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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries. by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson. Walden Pond Press, Harper. 2018. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"Baugh first had the idea of founding his own country when he was just a kid. Starting in 1977, when he was 15 years old, Kevin set about bringing those dreams to life. Finally, in the late 1990s, Molossia became an official territorial entity: a designated landmass with specified borders. Baugh himself will admit that those borders are, well, pretty small. Okay, very small."

This story goes on to say that the 'country' is only 'around eleven acres'. It does draw attention, and has hosted an event designed to bring together leaders of other micronations. I wonder what they discussed when those leaders talked with each other. Or did they really talk? Does Molossia exist?

That is one of the truths, or the lie, told in the A section of Chapter 5: Unnatural. The authors then go on to describe two other unnatural scenarios ... one about a prayer house built based on a vision sent to Daniel Alamsjah, and the other a place called Dog Island. After poring over the details written for each, readers are challenged to guess which are the truths and which is a lie. You can imagine the critical thinking skills needed to make such a choice, and the discussion and conversation that are bound to happen as each is presented.

It is the second in a series, following Two Truths and A Lie: It's Alive (Harper, 2017). I am grateful to Maeve O'Regan (marketing associate at Harper) for sending it to me. I am fascinated by the research, the writing, the subject matter and the stories they reveal. The book cover's descriptor offers a challenge to those who read it:

"Unbelievable TRUTHS about outrageous people, places, and events - with a few outright LIES hiding among them. Can you tell the fakes from the facts?"

Who can resist? No need to worry if you are not up to the task. Answers are provided in an answer guide at the back of the book. But before looking, the authors encourage all readers to take the task seriously and try to figure it out for themselves. There are clues. The authors suggest that most of the research they did was done with online resources. They warn doing that can make research harder - everything you read on the internet, they say, is not always true.

They make six suggestions for assuring you get your information right:

1.  Question everything.
2. Search wisely.
3. Be Wiki-aware.
4. Don't skip the sources.
5. Ask the experts.
6. Love your librarian.

Absorbing topics, terrific design, and a fascinating writing style make this a book that will find many fans, and would be a thoughtful way to introduce the topic of 'fake news' that they are hearing so often in daily coverage. It will not only appeal to the kids it was written for; it is sure to capture the attention of adults as well.  Back matter includes the answers, and it also provides a thorough bibliography and a useful index.

First science, now history: I wonder what's next.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Third Mushroom, by Jennifer L Holm. Random House, 2018. $22.99 ages 8 and up

"We sit around the kitchen table playing a board game that involves castles and ghosts and giant spiders that eat you. It looks easy at first glance, but it's actually pretty difficult. At random points in the game, spiders kill you, and you have to go back to the beginning of the board. "This is ridiculous!" my grandfather shouts when it happens to our team for the third time. "We have to start over again?" My mom teases him. "But, Melvin, surely you've learned ... "

I previously wrote a post about The Fourteenth Goldfish which I very much enjoyed. In this pleasing sequel we meet up with Ellie and her grandfather Melvin again. Ellie is a scientist and middle grader. Her grandfather is also a scientist, and a grumpy 77 year old in the body of a teenager because of an experiment he made to reverse the aging process.

This is another middle grade novel by Jenny Holm, written with heart and  humor. She gives such presence and honesty to her characters. Ellie is interested in seeing if a movie date with her best friend Raj might lead to romance. It does not. But, it does reconnect her with Brianna, an old friend, and that is a good thing. Ellie and Raj remain best friends. That is just one small part of this story sure to please fans and find new ones for Ms. Holm.

When the grandfather she admires and loves returns after some time away from the family, she invites him (who is said to be her cousin while at school) to be her science fair partner. Initially reluctant, he does agree and they set out to use a jellyfish for their work. It turns out that the creature they find has actually been eaten by the jellyfish ... an axolotl. As they work together on the project they make many discoveries. Ellie learns about other scientists and their accomplishments, a pet dies, and they make some discoveries about medical science that are sure to give pause. Those events assure discussion among readers, and provide opportunity for some critical thinking. An experiment gone wrong often teaches more than scientists ever thought they would learn.

Backmatter includes an author's note about the discovery of penicillin and the importance of scientific study. That is followed by a list of resources, and then a series of notebook-like entries about the scientists mentioned as Ellie and Melvin take their learning to a new level. 

Humorous and thoughtful, I like learning more about Ellie, a character for whom I have great admiration.

"... I wish someone would invent a new category of books: on friendship, The books could have their own section in the bookstore, like fantasy or history. They could call it Friendmance or maybe Friend Fiction.
     Because friendship is as important as love. You can have a bad day with a friend. You can eat barbecue chips with them. You can count on them to help you survive middle school.
     Just like in the natural world, friends come in all different genus and species. There are best friends, like Raj. And there are old friends, like Brianna, who are important, too."

https://youtu.be/IRxRVlHjNu0

Friday, September 28, 2018

Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World, written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 10 and up

"At ten, Carlos is now ready to play for turistas, out on the streets of Tijuana. He dresses in a cowboy outfit and teams up with two other boys, but finds little joy in the music or the violin. Is he nothing more than a trained monkey, playing the same tired tunes day after day for a handful of coins? Listening to the radio one morning, Carlos is struck by a sound that hits him  right in the chest."

Carlos Santana grows up in a house filled with music. His father's mariachi band provides financial support for the family; although he must often travel to find work. When his father is home, he begins to teach his
young son to play the violin, in hopes that he will one day be a member of the band. Carlos does not love the lessons or the violin. But, his father is persistent that he will learn and eventually play for others in the band and as a street musician.

When Carlos hears American blues on the radio, it is the music of his soul. He loves the honesty of it and wants to be like his new heroes, B.B. King and Muddy Waters. His father is not pleased. Carlos is disheartened and no longer plays the violin. So when his father travels to San Francisco for work, his mother takes him to see a blues band in Tijuana. She watches his spirit lift and relays the story to his father, who relents and sends Carlos an electric guitar. It is the beginning of a long and illustrious career. Carlos fuses the music of Mexico with blues, jazz and rock to establish himself as an innovative and much honored musician. 

Here's one of my favorite Santana videos:

https://youtu.be/1Dz7b5qp2xw

This is a wonderful picture book biography that blends text and art in beautiful ways. It is the story of Carlos' childhood, and gives young readers who love music a chance to see the development of a musician who has made a huge impact throughout his life, playing the music of his heart.
                                                                                     
                                                                             

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Wild Orca: The Oldest, Wisest Whale in the World, written by Brenda Peterson and illustrated by Wendell Minor. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2018. $23.50 ages 5 and up

"New calves are born travelers.
Sometimes Granny
swims a hundred miles a day.
She leads her family through
risky waters - hunting
from Alaska to California.

On one hunt, a young female
orca got trapped onshore and
stranded!"

Mia and her family live in the San Juan Islands in Washington state. He father is a member of a team of scientists who study the whales, and Mia has learned about these beautiful creatures at his side. She has listened by hydrophone to their songs. The day described in this book is very special - it is the day that the community comes together to sing to the whales.

"Mia has memorized the
calls of many of the
orcas in Granny's family pods:
Slick, Oreo, and Spock,
Wave Walker and Surprise."

The community sings, Mia watches carefully with her binoculars. She is aware of the many threats to these beautiful creatures. Her mother and father do their best to reassure her, despite also knowing that many things can impact the survival of these 'oldest and wisest whales'.  Much of the text is focused on Granny, 105 years old and still watching over her three families. Scientists have named them the J, K, and L pods. Granny's death in 2016 was a blow to the scientists and to the whale watchers of the islands. But, what a life she led.

Wendell Minor's striking images are sure to capture the attention of all readers who want to know more about the orcas. They breach in the midst of the junk that people so carelessly throw away. They frolic together, while the elders teach the calves real needed lessons in life. They screech for help when threatened or stranded. They sing their songs when encouraged to do so, and make their way toward the shoreline where so many are drumming and singing.  Captivating!

An author's note provides additional context and information, while the endpapers show a map of the their ocean home. 

Much has been reported this summer concerning the plight of the orca, and the need to protect their ever-dwindling numbers. 

Imagine never seeing this again!

https://globalnews.ca/video/rd/1321764419657/?jwsource=cl

https://youtu.be/2SIMKj4wEUU

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-endangered-orca-that-sparked-international-rescue-plan-gets-first-2/

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, with a foreword by Ashley Bryan. Crown Books, Random House. 2018. $24.99 ages 10 and up

"I AM NOT AN ALIEN.
I AM NOT ILLEGAL.

WHY DON'T YOU GO BACK
TO YOUR OWN COUNTRY?
 IS NOT MY FAVORITE SONG
GET OUT!
IS NOT MY NAME.

NO MORE BORDERS.
NO MORE WALLS."

If it is hard for adults to understand all that is going on politically in the present climate and how it is affecting each one of us, imagine the concern for many young people. To their rescue (and hopefully to yours as you try to encourage them to think positively) comes this wonderful anthology of work from a diverse group of extraordinary writers.

Ashley Bryan provides an uplifting foreword:

"If you flip through all the creative gems put into your hands
and hearts by the gifts of people of color, we will hear your voices
chanting praises.
Then, as you read, you will realize this is not a onetime read but
a resource for rescue from any pitfalls of the day."

There are essays, poems, stories and letters from an incredibly diverse group of writers and artists whose intent is to bring peace and inspiration to those young people who read it. Some of my favorites are included here, and I was blown away by their willingness to help readers see that there is much good in the world. That is what we cling to when so much seems out of control around us.

Kwame Alexander's poem talks about the fear his daughter feels for her father being arrested if he drives too fast, and his being taken away from her. In a letter from Rita Williams-Garcia, she asks her readers to 'be of service' to themselves, their families, their community, and to reject ignorance. Sharon Draper shares the prayers of her grandmother with her own children:

"I now give the grandmothers' warnings
With mac and cheese spoonfuls of love.
I show them the joy and the rainbows
Wrapped in hope on the wings of a dove.
Stay safe, my child, I whisper. 
Come home to me each night."

Most pages are accompanied by photographs and illustrations in varied media. That variety, in both text and art, works well to encourage and uplift those who read it. Terrible times have been endured throughout history and working together has provided solace and power when needed. It is a difficult time, choosing kindness when facing hatred and bigotry may be the most difficult thing of all. But, it is worth it!

"Throughout history, kids like you
were right there.
With picket signs and petitions.
With heart and humility.
With bravery and brilliance.
They changed the world for the better.
And you will too.

Tell your story.
To anyone who will listen.
To hear it yourself.
You matter."

Be brave. Be kind.
It is a lesson for each and every one of us in the face of such adversity. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Through The Window: Views of Marc Chagall's Life and Art. By Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, 2018. $23.99 ages 6 and up


"Through the window,
the misfit sees ...

Two-faced slivers of St.
Petersburg, glittering city
of czars and princes,
neighbors crammed in
filthy rooms, Russia's
poor, ignored."

From humble beginnings in Belarus Marc Chagall (born Moishe Shagal) found great success within a community of French artists, when he moved to Paris and let his imagination inform his life's work. He was always an observer, spending much of his early years peering through the window at life in his small village, taking classes where his artistic acumen was unappreciated, and painting store signs to keep food on the table.

The move to Paris changes his life entirely. Then, WWI wreaks havoc on his newfound celebrity. Returning home for his sister's wedding, he finds himself caught in its darkness and unable to leave.

"Leaders wrestle for power, crushing freedoms in life and art.
Restless crowds controlled through muscular portraits.
His radical canvases, orange faces, sky-blue horses,
called harmful, hated."

His eventual return to Paris, with his wife and daughter, brings new acclaim and much success. Life is good there for many years. WWII again forces a move ... this time to America and renewed inspiration for his artistic expression.

"Through the window,
the old man sees ...

 A rippling kaleidoscope of magic memories.
His dreams, real and imagined,
broken apart and fit back together."

Today, the world can see through Mr. Chagall's stunning windows!

As you can tell from the passages quoted, the text is brilliant and is beautifully enhanced by Ms. Grandpre's stellar artwork. The endpapers are filled with familiar images from Chagall's art, and the author's note provides a concise but relevant look at his life from birth to death. A list of sources completes the information provided.

This is the third collaboration for the two artists, and is a worthy addition for home and classroom libraries. Be sure to look for The Noisy Paint Box (Knopf, 2014) and Vincent Can't Sleep (Knopf, 2017), and think of adding them to your collection.

We can only hope that there is another in the works.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Grand Expedition, by Emma Adbage. Translated from Swedish by Annie Prime. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $23.95 ages 3 and up


"We find a good bag and pack
everything we need. A pocket
flashlight, a nature book, a toy
knife for each of us, and
something to snuggle with.
Iben takes a jump rope, too.

"In case we need a lasso!'

Now we just need treats."

Some kids love 'camping' in the backyard. Many anticipate such adventures with great delight. The children in this book are a prime example of that thinking. The narrator and sibling Iben have a plan, and are keen to share it with their father. It is to be a 'grand expedition.'

When it comes to sustenance, the cupboards are empty. Dad suggests pickles. The two are gobsmacked. They need treats. Dad is not helpful. Off they go as Dad waves goodbye and they head toward the perfect spot in the backyard. They spend their time doing just what they want to do. A flashlight helps create ambiance, but does nothing to assuage the discontent when the pickles are consumed and the nursery rhymes have run out. Boredom sets in, as well as discomfort. A mosquito is the final straw. They head inside. It's the end of a longed-for adventure and the beginning of a peaceful night. 

The winsome illustrations are perfect, adding small details that are oh, so charming. Before your kids embark on their next camping adventure, read this book and then send it out with them.                                                                             


Sunday, September 23, 2018

How To Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals. Written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2018. $29.00 ages 10 and up

"For most of our lives together, Tess interrupted our work constantly to lay joy in our laps. After our morning outing, when we'd fed Christopher and the Ladies, Tess would sit quietly in my office or in Howard's for about an hour. Then she'd have had enough. As we were writing, suddenly a ball or a Frisbee would appear on one of our laps. We'd have to go outside together to play. There were times ... "

I have been an admirer of Sy Montgomery's work for a long time. I am a long-time fan of the Scientists in the Field series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and many of those books showcase her brilliant writing. She is a consummate researcher and journeys often with well-known scientists to learn more about the creatures that so fascinate her.

In this new book, she shares her love of the animals who have been her teachers.

"All the animals I've known - from the first bug I must have spied as an infant, to the moon bears I met in Southeast Asia, to the spotted hyenas I got to know in Kenya - have been good creatures. Each individual is a marvel and perfect in his or her own way. Just being with any animal is edifying, for each one has a knowing that surpasses human understanding. A spider can taste the world with her feet. Birds can see colors we can't begin to describe. A cricket can sing with his legs and listen with his knees. A dog can hear sounds above the level of human hearing, and can tell if you're upset even before you're aware of it yourself."

Her stories begin with Molly, a Scottish terrier, who was as tenacious as the young girl wanted to be. Then, moves on to entertain and engage readers with a varied host of animals that have impacted her life in many ways. Her travels have taken her to various locations and introduced her to emus, a tarantula, hyenas, the moon bear, pink dolphins and the great white shark to name a few. She also pens other stories of pets who have made her life better, including Christopher Hogwood, a runt pig who grew to weigh more than seven hundred pounds, a weasel who visited at Christmas one year and killed a favorite chicken, the chickens who followed Sy and her husband Howard wherever they went. It is a wonderful, sometimes heartbreaking, collection of stories. Each creature chronicled here became an important part of her life, and changed her ... for the better. Her stories fascinate and will give readers pause to think on the beauty and pain that is life on this planet. 

Back matter includes a collection of archival photos, a list of books that provided inspiration for her writing, and a comprehensive list of the books Ms. Montgomery has written for both children and adults.

Check her website at http://symontgomery.com/.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Big Mooncake for Little Star, written and illustrated by Grace Lin. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2018. $23.49 ages 4 and up

"And Little Star remembered
as she brushed her teeth,
washed her face,
snuggled into bed,
and fell asleep.

But in the middle of the night,
Little Star woke up."

Baking a mooncake with her mother is a very special time for Little Star. She watches carefully as her mother places that mooncake in the sky to cool. She listens carefully to her mother's instructions about not touching it until her mother tells her it is time. She goes to sleep knowing exactly what she is to do.

But ... even in sleep she thinks of that mooncake and cannot resist getting out of bed to have a nibble. Only a little one, and then she is quickly back in bed. Knowing that mooncake hangs in the sky is too tempting for a little girl. Each night she sneaks out of bed to take another little bite ... until there is nothing left but crumbs.

"Until one night, Little Star's mama went to look for the Big
Mooncake. Where was it? It was gone! Instead of a glowing,
round cake, there was just a trail of twinkling crumbs."

Unperturbed, her mother has the perfect solution.

What a beautiful way to learn about the moon and its phases! I know that I will be asked to read it many times, and deservedly so. Little ones will love to be in on the mischief evoked by Little Moon's constant visits for 'just a wee nibble.'

The gouache artwork is extraordinary! The endpapers see mother and daughter preparing the mooncake together (and include a number of lovely details), and the black backgrounds allow the bright yellows of the moon and stars to illuminate every page. It is headed for my 'keepers' shelf!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Missing Mike, by Shari Green. Pajama Press, 2018. $18.95 ages 10 and up

"Dad's arm shoots out
stops me
steers me
toward the car.
"Where's Mike?" he asks
and I tell him Mike's gone
and I have to find him - I know
I can find him.
I just need time.
"There's no time," Dad says.
I twist away
run for my bike ... "

This is a pretty ominous beginning for a tale that speaks to some of our worst fears. What if ... 

What if your house and community was in the path of terrifying wildfires? What if your dog was
so scared he ran away to escape the smoke and unease felt about the approaching danger? What if you had to leave without him?

Having spent a good part of the summer here listening to reports of the destruction caused by wildfires on the west coast of Canada and the United States, this book is an excellent way to get kids thinking about the dire consequences of such events in peoples' lives. It is a moving account of the terror and anguish felt by those who live where those fires rage.

With the news that they should be prepared to evacuate at any time, Cara, her sister and her family make the preparations needed to be safe. It is still alarming when the police officer comes to the door, giving them ten minutes to get out.

"Ten minutes.
Ten minutes to pack up and leave our home.
Ten minutes to grab out just-in-case backpacks
and as much food and clothing
as we can
toss it all into the trunk
with the emergency bins
full of bottled water
protein bars and a baggie of Mike's kibble
first-aid kit, radio, flashlight, tarp
and matches - which is about the stupidest thing
ever."

There is no time to find Mike, and Cara is heartbroken. She has loved that dog since the moment she saw him at the shelter, a one-eyed grown mutt that is also missing a part of his ear. They spend every minute they can together. We know before they have to leave just how much Cara and Mike love each other. It is almost impossible for her to deal with leaving him behind them.

Their flight is terrifying as they travel the one road out of their community, with trees burning, cars stalled along the way and ash filling the air. It's hard to breathe, harder still to keep calm in the resulting chaos. They finally make it to a shelter, find a host family to stay with, and make new friends. All the while, Cara cannot escape the alarming concern she is feeling for her cherished pet.

The tense telling will keep readers intent on reading (or hearing) more. While there are bright spots along the way, Cara and her family are faced with uncertainty, fear, and a hope for a return to their community. When they finally get the okay to go back, they are faced with the tragic and uplifting results of the catastrophe. To say much has changed is an understatement. Cara, who has been reflecting on the meaning of 'house' and 'home', discovers they are distinctly different things.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, written and illustrated by Don Brown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2018. $26.99 ages 14 and up

"Hundreds, then thousands flee.
Many simply cross into Jordan and Lebanon, where they try to take up a new life. Others pile up at the Turkish border. Turkey will officially accept those with passports. The mass of people are without and sneak in. The night is cold. Families with nothing but the clothes on their backs steal toward the Turkish border in silence. We felt maybe it's our turn to die, but we didn't want to die. So we made up our minds to leave."

It has only been seven years since the civil war in Syria began when a group of teenagers were tortured and imprisoned for speaking out against the Assad regime. It was the beginning of a long and continuing war between the country's dictator and those who oppose his rule. Protesters were met with tanks and bombs, causing millions to flee for their lives. The resulting refugee crisis has had worldwide repercussions.

In his new book, Don Brown provides a clear look at the awful reality that is the life of those fleeing hatred and persecution in their home country. He does his best to let his readers know about the conditions the Syrians face as they try to find peace and security elsewhere; they cannot find it at home. He tells of dangerous and insidious smuggling schemes, neighboring and other countries of the world who do not welcome their arrival, the dangers inherent in fleeing for their lives, and the sadness and anger many feel for their circumstances. Resentment has grown throughout the world for those seeking asylum. There are many tragedies, but also joys shared as some find new homes. The refugees are resilient, determined and always hopeful.

Emotional renderings of this very real tragedy allow the target audience to begin to understand the enormity of the crisis. Grief, fear and total exhaustion is clear on every page. It is a heartbreaking account of the exhaustive research Mr. Brown has done while visiting refugee camps in Greece and seeing first hand what life in like in the camps where they are housed. He provides a journal summary of the visits he made a year ago, focusing his attention on the people, rather than the reasons for their flight from their homeland.

"This last visit to a camp heightened the discomfort I'd experienced on my first visit - that I was a voyeur to tragedy. The notion of having refugees recount their awful experiences of exodus seemed unnecessary and cruel. After all, those terrible stories are already widely circulated. My unease was hard to shake. In the end, I found value in the visits by their having made me a more sensitive witness to the refugees' dilemma and a more powerful advocate for their salvation."

These are ordinary people experiencing untold hardship. If you want a starting point for discussion, you would do well to share this honest, clear, and authentic account of what life has been like for so many. For those wanting to know more, the author provides pictures, a summary of his visits to the camps, source notes, a lengthy bibliography and a poignant poem of hope by Sahir Noah.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

CHAMPION: The Story of Muhammad Ali. Written by Jim Haskins and illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2018. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"Not long afterward, Cassius Clay walked into a restaurant and ordered a glass of orange juice. The owner would not serve him because he was black. Cassius said that the pain he felt was like having to take punches without hitting back. After the Olympics, Cassius turned professional. From then on, he fought for money. A group of local white businessmen paid his expenses."

Let me just say this: I am NOT a fan of boxing. I do, however, have great admiration for Muhammad Ali. It was not always that way. Like so many, I was taken aback by his confidence, but loved his humor. His braggadocio captured the attention of many, including myself, and garnered ardent fans. I was not among them, although I will admit I watched him fight on a few occasions. He commanded attention!

Ali did so much in his lifetime; this book is evidence of that. Jim Haskins knows exactly how to capture the reader's attention with a story that begins on January 17, 1942, the day Cassius Clay Jr. was born. He introduces readers to  the Clay family, his early family life and then takes us to his twelfth birthday when the red bicycle he received was soon stolen, and never returned. Ready to fight, young Cassius was advised that he had better learn how to do it first. The policeman who shared that advice offered to teach him to box. What a beginning for the young boy who would become the most famous of all boxers!

The book then follows his life, with honesty and clarity, through the triumphs and tragedies he experienced. Fans will be familiar with his gold medal win at the 1960 Olympics, his conversion to Islam, his refusal to fight in Vietnam, his highly publicized bouts, his retirement from the ring and his battle with Parkinson's. I cannot tell you how emotional I felt with he appeared bearing the final torch at the Olympics in Atlanta. Millions watched and I feel to safe to say that many felt the exactly the same way as I did. It was awesome ... and heartbreaking. 

This story is told with honesty and admiration. The artwork, painted in oils, is rich in detail and visually stunning. It is a tribute worth adding to your list of essential picture book biographies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Stone for Sascha, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"A wistful walk
along the beach
to gather cool
polished stones
becomes a brilliant
turning point in the
girl's grief."

We know Sascha loved her dog. We see it in the portrait of the two before the story begins. Her arms surround her pet with love ... they are content in each other's company. As we turn to the story, we are witness to Sascha picking a handful of warm yellow wildflowers, then running to embrace her mother while her father prepares to bury her beloved pet with its bone. Her younger brother chases a butterfly. The family watches as Sascha places the flowers on the burial mound, then lets her alone to say a final goodbye.

The scene shifts to the family leaving on vacation. Sascha looks back as the car pulls away, her eyes turned toward the burial site. As her parents begin setting up camp at the edge of a lake, Sascha is seen gathering stones from the beach before throwing them back into the water.

Again, the scene shifts to a streaking comet headed straight for Earth. The next section of this amazing, breathtaking book takes readers back to the time of the dinosaur when the comet crashed and then through time to the present. Each new spread shows 'readers' the many transformations the  remnant of the comet makes as it passes through time. It is quite the journey! Finally, Sascha retrieves the golden stone from the water. With closed eyes, and seemingly at peace, she holds it to her cheek. Once home, it provides a permanent marker on her pet's grave.

Time passes, grief is unmistakable, and memories hold loved ones close in our hearts. There is so much beauty here ... in the wordless storytelling itself, and the exceptional artwork that makes connections through time and place.

https://youtu.be/Kb6EqKOVHKc

                                                                               

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Summer Supper, written by Rubin Pfeffer and illustrated by Mike Austin. Random House, 2018. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"Sprout ...
shoot ...
stalk.

Scarecrow
SURPRISE!

Snip, snip, snip.

Sample. Sell."

When I picked up this week's vegetables at the farmer's market on Friday I was taken aback to think there are only two more chances to get the fresh food I so crave throughout the summer months. Nothing tastes quite as good as fresh vegetables week after week; nothing we buy in the fall and winter can match the tastes of summer. So, I was very happy to see this new book about the farm-to-table growing season.

I have asked myself previously, (most notably when I read Watch William Walk  by Ann Jonas), how authors settle on creating a text that uses the same consonant to begin each written word. It seems an onerous task. Do they make a list of words that pertain to the subject and go for it? Do they imagine scenes and find the just-right word to describe them?  Do they assign themselves such a task to see where it might go? Summer Sweetness? Summer Scenes? Summer Surprises?

However it was decided, in his debut picture book for our youngest readers Rubin Pfeffer has penned a charming look at growing, harvesting and selling the food that goes from the farm to our table. It begins with soil and seeds, moves forward through every phase of growing, harvesting, selling and finally, preparing food for the family. 

The words are as important as the artwork in helping little ones understand the full cycle of producing the real foods that grace our tables. Using only words that begin with the letter 's', the author cleverly connects one part of the process to the next. Words in large font are placed on banners at the bottom of each spread, encouraging children to quickly pick up the clues that will help them read the text independently. It is such fun to read, and to observe each step along the way.  The graphic digitally collaged double page spreads are filled with bright color, quiet action and many small stories to tell as the book is shared.

You will definitely read it more than once!

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Outlaw, written and illustrated by Nancy Vo. Groundwood Books, 2018. $17.95 ages 6 and up

"Children were warned,
"Be good or else the Outlaw
will get you!"

Then, one day, the Outlaw
stopped coming into town
entirely.
Everyone was relieved.
Everyone believed that he was as
good as gone.

Many seasons passed ... "

It is quite extraordinary the impact that one person can have! In a small town in the Old West, the Outlaw has such power. They had all heard the rumors and knew what he had done. His reputation caused them to live in trepidation of what he might do. Villagers boarded up businesses, children were given dire warnings, and the relief was palpable when he no longer came to town.

When a stranger rides into town after much time has passed, the town itself has changed.

"The town was a shadow of
itself and in need of repair.
Deftly, decisively, the stranger
went to work.
First he built a water trough
in front of the inn where he
was staying."

He went about doing good work every day ... until someone recognized him as 'the outlaw.' Despite all he had done, memories of his past came to the fore and he was treated miserably by many. Leave it to a child to take the adults to task, reminding them that the man was doing his best to improve things. Some were willing to hear the child; others were not.

Was the outlaw willing to stay? What do you think?

Using essential text to tell this story of redemption makes it all the more powerful. The ink and watercolor artwork conveys emotion at every turn of the page, and provides context for young readers. The simplicity of the stark scenes allows all readers to know about time and place. As dramatic and unconventional as this is for young readers, it is an exceptional book.
                                                                       



Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Cardboard Kingdom, by Chad Sell. Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, 2018. $27.99 ages 9 and up

"What are you thinking? 
Why would you wear
something like that? 

This is my lab gear, Dad!
I don't understand! 

That THING! 
The MUSTACHE!

What!? This? It's just ... "

On a recent road trip, my brother and I talked a lot about our old neighborhood and how lucky we were to spend our childhood there. We were always outside, with friends galore. Our next door neighbor built a rink at the side of their house every winter and we spent endless hours skating there. Only one family had a television set in the late 1950s, and it was put out on the lawn each Friday so all the kids from the neighborhood could watch for a while. Talking about it sparked wonderful memories for the two of us!

The Cardboard Kingdom is the story of a pretty special neighborhood, too. The children who live there build costumes that allow them to be whoever they want to be ... new personalities with extraordinary powers! It begins with masks and three kids; then moves on to others from diverse backgrounds and cultures. They are characters who deal with complications in their homes, with gender roles, and with their peers. They are kind and tender, ruthless, struggling with identity, and dealing with expectations from beyond themselves. They each have a chance to tell their own story, expressing feelings good and bad.

Their imaginations carry them through countless adventures. The reality is not always as they would like it to be. They persevere, support each other, find joy in their friendships, and pretend, pretend, pretend. Hooray for the cardboard box and all it brings to imaginative play! Meet new characters? You bet they will, and  your readers will be delighted to meet each and every one of them.

Chad Sell and 10 friends worked together on these tales to create a cohesive and outstanding collection of linked stories that celebrate the differences inherent in a diverse group of children from varied backgrounds. His artwork is filled with striking color, expressive characters, and relatable scenes. Impressive in style and action-filled, this is sure to attract new fans to the graphic novel.

A quick introduction to each of the writers offers a chance to see who they are and to check out other work done by them. Be sure to add this book to your classroom collection. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In-Between Things, written and illustrated by Priscilla Tey. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"If you travel outside
and then back in once more,
an in-between thing
you will need is a door.
Doors take you through walls
separating kitchens from halls,
and you from
that pie filled with
scrumptious meatballs.
In-between things can
transport you somewhere,
take you to places ... "

Priscilla Tey explains the meaning of in-between right at the beginning: “An in-between thing is a thing in the middle.” Then, in engaging and detailed artwork, she has a furry feline and a seemingly disgruntled canine lead readers from page to page as she explains just what in-between looks like.

"The dog is between 
the floor and the cat
(and does not enjoy being
in the middle like that!)"

The fact that said cat is on his back might be the problem. Shrewd in its presentation of a concept that can be difficult to explain, Ms. Tey shows her target audience the many ways the word can be used. There is humor in the presentation which uses bright colors, familiar scenes and many little 'stories' to bring clear understanding. All occur right where the two live. I am impressed with the mood created by the new ideas that pop up constantly. Kids are encouraged to look closely at every inch of the double page spreads, ensuring talk about all that is going on there.

"If you build a fort and fill it with light,
it will separate you from the monsters at night."

How cool an idea is that for little ones? A flashlight fills the blanket fort with warmth, while sad monster-like creatures pout in the surrounding darkness. They learn about the combinations created when you put a skirt and a pair of shorts together, or a spoon and a fork. Between the two, they make something brand new! So much fun, and definitely encouragement to let the imagination soar when considering other prepositions ... on, in, off, over, under. What are the possibilities? 

The rhyming text works, the fun is much appreciated, and the learning goes on and on! Young kids will need a discerning eye and a patient reader to find all the many ways that 'between' can be used to help describe their world. 
                                                                         


Friday, September 14, 2018

The Parker Inheritance, written by Varian Johnson. Scholastic, 2018. $22.99 ages 9 and up

"Well, I'm telling you now. Not that Reggie had any better chance than you. Dub's not about to let his daughter date some high-yellow poor kid from Vista Heights. Boy doesn't even know who his daddy is." He checked his watch. "I'll be home late. It might take a while to convince Reggie to come back." "Why can't you just call him?" Chip asked as they exited the stands. He didn't want his father talking to that boy. His ... rival."

WOW! I just finished reading this mysterious, thought-provoking book early this morning, and am anxious to pass it on to a friend so that he can read it, too. I know he will like it as much as I do. It is a story about family, pride, grief, longing, bullying, racism and abiding friendship. So, what's not to like about that? It would be an excellent read for all middle grade classrooms, providing opportunity for deep thought and engaging conversation.

Candice is sure that her summer is ruined when she and her mother move into her grandmother's house in Lambert, South Carolina. They will be there while their home in Atlanta is being renovated. She could have stayed with her father in his apartment. She could have been with her friends enjoying the many plans they had made for summer fun. Instead, she is in Lambert, wandering around her grandmother's house which has been rented out since her death two years ago. When she finds a letter addressed to her among her grandmother's belongings, things change!

She learns that her grandmother, Abigail Caldwell, was at the center of a scandal. As city manager, and without permission from the powers that be, she had ordered city workers to dig up the tennis courts at Vickers Park in search of treasure. Nothing was found. Ordered to destroy all research she had done concerning the contents of the letter, she was dismissed from her job. She kept only the letter itself and had left it to her granddaughter, knowing how much she loved puzzles and in hopes she would 'follow the path' and find the $40 million herself.

Suddenly, summer seems so much more intriguing. Enlisting the help of Brandon, the boy who lives across the street, the two embark on a search that reveals much about the city, its history of racial intolerance, and the violence that led the Washington family and Reggie Bradley to leave town and never come back. The two young African American friends find themselves drawn in to a history lesson from the past, and an understanding of the experiences that are still playing out today. The clues are all there; it is a long, winding and eventful search that will keep readers guessing from start to finish. They may never solve the mystery themselves. The ride is definitely worth it!

The characters are worthy and credible, the plot moves seamlessly from past to present and makes the connections needed to serve the story well.  I love the link to The Westing Game, Brandon's favorite book. Those who love puzzles and mystery will find it fascinating. Reading it to the class might just win other such books new fans!

You might want to have The Westing Game (Raskin), Chasing Vermeer (Balliett), and Holes (Sachar) at the ready.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Rough Patch, written and illustrated by Brian Lies. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2018. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Evan shut himself away
inside.

Without his best friend,
the garden was a bitter
and lonely place.

One morning, he found
himself with a hoe in his
paws."

With anger in his heart and a hoe in his paws, Evan destroys everything he has worked so hard to create. The death of his dog and best friend has caused Evan to withdraw into himself, no longer seeing joy in life or in the garden. He wants it gone. So, it is!

He cares for the weeds that grow there now. His own rough patch in life is matched by the rough patch that grows where beauty once bloomed. He works all of his sadness into the space he creates without his beloved canine companion. It is a desolate place.

Then one day a pumpkin vine pokes its way under the fence and into his heart. He cannot destroy it, although it is his original intention. He lets it flourish; it responds to the attention he affords it. Soon, a large pumpkin makes an appearance. Evan feels excited, once more. He enters the pumpkin in the county fair, and takes time to enjoy the rides, games, food, and to talk with friends and neighbors.

His third place prize is quite the surprise!

Heartbreaking loss and eventual healing are shown with grace and beauty in the exceptional artwork that graces this book's pages. The textures and bold colors grab attention and hold it for the entirety of the story. There is healing after loss; Brian Lies proves that is so in a story listeners will long remember.
                                                                   

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Dreamers, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2018. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"There were so many things
we didn't know.
Unable to understand
and afraid to speak,
we made lots of mistakes.

You and I
became caminantes.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found ... "

What a wondrous cover this is! It offers an alluring invitation to open the book and see what's inside. This is Yuyi Morales' story of coming to the United States from Mexico more than twenty years ago. She brought her young son with her, and the two began a new life in San Francisco. It was a brave move for someone who could understand little of the language she heard, knew nothing about her new home, and experienced a terrible homesickness for all that she left behind to make the journey that would change her life completely.

The two became immigrants together. They learned from the mistakes they made. Their journey finally led them to the library ... a place they had never seen. The books on its shelves made all the difference.

"Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.

We learned to read,
to speak,
to write,
and
to make
our voices heard."

What joy and freedom the two found there! 

Her boldly colored, detailed artwork is quite astonishing. The library itself is festooned with books by favorite authors and will be recognizable to many children who read it. Many of our favorite books are placed lovingly on shelves throughout its lovely, welcoming main room. Images from her Mexican heritage are evident and add context and beauty.

Beautifully told, perfectly presented, it is a book that speaks of the immigrant experience for children of all ages. Back matter includes My Story, and an extensive list of Books That Inspired Me (And Still Do). Exceptional!

If you would like to know more of Yuyi's story and her love for picture books, enjoy this keynote address:

https://youtu.be/HF8Qb6S2RME

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Vernon Is On His Way: Small Stories, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2018. $27.99 ages 3 and up

"When the walk was finished they sat down. What should we do now?" asked Skunk. "We could go for a walk," suggested Porcupine. "Or," said Vernon, "we could go fishing." "I would like to go fishing," said Skunk. Porcupine said nothing. He did not know how to fish. "We will start by eating lunch," said Vernon." But Porcupine was too nervous to eat."

In three thoughtful, welcome, and small stories, readers will enjoy additional time spent with the three appealing characters they met first in A Home for Bird (Roaring Brook Press, 2012). It's been a long and lonely wait.

In the first one, Vernon waits ... and waits ... and waits ... and still waits. The surprise at the end is absolute joy. The second concerns fishing, and Porcupine's worry that the day will be spoiled by his inability to fish. He need not have worried at all. It turns that not one of the three has any experience, and can only think to say 'Hello!' when the fish finally makes an appearance. Despite their lack of fishing knowledge, they are happy with their day and make a plan to try again tomorrow. In the last story, Vernon creates a wonderful garden space, filling it with those things he loves about his friend Bird. It's been a long time since he saw Bird last, and his memories are no longer so clear. Porcupine and Skunk are able to find exactly the perfect thing to cheer Vernon up ... inadvertently! 

Love these fine characters, and their perfect stories. Vernon is the focus, but his friends play pivotal roles. Small adventures, yes. Big friendship, also yes! I have great appreciation for the quiet moments, the slow pace, the kindness shown one to the other.

This book is definitely a 'keeper'. We will be reading it together for many years.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sugar and Snails, written by Sarah Tsiang and illustrated by Sonja Wimmer. Annick Press, 2018. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"Hmm. It's about boys
and girls. I think it goes
like this:

What are little boys made of?
Pirates and dogs and noisy
bullfrogs.

What are little girls made of?
Dresses and sweets and
everything neat."

His grandchildren are quick to quash their grandfather's description.

" I don't wear dresses!"

"And I don't like frogs."

Their disdain for his early perspective sets Grandpa on a new course. Using his imagination, with plenty of humorous touches, he offers descriptions that are sure to amuse those who share this tale of  an aversion to being typecast.

After really listening to what they are saying, Grandpa makes a different suggestion:

"Okay, so boys are
made of cookies
and spice ....

and jump-roping mice?

And girls are made of snails and rocks ...
and butterfly socks!"

Not satisfied, he carries the fun further and further with humor and warmth. The children become active participants in these flights of fancy. Imaginations soars, as do the images created with whimsy and soft colors by Sonja Wimmer. The ideas flow freely, and the details will have little ones poring over all that is happening at every turn of the page. I found myself going back time and again to enjoy the many possibilities. Filled with action and imagination, it ends with the two children conveniently taking apart an embroidered image of the old saying.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

On the Other Side of the Garden, written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Translated by Elisa Amado. Groundwood. 2018. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"Then we sat on the edge of the creek and put our feet in the water. "I've known your grandmother for many years," said the owl. "No one ever comes to visit her. You are the first, I think," said the frog. "She's kind. Sometimes she leaves out crumbs and rice ... "

Isabel and her father say little as they travel to her grandmother's house in the country. When he drops there with a duffel bag, and a promise to return for her someday, she feels the complete isolation that surrounds her. She knows little about her grandmother, and has never lived outside the city.

Shown to her room, she feels no connection. As she lies in bed thinking about her father and her home in the city, she notices an owl, a frog and a mouse looking at her through the window panes. What's a girl to do? She opens the window and shares conversation with them. She likes them immediately and is soon accompanying them on a walk to the 'other side of the garden'. 

She likes the feeling of the cool grass beneath her feet, something she has not experienced in the city. The three creatures offer information about the country, their love for the beauty found there, and observations about her grandmother, a woman they admire. She tells them about her family: her parents' divorce, her mother's life elsewhere, her father's need to find work. 

They reassure Isabel that things will work out, that her grandmother is a good person, and they listen to her worries and concerns. As dawn breaks, the three find shelter and send her on her way back to her grandmother's house. Grandmother is waiting with a warm hug, and a good dose of reassurance.

"You know you are going to be here for quite a
while?" she asked.
"Yes, Grandmother," I said. I felt like crying.
"Can I walk in your garden at night?"
"At night and in the day. This is your house, too."

Textured digital images are dark and moody as Isabel is dropped off by her father. The moon guides with golden light during her walk and talk with her three new friends, and morning sunlight brings renewed warmth as the story comes to its satisfying conclusion. 

Lovely, simply lovely!
                                                                            

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Ocean Meets Sky, by the Fan Brothers. Simon & Schuster, 2018. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"I didn't think the open
sea would feel so lonely,'
Finn said after some time.
This caught the attention
of a great golden fish.
"Do you know where
ocean meets sky?"
Finn asked the fish.
"It's high and low, and as
deep as the sea ... "

Finn lives by the sea; a place his grandfather loved. Finn misses his grandfather and today, on what would have been his 90th birthday, Finn decides to honor him with a voyage to the land his grandfather so often described.

He builds a boat from scraps he finds on the beach and prepares to set sail - but not before he has a short rest. It has been hard work. We he wakes, he finds himself aboard the boat and rolling on the gentle waves of the sea that will surely lead him to the place his grandfather described in his many stories. He is looking for the place where the 'ocean meets the sky'. 

The journey is magical. From the clouds in the sky, to the golden carp (its mustache and goatee are remarkably similar to his grandfather's) who offers to lead the way, past the Library Islands where bookish birds show great interest in stories of adventure and the sea, to the exploration of an island composed of giant shells, and on to his final destination, wonder awaits!

As the boat lifts from the water to join other amazing crafts in a luminescent sky, the pages fill with surreal images of ships, dirigibles, a monstrous blue whale and finally, the brilliance of a full moon which looks remarkably like Finn's beloved grandfather. What a discovery! That moon blows Finn's sturdy little craft toward a voice calling him home for a dumpling dinner.

"It had been a good day for sailing."

There is no way to pay tribute to the amazing quality of this book in words. It evokes a feeling of wonder from start to finish. It is beautifully designed, imaginative beyond measure, and offers a most joyous journey for those sharing it.
                                                                               

Friday, September 7, 2018

Good Rosie! Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Harry Bliss. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Uh," Maurice says to Fifi,
"do you want to play?"

"Me?" says Fifi.

Maurice wags his tail.
Maurice crouches.
Maurice pounces.
Maurice picks up Fifi and
shakes her like a stuffed
bunny!"

Kate DiCamillo has always written books with heart and humor. Here, she continues to do so.

Rosie has much to learn when her world expands. She and her owner, George, live a happy life together. It is not terribly exciting, nor is it expansive. They live quietly and well. Rosie doesn't know she is lonely until she sees her reflection in her dog bowl. To appease the loneliness and isolation, George is happy to take Rosie for a daily constitutional.

Rosie enjoys the time outside with George. She manages small forays away from him. She likes to chase squirrels and run fast, and look at the clouds. It does not make her less lonely for canine companionship. Perhaps a visit to the dog park will make a difference. Rosie is a tad doubtful when she sees so many strange dogs. A St. Bernard named Maurice is willing to take the first step. Rosie is not impressed.

"Rosie is not a bad dog.
She is a good dog.
But she can't help it.
She doesn't like Maurice.
Or his bunny."

She wants to go home. Before they can exit the park,  Fifi bounds up. She exudes energy, and excitement over meeting new friends. Rosie does not warm to either dog. When Maurice treats Fifi like a toy to be tossed about, Rosie reacts. It's the beginning of a brand new way of life for all three.

So quietly told, and with just the right touch of humor, this is a story that children will love! Harry Bliss conveys personality and humor in ever changing perspectives. Just perfect!                                                     

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Stitch In Time, by Daphne Kalmar. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $22.50 ages 9 and up

"This had been her special workspace since she was six and she'd brought Sam her first dead mouse and asked him to show her how to fix it. She'd always come here to Sam's after school, until her pops came home from the Metal Works. Watching Sam work was like going to a magic show. When she was six he'd carried the body of a great horned owl into the parlor.  It was enormous - feathers scruffed up, head tipped back over Sam's arm ... "

Donut is 11, living with her father in Vermont in the late 1920s. Her mother died at childbirth, and she and her father have lived a good, happy life together. His stories have provided Donut with a picture of the mother she never knew. After his recent death in a car accident, Donut must deal with new heartache. Missing her father, and worrying that she will no longer learn anything about her mother, she is filled with sadness.

When a well-meaning, but stoic, aunt arrives with a plan to move Donut to Boston with her, Donut decides she will have none of it. Leaving the only home she has known, and all of her memories of her father, does not fit with the way she wants to live her life.

Frustrated and frightened, she makes a hasty plan to run away. It is fraught with problems. First, her father's boat sinks and she must find her way to shore and the cabin that is her destination. Numerous difficulties arise, including a fire which burns down the shack where she has found shelter. It's time to go back and face the music, and try to convince her aunt to leave things well enough alone.

Donut is a remarkable character. She is brave, loyal, loves taxidermy (a skill she has learned from her father's best friend, Sam), poker and geography. She does not want to leave Tiny, Sam and her village. Aunt Agnes is adamant, and leaves little wiggle room.

In this tale of family, grief, love and being sensitive to others' plans for your life, readers will meet characters who have only what is best in mind for a young, spunky girl they all love and admire. You will feel the same when you get to know Donut better.

If you have kids who love historical fiction, hand them this book. They will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Day You Begin, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House. 2018. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"There will be times when the
climbing bars are too high,
the run is too fast and far,
the game isn't one you can ever
really play.

I don't want him on our team. 
You can watch. 
Maybe you can have a turn later. 

There will be times ... "

What a wondrous collaboration between two amazing artists!

Those who work and live with children who face the worries about being appreciated and accepted in a new school setting will know that those concerns can cause feelings of inadequacy and angst about being different. They joy in our differences can be lost on them. So many moments that happen at school seem to point out how they are not like the children who share their classrooms, lunchrooms and playgrounds.   

It might be the food brought for lunch, family traditions and celebrations, skin color, hair, clothing. So many things make us who we are. Finding the voice and courage to tell your own story can be a daunting task; it is well worth the bravery and confidence it takes.

"There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you until the day you begin

to share your stories. My name is Angelina and 
I spent my whole summer with my little sister, 
you tell the class, your voice
stronger than it was a minute ago,
reading books and telling stories and 
even though we were right on our block it was like 
we got to go EVERYWHERE."

Impressive and uplifting prose, with brightly colored, expressive artwork done with 'acrylic paint on wood, pen and ink, pencil, and watercolors, and put together digitally in Photoshop', will help readers see themselves on these extraordinary pages. It is a powerful reminder to children to be themselves, and to take pride in those very special things that make them exactly who they are. 
                                                                           

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Song on the Wind, written by Caroline Everson and illustrated by Anne Marie Bourgeois. Fifth House, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2018. $18.95 ages 4 and up


"As the first of the silver stars
blink overhead,
A fading red glow paints
the trees.
A sleepy-faced child runs
in from her play
And climbs on her
mama's warm knee."

For many long years a song has been sung on the wind, soothing children as they settle in for a good night's sleep. A child asks for a lullaby and the mother begins:

"In a long-ago place in a faraway time
 A story was sung to the wind.
Mama told it to me, and I’ll tell it to you,
And the wind might catch it again.”

The mother then sings of clear water and endless sky. She passes the song to a fishing boat, a father who sings of the land of the midnight sun, and then a grandmother who sings of deep forests and fast-flowing rivers. This old song sung on the wind has comforted many children as they seek the peace of nighttime slumber.   

The world is a beautiful place, and for each new scene the song reaches introduces a new singer. The song itself is slightly changed as it moves from person to person. Children love it when those who care for them sing them to sleep. Each of these lovely, memorable verses will bring quiet rest and comfort.

The accompanying artwork is infused with light that captures the love of parent for child, the joy found in shared songs, and the beauty of the world.  Muted musical notes carry the melody from one glowing page to the next. Dreamy and luminescent, this is a book to be enjoyed in repeated readings.
                                                               
                                                                   

Monday, September 3, 2018

I Am Small, written and illustrated by Qin Leng. Kids Can Press, 2018. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Being small really bugs me.
When will I grow big enough
to take up as much space in the
world as everyone else?

My feet barely reach the edge
of the seat on the bus. I bounce
all over the place on the way to
school.

At Olivia's bakery, I can't ... "

Have I told you in previous posts how much I love Qin Leng's work? Of course, I have. Some of my favorite books for little ones have been illustrated in her inimitable style, always with warmth and charm. In this first book where she has done both words and pictures (I think!), she tackles the difficulty that comes with feeling ignored.

Mimi does not like being the small one in the family. Everyone is taller, even the dog. Same thing at school and on the city sidewalk. No matter where Mimi goes, small is the name of the game. Sure that there is no upside, Mimi is reminded by others that being small affords some pretty cool advantages.

"Why are you complaining?" Remy
asked me the other day. "You're always
first in the cafeteria line and you get
the biggest piece of cake."

Other proof is offered - squeezing into the smallest hiding spots, front row for all class photos, secret and comfortable spaces. For Mimi, none of the arguments outweigh the fact that many things are beyond reach. Well, there might be a few good things!

"Like snuggling in bed between Mommy and Daddy ...
Or playing Knights with Gus ...
Or practicing for the synchronized swimming
championship in the bathtub (my pretend pool)."

A surprise at home after school one day has lasting effects for Mimi and the family.

I appreciate the first person narrative. Kids will surely feel empathy for those issues that bother Mimi, as her telling is so personal. Lots of white space in the pen, ink, and watercolor artwork keep Mimi in focus throughout the telling. There are so many delightful details that allow a close look at family, the family home, the community, even school life. When the perspective changes for Mimi, she has some heartwarming advice to give.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

LOOK, written and illustrated by Fiona Woodcock. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2018. $21.99 ages 3 and up


"bamboo

boogie

cocoon

swoop

baboon"


Just as the sun is rising, with a loud 'cock-a doodle-doo as a reminder, two young children look to the sun. From then on, their day is filled with words that have a double O. Breakfast food consists of two fried eggs. Once breakfast is done, they slip their feet into boots. A trip to the zoo is the first order of business. They get there in a car driven by their mother who loves speed and zooms toward their destination.

Now you have the premise, and for the rest of the book you will be impressed. It is a great deal of fun, providing lots of language learning and encouraging rapt attention to the details found in the artwork created using 'hand-cut rubber stamps, stencils, BLO pens, and additional pencil line work, all composited digitally.' Sounds very complicated, works beautifully to show the range of words the children find on their adventurous day. The images hold attention and invite conversation.

Read it once, then read it again. The second time you will notice that the text follows the full day the two siblings enjoy, beginning with the early morning wake-up and ending with a good book and a night's snooze under the full moon!

Kids will love this book, and might find inspiration to strike on their own with new words and art.
Simple? Perhaps. Clever? Indeed!                                                                       

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Geraldine, written and illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2018. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"But here,
I just feel like that Giraffe Girl.
I'm shy, which I never
was before. It turns out
when you are my height,
hiding is not easy.

Even my voice
tries to hide;
it's gotten quiet
and whispery." 

Some of the kids returning to classrooms now will be new to the school they are attending. If you have ever started a new year in a new place and without friends, you will know how Geraldine is feeling. Add to that the fact that she is a giraffe in a human school and you have the premise for this impressive and expressive debut.

Geraldine is not impressed with the news the family is moving. Her mournful state and dramatic body language makes that evident to all around her. She will miss Giraffe City, and fears finding a place among the human students in her new school. She is right; she is different from all the others. As she accepts the reality of that, her personality changes. Where once she was outgoing and social, she now
wants to hide behind trees and basketball hoop poles - anywhere that the others won't notice her. Impossible!

Feeling lonely and 'different', Geraldine selects a hiding spot for eating her lunch. There she meets Cassie who says of herself:

"I'm that girl who wears glasses
and likes MATH and
always organizes her food!"

The two find comfort in each other, becoming fast friends who recognize the qualities that make each one unique. Feeling good about themselves leads to making other friends who can appreciate their forthrightness and willingness to reach out.

Watercolor and ink illustrations are comical, but full of feeling. Detailed and charming, readers will find much to appreciate about this delightful debut picture book. Personally, I would love to meet Geraldine in a further adventure.