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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wordy Birdy Meets Mr. Cougarpants, written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Dave Mottram. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Get comfy, readers.
This might take a while.

I love this trail
and I love that stream

and I love this cloud and
I love that cloud

and I love my backpack
and I love the view and I ... "

There are times when learning a lesson takes longer than we might think it needs to take. In her first adventure, Wordy Birdy let her talking get her into trouble. Not just any talking ... she talks incessantly! I'm sure you know someone like her. I was going to say a 'little one' just like her, but talkativeness doesn't seem to be confined to children ... at least, not in my world.

Talking too much gets many of us into trouble. Wordy's friends are very patient with her, listening as she chatters on and on. She is oblivious to much of what is going on around her, and the feelings of exasperation as the day moves from sunshine to shadow, and sleep beckons. Her friends go to bed. Wordy does not. She needs snacks. Her friends close their eyes after all the munching and crunching. Wordy does not. There is so much to see, and much to wish for now that it is fully dark.

Quiet is what everyone else wants. Wordy does not truly understand that concept. When a cougar comes calling, looking for a 'nice, quiet dinner', his visit is cut short and he rushes away with hunger in his belly. You know who's responsible, don't you?

The speech balloons, and the friends' cynical asides will delight and charm young fans. The setting will garner discussion and attention. Dave Mottram's wonderfully expressive and funny illustrations are a perfect match to the text. This would be a fun book for partner reading, and for a most enjoyable read aloud in any early years classroom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A Normal Pig, bu K-Fai Steele. Balzer + Bray, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"When her parents asked
her what was wrong, she
replied,
WHY CAN'T YOU MAKE 
ME A NORMAL LUNCH?!

On Saturday, Pip's mother
had an idea. "Why don't we
take a trip to the city as a
family?" Pip had never been
there before."

Pip is happily getting by being her normal self. She has many interests, including art, her family and plans for the future. When a new pig arrives at school, with a particularly ornery attitude toward Pip, Pip begins to question who she is and how to deal with the negative attention. The comments are persistent, resulting in Pip's anger and resentment affecting her family life.

Mama isn't sure what to do, but suggests a trip to the city. That trip is a real eye-opener for Pip. She hears many languages spoken, sees pigs who do not resemble the pig she is, and is astounded by the  wide selection of different foods which might, or might not, appeal to her taste buds. A conversation with an unknown pig at the picnic table gives Pip 'food' for thought.

She returns to school with self-confidence, and a suitable response to the hurtful comments made by the new pig on campus. It is all that is needed to make Pip feel quite 'normal' once more.

The illustrations are telling, and add depth to the story while also entertaining the young reader. Often subtle and certainly praiseworthy, I know you will find much to like this fine debut as both author and illustrator. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

When Sadness Is At Your Door, by Eva Eland. Penguin Random House, 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Try not to be afraid
of sadness.
Give it a name.
Listen to it. Ask where
it comes from and what
it needs.
If you don't understand
each other, just sit
together and be quiet for
a while.
Find something that you
both enjoy, like drawing ... "

I read this morning that the third Monday in January is designated Blue Monday, despite the fact that there is absolutely no scientific proof to support it being so. The holiday season has passed, winter still has many of us in its icy grip, and those who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder are definitely wishing for bright, warm sunshine to help combat the gloomy, cloudy days we have been experiencing for some time now. The winter blahs can get us down; some more than others.

So, when this very timely and sensitive book was delivered this morning, I thought I would tell you about it. Eva Eland gives sadness substance ... as a shaped, bluish-greenish being. Sadness arrives at the door of a young child, holding a suitcase and making its presence known without any advance notice. It simply arrives. We are shown that it stays close to the child, and cannot be hidden. It even feels overwhelming.

By communicating with Sadness, the child is able to chart a new path. Together, they gather themselves up to experience things they might both enjoy: drawing, music, hot chocolate, the outdoors, a walk in nature. Does it lessen the impact? It seems so for this small child. Rather than giving in to being angry about how the child is feeling, the acceptance of the emotion's presence brings some peace.

There are times when we all feel sad. What we do about it can make all the difference. The endpapers express that sentiment clearly. This book for the young offers an opportunity for discussion and action.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

the Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America, by Jaime Hernandez. TOON Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $14.95 ages 6 and up

"But the king was still not convinced.
Perhaps if I send the prince away, he wont' have to marry a kitchen maid.
In the morning, the girl could not
find the prince. She asked the king
where he was.
I sent him off to war. He must 
serve and protect his kingdom.
But the prince is not trained for battle. He is sure to die. How can I help?"

This is a fantastic read! Two of the three Latin American tales have a strong woman at the heart, and the third speaks to the power of intelligence and resourcefulness. In her Imagination and Tradition essay that introduces the tales, F. Isabel Campoy explains:

"As the stories grew and changed with every telling, the anecdotal became universal. Folktales often contain moral lessons; instead of telling us how to behave, they show us the implications of right and wrong behaviors to help us develop our social and emotional intelligence. They teach us how to be better human beings." 

For his first book for children, this talented and honored comic book creator immersed himself in folktales. Choosing three of his favorites and writing them from his own perspective, he has created a lively collection for young readers. A young and generous kitchen maid, in love with the prince, proves her mettle when slaying a dragon, stealing a gold ring, and saving the prince from certain death. A beautiful young woman marries the mouse she loves dearly only to have him fall into the soup; this time it is Dona Pepa to the rescue. Finally, three sons marry three daughters, and are tasked with the same jobs in preparation for the year's production of corn. The youngest proves the most ingenious and productive of the three, and reaps his rewards while also providing for the family.

I like that the book ends with a clear history for each of the tales told, a comprehensive bibliography, and a list of online resources for further study. The graphic panels are accessible and most enjoyable for young readers.

Terrific storytelling, and energetic artwork assure that kids are going to love it!                                                                                                             
                                                                   

Saturday, January 19, 2019

My Dog Mouse, by Eva Lindstrom. Translated by Julia Marshall. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"It starts to blow. We walk into the wind and we seem to be standing still but I think we're moving. All sorts of things are flying around. Mouse's ears flap like flags and he shuts his eyes to keep out the sand. I hold tight to the leash. It has stopped blowing now and Mouse's ears hang straight down again. I have two meatballs in my pocket for us to eat."

Those who love dogs will read this heartfelt book numerous times. It has such warmth and love. It exudes quiet charm, and ends with a fervent wish.

A little girl approaches a house, and asks if she can walk Mouse. She gets the expected response. Off they go. The dog is aptly described as slow, old, fat and 'with ears as flat as pancakes'. The love between the two is evident with every step they take.

The girl is patient, kind, playful, and observant of all that makes Mouse so special to her. Their path is familiar, with stops along the way for food and rest. Their pace is determined by Mouse, and the walk ends when they have returned to Mouse's house. Asked about their adventure, the child is happy to report that it has been another successful day. She watches as Mouse accompanies his owner into the house and is lost to sight.

Only then does the walker express a quiet thought  ... "I wish Mouse was mine." In the final frame, it is easy to see that Mouse feels exactly the same way.

The uncluttered double page spreads are as gentle and warm as the words they depict. It is a tender and memorable book, with light touches of humor, and sure to be enjoyed not only by those who have a special affinity for dogs.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Elephant, by Jenni Desmond. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada, 2018. $28.50 ages 8 and up

" ... the longest, most versatile nose in the animal world. Elephants use their flexible trunks - part upper lip, part nose - to smell the air and earth for nearby food and water sources, and to pick up the scent of other elephants and possible danger. They also use their hose-like noses to breathe, drink, eat, trumpet, lift things, spray themselves with dust or water, to play, wrestle, dig, wallop, and to comfort and caress."

Jenni Desmond has great concern for the endangered species in our world. She has chosen to share that concern with a young audience; the first two, The Blue Whale (2015) and The Polar Bear (2016), won praise and admiration for her ability to share her research in accessible and meaningful ways. Her realistic and and natural images of the animals she loves surely add to the appeal.

The young boy on the cover is the impetus for this new book. He, too. loves animals - of the stuffed kind (elephant included); he favors a pot of tea at his side when he settles to read his new book about elephants; his menagerie is a willing audience for what he has to share. And, there appear to be a pair of elephants outside his window listening avidly as well. There is much detail in the first double-page spread that reveals the love he feels for these gentle giants.

Ms. Desmond moves forward to help her audience learn as much as possible, adding more relevant and interesting information at every turn of the page. She provides maps, comparisons, territory, diet, anatomy, interesting and often unusual facts that are quite astounding.

"An African savanna elephant male, or bull, can reach 13 feet tall and 24 feet long, and can weigh up to seven tons. That's about the weight of four large cars. The females, or cows, are half that size. Even baby elephants are big. At birth, an African savanna elephant calf can be 260 pounds, the weight of a speedy motor scooter."

That puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

The illustration of the young boy sitting atop the pile of fruit an elephant consumes in one day will provide fodder for thought! She adds a note concerning digestion and elimination.

"Elephants don't digest their food efficiently, so that same fruit-devouring elephant might poo 12 to 15 times in one day, producing more than 300 pounds of steaming dung."

I like that she uses scientific terms without explanation, assuming her readers will understand the context within which it is shared ... and most will. The beautiful images are created using watercolor, acrylic, pencil, crayons, and drypoint in a muted palette while the boy and his friend are much brighter. The details are infinite, the realism quite amazing, and the joy in sharing so much about this truly magnificent mammal make this an essential purchase for both home and school libraries. 
                                                                         


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chicken Talk, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Harper, 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"In the kitchen, Otis smiled as he drank his coffee. And soon it happened. Outside there was a loud howl from Tripp. Otis opened the kitchen door and looked out. Tripp clutched his pillow, his tent collapsed on one side. He pointed to a message in the dirt.

You snore and there is a 
snake in your tent." 

The 12 chickens who live on the farm with Otis and his family are well-loved. Each has a name, as does the rooster. Life on the farm is pretty quiet and the days pass with little drama. Until one day, when Otis and his wife have gone to town for supplies, the children notice something very unusual.

Willie notices it first, and calls his sister over to see a written-in-the-dirt message that says:

'No more arugula." 

Since the parents are not at home and the children know it was not their doing, there is a mystery afoot. Upon their return, and after a quick visit with the chicken named Trixie, Otis feels certain that Trixie did the writing. They are afraid to share that sentiment in fear their friends will think them 'nutty'. The messages continue, each written by a different member of the flock. Finally their mailman Tripp is first to see a new message one morning while making his rounds. No one believes it when he spreads the news to the townfolk. They are in disbelief, as is he.

It takes a big surprise to convince Tripp about the writing. He is quick to spread the news. Visitors all flock to the farm to buy eggs and to see the 'chicken talk'. Finally, the seven white chickens, all named Joyce, make their true feelings known, and bring about change.

Having a voice is an important message for the book's readers. Soft, warm watercolor artwork is a match for the gentle tone of the story and the peaceful farm setting. There is a great deal of affection displayed here, and a sense of peace when the reading is done.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Saffron Ice Cream, by Rashin. Scholastic, 2018. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Then we would pack into my dad's old car and head toward a very green and beautiful part of Iran called Shomal. We'd drive for about five hours, listening to Persian music on the radio and stopping to eat a picnic lunch in the forest along the way. Sometimes I took along my friend, Azadeh, and we'd share a kebab."

Living in New York and visiting Coney Island is a new experience for Rashin and her family. As she tells readers a personal story from her past, she compares this visit to a similar visit made by her family when they were still living in Iran. There are differences; there are also similarities.

As the family makes its way to the subway that will begin their musical and people-filled adventure, she explains that a trip to the Caspian Sea is a wonderful memory for her. The day begins early with  halim for breakfast, and is followed up by a long and leisurely trip that finally ends in the beautiful waters of the sea.

Their beach experiences differ from place to place -in rules, not enjoyment.

"In some parts of the Caspian beach, there are beach rules, so I knew what was allowed. In that part of the beach, big, long curtains divided the sea into two sections - one side for the men to swim in and the other side for the women."

"When we get off the train at Ocean Parkway,
it's a fun chaos, too, though I don't know anybody.
Families of all colors stream from the redbrick apartment buildings.
The sidewalk vibrates with music, and the kids chase each other."

There are ice cream trucks in both places. Saffron ice cream is Rashin's favorite. No luck for her at Coney Island. Tears come quickly as Rashin confronts some of what she misses from her homeland. A smile and a suggestion bring a happy ending, and perhaps the start of something new.

The artwork is full of life and gorgeous! Filled with texture and charm, the illustrations help share this exuberant and memory-filled personal story. There is such a sense of joy, while reflecting on scenes from two different cultures - so important for all children to hear!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Scoop on Poop! : The Fascinating Science of How Animals Use Poop, by Wayne Lynch. Fifth House, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2018. $14.95 ages 8 and up

"Once, in the Serengeti Plains of East Africa, I watched a clan of hyenas kill a zebra on the boundary between their hunting grounds and their neighbors'. The neighbors raced to the kill, and the two clans fought fiercely over the carcass. When the fight was over, members of both clans - many of them wounded and bleeding - pooped nearby."

And so they declared the boundary had not changed. The presentation of so much information concerning poop, and how it used for home building, attracting mates, sending messages, and cooling off is humorous, engaging and very accessible. Written conversationally, readers might even be unaware of just how much they are learning as they explore its pages.

Dr. Lynch explains in his introduction that a lesson learned while helping at his uncle's farm in his youth has stayed with him throughout his life, and he shares it with his readers:

"I always wondered why cows produced so much poop, and why they always seemed to poop the minute got into the barn to be milked. When I questioned Uncle Woodford about this, his answer was short and simple. "They poop inside the barn so that there's something for you to do on rainy days." That answer may not have led to Dr. Lynch's future in science; he did, however, find (in later life) that poop was quite an interesting topic. Who knew?

You will have lots to share when you have finished reading this informative book. Surely, some of it will find its way into conversation with humorous results.

"The African elephant is the biggest pooper of them all. A ball of elephant poop can weigh one to two kilograms, or two to five pounds (you don't want to get hit in the head with one), and the animal drops more one hundred of them a day. That's enough poop to fill the trunk of a family car."

Take that to the dinner table ... or any number of further revelations. There is much to enjoy here.
There are colorful photographs aplenty. Captions are clear and add context. Personal stories add interest and humor. The design ensures a sense of not being overwhelmed with the facts stated. Four short chapters organize the data provided: Poop Is Fascinating Stuff, Poop Tarts (my personal favorite), The Power of Poop, and People and Poop. A quiz will find willing participants and an index with take interested readers back to particular pages.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Itchy Book, by LeUyen Pham. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2018. $10.99 ages 6 and up

"OUCH! 

STOP! WHAT are 
you doing?

I have an itch. 
I want to scratch it. 

Read the sign!
"Dinosaurs do 
not scratch." 

What? Piggie and Elephant, and dinosaurs, too! Who can resist that combination?

In this fifth book in the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series, Piggie and Elephant do their introduction in classic style:

"Gerald! Do you like books
that make you feel things?
I do. 
Do you like books that
make you feel things
all over?
I DO! 
Then, I have a book for YOU!
"The Itchy Book"?
I feel you will love it!"

A message on a rock reads DINOSAURS DO NOT SCRATCH. The turtle snoozing there is surprised to hear what the passing dinosaur reads. The dinosaur is intrigued with this new learning and makes herself the keeper of the knowledge. When a passing dinosaur bends to scratch a knee itch, she is quick to put a stop to the action. Itches are NOT to be scratched, as it the sign instructs.

With each new 'itcher' comes an admonition to be TOUGH, and hang in there together. That is what dinosaurs do, after all. No matter the temptation to ease their suffering. 

"Even if I touch you with
the tip of this feather?
I can take it! 
Even if I throw
fresh-cut grass
on you?
I'm tough. 
Wow, you are tough! 
Even if I put one itty
bitty ant on you?
I'm rough. 
Ooooh, I really 
need to scratch!!!"

The testing doesn't even stop there! Then, comes the big surprise.

Are you itchy yet? Piggie and Elephant certainly are!!!

There is such charm in the characters, fun in the brightly colored artwork, and humor and expression in the color-coded speech bubbles that move the action forward. Perfect for getting kids excited about reading great books.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Narwhal's Otter Friend, by Ben Clanton. Tundra, Penguin Random House, 2019. $16.99 ages 3 and up

"WOW!
It sure would be
EXTRAORDINARY
to be an explorer!
Especially with a friend!
I have an idea!
Let's go on an adventure
together!
Really?! Does this mean 
we're friends? 
Pretty much!

There is a lot of excitement; it's easy to tell! In this fourth book in the A Narwhal and Jelly Book series, Narwhal and Jelly are out for a swim when they meet Otty. Otty introduces herself as an explorer, and follower of the great Captain Sally Goodhart.

Not only is Captain Goodhart an explorer-adventurer, she is pretty quick with the mottoes:

"Seas the day!"
"Go with the flow!"
and "Ahoy, Adventure!"

It takes no time at all for Narwhal to decide that adventuring together would be fantastic. Jelly is a tad doubtful. Waffles are sure to provide the energy they need to get started. Thus, chapter 1 comes to an end. As he has done in previous books, Ben Clanton provides specific information about otters, while Jelly butts in to add important further info about ... well, jellyfish. Is Jelly jealous?

Yes, and angry, and off to find new friends. Not much success in that endeavor, unless you count the rock and the imaginative antics the two share.as sidekicks. When all seems lost in the friendship department, Narwhal and Otter return with an idea. It is an awesome plan, with a missing part.

This is a great series for little ones, and beginning readers with short chapters and familiar characters. Full of action, dialogue, and humor, the series has already garnered many fans. The graphic form allows for shared reading, plenty of expression, and an opportunity for discussion.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Una Huna? What Is This? by Susan Aglukark with illustrations by Amanda Sandland and Danny Christopher. 2018. $16.95 ages 6 and up


"When Ukpik returned to camp, a fire had been lit, moss had been gathered to keep the fire going, water was being boiled, and food had been collected and gathered at the fire for breakfast. Ukpik placed her bucket of water by the fire. She set her puppy down as she sat beside her anaana, her mother, to eat her breakfast."

In this first book in a new series of six books, Susan Aglukark sets out to tell the stories of past generations of her family and her people. She feels it is very important to hear and share the stories told by her grandparents and great-grandparents about living a traditional life in the Arctic. Through Ukpik, young readers will learn what it was like to grow up in the 1800s, and how the arrival of other cultures impacted the Inuit way of life.

Early one morning Ukpik and her new, unnamed puppy are roaming near the sea when she sees a ship approaching. With great excitement, she rouses her father. Her father is happy to see it is a captain with whom he trades. As part of the trade, her father brings utensils (wooden forks, spoons and knives) to the community. Ukpik is intrigued. She ponders what they might be used for, comes up with an idea. Her father is pleased with her explanation, and asks her to share her ideas with the children of the community. Some of her friends wonder why such a change away from traditional objects is necessary. Their comments send Ukpik on a mission to find out more.

A chat with her grandmother leads to thinking about times past and the changes that have already been seen in her lifetime ... some have been good and made things easier. Anaanatsiaq offers a bit of advice about the changes that challenge Ukpik's thinking.

"That is our challenge, Ukpik, to understand what is in that other world a little bit at a time. Even if our world will not stay the same, our camp and our family will always be here to learn about these new things together."

 A glossary for the cultural language shared is useful, and the detailed illustrations give context to the historical time and setting.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Law of Finders Keepers, written by Sheila Turnage. Kathy Dawson Books, Penguin Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Before all was said and done, it plunged me and my fellow Desperados - my best friends, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III and Harm Crenshaw, the agency's newest detective - into a blood-thirsty chapter of our town's history, and an unspoken chapter of Harm's past. It put our lives in peril, and sent us racing for treasures of the world and treasures of the heart. As for me, Mo LoBeau, it bent my rivers and scattered my stars."

Okay, after reading those opening lines, I doubt you will be able to resist moving forward with this wonderful tale of friendship, family, heartache, and hunting for treasure. If you have read the first three Desperado Detectives tales, you have likely got this one on your book shelf already. I know - I have been waiting 3 years to meet up with these fine young people again. If you are not a fan, or haven't heard anything about Three Times Lucky (2012), The Ghost of Tupelo Landing (2014), or The Odds of Getting Even (2015), you don't know what you are missing. My best advice would be to find the first three books, add them to this one, and spend a weekend getting to know Bo, Dale and Harm as well as the other exemplary characters who make their home in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.

It makes me sad to think this is the final book in this fabulous, funny and memorable series. Mo is still searching for her missing Upstream Mother when another search begins in town. The search for Blackbeard's treasure brings Gabriel Archer, a professional, who has his eye on it. Of course, the Desperadoes are interested. They could use the money, and they like a challenge. They are not willing to be as unscrupulous as Gabriel and Kat, his partner who also happens to be Harm's mother. But, they have their ways for solving mysteries successfully.

The clues are numerous, the danger imminent at times, and the new clues about Mo's Upstream Mother have the detectives wavering between which case is most important. Will worldly treasures win, or will be it the treasures of the heart? It won't take you long to find out because, once you get started reading, it's pretty tough to stop. As I have done in the first three, I found myself stopping often to savor the storytelling. It made me sad, it made me laugh out loud, and it gave me characters to live in my memory for a long time.

I wish I had written this:

"She laughed easy and quick. "Call me Miss Bessie. Josie
did. I made cake yesterday, I'll cut us a slice."She glanced
at Attila. "What about your friend?"
Attila had perched on the yard swing. "That's my enemy.
She ain't hungry. Neither are we."
Dale elbowed me. "Excuse me," he said, very polite. "I'm
Mo's best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, and this is
Mo's other best friend, Harm Crenshaw. We'd love to have
cake with you."
Dale is skilled in the art of dessert diplomacy."

Or this:

Dear Upstream Mother,
Miss Lana closed the cafe to give our hearts
time to catch their breath. She pushed the
Treasure Opening back too.
Not even the sky's the right color in a world
without you.
Usually we feed Tupelo Landing, but all day
people came to our door bringing us food, in honor
of you. Dale and Harm came just to say hello.
Lavender brought a pie. I ate it when the clock
said time to eat, but I couldn't find it's taste.
Mo"

What a voice, what charming characters and setting, what storytelling! You should NOT miss it! My copy is headed straight for the 'keepers' shelf.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ebb & Flow, written by Heather Smith. Kids Can Press, 2018. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"The Truth Was

Sometimes, being bad
felt good.
Like the time
Junior and me
ordered ten pizzas
in our teacher's name
and had them sent to the classroom.
Afterward, Junior called me
his partner in crime."

This is such a powerful, yet tender, free verse novel about a boy (and his rotten bad year) and a summer spent with his grandmother. Readers know from the opening lines that he accepts responsibility for all that happened. It takes a while before his whole story is told.

Things during the time leading up to the summer visit have, obviously, not gone well. When his father goes to prison as a result of a terrible drunk driving accident, Jett and his mother move to a new place, a new school, and a shameful friendship with Junior. Junior has troubles of his own, and Jett is a willing participant in some pretty contemptible behavior. Jett is mad and vents that anger through those actions.

Throughout the summer, it is evident that Jett loves his grandmother and she loves him. She works quietly to calm his anger, and boost his self-esteem, which is at an all-time. Her support and the comfort he has always felt in her company lead him to share the events of the past year.

"Bad Thing

After the movie
we went out to eat.
I sat in the booth
of the old-fashioned diner
staring at the seeds
on my hamburger bun.
Grandma said,
That was a real tearjerker, huh? 
And I said,
I did a bad thing this year. 
Grandma said,
I know."

Full of heart and hope, this beautifully written first person narrative shares the regret Jett feels for what he has done. His love of language is shared by his grandmother, and provides some needed humor for those reading his touching story. Both main characters are deserving of the reader's attention and admiration. Their relationship is strong; the change doesn't come easy but is worth the hard work. In the end, Jett hopes to find forgiveness from the man he has hurt so badly. Maybe then he will finally be able to forgive himself.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Enchanted Lion, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $38.99 all ages

"Dear Readers,

Here's why I read:
I got to travel the rainy dark streets
of London,
The sultry bayous, the exploding
cosmos,
I banished demons
I felt unexpected things for pigs
And spiders
I stopped being lonely
I met myself everywhere ... "

This quote features the initial lines of a poem to readers by Eve Ensler. She is a playwright, performer, activist, and author. Her long poem cites the many things she was able to do because she was a reader. It is a loving ode to the power of the word. Facing her poem is an illustration by Zoey Abbott, whose other work graces the pages of two books I love - Twindergarten and Finn's Feather. 

I could go and on. When it arrived in the mail yesterday, I immediately sat right down and pored over it page by page. At more than 250 pages, it is sure to be a book that I will read over the course of weeks, even months. That is the real appeal for me. I can take my time to savor the words and sentiments, and appreciate the variety in the artwork that accompanies each and every entry. The design remains the same throughout its entirety. The verso is the letter written for young readers, with a short descriptive paragraph about the writer at the bottom of the page and a banner for the artist at the top. The recto is resplendent with the images created to accompany that particular letter. Finally, a list of the artists with their respective descriptive paragraph finishes the book.

Maria Popova, owner of the Brain Pickings website, and Claudia Zoe Bedrick, publisher, editorial and art director at Enchanted Lion books, have spent took eight years at work on this project so dear to their hearts. It is a labor of love for readers and those who love books. All 121 writers are diverse - each one reflecting on the joys of the reading experience. Couple their words with the diverse images created by a plethora of talented artists and you hold something very special in your hands. Take time to enjoy its many riches.

"100% of the proceeds will be donated to the New York public library system in gratitude for their noble work in stewarding literature and democratizing access to the written record of human experience."

What a celebration! Bravo to everyone involved. I will savor every letter, as I have admired every piece of stunning artwork.

"Dear Reader,

I have not much time to write to you, and not much ink in my typewriter, but I hope I can convey a very important message before my time is up and my ink is gone.
Somewhere in the world, on some shelf or in some cupboard, in a library or a bookshop or a bedroom or a ditch, there is one book with a very important message for a specific person.
In most cases, the person has no idea which book it is, or where this book may be found, which is why most readers in the world go from book to book, from shelf to shelf, searching for the perfect read. In many cases it can take a lifetime ... "

- Daniel Handler

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, written by Karina Yan Glaser. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2018. $10.99 ages 8 and up

"Oliver fumed. Herman didn't have just any old mountain bike. It was the Easter Racer 500, black with a blue racing stripe, and Oliver had been plunging toilets, mopping floors, and cleaning windows to earn enough money for one. Not only was he working his fingers to the bone, he was penny-pinching as if he lived during the Great Depression. No churros from Manny the churro guy, no books from the library sale ... "

Last night I was so happy to return to Harlem, and the brownstone that the lovely and lively Vanderbeeker family share with their upstairs neighbors, Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet, and their up-upstairs landlord, Mr. Beiderman. I read Ms. Glaser's first book about them last year, and had highly anticipated yet another visit.

Isa is at music camp, leaving her twin sister and other three siblings to fend for themselves in the early days of an endless summer. They are having a tough time finding things of importance to do. Sadly, while visiting with their upstairs neighbors, Mr. Jeet suffers a debilitating stroke and must be transported to hospital where it looks as if his stay will be long and labored. The children are worried, of course. This worry leads them to consider what they might do to make Mr. Jeet's homecoming a happy one. Oliver is quick to suggest a dilapidated, overgrown space next to the church down the street as the site for a garden. He gets little support from his sisters. Laney, the littlest, is sure they will be turned into gremlins if they dare to go inside that lot.

Oliver is able to convince his sisters that his idea is worth pursuing. Their story is filled with the ups and downs of creating a beautiful space where none existed. Birds, flowers, vegetables, trees, and a relaxing bench for contemplation on warm summer days provide an oasis following a lot of hard work and a few missteps. Their friends are eager to be part of the crew, and the camaraderie that gets the job is a joy for readers.

They are a pretty resilient, resourceful,  and determined group. What about the developer who wants to bulldoze the garden and put up condos? Who will they enlist to help them save their beloved community garden? Will the Garden Extravaganza welcome Mr. Jeet back from his hospital stay. They have 17 days.

In this stellar follow-up to her first novel,  Ms. Glaser remains true to the characters she introduced last year. Each has a distinct voice and role to play in the story. Readers come to know them better and appreciate their ability to work together, problem solve, think of others, and bring a tough task to completion. Harlem is a welcoming venue for this family story that would make a terrific read aloud at home, or in any intermediate classroom.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Finn's Feather, written by Rachel Noble and illustrated by Zoey Abbott. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Finn  took the feather to
school to show his teacher.
"Hamish left me a feather!"
Mrs. Gilbert took a deep
breath and gave Finn a
great, big smile.

Finn was confused.

Why was he the only one
excited about his feather?"

One of the things I know from experience is that children look at death in a very different way than we do as adults. When their grandmother died our kids, who were 7 and 10 at the time,themselves responded from two entirely different perspectives. There are numerous stories for parents and teachers to share with children concerning death; many of them are very good.

This book tells the thoughtful and heartwarming story of a boy named Finn. One spring morning he finds a feather on the doorstop. He remarks on its beauty; it looks perfect to him, it's white, and he is quite amazed by it. In fact, he tells his mother that he thinks his brother Hamish, who has died, is responsible for leaving it. His mother's reaction is a tad disconcerting. Shouldn't she be more excited? His teacher has a similar response. 

Lucas, Finn's best friend, responds differently.

"A feather. I think my brother Hamish sent it."
"Really? Angels can do that?" asked Lucas.
"I think they can," said Finn."

When deciding what to do with the feather, Lucas suggests they should play with it. It tops a castle and tickles a chin before it blows away and is caught in a tree. Once retrieved, Finn holds it tightly to keep it safe. Happy on his walk home with his mother, he thanks Hamish for the gift. Using the feather as a pen, he writes a very special letter to his brother that he and his mother will leave in their tree to be carried away on the wind.

The lovely artwork perfectly complements the tone of the story told, while also showing the highs and lows that children experience as they come to grips with loss.  There is variety in the ways we grieve and remember loved ones; this book helps us understand that.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Yes, Papa! And today my teacher told us every story has an elephant of surprise. So let's read a story, and we'll find the elephant." "Chicken, she wasn't talking about an elephant. She was talking about an element of surprise." "What's an element of surprise?"

David Ezra Stein won a well-deserved Caldecott Honor award for his first book about this feisty, imaginative and indomitable little red chicken. In the past eight years I have read Interrupting Chicken (Candlewick, 2010) innumerable times to children, teachers and teacher/librarians. It has everything you would want in a book to be read aloud to a group.

I didn't know I was missing her until this book arrived in the mail. She's in school now, and loves to bring what she has learned home to her Papa. Papa is ever willing to listen to what his chick has to say. In this case, he does his best to convince her that she has misheard a word from the teacher's lesson. It is element of surprise, not elephant. 

When she asks what an element of surprise is, he is quick to try to help her understand.

"It's the part of the story that makes you say, 'Whoa!
I didn't know that was going to happen,'" said Papa.

"An elephant in a story always makes me say, 'Whoa!'
So please, let's read a story together."

"All right, fine. But I don't expect you'll find
any elephants in this story...."

Saying that, he has not a clue about how wrong he is going to be.

Papa proceeds to voice the fairy tales in the book they are reading. Each one takes a hilarious turn when an elephant does indeed makes it presence known. On they go from The Ugly Duckling to Rapunzel, and to The Little Mermaid. Despite his assurance that there is no elephant in the tales he's reading, Chicken makes her point clear. There is an elephant in each one.

Together, they decide to write their own story. Papa will tell it, Chicken will supply the art. Will Papa win his point? What do you think?

Bright and homey artwork fills the pages that show the interaction between father and daughter. A distinct change occurs with each of the tales told. Those interludes are illustrated to grab attention and provide details while packing just the punch needed to up the humor and provide a focus for what Chicken has been learning at school. So much fun! You won't want to stop reading and your listeners will not want you to stop.

What a treat!
                                                                         
                                   

Saturday, January 5, 2019

There Are No Bears in This Bakery, written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I slipped into the darkness
like icing melting down a
hot cake.
Inside, I listened for clues.
Maybe it was a mouse.
Mice love sprinkles.
grrrrrr
And that is when I saw it.
It was the biggest mouse ... "

Here's another bear book ... and a mystery! Does that you remind you of this author's previous book, The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (Knopf, 2015)? It should. If you haven't had a chance yet to read that book, get thee to a library or bookstore. You won't be sorry to take it home and read it to your kids.

Muffin narrates this new tale, as an observer of the neighborhood and assures there are no bears in the bakery. Muffin identifies each new sound, and is proud of that talent. Then, one night ...

"Last night, after the sun
rolled off the edge of the sky,
a mysterious new sound
rumbled over the windowsill.

grrrrrrrrrrr

I stepped out to investigate."

No sounds outside near the bakery. Investigation requires an open window and a brave heart. What Muffin thinks might be the biggest mouse ever seen turns out to be the littlest bear ever encountered. Its presence is as surprising as Muffin's discovery. Loud hungry tummy growls alert Muffin to the real problem, and a solution. They are in a bakery, after all!

That first revelation is not the last for the evening. Case closed.

The witty storytelling is filled with charm and humor. The blue-black darkness adds just the hint of light needed for young readers to fully understand what is going on here. You don't want to miss it!
                                                                     

Friday, January 4, 2019

Flow Spin Grow: Looking for Patterns in Nature, by Patchen Barss and illustrated by Todd Stewart. Owlkids, 2018. $19.95 ages 4 and up


"Breathe in deep

Branches also spread
through your body.
They move air in and
out of your lungs,
and carry blood to and
from your heart.
Wherever there's flow,
there's branching."

I hope that you and your family found time to get outside and do some exploring during the holiday season. I'm sure that author Patchen Barss would have the same wish. He has a special interest in patterns and where they are found in nature. In this book written for young children, he encourages readers to look closely at patterns that are part of their daily lives.

Each double page spread asks children to be present and to take action. As the quote included above shows, he wants them to take note of those things they often pass by when they are out in the natural world. As children look, climb, dig, they will begin to notice common patterns they often miss while playing.

"Flow

Mountain rain and melting ice form
tiny rivulets. Water burbles. Tumbling
streams combine to form huge rivers.
These winding, watery paths look so
much like a spreading tree that we
call them branches, too."

The connections he makes will be as fascinating for the adult reading the book as they are for the children who are listening. It is fascinating to find that there are no easy answers, but each discovery we make does tell us something about the way nature works.

 Todd Stewart does a commendable job of bringing the concepts to life. The opening double page spread shows young readers all the ways in which they might find out more about the outdoors. Changes in perspective in the artwork are worthy of discussion and engagement. His gentle lines and color choices will encourage kids to get out and to see what is right before their eyes. Isn't that the best way to fall in love with the beauty of our world? Why do patterns appear in places you might never expect to see them? This book will help get them started at taking a closer look.

An author's note encourages that exact thing.

"Be watchful. Be thoughtful. Ask questions. Make connections.
When you see a pattern in an unexpected place, try to find an
explanation. You never know where patterns will lead you."

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Zola's Elephant, written by Randall de Seve and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2018. $25.50 ages 5 and up

"I can't go make friends
with Zola now because
she and her elephant are
taking a bath.

I know because I hear
bath water running
and elephants love 
taking baths.

Elephants also love
hide and seek."

What a truly beautiful book this is ... both in story and art! When Zola and her family move into their new house, her mother knows that the neighbors have a little girl. In fact, she and that girl's mother have already had a conversation concerning their daughters and decided they will be friends.

The girl next door is the narrator of this thoughtful and imaginative tale. She watches as the truck is unpacked, knowing that her mother would like her to be friends with Zola. She is convinced that the biggest box unpacked holds Zola's best friend - an elephant. She knows that Zola is very busy with her elephant friend, as it will need to eat lots of food, to take a bath, and to play games. She knows because she can hear all the sounds that prove what is happening behind closed doors. She is convinced Zola will not be looking for another friend. 

Each turn from a page of text shows a gorgeously illustrated, wordless double page spread of what is really happening at Zola's house. Things are not as the girl imagines; in fact, Zola's day is tedious and very lonely. Will our shy narrator take a leap of faith and make the decision to pay a visit? Will her love of elephants help her take the risk?

The imaginative language of this charming tale is perfect for reading on its own. Adding the gorgeous multimedia artwork that creates two very different scenarios makes it even more perfect! That combination makes it a very special book to read and then read again. I love the 'circus'  feel throughout. It will encourage much discussion as the book is read. The color palette chosen is just right when showing the joy of the imagination paired with the loneliness of Zola's reality.
                                                               

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Dragons in a Bag, written by Zetta Elliott. Penguin Random House, 2018. $22.99 ages 8 and up

"Sure.
Parallel realms exist in different dimensions. Time travel is like whizzing down a slide. Crossing dimensions is more like skipping double dutch. You got to wait for the right moment and slip in between the ropes."

I swat at the biggest mosquito I've ever seen. My clothes are sticking to my skin, but I'll get eaten alive by bugs if I take off my shirt."

If you teach in a middle grade classroom, you will know someone who's interested in dragons, magic and transporters. This book is sure to capture their attention and provide a very satisfying read for them.

Jaxon and his mother live in Brooklyn in a rented apartment; they are soon to become victims of their landlord who is threatening eviction. The situation leaves Mama in a sticky spot. She must go to court to fight for their rights. She needs care for Jaxon for the day, and decides to leave him with Ma, the old woman who raised her. It is not a happy situation for any of them. 

Jaxon does not know anything about Ma, who is clearly not happy to have him dropped on her doorstep. It doesn't take long for Jax to learn why! Ma is very protective of a mysterious, moving  cardboard box that has just been delivered. Ma suggests that Jax find a book to read while she deals with her business. The serendipitous discovery of a book written by an authority on dragons who lives in Madagascar leads Jax to learn all he needs to know about Ma, her calling, and the task assigned to her.

Suffice it to say Ma is a witch, and she must deliver the package to a magical place where others are awaiting delivery of the tiny dragons inside the box. Jax will go with her. A guardhouse at one of the entrances to Prospect Park provides their means of transport. When the transporter malfunctions, they land in an unfamiliar time and place which puts them in eminent danger. Ma sends Jax back home alone. There, he enlists the help of Ambrose, Trub, and his best friend, Vikram. Vikram's little sister, Kavita, causes chaos that will lead to further adventure for Ma and Jaxon.

Mama is NOT be pleased. Saying that, she does accept her son's need to follow the path that is his to explore.

This wonderful fantasy set in an urban landscape, and filled with genuine, admirable characters is sure to garner many fans who will wait impatiently for the next adventure.