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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World, written by Jacqueline Davies and illustrated by Deborah Hocking. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2021. $9.99 ages 6 and up


"Taylor and Sydney crept along the edge
of a road. They kept their noses lifted to 
catch any scent. When they heard water 
nearby, they left the road and scrambled
to the top of a small hill. At the bottom of
the hill was a stream.

Sydney Skunk and Taylor Hedgehog are winning characters in this first book in a new series. Two additional adventures are promised in coming months. Readers quickly learn a lot about each one of them. Fans will be pleased to see them again. 

The two live together in their burrow, which just happens to be situated beneath a potting shed in Miss Nancy's garden. Sydney loves to sit and listen to the sounds he can hear above ground. Taylor has a yen to travel and see the world beyond their cozy home. Because Sydney loves his friend, he finally agrees to accompany Taylor on an exploraion of the world beyond his comfort zone. 

Surprisingly, it is Taylor who shows concern over the many new things and people they will see. Sydney shows his different side, when he is the one who consoles his frightened friend. They have never even come in contact with Miss Nancy, and now they are off feeling 'wild, and fearless, and free'.
What could possibly happen? 

There are some surprise twists as they make their way down unknown paths. Their unique strengths help along the way. When all seems lost in a meeting between themselves and a speeding truck, they find help in the most covenient of places. Soon, they are home safe and sound. What might the future hold for the two of them? We must wait and see. 

A new early chapter book series is sure to find firm fans and much enjoyment. Using gouache and colored pencils, Ms. Hocking assures readers a careful look at two very special friends and the setting in which they live and thrive. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

If I Were a Tree, written by Andrea Zimmerman and illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong. Lee & Low Books, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2021. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"If I were a tree, I know what I'd feel.
The warmth of the sun, and squirrels on the run. 
I'd feel nests on my bark, bats hiding till dark, 
The climbing of boots, and worms by my roots.

If I were a tree, that's what I'd feel."

A family adventure and a first-person narration encourage young readers to take a close look at trees, by using each of their senses. As the travel to their camping destination, the two children discuss the many special attributes of the trees they are observing as they pass them by. 

The verses throughout begin with the same premise; If I were a tree, I'd know what ... Each statement is made from the perspective of the trees, and that are so evident on every spread. The imagination soars with thinking about exactly what trees would know, feel, taste, smell, hear, see, love, and again know as the day winds down. 

"If I were a tree, I know what I'd know. 
That days come and go, and green leaves will grow.
I'd know branches can bend, and cold spells will end, 
That spring will renew, and life carries through. 

If I were a tree, that's what I'd know."

Listeners will be entertained by the rhyming verses and accessible text as the family wanders through the forest. They will be charmed by the colorful and detailed digital art as it combines printmaking and collage. Textured images and changing perspectives hold attention and offer much to see. 

In back matter, the author invites readers to take careful note of the trees that grow where they live, and use their own senses to truly understand their many features.                                                                                          

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Secret Life of Viruses: Incredible Science Facts About Germs, Vaccines, and What You Can Do To Stay Healthy, by Mariona Tolosa Sistere: The Ellas Educan Collective. Sourcebooks, Raincoast. 2021. $24.50 ages 6 and up



Hey! How's it going? My name is SARS-COV-2
and I am the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.
I spread super fast and in just a few months I 
managed to infect humans all over the world - 
I caused a pandemic!

Kids are not the only ones who need clear information about what a virus is! There are many adults out there who would do well to sit for a while and read this well-designed and carefully illustrated book that scientifically explains what viruses are, how they spread from one to another, and what our bodies can do to keep us healthy. Accessible and timely, it is needed for each of us to learn more than we already think we know. 

The author starts with a virus telling readers where it can be found, and that it is very powerful. She explains the whats, whys, and hows of virus life, growth, and effects. A catalog of viruses is provided on a double page spread and includes many known, and some lesser-known varieties. 


I give kids chicken pox, 
which can make you 
very itchy! But there's 
a vaccine that can keep 
me from infecting you.

The text includes an illustrated pathway that a virus uses to get into the body, and how the immune system works to fight it. This is followed by the many ways that a virus spreads and how we can help battle illness by staying healthy. I think the page that describes how to stay healthy and be safe from viruses would make a terrific poster for any classroom, as a daily reminder. Viruses also play an important role in the ecosystems on Earth, and have a long history with humans.  

A true or false quiz is included, for those who have been paying close attention. Answers are provided in back matter. Finally, readers are invited to do their best to keep our world healthy by making personal choices and differences in the way we take care of the world we share. 


(but don't obsess over it!) As you already
know, not all viruses are bad, only some. By
staying clean and healthy, you can protect 
yourself and others against the bad viruses.

This is a quite remarkable addition to The Secret Life of ... series. Two others deal with boogers and boo-boos.                                                                            

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Full Moon, written and illustrated by Camilla Pintonato. Princeton Architectural Press, Raincoast. 2021. $24.95 ages 4 and up


"In their secret workshop, the rabbits 
are very busy. 
What are they making? 

Eagerly waiting for the moon to rise."

Do young children like to imagine what nocturnal animals are doing at night? I think they might. After all, much of what happens during the time they are in bed is unknown to them. It is lovely to think about what might be happening outside while they are dreaming the night away. Or, are they fearful about all of it? 

Camilla Pintonato is here to ease their fears, and tell them a charming story of five rabbits that wait for the sun to set before their nighttime adventure can begin. As soon as they are sure it is dark, they begin a trek that has a mysterious bent. They all carry orange backpacks. Inside each is a bunch of blue fluff. Soon, their underground workshop shows them busily working at 'something'. 

Their wait now is for moonrise. They continue their work, we are told, in preparation for a celebration. Cut cards are blue with white circles and the words full moon printed on them. They fill up yellow bags and head back through their tunnel to the forest floor where they invite birds, mice, a fox, and a multitude of other animals to join them in a run to await a big surprise. Birdsong accompanies the release of the constructed lanterns into the night sky. 

"Before their eyes, the full moon shines bright. 
The paper lanterns sparkle like stars.

The text is minimal, the illustrations are quiet and lovely, and the effect for young readers is magical. Perhaps some will join the rabbits when the next full moon rises into the night sky.                                                                                      

Friday, September 17, 2021

Over and Under the Canyon, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2021. $24.99 ages 5 and up


"Down in the sand, harvester ants hide in 
their home - a cool escape from the sun. 

My stomach grumbles as we hike back to 
camp. I'm not the only one. A desert kit fox
wakes to hunt, and cottontails graze in a 
clearing as sunset paints the sky orange.

For readers who have never experienced the beauty of a desert canyon, this book will introduce them to its many wonders. The sun is relentless, quickly baking any wet spots into hardened earth. Finding shelter in the shady spots offers a place for numerous animals to live: bighorn sheep, roadrunners, geckos, kangaroo rats, tarantulas, jackrabbits, horned lizards, and a red diamond rattlesnake. Many birds find food there as they soar above the canyon on the lookout for any movement below. 

"The roadrunner takes one long-legged
step. Then another. I hold my breath
and wait for the snake to strike. Then ... 


The roadrunner catches its head in her 
beak. She devours her rattlesnake lunch
while we munch on raisins and nuts.

As the mother and her son continue their exploration and make their return to the canyon's rim, they discover the beauty of desert wildflowers and peaceful quiet. They continue to take note of the many other animals who live in the desert ecosystem. Back at camp, the sun is setting, the air is cooling, and Dad's supper offers sustenance for two happy adventurers. In the darkness, they hear new sounds and catch sight of night creatures whose busy time is just beginning as the family takes shelter in their tent for a much-appreciated sleep.

This is the sixth collaboration for Ms. Messner and Christopher Silas Neal. Familiar to fans, exceptional mixed media illustrations capture both the heat and cool of the canyon, while also allowing readers to have a clear look at the variety in life as it is lived in this extraordinary environment. 

Well-researched, accurately illustrated, this new addition to an amazing series is exactly what is needed in libraries and classrooms to inform and interest young readers. An author's note, and a set of instructive paragraphs about the animals and plants mentioned are welcome. A further reading list includes both books and websites.  

The Over and Under series offers readers a chance to learn more about snow, the garden, dirt, the pond, and the rainforest. Don't miss them!                                                                                        

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Butterfly for a King; Saving Hawai'i's Kamehameha Butterflies, written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore with collages by Susan L. Roth. Lee & Low Books, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2021. $29.95 ages 8 and up


"The butterfly landed ... 

and years sped by. 

The comet blazed ... 

and a king was born."

The story begins with the 'big bang' and the formation of the Hawaiian Islands. Over time, plants were blown to the islands, providing a home for insects that included the Kamehameha Butterfly. Found only in Hawai'i, the butterfly became part of the collective history of the islands. 

The authors move the story forward to 2009, when school students decided it should be made the official state insect. They had a real concern; the number of butterflies was decreasing. By making it the state's insect, there was a chance to benefit from its presence and its value to Hawai'i. 

"Animals and insects that had been brought 
to the islands from other places were destroying 
them. There weren't as many of the plants the 
butterflies needed to live as there used to be.

It was enough to get many involved in a project with scientists to find where the butterflies could be found, and to gather critical information about them. Citizen scientists spent time searching for and learning about the butterfly and its life cycle, while the project's scientists were breeding new ones in an insect lab. By 2017, all the students had hoped for had happened. Ninety-four butterflies were released on O'ahu, while thousands of other releases followed. The work continues today. 

The text is presented on two levels; one tells a poetic story, and paragraphs at the bottom of each spread add more details. An afterword provides further important information, and is accompanied by clear, colorful photographs. The collages are textured, colorful and distinctive.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story, written and illustrated by Thao Lam. Owlkids Books, 2020. $19.95 ages 6 and up


Readers will be enchanted by this 
remarkable wordless picture book, 
and its powerful themes of sacrifice,
survival, and - above all else - family. 

An author's note explains that this refugee story is inspired by Thao Lam's own history, and her family's flight to safety in Canada. It begins in a home in Vietnam as a family sits down to an evening meal. Bothered by the ants that also occupy a space at the table, the adults want them gone; a little girl does her best to save them from drowning in the watery sugar bowl. 

When the soldiers and tanks come near, the family knows they must quickly flee. Mother and child are separated from the rest, and must find their way to the boat that will transport them to a better place. As they hide, the mother creates an origami paper boat to keep her daughter occupied and calm. In the moonlight, the two follow a line of ants that leads them where the escape boat is waiting. 

From there, the story becomes a story of the ants aboard the paper boat, experiencing all of the trauma of the perilous journey being made by the refugees themselves. Not all survive. The refugees find asylum. The final scene brings the story full circle. The family has arrived to live in a new and vibrant community where many other refugee families live. Now safe and settled, they share a splendid family meal once again. It is no surprise that one ant has found its way to their table. 

It is almost impossible to fully describe the exceptional cut-paper collage artwork that gives 'voice' to this beautifully told wordless tale. Telling endpapers capture attention and lead readers to carefully consider the ever-changing scenes and perspectives at every turn of the page. The tale switches from happy family scenes to harrowing, suspenseful events that speak of bravery and resilience. Careful use of color and mood moves from warm family gatherings to the cold darkness of the escape and agonizing journey, and back to the warmth of their new home.