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Monday, July 15, 2019

Sir Simon:Super Scarer, written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"OK, first of all, don't call
me 'Ghost.' It's Simon or Sir
Simon Spookington. 
Secondly, Chedder -

It's Chester. 

I don't have time to play 
Ghost with you. I've got a 
ton of chores to get done ... "

Sir Simon is a 'haunter'. His business card reads that he is a 'super scarer' and a 'ghostest with the mostest'. While he has tried to scare many people in a variety of places, he cannot truthfully call himself a success. So, he is moving on ... to a house. It's his first. His chore list is long. Once his work is done, he wants to move on to trying his hand at much more important ventures.

"I'm into a bunch of things.



Learning French
Bonjour! Je suis
Simon le fantome!

I'm even writing a
thrilling novel."

First, he will have to deal with the inhabitants of his new assignment. Imagine his surprise when one of the kids can see him, and wants to be his friend. Chester us willing to abide by the rules set our for him by Sir Simon. But, Chester is inquisitive by nature, causing great consternation for his ghosting guide. Back on track, Simon provides a lengthy list of jobs for Chester. This leaves time for Simon to pursue his story writing.

Poor Chester just can't get it right. Simon is always correcting him. It isn't long until Chester does what little kids do who are tired of listening and trying to follow directions. He falls asleep. In the morning, Simon has a change of heart and tries to be more human than ghostly. Now, it's Chester who is giving the orders.

Expressive illustrations accompanied by speech bubbles add interest that will have young listeners poring over the action and finding humor in the similar feelings that Simon and Chester have about  the tasks at hand.

 “Chester isn’t the best at being a ghost, and I’m not so hot at being a human. But it turns out we are both pretty good at being friends.”

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Restless Girls:A tale of daring, a quest for freedom. Written by Jessie Burton and illustrated by Angela Barrett. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2019. $25.99 ages 10 and up

"One morning, King Alberto opened their bedroom door as usual. And as usual, his daughters' twelve pairs of shoes were lined up neatly against the wall. Except this time (Why this time? Who knows - kings are unreliable characters) he bent down and lifted one shoe in order to admires its craftsmanship. The king was in for a shock. He stood there in the morning light, shaking his gray head as his girls slumbered away."

As happens in any home where a mother dies, the twelve young princesses of Kalia are filled with grief at their loss. Looking to their father for comfort offers nothing as he is also in deep mourning. He cannot hear what any of his daughters try to tell him. He seeks only to protect them from all perceived danger. They spend their days in a prison of his making. Princess Frida does her best to help him see he is only making things worse in the kingdom, and for his daughters.

There are no windows in the one room they share. They have no sunlight to brighten their days, or the comfort of any personal beloved  possessions. They have only a portrait of their free-spirited, independent mother on their wall. There is no escape .... until they make an amazing discovery one evening when everyone else in the palace has settled in for the night. A hidden door leads them to a marvelous underground world. They pass through caves, cross a lagoon, and walk through a forested area that leads them to a tree palace where exotic animals including a lioness surround them. In this very special place, they begin to thrive and find solace in the dancing and company of others.

They return to their secret world night after night, only having to stop when their father becomes suspicious about the constant replacement of their shoes. When confronted, Princess Frida refuses to divulge the secret and is banished. A proclamation is issued by Alberto, stating that anyone who can discover the truth concerning his daughters will replace him as King. A surprise competitor, a new monarch, and a return to great prosperity for the kingdom has each of the daughters playing a vital role.

The princesses are presented with unique personalities, each showing strength and bravery when facing a world suddenly changed by an overprotective and unbending father. They love each other deeply; they want to have a say in the way they live their lives, and are willing to defy their father to do just that. It is a spirited tale of adventure,  humor, and imagination. A new twist on an old tale will find fans for its originality, its interesting characters, and the fun it pokes at a father who forgets his responsibilities to his kingdom in his dogged attempts to control the lives of twelve feisty, witty, kind, independent, free-thinking daughters ... traits they have inherited from his beloved Queen.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Be My Love, written by Kit Pearson. Harper, 2019. $14.99 ages 12 and up

"A psychiatrist! But that's for
crazy people! Dad isn't
c - crazy!"

Crazy isn't a very helpful word,
Maisie. Your dad is obviously
deeply troubled. There's nothing
shameful about it. Lots of men
were affected badly by the war.
He should have seen someone
long ago, before he broke down."

The second world war has ended. The year is 1951. Things are beginning to return to normal for most people. For Maisie, who is 14, much is changing and causing her to worry. Her father served in the war, and has returned with lingering mental health issues following his service as a chaplain. Her friend Jim has stopped talking to her. She is not really interested in what other girls her age are doing. The icing on the cake is when she arrives at her grandparents' house on Kingfisher Island, and her lively and loving extended family are nowhere to be seen. They are away in Vancouver. As luck would have it, they will be back soon.

She has been looking forward to seeing her best friend, Una and doing all the crazy things they love to do together during their summer on the island. Even Una has changed; she is pleased to be wearing new styles in clothing and fully enraptured by an older boy, David. Maisie does her level best to keep Una close. That becomes a problem that almost ends their friendship. Can Una trust Maisie after what she did? Can Maisie let Una know exactly how she feels?

As she so deftly does in each of her wonderful books, Ms. Pearson has created a story that resonates with Maisie's struggle to find an even keel while dealing with so many changes in her life. She is strong, articulate, persistent as she tries to help her father, deal with her feelings for Una and Una and David, and find the right people to help her on her journey to becoming herself. With the realization that it is normal to feel the way she does, she becomes a more assured and understanding daughter, friend, and person. 

As happens in Ms. Pearson's stories, the historical setting is vital and enlightening. It would an excellent read in a middle years classroom to show how much certain long-held beliefs have, and continue to change.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me, written and illustrated by Susan Roth. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"The differences between
a bowerbird and me are
fewer than you might

We are both
of unusual,
often unrelated

There are so many people I want to tell about this gorgeous and unusual book! So, I will start with you.

Susan Roth, a noted collage artist whose work I have admired in previous posts, immediately introduces her readers to the bowerbird and allows that they have many things in common. Each likes to collect things - things that have nothing to do with each other and that are often seen as quite amazing. Each double page spread consists of matching images of the two doing what they do best. They collect, they design, they build artful things in small spaces, each putting them together with a different purpose in mind.

Ms. Roth wants to tell a story. The bowerbird wants to attract a mate. They are always changing the design of the work they do. Their process is very similar while using comparable tools. They even want their work to stand the test of time, despite its fragility. And, they look for praise.

"Where do we get our ideas?
We get them
from the spaces we choose
for our compositions,
from our chosen materials,
and from the world around us."

As he creates his nest, she creates this book.

How stunningly beautiful and beautifully creative this book truly is. I have read it again and again, poring over its pages - always seeing something different from what I saw the last time. I will continue to do so. It is definitely a keeper!

 End matter includes facts about bowerbirds, how they work, how I work, and how we are the same. A bibliography follows and is accompanied by a clear photo of the Male Satin Bowerbird.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

My Grandma and Me, written by Mina Javaherbin and illustrated by Lindsey Yankey. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"We sent our baskets down
with ropes, the bread boy
placed the bread inside, and
then we hauled them up.
My grandma's basket was
so big, I could fit inside it.
I would sit in that basket
and pretend to be flying
my own plane.

My doll played, too."

In this loving tribute, the author shares stories of growing up in a house her family shared with her grandmother. Their life in Iran before the war was idyllic, the young child following in her grandma's footsteps throughout the day. They swept and cooked together, and then prayed as well. They began with prayers at dawn, a time much appreciated by both.

"Because only the two of us were up at that time,
and no one was there to stop me, I could climb
up and lie on her back while she prayed.
My grandma never told me to stop or broke out
of her prayers."

Gentle and kind, she provided her granddaughter with a shining example whether it was for getting bread, sharing it with neighbors, or being a good and faithful friend. As two young friends spent time together enjoying childhood pursuits, their grandmothers spent time knitting together, chatting, having coffee, and practicing their separate Muslim and Christian religions.

The artwork gently incorporates the many details of life in Iran, and in both households. Young readers will gain an awareness of the customs of an Iranian household, and see the similarities the two families share, including the grandmothers' prayers for each other.

Warm and lovely, this memoir of special times spent with a much loved grandmother is a joy to share.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Why? Written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Claire Keane. Chronicle Books for Children, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"At the mall ...

Go ahead and RUN,
puny fools! No one
can withstand the power


Because of my X-RAY
Blaster and because ... "

If you live with a toddler, or any young child wanting to know everything about the world and how it works, you will know what is coming when you open this book to read the first few pages. You are sure to have answered an inordinate number of WHYs on a daily basis.

I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my daughter and granddaughters next week. Sicily, closing in on 5, has mostly stopped asking her whys. Chelsea, just past 3, has not. So, I am preparing myself for endless questions about the plan for their visits, the trips we will be taking, the people who will visit us while they are here. It's going to be so much fun.

I know that I will read this book many times while they are here. Art and text work perfectly together in the presence of this tiny inquisitive girl and the man who threatens all mall shoppers. Both Adam Rex and Claire Keane know this child well. Chaotic action, lasting memories from childhood, humorous details and accurate expression keep listeners engaged and giggling. The feisty little one shows no fear concerning his threats. He continues to answer her repeated question, despite his obvious agitation.

"Even my dad
doesn't understand me.
He wanted me to be a doctor.
A real one.
Because he was a doctor.
Because his dad was a doctor.
And his dad's dad was a doctor.
That's how it is in my family.
Because we all just did
what we were told!
So now it's my turn
to tell people what to do!

Why, indeed? Poor Doctor X-ray! He hasn't got a chance.

The final spread is all you could ever want it to be!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Charlotte the Scientist Finds a Cure, written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Brianne Farley. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Charlotte wondered if they
were right.
Maybe she couldn't do it.
She was little.
And the doctors were very
Maybe she should leave it
to the experts.
But then she remembered
what Grandpa had told her.
She would find the cure ... "

In this second book about using the scientific method to do research and find a solution to a big problem, Charlotte sets out to discover why illness is infecting the animals of the forest. Her grandfather, a noted doctor, has always encouraged Charlotte in her work and lets her know that she can make a difference in the world with the work she is doing.

Taking what she has learned along the way, Charlotte moves out of the lab and into the community with hopes that she will find a cure for what is ailing her community. She talks with each patient, learning their history and examining them carefully. She can draw no conclusion based on the information she gathers. But, the infection is spreading. She finds it very difficult to keep the various animals under quarantine, and worries about it spreading even more.

Other doctors arrive to speak with her grandfather, ignoring Charlotte's work. Should she leave it those more educated and experienced? Nope, she has confidence in herself and she decides to continue the work despite setbacks. It doesn't take too long for her to make an important connection between those who are sick.

"If the carrots were bad, then eating
them was making everyone sick."

Further research confirms her thinking. A disaster is averted ... all because of a young rabbit who sees herself making a difference.

A glossary and an invitation to find our more completes the book.

Humorous, expressive illustrations allow readers to see how a careful, scientific look at community problems can bring a solution. With ingenuity, intelligence, and persistence, Charlotte is able to contain a health crisis despite some understandable misgivings.