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Monday, January 31, 2011

Redwoods, written and illustrated by Jason Chin. Roaring Brook Press, H B Fenn, 2009. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Amazingly, such a tall tree
starts from a seed about the
size of a tomato seed. A
one-inch-long cone that houses
the seed falls to the ground, and
if the conditions are right, the tree
will sprout. With enough light and
water a redwood sapling can
grow fast - up to two feet per

It seems I have been wanting this book for ages; and I am so thankful to Lisa at H B Fenn who made sure it was in my hands less than a week after asking to see it. It is a remarkable book of nonfiction, giving kids who long 'for the facts, ma'am, just the facts', exactly that. Along with those amazing facts Jason Chin offers up a parallel story in the detailed watercolor illustrations. Not one word of the boy's story is told; it is there for observant readers to follow as they share the multitude of information he learns about the magnificent redwood trees of northern California and southern Oregon. As he explores the beauty and wonder of the redwood forest, he has a that will grab the attention of younger listeners and keep them focused on all that is going on in the art.

It is this mix of fact and fiction that I have dubbed 'faction' when I am sharing books such as this in classrooms and with children. The boy's interest is piqued when he finds a book as he waits for the subway. Isn't that the way that many of us become interested in a previously unknown topic? He reads as he rides and is soon caught up in the magic of the words. He exits the subway station and runs smack into the trees that have so captured his interest. As we accompany him, we make the many discoveries he makes. His expressive face constantly shows the impact of the learning and the awe he feels in the beauty of this incredible forest.

Jason Chin's ability to give perspective to the immense tree that is a redwood will be much appreciated by his readers. As the boy rappels down from the tree and returns to the big cityscape that is his home, we are privy to its true height. When he realizes the lateness of the hour, he hurriedly leaves the book on the bench where he has been sitting. It's in a perfect place to be discovered by an another intrepid explorer...and off she goes on her own adventure.

I love the connection that Jason Chin has made from beginning to end by placing the young girl on the title page, that same girl who is destined to make her own trip through the redwood forest. He provides a glimpse at the danger these trees face, gives readers a field notebook page describing the 'coast redwood' and showing its needles and in actual size and giving perspective on how we humans measure up to its immensity.

In a review of this very worthy work I read that it is 'a contagious celebration of the relationship between information and imagination, the pure joy of learning'...encore!

Friday, January 28, 2011

100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days, written by Bruce Goldstone. Henry Holt, H B Fenn, 2010.$19.99 ages 4 and up

"Print 100 fingerprints.
You can turn them into
bugs, birds and other

Roll a die 100 times.
Predict what number
you will roll most often.
How many times will
you roll it?"

Proof positive that the 100 Day Celebration does not need to be limited to the early years classroom! I love this book! When I was teaching grade two at Green Acres, the kids and I would try to devise 100 cards with 100 things to do on them. That was a great way to get the kids involved in the day itself, and led to more counting than anyone would ever have thought possible for seven-year-olds. Oh, we had a great time!

This book takes me right back to those times but astounds me with the many ideas that I doubt we ever considered. I like the design...from the bright, bold colors of the title page which uses colored pencils, pipe cleaners and the very familiar magnetic alphabet letters to the opening image where readers are encouraged to get ready to celebrate. Behind the bubble invitation are all of the numbers from one to one hundred, spelled out and following one after the other. He starts with the #1 task....'wake up in the morning and brush your teeth with 100 strokes.' Now that is getting the celebrants in the mood!

He illustrates with a half-circle double row of identical toothbrushes. On the other side of that page, he suggests a bedtime ritual...brushing hair 100 times. Yep, the other half of the circle, two identical arcs of small hairbrushes. Brilliant! Each task is numbered and suggests a new way to get to 100. It is a visual delight and very inventive. At the bottom of each page is a number line from 1 to 100, and it 'bumps' up the numbers being counted. Outstanding!

We used many of the same ideas; but, this author makes them real with bright, clear photographs. He helps young (and older) mathematicians see fun in numbers, counting, grouping and estimating. He has his readers moving, planting, painting, eating, recycling, searching, cutting, writing, reading, measuring. Will it ever end? The fun, not likely. The counting...yes! at 100. Then go on and do it over again with something else.

Just when you think that he's run out of ideas...Bruce Goldstone adds a final page of notes that might prove very helpful in making your family or school celebration rich and authentic, and in getting the juices flowing to see if you can think of even MORE ways to count to ONE HUNDRED!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Balancing Act, written and illustrated by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Simon & Schuster, 2010. $21.99 ages 2 and up

"The mice made a 
It was fun to balance...
one mouse on each end.

Just as she did with color, shapes and counting, Ellen Stoll Walsh has created the most amazing picture book for young learners. Her mice are back, and just as lovely and lovable as ever. This time, they are content with the simple things in life. A rock and a stick make the perfect simple machine for these two...they are in harmony.

All is well when the two mice each take an end and find just the right spot...until a salamander comes along. There is an obvious problem, and it takes another friendly salamander to bring them in balance again. Life is good! When an exuberant frog joins the mix, chaos ensues. Another frog...balance!

The last straw is a bird who wants to partake of the fun. No chance that it will work now...or will it?

The math and science concepts are so seamlessly shared that her audience will learn in spite of themselves. And isn't that the way to learn something new...effortlessly?

This is a perfect book...with just the right number of words, charming characters and built-in learning. We could not ask for more. Add to that the fact that young readers will soon be reading it on their own.


Growing Up Ivy, written by Peggy Dymond Leavey. Dundurn Press, 2010. $12.99 ages 10 and up

"Back in the city, she'd always
welcomed an excuse to go walking
at night with Frannie, looking in
through lighted windows, imagining
what secrets might lie in the rooms
beyond their view."

An imagination is one of the things that Ivy has in spades! She has learned to let it run wild while living with her mother, Frannie. Frannie is a young mother with a yen for the acting life of the big city. When she gets her chance to go to New York to find work, she is off.  Ivy is left behind, with a note to her paternal grandmother explaining that Frannie has gone and needs someone to care for her daughter. A grandmother seems the perfect solution.

Ivy has never met that grandmother or her father, Alva. Ivy is markedly concerned about her grandmother Maud; but, she has grandiose ideas about the father who will one day ride up on a white charger to save her. The Depression is a harsh and difficult time for all. Ivy and her mother have had their share of troubles; but, Ivy has remained upbeat and positive. Her grandmother's no-nonsense view of life threatens that optimism. As Ivy waits for her mother to come for her, she spends much of her time writing her life story on scraps of paper provided by her grandmother. There, her imagination can soar!

When Ivy's father shows up one day, driving a colorful, horse-drawn caravan, she is thrilled. She begs him to take her with him for a summer of selling shoes, and he agrees. They find comfort as they travel together, each learning from the other about love and hope. Arriving back in time to start school, Ivy is dismayed to learn that her mother has made no contact. She immerses herself in her writing and reading. It is at school that she meets Charlie Bayliss, a young man with a story of his own. Life becomes more interesting for both of them as their friendship grows.

Ivy is not the only wonderful character in this fine book, but this is definitely her story. The writing is commendable, the characters lively and likeable, the setting strong and the sense of community vibrant. I read late into the night wanting to know what would happen to these people that I had come to like so much. I enjoyed every page and recommend it highly. It would make a great read in an intermediate classroom and is certain to encourage discussion of the hard times that so many faced in the 1930s.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Flight of the Dodo, written and illustrated by Peter Brown. Little Brown, Hachette. 2005. $8.99 ages 5 and up

"But Penguin couldn't fly.
He was just a flightless bird.
He was a Waddler.
Penguin had always dreamed
of flying, and it didn't seem fair
to him that the Flappers got to
have all the fun. So he rounded
up his friends to discuss the future
of the Waddlers."

It just takes one! That, it seems, is a recurring theme this week.

Penguin starts his day with high hopes, and then it happens! A goose flying overhead inadvertently poops right where Penguin is standing. Disgusted and disgruntled, Penguin decides it is time for action. He calls all of his waddling friends together and suggests that they change the method by which they make their way in the world. After all, they have never had a bird's-eye view of anything, but the ground.

After much planning, they manage to construct a flying machine that will change all that. They name it the Dodo, and they are aloft! Excitement leads to ultimate dives, cloud tasting, low level fishing and target practice, having learned from that initial encounter with the goose. Everything is going so well, the balloonists decide to share their news...with an approaching flock of geese. Penguin navigates them straight into a threatening thunder storm, and they fear the worst. He finds the light at the end of the tunnel when he spots the geese 'sitting safely on the ground'.

How will he get their attention? Aha, target practice may finally have value. Sure enough, he is able to aim his poop at a select spot, thus ruffling no feathers. The geese, curious by nature, find the source and come to the rescue. There is a lesson to be learned from this first flight. The Waddlers have much to learn from the geese about flight and the geese could use a few lessons in etiquette from Penguin and his friends. Could another flight be on the horizon?

You get the humor, but you don't REALLY get it until you have a chance to see Peter Brown's acrylic and pencil illustrations depicting the mile-high adventures of this group of wary waddlers. His mood enhancing palette is perfect for the adventure that awaits the determined crew of the Dodo. The crystal blue of the skies quickly gives way to the murky dark storm clouds. It's laugh out loud funny as we, too, get a bird's eye view of ostrich, stricken and flat on the floor of the balloon as Penguin dipsy-doodles their way above and below the flock of geese. And be sure to check the view of the classroom as one goose really doesn't get what is being taught!

Hudson, written by Janice Weaver and illustrated by David Craig. Tundra, 2010. $24.99 ages 9 and up

"We know surprisingly little about
Henry Hudson for a man who left
his name on so much of the map of
North America. We don't even know
for sure what he looked like. All the
portraits we have of him were made
after his death by people who never
knew him, so they may not look anything
like him."

I admit to remembering almost nothing about the explorer Henry Hudson, despite a history minor at university. In that, I am likely much like many young historians who will read this book, or have it shared with them in a classroom setting. That is the distinctive appeal of such wonderful picture book biographies. As must happen, the author of such a book for the middle years reader chooses carefully the events that will hold the most meaning from one person's life. Janice Weaver tells her story in a way that makes it real and personal for her audience.

Henry Hudson was a driven man, who did not accept failure or defeat. In four separate voyages he sought a way to the riches of Asia, and in each voyage, he was unsuccessful. This book provides much information about those attempts to find a passage to the east and the conditions under which Hudson and his crews, always including his son John, sailed. Through the journal entries of Hudson and of his crew members, we learn that he was a determined man with strong opinions, unwavering courage and an inability to lead.

His name is given to the Hudson River, which he explored on his third voyage and to the Hudson Strait which provides a route into Hudson Bay. He was instrumental in finding a way to the riches of Canada's interior. His final voyage was indeed his final one. Much of his crew, led by Robert Juet, mutinied while facing starvation and poor leadership:

"They grabbed Hudson as he emerged from his cabin and tied his hands behind his back, taking him and seven other crew members - including young John - prisoner. Prickett begged the mutineers 'to remember themselves, and to do as they would be done unto'. But Juet and the others were unmoved, and Henry Greene declared that he'd 'rather be hanged at home than starved abroad.' As Prickett watched helplessly, the captured men, some still in their nightclothes, were forced into the Discovery's small shallop."

The nine men aboard were never seen again.

David Craig's historical imaginings are exceptionally good, and provide readers with context for much of what happens on Hudson's voyages. The harsh conditions, the endless water, the disgruntled crew, the massive ships, and the abject despair of those aboard the shallop (as shown on the front cover) give readers a clear notion for the life of this courageous and visionary man, who is too often remembered for his tragic end rather than his daring feats of exploration.

In the back matter, author Janice Weaver discusses the monuments placed in his memory and the routes named for him. She encourages her readers to find more information in books and online. Credits and acknowledgements for archival works are provided and an index helps lead readers back to the text and areas of special interest.

In Front of My House, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc. Kids Can, 2010. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Behind the teeny-tiny octopus...
a blue whale named Babette.
In Babette's belly...
a tuna sandwich,
an old boot,
an ocean liner,
a parrot,
an accordion,
my old teddy bear,
a little elf,
a wedge of cheese and
a magician's hat."

And so it goes...on and on. Kids love 'circle' stories (one that comes back to where it began) and they will add this to their list of books to read again and again. They may even use is to help them write their own circle story.

It starts 'in front of my house' and the action is kept to that particular space until a book of fairy tales fires the imagination and sends the narrator far beyond the close environs of hearth and home. Meeting a princess leads to the proverbial prince, a lily pad, a pond, a bear dipping its paw in the pond and so we go.

With each turn of the page, young readers have the opportunity to guess where the words are leading. And guess they will! Experience will definitely help with those predictions and a knowledge of fairy tales will be a real advantage when we meet the Big BAD Wolf:

"In the Big Bad Wolf's belly...

the Three Little Pigs,
the house made of bricks,
the house made of sticks,
the house made of straw,
one of the Seven Little Kids,
a potful of stone soup,
Grandmother and
Little Red Riding Hood."

Much discussion is sure to be had as the reading progresses...what isn't familiar will need some context, but that is definitely part of the fun of sharing this imaginative tale. It won't be long until kids want to try some of the reading on their own, all the while building vocabulary and even some sight words. Never will they think of it as a reading lesson!

Pencil crayon illustrations add to the enjoyment and will help young readers and listeners make connections to the real world. They ably support the written text and offer humor and spooky delight. Careful consideration will be given to each page as it is shared. What fun!

Shipwrecks, Monsters, and Mysteries of the Great Lakes, written by Ed Butts. Tundra, 2010. $16.99 ages 9 and up

"The dream had seemed so real,
that in the morning Mrs. Doupe begged
her husband to take them off the Waubuno
and wait for another ship. The doctor
dismissed his wife's fears as ridiculous.
He wasn't about to change their travel
plans just because of a dream."

If you yearn for adventure and like reading stories that are entertaining, scary and true, this is a book for you to read. The waters of the Great Lakes are at different times beautiful, alluring and downright frightening. The stories included here are proof positive of that.

Ed Butts has chosen to share his stories in a chronological order, and tells us of the first ship lost:

"In 1679, a French ship called the Griffon, the first sailing vessel built on the Great Lakes, left Green Bay on Lake Michigan, bound for Niagara with a cargo of furs. The Griffon and the five-man crew were never seen again. Though no one knows exactly what happened to the ship, there is no doubt the Griffon's mysterious disappearance was the result of the first shipwreck on the Great Lakes."

He goes on to report to his readers that more than six thousand vessels have met their end on the Great Lakes. Many are the stories of song and folklore. Shoals and reefs, wild unpredictable winds, and rocky shores were just some of the dangers for travelers and shipping companies who navigated through Great Lake waters. Couple those with greed, lack of safety equipment and overcrowding and you had disasters in the making. Today the conditions are much improved with mapping, markers and government controls; but some dangers remain.

The first tale is of the Speedy, overloaded and with a storm approaching, which set sail across Lake Ontario and vanished 'from the face of the earth'. This is followed by seven more, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. The final two chapters consider the creatures believed to have been spotted on the Lakes:

"The earliest known sighting of something strange in Lake Ontario waters came in July of 1817. The crew of an unidentified ship reported seeing a black, snake-like monster about three miles off the Canadian shore."

Such sightings have been reported time and again. Lake Erie has its own stories. When three people were viciously attacked in August 2001, a doctor knowledgeable about the lake's aquatic life 'ruled out snapping turtles, lamprey eels, walleye, goby fish, and muskellunge'. He reasoned that it may have been a bowfin; but, he was quick to state that 'it was a big honking fish!'

Text boxes scattered throughout the chapters add information and interest. The bibliography is extensive and

lends scientific and maritime authenticity to the writing.

A most interesting read, due to its personal, easy style and careful research. I know exactly the table I will find it on this spring and fall, when I visit with Patti at the lake. It is sure to be read by their many visitors, and will hold a special place in her heart for having grown up on Georgian Bay.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Martha doesn't share! Written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Little Brown, Hachette. 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Martha decides to put on
her costumes.

But it's not nearly as much
fun being a magician when
you don't have an audience."

You may have met Martha in her previous book, Martha doesn't say sorry (Little Brown, 2009). She is a cantankerous and snobby little otter who likes to live life on her terms.  But, she is also willing to learn from her mistakes.

Martha is quick to teach us a new word....MINE! If you have kids, you have heard it many times and would gladly make it a 'four letter word, not to be uttered aloud'. That's not going to happen as long as there are children trying to figure out their place in the world.

There is really nothing that Martha is willing to take counsel on for sharing....not pancakes, her scooter, her dollhouse, her blanket. It all belongs to Martha, and it shall remain hers!  Her brother would love to share any number of things with her. Nope! Her parents encourage a reciprocal attitude of sharing between their children. Martha is having none of it.

It, again, evokes surprise when her family acquiesces and walks off. She quickly learns that life seems to go along swimmingly when there is an audience for your magic show, a wolf with no little pigs, a ping pong player sans partner...'it's hard to ping when you don't have someone to pong.'

It takes a lot of thinking, and the innocence of her baby brother, to evoke change; but she is willing to give it a try.  Some days are better than others.

It seems there are always new lessons to learn!

L is for the Land of the Living Skies, written by Linda Aksomitis and illustrated by Lorna Bennett. Sleeping Bear Press, H B Fenn, 2010. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"Jigging is a form of dance inspired
by fiddle music, which is important in
the traditional culture of the Metis
people Metis fiddlers play distinctive
jigging tunes that combine many musical
elements passed on from their ancestors -
the Scottish and French fur traders, along
with their First Nations mothers."

It's always so interesting to discover what you don't know about where you live. As we stretch our wings to travel far from home, many of us forget that there is much to see and discover right here. My brother and I dealt with unmerciful teasing when we were young for the many trips we made to 'Saskabush' or 'the gap'. It is home to many relatives and though we knew much about the Qu'Appelle Valley, we knew little else. It is as an adult that I have discovered the beauty of Saskatoon, the Bridge City. It is the gathering place for Behrns family reunions, and an occasional cousins' getaway weekend.

Family letters at Christmas whoop or whine, depending on the fortune of the Roughriders at Grey Cup time:

"F is for the Faithful Football Fans

We're the fans in green and white,
we're the fans stay on your side -
we're the fans that cheer at night,
we're the fans with Rider pride!"

'Fan'atic? Oh, yeah! Go GREEN!

There is much to learn about a province that I thought I knew. It seems I have only scratched the surface. I was amazed at the number of fine shops in Moose Jaw when I visited last. I have plans to visit the Cypress Hills one of these days. I have always loved the beauty of the Qu'Appelle Valley, which follows the Qu’Apelle River for more than 400 kilometres, from Manitoba into Saskatchewan.  It is a place of beauty and peace and I never tire of my first look from the top of the hill.

If you want to know more, this is a book that will help.

Animals and me, Marie Greenwood. DK Publishing, Touramaline Editions. 2010. $14.99 ages 3 and up

"It is our brain power above
all else that sets us apart from
other animals. However, many
other animals show signs of
intelligence that are unique to

I am always so thankful to Chris Houston for the wonderful books sent to me from DK Publishing. Kids love them, and I do, too. In this book, children will learn about the human body while comparing it to the bodies of others in the animal kingdom.

With each new topic, starting with shaping up and ending with record holders, they are encouraged to look carefully at a certain function of the body. Feet are compared prior to a discussion about what they are used for, in both people and animals. Movement, the brain, the eyes, ears, touch...they are all here to be considered and compared.

As is usual in their engaging nonfiction, the pages are filled with bright and ahhh-inspiring photos that offer visual connections for the target audience and always encouragement to find out more. A koala snuggles in the limb of a tree, needing a nap to digest the food it eats in the four hours it is awake daily. A mother crocodile carries its baby in its 'toothy' jaws without harm, or terror. The strongest adult male ostrich cares for several families of young ostriches.

Kids will pore over the pictures, feeding their need to learn as much as they can about the animals they so love.

A photo-laden glossary and an index will be much appreciated.

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat, written and illustrated by Carlyn Beccia. Houghton, T Allen. 2010. $22.50 ages 8 and up

"The medieval recipe for a cough
was to make a soup out of nine frogs
but not tell the diner what was in it.
Although it would not have cured
a cough, the extra protein would
have given sick people a nutritional
boost...if they could stand to swallow
a frog or two."

We all have a voice in our heads that offers up a remedy, or two, for what ails us. Wear a hat and warm shoes and you won't catch pneumonia.....what? I always argued with my Mom about that one. How do my feet connect to my lungs, I would ask. Never mind that, just get a hat on your head and stop wearing sandals when it's cold, she would answer. I got pneumonia, even when I was wearing winter boots and a toque. Bah!

This book is full of fun, and learning. There are instructions for its use, prior to reading the first set of cures for a cough, and a disclaimer: "Side effects from reading this book may vary. Patients may experience rapid brain growth."

Read it carefully and you will have a whole new conversation at your next dinner party! Ewwww!

To cure a cough, the author suggests caterpillar fungus, frog soup, or cherry bark. Before moving forward, the reader is encouraged to guess what the right answer might be. The next three pages, illustrated with clever, historically accurate, digital mixed media art offer answers for that particular ailment. Then, we move on to colds, sore throats, wounds (for this, there are nine suggestions and six are right), stomachaches, fevers, headaches and finally, every sickness.

The writing style is inviting and informative, and the art is great fun! The cures come from every period in world history...from Neanderthals to present time. Some you may have heard about, and they still make you want to run from their truth. I learned why I rarely suffered from stomachaches as a child....I ate dirt! Eating medicinal dirt has been encouraged for hundreds of years. Why? Some has clay in it, and the magnesium helps settle the stomach.

Frog soup, not likely; but, you could entice me with chicken soup to help with a cold. Dressing a wound with honey would be OK, but spider webs? Both are very certainly holds more appeal. And oh, those maggots! Or a dead man's skull? There is much to contemplate in our quest to find 'a cure'. And, a lot to discuss. Bring on the dinner guests!

And if this isn't enticing enough....I hope that, when you have finished reading this wonderful book, you will get right down to your bookstore or the library to find two other books by Carlyn Beccia. Their titles are Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo (Houghton, 2007) and The Raucous Royals (Houghton, 2008).

Don't you just love it when one book leads to another...and then another?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Good Garden, written by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault. Kids Can Press, 2010. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"Over the next few days, more
and more families come to watch
and learn. Some ask Don Pedro
how to make terraces. Others ask
María Luz how to make compost.
Still others admire the marigolds,
which Don Pedro calls the smiles
of the soil. Everyone is wondering
the same thing- could these new ideas
help their gardens, too."

This is the second book in Kids Can's "CitizenKid" series, written with the goal of encouraging readers to become more globally aware and to use that awareness to make a difference where they live.  It tells of a family in the Honduras who find a way to have an impact on their own sustainability.

María and her family tend to a garden that provides the food they need. They grow corn and beans in the summer and tomatoes, chilies and onions in the winter. When the crops are good, they survive.  But, the land is becoming unhealthy and this year's crops are not so plentiful. They can borrow money for food from Coyote, but they will have to pay dearly for his help. Papa decides he must find work elsewhere.

While he is gone, Maria will plant the winter crops. As luck would have it, Maria has a new school teacher who has much to show her as she helps him with a garden that he plants at school. He teaches his students about composting, terracing and even suggests using marigolds to keep insects at bay. Maria uses this new learning at home for their winter garden. Her neighbors watch with interest and begin to use some of the methods that Maria demonstrates. 

When it comes time to sell their produce Don Pedro encourages the villagers to try selling at the local market rather than to the coyote. He is sure that they will get a fair price there. Maria and her father do as he suggests and find success at both buying and selling. When Don Pedro must move on to a new school, he leaves knowing that Maria and her family, and those who live nearby, will live a better life because they
now have more control over how they live it.

The book is based on a real farmer-trainer named Elias Sanchez and provides inspiration to its readers.
At the end, the author explains this, offers suggestions for further action, and mentions international agencies that work to bring better conditions to the poor people of our world. There is also a useful glossary of the Spanish words using in the telling.

The two page chapters are short and informative; the artwork adds color and authenticity in bright, detailed illustrations that evoke a mood for what is happening in the story shared. I love the soft blues and greens of nighttime on the opening page, where Maria is listening to her parents discuss their concerns for the family's future and then the brilliantly sunlit fields of the hilly landscape as she learns about new gardening methods. We learn about the Honduran countryside and people as we hear Maria's story.

A great addition to this fine series.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Garage Tales, written by Jon Scieszka with characters developed by David Shannon, Loren Long and David Gordon. Simon & Schuster, 2010. $14.99 ages 2 and up

Izzy gets busy.
But Izzy is not dizzy.
Is he?

Izzy skids in a tizzy.
But Izzy is not dizzy.
Is he?"

You can see everybody's favorite character from Trucktown on the endpapers of this three story compilation...Gariella Garbage Truck, Dump Truck Dan, Pumper Pat and Hook and Ladder Lucy, Rescue Rita, Cement Mixer Melvin, Payloader Pete, Big Rig, Grader Kat, Jack Truck, Monster Truck Max, Izzy Ice Cream Truck, and Tow Truck Ted. Each will play a role in Jon Scieszka's tales of adventure.

This humorous and prolific author knows his audience and he knows the message he wants them to take from sharing this book...reading is fun! He has created characters whose love of adventure will make them fan favorites for our youngest readers; and he has fashioned stories that encourage them to try their hand at tackling reading on their own.

The language is full of expression and noise, rhyme rhythm and repetition, signs and funny dialogue. The stories are short, but have an impact. Friends help friends with daily mishaps, showing that together we are better than we are alone. The bright and colorful illustrations fill the pages with energetic settings and striking transport vehicle. What more can we ask?

Joey, have I got a book for you!

Roslyn Rutabaga, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood, 2010. $18.95 ages 2 and up

"Roslyn looked around for the
perfect spot to dig the Biggest Hole
on Earth. Not too rocky. Not too
near the oak tree. Definitely not in
her father's prize-winning carrot
bed! Aha! thought Roslyn. Right
here in the middle of the lawn."

As she stands firmly rooted in the hole that she imagines to be the 'biggest hole on earth', Roslyn reveals her dreamy determination. The plan has been with her since she first opened her eyes and she is bent on making it happen. It must be the biggest!

Down the stairs she goes to share her plan with her proud, imperturbable father. He suggests that she dress warmly. She thinks hard about the positioning of the hole, and then gets to work. It isn't long until a worm has something to say about the task at hand. Not wanting to cause a stir, Roslyn fills the hole and finds another spot. Seems it's a mole's bedroom. She explains that a visit with a penguin is the impetus for the digging. The mole tries hard to dissuade her, offering advice she is not too keen to hear. On she goes!

Feeling discouraged she lies down in the freshly dug hole, and considers a change in plans. It is just at the moment that Dad finds her hidey-hole and wonders aloud at the progress she has made. He must look very closely to see her; she's almost invisible. An offer of lunch cannot be ignored; Roslyn reminds her father to bring his sweater. It's cold at the South Pole!

Marie-Louise Gay has always been able to create that 'every child' who looks at the world with wonder and wide-eyed exuberance. From Stella and Sam to Caramba and now Roslyn, she gives us endearing and totally believable characters to love. Using earthy tones and mixed media, her textured artwork will attract and hold her readers' attention as they explore the humorous and detailed pages. I love the changing perspectives. There are so many surprises to be found! Did you notice her winged stuffed pig, and the precarious positioning of the lilac bush? Like Roslyn, we learn that you don't have to go to the South Pole to find fun and adventure.

Roslyn rocks, and I have my fingers crossed that it won't be long until we meet again!

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You, adapted by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Michael Emberley. Little Brown, Hachette, 2010. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"It's time for my supper.                            
I'm ready to eat.
There's hay in the barn
So I'm in for a treat.
But who's in my manger?
Have I got  a guest?
That lazy old farm dog
Is taking a rest."

I have a picture in my head, and on my computer, of Erin and Victoria cuddled up together in the Still Room at Bouchards reading the first of the wonderful 'You Read to Me' books! Victoria had a head filled with language and stories and was just beginning to put it all together to start reading on her own. They sat and looked at the illustrations, talked about the text and how it was meant to be read by both of them, pondered the words, loved the rhymes and just started reading. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

Since that time, I have anticipated each new addition to the series; this one being the fifth. I am never disappointed in the appeal, the quality and the great response when shared in classrooms with children and teachers. There are thirteen fables here and as in other books from this collection, they are meant to be read by two readers. There is a back and forth, and each ends with both readers voicing the moral.

"You take one voice,
I, the other;
Then we read
To one another.
Till we reach
The fable's moral,
Then we make
Our voices choral."

The writing is perfect for youngsters navigating the road to reading. Lots of repetition and rhyme make it a sure hit with readers of all ages, but early readers will find great comfort in knowing what to expect from the text. Michael Emberley's wondrous illustrations give kids so much to hang on to as they try their hand at getting it right. I love the stork and peacock on the title page, showing the actors and their costumes as they prepare their performance. Flip to the table of contents and we are observers of the back-stage work being done by stage hands, builders, wardrobe designers and painters. Of this, Michael Emberley says:

"In the end there is far more work behind a simple book of poems based on Aesop fables than you might think it warrants. Creating an entire production of actors, costumes, sets, performances, and dances, (as well as a bit of singing)... But it’s always a pleasure to come up with something you hope will match the skill and wit of the words -the “script” - you have been entrusted to “perform”. And it’s the respect and trust given me by Mary Ann, that I hope shows in every brush stroke."

Mary Ann Hoberman works endlessly to get the right book into the hands of the right child. She knows about readers, about language and she has the perfect formula for inviting children into the world of reading and poetry. With books like this, we can be sure that we are paving the way to a lifetime of enjoyment in the pages of a book...and isn't that what learning and literacy are all about?

I have used her previous books in poetry workshops; and each time, a group of children find voice in the poems she has created. We used the fairy tales edition very successfully in a performance assembly with grade four students at Mary Montgomery School....the performances were perfect, the audience entertained and the performers proud and beaming.
Wouldn't any developing reader love to have a copy of each of the five books on their own library shelf?

Guyku, written by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter H Reynolds. Houghton, Thomas Allen. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Icicles dangle,
begging to be broken off
for a short sword fight.

If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister.

From underneath the
leaf pile, my invisible
brother is giggling."

I love poetry...all forms. I share it whenever I get the chance to do so. My own experience as a student did not encourage this came from the children in my classrooms at Green Acres! I made a promise when we started each year that I would share a picture book, a chapter from a novel and some poetry EVERY DAY. Once that promise was made, I was on a clear path to find poetry that would speak to them and hopefully encourage them to try their hand. Of course, I started with nursery rhymes and songs, but we did move on to Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Dennis Lee and other poets of the time. Today, thirty years later, we are blessed to have more amazing poets sharing their work with us...and so many more of them, it seems. Now, I work in classrooms using poetry to encourage kids to try their hand at writing. In order for this to happen, they have to believe that they CAN do it!

So, I look for books of poetry that will help them realize that it is worth a try. Teachers often suggest haiku as a form that will get their students writing, and I have mostly discouraged them. Haiku, in its traditional form, has structures that are very difficult for young writers. Here is a wikiHow definition:

"A haiku is a non-rhymed verse genre. In Japanese, haiku has five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five again in the last line (they count sounds, not strictly syllables, however, and also write in a single vertical line, but we use three horizontal lines in English). In Japanese, the word "haiku" means "playful verse." More important than form is that a haiku contain a "kigo" (season word) and employ the equivalent to a "kireji" (cutting word), which means that the poem should present two juxtaposed parts in three lines. In addition, haiku should use objective sensory images, and avoid subjective commentary. You also must use imagery to write the Haiku, in order for the reader to visualize what you are writing."

Now, there's a task that seems insurmountable!

Today we have talented poets taking the idea of haiku and making it accessible for a new generation of readers and writers. As evidenced in the three seasonal haiku at the outset, Bob Raczka proves to his readers that poetry is great fun, and 'do'able!

He takes a few subjects....boys and nature and the seasons and off he goes! Beginning with spring and kites, he sets a tone for great enjoyment on every page. Think of all the things that young men might try their hands at and they are likely to be included in these descriptive and delightful poems. Bob explains where his ideas came from:

"Once I had the kite poem, I started mining my memory for moments to write about. As a boy, I always loved catching grasshoppers, skipping stones, raking leaves into piles, and throwing snowballs at trees. So I turned those memories into haiku. I realized that, unlike traditional haiku, which are more contemplative, mine were more active."

And he also gives writers some timely and useful advice:

"I rewrote most of them quite a few times, until they sounded just right. I also read lots of other haiku, to get a feel for what a good haiku should sound like. And of course, my editor helped me weed out the ones that didn’t quite measure up, and encouraged me to make some of them better." There is writing process in action!

Peter Reynolds adds his special touch to the tone of the book, no doubt using some of his own memories to create the expressive, often amusing watercolor images that accompany each poem. Outside, moving and always considering the next action is the order of the day. His boys are contemplative, determined, full of wonder and discovery and on the move!

If you are interested in great writing, poetry, boys and imaginative incentive, get this book!

And be sure to check out the

One more thing! Bob's already working on a book for be called GALKU or HERKU. What do you think? Get on the website and make your voice heard.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rude Stories, written by Jan Andrews and illustrated by Francis Blake. Tundra, 2010. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"Here we go then - off to the once
when birds wore hats and coats and
collars and ties because they hadn't
any feathers yet., when lizards had
to slither instead of darting because
they kept tripping over their long,
thin tongues.
There's nothing rude in that, I know,
but surely by now you can trust I'll
get to the rude part when the time
feels right."

It takes a venerable and gifted storyteller like Jan Andrews to bring this group of witty, worldly stories to a new generation of readers. What fun they are to share with children who are sure to love the humor and the voice she has created for the telling. If you have any interest in learning about the art of storytelling, here is a stellar collection to help you on your way. I will suggest that you read Beware the Spirits as your introduction, despite the fact that it is the last one told.  Here is just a taste:

"The stories knew it was their job to be passed on, to be carried to other times and places. They knew they were supposed to be making people laugh and cry and shiver and scream all over. They knew they were being put out of work."   

Kids will love these stories as they want to hear about others getting in trouble, especially when they can live vicariously through those actions and adventures. Who doesn't love hearing about burping and farting, when it happens to someone else. The laughs don't stop!

Jan Andrews often uses a reference character from one story to the next, and encourages the imagination by creating fanciful settings and times for her listeners. It is always evident in the language she chooses for the telling:

"It was the once when giraffes had ears so long they could be wrapped around their necks to use as scarves in cold weather. It was the once when hawks didn't soar, they scuttled. Bathtubs were all at the bottom of gardens. They weren't in sheds; they were out in the open."
The stories are each very different although they share a common theme.

The artwork matches the humor of the stories, with bright colors and simple lines. We get a clear picture of the weird and wacky characters who people the stories thanks to his skilled imaginings.

Yes You Can! Written by Jane Drake and Ann Love. Tundra, 2010. $14.99 ages 13 and up

"Imagine a world were global warming
has stopped; every child goes to bed well
nourished; forests grow back faster than
they are being cut down; people are
respectful to each other; torture and war
have disappeared; there are no prisoners of
conscience anywhere; everyone enjoys
health care, education, clean water and
fresh air - the possibilities are endless.
Daydreams or future realities? Go for it!"

Now there is an invitation to action for each of us....because we can all make a difference in small ways. As we learned from Janet Wilson's book Our World earlier this week, it can only take ONE person!

This powerful book is written for an older teen audience and 'divides the process of change into nine steps'. Begin with the first...determine how you can take what irks you and makes you negative, and turn it into positive action. Once that first step is taken, the rest may become easier. The steps described are sequential but may vary depending on the direction taken. Start small and make a difference. That will make a bigger step the logical follow-up.

Each step is given its own chapter. I really like the way the authors have set them up, starting with an account of something important historically.  A story follows which tells readers about an action taken.  The strategies and skills sections are useful to those wanting to move forward with making a change. Useful skills include brief writing, meeting protocol, talkimg with the media, finances and advertising. Activists and their projects concern human and civil rights, children, the environment, and volunteering globally. Pretty amazing stuff!

The timelines show clearly the work that has been done in each project over the years, from early times right up to the present. Most of those described are North American, in deference to the intended audience. Finally, the authors show how to use the nine steps in a real project, providing a checklist to help determine the course and progess being made.

This book would be very helpful in a classroom, or with a group, wanting to make a difference in their world. A teacher might use it as a guide to help students set a course for action and follow it through to its natural end.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Giraffe and Bird, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bender. Dancing Cat, Cormorant, 2010. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"It's true that getting along can be difficult.

If the bird could tell you, he'd say
he can't stand the giraffe.

And if the giraffe could tell you he'd say
he can't abide the bird."

As they eye each other obliquely on the front cover, you have an inkling of the story to come.

Opening that cover, you are met with giraffe-coated endpapers and a lime green feather which lead directly to sworn enemies who have little love for the other. Their attitude is clear in both text and art. The bird makes faces, the giraffe uses his overlong tongue to make his feelings known. Getting too close, hating each other's proclivities for bad breath and too much fibre, and appalling table manners are just some of the annoyances that make each life miserable:

"When the bird perches on the giraffe's horns,
the giraffe swats him with his ears.
When the giraffe swats the bird with his ears,
the bird pecks him with his beak.
The pecking makes the giraffe shake his head
until they are both dizzy.
Dizzy and woozy, they both tumble to the ground."

They decide to have nothing to do with the other and go off on their own. But, when the going gets rough, it is evident that the two have some unresolved affection. It is the giraffe's determination and ingenuity that brings them together again. The contentment lasts mere seconds. An all-out brouhaha will have kids laughing out loud as the two find their way back to normal.

What a great debut for Rebecca Bender! Her characters are full of expression and humor, the text is fun and vocabulary abounds!  This is a book I will return to again and again.

Zero, written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi. Publishers Group West, 2010. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"Zero felt deflated.
Eight and Nine were
numbers with value.
Of course they'd count.
How could they know how
she felt?
Zero had a new thought.
If she could impress the numbers,
that'd give her value."

Almost a year ago, I told you about Kathryn Otoshi's first book, One. I will never cease to be amazed by it. I share it as often as I can with everyone who will listen. And now, she's done it again!

Zero feels that she has no unlike all the other numbers that she knows. She sees no beauty in her existence and tries with all her might to be someone she is not. She tries to twist herself into shapes that look like eight or nine. She has no luck. She is big, she is round....nothing else. As she watches the other numbers having fun, she wonders:

"But how can a number worth nothing become something?"

The emptiness is overwhelming.

The other numbers try to make her feel valuable but she is convinced she is worthless. Then one day, she hears seven encourage her to be OPEN to possibilities. There's a new concept. What if she teams up with the other numbers? What would happen then? She throws herself into the line, at the beginning, and has a place. But, she has other ideas, too.

Could she help her friends become 10, and then 20? Once the ball starts rolling, there is no end to the combinations that the numbers can make. As they join together in a myriad of ways, each has more worth. And Zero feels whole!

Kathryn Otoshi's artwork is remarkable, as evidenced in her first book. She uses color to great effect and renders Zero in silver to keep her on a reader's radar at all times. There is expression and angst when she is deflated, ever growing power as she rolls and bowls over the other numbers, illumination and pride as she begins to understand the role that she and all the other numbers truly do play, especially when they work together.


Old Bear and His Cub, written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea. Penguin, 2010. $21.00 ages 3 and up

"Old Bear and Little Cub snuffled
nose to nose. Little Cub curled up
against Old Bear and closed his eyes.
Fast asleep.
Old Bear loved his Little Cub with all
his heart. Little Cub loved Old Bear
with all his heart."

I know there was a time when my kids were not SURE that I was right....and who hasn't been there? I was thrilled when I found a t-shirt for my grown-up and brilliant daughter for Christmas that said: "Oh my gosh, my mother was right about everything!' I have not, as yet, seen a picture of her wearing it, but I have hopes that she will at some point. I begin some emails to Bret with the adage: "If it's not one thing, it's the mother!'...a constant reminder that I will always be that! And I have no doubt that there were and are many times when I was/am not right, I just liked to think that it so. We are all guilty of that, no matter the age.

As I read this lovely book again and then again, I was reminded of a number of stories from my life. But, it mostly conjured up family stories of little battles that were worth having a say, but not worth fighting about it. David and I were not ones to raise our voices much; but, when it happened, it was generally effective. Often, I used my eyes to make a point. I had learned that from my Dad. I am reminded of a young kindergarten student who was quite rambunctious and not prone to listening to admonition for it. Looking over my glasses at him one day and saying nothing, he stopped dead on the spot and said: "Hey, Mrs. B! Did you know your eyes talk?"  I hope so...I tried to use them to that effect many times.

As Old Bear does in this story of the love between parent and child, teacher and learner, old and young. The daily routines offer time for lessons to be taught, and those lessons begin in the morning. From eating a good breakfast, to playing in the snow, to daring new adventures, we watch the two as they go amiably through their day. Each time Old Bear has something to suggest, Little Cub is resistant. Old Bear perseveres and Little Cub takes the lesson to heart. After fun in the snow, they head for home. Old Bear seems to be catching something as he sneezes and shivers throughout the journey back.

Once home, Little Cub takes on the role of protector and advisor. Old Bear seems equally resistant, Little Cub determinedly persistent. A warm bed, honey with blackberry tea and long hours of stories read bring peace and contentment to Old Bear. When Little Cub gives in to exhaustion, he snuggles in for a well-deserved rest. Ahhhh!

What a wonderful bedtime story this will prove to be!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Panda Kindergarten, written by Joanne Ryder with photos by Dr. Katherine Feng. Harper, 2009. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"When the panda cubs
are big enough to leave
their nursery and their mothers,
they are ready to have new adventures
and to make new friends
in panda kindergarten.
Here come the kindergartners!
Look at them go!"

What a beautiful photo essay to share with young readers!

Finding nonfiction to share with our children has become so much easier over the past few years, and they love it. No wonder, when a book such as this is what we have to offer!

It's so important for them to have access to factual text as it will likely become the most prevalent type of reading that they will do in the years to come. I often challenge friends and students to sit and make a list of everything they read in a day, and then categorize it when they are done...fiction or nonfiction? One of the statistics that is often quoted is that more than 80% of what we read is likely to be factual. Think about it, or try doing the listing and see for yourself.

I am always on the lookout for terrific information books.  And so, we come to this entertaining and informative book about these cuddly, cute, chubby and decidedly charming bundles of energy. One panda would be great, but sixteen...the fun is limitless.

The photographs are beautifully composed, showing a newborn cub snuggling up with an attentive mom for milk and warmth, and growing pandas being cared for by skilled and loving team members who work to assure their health. A panda is often solitary and very shy. Watching them cavort in the snow and on their 'playground' together is a special treat for all who read this book.

The text is simple, and gives just the right amount of information for young readers. They will come away from the reading more knowledgeable (the fast facts on the final page help) and in love with these gentle giants from China.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Our Earth, written by Janet Wilson. Second Story Press, 2010. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"Do you love animals?
Do you love trees?
Do you love people?
Do you love the rainbow?
Well, if you do, maybe you
are a Rainbow Warrior."

Can one person, child or adult, make a real change in the world? Yes, it's true and here are the stories of ten such activists between the ages of seven and seventeen. They come from countries throughout the world. They are an inspiration to each of us and they are proof positive that there are some amazing young people in our world.

"Kruti believes kids need a good environmental education, but because lectures can sometimes be boring, she uses fantastic tricks to promote awareness. In one, Kruti turns herself into a recycling machine. She swallows huge wads of waste paper and then pulls from her mouth long strands of colored paper. “You see, if we discard paper in the right way, we can use it again!”

They are interested in a wide range of projects. Some affect their own communities, while others are more far-reaching. Clean water, electricity, the protection of animals, planting school gardens, preserving and protecting rainforests and coral reefs, and recycling are only some of the many ways they work to make the world a better place. They encourage others to join them, and offer solutions to many.

Each one of the teenagers is profiled on a double page spread. These spreads are laid out in the same way for each of the ten, with a painted illustration on the left and a photo on the right. The text offers a quote from the activist and clear information concerning their interest and action. A website relating further information is included and offers incentive to find out more. The book doesn't end with those featured young men and women. The author follows the text with more young people who are doing wonderful things around the world. Polar bears, dolphins and even other people are better off for the work that they do.

In a YOU CAN HELP section, readers are encouraged to take a lesson from the young men and women described here to make a difference in their own small part of the world and to inspire others to do the same.
This is perfect nonfiction for its target audience. The inclusion of work done by young artists adds to its strong appeal.

I will leave you with a plea from Severn Cullis-Suzuki:

"You don't know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer. You don't know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream. You don't know how to bring back an animal now extinct, and you can't bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert. If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spork, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Kids Can Press, 2010. $18.95 ages 2 and up

"In his kitchen, forks were forks and
spoons were spoons. Cutlery customs
were followed closely. Mixing was
uncommon. Naturally, there were
rule breakers: knives who loved
chopsticks, tongs who married forks.
But such families were unusual."

We could call this wonderful little book a tale of bicutlery marriage. Spork is the resulting progeny when his mother and father decide to marry and have a child. He is half of each...a spoon and a fork. He is not sure that he will ever fit into the culture of the kitchen. Neither spoons nor forks seem pleased with his appearance there. The forks think he is too rotund. The spoons think he is too sharp. What's a guy to do?

"At dinnertime, he watched from the drawer while the spoons played pea hockey and skillfully balanced boiled eggs. He sat off to the side while the forks raked fancy patterns in the mashed potatoes and twirled noodles around in complicated circles like rhythmic gymnasts. And at the end of this and every other meal, Spork looked on while the others enjoyed a super-bubbly bath in the sink."

It takes an unknowing and unruly 'messy thing' (a baby) to change Spork's life course. A spoon helped with 'scooping' and 'stirring' and a fork worked for 'poking' and 'picking' but the messy thing needed something more comfortable and useful. Only a spork would suit!

This is the tale of a wondrous character, told in simple and elegant language that will make an entertaining and thoughtful readaloud for families and classrooms. Discussion is sure to follow. Please take the time to look carefully at each illustration and page. The muted tones and silver accents add flavor to the telling and the explosion of red that is messy thing adds drama. Let your imagination run wild and see what other 'mixed' utensil evolves!

Prisoner of Dieppe, written by Hugh Brewster. Scholastic, 2010. $14.99 ages 9 and up

“So here, in my own words, is what
I remember of what happened on that
terrible morning of Aug. 12, 1942,
on the beaches of a French town called
Dieppe. And on all the miserable days
that followed.”

I was very happy to receive ARCs of the first two books in this new series that act as a companion set to the Dear Canada series from Scholastic. The I Am Canada books are specifically designed to grab the attention of intermediate to middle grade young men, just as Dear Canada has done for young women. They are a fictional  accounting of  historical events that have impacted our Canadian lives.

In this excellent book we meet Alistair Morrison, a soldier and the diarist of this story about the Dieppe raid. Alistair is excited to share his news about enlisting as a teenager, his training for battle, and the horror of Dieppe. He survives but is made a prisoner of war, as so many were.

Hugh Brewster has done his homework concerning Dieppe and shared much of his research in a nonfiction book called Dieppe: Canada's Darkest Day of World War II.  In a prologue Alistair writes a letter to his grandson concerning a video that Lachlan had made for a school project. Although loathe to discuss his wartime experiences, he had been convinced to share his story, in order that next generations would have a personal accounting of history as it unfolded and affected those living it. If not for those who tell their stories, we would never know our history. 
A strong friendship between Allie and Mackie is the catalyst for enlistment in the Royal Regiment.  We follow them through basic training, deployment to England and the raid itself, their capture and life in German war camps. An extended period of time is covered but Hugh Brewster retains the reader's interest with carefully constructed events and great writing. It is a compelling read, and one that will find satisfy its target audience.
The 'epilogue' is worthy of attention, written as a letter to be opened by Lachlan following Alistar's death. As it begins we learn that Allie has indeed died, leaving a  written explanation about Mackie's death as a prisoner of war. The 'historical note' is rife with archival photos relating to the raid, the prisoners of war, a map of Europe. The rest of the end matter includes an extensive and very useful glossary and a note from Hugh Brewster that offers his readers the chance to know what parts of his tale are imagined.

What am amazing debut. I look forward to more!

Splinters, written and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester. Tundra, 2010. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Cindy sold hot chocolate and
cold lemonade. She delivered
newspapers and groceries. She
raked leaves and walked her elderly
neighbor's dog. Finally, after what
seemed forever, she had saved enough
quarters and pennies to sign up for a
real league." 

A contemporary fairy tale with a Canadian twist...Cindy loves hockey and will do anything she needs to do to play in a real league. Her parents work hard to put food on the table and pay for a roof over their heads. There is no money for hockey! But, Cindy works hard, makes the money needed to register and finally has a team!

As in all known fairy tales a lot is going to occur before the happy ending. The problems begin with the first practice. Coach Blister leaves much to be desired as instructor and leader, and her daughters the Blister Sisters are mean spirited, jealous and conniving. They do everything they can to make Cindy look bad, and Cindy is blamed and benched with the admonition 'to try not to get any splinters'.

Cindy is delegated to watch from the bench, to clean uniforms and tape sticks. Then, she notices a sign for tryouts for an all-star team. The coach is Charmaine Prince...oh, yeah! The Blister Sisters are signing up and Cindy is feeling defeated when she must get them ready for the tryouts. To the rescue comes her fairy goaltender and you know the rest.

With a new uniform, white leather skates (not glass...very impractical) and a shiny Zamboni to get her there on time, there is only one warning..."the spell ends when the final buzzer sounds." Off she goes! Who do you think shines on the ice?  Coach Prince is astounded. A real game is the test of her mettle, and she comes through with flying colors.

In trying to locate the owner of the lost skate, Coach Prince finally arrives at the rink where 'Splinters' is hauling tape and pucks for the team. She gets her chance to try the skate, and the tale ends with Cindy and Coach Prince knowing that they were going to 'love hockey happily ever after'.
Not only does he fashion a truly Canadian take on the familiar Cinderella story, Kevin Sylvester creates equally attention-grabbing illustrations to accompany his witty words. It takes careful observation to note all that he places on the page. I love the picture of Cindy multitasking all the jobs that will earn her the cash needed to join a league team. Her expressive face shows determination, dejection, elation and uncertainty, as events transpire. I'll be using this fine book in workshops and classrooms for a long time. Bravo!

The Dread Crew, written by Kate Inglis with illustrations by Sydney Smith. Nimbus Publishing, 2010. $12.95 ages 9 and up

"As the greasy, sour-faced one whistled appreciatively,
the captain himself shouldered his way through the crowd
to darken the doorway and even he, well versed as he was
in the art of thuggery, went wide-eyed at the sight. There
were stacks of metal sheeting, and rows upon rows of
refurbished small appliances. There was a mountain of used tires
and inner tubes, a pallet row of light fixtures to be rewired,
and discarded furniture in need of new rungs and springs.
An entire wall of reclaimed flooring and windows and
construction material stretched into unlit darkness. Shed
was a word wholly inadequate for what contained all this."

Oh, there are such characters in this story for you to get to know!  We meet Eric first. He is sure that he has seen signs of pirate activity in the general vicinity of his home in rural Nova Scotia. But, Eric is young and we would expect that he might imagine a world of adventure where pirates are the norm...until we meet the pirates and then Grampa Joe, who also believes.

Grampa Joe is a friendly and elderly man living nearby, who collects junk for use in a myriad of new and continually evolving projects. It is a wondrous world he and Eric inhabit, where tea with your neighbors is a daily activity, where there is no internet, no big box store and a lot of caring and concerned friends... not perfect, but idyllic.

And there are pirates, unionized ones. You might know some people like them...they scavenge for scraps that might be useful to others. They unload their wares at union headquarters in order to keep from serving time in the brig. The dread crew steals the junk that we don't use. They travel in a huge wheeled ship that leaves chaos in its path as they barrel their way through the woods that surround Eric's home. And they are can tell from the front cover. Sydney Smith brings them to glorious life...all their flies, and warts, and nasty 'bits'. Kids will love them!
There is so much imagination at play here, and friendship, acceptance, teaching and learning. Grampa Joe is the consummate teacher, recognizing that things would be much better for the pirates if they used honey not vinegar in obtaining the junk they need and love. He teaches be example, and soon the pirates are welcomed to the community and even protected when the need arises.

Kate Inglis' way with words will find her new fans to eagerly await her next offering. She has written a descriptive, spirited adventure story that reminds me of some of our favorite reads when the kids were younger...The BFG, The Witches and others by Roald Dahl. Full of action, expressive language, and people to love despite their idiosyncrasies and often rank demeanor, this book would be a great readaloud in a middle years classroom. There is humor and mockery, but also underlying respect and admiration. The dialogue is witty and often sarcastic...perfect for the age group.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dunces Anonymous, written by Kate Jaimet. Orca, 2009. $9.95 ages 9 and up

"Emmett Blackwell was really getting
on Magnolia's nerves. He wouldn't
even speak to her when she was just
Schoolgirl Number Three, and now
that she was Juliet, he wouldn't lay
off. Planning to kiss her on performance
night! Calling her "my Juliet" in the
schoolyard and winking at her at
recess! It was gross!

This was my afternoon's work...and suffice it to say, I love my work!

It is such a fun read, with memorable characters and fast-paced action. I can guarantee that many kids in grade four and up will love it!

It begins when Josh calls a meeting of Dunces Anonymous...a club for Kids who aren't as Good at Stuff as their Parents Think they Should Be. You would think it would attract a large number of members. Not so, only three. But those three bring great character and fun to the club and make readers wish they could be part of it, too! Josh's problem is a mom who wants him to be involved in community and student affairs, to be like her. She wants him to run for class president. Is there anyone less likely to win than Josh? Perhaps. The first task of Dunces Anonymous is to ensure that Josh does NOT win the election.

Wang loves many things, except chess. Wang's father wants him to become a chess master and pushes him to learn how to play in order to learn to discipline himself. And Magnolia, the third attendee, loves acting but does not want a lead role in a romance. It is the role that her mother always dreamed of playing and so she wants Magnolia to be Juliet.

Once Josh's defeat is ensured, the club goes on to try to solve the dilemmas of its other members. Unfortunately for Magnolia her competitive spirit leads her to THE  role she does not covet and now she is faced with an enamored Romeo. It is up to the three friends to try and deter Emmett's romantic illusions and find him a 'secret admirer'.
Josh and Wang find a way to be part of the stage crew in order to be close to the action. Wang gets a role that involves sword fighting and he finds himself interested in learning more about it. A Saturday morning workshop means he can't go to a planned chess tournament, and Josh agrees to take his place. You know where I'm going with this...right? On and on it goes, with each new solution leading to another problem. It has you reading just to keep up with the action!

Josh, Magnolia and Wang may not want to live up to their parents' expectations but they are smart, resourceful and very supportive of club members. Kids will enjoy the relationship and strength they find in each other's difficulties and inventive, if unconventional, solutions.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dog Lost, written by Ingrid Lee. Scholastic, 2008. $8.99 ages 8 and up

"Of course people saw her. One or two
even phoned the local animal shelter. With
her white patches, she was an easy target.
But there weren't many who spotted her
more than once. Cash had a routine to
avoid detection. It was to have no routine."

This is one of those stories that I might not have found the time to read, despite its very appealing cover. Because I am on the jury for the Canadian Childrens' Book Centre reading junior fiction this year, I did read it and I am very glad that I did. It was a quick read for me, due to its target audience but mostly for the compelling strength of the story itself. When reading fiction of any kind, I am first drawn to the characters, then the setting and plot. While Ingrid Lee does a commendable job with us a community that is palpable and easy to imagine and a plot that concerns the treatment of people and animals, it is the characters that stand out on every page. No matter that they are primary or secondary, each has an important role to play as the story emerges and moves forward.

We are most concerned with Mackenzie and Cash. They meet when Mack's father wins the puppy in a game of chance. They find in each other a kindred spirit...loyal, caring, and full of love. When Mack's father gets angry with Cash, accusing her of being vicious and mean, as are all other pit bulls, he takes her away from Mack and dumps her in an nearby open field. Neither knows how close they really are and both are lost without the other. But, they must move forward.

In alternating chapters we meet the secondary characters, learn about Cash and what is happening with her as she learns to fend for herself , and watching Mack as he mourns her loss and longs to find her again. Along the way we come to learn about the people of their community. Some are upstanding and worthy. Others are not. They all have a part to play in the final outcome of the story.

The writing is very eloquent, the characters well-drawn and the story awash with events that connect one person to the other throughout this thoughtful, memorable book. With the drama of verbal and physical abuse, the pain of loss, the proposed plan to ban or euthanize all pit bulls in the city, and Cash's bravery and tenacity in preventing disaster, readers have much to wonder at. I love the exemplar writing in telling this tale of a boy, his dog and the great love they have for each other. There is hope, communal strength and humanity, and a feeling that all will be well for Mack and Cash as they journey together along life's path.

Kindergarten Diary, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis. Harper, 2010. $13.99 ages 4 and up

"September 1 1/2

My mom says I have to
go to Big School.

So here is what I am
going to wear:
my rainbow bathing suit,
my ballet skirt,
my plaid shirt,
my cowboy boots,
and definitely no socks."

Ah, almost twenty years teaching kindergarten and those five year old imps still surprise me...especially Annalina. On the day before school starts, she hides herself inside an oversized hoodie and worries relentlessly about all the things that 'might' happen when school opens for the new year. The kids are big...are they mean? Why can't comfortable, familiar clothes be the order of the day? Will anyone cry when the parents leave (besides the parents, that is)?

In diary entries, typed onto notepaper backgrounds and illustrated with inventive mixed media images, we are privy to the many observations and concerns that a little girl might have when starting kindergarten. From the finger in the nose to the closely clutched teddy, from the wide-eyed innocence to the teary parents watching through the window, Antoinette Portis does what she does best. She creates an environment that will delight her young audience because they have been there!

What the imagination can conjure it will, when the experiences are minimal. So, the pencil-haired, chart-chewing teacher of that wild imagination is replaced by the sedate and prim Ms. Duffy of polka-dot fame. So funny! Each day brings new knowledge and an additional entry to the diary. Friends, recess, printing practice, skipping all find their way onto its pages, with remarkable clarity and clever comment. By the middle of the month, not much is frightening and tell, snails, homework...all are faced with newfound confidence and enthusiasm.

Birthdays, pets, monkey bar climbing...all are celebrated. Even the BIG first graders hold no terror any longer. After being in kindergarten for a month, there is not much left to cause worry. In fact, Anna (Annalina is too many letters for printing) is looking ahead to first grade when she will ALWAYS be good to the little kindergartners and never mean.

Kindergarten ROCKS!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hugless Douglas, written and illustrated by David Melling. Hodder, Hachette. 2010. $12.99 ages 3 and up

"'My best hugs are TALL, '
thought Douglas.

So he went up to the
tallest thing he could

He hugged the bottom...
he hugged around the middle...
and he hugged as high as
he could reach."
When young Douglas awakens in the spring following his first hibernation, he is lonely and needs a HUG! His knowledge of hugs is scant, so he must learn as he goes. He cleans himself up, doffs his scarf and is off to find something to hug.

He knows his hugs are BIG and so he tries to hug an enormous rock...too heavy. Well, maybe a hug should be TALL and he hugs a tree....splinters! On and on he goes, alarming some of his forest neighbors, none of whom want to be the recipients of his best 'bear' hug.

It takes a gentle and kind rabbit, with a little fear in his heart, to lead Douglas to a cave where he feels an immediate affinity to its inhabitant. Douglas is clearly and quickly drawn to the object of his affection...his Mum! It's then he realizes that the best hugs come from 'someone I love' and he snuggles right in.

The illustrations are so inviting...beginning with the title page...the perfect place for such an invitation. A huge snore emanates from the mouth of a nearby cave causing sheep to gape in wonder at the noise and a rabbit to use two sheep and a red rope as ear plugs to protect his most important appendages. As the story opens, we come face to throat with Douglas, mouth wide and yawning. On every page there are amusing and boldly colored images of a naive and oafish bear as he searches for what he is missing. Humor abounds and a sense of care and concern as Douglas maintains a relentless search for the warmth and welcome of his mother's arms. 

The final two pages display a seemingly endless array of hugs...sandwich, shy, group, and name but a few. How many more can you imagine? What fun to share and share again!

Dave the Potter, written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little Brown, Hachette, 2010. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"To us
it is just a pot,
round and tall,
good for keeping
or fresh-cut flowers.

But to Dave,
it was a pot
large enough to store
a season's grain harvest,
to put up salted meat,
to hold memories."

I had never heard of Dave: artist, poet, slave.

It seems that the slaves we are most knowledgeable about are the ones who escaped and are known to us for their bravery, resilience and willingness to help others also escape their bonds.

Dave was born in South Carolina in the early 19th century. There is little known about him, and that makes it hard to write a comprehensive picture book biography. Some of the details can be guessed at, knowing the way of the world at the time of his birth and later life. But, not much has been chronicled to give a true and clear picture of this unique and accomplished artisan.

Of Dave a descendent of one of his slave owners, Leonard Todd, says:

"There was no one else like Potter Dave -- he was a slave that not only made pottery, but actaully signed them and wrote carefully crafted poems upon them. That was unheard of. In all of the years of pottery in Edgefield, and Edgefield was the center of Southern pottery production, no slave had ever signed his name to his pots. And no one after Dave did either. So, he was unique in that sense."

If you want further information from his perspective, you might want to read his book Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of Slave Potter Dave ( W W Norton, 2008).

South Carolina was not a hotbed of literacy...especially for slaves, when Dave was plying his trade. It is not known how he came to read and was highly unusual that he did. He often signed his work below the pot's lip, and he varied the messages that he left. Sometimes, he wrote his name; other times, he wrote a verse. He also wrote about the conditions of his life, and included his owner's initials.

I am honored to have received this book and to be able to share it with you. His life should be known. Most of the text is focused on the craft of the potter which young readers will find informative and interesting. We are able to see a pot emerge from a lump of clay into a useful and often beautiful tool.

The artwork that accompanies this relatively simple story of a solitary man are filled with bold color and textures. Using watercolors and collage, Bryan Collier gives Dave life and a place in history, as he sits in his Carolina workshop creating lasting beauty. Astute observers will note plantation life as it exists beyond Dave's  place of work. The images are quite remarkable and resonant, and help to create a backdrop for this fine biography in picture book form for young readers.

Following the story, the author includes a note about Dave and his life, with some of Dave's words and a photograph of five of his works. It is a remarkable story. There is an author's note explaining the event which led him to research Dave's life and work and to celebrate it with this book. An illustrator's note tells of a visit to the Edgefield area where Dave worked, and of the process used to create the images and a hope that:

"In many ways, Dave's artistry may have served as his own glimpse of freedom, and a way of carving out a life under the brutal and dehumanizing conditions of slavery."

There is a bibliography and a set of websites that will feed your need to know more about this honorable and gifted man.