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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Year of the Jungle, written by Suzanne Collins and illustrated by James Proimos. Scholastic Press, 2013. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"My dad has to go to something called a war. It's in a place called Viet Nam. Where is Viet Nam? He will be gone a year. How long is a year? I don't know what anybody's talking about. Then someone says he'll be in the jungle..."

The little red haired girl who narrates her own story goes on to say, "My favorite cartoon character lives in a jungle." This sentiment shows just what she cannot comprehend about her father's role in a distant war and what it might mean to the family. She is only six, and should not be able to understand the reality of their situation.

She knows that he is in a jungle and uses her prior knowledge to imagine him in a tropical environment where he might actually play with the animals there, just as she would love to do. But, a year is a very long time for a little girl. The postcards that came often in the beginning have dwindled and she doesn't hear from him much. When she does, he seems different. She recognizes feelings of anger and sympathy in the adults around her. As she thinks about what might be happening, the peace of her original perception changes.

Rather than seeing playful animals, leafy trees and feeling the peace of the jungle surroundings , those animals change and seem more like weapons. The absence of her father takes her down a gloomy path. For the writer it is a memory-filled look back at her father's days in Vietnam and how his life (and therefore his family's) was forever changed. It is a very difficult year for all involved.

Sue may not be able to express all that she is feeling, and fearing. So, James Proimos uses his brilliant works of art to help the book's audience experience the confusion. He uses ink and  Corel Painter to move his audience from the happy family home to Sue's dreamlike perception of the jungles of Vietnam to the endless days of waiting, until finally Sue welcomes her father home again, a changed man in some ways and exactly the same in others...and certainly brave.          

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Spooky Box, written and illustrated by Mark Gonyea. Henry Holt, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $16.99 ages 4 and up

"I HOPE it's
not HAUNTED...

OKAY, I'm going
to OPEN it.


Although you can't really tell from the above book cover, Mark Gonyea uses graphic stencil art in a black, white and orange palette to create this highly entertaining and interactive book for young listeners. He dedicates it 'for everyone who loves thinking of endless possibilities'. Then, he creates a perfect book for exactly those who will share it.

The angles are sharp, the fonts are clear and often loud! When a box is discovered on the doorstep following a doorbell announcement, the wondering begins. It has no labels and the receivers are offered no clue to its sender. It is, in fact, a bit spooky that no one knows what is inside.

But, we can wonder, and imagine, and surmise, and even hazard a strong guess at what it contains. Could it be bats? or rats? or spiders? Truly, it could be anything that is not bigger than the box itself.
With all of the possibilities, it is a bit of daunting task to work up the courage to check it out.

Bravery wins out, and the box is opened only to find two more boxes inside! Now, what? The boxes are smaller, so the guesses must be scaled down to something that could actually fit within these new spaces. Want to know what is really inside? You might be surprised!

The possibilities are endless, and include allowing those who share it to create their own box and contents. Imaginations will run wild. The more materials available, the more creative the results.  Sheer delight!

Erin told me about this book, and I was quick to order two for me and one for my wonderful and wacky friend Val, grade one and two teacher extraordinaire. Luckily, it arrived on my doorstep today and I knew exactly what it was. No guessing for me. I would, however, love to be a fly on the wall when she shares it with her students tomorrow at their Halloween party!

Your Skeleton is Showing:Rhymes of Blunder From Six Feet Under, written by Kurt Cyrus and illustrated by Crab Scrambly. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2013. $17.99 all ages

"Lem Tremolo

Once upon a podium
a public speaker died
from sweating so much sodium
he shriveled up inside.

Terror frozen on his face,
body fluids leaking.
Just another routine case
of death by public speaking."

I got this book prior to a workshop I was helping present, where my friend Don and I were sharing great books with a large group of teachers and teacher-librarians. I laughed out loud at some of the poems and marked a number to share the following day. They made us all giggle!

Here's a warning to thumb-suckers:

Tim Limber

"Choked on his elbow," the coroner swore.
Another poor thumb-sucker, greedy for more."

In his collection of 28 poems, nothing much is off limits about body parts to Kurt Cyrus. It's gross; sure to make parents shudder and their kids celebrate the very clever humor of every single one. The poems are connected front to back in the story of a boy and a dog, who find each other in a graveyard:


In a graveyard, through the fog,
I thought I saw a ghostly dog.
He followed me from stone to stone.
The dog was lost. Afraid. Alone.
And also dead. It's plain to see.
I couldn't take him home with me.
And so we ventured through the gloom
to try to find his master's tomb."

We are privy to their travels throughout the rest of the book as Crab Scrambly makes sure to include them on each spread. The final poem is also theirs. It is a poem of love lost and love found once more. In between we meet a cast of eerie characters who will have some listeners cringing, but most will be delighting in the Halloween fun of it all. Take is not just a Halloween book. It is a book that can, and will, be enjoyed for months to come. 

Two Boys Kissing, written by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"When Max's early affections became clear, he didn't think twice about them. He doesn't see it as defining him. It is just a part of his definition. What does Max see when he looks at Harry and Craig? He sees two boys kissing. But it's not the two boys part that gives him pause. It's the kissing. He can't imagine anyone ever wanting to kiss anyone for that long. Just wait, we want to tell him. Just you wait."

Here's the reason for the kiss:

"He thought at first that it was because he was black, but from all the variations of faggot they were throwing his way, he knew it wasn't only that. And some of  them were black, too. He tried to walk past them, head back to the movie theater or even to the pizza place where his friends were, but they didn't like that. They boxed him in, and he felt the panic button being pressed. As they made fun of the color of his pants, as they taunted him, he tried to shove himself out. Threw his whole body into it, but there were too many of them, and they weren't caught by surprise. They shoved him back in and he tried to shove out again, and this time the one guy hit him, a blow right to the chest, and as Tariq bent over, more guys joined in. Because once one guy starts, it's a game."

Read that once more, and feel the panic felt by Tariq. Then, you will know why Harry and Craig made the decision they made to try to break the world's record for the longest kiss. It was in support of  their friend Tariq, and soon became much more than that.

Please listen to the voices of the men who have gone before:

"As he bled on the pavement, pebbles and gravel grinding into his wounds, we felt ourselves bleeding, too. As his ribs broke, we could feel our ribs breaking. And as the thoughts returned to his mind, the memories returned to ours. That dehumanizing loss of safety. It is something all of us fear and many of us knew firsthand. We are not unfamiliar with what happens next with Tariq - the long healing, the surprising concern from some (including his parents) and the unsurprising lack of concern from others (like some, but not all, of the police). The assailants covered their tracks well, and were never caught. We know who they are, of course. Two of them are haunted by what they did. Three of them are not."

The kiss has an impact for many. It speaks to other gay young men who are just beginning a new relationship, who are shunned by families that cannot accept their sexuality, who are gathering the courage to come out, who are finding friendship with those who don't judge them for who they love, rather who they are.

This book is masterfully narrated by the gay men who died in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. They remind their audience of a very different time in history for many:

"Trust us: There is a nearly perfect balance between the past and the future. As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined."

Each of the gay characters has depth and humanity. They are young people to admire and honor. The author creates a bond between the generations with his collective voice narration, all the while moving us forward as life does on a daily basis. It is a celebration of that as our narrators are able to see the changes in the world since they left it.  They celebrate the support of family and friends, the growing acceptance of the community as a whole. It is a new world for gay men, and we can and should be thankful for that.

Extraordinary is all I have to say!

I want to leave the final words to the 'shadow uncles', to the 'angel godfathers':

"There will come a time when the gay prom won't have to be separate. Three will come a time when you will look at someone younger than you and feel that he or she will know more than you ever did. There will come a time when you worry about being forgotten. There will come a time when the gospel will be rewritten. If you play your cards right, the next generation will have so much more than you did."

God got a dog, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"God made spaghetti
And She didn't have a ceiling
so She tried to make it stick
to Jupiter
but that just
vaporized the noodle,
so God decided to
HAVE FAITH it was cooked
al dente."

Here are sixteen poems from the longer God Went to Beauty School (Harper, 2003) and they are a lovely collection of moments, perfectly represented in the unmistakable artwork of Marla Frazee. She uses graphite and gouache to create these charming images portraying God as many special entities.  From HAPPY man lounging in the morning sunshine with a first cup of coffee, to shy and self-conscious woman who bathes in a robe because expectations of her are so high, and finally to hardworking, tender-hearted woman longing for companionship and warm feet at night; each depiction will give readers pause. Those accompanying scenes gently invited me back to read the poems for a second and third time.  Lovely!

What a celebration of humanity this is. Author and illustrator aptly show their readers the goodness in all of us, with our foibles, our insecurities, our joys. I would like to share each of Ms. Rylant's poems so that you can be enticed by her writing of such memorable scenes. I find it impossible to choose a favorite; here is one I would like to share:

God wrote a book

No, not that one.
Everybody thinks She
wrote that one,
but She didn't.
She's a better writer
than that.
Those guys just
went on and on
and did they
bother to edit?
But wouldn't you know,
you mention a name
and you're in.
So they said,
"I didn't write it,
God wrote it."
A sure way
to get out of revising.
But God wrote
Her own book.
She wrote it for
one little boy.

Just one,

She read it to the boy
at bedtime
because the boy couldn't sleep.
So God read him a book.
The boy grew up.  He became a writer.
Which one?
Not telling."  

It's your turn to find the book, enjoy the humor and the heart, and share it with those you love.

Patrick Eats His Peas and other stories, written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes. Toon Books, Candlewick Press. Random House, 2013. $15.00 ages 4 and up

"What's cooking?
Noodles, corn on the cob...
and PEAS!
What did you go and make
PEAS for? You know I
don't like them.
Peas are GOOD for you.
They are not!
Peas are like little balls of

When I started reading this terrific set of tales about Patrick, I had to stop and call Erin. She would totally agree with Patrick...on every level when it comes to peas. Can't stand them, never has been able to stomach them. Patrick has all the excuses, Mom has patience with every trick in the book, and when Patrick comes up with the solution to his abject dislike of said vegetable, she has the good sense and warm humor to accept his independence.

Once fed and satisfied that he has had the upper hand, Patrick sets off to be of help to his dad as they clean up the autumn leaves. He would rather be flying his kite, but a lack of wind makes that impossible. You can imagine the heap of help that this buoyant young bear is able to offer. He torpedoes into the newly raked pile of leaves, pulls weeds that are really flowers, and waters people rather than the flowers that so badly need a drink. Daddy soon suggests that Ma might need his assistance, much to Ma's consternation.

There are two more trying times in Patrick's day...bath time and bedtime.

"Ma, taking a bath made me thirsty. Can I have some milk?
You can have a bedtime snack after we clean up the bathroom.
Bedtime? ALREADY!?
You mean I wasted all this time taking
that dumb bath?
Can't I stay up a little longer? Just tonight? CAN"T I?"

They are just as much fun as the first ones and perfect for early readers. This book is sure to be a hit!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag, written by Hilary McKay. Albert Whitman and Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $14.99 ages 7 and up

"MeeeOW! said the inside of the bag, and out jumped the most enormous cat that Lulu and Mellie had ever seen. A glow-in-the-dark orange cat with eyes like lime-green sweets. Fur like a cloud. Paws like beanbags. A tail like a fat feather duster. "Wow!" said Lulu and Mellie, and they reached out admiring, grabbing hands."

This is the third in a perfect set of stories for children who want to read early chapter books. Lulu has a love affair with animals of all sorts. In the first two installments, she met a duck and a dog that needed a place in her menagerie of pets. She is a dedicated and responsible caregiver to any animal that finds its way to her door.

Her grandmother is not so happy with most pets. She is pretty emphatic about the way she feels:

"Small creatures, like hamsters, made her squeal. Larger ones, like rabbits, that looked so cuddly and had such sharp claws and teeth, made her nervous. Parrots, thought Nan, were perfect for jungles -but definitely not perfect for living rooms. Dogs were dirty beasts - large and smelly and best out of doors."

Nan is staying with the girls while Lulu's parents are away on vacation. When a bag is left on their doorstep and is obviously housing some living thing, she wants nothing to do with it. Lulu opens it, the cat disappears and they think that is the end of it. A search finds nothing. When Lulu finds it later sleeping on her bed, she wants to offer a safe harbor and keep it from her grandmother. The cat is not so devious, or content to stay quiet.

Eventually, as pets so often do, the cat wends its way into the hearts of the three. It has some special powers over other animals and people, apparently. Then, one day, it disappears again. If you think about it, you will probably be able to guess why.

A treat for new readers, and an owner who does take her responsibilities to her animals very seriously. Bravo, Lulu!

Do You Know Porcupines? Written by Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin and Sampar. Illustrated by Sampar. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013. $9.95 ages 8 and up

To find out if a female is ready to mate, a North American porcupine will advance near her while grunting, stand on its hind legs and spray her with a powerful jet of urine.
I think I made myself
perfectly clear...
If she's ready to mate, she'll let herself get completely drenched by the pee,  otherwise, she'll forcefully shake it all off."

In this case, a well dressed female porcupine hoists an umbrella to protect her from the advances of the equally dapper, flower bearing male. It made me laugh out loud. Although one prior to this made me laugh even harder. When we learn that porcupines love salt and will gnaw at anything salty or sweaty, you have to see the baseball-capped young 'un licking away at a jockstrap that he has taken out of a discarded hockey bag! 

I shared this new addition to the Do You Know? series with a large group of teachers last Friday and it set off a host of giggles and a few EWWWs. Ah, well....I thought it was funny, and you and I know the kids who are going to love it while learning a bunch of new facts for this oft-maligned critter.

Each book in the series (and I just received new books about rats, leeches and crows) has only one main subject. Most of them give us pause for a variety of reasons, but all are fascinating for those young readers who want to know more about specific species, not in a totally scientific way. It's the humor that will attract those readers every time. The facts given are often a bit obscure, and they share the double page spreads with offbeat and whimsical illustrations that are sure to attract attention and have readers returning for a reread. They certainly help cement the fact being depicted.

As with the earlier books, this one and its companions are written in language that can be simple to a bit more sophisticated. They are sure to answer questions that young scientists didn't know they had, and they will  pique curiosity about some of our more familiar creatures. A glossary and index are helpful.
Just in case you didn't know:

"Many people mistakenly think that porcupines can throw their quills. In fact, the quills are so lightly attached to their bodies that they fall off during contact. When porcupines whip their tails around, for example, quills can become loose and give the impression that they are being thrown."

Now, you know!

Counting by 7s, written by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Dial Books, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 10 and up

"I go to sleep early but I wake up every hour. In the morning I decide that I've done a disservice to myself in terms of my physical achievement. This is another way of saying that since no one thinks being motionless for hours is any kind of sport, I'm very challenged, athletically speaking. I think exposure to something new can't help but generate interest, even if you feel out of it and on your own planet."

As I neared the end of this book, I wondered if I should just stop...just stop and take in all the emotions I was experiencing and WAIT. There are times when I just don't want to say goodbye to characters who have found a place in my heart and mind. Counting by 7s is quietly amazing.

Willow Chance is a singular character whose impact is felt not only by those who people this remarkable read but, by those who have the great pleasure of sharing her story on their own, or in the company of their reading community. She is a genius as evidenced in every single first person narrative chapter. Her voice is clear, focused, often unemotional, and evolving. She has extraordinary intelligence. She is a gardener, loving plants and the peace they bring. She is an orphan. She is obsessed by the number 7. She studies and has a great understanding of a variety of medical conditions. There is a magic about her as you will discover when you read her story.

When she aces a state-wide test at a new school, her principal assumes she has cheated and sends her to be counseled by Dell Duke. A more inept counselor you may never have met. He categorizes the young people he works with, and has many personal issues himself:

"He started by saying that he didn't want to discuss my test scores.
But that's all he talked about.
For a long time, I didn't say a single word.
And that made him talk more.
About a lot of nothing.
It was hot in his stuffy little office and as I stared at him, I could see that he was sweating up a storm."

It is while Willow is waiting to see Mr. Duke that she meets Mai Nguyen, a teenager who is waiting for her brother to finish his own session with the counselor. The three form a bit of a friendship, and they are together when they learn that Willow's adoptive parents have been killed in a tragic accident. Mai's mother agrees to take Willow into their home until something permanent can be arranged. Quang-ha, her brother, is not pleased to be sharing his life with three women, but he adapts.

In her bid to figure out how a new family works, Willow makes many astute observations. She also acts as unwitting agent of change for the Nguyen family, for Jairo Hernandez and for Dell Duke. Each one will find their lives changed forever by a wondrous twelve-year-old.  She has so many obstacles to overcome; she perseveres and becomes forever memorable to those who read her story.

"I have my own system of order.
I think that at every stage of living, there are 7 people who matter in your world.
They are the people who are inside you.
They are the people you rely on.
They are the people who daily change your life."

I really like the way the author switches from third person to first person narration. In talking with a friend about it, we agreed that it makes Willow's brilliance easier for middle grade readers to understand and empathize with everything she is...quirky, smart, silent observer, and heartbroken.
I have waited two and a half years since reading I'll Be There (Little Brown, 2011) for this glorious new book. It was worth every month, every day, every minute that I waited. I wonder how long it will be until the next time Holly Goldberg Sloan introduces us to cast of characters whose story is sure to change us as readers?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Making Contact! Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Richard Rudnicki. Tundra, 2013. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Marconi experimented with batteries, antennas, and an electric spark generator. He would be successful if he could send a radio wave signal to the receiver on the other side of the room.  Then one day, in the late summer of 1895, Marconi tapped a telegraph key and the bell on the receiver rang."

I look forward to seeing each new addition to this very fine series of picture book biographies from Tundra. This is the fifth in the 'Great Ideas' series, and it is as informative and enjoyable to read as each of the others...It's A Snap! (2009), All Aboard! (2010), In The Bag (2011), Going Up! (2012). I assume that each will be as good as the last, and I have never been disappointed by the talented and mindful Monica Kulling. She does her research, and we, as readers, benefit from it.  

In this book we meet Guglielmo Marconi in a free verse introduction:

"Radio Days

There was a time
all around the world
when Radio was queen.
She waited grandly
in the room
for her subjects
to gather at her feet.
"Give me your ears.
Listen," she said.

So we sat quietly,
hearing stories
that took us to other worlds;
listening to the sounds
of horses' hooves,
block hitting block -
Clip-clop, Clip-clop.

We did nothing but listen.

What a changed, and charged, world we live in today! Many of the advances made since radio was queen are thanks to the inventive and questioning minds of people like Mr. Marconi. Through Ms. Kulling's text we come to know what life was like at the time that he was thinking about those things that fascinated him, not the least of which were all things electrical. Even as a young boy, he was enamored of Benjamin Franklin, his kite and a lightning storm.

Guglielmo was born into a privileged family in Bologna, Italy. He was not a good student and did most of his learning with tutors. His interest in all things electrical grew exponentially as he studied the work of others who shared his passion. He learned as much as he could, and had a revelation while on vacation with his brother. He was born to work as an inventor, having patience, ingenuity and an ever-active mind. When he discovered that signals could be sent wirelessly, he gave all his energy to perfecting the transmissions.

"Finally, on December 12, 1901, Marconi
heard three clicks on the receiver...
For the first time ever, a wireless signal
had traveled the distance between two
continents. It was only the beginning."

Now that she has enticed the reader with an introduction to Marconi's work, the author leaves those interested to do their best to find out more. To that end, a source list in included. Richard Rudnicki adds to the appeal with realistic, detailed artwork of the time in which Marconi was working. The illustrations add meaning and understanding to the text, allowing young readers to learn from them, too.

Where would we be today had Marconi not pursued his interest and intrigue with wireless technology. Can you live without your phone, or the Internet?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Monster On The Hill, written and illustrrated by Rob Harrell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"The MURK??
Yes. The Murk is very much real
and e's bloody dangerous.
I...I thought he was just a legend!
A Myth!
He's real, Ray. And as long as
your town is unmonstered, it's a
sitting duck. When the Murk is finished, all that will be remain of Stoker-on-Avon will be a faint stain on the countryside."

Rayburn is not up to his perceived job! Where he lives in Stoker-on-Avon, he is supposed to be the monster that beckons tourists and earns his nineteenth century English home town a boatload of commerce, attracting visitors with a penchant for being frightened half-to-death. He has turned into a loner, and does little to improve the quality of life for his 'people'. Instead, he sulks in his cave where no one sees him.

Can Dr. Charles Wilkie and Timothy change the town's fortune? Can they help Rayburn, and in turn help Stoker-on-Avon? Rayburn is not unlike Eeyore....gloomy and downtrodden with little enthusiasm for life and its many joys. The humans, on the other hand, are endlessly enthusiastic and optimistic. When they go in search of help for Rayburn's difficulties, they unwittingly leave the town unprotected from every town's nemesis, The Murk. And, the Murk is very hungry....

The reader is captivated from the get-go! A Stoker-on-Avon family is visiting Billingwood when a massive and terrifying monster chases them from the general store, and into hiding in a cellar. Of course, they are enamored of the horrific experience and just wish that Rayburn were made of similar 'stuff'. Rob Harrell fills his pages with bold color, delightful storytelling and as much humor as one can take. Readers will be captivated by the monster battles, the friendships, the many details that require close consideration, including the names of the townspeople and even the town's name itself.

Everyone who reads, or shares, this humorous, heartwarming graphic novel is sure to have their funny bone tickled, their heart touched and their need for a group hug enhanced. Get a copy, you won't be sorry!

Jedi Academy, written and illustrated by Jeffrey Brown. Scholastic, 2013. $13.99 ages 9 and up

"So, I've only been here two days and I can already tell I don't fit in here. Literally. Even the souvenir Jedi Academy t-shirt I got was extra, extra small. It seems like most of the students here are nice, at least, but they've all been studdying studying the Force since they were little and I don't always know what they're talking about."

Roan is an inhabitant of Tatooine and has harbored the lifelong dream of being a pilot, just like his older brother. When his application is denied, he is devastated. So when a letter arrives asking him to enrol in Jedi Academy, he jumps at the chance. It takes him no time at all to realize he may have been too hasty. His classmates have been studying for a very long time. Roan is decidedly different from them, in almost every way.

He knows that there will be much for him to learn, and he is right. As he works through each new learning experience, he is often overwhelmed. He can't seem to get the knack for using the Force, but not from lack of trying. Perseverance pays off, and he is able to figure out dances, field trips, new friends, bullies and elections before he completes a very tough year of training.

Roan's story is evidenced in his journal entries, and through a variety of letters, announcements, assignments, school newspaper articles and the teachings of Yoda and a few other somewhat familiar characters. What a trip for a kid like Roan to be a part of the Star Wars environment!

This is a perfect book for its intended audience. What reader, who is male, would not love having  a book that is all things Star Wars, and told in graphic style with entries written by another boy with similar sensibilities? It's a great story, full of fun and witty dialogue, and sure to please those readers who enjoy the graphic style. If you are in a classroom, you might need  more than one copy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Battle Bunny, written by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers. Simon & Schuster, 2013. $15.99 ages 5 and up

"Birthday attle Bunny made
himself his favorite breakfast:
carrot brain juice and a bowl of
Carrot Crispies greasy guts." My
birthday is the most special day
of the year because I get super
birthday presents from owers
over all my enemies. friends.
And I get to do whatever I want.
put my evil plan into action."

Would that I were a fly on the wall when Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett made the decision to put pen to paper and craft an alternate version of a fairly bland picture book about a Birthday Bunny? Do you think they had fun?

Perhaps they did!
When Gran Gran gives the book to her 'little birthday bunny' Alexander, I'm sure she has no idea what he might do with it. Certainly not read it in its present form. Rather, he uses it to tell his own hero saga. He uses his pencil to change Birthday Bunny to Battle Bunny, and the fun is begun!

No longer the sweet and rational celebrant, he finds new life as a helmet-wearing, battle-scarred cottontail with an Evil Plan up his sleeve and fighting in his heart..."today I am going to whomp on you, birdbrain, and pluck you like a sick chicken!' He serves notice that his enemies had better be concerned about his 1,104 styles of fighting. He will show no mercy.

Each page turn will have readers eager to pore over the many changes that appear in the text and the cheeky artwork done by Matthew Myers, with the help of Alex, of course. There is so much to see!

The story goes that the two imaginative and witty writers were on a book tour together and took their pens to what Mr. Scieszka calls 'ehanced' storytelling. He doesn't like to call it 'defaced'. It is a very subtle difference and is considered quite 'amazing' by the popular and prolific author. Just as we create new songs from old in a 'mash-up', so this can happen with a book. The two reconstructed that book, and then thought they might write their own book that they would next alter.
So begins a rather commonplace tale about a celebratory bunny, one that children might read without much enthusiasm but that hangs together as a story. It has to be bad in order for them to transform it into something so much better.  
Matt Myers is the perfect addition to their tongue-in-cheek team. Once the original illustrations were complete, he was free to draw like a kid which he found quite challenging. Obviously, he was up for it as he helped create a book that will appeal to many, and sure to be read repeatedly and shared endlessly. It is that good! Wicked funny, and totally engaging, it willraise some eyebrows and any complaints concerning 'defacing' books will only serve to attract even more readers.

Bravo, gentlemen!

Prisoner 88, written by Leah Pileggi. Charlesbridge, Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"Henry and me started walking back in the sun. We wasn't saying nothing 'cause that hot day I knew was coming had wrapped itself around us. My new clothes was heavier than the old ones, and the boots tried to jump off. And I ain't never worked that much, so I was sweating like I was gonna melt. I thought 'bout them pigs. Some of them was okay, kinda friendly, like a pet."

Of her debut novel for children and its genesis, Leah Pileggi says: "On a scorching hot day in June of 2007, I took a tour of the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho, a historical site known as the Old Pen. As I tried to find even a sliver of shade, the docent mentioned that the youngest prisoner ever incarcerated there was ten years old." Can that be true? Yes, it can. That wee mention led the author to a germ of an idea that would cause her to write about a time in  America's history when someone so young could actually be sentenced to five years in prison.

How did he make it through his sentence? Ms. Pileggi imagines what might have happened and shares her thoughts in the pages of this fine story. Sure to inspire discussion with those who share it, this is a story that opens our eyes to the many injustices that are evident when those accused are too poor, too young, too unfortunate to find suitable representation when they are falsely convicted of a crime. Jake is placed in Old Pen with all the other prisoners who find themselves serving time, and for many and sundry crimes. Even the powers that be in the prison wonder at his placement there; but, he is there to serve his sentence and must be treated as other prisoners are treated.

When he defies authority, or speaks out of turn, his punishment is harsh and immediate. He is blessed to find himself with a cast of characters who take him under their wings and help to keep him out of trouble. Jake is a strong character with an amiable personality and a singular voice:

"That word is 'foolish'," he said, pointing. Then he read the whole sentence and said what he thought it meant. A smart son makes his parents happy, but a foolish son is like a heavy weight on his parents. I figured then that I must be one of them foolish sons, 'cause it sure seemed I was a heavy weight on my pa. So heavy that he just dropped me and took off."

Resilient and resigned to what the law doles out, Jake goes about his days working with the hogs, listening to the men who befriend him, and trying to get through what would frighten most anyone, never mind a ten year old. He tells his story with heart and simplicity, giving us a boy to honor and remember long after the reading is done.

Dee Dee and Me, written and illustrated by Amy Schwartz. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"When my best friend,
Patsy, came over,
Dee Dee said,
"We'll play jacks."

Dee Dee hogged the ball.
She won every game.

We had a tea party.
Dee Dee was the Duchess."

Amy Schwartz has always had my attention with her ability to write stories that capture the essence of the children she is portraying. How does she do that? Does it matter? I think what matters is that she does it, and brilliantly!

In her newest book about having an older sister who, to put it bluntly, is a royal pain in the neck at times, she creates a family tale that is sure to have her readers feeling exactly how Hannah feels about Dee Dee's antics. Our introduction to Dee Dee is pitch perfect:

"Dee Dee is my sister.
She is five and a half inches taller than me.
Dee Dee says those five and a half inches
are where a person's brains are."

Now, there's a sister to emulate and enjoy! She can be ever so irritating, and needs always to be the 'boss' of everything that is happening. She makes offers and then reneges on them. She professes to love Hannah's apron and before you know it, it's been turned into a purse. Is there an end to the havoc she can cause?

It seems that there is. It doesn't take too long for Hannah to take action:

The next time Patsy came over,
I told her I was too busy to
find Dee Dee.
When I got a new apron,
I told Dee Dee I was too busy
to show it to her.
On Saturday I told Dee Dee I was too busy
to have breakfast with her."

And then the audience finds out why. With the momentous decision that Hannah makes comes a fairly insurmountable road block. In the meantime, there is a great deal of time to enjoy solitary, imaginative play. When the reason for the delay is solved, we are left knowing that Hannah has no future worries. All is as it should be!

Funny, thoroughly entertaining and offering a different take on the way that sibling sisters settle their issues, this book is pure delight!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ten Orange Pumpkins, written and illustrated by Stephen Savage. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"Nine orange pumpkins
sit outside the gate.
Which one will the mummy


There are 8."

I don't have a lot of Halloween books for you, but I surely want to tell you about Stephen Savage's new book. Each of his others are well-loved and pored over. This one will be no different.

The graphic art will attract even the youngest reader with its bold color and appealing characters...all reminding kids of one of their favorite days of the year. The well chosen elements catch our attention on the title page. A silhouetted farmyard with barn, fence, truck, ladder, shrubs and the ten orange and glowing pumpkins. Now, that is an invitation if I have ever seen one. No little one is going to be able to resist seeing what happens.

The ten freshly picked pumpkins are placed beside the steps on the first page. We are also privy to a black cat, clothing on the line and a hat leaning on a fencepost. What might a child predict is going to happen? If they guessed one of the pumpkins would be missing, they are right! A scarecrow now holds pride of place beside the fence while the black cat looks on. Where do you think he found his smiling jack-o-lantern face?

The next row of pumpkins we see are sitting outside a closed gate, a mummy advancing, arms outstretched and perhaps a tad scary. On we go counting down until only one is left...the perfect welcome for wee trick or treaters on a dark, starry Halloween night!

The  mood is dramatic (definitely Halloweenesque,) and also quite comforting as young readers will recognize the familiar images chosen for these often humorous pages. There is much to discover at each page turn. The rhythmic text is easy to follow and will soon be chanted by little ones as they count down from ten to one.

Keep your eye on the black cat!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What The Heart Knows, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Books, Thomas Allen. 2013. $19.99 all ages

"I wrote these poems for comfort, for understanding, for hope: to remind myself of things I keep learning and forgetting and learning again. They're about repairing friendship, slowing down time, understanding happiness, facing the worst kind of loss. They are words to speak in the face of loneliness, fear, delight or confusion. I hope they work for you. I hope you're inspired to write some of your own -"

The above comes from Joyce Sidman's introduction to her newest book of poetry. There are almost fifty poems, and they are beautifully and thoughtfully written, as we have come to expect from this outstanding writer. Here's just one of my favorites:


           A voice.
           A touch.
Not caring.

Saying to yourself:
            I am too old to do this.
            I am too young to do this.
            I am too smart to do this.
            It's not my fault.
            It is my fault.
            It is my fault, and I will fix it.

            I can do this."

The author has chosen to divide her book into four sections: Chants and Charms, Spells and Invocations, Laments and Remembrances, and finally, Praise Songs and Blessings. They are poems to be read by all ages. They are about the lives we live, and all of its many facets.

We could all use a charm for sleep at some point in our lives, right?

"This bed is the perfect bed.
Sink into its healing
cheek against cool pillow-white.
Forget everything you ever wanted,
hoped, or feared.
One by one, those cares will drop
from you like stones
into deep water."

Once again, Ms. Sidman's poems are visually interpreted in the beautiful mixed media artwork of Pamela Zagarenski. Her illustrations match the tone of each poem perfectly, it seems to me. There are times when white space takes up most of the facing page, allowing readers a chance to focus on the peaceful beauty of the poetry it illustrates. At other times, the art fills every available space inviting careful consideration and reflection on the artist's interpretation of the written words.

There are poems here about peace and love, about heartbreak and hope, about courage and forgiveness. Today as dear friends try to come to terms with the death of a loved one, far too young to have left her husband and children, family and friends, I found this lament that speaks to what they must be feeling:

"It's so far
from what
you expect:
the difference
a "heroic battle"
the actual blow
to the face.
The pain:
so blindingly
and vicious,
to wound in a way
you will never forget,
how you breathe,
leave the hollow air
with shock.
Even when you know
it's coming,
it arrives
out of nowhere:
so quick,
so uncalled for,
such a terrible
between before
and after."

the WEIGHT of WATER, written by Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2012. $12.00 ages 10 and up

"I'm not welcome to play.
The reason: I'm too white.

No one likes too-white,
Eastern white,
Polish winter white,
Vampire-fright white.

Brown is OK - usually.
But white is too bad. "

Kasienka and her mother have come to England to find her father, who abandoned them in Poland. Living in a dowdy one room apartment is not where Kasienka wants to be, and looking for her father who seems unworthy of their search is not what she wants to be doing. Her mother cannot be consoled, or deterred from the nightly house-to-house searches for Tata:

"The old lady wants to help.
She looks sorry
For not knowing more,
Tells us she will ask her friends
at Tuesday bingo
If they've seen Tata.

Her head rolls to one side,
Heavy with regret,
And this makes me feel

Very small."

School offers no solace for the twelve year old immigrant who has been put in a class with classmates younger than she is because it is assumed that her inability to speak English well means she is special needs. She is treated badly, by teachers and other students, bullied and shunned by a group led by Clair who seems to take great delight in tempting her with friendship and then ignoring her.  It is heartbreaking to hear her describe what she is feeling:

"I knew I'd be different.
I knew I wouldn't understand

But I thought, maybe, I'd be exotic,

Like the red squirrel among the grey,

Like an English girl would be in Gdansk.

But I am not an English girl in Gdansk.
I'm a Pole in Coventry.

And that is not the same thing
At all."

As persistent as Mama is at searching for Tata, so Kasienka is persistent at holding her head high,
and being resilient. While her heart aches, she finds support in William, in swimming and in Kanoro, their neighbor from Kenya.

The palpable sadness that pervades Kasienka's first few months in England is matched by the strength and courage she finds within herself to overcome the struggles she is facing. As I have said before, novels written in verse can be brilliant...this debut novel is just that!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Counting Back from Nine, written by Valerie Sherrard. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013. $9.95 ages 12 and up

"I like how Christine spreads
her quiet words and ways
over anger and upset.

She has that rare ability to
smooth and soften
just by being.

She is the last person I expect to
tell me to stop putting
things off..."

I have read a number of other books by Valerie Sherrard and have been a fan for a while. So, I was looking forward to reading this one, too. When I saw that it was a novel in verse, I was surprised (I think it is her first) but keen to read it as I am a huge fan of stories told with incredibly careful word choice. It still boggles my mind that authors can choose the perfect way to tell a story, with little embellishment or explanation. This author does it with just the right touch.

Laren is in high school, and has been keeping a huge secret from her friends: she is dating her best friend's boyfriend...well, her ex. When they are seen together by another of their mutual friends, Laren must come clean and tell Nina. She is unprepared for all of the repercussions, although she knows it is definitely a breach of friendship etiquette:

`There are rules
for what I`ve done. Specific punishments for
crimes against friendship.
I expect no leniency.

The first day will be the worst.
I`ve had time to prepare,
to imagine what`s coming.

I`m ready."

She may feel that way, but the reality is much more difficult than she could have imagined. Laren stands tall, searches out new friends who prove worthy, and tries to adjust to the way her life has changed. She has no idea that the wheels are about to come off, and that her issues with her friends will seem minor compared to what happens following a phone call to the family home.

Her father has been hurt in a car accident, seems to be doing well, and then suddenly dies. At the funeral, she is sure that the worst is over. It is not. Her father was not alone in the car; he was with another woman. Just as Laren has deceived Nina, so her father has deceived her mother. Each member of the family deals with the aftermath in their own way, and none of it is easy.

Laren's guilt over dating Scott makes their relationship an uneasy one. Weekly counselling gives her a window for remembering the past and to begin to deal with her conflicted feelings. It is in these sessions that she settles on a way to deal with the sadness, the anger, the memories. Laren is a writer and she begins a letter to her father that helps her deal with the many issues of his leaving:

"All I know right now is that I don't want every thought I have of my father to be about That. I'm still adjusting to you being gone. That feels like about all I can handle right now."

And then later:

"Then, as I thought about the past year and all that's changed, I found myself sorting through some specific moments and memories. Nine in all. And something still settled in me as I realized that each of these had one thing in common. You  know what that was? Your hugs. I saw that, through all of the bad and sad and glad moments, my father's arms were there to protect or comfort or celebrate with me."

This is a story full of emotion, and powerfully told. There is a lot to digest for those who read it. It goes far beyond teen romance, friendship issues, family strife and the impact of a parent's death. It is definitely worthy reading. 

Beholding Bee, written by Kimberly Newton Fusco. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Beatrice Rose Honkenberry?"

The man is as old as Ellis and his hair is slicked to the right with pomade. His trousers fold in funny places from all the wrinkles and look as if they were made for somebody taller, the way they drag on the ground. He waits for someone to answer, but I hide behind my hair."

Pauline is Bee's sole caregiver, and their life is a traveling carnival where Pauline is in charge of the hot dog cart. Bee helps by chopping onions and grilling the hot dogs. Oh, you want to know how old she is? Bee is 12. And, you want to know where her parents are? Bee was only four when they died.  Since then, she and Pauline share a life that is undeniably difficult for many reasons.

First and foremost is the owner of the carnival, mean hearted and intimidating Ellis, who looks to a time when he can use Bee as an attraction in his carnival. She has a birthmark that covers one side of her face. Pauline calls it a diamond. Because of it, Bee is the target of unwanted attention and bullying. To draw less attention she uses her hair as a cover for the birthmark, and keeps her head down. There are good things about being where she is. She loves Cordelia, a racing pig. She loves her newfound stray dog, Peabody. She cares about Bobby, the man who looks after the pigs and who teaches Bee to run (so that she can get away from bullies) and to spit (in case running away isn't an option). She knows that he loves Pauline, but Pauline doesn't know it.

Pauline leaves the carnival in the arms of a new love interest to open a permanent carnival in Poughkeepsie. Bee is terrified that Ellis will discover her dog and get rid of him, and of her future with him and his carnival. Taking Cordelia and Peabody, she runs away, hoping to find the house she has always wanted to live in. It will be a place where they can be a family.

Kimberly Fusco creates an inspiring heroine in Bee, allowing readers to feel her fears, sympathize with her lot in life, and hope right along with her that life will improve. The elderly women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, come into her life every time she can really use their help. Despite the fact that no one else can see them, Bee knows they are there. With Pauline gone and the protection she provided, Bee must learn to care for herself in the best way possible.

Her story is brilliantly conceived to give us a set of characters to admire, and to regard with contempt.  She meets a new friend and goes to school, all the while worrying that there will be questions about the women she says care for her. They are never available when visitors come, and there are suspicions in the community about Bee's rights to be living in the house. She remains vulnerable, but is of strong stock. She proves it time and again.

The chapters take only a few pages, and they kept me reading 'just one more chapter' until I was all out, sighing with pleasure at such a wondrous read. The quick pace and Bee's strong first person narrative will keep readers doing exactly the same thing.

So beautifully written, and forever hopeful.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mo's Mustache, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton. Tundra Books, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Everybody likes Mo's mustache.
Now Knot has a mustache.

Oh, you are sure to have a great time sharing this book with young readers and avid listeners. I love books that are such fun to read out loud! The first word is 'HUZZAH!', which is the word my son and I text back and forth to each other when something exciting happens in whatever sport we are watching. Moving on we get to see just what has elicited such a perfect response from's big, and black, and beautiful. It's a mustache, and he couldn't be more excited.

He is also pleased with the response of his friends to his new look; that is, until they all start sporting mustaches of their own. They don't look the same, but...

Pretty soon everyone has a similar look, and all are duly impressed. Mo? Not so much. Mo's mustache goes back in the box, and he welcomes a brand new look with a 'long, lined, lovely scarf'. I imagine you can guess what happens next.

Mo is disgruntled, and then he realizes that his friends have the best reason in the world to emulate his fashion style:


It is a lovely surprise. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

I See the Promised Land, with text by Arthur Flowers and art by Manu Chitrakar. Groundwood Books, 2013. $18.95 ages 14 and up

"This is the world into which Martin Luther King was born. THIS WORLD THAT PROVIDE THE CALL HE COME TO ANSWER. Young Martin is expected to follow in the august footsteps of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, BUT DESTINY CALL IN THE GUISE OF THE MONTGOMERY BOYCOTT."

This is a picture book biography that is sure to enlighten and engage young adult readers in Martin Luther King and his life story. The blurb on the back cover explains that it is told in the narrative style of Dr. King's African ancestry...the griot tradition of historian that combines the talents of bard, storyteller, praise singer and commentator. It makes the book sing with words, sounds, rhythm and feeling:

At the mass meetings he kept the
good colored folk of Montgomery
fired up.
Note that move now, that redeem
the soul of America bit. That little
bit of ideological orchestration.

Who wouldn't be enticed by such a telling? If you have readers who want to know more about Dr. King, his work and his legacy, this book is a striking example of the best in what is available to young readers today. The bright drawings, outlined in black and showing the cruelty of the lives so many were living and the many unconscionable acts of racism against them will unsettle some readers, and inform every single person who shares this book. They are surely representative of the events of the Civil Rights movement.

I read, then reread it more slowly out loud, taking time to pause where the author slows down the telling, requiring his readers to stop and think, and consider the implications of what he wants his audience to take from reading his words. Martin Luther King did not take the path planned for him. He chose a much more difficult one, as leader and speaker for those who were seeking equal rights. He spoke eloquently to them and on their behalf:

"If we protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say 'There lived a race of people, of black people, of people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization."

He faced the many difficulties with courage, strength and determination that life would be better for all people. He was not a perfect man, and Arthur Flowers acknowledges that in the text. It does not change the fact that Martin Luther King gave inspiring speeches that influenced history and helped to bring about necessary change.

Unusual, informative, original and inspiring in design, this book is worthy of your attention, and sure to be a hit with young adults with an interest in history, making a difference and the man himself.


That's A Possibility, by Bruce Goldstone. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2013. $18.99 ages 7 and up

"What will this ant probably do with the leaf? It might eat the leaf. That's a good possibility. It might carry the leaf to its nest. That's a possibility, too. Will the ant cut the leaf into little pieces and throw it around like confetti at a surprise party? That's not possible in real life - it's only a possibility in a story."

Not only is Bruce Goldstone fascinated with math and adept at helping young readers understand math language and concepts, he is a remarkable photographer.

I would call That's A Possibility a companion book to the ones we so enjoyed in 2006, Great Estimations (Holt) and Greater Estimations (Holt, 2008).

In his new book, he takes an idea and makes it fascinating to and easily learned by all. He asks relevant questions about possibility, impossibility, probability, improbability and certainty. Then, he answers his own questions in a way that explains them by using real world situations, each accompanied by a clear, bright photograph sure to help readers grasp what he is trying to teach.

He varies the colors and backgrounds used, he changes fonts, and provides photographs that invite constant, interested discussion. Our attention is refocused each time we turn the page. He starts simply...a mouse at the opening of a maze, a piece of cheese at the other end. Is it possible for the mouse to find the cheese? What do you think? He moves on, giving readers an opportunity to add their own ideas about possibility.

Next is a question about impossibility, or a few of them. When he asks if an elephant can hatch from a small, speckled egg, the answer is evident. As we move forward, the complexity of the question and its answer grows and causes young mathematicians to think more deeply;

"So the odds that the coin will land heads up in 1out of 2 possibilities. (You can also say 50%, because 50 out of 100 is the same as 1 out of 2.) Every time you toss a coin, the odds are the same. It doesn't matter what happened before you tossed the coin."

Using spinners, dice and cards, he ups the understanding with thought-provoking possibilities while always allowing the reader time to think about the question being asked. When Squidgy the Bear is offered ten new shirts and ten pairs of pants, the author wonders how many possible outfits he might wear to school. Once the outfits are determined, how possible is it that he might wear a 'leopard print shirt and purple pants tomorrow'? The probability is pretty limited, given that he has 100 possibilities!

Finally, he explains some things to try at home, offers 'a few more thoughts on what's possible', and provides answers to two of the more difficult problems given. This is a book that will (and should) be read more than once to help young learners cement their understanding of these typically difficult ideas. But, what fun there will be in the learning. If you teach math, this book is a distinct probability.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Thing About Luck, written by Cynthia Kadohata. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2013. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"I suddenly burst into sobs, and the next thing I knew, I wasn't sobbing because I was scared, but because my grandparents worked so hard and because Jaz couldn't make a friend at school and because I knew how desperately my parents wished for their own business, and I doubted they would ever get their wish. I squeezed onto the floor and hugged Thunder to me."

As she hugs Thunder, Summer feels a growing courage, the result of all that has happened to her family over the past year. They have been out of luck for that long, and she wants it to change:

"We were cursed with bad luck. Bad luck chased us around, pointing her bony finger. We got seven flat tires in six weeks, I got malaria, one of fifteen hundred case in the United States this year. And my grandmother's spine started causing her excruciating pain...The thing about luck is that it's like a fever. You can take fever meds and lie in bed and drink chicken broth and sleep seventeen hours in a row, but basically your fever will break when it wants to break."

Hers is a lively and powerful voice throughout this quiet, thoughtful new novel by Newbery winner Cynthia Kadohata, Summer thinks that 'bad luck' is her family destiny. Her parents have been called to Japan to care for aging relatives. Summer and her brother Jaz are left to the care of their hardworking maternal grandparents, who are coming out of retirement to help with the family finances. The harvest season is upon them and the changed family heads out together to do what they do to earn a living. Obaachan is the cook for the harvesters, while Jiichan drives the combines and big rigs that get crops in for the harvesting company that has hired them to do custom combine work.

Summer and Jaz must take their homework with them. Summer works right alongside her grandmother to make meals, and help haul them to the fields. Her days are filled with work and worry. She is concerned about Jaz, who is bright and friendless. She frets about her grandmother's horrible back pain, and her grandfather's debilitating fatigue. She wonders if she has what it takes to have her first boyfriend, the son of those who own the harvesting company. It is almost too much. Then, disaster strikes and Summer must make a personal decision that will not please her grandmother. Can she do it alone?

Each character is strong, unique and memorable in this Japanese-American family. Their lifestyle is, to say the least, unusual and one not often considered in a book for adolescent readers. But, it works and provides a most intriguing look at immigrant workers and their family dynamic. It's funny, charming, emotional and inspiring. Readers are sure to be impressed by Summer's take on life and learning, and her love of family. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World. Written by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson and Jared Levine. Tundra Books, 2013. $29.00 all ages

"Chuck Berry created the template for rock and roll: incredible songwriting, singing, and performance. The whole package. Every time someone straps on a guitar and starts singing about driving around on a Friday night, they are paying tribute to Chuck Berry."

I spent half an hour this morning listening to Jian Ghomeshi speak with the writers of this beautifully put together, and smashing tribute to some of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. It is written for young people...those who might not have spent their childhood listening to Chuck Berry, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan and so many more. It is also written for their parents. In fact, it is a book for everyone!

I can't imagine how difficult it was to make the decisions concerning those 'legends, icons and rebels' they chose to include, and everyone who reads the book will wonder at the omission of someone they feel deserves inclusion. It is already a weighty book, and as they say in the CBC interview, it ensures that there will be another. Thank goodness for that!

The suggestion by Robbie Robertson's son Sebastian that they should work to produce such an incredible tribute resulted from his realization that the young children he was working with loved to listen to these classic songs. He had spent his lifetime listening to much of the music he was sharing and he knew that many of the students had not. Bravo, Sebastian!

Twenty-seven artists are included in their own four page entry. There is a personal quote from Robbie Robertson on the first double page spread that is accompanied by a dramatic, sometimes humorous illustration of the featured artist. The next two pages provide biographical information, and a clear accounting of their place in musical history. Phrases are highlighted, and much information is shared...certainly enough to pique the interest of aspiring musicians and those who love music for music's sake. Inspiring and informative, they may just encourage readers to search out the music described, as they did for me.

To add to the wonderful appeal, two CDs are included with one song from each of the artists. Other hits are a part of the information shared as a 'playlist' for each. The summaries of their careers include exactly the right amount of information and offer an explanation of the defining role each played in the evolution of music from Louis Armstrong in 1925 to Joni Mitchell in 1968. Every other artist is plotted along a time line which follows the text. Their stories are not always happy, and some are downright sad; readers will come away from the reading with a fervent hope that more will follow. I have my own particular hope that they will include more of my favorite artists.

Here's the interview from CBC. I hope you enjoy it. I know that you will love the book!
When you are finished reading it, you can sit back, relax and revel in the musical talents of these singular artists and think about who you hope to read about in the next edition.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Brave Girl, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2013. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"That's right - Clara. She calls out from the front of the hall. The crowd lifts her to the stage, where she shouts in Yiddish: "I have no further patience for talk - I move that we go on a general strike!" And she starts the largest walkout of women workers in U.S. history. The next morning, New York City is stunned by the sight of thousands of young women streaming from the factories."

Upon their arrival in America, with high hopes of finding work and security, the Lemlich family is distraught when Mr. Lemlich cannot find work. There is none to be had at present. But, girls like Clara? There is a real shortage of young women to work in the garment industry. Clara is a girl with spunk:

"The surprise is dirt poor, just five feet tall, and
hardly speaks a word of English.
Her name is Clare Lemlich.
This girl's got grit, and she's going to prove it.
Look out, New York!"

Clara finds work without any difficulty; but, working in a garment factory is not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Clara endures terrible conditions, as do the many rows of girls who work by her side:

"From dawn to dusk, she's locked up in a factory. Rows and
rows of young women bend over their tables, stitching collars,
sleeves, and cuffs as fast as they can. "Hurry up, hurry up," the
bosses yell. Ratatatatat, hisses Clara's machine. The sunless
room is stuffy from all the bodies crammed inside. There are
two filthy toilets, one sink and three towels for three hundred
girls to share."

That is only the beginning. The girls are subjected to so much more. There is no escape from the drudgery of the work, or of the conditions under which they work. Clara wants more from read, to learn. She works all day, and goes to school at night. She sleeps little, and becomes angry about the way the workers are treated.

After learning something about unions and workers' rights, Clara is ready to lead the other garment workers on the picket line. Spirited and knowing that she is right to think they deserve better, she endures beatings, and arrests; but, she is strong and determined and her spirit does not waver. When even the most powerful union leader will not call for a general strike, it is Clara who steps forward, stunning New York and encouraging thousands to stand up for themselves!

The illustrations are created in Melissa Sweet's signature delightful style. She uses watercolor, gouache, and mixed media for her art, and certainly entices readers to take time and pay attention to the bright, expressive, telling images she creates so carefully.  Her changing perspectives and use of fabric add interest and attract close perusal of each and every page.

Clare Lemlich is a heroine to be admired and to know better through this excellent picture book biography. The author adds a note about the garment industry following the story's text, and also includes a selected bibliography for those who long to know more about this young, slight immigrant who quickly made her mark in a new land.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hoop Genius, written by John Coy and illustrated by Joe Morse. Carolrhoda Books, Lerner. 2013. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"Naismith felt like giving up but couldn't. The boys in the class reminded him of how he'd been at their age - energetic, impatient, and eager for something exciting. He needed a totally new game where, to avoid tackling, no running with the ball was allowed. He remembered playing Duck on a Rock as a boy."

Have you ever played Duck on a Rock? I had never heard of it, so I had to do some research to see what I could find out about it. Check this out:

One of the things about buying books that deal with popular-at-the-moment players and teams is that they can too often be out of date too soon, almost as soon as they are published. Players change teams, statistics are ever-changing. In a sports book like Hoop Genius, nothing changes.

It is the well-told tale of how basketball came to be. It is a history book that marks the invention of the game, and offers young readers a chance to see what led James Naismith to devise a brand new sport for the rowdy young men who made up his gym class:

"The students hated the boring exercises and gymnastics they'd been doing over and over. So Naismith decided to try something fun..."

It took a number of failed experiments and a concentrated effort to find an activity that would work with this particular group. Mr. Naismith needed to survive a very trying assignment; of necessity, he worked to design a new game that would hold their attention, inspire their competitive spirit and not lead to injury. It was to be his last experiment! All it took was a soccer ball and two peach baskets, a set of rules and two nine player teams. It worked so well that:

"By 1936, basketball was so popular around the world that it became an Olympic sport."

The story is told without a lot of fanfare, giving the facts in a straightforward manner. By doing this, the author ensures that it is easy to remember exactly what happened. The endpapers are the two pages of the first draft of the rules of the game. Joe Morse (Casey at the Bat, Kids Can Press) has created stellar images that reflect a time in history that is authentic and fully impact the telling.

An author's note and short bibliography add interest and might just encourage young readers to look more closely at the development of the game that is so popular today.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cousin Irv from Mars, written and illustrated by Bruce Eric Kaplan. Simon & Schuster, 2013. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"When Teddy and Cousin Irv got to school, everyone gathered around them. None of them had ever met anyone from Mars. When the kids started to get bored, Cousin Irv took out his electromagnetic ray and vaporized a few things in the classroom. The teacher said no electromagnetic rays were allowed in the classroom."

Big mistake!

Now, we are on to a totally different type of cousin. Irv is from Mars, and Teddy is not too keen on having him visit. No one knows him very well. The family is 'not close'! Obviously!

He's late when he arrives, and has a number of complaints:

"But my leg hurts from being cramped in the saucer. Plus I've had to go to the bathroom for days."

Cue the laughter and we are only two pages into this humorous, irreverent interplanetary visit. His first social faux pas leads to his eating everything in the kitchen...'the whole kitchen'! Then, he is unwisely given space in Teddy's room. He breathes loudly, he needs a comfortable pillow:

"Cousin Irv was quiet for a moment, then told Teddy how he had gone to many doctors who all said he carried his stress in his neck and needed a comfortable pillow."

Now, Teddy has a lumpy pillow. Irv makes comments about Teddy's choice in clothes, plays with all of his toys...and is easily bored. Teddy can't wait for him to make the return trip to Mars. And then, his parents send Irv to school with Teddy. That is real cause for alarm...that is until Irv uses his electromagnetic ray to vaporize a  few things. When the teacher admonishes him, guess what happens to the teacher. Teddy begins to see the advantages in Irv's visit.

Then, just when Teddy is beginning to feel better about this alien cousin, Irv decides to return to Mars. It seems he doesn't like the coffee on earth. Well, what can Teddy do? Irv has to do what he thinks best, and Teddy must accept it. There are a few delays before his departure. When he has finally blasted off, Teddy finds himself missing Irv terribly...until he learns his father has taken a new job and the family must move.

Can you hazard a guess at their destination?

Full of wise humor and cartoon-like artwork (with lots of white space), children and adults are sure to enjoy this funny family story. It is perfect fare for a most enjoyable readaloud.

Dozens of Cousins, written by Shutta Crum and illustrated by David Catrow. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2013. $20.99 ages 4 and up

"Oh, we are rowdy ogres.
We roar! We growl!
We parade out back doors
and leap over steps,
rushing down to the secret
grottoes of the creek.
We fill up on beastie delights
on catching frogs and crawdads..."

Family reunions can be spectacularly different. The cousins at this annual family reunion use every minute to share joy and camaraderie. They are eager to experience what they remember from last year, and to show that they are even 'beastlier' than they were then. They have no qualms about dealing with the endless snuggling and cuddling of being with aging kinfolk:

"With beastie courage we greet our aunt
who grabs for us and says, "Glory be!"
With beastie paws we tackle our uncles
who tickle us and say, "Good golly!"

They are captivated by the world and all that is in it:

"With bare arms, bare legs, bare feet,
we race through  the world.,
snatching it up and eating it,
running with hearts hungry for hugs
and tummies hungry for treats.
Yummy beastie food!"

Hearts hungry for hugs???? Can you say it better than that?

We don't know their names, but we do know pretty quickly that they are 'beasts' all the best ways. They love life, with a wild abandon. They share with all. They bring great joy to the older members of their family, and some consternation to the neighbors. They are naughty and they glory in it!

The lilting language is matched perfectly by David Catrow's pencil, ink and gouache artwork. He fills each page with the exuberance and exultant pleasure felt by every single person in attendance at this reunion. You will pore over the pages time and again before you notice all the small details that make is so enjoyable.

When night falls, the comfort of loved ones is much appreciated:

"We claw our way onto laps, steal hugs,
and snatch at splashes of song.

Oh, we are weary ogres!
We float, munching on tasty words
that well up in stories,
and on the soft lapping of laughter."


Hello, My Name is Ruby, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2013. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Ruby sang a sad song.

She sang and sang until
the sun came out and her
feathers were dry.

Along came a curious bird.

Ruby tried to be brave.
"Hello, my name is Ruby.
Do you have a name?"

Do you happen to be looking for a new friend?

I didn't know that I was, until I met Ruby. She is a delight, and just the kind of friend that anyone would be happy to have. She is tiny, quiet in the best way, and very, very brave. She wants new friends, so she sets about introducing herself to everyone she meets. She appreciates these new friends for their ability to teach her unknown things. Ruby is a learner who asks questions to satisfy her curious nature and to learn about the world.

When she talks with a tiny bird who is perched upon a giraffe's  horn, she wonders how it feels to be so small when everything around is so big! The tiny bird shows Ruby why she doesn't always feel so small:

When she meets a peacock who prefers not to be her friend, Ruby is saddened. She bursts into a sad song. An empathetic bird hears her song, recognizes her name, and is able to introduce her to a flock of identical birds. Ruby has found family; but, she is anxious to introduce them to the many new friends she has met on her journey.

Some of my favorite and most shared books over the past few years are those created by Philip Stead. This charming tale of a tiny bird with chutzpah now joins them. Outgoing, social children will see themselves in Ruby as they share her story...willing to talk with those they meet, and anxious to learn about the world. For them, this is a 'mirror' book.

The outstanding illustrations are done in mixed media, using chalk pastel, colored pencils, and some colored inks. He is incredibly adept at creating perfection between the text and the visual interpretation of it; this new book continues that trend. The story is full of special moments. Just spending time with Ruby, her wonderful spirit and her engaging meetings with many new friends will lift your spirit and make your heart sing.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Light in the Darkness, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. Disney, Jump at the Sun Books. Hachette, 2013. $17.99 ages 6 and up

"We have to make sure the patrollers don't catch us and take us to Master. We carry the darkness with us out of the quarter, through the trees, down past the  creek. When Mama stops, I stop. When Mama turns, I turn. Our walk is long and silent, and broken twigs and sharp rocks cut the bottoms of our feet."

I cannot imagine a life without reading. I have been hooked on books for as long as I can remember. That is thanks to my parents who were mentors from the word 'go'. We all read!

To know that people had to hide their learning, and to live in fear of being found out is heartbreaking to me. I know the power of reading, but wonder if I would have had the strength to do what Rosa did night after night. Meeting in the dark, filled with terror that they might be discovered, yet willing to take that chance is at the heart of this memorable book by Lesa Cline-Ransome and her husband James.

It is always late at night when Mama wakens Rosa and leads her to a 'pit school'. In these underground hideouts, people who want a better life meet. It is there that Rosa learns letters. Morris knows how to read (he learned from his master's wife) and he wants others to have that same freedom:

"Mama says one day, when we're free, we're gonna need those letters. But for now we have to act like reading is the last thing we want to do. Master once whipped a slave girl who learned to read."

Young readers, themselves are just learning to read, will understand some of the struggles that Rosa is feeling as she tries to grasp all that Morris is teaching. Luckily, they will have no knowledge of the fear that Rosa experiences as they hide in the pit. That anxiety is heightened when they hear the patrollers nearby, and then learn the next morning that two of the learners were caught and whipped on their way home. Mama won't allow another nighttime lesson.

Rosa has a taste for learning, and she cannot abide not returning to Morris. Finally, she convinces her mother to take another chance. When they arrive at the school, they are the only ones. Soon, they hear soft footsteps and prepare for the consequences of their deception. It is quite a surprise when they look up!   

The author's hushed tones, and the secrecy of the trips in the dark of night will hold listeners on the edge of their seats. The illustrator's watercolor palette is infused with the light of learning, while also making sure that we feel the dark drama of the meetings and the ever present patrollers. The perspectives created bring the story alive with the darkness that must envelop the secrets being kept.

It is a beautiful tribute!