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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Logan's Greenhouse, written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Samara Hardy. Peachtree. Penguin Random House. 2022. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"Many carrots have bright orange skin with 
ribbed lines on the outside. Is that a carrot? 

No. Those are oranges. An orange does have 
bright orange skin, but it has small dimples 
on the outside and not ribbed lines.

In this third book in the Where in the Garden? series, we meet Logan. Logan, in a wheelchair and with his pet chameleon on his shoulder, is on a search for carrots. They are needed for a planned pet playdate. He has many plants in his greenhouse. His search for carrots begins with a clear description of the vegetable itself: it grows from a seed and pushes downward into the ground, it has stems and leaves on its top, it's tapered, it has bright orange skin, and it's often long with roots at its end. 

Readers are then asked to help Logan with his search. Each vegetable and fruit considered has something in common with the carrots he is looking for; none are carrots. There are sweet potatoes, leeks, Brussels sprouts, garlic bulbs, radishes, oranges, beets, pears, and turnips. Logan really needs carrots. Will he find them in time for the arrival of his guests?   

The text is descriptive and useful for children learning to recognize variety in fruits and vegetables. Each one mentioned is carefully compared to what is already known about carrots. It takes time and patience (and some help from his chameleon friend) to finally come upon the desired vegetable. Bright colors and clear images are warm and inviting on this search that will surely interest young readers. A final full page spread shows attendees and their pets at a party that offers an extra look at all foods found on earlier pages. Finally, a recipe for Winter Carrot Soup is included. 

Spring is coming, although not 'just around the corner'. Still, you might be thinking about planting a garden, or expanding the one you already have. Perhaps you are wanting to add to your collection of books about gardening for your classroom or at home. 

The first two books in this series are Linh's Rooftop Garden and Miguel's Community Garden.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Undercover Book List, written by Colleen Nelson. Pajama Press, 2021. $21.95 ages 10 and up

"Tyson stared at the book in his hands, 
hardly believing his eyes. He'd read it. 
The whole thing, In two days! Between 
the hours stuck in the conference room 
on Tuesday, and then the ones at home 
without his Xbox, he'd had nothing to do 
but read. 

He let the feeling of success sink in."

I have too many TBR piles. Often, it takes a long time for a book to finally find its way to the top of one of them. That is what happened to this book. It has taken me a while to get to it. But hey! Good books are worthy of reading anytime, right? After all, the book itself offers a list of wonderful books on its own Undercover Book List, not all of them recently published. Each one, however, is worthy of being there, and sure to inspire a reader who may not have read it yet. That's what great books do. 

This is a great book. It is told about two middle graders who are classmates. Jane's first-person voice is strong and authentic, letting readers know about missing her best friend who has just moved away. A third person voice describes Tyson, a class clown, some of his many antics, and the troubles that follow. Their road to a new friendship is shared in short, alternating chapters that will engage and entertain many middle grade readers. 

They don't really know each other well when the book begins. Jane's friend Sienna has left something behind for Jane before moving across the country. It is a message in a library book that begins as a mystery, and is meant to help Jane find a new friend as interested in books and reading as she is. Tyson, who rarely reads and isn't allowed to borrow books from the school library because of unreturned ones, sees Jane find the note. He is intrigued. It begins as a prank, and quickly turns into a real correspondence when Jane answers his initial note. As books would have it, Tyson finds himself more and more interested in the book titles Jane suggests, and begins offering ideas of his own.

Jane is a member of the Kid Lit Quiz team, and recruits Tyson to join. As the team practices for the upcoming regionals, events shake their confidence but never their resolve to keep the team active and participating. Both are struggling with their own emotional challenges, and find help in their new friendship. 

While Jane and Tyson are the main focus for the story, they are supported by a wonderful cast of secondary characters. Their story is fast-paced, complementary, and entertaining in all the best ways. The titles suggested by both Jane and Tyson are listed following the story and are an excellent resource for anyone looking for a truly awesome book to read.  

What about a Kid Lit Quiz team for your school? I bet you know some kids who would be interested, don't you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

This Is Not My Home, written by Eugenia Yoh and illustrated by Vivienne Chang. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2023. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Lily was not understanding. 
Not while packing. 
Not on the airplane. 
Now even when she saw Ah Ma. 

"Welcome, home!" Ah Ma said. 

This is not my home."

Lily and her mama live in a happy home, where games of chase are a common occurrence. So, when Mama says she has news, Lily won't listen until she can catch her mother and hold her down. Mama's announcement is met with astonishment and ANGER. 

Being told they are moving to Taiwan is a huge shock. Lily has numerous reasons for her reticence: backyard barbecues, their car, fireflies in the park, her BEST friend Jill. So many reasons there are not to move. Mama has only one for going. They need to care for Ah Ma. 

Lily refuses to understand, at home and in Taiwan. Taiwan is NOT her home. Meals there are not like backyard barbecues. Jill is nowhere to be found. And, she doesn't like the farmer's market. School is worse. No one speaks her language. She is missing so much. Mama tries to explain that everything in Taiwan is her home. Perhaps together, they can make it ours! It takes time, and understanding, and friendship, and new experiences. Change comes. And with it, acceptance. 

Digital illustrations by Vivienne Chang are filled with bright colors and contextual details that help readers empathize with the young girl whose world is turned upside down. They allow the child to express her worries as the inevitable happens, and provide a direct contrast from one setting to the other. Be sure to check out both front and back endpapers. Artwork also helps readers see the change in Lily's perspective as time passes and she makes the adjustment from old home to new home. 

Lily's story has humor and heartbreak, and much love.                                                                                     

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

forever home; a dog and boy love story, by Henry Cole. Scholastic, 2022. $25.99 ages 4 and up

"there is a dog that no one wants.
Abandoned and afraid, he must 
use his wits to survive the city's 
streets. Sadly, no one comes for him. 

meanwhile, not far away, there is a 
boy who wants a dog ...

I am a huge fan of Henry Cole and his wordless stories. His work is proof positive that there are times when no words are needed to tell a very special tale. 

His finely-detailed endpapers are the perfect place to start. In a black-and-white full page spread he introduces an urban neighborhood. Tree-lined streets, three-story buildings, and the occasional person of interest attract attention and the beginning of a story to be told. If one is very observant, notice might be given to a 'for sale' sign in front of one of the buildings closest to the reader. Two additional spreads provide even more information: a dog sits forlornly on the front step of that home. Night falls, and the dog seeks refuge on the streets. A tipped dumpster and car traffic offer nothing. It moves on. 

The opening page of the book brings the neighborhood to life. Filled with dogs, people, a bike store, a book store, and a small boy with a big interest in the dogs he sees there. At home, he makes a case for his getting a dog. His fathers are ambivalent before sharing a complaint with him about the state of his bedroom. Keeping a red leash always at his side, he sets out to prove he can be respsonsible. He walks that leash around the neighborhood on sunny days and rainy ones. Soon, he notices that pup now living in a cardboard box. 

He has a project. He entices the pup with kindness, the dragging leash, and treats. With thoughts of the dog constantly on his mind, he helps with chores, cleans his room, and makes a pretty good case for dog ownership. To his dismay, the pup has been rescued by an animal shelter. As luck would have it, they find each other in quick time. And that, as they say, is perfect fare for kids who have dogs, and those who dream of having a dog of their own. 

Beautifully told, not one word needed. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

All Through the Night: Important Jobs That Get Done At Night, written by Polly Faber and illustrated by Harriet Hobday. Nosy Crow, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"Hassan and Amina keep people safe 
at night. They wait in their police car, 
ready to go wherever they are needed. 

Tonight they were called because there 
was a noise in the street. 

Hassan and Amina discover that some 
garbage cans were knocked over by a 
family of foxes!

It is always interesting when children learn about what many people do at night while they are sleeping. Many have bedtime worries about monsters and other things that go bump in the night. In fact, there are numerous jobs being done while they are trying to rest up for tomorrow. 

The young girl who narrates this story recognizes one of those important workers; it is her mother. As they wave goodbye, readers will see others on the street waiting for a bus, and riding a delivery bike. In the pages that follow, the author visits workplaces and talks about the work being done in quiet spaces as well as a variety of businesses that are open all night.

Sammy cleans an office; Georgio keeps a careful watch on all areas of the building he protects; Hassan and Amina keep a watchful eye on city streets to keep the public safe; Kisi offers updated news reports; and a musical trio provides entertainment for music lovers who have gathered together to listen. Perhaps listeners will have their own ideas about those doing jobs not mentioned here. 

Digital illustrations done in paint and colored pencil are filled with sky-changing colors, detailed images of an assortment of workers and scenes that show kindness and helpfulness as the hours pass. So much happens when many of us are sleeping. 

"While I am sleeping, so many important jobs  
are being done. Like my mom's!

With her big orange bus, she gets
everybody just where they need to be.

Kids will feel a sense of calm in learning about just some of those jobs that must be done at night. There is much to see here, and lots to discuss. It's a great read for the classroom, or as a family bedtime story. What else do people do at night?                                                                   

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Prisoner and the Writer, written by Heather Camlot and illustrated by Sophie Casson. Groundwood, 2022. $14.99 ages 12 and up

"At the lowest point in his life,
Alfred has nothing left to lose. 
Guards follow him wherever he goes. 
They watch him day and night, even 
when he's chained to his bed, unable 
to move.

                   Unable to sleep."

It has been more than 125 years since Emile Zola wrote 'J'Accuse', an open letter to the president of the French Republic in support of Captain Alfred Dreyfus who had been wrongly accused of treason. Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil's Island, in exile and entirely alone. Zola, well-regarded and very popular, chose to expose the injustice of the Dreyfus' trial to all who would listen. 

The attention that his letter brought to the plight of Captain Dreyfus was met with worldwide condemnation. To be tried and convicted of treason because of his Jewish heritage was abominable. Anti-Semitism was not to be tolerated. While Dreyfus languished in prison with little hope for his future, Zola continued to put pressure to have him released. Eventually, Dreyfus was pardoned and returned home to his family. 

It did not end there, as we well know. Zola faced much criticism and hatred for speaking the truth. Jewish people today continue to be victimized by hatred and disinformation, as do many others. It is critical that people stand up to injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.  

Written for middle-grade readers, the novel is focused on both men with powerful words and images that bring this famous story to new life and reminds readers that they do have a voice, and can stand up to those who spread hatred and lies. It takes courage; ultimately, it is worth it. 

Valuable and compelling. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Bedtime for Bo, written by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold and illustrated by Mari Kanstad Johnsen. Translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Enchanted Lion Books. 2022. $29.95 ages 3 and up

"Mommy laughs. 
"It's bedtime, Bo."

Bo stands on one leg.
"I'm already asleep!"

"What do you mean?" asks Mommy. 

"I'm a parrot," says Bo."

As bedtime approaches, Bo is full of energy. His mother is calm, letting him know that bedtime has arrived. Bo likes what he's doing. He likes 'tumblesaulting', and singing, and playing with his many toys and stuffed animals. Not wanting to go to bed, he begins with reasons for not complying. First, he's a parrot and his stance is the one parrots use to prove they are sleeping. His mother agrees that he is right about the way parrots sleep, and wonders if her parrot might like something to eat. Turns out he is ready for porridge and blueberries. 

Once done, they move upstairs to the bath, and the conversation between the two continues. Bo pretends to be one animal after another. Mom provides additional information relating to his choices. First the bath, then teeth cleaning. Mom continues to acknowledge how those various animals sleep.  Into the bedroom they go to put on his pajamas. He ends up under the bed with his canine companion. When he tires of that he does a headstand, pretending to be a bat. That doesn't last long; soon, he climbs into his bed and cuddles up. 

Bo's mom has patience to burn, and a willingness to accept her son's reluctance for bedtime. However, her ability to treasure his imaginative ways while also teaching him quietly and efficiently about animals and the world is a pleasure to watch. All the while, she is doing exactly what she needs to do to prepare Bo for a good night's sleep. Bravo! 

"Now you're a mob of meerkats,"
says Mommy. "You sleep all snuggled 
up, over and under each other. That's 
how you keep yourselves warm."

Bo rubs his eyes and yawns again. 
He feels so tired.

The illustrations are a wonder. Filled with bright colors and humor, Ms. Johnsen creates a child's world that is sure to please young listeners. Loose and busy with action, they definitely enhance the learning for how other creatures of the natural world get themselves ready for rest, and how Bo's mom uses all her skills to make bedtime a pleasurable experience for both.