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Thursday, February 14, 2019

my heart, written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Some days it is cloudy
and heavy with rain.

Some days it is tiny,
but tiny can grow ...

and grow ...

and grow."

Corinna Luyken captured my heart in her first book for young children, The Book of Mistakes (Dial, 2017), and then again in Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse (Dial, 2018). Today, she has done it again.

What better day for talking about the power your heart holds than Valentine's Day? The heart the author describes belongs to a child. There are many wonderful things that heart can do. It is at the discretion of the heart's owner to keep it open, or to close it; it can be a window to the world or a door to its impact. While there are days when it protects from darkness, it can also open a child to the beauty of a wider world.

Readers are encouraged to look to their own heart, and face the world's many possibilities. The language has a gentle rhythm, and a concern for finding better days among the dark ones. There is always hope when care is given to keeping the heart whole and strong.

In tones of black and gray with gorgeous sunny yellow, Ms. Luyken shows emotion at every turn, and offers an opportunity for discussion concerning the many emotions felt by children. Sensitive and ultimately uplifting, children are sure to find themselves within its pages. They will be intrigued in a search for the many hearts displayed as well.

"My heart is a shadow,
a light, and a guide.
Closed or open ...
I get to decide."

Such power in beautifully chosen words!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Hush, Little Bunny, by David Ezra Stein. Balzer + Bray, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 2 and up

"And when that patch
of clover is done,
I'll give you a meadow
where you can run.
And if a hawk comes
gliding down,
I'll show you a nest
safe underground.
And when that hiding
place gets tight ... "

One of the songs I always sang to my kids when they were little  was Hush Little Baby. I have carried on that tradition with my granddaughters when are here visiting. Lullabies are very special songs for young ears. The catchy rhymes and calming rhythm bring a feeling of peace and contentment.

David Ezra Stein changes the song up by setting it in the warmth of a sunny spring day. We know those days are coming, although it is hard to believe given the deep freeze that has us in its grip. I thought today, as we await another dump of snow, might be the perfect day to tell you about it. Maybe you are thinking Easter and want a special book to celebrate the arrival of spring-like weather.

A father bunny has to do some coaxing to get his little one to emerge from their burrow. The first thing they do together is to say goodbye to the snow as the sun warms the earth and causes it to melt. Once they are out and about, there is enticement in the the blue sky above and the delicious emerging plant life on the ground. There is so much for the two of them to enjoy together. As they go, the father teaches his little one what he needs to know about this new and wonderful world.

The text is encouraging at every turn, and always informative as the two make their many discoveries. The sunny mixed media illustrations add warmth and delight throughout the singing ... and sing it you will.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Meet Tom Longboat, written by Elizabeth MacLeod and illustrated by Mike Deas. Scholastic, 2019. $16.99 ages 9 and up

"The way Tom ran was different, too. In those days, most runners took long, high strides with their hands up and still. By keeping his feet close to the ground and his hands low, Tom saved energy as he ran. Not every race ended with a win, but Tom was becoming known as a top racer."

This is the third book in the Scholastic Canada Biography series. The first two featured Viola Desmond and Chris Hadfield. Each of the books in this series is deserving of your attention and a place on the shelf where you keep picture book biographies. They have much to share concerning prominent and admirable Canadians. Your students will find them enlightening and engaging. They will enjoy the accessible text, the design, and artwork of each.

Tom Longboat made his mark as a long distance runner. An Onondaga member of the Six Nations, his accomplishments are many. Ms. MacLeod begins with Tom's early life ... a life filled with running and fun. Sent to a residential school at 12, Tom hated life there. In his second year, he ran away twice and never went back. It would be five years before he entered his first race in 1905. When he came second, he decided he would not lose again.

His training was unlike that of other runners. People were not impressed and made their feelings known. Tom was doing then what many runners do now. As his fame grew, the people of Canada celebrated.

"A huge crowd paraded him to Toronto City Hall for
an official reception. Tome Longboat was famous - not
only in Canada, but all over the world."

His fame continued to grow, despite failure at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. Then, war changed everything. Tom served, and returned home in 1919 to find that running was no longer a revered sport. He could no longer earn a living doing what he loved. So, he got a job, cared for his family and eventually moved back to the reserve he loved. He died in 1949, but his spirit lives on in the Tom Longboat Award given to top Indigenous athletes yearly.

Well researched and presented in a conversational style, this is a welcome addition to a stellar series. Liz MacLeod is an accomplished storyteller, and Mike Deas fills the pages with energy and color in  historical settings that help with understanding. The speech bubbles will be much appreciated by middle grade students wanting to know more about notable Canadians.

Backmatter provides a timeline for Tom's life, and archival photographs.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Fox Explores The Night, written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Richard Smythe. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"The clouds have cleared.
There's the moon.
That's better.
And there's more light ahead.
Fox creeps forward.
What's that?

A mouse!

But the mouse is too fast
for Fox."

In this third book in the A First Science Storybook series, author Martin Jenkins and artist Richard Smythe use a young fox in her search for food to help their target audience understand the concepts of light and dark.

As she emerges from her den, the hungry fox is faced with bright sunlight, a lot of morning action, and many people. Not wanting to be discovered she returns to the darkness of the den. Later, she is even hungrier and the people have gone. Darkness has descended. She is ready to hunt, and her sharp eyesight will be an asset. Moonlight helps as well, and soon she spots a mouse. The mouse proves elusive. The fox must look elsewhere. As she searches, she faces a surprise and other obstacles to her understanding and safety.

Using her keen sense of smell she finally finds something to eat. Her search has come to an end. She returns to her den by the light of the moon.

While focusing on the fox and her search, the premise of the book is to educate young readers about light and dark. To that end, the simple language and visual awareness of the many types of light found in the dark of night provide an appealing learning experience for little ones. The mixed media illustrations effectively portray shadows, beams of light, and the differences between day and night.

Discussion suggestions for adult readers in frontmatter, and questions to ponder in backmatter are useful, as is a simple index which helps in understanding how information books work.

The first two books in the series are Squirrel's Busy Year and Bird Builds a Nest. Caterpillar and Bean is due in April. Check for them at the library or in your local bookstore.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Unlimited Squirrels in I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2018. $13.99 ages 4 and up

"You should not let a tooth
go loose, Zoom Squirrel.

Teeth have no sense of 

You should have used a

You must be upset that
you lost your tooth."

We can only hope this is the beginning of a new series for all of those readers who have loved, and still love, the Piggy and Elephant books. Longer in length and in scope, this first (hopefully) book starring the Unlimited Squirrels will continue the learning that comes from books kids love. After a bit of research, I can confirm that it is a new series:

The Unlimited Squirrels series features a cast of squirrels, acorns and guests. The books will each include a funny adventure, jokes, quizzes, fun facts and more. 

Willems says in the announcement, "I'm excited about creating these new Unlimited Squirrels adventures with my longtime team at Hyperion Books for Children. I hope these books will resonate with young readers who love funny stories, interesting facts, silly jokes, and an overabundance of squirrels." 

His signature comedy, punny language, quick pace, and emotional telling will have fans, and new readers of his work, giggling and learning as they go. The table of contents, the chapter divisions, the color-coded speech bubbles, the description of the 'emote-acorns', and the silliness of the expressive and numerous squirrel characters all help readers learn about the workings of story. Combining an entertaining premise with actual facts about teeth, jokes, and short quizzes add to the appeal of the book itself.

Zoom Squirrel lisps while sharing the fact that he has lost his tooth. What a tooth is out there all alone? It is enough to send Zoom's many squirrel friends into a frenzy. They have a duty to help. Turns out that their mad search results in nothing but chaos, while Zoom methodically thinks through where he might have lost that tooth. Calm wins out. When the rest of the squirrels return in defeat, they cannot find Zoom. Imagine the continued chaos.

 Yes, that's what I am talking about with Mo Willems and his ability to strike new chords. Can't wait to share this in classrooms next week! Then, we will all wait patiently for the next adventure, won't we?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Cyril and Pat, by Emily Gravett. Two Hoots, Publishers Group Canada. 2019. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Pat tried to learn to earn a treat
Like Cyril could, by looking sweet.

But no one threw a treat for Pat.

Urgh! Mum, 
I saw a great big ... 


Poor Cyril! He's the only squirrel living at Lake Park, and he is lonely. Then, one day, a new 'squirrel' makes an appearance. Cyril is beyond excited to meet Pat and have a mate for playing games, planning and performing puppet shows, skateboarding and bothering pigeons by sneaking up and scaring them. He is oblivious to the fact that he and Pat are not quite the same ... he cannot see any difference between them. Pat is his friend.

Every creature in the park tries to tell Cyril that he is making a big mistake. Pat is not what Cyril thinks he is. Cyril knows Pat to be a companion, a 'real joker', 'brilliant sharer', 'clever squirrel who can't be caught', and a 'rat'? All the others are quick to let Cyril know all that is wrong with a squirrel being a friend with a rat.


With Pat out of the picture, Cyril returns to a state of melancholy as all park life seems to go wrong. When he is finally chased from the park by the dog Slim, and into the city at night, Cyril is terrified. It's dark, and strange, and he is all alone to protect himself from those terrifying canine teeth. Or is he?

Friendship comes in all shapes and sizes. Emily Gravett has her fans in her heart when she shares her charming stories that resonate with young readers. Be sure to add this one to your list of perfect books for reading aloud. If you do, you will not only enjoy the timely tale, but you will be privy to her artistic talents so wonderfully displayed on every double page spread. From the warmth and bustle of the park and its sometimes scary moments to the real terror of an unknown urban landscape, she manages to entertain and draw our attention to the many fine details in the full-of-action, witty scenes. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Squirrel's Family Tree, written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by A.N. Kang. Orchard Books, Scholastic, 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"In a snap, white winter comes.
Snow falls down and cold wind numbs.
Squirrel eats up all the crumbs
as winter swiftly comes.

Squirrel does not hibernate.
She'll snuggle down and sleep in late,
but always she'll anticipate
the taste of something great. "

What is it about squirrels? We have one or two in the neighborhood, running along the utility lines in the back lane all year round. A neighbor provides peanuts, another neighbor offers a backyard tree, and the rest of us provide the roofs of our houses for romping and jumping. It's fun to watch!

This appealing information book will be much appreciated by little ones who want to know more about the squirrels they see in their own neighborhoods or on forest walks. It is easy to hear them chatter away as you near their nests and to watch them as they industriously help forests survive and thrive. They do a remarkable job of that, as is mentioned in a quote in front matter.

"Squirrels are the inadvertent heroes of forest restoration." - Anne Raver

In rhyming text, Ms. Ferry shows her readers how the squirrel's presence helps to keep oak trees growing in forested areas. As they gather and bury acorns in the fall, they ensure a plentiful food supply through the long, cold winter. Spring brings new babies that follow in the footsteps of their parents. The acorns not found remain to germinate and perhaps grow another tree.

"But many seeds she can't locate.
Her tummy will just have to wait.
And those seeds might just germinate
if found a bit too late."

So, the oak provides the seeds that sustain squirrel life, and squirrels stash seeds in places where they are not always found, and can grow another tree. It's a neverending cycle of life.

In back matter a list of "Nutty Facts" is provided, offering little additional tidbits of information.

"It is estimated that only one in 10,000 acorns becomes a mature oak tree."

"Tree squirrels fail to recover approximately 74% of the nuts they bury; therefore they are really planting hundreds of new oak trees."

A.N.King uses colored pencil that was scanned and digitally colored to create the warm, earthy images that clearly show the passing of the seasons, and years. Note the young boy and his dog in the first spread on land where few trees are growing, and in the end the old gentleman and his dog among a growing grove of oak trees. Same house, same setting. Lovely!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

My Anty-War Story, by Tony Ross. Andersen Press, Penguin Random House, 2018. $23.95 ages 7 and up

"Douglas watched the other ants form a beautiful line. All day, they hurried past carrying food. "Why do you do that?" asked Douglas. "So we can eat it over here," was the reply. "Why don't you eat it over there?" asked Douglas. "Let's not talk about it!" was the reply. Douglas thought that was a fine answer. Now he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to fit in, to carry food and be in the beautiful line."

The ants in Douglas' world have no name. Well, other than Douglas that is. Even in the nursery, everyone knows who he is. The other ants are described with the letter A. Douglas would rather be like all the others.

He wishes he could carry food as they do. Douglas has a different purpose in life. Douglas is a soldier ant. When the time comes, his destiny is to carry his rifle and protect Antworld from any future threat. He is meant to keep their world safe for all of the ants. He is very proud of the role set for him.

"You are a big ant. You have a big head, and
big teeth." Douglas felt proud and very special.
"We have you down as a soldier."

Douglas is happy to join the other soldiers and do his duty. Then war rears its ugly head in the human world, and an attack destroys the anthill he is meant to protect, and all of the ants with it.

Large black shells aimed right at the anthill, followed by a double-page spread wide BANG, and the story comes to an abrupt end.

Only one somber image of human soldiers streaming across a war field at the SOMME, and a final look at a memorial covered with many letter As and the word 'Douglas' complete this thoughtful and meaningful book.

It is what war has done, and can do again.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Computer Called Katherine, written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2019. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"She asked questions. Lots of questions! What were her calculations used for? Why were they important? How did her answers help design airplanes and flights? The men engineers noticed the woman who asked intelligent questions and how quickly she solved difficult math problems."

Because of her outstanding ability in solving those problems Katherine was asked to join the space team whose mission was to get America's first astronaut into space. She felt she had been waiting for a long time to do such important work. Of course she agreed to join the team.

She was, however, not invited to be present at group meetings. How could that be? Katherine knew it was not right. Since there was no law preventing it, Katherine made an appearance at the next meeting. There, she asked the questions she needed to be answered. She then used their answers to compute a path for the rocket. A launch was planned. Success with the first launch lead to her being a part of the plan for John Glenn's Earth orbit. He would not leave until Katherine had approved the calculations.

What about the moon? Could a team travel around the moon?

"The rumbling rocket slowly rose
about the ground,
above the smoke,
above the clouds,
and then disappeared into ink-black space."

Numbers intrigued Katherine from early on. Always curious, always keen to learn, and an extremely gifted student, she did what many others had not done before her. That gift for learning and applying what she was learning carved a space for her in American history. She was no longer one of the 'hidden figures.'

Veronica Miller Jamison's use of mixed media brings Katherine's story to life for a young audience. The historical context in the illustrations helps readers understand some of the barriers faced in Katherine's quest to find a place for herself in what had been a working world for men, many of them white. Changing perspectives and mathematical imagery are sure to capture attention and bring focus to her remarkable life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Every Month Is A New Year: Celebrations Around the World, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Susan L. Roth. Lee & Low Books, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2018. $26.99 ages 7 and up

"Dragon Dance
Chinese New Year
Hong Kong, China

Today my shy brother
has become part red dragon,
dancing joyfully in the square,
whipping his tail to the beat,
beat of the drum,
chasing away evil spirits ... "

A bit late with sharing a calendar for the new year, but ... Today is Chinese New Year - The Year of the Pig. It seems appropriate to share this with you now.

Marilyn Singer writes poetry with such style. This book takes the reader to many different parts of the world to learn how, and when, the new year is celebrated. A world map and an informative introduction prefaces a lovely beginning poem.

"The Year Turns

We choose the date.
From the earth's movement,
from the moon's phases,
these clocks and calendars
we create.
in parks and squares,
in temples and houses -
the year

Designed to move forward as a calendar does, each new turn presents another poem that focuses on a date, a country, and the name given to celebrating a new year. There are 16 celebrations in 14 countries, and they encompass an entire year from December 31 to December of the following year. Some are religious, some are secular, and some are a combination of the two.

The collage images that accompany each poem (which is conspicuously placed on a white background) are created from papers collected all over the world - and are absolutely stunning! Textured and very colorful, they give life and meaning to the poems shared.

 As she has proven in previous published works, Ms. Singer is adept at creating reverso poems. A case in point for the final entry:

"Turning the Year

the year,
in temples and houses,
in parks and squares.
we create
these clocks and calendars
from the moon's phases,
from the earth's movement.
We choose the date."

Amazing, as always!

Back matter includes a note about calendars, a list of the various greetings (with pronunciation), a descriptive paragraph or two about the many celebrations included, a useful glossary with pronunciation guide, and a lengthy list of sources.  It is worthy of your attention.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse, written by Mara Bergman and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"by day she slept
and at night she crept
to do small things
that needed doing
like finding pins
and pegs and corks,
long sharp nails
and long-lost forks,
a special pen, a silver ring,
a watch, a coin, a shiny thing.
Afterward she'd crawl ... "

Two creatures live in the house. The tall man does not know about the small mouse; the small mouse has no knowledge of the tall man's presence. The tall man spends his days doing what tall men do - picking apples, untangling swings, rescuing cats and kites from trees. The small mouse sleeps and creeps, then spends her time finding pins, pegs, corks and other very special things.

The tall man sets himself a task to fix the town clock. But no matter what he tries, he cannot do it. He cannot find a way to fix it, despite much research. Tired, he goes to sleep. While he is sleeping, the small mouse does her thing, and then settles into a nearby pair of shoes for a long night's slumber.

In the morning, the tall man is preparing for the day when he tries putting on his shoes, disturbing the small mouse and scaring himself. He also discovers where so many of the little treasures he needs for his fixing work have gone. Perhaps the mouse can help him with the town's clock. It seems two heads are better than one.

Engaging text that sings with rhyme and rhythm is accompanied by Birgitta Sif's signature charming images, created in pencil and then digitally colored. They are as warm and gentle as the story, and assure a lovely read at bedtime, or any time of the day. 

"In a tall hill
in a tall house
live a tall man
and a small mouse.

What do the two friends do all day?

Well ...

come rain or shine, whatever the weather,
they do the things that need doing

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories, by Sergio Ruzzier. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2019. $20.99 ages 4 and up

I'm going for a quiet boat ride.

I guess it doesn't have to be quiet.

Can I be the captain? 
We don't need a captain, Chick.

Captain Chick! That sounds good.
What does a captain do, Fox?"

Oh, I am very pleased to see Fox and Chick again. I loved their first book, The Party: And Other Stories (2018), as did everyone who read or heard it. They are a pair; their adventures are quite delightful despite the fact they are polar opposite personalities.

The three short stories in this new book are adventurous, and will be appreciated by fans of the first one and all emergent readers. Told completely in speech bubble dialogue between the two, their stories are told with warmth and humor as they seek common ground.

Fox is wanting a calm and peaceful boat ride. Chick is seeking companionship, and fills the quiet of the pond with constant conversation, observation, and questions.Chick needs reassurance that sea monsters don't like ponds, pirates would find nothing to take if they came aboard the boat, and being shipwrecked is not a possibility when the pond's shore is so close.

Fox makes an observation about his plan:

"A quiet boat ride
was my plan."

Chick feels the need to set Fox straight about what has transpired:

"Are you kidding me?
Sea monsters! Pirates!

The imagination can conjure up many fearful, things!

The second tale concerns a gift box filled with chocolate cake, and is equally charming. Finally, in a story about Fox wanting to see the sunrise, that plan is foiled by patience as Fox waits - and waits - and waits for Chick to get ready to go, too. The end result is full of meaning for both.

Fox remains unflappable, while Chick is totally flappable. But, in the end, their friendship is what will resonate with young readers.

I have great admiration for Sergio Ruzzier's storytelling, his playful, inviting art, and his tales of true friendship. BRAVO!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

What a COLD Needs, written by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Chris Sheban. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"A cold needs socks,

Mom's soft hands,
Grandma's famous chicken soup,

a kiss from Grandpa's
gentle lips,

and plenty of Dad's
goofy jokes."

Wow! What a perfect book to be sharing these days! Seems that everyone I talk with has a cold - on the phone, on FaceTime, in person. It is that time of year.

I Love to Read month is just beginning, and I will be toting this book from school to school as I visit. Can't wait to share it with kids - and adults, as well. I love everything about it.

This young child is as unhappy as any of us are when confined to bed with a cold that needs a lot of care.The red nose, sad demeanor and lethargy are right there for all to see when we turn to the first page. A warm bed, birdsong and raindrops lift spirits, as do the many other efforts meant to help one so sick feel more comfortable. Young readers will recognize themselves in many of the small scenes.

"A cold needs someone to say,
"Poor you."
And someone else who says,
"You'll feel better soon."

Have you been there? I think is a universal affliction. While every attempt to make it better can be helpful, nothing works as well as the cold playing itself out and moving on ... unless it's to someone in close proximity. Poor Dad!

The warm and reassuring text is matched perfectly with Chris Sheban's illustrations done in watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite. Each image reflects empathy in soft tones and comforting settings. I have a few favorites - the child blowing a red and runny nose while used tissues can be seen everywhere, the dog's ears blown back with the power of the next sneeze, and the warmth of an afternoon nap, with soft music playing in the background, mouth wide open in an attempt to breathe, and the company of a loving pet.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle, by David Litchfield. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2018.$23.99 ages

"News of the incredible
fiddle-playing dog spread,
and one day, a very famous
bear came to watch.
Bear told Hugo that he was
starting a band of musical
animals. He invited him to
come on tour and play his
fiddle for hundreds of
thousands of people. As
Hugo looked up at Hector,
his tail wagging ... "

Hector and Hugo are best friends. Hector loves to play the fiddle and dreams of being famous. Through good times and bad, Hector plays and Hugo listens intently to every note. When fame proves elusive, Hector decides to retire. Sure that no one wants to listen to an aging musician when they can turn their attention to a famous bear who plays piano, he admits defeat.

What? A bear playing a piano? Do you remember him from an earlier post? The Bear and the Piano (2015) hit a bright spot with children in times past. Lucky we are to meet the Bear again in this new story, with Hugo and Hector as brand new characters.

Hector spends more and more time at home, alone and sleeping. He does not notice that Hugo is keeping busy with the discarded fiddle. The neighbors are amazed that a dog has such talent, while Hector is oblivious to what is happening right under his nose. Then one night, he leaves his window open, hears a familiar sound, and makes a surprising discovery.

"Hugo was playing Hector's fiddle,
and the music Hugo was making was

Setting aside his personal feelings concerning his own career, Hector recognizes Hugo's love for the music and finds new purpose in teaching Hugo as much as he can. That is when the Bear makes his first appearance, offering Hugo a chance that might never come again. It is terribly hard for Hector to let him go. His jealousy has him saying things he never meant to say. Hugo is gone before he can apologize. World-wide recognition for Hugo is wonderful. Watching and listening from so far away sparks interest in playing again for Hector ... but, it doesn't bring back his best friend.

When the band comes to town, Hector finds a spot in the first row. What happens next is another lovely surprise for readers ... and for Hector!

David Litchfield's mixed media illustrations are glorious! The choice of colors, the infusion of light on every page, the detailed, expressive scenes draw readers into the story and hold attention throughout the entire book. Emotional, tender and just plain wonderful!