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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Caterpillars, written by Chris Earley, with Skye Earley. Firefly Books, 2013. $6.95 ages 6 and up

"There are a lot of interesting things to see when you are watching caterpillars. Some of them tickle when they crawl on your skin. You can't really see their mouths open and close very well because their jaws are underneath their giant heads. But you can watch them eat leaves..."

In the same format as Dragonflies, Chris Earley helps young scientists make some very interesting observations on their own about caterpillars. A table of contents helps them find the section they are most interested in. They are encouraged to find, to identify, and to even try raising caterpillars at home.

Observation is a tremendously important skill for the young to have, whether it is about nature, people, or the world they live in. In this book, once again using clear bright photographs and useful captioning, the author helps us make discoveries about what kind of butterfly or moth will result from a caterpillar we find. They are named, the life cycle of both a butterfly and a moth are clearly described, and then finding, caring for and feeding a captured creature continues the reading.

We can help caterpillars in the same way that we help learning as much as we can about them, by observing the rules for raising them, and by knowing the law. Once again the author provides a clearly detailed and photographed brief field guide to help readers find and observe the variety occurring in the natural world:

"Luna Moth

This is another big, fat, green caterpillar. The adult is green, too, and has long tails and a fuzzy white body. We find the caterpillars crossing roads in late summer, when they are out looking for a place to make their cocoons.
Food plants: many different tree leaves such as birch, hickory and walnut."

A book list and index are also provided.

Dragonflies, written by Chris Earley with Rhiannon Lohr, Cameron Lohr and Nathan Earley. Firefly Books, 2013. $6.95 ages 6 amd up

"Dragonflies are predators that eat other insects. Many dragonflies catch most of their food in the air. Some sit on a perch and then fly out and attack their prey. Some kinds of dragonflies eat butterflies and even other dragonflies. Dragonflies are predators, but they are also prey."

The subtitle for this book is 'catching* identifying* how and where they live'. The author and his intent and intrepid helpers make sure that readers learn what they have to teach about these beautiful insects and their apparent vulnerabilities. In fact, they are resilient and not nearly as delicate as they seem.

He begins by describing the dragonfly itself, using close-up photographs and clear captions to help his audience become more familiar with their attributes, what they tell us and where we might find them. The life cycle is clearly laid out, and photographed at each stage. Their food, how we can catch and hold them, and identification follows.

Families that are commonly seen are described, and some suggestions are given to help these stunning, flitting creatures. Finally, he provides a mini field guide to help in identification of species. The photographs are of excellent quality...I cannot imagine a better way to find out the names of those that might be spotted.

A list of books for further reading is provided, as well as an index.

Rooster's Revenge, by Beatrice Rodriguez. Enchanted Lion Books, 2011. $14.95 ages 5 and up

A rabbit.

A bear.

A rooster.

Friends on an adventure.

I sincerely hope that you have met these loyal and sympathetic friends before, as this is their third tale. Following The Chicken Thief (2010) and Fox and Hen Together (2011), this is the next in a series of hilarious adventures that will have little ones giggling and parents in awe of what artists can say without saying a single word.

Rooster is on his way back home after having been jilted by his 'Chicken', who has fallen for Fox. Rabbit and Bear are his companions. The setting is the same as in the first book, and they are returning home in reverse. Rooster is grumpy, and unfriendly (not too surprising given the circumstance).

A storm blows up and sends their tiny rowboat on a collision course. Saved by sea turtles after washing up on the shoreline, they are transported to a dry and quiet cave. Rooster is enchanted to find an egg lying next to the skeletal remains of some long dead creature. He covets it, and takes it with them as they journey toward home. Through variety in settings, and weird landscapes teeming with oft-feared creatures, they travel. Rooster has his egg, Bear has a shimmering tiny creature and Rabbit is along for the ride. The turf becomes more familiar, and still Rooster cavorts with the egg.

A bump in the road causes the egg to fall, to crack and out hatches a ....

Children won't be too surprised at the egg's content, or the happiness that is evident in the final spread!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I dreamt...a book about hope. By Gabriela Olmos. A Groundwood Book, 2013. $18.95 ages 7 and up

"I dreamt
that wars are
always fought with
and that SOLDIERS
prefer shadowboxing
to shooting
at each other."

Life in many countries today is a harrowing experience. From the floods in Alberta to the lasting effects of last month's tornadoes...and beyond  our towns and cities, children and their families are uprooted and face an unknown future. This book was first published in Mexico, a country held in the grip of a brutal and ferocious war against drugs. It is ongoing and does not promise to end soon. Children live in fear, and know far too much about upheaval and unpredictability.

As the author dreams of a different world for so many children, she writes with hope for their future. 
Twelve Mexican illustrators add their interpretations of the sentiments of the author as she describes that world. These brilliant artists donated their works so that sales of the book might benefit the IBBY's Fund for Children in Crisis. Each piece of art is very different from the next, and introduces us to artists whose work we may not have encountered. It is a picture book that will inspire and awe its readers.

"And I dreamt that robbers are good for stealing nightmares...
while jokes are the best way to drive a kidnapper away."

While children are sure to recognize the improbability of the dreams, there is hope in the thinking. It would be interesting to see what the young might dream in terms of sad and hurtful times.  For those children who are victims of war and dangerous times it might be just the impetus to start a conversation.

Beautifully imagined!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

P. S. Be Eleven, written by Rita Williams-Garcia. Harper, 2013. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"When Big Ma said "draft" she spoke about our cold house during the winter. When Uncle Darnell said "draft" he meant he was going into the army to fight the war. I knew out teacher wasn't talking about a cold house or the army. Still, it was a wonder Miss Merriam Webster kept everything straight in her dictionary."

I am so happy to see Delphine and her sisters now they are back home from their summer visit with their mother. In One Crazy Summer we met that mother, Cecile. Her life and their summer was a revelation to the girls and led them to meet some members of the Black Panthers while attending summer camp.

Home again, they must now digest the summer past and get back to living with Big Ma and their daddy. Big Ma can be very demanding and she likes to get her own way. After the freedom of the time spent in California, the girls are wanting more independence, especially Delphine. Her interests have changed and expanded, and she wants to do the same.

It's not an easy time for the family. We are allowed to see what life is like for them in 1968, a year that heralds conflict and big changes. Pa has a new girlfriend, now that he and their mother are divorced. Their Uncle Darnell has returned from the war in Vietnam a different person than the one who left. The Jackson Five are making waves in the music business, and on the television set in the Gaither household:

"Our television screen didn't seem big enough for all those Jacksons. Afros bopping, arms swinging and feet stepping and spinning in sync. And they wore wide bell-bottoms like crazy! The voices in the back were smooth and together. And the little boy singer let out his lungs like James Brown and Jackie Wilson rolled into one."

There are so many important historical events seen through the eyes of the Gaither girls. They are wonderful, well rounded characters with unique voices. Their hearts are large; so, too, is the heartbreak that encompasses them at times. It is wonderful to be with them again. As Delphine sends letters to her mother that allow her to pour out her heart full of worries and obligations, her mother reminds to 'be eleven'. Why? Delphine knows she is twelve....

"You're just a minute past twelve taking on Sweet Sixteen. Sixteen wasn't sweet on me, but I want yours to be nothing but sweetness, in time. Time turns always, Delphine. Don't push it."

A wonderful read from first word to last. You will not forget Delphine, Vonetta and Fern...their story is worth sharing!

What a Party! Written by Ana Maria Machado with pictures by Helene Moreau. Translation by Elisa Amado. Groundwood, 2013. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"And if Beto and Antonieta, who own a cute parrot that they couldn't bear to leave at home, come too, because Jack mentioned it to them, then for sure their mother, Juana, might send along a pineapple, some mangos and a passion fruit. And if Fatima, who is Antonieta's best friend, decides to bring her brother Djamel, maybe they'll have to drag along their dog."

Ah, the dangers of a party! While the author makes it look like a bad thing, I think young readers will get the message that there is great joy to be had when friends join together for a celebration.

Given distracted permission to 'invite anyone you'd like', the birthday boy does just that! It begins with the suggestion that one friend come over for cake and juice. Perhaps that friend could bring his know how it goes. If Jack brings Larry, their mother might come along. Everyone is invited to bring whatever they would like to eat and additional guests. So, there's the food, and a soccer ball, and brothers, sisters and cousins, a canary, a just keeps getting bigger AND BETTER!

And the food...oh, the food! There are coconut cookies, pineapple, mangos, passion fruit, tajine, pizza, Black Forest cake, springerle, flan, cod cakes, olives, sushi, couscous,'s a multicultural extravaganza. There's music and dancing, soccer and basketball, chatting and great enjoyment at every turn.

That's what might happen if you don't make a careful plan for the party.

The acrylic and oil pastel artwork bursts with bold color, animated action, expressive faces, and food, glorious food! Kids will find much to discuss as they pore over its pages and they will find great entertainment in imagining what could happen when a party appears to be out of control. In this case, it is merrymaking at its finest.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

LOOK UP! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astonomer. Written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon. A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"She wanted to know everything about the wonderful bigness of all she saw. The more she looked up, the bigger the sky seemed to get. It seemed endless!  On cloudless evenings she found the Big Dipper, inching is slow glittering track across the night sky. She drew an imaginary line from the Dipper's pan. See, it leads to the North Star!"

It's funny how a childhood obsession often becomes a person's future. Robert Burleigh imagines that Henrietta always loved the stars. She watched them constantly, spending happy hours with her eyes pointed towards the heavens, and wondering about the vastness of the night sky.

As a young woman, she studied astronomy - the only woman in her class. Luckily, following graduation, she got a job in the Harvard Observatory. The giant telescope housed there was mostly off limits to her. She worked with other women:

"Their job was to record. And measure. And calculate. The women were expected to "work, not think.""

The menial job for which she was paid thirty cents an hour was not nearly enough to cloud her dreams. She could not stop herself from studying and thinking about the stars, even though it was not encouraged.  Her further education led to other great astronomers and the world they had discovered. Her careful observations led her to new discoveries, and fueled her need to know more and more.

In spare and elegant text Robert Burleigh brings Henrietta's story to light for young readers, and for many older readers. Once again, I had no prior knowledge of this brilliant woman scientist. It is easy to see through his telling how much he admired the work that she did, and to realize his own wonder at the field of astronomy:

"Henrietta's chart helped astronomers measure distances much farther away. First, the Milky Way itself was found to stretch out farther than anyone thought.
Next, astronomers discovered even more galaxies - many of them. The universe was far more vast than anyone had ever dreamed!
The stars had spoken to Henrietta."

The book ends with pages of additional information.I love the quotes about the stars that are attributed to everyone from Harriet Tubman to John Lennon. An afterword tells a bit about her life, a list of her discoveries help readers know the scope of her work, a list of other women who were also astronomers, and a glossary, a bibliography and internet resources add to the overall appeal.  

Raul Colon uses watercolors and colored pencil to imbue the book's pages with a glowing luminescence. Each is really quite beautiful. They are as calming and deep as the skies that held such fascination for Henrietta.

Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America's Game, written by Chris Crowe and illustrated by Mike Benny. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $19.00 ages 5 and up

"Daddy turns up the radio, and we sit down to listen to the starting lineup. We cheer when we hear that Larry's starting in center field, but Daddy's worried about the pitcher. "Steve Gromek?" he says. "He'll need help beating the Braves." "Good thing he's got our man, Larry Doby," I say. "Our man is THE man."

A radio is a big deal for a family in 1948. Homer and his family have only one reason for making such an extravagant purchase that summer. They want to listen to World Series baseball between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Braves. Homer and his father are 'baseball crazy'!

Homer is not allowed to play Little League because of his color. His coach lets him know that he thinks Jackie Robinson is 'a fluke' and that no other colored player is  'worth a spit'. It fires Homer's desire to have one of his own playing for the home team. He knows it's a pipe dream; that is, until Larry Doby joins the team and becomes the first African-American to play in the American League.

Homer finishes his paper route early so he can go down to drug store and listen to the upcoming World Series game. Imagine his surprise to learn that his daddy has gone out and bought a new radio! Music blares, and soon they hear Mel Allen's voice. It's game 4 and no one cheers louder than Homer and his dad. They pace the floor, urge on the Indians through each play, and are especially tense when Larry Doby is at bat. His homer in the third inning is all the team needs to beat the Braves, and they go on to win the series. Larry Doby makes a huge contribution to their team and is deserving of the accolades heaped upon him by his teammates.

His rookie season allowed naysayers to remind the sports world that Jackie Robinson was indeed an anomaly. Doby's second season changes all that, and his play during the World Series cements his place in the history of the game. He is also credited with leading the way for Satchel Paige. The color barrier had come down, and many black players would follow in their footsteps.

It was not an easy path:

"The things I was called did hurt me. They hurt a lot.
The things people did to me, spitting tobacco juice on
me. sliding into me, throwing baseballs at my head.
The words they called me, they do hurt." -Larry Doby

Mike Benny does a great job with his acrylic illustrations in creating a look at a family home in 1948. His characters are expressive, the baseball scenes dramatic and the double page spread of Larry Doby hitting one out of the park is a dream! Then, he adds his own replica of the picture that appeared in the newspaper the following day. Steve Gromek, the winning pitcher, shows no reluctance in sharing the limelight with the game's hero!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol. Written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company. Raincoast, 2011. $19.50 ages

"The streets of New York were a world away from the hillside alleys where Andy grew up. Where his immigrant parents and two brothers worked hard just to get by. The whole family lived in just two rooms, no indoor toilet, and only one bed for three boys."

"Small. Smart. Shy."

While I regularly recognize Andy Warhol's work, I have rarely read much about him. I certainly had no idea about his life as a child. In this very accessible picture book biography, Bonnie Christensen has changed that for me. Now I know about his early life, his long bout of bedridden illness and the nurturing nature of his mother. She saw and understood what a uniquely talented son she had. She didn't force him to attend school:

"On his first day of school a girl hit him. Andy cried and refused to go back. At home he and his mother drew pictures of each other and the family cat.

Two years later, at six, Andy started a new school. His teachers liked him and recognized his talent for drawing."

Following his illness, Andy was teased and bullied for being different. Through it all, Andy drew. He attended art classes and was encouraged by teachers who recognized his innate talents. He drew what he saw in his neighborhood, the print media, at his church. In college he made a very important personal discovery:

"...paintings aren't just decoration. Paintings can make people mad, make them ask questions, make them see things differently."

It is tremendously interesting to have brief looks at the various influential periods in Andy Warhol's life. The author describes a thirty year period from his childhood in Pittsburgh to the idolatry of the 1960s when many people longed to spend time with him, to have him paint them, to collect his iconic artwork. He was the 'Prince of Pop, King of Cool' to so many. He was absorbed by everything around him...always drawing, always looking at the world with his own strong sense of style and vision.

An author's note and a time line will help readers understand his rise from 'rags to riches', while always remaining the shy, smart, soft-spoken artist. Bonnie Christensen creates textured illustrations using oils to give her readers a feel for the art that had a huge impact on the world. The photo collages that background these rich oils help us to see the man who was Andy Warhol. In the end, he found the fame he so ardently sought.

A Splash of Red, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2013. $21.00 ages 6 and up

"At night, he piled wood for the stove and arranged dominoes so his grandmother could play. Then, if he could find a scrap of paper and a piece of charcoal, he drew pictures of what he had seen that day. Horace loved to draw. He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor. He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him."

I had never heard of Horace Pippin, or seen any of his art. That is what I truly love about the abundance of wonderful picture book biographies for young readers. They introduce us to people from all walks of life, from all cultures and from all times throughout history. They allow us to wonder at their heroism, their ingenuity, their community spirit, their courage in the face of danger, racism, and so much more.

When accomplished and curious authors like Jen Bryant bring their stories to us, we are better for having known them. I have mentioned in prior posts that if we just read one picture book biography each week to our students, no matter the grade we teach, they would have an awareness of more than 30 new heroes by the end of a school year. That's pretty heady stuff.

Now, to Horace Pippin for others who may not know his work! Born in the late nineteenth century, Horace had a love of making art. He used scrap paper and charcoal on anything he could find to make his mark. He was only able to attend school until the 8th grade when his father left the family and Horace worked to support them. He used his hands for many things:

"For several years, Horace's big hands were always busy:
        stacking grain sacks at a feed store,
        shoveling coal in a rail yard,
        mending fences on a farm,
        carrying luggage at a hotel,
        making brakes in an iron factory..."

Even as he worked so hard to help his family, Horace also used his hands for his art. His co-workers often encouraged him to draw pictures for them, and he did. The First World War almost ended this artist's ways. A wound in his right arm left him without the use of it, and Horace thought he could no longer make his art. Inspiration came in the form of a poker while he stared into wood stove. He used his left hand to support his painful and virtually immobile right hand. The poker glowed red when he began putting his marks on a piece of wood.

As his his arm grew stronger and his painting hand more stable, Horace returned to drawing the things that he loved. He planned and worked meticulously to reproduce his surroundings. He showed these paintings in a store window, traded an occasional one for a haircut, and tried to sell them. People were not buying. It wasn't until he came to the attention of N.C. Wyeth that Horace was able to put together his first showing. Forty years after winning his first real art supplies Horace found fame as the artist he had grown to be!

The writing is lovely and uplifting. Jen Bryant uses Horace Pippin's own words to allow readers a glimpse of this gentle, hardworking man whose love of art would not allow him to give up despite  many obstacles. Melissa Sweet uses watercolor, gouache and collage, rich colors and detail-filled spreads to bring Horace's world to us. There are many images that evoke the critical points and bring him to glorious life. He was an intense and determined artist and we are fully aware of his need to use his hands to bring his world to life in the works he created.

And then, there's the back matter. The author adds a historical note and a photo of Horace. Then, both author and illustrator add a personal note. These are followed by a list of further resources that might be tapped to find out more about this exceptional man. The back endpapers show all those galleries in the United States where you might see Horace Pippin's art...a perfect conclusion to a remarkable book.

Pictures just come to my mind and I tell my heart to go ahead.  (Horace Pippin)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stronger Than Steel, written by Bridget Heos with photographs by Andy Comins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $22.50 ages 12 and up

"Because spider silk is stronger than Kevlar, it has been proposed as a more lightweight material for bullet-proof vests. Randy says that the silk would need to be less stretchy than current bio-engineered silk. Otherwise, the vest would stop the bullet but stretch to the point that both the vest and the bullet went through the body."

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt just keeps coming up with worthy additions to their Scientists in the Field series. As usual, I started reading thinking that I would skim through the text finding those sections that I found most interesting. More than an hour later, I was reading every word, completely involved in the description of the work being done by Randy Lewis. Bridget Heos does another fine job of covering the amazing work of this geneticist.

Have you ever wondered how spider webs manage to withstand wind, weather and more to remain durable and strong. Turns out that the strongest spider silk is five times stronger than steel. How do we know that? Well, you just have to ask Randy Lewis. What does he do? He injects spider DNA into goats. And then? Well, he extracts what he needs from the milk of those goats to make spider silk that is artificial. It is also almost indestructible. What does he do with the artificial spider silk? It is his hope that it will someday be used to repair, and even replace, ligaments and tendons in the human body.

Well, that should get you interested enough to take a look at this amazing book. It is filled with fascinating science and unbelievably good color photographs that are sure to help readers to a better understanding of the processes being developed, and to raise an awareness of the strides being made in this field of this science.

Because it is so fine, so strong and has such flexibility, spider silk may be used to replace the titanium and aluminum outer coverings on aircraft, steel bridge cables, and is even touted to be the next protective vest instead of the Kevlar ones now being used. Making enough of it is sure to be challenging and will require a great deal of research. Advances in the field are allowing scientists to get and use the proteins that give spider silk its many remarkable attributes.

Added to the very clear explanations of the science and study involved and the exceptional photographs, Ms. Heos includes a terrific glossary, additional print and web resources, and a most useful index.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nelly May Has Her Say, written by Cynthia DeFelice and illustrated by Henry Cole. Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux. Raincoast Books, 2013. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"And what is this creature that has been following us around?"
"That's nothing but a mangy old hound dog."
"Certainly not! He is my fur-faced fluffenbarker."
Nelly May sighed. "Your fur-faced Fluffenbarker. Why didn't I guess that?" "Oh, and this thing on the end of the fur-faced fluffenbarker, that goes back and forth..."

I had never heard of the English folktale Master of All Masters. But, I do know it now! In this retelling, Nelly May is in need of a job. She finds one with a wealthy, if eccentric, older man. In accepting the position she must agree to use the language set out for her by her employer. We soon find that Lord Ignasius Pinkwinkle has a particular penchant for elaborate, and often nonsensical, descriptive language:

"It's your bed, which I expect I'll be making up for you."
"Not at all," said Lord Pinkwinkle. "That is not a bed. It is my restful slumberific."
"Your restful slumberific?" asked Nelly May doubtfully. "I never heard of such as that."
"Well, now you have," said Lord Pinkwinkle."

That is just the beginning for poor Nelly May!

As the tale progresses and the language becomes always more cumbersome, it is sure to draw laughter from listeners and some degree of difficulty for the reader. With each new demand for ridiculous language, Nelly May becomes more irreverent. Lord Pinkwinkle continues to ask for her version of the item being discussed and then discounts her description with one of his own:

"Well, most folks would call it a bucket, or maybe a pail," ventured Nelly May. "But there's no telling what you'll be calling it."
"I call it a wet scooperooty, and so must you."
"If I must," said Nelly May."

After all the introductions, Nelly May is finally encouraged to get to the work she was hired to do. Only when a fire threatens the Most Excellent of All Master's roof-topped castleorum does Nelly May take the high road...and quit!

Turns out that is just what is needed for Pinky to see the error of his ways.

Henry Cole's artwork is warm and engaging and adds to the overall appeal of this decidedly humorous tale. Readers will enjoy trying to get their tongues around the silly language concocted by Pinky, before he gets his comeuppance from a slight, but savvy young woman. 

Doug Unplugged, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"It was a pigeon!
Doug had just learned that pigeons traveled in groups called flocks, but he didn't know they made such a funny cooing sound! He wondered if there were more things he could learn if he went out into the city. So....

Doug unplugged!"

What a different world my kids live in today! They are constantly bombarded with screens...the television, the computer, the cell phone and more and more often, handheld games and tablets. Even cameras (if you use one that is not on your phone or tablet) often have a screen to help ensure a clear and balanced photograph. Hoping not to date myself too badly, we didn't have a television until I was nearing my teens, our first home family computer came when the kids were in middle school and cost more than $3000, and I still don't have a tablet. We played outside from morning until night, and had the run of the neighborhood. We skated outdoors in winter, and swam at the local outdoor pool all summer. Our neighbor put his television set outside on the front lawn so all the kids on the street could watch The Roy Rogers Show.

All that blathering to tell you about Doug. Doug is a robot, you see. His parents only want what is best for him; so each morning they plug him in and while they are off at work, Doug is filled to the brim with data. His parents want him to be the 'smartest' and most informed robot and on the day we meet him, he is going to be learning everything there is to know about the city.

A full page, fact-filled infographic brings an awareness to readers of all there is for Doug to learn about his city. As the program runs, Doug sits blankly accepting all data. While there, he notices a pigeon outside the window. He knows about 'flocks'; he doesn't have a concept of 'cooing'. How can he learn about that? Why, he will have to use his senses! That requires unplugging and personal exploration...

There is so much to see and to truly discover about the world around him! Meeting a human is a totally new experience for Doug, and he is invited to 'play'. How does that work? We know that Doug is a quick learner as evidenced from the amount of data he can take in while his parents are at work. Can he learn about interacting with a child in a genuine play setting? Sure he can!

Fear not! Doug is never smug. He delights in each new sensory experience. Readers never get the feeling that he is trying to teach us a lesson, or suggest that we do as he has done. His adventure is sure to please young readers. From the cool tones of the indoors, Doug takes his bright yellow self to a much more colorful world...filled with intense reds and greens as he really learns about the city.
After the fun of finding a 'friend' and helping that friend find his parents who are lost, Doug returns home to share his most pleasing discovery of all...a hug!

And now it's up to you, to unplug and make some new discoveries of your own!

Buzz About Bees, written by Kari-Lynn Winters. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"In medieval times, people would soak bandages in honey in order to reduce joint swelling and cure cataracts. Some of these honey cures continue to be used for health purposes today. For example, honey is a primary ingredient in several cough syrups and drops. And when a person has laryngitis (an inflamed larynx), a common home remedy..."

It seems that we have numerous books in the past few years concerning bees and their benefits. Albert Einstein recognized this and made the scientific and greater community aware of it when he said: "If bees disappeared, humans would have only 4 years left to live."

That should give each one of us pause!

A quick look at the table of contents allows readers a glimpse at Kari-Lynn Winters' sense of humor. Chapter titles are: Bee-n There, Done That, The Whole Ball of Wax, Bee-ing Together, Bee-ing Alone, Bees of the World, Disperse and finally, Stinging Effects on the World. In addition, the chapters include such subjects as To Be or Not To Bee, The Bee's Knees, and my personal favorite (with a bow to Mr. Gandhi) Bee The Change the World Needs.

Sure to give her target audience incentive to jump from place to place in the book in order to check out what might be most interesting, this book will inform and entertain with a wealth of current data. It begins with a quiz, an inviting challenge for those who wonder about the value of bees and their contributions to our lives as we live them. The author provides lots of detail about their physiology and the way that they work together. Using clear captioned photographs and clearly drawn and labelled diagrams, she lets her readers know about the relationship between bees and humans.

By educating ourselves and others concerning bees, their habitats and the benefits that they bring to our lives, we can encourage badly needed change. We can create gardens that will attract them, support local beekeepers by buying their honey, realize the significance of pollutants as hazards to a healthy bee population. There are instructions for building a nesting site, a gargle recipe and even a game...all add appeal.

A glossary and index are included, and a list of books that help build knowledge and understanding.

One Came Home, written by Amy Timberlake. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"There is nothing as final as turning around. Billy and I were back in Dog Hollow. It was noon. We were eating lunch on the banks of the Smoke River. I watched a train pull into the station and thought for the first time, I am going home. We hadn't spoken the words outright. They didn't need saying. It was a foregone conclusion. There was no new evidence. Our search near the nowhere place hadn't netted a thing:"

When the sheriff returns to town with a body, and her mother identifies it as Georgie's older sister, Georgie refuses to accept it as fact. Her sister Agatha is gone, she knows that; but, she will not believe she is dead. She will prove it.

Despite the evidence and without permission, Georgie is determined to find out what really happened to Agatha. She arranges with Billy to get her a horse, and makes preparations for following her instincts, rather than the evidence presented. Turns out that Billy is going to be her companion, and his mount for her is a long-eared, stubborn mule. The pairing seems appropriate. As they travel, they talk with people who have seen Agatha and learn that she was last seen with a group of shady characters called pigeoners.

It's 1871 and Wisconsin has just seen  “the largest pigeon nesting within recorded memory.” It brings out the worst in some people as they are only concerned with the money-making opportunities afforded. Georgie and Billy have a trail to follow...where it leads is mysterious and surprising. As they search, they deal with cougars, counterfeiters and caves. Each new encounter adds a needed clue to Agatha's trail. There is danger, gunplay, retribution and murder. Now, that should interest a number of readers.

Told with humor and suspense, this is a book that kept me reading through the night. I truly could not bear to stop reading it once started. Georgie can be irritable and bad-tempered, but she is forthright and funny as well. Billy is a perfect foil for her barbed assumptions. He shares awe at the natural beauty of the world they are travelling, while also doing his best to keep a rein on this determined, loyal young woman who will not believe her sister is dead until the trail runs completely dry. Even then, she's not really willing to give up.

This is historical fiction that packs a punch. There's a mystery which is not easy to solve, there's a quest concerning sisterly love and loyalty, and there is a part of the story grounded in historical fact. Georgie is a girl who will stick in your memory and whose story you will want to share. Her voice is singular and offers up many quotes for my reading journal. What a writer Amy Timberlake is!

Phoebe & Digger, written by Tricia Springstubb and illustrated by Jeff Newman. Candlewood, Random House. 2013. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"Finally, off they went. Both Phoebe and Digger loved the park.
The park had trees and swings and a kindly man who sold frozen treats.
But best of all, the park had...
real dirt.
Mama and the baby sank onto a boring bench.
Phoebe and Digger went straight to work."

It's tough having a new baby in the house and being a caring big sister!
And it's also tough facing down a bully...
There are many stories about both things; but this one is very special and will definitely find a place on my 'keeper' shelf!

When her mom gets a new baby, Phoebe gets Digger. At that moment in time, nothing could make her happier. Digger has great sympathy for Phoebe's plight and is willing to share his disgust for the disruption in her life. Together they are as busy as Mama and the baby are. Digger has a quick 'RMM!' response to every cute little thing that the baby does. He is irreverent and that allows Phoebe to be equally so!

When it gets to be too much, Mama proposes a trip to the park. It's a perfect place for building and knocking down, for foraging for a worm that scares another small boy. That gets them in trouble, resulting in a time-out! When a big girl bully arrives with a need to try the digger herself, Phoebe tries everything she has learned to get Digger back. It's Mama to the rescue without a word or sound from Phoebe.

Have I told you before how much I love Jeff Newman's art? I hope so. He is phenomenal! His ability to extend the story beyond the simple, straightforward and lively text is beyond's downright awesome! Phoebe and Digger share mutual joy when they first set eyes on each other. While helping Mama with the gardening (as the baby is doing), Digger chomps roses. There is not much Digger won't do (with ample help from Phoebe) to get attention.  I love the loose lines, the bold colors and the constantly changing expressions.

There is so much to see here; observant young readers will love this story that speaks to their own personal feelings and will take note of the expressive, action-filled vignettes that are not necessarily part of the texted tale. So, keep your eyes and ears open as you share this story and see what little ones are noticing. I promise you will be reading it over and over again!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Frank Show, written and illustrated by David Mackintosh. HarperCollins, 2012. $9.99 ages 6 and up

"My teacher has asked us to talk about one member of our family for show and tell on Friday. We can choose one person and talk for one minute, about the things they like and what kind of person they are. I ask Mum if I can talk about her but she says that she is busy and that I should speak to my father when he gets off the phone."

Only one trip to Bolen's Books when I was in Victoria last month visiting with Erin and Drew. Too often I have made more than one to 'just look' and ended up almost needing another suitcase, or paying for an overweight one, to get the stash back home. So, I was feeling proud of myself when Erin and I met up with Freda and Maddy, two wonderful women (mom and daughter) who work in the children's section and who have impeccable taste in books. I bought The Frank Show because it had a Freda's Pick sticker. I will admit I had heard about it; but, knowing that Freda loved it meant I bought it without even reading it! Maddy was quick to hand over her favorites as well. Still, I could put everything I got in my carry-on bag. Huzzah!

What a treasure this book is...and what fun to read over and over again!

Poor boy whose only available family member is Frank...and he's his granddad. What can he say about Frank that will take a full minute? Everyone else in his class has a worthwhile subject:

"Kristian's dad is a comedian on TV who makes everyone laugh. Paolo's mum is Italian and knows all about Italian and can speak Italian. Fay's cousin tells you if your bag's too heavy at the airport. Donny's dad works in a crisp factory. Saul's aunt swam the English Channel. Hugo's stepbrother has a sports car, with an eightball gear knob."

How can he possibly come up with anything that matches what the others have to say? What a wonderful premise for this story and David Mackintosh works wonders with a curmudgeonly old man, giving him character and chutzpah. Frank is a man I would love to know...and I am sure he would often annoy me, too. But, he has an inimitable take on the life he leads and the world he lives in:

"He doesn't like noise,
or today's music, or
gadgets and gizmos (or
new things), or haircuts,
or weather, or doctors, or
any sort of ice cream that
isn't vanilla. And today I
have to talk about him
for a full minute."

Too funny! I haven't even mentioned the extraordinary accompanying artwork. David Mackintosh uses action-filled, riotous collage to extend his story and entertain his readers. I kept going back again and again to take note of everything he did to make the story such a stand-out. The final double page spread had me giggling and fervently wishing to read it aloud to anyone. (I resisted the urge to phone both Erin and need to see the illustrations to get the full impact).

Bravo, Mr. Mackintosh! You are spot-on with the narrator's voice in every way. And who won't fall in love with Frank?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, written by Hilary McKay and illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. Albert Whitman and Company, Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $16.95 ages 4 and up

"There was no sign of him in the sand dunes, nor on the wide windy beach. No dog with paper-bag ears splashed in the pools by the breakwaters, or raced across the golf course (where no dogs were allowed). But as they got nearer to the town end of the beach they heard news. The ice cream and hot dog stand knew him very well."

I was so hoping there would be a second book about Lulu. She is a great character and these books are perfect for young readers wanting to make the transition into some reading that is a bit more sophisticated.

You can't go wrong when you choose a book by Hilary McKay. She is so adept at creating characters to love, and whose lives you want to share. Lulu, her parents, her dog and her cousin Mellie are on vacation at the beach. They have a small house there (not at all what they were expecting with its few  amenities, ill-tempered caretaker and the threat of a dangerous and vicious dog), and a love of being outdoors. It isn't long before Lulu hears tales of that stray dog fending for himself by eating what others put in the garbage.

Lulu's love of animals never wavers. She badly wants to make friends with the stray. No one else seems interested. Mellie wants to practice her kite-building skills, Mom needs a quiet place to read and Dad is keen to run. Lulu in convinced that the stray is one very exceptional canine companion, and she is determined to prove to them all that she is right.

Hilary McKay writes with such honesty and understanding of those who people her books. They live life as it is meant to be lived...sometimes messy, always loving and supportive, and filled with the joy of being together. As Lulu learns the circumstances surrounding the dog's survival, she is even more certain that someone needs to take care of him. It is not until the dog proves how truly courageous and protective he is that others begin to understand Lulu's abiding interest.

How many dogs go home with Lulu when their time at the beach is up?

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever, written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee and illustrated by Tony Fucile. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 5 and up

"The queen is thinking of paying you a visit, Bink," said Gollie.

"What queen?" said Bink.

"Queen Gollie," said Gollie.

"I'm not home," said Bink.

"Very well, then," said Gollie. "I shall go forth into my kingdom alone."

It's our third meeting and I am as entertained this time as I have been in  two previous encounters. Bink & Gollie are the best kind of friends; they may differ in opinion but they don't stay apart for too long. In the first of three chapters, Gollie finds out that she descends from royalty and she is pretty pumped to share the news with Bink, and with anyone else that might listen. Bink is not impressed. Less so when Gollie announces that since 'royalty does not cook for others', there will be no pancakes. Bummer! It doesn't take long for Gollie to realize that life without Bink by her side is not the life she wants.

In the second, Bink is fed up with being vertically challenged and she decides that the Stretch-O-Matic might be the ticket to a major change in her life. That's what the literature promises. It takes some careful consideration of the instructions, and then it is ready. Gollie is supportive, but apprehensive.

Finally, they are enticed by Flicker's Arcana of the Extraordinary and the world record holders included there. Collections are the theme. The two seek advice from Mr. and Mrs. Eccles, who have their own enticing Empire of Enchantment. All ideas fall flat, until Bink and Gollie deal with the fact that no one is going to come to take their picture for the Arcana. Ah well, they have a perfect solution!!!

Tony Fucile's love for these two is evident in their wide-eyed wonder at the world and their joy in being best friends forever. Creating digital images with black outlines, and using color to keep our attention fully on these two provides enjoyment for all who share their stories. Wonderful dialogue, filled with wise and witty wordplay ups the appeal for fans and for those new to their escapades.   

Impressive! I can't wait for their next book...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On A Beam of Light, written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. Chronicle, Raincoast Books. 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Albert started asking questions. Questions at home. Questions at school. So many questions that some of his teachers told him he was a disruption to his class. They said he would never amount to anything unless he learned to behave like all the other students."

Just the name Albert Einstein scares me! I am so not a scientist, and was never likely to be despite some valiant attempts to get me interested.

In this accessible and noteworthy picture book biography, Jennifer Berne helps me understand the boy who spoke later than most children - even at three, he had little to say. That did not mean that he was not capable of wonder at the world, and of generating thoughts about what he was noticing.

The gift of a compass from his father brought joy and AMAZEMENT:

"Suddenly he knew there were mysteries in the world - hidden and silent, unknown and unseen."

Then, the questions the annoyance of his teachers and classmates. Each new thought appeared to trigger more questions. Books provided some of the answers that he sought. He had more questions than there were answers; and he wondered even more. His graduation from university did not result in a teaching job so he took a government job that allowed time for more thinking.

He made discoveries about matter and motion that led others to seek his counsel:

"For the first time in his life, people started to say, "Albert is a genius!" Now Albert could spend all his days doing what he loved - imagining, wondering, figuring and thinking."

I did discover (thankfully) that he and I have one thing in common: a mutual dislike for socks and shoes. As a grown man he felt he was old enough to decide for himself if he wanted to wear them. I concur!

This fine book is such a celebration of who he was, how he changed the way we think about the world we live in, and what an inspiration he was to the scientific world.  I have such admiration for Jennifer Berne's ability to bring this great man into the world of children's literature and give her readers such a clear picture:

"Albert thought and figured until the very last day of his life. He asked questions never asked before. Found answers never found before. And dreamed up ideas never dreamt before."

Vladimir Radunsky uses softly textured papers as background for his gouache and pen and ink artwork. They are filled with humor, and a clear look at the man who inspired so many. They are as quirky and individual as the man himself and convey a real sense of admiration for Mr. Einstein and his 'wondering' ways.

because of mr. terupt, written by Rob Buyea. delacorte press, Random House. 2010. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"I like school. I'm good at it. I get all As. So when Mr. Terupt announced our first math project, I was excited. Dollar Words was crazy. Definitely not a worksheet problem, like all the others I had ever been given. Not even close! We had to assume that the letter a was worth one cent, b two cents, c three cents - and so on, making the letter z worth twenty-six cents. (LUKE)

As I listen to the chatter from the school playground across the street, I remind myself that in three weeks another school year will be done. Some of those students will move on to another town, city, neighborhood or school. Some will be back when the doors open in early September. I can only hope that many will be lucky enough to meet a teacher like Mr. Terupt. He is something!

I admire the writing (a debut novel), the design and the people I meet within its pages. Rob Buyea writes in the voices of seven fifth grade students, month-to-month throughout their school year. It is a real and quite astounding look at the diversity found in any school classroom. Each chapter is short and very personal. Each voice is authentic. They represent the gamut in terms of kids you might find in any classroom.

On the front flyleaf, we meet the seven:

"There's Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who's having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school."

I'll bet, if you can think back that far, you will remember each one of those classmates; although their names may be different, the circumstances will be the same. We have met them all, or been one or the other at some point in time.

After reading the book the first time, I have gone back to read one student's views from beginning to end of the year, before moving on to the next student. It is testament to powerful writing that each voice remains clear and distinct. They see the same things so differently. They are memorable and worthy of our attention and Mr. Terupt is a teacher we might all aspire to be, or hope to have at some point in our school life.

He is gifted. He sees in each of them their own potential, and encourages them through class and individual assignments in ways that allow their lights to shine. Not one of them is perfect,  Mr. Terupt included.  He is unlike many of their former teachers...he seems to know the right word at the right time to give each of these particular students the 'outs' they need when they need them, to interest them in assignments that engage them, and to encourage them to try something that may not seem within their comfort range.

It is his first year. Not everything goes as planned. A classroom celebration that includes playing outdoors in the snow, and a dramatic accident is a life changer for everyone involved. It is emotional
and powerful storytelling and a most worthy addition to your TBR this summer pile, if you have not yet read it. I think it would make a wonderful 'WELCOME BACK' readaloud for September in any middle years classroom.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Look Up! Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard, written and illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate. Candlewick, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 8 and up

"You may not have a yard, but you do have the sky. Look up! Many hawks, falcons and even owls make their homes in the city. City birds are tough and adaptive - meaning that they make do with what they find."

You don't need much to become an avid birdwatcher...your eyes, your ears, a sketchbook, something to draw with, a field guide...then patience and practice. Sounds easy, right? It really is!

I love a quote from the author that I read yesterday in an interview with Charlotte at Prairie Birder

"So I made a pledge to myself to try and get out more and take walks at lunch — I thought it would be good for me, in the stress management department. Across the street from work was the Mount Auburn Cemetery, and that’s where I walked. It’s an amazing place, full of interesting trees and flowers, and it’s full of birds, too. (Famous for it, actually) The more I got outside and walked, the more I noticed birds. Really, had they been here all along, and I never noticed? I started thinking that there was all this wonderful stuff in nature going on, and I wasn’t paying the least bit of attention, and that bothered me. So I bought a beginners’ Peterson’s field guide and I looked up the birds eating my house, and they were Starlings. And then I saw another bird eating ants in my backyard, and I looked it up and it was a Flicker, and it was doing exactly what the book said it was supposed to do, which was eat ants, and I just thought that was so cool."

In this funny and informative guide to watching whatever birds you might find in your own backyard, Annette LeBlanc Cate gives ample instruction for finding a new and satisfying hobby. By giving the time to take a concentrated and leisurely look at your world, you will make many discoveries. But, you gotta get outside! You won't likely need your field guide until you have done plenty of noticing regarding color, shape, songs and activities of the birds you are watching so carefully.

From the get-go, readers are bombarded with information. However, it never seems to overwhelm. It is chatty, and funny, and has great appeal for all ages. While we may not see bears, raccoons, moose or other animals from our particular environment in our backyards, we see birds around us every single day...even in the cold, clear days of winter.

In this book, the birds have their say! Speech bubbles provide much of what we learn about them. Birds are often labelled to help with identification, and the amount of useful data provided is astonishing in its variety.

 Anything that is new to us takes time and patience; the author makes it seem so worthwhile and certainly shares her enthusiasm for something she has learned to love and appreciate. The bibliography is useful, the index helpful and the endpapers a visual delight! It is one of those books that I fully expected to skim through in order to get and give a sense of its message. Instead, I read every word carefully and pored over the artwork, and now I am on my way into the back porch to have a careful look at the wrens and robins that are nesting nearby. I will admit I am not as keen to carefully consider the raucous crows, but I will even give them some leeway.



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Relish: My Life in th Kitchen, written and illustrated by Lucy Knisley. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"When I was little, my mother would often make me enormous plates of sauteed mushrooms in garlic. I wasn't a picky eater, I was exactly the opposite. I would try almost anything, and almost always found it delicious. But I was a craver. I craved the crispy chicken skin, salty and crackling..."
Lucy Knisley was born into a family (mother, father, herself) whose appreciation of food is chronicled in this graphic novel of her 'life in the kitchen'. Her mother is a chef, and has worked at many jobs within the food industry, taking Lucy with her to help with selling at the farmers' market, catering large and small functions and always encouraging the enjoyment of a wide variety of appetizing dishes. Her father loves good food, preferably made by someone else. He ensures that Lucy visits restaurants around the world, and within his neighborhood. Not all experiences are appreciated; they each contribute to her relationship with food. Neither parent appreciates the allure of processed foods or fast food restaurants, while she has a penchant (at times) for McDonald's fries and other tasty tidbits:

"Denied the grocery favorites of my classmates, junky foods became objects of curiosity and enticement to me, and my most parentally-abhorred form of rebellion. My discovery of Lucky Charms remains a particularly fond memory."

She tells readers of her travels with each of her parents to Rome, Mexico, Japan and on a backpacking trip through Europe with a friend...all have memorable connections with food. Some experiences are funny, others not so. All are shared with honesty, and put her readers right in the midst of the visit.

Her included recipes begin with chai tea. So prepare yourself a cuppa and settle in to fully appreciate a savory, tempting memoir of a life lived with food. At the end of next 11 chapters, she shares a recipe from her life and travels, accompanied by engaging and useful artwork.  

I love the graphics, her open and honest look at food and the part it has played in her life, and the joy she brings to the whole experience. It is a most enjoyable way to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon. Here's a warning: don't read it if you are hungry. You will only feel that hunger more and more with each turn of the page!  

After eight years in Chicago, she is delighted with her discoveries. But, she misses New York and wants to return to discover life there again. Also, she misses her mother's cooking. She leaves readers with something to think about:

"Bad habits or industrial compromises have forced many of us to reexamine our relationship to food and begin to embrace eating as a connection to our bodies and a form of celebration. We're still a young country, discovering new things, creating traditions of eating and sharing. Like me, still a young woman, learning about what moves me, what I want. What I love. And doing those things with excitement, curiosity and relish."

Ball. Word and pictures by Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt., Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $15.99 ages 3 and up

"One word says it all...BALL!

My granddog Percy may be lazy about walking. He is, after all, a bulldog with little need to get from one place to another for exercise.  But, give him a soccer ball and he knows no limit. He will not stop chasing, pawing, ball handling until it is taken away from him. By that time, his tongue is hanging to the floor and he is ready to spend the rest of his day snoozing! You might call him soccer ball obsessed.

So, too, is the dog in this extremely funny almost wordless book about a chunky blond dog with a penchant for chasing his red ball. He sleeps with it in his mouth, perpetually prepared to chase it down whenever his equally energetic owner will throw it for him.

In the first panels, they are both sound asleep. At the slightest stirring, he thinks ball?, and the chase is on! She's willing despite her need to do the mundane details of dressing for the day, and her heading off to school. He's done his tail-wagging the blocks and off as soon as it leaves her hand. He never gives up the search for it, and the happy return for just one more toss.

Anxiety overtakes as soon as she is out the door! There are people in the house. Maybe?? Nope, Mom is quietly meditating with closed eyes and indifference to his dilemma. The baby screams, the cat launches itself off the chair, even the laundry hamper won't cooperate. There is nothing left to do but sleep...perchance to dream. And dream he does. In a series of hilarious illustrations, he sees his red ball everywhere!

In the final series of panels, we feel his anticipation as he first senses his owner's return, and is then ecstatic that she has come back to him...all to ease his boredom and give him a reason to live once more. What a delight this book is!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

WHAT in the WILD? Ear-Tickling Poems by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy and Eye-Tickling Photos by Dwight Kuhn. Tricycle Press, Random House. 2010. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"If you like to be a nature detective, you'll find plenty of cases to crack on these pages. The woods, fields, marshes, rivers, ponds, deserts, farms, and other places are alive with brain teasers waiting to be solved. Welcome to a world of wonder."

In a series of ten poems that are actually riddles concerning the natural world, the authors give us cause to wonder. The clear and beautiful photographs will hold readers in awe of the tiny creatures described. Some will be familiar to you....others may not be.

This is the third book of poetry from this talented team. They began with  Where in the Wild? (2007)  and I have shared the other two often with children and in workshops. Brilliant in design and intriguing for readers, they deserve attention and purchase. I love that there is a new one to share!

What in the Wild takes a bit of a different stance. The design remains the same...a poem on the left hand side and a photo on the right. In the first two books the object described was camouflaged within the photo and readers were invited to use careful observation. In this one, the mystery is in plain sight and we are invited to guess what it might be. Once the thoughtful detective work has run its course, a flap on the right side offers the answer to the mystery presented:

"I live underground.
I don't see very well.
To forage for food,
I touch and I smell.

My odd nose is starry.
My sharp claws are big,
By day and by night,
I sniff as I dig.

I make many tunnels,
Pushing dirt aboveground.
To me, it's a mountain -
To you, a small mound!"

Under the flap, a star-nosed mole is revealed using a variety of photographs and adding an informative collection of facts concerning the mysterious visitor.  The poems are often written in first person, providing clear invitations to take a long walk in varying habitats with eyes wide open to ensure incredible discoveries. The poetry offers as much variety as the creatures themselves. A list for further reading is found on the copyright book for everyone included here.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ol' Mama Squirrel, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"One afternoon, while the babies were having a scamper on a high branch, a great, growling grizzly bear came to town and climbed into Mama's tree.
Mama Squirrel sprang into action.
"Get out of my tree!"

I am going to have to beg and offer a needed teacher break to get myself into some early years classrooms this month. I so want to share this rowdy and hilarious new book by the author of Interrupting Chicken (Candlewick, 2010).

Mama Squirrel is a force to be reckoned with, and it takes no time for us to understand that! She knows that her babies are in danger. After all, she has birthed and raised many a young one in this same tree over the years. She has no intention of letting any two-legged or four-legged creature, or any high-flying object (aka kite or plane), the opportunity to get close enough to put those babies in jeopardy.

It matters not who comes close, she is prepared to give them a good scolding...CHOOK! CHOOK! CHOOK! They don't stand a chance. She doesn't mind taking on cats, dogs, owls, people. Once she starts admonishing them for the feeling of unease they cause, they are quick to retreat.

Might it work with a grizzly bear? What do you think? She tires the scolding that seems to deter all others. Doesn't cause the bear to blink. She pelts with nuts. Bear only laughs and threatens certain death to the entire family living in that tree. He's hungry, and he's determined. For the first time, Mama Squirrel feels a faint smattering of fear. The bear doesn't know that Mama has just one more trick up her sleeve!

You can see from her fearsome countenance that Mama is as determined as that ol' bear. She sounds the alarm to all other mama squirrels! You know how tenacious Mamas can be, right?

The HUEYS in IT WASN'T ME, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Harper Canada, 2013. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"The thing about
the Hueys....
was that most of
the time they got

But every so often
they didn't..."

If you have met The Hueys, you will be thrilled to see that they have changed somewhat from their original look...that new jumper made all the difference and led to them trying to find a signature style! Here, on the front endpapers, you can see that while their shape is the same, they have branched out into trying for some individuality in the colors they choose to wear. They are obviously discussing an annoying black fly. Each has something to say, while one apes the fly's movements.

As we make our way into the heart of the tale, we can see that they enjoy lively discussion and are willing to share ideas and opinions. Until they don't...

Their argument is loud and troubled. No one seems to be listening to the others and the heated bubble of talk is filled with discord. Gillespie, a bystander, has an important question:

"What are you fighting for?"

If you have thought to ask the same question, you might know the results of that kind of interruption. No one can agree on who to blame. The talk goes round and round, with no solution in sight. As I have read in a recent interview with Oliver Jeffers, he thinks it sounds just like a playground altercation! There is no consensus...

Gillespie changes the focus of his question; there is a sudden silence. No one seems able to come up with a suitable answer. So, Gillespie opts for another subject. That's all it takes! Don't miss the endpapers at the back....

I told myself that the next time I wrote anything about the wonderful Oliver Jeffers, I would include a video that I love and also some tidbits of brilliance that he shares willingly with others.

So, first up is his tongue-in-cheek advice for aspiring writers:
  • you always have to have a pencil
  • you always have to keep practising
  • you have to share your ideas
  • you can never read enough books
  • you really have to have a writer’s jacket, possibly green
  • you need a window to stare pensively out of
  • if a story is not going well, add in an elephant
  • if that doesn’t work, make it a flying elephant
  • if that doesn’t work, make it a flying elephant on fire
  • if that doesn’t work, make it a flying elephant on fire with laser eyes
  • if that doesn’t work, forget the elephant
  • never, ever eat anything the size of your head in one go
  • if your mum says no, go and ask your dad.
                                               from We Love This Book (June 2013)

 Now, here's the video:

and finally, here's Oliver's view of writing for everyone, including himself:

"Since I began making picture books I have come to realise over time that I call them just that. Picture books. Not children's books. The reason for this is twofold; firstly I don't believe they are just for children. I have met countless adults that collect picture books for themselves, and they are growing in confidence about openly admitting this in a book-signing queue. It's not for my daughter, or a friend's nephew. It's for me. Often these individuals are teachers, librarians, publishing employees, art college students / aspiring picture-book makers themselves. But increasingly, they are doctors, civil servants, bus drivers … just people who have discovered the joy of a story unfolding visually over a few dozen pages.

I refrain from calling them children's books because that implies I write them specifically for children. I don't. I write them for myself. And for everyone."

Cheer Up, Mouse! Written and illustrated by Jed Henry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $15.99 ages 3 and up

"How are we going to
make mouse smile?

I know how to pick him up.

Flap and flutter,
dip and dive -

Cheer up, Mouse!"

Poor Mouse! Everyone around him seems so happy, and he is obviously down in the dumps...his friends are trying to change that. Badger juggles, Bluebird and Crow waft a cloud of rose petals upon him, Rabbit balances Hedgehog on his nose, Frog and Mole sing and dance in time with Squirrel's fiddle playing. Gopher looks on with concern. Mouse mopes.

As the friends discuss their options for cheer, Mouse mopes. Their ideas are exhibited, each showing how hard they are willing to work to share what makes them happy...flying, digging, hopping, splashing, eating grubs, tumbling. Nothing seems to suit Mouse's needs for now.

It falls to Gopher, who has been carefully watching throughout, to finally recognize what Mouse really needs. He is not in need of action and fun...he is not that kind of mouse. As the fun and frivolity gives way to peace and quiet understanding, there is no need for words.

There are times when all a person (or a small brown mouse) needs is quiet and comfort. Recognizing that can be a tough job. This lovely and lively book helps young children see that we can do what works to make us happy, but sometimes it is a gentle hug that is all that is needed to bring joy!
Exuberant, expressive double page spreads are filled with bold colors and happy action. Young readers will find much to observe and discuss as this book is shared. The group hug that concludes this tale of friendship is sure to encourage the same in listeners. So, go on...hug a friend!

The Matchbox Diary, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $19.00 ages 6 and up

"What's in the little boxes?"
"My diary."
"What's a diary?"
"A way to remember what happens to you. Usually it's a book people write in. When I was your age, I had a lot I wanted to remember, but I couldn't read or write. So I started this. Open the first one."

When a little girl and her great-grandfather meet for the first time, her curiosity is piqued by the many intriguing objects that have a place in his office. The grandfather is equally keen to know something about this new little person in his life. Together, they share the heartfelt story of a young man leaving home for a new beginning in a new world.

Like her grandparent she likes boxes, and the object that draws her initial attention is a cigar box filled with matchboxes. As they open box after tiny box, her grandfather explains what led him to put each of the artifacts in a new box, and how it relates to his life story:

"What is it?"
"An olive pit. I put it in my palm, and I'm right back in Italy. That's where I grew up. Lots of olive trees there. Life was hard - the other reason I saved it. No floor in our house, just dirt. No heat in the winter except the fire under the cooking pot. And sometimes not enough food. When I'd tell my mother I was hungry, she'd give me an olive pit to suck on. It helped."

Each matchbox brings back a clear memory from the man's life. While he couldn't read and write, he could put together a diary that would always provide memories of pivotal times in his life. He recalls for his granddaughter life events, people of importance and the sadness of leaving Italy to find a new life across the ocean. The struggles didn't end when the boat docked and the family set their feet on unfamiliar soil. But, there were happy and productive times as well and they are also chronicled in the tiny boxes, and the conversation between the two.

 A piece of coal marks a turning point in his life:

"...My mother told my father I should go to school. She'd seen me staring at signs and circus posters, trying to understand. Sometimes I'd draw letters with a piece of coal. She wanted me to learn and teach my sisters. Big argument. Days and weeks."

That piece of coal is there in a matchbox. As she listens to his stories, the little one begins to learn her family's history and a to feel an enduring love for this new man in her life.

Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline have collaborated on another glorious book, The Animal Hedge (Walker, 2003). They are a matched pair of incredible artists. Ibatoulline’s illustrations, done in acrylic gouache, are filled with detail and light. I appreciate the way he uses warm color for the modern part of the story, and sepia tones to bring past memories to readers. He evokes the emotion for both settings with expressive faces and telling background images.

When I started reading this book with a group of grade eight students, they were sitting back from me as I have come to expect. Before the first turn of the page, some had moved forward. And then more, and more...until we could truly 'share' this memorable tale of family, immigration, literacy and love.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Idle. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2013. $18.99 ages 3 and up

A girl named Flora.

A beautiful pink flamingo.

Can they find common ground?

Will they find harmony
in dancing together?

My first accolade must go to Molly Idle for creating this engaging and oh, so endearing meeting between Flora, a young girl clad in bathing suit, bathing cap and flippers, and an elegant and regal flamingo. But, before I go further...I want to say Bravo! to Chronicle Books for its publication! It is not every publishing house that would accept the challenge of time and expense to get this lovely look at teaching and learning into the hands of young and aspiring artists. With its inset flaps, a whole new dimension is added to the wordless tale.

The flamingo touches down gracefully and is soon followed onto the spread by Flora, who mimics the elegance of the bird's stance. Turn the page, turn down the flap and Flora displays her propensity for doing exactly as the bird does.

There are some awkward moments. That is to be expected from anyone trying something brand new. Flora has surely just begun instruction. There are no tutus or toe shoes here. Each page turn shows the flamingo on the left, and Flora on the right. It takes the bird a few moves to realize that she has company. Flora seems to be holding her own. Following a tumble and a little pout, the two seem to find common ground again. The bird offers aid, and the two undertake a graceful duet that will leave the audience cheering and wanting to see the dance one more time...and maybe once again.

It is a book of beauty and simplicity, while also showing the joy to be found in thoughtful acts of kindness and the true meaning of being a friend. Just lovely, and a perfect gift for an aspiring dancer!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

if you want to see a whale, written by julie fogliano and illustrated by erin e. stead. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"if you want to see a whale
you will need a not-so-comfy chair
and a not-too-cozy blanket
because sleeping eyes can't
watch for whales
and whales won't wait for

Do you remember how much you loved sharing And Then It's Spring, 2012 to your children at home and at school. It is such a peaceful, patient look at the coming of spring and will forever be my favorite book to welcome that oft glorious season. In Manitoba this year, as in many parts of North America, we can surely use that patience to get us to green fields and warm days!

In this new equally beautiful book, Julie Fogliano brings patience to the forefront as a little boy longs for the chance to see a whale. The advice is forthcoming, but tough to take:

“if you want to see a whale
 you will need a window
 and an ocean
 and time for waiting
 and time for looking
 and time for wondering ‘is that a whale?’ ”

There are many things you cannot do, and many excursions you must not undertake, if your dearest wish is to see a whale. You must focus all of your attention on your quest. If you are patient enough, and persistent enough, and observant enough, your wish might just come true!

Erin Stead uses linoleum printing techniques and pencil to create the warm and imaginative artwork that complements Ms. Fogliano's text beautifully. Although she creates all those distractions -birds, roses, pirate ships, clouds, pelicans and caterpillars - the boy is resolute in his need to see the mighty whale.

While you may be in awe of the encounter, you are sure to feel the same about this amazing book!