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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Crossings: Extraordinary Structures for Extraordinary Animals. Written by Katy S. Duffield and illustrated by Mike Orodan. Beach Lane Books, 2020. $25.99 ages 5 and up


"“Over, under, across, through.

Around the world, construction crews build overpasses,
underpasses, bridges, and tunnels - ways for people
to get from one place to another.

But what about the animals that live in
these places? What happens when construction spreads
under, across, and through their habitats?
Around the world, in search of solutions, animal
lovers come together. 

Opening their minds and their 
hearts, they work to find ideas, answers.

I was intrigued by the premise for this book over a long period of time. I did not order it until recently; I am delighted that I did and very happy to share it with you. It shows readers that there are fine humans throughout the world willing to work hard to ensure the safety of wildlife. Together, they create ways for animals to move, without fear, 'over, under, across and through' busy highways. 

The crossings they have created are the subject of this remarkable book. Ms. Duffield presents 12 different animal passages that have been built for two reasons. They are meant for regular use, or for seasonal migration. They are built for elephants, black bears, pangolins, spotted salamanders and other inhabitants of both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. A world map at the conclusion of the book plots each animal on the map, and provides further information pertinent to their survival. 

Information concerning each of the crossings is shared in two ways on the spread. One is a sentence describing the animal, the technology that created its specific passage, and where it is found. The material provided in a smaller font adds data about the planning and building and its usefulness. Keen readers will also find satisfaction in seeing the many machines used for construction. The illustrations are clear and telling, offered on double-page spreads which make the book easy to share in a school classroom, or library. Young readers will love seeing how these crossings protect vulnerable animal families. 

"The Trans-Canada Highway is home to more than forty wildlife overpasses and underpasses."

"Coyotes creep OVER the rush of Arizona motorists below."

"Pangolins teeter-totter toward their burrows ACROSS a Singapore expressway."

Mike Orod├ín’s pencil illustrations, finished in Photoshop, use light and shadow to show readers perspective and fine close-up looks at the animals being protected. These animals deserve the attention that is sure to come their way as this book is shared, and then shared again. 

Back matter further informs and is useful for those wanting to learn more than this exceptional book provides.                                                                                       

Friday, October 22, 2021

Time is a Flower, written and illustrated by Julie Morstad. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2021. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Time is a sunbeam,
       the shadows
       and shapes 
    of everything. 

The sleeping cat 
    knows this.

Thoughtful and lyrical, Ms. Morstad defines time in its many dimensions. Her writing is flawlessly paced to help children understand a very difficult and abstract concept for little ones. With its carefully-chosen language and exemplary artwork, she invites her readers to think deeply and begin to understand
the passing of time and the usefulness of clocks and calendars. 

"Time is a tree. 
As it grows, so do you. 

Who will be taller 
in two years?

In ten years? 

In fifty years?"

Using pencil, markers, colored inks and pastels assembled digitally, the author adds images of the same young child growing to maturity as the tree does, allowing readers to see the progression as time goes by. 

There is much to see in the artistic renderings for the many offered metaphors. Bold colors, changing perspectives, and plenty of movement hold attention, and encourage readers to revisit the book's pages.  I am especially fond of the double page spread that shows a group of unique and diverse faces as the progression of time reveals the changes that result. Arrows show keen eyes how to move from one image to the next.  

"Time is a face whose 
lines and shapes change
little by little, year by year.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Perfect Plan, written and illustrated by Leah Gilbert. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2021. $24.50 ages 4 and up


"So, together, they heaved and tugged, 
carried and lugged.

Soon all the branches 
were moved. 

But none of them were tall enough to lift the 
branches high into the trees. 

Fortunately, Maya knew just which animal 
was a great climber!

Maya loves the natural world, and longs to live in a tree fort ... a place of her own 'to hide out and read, to dream and play.' She knows exactly what she wants, plans for its construction, and heads off to make her dream a reality. She finds a perfect spot in the forest, and goes to work following her well-made plan. 

It takes little time to realize that, while her plan is a good one, it is a difficult task for one little girl. She first enlists the help of a family of beavers. Their special skills provide the branches needed to begin. Who will help move them? Enter a moose with the skills needed and a willing heart. Who will help get the branches into the trees? Why not a bear family? Eager to help, they get the wood in place. The branches need stability. Have you seen what birds can do when building secure nests? 

Just when her fort is nearly completed, rain pours down and stormy winds whistle. Will her fort withstand such a test? 

Maya is a young, independent girl, gifted with ingenuity, gumption, and zeal. Her willingness to ask for help needed allows her dream to come to fruition. Digital illustrations of the forest setting are infused with light, and wonder. The endpapers are eye-catching; the final spread is glorious.                                                                                    

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma, written by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Teresa Martinez. Harper, 2021. $21.99 ages 5 and up


"Feet planted on the soil of one nation, 
eyes gazing at the shores of another. 
Yo-Yo Ma guided his bow gracefully 
back and forth
across the strings of his cello. 

Built in Italy, 
his cello was made from parts
that came from lands of 
many languages.

Since reading this winning picture book biography, I have spent time learning more about Yo-Yo Ma, his performances and his bridge building between cultures, and about Bach's six suites. It is what I love about the amazing biographies being published for children. They inspire interest and new learning for all who read and share them. 

This particular event happened in Laredo, Texas on the U.S. - Mexico border two years ago. It was the inspiration needed for Joanna Ho to pen this gracious account of Yo-Yo Ma's life and career. Using music, Mr. Ma does his part to inspire unity between cultures globally. Readers interested in music will follow up by learning more about the Silk Road Ensemble and the Bach Project. 

Petunia, his cello, is lovingly described as being created with materials from Italy, Brazil, Mongolia, India and West Africa. The two have recorded more than one hundred albums, won numerous awards, and performed for countless audiences. 

To complement Ms. Ho's childhood memories of listening to Bach's cello suites and her admiration for the prolific cellist himself, Teresa Martinez has created tender scenes that include musical notes which relay the magic felt while listening. Her spreads of children and adults holding hands across the border are full of kindness and unity. 

Extensive back matter is illuminating, and inspiring. 

"Fingers flying over four strings, Yo-Yo Ma made
improbable melodies, a harmony of notes,
a symphony of sound, from a single cello. He played
at the border between nations, between cultures,
between languages, between centuries, and built a bridge.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Nia and the New Free Library, written by Ian Lendler and illustrated by Mark Pett. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2021. $24.99 ages 5 and up


"The town's detective saw
the crowd forming and came
over to see if there was any 
trouble. She picked up a book. 
"This was my favorite book
growing up!"

"And this book is the 
reason I fell in love 
with the sea," said
the boat captain."

It takes a disaster for the people who live in Littletown to finally notice their library; well, its absence. A devastating tornado picks it up, carries it away, and leaves a big empty space. The townspeople have ideas concerning what might replace it. Nia voices her opinion:

"We need to rebuild the library."

There are clear arguments from those who have not been using it. Nia disagrees with them. She loves the library. She wants to read the books a new library would provide. She decides that writing new books will be the answer. It takes time, and no one appears to care. When the wagon is full of her own handwritten books, she sets off to offer them for the townspeople to check out. 

She starts with the grocer; he is first to point out that Nia's story has mistakes. He says he will make things right. Nia moves on, loaning books to anyone interested. Each of her books has special meaning for someone in town. Soon, everyone is writing. It is not an easy task, but it is worthwhile. As they write, they share memories of books they have loved at an earlier time. Soon, there are new books everywhere and they are a disorganized mess. 

Invested townspeople step up to provide shelving, a building, and some welcoming lions to stand guard outside the front doors. Soon, everyone is involved and the library is open to welcome readers. Only one thing is missing; a librarian. No problem at all. It becomes a place of community and joy. 

All is well ... until the tornado returns! 

Mark Pett creates town scenes that are warm and inviting. Back matter includes an author’s note.


Monday, October 18, 2021

The Night Walk, written and illustrated by Marie Dorleans. Translated by Polly Lawson. Floris Books, 2021. $23.95 ages 4 and up


"We threaded through the whispering forest. 
The earth was damp, the bark smelled comforting. 

Dead branches snapped under our feet, 
and ferns swayed quietly as we passed.

Although the family does not want to be late to their eventual destination - and it is the middle of the night -, their journey is never hurried and bravely anticipated. Awakened by their mother in lamp-lit darkness, they dress and head outside with senses on alert. They pass through the village quietly, noting the brightly-lit hotel, and a house with one light on. 

They pass a farmer's field where cows are resting next to the quiet country road. Moving off the road and onto a path leading upward, they walk in silence. Through a darkened forest, with only Mom's flashlight to guide them, they come to a moonlit lake where they can stop to play. Further on, a clearing invites a look at the beauty of the night sky, before Papa encourages pushing forward. On they go, and arrive just in time for a spectacular sunrise. 

The watercolor-and-graphite artwork blankets their world in striking blue darkness where the only faint light comes from bedside lamps, porchlight, streetlight, lit windows, flashlight, moonlight, starlight, and finally brilliant morning sunshine. Anticipation builds for readers as the family nears its destination.

Perfect word choice, vivid artwork, and a memorable family outing - amazing!                                                                         

Sunday, October 17, 2021

How To Make a Bird, written by Meg McKIinlay and illustrated by Matt Ottley. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Next you need feathers - 
for warmth
and for flight. 
Smooth these over the bones
of your bird shape; 
press them firmly into place. 

Save the longest feathers 
for the wings and tail.

What a feeling it must be to take all the time needed to build something of great importance! For the child in this exemplary story of creativity and imagination time passes slowly, as it must, while she creates a bird. She knows what she needs, and first finds the bones (very tiny) to build the bird's shape (any bird will do). As she moves forward through the process, readers are made aware of each slow step. After bones and feathers, the builder adds a heart. It needs to be strong for all the hard work that will be required to carry it where it needs to go. Final touches, and the bird is ready. 

"But when you see it sitting, 
cold as a statue, you will know 
that there is more to a bird than
these things you have given it.

When the time is right, it is time to let it go. Sad, yes. Happy, too. All the hard work beautifully worthwhile. 

Matt Ottley, using pigmented ink, creates dreamy artwork that speaks to the intangible quality of Ms. McKinlay's magical text. His spreads are both glorious and memorable. After looking to have it published for 16 years, what a coup it is for us to see it this year. It will make an enduring impression on every reader!