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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dark Emperor, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen. Houghton, Thomas Allen, 2010. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Night Spider's Advice

Build a frame
and stick to it,
I always say.
Life's a circle.
Just keep going around.
Do your work, then
sit back and see
what falls in your lap.

Eat your triumphs,
eat your mistakes:
that way your belly
will always be full.
Use what you have.
Rest when you need to.
Dawn will come soon enough.
Someone has to remake
the world each night.
It might as well be you."

Is it possible that there is someone who would not find the language, the placement of the words, and the advice given admirable? I doubt it! Joyce Sidman is a master poet, whose work is admired by many. That admiration and praise for her continued wondrous work is well deserved. As she did in previous books about habitat, Song of the Water Boatman (pond), Houghton Mifflin, 2005 and Butterfly Eyes (meadow), Houghton Mifflin, 2006, she ventures deep into the place described to finds its inhabitants. Of the dark, she says:

"I used to be just the teensiest bit afraid of the dark.  I loved the concept of the nighttime, its mystery and dark beauty, but the reality was a different story. For us humans—diurnal, sight-oriented creatures that we are—the darkness is alien and forbidding, especially in the woods (which already have dark, mythic undertones). But there are all sorts of creatures that prefer the dark, that thrive in the dark. Why? And how? This book is my exploration of those questions.  And you know what?  Now that I know so much about these fascinating night creatures, I'm not as afraid of the dark anymore!"

There is so much here to love, and I loved it all. I want to just keep sharing her beautiful, descriptive words and poetic forms with you. There are twelve poems about all things that might go 'bump' in the night, from snails and moths, to owls and crickets. She also includes the mighty oak, mushrooms and the moon...all integral parts of the ecosystem that claims the dark as its own. Each spread includes the poem, the detailed and often humorous accompanying art and a paragraph of supplemental information about the described creature of the night.

Rick Allen invites us in with a double page spread at dusk, showing the shadows at play and the owl on the wing. He welcomes us with fading light, and a close look at some of the creatures who find refuge under cover of darkness. In each gloriously detailed relief print, he pulls us deeper into the night and offers a clear look at what is happening there. (I love the fact that his artistic process is described for the reader, with enough detail to understand how he came to make such amazing accompanying artwork...and wish that more publishers would include this useful information). As the book ends, we watch the light return with the sun while we listen to the moon lament its return. A glossary provides scientific description to explain any new and unfamiliar text.

"Where has it all gone -
my glory,
my radiance -
not that day has come?

Alas. Another eternity of sunbeams to wait."

I remain an ardent fan!

The Very Fairy Princess, written by Julie Andrews and Emma W Hamilton and illustrated by Cnristine Davenier. Little Brown, Hachette, 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"I know that I'm a fairy princess because I FEEL it inside - a sparkly feeling of just KNOWING in my heart. Also, I do EVERYTHING that fairy princesses do."

There are many people who absolutely do NOT believe in fairies. Does that matter to Geraldine? It does not! She knows that she is one and she spends every day all day proving it - to herself and to any other interested party. She is a very fairy princess. She does all that a real princess does; wearing regal duds, taking time to improve her flying skills and always watching for those in need of help.

Her brother is just annoyed with her uppity presence and would like to prove that she is not what she says she is. He faults her sneakers and her scabby knees as proof that she is not what she claims.  Gerry is undeterred...she says 'it's the price you pay' for being who you really are! Her persona radiates royalty.

Her best friend doesn't believe her either, but Gerry has something to say about that:

"I say you can be whatever you want to be.
You just have to let your SPARKLE out!
'For instance,' I tell her, 'YOU sparkle
when you play the trombone.'

(Fairy princesses are very supportive.)"

Art and music are her favorite school subjects but she comes alive at ballet class after school. That is where she really shines, even when her crown causes minor blips in her performance. And what do fairy princesses have for an after-school snack? Why, pink lemonade and sugar cookies with sparkles...what else?

I love the language and the gentle humor of this lively tale. Gerry is a princess to admire and emulate. While she is pretty focused on her princess persona, she is quick to show her little girl side and offers up support where needed. She also relishes the calm reassurance of her family. When her Daddy comes home to see his 'little princess' at the end of the day, she is elated. A familiar end to her extremely busy days is an early nodding off, with Dad doing the honors of carrying her up to bed. Sweet bliss for his princess!

I watched an interview with Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma not long ago on one of the morning news shows. They are having a wonderful time working together to bring new stories to their growing audience. They have already worked on sixteen other stories together; we can only hope that there will be many more. This is a delightful book to share with all aspiring princesses, and those who love family stories with humor and a dose of humility, too.

Christine Davenier proves herself adept, once more, at presenting us with a memorable character who has a vision of the world as she would like it to be. There is just enough 'sparkle' to keep us mindful of Gerry's imagined world, while also showing us a young girl with passion for life and all it has to offer. Do you know an aspiring princess who would love to find this among her gifts at Christmas? I know that I do!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Calamity Jack, written by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2010. $18.50 ages 8 and up

"My plan was to hide from the giants, wait for Goldy to lay some eggs, then head back to make things up with Momma - build the nicest tenement and bakery in all the New World Territories. Show her I could be good. Then things got complicated."

In the follow-up tale to Rapunzel's Revenge, Jack becomes the main character. He fancies himself quite the brilliant man, with a bad luck streak. He's always plotting, scheming, planning his next caper. He's got Goldy, who lays golden eggs and he has Rapunzel...fresh from the happy ending to her story.

Giving up his prize possession (his father's jacket) for money to buy supplies for his next adventure, Jack is again tricked into parting with that money by a green sprite with some magic beans. Now, if only they work as fast as promised. He's ready to take on the big guys (giants, that is) and all he needs is a little help from his past in the form of a pixie, and Rapunzel (with her specatacular braids). He is out to prove himself worthy of his mother's love and trust, and he's got a plan....well, there are some complications.  The troubles at home have grown much grimmer and dastardly while he has been gone. Can Jack prove himself worthy of Rapunzel's love, too?

The Hales have created an extraordinary world...rife with adventure and magic. It looks like the old west, but smacks of the future, too. Their setting, the thoroughly likeable characters, the smattering of magic and the quest for a better life make it worthy of a wide audience. Action fills the pages, from ant people to dangerous escapes, from giants to dirigibles.  Jack and Rapunzel are always on the move. We are never sure where Jack might land next. 

He has many worries and doubts. But, he wants to atone for his mistakes and he does his very best to make things right. He doesn't always take the best path, but he is sure of his goal. He is in love with Rapunzel but not sure that he is worthy. The happily ever after ending takes some time and patience, hard work and big mistakes. In the end, I think readers will think it is worth it.

The Hales have not lost their touch with language. They are articulate, humorous, entertaining and their pace is perfect. The art will be equally appealing to a wide-ranging audience. It is terrific, allowing all readers to take the story and characters seriously, as he does. No wonder kids are grabbing onto graphic novels with tight fists and great interest. This is a brilliant example of what graphica can be for our readers. It would be my advice to read the first book first; not because this story won't stand on its own, just because it is equally as enjoyable and will give background information about Rapunzel and her many skills.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Birthday Ball, written by Lois Lowry and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Houghton, Thomas Allen, 2010. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"A warthog has large upcurled tusks, and Duke Desmond, being human, had none. He did, however, have huge, crooked, brown-spotted teeth, and a tuft of coarse copper-colored hair; the two features combined to make him resemble such an animal, so the princess was not inaccurate in her description."

Putting Lois Lowry and Jules Feiffer together to create a book seems a match made in heaven. As she crafts wondrous words filled with wordplay and alliteration, he creates his signature pen and watercolor art to bring her spunky characters to life. Princess Patricia ­Priscilla has the lead in this original fairy tale by an honored and honorable team. The plot is simple...'Pat' is about to turn sixteen, a time when the young princess must choose a husband from a set of three unsuitable suitors. It is the Law of the Domain.

Patricia Priscilla is not your run-of-the-mill princess. She is not enaomored of the genteel life led by royalty. In fact, she finds her days to be quite boring. She is an independent young girl, with a wish to know more about the world around her, rather than the posh surroundings of the family palace.  The time is coming for her to choose a mate, and nothing is further from her mind. She trades places with her chambermaid, leaving her to read Alice In Wonderland and to let everyone know, who might be looking, that the princess is indisposed. Off she goes to attend school, where she meets Rafe, the teacher, who is quite interested in her bright mind and her concern for the other students.

I have read that this is a book that will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl, and I agree. The suitors will especially amuse with their appalling manners, their humorous peculiarities and their fully detailed descriptions. They would hold their own with the Twits, Aunts Spiker and Sponge and Miss Trunchbull. Anyone who has read other Lois Lowry books will know her ability to create character, and she proves herself adept at every turn. We come to know each minor and major player, through apt description and often humorous dialogue. Jules Feiffer provides emotion and action in his accompanying artwork.

The Birthday Ball is fun and will find an audience with readers who enjoy light fantasy, wrought with astute wordplay and wonderful characters, who each have a part to play in Princess Patricia's quest for a say in the way she will lead her life.

Project Seahorse, written by Pamela Turner with photographs by Scott Tuason. Houghton, T Allen, 2010. $22.50 ages 10 and up

"The male seahorse's brood pouch bulges like a balloon. It puffs in and out, in and out, like the cheeks of a trumpet player. The seahorse pumps with his tail, bending and folding like a jackknife, working hard to give birth. A squirt, a gush - two babies pop out. Each is a tiny, perfect copy of its father."
Will I ever stop singing the praises of the Scientists in the Field series from Houghton Mifflin?  I doubt that completely. As long as they keep publishing such unbelievably welcome and accessible nonfiction for young (and older) readers, I will continue telling you about each new addition to the series. They are that good! 

I need to make it plain that this book in not entirely about seahorses; rather, it is about a project that focuses on the seahorse population in the Philippines to help bring health back to the ocean's coral community. While scientists monitor the area for signs of improvement in the protection of the coral reef, a local fisherman makes nightly dives to catch the fish that ensure his family's survival. A balance must be struck.  Project Seahorse was developed to help both the scientific and local community to bring this about...ensuring the future for the ocean inhabitants and those who live by its bounty.

The seahorse stories captured my attention and actually made me wish (for a very short time) that a dive would bring the wonder of their world into my realm of knowledge. Instead I will trust these scientists to provide me with stories and wondrous photographs of this incredible underwater world. Here is a brief glimpse at one of the reasons for their dedication:
"Amanda still remembers a pair of White's seahorses she studies in Australia. The pregnant male was attacked during the night by another animal that bit a hole in his pouch and sucked out his babies. Amanda didn't expect the male to survive his terrible injury. Though nearby males tried to lure the female seahorse away, she refused to abandon her wounded mate. Every morning the female greeted her partner with the courtship dance that seahorse couples use to keep their reproductive cycles in harmony. After a few months, the male's pouch healed and he fathered another brood. "For any animal, that level of devotion is extraordinary," says Amanda."

Now, there's a story to share! Amanda's interest in the biology of the seahorse and, in part, this story led to her lifelong commitment to activism in assuring the conservation of these intriguing creatures of the sea. Thus, Project Seahorse was born. It has been up and running since 1998. Pamela Turner has done an exceptional job of telling the story of the Philippine community, its dependence on the reefs and its willingness to help protect them. It is, at times, a tricky balancing act. But, it is worth the hard work that is being done, and she gives us up-to-date findings on the impact the project has had in stemming the loss of this amazing creature and the other sea life that shares the habitat.

You will wonder at the remarkable shots of the ocean world that Scott Tuason has captured! I cannot imagine the patience, the stillness that must be achieved and the delicate maneuvering it takes to get such clear and detailed photographs. He makes the reef come alive for those of us who live beyond it!

As with other honored nonfiction, Pamela Turner's narrative acumen lets us read this as story...a powerful telling that captures our interest, our empathy and hopefully, our need to help in any way that we can to conserve the wide expanse of ocean that lies mostly unprotected. We can make a difference when we care!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Zero Kisses for Me, written by Manuela Monari and illustrated by Virginie Soumagnac. Tundra Books, 2010. $14.99 ages 3 and up

"I'm tired of being
everybody's tootsy-wootsy,
everybody's huggy-bear,
everybody's kissy-snooks.

You know from the very beginning, this little guy is a force to be reckoned with...and quickly.  He's got a mean streak going on, and he wants his mother to know it. He scowls while she offers up yet another smooch! On the title page, he carries a sign that suggests he has made up his mind about something very important....ZERO KISSES. His mother seems oblivious, but he is adamant. It is a problem for him that everyone wants to plant a kiss upon his person. He is tired of it, and he wants no more of it. As he wields his sign at the scrambling kisses (heartfelt and heart-shaped), we know he means business.

He's too big for this nonsense to continue. OK! Mom agrees to his demands and is seemingly content to kiss Bunny goodnight, and that's it! Bunny has no complaints. When sleep won't come, Mama is called and only kisses will scare away the fear of the dark. 'Bunches and bunches' of kisses later and all is well! No more fears...only peaceful slumber.

Doesn't everyone long for independence? Of course, we do. Honest and telling, this simple story brings that need to the forefront, while also allowing the young one to change his mind when he suffers anxiety over the decision made on his own. Its simple text will soon be part of a beginning reader's repertoire and they will long to share it with loved ones. The bold, expressive images created for the story will capture the attention of its intended audience and help with determining mood and drama when reading this charming tale.

Mama does have the final say...albeit, silent and subtle.

Rapunzel's Revenge, written by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2008. $16.50 ages 8 and up

"I lived in a grand villa...with loyal servants...tasty food...and my mother. Or who I thought was my mother. But more on that in a minute. The Villa had three stories, seventy-eight rooms, one thousand and twelve chairs. I know, because I counted them all. There wasn't much else to do. Yep. Home."

You think you know the story of Rapunzel? Not this one, you don't! As a young girl Rapunzel lives with the woman she believes to be her mother. Rapunzel is nothing, if not inquisitive and quite intelligent. As she gets older, she begins to question some of the goings on in the castle where she lives. She has a healthy interest in what is happening beyond the pretty garden where she spends much of her time. Finally, she climbs to the top of that walled garden and is astonished at what she sees! Her cursiosity does not sit well with 'her mother' and she is soon banished to a lonely tower, with no one for company. We suspect she is waiting for a handsome prince to come forth and rescue her. Again, we would be wrong! She doesn't need a man to get her out of the trouble she has gotten herself into...she needs chutzpah, and that she has in spades.

In this spirited retelling of an old and traditional fairy tale, Shannon and Dean Hale give us a story that will entertain and delight their readers. Add to that, Nathan Hale (no relation) has drawn this tale in graphic form
with all of the spirit and humor that the words and settings convey. They all seem to take great delight in the telling. They are not averse to mixing elements of other familiar stories in, and they do so with great success. It begins in all innocence, sticking close to the original story of a mother and her much loved child. The mother is definitely in control and the child is aquiescent to her mother's suggestions and directions. They live well. Rapunzel is naive to the outer world, until she develops a sense of social justice. She finds her real mother, living in reprehensible conditions. When she is found out, she is sent into exile.

As her hair grows, she develops a plan for escape. Ultimately successful and free of her prison, she escapes to the forest where she meets Jack, a young man on the run. He is a thief (of a goose that lays golden eggs). When she learns that her 'real' mother has been imprisoned by her 'witch' mother, Rapunzel is livid and sets out to alter that situation.

Funny and fast moving, this great adventure will have its readers quickly turning its pages, laughing out loud at the witty dialogue and  the over-the-top antics of the two main characters, and rooting for them to get the job done! Ah, and there is a little romance, in keeping with the best fairy tales.

What I Saw and How I Lied, written by Judy Blundell. Scholastic, 2008. $11.99 ages 14 and up

"I breathed in and out, perfume and smoke, perfume and smoke, and we lay like that for a long time until I heard the seagulls crying, sadder than a funeral, and I knew it was almost morning.

We never went to the hotel dining room now. They knew who we were; they'd seen our pictures in the paper. We knew they'd be saying, Look at them eating toast — how can they be so heartless?

I rode a bike down to the beach instead. In the basket I had a bottle of cream soda and two Baby Ruths. Breakfast."

Evie and her mother have been on their own while Joe, the husband and stepfather, was off fighting in WWII. Evie is longing to be grown up, wearing lipstick and smoking cigarettes. She emulates her mother, a lovely and very glamorous woman, who is overprotective of her only daughter, wanting her to maintain her childlike innocence. All seems to be much the same when Joe returns. But soon after, Evie begins to notice little differences and that things are not exactly as they seem. Joe is drinking more, and getting phone calls that leave him angry.  A family trip is planned and the family ends up in Florida where few people are staying due to the lateness in the year. Evie meets and falls for a young man named Peter. Joe is disturbed by his presence. Joe met him overseas and is very uncomfortable when Peter is around his family. Evie's mother is often gone, apparently on long shopping trips.

Tragedy changes her world in an dramatic turn, and Evie is left to decide how she will protect all of those she loves. How does she make the choice between her mother, her stepfather and Peter? What will she decide? I am always quick to say that I am not a mystery buff, but I loved the feel of this book. It was like a movie playing in my head, and I had visuals of all the characters, their motivations and their behaviors. It is a powerfully told tale of the 1940s, when the war was ended and life was good. The author has created authentic, remarkable characters in a setting that is easy to imagine and with enough twists and turns to be totally absorbing from the first page to the last. The final action is perfect...just right for a 'truth teller'.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sweethearts, written by Sara Zarr. Little Brown, Hachette. 2008. $8.99 ages 13 and up

"By lunch, the work of being the birthday version of Jenna Vaughn started to wear on me. I'd been smiling all morning at the Happy Birthdays and the hugs and compliments while Jennifer Harris dogged me. I kept looking over my shoulder for I don't know what..."

Jennifer and Cameron are soulmates, tied together by bonds of friendship and ostracism. Both are social outcasts at school and not much caring as long as they have each other. You should know they are fifth graders when Cameron suddenly does not come back to school, and Jennifer’s mother tells her that he has died. In high school Jennifer reinvents herself and becomes Jenna, pretty, popular and perpetually perky. She is hard to recognize as the fat, unhappy whiner of her younger years. She's dating the popular guy, her mother is remarried and she has a great stepfather...she should be happy!

Jenna can't forget her ninth birthday, the day when Cameron's father does something unspeakable. Soon, Cameron is gone and her mother gives her the bad news. Now, she hates her birthday and all the memories that it evokes. From that day on, Jennifer had only herself...she was alone and lonely for her best friend. As Jenna she seeks happiness, and tries to bury the long ago feelings of love and loss. There are many times when she feels overwhelmed but she keeps those feelings at bay, always moving forward.

Then one day, she sees Cameron and her world swivels on its axis. In learning his story and facing her mother’s deceit, Jenna must come to grips with feelings hidden but not forgotten. Cameron’s arrival and subsequent departure leave her with an indelible imprint on her heart…one that doesn’t change with time and space. Don’t miss this wonderful story of friendship, love and loss, peopled with characters that matter and are memorable.

I loved this book. The characters are real and have layers, as do their relationships. Sara Zarr has delivered a story that will long live in my memory and I urge readers to find a copy and meet these wonderful characters for yourself. They are worthy of your attention. The sense of mystery about that fateful afternoon holds you right to the end. Bravo!

Lizards in the Sky, written by Claire Eamer. Annick, 2010. $12,95 ages 9 and up

"To air-breathers like us, the underwater world is as alien as the moon or Mars. We swim clumsily, frightening the fish. Without a supply of air, we can't spend more than a couple of minutes below the surface. We can't set up house there, or prepare a meal, or raise a family. But a few air-breathing animals have found surprising ways to live, forage, hunt or hide in the world of the fish."

Perhaps you know the animals that Claire Eamer is talking about...perhaps not. If not and you are interested in knowing more about them, you will have to find this book at your local library or bookstore and begin to fill your head with finding animals in places where you least expect them. It is fascinating and lots of fun!

While Earth is our home, this informed and informative author assures us that we cannot live in every part of it. Well, maybe with help, and a lot of it! Keeping warm is an issue in many parts of the world, and breathing can also be difficult, especially when three-quarters of our earth is covered in water.  We need to live on land, have fresh water and food to sustain us. As we adapt to a variety of conditions, so do animals. To survive they have moved to a place of safety and made the changes needed. Take the American dipper: 'Flaps close over its nostrils when it dives, and transparent membranes slide across its eyes so that it can see underwater. An extra-thick down undercoat keeps the dipper warm, and waterproof oil from a large gland above its tail keeps it dry. Its blood can hold extra oxygen for its underwater hunting expeditions.' How is that for adaptation? And, we are only on page 11.

To say that the author has filled the rest of this intriguing and well-written nonfiction book with absorbing text, clear photography and a useful amount of back matter is an understatement. In clear captions, informative word bubbles, and highly accessible text, she takes us with her on a journey in the sea, on land, in arid deserts, in the sky, underground and to the ice and snow. It reads like a story and offers up more facts than you could recall, even after a second reading. So much to know and she gives us access to it. Unexpected and surprising are words that I would use to describe much of the information garnered in my first reading.

Following the lively and engaging treks to various parts of the world, she adds an appendix which provides the scientific names of the featured animals (all 36 of them),  suggestions to encourage further reading, her own extensive bibliography, a useful index and acknowledgements. 

Worthy of a place on your bookshelf, this book is exemplary in its content and will hold your interest for an enjoyable afternoon. Kids will love hearing about the many ways that animals have learned to adapt to the environment in which they find themselves. Well done!

Shoe Bop! Written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. Dutton, Penguin. 2008. $17.50 ages 5 and up


Sneakers for basketball,
Sneakers for running.
Sneakers with sequins
that make me look stunning.
Sneakers for gym class
(p.u. how they'll reek).
But where are the sneakers
to wear when I sneak?"

Marilyn Singer, poet extraordinaire, has something to say about the inspiration for this book of shoe poems that Erin will love...she is a 'shoe fanatic.'  Here, in Marilyn Singer's words, you hear about this homage to the shoe and those who love them:

"Well, I'm not a big shoe shopper, but I do understand how any shopper can be both excited and daunted by a huge variety of something. And I do like the possibilities that shoes suggest. The challenges involved researching that variety and those possibilities and writing the poems in the voice of a young girl. I'm always conscious of voice and being consistent with it. Funnily enough, when I started working on the book, my husband and I began to take ballroom/Latin dance lessons (which we're still doing!), and I bought my first pair of dance shoes with special suede soles for moving easily on the floor. That helped me understand shoe shopping the most."

I do not like shoe shopping, so I have little experience that helps me understand the great joy that this young and enthusiastic shoe shopper has for the task. It is when her sneakers die that a trip to the shoe store is imminent. Mama seems excited and so is her daughter. The store's impressive collection offers shoes:

"for walking and whirling and watching TV,
for enclosing your toes or setting them free,
for riding, for striding, for comfort, for speed."

The decision is difficult. The salesman measures for size and offers up a wide array of styles. She looks at a number of shoes for school, but remembers that sneakers are what is needed. And the colors are amazing; but, no purple. Well, maybe she should try party shoes, or exploring shoes, or noisy and quiet shoes. The list is endless. None of them suits:

"Shoes I'm Not Getting Today

Toe shoes,
snow shoes,
swimming flippers.
White nurse shoes,
matching purse shoes,
winter boots with zippers.
Teeny shoes,
genie shoes,
golf shoes with spikes.
First base shoes,
outer space shoes,
any shoes my brother likes!"

Ah, she really does like sneakers and that is the end result for this warm, funny 'shoe bop'!

Can you guess the color? I think not! Hiroe Nakata gives you a hint on the front cover and then offers up a boldly colored, detailed look at the quest for new shoes. Her full spreads, single page spreads and many spot illustrations match the poetry with panache and purpose. I love the changing personality of the young girl as she is mesmerized by the endless number of choices the shoe store offers. And her brother is a bother at every turn. What an engaging book of poetry to share!

Ling & Ting, written and illustrated by Grace Lin. Little Brown, Hachette. 2010. $$17.99 ages 4 and up

"Soon all the dumplings are done.

"Our dumplings do not look the same," Ling says. "My dumplings are smooth. Your dumplings are fat."

"Yours are dump-Lings," Ting says. "Mine are dump-Tings!""

It has been proven by scientists that identical twins are not exactly the same. As they grow and experience the world in which they live and are influenced by the events and people in their lives, they become even less so. Ling and Ting are out to prove those scientific findings true...they are experts, as they are 'identical twins'. 

They remind us of that fact in each of the six, short stories in this charming book. A visit to the barbershop seems sure to make them look exactly alike, even though they know they are not. A sneeze from Ting at a most unexpected time ensures a difference.  A magic trick goes awry when Ting has a sudden lapse in memory. Even making dumplings (as noted above) show marked differences in their character and attention to detail. While trying to eat the dumplings with chopsticks, Ling has difficulty. Ting does not. After a number of hilarious attempts to solve the problem, Ling resorts to my stand-by...the fork! Works every time for me!

While searching for a library book for herself and and her sister, Ting is reminded of the card trick fiasco and rushes home to tell her sister, forgetting that she promised she would bring a book for Ling about dogs. OOOPS!  In the final chapter, they return to the mixed-up story of their life so far. The ending is the only part that Ting gets exactly right...'They were not exactly the same, but they always stayed together.'

This is a wonderful early reader with all the right ingredients...appealing characters, humor, dialogue, storytelling and funny chapter endings. Young readers will soon be sharing this lively and lovely book, just as the sisters share love, laughter and story. The illustrations are framed and helpful for new readers, giving them context for the tales told and inviting characters whose individuality is evident, despite their apparent similarities. Vivid colors and matching dresses add interest and clarity for each of the interconnected vignettes.

As early readers discover this wonderful book they will, like me, eagerly anticipate the next one. That is perhaps the most meaningful praise.

I don't want a cool cat! Written and illustrated by Emma Dodd. Little Brown, Hachette. 2010. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"I don't want a cool cat.
A treat-me-like-a-fool cat.
I don't want a stuffy cat.
A huffy, over-fluffy cat."

If you haven't read  I Don't Want a Posh Dog (Little Brown, 2009), you might want to check it out of the library or see if you can find a copy. Then, you need to meet the cats in this lively, enjoyable, and oh so, readable companion. You can tell by the cat on the cover that we will be dealing with attitude as these feisty felines saunter, caper and languish across the double-page spreads created to accompany the brilliant rhythmic words. Young readers will soon be reading this on their own with all the expression suggested in the well chosen language.

The characters are well-drawn and detailed. The space changes with the cat's size and gives young readers an accurate portrayal of those mentioned. As you read, there will be much to discuss. Cats have a reputation to uphold and uphold it they do in these humorous illustrations.

But, the little girl is pretty particular herself and she is not about to become the owner of a cat that doesn't measure up to her expectations. She has no use for the prize-winning cat, or the snobby one, or even the 'cool' one. She knows what she wants and she gets it!

Young listeners will find enough fun here to ask for a repeat visit, and it will be just as much fun the second time around. Enjoy!

Time You Let Me In, written by Naomi Shihab Nye. Harper, 2010. $22.50 ages 14 and up

"Sweat Lodge Prayer

Grandmother, give me
The strength of a bear, show me
Your wedding gown watered in white, your eyes
Like Rita Hayworth, your Chicago
Smile, beams like a porch light, like a full
Friday night. I can gasp in your love,
Like your veins, like the blue
Threading roads on the backs of your hands.
I can burn with your breath
As you read me my name, Grandmother,
                                     Give me the strength of a bear."
                                                               -Lauren Eriks

Naomi Shihab Nye is an honored and celebrated anthologist. She is also a poet. She knows the importance of voice and here she presents 25 poets under 25 (well, 26...she is 'good with words, bad with numbers') and their words. Each of these young poets tells a story that is their own, and they each contribute four poems. Some of their topics are related, some are not. They write about love and war, comfort and great joy, family and heritage, trauma and identity.

As we read their poems and each of the short notes about the contributors that follow the text, we come to know about them and the lives they lead. I loved that little glimpse and found it enlightening to read some of the poems that express so much about who they are and who they are likely to become; it is also uplifting to know they find solace in words and expression. The styles differ, the subjects are diverse and the tones range from very funny to very serious. There is a needed balance in the choices made by this adept and thoughtful anthologist.

We need to hear these voices and I cannot imagine the joy that Naomi Nye must have felt when poring over the unique, often urgent submissions. You will find your own favorites as you first read and then share this book with older students, or adults. Some of the lines have found their way into my poetry journals and I will read them again and again. I will leave you with this:

"I love them,
the children whose homes are FEMA trailers bordering
the wreckage of their once houses _
Over and over they thank us,
like my group and I were misfit angels
with paint on our clothes and in our hair,
mud covering the bottom of our shoes."
                         -Kayla Sargeson

Ducking for Apples, written by Lynne Berry and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. Holt, H B Fenn. 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Five bold ducks
on ten thin wheels
Wobble, bobble,
squeak, and squeal."

I am loving these 'duck' books by Lynne Berry. Young childen love familiar characters and they will remember them each time you read a new story. The expressive text, the lilting rhymes, the common experiences and pitfalls will have little ones talking about similar events and asking for more.

As with anyone learning to ride a bike, there are bound to be some difficulties. As they wobble, they also teeter, swerve, totter and curve. It is a typical outing for five adventure-seekers. After hill climbing and downhill soaring, they are ready for a rest. Where better than under an apple tree? How to get at the apples is cause for concern...but not for long!

The top duck in the five duck stack reaches for the desired treats and starts pitching them one after the other to the ground. He picks more and more and more, until the four ducks under him (standing precariously on a rock) begin to shake. When the tower crumbles, they gather the apples on the ground and fill their baskets. Once home, they cut, mix, press and bake...a special apple treat! Sated and sleepy, the ducks find comfort in front of the fire and drift off to soft slumber.

You will also want to read Duck Tents (Henry Holt, 2009), Duck Dunks (Holt, 2008) and Duck Skates (Holt, 2005). If you are thinking about Christmas gifts for a young reader, why not? Spring camping, summer swimming, autumn apple picking and winter's a seasonal celebration!  Hiroe Nakata has drawn glorious watercolor artwork for each one, full of light and action as the five ducks experience their world in a humorous series of mishaps, mischief, and camaraderie. Together they are and, we can only hope, together they will always be.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Paddling of Ducks, written by Marjorie Blain Parker and illustrated by Joseph Kelly. Kids Can, 2010. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"A band of Gorillas.
A bloat of hippos.
A colony of iguanas."

Alphabet books and their design have always been appealing to me. I am intrigued by the many ways that imaginative authors and illustrators decide to portray the twenty-six letters that have all the power of our language. This book keeps me believing! It is a simple book, it seems; but it has a bit of a twist and is definitely original in style and for its artwork. Many of the words for animal groups are new to me, and some were quite surprising. The text is pretty straightforward...four words to provide the group and the animal. That's it! Or, is it?

No, it is not! The illustrations add a spirited dimension that glows with light. As a reader, you are drawn right into the scene being depicted. There is so much to see and to discover as you pore over the detailed, colorful
oil paintings. The animals are hilarious! The ducks are everywhere...reading over the shoulder of the aardvark at his laptop on the army of Ants page as he enjoys coffee and a bagel, being coddled by a baby bear on the sloth of Bears page, sipping tropical tasty treats with the bask of Crocodiles. You get a real sense for the personality of each of the groups and the ducks provide uncontrolled frivolity at every turn.

It needs to be read up close and personal to catch all the humor and the interplay of words and art; there are jokes and puns galore. Plus, it's educational and wonderful fun for all who will share it!

Monday, September 20, 2010

No Such Thing As Dragons, written by Philip Reeve. Scholastic, 2010. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"A growl bubbled softly, deep in the sound box of the creature's chest. The eye it aimed at him was sulfur yellow. It opened its mouth, and its teeth were icicle white and sharp as nails and its tongue was a pink spike. as it launched itself off the crag toward him, Ansel saw the long tail lash out behind it, striped like a serpent and frilled with feathers."

There is no picture, but there must be one in your mind of the terrifying meeting between Ansel and his first dragon...funny, when there is no such thing. He definitely tries to convince himself of the truth of that statement! I did not expect to like this book as I am not a fan of dragon lore; I generally leave that to Erin. But, love it I did and I found it hard to stop reading once I got started.

It is the Middle Ages and there are con men around every corner. Brock is one of them, determined to make the villagers believe that he is a dragon slayer. He is, in fact, an errant knight who has conjured up stories of his past brave deeds. On one such trip he buys Ansel, a young mute boy, from his greedy and heartless innkeeper father. Ansel is in awe of Brock but it doesn't take him long to discover the truth about his dragon slaying. Brock assures Ansel that there are no such things.

Chancing upon a village that claims there is a dragon in the mountains nearby, Brock and his team set out to find it. A nefarious Friar accompanies them, sharing stories of a sacrifice the villagers have made. They have tied a young village girl to a tree in hopes that she will appease the dragon and thus, leave them to their quiet lives. They are astonished when they encounter something evil and terrifying on the mountainside, and also find said girl. Winter, hunger, fatigue and the fearsome creature cause untold terror and much adventure.

But, it is the characters who stand out in this quick-paced, wonderfully written tale. Ansel faced two great losses as a young child...his mother and his voice. Will he speak again? Is Brock all bluster with a heart, or an evil, self-centered man with no concern for anyone but himself? Are the villagers so terrified they will do anything for the greater good, even sacrificing one of their own to protect the rest? And then, you must consider the beauty of the storytelling itself. Philip Reeve is an incredibly adept word weaver. His language is quite delectable and I often reread passages to taste those words a second time. Not enough for you? He also did the small detailed interior illustrations that accompany each new chapter.

There is nothing about this book that I did not like, except perhaps the anxiety felt in tearing through each new encounter with the dragon, the fierce weather, the harsh mountain setting. It is a ride and I loved it. There was a time when I believed the title, I am not so sure!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pirate Bob, written by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated by David Clark. Charlesbridge, 2008. $9.95 ages 4 and up

"Pirate Bob is an expert in wrecking wheels and rudders. He is fast. He is exact with his cutlass. He leaps over the rails. Others swarm aboard with him. They carry daggers, pistols and hand grenades made by filling old bottles with gunpowder."

It's 'TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY' and I'm hoping you will take the time to find the pirate books in your library and share them with avid listeners. There are so many out there to enjoy! I want to tell you about this one which is new to me, and great fun!

AAARGH! Nothin' Bob likes more than treasure! His nose itches when gold is near and right now that nose is itching. He lies in wait with his captain and crew, beneath a pirate's moon, for a ship to plunder. As we wait with him we learn much about the life of a pirate. We are introduced to Bob's friend Yellow Jack, who has scurvy and a yellow tinge to his skin. He has been a pirate longer than Bob, and therefore has more treasure, which he has buried in a secret place. Bob is concerned that Jack might die because of poor health before he tells someone (perhaps a best friend) where that booty is buried. That would be a real disaster!

We learn that pirates work hard to learn their trade, and become skilled at certain tasks. When they attack the galleon Concordia everyone has a job to do to ensure success and thus, untold wealth. Once the ship's cargo has been plundered and taken aboard their own ship, the Blackbird, the spoils are divided according to rank and seniority. Jack, once again, gets more than Jack. While Jack thinks he should be happy he is feeling a bit of unease about his life...the dangers, the constant threat of capture and incarceration or death, the growing wealth that must be hidden to protect it from others' greed and even the uncertainty of friendship.

The expressive, and humorous, watercolor illustrations bring the pirates to full and glorious life for readers...with extreme close-ups and much action. While they are mean looking and very greedy, they are also vulnerable and thoughtful. But they want what we all want...friendship and love. They may live to loot unsuspecting ships and terrify other seamen; but, they have hearts filled with wishes for a good, and long, life. Despite the many dangers, they do their work and revel it their successes.

Pair this with one of my favorite pirate books by Mem Fox called Tough Boris (Harcourt, 1994) and you can't go wrong!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Feeding the Sheep, written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Andrea U'Ren. Farrar, Douglas & McIntryre. $19.95 ages 3 and up

"What are you doing?" the little girl asked.
"Drying the wool," her mother said.
Windy day, wool ballet."

Leda Schubert has this to say about her new book:

"I interviewed sheep, sheep farmers, spinners, weavers, and knitters. But I didn’t really think of Feeding the Sheep as a book about the process—I thought of it as a book about the love between a mother and daughter."

I call this type of book 'faction'; it tells a story that is steeped in factual information. It is about raising sheep, caring for them and using what they provide to make life better and sustainable. And, it is a picture book that will delight its readers!

It begins in a farmyard with snow falling and a small child asking her mother a question. As the young one plays, the mother works hard to make sure that the sheep are well-fed and healthy. The snow disappears and the next double-page spread shows the mother with scissors in one hand, a sheep in the other and a young daughter peeking out from billowing clouds of sheep fleece. The 'what are you doing?' question is answered in clear and simple terms. As the wool is washed, dried, carded, spun, dyed, knit and worn, the year passes by. In the final spread, the tables are turned and the mother is the one asking the question of her child, who has learned enough now to be of some assistance. It is a warm and reassuring tale.

Life on a small farm is pastoral and satisfying for this mother and child. The pets are constant companions as the work is done and reflected in the shared harmony of mother and daughter. As Mom washes the wool, the child encourages the dog's bath. As Mom cards the wool, the daughter grooms a relaxed and contented dog. The dog chases his tail, the cat preens and the child does endless somersaults for entertainment. On that day when Mom is finally finished too are the child, the pets and a sedate teddy bear.

Each new activity sparks a question and elicits a short rhyming answer. The brightly colored and detailed artwork provides a visual display for each part of the process. The love between mother and daughter and the patience in answering each new question is evident in every spread. There is much play, and it is shown in the antics of the pets and the young girl as she delights in the learning that is taking place.

Meant to inform and entertain, this book hits just the right note for all who will share it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!

I think that this is the fifth year his family has celebrated Roald Dahl's birthday with the world. A recent website offering states:

"Roald Dahl was born in Wales and spent his childhood in England. After a stint in the Royal Air Force, he moved to Washington, D.C., and it was there he began to write. After establishing himself as a writer for adults, Dahl began writing children’s stories, many of which were dedicated to his own children. Roald Dahl is now considered one of the most beloved storytellers of our time. Although he passed away in 1990, his popularity continues to grow. His stories are currently available in almost fifty languages.

The official Roald Dahl website currently attracts two million visitors per year, with an online membership of about 200,000 fans. Ten percent of author royalties from all Roald Dahl books, films, plays, and merchandise are donated to the two Roald Dahl charities.

Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity (formerly called The Roald Dahl Foundation) makes seriously ill children’s lives better by raising money to support crucial care and support services across the UK. By providing nurses, equipment, carers, and toys—by working with hospitals, charities, and directly with parents—it improves the lives of children who are living with specific serious and life-threatening conditions. Since being founded in 1991 by Roald Dahl’s widow, the charity has distributed nearly £7 million and is proud of its strong record in funding crucial nursing posts in the areas of epilepsy, acquired brain injury, and haematology. There are currently forty-six Roald Dahl Nurses throughout the UK.

The first national Roald Dahl Day was celebrated on September 13, 2006. The event proved such a success that Roald Dahl Day is now marked annually. In the UK the day has been expanded to the whole month of September, and is now celebrated throughout the world."

Our family celebrates with all of Roald Dahl's fans. We spent many happy hours reading about Charlie, Matilda, Mr. Fox, Danny, The Twits, The BFG, The Grand High Witch, and James and his aunts, Spiker and Sponge. We missed none and many were reread together, and in solitude. What a remarkable time we had! I also shared them year after year in my classroom and still have former students stop me to tell which was their favorite tale. It is an honorable legacy.

If you haven't read any of Roald Dahl's books, now is the time. I guarantee that you will be entertained. I am lucky enough to have been gifted a collection of Robert Harrop figurines depicting many of my favorite characters. It began when David, Vicki and Victoria went to England and brought back James and the Grasshopper, in conversation. And then it grew and grew and grew! Today it reminds us of the lovely and lively times shared with each of them over the years and even today in conversations and memories.

Here are some enduring quotes:

"A whizzpopper!" cried the BFG, beaming at her. "Us giants is making whizzpoppers all the time! Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. It is music in our ears! You surely is not telling me that a little whizzpopping if forbidden among human beans?"

"I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn't be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage."

"The prime function of the children's book writer is to write a book that is so absorbing, exciting, funny, fast and beautiful that the child will fall in love with it. And that first love affair between the young child and the young book will lead hopefully to other loves for other books and when that happens the battle is probably won. The child will have found a crock of gold. He will also have gained something that will help to carry him most marvelously through the tangles of his later years."

Roald Dahl helped us do just that!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Going, Going, Gone! Written by Alan Katz and illustrated by David Catrow. Simon & Schuster Canada, Toronto. 2009. $19.99 hardcover ages 4 and up

On top of the bleachers,
that’s where we just sat.
Dad bought me a pennant,
a scorecard, and hat.”

He got me some peanuts,
a soda, and chips,
a ballplayer puppet
that swings as he flips.

Next I got a helmet,
a bat, and a glove,
a giant foam finger
the crowd doesn’t love.”

Alan Katz looks to sports for his next silly songs. You can just picture the ball game! Mouths agape at the the constant commotion, ardent fans pass you by with popcorn, pretzels and pop. Then, they follow it up with pennants, programs and puppets. Not to mention the twelve trips to the bathroom. Who has time to see the game? It is a never ending cacophony of sound and swirling eddy of movement. There is no stillness!

Alan Katz has created a series of books about chosen subjects from bedtime to manners, from Christmas to school, and now sports! You'll be singing for hours and kids will be begging for more. They are like the old camp songs that we used to sing, with a little more pizazz and funny, brightly colored accompanying illustrations. The tunes to be used are suggested and that makes for an easy transition for someone like me who has no musical training (or ability). They are quickly learned and you don't even mind making a fool of yourself as you share and learn them together. Perfect for performance assembly and sure to be a hit! You might even try taping them for a listening center.

There are 14 songs and they run the gamut of sports from baseball, fishing and ice skating to archery, soccer and bowling. Some information is added in sidebars and each has a surprise ending that is sure to elicit laughter and a pleading 'sing it again, please!'

Change-up, written by Gene Fehler and illustrated by Donald Wu. Clarion. Distributed in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son, Toronto. 2009. $21.95 hardcover

"Well, I'm not superstitious
Not me. No, not a bit
But now I'd better kiss my bat
it's almost time to hit."

Baseball fans CAN find poetry books that will amuse and delight them. I remember telling you about Gene Fehler’s wonderful novel in verse, called Beanball (Clarion 2008). As fingers itch to throw the ball, coaches begin preparing for their new recruits, and baseball tossing between aspiring players heralds spring, this fine book explores all aspects of the ‘great game of summer’. It begins in earnest with avid players using snowballs to keep muscles limber and takes the reader through an entire season, ending...

"In December

Our ball field is barren now,
except for snow,
except for memories."

I love baseball and look forward to any Blue Jays, Yankees, Boston Red Sox game on television when I am home in the evenings. So, I was happy to receive this book by accomplished writer and poet, Gene Fehler. I know that there are many who will enjoy it with me. It is an homage to the 'grand old game' and put a smile on my face as I read each well-written and descriptive poem.

It takes readers through an entire season with a young boy who delights in playing the game, sharing it with his Dad, his Grandpa and his Mom.

"Some moms are too busy
to ever come to your ballgames

My mom pitches me batting practice
hits me grounders, then dives
in the dirt to field mine..."

It runs the gamut, and Gene Fehler makes provides an excellent collection for his rapt audience. On one hand he describes the zany pitch that is a knuckleball and on the other includes a poem about Gabby, a girl with a great arm, who is a pitching ace for the team.

The illustrations deserve your undivided attention to the detail on each page. The expressive faces, the baseball field, the broken overhead light, and the players whose focus never shifts from the job they are there to do will enchant and engage interested readers. There are many magical moments here and they make you feel like you are right on the field with the players and the officials.

Poetry is such a relief to reluctant readers. There is not too much text, it tells a story quickly and with well chosen words. To find a book that attracts ardent baseball fans and gives them such a clear picture of a beloved sport is a real accomplishment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Road to Paris, written by Nikki Grimes. Putnam, Penguin, 2006. $8.50 ages12 and up

"Sometimes I wish I was like my name, thought Paris, somewhere far away, out of reach. Somewhere safe down south or on the other side of the ocean. Instead, she was neither Paris nor Richmond. She felt like a nobody caught in the dark spaces in between. A nobody on her way to nowhere."

Their mother falls into a deep depression when her latest husband leaves and turns to alcohol to assuage her fears and feelings. She often leaves Paris and her brother Malcolm unattended and finally, Family Services steps and sends them into foster care. Life with the Boones is filled with terror and scorn. They are beaten for the bad behavior of the daughter of the house and realize that they must run to protect themselves. They go to their grandmother.

Grandmother has done her child rearing and cannot cope; so, she puts them back in the system. Their worst fears are realized when the siblings are separated. Malcolm has always been Paris' link to ‘home’. Doubt and distrust are her constant companions as she is placed with yet another foster family, the Lincolns. With gentle persistence, her new family makes an impression and Paris begins to believe in goodness once more. She knows this family has nothing in common with her mom or the Boones. She has her own small but cozy bedroom, and no one beats her or locks her in the closet. She even joins the choir and finds solace and wonder in singing. Along the way she has many difficulties to face, including racism, a constant longing for Malcolm’s presence and malice. Ultimately Paris must make a daunting decision. Wrapped in the love of her foster family and brimming with newfound courage, she makes the choice that leads her ‘home’.

Harlem Summer, written by Walter Dean Myers. Scholastic, 2007. $20.99 ages 9 and up

"Mr. Dill made out the checks for the May issue. Langston Hughes got two dollars for a poem that had only twenty-five words. That was eight cents a word! The writing business was starting to look better."

I thoroughly enjoy historical fiction when it leads me to new discoveries. While I have read a few books about the Harlem Renaissance, none have introduced me to the many characters portrayed in this wonderfully funny and telling book about the summer of 1925. New York is a city of excitement and danger and our endearing main character learns much about both sides.

Mark Purvis needs a job that will save him from working at his uncle’s funeral parlor. When he signs on to work at The Crisis, a magazine designed to honor the work of the ‘New Negro’, he wonders if he has made a mistake. Wanting to play jazz and having met "Fats' and been offered a job loading trucks, he takes it in hopes that Fats will be impressed and willing to listen to the music that he and his jazz band play. Now, he’s on the run from Dutch Schultz who thinks he’s responsible for a missing shipment of bootleg liquor. A record deal now seems a distant dream, and that is what he wants more than anything else.

In a series of hilarious scenes, we meet some of the movers and shakers of the era. We celebrate with Mark when he makes the decision not to be a criminal, a “New Negro” or an undertaker but to follow his own path to happiness and freedom.

Walter Dean Myers is an articulate and honored storyteller. This story is proof that all the accolades are 'spot on'! I cannot imagine anyone not loving this story. Parents and librarians will love that their is no harsh language or sexual innuendo. Adolescent readers will love the humor, the fast-paced plot and all the action. Mark Purvis is such a memorable character. He is carefree and at times, without a clue about what is happening. He is also happy, loyal to his friends and has a good dose of common sense. It is a great read!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sleepy, oh so Sleepy, written and illustrated by Denise Fleming. Holt, H B Fenn, 2010. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"Tiny baby panda,
sleepy, oh so sleepy."

Denise Fleming knows just how to create a stunning readaloud for our youngest audience. The repetitive text leaves nothing to the imagination and that is just right! Each spread features one 'tiny baby' animal who is delightfully sleepy. It is this regular rhythm that encourages settling and will be a stalwart addition to the best of bedtime reads. Its soothing cadence and the soft beauty of the illustrations make it one of those books that would have gentled me to sleep while reading to the kids, only to be awakened with a quiet 'Mommy, you fell asleep again' reminder from one or the other. It sounds so simple but that is what makes it so special; for Denise Fleming's careful craftsmanship is never without emotional impact. It is happy in tone and reassuring for the youngster ready to drift into slumber.

Her artwork is so rich in textures and she knows the appeal of any baby animal. The close-ups created are hard to resist and will fill the air with 'oohs' and 'aahs' as you read along. There is humor and tenderness and always an underlying coziness for the animals portrayed on these pages. The tones are warm and evoke sunset, the textures are soft and touchable. So much to admire and treasure in the images created for this sleepy, salubrious story that is sure to have your toddler nodding off before the last page is turned. Tomorrow, you will have to return to share the human baby and its sock monkey companion who is just another star in the story.

Big and Small, Room for All. Written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Gillian Newland. Tundra, 2009. $20.99 ages 3 and up

"What is smaller than a flea?
A world of things
too small to see.""

It's always interesting to watch young children explore their world and learn about the many things that make it special. Part of the intrigue concerns the size of everything and how they fit in with all that is yet to be discovered. Their world is filled with why, what, when, where, and how. They like to know their place in the family, the community and the world. Jo Ellen Bogart has used this endless interest in the greater world to help our youngest readers make connections. She begins with the universe (ours is the Milky way) and then brings their world closer until she reaches what they know well.

The text is a lilting invitation to its audience to understand the scope of size. This accomplished author uses fewer than one hundred words to take readers from the immensity of space to the insignificant size of a flea and smaller organisms. She captivates by helping them find their place and space in the greater world. The illustrations are wonderful...watercolors that glow with the warmth of sunshine and the cool of the outer space sky. They add such beauty to the simple words and provide an impressive backdrop for the discussion that is sure to arise when this lovely book is shared.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Savvy, written by Ingrid Law. Penguin, 2008. $18.50 ages 12 and up

“When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he had caused it. I had liked living down south on the edge of land, next to the pushing-pulling waves. I had liked it with a mighty kind of liking, so moving had been hard – hard like pavement the first time I fell off my pink two-wheeler and my palms burned like fire from all of the hurt just under the skin. But it was plain that Fish live nowhere near or nearby or next to or close to or on or around any largish bodies of water. Water had a way of triggering my brother and making ordinary everyday weather take a frightening turn for the worse.”

Turning thirteen in Mibs Beaumont’s family requires guts and determination; for on that thirteenth birthday, they get their savvy. Figuring out what it might be can be a daunting task. The day before the big event Mibs’ father is involved in a pile-up on the highway and now lies in critical condition in Salina Hope Hospital. Her brother Rocket and their mother have gone to be with Poppa. While trying to settle on her savvy, Mibs becomes convinced that she is the only one who can ensure her father’s recovery. When she talks her siblings into stowing away on a delivery bus headed to Salina, their adventure begins. They meet up with a curious group of people and learn much about each as they travel together. There is love, laughter and an acceptance of each person for who they are, what they have to share and how they deal with their journey. Mibs' family and the 'savvies' that each have are pure entertainment. Wait until you finally discover Mibs' special ability...imaginative and original!

Written with charm and ‘savvy’ this book will hold enormous appeal to those readers who like a little magic mixed with stories of love and family. The characters are quirky and resonate with admiration for each other. Ingrid Law leaves us hoping that this won’t be the last we hear of them.

When you have finished your reading and you understand that having a savvy means having 'something that’s deep inside of us all. It’s something we do – our magic', you will want to go back and read this wonderful book again. Or, keep it on your bookshelf for another is sure to be a classic!

I think that I have discovered Ingrid Law's 'SAVVY'!