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Monday, October 29, 2012

It's Our Nature, written by Rebeca Orozco and illustrated by Menena Cottin. Tundra Books, Random House. 2012. $14.99 ages 5 and up

"To protect themselves against the wind and the cold, the males huddle together to form a circle. Taking turns, those who have been on the outside of the circle move into the center of the group where it is warmer, while the penguins on the inside move to the outskirts."

We were using this book in a workshop last week while talking about how we can help children learn to read nonfiction. There are many strategies that writers of informational text use. Just one of the ways noted in our share, following looking at some amazing new books, was that they use good introductions and endings to help with our understanding.

This new book from Tundra was pointed out as one in which Rebeca Orozco does just that. In her opening she offers a reason for wanting to write and read this book:

"We have a lot in common with animals. We experience love, pain, happiness, and sorrow. Animals do too. We share these feelings and others as well. But animals could show us a thing or two about responsibility, community, generosity and tolerance."

There is much to learn from the animal kingdom, and the author sets about showing us just what a variety of animals do that would benefit us. She starts out telling us about howler monkeys and altruism: they warn their troop of imminent danger despite the risk to themselves, opting to save the females and babies first. The flamingo has an innate sense of community and large groups of adults arrange 'daycare' for babies in order to let their parents get some rest. Pretty amazing stuff!

Young readers will love learning about animals and their feelings. The text is accessible, and the artist's images will inspire feelings of 'awww''. Finally, she reminds us in her ending of the lessons that they can teach us:

"In the grasslands, the forests, the deserts, and the seas, animals learn to get along. They tolerate each other's differences and embrace diversity."
Can't we do the same?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Check out again this week to see what Jen and Kellee have been reading! Thanks so much for keeping us informed!

Last week I read:
This week I hope to read,  and then tell you about the following:
Have a happy Halloween reading week!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

small damages, written by beth kephart. Philomel, Penguin. 2012. $19.00 ages 14 and up

"God's finest color," she says. Not an opinion, but a fact...Saffron is red and gold. It is the cure, Estela says, for cancer, pox, itchiness, melancholy. A pinch of the spice in warm white wine will change your life, she explains. It will give you courage. "Paella isn't paella without saffron. Life isn't life."

When Kenzie discovers that she is going to have a baby she will not consider ending the pregnancy. She will have the baby and allow adoption. Her mother does not want anyone to know about it, so she ships her daughter off to Spain to stay with a friend. Once there, she comes under the tutelage of Estela, a crusty old cook who works on the ranch where they raise bulls for the ring. Estela worms her way into Kenzie's heart with her concern for both young woman and her baby, and with her own story of sadness.

Kenzie meets the couple who are to adopt her baby, the gypsies who stop at the ranch and the young, quiet man who also works there. With their comfort and support, Kenzie is able to let her guard down and begin to know herself, her feelings and her own dreams. 

Beth Kephart has an astonishing way with the poetry in words. She creates for us the world of Spain, making her love for its colors, smells, and wondrous beauty an integral part of this story of loss, love and growth:

   "Down the road and past the arch, the olive trees are casting webs of purple shadows. Across the way, between the sunflowers, the clover is green and the cacti bloom. Out on the horizon, there's the leaking of silver, blue, and green, like the sea. I sit up front, with Miguel and Luis. The Gypsies sit in the back,in the bed of the truck, while the wind blows a song through Arcadio's strings.
    Miguel drives in silence. Spain rushes by. The fields and the bulls and the storks and the earth that breaks free from itself and rises..."

I love the setting, the Spanish history, the characters, the first person voice, the support they find in each other and the love that is on every page. I think that you will, too.       

Island: A Story of the Galapagos. Written and illustrated by Jason Chin. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2012. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"During a drought, few plants survive. Fewer plants mean fewer seeds for the finches to eat. It doesn't take long for the finches to eat most of the seeds on the island. Only large seeds remain because they are difficult to eat. Most finches' beaks are too small to open them, and they die of starvation."

Sad, but true.

In Jason Chin's newest superlative book of narrative nonfiction, he explores through a six million years lens what happens when a volcano spawns a lava island in the ocean six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador (or what likely happened, as he explains in back matter). No one was there to see it happen. Using the best research currently available, he has fashioned a scientific story that would explain the Galapagos Islands.

It is beautiful. He festoons his front endpapers with thumbnail sketches of the many animal, bird and plant species that live there, and includes those that are endemic to the Galapagos themselves. The title page offers a bird's eye, full spread of the volcano erupting millions of years ago, spewing steam into the blue sky and surrounded by iridescent waters. AMAZING!

The tale is told in sections beginning with birth, six million years ago. In accessible text he allows us to be spectators to the formation of an island, its ability to sustain plant life, then birds and animals. In childhood, five million years ago, it has grown, the eruptions have diminished and life can now flourish:

"There are different climate zones at different elevations. Rain and fog frequently cover its upper slopes, and the ground is covered with plants. Farther down, the terrain becomes dry and dusty. Land iguanas burrow in the soil. On sections of the coast, the crashing waves have worn the rocky shore into sandy beaches where sea turtles and marine iguanas lay their eggs."

In each new chapter we are privy to the changes that occur (over a million years) because of the island's ability to sustain (or not) the life that has made it home. Adaptations are made with each new generation to ensure future success. Then, the original island sinks into the ocean, becoming a seamount (which is later explained). That leaves the other fifteen islands to sustain the plants and animals found there.  They are the Galapagos.

In the epilogue we watch Charles Darwin and his expedition explore these islands, marveling at what they find and causing him to think seriously about changes over time. He published The Origin of the Species to voice his theory of 'evolution by natural selection'. This is deftly explained in back matter, along with information concerned with the Galapagos themselves, followed by a note about the endemic species found there and an eloquent author's note. If that isn't enough, Jason uses the back endpaper to map out the islands and places them on an inset map to show their location in the waters east of South America.

You need this book - because kids need this book!

Thank you, Jason Chin! Now, I will patiently await your next endeavor.

Scrawl, written by Mark Shulman. Square Fish, Macmillan. 2012. Raincoast Books. $10.99 ages 12 and up

"Well, I don't know about real writing. Or real writers. I don't think writers are like real people. They're different. They know a lot about everything and have a lot to say and people want to listen. They've seen the world. They've all got a house full of books. I like reading. It's free travel. And I like the writer's quotes on Mr. Harmon's door. He even put a new writer's quote up on the door yesterday."

 What a voice! Scrawl reveals within its pages the tale of a bad boy, told from his point of view. I'm glad I started reading it during the day, or it would have been another sleepless night. One sitting, and that's the truth!

It is Tod's honest, humorous, self-deprecating voice that earns top credits. After his latest illegal action (attempting to steal the school's video camera), Tod is assigned to daily detention with Mrs. Woodrow, the school's guidance counsellor whose job is to supervise his punishment for the foreseeable future. She has agreed to the arrangement, and doesn't get in Tod's way of sharing his thoughts and actions each day. Tod is not amused; but, it is better than cleaning the schoolyard with his partners in crime.

Tod is not the only character we meet; in fact, he introduces us to a number of others through his journal entries. We meet the 'droogs', his three buddies. When he speaks of home, we meet his mother and stepfather and learn something about the life they have together. We meet some of the teachers and learn about this inner city school where guards man the doors and free lunch programs assure food for the day. And we meet Luz, the girl who is a bit of an outcast herself. His attraction to Luz, her upcoming play, and her need for costumes fashioned by Tod's seamstress mother (or not) lead to some of the funniest scenes in the book.

As he perseveres through his detentions, Tod is surprised:

"I'm getting really fast. And six weeks later, I don't even realize I'm writing anymore. It just happens. I look up and an hour's gone by, and everything I've been thinking about is right there on the paper. It's interesting how much thinking I end up doing when I write. I remember things pretty well, too. Back at the start of detention, Mrs. W. made me promise I wouldn't make up anything, and I kept my word the whole time. I just left stuff out that could get someone in trouble (Like me.) Sometimes for fun I dropped little hints."

There is so much to admire about this book, and some very apt revelations as Tod learns more about himself and begins to change. It is a great read, and it will cause the reader to think deeply about perceptions. Add to that, a 'perfect' ending!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Story of Silk, written by Richard Sobol. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $21.00 ages 6 and up

"The silk produced in Thailand is woven entirely by hand and has a rougher, more free-form texture that reflects the craft of each artisan who works on it. Each piece is unique to the village that created it. This individuality has added to Thai silk's reputation as some of the finest silk in the world."

I love it when I learn something new that I can share with others. I do know how much I love the look and feel of silk, I knew some small bits about silk worms but nothing compared to what I know having read Richard Sobol's new book in the Traveling Photographer series.

I read his The Life  of Rice: From Seedling to Supper (Candlewick, 2010) and was impressed with the research he did to write it and the clear, informative photographs he took to accompany the text. Now, he does it again...and it only makes me more determined to find the other books that he has done and take a look at them, too.

This time his story of silk has an intriguing and sure-to-entice subtitle: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves. Who wouldn't be drawn to know more? As unappealing as it may seem, it is worthy of checking out, don't you think?

So, I did. And I was amazed at the work that goes into making silk. In this account it happens in a Thai village called Huai Thalaeng, and Richard is a returning visitor. He is welcomed heartily, and invited to see what happens when the rice is harvested and the farmers have nothing to do:

I asked the farmers how they would spend the next few months until the rainy season and the rice growing process started up again. They answered with a single word: "Worms." Worms? I asked if I had heard correctly. "Yes, worms!" the farmers replied. "Millions and millions of worms!"

They are needed to make silk; and Mr. Sobol recognized a new book in the making.  He offers his readers some historical data concerning the legendary discovery of the beautiful thread and the fabric that could be made with it. When he arrives in the village, the children are on holiday from school. While the boys continue their studies, the young Thai girls help with the work that produces their village's silk.

His photographs are most helpful in sharing the process, and his personal reflections and shared learning help to make it real for  his readers. There is much to learn:

"One by one, the looms begin to shuffle up and down, long reels of silk unwind, wheels start to spin, and kettles of hot water come to a boil on open charcoal fires. All the stages of creating silk are happy at the same time! Everywhere I look I see something interesting happening, and I hardly know where to point my camera."

His many photographs make evident every step in the process: the baskets of mulberry leaves, the silkworms happily eating their fill, the cocoons, the pots used to boil water, the fibers as they are stretched onto spools, the looms and the end unbelievably beautiful!

I didn't know I was interested in knowing the story of silk until I started reading this most engaging book. Now, I feel like quite the expert, thanks to Richard Sobol and his enlightening new book. Thanks for that, Richard!

Monsieur Marceau, written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Gerard Dubois. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2012. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Look at this man.
He climbs imaginary stairs.
He bows to an invisible person.
He tames a lion no one can see.
He plays a violin that isn't there.

He does not speak.
His name is Marcel Marceau,
and he is a mime."

Mimes cause discomfort for some of my favorite people. They are irreverent about the talent that these artists exhibit. Marcel Marceau is the only mime that I can name, and Leda Schubert shows nothing but reverence for his incredible talent. In her opening pages, she says:

"He is the superstar of silence,
the maestro of mime -
acting without words.
He uses his whole body onstage:"

I knew nothing about him, except the performances I had seen on television (and that seems a long time ago now), until I read Gloria Spielman's Marcel Marceau in the spring. I was surprised at what I learned then, and am impressed to learn more in this book.

Leda Schubert chooses her words carefully to help us come to know a remarkable and admirable man. He was so much more than his performances. She makes it clear through poetic, explicit text that his life changed dramatically with the atrocities of WWII. He worked tirelessly during the war years to help where he could, and ensure the safey of many Jewish children whose lives were threatened by the Nazi regime.

It did not scuttle his dream of entertaining, and being the best performer he could possibly be. She mentions in her afterword that he gave more than 15,000 performances, sometimes as often as 300 in a year, and travelled the world. His audiences were appreciative, and often mesmerized by his ability to 'act without words'.

He changed his last name to hide being identified as Jewish, and mourned his father's death in a concentration camp, saying later:

"The people who came back from the camps were never able to talk about it...
My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence."

Much of the text concerns his acting, and his reputation as the most famous mime of all time. She lets us see his personality, both on and off stage, through her powerful words. She ends the book with a very informative Afterword, source notes, further reading and some advice about the art of mime from Rob Mermin, founding director of Circus Smirkus and a student of Monsieur Marceau.

The spare text is dramatic and in harmony with the artist himself, while the art captures his vivacity and skill in outstanding oils. I went back again and again to wonder at Gerard Dubois' paintings, noting how the colors chosen changed my mood, and at the expressive renderings of  Marceau in action. An image of Marcel aping the motion picture work of his idol Charlie Chaplin in order to make his young friends laugh is very special, as is the drama of a double page spread filled with many of his signature pantomimes.

Is there a better way for our children to learn about such worthy members of the human race than through a quite remarkable picture book biography?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Annie and Helen, written by Deborah Hhopkinson and illustrated by Raul Colon. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2012. $20.99 all ages

"She asked Helen's family to leave, then locked the door and prepared for battle. Helen pinched! She bit! She threw herself to the floor and kicked. Annie would not give in. It took two hours, but in the end Helen ate her own food with a spoon and folded her napkin when she was done."

It is a remarkable story that weds determination, a bright and eager mind, patience and triumph. It is a yearlong struggle; their path is not smooth. A teacher who has been blind (and healed), a young girl who is blinded (not to mention her deafness and mutism) by illness as an almost two-year-old are brought together in an effort to unlock the mystery that is Helen: 

"Helen was like a small, wild bird,
throwing herself against the bars of
a dark and silent cage."

In expressive, yet simple, language Deborah Hopkinson brings to a new audience of young readers the story of Helen Keller and her amazing teacher, Annie Sullivan. She uses excerpts from Annie's personal letters to let us in on the thinking, the events and the concerns of that first year. What unbelievable success they achieved in such a short time!

I love  Ms. Hopkinson's description of Annie's perseverance in trying to help Helen understand the skill of finger spelling in order to introduce her to the world around her;

"Helen still needed the key to language.
Annie spelled into Helen's palm all day long.
Like someone on a windy peak
trying to kindle a fire for warmth,
Annie kept hoping for a spark to catch."

And her understanding of all that was happening as her student begins to flourish:

"Annie realized that Helen was learning language just as a baby does.
Mothers and fathers don't give babies vocabulary lessons
or worry about teaching grammar - they just talk.
All on her own, young Annie invented a brilliant new way to teach:
she would talk into Helen's hand
the way people talk into a baby's ears!"

The warm, gentle tone of the story is mirrored in Raul Colon's muted watercolors. The texture in the lines made me think of all that Helen was touching and feeling in her new world. A double page where Helen delights in the movement words she is learning as she walks, leaps, jumps across the spread is definitely my favorite scene. The archival photos of Helen as a child and young woman add a graceful charm to their story.

The feel of the Braille alphabet on the back cover is evidence that this is a publishing house that wanted to make its book the best it could be. Bravo! Young listeners and readers will be intrigued to the very end.

Oh, No! Written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2012. $20.99 ages 3 and up

"Tiger narrowed his eyes
and licked his teeth.
He smiled at the sight of
his tasty feast.
Drawled Tiger, "I've come
to help you out."


Oh, yes! If you are looking for great fun when you read aloud to your children today (or any day), look no further. You will want to read this book over and over again, and to pore over its beautifully designed prints. Oh, and your children will love it, too.

It begins on the cover with a menacing tiger prowling through the bamboo jungle, as an anxious
wide-eyed loris, a concerned mouse and an apprehensive frog watch from behind title and summary boards. The tiger takes a closer look at the frog whose eyes are closed in hopes the predator can't see him, and the chase is on. Just before capture and a quick tiger snack:

"Frog fell into a deep, deep hole.
Frog fell into a deep, deep hole.

He can't get out! Tiger is so unconcerned that he has a little snooze (perhaps to lie in wait for more prey and an even  more satisfying meal).  Mouse tries to help and meets the same fate as Frog. Now, there's a communal 'Oh, no!' from the depths of the hole. Luckily, Loris hears and does her best to initiate a rescue. Her allergies get the better of her; she sneezes and falls into the pit, too. Sun Bear gets in on the action, lowering a huge branch in hopes of pulling them out. Snap goes the branch, and he crash lands amongst his friends. Finally, a fun-loving monkey smacks into the tree above and finds himself the final captive in the tiger's trap!

As Tiger leers, and the animals anticipate their demise, the ground begins to shake:

"Then the ground bumble-rumbled and began to shake.
The ground bumble-rumbled and began to quake.
The ground bumble-rumbled and quake-shake-quaked.
And look who came to help them escape...."

With release comes a certain sense of swagger. When Tiger begs for help to get out of the pit himself, the answer is short and sweet: Oh, no!

Then, as we see the tiger's front paws come up over the rim of the hole, we know that 'it ain't over' yet. But, that's another story!

What a stunning collaboration! The great rhythmic language and suspense of the text created by Candace Fleming is matched by the printmaking prowess of Eric Rohmann. She uses repetitive sounds and collective shouts of dismay to tell her tale. He uses a rich earthy palette to create the setting and the jungle minions who people it. I love his use of perspective to show the depth of the cavernous pit; then his use of panels to show movement as each animal attempts rescue. 

I see much-deserved awards on the horizon! It's a 'keeper', Erin!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, retold and illustrated by Mo Willems. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2012. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"The three dinosaurs went Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting kid to come by. Sure enough, five minutes later a poorly supervised little girl named Goldilocks came traipsing along. Just then the forest boomed with what could have been a dinosaur yelling, "GOTCHA!..."

Kids understand parody when it's explained to them. There are few books better to help them with that understanding than Mo Willems' story of Goldilocks and the dinosaurs who leave their home one day with full knowledge (and glee) that she is likely to find an empty house too enticing to ignore. The chocolate pudding is laid out in bowls on a counter a bit too high for her to see. No problem...

"Then Goldilocks noticed a very tall ladder
that just happened to be there and
certainly wasn't left there on purpose."

Really? I wonder.

Too hot? No matter. It's chocolate pudding after all. Too cold? If you stick your head right into it, you might not notice the temperature. Just right? You can actually swim in it!

"Soon Goldilocks was stuffed like one of those delicious chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbons (which, by the way, are totally not the favorite things in the whole world for hungry Dinosaurs)."

Undaunted and full to bulging, she is off to find a place to relax and have an after dinner rest. Chairs? Nope! They're all too TALL. About to test the beds, she hears voices and determines she might be in danger. Lucky guess!

"Say what you like about Goldilocks, but she was no fool. As quickly as she could, she ran to the back door and got out of  there!"

 Readers and listeners are privy to exactly what is going on just makes it even more fun. The illustrations are characteristic of Willems' cartoon style and as always, full of expression, detail and humor.

Oh, it's going to be fun sharing this one wherever I go!

Oddrey, written and illustrated by Dave Whamond. Owlkids, 2012. $17.95 ages 3 and up

"Oddrey didn't mind being
different from the other kids.
She believed it was important
to think for herself.
But not everyone appreciated
her unique style.
Oddrey felt lonely."

When young ones hear and love stories about 'different' children, they begin to think. They might see that child from a window. They can look through it, appreciate who Oddrey is, what makes her special and come to know how she feels. Those who share Oddrey's willingness to be who they are, despite nonconformity, see that reflected in a mirror. This allows a chance to see themselves as others see them, and can heighten their resolve to be who they are, too.

Oddrey likes being who she is. Her shiny black pageboy, her bright smile, and her love of life as she lives it is evident from page one, where we see her in her highchair piling peas in a precarious pyramid before eating them...or maybe eating them isn't even on her agenda. Her hopscotch layout is innovative, her bathtime bubbles are a source of pure enjoyment. Her parents appreciate who she is:

"Her dad said she danced to
the beat of her own drum.

Her mom said she always
liked to do the unexpected."

As you can well imagine, not everyone likes her independence and lack of concern for the conventions. Her classmates are unsure about her endless enthusiasm. Oddrey perseveres. When she doesn't get a starring role in the class production of The Wizard of Oz, despite wanting it badly, Oddrey soldiers on and is determined to the be the best tree she can be...and the most unique. Even that doesn't work out for her. As the curtain goes up Oddrey has misgivings and, when her classmates experience a serious case of stage fright, it's Oddrey to the rescue!

She is an inspiration!

Prudence Wants a Pet, written by Cathleen Daly and illustrated by Stephen Michael King. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press. Raincoast, 2011. $19.50 ages 4 and up

"Prudence finds a new pet.
It is her brother.
His name is Milo.
She puts Milo in a box with
some water.
Prudence washes her new pet."

All she really wants is a new pet. Her parents refuse, giving all the excuses that parents with persistent, pet-loving children can garner. It is left to Prudence to use her determination to find a pet that will suit her.

She starts with a branch; it has merits. It doesn't mind the walk to school and back. It eats little. It doesn't even seem to need water. The real benefit? It is an outdoor pet and 'lives on the front porch.'
It does cause a problem for Dad. And, it is soon gone!

Learning a lesson from that, Prudence next chooses a twig, appropriately named Twig. Can't tell you what happens, or you won't need to get this book for your house or classroom. Following Twig, she notices an old shoe. Names it Formal Footwear and walks it around the block. You can see it, right??
Easy to train, Formal Footwear entertains for a while but gives nothing back to Prudence in terms of love or good company.

Not yet willing to give up, she makes Milo her next pet. Feeding and watering him is easy; but, it appears as if he doesn't like or thrive on seeds and grass. Finally, she convinces her parents to try sea buddies, after noticing a newspaper ad touting their many attributes. Waiting is endless, and the results cause despair:

"Prudence goes to live in her closet
for the rest of the day.
She was hoping the sea buddies would
have faces. Or move."

Poor Prudence! I love that she is patient and determined without having a screaming fit or trying to make her parents feel guilty for refusing her continued pleas. However, she never gives up the dream of being a reliable, knowledgeable, caring pet owner. She just keeps on keeping on...until her birthday.

Stephen Michael King shows his love for Prudence in his black line drawings with touches of watercolor where they are needed. He makes her spunky, yet content with ever-changing eyes that show exactly how she is feeling through the long wait for a pet. He keeps her as the focus, never showing her parents (well, their legs at varying times of day). She is a pretty special young woman and he helps us see that on every page.

How could you not love this face?

I won't spoil the ending...not sure I could do that anyway. I will tell you that it will be my go-to readaloud in upcoming days, and I can't wait to share it. In fact, I just read much of it to Erin during out daily cross-country phone call. Who's next?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two Crafty Criminals, written by Philip Pullman. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2012. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"Mr. Paget leapt like a dog discovered eating from the cat's bowl. His arm nudged the top shelf of the glassware display and a cascade of crystal decanters, saltcellars, goblets and tumblers fell to the floor with a mighty crash. Mr. Paget gave a yelp of dismay and tried simultaneously to pick up the broken glass, answer the customer's question and keep an eye of Dippy; but he couldn't do all three, and Dippy was gone."

Philip Pullman wrote the two novellas that are included in Two Crafty Criminals nearly twenty years ago. They remain as enjoyable today as they were then, giving us a glimpse of  London in the late nineteenth century. It is a thoroughly enjoyable time spent with boy and girl detectives who tackle two separate cases in Thunderbolt’s Waxwork and The Gas-Fitters’ Ball. They are the New Cut Gang and they are a riot.

In the first story, Thunderbolt watches as his father is taken to jail and accused of passing counterfeit sixpences. It is a crime that has the most dire effect on those who already have little. He sets out to prove that his father would do nothing of the kind, and enlists the help of the rest of the gang to find the real culprit. They are intent on the task at hand and through a series of very funny actions bring the real crook to justice.

In the meantime, the reader is highly entertained with outrageous humor and great characters whose idiosyncrasies astound and delight. Much of the comedy comes from the witty dialogue penned by this master at telling a great story. The gang is consumed with what is right and good, and a sense that wrongs must be righted. Cutting school with the greater good in mind is to be applauded and offers a most welcome escape for each member of the group. It only adds to the enjoyment for all.

We are introduced to Thunderbolt on the first page:

"Thunderbolt had never thought of himself as a criminal; he was a mild and scholarly youth. But he was a passionate collector of curiosities, and for some days now he had been filled with desire for the odd-shaped lump of lead belonging to Harry Fitchett, a boy in his class. Finally, after much bargaining, he had persuaded Harry to swap it for a length of slingshot rubber."

The Gang is distressed at the lack of action in London, and wondering what their next case might be when one falls into their lap. A burglar at The Gas-Fitter's Ball provides just the incentive to set them on a trail again. Their investigation gets tangled up with the work they are also doing to get their shy friend Dick to ask Daisy to marry him. He just hasn't got what it takes. Orlando makes a suggestion:

"The secret of love," said Orlando, "was told to me by a Spanish acrobat in a circus what I worked in once. And he ougther know, 'cause he had six wives at least. In different countries, of course. What he said was, you take a deep breath, close your eyes, grab hold of her hand, and cover it with burning kisses. About a dozen, he said. Once you done that, you feel quite different. Telling her you love her's easy after that."

Keep your fingers crossed that this new case and their wanting to help Dick and Daisy will up their game and give them the boost they have needed, and perhaps lead them on to their next case. Solution to this one? You bet! Fun? Oh, yes! You betcha!

City of Orphans, written by Avi. Simon & Schuster, 2011. $7.99 ages 10 and up

"When he whips around to see who hit him, the guy who did it looks back and grins. One of Bruno's gang. Maks jumps up and searches the crowds to see if other Plug Uglies are close. He don't see none. All the same, it's scary thinking those mugs are watching and waiting to get him. Standing up just seems a way of being knocked down. Rattled, Maks tries to tell himself that being hit by that guy was just bad luck. Trouble is, he can't be sure."

Maks is one of those newspaper boys like Joey, from the previous post, who makes only eight cents a day selling newspapers on the streets of late nineteenth century New York. He and his family are Danish immigrants living life as best they can. The three oldest children work and bring as much money home as they earn. Every little bit helps. The three youngest boys are in school. It is hard to read about the wretched poverty, the worsening health of Agnes, the constant bullying behavior of a neighborhood gang who prey on the newspaper boys. At the same time, it makes for a compelling and informative read.

Willa is introduced early when she jumps to Maks' defence, and protects him from the Plug Uglies. The gang sets upon him to take his money and his remaining newspapers when she pops up, brandishing a menacing stick and forcing them to retreat. It does nothing to better the relationship between Bruno (the gang leader) and Maks. They are constantly on the lookout for the other.

As the story unfolds we learn more about the Geless family and their circumstances. One of the daughters has tuberculosis, the factory where Father and Agnes work will soon shut down operation, and Emma is accused of stealing from a room at the Waldorf where she works as a maid. She is imprisoned in the Tombs, and there seems little hope for her release as that takes money the family does not have. It is an endless struggle for them to pay rent and put food on the table for eight, now nine when they welcome the homeless Willa into their family.

The family knows Emma is innocent. How can they prove it? Maks and Willa join forces with an older, ailing detective who gives advice and finds Maks a job at the Waldorf in hopes that he can find proof of his sister's innocence. What contrasts Avi creates by letting us see the opulence of the famous hotel, in tandem with the conditions in the Tombs, the wretched conditions for the Geless family. He allows his audience (through a terrific present tense voice) to experience the sights, sounds and smells of New York society, from all sides. That well-crafted voice makes every scene real and immediate and caused me many moments of concern and disquiet.

There is so much to admire about Avi's work...evil villains, heroism, a hint of mystery, a loving family and great adventure. You will not be sorry that you sat to spend time with these wonderful characters; but, you might not get anything else done for a few hours. Isn't that the best way to spend a dreary, and cool, fall day? Once started, you won't be able to stop! So, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Newspaper Boy and Origami Girl, written and illustrated by Michael Foreman. Andersen Press, Random House. 2012. $22.95 ages 5 and up

"...and soon spotted the group of bullies as they ran through the streets. snatching first an old lady's bag and then a little boy's mobile phone, The bullies joined up with other gangs and they all headed into an old tumble-down building by the river."

It was such a surprise to receive this imaginative tale in the mail this week! Not only is it a fun read; it connects me immediately to a book that I had just finished reading which I will tell you about in the next post.

Kids will love the soaring imagination that takes them from contemporary times to the past when young boys sold newspapers for pennies a day. What he doesn't sell in a day becomes Joey's bed for the cold nights of autumn. So, when he is bullied by a gang of young thugs, it is a revelation when his newspapers turn into a superheroine, who comes to his rescue. She is Origami Girl and she finds form in the newspapers that he is carrying when he is attacked. 

Despite the fact that they are five, and she only one, the bullies take to making themselves scarce. Joey is distraught that they have his money. Origami Girl is quick to reassure him that the search for the crooks is on. She expertly folds a pair of wings from the leftover newspapers, and they are off to soar above the London streets in search of the gang. They catch sight of them and watch as they pilfer from other vulnerable people. They then spy on a den of robbers and ne'er-do-wells from a skylight, before Origami Girl launches herself into their midst 'somersaulting, spinning, back-flipping, cartwheeling, and knocking them over like skittles.'

When the dust settles and the leader is jailed, Origami Girl quietly leaves Joey to garner headlines and accept congratulations. There is promise that this may only be his first adventure....let's keep our fingers crossed!

Young readers will love this tale of transformation and comeuppance! The watercolor illustrations place them in the middle of the action, looking at it from various perspectives and always in hope that the bullies will get what is coming to them. I was also left with the feeling that those young boys were being exploited to gather loot for the boss man, garnering a slight sympathy for them. Filled with action and goodness, this is a story that is sure to be read again and again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Noisy Poems for a Busy Day, written by Robert Heidbreder and illustrated by Lori Joy Smith. Kids Can Press, 2012. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"Cloud Watch

Puffy stuffies,
dragon drifters,
duelling dogs -
sky shape-shifters.


Young children will love sharing these poems written especially for them by this accomplished and dedicated poet. He recalls not being very good at reading at an early age, but he always loved the bouncy fun of poetry. He has carried that love forward, through a very successful teaching career and continues to bring his love of words to classrooms, sharing his enthusiasm and his joyful poems. 

In his new book, he takes readers through the many events in a child's day. He begins with getting out of bed:

"Riffle - rustle,
feet down - pound.
Another day
has rolled around!


On to breakfast, teeth brushing, dressing...and then, it's out the door into sunshine and fun with friends. Each of the experiences will be familiar, and the bouncy, full of movement verses will have toes tapping and hands slapping out the rhythms. There is much to entertain children when they venture outside and he manages to create a little ditty to help them enjoy watching the clouds, doing somersaults, even getting deep down dirty. That's all before lunch.

And lunch is also an outside adventure:

"Scunchy munch-up.
Sloppy slurp.
Swibble down.
Big belch -BURP!

"What do you say?
"Excuse me!"
"Thank you!"

The day's delights will entertain until it's time to take a bath, get into jammies, and head to bed. Sweet dreams!

The artwork is created in pencil and then colored in Photoshop, and shows children enjoying every aspect of a busy, happy day. Noise accompanies every facet of it. The main color palette is muted shades of green, orange, and yellow. There is lots of action to attract the attention of young listeners. The poems are short, to the point, and show what a preschooler's day sounds and feels like as they enjoy the many pleasures from morning until night. Children are the focus and those who share this book will have many opportunities to talk about their daily adventures.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Last week I read...

This week I am going to read....
Happy reading everyone.  Be sure to check to see what Jen and Kellee are reading. They always do such thoughtful reviews...and boy, are they readers!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Working Mummies, written by Joan Horton and illustrated by Drazen Kozjan. Farrar Straus Giroux, Douglas & McIntyre. 2012. $14.50 ages 5 and up

"A writer mummy works
at home,
She isn't a commuter.
She conjures spells for
On her personal computer.
Other mums sell houses.
They're not the least bit
By buyers who insist upon
Old dwellings that are haunted."

This is a book that begs to be shared with kids at Halloween. How often have you considered a job for your mom within the context of Halloween, and how that might change what she does for a living? As you can see from the above quote, it takes imagination and a way with words to make that happen.

Readers, and listeners are bound to be intrigued and at times, grossed out, by the work these women do. I guarantee they will be giggling all the while. Dressed in all shades of green, purple, orange and red, these working mummies go about their day in a fantasy city peopled by ghouls, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, zombies and monsters. Oh, did I forget to mention bats, black cats, worms, and spiders?

Mummies work in every facet of society and are of service to many in their busy and eerie community. They share their talents in restaurants, stores, schools, doctors' offices, and factories. Their jobs range from caterers to librarians, beauticians to pet groomers. They contribute to the health and well-being of their and its citizens. The descriptions of the jobs they do are funny, and often icky. The waitress serves 'Scream of Wheat', the caterers serve 'baby bat wings' and the doctor doles out 'coffin syrup' while the dentist files fangs for vampires.

What fun it must have been for Drazen Kozjan to fill these pages with detailed creature images and their environs! His invitation to join him in the fun begins ahead of the title page with a mummy's upright coffin and a bony hand stretching out of it. Turn the page and that hand is turning off the alarm for the mummy who is obviously ready for another day's work. Her cat is awakened and also leaving his nighttime abode, and her purse is at the ready for a quick grab as she heads out the door. This clever artwork enhances the humor of the telling and will hold attention through repeated readings. There is so much to see!

Halloween Forest, written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by John Shelley. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"I'll give you a hint.
It's not gravestones.
It's not a ghost that
moans and groans.
You'll find a forest
of bones!
The bare bones of trees
stand on a hill
in the chill

Ten days to Halloween and I haven't even mentioned it! Kids love it, even if their parents and teachers aren't particularly keen. I think it comes after their birthday and Christmas as their favorite day of the year, doesn't it? Do you think it's the CANDY? Or the COSTUMES? Or the imagined TERROR of it all?

I know they love books that have enough spookiness to make them squirm. So, I thought I would tell you about this new book. It concerns a daring child who wanders outside the comfort of town and finds herself in a bone forest:

"And hanging from
the branches
are bat bones.
Climbing the trunks
are cat bones.
Snarled in the roots
are rat bones."

OOOO! While the scenes are unsettling, the child keeps up her wandering. The bones seem to be reaching out for her, and readers are not sure what her reaction might be:

"Will you sigh?
Will you cry?
Will you dash away
in utter dismay?"

No! She has no worries whatsoever when she yells them back, then opens her dark cloak to reveal a SKELETON costume! She shows off  for them in assurance that she will not be frightened, and that she is no threat to them. The reward for her trick-or-treat chant is AWESOME!

Kids will delight in the rhyming text, the eeriness of the holiday forest and the fearlessness of the young girl. They will wish they had made the journey with her!

Using pen, India ink and watercolor, John Shelley creates a landscape in the forest that is all grasping fingers, and bony limbs. The details keep the suspense palpable. The grays and muted colors give pause as the young girl travels through its freaky overgrowth. Only as she begins to show her confidence does that palette become brighter, ending with an explosion of vivid color.

They will love it!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Breadcrumbs, written by Anne Ursu. Walden Pond Press, Harper. 2011. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems.
 ...Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.  And magic did come out."

Hazel doesn't fit. She did fit at the arts school she attended before her father left the family. At that school she was allowed to let her imagination run free, and be herself. It is not the same at her new school. She isn't interested in what other fifth graders are, she doesn't look like everyone else. Only her best friend Jack, the boy next door, admires and shares her many interests. As good friends do, Hazel and Jack support each other through tough times, and have always been there for each other.   

Jack is loyal to Hazel and their friendship, but he also wants to spend time with other friends at school and she notices that things between them are changing:

"There were some days, ever since the summer, when the whole feel of Jack seemed to change. Like suddenly, instead of being made of baseball and castles and superheroes and Jack-ness, he was made of something scratchy and thick. Hazel could tell, because he had been her best friend for four years, and you can tell when your best friend is suddenly made of something else. And all she could do was try to remind him what he was really made of."

Then, one day at recess, Jack gets a piece of glass in his eye, and life as they have known it changes. Jack is more apt to ignore Hazel than to notice her. She has no understanding for the changes until Jack disappears. His mother says he has gone to stay with an elderly aunt who needs his help; Hazel knows better. His friend Tyler says he saw Jack at the sledding hill, being led into the forest by a woman in white.

We are privy to the fact that Jack has been lured away by the Snow Queen. We saw her do it. Hazel is frantic to find her best friend, and is able to unravel those clues which set her on a quest to find him and bring him home. The forest's magic is alluring, and frightening. Readers will find themselves intrigued by Hazel's willingness to follow the trail to Jack, despite a brutally cold landscape and the perils along her route. It feels absolutely real even though we know we have entered a magical place.

As she moves further along the path that will ultimately lead to Jack, readers are reminded of folk and fairy tales that may be familiar.  Those who know stories penned by Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle will be inspired by their inclusion in this quest. Hazel learns about herself as she goes. There are many painful changes that happen as children grow up, and must deal with the realities of adolescence, friendship and family dynamics. They are tough lessons to learn. 

I came away from the reading loving both Hazel and Jack. They share so many interests...Narnia, graphica, Harry Potter, baseball,  imagining other worlds. They have each other's back, and truly like being together.  When the going gets tough, Hazel is willing to put everything on the line to find her best friend, no matter the changes that she is likely to encounter. It is mysterious, wonderful, engaging, thoughtful, heartbreaking and heartmending.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Spindlers, written by Lauren Oliver. Harper, 2012. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"The corridor opened up into a vast, semicircular amphitheater chiseled from dark stone. It looked like the baseball stadium at Fenway Park, but thousands and thousands of years old. Hundreds of tiers of blackened stone seats were arranged in a semi-circle, stretching endlessly upward, and Liza saw a smattering of sleepy-looking troglods and other creatures -"

When her brother Patrick seems to have changed overnight, Liza knows exactly what has happened. Patrick's soul has been stolen by the spindlers because he had been distracted and forgotten to use the broom charm she had taught him:

"And so the spindlers had gotten him: They had dropped down from the ceiling on their glistening webs of shadowed darkness and dropped their silken threads in his ear, and extracted his soul slowly, like a fisherman coaxing a trout from the water on a taut nylon fishing line."

In order to save her brother Liza sets out on a quest. She must go Below and get his soul back. Making that decision will lead her to danger, friendship, and ultimate success. Through a hole in the family home's basement, she falls down into the darkness that is Below. There, she meets Mirabella, a rat who first appalls and then befriends Liza, becoming her guide on the journey to find the spindler's nests. Their deadline is the dreaded Feast of the Souls. They must get Patrick's soul back before it is consumed by the evil spindlers.

As they travel a dark and dangerous path, they meet the wise and helpful nocturni and lumer-lumpens while also being terrified by the shape shifters known as scawgs (even the name sounds awful) and the dastardly queen leader of the dreaded spindlers. Everything Below tends to hold surprise and at times, terror. Nothing is expected and readers are constantly bombarded with new and unusual characters who do their best to sabotage Liza's journey.

When she finally makes her way to the nest, she is told that she must survive three rooms of tricks and puzzles if she wants possession of Patrick's soul. It almost overwhelms her, and certainly impedes her resolve. Will she make it in time? Can she really save her brother given all the obstacles placed in her path?

It is a great paced, daring, often humorous while also very scary. She meets an array of fantastic and memorable creatures. She discovers that she is a strong, brave, loyal and loving sister who is willing to face danger and adversity to accomplish the task she has set for herself.

I had no idea that Lauren Oliver was writing this  new novel. I loved Leisl and Po last year. I remain a big fan of her writing and think this would make a great readaloud for grades 3-6. There is much to like about it, and I am sure she will earn new fans when they hear this tale or read it themselves.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Water Sings Blue, written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Meilo So. Chronicle Books, 2012. Raincoast. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"We used to be rocks,
we used to be stones.
We stood proud as castles,
altars, and thrones.

Once we were massive,
looming in rings,
holding up temples
and posing as kings."

Kate Coombs has penned twenty-three poems to delight and intrigue us about the ocean and the many creatures who live in, and near, it. They are filled with evocative, descriptive language that gives the reader a real sense of the habitat and makes us feel a part of the wonders it holds.

It is celebratory, and begins with an invitation:

"Push away from the stillness of the nut-brown land,
form the road that leads to the shore.

Push away from the town with its tight tree roots,
from its closed brown shutters and doors.

Push away - heave-ho- from the heavy brown pier,
from its pilings huddled and dull.

For the water sings blue and the sky does, too,
and the sea lets you fly like a gull."

What a lovely introduction!

As with all poetry, they are meant to be read aloud. Most are short enough that they encourage repeated readings and may even become favorites. Constantly changing, and often laced with humor, these poems give a sense of the ocean's  vast and beautiful expanse.

The design carefully considers placement of text alongside Meilo So's gorgeous watercolor artwork. I wanted to point you toward my favorite one, but that keeps changing. The first time I read the book, I was taken by the brilliant-hued 'water artist' sharing the page with a shark and his potential meal of little fish. The next time I was intrigued by the three jellyfish poems, accompanied by three entirely different images, created with bright color and wavy lines. The last time, it was the changing perspective effected by the vast bulk of a blue whale diving down toward a sunken ship. Amazing!

You can even stop to shop at a tide pool:

"I'm going shopping at the tide pool.
They carry everything there -
mussels by the bushel
and three kinds of barnacle,
starfish and gobies to spare.

My mama gave me a shopping list.
I know I can find what she likes -
blennies for pennies,
beadlet anemones,
and urchins with lavender spikes."

From land to sea, to the depths of the ocean and back, to the flotsam that gathers along its shore, and the tide as it retreats leaving gifts for beach goers and treasure seekers, there are poems here to inform, engage and entrance us. What a truly exceptional book this is!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lemonade in Winter, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Scwartz & Wade, Random House. 2012. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Lemon lemon LIME,
lemon LIMEADE!
Lemon lemon LIME,
All that it will cost ya?
Fifty cents a cup!
All that  it will cost ya?
Fifty cents a cup!"

Winter can bring out the best in people, I think. This brother and sister act are a case in point. Admittedly, it's tougher to convince yourself that fresh air and exercise are good for your when the warm air freezes in your nasal passages, and your cheeks feel like circles of ice in no time. But, cold winter days don't always offer spirited fun on the inside. That being said, the two decide to open an outdoor Lemonade Stand, despite the frigid weather.

Of course, there are warnings about the zaniness of their plan, but they are sure they can make a go of it and are willing to ignore the many obstacles. So, they will make lemonade, they will make limeade, and they will make lemon limeade. The needed items are purchased, and the price is set! For only 50 cents, passers-by can have a refreshing cold drink...on an even colder day!

Enthusiastic and not to be thwarted by mere circumstance, the two show their spunk as they wait for customers to brave the cold, wintry weather to partake of their offer. They sing a song, they perform acrobatics, they artistically design an attractive storefront...finally, they must do as all shop owners often do. They lower their prices in order to boost sales. Their first foray into the business world cannot be termed a rousing success; but, they show grit and entrepreneurship in sticking to their plan and not being disheartened by the initial results. Pauline and John-John are to be admired for their pluck and persistence. They are a great team!

Have I mentioned that it is a math book, too? There is talk about money and little lessons about how the marketplace works:

"Pauline and John-John collect quarters.
They empty piggy banks and search pockets.
"Each time you get four quarters, that's a dollar," says Pauline.
"Four quarters, that's money!" says John-John."

Never do the math lessons overwhelm this story of the children themselves. They are delighted to be sharing the adventure, and supportive of the each other's role. They carry on with great camaraderie and wonder...and that is the best of all!

G. Brian Karas uses brush and walnut ink on paper, colored in Photoshop and finished with pencil to create a wintry world of wonder for Pauline and John-John. His palette of browns and grays does not dampen the spirit the two exhibit. The details are endearing...witness John-John using pieces from his parents' jigsaw puzzle to build a train under the table where they are working. And, his visual displays of the money spent for supplies, then collected at the stand, then spent again when the business closes, are spot on for young readers. The explanation of money by sister for brother at the end of the book is an added delight!

I love, love, love it!

A Full Moon Is Rising, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Julia Cairns. Lee & Low, 2011. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"Sail on a Saturday.
Sail on a Monday.
You'll find the highest tides of all
here, in the Bay of Fundy.

Sail at a new moon.
Sail at a full.
Waters spring to their peak
to heed the lunar pull."

Don't you just love books that teach you something new? I knew this would be a book of poetry, and I knew that the poems would vary in form, and I knew that they would be thoughtful and inspire me. Marilyn Singer's work is not new to me, and I have great admiration for her ever-evolving way with words.

I did not know that I would learn more about the world and its cultures, while I also learned more about the moon than I had previously known. That is just what this prolific poet shows people around the world welcome the full moon;

"All around the world, people and other living things are affected by the changing phases of the moon. But perhaps the most celebrated phase is the full moon. Sailors set out to sea on the high tides it causes. Insects and migrating birds are guided by its brilliant light. Families dance, sing, and feast at full moon festivals, while traders buy and sell camels."

She begins in New York City on Broadway, the moon waiting 'in the wings' and ready for 'its monthly debut'. The locations for celebration are wide-ranging and provide an engaging world journey.  The poems consider natural phenomena such as the Bay of Fundy, a lunar eclipse, and the Staircase to the Moon. She ends back in New York where the moon 'takes a bow' and promises an 'encore in one month!'

Each location is beautifully pictured in energy-infused watercolors on a two-page spread by Julia Cairns, and is accompanied by a short poem by Marilyn Singer describing the events of each scene. The gentle rhythms of Singer's poetry and the lovely full-color images move the reader from page to page, wondering at the many ways the moon affects people of the world. The endpaper maps place reader and listener at each location considered for inclusion, and give a little lesson in geography. An  "About the Poems" section is added to give further detail for each one. 

While it is a familiar sight, it is also quite amazing that so many share its beauty and wonder in a variety of ways. I am always soothed by the fact that no matter how far away from my children I am, we can look outside at night and know that we see the same moon. It helps keep them close.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Bear in the Book, written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben. Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux. Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. $ 18.95 ages 3 and up

"The boy turned the page.
The bear had curled itself
up into a ball.
He was bedding down
where he would stay until
"Sleep, big black bear," said
the boy's mother.
"Shh," said the boy."

This beautiful bedtime story is centered on a young boy, his mother, his favorite book and their nighttime ritual. As they read the story of a hibernating bear, they do all those things that make reading before settling in for the night such a pleasure. The child chooses the book. He is given time to scan its pages before handing it to his mom. Then, they cuddle up and prepare to share its familiar story once again. As she reads, she patiently listens to her son's questions and comments:

"Snowflakes began to fall across the pages of the book.
The snow sat snugly in the boughs of the trees.
The boy could almost feel it.
"Snow is cold," he said. He nestled closely against his mother.
"I like snow," he said.

"Winter settled like a big hush," read the boy's mother.
"And the big black bear slept."
"Shh, " said the boy."

Without ever making us feel that this is a lesson in the making, Kate Banks models sharing a book with a young child. The closeness between parent and child, the time given to look carefully at every page, the talk about what is happening, and all with no rush, no refusal to answer questions that have probably been asked over and over again. It is a gentle, peaceful, quiet and satisfying time for both. A perfect end to the day.  

The artwork is thick with deep color. Each turn of the page allows listeners to watch the two stories sit side by about the boy, the other about the bear. The bear scenes reflect the cold of the winter landscape while the warmth within the bedroom is reflected in oranges and yellows. As spring arrives Georg Hallensleben fills the final pages with bright blue skies, and floral fields of yellow and bright green. The warm breeze wakens the bear, just as the young boy falls into a deep sleep.

It is truly a remarkable read, and a perfect bedtime book!

A Home for Bird, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Book Press, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Vernon showed Bird
the river...
and the forest.
He took Bird foraging...
and cloud watching, too.
But Bird said nothing.
"I am worried that Bird
is not happy," said Vernon.
"Perhaps he is lost," said

Would that we all had friends like Vernon! If you do, hold them tightly to your heart and never let them go...I speak from experience and am grateful every day for the very special people who share my life.

Vernon is a foraging toad. He loves to spend his days looking for things of particular interest. When he spies Bird, he wants to help. He asks helpful questions; Bird offers nothing to the conversation. Not wanting to leave him alone, Vernon takes Bird under his 'wing' and introduces him to his friends.  Bird remains unresponsive.

Vernon sets out with Bird to help him find his home. Off they go on thier quest, searching for a place that will offer lodging and happiness for his new friend. He knows that Bird will let him know when they find the right place. Indeed, he does!

Oh, so charming! Philip Stead knows how to tell a story...and he does it incredibly well in both words and illustrations. I can't wait to share this with a roomful of teachers on Friday morning. It is a lovely readaloud. I know, I have read it aloud to myself four times already.

The illustrations are a visual delight, so full of engaging images that I have pored over them again and again. They incorporate light, scribbles, overlaid color, white space, and appear tousled, in keeping with Vernon and his way of life. It was not a quick and easy artistic process as Philip Stead explains:

"All that was left for me to do was to decide on an art style. My previous two books were done in collage, a very labor intensive, multilayered process. I love working that way, but the style just didn’t feel right for the characters or the setting in A Home for Bird. In the end, I settled on a style and materials that I was almost completely unfamiliar with…water-soluble crayon and gouache.

I kicked myself many times over the next year for having made the decision to use these materials. Working with crayon might sound fun but, well, you can’t erase when you mess up. I’ve never had to tear up and throw away so much artwork. It is an odd and uncomfortable feeling to be learning how to use materials while working on a project that’s going to be published (not to mention reviewed and critiqued)."

No wonder it has such a marvelous result! His perseverence has definitely paid off in a story that will forever have its place on my 'keepers' shelf. Now, you must get out and find a copy for your family and your classroom!

For a more in-depth look at Philip Stead's work, please visit Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast:  It is an quite an astonishing and informative post.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Little Bird, written by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"But some have something
a little more.
Nothing much.
Just a small thing.
Most of the time we don't
notice these things.
Because little things are
not made to be noticed."

When he arrives at the edge of the cliff, the man climbs out of his truck and releases a large number of beautiful birds. Off they go, we know not where. Checking to be sure they have all 'flown the coop', (so to speak), he notices that a singular bird has remained in the truck box. When he tries to convince the bird to join his feathered friends, he makes no headway. The bird remains at his side. They share a meal. When they are finished, the man tries once more. In a series of foolish maneuvers the man attempts to teach the bird the mechanics of flight. This time, the bird flies to the man, lands on his head and then flies off in the same direction as the others. Soon after, the man drives away, bringing an end to this lovely and poignant tale. In truth, it might only be the beginning.

Germano Zullo's text is carefully chosen and so perfectly executed, it is magical. He offers a lesson in recognizing tiny treasures in our lives...those things that make living it more meaningful and worthwhile. He allows Albertine to take a leading role in the telling with her bright and effusive colors, her expressive characters, the connections she makes between the two before they are separated and the joy they find in each other's company. Much of the book is wordless, allowing readers a chance to revel in what art offers in the way of story.

This book was the winner of the 2011 Prix Sorcieres for illustration, the French Caldecott medal. I cannot imagine a more deserving recipient. It is a perfect example of what is best in illustrated books for children of the world. You will want to pay close attention to the beauty of the message. Can little things change the world? I wonder.

STOP THIEF! Written and illustrated by Adam J. B. Lane. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"He tried different

Nothing worked.
Perhaps he needed Mr.
Pigglesworth after all."

When Randall makes the announcement that he is 'a big boy now!', he appears ready to give up everything that has had importance to him until this very moment...even his stuffed pig, Mr. Pigglesworth. And no more kisses at bedtime or booster seats either.

Mr. Pigglesworth is relegated to a shelf in the living room and Randall heads for bed. Alas! He cannot get to sleep and goes downstairs in search of his stuffed pig. Lo and behold! He is just in time to find a thief putting Mr. P into his loot bag, along with all the other stuff he has taken. Randall's immediate reaction is to yell at the top of his lungs, "STOP THIEF!" It does not deter the conniving crook and the chase is on!

Captivated readers will love the variety in venue that is in store for the crook and his persistent pursuer. They race past convoluted constellations, make a path through the zoo, narrowly escaping capture by cagey crocodiles and banana-throwing monkeys, before jumping the fence and heading for the chocolate factory. The adventure does not end there; off they go to the museum and the county fair where a hot air balloon offers escape for the cagey crook. Up and up they go, Randall hanging perilously on a piece of hanging rope. It could be lovely, if it weren't so frightening.

When they strike a skyscraper, it is Randall's quick thinking that saves the day!

Read it once, read it twice...each and every time you will discover something new. The spreads are mostly without words which allows concentration on the cartoon-like artwork. Humorous and full of action, there is much here for young readers to enjoy repeatedly.

Ready for Pumpkins, written and illustrated by Kate Duke. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2012. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"But the seeds weren't ready. Seeds can take a long time. They don't grow faster if you yell at them. They don't grow faster if you jump up and down and stamp your feet. They won't grow at all if you dig them up to see how they are doing. I tried all these things."

Hercules loves his life. He spends his days in a grade one class where he is often the center of attention, and certainly a valued member of the classroom community. He knows that he is very lucky!

When he notices the bean plants that are being grown by the children, he determines that gardening might be the perfect pursuit for him. His stash of last year's seeds will certainly come in handy now! While being cared for over the summer, Hercules manages an escape and a chance to assuage his yen for planting. He has a surprise meeting with a rabbit named Daisy, who has much to teach about his new found pursuit.  Patience is not his forte; he learns a lot from having to wait patiently for seeds to sprout and plants to grow:

"Waiting is hard.
Daisy helped me do it.
She told me stories about famous pumpkins
in literature.
Together we made up pumpkin poems and songs about seeds."

As the plants begin to poke their beautiful stems and leaves above ground, Herky is delighted. The growth is worthy of a 'flower dance'. The growing of pumpkins is not without hazards and Kate Duke handles the setbacks with panache, making it a real learning experience for her audience. Before the pumpkins have fully grown and changed color, Herky is brought back to the classroom to meet a new group of first graders:

"And I had things just as good as pumpkins. I had pumpkin poems and stories and songs.
I had flower dances to practice.
At night I could dream pumpkin dreams."

With a bit of a lucky discovery at the farm, the story comes full circle. We know that Hercules will not forget what he has learned throughout his first gardening summer.

Halloween is just around the corner, and never do we see more pumpkins than at this time of year. This is a great story to share in early years classrooms, now and again in the spring. After all, what are going to do with all those seeds when you make jack-o-lanterns?

Little Tug, written and illustrated by Stephen Savage. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2012. $14.99 ages 2 and up

"He's not the tallest
boat in the harbor.

He's not the fastest
boat in the harbor.

He's not the biggest
boat in the harbor."

This is another great book for early readers. The text is brief and accessible while telling a lovely story of belonging, and taking a role, despite your size. In an interview with Stephen Savage I read that his idea developed when his little girl was a newborn, and he recognized how tiny she truly was in comparison to her dad. At the same time, he was spending hours watching harbor action and admiring the tugs that attract so much attention. Voila! The two ideas meshed, and here we have the finished effort...a brand new book!

We are the lucky ones who will get to share it with boat loving family members, and perhaps those who are feeling a little small in the grand scheme of things. While Little Tug isn't the tallest or the fastest or the biggest boat in the harbor, he has his place. In beautifully designed graphic artwork, it is easy for young readers to grasp the comparisons between ships in the harbor. Although small, Tug does the job he was designed to do, and helps guide other ships to their rightful and safe places.

There is a lot for young readers to see as they watch Little Tug make his way along the river he calls home...high rise buildings, bridges, buoys, various types of water transport, birds, and skylines.  Then, when he needs help the most, those who benefited from his assistance come together to make his day better, too. It's a great bedtime story for the preschool set, while also offering some background knowledge about water transport.

A job well done, Little Tug!