you. Like me.
    For sale!
    Many years ago I acquired a collection of slave-related documents.
They date from the 1820s to the 1860s.
    I was deeply moved by these documents and have long wished to
work from them. Finally, I chose the Fairchilds Appraisement of the
Estate document from July 5, 1828 to tell this story. Eleven slaves are
listed for sale with the cows, hogs, cotton; only the names and prices of
the slaves are noted (no age is indicated)."

He goes on to say he wanted to give these names a voice and a dream. He chooses an age and the work they are assigned to help tell their story. It is a deeply moving and necessary accounting of the time of slavery in the United States when 'Negro people were not considered human beings'. They were merely property to be bought and sold at an owner's behest.

There are 11 slaves here named, and Mr. Bryan does exactly what he set out to do: he gives them an identity, a purpose in life, and a dream for the future. As we read about them, we hear their voices, their personal history and their description of the work they do on the plantation.

Jane is the seamstress:

"I'm seamstress to Mrs. Fairchilds.
for my skills with cloth,
I design and sew
all of Mrs. Fairchilds's dresses,
tailor shirts and trousers
for Mr. Fairchilds as well.

I enjoy matching colored cloths,
creating unusual patterns.
This has brought many compliments
to the wearer.
Some deep remembrance
of woven African cloths
lives on in me."

And her dream:

"I have grown in artistry
through the clothes I create.
The praise I receive,
I offer as a tribute
to my ancestors.

Stephen and I
treat the young slave John
as our son.
We never lose hope
that we will one day
live free."

The gorgeous and boldly colored pen, ink and watercolor portraits are mesmerizing. You cannot help but be drawn to their faces, their demeanor, their hard work and their dreams; and the price they are expected to bring. They make a meaningful contribution to the success of the plantation. Their world is captured in their telling words. Ashley Bryan shows he cares about the people and their stories, and he makes us care, too. This is a powerful book, and it should be shared.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Laundry Day, by Jessixa Bagley. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"Well, how about building a fort?" asked Ma Badger. "We already made one," said Tic. "Then we invaded it and it fell apart," said Tac. "What about fishing?" asked Ma Badger tiredly. "We caught all the fish in the pond," said Tic. "Then we let them go ... 

Young readers are sure to get a kick out of this tale of two brothers, full of pep and always on the lookout for something to keep them from being bored. Tic and Tac would be described as boisterous, I think. Ma does her best to keep them busy, and makes many suggestions - reading, fort-building, fishing. They have been there, and done that!

She mentions hanging laundry. That catches their attention. They have not done that! Ma gives instructions, and they are keen to follow them. Leaving them to finish while she goes for groceries, Ma has no idea the mischief that might follow upon completion of their given task. There is no limit to the additional items the two find for hanging outside on this warm and sunny laundry day!

They soon run out of room on the laundry line, presenting no problem at all when Tac allows that they are NOT out of twine. Kids will be hooting as they watch the collection grow by leaps and bounds.

"They ran all over the house gathering every whatnot, bauble, and trinket they could find! They picked up every knickknack, this and that, bric-a-brac in the house. They grabbed buckets and books. They pilfered pots. They pirated pillows. They looted lampshades and even took the toaster!"

Oh, my! When  Mama comes home, Tic and Tac learn the true meaning of being hung out to dry! Be prepared to read this one again and again ... such terrific fun!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Let's Eat: Sustainable Food for a Hungry Planet. Written by Kimberley Veness. Orca Book Publishers, 2017. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"I love quinoa, and it's super easy to grow. Our garden on Vancouver Island was about the size of a backyard swimming pool, complete with a 2-meter-wall (7 foot tall) deer fence with large stones at the base to keep the wild rabbits from burrowing under. The tall, colorful buds of quinoa rested lazily on the top of the fence."

The Orca Footprints series has been very successful, and deservedly so! They tell readers about issues of importance and do it in a way that is accessible and educational. In this newest edition, Kimberley Veness teaches those who read her book about the many traditional ways that food comes to our tables.

Today, there are opportunities for children to learn first-hand about food production through visits, planned activities, and even video access to growers and producers. She has included four chapters: Let's Eat, which raises awareness of some of the challenges faced when trying to get food to the table; Small is Beautiful, which takes into consideration family farms and those who produce food for us in a much more personal way; Urban Foodscapes, where the larger centers offer new ways of growing indoors, or in gardens designed for rooftops, and purchasing locally prepared foods from the food trucks often seen on city streets; and finally A Farm for the Future, which is pretty self-explanatory. Here readers can consider advances in food production and what the future may hold for each of us.

As we have come to expect, the design invites us to check out the many exceptional archival and contemporary photos provided, and the text is written to grab attention with small bits of useful information:

"FARMING FACT: Twelve percent of land on Earth, more than 1.5 billion hectares (3.7 billion acres), is being used to grow food. That's an area nearly twice the size of Australia, and it's expanding every day."

From Farm to Table, Farming Fact, Chew on This sidebars, as well as clearly captioned photos,
suggestions for learning activities, and charts provide everything needed to guide us through this relevant and thoughtful book. A resource list for further learning, a glossary and an index are also helpful.

My daughter has lived in Victoria for more than ten years now, and I was quite proud to be able to share some of what I learned when reading this fine book. She did not know the Mason Street City Farm which is within walking distance of downtown Victoria. Now she does. Their family has not yet been lucky enough to sample a local food truck, owned and operated by Aidan Pine:

"I met Aidan Pine one summer while working at a farmers' market. In the course of a year, his family went from raising 20 chickens to 200 to keep up with orders at the truck, and that was just the poultry. All the produce, lamb, pork and chicken he serves from his food truck come from the farm. It isn't unusual to serve 50 pounds of beets in one week. People can't get enough of his farm-fresh flavors!"

If you  live in Victoria, or are visiting, be sure to see if you can find the Juma food truck, and give local food a try!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm, written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. two lions, Amazon. Thomas Allen & Son, 2017. $ 25.99 ages 3 and up

"They puddle-jumped together.
They plopped through mud


And they dropped a stick off
a bridge and watched it rush
on down the creek.


Happy first day of spring, everyone!

When I was teaching kindergarten my students loved Jonathan London's Froggy books. There have been many over the years. Froggy had some of the same experiences his young fans had. As with series books, they liked knowing a little more about Froggy and his family each time a new book was added to our classroom library. Now, we have this first book in a brand new series. I do hope you are happy to meet Duck and Hippo whose adventures will continue with another adventure in August, Duck and Hippo Lost and Found.

Although we still have snow on the ground and March is not over yet, knowledge that it is the first day of spring brings hope for April showers, May flowers, and a return to warmth. Kids like nothing better than splashing through puddles, sailing inanimate objects in the flowing waters created during a spring thaw, or following a rainstorm. Meet Duck and Hippo as they enjoy those same things together.

They are friends, and they are very different ... in looks and in personality. Those differences are cause for concern occasionally. Hippo, elegantly dressed and enjoying a spot of tea, is interrupted by a knock at the door and an invitation from a friend. Duck wants Hippo to join him for a walk in the rain. Duck has an umbrella, Hippo has rain boots. They head off with the agreement that Duck will share his umbrella!

"But there was no room for Hippo!
He tried walking in front of Duck.
   But that didn't work.

He tried walking behind Duck.
   But that didn't work.

Then Duck stood on Hippo's feet,
and Hippo held the umbrella.
   And that worked just fine!"

Silly situations, repetitive language, appealing new characters, and the promise of future adventure ... what more can we ask of the prolific Mr. London? Andrew Joyner adds expressive, impressive artwork to assure that little readers have a budding new friendship to appreciate and enjoy.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies, written and selected by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Johanna Wright. Wordsong, An Imprint of Highlights. 2017. $23.50 ages 5 and up


I think rats
Are really brats.

Their teeth are sharp,
Their hearts are black
As charcoal from
The love they lack.
They're rightly known
As evildoers ... "

When I was conducting poetry workshops in schools, I had a rule that I hoped everyone would make a habit. I asked both kids and teachers to have a poem in their pockets when they came to school in the morning. You know that the 'keeners' were sure to make it part of their day. Others didn't remember. Some didn't care. I wasn't hoping to convert every person in the school to a love of poetry ... that would never work! What I was hoping was that I would make a difference for those who fell in love with the poetic form as I had. That love did not come from my early encounters with poetry. Most of those were painful, as the intention was to try to figure out what the poet was thinking and wanting to convey. How was I to know that, unless I could speak directly with the poet? It all seemed speculation to me, and didn't help me love poetry at all. So, I began sharing poetry with the children in my classroom to bolster their love of words and the ways we can use them. Every day, we shared a poem or two. They had many favorites. As did I!

J. Patrick Lewis was one of the poets I turned to in order to find poems that would resonate with the children - funny, thoughtful, original, and entertaining. I am always keen to see what he is up to next. He never fails to gather me in, and teach me something new. His new collection is a combination of selected poems (he is a brilliant anthologist), and then original poetry meant to echo or parody the meaning of the chosen ones.

Mr. Lewis has selected thirteen:

"SOMETIMES, WHEN I READ A WONDERFUL POEM, I want to write a parody of it. For me, this is the best way to pay tribute to someone else's work.

Of the hundreds of poems I admire, here are thirteen that appealed to the tinkering part of my brain. (Of course I could have tinkered with many others.) So I took the poems apart and put them back together, but in my own words."

Interesting! What a terrific collection this is! It also serves as inspiration for you, your children and students to give it a go. Some of the poems will be familiar, others will not. But, you will quickly realize which are favorites from this selection. If not, go to the library, gather up books to be shared, and take some time to find a few poems that speak to you. Be sure to take a close look at what is included here, as they will get you thinking seriously about the way you might make some changes of your own.

I have already begun with a short excerpt from a poem modelled on Rose Fyleman's classic Mice. I love that he turned the poem into a parody between the two rodents, one much scarier and more detested than the other. It provides real balance between them.

Johanna Wright uses acrylic paint and ink on canvas to bring life to the poems on either side of the gutter. She lets readers see that the two poems are reflective of the other, with colorful, emotional images that add to the appeal of the book as a whole.

The following two face each other:

Winter Sweetness                                                 
Langston Hughes                                                     

This little house is sugar.                                         
 Its roof with snow is piled,                             
And from its tiny window                                       
 Peeps a maple-sugar child.        

 Winter Warmth  
J. Patrick Lewis

This little book is cocoa.
  It warms me when it steams,
And from its toasty pages
 Spiral my marshmallow dreams.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Round, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 2 and up

"Some swell
into roundness:

      toward the sun.

Some are
a different shape
to begin with ... "

I am sorry that there was a glitch in my attempts to schedule the previous two posts. I think that is fixed now, and you should be receiving three posts today, despite my best efforts for that not to happen. On we go!

In this ode to the round shape, we learn why the author is so deeply attached to it. The poetic, clear
language is perfect for helping young readers understand the concept of roundness and invites them to think clearly and carefully about why they might feel the same as the narrator does.

The softness of the shape is captured beautifully by both author and illustrator. Expressive wording and peaceful scenes provide much to admire about this new picture book which is framed in love for the natural world. We are invited to explore all the child finds as we move from page to page. Child and parent spend an entire in nature's beauty as they explore together from morning to night.

The final three spreads are just lovely - one is a circle of friends lying on the ground beneath autumn leaves, holding hands, while the second shows the little girl who has been our guide, snuggled under a warm blanket and surrounded by her pets and books. The final is a warm hug - the best example of a perfect circle you can get. What better places are there to be?

Backmatter is found on two pages meant to help readers understand why we find so many round things in nature. Just one of the reasons is:

"Round is balanced. Spheres hold the most volume with the least amount of surface area. Thus, bubbles and water droplets naturally form spheres as their surface tension contains the force of the air or water inside them. Planets are round because gravity pulls equally from the planet's central core to every point on its outer surface."

There you have some of  the science!  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lila and the Crow, by Gabrielle Grimard. Annick Press, 2016. $21.95 ages 5 and up

"The third day, Lila goes to school wearing her cap and a sweater with a very, very high neck that she pulls up over her chin. Nathan peers at her for a moment. Then he shouts: "A crow! A crow! The new girl's eyes are dark like a crow!" A few others laugh, quietly at first. Then more children ... "

Wouldn't it be lovely if there was some sort of magical solution that led to the end of bullying at school, in the workplace, on the street and in the home? No matter how we try, it is very difficult to bring that kind of behavior to an end. One of the ways I think we can help all people understand its impact is through story. Encouraging empathy toward those characters children meet in the stories we share is a step toward understanding and change.

Lila is a beautiful little girl who is new to her school. She is very excited to be there. The fact that she doesn't look 'the same' as the others is just the impetus needed for one of her classmates to begin making fun of her and results in bullying behavior. They call her a crow because of her dark hair, dark eyes and shade darker skin.

"On the way home, Lila's heart is heavy as a stone.
A crow perches on the branch of an old oak tree,
its feathers as black as Lila's hair.

It caws and croaks as if it wants to tell
her something, but Lila just walks by."

It is not unusual at all that Lila tries to make herself less visible. She does so by wearing a knit cap. Nathan does not let up. Not do those who follow like sheep. A sweater with a high neck does nothing to deter his taunting the following day, nor do dark glasses.

"She plays alone at recess and sits
by herself at lunch. After school,
she runs home as quickly as she can."

Weeks pass, the crow that keeps her company on her way home from school is still there ... finally, after a fall that has her seeing it face to face, Lila is surprised:

"She's surprised to see how beautiful its black feathers are, highlighted with purple. There's softness
in the eyes of the creature watching her ... "

With unwitting help from the crow and its flock, Lila is able to find a solution to the sadness she has been feeling and the treatment she has been receiving ... just in time for the 'great autumn festival'.

The images created in watercolor by Gabrielle Grimard are perfectly in keeping with the story told.
Lila's red dress ensures that the readers' attention is always focused on her, her reactions, her movements. We note the isolation she consistently feels, and also her resilience. It is so important for kids to be proud of who they are and of what makes them special. Any book that helps one child see that can be an inspiration to others. Will it make those who hear it kinder? We can only hope that it does.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How to Find a Fox, by Nilah Magruder. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $19.50 ages 3 and up


Climb a tree."

I'm sure you know the tenacity that young children can bring to getting something that is important to them. They are so persistent and focused on a project, a game, the search for a fox. A fox? Well sometimes, I guess.

The small girl in this charming picture book is intent on finding a fox, and she sets about telling us just how to do it for ourselves. Who knew the fox would be just as resolute in avoiding being discovered as she is in finding him? But, she is and she does not want to give up even though he is so elusive.

Her first person voice is strong as she gives careful instructions to readers. There are many things we must do if we really want to find a fox.

"Find a fox hole.
Any fox hole will do.
The best foxes are at home
when you visit."

The wily creature who so carefully follows the little one as she searches is obviously not one of the 'best'. He is not at home, and not at all amenable to being seen. She sets a trap (a chicken leg) and waits. A long wait, watching ants and having a ladybug crawl on her, offers fatigue but no reward. Readers will be quick to point out loudly that the fox snaps up the bait as soon as she leaves to formulate another plan. Sneaky little devil!

I can just hear early years listeners yelling instructions to the young hunter. They will not be able to contain themselves! The child does not respond to their guidance, plodding forward and always on the lookout, even though the fox is often in plain sight. When she finally spies him from high up on a tree limb, she is quick to descend - but, not quick enough. He is gone by the time her feet hit the ground.

When you know he is lost to you, she suggests you express your dismay with great care. Then, lie down and let your disappointment wash over you. That might just be the ticket. Sometimes, just sometimes, the fox is meant to find YOU!

Appealing characters, an engaging story line, and a hint of humor will have young listeners wanting to hear this story again.                                                       

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gary, by Leila Rudge. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $23.00 ages 4 and up

"Gary loved hearing about their adventures. He would perch nearby and record everything in his scrapbook. But one night, Gary leaned too far on his perch. And lost his balance. Gary and his scrapbook fell down to the bottom of the loft.  And they both landed in the travel basket with a bump. The next day was race day ... "

Gary is not at all like the other racing pigeons. He does live with them, he appreciates their adventures. Gary must live vicariously through them; Gary can't fly. We don't know why, and that really doesn't matter.

Gary is a huge supporter of the birds who share his loft. He loves to listen to their stories of the places they have been and the things they have seen. He is just like them most of the time.

"He ate the same seeds.
Slept in the same loft.
And dreamed of adventure."

On racing day, he is nothing like them at all. In fact, one evening just before a race Gary has an accident and falls into the transport basket. He is there the next day when the other pigeons travel to their drop-off point. He is there when they set off on their race course. And, he is there when they are gone and he is alone, wondering if he will ever get back home.

Luckily, he has his scrapbook with him. He has collected all of its keepsakes while listening to the others share their many adventures. It is not only reassuring for Gary, it provides something else that proves handy for a pigeon trying to find his way home. It acts like a map that leads him home. It matters not that flight is not his method of travel ... his adventure is quite glorious. Gary is a learner. Nowhere is that better displayed when he shares his story with his loft mates. Following that, there are the days when the others want to be just like Gary!

Using mixed media to create the quiet images displayed here, Ms. Rudge allows her readers a look at the sport of pigeon racing and of the value of maps. Collage work gives the maps and mementos an authentic feel, and our eyes are consistently drawn to the movement displayed.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shawn Loves Sharks, written by Curtis Manley with pictures by Tracy Subisak. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"On Monday, Ms. Mitchell told the class they would each learn about a different predator. Shawn leaped out of his chair and yelled,

I  get the shark! I get the shark!"

Shawn is obsessed with sharks. All you have to do is look at the title page: he is wearing a shark suit, he is reading a lengthy tome concerning sharks, his bed is piled high with research books to add to his store of knowledge, his lamp shade is covered in shark images, his clock has the shape of a shark, and there is a SHARKS RULE! poster on the wall. He loves everything about them.

At school, he impersonates a shark at recess and scares as many people as he can with his loud 'chomping' sounds. So, when a research report is announced concerning predators, the only subject Shawn wants is ... you guessed it - SHARKS! Imagine his aversion to learning about a Leopard Seal, when that is the predator name he draws. Stacy, the most frightened victim of his playground shark attacks gets the shark.

No matter the enticement, Stacy is adamant the shark is her report to do. Shawn worries Stacy will learn too much about a shark's preferred prey - and she does. Stacy does her best to intimidate the seal researcher. Shawn is undeterred as he learns all that he can learn about seals.

"The more Shawn read about seals, the more he loved them. He loved their streamlined shape and the patterns on their smooth fur. He loved their big brown eyes. He loved their sharp little teeth ... "

Stacy, for her part, is doing the same thing, and adds chasing Shawn to her list of daily duties. He chastises her for not being able to catch a seal, and watches her reaction to his insult. Before long, he does a turnabout and offers the hand of friendship.

Engaging and entertaining artwork adds to the fun. This book would be perfect as an introduction to research projects in a classroom where they are a goal for students.

Big Blue Forever: The Story of Canada's Largest Blue Whale Skeleton, by Anita Miettunen. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2017. $24.95 ages 8 and up

"Every bone is cleaned. Every bone is counted. Every bone is labeled. But wait a minute, there are missing bones! The whole left flipper is gone! The scientists are stunned. How can they rebuild a skeleton if a giant piece is missing? Then they discover chain saw marks. "Maybe when the whale washed ashore, somebody sawed off one flipper," someone guesses."

Based on a true story, this book is sure to be a hit with readers who love knowing more about whales. Big Blue washed up on a Prince Edward Island shore in 1987. Her size was a huge surprise to those who found her, and to the officials who needed to decide what to do with her. Their decision was made to bury her in the red clay in hopes that, sometime in the future, scientists could use her skeleton to learn more about blue whales. They are a rare species.

Twenty years later a British Columbia scientist and his team arrived to dig her up. They were astounded at what they found:

"The island soil has preserved the whole whale. Her skin is still blue! And there is a terrible smell! But the scientists are excited that they have found the whale."

They return in late spring to bring her out of the soil. Once the stinky skin and blubber are removed, they work tirelessly to gather all the bones so people can see it and also be astounded by 'the skeleton of the largest animal that ever lived'.

What labor intensive work it is! Once all bones have been found and packed, they are transported to British Columbia where a giant crane is used to lift the biggest ones. Before reassembling the whale they must get rid the bones of the stench that remains. More work begins ... until it finally finds a home at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC in Vancouver.

The rest of the book provides thoughts on how Big Blue died, the full story of the discovery, a list of the scientists who worked on her reconstruction, and additional blue whale facts including  the many attempts being made to save these majestic giants. An author's note and a list for further reading are also added.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bear Likes Jam, written and illustrated by Ciara Gavin. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Sometimes Bear even
snuck jam when he knew
he wasn't supposed to.
Mama Duck was worried.
Big bears need a balanced
diet, she said.
So Bear showed her how
well he could balance.
But Mama Duck was firm:
no more jam until Bear
ate his vegetables."

Bear has had other adventures with the Duck family (Room for Bear, 2015; Bear Is Not Tired, 2016).
If you haven't met them yet, you must check them out! They are quite the family, and sure to elicit giggles from their audience.

In this third tale (and before it even begins), we see that Bear is at the grocery store with Mama and the ducklings when he tastes jam for the first time. It's similar to the feeling that my two granddogs had when they tasted bacon! You just can't get enough. Bear knows that feeling immediately, hugging multiple jars to his fairly large chest. He is completely astonished that he has no previous knowledge of JAM. His love for it makes him quite rude - sharing goes out the window and so does listening to Mama. That creates concern.

Mama sets out new rules:

"At dinner, strange green things appeared
on Bear's plate. Bear poked at it.
He piled it.
He flattened it out.
But he was very, very careful not to taste any of it."

Bear longs for jam! Those conniving ducklings use games to help Bear develop a taste for veggies. Soon, he is willing to balance his meals, to the great delight of his duckling siblings - and his mama.

 As in previous books, Ciara Gavin imbues her characters with peaceful cohabitation. She uses ever-changing formats for her images and fills them with humor, love and a very important lesson. Don't miss the endpapers!  

I have great admiration for this unique and loving family! I hope it won't be long until we meet again.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

NOPE! A tale of first flight. Written and illustrated by Drew Sheneman. Viking. Penguin. 2017. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"A nurturing mama,
a fearful baby,
and a nest in a
tall, tall tree.


Every summer I sit in my back porch and watch a pair of robins do their best to raise their family in a small nest that rests atop a wire leading from the lane to the house. The nest has been there for four years. This past summer, there were two families! I am always checking to watch the babies poke their heads over the edge, share the food being so carefully brought to them in hopes that I will see them fledge. I have only seen that happen once. No matter how often I check, how quietly I sit, or how long I wait, I'm rarely there for that first flight. Darn it!

Luckily, while those babies may have some cause for concern, they always leave the nest. I hope they don't face the dangers that this baby bird sees as deterrents to his ability to find his own way. First, it's the drop. He seems prepared. It is a LONG drop if his wings won't hold him up. NOPE! he tells his mama.

Loving and patient, she does her best to encourage him. But what about that cat at the base of the tree? It certainly looks menacing, and ready for lunch. The young one reassesses his position, with a head shake, a knock on the side of the head and an even closer look. Three slavering wolves have taken the cat's place. ABSOLUTELY NOT! Thoughts about what else could transpire only makes it worse!

Mama hugs, cajoles, and finally does what all mothers must do in helping their babies find their way - she kicks him to the curb! What happens next is pure rapture for those concerned, including young readers.

Wordless, not exactly. Filled with emotion, action, imagination and drama, it sure is! Drew Sheneman hits it out of the park with his first picture book. My little girls are going to love it; so, it has already found a place in their book cupboard. YEP!                                                                      

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. Narrative and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi. Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri. Chin Music Press. 2016. $28.50 all ages

"Waves are children
laughing and holding hands.
Together, they come.

Waves are erasers
wiping away words
written on the sand."

I am so thankful to David Jacobson for making the arrangements necessary for me to pick up a copy of Are You An Echo? at McNally Robinson Books in Winnipeg. I have been remiss in getting this post done in an appropriate length of time. That has nothing to do with the book's impact on me. I have read it many times, and am astonished by the story it tells, the beauty of the poetry, and the path taken to get it to publication.

So today, on the 6th anniversary of the Tohoku tsunami, is perfect time to share it with you. I have never seen such a book. It is the picture book biography of a much loved Japanese children's poet, revered by her people and not well-known beyond Japan's borders. It is such a pleasure to post it today, as one of her poems had a tremendous impact on the Japanese following the devastation of the earthquake and the resulting chaos it brought to Japan's shores.

Here it is:


If I say, ""Let's play?"
you say, "Let's play!"

If I say, ""Stupid!"
you say, "Stupid!"

If I say, "I don't want to play anymore,"
you say, "I don't want to play anymore."

And then, after a while,
becoming lonely

I say, "Sorry."
You say, "Sorry."

Are you just an echo?
No, you are everyone."

It was included in a televised public service announcement meant to encourage those dealing with devastation and loss. Her poem gave people hope and brought comfort when it was so badly needed, and ensured that her children's poetry would never be forgotten. 

What a truly stunning collaboration! It began with David wanting to publish Misuzu's poetry. He had been able to read her work in Japanese, a gift from friends. In researching her work, he met Kaneko enthusiast Setsuo Yazaki, whose patience and persistence through a sixteen year search found her brother and pocket diaries that contained 512 poems, most of which had never been published. How was that possible?

It was felt that Setsuo's search should be included in the project. Voila, a picture book biography seemed the best way to share the young poet's life and her work, bringing her to the world beyond Japan. Her poetry needed to be an integral part of the book. Translators and an illustrator were invited to join the project and this gorgeous book is the result of a very special collaboration.

It is an honest book, told elegantly and with children in mind, despite the sadness of the illness and tragic marriage that led her to take her own life at 26. It is handled with care and compassion, and is an integral part of her full story. Ten poems are included within the text of the book, and 15 are added in back matter, written in both Japanese and English. Empathy and love of natural world are at the heart of the poems included. They read beautifully; a testament to the care, dedication and time taken to get the translations 'right':

"had to skillfully work our way through both languages, often producing several versions of a poem by discussing them on Skype and through extensive emails – Michiko from Japan, Sally from Canada – to arrive at the best possible translations in English.”

Toshikado Hajiri matches the tone and beauty of Misuzu's poetry throughout, and I often returned to her images to bring awareness of setting, time and the great love she had for her daughter. There is so much joy between the two, making her final decision even more poignant and understandable.

I do hope that, as so often happens when I read a picture book biography that concerns someone I know little about, this book will encourage an interest in many to learn more about this gentle, memorable young woman.


I wonder why
the rain that falls from black clouds
shines like silver.

I wonder why
the silkworm that eats green mulberry leaves
is so white.

I wonder why
the moonflower that no one tends
blooms on its own.

I wonder why
everyone I ask
about these things
laughs and says, "That's just how it is."


Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it.

Snow on the bottom
must feel burdened
by the hundreds who tread on it.

Snow in the middle
must feel lonely
with neither earth nor sky to look at."

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. By Kwame Alexander. Illustrated and with photographs Tby Thai Neave. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $20.99 ages 10 and up

"Rule # 24


Kwame Alexander, as he has done so brilliantly in the past, uses sport to entice middle graders and encourage reading. He uses basketball to motivate his readers to become better people by sharing quotes, poetry and genuine enthusiasm for what they can learn from other successful people.

Separated into four sections (in keeping with the four quarters of a basketball game), with 13 rules for each, he names them Grit, Motivation, Passion, and Teamwork and Resilience. He uses his poems to inspire and motivate his young readers to be the best they can be. He even addresses Overtime with
a look at Lew Alcindor's story, and makes mention of others who have defied the odds of being a star in their sport.

"Rule # 19

And then he adds a quote:

"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what
you can.

    -Arthur Ashe, number one world tennis player
(ATP rankings), winner of three Grand Slam titles."

It's a great design, featuring brilliant and appealing black and white photographs and illustrations, often accented with the familiar basketball orange. Perfect for a return read and worthy of our attention. Reluctant middle grade readers, sports fans, and anyone who knows Kwame Alexander's other works will find much to love about this new book! A great gift for a student athlete on your list, or a classroom library.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

When the Rain Comes, written by Alma Fullerton and illustrated by Kim LaFave. Pajama Press, 2016. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Today she will learn
to plant those seedlings.

Over the next few months
they will grow strong
and bring food and fortune
to her village.
But what if

she does it wrong?"

A much anticipated sound awakens Malini! The ox cart driver is finally here with his very important load of rice seedlings. The rice is ready to plant; Malini is ready to help with that planting. The driver asks the young girl to 'keep an eye' on his ox while he takes a needed break. Malini is a bit frightened by its size and strength, but she takes the responsibility to heart and watches carefully. So carefully, in fact, that when the rains suddenly pound down causing flash flooding, she knows that she must take action.

Wishing she could hide from the swirling water, and knowing that the bullock driver cannot get to her through it, she takes matters into her own hands. The ox is terrified. It is up to Malini to get the cart to safety or their livelihood and their food will be gone.

on the rein
until the ox follows her
through the rising water.

the hill to Baba's barn.

Inside, she pulls the door closed."

Although she is frightened herself, she realizes that she must provide calm for the frantic animal. What a brave girl!

Readers will relate to Malini's emotions, and feel great relief when her bravery ensures safety and success. Kids will happily accept an invitation to share their own stories of being afraid, and of acts of bravery.

Kim LaFave masterfully captures every nuance of the story through use of color and motion. They fully support the mood created by Ms. Fullerton's telling free verse text. An author's note places the story in Sri Lanka and provides plenty of interesting information about the island nation and the people who live there. Knowing more about the children of the world, their culture and the lives they live is cause for celebration.    

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sam Sorts (One Hundred Favorite Things), written and illustrated by Marthe Jocelyn. Tundra, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Spider Rock joins the other rocks. Sam's favorite rock is the round one. He looks for more round things. Two of the buttons are exactly the same. What else comes in twos?
Another way Sam makes a pair is by finding a rhyme. Some things match ... "

One of my favorite books to use when teaching kindergarten was Marthe Jocelyn's wonderful Hannah's Collections (Tundra, 2004) as it helped my kids understand the concept of bringing a group of 100 things to school to share with their friends. Perfect for the 100th day of school!

In this new book, we meet Sam. Sam knows a little bit about making a mess. Like many other children (including my own who loved building forts with every imaginable usable thing), he is not so keen on cleaning up. I mean, it's a big pile. It is, however, his job.

So, he begins. First he sorts by number. There is one robot, two dinosaurs and so on ... Then, he collect up all the animals in the pile. It sets him to wondering about even bigger numbers. How many legs are there? A Venn diagram allows for more sorting, while also finding items that belong in two categories.

We watch him as he sorts, which leads to thinking mathematically in such variety that children are sure to come up with some ideas of their own. That is the real pleasure in sharing this book. It encourages independent thought, and shows each one of us what sorting is all about ... whether by number, color, rhyme, similarities. The fun goes on and on, and we are the delighted readers who get to share it.

"Some things float and some things fly!

Things without wings that fly

Things with wings that fly

Things with wings that don't fly "

The paper collage artwork is as much fun as the text is. It is so skillfully executed that artistic kids will want to try a hand at collecting "stuff'" for their own sorting ideas, and will encourage their friends to help.

Set theory has never been so much fun!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What Color is the Wind? Written and illustrated by Anne Herbauts. Translated from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Enchanted Lion Books, Publiishers Group Canada. 2016. $28.95 ages 5 and up

"So the little giant asks
the rain, What color is
the wind?

The rain knows nothing.

But the bees are buzzing:
the wind is the color of

A stream runs by."

Our blizzard continues. The snow has stopped falling, but has no choice but to be blown about by high winds that still make seeing across the street tough at times. The drifts are high. As soon as they are shovelled away, the sidewalks fill in immediately. So, I went looking for a book about wind to share with you today.

Little did I know that I would find this one, read it again, and be just as stunned by its beauty as I was the first time I read it. I also made even more discoveries about its content upon returning to its pages. The boy you see on the front cover is blind. He wants to know the color of the wind. As often happens when asking a question that seems impossible to answer, he is surprised that the wind is seen in so many different colors by those he asks.

Animals have a say, as do trees, bees, and finally, a giant.

"The little giant comes upon someone
he senses is enormous.
What color is the wind?

And the enormous giant,
with a slow gesture says:
The color of the wind?

It is everything at once.
This whole book.

Then he takes the book and,
thumb against its edge,
he lets the pages fly.

The little giant feels the wind
and its gentleness."

How beautiful!

That is not all. This is a book that puts to bed the idea that children (and adults) have no need for real books. No electronic book could ever have the impact that this book has for its readers. It is too enticing not to follow in the giant's footsteps and let the pages fly. Thus, readers see the rainbow of colors described in the book's pages, and they also feel the lovely breeze. It is a book filled with sensory pleasures. Touch is the most noticeable as the cover has Braille dots, and many of the interior pages are embossed, textural, and an invitation to feel what you might not readily see.

Filled with color and gorgeous artwork, this is a book with many answers to a single question about the wind.  It is a treat for the senses and inspiring on all counts!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Best In Snow, by April Pulley Sayre. Beach Lane Books, Simon and Schuster. 2017. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Another freeze.

Another b r e e z e.

Another cloud.

It snows.

And another snowflake
lands ... "

Our newspaper this morning calls it a 'winter wallop'. Forecasters on television and on Facebook are calling it a 'significant snow storm'. As I looked out my front window at the gloom and fog, I noticed a new book in my mailbox. I am always keen to see what has arrived in the morning mail, so out I went to get the book, and the rest of the mail. Surprise ... it felt quite warm yet. No wonder they are saying we will have freezing rain first. Another surprise ... the book is called BEST IN SNOW. What are the chances? Thanks to everyone at Simon & Schuster for sending it to me so that I can share it with you.

It is quite stunning, and that is no surprise. I am a huge fan of Ms. Sayre - her incredible photography, and her skill with scientific writing. I wish I could do just one of those things as proficiently as she does both. This companion to her fabulous Raindrops Roll (Beach Lane, 2015) is a book that deserves a place in school and personal libraries. The verse is as exquisite as the beauty found in her magical images of a world covered with the 'white stuff'.

I have to admit that I don't mind that we are expecting snow today. It is, after all, early March and not the least bit unusual to have a storm at this time of year. Maybe it's because I'm retired and I don't need to be out in it; I think it has more to do with the beauty of the season. Despite the cold temperatures associated with it's arrival, there is also such splendor. Ms. Sayre is not immune to that. Her photographs are inviting and telling. Imagine the child who has never experienced snow seeing it through this accomplished artist's eyes! 

The closing two-page spread shares the 'secrets of snow' in short paragraphs that follow along with the included text and explain the way snow falls and forms.

"Wind sifts. Snow drifts.

On extremely cold, sunny days, snow may sparkle as it falls. Snow sparkle is light that bounces off the flat faces of snow and ice crystals. Older fallen snow constantly changes. Wind scours the snow's surface. It lifts fine snow particles, sorts them, and moves them to new places. Wind-driven snow may pile up, forming drifts."

A resource list for further reading is also included.

Snow is on our radar today, and there is nothing for us to do but enjoy its beauty - and stay off windblown highways! Be safe if you have to travel. Stay home if you can.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Over and Under the Pond, written by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Over the pond, the shadows of trees lean out from the shore. We coast under a low-hanging branch. A moose looks up with a mouthful of water lilies. We've interrupted his lunch. Under the pond, beavers dive deep. They pump with powerful tails and rise to the surface with delectable roots from the mud. Over the pond, the wind gives a push and stirs the light-dappled leaves on shore. There on a branch ... "

If you were lucky enough to read Over and Under the Snow (Chronicle, 2011) and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (Chronicle, 2015), you are going to be very happy to see this companion book about a pond habitat. Kate Messner carefully goes about sharing the quiet stillness of a day in the life of this splendid habitat.

A boy and his mother are out in their rowboat; the boy is sharing his thoughts and impressions of this shared outing. He expresses his fascination with his surroundings, and asks questions about life under the pond's surface. The two take note of what they see over the pond, and then imagine the many wonders hidden from sight.

So many lovely scenes are described for us, and shown in mixed-media artwork that quietly surveys the pond and its environs, the wildlife that makes its home there and the appeal of the water, above and below its surface.

From high above, we get a bird's eye view of the mother and son in their rowboat:

"Over the pond we drift, heads tipped up to the sun.
A woodpecker clings to a teetering pine, digging
for ants."

And then from the bottom of the pond we watch a web-footed marvel:

"Under the pond, an otter claws for
freshwater mussels."

The day changes from early morning light, to bright afternoon sunshine, to the deep orange and purple darkness of sunset as the two paddle taking around in the beauty of their surroundings, making new discoveries at every turn.

In back matter, an author's note describes the pond ecosystem: "an interconnected community of organisms that interact with one another and with their environment"; and speaks of the inspiration for writing this fascinating and informative book. She follows up with short paragraphs about each of the included animals, birds and insects, as well as a list for further reading.

A must-have for your nonfiction shelf!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Count Your Chickens, written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Lori Joy Smith. Tundra, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Chicken farmer shows his plant,
Chicken racers puff and pant.
Chicken chefs and pastry cooks,
chickens watch with hungry looks.
Chicken princess throws a ball.
Slapstick chicken takes ... "

This might not be the counting book you were expecting! Instead of a particular number to be counted on each spread, it is more about counting all the chickens there and discovering what they are doing. No matter the matter, kids are encouraged to take a careful look at all that is presented to see what they can find to count.

They will always be able to spot chickens - doing all manner of things. They might be cooking, painting nails, listening to music, knitting, pulling a wagon, arranging flowers ... you name it, these chickens are busy and involved. There are lots of them, and there are two tiny mice to keep our eyes on as well. The day is filled with action from morning until night.

The begin by getting ready. As the pages turn, they move through town in afternoon sunlight and climb aboard a train bound for the county fair. More action, and more counting to be done, to be sure. They are involved in numerous events, all most enjoyable. From the tart contest to the dunk tank, to the Ferris wheel and a comedy show, they are sure to be entertained at every turn.

When day is done, they head for home.

"Little chickens overfed,
carried home and put to bed.

Chickens, chickens everywhere
had a great time at the fair."

The impressive rhyming text is matched with colorful, detailed illustrations which are rendered in pencil and digitally colored in bright, breezy and humorous spreads that will have young readers paying very close attention to the many opportunities for counting presented. Which page has the most chickens? Can you see the same chicken from one page to the next? Are you a Dixie Chicks or a Blues Brothers fan? If so, you will not be disappointed. Fun for all, and all for fun!

Friday, March 3, 2017

I Promise, written and illustrated by David McPhail. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2017. $20.49 ages 3 and up

"They walked down to the orchard, where the apples were nearly ripe. Mother Bear shook some from the tree. "What else do you promise?" Baby Bear asked her. "I promise to give you good things to eat," said Mother Bear, "so that you will grow up to be big and strong." "Will I be as big as you, Momma?" Baby Bear asked. "Oh, yes, dear," said Mother Bear. "Maybe even bigger!"

What a beautiful little concept book for our youngest readers! Promises are often hard to keep, but they are an important part of learning how to be a friend and a welcome member of any group.

Baby would like his momma to sing to him. She says she will - later. She makes a promise to him which leads to a conversation as they walk together on a warm, sunny day. He is very interested to know what a promise is. Mother uses all her wiles to make it a concept her little one can fully understand. She even helps him see that telling a friend you will play with them tomorrow is a promise made and one that should be kept.

As they wander, Baby's questions are answered to the best of his mother's ability. She continues to make her promise to him as they go:

"Will you sing to me now?" Baby Bear asked.
"Not now, dear," mumbled his mother, her mouth
full of apple. "Later. I promise."

She also explains to him that she cannot promise everything:

"Do you promise that I will always be happy?" Baby Bear asked.
"Oh, I can't promise you that!" said his mother. "Your
happiness will depend mostly on you. But I will do everything
I can to help."

Reassuring, thoughtful, and candid - this is a story that young children will want to hear again and again. Are you wondering if Mother Bear keeps her promise? I can assure you that she does.
I love the watercolor and pen and ink images created by the talented Mr. McPhail. His backgrounds are the perfect forest backdrop for the lovely conversation and learning taking place between mother and child. They are peaceful and natural, as is the tenor of their story.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fish Girl. Story by Donna Joe Napoli and David Wiesner. Pictures by by David Wiesner. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 10 and up

"It's so big out there!
What's that sound?

Whoosh, whisssh.

Again and again.
My heart beats in time
with it.
Waves! Of course!
I can hear the sea from
here. I love it."

I continue to be amazed at the power of stories told in graphic form. As you know, I rarely read such books because of an aversion I thought I had to 'comics' - developed long after I spent hours reading about Archie, Betty, Jughead, Reggie and Veronica. Those comics are the only ones I remember reading when I was younger. Encouraged by a friend to give over and take a chance on a few graphic books that he liked, I was impressed by the strength of story, and the details found in the artwork. So, with great admiration for both Ms. Napoli and Mr. Wiesner, I was anticipating a good read - and it is much more than that. It is quite the compelling look at a young girl, trapped in a world of someone else's making and learning that there is more to the real world than the one she inhabits.

Fish Girl is the star of the show. The man who introduces himself as Neptune captures the attention of his audience with his powerful voice, and message:

"I control the amazing
Fish Girl, just as I
control all the sea

I am god
of the seas!
I am Neptune!

Never anger me,
because you risk
seeing what
I can do."

Ocean Wonders is the man's brainchild, and many visit it daily. He tells visitors that Fish Girl is shy and almost never seen. That is what keeps them coming back - always wanting to be first to see her. She manages to remain that way until a young girl named Livia spots her in the tank. Fish Girl is terrified of Neptune's reaction, and turns to Octopus for comfort. She expresses her fears, and faces Neptune's wrath. He has dire warnings about what will happen if anyone sees her.

"If they see what you really are, all this ends!
You have to remain a mystery - you know that.
They'll call the police.
Then the scientists will take you to a lab.
You'll be a specimen. They'll cut you open.
They'll be repulsed by you."

Character development and a realization that Neptune is a callous man holding power over a young woman by threatening her and holding her captive brings this adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's story of a little mermaid to a modern audience. Sea and land are divided, and her life is a confining one. Fish Girl, through her growing friendship with Livia, realizes that there is more to life than the one she leads, and risks everything she has known to follow her heart.

"Seems like that octopus really likes you!
Can you talk to the fish?
Do you ever come all the way out of the water?
Do you have legs inside your tail like in the mermaid stories?

Legs? In my tail?"

That conversation is the beginning for a new journey that leads to recognizing her power over the sea, her strength of character, and her resolve to live on her own terms.

Troubling? Indeed! Memorable? Oh, yes! Beautifully plotted with characters who are sure to resonate with its intended audience, this is a tale of discovery, friendship, and hope. David Wiesner's illustrations are telling and effectively fill in details that complement the text and give readers a modern look at a creature of fantasy through his realistic lens.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Beautiul Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Pajama Press, 2017. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"We walk all night,
and all day,
and all night once more.
I count footsteps,
never wanting to look
up again.
As the sun peeks over
the dunes to greet the
new day, we arrive at
the camp. Helpful hands
welcome us in. We made it."

Canada has welcomed, and continues to welcome, Syrian refugee families to many communities across the country. It is difficult to comprehend their joy at finding a place of peace, and their absolute sorrow for having to leave their country and so much more behind them. We have not been in their shoes. As books can do, this second release from Pajama Press today helps those who read it to see through a window into others' experiences and to begin to understand and empathize with their journey to a new life. 

Suzanne Del Rizzo imagines what it might have been like for Sami's family. War sends them scrambling on a long trek to a refugee camp. The realities of life there are grim, especially for Sami who had to travel without his much loved pigeons. The fear and uncertainty he is feeling does not allow him to adapt to camp life - he does not want to go to school, to play sports, to paint pictures. He is disconsolate until four wild birds fly over, respond to his love and attention, thus allowing Sami to find hope for the future and offer help to others.

"From the river of fleeing villagers, new families trickle
through the gate.
I spot a girl. Her eyes are brimming with tears for home.
A shy smile warms my cheeks as I move quietly closer ...
and gently hold out my hand."

A closing author's note provides information for her readers concerning work being done to help refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency. The original art was created with polymer clay and acrylic, and also includes children's paintings on the endpapers. The inside images are colorful, textured and appealing. I found myself particularly attracted to the striking and unexpected variety in perspective.  There are the dark shadows of war; there is also light-filled promise for a better future. Books like this are needed to help our students and children begin to understand the plight of refugees around the world. Heartfelt and timely, this book deserves to be shared.

Under the Umnbrella, written by Catherine Buquet and illustrated by Marion Arbona, with translaton by Erin Woods. Pajama Press, 017. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"Under his umbrella
He strode without a

Under his umbrella
He muttered all
the while.

His clutching
fingers felt like ice."

March 1 - a 'birth' day of sorts for two new books from Pajama Press. The first of two new releases is about a very grumpy man. If you are one of those people who doesn't much like wind and rain and are often in a hurry, you will know how he is feeling. His surroundings are as grey and moody as he is. His mood is aptly displayed in the rhyming text and in the dreary darkness of the artwork.

That mood is effectively changed for the reader when we note a young boy looking at the warm glow emanating from a patisserie window. Bathed in yellow light, he is standing on tiptoe to get a clear look at the sweetness on display.  A turn of the page and the reader is fully aware of the warmth the boy is feeling.

"Dry beneath the awning,
he gazed upon the spread
Of cakes and creams and cookies
meant to turn each passing head."

Just as quickly, with the strength of a gusty wind, we are returned to the gloom as the man loses his umbrella. Luckily, the boy is there to grab it, and to bring a welcome change to the man's day.

The artwork beautifully matches the feel of the rainy day from two clearly different perspectives. Use of color, shape, and varying perspective add to the book's appeal. The text is filled with an invitation to look at the world from point of view, and the translation to memorable rhyming text is a real plus!

A heartwarming friendship may have just been established!