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Monday, October 3, 2022

Surely Surely Marison Rainey, written and illustrated by Erin Entrada Kelly. Greenwillow, Harper. 2022. $21.00 ages 8 and up


"Surely the only thing worse that being terrible 
at sports is having an older brother or sister
who is a fantastic athlete. When you have a 
sibling, there's always someone to compare 
yourself to. 

Marisol is better than Oz at some things - like
not being annoying and not making a mess in the 
kitchen - but sometimes Marisol wishes she was 
more like Oz.

As if she doesn't have enough to worry about already, Coach Decker announces that a two-week kickball unit is next in gym class. To say Marisol does not like gym is understating it. It is her least favorite thing. Her family and friends know it. Her best friend Jada shares her feelings about kickball. There is nothing to be done about it. 

Constant thoughts and worries (which Marisol dubs The Brain Train) plague her as they first practice, and then play their first game. Marisol has no doubt that she will be bad at it - she is right. Finally, in desperation, she and Jada ask for help from Marisol's brother Oz, a star soccer player. Oz does his best to help. He offers one particular piece of advice - 'keep you eye on the ball at all times'. It encourages Marisol to play her game with a bit more confidence despite a setback or two. 

Fans of the initial book about Marisol will be delighted to welcome her back. Many readers will identify with the concerns she has about gym, mean girls, family, and friendship. The books introduce an engaging cast of characters who strengthen the story and give it an emotionally honest feel. Short illustrated chapters celebrate this insecure young girl who gains confidence through determination. Full of heart, it will leave fans eagerly awaiting #3! 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Youngest Sister, written by Suniyay Morena, illustrated by Mariana Chiesa, and translated by Elisa Amado. Greystone Kids, 2022. $22.95 ages 5 and up

"Picu took the dirt road, then turned onto 
the narrow path. She thought she might 
take a shortcut through the corn, but the
barking of faraway dogs made her give up 
on that idea.

This Argentinian picture book, recently translated by Elisa Amado and released by Greystone Kids, tells the story of a young Quechua girl who is one of five sisters living in a mountain village. A larger family lives and sleeps in a crowded hut. Picu is the 'youngest sister' and she is never asked to do jobs of any importance to the family. This particular morning finds her being sent to Dona Circiaca for a flavor bone. 

Picu knows the way and keeps to the main paths. She is distracted by mistolas, adding them to the sack she carries. Though warned to hurry with her task, she makes occasional stops for some fun. Finally arriving at Dona Ciriaca's home, she accepts the bone although it has little goodness left in it. Warned to hurry, she begins the trek home. As she goes, she is preoccupied with family memories and her surroundings. When hunger strikes, she is reminded that she must get the bone home for the evening meal. 

Upon her arrival at the hut, she realizes that everyone is waiting for her. Frightened that she will be in trouble, she hides in nearby bushes. After a long wait, she sees her grandmother coming. 

"The grandmother Estanislada was walking up with her cane, a staff made from the wood of the axe-breaker tree that she used to walk straighter, to poke the fire, to kill snakes, or to make donkeys trot. She was carrying goat cheese and a bag of corn."

Picu arrives at the same time as her grandmother. She has managed to add a special treat from her hiding place to the bag she carries. Once the meal is prepared and eaten, Picu is rewarded for her addition to their meal and her very good work, despite the lateness of her return. 

Using crayons which were then reworked digitally, Ms. Chiesa creates a textured setting in fitting bold colors that are infused with both light and shadow. Readers will have their curiosity aroused by this glimpse at life in a Quechua family and home. 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome, written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua. Simon and Schuster, 2022. $25.99 ages 4 and up

"He giggles and chatters in Chinese.
His sister giggles and chatters in Chinese. 

This is a whole new Lin!"

In her third story about Amy Wu, Kat Zhang pens a new challenge for the ebullient Amy. As she enters her early years classroom, Amy hears her teacher introducing a new student - Lin. Lin has just arrived from China. Amy and her classmates welcome Lin with smiles. Lin smiles at the warmth shown him; he does not speak. although it looks as if he wants to do that. Instead, he blushes and stays silent. 

Sitting together at lunch, Amy does her best to strike up a conversation. Lin remains quiet. Play time is the same, and nothing changes when Lin shows his soccer ball at show-and-tell. There is no tell. Amy voices her concern to her mother at school pick-up. It is then she sees Lin talking animatedly with his little sister - in Chinese. What a difference from the boy in the classroom to the boy with his family!  

A shopping trip with her mom inspires Amy to come up with a plan. With the help of her grandmother, Amy is able to write a message of welcome (in Chinese) for Lin and his family when they invite them to a party with friends. Now is the time for Amy to feel hesitant, while Lin becomes more confident. They make dumplings together and enjoy a meal with everyone present. Only when Lin's family is ready to leave does she unfold her banner of welcome. 

Warm, familiar illustrations give young readers a true glimpse at the diversity in Amy's classroom, show the kindness of her family, and the heartfelt attempts made to let Lin and his family feel accepted and welcome in their new home. Back matter offers the author's personal experiences growing up in a bilingual family, as well as simple instructions for making a welcome banner. 

Friday, September 30, 2022

Fly, written by Alison Hughes. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.99 ages 12 and up



He wields his 
with a flick of his
shaggy brown hair,
a sly smile, 
a sarcastic comment
and his aura of 
He rides 
on the strong waves
of his popularity.
There's never an empty seat 
beside him.

Felix Landon Yarrow (aka Fly) is the first-person narrator for this powerful story. Fly has cerebral palsy. How he looks allows others to make assumptions about his mind, and about his abilities. His constant companion is his copy of Don Quixote, whose story of courage, fairness, and integrity holds him up when he has had enough of the world that surrounds him. 

This outstanding book is written in free verse that draws the reader from page to page, chapter to chapter, with a narration that is both compelling and authentic. Fly's concern for Daria (his crush) amps up when Carter shows he is taken with her. Anyone in middle or high school will know a Carter. He holds sway in hallways, classrooms, and outside of school. This Carter is a bully and a drug dealer, whose disdain for Fly, his physical disorder, and his virtual invisibility within Carter's circle makes it easy for Fly to literally be a 'fly on the wall'. No one suspects that he is learning anything from what is going on around the school. That is where they are so wrong! 

Fly is determined to protect Daria from Carter and his nefarious ways. His plan to show the world the real Carter is wily and well-planned. Felix proves to be clever and cynical, as he keeps readers aware of who he is and his ability to plan and carry out Carter's takedown. Action and emotion make Felix an empathetic character worthy of great admiration. This book reveals his 'quest/ for a noble life'.  

"and that I'm
to blame, 
I still feel a 
of exhilaration. 

Because she's 
looking right at me, 
yelling at me. 
At me. 

As though I was 
a regular person,
deserving of anger - 
worth a yell.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Sing in the Spring, written by Sheree Fitch and illustrated by Deb Plestid. Nimbus, 2022. $22.95 ages 5 and up

"Buds of leaves
still curled in knots
just like teeny polka dots
spots of green on bare-branched trees
soon buds will bloom and leaves
yes, shimmery light
on every thing."

While it is definitely not spring where I live, it won't matter when you read this book filled with 'word magic' by Sheree Fitch. Her verses sing with energy and carefully-chosen words. This celebration for the coming of spring is fun to read (with practice) anytime of the year if you want your kids to hear just how 'lip-slippery' reading can be. You will need to be familiar with the tone, the rhythm, and the language itself before reading it aloud to others. 

Winter can be long, and the shift to spring and its many sights and sounds is celebrated with wonder on every page of this beautiful book. Imaginative and filled with a love of the natural world and its many marvels, Ms. Fitch entertains and informs as she has always done. 

Her questions will have listeners pondering their answers, and wanting to discuss ideas inspired by them. 

"Does a butterfly have a mother?
Is its brother still a bitter caterpillar 
crawling on the ground?
I would love to ask a little butterfly
but the butterfly's such a slippery flutter-flutterer
never ever settles down.

What a magical season spring is! The brilliant quilted artwork created by Deb Plestid provides the most admirable backdrop for the coming of spring and its many celebratory days. It does indeed inspire hearts to 'sing in the spring', as does Sheree Fitch's inspired repetitive refrain that reminds readers: 

"Hum, hum, keep humming on 
Hum, hum, hum - along song:
Bring in, ring in, sing in the spring
Sparkly light on everything!

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Let's Add Up! Written by Victoria Allenby and illustrated by Maggie Zeng. Pajama Press, 2022. $21.95 ages 3 and up


"7 capes + 3 robes = 10 costumes ... 

... or a play!"

This book is a fine addition to the Big, Little Concept Books series by Victoria Allenby. It follows Shape Up Construction! and Listen Up, Train Song! 

What an invitation it is for little ones to begin to think about numbers through play. By taking familiar objects and grouping them together, she gives kids an opportunity to count, combine and come to understand adding on to make a new number. 

She does even better than that ... after coming up with the answer, the concept becomes a new activity to share together. 

"5 drums + 5 tambourines = 10 instruments ...
... or a band."

Once they get the hang of it, readers will be challenged to make guesses about what the resulting activity could be. It won't be long until they are reading it for themselves and perhaps trying some of their own addition ideas. Numbers here go up to 10. 

Maggie Zeng's digital illustrations show wide diversity in the children who remain the same throughout the book's addition challenges. Following the party attended by 9 friends and 1 more, the author offers 4 clear tasks for parents and caregivers to try with young children that will help expand the learning.

Count on! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

When I Listen to Silence, written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Carmen Mok. Groundwood Books, 2022. $18.99 ages 4 and up


"When the bears join in, 
twirling and whirling
and thumping and bumping,
the dragon that lives beneath the mountain
wakes up and 


A young child and her mom start the day with silence. Her mom needs that to get her work done. Kids who spent a lot of time learning at home during the pandemic may have experienced such a request. As she sits at the window and contemplates the outside world, her imagination takes flight. She can hear the trees breathing and then watches as they break into an energetic dance. Bears join that dance while the little one beats a tune on her drum. 

When the bears awaken the dragon, its smoky breath causes the child to take flight upon a bird's back which leads to ongoing adventure. With each new imagined result of a previous action, the author repeats what has happened and adds the action it brings. In this fanciful place, she meets a knight and his horse who take her to the moon and back with an accompanying visit to the stars. Arriving back on the ocean, they join a motley crew of loud pirates who are quieted by gentle mermaids. The mermaids' 'hush' encourages the whales to sleep at the bottom of the sea. 

"When the whales take a nap
on the seabed, 
I sit, 

When I sit, 
I can hear the trees 
breathing ...

It's quite fascinating for children to learn the power of their own imagination. So much joy comes to them as they realize they can fill their time with play that is directed by their own thoughts. Carmen Mok uses gouache, India ink, pastels and colored pencils to show young readers what imaginative play can be. The home setting will be familiar to many of them, and the way the story comes full circle is a delight. What a sweet way to show children the power of their own creativity. 

From an interview with Ms. Pendziwol: 

"I wanted to explore the idea of allowing stillness and silence – the opportunity for creativity – to have a chance to take root and to grow." 

Mission accomplished!