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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bug Zoo, by Nick Baker. DK, Tourmaline Editions. 2010. $14.99 ages 8 and up

"And yes, I am suggesting you add these infamous bloodsuckers and spreaders of plague and pestilence to your bug zoo, and for a very good reason: mosquitoes are among the most successful and deadly animals on Earth, and it's fascinating to find out what they're really all about. You might even grow to love your pet mosquito larvae, but even if you don't, at least you'll get to know the enemy!"

Nick Baker is the perfect role model for your young scientist. He has an insatiable interest in the world and its wonders; in this book he shares his enthusiasm and curiosity with his readers by encouraging them to create a multitude of enclosures meant to allow a closer look.

"Building a zoo means you can become an explorer, a hunter, a collector of fine zoological specimens and, of course, a zookeeper. You don't need much to get started - just a table and a few jars will do. And you can capture your exhibits everywhere. Tune into their world and I can promise you this: you will never, ever be bored again!"

And then he dedicates his book to his 'own little bug hunter, Elvie, whose very first word was 'moth'!" Yep, he's a mentor to all bug collectors, for sure.

Zoo tools are described and ways to catch and keep bugs, before he launches into the first critters in his collection...wood lice. Four pages of photos, information boxes, description and ultimately, the type of zoo structure needed to capture and observe said creature. The directions for building are clear and numbered, and the requirements for care and feeding are included. He moves on to slugs and snails, aphids, caterpillars to name but some. The photographs are impressive, showing readers up close and personal images of the bugs, their homes and most everything else you might want to know about them.

Yuk! Some make my skin crawl but I'm not a kid and not tremendously excited about knowing more and more about the insect world. Still, I found the facts fascinating, if a little discouraging in terms of the mosquito...I dream of the day when summer is not a constant fight to keep them at bay. I must admit I share the author's intrigue that there is little that seems to hold them at bay!

This is another great book from DK...full of miniature habitats, close-up looks and enough shared excitement to encourage anyone who ever thought they might like to know more about bugs, and how to house them!

Face to Face with Frogs, written by Mark Moffett. National Geographic, Random House. 2010. $7.95 ages 4 and up

"I had to lie on the ground with my camera only two inches away from the terribilis frog to take her picture. Compared to most frogs, she was curious, showing little fear. If you are deadly, you don't have much to be frightened of. Sometimes she hopped toward me, but I couldn't allow her to touch my skin. It was strange to be scared of such a pretty frog!"

Mark Moffett makes this wonderful book sound like a conversation with his readers. It is filled with his delight at the work that he does, and with stories of adventures he has had all over the world doing that work. Mark is a herpetologist. That means that he studies reptiles and amphibians and he will go to any length to gather information and accurate, amazing photographs of those creatures that he loves.

He works with other dedicated researchers and guides to do the work that allows his audience to get this close-up look at many of the frogs that inhabit our world...more than 5400 kinds and only 104 live in the United States. That being said, travel obviously plays a big part in his research...Vietnam, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Cameroon to name a few.

The fully captioned clear and colorful photographs provide much information about the discoveries he has made. He also includes bulleted sidebars with tidbits that focus on a variety of subjects. One cites the differences between frogs and toads, another the jumping ability and still another, its ability to sing. There is so much to learn about them and the learning is done in such an easy and casual way. Kids will be thrilled to share this excellent book, poring over its many detailed photos and in awe of the stories Mark Moffett has to tell:

"On Taboga Island in Panama, there are many green-and-black dart frogs and many tarantulas. Most of the time, they seem to avoid each other. Every once in a while, I saw a tarantula foaming at the mouth, apparently dying from having accidentally bitten a dart frog."

He finishes by telling his readers of the ways that they can help by preserving natural spaces, conserving resources, keeping current by reading about frogs, and by contributing to organizations that work to protect them. It is often a child who takes the first step in getting a family working toward such projects. Moffett also provides a page of information on becoming a frog researcher, plus additional information in a 'facts at a glance' summary, a glossary, a list of books and websites where more can be found and finally, an index so that readers can go right back to what they found most fascinating in their first go!

What a great book!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Once Upon a Twice, written by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Barry Moser. Random House, 2009. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"Danger's lurking in the lettuce,
Tween the celery, stalkers get us!
Open moonlight is a menace.
Trust in shadows - disappear

The old mice have much to teach Jam, but he's not interested. They offer a warning to the young and fearless mouse about the dangers that might befall him while he seeks adventure on his own. He is undeterred!

As is true of life experience, the elders have a point; but Jam needs to make some discoveries for himself. And he is off. He has no fear of moonlight, or what the darkness disguises. In fact:

"Out in the open, in the clear,
Where any wisenmouse would fear,
Jam licks his paw, he grooms an ear,
And never hears approaching hissss."

To say he learns his lesson is moot, it is what he does with that lesson that will endear him to future generations.

Barry Moser's artwork is glorious. His use of dark shadows implies the fear that the elders share, while the moonlight focuses its boundless light on the tiny mouse and his horde. Predators find obscurity in the shadows and inspire a sense of foreboding for the young precocious mouse.

Taking a cue from Jabberwocky, Denise Doyen has created a delicious display of fun and nonsense, while also creating a story that is perfectly understood by her young readers. It is a tale that takes some practice to read since many of the words are unfamiliar; but the rhyme and rhythm of the language carries you along on a readaloud romp that will delight listeners and readers alike.

It is full of suspense, adventure and wonder. I'll be sharing it over and over again!

Once upon a twice,
In the middle of the nice,
The moon was on the rice -
Jam's mice-advice is: "Be forewarned!""

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Great Big Mamma, written by Olivier Ka and illustrated by Luc Melanson. Groundwood, 2009. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"My mamma gives me noisy kisses.
They go '"shmops" on my cheek.
That tickles me. Her kisses mean,
"I love you so much, I want to eat
you right up."

I wouldn't even mind if she did eat me up."

I like to think that my kids could write this book! They love me for who I am and not what I look like. That love is unconditional and doesn't hinge on whether I look like everyone else's mother, or meet the expectations of a society that emulates and honors the 'beautiful'. That being said, I think it is important for everyone to be as healthy as they can be, in terms of lifestyle and weight. But, little kids aren't generally aware of looks so much as they are of the feelings felt and expressed by those they love.

In this homage to a young boy's mother, he loves everything about her...she's bigger, therefore better. She is soft, and comfortable and happy! When she decides to go on a diet, she changes. She is not so happy with the world, and her young son notices. She says she wants to lose weight so that she will 'look prettier' and he is not so sure:

"That's crazy. She wouldn't be prettier. She'd be
thinner, that's all. And less cuddly, and less soft."

He loves her just as she is...and isn't that the most important thing?

When he decides to go on a diet to be like her, she takes stock. Relinquishing the diet that started because of what other people thought, brings happiness to both, and a sense of peace. That might be the most important lesson of all in this lovely book. Don't change who you are for others, change because it is important to you. Then, change works!

Melanson's use of color and perspective is wonderful. His characters reflect the warmth they feel for each other, through the use of warm colors (red and orange) while the backgrounds are done in cool blues and greens and thus give cool, even cold, vibes from the outside world. They are indicative of the tone for the whole story. Mamma is a huge presence in every illustration and his perspective shows that clearly.

The loving relationship between the two is the focus and I share it with delight in workshops and classrooms. Olivier Ka's words are strong and leave listeners and readers with much to ponder. Luc Melanson's artwork is full of the love the two share and quite charming. What a great way to get a discussion off on the right foot!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Zero is the Leaves on the Tree, written by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Shino Arihara. Tricycle Press. 2009. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Zero is...
the shape of an egg.
Zero is a number."

The concept zero is not always easy to understand for young children, and it is often overlooked. Betsy Franco does a wonderful job of introducing zero in a series of illustrated scenes where it is obvious that nothing is there that might be there at another time.

"Zero is...
the ducks on a pond when
the air says winter is coming.
0 ducks"

In creating these simple verses Betsy Franco takes common daily events that children will recognize and want to discuss. The accompanying artwork has small details within the larger double page spreads that reflect the simplicity of the verses placed there.

There is much to talk about when sharing this book and children will offer stories and ideas that are sparked by the words and pictures. It will give them pause to look at their world for other examples of zero. What a fun book that would be for a classroom project!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Only in the Movies, written by William Bell. Random House, 2010. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"But for all the difference it made, I might as well have sent her a dead mouse. Days went by without any acknowledgement from Alba that I had poured my heart out to her. When I was able to find her alone in class or in the halls and say hello to her, she was friendly but cool and reserved. What was going on?"

Jake is like his father, an excellent carpenter. His father's dream is for Jake to join him in his construction business. Jake has other aspirations and is concerned to share them with his parents; so he is surprised when his father accepts that Jake's dream differs. He does all he can to help Jake get into the arts school that will help Jake with his career as a movie-maker. It is, in fact, his father's brilliant idea that gets him a spot at York.

His tenth grade year offers coures in creative writing, drama and English. There he meets two students who will become important to him, for very different reasons. His set building abilities got him a place at his new school and he is soon busy putting together a backdrop for a production of Taming of the Shrew. He is also named stage manager. His interest in Alba has been thwarted by her interest in Chad. Jake begs his new friend, Vanni, to help him in his quest to win Alba's heart. As luck would have it, Chad and Alba have a falling out and Jake thinks he might finally have a chance. When his father is taken to the hospital emergency room, Jake is surprised to find he wants to share his concern and news with an unexpected love.

I so admire William Bell's ability to create characters. Instant Grady and Vanni O'Riada provide the comic relief in this high school story about infatuation, friendship, love lost and found, and the inevitable twists and turns that come with growing up and learning about yourself as a person. Jake is an intense, likeable main character whose insecurities reflect much of what all teenagers feel when trying to deal with this thing called 'life'.

This is a worthy addition to William Bell's bibliography and will be enjoyed by many, especially those who have an abiding interest in theatre and the movies.

Dear George Clooney, written by Susin Nielsen. Tundra, 2010. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"That night, after I'd made fish sticks and frozen peas and toast for Rosie and me because Mom was out with Dudley, and after I'd forced Rosie to eat all her peas because she needed her vegetables, and after I'd washed the dishes and read to Rosie until she's fallen into a deep sleep, I decided to check my Facebook account before Glamour Girl started at nine."

I had a plan for my reading yesterday. I was going to finish two books that I had been reading and maybe be lucky enough to start another. When the mail carrier knocked at the door and handed me eight new envelopes, the next plan was to leave them until I had completed that other plan. I couldn't do it! I needed to know what was in those envelopes. So, I started opening...a picture book, a book of poetry, another picture book, a vampire novel, a book about Elijah McCoy, another novel...wait, that name is familiar. Oh, Susin Nielsen....I loved Word Nerd!

I thought I would skim the first couple of pages of Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom. So much for good intentions...when I finally settled to read, I just kept on going. I missed most of the Blue Jays game, went to bed and read until the book hit me in the head, woke up to a thunderstorm...and finished the book!

Violet's Dad has no idea the destruction he leaves behind, when he moves to Los Angeles with his new wife. He is now father to twin daughters and has left his first two daughters in a state of shock and denial...not to mention their mother! As Violet's Mom moves forward following months of sadness, she is determined to find another man, instead succumbing to the charms of a growing list of 'losers'. When her mother starts dating Dudley Wiener, Violet decides to take action. A family story concerns her mother's working on the same set as George Clooney (she was the celebrity hair stylist) and an autographed photo of him that her mother still has. Violet cannot think of anyone more suitable for her mother. She writes him a letter asking that he consider her request to be father to Rosie and herself, and husband to her mother, Ingrid.

You can tell I like Violet. She's a wonderful character, full of spunk with a great imagination and enough angst to make her very believable and worthy of empathy. She is at times hilarious, and often heartbreaking as we watch her deal with the emotions and anger she is feeling about her life at the moment. The other characters add dimension and understanding to the story and we are lucky to know so much about them at story's end. Through them we become a part of Violet's world.

There is nothing easy about divorce, and Nielsen is able to convey that without preaching about it. Ingrid loses confidence in herself, and funnels all of her energy into working to support her daughters, without help from her ex-husband, and to finding a new man. Rosie, at 5, sucks her thumb and starts wetting the bed, not truly understanding the upheaval that befalls them. Violet feels like mother, housekeeper, cook and matchmaker. While we laugh aloud in many of the scenes, we are also privy to all sadness and adjustment that comes with the changes in the family.

The ending is just what I wanted for Violet who has been through so much...she deserves it! She has been come a long way, and it's only the beginning of another kind of life for the family. She is a character to love and hug, to shake and admonish; untimately, you won't be able to forget her. I hope to meet her again.

Get this book!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Paris in the Spring with Picasso, written by Joan Yolleck and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2010. $22.99 ages 5 up

"Every Saturday, no matter what the season, Gertrude and Leo hold a soiree, an evening party. Friends come for dinner and then, at around nine o'clock, the house is opened to anyone who might like to visit."

The author of this fascinating book draws her inpsiration for the story from the lives of some of the Parisians of the time: Pablo Picasso, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire and Marie Laurencin. She focuses on events that may (or may not) have happened when friends were invited to an evening party at the home of the Steins. The evening is peopled with historical characters who spent time together, enjoying each other's company and sharing the news of the day. The evenings organized by Gertrude Stein were quite remarkable and often included many very famous people.

There is no designated narrator, but it may just be the cat who continually makes an appearance in Marjorie Priceman's wonderful artwork. That cat suits the goings-on and appears to play a part in almost every scene. We wander at leisure alongside, enjoying the many sights and sounds of Paris. As we do, we become privy to the lives of the characters as they live them. There is much excitement and anticipation as they prepare to attend the upcoming bash.

Marjorie Priceman allows us entry to Paris, prior to World War I, using an artistic style that was prevalent at the time. By doing so, she creates a believable and bright space for those anticipating attendance. There is lots of energy in her work, and she varies perspectives and pages to keep us interested in the action. Her recent trip to Paris is our great good luck, too. The many details create an atmosphere that matches the story's excited tone and does so with panache.

A final note refers to the main characters, adding information and stories from their lives. If readers are interested, they might just follow up on what has already been shared to see if they might discover more about each one.

This book is as charming as the city itself and might just have some readers wishing that they could make a quick visit!

Homicide Related, written by Norah McClintock. Red Deer Press, 2009. $14.95 ages 13 and up

"Then came the past six months living in his uncle's house. Maybe those six months should have told him something, but, then again, maybe not. After all, his uncle had lived nearly three times longer than Dooley before Dooley had even made his acquaintance, and that made it hard for Dooley to tell if the way he had been the past six months was the way he always was or just the way he was now that Dooley was around."

Norah McClintock is a skillful and entertaining writer. She has won many awards for her work, and deservedly so. She is adept at creating complex and compelling characters, who are caught up in stories that thrill and delight a wide group of readers.

In this second book of a planned trilogy, Dooley is back and deserving of our admiration despite the dips and dives that his life has taken. He has proved himself to be dependable and conscientious, but he has some bad breaks to get past and it takes hard work. He wants to be a better person and live a good life. He works hard to stay out of trouble.

The pace of this fine mystery is fast, and takes place over a two week period. There are many details throughout that help a dedicated reader prepare for what is going to happen and some of the secrets that will be revealed. The relationship between Dooley and his uncle is contentious and plays a huge role in the action. The evolving, sometimes acrimonious, relationship between them is tantamount to the mystery's solution. Dooley must adhere to a number of conditions as part of his release, including "holding down a job, staying away from drugs, alcohol, weapons, and baseball bats, and attending regular counselling." The best part of his life for the moment is Beth, his girlfriend. They, too, have their challenges.

When Dooley's mother dies and police determine that it is a homicide, and then another person from his past dies, Dooley is drawn back into the presence of police and interrogation. As the case moves forward, family secrets are revealed. These lead to the arrest of his uncle and Dooley must work to prove that guilt lies elsewhere. In doing so, Dooley learns much about his family and his past.

Now, I need to get my hands on Dooley Takes the Fall (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008) so that I will know the back story of Dooley and the people in his life. I am sure I will look forward, with great anticipation, for the final chapter from Norah McClintock's convincing and creative mind.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Three Little Kittens, selected and illustrated by Tony Ross. Henry Holt, H B Fenn. 2009. $18.95 birth and up

"'I don't know any stories about real things,' said Grandad, scratching his nose, 'but I do have this book of nursery rhymes. Some of those are about real things, real things that happened many years ago. Mostly, though, they teach something.'"

And Grandad begins sharing a lively book of familiar nursery rhymes with his young granddaughter. They begin with the three little kittens who lose and find their mittens. Without pause, Grandad goes on to share rhyme after rhyme, each accompanied by trademark Tony Ross's detailed and appealing watercolor illustrations. There is much to talk about as you share this lively book, a very fine addition to any collection of nursery rhyme books and a perfect welcome gift for that new baby.

When they are done reading, the book is closed and Nelly wonders if Wee Willie Winkie might tap on her window tonight, when he is checking to see if the children are in bed. Grandad thinks that he might be awfully old to still be tapping on windows!

There are so many children (and parents) who don't know the traditional nursery rhymes that were my poetry when I was young. Our Mom sang them, repeated them and encouraged Jack and I to learn them. We heard the rhythm in language, thought about things that were new to us and became friends with Wee Willie, Little Jack Horner, Jack and Jill and Humpty Dumpty. Through a book like this a new generation of children might come to know these old, comfortable characters and their stories.

It would be a lovely, lasting gift!

Fancy Nancy: Ooh La La! Written by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper, 2010. $13.99 ages 3 and up

"The Ooh La La! Beauty Spa is conveniently located in our backyard. Isn't it amazing how I transformed my clubhouse? (Transform is fancy for change.)"

Fancy Nancy Clancy is always up for a challenge and a new experience. When Dad invites Mom out for a birthday dinner and a movie, Nancy cannot resist the temptation to 'fancy her mother up'. She invites her to visit the Ooh La La! Spa that has suddenly appeared in the backyard. Her mother, always game for Nancy's ministrations, accepts the invitation and is treated like royalty.

There is a hand massage, a banana and honey facial with all the accoutrements, a foot soak, music for relaxation and cucumber eye pads to take away the puffiness. There is even a parfait treat to refresh while the work is being done.

The piece de resistance is the coiffure (that's fancy for hairdo)and Mom is plied with mousse, braids, ribbons and entertainment while the hair dries. When the braids come out, Nancy is frantic. She puts in a call to her friend, Mrs. DeVine who used to be a 'beauty care consultant'. Soon, all is well, the parents have bid their daughters good night and it's Nancy's turn for some pampering!

The many small details are what make the Fancy Nancy books such fun! There are lists, recipes, entertainments, and instructions. Robin Glasser ensures that there is plenty of 'fancy' on every page and much that is not mentioned in the delightful text. It's a winning combination and I anticipate each new adventure with great delight.

A collection of Fancy Nancy books would be perfect for your favorite, frivolous, fantastic, fancy little one!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Big Nate, written and illustrated by Lincoln Pierce. Harper, 2010. $13,99 ages 9 and up

"There were twenty-two other kids in the classroom, and they all had their hands in the air. Francis did. Teddy did. Gina did, of course. Even Nick Blonsky, who usually sits in the back row with his pencil up his nose, had his hand raised. She could have called on one of them, right?
Guess who she calls on?"

Here is another one of those books, like the Wimpy Kid, destined to find new fans and to get lots of buzz when teachers, librarians and parents are trying to find a new series for their adolescent readers...let's hope this is the first of many.

Nate is a guy who is determined that greatness is his...if you know him from his comic strip, you will know that the greatness will come with trouble attached. Written in first person narrative, with a very authentic and funny voice, Big Nate will have fans emulating his sarcastic and hopeful persona. As with so many other boys his age, Nate is a bit goofy and inept. He manages to alienate every single one of his teachers in one laugh out loud funny incident after another, while holding to the belief that 'today's gonna be a good day' and that he is meant to do great things.

Those moments will keep readers turning the pages, looking for the next colorful event. The pace is quick and will leave kids begging for more. His is a funny commnentary on the daily drudgery that is middle school for many of our students and Nate will be the character who voices their shared opinions, leaving them free to live vicariously through him. His words and pictures make him a candidate to take over for his creator, Lincoln Pierce.

Coincidentally, Lincoln Pierce began drawing comic strips when he was in sixth grade. His humor shines through and proves he knows middle graders. This book will have universal appeal...for boys and girls, avid readers or reluctant. Be sure to check out the Big Nate website...there is much fun to be had there, too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Where You Came From, written by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Simply Read Books, PGC Books, 2008. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"Henry is a boy who likes to ask questions.
Every day it's something new.

Do one and one always make two? he asks.
And never something more?

But there is one particular question
he asks again and again.

Where did I come from? asks Henry."

I was not expecting to love this book, but love it I do! It is so much fun and such an imaginative romp, Henry asks the question that most little kids ask at one time or another. His parents have fully prepared their endearing and silly responses in advance, it seems. Without so much as a gulp, father is first to help set the record straight. He thinks that the stork was sick and so, the crows were called in as delivery replacements. His mother has a different version about fairies and how many it took to deliver Henry, given the difference in size.

Back and forth the conversation goes, with each adding a new and humorous version of the answer to his repeated question. Each response becomes more preposterous while remaining gentle and full of fun. They are matched by the equally gentle and charming drawings of Julie Morstad. She maintains the humorous scenarios with light sketches of Henry, mostly diaper-clad, as he comes 'home' to his parents, all the while sporting a stoic and serious facial is a serious question.

In the end, the answer is very earnest and heartwarming...for Henry and for the reader.

"That's where I came from? asks Henry.

You dreamt of a baby
and the baby you dreamed became me?

Oh yes, says his mother.
I remember perfectly now.

First there were two of us and then there were three."

Animals, written by Caroline Bingham and illustrated by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar. DK, Tournaline Editions. 2010. $14.99 ages 4 and up

"Monkeys and apes belong to a large group of mammals called primates. Primates are good climbers, and some spend their whole lives in trees. They have strong arms and legs and long, grasping fingers. Many are playful and intelligent. But how do you tell an ape from a monkey?"

If you want to know the answer to that guestion, this accessible and informative book is sure to help! The table of contents provides a guide to each subsection of the animal kingdom, beginning with the vertabrates and moving on to invertebrates. Before they are done, the Little Brainwaves have provided avid readers with a plethora of facts that they can spout to anyone who might be interested. The members of the Brainwaves troop accompany us on the journey through the animal kingdom and manage to provide some comic relief on each page of facts.

Colorful, clear photographs accompany the text boxes and provide focus for young readers. There will be a lot of oohing and aahing as they turn the pages. Variety in presentation holds our interest and carries us through each double-page spread.

It ends with fascinating facts about some of the earth's most amazing creatures. One such entry is the fact that 'the smallest bird in the world, the bee hummingbird, is tiny enough to perch happily on top of a pencil. It weighs just 1/16 oz (2 g).'

A glossary giving pertinent information about much of what has been shared follows, as does an index to take the reader back to what is of most interest when the reading is done.

This is a great series, and I will forward to upcoming additions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Miss Brooks Love Books! (and I don't) Written by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Michael Emberley. Knopf, Random House. 2010. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"All year long, Miss Brooks reads us books. Books about dragons and Pilgrims and presidents. Books about love and leprechauns. Groundhogs, even!
It's vexing."

You know about Miss Brooks as soon as you see her! She is bogged down with books, a beatific smile on her face and love in her heart. Our young protagonist seems unimpressed.

Miss Brooks is dauntless in her efforts to bring the joy of reading to her first graders. She has costumes that mimic the characters in her favorite books, and she has an answer for every query voiced by our narrator. She will not give up on finding the book that will reach even her most stubborn student. All year at school she does her best to excite and encourage book borrowing. Nothing impresses.

In May Miss Brooks focuses her attention on BOOK WEEK! She urges everyone to choose their most favorite story and wear a costume that helps them tell everyone else about it. Little Miss Mediocrity could care less. She is sure that she will 'never love a book the way you do.' The trick, it appears, is in finding the right book and librarians can be persistent, patient and painfully proud when dealing with resistance.

The kids share their favorites and are met with derisive comments...'too flowery, too furry, too clickety and too yippity." Miss Brooks is not defeated, and she sends home yet another bag of well-chosen books for sharing. A chance observation and a new interest emerges. You're in for a big surprise when you get a look at THE book!

Barbara Bottner knows her subject. Her descriptions are spot-on. If you have been in a library, or a classroom, you know this kid! They challenge and intrigue. They test and teach. They make finding the right book, after so much work, worth every minute!

What an impressive pairing of author and illustrator! Michael Emberley takes Barbara Bottner's text and brings it to glorious life. While there is no textual description of Miss Brooks, you cannot imagine her being anyone else. The illustration of her stuffing the bookbag to be taken home proves she is a believer in the power of story and the great joy of reading together when the day is done. As child and mother pore over the borrowed ones and finally find THE BOOK, you can see the delight on both faces as they snort! and give it their all.

Proof that libraries and LIBRARIANS make a difference...and isn't that what we want?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sky Magic, compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Mariusz Stawarski. Dutton, Penguin Group (Canada). 2009. $20.00 ages 8 and up


Like a fresh loaf
Sun rises,
Tempting dawn
To break
Her golden crust -

Taste morning!"
Sarah Hansen

Lee Bennett Hopkins is a master anthologist and I have many of his books in my poetry collection. He has chosen so many subjects to anthologize and always does a spot-on job of finding those poems that will have wide appeal for his target audience. Topics include the sea, school, food, pets, space, holidays and inventions. The list goes on.

In choosing the poems for his book about the sky and its many delights he uses the progression from morning to night to organize them. It is an intriguing mix and includes many poems that I had not yet read. There are some wonderful surprises!

Each one is magical and wondrous, and sets minds to thinking about what we take for granted each day...the rising of the sun, its passage across the sky and the appearance of the moon and stars as evening falls.

Mariusz Starwaski’s paintings are rendered in shades of blue, purple, gold, and orange and create the perfect tone for the poems that are placed so carefully within her illustrations. Her canvas is in keeping with the world as we see it, with the warm golden tones of the sun's day and the cooling hues of evening tide. It makes for a cohesive collection.

I will leave you, as Lee does, with a last song of the day.

"Last Song

To the Sun
Who has shone
All day,
To the Moon
Who has gone

To the milk-white
Lily-white Star
A fond goodnight
Wherever you are."
James Guthrie

Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer, written by Carol Brendler and illustrated by Ard Hoyt. Farrar, Douglas & McIntyre. 2009. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"Winnie Finn was earthworm crazy. She turned over stones all around Quincy County in hopes of meeting squirmy worms. After a rain, Winnie found worms on sidewalks and coaxed them back into their holes."

Winnie is one of those kids who could convince you to take up worm farming yourself. She loves the crawly critters and lavishes them with attention and love. She searches them out from all of their hiding places and takes them for rides in her trusty wagon. She knows all there is to know about them and wonders if she might enter her spectacular specimens in the County Fair.

Mr. Abernathy's response is quick and final...'nonsense!' He wants to enter his corn but needs fertilizer to make it grow. My Yamasaki-O'Sheridan says it would be 'silly' and not anything like her own plans to enter her Plymouth Rock Hens...all they need is good feed. Mr. Peasley says he's quite sure there is no prize for worms, but he thinks his Afghan pups might take the prize...if only their coats were shinier. Winnie Finn can solve all of their problems...and you know it has to do with WORMS!

Off she goes, project in mind and using all her knowledge of worms and the work they do! Each county fair participant is delighted with the results of Winnie's hard work and advice. Guess what? Winnie gets the perfect prize without entering her wonderful worms in the County Fair after all!

And now she has more work to do!

What a great story to share with kids while giving them an insight into the life of an earthworm and its role in making the earth a better place. An author's note adds the requisite additional incentive needed to get some avid young scientists and environmentalists looking into starting a worm farm of their own. It's one more way to use compost to help with your garden's growth!

Ard Hoyt adds energy and humor to the story with his expressive illustrations. Winnie's ever-present smile and dreamy countenance add to the charm. Her cat is a full-blown character who has no part in the text of the story but provides comic relief for adept observers. You'll like it!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jacques and the Beanstalk, written by Mike Artell and illustrated by Jim Harris. Dial, Penguin Group (Canada), 2010. $21.00 ages 5 and up

"If you like 'dem stories, I got one fo' you
About a young boy who live down de bayou.
Dey call dis boy Jacques and he live in a house
Wit' his old MaMA and a little brown mouse."

Mike Artell begins his story with a glossary to help readers with the French language included in his new fairy tale about Jack and his adventures with a beanstalk and a giant's domain. He also has suggestions for reading the book aloud and where the emphasis should be in each line of the couplets. And off we go!

It is the traditional story of Jack, his mother and their old cow. Jacques takes it to market and is met by a scam artist who trades it for some 'magic' beans. MaMA is furious and gets rid of the know what happens next.

The illustrations are great fun...larger than life, but for the miniscule Jacques, and even spilling off the pages at times. He gives an honest look at the tug of war between a small boy and a superhuman giant. There is an abundance of fun in the small details...the signs on the cow, the very expressive faces, the bumbling giant, the Mona Lisa postcard and the tally of days on the walls of the captured chicken's safety box and finally, the always changing perspectives. The language takes some work, with its bayou dialect. But, it's fun and worth working at to share this story with your children or students.

The final page shows MaMA, Jacques, the golden chicken and Jacques' little mouse companion happily sharing a story, while rocking on a handsome swing in a lovely garden. Underneath their feet a pile of golden eggs shimmers, a sure sign that they are sure to live 'happily ever after', with all their needs met.

I hope that you will notice what they are reading. It hints at another book that you are sure to enjoy from this talented team.

Hot Rod Hamster, written by Cynthia Lord and illustrated by Derek Anderson. Scholastic, 2010. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Great day, grin day, build a car to win day,
Cheer day, chase day, gonna have a race day!"

What a great book to spur on those early readers...animals, rhyme, little versus big, a race and a longing to win. Now, there's a story!

A hot rod is what is needed if Hamster is to have a hope in the race today. He knows it needs to be small...but, it also needs to be FAST! The rhyming couplets offer up choices for vehicle; and while Hamster is choosing, the reader is also encouraged to make a choice. The speech bubble dialogue between Hamster and the Bulldog in charge help young readers keep up with the action and add humor...and a whimsical look at Hamster's character. He is happy, hopeful and determined to make a showing. He wants to BURN RUBBER! He doesn't want his engine to purr, he wants it to ROAR! Once the rod is ready, he needs 'blazing-hot flames' to enhance the look and a helmet for safety. Now, he's ready to ROLL! I'll leave you to discover the victor in today's race.

You want even more fun? Check out the charming, detailed illustrations! The loveable hamster and his race team are full of energy and enthusiasm for their project, taking us along as they build the hot rod that Hamster wants and needs to make a good showing in the race. The bright colors, the fully engaged characters and the absolute joy they take in working together adds much to the text.

You are gonna love it, and then love reading it again and again!

Rose's Garden, written and illustrated by Peter H Reynolds. Candlewick, Random House, 2009. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"Rose began preparing the soil, imagining what a different, colorful place this could be."

There is a green space in the center of Boston called The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. It is a 15 acre tribute to her memory and comprises gardens, plazas and tree-lined walkways. Peter Reynolds dedicates his new book to Rose Kennedy, 'a woman who planted her own perennial garden'.

Reynolds' title character is a young woman with spunk, a travel itch and a penchant for collecting seeds from each of the places she visits. She keeps them in a floating teapot, along with warm memories of all the places she has seen. When the teapot is full to brimming, she decides that they need a place to grow. It is time to plant 'Rose's Garden'. She finds the ideal spot in a city by the sea...'a dusty, forgotten stretch of earth'.

She toils diligently to prepare the space for planting. When her work is done and she is satisfied, she discovers that the birds have had a heyday in her absence and there are few seeds left. Not to be deterred, Rose picks up the leftover seeds and plants them in her garden. Patient waiting and diligent attention, water and sun do nothing to inspire plant growth. Rose waits through chilly fall and frozen winter, still nothing. But, Rose has faith, and others notice.

When a small girl arrives with a gift, Rose is delighted. The girl's homemade paper flower finds pride of place in the soil. Then, a boy appears with another. Each child who brings a flower also tells a story of coming to this city from around the world...just like the seeds from Rose's teapot. On and on it goes until glorious color fills the space. It is not until she hears the buzzing of a bee that Rose's curiosity is piqued and she bends to smell the flower that attracts the persnickety pollinator. What? A real flower? Are there more? YESSSS!!!

Rose believes in the power of a garden to brighten the lives of those who find refuge there. Her travels over, Rose makes a home in the beauty of her garden, a place where grandmothers read to their grandchildren, where children get pleasure from working in its peaceful surroundings and where parents take long, talk-filled walks with their kids. What a legacy!

The back cover offers thanks to Peter Reynolds from Senator Ted Kennedy:

"Peter H Reynolds poignantly captures my mother's enduring spirit in Rose's Garden. May this powerful story and my mother's beautiful greenway plant fresh seeds of hope and service for generations to come."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Green Princess Cookbook, by Barbara Beery. Gibbs Smith, Raincoast. 2009. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Farmers markets are a great place to go with your family to buy organic and lovally grown food. Look for a farmers market near you because farmers markets are often set up in a park or parking lot and meet once or twice a week. It's a fun way to shop!"

Our family clearly remembers when Erin decided that she did not want to go to McDonald's long as they used styrofoam containers for the food ordered. It was her concern that gave us pause. That was twenty-five years ago, and we have come a long way. Today, kids are starting to pay more attention to what is happening in their world and are voicing their worry for the future. They want to be informed about the environment and are keen to find ways to protect it.

Barbara Beery has taken that sentiment to heart when creating her Green Princess Cookbook. She begins quickly, providing what's needed to become more 'green'. A two-page entry defines organic, buying local, 100 mile diet, and offers reasons for making informed choices. Then, she launches into the recipes, meant for partying, but party fare just the same.

Most recipes can be made by your princess, with a little help from a grownup. The first is a recipe for solar power lemonade which requires the chopped strawberries to be placed in the sun for 90 minutes, prior to pouring through a strainer and adding the lemon juice and other ingredients. A 'green living' tip at the bottom of the page offers other ideas for using solar power.

Each entry is a two page spread with step by step recipe, green living tip and a clear and colorful photograph of the final product....enticing, while not necessarily heart healthy. All in moderation, and the recipes are for party planning, let's remember. Sorbet, ice cream, party dips, salsas, muffins, even cornbread in a can. What fun and what a great way to get fledgling cooks thinking beyond the basic recipes to what is going to better for sustainability.

A fun addition to the Princess series. Party on, princesses!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Extraordinary Mark Twain, written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic, 2010. $22.99 ages 9 and up

"They thought they knew Mark Twain - after all, he was a world-famous author, quoted here, there and everywhere. Thousands of people had read his books and attended his lectures. People probably thought they were Mark Twain experts. But they were wrong, and Susy was "annoyed." Greatly."

This lively and lovely book tells us what happened to Mark Twain. His daughter Susy, who was 13, told her version of his life in a journal that she hid from him while she was writing it. That Susy loved her father is evident in the story told and the entries written.

Barbara Kerley spotted a footnote about a biography apparently written by Twain's eldest daughter and it intrigued her. She intuitively knew, having an adolescent daughter herself, that children of that age like to tell things as they see them. She found the text of the biography and used it to tell this remarkable story of a famous father and his loving daughter. She uses samples from the journal to add interest and entertainment for her readers. These entries are placed in the book as minibooks stapled to the spine and they add much character and charm to the story being told.

Susy has much to share as she watches her father live his life, the private one shared by family not fans. Barbara Kerley uses Susy's biography to inform her readers about the many things that we are interested in knowing about this fine writer, humorist, speaker and storyteller. His many habits and foibles are shared, his physical being gets special attention:

"He has beautiful curly gray hair, not any too thick, or any too long, just right; a roman nose, which greatly improves the beauty of his features, kind blue eyes, and a small mustache. . . . In short he is an extrodinarily fine-looking man. All his features are perfect exept that he hasn’t extrodinary teeth.”

Ah, truth be told!

Once he discovered what she was doing, Twain would make 'pronouncements' about himself to be added to the journal. Years later, he would publish some of what Susy had written and even include some passages in his own autobiography. He liked what she had written. The journal ends suddenly and suggests that Susy found other things of interest to her...ten years later, at age 24, she died from spinal meningitis. It was catastrophic to Twain and he later wrote in a letter: "I did not know that she could go away and take our lives with her, yet leave our dull bodies behind."

Edwin Fotheringham's artwork is brilliant, taking us back in time and plunking us right in Mark Twain's neighborhood. He gives us candid and personal glimpses into the life the two lived together, and also provides a look at the public and private Mark Twain as he goes about the work that is also his life. I went back to the illustrations again and again, as they helped me fashion a true picture of this great American writer. Thank you for that!

An author's note adds much additional information and is most useful. Barbara Kerley also includes detailed instructions and tips for 'writing an extraordinary biography' of our own, with tips that parallel what Susy Clemens did when she was writing about her favorite famous person. She reminds us that our subject need not be famous, just well-known to ourselves. Even the endpapers have additional information...a selected time line and a detailed list of sources used.

This brilliant picture book biography shows Mark Twain as a young man embracing life and all it has to offer, as a loving father and as a sad old man. I think Susy would approve and relish sharing it with her father.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Wrong Book, written and illustrated by Nick Bland. Scholastic, 2009. $14.99 ages 3 and up

"My name is Nicholas Ickle
and this book is about...

an elephant?
Wait a minute,
this book isn't about an elephant!
Go away!
You're in the wrong book!"

There's problem here and it seems to belong to Nicholas Ickle. He's trying to tell his story, but his penchant for storytelling is constantly denied with the appearance of a host of characters who have no place in it. First, the elephant shows up and when Nicholas asks him to give over he is replaced by two green, polka-dot monsters. As the monsters gambol around and atop the frenzied elephant, a pirate comes on the scene. Then a queen and her entourage, a pack of rats and a perplexed puppet try to take center stage. Nicholas has had it....with loud voice and much determination, he shows them the door.

As if that is not enough...just as he resumes the telling a dark shadow appears above his head, signalling THE END!

Funny and perfect for reading aloud, it will bring great joy to your listeners. Children will quickly join the refrains, and will soon be reading it on their own. Now, that's what we want for our earliest readers...a book that 'tickles' their funny bones and begs repeated readings.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life, written by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by Diane Goode. Simon & Schuster, 2009. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Here are five ways that my mom is trying to ruin my life.
WAY #1
She kisses me in front of my friends. She
doesn't just kiss the top of my head. That
would be bad, but not so bad. My mom
gives me kisses all over my face."

Ah, I remind my kids every day that I will ALWAYS be a mother! And mothers do some strange and funny things, thinking they are doing what's right for their young 'uns.

In Kate Feiffer's story, the young narrator feels embarrassed by the many ways her mother has of showing that she loves her and thinks of her first. Mom does so many things right, but it is tough to keep those ministrations at the forefront when she also does five things that drive her daughter cuckoo.

A plan is made to stop her mother and it must work! She creates a hilarious scenario for escape. At the end, the mother faces jail time for trying to ruin her daughter's life. Her one phone call is to Dad. He has his own little idiosyncrasies in terms of his daughter and how she lives her life. Luckily, his drawbacks end at way #3! This is perhaps cause for jail time, as well.

With both parents in jail, some problems arise.

The family that Diane Goode creates is straight from the 1950s. Matching outfits, crinolined skirts, ponytails, and a single ceiling light bulb for the police investigation add much to the humor and spot-on storytelling that will have audiences giggling and then dreaming up their own escapes from parental control.

A great readaloud and the perfect way to get the ideas flowing and stories shared!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lots of Spots, written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster, 2010. $21.99 ages 3 and up


Spotted cow eats,
and by and by,
produces white milk
and brown cow pies."

It is with such pleasure I anticipate a new book by Lois Ehlert. Her use of design and white space allows a close look at her glorious artwork. Then, she just pops in little poems about the wondrous animals she has created. The brilliant colors and masterfully cut papers make those creatures come alive on the page and have young readers poring over them with delight.

There are many different spots to 'spot' in her newest work, a companion to Oodles of Animals . The textured papers make you want to reach out and touch! The spots have a wide variety of designs and the animals find their places alongside others who share their space.

The poems are placed to give readers a printed image of those creatures sharing the page. Lois Ehlert chooses her words with careful precision and detail. The text begs to be read aloud, and will be read and read again. There are so many I would love to share with you; rather, I encourage you to get a copy for yourself, your classroom or a special loved one. I will leave you with this:


It must be hard to tell
when zebras join their friends
where one zebra starts
and another zebra ends."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where Else in the Wild? Poems by David M Schwartz and Yael Schy, with photos by Dwight Kuhn. Tricycle Press, 2009. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"If you were a frog or a fish or a bird or a bug - or almost any other kind of animal - you would probably live longer if you could hide with your colors. Whether you were looking for food or trying to avoid being someone else's food, camouflage can help you survive. If a predator doesn't see you, it can't eat you. If your prey doesn't see you, it can be your next meal."

Whenever I share David Schwartz's look at camouflaged creatures from the book Where In the Wild? listeners beg for more. They just love guessing games. It is not easy to share with a whole class, but they get the idea in a quick look and are always intrigued enough to take it in hand and pore over each and every entry. And now, he has done it again. With the help of his wife Yael Schy, and once more with the brilliant close-up photography of Dwight Kuhn, David Schwartz gives us a book that will result in a more fully informed audience once the book has been shared, or read independently. What a collaboration it is!

The poems provide an introduction and clues that a reader needs to help in the search for hidden animals. Once curious, a close look at the photo may, or may not, reveal what has been described. If found, the flap is lifted to show the camouflaged character and is faced with a page of informative paragraphs which add further facts.

The scorpion fish are almost impossible to spot even when you know exactly where they are! Having them spotlighted still took careful looking to discern a fish. No wonder you wouldn't expect to encounter them on a dive. They are surely not the most hospitable of hosts with their foot long spines that inject potent venom. You may want to avoid any contact with waters that play host to them!

What a great way to present a science project of any kind...a poem, some photos and additional learned information. This would be a great mentor text when you are trying to find alternative reporting ideas for your scientific researchers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

engaging young writers, written by Matt Glover. Heinemann, 2009. $25.99 preschool and grade one teachers

"The topic of this book is an important one. Throughout its pages, Matt helps teachers think very specifically about finding ways to help young children gravitate toward writing, exploring a variety of what he calls entry points for children into writing. As he explains these different entry points, it's clear that Matt is interested in helping children find motivation for writing, but he is equally interested in practices that help children believe they are capable as writers." (Katie Wood Ray, in the Foreword)

I still find it interesting to read books by teachers who are writing about what is happening in their own classrooms. The books are so personal, and often very practical. In this book, Matt Glover shares stories from his classroom. He knows that children come to school wanting to write, but apprehensive about their abilities. In an attempt to get all young writers engaged in the process he presents a range of entry points for them.

He wants his students to pick up their pencils and share their remarkable ideas and thinking. By providing different starting places, he helps other teachers in the early years to teach to the child's needs and abilities. He sets out a number of ways to encourage them through conversations and units of study, through reading aloud and by offering dramatic play opportunities, by exploring and sharing their own personal experiences, and by using nonfiction writing to give them a chance to share their deepest concerns and interests.

Real classroom experiences and student samples help his readers see that these methods work, and his easy writing style provides a plan for teachers who want their students to discover the writer that is hiding inside, just waiting to break out!

I love his final thought:

"In our journey with young writers, I hope that students come to believe that their teachers care about fostering energy and passion for writing as much as how well children write. Fortunately, thoughtful teachers who think carefully about how they invite children to enter into writing will ensure their students' first steps as writers, and the ones that follow, will lead to children who have images of themselves as powerful authors."

Isn't that we want for all children?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Biblioburro, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster, 2010.$21.99 ages 4 and up

"I can bring my books into the faraway hills
to share with those who have none.
One burro can carry books,
and another burro could carry me - and more books!"

Jeanette Winter finds the best stories to tell and tells them with joy and simplicity. In this true story from Colombia she introduces her audience to Luis Soriano, a school teacher who lives in a book-filled house with his family. His love of reading and books inspires him to share with others not as forunate. For the past ten years, on most Saturdays, he travels to remote ares of northern Colombia. His travel companions are his two burros, Alfa and Beto. One carries Luis and some books. The other carries the books that he wants to share with those who have no access to the 'other worlds' he has found within their pages.

He says:

"I started out with 70 books, and now I have a collection of more than 4,800.
This began as a necessity; then it became an obligation; and after that a custom. Now, it is an institution."

What an incredible legacy and what an inspired way to have books reach families in the tough and dangerous area he travels! He is not deterred by the rough roads or persistent and dangerous bandits. He has a mission and he is determined to carry it out. He knows the power of story and the joy that comes from reading. He wants that for the people of his world. Luis is an inspiration, and deserving of his story being told by such a fine writer. He is proof positive that each one of us can make a difference. It is a powerful lesson to learn.

And I have not even mentioned the artwork...full of the brilliant colors of South America, the deep greens of the tropics and the bold oranges of wide-winged butterflies. One full page spread shows Luis sharing his story of the three little pigs while dreamscapes dance in the heads of his listeners, who are all wearing pig masks. The children borrow the books they long to read, Luis climbs onto his burro's back and returns to his home and his beloved books, knowing that the children who borrow will greet him with pleasure when next he visits.

"At home, Luis feeds his hungry burros.
And Diana feeds her hungry husband.
But then, instead of sleeping,
Luis picks up his book
and reads deep into the night."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dear Toni, written by Cyndi Sand-Eveland. Tundra, 2008. $16.99 ages 10 and up

'I wonder if you will go to my school in forty years.
Maybe you'll even be in this room and at my desk.
Under the edge of the top I've carved my initials, G.T.,
with the pointy end of my compass. If you end up in
this school, be sure to look under all the desktops and
try to find mine."

Just taking a look at Gene Tucks face on the front cover of this novel starts you wondering about the kind of girl she is...and what she might be thinking. She doesn't seem impressed with whatever it is!

It takes no time at all to discover that she is one of those characters who will find her place on your list of independent, feisty and engaging young girls with a story to tell about family, friends and fitting in at school.

It's a new school, one of a number that Gene has attended. Her father is in search of a job that will last, and the family is constantly uprooted to make that happen. She arrives at Harry Gray Elementary in Grade 6, with hopes it will be better than her fifth grade year. It begins with a writing assignment from Mr McKenzie...a 100 day writing project. Gene can't believe her bad luck! She is supposed to keep a journal, telling someone forty years in the future about herself and her life at this time and place.

It doesn't go well in the beginning. But soon, she is pouring her heart and soul into describing her life to some future reader she calls Toni. It becomes personal when Toni has a name, and thus an identity to Gene. She does wonder who would be interested in her story as boring as it is, but she perseveres with the daily entries and finds a voice that speaks of her struggles in so many new situations, her love for family and her dream of having a dog. In telling her story so personally the reader discovers that Gene is beginning to make a place for herself in this new town.

As she writes she adds doodles which are often humorous and telling. All in all, I think this book would find an audience for its quirky, uncertain character and the whole notion of journalling to share her story.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nest, Nook & Cranny, written by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Charlesbridge, 2010. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"Skinks sneak
From cool crannies
To catnap in the sun,
Making themselves at home on slabs
Of stone."

These poems will find their audience in readers who are interested in conservation and the protection of the natural habitats that house the animals portrayed. The black and white illustrations that accompany the poetry are all about setting. Each new habitat is shown in a double page titled spread. Then we move on to the poetic descriptions of the animals chosen to represent its habitat. The settings are varied, the poems beg to be read aloud. The rhymes are clever while also showing that careful research was done before the writing began. There are many details shared about animal behavior, their food and their environment.

Five habitats are included...desert, grassland, shoreline, wetland and woodland. From three to six poems accompany each. The poetic forms are varied and smartly written and will provide fun for readers to share and perhaps even perform. It has the feel of a field journal, with careful consideration given to every single entry.

Children will be intrigued, teachers delighted to find this connection between science, poetry and art. Susan Blackaby is not content to simply share her poetry. In the back matter, she provides a quick description of the habitats before moving on to explain much about the writing of poetry. She describes each poem and the choices she made for the verse, sonnet, cinquain, couplets...the list goes on. And she also talks about sibilance, alliteration, homophones, wordplay, onomatopoeia, similes and metaphors. What more could a teacher and lover of poetry ask?

See what writer's strategies you recognize in this poem:

"The sweetest home sweet home must be a hive,
Humming with activities of bees.
They never wipe their feet when they arrive;
They track their tacky nectar where they please.

When the workers' busy workday ends,
They take off in a beeline for the comb
To serve up royal jelly to their friends,
And get the latest buzz from all the drones."

What fun!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors, written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by David Parkins. Candlewick, Random House, 2007. $21.00 ages 5 and up

"He hightails it out the door like a chicken at a fox convention. Aunt Nancy watches him down the road, till he's no bigger than a dust ball.
"Come on out, cat," she calls to Ezekiel, behind the woodshed. "With this bone
in my leg and this breath in my chest and all those brains in my head today, I can't
think of but one thing to do."

If I were going to have unwelcome visitors, I would want to take a lesson from Aunt Nancy, or have her visiting with me at their arrival. She is sharp, feisty and thinks on her feet very quickly. In this series of four stories she opens the door to four unwelcome guests...Old Man Trouble, Cousin Lazybones, Old Woeful and Mister Death. The language and rhythm of the four tales had my spirits rising and me wishing that I could read them aloud to a classroom of keen listeners. I am not sure I could get the accent right, but it would be worth a try! I would be adking my friend Don to come along for the read; and maybe he could take over, since he is great with accents, and the dramatic bent needed to do them justice. It takes some practice.

What a feast for the ears...and they have a lesson to teach as well. It would be fun to do a character study of Aunt Nancy when the reading is done and the discussion ramps up. She is admirable for her tenacity and cunning when dealing with these most 'bothersome' men.

The striking silhouette illustrations that accompany the story are the perfect touch, adding elegance and spirit to the reading. There is a real sense of character as you watch the antics that David Parkins creates in seemingly simple black and white lines.

Let's let Aunt Nancy have the final say:

"Doggone it, Aunt Nancy," snaps Mister Death. "I'm never coming near you again as long as I live."

"Suits me fine," says Aunt Nancy, and off she heads to feed Ezekiel his supper.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ludie's Life, written by Cynthia Rylant. Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son, 2006. $18.00 ages 12 and up

"He slept on her bed.
In the middle of the night,
she got up to let him in or out.
Ludie could not afford
to turn animals into people.
But she knew courage when she saw it,
and when it walked in a room,
she found it a chair."

It didn't take me long to read this wonderful homage to Ludie and the life that she leads in the Appalachians. It is as simple and unassuming as Ludie herself, but it leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of this amazing woman, her family and her values. It is her lot to marry a miner and raise her family in the coal camps of West Virginia. It is a compelling read...honest and heartbreaking.

Who she is has been determined by her upbringing, her surroundings and the lessons she has gleaned from both. She is self sufficient, bold, and resilient, just as the mountains that surround her. They keep her safe and secure:

"The ocean went on too far
for Ludie,
who preferred seeing only the next ridge
out her kitchen window,
where trees grew whose names she knew
and a creek flowed,
small enough."

Her life, her marriage, her children are what Ludie knows. Because of Cynthia Rylant's incredible writing talent, we know it, too. As she reflects on relatives and neighbors we learn much about Ludie herself...often exacting, at times pensive.
Ludie lives a good life but can be self-righteous when thinking about her neighbors and family. It's all there for us to see, and often I felt like an interloper; as I listened in on her joys and heartaches. She moves purposefully through the years, caring for her husband and his needs, raising her children to the best of her ability, helping with the grandchildren and trying to make sense of the state of the world.

She passes quietly one day “in a small narrow bed in a nursing home” at the age of ninety-five, having led a good life, and set an example for her children and grandchildren.

"Was it any wonder, then, that Ludie
chose to die just before dawn?
How else would she have
caught the morning in this,
her final moment on the earth?
She would have wanted to take one last look
at the small white house in the mountains,
at the dirt road which had always led her home."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kaleidoscope Eyes, written by Jen Bryant. Random House, 2009.$17.99 ages 12 and up

"It's been almost two years since that day,
when our family began to unravel
like a tightly wound ball of string
that some invisible tomcat
took to pawing and flicking across the floor,
pouncing upon it again and again,
so those strands just kept loosening
and breaking apart
until all we had left was a bunch of frayed,
chewed-up bits
scattered all over the house."

In KALEIDOSCOPE EYES, a novel in verse set in 1968 we meet Lyza Bradley, a thirteen-year-old girl and her best friends Malcolm Dupree and Carolann Mott. Lyza's mother is long gone, leaving her children in the care of a father who buries himself in his teaching. Her annoying older sister, and her two friends are the ones that Lyza can count on in times of trouble.

At the heart of the story is a treasure hunt, initiated when Lyza finds a set of maps that have been left to her by her much loved grandfather at his death. Gramps was a navigator for the navy and has taught his beloved granddaughter many of the skills that stood him in good stead at his job. He also has passed along his love of adventure. This adventure is 'puzzling' to say the least and spawns a search for pirate treasure, lost for centuries.

The search for treasure plays second fiddle to the gravestones that mark the resting places of fallen soldiers from the Vietnam conflict, returning disabled servicemen and Malcolm's brother who is somewhere in the Vietnamese jungle, struggling to stay alive.

In a series of poems, Lyza is able to convey the many feelings that burden her heart. She is angry with her mother for leaving, at her father for being almost as absent as her mother, and her sister Denise for driving her crazy with her hippie lifestyle, her lack of ambition and her boyfriend Harry. Luckily she has stalwart and loyal friends for support as she deals with the many issues that confront her.

Lyza's story is full of suspense and intrigue, very personal and life-changing. It is a page-turner and adds to my growing admiration for this accomplished and thoughtful writer. I will continue to look forward to each new book with great anticipation.

And the final thought I leave to Lyza and her Gramps:

"I remember how Gramps used to say:
"Lyza, there's two sides to a coin, two sides to a ship,
and two sides to every story,"
and though I never quite understood how
taht could be true for a family, I see now
that he was absolutely right."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Keeping Score, written by Linda Sue Park. Houghton, T Allen. $8.99 ages 10 and up

"And Willie - Willie was part of making it happen. Maggie's score sheets for the Giants' games were littered with exclamation points for his terrific plays in the outfield. On the bases, he ran so hard that he turned singles into doubles - twenty-two of them, fourth best on the team, even though he was only a rookie - and doubles into triples, that rarest and most exciting of hits. Five of them that year, when most players were lucky to hit five in a lifetime."

It's the early 50s and Maggie and her brother are ardent fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers. They don't always make a good showing but Maggie's love for them never wanes. She listens to the games on the radio and visits with the firefighters in her neighborhood to discuss the games, the players and their opposition. When Jim joins the crew, he shows Maggie how to keep score and although he is a Giants fan, especially of Willie Mays, Maggie spends a lot of time with him and learns more about the game she loves.

When Jim goes to fight in Korea, Maggie writes to him often and is always excited to hear his news. His letters suddenly stop and Maggie is left to wonder what has happened. As she waits impatiently for the next letter, Maggie determines to learn as much about the Korean conflict as she can. It is far too long before she hears that Jim has come home on a medical discharge. He won't talk to Maggie, doesn't listen to ball games anymore and seems isolated in a strange new world of his own. It is very difficult for Maggie to understand.

Those who love the grand game will enjoy this well-written period piece that gives life to a young girl in love with baseball, concerned about a friend and trying to make sense of an increasingly complex world. You don't have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the fine storytelling ability of Linda Sue Park. Once you have read this one, check out her other titles. She does not disappoint!

beaver is lost, by elisha cooper. Schwartz & Wade, Random House, 2010. $20.00 ages 3 and up

"Beaver is lost.


And in between the first three and the last one of four words in this story, there is so much to see!

The idea for this book came to Elisha Cooper when he was visiting the zoo in Chicago with his daughters, and he got to wondering what would happen if one of the beavers that seemed so misplaced got lost in the city, which was now its home. As he mulled over that idea, he began to sketch the places that a beaver might find itself in the windy city on the shores of Lake Michigan.

And so he created this wonderful wordless book for our enjoyment!

On the endpapers the observant child will note a floating log on the river. Turn the page and there is another. This one, however, has a beaver atop as it moves downriver from its family and past a logging camp. The log carrier pulls away as the beaver comes alongside. The men working at loading logs and hauling them seem to take note.

Oh, oh! "Beaver is lost."

As we move to the title page and into the city, we see that Beaver has found a place on the log hauler's semi and is quickly moving along an urban freeway, buildings all around and traffic zooming past.

When the truck stops at a lumber yard, Beaver makes his escape but not without difficulty. The yard's guard dog is soon in close pursuit. And so it goes. Beaver is lost in the city and encounters the many places, including the beaver enclosure where this story had its beginnings, where a lost soul might find itself in Chicago. He has a companion who accompanies him on his adventures and eventually helps him find his way back to the river and "Home."

The Chicago skyline, the relentless search for family and the many encounters along the way gives young readers a story of a thousand words, told with four. It speaks to Elisha Cooper's skill with pencil and watercolor and makes me very thankful that one day he took Zoe and Mia to see the beavers at the Chicago Zoo! Amazing!