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Saturday, November 30, 2019

I Am A Tiger, written by Karl Newsom and illustrated by Ross Collins. Scholastic, 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"Tigers can be small, too.

GRRRRRR!

Not that small!
And a tiger has stripes.

Some do. This one doesn't. 
So there.
I am a tiger."

This wonderfully witty new book is going straight into our reading cupboard when this post is written. I can't wait to read it to Sicily and Chelsea!

You gotta love a mouse with chutzpah. The title character of this hilarious tale has plenty, and shows it on every single page. His first statement is aimed at a raccoon, who begs to differ with the tiny being's perspective on who he really is ... a tiger. The raccoon is adamant that tigers are bigger and they growl vehemently. The mouse insists that tigers can also be small. A fox begs to differ.

With every argument voiced, the mouse becomes even more assertive. When a tiger makes its presence known, you might think the mouse would step back. You would be wrong! Instead, he describes the tiger as having all of a mouse's features, and sets out to prove his point by showing he can do all the things a tiger can do.

The tiger deflates, asking the mouse to explain what the other animals in the area are. The mouse responds with great confidence, and an apt description of the raccoon, the fox, the snake and the bird.

"Furry. Stripy.
Funny-looking face.
This is a caterpillar.

Long. Red.
Likes to bounce.
This is a balloon ... "

You get the picture? As he hurries off to hunt lunch, the mouse makes a startling discovery! In the blink of an eye, his persona changes - and the finale will have young listeners laughing uproariously. What a perfect turn of events!

Great cartoon art, expressive characters, bright colors and large full page spreads will captivate listeners and have them begging to hear it again.
                                                                         

Friday, November 29, 2019

Helen's Birds, by Sara Cassidy and drawn by Sophie Casson. Groundwood, 2019. $18.95 ages 8 and up


"A new home.

A new friend.

A shared love for
wild birds.

An unexpected change.

Renewal."

Using a graphic format and no words, Sara Cassidy and Sophie Casson tell a captivating story of friendship, loss, and legacy. Saanvi is new to the neighborhood. As she rides her tricycle she takes note of an older woman who lives nearby. She watches the woman fill bird feeders, bring home bags of seed, and welcome birds to her quiet yard. It isn't long until Helen is encouraging the little girl to help her with the work.

Their friendship grows as they share card games, great variety in weather, reading together, gardening and watching the many birds they attract with their care and attention. Years pass. Saanvi learns to watch quietly as birds build nests, feed their young and encourage them to take flight. Saanvi is a willing helper with leaves, feeding the squirrels and birds, and being a presence in Helen's life. They love nature and it is evident.

When an ambulance arrives in the middle of the night at Helen's house, Saanvi is concerned. Helen does not return home, the yard deteriorates and the house is sold. Saanvi's sadness is evident as she watches movers pack up Helen's belongings and throw her feeders in the trash. The birds disappear. The house is demolished and a gaping hole is left in the neighborhood and in the young girl's heart. Eventually, memories of Helen and the joyful times they spent together inspire Saanvi to make a change for the better in her own yard.  A welcome legacy to her dear friend.     
                                                                         
                                                   
                                                                       

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Thank You Letter, written and illustrated by Jane Cabrera. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"The next day Grace got
out her new pens and
pencils to write Thank
You Letters.

Dear Nana and Grandpops, 
Thank you for my puppy. 
Love, Grace X

 Dear Milly and Billy, 
Thank you for my sparkly
shoes. 

As our American neighbors celebrate Thanksgiving today, I thought this book would be a pretty appropriate post. There is much for all of us to be thankful for, despite the affairs of the world. We need to look to our families, friends, communities, and the gifts of love, understanding and gratitude we have in our own lives.

Those thoughts bring me to Grace who is writing thank you letters to all who recently attended her birthday party, or sent gifts. It also begs a question for you: how often do you write letters these days? Have your kids seen you send a note in the mail lately? Is it a lost art, and should it be? I know how much I still love getting mail from family and friends. It takes so little time to make a difference in another's life.

Rant done! Grace did write a list for her birthday; so, we know writing is something she likes to do. It is not a surprise that she turns to writing to show her gratitude for the gifts received. The truly lovely thing about Grace's notes is that they are just right for a small child, and that they encourage her to continue writing. First a note to her cat, then the lady at the thrift store, her teacher, her dog, the sky ... and on she goes. Her gratitude spreads throughout her community and  has a surprising result.

"So, one afternoon when Grace
came home from school, she ran up
to her new tent, and ...

It was full of LOVE notes."

Did Grace stop there? No, she did not. In fact, she even thanks readers for reading this book!

It's a great message. Grace's letters are very child-like, and the collage artwork is filled with warm, bright colors and a very grateful and thoughtful main character. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

When You're Scared, written by Andree Poulin and illustrated by Veronique Joffre. Owlkids, 2019. $19.95 ages 3 and up

A boy and his mom
go camping on a
beautiful day.

A bear cub and his
mama are not too
far away.

When they meet
unexpectedly, all
four are afraid.

Parallel stories have such appeal for observant little ones. When encouraged to take a close look, they often find details that the adults sharing the book don't see. The nine words written here are essential to the meaning of the book itself, while spare.

The forest setting is introduced on the endpapers. The title page shows a loaded truck, bicycle on the roof, and a quiet road sporting a campground sign. Then, wow! A full page spread that offers up all the information the reader needs. A campsite being set up in the foreground; tent, picnic table, cooler, radio, lantern, badminton set, soccer ball, unloaded truck but for the bicycle, a mother and child hard at work to get things done. Surrounded by forest, it is no surprise to see a mother bear and her cub ambling in the far background. Little ones will also take note of the refuse container often seen in camp settings. 

The child is 'a little scared' to jump from a tree branch into the lake and his mother's arms. In a parallel view, the little bear is 'a little scared' to jump from his branch to the garbage bin that is sooo close. The campers eat; the bear partakes of the goodies to be found inside the dumpster.

Tasked to dispose of their garbage, the boy bikes to that dumpster. He is 'very scared' when he sees the mother bear, just as the little bear is 'very scared' when he realizes he cannot get out of the garbage bin. But, Mama bears are mama bears, ursine or human. The solution is perfect, as is this quiet and engaging book.

Appealing, colorful artwork done in paper collage sets the tone for a most enjoyable read. The details and hints presented will delight little ones who like to anticipate what might happen next. The quiet ending is lovely.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Did You Burp? How to ask questions ... Or not! Written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Leeza Hernandez. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"Certain words help make
questions.

The word "who"
helps form questions about
people. Usually, the answer
is a person or group of people.

"When" asks about time. The
answer might be a year, a month, a day ... "

As someone who spent a number of years teaching kindergarten children, I have many stories to share about the questions they ask. It's whatever comes to mind, and those questions are rarely about the topic at hand. No matter how one tries to direct attention to the current conversation, any small diversion will have them veering off to make unexpected connections. A conversation about a baby can lead to diapers, the color orange and Halloween without any delay in conversation. I wish I had saved more of them.

So, having a book that describes questions and how they are used is sure to be a winner with both teachers and children. The first page shows a group of diverse question-asking kids and shows some of the questions that MIGHT come up on a visit to the beach. Or, perhaps not! There are crabs and tides, but there are also lost glasses and a series of questions about the new school year and teachers.

Each new page shows a group of friends talking about using questions: for information, for helping with needs, for encouraging curiosity and learning how to do something new. There are many, many ways to ask meaningful questions:

"Questions can show that you care about another 
person. You are interested in what they think,
feel, know and do.

Would you like some help? 
What are you doing? 
Aren't you cold? 
Is that a walrus? How long 
did it take to make? 
Do you like it? 
Do you know if walruses 
have ears?"

This scene shows eight children playing in the snow in different areas of the school playground. If you spend time with children, you know it is their way of learning about the world, both near and far. Each of the scenarios presented here happen at school ... the perfect place for learning the value of questioning. One can only hope that little ones take note and begin to formulate the questions that will help them get real and useful answers. It is a very important skill to have.

In the end, Ms. Sayre offers invaluable advice:

"Questions are the beginning of learning about the world. 

So be brave. Be bold.
Ask questions!"                                                                       

Monday, November 25, 2019

Going Down Home With Daddy, written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Daniel Minter. Peachtree, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2019. $22.95 ages 5 and up

"Granny spreads her
arms wide and wraps us
both inside. "My, my, "
she says, and showers our
cheeks with peppermint
kisses. " I missed you so."
All afternoon, a parade of
family comes home -
Grandma Loretta and Grandpa
James, aunts and uncles. And
more cousins than I can count."

This seems a perfect book to post today, given that it's Thanksgiving week in the US and families will be getting together to celebrate all that is good in life. Although this family reunion story takes place in the summer and is an annual event, it speaks to the power of traditions and their importance in the lives of young children.

Lil Alan can't wait to get to his Granny's house. Each year Granny greets he and his family members with a welcome hug. After their arrival, others continue to join them with their teasing remarks and desire to catch up on all the news. Each year there is a celebration of heritage and history. It is the only part of the day Lil Alan dreads.

"But when I look at my hands, empty as the
road in front of us, my grin fades. The anniversary
celebration. I bet everyone will have something to
share except me."

Each member of the family takes part; it is an expectation. In talking with his cousins and his sister, Alan hears what each will be doing to honor the family and their Granny. Oh, dear! What will he do? He has no idea. As he engages in all of the joys and experiences of the days spent at Granny's, he hears both old and new stories. There is so much to observe and appreciate. It inspires Alan to consider the family's past history. Others share their thoughts and planned performances. Soon, it is Alan's turn. Fearful, he is encouraged by Sis and the multitude of family smiles and support. With cotton, a pecan and a pinch of dirt, Alan is able to do his part.

Kelly Starling Lyons' writing is expressive and precise, summoning memories for readers of times spent with extended family. Daniel Minter's acrylic wash art is admirable and sure to have readers needing to return to each of its pages for a closer look. Patterned, textured and expressive, there is much to see here. This ode to family and traditions is a perfect book to read aloud at any time of the year, whether you hold family reunions or not.
                                                                               
                                                                                   

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Layla's Happiness, written by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2019. $23.95 ages 3 and up


"And the full moon - 
well, it's my favorite.

It sits in the sky like a 
wish flower's sister. 

If I could reach the moon, 
I'd blow on it and 
wish to play the trumpet well, 
without every having to practice." 

You need to meet Layla. She has spunk. She observes her world through a refreshing and passionate lens. As we search for ways to be happier in our lives, we need to look to the children - to children who have the uncanny ability to look at the world with attention and great pleasure. Layla teaches that important lesson. 

As the reader learns more and more about her, we know what she likes, what she is like, and what makes her heart sing. She announces immediately that her name means 'night beauty' which explains why she loves the night sky. But, that is not all she loves. She loves the full moon, tree climbing, wearing purple, and eating spaghetti without using a fork. She loves being with her friend Juan and always with her parents. She loves the family stories her father tells, and the poetry her mother loves to read.

She makes every single person who reads her story want to dance with the joy she finds in every day experiences. It takes no time to want to be part of her procession ... to follow her from one page to the next, basking in the aura that surrounds her. She is curious, full of imagination, and always ready for a new adventure. 

The artwork is as energetic and entertaining as the young lady we come to know on these pages. Bright colors and appealing textured spreads invite little ones to reach out to touch Layla's gorgeous world. It also begs asking the question of those who read it: what makes you happy? 
                                                                               
 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

White Rose, written by Kip Wilson. Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 12 and up

"I have nothing
more to say,
Herr Mohr has nothing
more to ask,
and yet the next
time he summons
me, he throws
me a lifeline.

You can still save
yourself, Fraulein
Scholl."

I have written about the White Rose resistance against Hitler in an earlier post, We Will Not Be Silent Clarion, 2016). This new book is another compelling story, and heartbreaking. At its core, it is also a story about uncommon bravery and an unwavering belief in doing what is right.

A debut novel, written in verse, tells of a time in Germany between 1935 and 1943. We know from the first few pages that February 18, 1943 is a gruesome day in Sophie Scholl's life. For, it begins with "The End".

"They swing
the door shut, unlock
my handcuffs, order
me to sit, rush about with
coats, hats, cases, papers
as I try not
to give in to the
overwhelming
            sickening
knowledge spreading through me:
the two of us are trapped
in this net because
of me." 

The scene quickly shifts to 1935 when Sophie is only 14. She is not Jewish, and lives a very comfortable life with a happy, supportive family. That changes with Hitler's decrees against anyone who doesn't comply with his political views. When Sophie's older brother Hans is arrested for disloyalty, and Hitler continues his egregious attacks on the Jewish people and other countries in Europe, Sophie cannot be silent. Her rage eventually leads to her working with Hans and others to rebel against the government, and to do whatever the resistance can do to disrupt the continued persecution. The distribution of pamphlets calling for resistance is considered an act of treason, and the search to find and punish those responsible lead to devastating results for the Scholl family.

Sophie's first person voice alternates between "Before":

"It aches
to be so far away
from the life
I once knew,
from the life
I hope to lead,
from the life
everyone around
us deserves.

Like the winter relief
collection, my role working
for this Reich is part of what
allows this regime
to continue.

Every day I serve it
makes me want to fight it
all the more."

Then, after her arrest, the shock of "The End":

"I pause then,
trying to suppress
the panic growing inside me,
hoping at the very least
that I've placed
               most
of the blame
               on my brother and me.

His face hard, his eyes harder,
Herr Mohr asks
if I have anything to add.

I did the best I could 
for my country. I don't regret
what I did and I'm ready to accept 
the consequences for my actions.

With these words
I finally
silence
Herr Mohr."

The poems provide a clear look at life in Germany at the time. They are emotional, and telling. These succinct passages allow readers to follow Sophie from early adolescence until she is faced with execution for her actions. The shifts that take readers back and forth in time have unrelenting emotional impact as they move from her early untroubled family life, through growing anguish and desperation, to activism and eventually to capture and interrogation.

Back matter enriches the story itself with a list of dramatis personae, a glossary of German words, an author's note and a extensive list of selected resources.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Wintercake, by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"The two friends looked at
one another. They looked at
the wintercake, on its plate
with its ribbon. They looked
down at their shadows, blue
shapes on the snow. A trail of
crispy footprints led from where they stood, away through the forest. "That's it!" cried Lucy.

When Thomas realizes he has misplaced his fruit basket, he begins a search that leads from inside to outside. Looking in all of the usual places, he is unable to find it. His friend Lucy is willing to help him solve the mystery. After all, it holds all the fruit for Thomas's
wintercake. How will they truly celebrate if he cannot make his traditional treat?

Lucy tries to assure him that the holiday is more important than the food. Thomas is not convinced. Lucy flies off, straight into a winter storm. After forced to the ground by the storm's power, she finds her way toward a tea room that is tucked into the boughs of an evergreen. As she listens there to incessant conversation concerning the weather, she hears an unexpected admission.

"Found me a nice basket of 
dried-up fruits this morning. 
Perfect for wintercake."

The creature with the basket makes an exit. Lucy is quick to follow. The 'scroudrel' goes straight to Thomas's door, and explains that a waiter suggested where the owner could be found. Thomas is delighted; Lucy is contrite. Impressed with the honesty, they decide to make a wintercake as a thank you.

A problem arises when they have no idea where to deliver it. Luckily, tracks in the snow lead them on a journey filled with 'obstacles' and 'difficullties'. They carry on, knowing it is the right thing to do. Soon, they are cold and hopelessly lost. Wait! Is that a light?

This is a perfectly paced tale of friendship, kindness, and celebration. The variety in color and perspective chosen to tell it visually adds to the feelings evoked when a false accusation leads to a chance to make amends.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Gross As A Snot Otter: Discovering the World's Most Disgusting Animals. Written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David DeGrand. Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 7 and up

"Gross CHIPMUNKS?! You bet. When they encounter a dead snake, these chipmunks are known to gnaw on its flesh, then rub it onto their own bodies. Sometimes they even roll in the snake's pee. Why? If you smell like a dangerous snake, predators will keep their distance." 

That is only one of the many fascinating facts Jess Keating shares in this newest book in her The World of Weird Animals series. If your kids or students read one or all of the previous books in this collection, they will be aching to get their hands and eyes on this one, too. 

Gross! How many kids are appalled and delighted to read about animals that are cringe-worthy in their behaviors? This one has real EWWW! appeal for them, as they learn about 17 creatures that definitely meet that particular criteria. Just hearing their names is enough to make readers cringe: snot otter, zombie worm, dumpy tree frog, maggot, hagfish, star-nosed mole, Spanish ribbed newt, Surinam toad, caecilian, dung beetle, and sea cucumber. A few surprises are included: giraffe, Siberian chipmunk, parrotfish, marabou stork, fulmar, and herring. Once you have read the entries for each and every one, you will totally understand why they are included in this welcome addition to the captivating series. 

"The name FULMAR means "foul gull" and this animal certainly lives up to the term. When hreatened by other birds, fulmar chicks will projectile-vomit a sticky, oily substance onto their attackers. Not only does this oil smell horrible, it sticks to feathers and makes it difficult to fly."   

Nasty little ones! Disgusting, yes! Their survival depends on those traits that make others turn away. The book is also appealing for those who love to learn about 'gross' things and to share the tidbits they pick up at opportune moments. 

For those who have read the previous titles, the design is familiar: a clear photograph on the verso, faced by a page of information on the recto that includes an introductory paragraph, a splash information box, and a list at the outer edge that adds name, species names, size, diet, habitat, predators and threats. 

Back matter offers an explanation concerning why certain things disgust us, and how those feelings might change over time. A glossary helps with new vocabulary.

If you haven't seen the other books in the series, check for them at the library or bookstore: Pink Is For Blowfish, Cute As an Axolotl, and What Makes A Monster?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

All The Ways to Be Smart, written by Davina Bell and illustrated by Allison Colpoys. Scribble, Scribe. Publishers Group Canada, 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"Smart is not
just being best
at spelling bees,
a tricky test.

Or knowing all
the answers ever ...

Other things
are just as clever."

In lilting rhyme and joyful celebration, this book lets ALL kids know that they are 'smart'. Every day in every way, children show their 'smarts' doing the things they love to do. Surprise! Those things are not all the same. There are so many ways for young children to express themselves, in smart and wondrous ways.

In a world intent on having every three-year-old (or eight-year-old) up to speed in learning what all other children their age are learning, we forget it is not the way the world works. Look around your workplace; is everyone doing the same thing in the same way every single day? What a boring place that would be. Why is it different for our youngest learners? They are so many ways to be smart; pigeon-holing them into reading levels and identical school lessons, while rarely looking at their strengths and smarts, could be causing much of the stress and anxiety so many of our young children are feeling every single day.

This book would be a perfect for reading at the start of the year, in the middle of the year, at the end of the year ... maybe every day of the school year. It is brilliant in its encouragement for children to celebrate what inspires them.

"Smart is not just ticks and crosses,
smart is building boats from boxes.

Painting patterns, wheeling wagons,
being mermaids, riding dragons.

Smart at drawing things with claws,
facts about the dinosaurs.
Folding up airplanes for flying ...
Smart is kindness when there's crying."

The artwork is made with ink, charcoal, and pencil before being digitally assembled. Rich, sunny hues bring attention to all that children do well. Affirmative in tone and charming, it is a book that will be read numerous times ... each time inspiring confidence and individuality. There is so much talent in a child's world, why not let it all shine through?
                                                                             

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Rabbit and the Motorbike, written by Kate Hoefler and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 nd up

"Except for one day,
when he heard a not-quiet sound. Rabbit didn't know why Dog would leave his motorbike to him, since he didn't go anywhere. He hoped the bike would like not going anywhere. On days Rabbit collected carrots, the motorbike collected leaves."

Dog has an appetite for adventure; his friend Rabbit does not. Rabbit is perfectly happy staying within the confines of his wheat field, never straying beyond its borders. Dog is a good friend, unable now to leave the field himself, due to age and poor health.

Throughout his life, Dog was always on the go. He traveled 'all over the country', and returned to share stories with Rabbit. Those stories made Rabbit feel as if he had shared all of Dog's many adventures.

"The world is beautiful," Dog would say,
"if you're brave enough to see it. Even
new places can feel like long-lost friends."

Every day was filled with a good story by
Dog. Every day."

A bad day was the day Dog left. Every day now was filled with quiet and loneliness. Gifting his motorbike to his friend Rabbit seemed a strange thing to do. Rabbit went nowhere. The bike just sat by the fence, encouraging birds to build nests in it. On an especially lonely night, Rabbit brought the bike inside. Together, the two listened to the sounds coming from the nearby highway.

With the arrival of summer, Rabbit began to hear the bike's engine in his dreams. Perhaps, he could ride it 'just down the road.' Where might that road lead, and what memories might it inspire?

Sensitively told, and accompanied by soft and warmhearted mixed media artwork, this book emboldens the reader to consider letting go of fear and embracing life in all its wonder.                                                                          

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Truth About Hawks: Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals, by Maxwell Eaton III. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $20.99 ages 6 and up

"Hunting starts with watching
for prey while flying high in the
air, low over the ground, or
waiting on a perch.

Some hawks can see ultraviolet
light, which humans can't see.
The urine and feces (pee and poop)
some rodents mark their tracks
with glow like a map showing
where they are."

This is the sixth installment in The Truth About series. As with the others, it is filled with facts that are simply stated and clearly illustrated. Humorous interactions between birds, humans, and other animals provide enjoyment while informing the target audience about the many traits that make hawks stand apart from other members of the avian family.

Kids will love the quirky humor found in both conversation and accompanying cartoon artwork. They will learn that hawks come in many varieties ... 230 species to be exact. North American members of the family are presented on one double-page spread that includes a swallow-tail, a sharp-shinned, a gray, a norther harrier, a Cooper's, a rough-legged and a red-tailed hawk. An accompanying notice on this page reminds that some birds may look like hawks, even though they are not closely related: falcons, owls, new world vultures are named.

There is a focus in the conversation on voles and snails who are prey for these majestic birds. This adds humor, as well as some of the drama for the telling. Readers are shown that the hawk is quite a remarkable bird, with many special features and needs. Hunting is aptly described and shown in a series of panels that ensure a quick pace. Courtship, raising a family, migration and dangers faced are also mentioned.

Back matter includes an illustrated file that provides additional information concerning wingspan, thermals, updrafts, and migratory routes.

 This is a welcome addition to a stellar series, following on the success of the previous five books:
Crocodiles, Elephants, Dolphins, Hippos and Bears. Be sure to check them out!                                                                             

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Stormy: a story about finding a forever home, by Guojing. schwartz & wade, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages all ages



"A story about

        patience,

            kindness,

                and trust"



So much can be said without a word being spoken. I do hope that you read Guojing's first book, The Only Child (Schwartz & Wade, 2015). If not, I hope that my telling you about this second one sends you out to find it. Both are full of patience and hope.

Friendship and love are at the heart of this tale that begins with a bedraggled pup finding shelter under a wooden bench. A young woman comes along and sits to read her paper; the dog runs off and watches from afar. The woman is calm, quiet, and encouraging in trying to have it come closer. It is not to be. Once gone, the dog returns to its safe place.

The woman reappears on another day, offering a ball to sniff and quiet company. The pup approaches, chases the ball as it is thrown, but remains apprehensive. The young woman goes, leaving the dog and the ball. She is persistent, always offering comfort, patience and attempting reciprocal play.

One day, the pup follows from a distance as she heads off. He watches her cheery apartment window and waits. A bone-jarring storm forces the dog to seek protection from the elements. The young woman rushes to the park to find him. She cannot find him. Concerned and downhearted, she goes back home where she sees the ball and discovers the pup nearby.

There is no need for words. The drama of this marvelous tale is told in stunning artwork that alternates between full and half spreads, varied graphic panels always perfectly lit. Perfection!                                                                           

Saturday, November 16, 2019

I Want A Dog,written and illustrated by Jon Agee. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"How about this python?
It doesn't have legs, but
it slithers over when you
call it.

I don't want a python.

How about this frog? It
can hide a bone, and it
barks at passing cars,
just like a dog."

She knows exactly what she wants, and you would think that a place called the Happydale Animal Shelter would have the dog she is seeking. The man at the shelter tries to be accommodating by suggesting a number of other choices she might make. She is adamant. She wants a dog.

Little ones might wonder why the man in charge is wearing a suit. They soon find out that he is a man determined to convince the little girl that a dog is not really what she wants ... a real salesman! The alternating conversation between child and adult provide humor and will evoke giggles. Both are fiercely determined to have personal point of view win out.

It is great fun to watch what new pet(s) appears with each turn of the page. Kids will chuckle when the girl repeatedly rejects each new recommendation with resolute certainty. After a lot of back and forth, the little girl is plenty exasperated, and asks the question that results in an unexpected and satisfying ending.

 If you know and admire Jon Agee's brilliant books, you will not be surprised by the twist that ends his wonderful new book. Readers will be drawn in by the variety in animals that would make terrible pets, and his trademark watercolor art. Charming, funny, and perfect for reading aloud.
                                                                       

Friday, November 15, 2019

Owen At The Park, written and illustrated by Scot Ritchie. Groundwood Books, 2019. $17.95 ages 3 and up

"At first they looked confused,
then they gathered their things
and hurried away.

Some people had
to be woken up ...

or interrupted in the middle
of a game of checkers ...

or tapped on the shoulder
while reading a book."

I am going to promise you right up front that by the time Owen ends his day, the kids who hear this book will be wanting his job. They may not think so as the story begins. Owen willingly helps his dad  to care for a beautiful city park. As with all jobs, it is not fun and games every minute of the days they spend together. A lot of the time he does boring things liking raking and sweeping. While Owen is doing his work, his dad is mowing the massive lawns.

It is the 'once a week' job that makes it all worthwhile. This week he is doing it all by himself for the first time, and he's pretty excited.

"For a shy boy like Owen,
the first part of the job was
difficult.
"Just be friendly and firm,"
said his dad as he looked at his
watch."

Owen gets right at letting the people who are enjoying the park know that they need to find another place to be. As they listen to what he has to say, they pack up their belongings and get a move on. If they don't understand what he is saying, he pantomimes the message. Time is running out when he finally makes his way to his station. The park is much changed when he looks back.

Turning on the tap lets the sprinklers to do their work. A few poor stragglers are sorry they didn't put a little more effort into following Owen's instructions. Ha! An hour later, his work is done for another week. He and his father leave the park, satisfied with the results.

This is a story quickly told and inspired by a trip Mr. Ritchie made to the Tiegarten in Berlin. It is made better with the gorgeous mixed media artwork that fully fills every double page spread, with the warmth of the sun and the comfort of such a beautiful green space. Lovely to see so many families and friends enjoying is many riches.

Good work, Owen!
                                                                             

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Ranger, written and illustrated by Nancy Vo. Groundwood Books, 2019. $17.95 ages 6 and up

"The fox looked at Annie,
defeated.
Annie said, "I will bind
your wounds and feed you."

The next day, the fox
was still weak.

"Fine, I shall stay with
you one more day," said
Annie."

This is the second book in the Crow Stories trilogy. In The Outlaw (2018), we learned the power of perception and the influence one person can have. The Ranger provides a new impactful character for consideration. The look of the book is familiar; the palette of mostly black, white and gray, the tone for the telling, the quiet pace of the story itself, and the gorgeous textured artwork work to create another unique and memorable tale of friendship and harmony.

In the beginning, readers are told the person pictured is a ranger. Until the perspective changes to seeing her from the front, it is not known that the ranger is a young woman. Once that is clear, her journey through the brush ensues. It leads to a fox in trouble; its leg is caught in a steel trap.

Annie offers help, healing, and companionship. The two set off, spending their days and nights together. Despite the wounded leg, the fox keeps up and provides protection from a huge and threatening bear. Annie's world goes black. Semi-consciousnesses finds her face to face with an old woman who offers healing medicine. Annie is thankful.  Upon full awakening, the woman is gone and the fox is by her side. The two travel on, full of love and appreciation each for the other.

The dramatic switches in perspective, with the addition of one pertinent color, bring clarity to this marvelous tale. Readers will be surprised by the twists, and the feelings of suspense as the two travel. Strong bonds of support and friendship make this story both memorable and thought-provoking.

https://youtu.be/YVkK3D3UB2A
                                                                                 
                                               


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fern and Horn, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood Books. 2019. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"Fern loves looking at stars.
They sparkle and glow from
a million light years away.
Sometimes she hears them
singing. Fern also loves making stars. She cuts out bright morning stars, fiery shooting stars and even starfish. She sprinkles stardust everywhere. Fern hangs the stars so high that not even a ferocious elephant could ... "

Did you know that siblings don't always get along? If you have, or know, children, you will also know that to be true. Fern and Horn are siblings, artists in their own right.

Fern has a vivid imagination and uses it to create amazing images of those things she loves in her world: flowers, butterflies, birds, bees, caterpillars and orange trees. Her brother Horn, also imaginative but with a bit of a concern that he cannot replicate his sister's work, is inspired by Fern's suggestion to find what he likes and draw it.

Horn's love for creating big things like elephants and polar bears wreaks havoc on his sister's artwork. Fern is obviously annoyed at the destruction, and offers terse advice for reining in his projects. Not to be deterred, Fern moves on to a moat and shark-protected castle for her next project. Horn, not wanting to be outdone, has his next bright idea.

"Meanwhile, Horn pulls out a long, green, scaly thing
from the bottom drawer of his dresser. He puts it on and
sneaks out into the yard."

Fern proves how well she knows her sibling when she thwarts his new plan with a tempting treat. After a short, quiet truce, the two are on to their next artistic endeavor.

Marie-Louise Gay's illustrations are done using acrylic, watercolor, HB and 6B pencil and collage. In her deft hands, those art supplies accentuate the true brilliance of the artist's imagination as she captures the genius and resourcefulness of young children. Vibrant, textured and detailed, every spread offers delight.
                                                                                 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal. Written by Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowiinger. Annick Press, 2019. $16.95 ages 11 and up

"Indigenous people know the courage it takes to walk the war road. That's why we've always respected the bravery of our warriors. We honor them with the sweat lodge when they return from battle. This is only one of the ways we've adapted our traditions to modern times. Our ability to adapt to new ways was tested by the flood of changes that came with the invaders."

Two years ago, Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger collaborated to write Turtle Island; The Story of North America's First People. It is the account of what life was like for Indigenous people before the arrival of the Europeans. It is a truly important book for all to read.

Today is the publication date for their second collaboration, What the Eagle Sees. It is a rare and extraordinary look at the struggles of the Indigenous people with the arrival, not only of the Pilgrims but also of the Vikings and the Spanish explorers. It begins with the Vikings, and their intent to battle for supremacy in a new land. They did not realize the fierce nature of those they called the Skraelings.

"The Vikings didn't have any military or technological advantage over the
 Indigenous peoples in Greenland or Newfoundland, and they didn't carry any
new deadly diseases to North America, so these first invaders did not bring
about the end of one world and the beginning of another. Life went on for the
Thule much as it had before, except for the stories they told of light-skinned
hairy strangers."

Eight chapters follow chronicling the events, the means used to resist the many unwelcome changes, the actions of the Indigenous people trying to deal with all that was happening to their way of life, and what is being done today to understand the past while moving toward a better future. The design is engaging: colorful maps, archival and contemporary photographs, artwork, personal stories, traditional tales, quotes, and boxes providing further information attract interest and attention. The authors are adept at introducing their readers to issues faced and the diversity of the many experiences of colonization.

The imagine sections provide for empathetic understanding to help readers comprehend the many trials and losses.

"You are only seven years old. Your parents cry as they put you on a train
with other children. They explain that they have no choice. The train takes you far
away, to the largest building you've ever seen. When you get to the school, the matron
bathes you in kerosene and shaves your head. Long hair like the people wear at home
is forbidden."

Imagine!

"The light, hopeful side is that against all odds we have survived."

Informative and important, this book should be placed beside Turtle Island in every school library.

Monday, November 11, 2019

It Rained Warm Bread: Moishe Moskowitz's Story of Hope. Story by Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet and poems by Hope Anita Smith. Illustrations by Lea Lyon. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $22.50 ages 11 and up

"Our Polish neighbors watch, too,
but only for a moment.
They must make a choice:
Bury their heads in the sand
or pick up a fistful and throw it at us.
The Nazis devise a plan
to make it easier to find their prey.
By candlelight,
my mother sews yellow patches
on our jackets and coats.
We are stars,
but we do not shine."

As she has done before and will do again, Hope Anita Smith writes painful and poignant poems that speak to our hearts. Moishe's daughter shared her father's story with Ms. Smith and the result is this heartbreaking, yet hopeful, story of the fear he felt and the lessons he carried with him following the Nazi occupation of Poland. Life for Jewish people was alarming before the occupation; it became even more terrifying and evil with the arrival of the Nazis.

"No playing.
No light at night.
No conversations.
I no longer go to school,
and still,
I have mastered a new subject.
I have learned to be invisible."

Too soon, the family is forced to leave their home. A ghetto becomes their prison, before murder or deportation to the concentration camps. Moishe's family is lost to him. His life over the next years is one of horror, hunger, and eternal hardship. There are brief moments of kindness, never forgotten. He carries with him the love given and lessons taught by his family, and Moishe does not give up while he still has air to breathe.

"And as my father would say,
"Where there is hope, there is life."
I tote them around with me everywhere,
the weight of their memory
never so heavy that I would set them down.
I never stop thinking of them.
I carry them.
And because I carry them,
I feel each of them, in turn, reaching out their hands
to lighten my load.
I carry them
and that makes my burden
easier to bear."

So beautifully written, and absolutely heartbreaking. To know that Moishe, at 91, is alive and well, recently retired from the family business, enjoying his grandchildren, and spending time speaking to middle grade students about the war and his experiences is testament to the courage and bravery he has shown since he was 13 years old.
                                                                         
                                                             
                                                                 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle: The Cool Science Behind Frank Epperson's Famous Frozen Treat. Written by Anne Renaud and illustrated by Milan Pavlovic. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"When not busy with his
schoolwork or chores,
Frank could be found ...

adventuring with his brother Cray,
practicing his cornet,
or learning magic tricks.

He also pondered important
questions ... "

Even as a young boy, born in 1894, Frank William Epperson had a dream for himself. He wanted to invent things - great things. He wanted to be known for his inventions. His mind was filled with questions, and he was not afraid to ask them.

"Do goldfish sleep?

Do ants have ears?

Do woodpeckers get headaches from pecking all day?"

All questions seemed worthy of asking and trying to find answers. Frank also loved to experiment, using the back porch as his lab and coming up with design after design for a wide variety of inventions. First was a 'handcar with two handles'. It went twice as fast as those with only one handle. Eureka! He also loved to experiment with liquids; his favorite were flavored soda waters. He loved the sounds, the smells, and the taste of all those bubbles on his tongue. He bought various flavored powders and used them for experimenting with taste.

Never one to give up, Frank was constantly working to make the neighborhood a better place for the children, and he was always in charge of the soda water stand. One day when the outside temperature suddenly plummeted, Frank got to thinking about what might happen to a liquid left outside on a cold night. Morning came, and Frank was able to enjoy 'a frozen drink on a stick!' What a surprise!

He never forgot about that icy stick as years passed. As father to a growing family, he remembered that drink and wondered if it might bring him fame and fortune. He worked tirelessly to perfect it. Finally, he could make enough to sell at county fairs. He called them Ep-sicles. Finally, one of his kids inspired the new name - the name we continue to call them today. Pop-sicle!

The science experiments included are perfect for inspiring budding scientists to try their hand at some of the investigations Frank was trying. An author's note provides additional information about Frank and his many successes. Archival photos are wonderful, and a bibliography provides for further reading.

This is a great read aloud; it tells about one intrepid inventor who would not give up on his dream. Milan Pavlovic provides fabulous historical and inviting illustrations and an impressive design.
                                                                             

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Hundred-Year Barn, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Harper, 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"The barn boards were nailed. The roof shingles were nailed. The sound of hammering echoed in the valley like the beat of music. And after many days, when the building was done, Emma climbed a ladder and placed a pine bough at its peak. Everyone cheered."

One rarely sees a barn like this today. Although I know there are places where barns are built by a community, I have never seen a barn raising and don't often see barns that have stood the test of one hundreds years of existence. This one has done so.

The narrator of the story, now a grown man, informs the reader that the barn was built exactly one hundred years ago ... in 1919. He was a five-year-old boy at the time and was impressed by all he saw. It took a village.

"The hundred-year barn was built one summer in our meadow
with a small stream running through.
It was built by townspeople:
fathers and daughters,
mothers and sons,
grandmothers and grandfathers,
and friends."

Barn building was an important community event. The boy watched with his mother as people worked hard day after day until it was done. They worked through blazing heat, while the children played. While it was happening, his father lost his wedding ring. It was never found. Father joked that not only was he married to his wife, he was now married to the barn as well.

The barn stood in a stately manner on the wide prairie. After it was finished, friends and neighbors gathered for food and a photo. It was a huge undertaking made easier because everyone pitched in to help. Once the inside of the barn was complete, the barn was painted a bold red color on the outside. Through numerous seasons, the barn housed animals, implements and memories to last a lifetime.

The boy grew up, left for school, and came back to help on the family home. Weddings, birthdays, holidays were celebrated, and all manner of animals were welcomed within the barn's walls. It offered warmth and shelter, and withstood the many challenges of seasonal weather. And eventually, it offered up a very special surprise!

Patricia MacLachlan is a skilled and beautifully consistent teller of family stories. Focusing on the barn to tell this one is another example of her ability to inspire her readers to appreciate the many great and small moments in life. Kenard Pak uses watercolor, gouache, pencil, ink, and digital media to show farm life across wide landscapes and in quiet moments at every turn of the page. 
                                                                           

Friday, November 8, 2019

Finding Lucy, by eugenie fernandes. Pajama Press, 2019. $22.95 ages 4 and up

"And ever after, after that,
the cat purred,
and Lucy painted with grit
and determination
and GUMPTION
and PIZZAZZ.

And the courage of spring
and the color of laughter."

Lucy is a young girl who loves to paint what's in her heart. On the day we meet her she is painting outside in her garden, when a reporter happens by and wonders what she is doing. Lucy has a quick and apt response.

"I am painting the color of
laughter," said Lucy."

The reporter, as do so many today, has an opinion, and shares it. He thinks her painting looks like 'jellybean soup.' Lucy is surprised. His news report has others coming to see Lucy's art. The elephant wants to hear that laughter ... and cannot. She offers advice that has Lucy changing her canvas to make it louder. It turns out that everyone who visits has an opinion. As they share just exactly what they are thinking, Lucy tries to respond to them. Left to her own devices once more, Lucy returns to her art. Soon additional visitors offer up further opinions. As she listens Lucy becomes downcast; she does want to please a 'big-city critic' who is not impressed with the changes she makes.

Finally, with her cat's help, Lucy returns to the wonder of her own imagination and artistic vision. It is just what she needs to be happy. 

Using acrylic paint on canvas, Ms. Fernandes creates bold spreads that are both textured and detailed. She brings a joy to images that will encourage young children to try their hand at creating something of their own.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Caravan to the North: Misael's Long Walk, written by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Manuel Monroy. Translated by Elizabeth Bell. Groundwood, 2019. $16.95 ages 10 and up


"For over a week
we’ve walked.
We’ve ridden in trucks
and buses.
We’ve slept in parks, in streets
and in shelters.
In some places
people are glad to see us, they help us.
In others they chase us away.
I don’t know where the North is."

If you want a clear picture of the plight of the El Salvadoran people and their 2018 caravan, listen to this story told in the voice of a 9 year old child who must leave his much-loved home and community to head north. There is nothing left for them where they live ... no employment, constant terror and violence, nothing left to sustain a family.

Misael, his mother, father, and brother reluctantly join the 'caravan' that will take them on a journey north. They travel with a very large group of migrants, all looking for a better life. The road is long, and the conditions are less than ideal. If they are together, they think they will be safe. None know what the future holds for them. They have hope for a better life.

"When we get there,
I'm going to have an apartment
with water you can drink.
I'll bathe in warm water
and have a washing machine.

"I just want to work
and send money to my mom.
She's really old and has no pension,"
says a boy
who is walking by my side.

"I'm going to start college.
Maybe I could be a lawyer
or a teacher or a doctor.
Well, I'll settle for just getting there
and then we'll see," says another boy."

Misael's voice is heartbreaking as he observes and shares the stories of those who walk with him. They all experience both fear and hope. That is what guides them through exhausting days and endless nights. Only in hearing Misael's voice as he describes the 4,000 km trip can we begin to understand why they would risk their lives to find asylum.They carry what they can on their backs, are encouraged by kindness as they pass through El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. Upon reaching the United States border, all that changes. They are met with the threatening presence of the military and border police, batons, tear gas, protesters, chaos, barbed wire, and a wall ... and reason to fear for their lives once again. The border is closed.

That night Misael dreams:

"I fell asleep and I dreamed.
I dreamed I was flying.
I dreamed I was a song,
I dreamed I was a butterfly,
I dreamed I was a fish
and a wave.
I dreamed
the sweetest dream of all.
Instead of going to the North,
I went back to El Salvador."

It is not the Misael's dream to leave his beloved country; it is a necessity if he wants to live a more peaceful life. Would we not want the same?

Choosing to tell his story in spare verse, Mr. Argueta creates real emotional impact. Manual Monroy's back-and-white drawings perfectly match the crushing sadness of Misael's tale. In an afterword, Mr. Argueta explains why he chose to tell his story:

"I've written this text in my eagerness to share the voices of hope, of anguish, of the thousands of immigrants from Central America who abandon our countries because of all the violence and the lack of opportunities. In their midst, I saw people who were hard workers, humble, desperate and tired of suffering.

“It’s up to us to change things. I believe in the gentle power of reading. I believe reading changes the hearts, spirits, and minds of people.” —Jorge Argueta

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

EEK, YOU REEK!: Poems About Animals That STINK, STANK, STUNK. Written by Jane Yolen and Heide E.Y. Stemple, with Illustrations by Eugenia Nobati. Millbrook Press, Thomas Allen and Son. 2019. $25.99 ages 6 and up


"Eek, you reek,
You make a funk.
Where you have been
Things stink, stank, stunk.

You've left a path,
A swath of smell,
And--yuk!
You did it very well."

Oh, you know them! Those students who just can't wait to get their hands on, and their tongues around this series of poems that Jane Yolen and her daughter Heide have written for their entertainment and education. They will want to regale everyone in the class with poems about the gross animals large and small that make the world a much smellier place. Here's the finish to the title poem:

"But do not wail
For what you've done,
For you are not
The only one.

The awful stench
You've left behind
Is shared by others
Of your kind.

Eek, you reek,
Your anger's spent
No longer worth
Another scent."

There are thirteen more  poems ... each one accurately describing with delight others in the animal world known for their odor. Some are large, some are tiny; some are known, others less so; some use their scent to fend off predators, others to attract a mate: all are SMELLY!

I will admit I read each one a few times, and often chuckled. There is variety in the poetic form, while all accurately describe in well-chosen language the animal in question. Funny, rhythmic and entertaining as all get out, they are accompanied by digital art that is textural and boldly colored. You can almost imagine the reek!

Back matter includes thumbprint sketches and scientific names, along with a short paragraph of pertinent detail concerning each of the chosen creatures, a glossary of smelly words and even more, and a list of books for further reading.

Who Dares Eat A Skunk? 

Great horned owls
Devour skunks.
They eat them up
in bite-sized chunks.
Because owl's got
No sense of smell,
Even foul
Can go down well."

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Because of the Rabbit, written by Cynthia Lord. Scholastic, 2019. $22.99 ages 8 and up

"That night I put Be Yourself and
You Got This back on the windowsill
with the rest of my rock collection.
I felt I'd failed at both of them. I
didn't "get" school at all, and it didn't
even feel possible to Be Yourself. For
tomorrow, I needed something easier.
Maybe Keep Going? That rock came
from the top of Mount Katahdin. Dad,
Owen, and I climbed that mountain one
day, and it was a hard hike to the top."

Tomorrow is Emma's first day in public school. She is a fifth grader; up until now, she has been home-schooled by her mother. The family is a happy one. Emma loves learning with her mother, sharing memories of her French Canadian grandparents and the lessons, they taught about cooking and storytelling, going on adventures with her father and older brother Owen, and accompanying her game-warden father when he is called out on animal rescues.

Emma is missing the good times she had with Owen before he decided to attend public school. She is often lonely, and decides to attend public school in search of a best friend. She is both excited and scared, emotions that change places as she considers the changes sure to happen in her life. The night before her first day, her father is called out to rescue a tiny bunny caught between fence pickets. It takes no time to realize that this bunny is not a wild one. She convinces her father to take it home. They will check the animal shelter after school the next day to see if it has been reported missing.

School is not at all what Emma is expecting. It's noisy, her classmates have already established friendships, learning about one thing just gets under way when it is time to learn about something else, even the lunch room can be lonely for someone new. Jack, a classmate and project partner, offers a seat. It takes no time for Emma to realize that Jack is 'different' and doesn't appear to have many friends. Will Emma have a problem with others if she and Jack are friends? It is a question she asks herself, and a new experience for Emma. 

Filled with warmth and some minor glitches, this book will appeal to many and is a great read aloud for a third or fourth grade classroom. Each chapter begins with a fact about rabbits, and keeps readers aware of the growing love Emma has for 'Lapi', the rescued bunny. Emma learns a great deal about patience, perspective and friendship.

I found the author's note to be a wonderful addition. It lets readers know the connections Ms. Lord made between her life and her writing. It is a great message for kids who aspire to be authors. Written from the heart, with authentic characters and a meaningful context for its target audience.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship. Written and illustrated by Michael Foreman. Andersen Press USA, Thomas Allen and Son. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"The smell of cooking seems to attract all the stray dogs from miles around. One dog in particular seems to find me every time I settle down to my sausage and potatoes. He is an odd little dog with a flat face and short legs. I decide to call him Stubby. Now Stubby follows me everywhere. The other soldiers laugh when they see him marching along beside us ... "

With Remembrance Day one week away, I thought I would share this story from World War I. Children love stories where dogs are heroes, and Stubby is very deserving of that title.

It is the true story of a dog decorated for his role in the war that ended more than one hundred years ago, and it was published in England last year in commemoration of  the armistice that brought it to that end.

Stubby was a likeable stray who just happened to love the smell of food. He wandered into the training camp every time food was served and seemed particularly connected to one of the soldiers there. The story is told in Robert Conway's (Stubby's chosen friend) voice and chronicles the time the two spent together, from training camp in Connecticut to the battlefields of Europe, and back to the United States following the war. It is a unique and amazing friendship.

As you can imagine, their times together were not always good. As mascot for the regiment, Stubby accompanied the soldiers on their march to the front. Stubby is often subject to much appreciated attention in the villages they pass. Once at the front, Stubby proves his mettle. He is a great dog; he intercepts a spy, uses his sense of smell to warn of poison gas, gives warmth in cold trenches, and provides companionship during battle. Stubby is hurt once and must be hospitalized for six weeks. He happily returns to the troops when he has healed.

Armistice on November 11, 1918 allows a safe return and a hero's welcome for all, including Stubby who leads the parade.

"Peace is wonderful - but peace and quiet
will be even better. I am so thankful this
little stray dog found me."

An author's note provides additional information (and an archival photo) that readers will find uplifting! 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang. Scholastic, 2018. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Lupe explained. According to her
dad, there were two roller coasters
in America - one for rich people and
one for poor people. On the rich
roller coaster, people have money,
so their kids go to great schools.
Then they grow up and make a lot
of money, so their kids get to go to
great schools. "and 'round and
'round they go," Lupe said. "And
poor people?" I asked."

Lupe's response is telling:

"We're on a different roller coaster. On our roller coaster, our
parents don't have money, so we can't go to good schools, and
then we can't get good jobs. So then our kids can't go to good
schools, they can't get good jobs, and so on and so forth," Lupe
said."

This story set in 1993 shows that things haven't changed much, have they? Mia Tang and her parents are Chinese immigrants who are courageous, hopeful and hard-working when they arrive in the United States, wanting a better life than they had in China. It doesn't take long for their hopes to be dashed.

Looking for a job that will support their family, the parents are hired by a rich and indifferent motel owner who takes advantage of their situation. Given a small room behind the office in which to live, and enduring overburdened days of cleaning, laundry, making needed repairs and looking after the front desk, the three are soon worn out.  Their hard work is neither appreciated or given any worth.

Mia's voice is always hopeful, even in the worst of times. There are many days when a less resilient and strong fifth grader would just give in to despair. Mia is not that person. Rather, she works as hard as her parents do, trying to make their world a better place. Despite her mother's disdain for the writing she loves to do, Mia remains positive and moves forward in learning English and using her skills to write pertinent and heartfelt letters to people who need to hear what she has to say. Life at school is not easier than it is with her parents. She is bullied and lies are told about her. She holds her ground and stands for what she believes.

In this autobiographical debut novel, Ms.Yang creates characters worthy of our admiration and, at times, contempt. There are friends and supporters, and those who are championed by Mia for their worthiness in spite of what others think. There are many cringe-worthy moments, but there are also wonderful times of support and love. Mia has dreams to fulfill and the determination to make them come true, no matter the odds. There is injustice, but there is always hope. She thinks quickly, writes awesome letters, and faces challenges that seem insurmountable. She does it fiercely, all the while becoming a part of a very unique and supportive community.

And the ending! What a coup ...

A powerful and timely read, despite its early 1990s setting, for any middle years classroom.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Arctic Wolf: Animals Illustrated. Written by William Flaherty and illustrated by Sean Bigham. Inhabit Meida, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2018. $15.95 ages 8 and up

"Arctic wolves are lean and
tall, but they have smaller
ears and shorter muzzles than
grey wolves. The muzzle is
part of the wolf's face that
sticks out, where its nose and
mouth are.

The Arctic wolf's smaller ears
and shorter muzzle help it
conserve body heat during long, cold winters."

I have previously posted about other titles in this popular and very welcome series: Animals Illustrated. William Flaherty, whose other book in this series is Polar Bear, knows his stuff. He works as a conservation officer and with Search and Rescue in Iqaluit, Nunavut. He has first person knowledge of the animals where he lives.

This new book is just right reading for children wanting to know more about the animals of the Arctic. It contains 11 two-page titled chapters that will familiarize readers with the wolf itself. its range, a close look at its skeleton, its skull and fur.

"They have two layers of fur that
are very important to their survival.
The inner layer gets thicker in winter
to keep them warm. The outer layer is
waterproof to keep them dry. Thanks
to their fur, Arctic wolves stay warm
even in the coldest temperatures."

Following that, the author describes the diet that keeps them strong, their pups, the packs they form, and the way they communicate with each other. It ends with a few 'fun facts'.

"When they are chased, wolves run in a straight line, unlike
Arctic foxes, which run in a zigzag pattern to escape. Wolves
can run for a very long distance before they get tired." 

Conversational in tone, familiar in design and having realistic, colored illustrations, this book is a welcome addition to any classroom nonfiction collection.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Ariba: An Old Tale About New Shoes, written and illustrated by Masha Manapov. Enchanted Lion Books. Publishers Group Canada. 2019. $23.95 ages 5 and up

" ... he would wear them to bed.There wasn't a single person to whom Marcus didn't present his new shoes. He showed them off to Billy's mother, the bus driver, the ice cream man, Mr. Samson and his annoying little dog from across the street, and just about everyone else who happened to cross his path."

 Wearing his flashy new shoes, Marcus is a whirlwind of motion. Nothing stops him, and he wants everyone he meets to see and admire them. Just as he about to head out the door to let even more people see and appreciate those shoes, his grandfather calls. He has story to tell. Marcus settles in to listen.

"Under an endless sky, in a small village surrounded by
high mountains, there once lived a boy named Ariba.
During the day, he herded sheep, and as the long evenings
darkened into night, he gazed up at the stars."

The Ariba in his grandfather's story receives his new shoes for his twelfth birthday ... brand new ones! They are  big and meant to last. Ariba loves everything about those shoes, saving them for Sunday and other special events. The shoes are particularly fond of adventure. Their times spent together are never boring. But, as more and more of his friends leave their village to live in the city, Ariba begins to wonder what life might be like there. He and his shoes hit the road.

His new life is much different than his old one. In the city, he rarely looks up at the sky. His old shoes do not suit his new lifestyle; he buys a new pair. Wanting to get rid of the old shoes, he does his best to discard them. They keep coming back to him, always helped by those who know they belong to Ariba.

After trying many times to get rid of them, Ariba comes to an awareness of their importance in his life.

 "You know what, I am truly happy to see you.
Let's never leave each other again."

It is a wise decision. 

This giggle-worthy book will be appreciated by all who listen to it. Warm and entertaining, this story within a story makes for a fine read aloud.