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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Mia Moves Out, written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Paige Keiser. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"The room became
half as big,
and half as bright,
but it also became
TWICE as fun!

"Sharing isn't so bad,"
Mia said.
Then birthdays happened.
Holidays happened.
Growing happened."

Mia is welcomed into her new family with a room of her own, and allowed to give it a personal touch by adding things 'big', 'bright' and 'fun'. Perfect and hers alone ... until Brandon arrives. A baby brother adds some constraints, there is no doubt. The room seems smaller, and often dimmer.

It is all well and good until Brandon starts growing, having birthdays and adding his stuff to 'their' space. There is so much cleaning to do. It's too much! Mia comes up with a natural solution to the dilemma:

"I'm moving out!"

Moving is a grand idea; there are difficulties. Where will she find space for herself? Each new spot chosen seems right at the onset. Each presents a problem. When the final choice seems exactly right, she is content ... not for long! Something's missing.

Readers are sure to enjoy the warm, charming watercolor illustrations that depict the changing family, and its growth from two to four people. They will appreciate the many humorous details, and are sure to recognize on the book's pages much that is familiar to them.

Ah, siblings! Anyone would tell you that life with them can be exhausting. On the other hand, what would we do without them? Choosing to 'move out' is a ritual of childhood and growth, isn't it? Mia and Brandon make the best of their choice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Daddy, Me, and the Magic Hour, written by Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrated by Sarita Rich. Sky Pony Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2018. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Here come the dogs
stepping out with their people
for a Magic Hour parade.

They don't bark at me,
and I am not afraid.

"Good job!" says Daddy,
when I pat a friendly one
who wags his tail a little
and licks my face."

What a truly engaging tale of a daily ritual between father and son!

Supper time is not always easy. It comes at the end of long days for little children and for their parents, and is often frenzied. Energy abounds, noise is at its peak, demands are constant, and still a meal must be prepared. Dad begins cooking while Mom feeds the baby; their young son catapults broccoli and then tries to feed it to the poor cat. Finally, it is time to sit and settle.

Supper consumed, father and son are off on their 'after-supper walk'. It is a time of visiting neighbors, splashing in puddles, enjoying the many dog walkers, and drawing with sticks. A red bucket provides a receptacle for the many treasures offered and collected. As the two watch twilight slowly descend around them, they find joy in each other's company. It is easy to tell they have been this way before as they share adventure in the park, and making new friends.

"The sky is purpling now.
Daddy shows me how things that are white by day,
like his shirt and my shoes,
and that patch of daisies,
glow all silvery as daytime fades away."

A shoulder ride for the final few steps, and they are home.

Time for a quick and quiet recount of the night's adventure with Mommy before it's lights out and a good night's rest.

Sarita Rich ably matches the story's tone in panelled snapshots that provide a detailed look at the many moments shared. There is much to see as they make their way through the neighborhood encountering both familiar and the new experiences. It is a pleasure to be along for the journey.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Home in the Barn, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Harper, 2018. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"The breath of the horses rose like smoke in the cold air. And the winter wind told them it was time to move into the big warm barn. In the big warm barn all the animals were waking up, slowly and hungrily, except for the little mice in the hayloft, who had been up all night and were just going to bed. High up in the rafters of the barn, the swallows began to chirp in their deep, warm nests of mud."

Never before published, this new book by the prolific Margaret Wise Brown is perfect fare for the illustrative genius of Jerry Pinkney. It begins and ends with a repetitive refrain:

"Here is the barn
Hear the wind rattle
Open the door
And see all the cattle."

What a lovely invitation! I am going to take this with me when I go to visit my granddaughters next week. They are currently enthralled with a new farm set and spend endless hours caring for the animals and their housing. I know they enjoy this book as much as I do.

Winter is just around the corner, and it's time for all animals to seek the warmth and safety of the big red barn. Each turn of the page provides new text that evokes the sights, sounds and the urgency for finding shelter. Jerry Pinkney focuses attention fully on the animals and their comfort as they settle into nests in the rafters, soft bundles of straw, cozily-lined pens, and the warmth of a birthing bed for a newly-arrived calf. The farmer and his son are there when needed. As the wind howls and the plethora of animals hunkers down, the warmth spreads and peace falls over their shelter.

The radiant warmth of the pencil, watercolor, gouache and pastel images creates a comfortable, peaceful setting. Young readers will appreciate extra time while reading to note the many captivating details included to hold their attention.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Buddy and Earl meet the neighbors, written by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff. Groundwood, 2018. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"Tell him to back off, Buddy," said Earl in a muffled voice. "Tell him if
he makes one false move, you'll zap him with your laser-beam eyes!" The bulldog looked so alarmed that Buddy quickly said, "Do not worry. I will not zap you with my laser-beam eyes. I do not even know how to turn them on. "Thank goodness," said the bulldog. "My name is Mister. I'm sorry if I scared your little friend."

Earl is quick to report that he was not at all scared, despite the shrieked AHHH! I am so happy to see these adventure-seeking friends again. You may or may not have met them yet. If not, you are missing out on some hijinks, a lot of inspired dialogue, and a continuing series that is sure to become a class and family favorite.

Buddy is a dog, Earl a hedgehog. They are faithful companions in their household, and put up with each other through thick and thin. Their conversations and misunderstandings evoke giggles at every turn, and in each of their, now five, adventures.

This time Earl decides they are superheroes, Wonder Buddy and Super Earl. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to recapture The Evil Doctor Stinker. Using the Earl-mobile, they discover a hole in the fence that leads to the neighbor's yard, said to be the secret lair of the escapee. And that is how they meet those neighbors ... a cat named Snowflake, who quickly insults Earl by calling him a mouse and Mister, a bulldog.

The adventure? Well, it turns out that Snowflake is a bit of a braggart. She quickly becomes the victim of her own bravado, and needs rescuing. It's Super Earl to the rescue!

"Super Earl got Wonder Buddy to help him
onto a launching pad.
Then he flapped his arms as hard as he could.
"It's no use," he roared. "My powers
are obviously being blocked by a diabolical
supervillain! We're going to have to try Plan B!"

What is Plan B? Can Earl save Snowflake from certain disaster?

If this is your first book, be sure to look for the others in the series.

Buddy and Earl (2015), Buddy and Earl Go Exploring (2016), Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby (2016) and Buddy and Earl Go To School (2017).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

LOOK AT ME! : How to Attract Attention in the Animal World. By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"All dressed up.

Every summer, a colorful
plume of feathers appears
around the neck of the
great crested grebe.
Male and female grebes
show off this decoration
during their mating dance."

Steve Jenkins and his wife Robin Page continue to amaze with the research they do; the careful, clear facts they present on all manner of animals in our world. In this book they tell readers about animals that want to be seen.

"Perhaps it's signalling a mate or warning a predator that it is
poisonous. It might be defending its territory or trying to
lure its prey. Some animals attract attention by being noisy
or smelly. But visual display - flashing a bright color,
performing a dance, glowing in the dark, even blowing up
like a balloon - is the most common way an animal
says, "Look at me!"

Then, we are off to discover the many animals who love to make themselves known by whatever method is inherent to their own species. Each turn of the page introduces two or more animals that have one particular thing in common. The hooded seal and the magnificent frigatebird have a big red balloon, used to attract a mate. The Mediterranean mantis and the male blue-spotted mudskipper dance to threaten predators, or to impress a female.

Thirty-nine different creatures are featured in this fine book that show young readers the many ways they get the attention they seek. The descriptive paragraphs offer just the right amount of text to provide for new learning.

Steve Jenkins’ easily identifiable illustrations are colorful collages placed on white backgrounds, allowing the animal itself to be the focus of attention for those reading this book. Whether it's the brilliant plumage of the great crested grebe and the royal flycatcher, or the brilliant colors of the many poisonous frogs and slugs that grace one double page, there is much here to attract and hold attention as the book is shared.

As they do in most of their books, the authors add final pages that offer a repeated thumbnail image of each included creature, accompanied by additional relevant data.

Always beautiful, and very much admired work.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Up The Mountain Path, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc. Princeton Architectural Press, Raincoast. 2018. $23.95 ages 5 and up

"On this sunlit Sunday,
Mrs. Badger has a
companion on the trail.
Careful, it's slippery. 

Why do trees have leaves
To greet the sun. 
Where are the ants going?
Where the road leads them. 

Lulu asks a lot of questions."

Mrs. Badger loves to hike. She makes her way to Sugarloaf Peak every single Sunday. She is happy to see other creatures along the way, and often stops for a quick chat. It is her habit. Then, one Sunday, she feels the presence of someone else. She invites the small cat to share her food and her resting place. The cat is fearful and too frightened to attempt climbing the mountain that Mrs. Badger climbs so successfully each week.

"I'm too small." 

For Mrs. Badger, nothing is impossible.

"I was your age when I climbed the
mountain for the first time."

But sometimes it's hard to have faith."

Off she goes, leaving her young acquaintance sitting on her own. The cat really seems to want to join her, and does. Mrs. Badger enjoys the company, and shares her knowledge with her young companion, Lulu. Their trip is informative, and tiring. But, they make it to the top. It becomes their Sunday ritual. Lulu grows more confident and knowledgeable through Mrs. Badger's patient tutelage. Soon, Lulu is the one lending support. Finally, Lulu walks the path alone. She returns each time to share stories with her mentor, and enjoys those solitary journeys ... until the day she meets a young rabbit.

"I have a wonderful place to show you." 

Using pencil, colored pencil, and watercolor washes, Ms. Dubuc provides a winning natural environment for her characters and their adventures on the mountain. This is a warm and loving account of friendship, love of nature and patient guidance.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, written by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken. Dial, Penguin Random House, 2018. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"I told my mom about Adrian's horse and how he definitely does not have one. "Hmm," she said. "And how would you know, Ms. Smarty-Pants?"
"Because I know! Adrian Simcox does NOT have a horse!" Adrian Simcox gets free lunch at school. His shoes have holes. Kelsey told me her cousin has a horse, and it's super expensive. He can't take care of a horse."

Adrian loves to talk about his horse when he is at school. Chloe will have none of it. She knows he's lying. She knows he lives in town, and has no room to take care of a horse. She wants everyone to know that she knows Adrian is lying. She will go to any length to prove she is right.

 She is aware that she makes Adrian sad when she announces to everyone that he is not telling the truth about having a horse. Then she and her mother visit with Adrian and his grandfather. Her mother knows his grandfather and suggests it. Their house is very tiny, and there is definitely not room for a horse in the back yard. Chloe wants to repeat her accusation, but seeing Adrian's face gives her pause.

"But I didn't say it because of how Adrian was looking and how it
reminded me of when I told those little kids he was lying."

It is a turning point, and the beginning of a new friendship ... a friendship that leads to much admiration for a boy with a stellar imagination. 

I love this quiet story. It is told with feeling and lovely language, allowing readers to feel empathy for Adrian and to see how Chloe recognizes what is special about him. In learning to be kind, rather than correct, she is able to open up to the possibility of this new friendship with a pretty special boy.

Corinna Luyken uses ink and watercolors to create outstanding artwork, full of expression and imagination. There is a lot of contrast in the images she creates to show the differences that exist between Chloe and Adrian. The final double page spread is full of the magic that fills Adrian's head.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Birds From Head To Tail, written by Stacey Roderick and illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya. Kids Can Press, 2018. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"What bird has a beak 
like this?

A hummingbird! 

The hummingbird's long,
thin beak might look like
a straw, but it isn't used for
sucking up liquids. The
beak is perfectly shaped
for reaching into tube-shaped
flowers so the tiny bird ... "

Little ones are going to enjoy the question and answer format that this book offers. It begins with the great horned owl, recognizable to many. The question is about the shape of its head - with tufted 'horns'. A descriptive paragraph follows at the turn of the page. It offers enough information about the head to keep its audience interested, without overdoing it.

The author continues that format, asking questions about the beak, eyes, body, wings, legs, feet, and finally the tail ... thus 'birds from head to tail.' Most birds presented will be familiar. Each body part and its function for the bird is described in accompanying text.

" A flamingo's stilt-like legs are perfect for wading.
Having long legs means the flamingo can go into
deeper water to find more of the food it eats."

"The artwork in this book was created in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, using original photographs and textures." The illustrations are filled with bright colors. The textures and collage-like images give a real sense of the environment and offer depth and detail.

Following the main body of text, the author adds another group of familiar birds, accompanied by a detailed thumbnail illustration of the bird itself, and a short statement.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Africville, written by Shauntay Grant and illustrated by Eva Campbell. Groundwood. 2018. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Take me up over the hill
where the berries are thick
and tasty,
then meet me
at the Caterpillar Tree.
From there we'll run
Back the Field for football,
and go rafting down at
Tibby's Pond."

The first time I heard mention of Africville happened when I was visiting my son while he was living in Halifax. I was, and am, sad to say I knew little about it. This lovely new picture book helps to rectify that.

A young child arrives at 'the end of the ocean' in a place that gives a historical perspective for the Africville community. Her observations offer a tribute to its beauty and its place in history. Some of what she sees evokes shared events with all children; others are specific to the site itself. She watches as children play football, go rafting, catch fish, and enjoy a bonfire.

Other scenes take her to the shore at dawn, and then to see the families who made their lives there. She sees her grandmother's grave marker, sings and shares stories in a tent with others. In the final spread we see her eating an ice cream cone and understanding that this reunion is special. It honors is a place:

"where memories turn to dreams,
and dreams turn to hope,
and hope never ends."

The text is meaningful and economical, while full of emotion. The exceptional artwork brings Africville to life using oils and pastels on canvas. Endmatter describes Africville, a black community that dated back to the late 1700s. It was a 'vibrant, self-sustaining community that thrived in the face of opposition.' Its history is shared, and readers are given further information and resources for where to find out more.

Of this book Ms. Grant says: "My hope for readers is that whoever picks up the book will feel something, they’ll learn something about Africville, but they’ll also get that universal feeling of home from the text which I think we can all relate to no matter where we come from."

It does that beautifully.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Secrets of Tutankhamun: Egypt's Boy King and His Incredible Tomb, written by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 10 and up

"It is thought that Tutankhamun did not take part in any military campaigns himself, possibly because of his poor health. Despite that, no one was prepared for the sudden shock of his death. Records suggest that he was just 18 or 19 years old when he died, and to this day, no one knows for certain what caused his death. The mystery of Tutankhamun's short life would continue to be studied ... "

You surely know the students who want to read this book. Much has been written about King Tut, the discovery of his tomb, and the fact that he was a 'boy king' when he died. This book provides details about the Egyptian family, officials, and nurses who were part of Tut's story, and also the archaeologists and explorers who played a role in discoveries made of his tomb and the forensic evidence that has helped to piece together a part of his tragic story.

In Part one, the story begins with family, what is known about them and their rule, Tut's early carefree life is shared. But, things do not remain so for him. He is too soon the only remaining member of the royal family, and becomes king at 9. Decisions in his name are made and a marriage arranged. There is no clear evidence to show how he died, or why. Readers will learn the detailed process for mummification and why it was done. 

"Ancient Egyptians were not afraid of death, but they wanted life to continue into the
afterlife, so after someone died they rushed to furnish the tomb with everything that
would be needed. But Tutankhamun's death was so sudden that his intended tomb
was not ready. The paintings on the wall were still wet when his tomb was sealed."

Part two describes those who search the tombs of Egypt, the knowledge and skill they gain in a bid to discover Tut's tomb, the discovery in 1922, and all that is there to be found when it was opened.
It is a fascinating find, and each successive chamber adds a new level of understanding to a story that is told in a clear, accessible style.

The third and final part discusses how forensic science has allowed a deeper understanding of what likely happened. There is no definitive evidence leading to a determination for the cause of death.

The illustrations are helpful and often captioned to describe the people and the events of the story. It has the feeling of a graphic novel, and that will certainly appeal to its target audience. There are maps, quotes and letters included to help provide context.

Kids interested in history, and especially Egyptology, will find much here to like. It may even lead them to follow up with some research of their own. This is fascinating stuff.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Mustafa, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood, 2018. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"Mustafa looks down at the park.
It is so green.
In his country, the trees were gray
with dust and dry as sticks.
He sees birds hiding in the trees.
Red birds, blue birds, yellow birds.
He sees two small animals
jumping from branch to branch.
Their bushy tails wave and curl in
the air. They chatter like monkeys.
"Do you want to play in the park?"
asks his mother."

What a tender read this is! Mustafa and his family have moved from their home country due to the war raging there. This new home is peaceful, and a far cry from what they left behind them. As he familiarizes himself with his surroundings, he is an observer. There is much to see, and he wants to take it all in. When his mother suggests a trip to the park they can see from their window, he is off.

"Mustafa walks under the trees.
That air smells green and cool.
He sees flowers shaped like his grandmother's pink teacups.
He sees flowers that look like dragon tongues.
He finds two treasures - a white snail shell and a yellow heart-shaped leaf."

He also sees a young girl, and her cat. The girl speaks to him. Mustafa does not understand what she is saying and quickly runs home. He tells his mother about the park; he does not tell her about the girl. On his next visit, he spends time drawing scenes from his past, and finding new treasures. The girl sees what he is doing, does her own drawings, and speaks to him again. Off he runs.

Every visit to the park brings new experiences, and ups his level of comfort with all that happens there. However, no one seems to notice him, and he worries that he is invisible. His fears disappear when he next meets the girl, who encourages him through gestures to follow her. No words are needed. And, then they are. The most important words to begin a friendship.  Maria and Mustafa!

Absolutely glorious! I will read it often.

And I haven't even mentioned Marie-Louise Gay's warm and always brilliant watercolor artwork. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

EAT THIS! Written by Andrea Curtis and illustrated by Peggy Collins. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2018. $16.95 ages 10 and up

"But nearly 80 percent of the food products and 93 percent of the beverages athletes endorse aren't good for you - or for pro athletes! NBA All-Star Stephen Curry bucked the trend recently when he agreed to promote Brita water filters, encouraging everyone to drink more H2O."

This is a brilliant book meant to inform kids about the ways marketers work to get their attention and convince them to consume the products they are promoting.

"But much of the marketing is for things that aren't healthy. Foods like French fries, chips, chocolate bars, cookies, and hamburgers, beverages like soda and sports drinks. What's more, marketing works."

In 15 short, two page chapters, the author explains what marketing is, where products are placed, how kids spread the word about the products they are trying ... the list goes on. It is always thoughtfully presented and offers readers the opportunity to think about how they are affected by what they see and hear. Ads appear in almost every facet of their lives ... movies, television, video games, magazines. They encourage kids to spread the word and convince others that the products are worth a try. She presents her information in a friendly, non-threatening way, simply giving them the goods on how marketing works.

Consider this:

"People often complain fast-food hamburgers are smaller
in real life that in the ads. But portion sizes for the average
fast-food meal today are three times larger than they were
in the 1950s."

The author includes ideas for combating the constant barrage of influences kids are seeing in a 'DO THIS! chapter, which offers plans for making changes to what is being shown while children are watching their favorite shows on television, and asking companies to cut back on the mascots used to advertise their products. As parents and caregivers become more aware of what their children are seeing and speaking about those concerns, companies are encouraged to make changes if they want to remain viable in the marketplace. 

" ... some places, such as Chile and the city of San Francisco, California, have decided it's not fair to encourage young children to eat junk food by offering them toys. They've created legislation banning restaurants from offering free stuff when you buy a meal."

McDonald's Canada is now giving kids the choice from two Canadian children's books as a reward in their Happy Meals. How cool is that? 

Two final chapters, one aimed at students, parents, and teachers and another DO THIS! that makes suggestions for what we can do to combat the effect marketing has on the choices we make. 

Knowing more means we can do better.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Giraffe Problems, written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith. Random House, 2018. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Yep, I feel bad about my neck.
I've tried dressing it up.
I've added a scarf.
Two scarves.
A bundle of scarves.
A mountain of scarves.
I've tried bow ties.
And regular ties.
And both.
I've tried hiding it away.
I've used shrubs."

I feel bad about my neck, too. I'm with Nora Ephron on that. It is such an age-defining thing for human beings. But, meh! It is what it is, and I have no control over it. Edward shares my concern. He feels his is too 'necky'. Who can argue with that? Have you seen a giraffe's neck? It is his defining feature, isn't it?

Edward's neck certainly causes others to stare, and Edward is embarrassed by the attention. He compares himself to others, and is envious of those necks that work! Take the zebra ... stripes look great. Or the elephant ... what's not to like about the strength and grace of that neck? There are many necks he would rather have than his own.

 His mother assures him that others are jealous of his neck. He is unconvinced. It isn't until Edward meets a turtle that he realizes his mother has been telling him the truth. Poor Cyrus! He feels bad about his neck, too. After watching a banana ripen for seven days, Cyrus is desperate for that banana to fall to the ground, providing sweet nourishment.

Edward is a willing assistant in the quest. Cyrus is ever thankful, and shows it.

"Edward, face it - your neck is impressive.
It allows you to do amazing things.
For instance, you just solved my weeklong
banana dilemma in ten seconds."

Isn't that what friends are for?

Wouldn't your kids at home, or your early years students love to pair read this book? The humorous, yet meaningful text will have everyone giggling.

This companion book to Penguin Problems (2016) is as funny as the first one. Lane Smith uses an earthy palette of green, gold and brown with textured details to engage readers and show all of the emotions felt by both Edward and Cyrus.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home, written by Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Well, my heart soared up high in my chest at those words. I saw the vending machine as if it were right in front of me. It glowed with all of its special objects - ballpoint pens, cheese-filled crackers, candy bars, rain bonnets - each one of them giving off its own special light. "My goodness," I said to him. "Anything you want." He smiled. He looked like a pirate, standing up there with the crow on his shoulder."

Oh, Kate DiCamillo! What a writer you are ... I am forever indebted to you for the joy you bring to my reading life. When I met the cast of characters in Raymie Nightingale, I hoped that there would come a time when I might meet up with them again. I did not know that Louisiana had her own story to tell.

Louisiana's first person narration is strong, observant, full of power and angst. She is a wonder, and I am thrilled to know more about her. There are many readers out there who will be as happy as I am to share her story. I found myself stopping to reread passages, and know that I will read it again after my friend Don has had a chance to read it as well.

She begins at the beginning with her great-grandfather and a curse. That 'sundering' curse causes her Granny to set out in the middle of the night, her granddaughter in tow. She will not say where they are going; she does say that they are going because the 'day of reckoning has arrived.' That is all that Louisiana knows and it is not very satisfying.

As they cross the state line from Florida into Georgia, Louisiana becomes more desperate about their home, her friends and all they have left behind. On the way her grandmother becomes ill with a paralyzing toothache and they must find a dentist to help. They pull into the small town of Richford, Georgia, where they find a dentist. He decides he must remove all of her teeth. It puts a stop to their journey. They find a motel, and prepare to stay until Granny has improved. Louisiana's life until now has never been easy; it gets a whole lot worse when her granny abandons her at that motel. What will the young girl do?

The chance that her story could become even darker and more devastating at this point is a possibility. Luckily, Louisiana does not give up. Her determination to be who she wants to be, after learning the truth about her birth in a letter left by Granny, and the goodness in the hearts of some of the community members she meets, help Louisiana stay and find the true meaning of home.

Her heart and her humor, in the face of such adversity, ensure a place for her in our collective memory, Fans know Ms. DiCamillo to be a gifted storyteller whose skill with words makes an impact each and every time she picks up her pen and sends a new book into the world. This one is no exception ... 

"Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.”

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Wall in the Middle of the Book, written and illustrated by Jon Agee. Dial, Penguin Random House. 2018. $.23.99 ages 4 and up

"This side of the book is safe.

The other side is not.

But the most dangerous thing
on the other side of the book
is the ogre.

If the ogre ever caught me,
he'd eat me up."

Jon Agee is a fine writer, and one who shares irony in many of the books he writes. The gutter of this thoughtful and wise book is a tall brick wall. It separates what is taking place on either side of it. The knight is carrying a ladder and full of assurance that it is the other side that is dangerous. The hippo, tiger and gorilla on the recto seem interested in seeing what is on the other side. 

The knight is pleased to have the wall for protection from that other side. The knight remains cheerful and optimistic; readers will know he should be worried. When a tiny mouse sends the seemingly dangerous animals scurrying for their lives, the knight's side of the wall shows rising waters. Despite the change in circumstance, the knight fears only the ogre on the other side.

The knight sees no reason for concern on his side. He has been taught to fear what he cannot see on the other side, especially that fearsome ogre. In the meantime, the ogre is listening to what is happening on the knight's side and provides a helping hand in the nick of time. OOPS! Now, the knight is on the dangerous side of the wall? Or is he?

Perfect pacing, exceptional storytelling ... exactly what I have come to expect from this talented and accomplished man. What is revealed in his illustrations is not always true to the text. That is where the fun lies. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Snails Are Just My Speed! By Kevin McCloskey. Toon Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"Snails make a lot of mucus.
Mucus is my sunscreen. 

With mucus, they can travel
on any surface.

I can climb over a knife and
not get hurt." 

This is one of the books that Sicily and I read daily while she was here in May. She loved it, and had a lot to learn about snails. It is the fourth title in a wonderful set written by Kevin McCloskey, called the Giggle and Learn series. Others include the early reader comics, We Dig Worms (2015), The Real Poop on Pigeons (2016), and Something's Fishy (2017). Informative and funny, they deserve a place in nonfiction bins and on library shelves.

Despite the mucus trails, snails are endlessly fascinating for so many other reasons. They move so slowly that even an earthworm is '50 times faster than a SNAIL.' They can hide from those animals who wouldn't mind having them for dinner by camouflaging themselves in rock piles. They do have enemies - salamanders, hedgehogs, toads, frogs and blue herons. They can be a menace in gardens and they are messy! Some people even eat them.

So much to learn, and is such an inviting format. The cartoon illustrations will be much appreciated, while also offering useful facts. Variety in species is shared, as is a step-by-step guide for drawing them. Your students will love them!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Inkling, by Kenneth Oppel, with illustrations by Sydney Smith. Harper, 2018. $17.99 ages 8 and up

"Inkling wrote:
Since getting home, Inkling had
made a snack of the sports section
of the newspaper, and the way he
talked had changed again.
"How should we do this?"
Ethan uncapped his best ]
marker, studying the next
panel. In his imagination, he
could picture it exactly."

The cat saw the birth of the ink splotch that becomes Inkling. He watched as the ink on the page that Ethan's father had been drawing pulled itself up and move off. It found its way to Ethan's bedroom where it began consuming the ink from his textbooks. Discovered by Ethan the following morning, and named Inkling, it becomes a driving force in changes for the entire Rylance family. And it becomes a 'he' ... a fully realized character. It takes no time to believe in Inkling as an entity, capable of kindness, understanding and thought.

Mr. Rylance has a problem. Since the death of his wife two years ago, he has been in a writing (and living) slump. The responsibilities he feels for his family and their well-being are overwhelming for him and he spends many days ineffectually. Ethan has a problem. His writing group at school believes that, since his father is a famous graphic artist, he must have inherited his artistic ability. His task is to draw the art for their project. He doesn't know how to tell them he cannot do it. Ethan's sister Sarah, who has Down's Syndrome, has a problem. She wants a pet in the worst way and is making no headway with her father toward getting one. It is a house in turmoil.

Along comes Inkling, with a kind heart and a thoughtful disposition, and a unique ability to help. He knows how to read and can communicate by using the ink he consumes to form words on paper. The fact that he takes on the writing style of the books he reads offers some very funny moments. His ability to help each family member find their way is heartwarming.

When he is kidnapped by one of Ethan's classmates, the family is forced to deal with the trauma of the loss of their wife and mother. By the time Inkling returns to his beginnings, each member of the family has changed. It is quite the tale of love, loss, and healing.

This is another terrific readaloud for a middle years classroom. Beautifully written and absolutely memorable.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A seed is the start, by Melissa Stewart. National Geographic Kids, Penguin Random House. 2018. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Seeds fly.
Dozens of seeds form inside
a milkweed seedpod. When the seeds are full-grown, the pod bursts open. Then the wind whisks the seeds away. How do milkweed pods fly through the air? Each seed has dozens of light, silky hairs."

What an invitation this beautiful cover provides! As the reader moves into the text, a list of words to know is presented: berry, burr, fruit, nut, seed, and seedpod. They will definitely help the target audience better understand the text to come.

Melissa Stewart begins by explaining in clear text, and with effective photography, what happens when a corn seed is planted. She goes on to explain where plants flourish and how the way they move assures new growth. She tells her readers that seeds have many ways of traveling - they fly, spin, glide, tumble, spill, splash, float, drift, pop, hop, creep, hook, cling, and ride inside and outside. The result of all that movement often provides a good spot for a seed to land. When it sprouts it becomes the plant it was meant to be!

"Seeds ride outside, too. 

When ants find a bloodroot seed, they
don't eat it. They pick it up and take if for a ride
Where are they headed? Back to their nest.
The ants share the tasty food packet on top
of the seed. Then they dump the seed in their
waste pile. That's good news for the seed. It's
surrounded by rich soil full of rotting material.
What a perfect place to grow!"

The photos are exceptional, the design perfect for young readers, and the information provided is thorough and educational, while also engaging. It is sure to be a hit!