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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Map of Good Memories, written by Fran Nuno and illustrated by Zuzanna Celej. Cuento deLuz, 2016. $23.95 ages 5 and up

"First she marked the house where she lived. Here she had learned to walk and spoken her first words. Her room had always been a wonderful place, full of games and daydreams. Her home had become a place full of good memories. Then she marked the place where she was at that particular moment - her school. While she did it, she ran through the names of her teachers and her favorite classmates."

World Refugee Day falls on June 20th each year, and is observed throughout the world. With the millions of people who have left and who are still being forced to leave their homelands, it is important that we take time to honor them. It takes great courage to leave what they have always know for a place new and unfamiliar with a dream of a better life.

It is impossible to fathom the number of people today who live in unsafe and terrifying conditions. Now, as many countries put stringent conditions on immigration, many are left to linger in refugee camps around the world, all wanting a chance to protect and keep their families safe and intact.

Zoe has always loved her home, and war is the reason she and her family must leave. Before they leave, the ten-year-old decides to draw a map of her neighborhood and all the places that have made her happy while living there. She begins with the family home, then her school, the library and the bookshop. She goes on to include the park, the movie theater, thr river, and North Bridge.

As she draws her map, she thinks fondly of the memories in each place.

"Zoe loved going to the movies, so she
drew a circle around her favorite cinema,
and remebered all the films she'd
enjoyed there.

She also thought about the candy
counter, the big seats, the lady who
showed  you to your seat with a flashlight
... and the magic of the big screen!"

The watercolor images give the reader a real sense of being present in Zoe's world as she names and draws those things that mean the most to her. They evoke a feeling of her life leading up to this terrible time when the family must pick up their lives and move. The feel of the pages themselves and the beauty of the book's artwork is striking. 

Good memories, indeed. Readers are richer and more empathetic for having read this book.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Reader, written by Luciana De Luca and illustrated by Cynthia Alonso. Interlink Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son, 2019. $23.95 ages 5 and up

"I read without stopping.
I am not distracted by anything.
Neither the laughter, nor the
train, nor the pigeions that
walk on the clothesline where
the laundry hangs.

The more I read,
the bigger the world

There is nothing this child would rather do than read. I walk in that procession. Blessed with accomodating parents, a large in-home library, and more books than can be counted, life is good. Early mornings provide freedom to choose and to read away the time. That love of books is bolstered by parents who suggest that any book within reach is fair game. The ones on higher shelves will be available as time passes and growth allows for new adventure.

The 'reader' is our narrator and tells those listening (or reading the book itself) that the wonders of reading are countless and forever changing. There is no distraction from the outdoor noises nature provides, and no end to the wonders that are found in the pages.

"Some books have lots of pictures.
Others are very serious; the words,
like ants, run across the pages.
Some books are long and mysterious.
Others are light and fast.
Some are like vines holding me tight.
Others, like the wind, carry me far away."

Even children outside the window offer no temptation from the pleasures of reading. Content and contemplative, there are always new places to visit, new adventures to imagine, and time (always time) to read, read, read. Reading makes a child invincible and invisible.

Transnlated from Spanish and accompanied by boldly colored, joyful worlds provided by this child's reading, this is a lovely book for bookworms, parents, and librarians. What a world! It is a lovely, fresh look at books and readers.

Give me a cozy, comfortable chair, a hot cup of tea and a string of 'pajama days', and I will be 'the reader.'

Monday, February 24, 2020

Motor Mouse, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard. Beach Lane Books, 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"The hedgehog invited them
to follow behind his motorcar
for some pie.
Soon they were out of town and
flying over the hills.
shouted Telly over the roar.
Motor Mouse said nothing.
He was busy keeping up with
the hedgehog's motorcar. It was
a mighty machine."

I have enjoyed Cynthia Rylant's writing for many years. Her works are varied, and number more than 100 books. I know I have not read them all. I have read many of them, and shared them with my students and my own children. So, I am delighted to see this first book in a new series about Motor Mouse and Friends.

I did think that Motor Mouse was a little reckless when I looked at the cover. Turns out that first impressions do not always hold weight when faced with the real thing. There are three delightful chapters in this tale about a delivery mouse who drives a little red car from place to place. Neither of those facts is of great importance for the telling. There are three chapters. Each has a different focus: a cake day, a trip to familiar places, and an argument about popcorn.

Motor Mouse and Telly (his good friend) love cake. They look forward to Friday because it has been designated Cake Day.  Upon arrival, they find the cake shop shut, and no cake available. They are visibly distraught. Hedgehog offers an alternative. Might pie work? I wonder.

In the second we learn that, while Motor Mouse does love his car, he rarely notices anything as he drives about as he must keep his eye on the road at all times. Hiring a cab provides a solution and a 'look-about' down memory lane. The cab driver is willing, with help from his tiny passenger on destinations. It is a mostly pleasing trip.

Finally, in the third, Motor Mouse and Valentino (his brother) spend another Saturday at the movie theatre. It's a wonderful place to be entertained. It also causes great grief over the popcorn bucket deal. Will they learn how to share? 

Heartwarming as we have come to expect from such a dedicated and thoughtful writer, and humorous, and engaging, and with a new hero for little ones to emulate. Memorable characters, pleasing friendships, and perfectly matched artwork auger well for young readers looking to find a new series.


Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Bug Girl (a true story), written by Sophia Spencer, with Margaret McNamara and illustrated by Kerascoet. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2020. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"When the other kids in my class started a karaoke club, I started a bug hunter club. Every weekend, my friends and I took our bug buckets and nets and magnifying glasses out to the stream near my house. We collected fireflies and watched them glow. We identified beetles by their two sets of hidden wings, and counted the spots on ladybugs. We even collected stinkbugs, which really can stink!"

Sophia has loved bugs since a blue butterfly landed on her shoulder when she was 2 and visiting a butterfly conservatory with her mom. It stayed while they wandered through the conservatory, and had to be removed by a guard as they were leaving. Sophia immediately understood why - it was meant to be protected.

Her interest continued to grow as she did. She saw bugs wherever she went, read books about them, and was soon collecting them for show-and-tell in kindergarten. The kindergartners thought they were very cool. Collecting bugs for study while on jaunts around the neighborhood, she often took them home to the front porch.

Her love of bugs led to Sophia following one rule.

"I have just one rule:
If there's a mosquito
buzzing, I snatch it up in
a napkin and let it go.

We don't have
a flyswatter - we
have a fly net."

When her grade one friends decided Sophia was weird for liking bugs so much, they did something about it. They killed the grasshopper she brought to show them, and they began bullying her. It was a terrible blow, and had lasting repercussions. Sophia stopped sharing what she knew. She no longer brought bugs to school. Still, the kids made fun of her.

"Why doesn't she like regular things?

I don't want to be friends with a bug lover.

She's so strange."

She began to question her love of bugs. and took a break from them. Her mom knew that Sophia needed to know about others who loved bugs as much as she did. She wrote an email, hoping other entomologists would respond to her daughter. The first letter came from Morgan Jackson, and he asked if he might pass it along to others.

It wasn't long before Sophia heard from many others.

"I couldn’t believe how many people around the world loved bugs as much as I did. And how many of them were grown-up women!

There were scientists who wrote about the work they do in their labs. Others shared videos of themselves with bugs on their arms and sent pictures of themselves hunting bugs in the wild."

It was the inspiration she needed. Sophia shares her story in this captivating book. How wonderful is it to find something you love to do? She is very happy calling herself  'the bug girl'. Following her first person narrative, she includes a section called MORE BUG FACTS. In it, she lets readers know that her top four bugs are (it was really hard to choose): the grasshopper, the blue morpho butterfly, the praying mantis, and the fly. Oh, and she adds a little bit about ants!

The ink, watercolor and colored pencil artwork is as lovely as this endearring account. Brightly colored and energetic, it captures Sophia's generous spirit and her gentle love for all things 'buggy'.

Don't miss this video, please.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2020. $22.99 ages 10 and up ages

"Although she and Papa had never spoken of it, she had gradually come to realize what leaving California had meant for her future. In the Chinatowns of Los Angeles and San Francisco, there were so many men and so few women that she might have been able to marry a Chinese man, despite being half-white. But the further east they went, the fewer Asians they had seen, and here in the eastern half of the Dakota Territory, ... "

The challenges of the long days of travel come to an end after three years: now, in LaForge, the two are faced with further concerns. In this new town, there are no Asian faces. Hanna's father is seeking a better life for the two of them. Her Chinese mother has died, after teaching her young daughter dressmaking skills that should ensure work in her father's new store. Hanna has to convince her father of that, and deal with the town's rampant prejudice toward a young mixed-race girl in 1880. She wants to finish her schooling before becoming the seamstress she so badly wants to be. While many of the townsfolk, and in turn their children, are unkind to Hanna, she uses all the lessons she has learned from her wise and gentle mother to overcome their racism with dignity and as much warmth as she can muster.

Readers of the Little House on the Prairie books will find similarities when reading Hanna's descriptions of food, life on the frontier, the construction of new buildings and available fabrics and dressmaking details. Her quiet, observant nature allows many memorable moments, including her encounters with a group of women and children from a nearby Ihanktonwan community who teach her skills she can use at home. Luckily, hints at humor throughout offer respite from some of the meanness Hanna faces.

Reading this book, alongside the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, helps children look closely at historical events. It is a powerful and impressive tale about a young girl who yearns to fulfill her dreams: education, meaningful work, and finding a true friend.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections, written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Carmen Saldana. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2019. $

"Stashed in the attic,
a small shadow box
holds rows of keys
long lost from their locks.
Fashioned of iron
with patterns ornate.
What might they open?
Which cupboard? Which gate?"
The latch to a castle
or secret chateau?
A wardrobe that leads
to a land white with snow?"

There are 18 poems here - the result of a school assignment and a search for something 'collectible' by our youug narrator. The assignment is of real concern to her as she watches her classmates excitedly discuss those many things that have captured their attention.

"I've emptied out my closet.
I've searched beneath my bed.
The random items I've unearthed
don't share a common thread.
I hope my friends and family
can give me some direction.
I'm trying not to panic -
but I need a good collection!"

Her search has her checking with members of her family for inspiration. Each one has a collection that is very special to them. Dad has trains, Mom a button box, Sister has snow globes, and her brothers have baseball cards. She talks with her grandparents, her aunts, her friends and neighbors.

There seems no end to ideas for collecting. None seem to spark an enduring interest for this young lady. It is lovely to note that each collection brings joy to the collector, and helps readers learn a little bit about each through the poems shared. After careful research and abundant thought, she is finally able to find a collection that is unique and perfectly shows readers who she is.

There is variety in poetic form, and presentation. Digital art provides context for the poems, the people, and the personal relationships. At the end, Ms. Schaub offers suggestions to her readers for getting starting at collections of their own. Let imagination guide the search, take time, and be patient.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Salma the Syrian Chef, story by Danny Ramadan and art by Anna Bron. Annick Press, 2020. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"Back at the Welcome Center, Salma organizes her vegetables on the kitchen table. "My mama won't be laughing at all if I use a knife," Salma tells Amir and Malek, who came together from Lebanon. "Can you help me chop these vegetables?" She blushes when Malek kisses away Amir's onion tears. The three of them giggle ... until Salma realizes she forgot the spices."

There is such a sense of camaraderie when people get together to make a meal. Parents and children, aspiring chefs, food lovers, partners, friends - all can find a common bond in creating something delicious to eat.

Salma and her mother are living without Papa after a move to Vancouver from Damascus. They are lonely for him, and for their homeland. Mama works hard to learn English and find a job. She is always tired and so sad. Salma misses her smiles and does her best to brighten Mama's days. Nothing works.

In talks with new friends at the Welcome Center, Salma decides that making Mama a familiar meal might help. With assistance from Jad, a center translator, she is able to find a recipe for foul shami. The Syrian recipe brings another set of problems. Salma does not know how to translate the Syrain words to English in order to get the ingredients she will need.

Using her crayons she is able to draw pictures that will help her get the groceries needed to make Mama a very special meal. Ayesha provides company for the shopping trip, Malek and Amir help with prepping the vegetables, and Granny Donya provides understanding for Salma's sadness over leaving her home and having to learn a new language in a brand new setting. Oh, and she has some sumac, a missing spice for Salma's recipe.

"Look at those beautiful flowers and all those blossoming trees."
Granny Donya points out the window. "This home might be
different from everything we know, but it's beautiful in its own ways."

Salma takes a deep breath, filled with the smell of sumac and rain.
Her anger escapes a little, like water droplets flying off her hands
when she shakes them dry."

Do all of Salma's efforts work to cheer her Mama? Yes, they do!

The warm colors and patterns used for the illustrations help to create a feeling of community, culture and support, just what is needed when refugees find a new home.