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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Itsy Bitsy Baby Mouse, written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Simon & Schuster, 2012. $17.99 ages 3 and up

"Mama, Papa!
Are you there?
Looking for them

Weeping, creeping
'cross the rug.

Can he find his way home? Will he get the help he needs? Will he learn a lesson about his freewheeling, unconcerned ways?

If you want to know the answers to those quesions, you will have to read Michelle Meadows' endearing tale of a free-spirited mouse who loves to whirl and twirl, never really thinking about where he is, or where he's going. Itsy Bitsy Baby Mouse has a sudden revelation when he looks around after letting his tendency toward independence get the better of him. He does not recognize his surroundings and sets himself to wailing and wanting his home.

Following a ladybug might help him find the way. It's a long and arduous uphill climb that leads to the discovery that they are using a sleeping cat as their roadway. Yipes! Before the cat awakens, they get themselves away from there and rush headlong into an unfamiliar but friendly, older mouse. Itsy Bitsy can describe the house he has lost...and it seems the problem is solved.

Another perilous journey before he sees 'home' and is almost inside! Then, his imagination runs amok. Itsy Bitsy is terrrified. Luckily, Mama and Papa are right there to rescue him from his fears and to provide gentle reassurance.

The simple rhyme and rhythm of the text will make this a favorite story for little ones, and encourage their ability to hear similar sounds in words. Matthew Cordell uses watercolor and ink artwork to bring readers right into Itsy Bitsy's world. We get a clear 'mouse's-eye' view of the action as it takes place. He uses varying perspectives as well as a series of line dashes to show the journey taken, and humorous close-ups to show the changes in the character's reactions as the adventure plays out.

Hunted, written by Cheryl Rainfield. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012. $12.95 ages 12 and up

"I struggle to keep my face still, to not show her how much I hurt - over Paul and his mom and his grandfather. Over Alex. Over Rachel's dad, and all those kids cheering in the hallways. I don't want her to talk about leaving again.

Mom smooths my hair back from my head, then tucks her hand into mine. I am startled, as always, by the lack of anything there..."

They are always on the run...Caitlyn and her Mom. They have been since her father was killed in a riot that targeted Paranormals. Her brother has also disappeared. That leaves Caitlyn alone with her mother, who has somehow lost her Paranormal powers and any will to face difficulty and prejudice.

A new school which targets Paranormals, those who have telepathic gifts, and constant fear that she will be 'outed' pushes Caitlyn to be as normal as she can be, to hide her powers and never to admit her differences. She can't really rely on her mom who uproots them every time trouble rears its ugly head.
They are tracked by government troops and live on the edge of discovery at all times.

In her new school Caitlyn senses a new threat. This time other Paranormals are trying to restore what they have lost. Caitlyn can join them, stay hidden or fight for what she thinks is right. It's a tough decision for a young teenager to make. The author adds touches of romance, friendship, and how new students make a place for themselves in new territory to this powerful and poignant novel.

She also fills the pages with tension, and even terror, as Caitlyn struggles to find balance and to recognize who is trustworthy and who is not. She is strong and wise, bright and tenacious. She finds lasting friendship with Rachel, romance with Alex and support from teachers. As she and her friends deal with the repercussions of bigotry and fearmongering, the reader must face some tough issues. It is a dark world out there.  Although it is a dystopian novel, and not one that I would usually choose to read, I found that I was totally absorbed in the drama of the telling, and had great difficulty not reading it start to finish in one sitting.

In the conflict between good and evil, between right and wrong, where do you stand? This fast-paced, thought-provoking story begs the question: what do you believe in, and how far are you willing to stick your neck out for those beliefs?

take your mama to work today, written by Amy Reichert and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"Sharpen your pencils
and put them in your desk, or in a pencil cup, or line them up, or spell your name with them. Putting one behind your ear lets people know you are serious about your job. As soon as you make a name tag, you are officially ready to work."

Speaking of mamas, as we were in the previous post, here's another story about mothers and their children. Violet's babysitter is sick; Violet and her mama will be spending the day together at her mother's work. You can imagine the possibilities, can't you?

What delight there is in a child's world! Nothing seems impossible, everyone is deemed friendly and in need of assistance, mundane tasks take on new meaning and all help is given with joy and naivete. Then, there are the adults. Their view of that same world is quite often contrary to a child's view. As Violet takes on the role of  'professional Mama's office helper', she enchants and exhausts the rest of the staff. She has come prepared and there is nothing she won't tackle.

Violet is full of confidence as she and her mom approach their day together. She knows that 'Grown-ups love it when kids push elevator buttons for them' and that no one will feel more welcomed than she will by all of the people who work with her mom. There is candy for the taking, help with the copier, pictures to be taken, advice to give the boss...all the while basking in the knowledge that
'Grown-ups love it when kids visit the office- they'll treat you just like a movie star!"

The adoring and inviting looks of her mother's co-workers soon lose some of their lustre. Answering phone calls without pressing the hold button, helping with new worker interviews, sorting the mail, playing chair tag during a 'power lunch' result in keeping a close watch on the fish, taking time to create a new business card, and other routine tasks that often lead to hilarity:

"Here's another important tip -


Everyone shows great patience as the day wears down. Violet remains upbeat and confident. Mama, while exasperated at times, never voices it to her daughter. The day ends in the elevator, mother and daughter in a warm and gentle embrace.

Alexandra Boiger creates a secondary story with her wonderful pencil and mixed media artwork. Our attention is firmly centered on mother and child as they arrive at work and go through thier day. Co-workers, while important to the action, remain in the background. Each page brings new delights and gentle humor as the nattily dressed Violet plays her role in the office adminstrivia of the day. The design changes and the varying perspectives add interest at every turn of the page. Bravo!

It's been a while since these two artists have created such wonder (While Mama Had A Quick Little Chat, 2005). I can only hope it won't be a long wait for the next one.

Because Your Mommy Loves You, written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by R. W. Alley. Clarion Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"When the pack on your back
 feels like a giant rock,

your mommy could say,
That looks awfully heavy
for you. Here. I'll carry it!
But she doesn't.

So much to do when a child and his Mom have adventure on their minds. The plan to go camping is mutually made, the destination determined and the preparation work begins. Off  to the sporting goods store, list in hand and inquisitive son at the ready. It's easy to get lost with so much equipment in sight. A frantic call could be answered by an equally frantic mother worried for her child's safety. Instead, she calls his name and lets him find her. He uses all his listening skills to retrace his steps, gets a quiet reminder to stay close and then a warm hug of reassurance. Whew! That part of the preparation is done.

Upon arrival at the hiking trail, and weighed down with needed supplies, the trek begins. Mom could carry the pack when it gets heavy, or the pair can take a break and then explore further. Crossing a stream, picking blueberries, pitching a tent, toasting marshmallows and the cool of the evening each offer a new life lesson. Mom helps by allowing her son, with guidance if needed, to learn it.

I love that this book takes the two outdoors, that it encourages new learning with patience and understanding, that it is a mom and her son encountering the wilderness and its challenges together,
that independence is the goal while support is constant and that 'I love you' is the last thing the little boy hears before settling in after a long and busy day.

It is an exemplary companion to Because Your Daddy Loves You (2005). Once again, R.W. Alley captures each of the feelings felt by both parent and child in his warm and charming illustrations done with watercolor, acrylic and ink. The changing expressions make it clear how both parties feel as they make their way to their destination. Their underlying love and pride are evident on every page!

Arlo Needs Glasses, by Barney Saltzberg. Workman Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"But one day, Arlo couldn't
catch anymore.
Every time I threw the ball... flew
...or zoomed
...or whizzed
...or bopped him on the nose!"

Parents of young children and optometrists are going to love this book! There was a time when I thought glasses would be amazing...I think I was 11 and considered that sophistication would be mine the minute I put them on! Not so much, now that I have been wearing them for fifteen years.

Barney Saltzberg wears glasses and he thinks it's kinda cool. So, his new book reflects the joy that can come from getting glasses. There is so much to consider while choosing what will frame the face and scream stylin' to the rest of the world.

Arlo is the dog everyone wishes they had. He's shaggy, joyful, and always up for a game of catch. Until those days when he loses his ability to see the ball coming. He just can't do it anymore. Off they go to the eye doctor. Yep, he needs help.

Not only does Barney Saltzberg help children visiting an optometrist understand the process; he makes it great fun. The eye chart is shown as the boy sees it, then as Arlo sees it. A phoropter helps the child reader know what is going to happen during an eye examination...and it is incredibly effective!

Then comes the fun part...does Arlo want to look like a movie star? There are frames for that. How about a superhero? Yep! It takes some searching but a 'perfect pair' is found and catch becomes a shared pasttime once again. The surprise ending is the best part of, you will have to go out and get a copy for your family, your classromm, your optometrist. I know that mine will be delighted when I visit with him later in the month.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bye, Bye, Butterflies! Written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"Then he saw something.
It was on the rooftop of the school.
He saw a single hand reach up and wave.
Then another.
And another.

He saw a butterfly emerge
above the waving hands."

As school comes to the end of another year, there will be classes where butterflies were raised and released. What a lovely learning experience for those lucky children. I have been delighted to have Monarchs in my backyard this spring...not many, but unusual. I have rarely seem them here. They are so beautiful and graceful!

In this Tell-Me-More Storybook, Andrew Larsen introduces Charlie and his father as they take a 'quiet walk' together. Charlie would rather talk; his father suggests that being quiet allows them to hear things they might otherwise miss. And, he's right.

It isn't long before they hear the voices of children. The children are saying goodbye to butterflies. Charlie hears the happy sounds and sees nothing. Looking up, he does notice something. He sees first one hand, then a growing number. Then, he sees butterflies...glorious, swooping butterflies. And then one small, happy, freckled face, attached to a boy. Charlie joins in the goodbye chorus, the boy disappears and Charlie and his dad continue their quiet walk.

The school year begins and passes quickly as they are wont to do. When a special delivery package arrives in the classroom after spring break, it holds a surprise for Charlie and his classmates. They learn a lot from its contents:

"I know it doesn't seem like there's much going on, but it's important to keep observing, " Miss Cathy reminded the children. "You never know what you might see." After a couple of weeks, the children finally saw something..."
Charlie's memory of that quiet walk with his dad resurfaces and he can pass the exciting event on to someone else. 'Bye, bye, butterflies!'

This is a lovely bit of nonfiction to share with young readers. Not everyone is lucky enough to grow butterflies in the classroom. The author makes it real and informative for those who have not yet had that experience. The additional two pages of follow-up boxes will give budding butterfly scientists the opportunity to learn about migration, drawing, and further facts.

Hey Canada, written by Vivien Bowers and illustrated by Milan Pavlovic. Tundra, 2012. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"Of course, we tried panning for gold. We scooped sand from the river bottom into our pan. Swirled it around. Sloshed off the top stuff. And looked for the gold nuggets that sink to the bottom. I struck gold! My chunk is about the size of a grain of sand. Gran needed to put on her reading glasses to see it. I'm rich."

Of course, I flipped straight to Manitoba to see what readers would be learning about my province. While it is one of the smaller provinces and right smack in the middle of the country, we are very proud of all we have to offer visitors. I was sorry not to see anything about Brandon (not a criticism, just local pride) but pleased about the places she did include.

Using her previous books about Canada, and making them more accessible for younger readers, Vivien Bowers has written a cross-country adventure that begins in St. John's NF and almost does a full circle back to Ottawa, our capital city. It's a very long trip. Canada is a huge country! Most of the trip is by car; the final leg from Inuvik to Whitehorse to Iqaluit and finally back to Ottawa is by plane...for good reason.  

Gran and her grandchildren, Alice and Cal make the eventful and informative trek. Alice is the first person narrator and she keeps us up on the action as they move from place to place, learning and sharing that learning. Each province and territory gets its own chapter, and helps younger readers focus their attention one place at a time. I like the personal guide feel of the narration and the conversational tone. Ms. Bowers has a knack for giving just enough is never overwhelming.

Using tweets, historical episodes done in comic book style, factoids, search and find boxes, humorous hamster updates, and including actual photographs (often inset with the three travelers), maps, provincial flowers and birds, and an illustration of each province makes it useful for those studying Canada. There are even a few poems, penned by Gran and a list of instructions that she intends to be followed as they spend long hours on the road:

"Rules for Well-Behaved Children

1. No whining.
2. No asking "Are we there yet?"
(If you do, I will start to sing opera. Loudly.)
3. No wildlife in the car. (Except hamsters.)
4. Feed the driver cookies.

Seems simple, and likely to keep tempers from flaring.

Lots to learn and enjoy for children who want to make the trip with Gran, Alice and Cal. As with any nonfiction, new information will lead to updates. Just a suggestion, it might have been useful to have the flags on the page for each province that included the flower and bird. It would have added dimension without readers having to go back and forth, once discovered at trip's end.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Could Do That! Written by Linda Arns White and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Farrar Straus Grioux, Douglas & McIntyre, 2005. $22.50 ages 6 and up

"When Esther was eight, she watched her mother sew a fine seam. The needle pulled thread in and out, in and out, tracking tiny, even stitches across the fabric. Esther felt her hands mimicking her nother's. "I coud do that," she said. And she did."

I knew nothing about Esther Morris...obviously I have not done enough reading about women's suffrage in American history. I found it very interesting and entertaining to read about a woman with gumption and self-confidence. She made remarkable historical strides for a woman living at the time of the Civil War.

Her tutelage begins at her mother's knee. She is right; she can sew a fine seam and that is not all that she can do. When her mother dies, Esther is only 11 and she sets herself the task of helping her father by taking care of her ten siblings. At nineteen she is on her own, still plying her sewing skills by creating dresses and hats for women of society. She is very successful; that success leads her to open a millinery shop at a time when women didn't do those things.

It doesn't stop there. She is an abolitionist and stands her ground when threatened. She marries her first husband and has a son. Upon her husband's death, she decides to move to Illinois where he had land. Many obstacles stand in her way, but she continues along the path she has chosen. She remarries and gives birth to twin sons, and continues to help with earning the money the family needs to prosper.

Nothing seems to stop her. Eventually the family moves to South Pass City, Wyoming. Each family member finds a calling and works hard. While operating her hat shop there, Esther also helps with many other needed services. She is larger than life and this story supports that. Due in part to her political savvy and strategic lobbying, Wyoming is the first state to give women the right to vote.

The warmth of the clearly drawn and humorous illustrations add considerable depth, giving readers a sense of time and place. Nancy Carpenter's rendering of a tall, erect Morris leading a varied group of followers down the main street of South Pass City on her way to vote assures that she is a woman who 'could do that!' and anything else she dares atttept. She proves it time and time again.

Anyone interested in knowing more about this remarkable woman can tun to the author's note following the text, where she offers a list of resources and a brief note about the subject of this fine picture book biogaphy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Now We Are Cool, written and illustrated by Susann Opel-Gotz. Translated by Annette Hinrichs-Pymm. Fitzhenry & Whtieside, 2012. $18.95 ages 6 and up

"COOL people listen to very
loud, angry music all day long, until their ears ring," answered Leo.

"Why do they do that?"

"So they can't hear when their dads yell at them for watching horror movies. Or when their moms ask if they are going on another field trip."

Being cool - that seems like something two brothers might want to be together. Looking at the front cover you would think that is exactly what they are. It takes time and a lot of deep thought to make it happen.

Leo is definitely the leader. His little brother Mug follows along, with some trepidation. Looking different is only the beginning. Sunglasses should do it:

"Cool people wear sunglasses all day. Even when it rains! Even in the bathroom!"

Oh, and they stay up late. They watch grown-up movies with monsters and vampires and...

Once you look cool, you want to talk cool:

"Hey man, gimme a pitch-black belly blaster - and make it snappy!"

Wearing cool backpacks, listening to totally different music that makes ears ring from the volume, not being able to hear parental questions, having new, scary, and even poisonous pets will add to the cool factor. The list goes on and on.

It isn't far into the conversation before the boys begin to seriously consider some of the pitfalls of being too cool:

"And with scary spiders in my room, I wouldn't be able to fall asleep." whispered Mug.
"Yeah. And wearing a knitted hat all day would make my head itch," moaned Leo.
"And I really like to watch cartoons. Even if they don't make my hair stick up straight."

Soon, playing together seems the coolest thing for two brothers to be doing. And, it is.

This is bound to become a favorite. The text is charming and a great deal of fun to read aloud. There is much to be made of being Cool! The mixed media illustrations are full of cool, with sunglass-wearing ocean critters diving headlong into a newspaper boat, monsters hiding from the scariness of movies, a motley crew of aptly named cool friends, harried's too much.

Full of cool and comedy in its many detailed scenes, this is an author whose work I am going to search out. This is the first book that she has written and illustrated, but it is written that she has illustrated many books in Germany where she lives. On with the search.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Boy + Bot, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2012. $18.99 ages 2 and up

"But as they rolled down the hill, a rock bumped the robot's power switch and the robot turned off. "What's wrong?" the boy asked. The robot did not answer. "Are you sick?" the boy asked. The robot still did not answer. "I must help him," the boy said. He took the robot home. The boy fed him applesauce. He read the robot a story."

I love perfect stories like this for sharing with our youngest  readers. They give little ones a real purpose for learning to read and stories that beg to be read time and time again.

This book by debut author Ame Dyckman features a small boy and a meeting he has with a robot. They are immediate friends, and find it easy to have fun together. When the robot's power switch is accidentally turned off, the boy senses that there is a problem and decides that his new friend must be sick. So, he takes him home, tucks him in and expects that a good night's sleep is the cure.

A late night visit from his parents and a meeting with the back of the door that they peek through turns Bot's power back on. Bot, not understanding the concept of sleep, thinks there must be something wrong with his new friend. Total confusion from both sides of the new alliance. Bot takes Boy home to see if he can fix him up. Where Boy tries applesauce and a story, Bot tries clean oil and an instruction manual. Perhaps a battery?

Dan Yaccarino's masterful gouache illustrations add the perfect touch to this story of valued  friendship. He uses bold colors, constantly changing page design and a couple of appealing characters to capture audience interest. Humor and charm are at the core of the drawings, and readers are left to wonder if there might be another story in the future for the new pals. They have much in common, and that is shown in the final three pages of shared activity.

Would I like to meet them again at some future time? Affirmative!!!

Crush, written by Gary Paulsen. Wendy Lamb Books, Random House. 2012. $14.99 ages 9 and up

"I wasn't about to promise anything. In fact, the more Goober spoke, the less I felt I could fix him up with anyone. I sent him away so I could think. A little Goober goes a long way, and I wasn't going to be able to sell him as a great date if I spend much more time with him."

Any middle grade readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen's two previous books about Kevin are going to love this one. And if they read this, and haven't read the are set with two more titles, Liar, Liar and Flat Broke. They are quick to read and oh, so funny!

What a great voice and personality Gary Paulsen has created for our enjoyment. In his first attempt to attract Tina, Kevin tells one lie after another until he is virtually buried in them. He learns a few lessons along the way; not enough to keep him out of trouble. In the second he continues to deal with the repercussions of the lying; he has no allowance, no job and no money coming in from babysitting. He wants to take Tina to the dance. His schemes work about as well as most 'get rich quick' ideas. This time he needs her to know how much he really likes her.

In an attempt to find the best ways to woo her, he decides to make a scientific study of how love works. Adding to his general feeling of speechless wonder whenever he sees her. there is a new and hunky student at school who seems bent on making Tina his new conquest. Kevin is frantic to learn the tricks of the love trade and tell her how he really feels.

Is it romance she wants? To test that theory he does his best to set up a candlelight dinner for parents, then hides in a closet to watch their reaction. An accidental fire results and chaos reigns. Is it experience? He asks his aunt who has had numerous relationships; few that worked and gets no real advice from her. Is it having something in common? He attempts to set up his hockey playing brother and his teammates up with a group of female figure skaters. Then, sits back to see what happens. His observations are funny and lead to additional trouble for this heartsick young man. You cannot help but be amused. You will also be quite enamored of the outcome of his careful study...oh, Kevin!

There were times when I almost felt embarrassed for Kevin, but humor won out and I know that there will be many who will get a great kick out of his third foray at trying to impress his beautiful classmate and the love of his young life.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sisters of Glass, written by Stephanie Hemphill. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2012. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"Learning To Be A Lady
is like learning
to live within a shell,
to be a crustacean encased
in a small white
uncomfortable world.
You hear the ocean
whirl about you
but feel not the wet
not ride the wave..."

The idea for this lovely new book from Stephanie Hemphill came from her research. She read that there was a breakthrough in glassblowing in 1450 when Angelo Barovier invented cristallo (clear glass). From that tiny seed and the knowledge that Angela's daughter Maria was the first woman to open her own furnace for enamelling, Ms. Hemphill has written another fine novel in verse. Since she could find little information about Maria, she re-imagined her story and brings it to her fans (and hopefully to a brand new group of readers) in this teen romance set in Italy.  Trips to Murano and to Venice added much to her knowledge of the setting and of glassblowing itself. All that she learned there, she has embedded in the telling.

Roles for women in Venice in the fifteenth century were predetermined by family, class and conventions. On his deathbed, Maria promised her father that she would marry a nobleman and bring honor to the family. It should be her sister Giovanna's destiny; but that is not her father's wish. There are many reasons for her life to be different, but for that promise.

Maria loves the family's work. She wants to be a glassblower. She feels inept next to her beautiful, accomplished sister who is much better suited to a noble life than Maria ever will be. To add fuel to the fire, Giovanna is angry with her sister for the circumstances, and they are no longer close. Maria is distraught by that turn of events and by the men who are encouraged to court her:

"Full of Feathers, Short of Hair

Another old stuffed shirt
Mother and I greet
in the parlor,
aged to be my father
not my husband.
An odd, pudgy man,
why does he not cover
his skull, as he is bald
in the center of his head?"

Her mother touts her many talents  to each of the suitors; few seem worthy of her daughter's hand. Soon, another problem arises. When Luca, a handsome young glassblower, is offered a place in the family business, Maria finds herself attracted to him. At the same time, her mother feels she has found the perfect suitor for her. Signore Bembo is related to the Doge, and holds a place of honor in Venetian society. A meeting is planned and visits to his palazzo are made. Maria's heart is sore:
"Two Suitable Suitors?

How is a girl to choose
between a green dress
and a blue?

One pleases your family,
the other pleases you.

One man appreciates beauty,
is kind, and fulfills your duty.

The other creates glass,
but what of the future if he knows no past?

To follow the head
or the heart,
this is the question
that rips me apart."

You will not be surprised by the ending. However, Maria's plan is wrought with concentrated thought and concern for the eventual outcome:

My Own Plan

My plan is
to ask Andrea
to marry my sister,
no, to ask Andrea
to ask my sister to marry him,
no, to ask Andrea if he wants
to ask my sister if she wants
to marry him.

My plan is
more complicated
than I thought."

Sure to appeal to teens with its elements of feminism, romance, sibling rivalry, history, humor, and a detailed look at the art of glassblowing. It is an engaging tale with likable protagonists, a quick pace and an incredible setting.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet, written by Jane O;'Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper, 2012. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Bree throws her arms around me. She is beaming. (That's smiling from ear to ear.) "I'm so happy for you," I say. Only I don't really mean it all. I liked it much better when neither of us got to be a mermaid. At home I stuff my beautiful costume in the back of my closet. My mermaid days are over!"

That little charmer Nancy is back, fully in charge of  'fancy', as she has been in each of the other books that feature her as the main character. This time she and her best friend Bree are beside themselves when their dance teacher announces a new performance of a ballet called Deep-Sea Dances!

Both are fully expecting to be chosen to portray mermaids. After all, they have been using Jojo's backyard pool to practice their moves for years! They are dance experts. They are sorely disappointed when the announcements are made. Nancy will be a tree and Bree an oyster. Nancy's father encourages optimism. Nancy is not easy to convince:

"My dad acts like this is so thrilling.
"Dad, you don't understand. My costume will be BROWN."
I explain.
"There is no way to look fancy in brown."

Well, they will be the best they can be. Nancy cannot contain her enthusiasm when she learns that she is not just any old tree; she is a weeping willow. What could be more graceful and elegant than that? She practices at every possible moment, always maintaining a sad face in keeping with the weeping part.

A real blow comes when one of the mermaid ballerinas sprains her ankle, and cannot go on. Bree is chosen to take her place and Savanah will be the oyster. Nancy learns a lesson in friendship and humility. She then takes her own role seriously and does her level best to be the tree she was meant to be.

Just as Jane O'Connor remains true to the lovely little girl we have come to love, Robin Preiss Glasser keeps us entertained and on the lookout for each bit of fancy she portrays in her lovely, glitzy pen and ink artwork. I love carefully considering each illustration to be sure that I have seen everything she includes on her detailed pages. Young fans will love the sparkling embossed is a sure invitation to dive in and see what Fancy Nancy is up to in this new adventure.

NO BEARS, written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Leila Rudge. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2011. $18.00 ages 6 and up

“You need pretty things.
You need fairies and princesses
and castles.
You need funny things,
exciting things,
and scary things--
maybe a monster
or a giant or something.”

It seems that Ella is tired of having bears in her storybooks. So, she's going to write her own and you can bet that there will not be ONE bear in it. She knows what you do to write a story, and she knows that bears are not part of that equation. So, NO BEARS!

Ella is a girl with gumption. She's young but she knows how to get what she it yourself!
She even has a 'bear book recycling bin' and she uses it for stories titled 'Bears', 'Paws' and 'Grizzly'. As she places them in the bin, she doesn't seem to notice the bear leaning against the back of that same bin, leisurely reading a book about bees...mmm! honey!

Ella has a multitude of story ideas and she quickly gets to constructing her tale. It has to do with many familiar elements of a fairy tale. There are no bears. There is, however, a MONSTER!
The monster is pretty scary and persistent in his pursuit of the princess. When he finally steals her, she finds herself in need of a rescuer. Once safe, her return is celebrated with a party and all is well! Who saved the lovely princess?

In this story within a story, children will have a chance to test their visual acuity...and their fairy tale knowledge. The pages are filled with charming, quirky artwork that will have them poring over every fine detail. The palette of colors is muted, the surprises on every page will inspire talk and great delight as the humor is shared by one and all. See if you can see the many images that may or may not be familiar to our youngest readers. Visuals from known fairy tales and nursery rhymes can be found on every page. Ella's story is told in a coil-bound notebook. Leila Rudge's lively illustrations drag our attention to the outer borders and to the white space that surrounds that book.

Of course, there is a bear...a very special wish-granting, life-saving bear. While Ella continues in her belief that no bear will find a place in this book, you know that kids who cannot help themselves will pointing out that the bear is RIGHT THERE! It won't spoil the humor, the charm and the great fun to be had when sharing this wonderful book.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Question Boy Meets Little Miss Know-It-All, written and illustrated byt Peter Catalanotto. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $21.00 ages 5 and up

"Cats have thirty-two muscles in each ear! The Mona Lisa has no eyebrows! Dolphins sleep with one eye open! Thomas Edison was afraid of the dark! A baby camel is called a camelot!"

Miss Know-It-All can go on...and believe me, she does!

If you have children, or have taught school, or spent an inordinate amount of time with information seekers, you will recognize both Question Boy and Miss Know-It-All! They have been in your presence. You can bet on it.

We first meet Question Boy as he makes his way about town one early morning. He 'accosts' everyone he meets for the answers to the questions that constantly plague him:

"How much stuff can you fit in your truck?" Question Boy asked.
"A lot," Garbage Man answered.
"More than an elephant?"
"Probably." said Garbage Man. "I think so."
"Could you fit a whale in there?"

Poor Garbage Man! He has had enough and is looking for release. Luckily, Oil Man is up the street filling a tank with oil so that people will have hot water and heat. Too soon, he is flummoxed and looking for relief, too. There is no end to the people who might help Question Boy in his quest to garner as much information as is possible:

"All day long, Question Boy wandered and wondered. He perplexed Police Woman and panicked Mechanic Man. He left Wonder Waitress woozy. Even Mailman and Paperboy were no match for his need to know."

Don't you just love the narration...careful word choice, understood frustration from those whose answers only evoke new questions and a young boy intent on filling his mind with knowledge? It's inspired.

But, wait! Who owns that voice...the one that when first heard has this to say:

"There are one hundred and eighteen ridges on every dime."

Can it be? Is it true? Question Boy wants to know.

Has he met his match?

'Why are you wearing a crown?"
"It's a tiara. It sparkles and holds my hair perfectly in place."
"How many hairs are on your head?"
"Fourteen thousand, one hundred and ninety-six."

Perhaps so! She answers every question with questionable responses and then entertains with a plethora of information not requested; but does it with panache and  assurance. Question Boy is mesmerized by her tenacity, her apparent knowledge and her in-your-face persona. She goes on and on....and on and on...and on! Nothing can stop her. Finally, he encloses himself in his cape and falls to the ground. Just as she is about to head home in triumph, he asks the question that she cannot answer with any certainty. There is only one response...she uses it and the contest comes to a close!

It's been ages since I have seen a new book by Peter Catalanotto; but this charming tale reminds me why so many of his previous books have space on my 'favorites, never to be given away' shelf. He captures the personalities of QB and MKIA with characteristic flair and gorgeous watercolor artwork.
The humor is subtle and may escape some members of its target audience. Parents and teachers will 'get it' and enjoy sharing their delight in it.

The Beetle Book, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Thomas Allen & Son, 2012. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"Most beetles are vegetarians. Beetles of one kind or another will consume every part of a plant, including leaves, bark, roots, sap, and flower pollen. Other beetles eat fungus or dung."
Without dung beetles, the world's grasslands would soon be buried in animal droppings."

No matter how gross a topic seems to me, Steve Jenkins manages to make it unbelievably intriguing. I come away from reading his books in awe not only of his artistic talents, but also his faultless research and his ability to share the minutiae of what he has learned with an audience that may not even think itself, for instance. And while this truly amazing book has not lured me into the life of a coleopterist, it has certainly upped my already deserved admiration for this man. 

It is a book that will attract the reader's attention even as they are squirming. Steve Jenkins points to the importance of beetles in our world, telling his audience that of all living plants and animals on this earth, 'one in every four is a beetle'. Yech!!!

It's almost impossible to get past the beauty of the endpapers. They astound with color and seem almost liquid as you encounter them before turning a single page. Then, Steve Jenkins makes it his mission to inform his readers about this particular species...about their color, variations, body parts, senses, growth, food, sounds, protection and how they move.On every page the captions and labels clearly name and define each.

He uses his amazing cut-paper collage artwork to give his readers perspective and a sense of awe at the many attributes and adaptations of a bevy of beautiful beetles...well, I'm sure there are many who will think them quite remarkable in structure and color.

He defines them:

"What is a beetle?
Beetles are insects. Like all insects,
they have a pair of antennae, six
legs, and three main body parts."

As he continues to describe each featured insect, he uses comparisons in size to help us understand how big, or how small, they actually are. He talks about each 'beetle bit' by taking one beetle apart and clearly showing each of its parts...all in collage, of course. (No beetles were harmed in the creation of this book, I am sure!).

There is so much to see and to ponder as readers turn from one page to the next. Some of the beetles are much larger than their real size to show their many distinctive characteristics. Always aware of this, Mr. Jenkins adds silhouettes of each to show their actual size. It is very appealing and will certainly hold the attention of those children who share it. There will be great appreciation shown for the depth of the research and the intricate rendering of those beetles being described so carefully:

"The bombardier beetle has one of the most impressive beetle defenses. It squirts a blinding, boiling hot liquid into the face of an attacker. The chemical explosion powering this spray makes a loud popping sound."

The design is outstanding, as usual. The information is intriguing. The depth of color and attention to the details in every single body is what we have come to expect of Steve Jenkins. Still, he surprises and has made me a reluctant admirer of the beauty and ingenuity of the species. I love the elegance of the type used for the text, the white backdrop that allows careful consideration of every single illustration and his wonder at the world he lives in.

Don't miss the back cover!

This is a winner...are you listening, Caldecott committee? Bravo, Steve Jenkins!

The Imposter, written by Gary Blackwood. Red Deer Press, 2012. $12.95 ages 12 and up

"Ollie said it with a smile that appeared sympathetic. But Ryan had studied facial expressions extensively, and he saw something else in it. Secret triumph, perhaps? Could she possibly have put the hot pepper in there as a sort of message to him, a message that said, I know what you're up to, and I'm not going to say anything, but I am going to make your life miserable?"

Ryan Waite has been the breadwinner in his family for a long time, given that he is only 14. His father is gone, his mother is unable to work because of injuries suffered in a car crash and her dependency on alcohol.The food they eat and the apartment they live in is paid for by a Mother's Allowance and Ryan's income.
When he blows an audition for a part in Les Miz, he is feeling down on his luck. Herschel Burton knows that. He, too, is down on his luck and looking to score big in his search for the son of a very wealthy man whose health is waning. The payout will be a big one, and he promises Ryan more money than he has seen from any of his previous acting gigs if he will impersonate the man's long lost son. Burton tells Ryan that the son is dead, he will only have to stay for two weeks, and there won't be any long as Ryan is the actor he says he is.

If you are a reader, you know there are going to be problems and you can feel it in your bones as you move forward with this fast-paced tale. First of all, Burton is not your upstanding, forthright private investigator. He has few clear answers for Ryan's questions. Burton recognizes Ryan's dire straits and is willing to use them to get him to do his bidding. Ryan has little recourse. They desperately need the money, he can convince his mother that he has a gig with a touring company; so he agrees.

When he and Burton arrive in Halifax, Ryan meets Ken Kurz, the father of Allen, the missing son. He turns out to be a very nice man, with a lovely daughter and a bit of a manipulative and suspicious wife.  Ryan (Allen) likes Kelley and she thinks he is great. She takes him riding and helps him understand some of the family dynamics. The stay gets more complicated as Ollie, the stepmother, becomes more focused on making his life miserable and finding the truth. Then, just as Ryan decides he will make his exit, the phone rings and everything changes.

The setting is Toronto, then Halifax and both have a part to play as the story unfolds. Gary Blackwood creates believable, convincing characters and fills the pages with drama, mystery, and a lot of discomfort for me as I tried to imagine being in Ryan's shoes. He's a great actor, but so many things seem to working against him. He doesn't have enough information about Allen, and Burton leaves him high and dry to deal with all events on his own. There is a consistent aura of suspense and that kept me reading far into the night. I wanted to know Ryan's fate.

In the end, Ryan learns that being an improv actor is much harder in real life than it is on stage. He becomes a more empathetic person when he realizes that his acting has impacted the lives of people he has come to admire.

Great writing....a page turner that will find new fans and then send them looking for other books by this very accomplished writer. 

Homer, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2012. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Homer sits on the porch.
What does he want to do today?
Chase and race around the yard?
No, thanks.
Explore the field?
Thank you, but no.
Walk to the beach and
play in the sand?"

How do you take a familiar story and make it brand new? I can't answer that question. Elisha Cooper can, and does in this new book about Homer, a content and reflective old dog who watches the world from his place on the porch.

In an interview with Julia Donaldson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, he made mention of a dog he had when he was a child:

"Homer was my dog when I was a boy. We grew up together, and then he became a great old dog."

As we meet and watch Homer throughout his day, we take note that life for his family is busy and resourceful, and he is content with that. The other dogs love to romp and race, the younger girl is off to explore the fields while the older one wants to enjoy the pleasures of the beach, the mom is bent on a swim while the dad does the marketing. Homer watches as his people make their way in the world, doing what they want to do. He is just fine where he is.

At the end of the day, everyone has returned home. Homer remains at his station, watching the action and welcoming them back. When asked if he needs anything, his answer is simple: "No, I have everything I want."

Then we watch as he stretches himself up and out of his place on the porch, makes his way inside, eats supper, and settles into his favorite chair. His family is settling in for the night. The dogs are all back, Mom is tucking the kids in, Dad is drying dishes and all is right in Homer's world.

Julia Donaldson makes a most astute observation of Elisha Cooper's incredible artwork:

"In his picture books, Cooper finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, beauty in simplicity and big worlds in the little details."

That is a perfect description of the way I feel every time I open one of Elisha's books. I have been a fan since I first pored over every tiny detail and read every word over and over again in Ballpark (1998). Each of his books has a special place on my bookshelves. I have great admiration for his work and am always eager to see what is new. I felt as if I were on that porch with Homer, revelling in the wide expanse of sky and sand, enjoying the simply wondrous things in life and content to just be there. It's just how I feel every morning in the summer when I go out to the back porch, have my tea and read. Life is good!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brothers at Bat, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Clarion Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"In one New Jersey town near the ocean, back in the 1920s and '30s, you could hear the same door slam over and over. Three brothers raced out. Out went three more. And more. And still more. It sounds like a fairy tale: twelve baseball-playing brothers."

It's pretty incredible, even after you have read this story of the Acerra family and their sixteen children! Twelve are boys and that is enough to field a baseball team...really!

It is set at a time in America when baseball was playing an important role in the lives of many families. Pick-up games, high school teams, sandlot baseball and kids were outside finding things to do. When you have a family with that many children, they don't really have to count on neighbor children for fun; they can make their own. That they did:
"In 1938, the brothers ranged in age from seven to thirty-two. The oldest nine formed their own semi-pro team and competed against other New Jersey teams. Their father coached them and never missed a game."

The family was very close, and the boys loved playing ball. They played any time they could and were much appreciated for their hard work, team spirit and expert abilities. Each brought their own unique talent to the ball field; some more skilled than others, but all equally loyal to all members of the Acerras team. They were always appreciative of each other's play and crowds loved watching them.

As is wont to happen in sports, not everything went as planned. In one game Alfred was injured and as a result, lost an eye. Eddie had to step in and catch for him while he recuperated. Again, their team ethic kicked in:

"But when you have eleven brothers willing to throw you balls in the yard - gently at first, then a bit harder - you get your skills back. You get your courage back, too. Alfred was soon wearing the Acerras uniform again."

Six of the brothers also served their country in the Second World was the first time that they had been separated. When they all returned safely, they picked up their baseball gloves and played locally, the younger brothers taking over for those who had grown too old to play. The began play in the 1920s and played their last game in 1952. In 1997 they were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their contributions to the sport over so many years:

"The Acerra brothers were the longest-playing all-brother baseball team ever." No kidding!

The writing is like a conversation and readers come away with a sense of knowing something about a very special family. Audrey Vernick describes their accomplishments, their lives and she does it with candor and genuine affection. I love poring over Steven Salerno's vintage illustrations which give gave a real sense of time and place. Take note of the baseball bat on the front cover, purposefully autographed by each of the Acerra brothers. The uniforms, the ball diamonds, the three outhouses needed for such a large family will draw your attention, and the evident love of baseball will hold it.

There is an author's note to add credibility to the telling. Audrey Vernick interviewed both Freddy and Eddie, and did her research before telling this wonderfully uplifting story. Add this to your list of baseball books. It's sure to be a winner!

I will leave you with this:


Monday, June 18, 2012

I'll Save You BOBO! Written by Eileen Rosenthal and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Simon & Schuster, 2012. $16.99 ages 3 and up

"Let's write our own book, Bobo.
It will be all about you. And me.
Bobo, you'll have a scary adventure.
And I'll save you."

I love meeting old friends in new books; and I am doubly delighted when the second book rivals the first for enjoyability. It must be a challenge for any author to bring those characters back to life with the same exuberance. Willy, Bobo and EARL the cat are back and I can't wait to share their new escapade with you today.

While Willy is one year older than when we first met him in I Must Have Bobo!, his voice hasn't changed. Thank goodness!

They have snakey red tongues, and there are
giant poison mushrooms.

The book they are first reading just doesn't have what it takes to entertain Willy and he is sure that Bobo is bored as well. To that end, he decides that they should write their own book. They make it adventurous, and dangerous, and terrifying. When faced with the need for protection he is off and, as he scours the house for the needed materials to make that protective tent, Earl stealthily stalks closer and closer to Bobo. Poor Bobo...always in the middle of things. Willy won't have that darn cat anywhere near them.

As the story and the excitement grows, the attentive listener will watch Earl with interest as he inadvertently creates havoc for Willy. Earl has Bobo right where he wants him when Willy pops out from under the collapsed tent, grabs up Bobo and is off to create another jungle tale.

Now, Earl's in big TROUBLE! and then he gets his comeuppance.

"Oh Earl."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ladybugs, written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Ladybugs can be many different colors and sizes. Some are as small as the head of a pin. Others are as large as a child's fingernail. Most are some size in between."

So far, any ladybugs that might be in the vicinity have escaped my observations this spring. I'll have to keep my eyes open for them to make an appearance. Then, I'll know that the aphids are in trouble!

After introducing her young audience to this tiny beneficial beetle, Gail Gibbons goes on to give aspiring scientists exactly the right amount of facts to inform, but not overwhelm. She is awfully good at doing just that in much of her nonfiction. Once the introduction is complete, she moves forward to let us know about the body of this particular member of a family that boasts '5,000 different kinds of beetles around the world, with 475 different types' right here where we live. Amazing!

We see the ladybug from the side, the top and then follow it as it advances from egg to adult in four stages. Each stage of its life cycle is described and illustrated with detail to make it easily understood.
The captions and labels are very useful in guiding us as we read around the pages gathering information and always learning more.

Once it is an adult, the ladybug faces some trying times and teaches its predators important lessons.:

"When a ladybug is attacked, its leg joints ooze a yellow fluid. It has a terrible smell that keeps enemies away. A ladybug will also pretend to be dead, and then the predator will lose interest."

Familiar to all Gail Gibbons fans are the impressively constructed pages, using all available space to give her readers a very clear picture of the information being shared. She is a consummate researcher and uses her talent for detail to enhance each page of this highly accessible book. Inviting and full of little known information about this fairly common beetle, I learned a lot as will those children with whom it is shared. Bold colors, a lively design, carefully chosen changes in perspective and a healthy collection of close-up views will encourage close observation and the occasional touch.

Bravo, Ms. Gibbons!

a meal of the stars, written by Dana Jensen and illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Houghton Mifflin Books for Chidlren, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

touch us
their songs"

There is little to tell you about this book, but for the fact that kids will love to read it. The poems are written from top to bottom, and bottom to top and sometimes it takes a little time to determine just how to read them. So, climbing or descending, readers will find delight in the world created by these clear, carefully worded poems.

I found myself intrigued by the idea of 'poems up and down'. As I pored over them, I knew that I wanted (and needed) to read them aloud. Then, I read them again. There is no punctuation and no capitalization...only lovely observations about the world of children. If you are looking to go back to a simpler time, when you found wonder in everything around you, this is the book to share.

Here's another:


I have always had great admiration for Tricia Tusa's skill in creating the quietly beautiful world of children using watercolor and ink. Somehow the softness of the lines, the just right color choices and the perfection of each carefully placed image brings the words on the page to gentle and detailed life. Check each illustration carefully for familiar and wonderful scenes meant to capture our collective  imaginations. Creative and full of fun, these poems are sure to inspire young writers to try their hands at something brand new! 

The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls, written by John Lekich. Orca, 2012. $12.95 ages 12 and up

"Don't get me wrong. Before my current predicament forced me back into my old habits, I felt pretty good about leaving theft behind. On the other hand, I can't deny that burglary has certain educational benefits extending well beyond my program of cultural enrichment. You may find that hard to believe. But aside from the ability to purchase things like concert tickets, I didn't care much about the money."

One of the things I have loved about being on  a Canadian Children's Book Centre jury is the chance to read young adult novels that I may not have otherwise read. This one actually was on my TBR pile, thanks to Leslie at Orca books in Victoria. I am just not sure how quickly it would have risen to the top...the plight, at all times, of those who love to read young adult fiction. I did read it yesterday and I am delighted that I did.

What a voice! With wit and a wondrous imagination John Lekich has crafted a character I will long remember and admire, despite his less than stellar reputation. Henry Holloway is a victim of circumstance...a proficient and empathetic thief who has learned his trade in the aftermath of his mother's early death from lung cancer. His guardian, Uncle Andy, is a good teacher, if Henry's thievery to cope with Andy's incarceration is any indication of his tutelage.

As the story begins, Henry is living in a tree house and managing to eke out an existence by carefully watching the neighborhood. When the opportunity presents itself, he 'grabs' what he needs for survival. He is ever thoughtful; at times even contributing to the home owner's needs using ill-gotten gain from earlier thefts. The unexpected return of one such neighbor from a business trip results in Henry's exposure while baking cookies and washing his less than pristine clothes. He is arrested and sentenced to a Second Chance rehab program in Snowflake Falls on Vancouver Island.

He is placed with a seriously weird foster family whose many quirky traits help Henry learn things about family he has never had the occasion to learn. The Wingates do their best to make Henry mend the error of his ways, and he finds himself falling under their spell. However, when old friends of his uncle's show up tasked with checking up on him, they set about creating a new identity for themselves. They open a hardware store and await Andy's release from prison. Henry is loyal to a fault and is soon helping Uncle Andy and his gang plan a quietly daring robbery in Henry's new town.

As readers we meet an incredibly diverse slate of  characters, unconventional and wise, empathetic to Henry's plight and gullibly welcoming to all visitors. Henry comes in contact with people who have an impact on the decisions he makes, and he is averse to hurting them. You don't want to miss meeting any of them. But, family is family. Henry is always honorable, and a young man that I love. When he adds money to one of his victim's special occasion savings fund, he reasons:

“Most of it was money I stole from other places…. I wasn’t returning it or anything. I was just sort of recycling it.”

Even the judge sees his worth when he is sentencing him:

 “You know, for someone so schooled in dishonesty, you can be refreshingly straightforward.”

I have many saved quotes that I would love to share; I think you should read them for yourselves!
Gosh, I hope that I meet Henry again.

Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door, written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Clarion Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"When it got too cold outside, the squirrels would drop in through Fookwire's mail slot and visit him at home. They'd warm themselves by the fire and finish the old man's crossword puzzles. When Fookwire woke up, he'd chase them out with a broom."

The squirrels are at it again!

In a sequel to Those Darn Squirrels, we find Old Man Fookwire contemplating spring and watching the skies for the birds he loves to return. He has been lonely and agitated while they've been basking in warmer climes. With only the squirrels for company and having to endure their neverending mischief, he longs for a respite from their everyday antics.

It appears that rest and relaxation is not in the cards. After the birds' return and some much needed time to appreciate their company, the afternoon ambiance is shattered:

Old Man Fookwire spilled cottage
cheese all over his suspenders.

The floogle bird fell out of its nest.

The squirrels had to restart their
annual chess tournament."

Little Old Lady Hu and her cat Muffins are moving in next door. Muffins needs friends, and it is soon clear why he has none. He is a singularly mean and evil being. The squirrels are first to react:

"The squirrels were scared of the cat, so they hid inside the drainpipes. The birds weren't sure why eveyrone was hiding, but they stuffed themselves down the chimney just to be safe."

Is is possible for sworn enemies to make an alliance and rid the neighborhood of its new pest?

Adam Rubin uses humor and exemplary wordplay to tell this amusing and entertaining tale of familiar characters. The given names are the first clue, and then he just goes on to tell his story with rich, full language that will have listeners begging for a repeat performance...and a performance it is! Kids will love the references to a wet willy, a noogie, and even wedgies for the craftily conniving squirrels, not to mention brains winning over brawn in a epic struggle.

Daniel Salmieri seems to have a natural propensity for the humor, giving Fookwire the long carrot- shaped and very red nose, the overpowering glasses, and a body that seems only to carry weight at the belly and Adam's apple.  The squirrels are full of spunk, overt arrogance and a grim desire for revenge. Muffins knows nothing about charm and looks the part. It may be his reaction to his given name! Whatever it is, this is a story that is sure to charm! Take that, Muffins!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Year of the Book, written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Abigail Halpin. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $17.99 ages 8 and up

"We go to Mr. Schmitz's room for science. There is a bathtub full of pillows in the back of the room where you can read when you're done with your work, but first we have to gather data. The data is observations about different bird nests that are out on the shelf."

Anna is a girl after my own heart. She loves to read and would often rather be reading than doing anything else. The girls in her class don't matter to her much, although she does have a soft spot for Laura. Laura has, however, disappointed Anna in the past, with her ever-changing loyalties. Anna thinks that working so hard at friendship isn't worth the sorrow, or the time.

She loves being lost in the lives of her beloved characters and has a penchant for reading wondrous books. Now, life seems to be getting in the way, and Anna is forced to make some important discoveries about life as it is lived beyond the four walls of her home.

First, she is slightly embarrassed by her mother's difficulty with the English language and with learning how to drive. Anna must go to Chinese school and she sees no worth in her attendance. Why learn to speak her mother's language when her mother is learning English? Second, she doesn't want anyone to know that her mother cleans apartments. Third, she has been hurt by the girls at school before, and doesn't want it to happen again.

As she goes about life beyond her comfort zone, Anna meets some lovely people - Mr. Shepherd who helps everyone he meets despite the loss of his wife and his confinement to a wheelchair, Camille who is another girl attending Chinese school and who struggles with learning, and Laura who needs a friend to help her deal with the family problems she faces each day.

As Anna becomes involved in life, she retains her love of books; but, she begins to show her feelings for others and to deal with budding friendships that can make a difference in her life, too. Anna is innately shy and becomes stronger with each new discovery she makes about those around her. Life holds its share of worry, but it also offers joy. It is a lesson that Anna learns over the course of our sharing her story.

Her first person narration helps readers make connections with a young girl who has strong adult role models and friends, while learning to trust her own instincts in terms of those who are her own age.
As she applies what she has read to real life we see Anna's growing maturity and admire her courage to reach out and help others.

Great illustrations connect readers to the Chinese culture, to tangrams, wontons and sewing (as in the drawstring bag directions) and to two young friends struggling to find solace together in the real world. 

First PEAS to the Table, written by Susan Grigsby and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell. Albert Whitman & Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"I pulled a shiny nickel fom my pocket. Jefferson was on the front and his home, Monticello, was on the back. This would be my good luck charm for winning, I decided."

I am hearing more in the news these days about school gardens and the resurgence for 'growing our own'. What a wonderful way to get children leaning about the good food we should be putting into our bodies. Imagine their joy when they actually eat what they have grown.

I think that Susan Grigsby is doing a real service to children and the adults in their lives when she combines history with nonfiction as she did previously in her book about George Washington Carver, In the Garden with Dr. Carver (Albert Whitman, 2010). By using real people and the lessons that they taught, she brings history alive for the children who share her stories.

Ms. Garcia knows something about Thomas Jefferson and she uses it as the premise for a contest:

"His five-thousand-acre plantation at Monticello, his home in Virginia, included a thousand-foot-long garden. From 1766 to 1824, he recorded notes in a journal, called his Garden Book. In his neighborhood's contest, the winner served his peas at a dinner for the other gardeners."

 She uses information about the third U.S. President to encourage her students to learn about growing peas for their own table. Using his model, and teaching them about Thomas Jefferson and his love of the land, she entices them with a contest to see who can put peas on the table first. Twenty seeds and a small pot for planting is all the equipment they need. They can begin at home.

At school, they keep a garden journal that will help them track their learning; there is a lot to learn. Maya, who is our storyteller, keeps us apprised of the action in a clear voice. Her friend Shakayla is as eager as Maya to win the contest. They keep their data in the journal which helps them chronicle their daily learning.

It takes time, patience and some fierce competition between the two friends to get their peas up and growing. Their methods are totally different, and they learn much along the way. Books provide help when determining the best way to care for the tiny plants; they keep concise notes on their separate processes, drawing, measuring, and comparing. Weather gets in the way and causes concern. Finally, in mid-May, a full bowl of peas is placed on the table, a winner is crowned, and a life lesson learned:

"No wonder Thomas Jefferson liked gardening so much - from one tiny seed, a whole plant could grow, full of flowers first, then giving you the sweetest peas in the whole world. Some things were worth waiting for."

The watercolor illustrations keep readers close to the action, showing the seeds as they are distributed, cared for, and harvested. The artist uses full color double page spreads when needed to show the garden in its finery, and smaller illustrations to show small bits of action and activity, including some brief glimpses of the president at his work. The endpapers will help young readers to solidify what they have learned about the growth cycle of a plant. The author adds an afterword with pertinent information about the president gardener and a bibliography to help those interested in finding further information.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Little Treasures, written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Thomas Allen & Son. 2011. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"All over the world, mothers and fathers, grandparents and cousins, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, love their children very much and call them by many different sweet names."

I still call both of mine 'honey', although they are now 33 and 36! I also call Erin, "Mac', 'sweet cheeks' and 'Ernie'. Bret has forever been 'Beast', named by his three year old sister when she wanted him to stop crying. But, he is also called 'BR', 'lovey' and only rarely 'Bert'. I mean, who names their kids Erin and Bret in the early days of Sesame Street? Even strangers thought it funny to call them Ernie and Bert occasionally!

Every family has stories of pet nicknames. In this lovely book of endearing names that children are called around the world, Jacqueline Ogburn entertains and informs her audience. She begins at home in America with names like 'honey, pumpkin, sunshine, and baby-cakes'. Crossing the ocean to countries where the English language is spoken she adds "poppet' and 'possum'. As her travels take her to France, Finland, Russia, Poland, Uganda and further still, she adds to the compendium with expressions such as 'mon lapin', 'halipupu', 'lapochka', 'kabitte', 'habibi', 'bao bei', and 'caramelito' (which translates to 'little candy' and sounds good enough to eat). It was so much fun to pore over the collection and try my hand at pronunciation. Her guide made me sound quite worldly and offers some new ideas to try.

There is great fun  and new learning. Young listeners will giggle, older readers will enjoy the written and spoken translations from so many countries of the world. Children from other cultures will be delighted to find themselves and their language on its pages.

Chris Raschka does a brilliant job of creating characters, They are full of fun, cheery color and expressive faces. He uses bold lines, ever-changing blues, greens, pinks, yellows and greens, and paint-splashed backgrounds to add interest and garner attention to the details. The children smile with great pride at their pet names and the all-over feeling is one of joy and love.

What fun to share with children and discover the special names they are called by loved ones. Did you have a nickname? Did I? I will have to dig deep in my memory to make that discovery. This post is dedicated to 'cutie-pie, honeybunch, angel face, lover girl' and 'the Beast'! I love them more today than yesterday and always, less than tomorrow!

Ballywhinney Girl, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Clarion Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"The men from Dublin
placed our mummy in a box,
moving her with care
because her bones
were thin as glass.
That's what they told us.
They packed fat wadding round her
so she could not slide or break."

I just finished reading an interview with Emily Arnold McCully over at and thought I would get right to telling you about this wonderful new book. I was doubly intrigued when I read a summary because it wasn't long ago that I wrote a post about Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child (January 28, 2012). They have much in common.

Ballywhinney Girl tells the tale of the young Irish Maeve. She is with her grandfather while he is digging in the peat bog for fuel for their home fire. He is startled to discover a body. Worried that a crime has been committed he sends his granddaughter with a message for her mother, and to have her call the police. When they arrive the police assure her grandfather that he has unearthed the mummified remains of a child. Archaeologists are summoned and they determine that the body has been there for close to one thousand years! It is some discovery.

They also make the announcement that the young boy found is actually a girl. Maeve becomes more curious about who the girl was, and how she spent her days. Since there is no way of knowing why she was trapped in the bog, there are questions that will never be answered. She worries that finding her and removing her from the site is not the right thing to do. But, the 'Balleywhinney Girl' is taken to Dublin, tested for historical information and put on display in the museum there:

"I wonder, though.

I wonder did she like
her sweet, warm resting place?
And did she like it more
than that cold viewing case
where she will lie
from now until forever?"

Maeve convinces her parents that she wants to see her one last time. Following their return to Ballywhinney, Maeve places a marker so that all will remember where once the young girl had lain. Maeve is a credible narrator, exhibiting shock, wonder and sadness as the story unfolds and leaving readers with a fitting remembrance of a girl who lived long years ago.

Miss McCully's trademark watercolor illustrations match the gentle mood of the telling and give us a close look at the bogs that are found in Ireland and in other soggy countries of the world. The soft edges and soothing colors make a story that might seem quite scary less so. We are front row and center for the discovery, the unearthing and and the final resting place.

In an author's note, Eve Bunting tells about the bog, and its place in the lives of those who live close by. She also provides information about other mummified remains that have been found through the years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Poem Runs, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian. Harcourt Children's Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 6 and up

I can catch curve balls.
I can catch heat.
I can catch sliders
With glove or with feet.

I block with my belly.
I nab with my knees.
Throw me jars of jelly.
I'll catch them with ease."

We have closed the gate on another hockey season, and I can turn my attention to the Blue Jays and their baseball prowess. I have always loved baseball and while I admit that the games can sometimes even stretch the limits of my endurance, there is much to enjoy about them for me.

I have a growing collection of books about baseball and am delighted to add Douglas Florian's newest to it. He does a great job of touring us through the players who make up the roster, as well as the guy who guides the game, the umpire. There are poems about the season's start and its coming to an end as summer gives way to fall. But, we know very well that those who love the game will be back next year, decked out and ready to take to the field.

The artwork is classic Florian, a mixed media melange of gouache watercolors, oil pastels, colored pencils and appropriately enough, pine tar. All are designed on primed paper bags and give the rustic feeling of the ball field at its best. He allows his players to reach beyond the confines of one page, stretching to warm up, to pitch and to field. He even offers up an occasional surprise:

"Our slugger is strong.
Our slugger is mean,
With arms very long
And eyesight quite keen.
Our slugger can zing
Each pitch you may hurl.
And one other thing:
Our slugger's a girl."

With its focus on all aspects of the game, this is sure to be a favorite with aspiring players. The poems are meant to be read aloud, and it is then that the full strength of the rhythms find clear voice. Of course, his word choice is sure to entertain and to release our imaginations. I am always enamored of his ability to play with words to give clear meaning to his poems and will be sure to share this with parents, teachers and children who love the game!

What's Looking at You, Kid? Written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Renee Graef. Sleeping Bear Press, 2012. $16.50 ages 3 and up

"Was she painted with
a crayon?

Or is that a rainbow

Look at how
her colors stay on."

J. Patrick Lewis proves, once again, that he is a deserving Poet Laureate for children with this fine riddle book for our youngest readers. While the answers to the questions he asks are not hidden on the following page, he uses language that sings for those who share this book. He helps young writers see the power of the well-chosen word when describing the world around them.

Each description is a double page spread and is embellished with beautifully designed artwork by Renee Graef. The settings are familiar to most children...the seashore and the backyard. Each verse accurately describes familiar scenes and introduces well-known creatures.

A wee mouse gives aid in turning the first page and serves up an invitation to enjoy the riches of the text. First a crab, then a firefly; turn the page to see a hummingbird sipping nectar from a tempting pink blossom:

"To sip a flower,
then dive
and dart,
Her wings
beat like her
little heart.
Look who likes to

It is an invitation for each one of us to take notice of the beauty that surrounds us.

Now, I will await the next book from this most prolific and poetic man. Thank you, J. Patrick Lewis for your work for children always!

Some Dads...written and illustrated by Nick Bland. Scholastic, 2012. $14.99 ages 2 and up

"Some dads are sporty.
And some dads are naughty.
And some dads just brighten
your day."
Gosh, we're getting closer and closer to Father's Day and I wanted to tell you about Nick Bland/s new book. He helps his young readers honor the fact that all dads are different...and each one of them special in his own way. 

He uses his signature rhythmic language to give flow to the descriptions he shares, and ensures that readers and listeners will enjoy the time spent sharing this homage to that man in their lives. It is great fun to read out loud, and will leave all with a gentle, peaceful feeling about dads who worry, and hurry and even get lost along the way. No matter their favorite place to be or thing to do, they are always proud of their children.

Readers will get a chuckle from the antics of the playful fathers, their expressions and their exertions all meant to bring them closer to their children and to set an admirable example for them. Whether they are soaring or sweating, they are endearing. The details will bring young readers back repeatedly.
Dads are as different, and special, as their children are. Join in the celebration! If you think that a book about dads would be a great gift, here's one for you. .

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Oh No, George! Written and illustrated by Chris Haughton. Candlewick, Random House. 2012. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"George sees something
in the kitchen.

It's a cake!
I said I'd be good.
George thinks,
but I LOVE cake."

I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't fall in love with George. I mean, take a close look. He's huge, he has achingly winsome eyes, a broad and lengthy purple nose and his ears stick out! What's not to love?

You must want to get to know him. He wants so badly to be good; he sounds very convincing when Harry tells him that he is going out. Left alone, circumstances rapidly change. He wants to be good as he promised. Did anyone tell him about the cake? HE LOVES CAKE!

Poor George! Before he knows it, the cake is in his mouth and then his stomach. Something else quickly catches his attention. What will he do about the cat? HE LOVES TO PLAY WITH THE CAT!

Everywhere he looks, temptation looks right back at him. By the time Harry comes back home, the place is chaos. George is penitent:

"I said I'd be good.
George thinks.
I hoped I'd be good,
but I wasn't."

His peace offering is his favorite toy. Will that be enough?

Harry suggests a walk. As they travel along together, it seems that George has learned his lesson.
Or has he?

What a rousing readaloud this is! Kids will love the humor and be captivated by the brilliant colors, the hangdog hound, and the mischief that seems too attractive to ignore. I love the bold backgrounds, the concise text, the personality that is George. You can likely compare him to someone in your life. I've met a few of those kids who love to chase cats, eat cake and dig in the dirt. And, what's the appeal in a garbage can? Only George knows at this moment. Wonderful!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jackhammer Sam, written by Peter Mandel and illustrated by David Catrow. Roaring Brook Press, 2011. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"You may try to cross the street,
But there's a crack
b'neath your feet.
'Cause I choppa-chop-
(An' I do not chop it neat.)


So begins Sam's story...the story of his work, his days and the pride he takes in the work he does. Many people want to tear their hair out when they hear a jackhammer rev into action. There are often loud complaints! Sam hears the noise, too. It is music to his ears because he knows that the work he does is important. There is always work for a jackhammer man. He works on sidewalks, in subways, and anywhere in between. He wants his audience to enjoy his 'song' as much as he does.

Not hard to do, once you have the rhythm:.


Don't you just feel like dancing? Can you imagine the fun of sharing Sam's song in your early years class or with your construction-crazed kids at home? Full of great sounds, pounding rhythms, it will be no time before they are bouncing to the beat and wanting to try it out for themselves.

Sam never feels the annoyance that others feel. And, that's a good thing. Not every one could do the  job that he does and certainly not with his absolute joy! Wouldn't it be great if we all took such pride in our work, no matter the job. Sam is a mentor for doing what you do well. 

David Catrow brings Sam to overwhelming life as he plies his trade on the streets and in the subways of New York. Sam is round and robust, driving his truck with maniacal speed and beaming with energy and a sunshine smile. The noise his jackhammer makes knocks plants from their sills, loosens hearing aids, dislodges babies from their carriages; but Sam only hears the song. His brash and burly visage is perfect for the work he does; but when he sits to have his lunch, he daintily crosses his legs, dons a napkin and munches celery sticks with whipped cream and a cherry on top. A smiling policeman halts traffic to ensure a leisurely lunch for the hard working man. When he chances to check a bird-watching guide Sam's big belly comes in handy:

"I use my belly on the job.
It shakes like jelly (or a blob)."

Kids will have a wonderful time poring over the watercolor illustrations, the larger-than-life characters and the hustle and bustle of New York City. Soon, they will be chanting the rhythms and wanting to share.