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Friday, May 27, 2022

Drawing Outdoors, written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Translated by Elisa Amado. Greystone Kids, 2022. $22.95 ages 4 and up

"Today the teacher tells us that 
our lessons will be outside. We 
are explorers, we have paper, 
we have crayons.

The narrator for this uplifting story tells readers about her school that has 'almost nothing'. It does, however, have a remarkable teacher. The children arrive along numerous paths to their school 'in the middle of nowhere'. On this particular day, they leave the school for lessons outdoors. 

They have all they need. For some, the trip to school is uninspiring; the chance to draw outdoors is the incentive neded for making the long trek. It isn't long before the teacher points out a Brontosaurus. Their day of drawing, observing, and imagining begins in earnest. Filled with excitement and eager to see more, they continue exploring their environment. 

""There, hidden between those stones, is the Stegosaurus."

"What's a Stegosaurus?" ask the twins. 

"It's that one over there that has rocks on its back," 
I explain to them. 

"Oooh," they say and stop talking and start to draw.

What wonders they behold as they draw in the outdoors. Their final sight is of a Tyrannosaurus rex. It is both breathtaking and terrifying. The brave stay to draw, the others tear back toward their school. A break is taken before the children return home. Our narrator heads home, pink-cheeked and clutching the many drawings produced on this spectacular day. 

Isn't that the kind of education every child deserves? A caring, enthusiastic teacher makes all the difference. She encourages creativity, a love for their natural surroundings, and important conversations. Digital illustrations add humor to the events of the day. They also provide stunning landscapes and personality for the school's students.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Another Squiggly Story, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Mike Lowery. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.95 ages 4 and up


"Things I Know 

* The difference between 
the big dipper and the 
little dipper. 
* How to find the North Star
* Facts about Mars
*the difference between 
a great white shark 
and a hammerhead

My granddaughters are delighted that Another Squiggly Story is published. It is an engaging sequel to A Squiggly Story (2016) which they really enjoy. Now a few years older, the narrator continues his journey toward being an author. 

His imagination has him constantly daydreaming about the things he loves. When Mr. Lopez tells the class that the assignment for next week will be a story about themselves, he is perplexed. His classmates immediately make a decision for their writing. He has not one idea! As he did in the first book, he consults his older sister. Surely she can help him. 

First of all, she lets him know that what he is about to write is called an autobiography because it is a 'story BY you ABOUT you'. He is in charge of whatever he writes. To help, she shows him her autobiography written when she was in Mr. Lopez's class. He decides on a title: THE STORY OF ME BY ME! It's hard work, and she is willing to help with advice about editing, and anything else he might need. 

In class, after the weekend, he shares his title. To help with the writing process, Mr. Lopez suggests brainstorming - a chance to talk with a partner about ideas each has. Thinking is hard. First drafts are the work of the day when he returns to school the following day. He decides to make a list of things he likes, as his sister has suggested. That writing turns into three lists! 

A walk with his sister helps him make connections between his three lists in hopes that he will find a story to tell about himself. Talking to his friend helps him add important details. It will take some time, but with practice and thought there is a story to be told. That is the process we call writing. Perhaps a third squiggly story is in the future. 

Mike Lowery's cartoon drawings add context for the process, and will encourage readers to give an autobiography a try. Listing is a fine way to start.                                                                                      

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Those Kids From Fawn Creek, written by Erin Entrada Kelly. Greenwillow, Harper, 2022. $23.99 ages 9 and up

"There weren't many perfect-weather days in Fawn Creek.
The summers were brutally hot and humid, and they lasted 
forever. When the cold months came - and there weren't many - 
it was just enough to nip the air and send you indoors.

Before Orchid showed up, the air was heavy and stifling. But the
week after she appeared, it changed.

So did many other things for the truly remarkable cast of characters Ms. Kelly has created for her new book! They are authentic, commanding, and incredibly themselves. Each of the twelve seventh graders have been together at school in Fawn Creek Louisiana since kindergarten. When Orchid Mason arrives, she creates quite the distraction from what school has been like for the rest. 

Change rarely happens there, so her arrival causes quite a stir. Orchid, with her stories of life in Paris and New York, becomes fast friends with outsiders Greyson and Dorothy. Greyson's home life is hampered by the attitudes of his father and brother when he doesn't meet their expectations of who he should be, and how he should act. Dorothy is introverted and wanting to make a real connection with her aloof and seemingly indifferent parents. Orchid gives them hope that the world beyond Fawn Creek will one day welcome them, too.  

Middle school is a complex place to be. While she is friendly to everyone, it isn't long until Orchid becomes the object of some jealousy. Janie, the resident leader in all things social, decides she doesn't like Orchid much and plots with a former student to teach her a lesson. Acceptance, bullies, and dealing with life as it happens in middle school also results in growth, kindness and community. 

Secondary characters, including Mr. Agosto their teacher and Greyson's mom, have much to add to the course of the story. It is a strong and varied cast. Their problems are real; their family lives complicated; their voices authentic; and their support for each other when that support is needed is apparent.  

Powerful and thought-provoking, this is an absolutely perfect read for middle grade classrooms.   

Of her novel, Erin Entrada Kelly has this to say about the readers she hopes to impact: "My ideal reader doesn't feel seen at home or school. My ideal reader has a rich interior life and isn't sure how to walk around in the world. My ideal reader feels lonely sometimes, even if they don't know why. My ideal reader is a kind-hearted dreamer who asks questions of the world around them, even if they never speak them out loud. Basically, my ideal reader is little Erin." 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

I Am Golden, written by Eva Chen and illustrated by Sophie Diao. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"You are the lotus flower unfurling - 
triumphant and bright - in the darkest 
water. You are the first bamboo stalk, 
piercing the soil, that will overtake 
the sky. 

Your voice is the call of the magpie, 
joyful and unapologetic.

In celebrarion of Asian Awareness month, today I share another triumph of Chinese identity. Eva Chen writes the text as a letter from two loving parents to their daughter. They tell her that her name Mei translates as beautiful, like their new country Mei Guo - America. They ask her what she sees when she looks in a mirror, and let her know what they see as well. They talk about her warm eyes, her black hair, her golden skin. 

"You carry a golden flame... and it’s always with you.” 

Their move to New York City from China has been made easier because of their Mei. They see a new path for her in the future. While they cannot protect her from all disappointments and hurts, they allow that being different can be a powerful thing. They are honest with her when they speak of the racism and hate she will face, and assure her that she has everything she needs to find her way in the world. 

"It’s a strange world we live in—people will call you different with one breath and then say that we all look the same with the next angry breath.” 

Their belief in and love for their daughter is evident in every word they speak. Most words are so lovely and uplifting that I just want to keep adding quotes. Then, there would be no need for you to check it out at the library, or to buy it for your school library or classroom. 

Perfectly matching the text's rich imagery are Sophie Diao's lustrous digital images of family love, new experiences, Chinese history, mythology, and culture. Powerful and stunning, it's a first collaboration for this team. One can only hope that there will be another. 

In the backmatter, Chen and Diao relay their own family stories of immigration, accompanied by  family photos.                                                                                    

Monday, May 23, 2022

Time To Shine: Celebrating the World's Iridescent Animals, written by Karen Jameson and illustrated by Dave Murray. Groundwood, 2022. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"A regal peacock loves to reign
by fanning out his feathered train.

To impress females, peacocks pose in the 
best light to display the iridescent eyespots 
on their feathers. As a defense, the males 
make their shimmering tail feathers as big
as they can to frighten off other animals.

Adaptations in nature are quite marvelous. In this book, Ms. Jameson uses rhyme and rhythm to attract young readers to a variety of animals whose iridescent features help them survive by blending in to their environment or by drawing attention to themselves wherever they are. 

Readers will recognize many of those included for their brilliance; others are less well-known. All use their color to communicate, defend themselves, and make adaptations to improve their chances of survival. Each rhyme reveals facts of interest to readers, and is followed by short entries that expand on the learning. It's a great book for reading aloud, and for savoring as it quietly teaches.  

"With flashy sleeves, swift dragonflies 
zoom around to advertise. 

With striking colors on their wings,
dragonflies dart and hover to advertise
for their mates and claim their territory.
They may even point out good spots for 
the females to lay their eggs."

In two final spreads (and front and back pages), the author adds eleven additional animals that might be researched, and a summary explanation of iridescence, its features, and its scientific importance to learning today. Digital illustrations by Dave Murray are worthy of such descriptors as sparkling, shiny, radiant, dazzling. Readers will be awed by their colors, the settings and the perspectives. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Interrupting Chicken Cookies for Breakfast, by David Ezra Stein. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2021. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"There Was an Old Woman 

There was an old woman 
who lived in a shoe. 
She had so many - 

Cookies, she gave me a few! 

Why do you live in a shoe? Isn't 
it stinky? 

Not when I bake cookies! 
Ha! Ha!

In this third book about Interrupting Chicken, the day begins early. It's much too early for Papa. Chicken brings cookies for breakfast in bed. Papa will not be fooled by this blatant ploy. He's still tired and he would rather sleep. But he does respond to the second of his chick's wishes. He will read a book. 

The two cuddle up with a book of nursery rhymes. 

"Papa be nimble,
Papa be quick, 
Papa read to your little chick.

Chicken is well-known for interrupting, as all fans will well know. So, they begin ... only to be interrupted in the reading again and again by an exuberant little one who loves to rhyme, and to include in those rhymes the cookies so dearly coveted. Listeners love the 'book within a book' illustrations that David Stein uses to tell his grand stories. 

Try as Chicken might, Papa does not succumb to constant reminders of the cookies wanted desperately for any meal of the day. Cookies are not meals; they are snacks! While Papa does his best to try again to get a little shut-eye before breakfast, Chicken has one last surprise. Then, Papa (now hungry himself) has one of his own. 

Artwork is created in 'watercolor, water-soluble crayon, china marker, pen, opaque white ink, and tea'. The scenes with Papa and Chicken are rich with color and full of warm details, while the nursery-rhyme pages are drawn as cartoons with only Chicken drawing attention in full color. 

David Ezra Stein proves once again how well he knows the persistence and interruptions that come from living with young children. Here again, he offers a book that is fun to read at any of the day. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

A Day for Sandcastles, written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Qin Leng. Candlewick, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 all ages

"It's a lovely summer day, 
perfect for spending at the 
beach. A busload of beachgoers
disembark and set up along the 
sand to enjoy the cool breezes 
and sun.

If you read Above the Shop (2021) by this same remarkable team, you will be feeling as giddy with delight as I was to see that they have collaborated once again. JonArno Lawson's story concept is masterfully presented in gentle watercolors by Qin Leng. Explore each spread, start to finish. Then, go back and do it again. And again. And again.

A bus pulls into a parking lot near the beach; the first to alight is a family of five. Three children lead the way in a jubilant dash for water and sand. While the children explore, the parents set up chairs, an umbrella, and all other paraphernalia needed for a sun-filled, adventurous day.  

The children's work begins in earnest. A first castle is built, and quickly destroyed by the incoming tide. Not to be deterred, the work begins again. Dad has a suggestion. The kids have their own ideas. Ever more intricate, the next setback is a lady's large sunhat that lands and crushes it. Where's the fun if you don't try again, only to be thwarted by water once more? 

Lunch is served, the demolished castle forgotten. It isn't long before the older one reminds his siblings there is work to be done. Their skills much improved by trial and error, they are soon back at it. A masterpiece is constructed and reconstructed over and over again, always in retreat from the incoming tide. 

No words are needed ... just observant eyes and time to talk about, and take note of every imaginative and lovely detail presented from dawn until dusk. Please don't miss it!