Total Pageviews

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ME and MOMMA and BIG JOHN, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by William Low. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $20.00 ages 6 and up

"Momma used to work the factory line, right here in the neighborhood. Now an early-early bus takes her across the bridge into the city, all the way down to the yard where they are cutting stone for the cathedral called Big John. A cathedral is a big, grand, fancy church and Big John is the grandest of them all."

John's mother looks like she has had a hard day of work when she gets home from her first day on the job. She is, after all, a stonecutter:

“She is gray as ashes, from her headscarf to her boots. Even her bouncy beaded earrings have gone dull as dirt.”

When his mother takes the children to the site of the work she is doing, it is a revelation to John. He  knows that all the time she has been working at her new job Momma has only worked on ONE stone! No one will ever know which stone that is when it is placed with all of the others. But, seeing the beauty and grandeur of Saint John the Divine allows him to understand how each piece completed is integral to the finished work. Momma loves her work. She sees herself as an artist. It takes hard work to do your best job.

This story is inspired by one young mother who found worthy work as an apprentice:

"Then, in the 1970s, the dean of the cathedral had a new idea. Young New Yorkers needed jobs. Why not hire them to build Big John? In Europe, stonework was a dying craft. He would bring masters over to teach stonecutting and carving. Their craft would be revived, young people would have paying jobs and learn a skill, and construction would begin again at last."

The apprenticeship program lasted until 2007 when the money ran out...again! The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine remains unfinished; that does little to affect the joy and spiritual peace found within its walls. William Low creates digital images that hum with the light and life of this truly beautiful church.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Frazzle Family Finds a Way, written by Ann Bonwill and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"The Frazzles were forgetful.
They forgot their umbrellas
when it rained.
They forgot their coats
when it snowed and their
sunscreen when it was sunny.

When they went off to work..."

You might know a family like the Frazzles. I know that I do!
None of the family members has much of a memory for what is needing to be done. You can tell that by reading the opening excerpt. It gets even worse when they head off to work...and it can be quite embarrassing for everyone. Even the dog has adopted the forgetfulness, and can't remember where he has buried his bones.

It takes some courage to invite Aunt Rosemary to come and help them organize their lives:

"Aunt Rosemary had ideas. "What you need is my system," she said. "It's guaranteed to work." She set about making notes and calendars and schedules and lists until it seemed the whole house was covered in paper."

By now you know how forgetful the Frazzles are! They forget to read the notes and check the calendars. It happens to everyone at one time or another.  But, when Annie hears Aunt Rosemary singing (?) in the bathtub, it gives her an idea, and the solution to all of their troubles:

"Soon Annie heard something coming from the bathroom. Aunt Rosemary's singing voice sounded like Wags when the string around his tail was tied too tightly, but it gave Annie an idea."

 Their problems are history!

I have always loved Stephen Gammell's happy and often chaotic watercolor art. Here, he is in his element with a family that embodies that chaos. He fills the pages with tangled clothing, unruly hair, confused expressions, bright spots of color and a healthy dose of humor. His paints splash action in every direction. The final spread says it all...with cake and chaos, but a celebration just the same!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Owly and Wormy: Bright Lights and Starry Nights, by Andy Runton. Atheneum Books, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $18.99 ages 3 and up

They want to see the stars.

There are many things to
prevent that from happening.

Can the two find the courage
together to persevere in the
darkness and find the light...

and some new friends?

Ah, books that don't need words to tell a wonderful, charming tale! You can't help but love them...and neither can the kids who may find themselves in the story, and need not be readers to take great pleasure in sharing them. They were once comic book characters; now, Owly and Wormy have found a new home in picture book format. The size of the book itself allows for an expansion of their world and their actions.

The two are the best kind of friends...they are there for each other. They have decided to take up stargazing. Using their telescope from the vantage point of their tree house results in unexpected difficulty. They can't see past the many leaves that usually offer safety and privacy. There's only one thing to do. They will leave the woods in search of a hill and a better vantage point. Thus, they will be able to see the many stars in the night sky.

There are a few obstacles. First, Wormy is very fearful of the dark. Then, there's the drenching rain. Finding sanctuary in a nearby cave, the darkness intensifies and with that, night sounds become more pronounced. Where's their telescope? Can they find it? What might have happened to it?

If there are no words, the illustrations must be stellar to move the story forward; Andy Runton is adept at creating warmth and deep friendship while also bringing the adventure of dark night and a frightening storm to his 'readers'. And, it's a graphic novel...just like the big guys!!!

I love how Mr. Runton uses dialogue bubbles filled with pictures to allow all children access to his matter the age or the language spoken. Story is the same in all languages! Deep friendship, fear of the dark and  fast-paced adventure will have even the most reluctant reader making a return visit.

It's Monday, Mrs. Jolly Bones. Written by Warren Harrison and illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster, 2013. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"It's Tuesday, Mrs. Jolly Bones. There's gardening to do. The peas and beans need weeding, and the squash need water too. Now hoe those rows of onions. Keep the cornstalks growing high. Then polka through the posy patch and make those flowers fly!

It's Wednesday, Mrs. Jolly Bones."

Mrs. Jolly Bones has it together...she knows exactly what's on her schedule every day of the week! How she gets it done is sure to surprise and delight listeners in this funny rhyming tale.

As with so many others, Monday is a day set aside for laundry. So, she sorts, and washes, and dries, and even irons the clothes (ironing, what's that?). It is what she does with them after her laundry tasks are done that will have little ones guffawing:

"Then fling them out the window...
so they brighten up the street!"

And so it goes, one day to the next. Each routine task is accomplished...gardening, cleaning, shopping, baking, entertaining and finally a restful Sunday. Once done, she adds her own very personal touch to a job well done. Young readers and listeners will enjoy each cheerful antic from stepping in the toilet bowl to stinking up the kitchen.

The sense of rhythm in the text adds a modicum of peace to the wild ride that is happening on each page. Who doesn't love absolute silliness in a readaloud for our youngest listeners? It is such fun to share, and to listen to the hoots as she does just one more crazy thing.

Tricia Tusa's watercolor and ink images are familiar to fans, and definitely add to the 'enjoyability' factor. They are light and carefree, assuring attention to all of the action conveyed by the words. But, you will have to take a careful, close look to see everything! Just check out Mrs. Jolly Bones' attire. Scruffy slippers, sloppy stockings, unruly hair...she's a force to be reckoned with, isn't she?

If you are one of those lovely people who march to the beat of a different drummer, you have found an ally in this witty, playful book!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games, written by J. J. Ferrer. Charlesbridge, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"Say the rhyme below while bouncing the ball off a wall. While the ball is bouncing, do the action listed next to the rhyme's text, finishing it before catching the ball with either hand. If you drop the ball or make a mistake with the rhyme or the action, you have to start again from the beginning."

What a load of fun this book is!

The author certainly took me back, and quickly, to days of my childhood and all of the fun we had in our neighborhood. Days were spent with everyone outside for as long as our parents allowed it. What games we didn't know others taught us. Despite the fact that I live across the street from a K-8 school today, I see only a few children playing there.  Such a shame!

Mr. Ferrer notes that games have been played throughout history and have had great import for children and their families throughout those many years. They help children learn skills, build a variety of strengths and how to have real fun with others. Being a part of any team has a lifetime benefit and allows for understanding, empathy and tremendous growth.

The book is divided into seven sections and covers so many types of games it is almost overwhelming. Ball, brain, solitary, car, card, group and partner games run the gamut and various venues are also described. The design of the book makes all pertinent information obvious, naming the game, the number of players, the materials needed, and the rules in easy-to-follow entries. There are 'fun facts' giving background and some amazing information.

This is a great book for families, for schools and for other organized groups. You might find here a game that you had forgotten about over the years since you last played it. I assure you that it will bring back some happy memories.

Now, get yourself and the kids outside for some OLD-FASHIONED fun! You won't be sorry....and who knows? you might have a blast.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Flight 1-2-3, by Maria van Lieshout. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2013. $16.99 ages 3 and up

"We travel to faraway destinations to explore new places and connect with family and friends. We rely on airport signs to show us where to go and how to get there. This book will take young readers on a tour of the iconic airport and in-flight signs found around the world. Without these signs..."

On the heels of the super successful Backseat A-B-See! comes this new book about numbers and a family trip by air. A cab gets them to the airport and once they arrive, readers are asked what they see as the family travels from arrival to departure.

As they go, we will notice I airport, 2 luggage carts, 3 desks for checking in; those are the small numbers. What about the number of passengers? And then, how high will the ascent be? How long might they travel at 33,000 feet?

In her first book, Maria Van Lieshout told her readers that it originated with her son's fascination with signs. In this one, she takes us through all the official signage that helps travelers find their way through an airport, no matter what language they might speak. In two page spreads, the signs take up a page with numbers at their side. In reading it over again and again, I can't imagine that she has forgotten anything of real importance.

The exemplary graphic art encourages discussion, makes for a playful sharing and will appeal to families as they embark on their first trip by air. It is sure to be a favorite for years to come at home, and for future family trips. None of that takes into account the amount of counting that is sure to be done!

I'll read it again just before I leave Victoria for Winnipeg on Wednesday!

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, written by Jan Pinborough and illustrated by Debby Atwell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Some libraries were beginning to let children come inside, but Annie's library had something brand new - a library room planned just for children. Children could come and take books off the shelves. And in the evenings Annie read aloud to them - just as her father had read to her."

Even retired teacher librarians love to read books about those who paved the way for others to follow! This picture biography about Anne Carroll Moore, an early advocate for children and their reading allows readers to see the many real accomplishments that are attributed to her during her ninety years. She was an innovator at a time when there seemed to be no real concern for the needs of children in terms of library services. 

Miss Moore believed that children had the right, and the need, to touch the books that were written for them. She also felt that it was their right to borrow them and to enjoy them in the comfort of their own homes. These beliefs eventually led to her position as head of children's services at the New York Public Library. There, she continued to work her magic. 

The author uses sincere and coherent language to share Miss Moore's story. She was educated at the Pratt Institute and got her first job the children's room. Her path was always clear:

"She saw that many librarians did not let children touch the books, for fear that they would smudge their pages or break their spines. They thought if children were allowed to take books home, they would surely forget to bring them back. But Miss Moore thought otherwise."

She encouraged her librarians to talk with children and to listen to their stories, and then to share their own. Her legacy lingers today in every children's room in every library where children are welcomed and encouraged to borrow books, to talk about them, to hear real authors and illustrators share their work and their book lives.

Debby Atwell’s acrylic artwork gives readers a sense of the excitement garnered and the changes that were made by Anne Carroll Moore and those who followed in her footsteps. The bold colors capture the beauty of the children's room and the sense of wonder that found a home within its walls. 

An author's note adds pertinent information and Jan Pinborough adds a good listing of other books that aspiring librarians might find worthy of their attention. Miss Moore not only thought otherwise, she knew better. Thanks to her, we do, too!

Lucky Ducklings, written by Eva Moore and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Orchard Books, Scholastic. 2013. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Mama Duck went first.
Right behind came Pippin,
and last of all...
Little Joe.
Oh dear!
That could have been the end..."

Kids will love that this wonderful new book is the result of something that really happened. The six ducks live in a pond on an island. One day, Mama decides to take them to town. What happens after that is their story!

Who wouldn't take note if they saw a mama duck and her five ducklings out for a walk together. Luckily, many people see them. As they waddle along behind their mother, the little ones have no idea they are headed straight for danger. As they pass over the grate for a storm drain, each one tumbles out of sight. It might have been the end of them all.

But, someone notices and calls for emergency help. The fire department is deployed to take action. 
Everyone in the community wants a happy ending and they work tirelessly to ensure that those babies are soon reunited with their frantic mother. The telling is rhythmic and charming, while also being gentle and reassuring. I love the way Eva Moore brings their story to life.

With varying perspectives Nancy Carpenter makes the rescue real and full of feeling. We see the concern on the onlookers' faces as they look through the grate to see the tiny ducklings below, and then watch the fireman as he climbs down and down the ladder to the storm drain and those in need of rescuing.  Concern is the order of the day. She also entertains with images of Little Joe (already set apart by his name), his curiosity and constant lagging. They make him even more lovable.

 The artist ensures mood changes with use of color; she opts for warm yellows and greens when we first meet the family and adds darker tones when danger rears its ugly head. Then, be sure to bask in the beauty of the final soothing image reiterating the notion that all's well that ends well.

With the return of ducks to warmer climes, and a closer look at pond life, you can add Lucky Ducks to other memorable stories such as Make Way for Ducklings (McCloskey, 1941) and The Story About Ping (Flack, 1933). Oh, and don't miss Mo Willems' Duckling books! Or Odd Duck (Castellucci, 2013)! Or Gossie and Friends (Dunrea, 2001)! That could have been the end....

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fish for Jimmy, written and illustrated by Katie Yamasaki. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Jimmy didn't understand why his family couldn't be together at home near the Pacific Ocean, at home where they could eat in their own kitchen. Why couldn't his mother cook the good rice and noodles, fresh vegetables and fish that he was used to?"

In her first book as both writer and illustrator, Katie Yamasaki takes a page from her family's history to tell the story of Taro and Jimmy. They live in California and enjoy a full and happy life. Their father has come to the United States to open a vegetable market, and their mother cooks fish caught fresh from the Pacific as a daily staple.

When Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, their family life is dramatically changed. First, their father is taken from them. Then, they are placed in an internment camp with their mother, hemmed in by barbed wire and armed guards. There is no clear reason for this happening. The most haunting effect for the family is Jimmy's refusal to eat the unfamiliar food offered in the camp's kitchen. There is no fish. Jimmy longs for fish. Taro and his mother don't know how to make things better until, one day, Taro summons up all of his courage and sneaks out of the camp. When he returns, he has fresh fish for his mother to prepare...a familiar and welcome feast for Jimmy.  His brave deed makes a big difference!

The artwork is dramatic and telling. Readers will need to take careful note of each of the spreads to see what the artist cleverly includes in them. The colors are bold, showing the danger that is ever-present and the strong family bonds that allow them to survive their imprisonment.  

This is an important historical story.  In a “Dear Reader” note the author shares this page from her family's history and provides archival photographs of their internment in the Granada Relocation Center in Colorado. It was a terrible time for so many and stories such as this remind us that it must not happen again!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Becoming Babe Ruth, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $19.00 ages 6 and up

"They eat breakfast in complete silence. If they talk, they might get whipped. They eat the same food every day. They go to class. They go to work. They follow the rules. George does not like following rules, and he does not like going to class. He misses his parents and his baby sister. But there is one thing that he does like..."

I have heard his name over and over again, but did not know Babe Ruth's story. Since I am such a fan of Matt Tavares and his sports stories, I knew that I would like this new book. It is an homage to a national baseball hero, and a look at the way he changed the game.

He is only seventeen when his father sends him to St. Mary's Industrial School, feeling that George's behavior is out of control and can not be managed at home. While he doesn't like the school's demanding regimen, it does have its benefits. Brother Matthias takes the young boy under his wing, teaching him the game of baseball. Recognizing his formidable skills, he goes on to help make them even better.

George is only 19 when the Baltimore Orioles sign him to a contract, give him a nickname that matches his enthusiasm for the game and his new life. He is forever known in sport as Babe, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat. Trades take him first to Boston and then to the Yankees, and he becomes a hero of unfathomable proportions. He is a man larger than life, a worthy hero while living that life with great gusto.

Matt Tavares ensures that all the important 'stuff' is included for his young and ardent audience. He places his focus not only on baseball, but on the philanthropy that became a part of Babe's legacy. He charmed fans and is an appealing character to know through the anecdotes shared in this exemplary book. He uses watercolor, gouache and pencil to bring Babe to life for a new generation, showing on every page how happy he is to live the life he has.

An author's note, a stats chart and a bibliography make it clear that the author views his subject with wonder, just as he hopes his readers will do when they have read this book. I'll be adding this to my growing list of outstanding picture book biographies. I hope you will do that, too.

Wild Boy, written by Mary Losure and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $19.00 ages 10 and up

"But when rain pattered on the roof and everyone else went inside, the wild boy often crept out into the garden, to the tiny, formal reflecting pond that sat among the flower beds. He would circle the pond several times, then sit by its edge and rock himself back and forth as the rain dimpled the surface of the pond. He’d gaze into the water, toss in a handful of dead leaves, and watch them drift."

I didn't read The Fairy Ring: Or How Elsie and Frances Fool the World 
(Candlewick, 2012); everything I read about it made me think it should be on my TBR pile. So, when I first heard about Mary Losure's new book, I was keen to have a look.

It is an absorbing story and it's true! It's about the boy found in the woods in the south of France in 1789. He was a young boy who had been living on his own; no one knew for how long or anything about him. He was covered with scars, he did not speak, he constantly ran away from any kind of restraint. He was captured in hopes of studying him. He was unable to communicate in any way in the beginning. As days went by, it became clear that he was not happy.

It wasn't until he was transferred to an institute for 'deaf-mutes' that much changed for him. There he met Dr. Itard, who wanted him to be happy before he tried to teach him to communicate. He gave the boy a name, Victor. Within Dr. Itard's household, Victor became close to the housekeeper and her family. Teaching him to speak and to live what we might consider a more normal life was not an easy task, nor did it ever fully work.

Mary Losure gives her young audience a clear look at the boy, and the attempts that were made to understand where he came from and to help him assimilate to the world in which he now found himself. The writing is beautiful and clear, and empathetic to his plight. It is a complicated story to tell. Yet, she creates a character who will resonate with them; they are sure to understand his love of nature and of being independent and free outside the constraints of clothing, walls, and other people.

Ms. Losure's book is the best kind of historical fiction, allowing readers to know about a particular time in history. Her research allows us to hear the voices of people living at the time, and to know as much of Victor's story as she can write. In the Author's Note she considers the fact that he may have been autistic. She also lets readers know that the attempts to educate him have had an impact on educational history.

Timothy Basil Ering's haunting, monochromatic artwork assures that readers have a clear picture of the 'wild' boy, post-Revolutionary France, his surroundings, and those who tried to change his life.

Friday, May 17, 2013

WeirdZone: Sports, written by Maria Birmingham. Owlkids, 2013. $13.95 ages 8 and up

"You can now win a bike race without ever leaving home. Sound impossible? Ride into the world of stationary bike racing. A new bicycle called the Ergo Bike allows riders to race each other virtually. They just pick a time and a virtual course to complete in a head-to-head race with another biker."

Here's a book that will never be on the library book shelf. Strange? Funny? Danger? And sports, too. Who wouldn't be intrigued by all that?

The sports here mentioned may not really be considered SPORTS; I am certain of that! It does nothing to dissuade interest in what is include in its pages. Have you ever tried rolling down a hill inside a plastic ball? Maybe not, but you may have seen someone do it. Or lawn-mower racing? I saw that when I was at the Lake Festival in Celina, Ohio a few years ago. What about pillow fighting? With my brother? Yes! I have no trophy for that.

These are just some of the weird and wonderful sports discussed here. They will grab the attention of its target audience and hold on until the last page is read. Just look closely at the participants' faces to know the joy or the terror they are feeling.

The format sets each sport on a two-page spread and then moves on to the next entry. It's not meant to give readers the whole picture, just a taste for the many crazy things that people are willing to try in the name of sports. The text is clearly written, and full of fun. The author must have loved doing the research that resulted in all of the sports included. If you love sports, you are going to love this book!

Here's a challenge:

"Dirk Auer, in-line skated down a roller coaster, topping out at speeds of 56 mph. Auer wore specially designed skates that fit onto the coaster's rails. Whoosh!" 

Are you up to a challenge?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rain, written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $19.99 ages 2 and up

How can two people
view the same day
so differently?

And what happens
when the two meet?

Grab your umbrella
and find out!

There is a 60% chance that it will rain today in Victoria. At this moment, the dreary skies and cool breeze certainly make it look like it might rain on some one's parade. That would not be the case for the small boy pictured above. 

We need his enthusiasm to stave off the grumpiness of the older man who shares the pages of this delightful and amusing new book...perfect for a springtime readaloud. The man awakens to rain and shows his displeasure pretty quickly. The small boy is just the opposite!

Getting ready to go out into the weather is filled with grumbling and complaint for one, unbridled delight for the other. The small boy emerges in bright green raincoat, matching boots and a frog hat that only ups the joy.  Grumpy doesn't like puddles, the boy loves them! Their paths may be different; their destination the same. It is inevitable that they will meet, and they most assuredly do. 

Might cocoa and cookies change the trajectory of the old man's day? Or will one very cranky man turn a good day bad for one small and joyous boy? The latter seems to happen until the little one notices a hat left behind. Off he runs to return the hat, share his cookie and his exuberance for the day unfolding.

There is little text to read; and, the story remains remarkable. The mood is clear, and the illustrations add to that clarity in painted and cut-paper collages that help young readers see both sides of the story.

Be sure to take the time to pore over all that Christian Robinson has chosen to show us in our travels with the two through their neighborhood and at their sojourn in the Rain and Shine Cafe.


Exclamation Point! By Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. Scholastic, 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"He stood out here.

He stood out there.

It seemed like the only
time he didn't stand out
was when he was asleep."

Poor exclamation point! He just wants to be like everyone else. He doesn't like being different, and then he meets question mark. All her questions make him crazy until he finally tells her to STOP! His outburst does nothing to deter the question mark, thankfully. We need her, don't we?

Now that he's found his calling, the possibilities are endless! Now that he knows what he is cut out for, he makes his presence known.  It can be a lot of fun, and he takes great joy in practicing his art.

As is the case with other books by this witty and accomplished pair of artists, much of the joy in sharing comes from the punny language and cheerful art. It's a wonderful way for new writers and learners to SEE the effect of the exclamation point, all while having fun with the learning. Never is it heavy-handed in its presentation; it is, in fact, quite charming. It is a terrific way to help those young writers who LOVE to use them get the real scoop on emotional punctuation.

There will be some giggling and many cheers as this book is shared again and again. I love the familiar, lined printing book pages. They help show the power to be found in writing, and offer a spirited lesson on the use of punctuation in early writing. The punctuation mark has an expressive face, evoking his feelings as he doubts, mourns, and is finally deflated by attempts to fit in with everyone else.

Once freed from concern for his lot in life, he is off to share his excitement with others. With this much fun, who knew there was also powerful learning involved? The exceptional design, using changing colors and fonts for emphasis simply adds to that power.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You Never Heard of Willie Mays? Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Terry Widener. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2013. $21.00 ages 6 and up

"And he was the kid who in 1946, at only fifteen years old, got asked to play pro ball in the Negro Leagues with grown men - and he did!
Suddenly, the teenage kid was makin' more money than his pop. And when, the year after that, the major league ended their stupid rule barrin' black guys, there was a ray of hope..."

I'm missing baseball! I am in Victoria visiting Erin and Andrew, and they don't have cable. In fact, they don't watch much television at all. That is a good thing. Since arriving on Saturday evening, I have finished three novels, and enjoyed spending time with them every day. What a lovely holiday it is! 

But, I miss seeing the Jays play in the evenings. So, I will turn to one of the picture book biographies that I recently read. I very much enjoyed Jonah Winter's exceptional look at another baseball legend in You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? (Schwartz & Wade, 2009) I was sure that I would find Willie Mays' story equally fascinating. So, I started reading it with anticipation. 

Terry Widener does a stellar job of bringing one of the greatest baseball players in history to life, sharing the setting and Mays' personality in his acrylic illustrations. He shares that world with us in elegant artwork that gives readers a feel for the world in which Willie played his game. And he gives us a rich and telling look at the man who had such a gift of determination and grace under pressure. 

We first see Willie sitting in front at the radio listening to the game he loves. Thus, his story begins. 
He was only 15 when he started playing professional baseball in the Negro Leagues, showing both his batting and fielding prowess to all fans in attendance. The only thing he wanted to do was to play baseball:

"Mays tried so hard he sometimes passed out right there on the field! They'd have to carry him off on a stretcher. And then, after games, he'd go back home to Harlem and play stickball on St. Nicholas Place with the neighborhood kids. It was like he couldn't stop! The Polo Grounds, the streets - didn't care where he was playin'."

Sidebars that look like baseball tickets provide additional factual information about Willie, and his many spectacular plays. An author's note, highlights, listing, glossary and online places to find more information add to the appeal. 

Everyone wanted him on their team! Now, you can have his story on your library shelf. It is very much worth the read. Say Hey, Willie.

And the Winner Is...Written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by David Anderson. Kids Can Press, 2013. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"What a surprise! Who would have thought that this tiny insect, the size of...well, the size of a flea, could jump 150 times its own height? This must be a dog flea. They jump higher than cat fleas. I bet dog fleas are smarter, too. Who would want to live on a cat? Let's see how high humans can jump."

Kids are going  to love this book! How can they not? It's about animals, after all. Not just any animals, by the way...only those who are selected to go to the World Animal Games! They have to be very special for that to happen. Special they are!

Walrus and Cockatoo are our hosts and they are quick to entertain with witty wordplay, and expert humor; all for the purpose of entertaining the audience while also providing us with some stellar facts about animals of the world.

In well-designed contests, four animals vie for superiority within their sport. Four pages of text and illustration allow readers to see who they are, what their sport is. Around the margins trading cards tell us their names, classifications, homes, habitats and food. A large world map helps place them and their various habitats are described. The events are numerous and include weightlifting, swimming and the long jump.

Young readers will have fun guessing who might be dominant in the sport being contested. Some will be easy for them, while others offer up quite the surprise. The winner is announced on the second spread with further information given and comparisons made to their human counterparts for each of the sports shown. 

David Anderson must have had some fun creating the watercolor illustrations that accompany the text. His readers will enjoy the trading cards and also find humor in many of the animal caricatures.
They just add to the experience that children will have in making some amazing discoveries about the sport prowess of familiar and not so familiar animals of the world. They might even want to pit themselves against some of the records presented.

10 Plants That Shook the World, written by Gillian Richardson with art by Kim Rosen. Annick Press, 2013. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"Cotton is recyclable. Your old denim jeans can even be reused to make insulation for buildings. But growing cotton in the first place is not so hot for the environment, because it requires more hazardous pesticides than any other agricultural crop. That means health risks for people and livestock, major die-offs of fish, birds, and beneficial insects..."

The ten plants that Gillian Richardson has chosen to include in this new book are the following: tea, sugarcane, corn, potatoes, cacao, pepper, cotton, rubber, chinchona (quinine bark), and papyrus. What a job she did of holding my interest so that I just wanted to keep on reading about each one!

I have been telling my friends about the book and will surely share it in upcoming workshops. There is so much there to know...don't you just love that? Set it out where kids will pick it up and soon they will be regaling you with new and fascinating bits of information; many will be new to you, too. 

Did you know that Henry Ford was a dreamer? You have probably figured that out given his legacy. But, did you know that he built an industrial city named Forlandia in the Amazon rain forest to ensure the rubber needed for his motor company. It was built in1928 and has been abandoned. That is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Gillian Richardson includes ten plants that have changed life and the way we live it! They make our lives easier, more comfortable, healthier, and of course, tastier (which may or may not be a good thing!). Along with those benefits come the inherent dangers and the profiteers who want to make more money than they need and they do it by lying, cheating, stealing and being generally dishonest. You may be surprised by some of the inclusions, and even more surprised that some of your favorites are left out. These are indeed plants that 'shook' our world. 

Exploration changed because of their discoveries, trade between countries around the world were forever different because of their properties. You will know some of how trade in tea, cotton and sugarcane have impacted the human condition. There is so much more to know than what I had in my head! Changes in our world came because of these ordinary plants...each and every one of them.

There is much to tell. This astute author gives us the lowdown on the plants she has chosen to include. Some of it's good, some bad...she lets you decide for yourself. That, of course, opens up opportunities for discussion and further study. Each plant is described in terms of discovery, how it is cultivated and its impact on the world's history. The format is sure to grab attention and will have eager readers keen to find out more through the bibliography and 'further reading' list provided. 

Now, get out there and find a copy for your family, your classroom, or your library. You won't be sorry!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, written and illustrated by Melanie Watt. Kids Can Press, 2013. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"Scaredy Squirrel sets up his new television.
But he realizes there's a problem.
He needs to plug it in.

Reaching the nearest electrical outlet
will require major survival skills."

Well, he's back! Who isn't happy to see Scaredy again? Fans will be thrilled, and his new book arrives just in time for the summer camping season and brings with it Melanie Watt's hilarious and impeccable planning for avoidance of anything remotely disturbing to her iconic squirrel friend.

Challenges are not new to Scaredy. Although he is fearful of the outcome, he is ready to tackle those fears while experiencing life near a campground.  There is much to be afraid of...water, skunks, penguins, zippers, quicksand, and even the Three Bears. He is at risk, and would prefer to watch from the safety that his tree provides. Television is his chosen requires electricity! How will he get the power he needs? Well, let's see....

Plugging in the extension cord is his most pressing task. He must get all his protective gear in place before venturing beyond his treetop home. How to get across the entire campground sees him facing some of his most daunting obstacles. When all is said and done, Scaredy finds a new appreciation for nature, and that camping isn't as terrifying and bothersome as he once believed. Primarily, he learns that those things he feared the most are not that bad. Camping could turn out to hold new and wonderful adventure for him!

Kids love Scaredy; he fears those unseen events that also hold terror for some young children. The illustrations are detailed and full of fun, garnering attention and encouraging discussion from the first to the last page. There is always something new to see and the writing is set at the top making it easy for listeners to follow along. There are maps, notes and charts...all in a graphic kind of format. It's full of charm with generous doses of adventure and humor.  

It's no longer as original and groundbreaking as it was in 2006, but that does nothing to lessen its appeal. Scaredy remains fresh and true to his roots. If you know someone who loves nature and camping, this might be just the book!

In the Tree House, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Kids Can Press, 2013. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"It's hot. Really hot.
I crunch on an ice cube
to cool off.
There's more ice melting
in the bowl beside me.
I can see the whole
neighborhood from up here.
It's pretty nice."

Do all children dream of having a tree house, and perhaps living there? It is, to say the least, an intriguing way of life. Not long ago, I read of a man who had built such a house as a vacation home for those wanting to experience life in the treetops. They are becoming very popular destinations!

 What a hideout for young children! When the family moves to a new home, the younger son takes to imagining what a tree house might look like in their new big backyard:

“I planned tree houses that could turn into flying ships at the flick of a switch.
 I planned tree houses with secret slides for quick getaways.
 I planned one tree house that had two levels, one for me and one for my brother.”

What fun is that! When he and his brother show their plans to Dad, he remembers that he once had such dreams and sets about helping them build a splendid structure that allows its inhabitants a clear view of the entire neighborhood. The only thing missing are the stars, unseen due to the bright city lights that get in the way.

In the second summer, things change when the older brother no longer has time for tree houses and other such pursuits. He has friends and has no time to hang with his younger brother.  Being the only one in charge of what happens in the tree house is initially appealing; the feeling doesn't last. It's easy to tell in Dusan Petricic's wonderful illustrations just exactly how the boy is feeling...lonely. It's not the same, spending time at the top of the world on your own.

A blackout signals an event in the making. Neighbors emerge begging for help in consuming melting ice cream. They share what light they have, and the older brother returns to the tree house to play cards and spend time with his brother. As they watch what is happening below them, the boy realizes that his brother is mostly unchanged and that they will always be connected.

The lights of the city return, and we see the brothers in silhouette watching the world below them. Lovely!

Hooray for Bread, Written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Bruce Ingman. Candlewick, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"The baker's wife had the
second slice
On a tray with a steamy cup
Sunlight shining in the room
And the baby waking up.

The next two slices
made a pair
With butter, cheese,
and ham"

One of our favorite books to read when Erin and Bret were young was Each Peach Pear Plum and it remains on our 'keepers' shelf today, thirty years later. I have enjoyed books by the Ahlbergs through the years and am delighted to see each new book that comes from Allan's fertile imagination. This new book about bread is sure to be a hit with little ones!

When a baker brings a fresh loaf of bread home to the family, it offers an invitation for readers to watch what happens to the loaf as the day progresses. It's quite the lesson for all. Eaten at meals, and shared with a menagerie of animals (mice, birds, ducks and even the dogs), the bread is valued for its deliciousness and its ability to feed more than just the family itself.

The animals are delighted with the gift of food and show their appreciation on double-page spreads with huge hoorays in their own vernacular. It's fun for early readers to share and to take a part in the reading. It's a rhyming treat inspired by splendid tasty morsels. As each member of the baker's family is introduced and a new meal enjoyed, we soon know that even a tiny mouse will chance to share the last wee crumb. Two runaway slices are celebrated as the story comes to a close.

Bruce Ingman adds charm with his easy lines and sunny backgrounds. The illustrations are filled with fun and familiarity and give a feeling of the pleasure that comes with having happy meal times with family members. Each scene is sure to be pored over, and to offer a chance for talk between reader and listener. Perfect for getting young ones talking about favorite foods, and seeing the humor that is so much a part of the artwork.

And now is the time to get out there and get the ingredients needed to try baking a loaf of your own!

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Deer Watch, written by Pat Lowery Collins and illustrated by David Slonim. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 5 and up

"Next we looked
into the marsh grass,
where the deer come down
to drink or take a bath
before most people are awake.

We saw a red-winged blackbird
and one tall white shaggy bird,
its neck a question mark.

"Egret," said my dad."

In this beautiful poetic story, we meet a young boy and his father. Their plan for the day is a shared walk, and a chance to see the deer that inhabit the surrounding woods. They are spending their summer vacation near the water and are delighted to share their space with the birds and wildlife of the area. Their quiet walk provides chance meetings with an egret, workmen whose noisy bulldozers are doing a needed job, but no deer.

As we walk along with them, we anticipate a sighting and must learn patience. Then, in a moment of magic, a mother and her two young fawns come out of the mist, bringing awe and delight for the two partners in nature.

The lovely illustrations, rendered in thick oils, provide a perfect backdrop to this engaging and gentle story. The reader can almost feel the damp stillness of summer and smell the pungent odors of the early morning near the shore. The textures created by the broad brush strokes honors nature, the loving and tender feelings shared by the two, and add to the feeling of the poet's meaningful words.

The relationship between father and son as they travel well-worn paths and search quietly for deer is evident as the youngster tries with all his might to be still and quiet, and his father encourages him to be patient. Their reward is worth the hard work! While it is a fleeting encounter, the memory will last:

“the memory would never leave—
 ...our two worlds crossed
 for just a magic while.”

I love the tone and magical feeling of this book and will be sharing it whenever I get the chance in coming months.

SHOWTIME, written by Kevin Sylvster. Annick Press, 2013. $12.95 ages 10 and up

"Modern rock stars dress in everything from boots with heels two feet high to shiny hats to dresses made of meat. They didn't make those clothes themselves. And if you watch a play about a nineteenth-century war or the cafe life of Paris during the Roaring Twenties, the actors are probably wearing "period dress"...

Six years ago, I was in Halifax while the Rolling Stones were there to play an open air summer concert. Bret and Carmen lived in an apartment block right across from Halifax Common where the concert was to be held, and we watched all of the action for one full week! We read in the paper the following day that there were more than 100 roadies, and 78 red and white semi-trailer trucks filled with the stage equipment needed to present such a show! I had no idea...but, by the end of that week, we had watched as every piece of the stage, the stands, the sound equipment, the hoopla emerged from those trucks. They also set up the Armory directly behind the Common with the accouterments needed by the band to entertain them as they first did their sound checks and then waited for their time on stage. That number did not take into account security, food trucks, tents, portable washrooms, fencing to control the 50,000 fans who braved a dreary, rainy sky to start lining up at 10 am for the 5 pm start.

It certainly raised our awareness of just some of what goes on in 'show business' and I remain fascinated by the fact that so many 'behind-the-scenes' people are rarely recognized. Thankfully, Kevin Sylvester changes that with this book about the 'other' stars of that world.  As he did in Game 
Day (Annick, 2012) for sporting events, so he has done in this new book for the unsung heroes who make those shows and movies that we watch so memorable and enjoyable for fans.

He introduces readers to some of the hundreds of people who make the shows worthwhile, and who help to make the performers look great. If you have ever wondered what a set designer does, meet Machiko Weston who creates tiny replicas in 3D of how the stage will actually look when it is fully realized. Then a crew works to produce the vision! The list goes on and includes the trucker (and gives him a name...Ben Pinel) who hauls the speakers, lights, lasers and all else needed to create the spectacle meant to entertain everyone in attendance. Ben is the convoy leader and ensures that all trucks are unloaded prior to the show, and reloaded when the lights go out. Everything must be done quickly as another show may be happening tomorrow night!

If you are wondering about a career as a designer of sets or costumes, in promotion, choreography, or voice training...even if you want to do security, this is the book that will give you a taste for the work that 'showtime' entails. It's a pretty fascinating slice of life.

 Kevin includes theater, dance, and concerts as he describes those people who 'get the show on the road' and ensure that we see the performance that we will want to share with our friends!

Bones Never Lie, written by Elizabeth Macleod. Annick Press, 2013. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"How did detectives solve crimes before they could use such tools as DNA matching or CT scans? Well, since the late 800s, investigators have relied on such techniques as fingerprinting, dental records, or handwriting analysis. And when royal wealth and power are at risk, detectives are forced to use any means they can." 

Oh, I love books that deal with historical figures and mystery! Elizabeth MacLeod ups the interest with her fine writing and brilliant research. She makes me want to know more about these long-dead victims.

She takes her readers back to the scene of the crimes and asks intriguing questions about the circumstances of those deaths. In recreating their stories, she shows how the deaths were investigated and finally solved, using scientific principles and forensic evidence. It is all so fascinating! You don't have to be a scientist, but it might help that you are interested in the field.

It is her ability to share the information garnered as if it were a great story to tell that will capture attention and move readers to carry on. Some of the victims included are King Tut, Napoleon, the Mayan Royal Family and King Rama VIII. As we read their stories we come to know a great deal about their personalities (and why others might think them expendable) and are fascinated by the ways in which they met their deaths.

Don't miss reading each of the "Forensics Time Line" sections as they share wonderful and elusive information about the development of forensic analysis. I like the way the book is designed to resemble a crime lab, using images we have come to know from the number of crime shows currently on television. Elizabeth MacLeod's descriptions are explained in clear language for her intended audience, and provide details about pathology, deductive reasoning and forensic dentistry. No, she does not neglect DNA evidence!

By using only the 'bones' much has been discovered, and is presented in this introduction to the many
ways in which scientists have been able to solve mysteries from world history. These short forays into past lives will leave readers entertained and perhaps shocked at each team's ability to uncover the real truth about events that happened so long ago.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More. Written by Carole Gerber and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. Henry Holt & Company, Macmillan. Raincoast Books. 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

These eighteen poems are meant to be read aloud (as all poetry should be) by two voices. It's impossible to make one work in this small space; so, I will tell you a little about the book before I share a poem with you. Spring seems to have arrived on the Canadian prairies and as I sit listening to the robins sing and lawnmowers roar, it is a perfect time to share this book about growing things.  There's so much fun to be had when young readers share their reading, and I am sure you will find some poems here that would work for an end-of-the-year assembly presentation. Let's start with the tiny ladybug whose help is so essential to gardens and yards:

Ladybug Hugs

If garden flowers could give hugs...
                we'd embrace the ladybugs.
Every summer, without fuss,
they eat the pests that chew on us.
                 They look harmless. They look sweet.
But all those ladies do is eat!
                 Each chomps aphids - five per hour!
An amazing number to devour.
                 When summer's over, off they'll go.
We'll miss those hungry ladies so!

Two voices, and then the final line together...what fun they are! The added delight is that young children will be learning about seeds, germination, roots, sunlight, and special visitors that help seeds grow and prosper. Here you'll meet and learn more about bees, worms, snails and monarch butterflies.

In the book, it's easy to tell who reads what as the colors vary for the person speaking. Both colors are used for lines to be shared.  It's just the type of book that keeps kids interested and invested in their reading. Most of the poems are placed on brilliant bold-colored double page spreads by Eugene Yelchin. The graphite and gouache illustrations take us inside and out, allow us to visit places where seeds are found, and where they germinate. They introduce animals that will appeal to young readers and allow them a window into what happens to seeds through the connections made. In the end, Ms. Gerber includes a summary of what has been introduced in these appealing, and useful, poems.  

"Honey and Bumble

I like your black and yellow suit.
                                  I love your tiny waist. Next to you,
                                  I'm awkward and take up too much space.
Bumble, you're a perfect bee.
                                  Thanks, Honey, so are you.
                                  Want to share my flower?
                                  There's room enough for two!"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bad Girls, written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple and illustrated by Rebecca Guay. Charlesbridge, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $21.95 ages 10 and up

"Often, though, a tough girl, an outspoken girl - an active, smart, forward-looking girl - is  mistaken for a bad one. A strong leader is considered a wrong leader when the leader is female. In this book we are taking a look back through history at all manner of famous female felons. We're looking at the baddest of the bad, as well as those who may have been just misunderstood."

Subtitled Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves & Other Female Villains, this book written by a mother-daughter team offers up brief and entertaining profiles of 26 women who won notoriety, deserved or undeserved, throughout history. Each inclusion takes the same format...a few informative pages followed by a graphic comic page, featuring the authors discussing their research and their oft-differing opinions concerning the women presented.

Rebecca Guay ensures that readers have a sense of time and place in her illustrations. The graphic conversations add humor and are sure to attract attention.

It reads like conversation, recapping the events that gained these women a modicum of fame. The facts presented will intrigue an interested audience and allow readers to do some of their own speculating concerning certain of the crimes and misbehaviors.

Most of the names I had  heard; I did not know many of their stories. I found it easy to read, and quite revealing. The authors have included a comprehensive bibliography that is sure to encourage a more in-depth consideration of some of the women portrayed. An index will quickly return readers to those pages they found most compelling. It will be interesting for contemporary history students to consider the events of the times in which these women lived and try to put their crimes in the context of modern day 'news'. Were they all 'bad' girls? Really?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bluebird, written and illustrated by Bob Staake. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2013. $21.00 ages 5 and up

A boy who seems lonely.

A small new friend.

A fearful encounter.

A test of friendship.

A flight of imagination!

This wordless tale packs a punch! As a shy and somewhat anxious boy makes his way home following his first day at school, he doesn't notice the small blue bird that has been hovering all day. When he does, the bird chirps and follows him. As they spend time together, the boy cheers up!

After some games of hide and seek and a shared cookie, the bird leads him to the sailboat pond, encouraging him to find friends in the children who are also playing there. The young boy enjoys the play and the company. As he leaves he smiles and waves goodbye. Off he and the bluebird go, with even more adventures to share.

The scene darkens when the boy and bird near a bridge and an eerily quiet forest path. The bird looks on as the boy is threatened by a gang of bullies who want his sailboat. The boy breaks free. One of the other boys hurls a stick at him, striking and killing the bluebird by mistake. The bullies run (as bullies often do) and the boy is left to deal with the bleak aftermath. That is, until a flock of colorful birds carry the boy and the dead bird he is sheltering away from the scene and into the sky. The bluebird is released to sail high into fluffy white cloud cover...and disappears.

The setting is urban, and very much a Manhattan-like landscape. The colors are cool grays and blues, with framing that is similar to a comic book. By changing the way the pages look, the 'reader' is encouraged to slow down and really pay attention to all that is happening between the boy and his surroundings. The boy's emotions are evident at every turn, allowing for much discussion as the story unfolds. As the action becomes more menacing the color becomes even darker and more somber. Then, there is color and light and hope!

Amazing is all I can say about it. You need to have this book!