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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Child's Guide to Arctic Butterflies, written by Mia Pelletier and illustrated by Danny Christopher. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2019. $16.95 ages 8 and up

"Fluttering Fact:

No one is quite sure where the word "butterfly" came from. Some say that the buttery yellow colour of European sulphur butterflies was the inspiration for the word "butter--fly." Other stories claim that the word used to be "flutter-by." Some say that witches were thought to take on the shape of butterflies ... "

Did you know there were butterflies in the Arctic? I did not. Now, I do. That is the real appeal of nonfiction for many. By reading well-written, informational text, we learn more about the world we live in.

While there are thousands of different species of butterflies in the natural world, only several dozen of them can be found in the Arctic. They must be tenacious to live in such a climate. Despite the fragility of their wings, they have made adaptations to stay healthy and hearty.

The author begins with an introduction and a comparison of a butterfly and a moth. She then describes a butterfly and its parts before explaining its life cycle.

"In the Arctic, butterflies are usually seen flying in late
June, July, and early August. Vulnerable to predators and
changing weather, most butterflies live short lives of only
a couple of weeks. During this brief time, butterflies must
find a mate, lay their eggs, and begin the cycle anew."

Before introducing a number of species to readers, Ms. Pelletier also explains how they stay warm in such a crisp climate and what they do in the cold of the winter. The twelve double page entries that follow are designed to provide the name, scientific name, wingspan, a clear description, where to look, how they fly, the caterpillar stage, during the winter, and a fluttering fact on the verso. A lovely illustration of each is placed on the recto, showing its coloring and the Arctic background. 

Back matter includes tips for identifying these hardy, delicate creatures, as well as a list for further reading.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

One is a Lot (Except When It's Not). Written by Moun Thi Van and illustrated by Pierre Pratt. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"1 dog is a lot.

1 squirrel is a lot.

1 bicycle is a lot.

But 0 is just right.

1 key is a lot.

1 ride is a lot."

What a captivating story this is. It begins near a sunlit pond where ducks are swimming. A little girl and her dog are visiting. She has only two breadcrumbs. There are five ducklings and their mama; it is clearly not 'emough'. In fact, it is a 'little'. Is 1 better than nothing? It is ... when you are talking about the sun. One sun has people all over the park searching for shade as they spend time visiting, walking, reading, walking their dogs.

Each turn of the page offers a concise sentence that begins with 0, 1, or 2. Each illustration provides clear connections to the story being told. While young readers will concentrate on the concepts of a lot, a little, enough and not enough the first time they read it, a second visit will allow attention paid to the whole of the story being told.

The girl, her dog and the ducks are soon replaced by a boy, his dog, a squirrel, and an oak tree. Their paths cross - literally - while trying to contain the two exuberant, squirrel-chasing pups.  A friendship grows during a rainstorm. They share an umbrella, and a ball when the rain stops. The pups play. An acorn finds what in needs for growth in a rain puddle. Their future is sealed.

Variety in perspective, appealing artwork, humor in the details, and a fascinating premise for an early concept book. Well done!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Penny and Penelope, written by Dan Richards and illustrated by Claire Almon. Imprint, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"Well, Penelope is a princess.
Let's ride our ponies through
the countryside. The clover is
lovely this time of year.

Penny doesn't have a pony.
She has a turbocharged bike
with a real, working headlight."

They could not be more different. Their first time being together to play proves that. Each has a doll, similarly named. The girls' personalities are in full view from that first moment. A pearly pink bedroom replete with flowers, pillows, a tea table, and a castle mat is home to a young girl whose Princess Penelope doll is dressed in long gown, tiara and glass slippers. She wears a perpetual smile.
Her visitor wears jeans and a t-shirt. Her Penny doll is a secret agent, dressed in a motorcycle jacket, leather pants, boots and dark sunglasses.

The dolls' idea for an afternoon of play have little in common. While Princess Penelope is content with a tea party, Penny is 'on the lookout for danger'. When a ride in the country is suggested, Princess Penelope has a pony and Penny has a racing bike. It is quickly evident that these dolls have very different personalities, just as their owners do.

Illustrations brilliantly reflect those differences, while differently colored text provides context for each doll's response. When real danger, in the form of a werewolf, threatens, the two find common ground. Their imaginative play becomes ever more menacing. It doesn't take long for them to put their heads together to contain the danger and defeat their enemy.

"What are you doing? 

Making a trap.

I didn't know you could do that. 

Princesses are very resourceful.

I know how to tie a square knot. 

Then you can help."

Clever, action-packed and imaginative, this is a story that will resonate with its intended audience.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hair Love, written by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. Kokila, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"My hair even does magic
tricks. One day Rocky and I
were playing outside when
along came the rain.

From large to small it went.
Presto! Just like that!

There is nothing my hair
can't do!"

We read this book day after day when my granddaughters were here this summer. They loved it, and wanted to hear every night before bed. They have a dad who paints their nails, fixes their hair, and encourages their independence. So, they were thrilled to see how hard this dad worked to do his best job of styling his daughter's hair in celebration of their special day.

He does need help, and she is more than willing to give it. After all, Zuri's hair has a mind of its own. She loves it as does her dad; there are so many ways she can wear it. Her excitement for the day to come has her awake early. She tiptoes past her sleeping father, who is much in need of a break after caring for her every hour of the day.

Zuri knows exactly how she wants her hair to be styled; in anticipation, she is prepared to look to an expert on her tablet. Her cat knocks her tablet out of her hand, waking her father. He is fully prepared to help with a multitude of styles. Good for you, Dad. Many tries without success has her dad taking the lead from Zuri. It's the tablet to the rescue, with all the right instructions!

"Daddy combed,
     parted, oiled and twisted.

           He nailed it!"

And just in the nick of time, as it happens.

The digital illustrations are the perfect accompaniment, showing a loving family and the work they do to support one another. The details are warm and and another layer to the story  told. Expressive and encouraging, they show a dad committed to making this very special even more so.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2018. $22.49 ages 10 and up

"Being dead, I see places I never saw before. See homes not high-rise projects, schools better than I ever imagined. Who knew there were schools with computer and science labs? Libraries with fluffy pillows and couches? I wouldn't have minded going to Sarah's school, I never would've been late or faked being sick. I don't think any kid at my old school - even the troublemakers - would've minded a sky-blue-painted school ... "

One of my good friends recently tole me that had I asked her grade seven and eight students which book had the most impact on them last year, they would have chosen this one. Deservedly so.

It is a story of a young black boy killed by a white police officer. Readers watch as the scene unfolds. Jerome lives in a poor neighborhood, and attends a school that does not have the funding it needs to support the children it serves. He is bullied and scared each day as he walks to school; and he is scared for his little sister as well. He protects her as best he can.

When Carlos, a new student from San Antonio, arrives and befriends Jerome, he shares what he learned there. When the bullying starts for him as well, he scares the three boys with his attitude and his toy gun. They stand off; Jerome is surprised and thankful. After school that day, Carlos encourages Jerome to take the gun for some imaginary play in the park near his home.

A police officer finds him there and shoots him, concerned that he is carrying a gun. Jerome's ghost is witness to all that happens following the shooting - his family's anguish, Carlos' guilt, the police officer's trial and subsequent not guilty verdict. Jerome also spends time with other ghost boys, including Emmit Till. He learns their stories, and the history that he is now a part of, and he is only seen by Sarah, the police officer's daughter. She can see all of the ghost boys, and is trying to come to grips with the action that changed all of their lives. 

Jerome's story is written in the past and his ghostly present (Alive and Dead), allowing readers to begin to understand the realities faced by black families as they lose their sons to the reality of racial injustice, and to the plight of those officers' families who must also deal with the aftermath of making a grave (conscious or unconscious) mistake. 

Challenging, historical, filled with enduring pain, and sure to spur discussion in middle years classrooms, you will not forget Jerome, his family, his friends or his circumstances.

I will leave the last words to Ms. Rhodes:

I write for children now. I believe they are our best hope for a better world. The young are curious and have such open hearts. I write challenging stories not to embitter them but to empower them to “be the change,” to remember always the sense of justice and fairness they knew instinctively as children when they become adults. Writing stories about ending all forms of bias and discrimination, I hope will be my legacy—my own personal attempt to “bear witness” beyond the grave.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ants don't wear Pants, by Kevin McCloskey. First Second, Raincoast. 2019. $15.95 ages 5 and up

"Ants don't see well,
but they use four senses:


They tap each other with
their antennae to share

Other books by Kevin McCloskey include We Dig Worms, The Real Poop on Pigeons, Snails Are Just My Speed, and Something's Fishy. Adding a book about ants to the list is welcome; it will be enjoyed by many, just as the others have been. It is filled with facts about those tiny, industrious insects that capture our attention. They are often also the target of variety in ways to destroy them.

To children, they are endlessly fascinating. They will know exactly what the author means when he tells them that ants are always on the move. All you have to do is watch them! He explains:

"When you can't stop moving,
we say you have "ants in your pants."

An apt description for a very busy young child.

Children see them everywhere they look in the summer. Whether at the park, in the backyard, or walking down the sidewalk, observant children are aware of these tiny creatures. A microscope helps a child see them up close and personal. Mr. McCloskey provides those close-ups for readers when he describes an ant's body, their life cycle, the colony they build, and the ways they use their senses in learning about the world around them. Giving his two main characters an ant's-eye view is an excellent way to assure that they are involved in the tour he is providing for them.

After a page at the center that is filled with 1000 ants, he moves on to show his readers a few from the thousands of different kinds of ants there are: weaver, honeypot, crazy, acorn, bulldog, big-head. pavement, fire, ghost ... and EXPLODING ants that use their special talent to protect the colony! He explains what ants like to eat; then, what likes to eat ants. When the two return to their normal size, they prove that they have indeed learned something about the tiny, ever-moving insect.

The illustrations, as has been the case in each of the other mentioned works, are filled with details. They are painted with acrylics and gouache on recycled paper bags. Just enough information is provided that it might inspire some readers to do further research. (I would like to know more about the honeypot and the ghost varieties.)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family, written by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali. Art by Hatem Aly. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2019. $23.49 ages 4 and up

"Asiya's hijab isn't a whisper.
Asiya's hijab is like the sky on
a sunny day.
The sky isn't a whisper.
It's always there, special
and regular.

The first day of wearing hijab 
is important, Mama had said.
It means being strong."

School is about to start. That signals the time for Mama to take her daughters, Asiyah and Faizah, to choose Asiyah's first-day hijab. Mama and Asiyah don't agree on color. Mama loves pink; Asiyah chooses the  'the brightest blue.'

Faizah, our narrator, is ready and waiting in the morning, when Asiyah leaves the house dressed in that beautiful head covering. Faizah is proud and happy, and feels like a princess walking with her big sister. Once there, they part. In the line, Faizah is asked about her sister.

"What's that on your sister's head?"
the girl in front of me whispers.
"A scarf," I whisper back.
I don't know why a whisper came out.
I try again, louder now. " A scarf. HIjab."
"Oh," she whispers."

Faizah needs reassurance that Asiya is excited and doing okay. While she is there checking, a boy laughs and points at the head covering. It reminds Faizah about her mama's words:

Some people won't understand your hijab, Mama had said.
But if you understand who you are, one day they will too."

Throughout that first day, Faizah worries enough to stick close to her sister even at recess. As she watches that same boy tease Asiyah, she sees that her sister has ignored what he is saying and gone off with  her friends to play tag. Still worried at the end of the day, Faizah is thrilled to see her sister standing strong and smiling. It's all she needs.

A sensitive telling of a lovely family story, this book speaks to the bravery of acceptance and understanding, and to the power of a resilient spirit.