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Monday, March 31, 2014

peggy, written and illustrated by Anna Walker. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen $ Son, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Peggy landed with
a soft thud.
She was far from home.
She picked herself up,
ruffled her feathers,
and went for a walk.

Peggy saw things
she had never seen before."

Yes...another chicken with adventure at hand. There have been others. Peggy is sure to charm you. She's got a perfectly lovely little house, a trampoline (what chicken wouldn't enjoy the pleasures of such an apparatus?), and a yard filled with sunflowers. She spends her days fully content with its many distractions. It is a rogue wind that changes her life.

She is happily bouncing on the trampoline when a gust blows her into the air, over the fence and drops her with a soft thud in unfamiliar territory. Always up to a challenge, Peggy makes the best of the situation. The place is a mass of movement and revelation. It isn't too long until she yearns for home. Help is not easy to elicit. When she sees a familiar sunflower, she follows it. Alas, it leads nowhere familiar!

Forlorn and cold on a park bench, she happens to notice a flock of pigeons overhead. Might they be the ones she has seen from her backyard? Might they lead her back home again? IF she finds her way home, will she now be content to stay there day after day?

This is a short story, told simply in repetitive language that will encourage early readers to try it for themselves. The ink and photo collage artwork is created to bring the subtle humor of the story to the forefront. I love the sea of city feet and the urban sky filled with brightly colored umbrellas, the droll expression of a chicken set on an adventure she was not expecting but dealing with its results, and the happy (if a bit surprising) ending. It is sure to make your listeners giggle and you to want to read it again.

You MIGHT even learn a new appreciation for pigeons!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Etched in Clay, written and illustrated by Andrea Cheng. Lee & Low Books, Inc. 2013. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"Someday the world will read
my word etched in clay
on the side of this jar
and know about the shackles
around our legs
and the whips
upon our backs.
I am not afraid
to write on a jar
and fire it hot
so my word
can never be erased."

Whenever I read a novel in verse, I am reminded of how incredibly talented these writers are to tell their stories in the fewest, most perfect words possible. They awe readers with the beauty of the language used to give us characters, settings and situations that shock, inspire and teach us so much more than we can know ourselves.

I know nothing of the pain of slavery and the unjust conditions that so many people of the world continue to experience today. But, I have experienced just some small bit of it through the words of Andrea Cheng in this book, which is written in Dave's (Enslaved Potter and Poet) voice, and in the voices of others who are a part of his life. As I read it and then read it again, I was reminded that their voices shine through each of the experiences because this remarkable author has done her research, and used what she learned to create a story that would shape my thinking about the bravery of this very special man.

Dave had an innate need to communicate with the greater world. His only outlet was to make inscriptions on the pots that he made. To be punished for being literate is totally unimaginable to me; I am quite sure I would not have had Dave's courage in the face of the beatings and the humiliation he was forced to endure. No matter what was done to him, Dave persevered and continued to leave his mark.

There are few records to confirm Dave's life. We do know he was born in 1801, that he was only 17 when he was bought by Harvey Drake whose family owned a stoneware company. Dave became one of their most accomplished potters. It was the beginning of a life filled with great adversity:

"The sky is dark,
no stars, no moon.
How can I know
when my mother passed?
What about Eliza,
who smiled at me
as she walked by.
What about Lydia
and John and George?
Are those boys still reading
and writing?
"Please," George would beg.
"Teach us how to spell
another word."
Where are they now?
I go back to the turning house,
 and by the light of a candle,
I write across my newest jar:
I wonder where is all my relation
friendship to all - and, every nation."
As Ms. Cheng imagines Dave's life, and uses stunning woodcuts to illustrate its many events, we are blessed to learn his story, to begin to understand his need to have a say and to admire the quiet rebellion that was his alone as an artist and a man. Bravo!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons. Presented by Koo and Jon J Muth. Scholastic, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"shadows getting Long
snowfall flutters around
the outside lamps

Morning crocuses!
winter is old now
and closes her doors"

I accept that everything created by Jon Muth is sure to dazzle...all you need to do is look at his body of work. It totally impresses, and continues to do so with this newest book that includes the enchanting panda Koo.

He explains his choice of form before we read the first entry:

"For me, haiku is like an instant captured in words - using sensory images. At its best, a haiku embodies a moment of emotion that reminds us that our own human nature is not separate from all of nature."

It is poetry; it is seasonal; and, it is beautifully designed as a celebration. We see Koo in front matter, daintily licking the top of a double scoop, sprinkle-infused ice cream cone, and then moving on to somersault himself up a grassy hill. He is ready to guide us through the seasons, beginning in the fall. Koo endures the falling leaves, the endless raking, the blustery wind, the cold rain. Warm soup and equally warm cookies help. When friends arrive to invite him out for snowy fun, Koo wonders at winter's many surprises:

reach down with dripping fingers
will they touch the ground?"

And so we venture through spring and finally, summer.

A cool surprise is that the author manages to include a nod to the alphabet, capitalizing one word in each deftly written phrase. The truly gorgeous watercolors are set on plenty of white space which allows a child's attention to focus on the small pleasures that they constantly find in the world of nature.

The illustrations tempt our senses, while also making us smile and take time to bask in the quiet beauty that surrounds us. Don't miss the squared-eyed, blank stares that result from too much TV watching during a long, cold winter. Then, feel the warmth of a spring morning as two gentle children read to and feed a small flock of robins.

Absolutely beautiful!


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door, written by Hilary McKay. Albert Whitman & Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $15.99 ages 5 and up

"Arthur opened the door of George's hutch and delivered the parcel. All at once George became very awake. He hopped round his parcel, inspecting it from all sides. He sniffed it carefully. He rubbed his chin over the knot in the string. He scrabbled at it with his paws, rolling it over. Arthur wondered if he should help. Then George picked the whole parcel up with his teeth, holding it by the string."

I cheered when I saw that this fourth Lulu book by the brilliant Hilary McKay had been published. The cheering was for her delightful writing, and for my chance to read another book about Lulu and her love of animals; but, the raised voice is particularly for those early years readers who have been waiting to get their happy hands on another book that is written with them in mind. As we search for chapter books that are 'just right' for 6, 7 and 8 year olds, we can't go wrong when suggesting this series. I can't wait to share this latest tale!

Many people in North America are not familiar with Hilary McKay and her wonderful collection of books. She lives in England, and her books are not simultaneously published here. If you have had the pleasure of reading any other books that she has written, you will know why I am always eager to see a new one. She has a gift for creating appealing characters, and Lulu is no exception. She is spirited, outspoken, and crazy for animals of every kind. So far, she has had encounters with a duck, a dog and a cat. It looks like the next animal in her catalogue of 'rescues' is going to be a hedgehog. I will wait patiently.

Lulu has an accomplice in her cousin Mellie. They live on the same street and are quick to notice changes in the neighborhood. So, it is no surprise that they know a lot about Arthur and his family before he knows one thing about them. Arthur lets them know pretty quickly that his rabbit is a gift, and holds no real interest for him. Lulu and Mellie set about changing that right away; and they don't give up. Can they help Arthur learn the many joys of being a pet owner? My money is on their winning ways.

If you are looking for a series of appealing and contemporary stories for readers moving into independence in reading chapter books, Lulu's stories are sure to be a hit for anybody! If this is your first Hilary McKay book, you might want to look for her other popular series...Porridge Hall, Paradise House, Exiles, Pudding Bag School, and the Casson Family chronicles. I promise that you will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Two Bunny Buddies, written by Kathryn O Galbraith and illustrated by Jon Cepeda. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $18.99 ages 2 and up

"Two bunny buddies,
hungry for lunch.

The sun is hot.
The path is long.

"Let's go this way."

"Let's go that way."

They are both pretty stubborn, as you can sense from their demeanor on the front cover. Don't you cross your arms when you are feeling that you are in the right, and  you don't want any opposition? Readers and listeners will surely see how silly some arguments can be.

The two are anticipating some difficulty as they stare off down the long road, aware of the rumbling in their tummies. Backpacks in place, they head off together...until they come to the fork in the road.
That's when the arguing begins:

"THIS way!"
THAT way!"
"Carrot head!"
"Beetle brain!"

Little ones may giggle at the names the two toss at each other. It doesn't take long for the buddies and the audience to realize that being together beats being alone. They have berries and they have clover; it's a perfect picnic for two friends to share. Will they be able to put their differences aside?

The text is 'just right' for emerging readers, and is plotted perfectly for understanding the power of language. There is a lot of action, paired with repetitive and rhyming words, to assure that the simple message is understood even by our youngest listeners.  Jon Cepeda uses bold black outlines for his characters, and spare pastel background colors to keep the focus on the buddies, and their actions. Expressive faces assure that we know exactly how they are feeling as the story moves forward.

In the end we all learn that even naps are more fun when you have a friend to lean on!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Wild About Bears, written and illustrated Jeannie Brett. Charllesbridge, Thomas Allen & Son, 2014. $14.95 ages 6 and up

"Bears are omnivores and eat a variety of plants and animals. The giant panda is sometimes called a herbivore because of the large quantity of bamboo it consumes. Eating primarily seals, the polar bear is often referred to as a carnivore."

I have never asked myself how many different species of bears live in our world. After reading this information-packed and beautifully illustrated book, I now know there are eight. I also know a great deal more about these bears than I did half an hour ago, and that's pretty cool!

Jeannie Brett begins with an opening that identifies them:

"Eight bear species live on earth today: the polar bear, brown bear, North American black bear, spectacled bear, Asiatic black bear, sloth bear, sun bear, and giant panda."

A turn of the page offers a look at the physical traits that are common to all. She follows this with another double spread that focuses on  bear behavior. Then, she gets to the 'guts' of the book: showing each species in their own environment and relating interesting and attention-getting facts about them. She starts with the polar bear, introducing it with its scientific name, the common names it is called, and its size. A short descriptive paragraph, in simply written text, provides what a young researcher might need for a class project. Realistic and appealing watercolor images of the bear in its natural habitat are captioned with further information.

Each bear species is described using the same format, making it easy to access for young readers and allowing them to learn what they need to know. Ms. Brett points out to her readers how the bears differ and assures a genuine feeling for protecting them with her winsome and winning artwork.
Adding a world map, a habitat glossary, and a page filled with additional resources adds to the appeal, and to the value of such a book for those wanting to know more about the bears of the world.

"The spectacled bear gets its name from the cream-colored rings of fur around its eyes, which can make it look as if it is wearing glasses. Spectacled bears spend a lot of time in trees. They make crude nests from bent and broken branches. These nests give them easy access to favorite plant foods and also serve as a lookout."

Who knew?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Great Things To Do Outside, edited by Lili Bryant. DK Publishing. Tourmaline Editions, Inc. 2014. $13.99 ages 5 and up

"This book is full of fun and exciting things to do, from building a den to pressing flowers and trapping bugs. Take it with you wherever you go and you'll find an activity that helps you explore the natural world.
It doesn't matter if the book gathers a little dirt along the way -
just don't let it gather dust on your shelf."

And so begins another wonderful book from DK Publishing. Since it's talking about your kids getting outside, I guess you can tell that I have high hopes that spring is really on its way! While we are back in the middle of a cold snap (the wind chill tonight is -32!), I cannot help but feel that the end is in sight. So, get your hands on this book and prepare yourself for some fun in the sun...

There are '365 awesome outdoor activities' described for you and your family. It is perfect for anyone who wants to experience some of the absolute pleasure that can be found in the great outdoors. The suggestions are varied, informative and will keep kids busy for many hours. If you live where days can be mighty cold, and not always conducive to being outdoors, there are many activities that can be done indoors, too. Rather than following the plan day by day, you may have to save some for those days when it's impossible to be outside for any length of time.

Nonetheless, the variety in things to be tried and accomplished is stellar:

"022 Make a Martian landscape

Put sand in an old baking sheet. Snip steel wool over it.
Moisten the sand with salty water and leave for a few days.
As the steel wool rusts, the sand turns red, like the soil on Mars."

A time clock is placed in each idea box. This one tells those interested in trying a Martian landscape that it will take 15 minutes to complete the suggested idea.

As is expected from their exemplary nonfiction titles, each idea is accompanied by a helpful and clear photograph that makes following the instructions uncomplicated. Some methods are numbered for ease of execution. A list of what is needed is included, too.

Some are more ambitious than others; all will hold attention and encourage the target audience to take a step back from the television and video games to find fun in the outdoors!  It's a perfect size for carrying along, and would make a great addition to any outdoor adventure that you have planned with your children.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Santiago Stays, written and illlustrated by Angela Dominguez. Abrams, 2013. $13.95 ages 3 and up

"Do you
want to...
I know,
let's go
for a

Santiago is a tough sell! I know bulldogs ( I have two granddogs, remember?) and they can be enticed to do most anything with a happy smile and a bit of encouragement. I spent a lot of time with a lovable French bulldog, and know that he only wanted to please. So, it's a surprise that no amount of coaxing gets Santiago to leave his chosen spot. He seems rooted to it!

His young owner knows all the tricks, but none work; not a walk, the chance to wear his favorite sweater, or a treat. He stays planted on the map, while looking like he might finally succumb when food is offered. He just turns his back. Percy (the older granddog who turned 7 this week) does not have the wherewithal to ignore any kind of food.  

The conversational text makes this a perfect book for early readers. Pets, especially dogs, offer a special appeal when they are choosing their own books to read. Expressive and full of feeling, it is sure to encourage repeated readings.

 Ms. Dominguez uses pencil, marker, ink, tissue paper and digital color to create a warm and loving story of a dog bent on the task at hand, and unwilling to give in to temptation. I laughed out loud when I saw the turkey leg reflected in Santiago's gentle, brown eyes. And again when I saw how full of yearning he was at the thought of all that food he must pass up!

The mystery of his ability to resist is only evident in the final three spreads. His dignity in the face of the onslaught is sure to elicit an "AWWW!"


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird, written by Rita Gray and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Cardinal wears a pointy hat.
cheer - cheer - cheer -
purdy - purdy - purdy

Chickadee is an acrobat.
chick - a - dee - dee

Catbird sounds like a hungry cat.
meow! meow!"

As they wander through the meadow near their home and wonder at the bird songs they hear, two children have a question about the nesting bird they encounter:

"But have you heard the nesting bird?
"What bird? Where?"
"That robin, nesting up there."

Rita Gray allows her readers to 'hear' the calls of twelve common and familiar birds: mourning dove,  woodpecker, starling, sparrow, swallow, crow, cardinal, chickadee, cowbird, blue jay, whip-poor-will, wood thrush. Despite being able to see the robin, there is no sound coming from its nest.

It isn't until there are sounds of tapping and cracking that the two finally hear the bird call they have been waiting to hear. Both male and female robins are pretty excited to welcome three tiny babies!
Then, and only then, is their song heard far and wide.

There are many new books this spring season about the birds that so interest little ones...and me, too. I often find myself sitting in the spring warmth (if it ever really arrives this year) of the back porch listening to bird calls and wondering what bird might be making them. If I can't figure it out, I don't worry. I just enjoy the lovely and welcome sounds (but for the loud and raucous crows that are sure to make a return engagement anytime soon) as one bird sings to another.

The accuracy of the written bird calls is remarkable. I went to my trusty book of bird song to compare the two. I am impressed. The text is simple and repetitive which will encourage early readers to try their hand at independent reading. The gentle beauty of the meadow and the expressive nature of the avian singers are captured in a soft palette of greens, grays and browns. The artwork deftly matches the quiet observations that the children make, and the unfailing care of the robins.

In "A Word with the Bird" at the conclusion of the story's text, a series of questions are asked of the mother robin. She answers with clarity, providing details about her silence and her vigil as she hatches a new batch of young. She also talks about her mate's role in rearing their new family.

Most informative!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Brush of the Gods, written by Lenore Look and illustrated by Meilo So. Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Then, with a  flick of his wrist, a straight line dropped out like the back of a robe...then curved and squiggled and fell into a hem. "I love calligraphy!" he cried. "That's not calligraphy, " the monk sighed. Each day something new and surprising dripped out of Daozi's brush. His straight lines splintered into trees. His hooks caught fish."

You must tire of my telling you to be on the lookout for wonderful new picture book biographies. I'm sorry about that. I just can't stop! I am forever intrigued to learn about people whose life stories I have not heard.

Such is the case with this gorgeous biography that tells young readers (and artists) about a hero to the Chinese people. Wu Daozi lived in the seventh century, during the Tang dynasty and is known to be one of China's most accomplished artists. His artistic prowess was evident at a young age: while trying to learn the intricacies of calligraphy, his paint brush would often take him down a clearly different, and more imaginative, path. His teachers were persistent:

"Press gently," said their teacher as he showed the class how to draw a smooth stroke from left to right, making a glistening number in Chinese on an old tortoise shell. "Calligraphy is the highest of the arts," he continued, slowing writing more numbers in beautiful strokes. "It reveals your character. Do it well and you will bring great honor to your family."

Daozi's inspiration could not be contained. His calligraphy strokes remarkably turned into animals, without his seeming to have any control over his creations. He painted on walls with abandon, and the people were amazed. His images appeared quickly and were much admired. Coins were left to thank him for the joy he brought to those who watched. He took those gifts to feed the poor.

He loved to paint, and never stopped. As he worked, he got better. His work became legendary, and even a bit magical! His brilliance drew attention from the Emperor, who gave him a wall mural project to complete. It took many years; when it was finished, Daozi was an old man.

"When the drapery was pulled away, mountains pierced holes into the sky. Bamboo swayed. Birds flew. Horses galloped in the distance. There were nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine things to behold. The painting was as brilliant as the fresh-fallen snow.
The crowd fell silent.
The emperor bowed.
The moon wept."

Lenore Look's writing style is perfect for her young readers. The text is playful, yet often poignant. Children will quickly become aware that Doazi had little control over the art that consumed him. He lived for it, and worked at it every day of his life. The magical notes of the story will attract their attention while they learn about an important historical figure.

Meilo So is incredibly adept at bringing Ms. Look's words to glorious life. She uses watercolor, ink, gouache, and colored pencil to fashion a playful, determined boy, a lively joy that is felt by all who see his work, and a setting that is detailed and always moving.

I love the magical feel, and the author's endnote:

"Legend has it that Wu Daozi never died - he merely walked into his final painting, a landscape commissioned by Emperor Xuanzong, and disappeared. The work, painted on a palace wall, did not survive. The year of Wu's disappearance varies - sometimes it is given as 759, sometimes 762 or 792 - the uncertainty being further proof, they say, that he cheated death."

It is lovely to think so.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Noisy Paint Box, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2014. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Vasya's well-off world was
perfectly polite...until the day
his aunt gave him a small
wooden paint box.
"Every proper Russian boy
should appreciate art," said
Auntie. She showed Vasya
the correct way to mix
colors on the paint-box

Imagine my surprise when this week's episode of Modern Family saw Cam and Mitch invite Manny and Alex to go with them to a modern art show! I had just finished reading this tribute to Vasya Kandinsky, and was intrigued by his story. Vasya's art was also the inspiration for the closing ceremonies for the Paralympic Games on Sunday afternoon from Sochi. Coincidence??? Funny how that so often happens.

I am the first to admit that I know little about art, having never taken any art course. I tell people that what I have learned about art and artists mostly comes from my abiding interest in illustrated books for children. They are a wonder! So, I was right there with Cam when he asked if the docent might point him in the direction of the Kandinsky exhibit. Deflated to find out that particular exhibit was no longer showing, he panicked (he had prepared himself to talk about it, knowing that he was attending with others who would know much more about abstract art than he would). It took him no time to bow out of the tour.

Having finished this book earlier in the week, I found myself thinking back to Kandinsky's experience as one of the pioneers of abstract art. I knew little about him, or his life. That is what I find so fascinating about the number of picture book biographies that are making their way onto publisher's lists. They introduce children, and their parents and teachers, to a stunning array of personalities who have, and continue to shape history. They impact all walks of life, and we need to know about them.

This book chronicles Vasya's life from early childhood until he won acceptance as a great artist. His childhood was spent learning to live a life that was expected of a Russian boy in the late nineteenth century. It wasn't until his aunt gifted him 'a small wooden paint box' that he heard sounds in the colors he was mixing:

"Vasya painted the sounds of the colors.
He spun a bright lemon circle onto the canvas.
It clinked like the highest notes on the keyboard.
He brushed a powerful navy rectangle that
vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings."


He painted until he could no longer hear the colors, and then took his artwork to show his parents. They were confused, not recognizing the images that he had painted. They were not impressed and Vasya was pushed to take formal art lessons. Needless to say, now he was not happy!

Today, we might recognize synesthesia as the reason that Vasya saw the world so differently. Barb Rosenstock does an impressive job of ensuring that her readers see the world as the young Kandinsky sees it. Her ability to tell his story with warmth and understanding is what will draw readers to his work. Mary Grandpre uses acrylic paints and paper collage to help us envision the energy of Vasya's work, the brilliance of the colors he heard, and the joy he took in creating art that begged the question: "how does it make you feel?"  She deftly portrays the artist using blues and purples as he lives the dull life expected of him as a youngster, then swirls his surroundings with brightness as he listens to the colors that ultimately find their way onto his canvas. Brilliantly crafted so that readers understand the evolution of a new art form.

In the back matter, you will find an author's note, four reproductions of his work, source notes and internet resources for further study. She also includes two personal quotes from the artist.

It's wonderful!                                                                             

Monday, March 17, 2014

I Didn't Do My Homework Because... Written by Davide Cali and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2014. $14.99 ages 8 and up

"I gave my pencils
to Robin Hood.

A famous director
asked to use my bedroom
to shoot his new movie.

Some strange birds
made a nest on our

For those kids who never get their homework done, here's a book that will give them many more excuses. They may be absurd, but that is what will attract readers to this book. I hope that teachers share it with their students. It is a nod to quick thinking. What a mentor text for some imaginative writing!

When I was working as a teacher librarian I heard a lot of reasons cocerning the state of the book being returned, the loss of a book, and the ever-used, "I'm sure I didn't borrow that one!" It was fun to listen, and then add them to my little black book of excuses. I would often refer to it to prove to kids that I had actually 'heard that one before'. That is not the case with the reasons showcased in Davide Cali's new book.

One truly imaginative boy, and a myriad of answers to the missing homework question posed by his teacher. Each follows the next in a rapid fire attempt to befuddle. You have already read three of them. I wonder how many more your students might add to Mr. Cali's list. Of course, nothing will be their fault!

There are 44 pages and each page turn offers one more crazy reason for not doing the assigned task. In the end, the boy gets his just desserts...his teacher brings a copy of the very same book we are reading out from behind her back. Tada! He's toast...

Benjamin Chaud has chosen shades of red and green to set the stage in his accompanying artwork. The boy offering the excuses is dressed elegantly in a dark suit with a bold red tie. Each image is detailed and suited to the absurdity of the boy's justification for the absence of the expected work.

Entertaining and very appropriate for older children who will appreciate the nonsense.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

BENNY and PENNY in THE BIG NO-NO! Written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes. A Toon Book, Candlewick Press. Random House, 2009. $6.00 ages 4 and up

"It's a little GIRL!

Uh, oh!
This one on
the end is all

Now, I will
have to make
a new one.

I trust that you have met Benny and Penny prior to seeing this tale. They are mice; they have the same personal issues that many siblings have; and they are curious and inventive. They also have new neighbors, and they wish they knew if they had a kid. A furtive look through a knothole in the fence provides no answer. Oh, well. There's a lot for them to do at home.

The real action begins when Penny uses her watering can to collect some water from their wading pool. It leads to a familiar confrontation:

"Okay. WHERE is my pail?
I don't know!
It was here yesterday!
Well, I didn't take it!
I don't know!!
Why do you have to cry all the time?
I was just ASKING!
Maybe the new kid took it."

Of course, why hadn't Benny thought of that?

Over the fence they go ( a definite NO-NO for both of them), and the search begins. They cannot figure out what kind of neighbor they have...the footprints that lead from the fence are unfamiliar. Their trek through the neighbor's yard holds mystery and some terror. The panels are sequenced and tell a story that might play out in any backyard. Misunderstanding abounds, and it is left to Benny and Penny to make amends when they realize that they have made a huge mistake. There is also a chance to experience a helping of sibling unity.

I'm pleased to add it to a rapidly growing list of worthy TOON books for young readers.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Snicker of Magic, written by Natalie Lloyd. Scholastic, 2014. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Oliver's story of the Threadbare curse had stuck with me. I'd written the words in my blue book, but I might as well have written them inside my head and inside my heart and in the air all around me. Because I couldn't stop thinking about them. And I didn't know why. The Brothers Threadbare were dead and gone."

My brain can hardly get itself around the fact that this wonderful, inspired, and truly lovely novel is a DEBUT for Natalie Lloyd. My, she has written it brilliantly, and she's given me a host of memorable characters that I long to meet again!

So much has been written about it that you might not even need to read this recommendation. I just can't help telling you about it. It put a smile on my face that is sure to last for hours and days, and return whenever I think about Felicity Juniper Pickle, her family, her best friend Jonah and the beautiful people of Midnight Gulch.

When Felicity and family arrive there, just another stop in their life of wandering. her artistic Mama explains that it used to be 'a magical place to call home'. As they drive past the town's welcome sign, they note that it now says that Midnight Gulch is 'a proper place to call home'. Felicity is not so sure:

"I didn't say another word to Mama that night, but I could feel something good even then: the YES in my heart, the swirling-around in my belly, the prickly tingling all the way from the freckle on my finger to the tip of my pinky toe. That much wonderful could only mean one thing:
There was still magic in Midnight Gulch.
This is how I turned it loose..."

And turn it loose she does, thanks to the support, love and assistance of the special people she meets there. It is, after all, where Mama grew up. Perhaps it will soothe her wandering heart. While the setting has great warmth and appeal, it is the characters who become our friends that up the ante for the pleasure of reading all about them. They are many and varied, and worthy of our attention and love. Their stories are endless; magical, mysterious, and entertaining.

Felicity loves words, and sees them everywhere. She then collects them in her blue book. As she meets the people, hears their stories, learns about the connections to the old timers, including the Threadbare brothers whose curse has impacted all that happens in their town, the magic of her word collecting works some magic of its own.

You will want to meet them all, to know their stories, and to know that Felicity makes some very important discoveries for herself:

"I still missed Roger Pickle. I was still hurt that he hadn't come back to us. But I didn't feel like my family was in pieces anymore. We might never look like a normal family, but I didn't mind. Normal was never one of my favorite words anyway. I glanced up at the painted faces of all the people I'd come to know, and wanted to know. Home isn't just a house or a city or a place; home is what happens when you're brave enough to love people."


Friday, March 14, 2014

Baby Bear, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2014. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Excuse me, dear Frog.
I am lost.
Can you help me find
my way home?
Do you mind? I am busy.
But I'm lost and afraid.
Do not be afraid, Baby Bear.
Trust yourself.
You will find your way home.
Now please, if you don't mind..."

Baby Bear's story is familiar to little ones. He is lost and looking for help to find his way home. As he wanders, he seeks sage advice from the animals that he encounters in his forest home. Each offers a suggestion. None are especially helpful on its own, but all encourage him to look inward for the strength and knowledge that will help him find his way. When he finds Salmon, we know that he is nearing exactly where he wants to be!

Using dialogue between the little bear and the other animal characters provides a strong structure for early readers, and some repetitive text will help them with understanding the course of the search. While we don't ever meet Baby Bear's family, we end the story knowing that he has found his way 'home' is a splendid ending after all his encounters.

If you know Kadir Nelson's work, it will come as no surprise to you that each page is a treat for your eyes! I love the silhouettes of the dusk and dawn endpapers, allowing readers to accompany this tiny cub through uneasy darkness to growing light. His use of light and changing perspectives beg the reader to stop and wonder at the details, the luminescence, the growing sense that Baby Bear is indeed on his way to exactly the right place...home!

He is safe at all times, getting gentle advice from every animal he meets to help with his continuing  journey. Their bits of advice will hold each of us in good stead, and bear repeating: go your way, trust yourself, hug a tree, choose wisely, listen to your heart, climb higher and keep walking, sing a song. Once you have completed this comforting book, I am sure you will be asked for a repeat performance.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sandy's Circus, written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. Viking, Penguin. 2008. $18.50 ages 6 and up

"Even though Sandy loved creating things, he didn't always want to be an artist. He went to college and learned more about making things by studying to be an engineer. Sandy had different jobs but never really liked any of them. Then he worked as a fireman in the boiler room of a ship. One night, he was sleeping up on deck..."

Alexander Calder's course in life seemed to be set for him from birth. He was born the son of artists and encouraged to create freely from a very early age. The tools needed were always available, and he was given free rein to follow his passion for design. Even as a child, he could be found using wood scraps, bits of wire and leather to fashion items of delight for his friends and his sister.

A singular emotional event after awakening on a ship's deck so impressed him that he turned his talents to art school, and the rest is his story. Taking a job as a newspaper artist sent to draw circus images led him to change course again with a move to Paris. There, he gave his artistic vision free rein in a city that was filled with other artists. He used wire and pliers to ply his trade, and impressed many friends with his intricate work.

"One day, Sandy made a little wire lion. He built a colorful cage for the lion. Of course, since the lion was a wild animal, it needed a tamer. So, Sandy made him, too."

That was just the tip of the iceberg for this talented visionary. It wasn't long until he could use these tiny miniatures to develop a circus show of his own, all carried back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean in five suitcases. His shows were tremendously popular, entertaining huge crowds for hours at a time. All this, before he made the very first mobile!

The text, penned by the accomplished Tanya Lee Stone, is deserving of our attention. We learn much about Sandy Calder's character and drive, his art and his love of moving things. Boris Kulikov uses mixed media to create the illustrations that help young readers understand the importance of Mr. Calder's work. He uses full, bold colors alongside black and white art pieces to bring the intricacy of the designs into perspective. From the close-up images of Sandy working with his circus to the detailed drawings of his life's events, we are always close to the action at hand.

An author's note explains Ms.Stone's abiding interest in the artist, after discovering some of his work while on a leisurely drive through the Connecticut countryside. An archival photo of Mr. Calder at work is included in the back matter, as are sources used for her research. It is a fascinating look at an artist unknown to me until now. I will certainly share his story with others.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Favorite Daughter, written and illustrated by Allen Say. Arthur A Levine Books, Scholastic. 2013. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"When Yuriko came home, she went straight to her room. "What happened?" Father asked. "They all laughed at me." "You mean at the picture? They were just teasing you." "No. They said Japanese dolls have black hair. 'Yoo-REE-ko in ki-MO-na!' They sang it all day long."

It is impossible to gauge the effect that teasing has on anyone. It is important to understand that it happens often, and to many. Even that doesn't change the hurt that is experienced when seemingly harmless fun is made of a child. In his newest book, Allen Say addresses one such incident from his own, and his favorite daughter's, experience.

Yuriko is staying with her father when she asks for a picture to take with her to school. Together, they find the one that will be 'perfect' for a class album. It shows a toddler in a beautiful red kimono, a precious gift from her father's homeland. When Yuriko comes back from school, she is quiet and sad. The children at school teased her about her hair color, stating that Japanese children should have black hair. Her new art teacher used the wrong name when addressing her. It is enough to make Yuriko want to change her name, and to downplay her love of art.

Her father shows caring support for her feelings and her need for a change. He suggests that they go out for dinner to talk about it. They go to an old favorite restaurant where the owner knows her only as Yuriko. Father and daughter chat seriously about Yuriko's feelings. When her father suggests a trip to Japan, Yuriko explains that she has an art assignment. He promises the trip will be quick. The following day he makes good his promise.

Throughout this lovely story, the father suggests outings that remind his daughter of the beauty of her culture, and all those things she loves so much about her Japanese heritage. Even a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge, the subject for her new art assignment, offers fodder for using her imagination and artistic ability:

"We already drew the bridge in kindergarten, Daddy. And all the kids are doing the same thing now!"
"So you want an ordinary name, but you want to do something different from everyone else in art. I like the second part a lot."

The subtle watercolors that help to tell this family story are as gentle as the dialogue that passes between the two. Mr. Say captures their lovely relationship, while reminding his daughter of the culture they share.  Two family photos of Yuriko, one as a toddler and one as a young and beautiful woman (both clad in kimonos), add special meaning. I love the open, reassuring relationship he establishes between the two, letting his the young girl openly express her feelings while always reminding her of the wonderful things about the life she is living.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Luke on the Loose, written and illustrated by Harry Bliss. A Toon Book, Candlewick Press. Random House, 2009. $6.00 ages 3 and up


He's lost!
Okay, we'll find him!
He can't get too far
After all...
he's just a little kid!


I am a big fan of TOON BOOKS and the 'Toon into Reading' series. I am also a dedicated fan of Harry Bliss, and enjoy a Bliss Cartoon of the Day early every morning. It's a great start! So, I was really pleased to receive this early reader that is sure to entertain.

Luke is a young boy with little patience for standing still. That is just what he must do while on a morning walk with his father, who constantly stops to talk with other dads (boring dad talk). Luke is quick to find release from the humdrum visiting when he spies a group of pigeons nearby. He is off at high speed, and far ahead of his father in no time. It's New York City. Luke is a young man on a mission. He has no idea that danger lurks around every corner. He wants to be as free as the birds he is chasing.

The map of New York that faces the title page allows readers, and their adults, to track the chase that takes Luke away from Central Park, through Manhattan, across the Brooklyn Bridge and onto the roof of an apartment block's water tower where he finally succumbs to the exhaustion of the chase. Fire fighters save the day, and he is sleepily returned to his grateful parents.

There are consequences for flight the next time they go out together, as alert readers will see on the last page!

While the text bubbles and repetitive words will make this perfect fare for those little ones wanting to read something funny and meaningful, they will also be attracted to the stories that are taking place apart from the story's chase. The panels will entice them through the story's action, but they will  be
clearly aware of the many subplots that are happening in the background.

What child doesn't imagine total independence, no matter the venue? For those comic-loving parents who share it, there are some surprise guests!  READ ON!


Monday, March 10, 2014

Gandhi: A March to the Sea, written by Alice B McGinty and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Amazon Children's Publishing, 2013. $19.50 ages 6 and up

"British officers
mix with the crowd,
watching every move.
Worries rumble.
Rumors brew.
Will Gandhi be arrested?
Will the marchers go to jail?
Are there machine guns
stationed down the road?"

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

An apt quote from an honorable man who led by example, and persuaded his followers to believe that nonviolence could bring great change. The heart of this picture book biography is centered on 1930, and Gandhi's 24 day March to the Sea. He was joined by more than 70 marchers in a protest against British rule, and the taxes that had been levied on salt.

The marchers were united in their cause, despite their cultural and religious differences. They believed that it was wrong to prevent them from taking salt from the sea, and for levying taxes on the salt they were forced to buy. Gandhi was  determined that the protest would be peaceful, and that it's effect would be lasting.

Alice McGinty encourages her readers to look at the leadership of a great man who wanted his followers to know that peace is the goal we all must seek. In acting non-violently for your beliefs you show others that you are willing to stand up and be counted, despite the consequences. Many of those who took part in the March were imprisoned; their numbers overwhelmed the penal system and they were soon released.

The author uses free verse to create images that speak honestly and with clarity. The images created with her words are illustrated with brilliance by Thomas Gonzalez. He captures the quiet dignity of Gandhi as he leads his people the many miles to the sea. He constantly shifts our focus in his luminous mixed media art (pastels, watercolors, color pencils, and ink) to bring attention to the feet, the heat, the enormous crowds, the endless fatigue. We see the joy in the eyes of those who sing Gandhi's praises, who believe in his cause, and who are willing to take the risks that must be taken to ensure freedom from oppression:

"Every law broken, every stride,
every garment spun,
every Indian who joins the fight:
One more step toward freedom."

This is an incredible addition to a growing list of picture book biographies that shows young readers that one person can make a difference, and help to change the world for the better.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Going Places, written by Peter H Reynolds and Paul A Reynolds and illustrated by Peter H Reynolds. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $$17.99 ages 4 and up

"The next morning
Rafael checked back in
to see how Maya was doing.

"Wow, what is that?" he asked.
Maya grinned.
"You like it?"

Rafael responded slowly."

Oh, I am so glad that the Reynolds brothers here write about imagination and artistic spirit. Rafael and Maya could not be more different when it comes to the task at hand:

"Rafael had been waiting
all year long for the
Going Places contest,
a chance to build a go-cart,
race it...and win."

He's the first to get his kit, and he follows the directions precisely. He's content doing exactly what the blueprint says. Once complete, according to the included instructions, Rafael's go-cart is picture perfect. With no further work to do, he has time to wonder how Maya is getting along with her kit. She lives next door; he is off to check it out.

Rafael finds Maya sitting on her unopened kit, sketching a lovely blue bird that has caught her eye. She seems mesmerized by the bird, and totally uninterested in the go-cart. Rafael goes back home. When he returns the following morning, there is some surprise in store for him. Maya's 'go-cart' looks nothing like his, or what was described in the instructions. When he points that out, Maya is unperturbed!

Maya wonders where it said it had to be a go-cart. It's a tough question to answer. It sets Rafael in a different direction:

"I get it. Hey, Maya,
I really want to
win this race.
The instructions
never said we
couldn't team up

Their course is set. The results are enlightening. In a book about being creative and following your own path, readers will get a real sense of the benefits and confidence that comes from being a non-conformist. There are so many possibilities, aren't there?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mama Built a Little Nest, written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Mama built a little nest.
My daddy helped out too.
They placed my egg upon his feet.
That's where I hatched and grew.

The emperor penguin uses a living
nest: the father penguin. The father uses his beak
to roll the mother's egg upon his feet quickly, so it doesn't freeze, and carefully, so it doesn't break."

What a welcome and informative book of nonfiction this is! The fact that Steve Jenkins has created the graceful and detailed artwork is icing on the cake.

Catchy rhymes and gentle rhythms assure interest for the young readers who will share this book. Each stanza introduces a new bird and its nest-building prowess. The predictability of the opening line will soon have little ones helping with the reading. The captioned text that sits alongside Steve Jenkins' carefully constructed collages add interest for parents who are doing the reading, and for older listeners, too. I found it all quite fascinating and informative:

"Mama built a little nest.
Well, actually, she didn't.
She found one that another made,
and then she laid me in it.

Not all birds build nests. The cowbird, whydah, and cuckoo find a nest 
built by another bird species. They lay their eggs in it and fly off, leaving
their eggs in the care of the bird who built the nest."

Jennifer Ward knows birds and happily shares that knowledge with her audience. She does it in a most appealing and informative way. She never overwhelms with text, and  manages to create a book that will be appreciated as nonfiction while feeling a bit like a story meant to be told. There was much here I did not know, and I found myself in awe of these tiny creatures whose innate ability to create the perfect home for their young is so evident.

As you know, if you have read my blog posts before, I am a huge fan of Steve Jenkins' art! He works brilliantly creating collage images that are full of minute details and that have huge appeal for all readers. The colors he has chosen for this book are perfect. Vibrancy in color is evident on some pages, while the mothers who do most of the building are muted as happens in nature.

We are reminded at the conclusion of the text that we, too, have a's cozy and comfortable, and allows for much needed rest at the end of long days. We call it a 'bed'.

The fourteen nests are as varied as their builders, and are sure to inspire readers to find out more about them. To that end, the author adds a note following the book's poetic text, and a list for further learning.

"They produce nests that float, defy gravity, expand, are camouflaged, and that heat or cool. Indeed, these avian architects create the most varied type of home of any wild species, allowing them to live in a diversity of habitats."

Friday, March 7, 2014

What's YOUR Favorite Animal? Eric Carle and Friends. Henry Holt, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"I like the snail.

You may find her (or him)
a little ugly - too squishy.
But all her life she works
at her craft, adding to it
day by day until, when she
dies, she leaves us something
of great beauty.

Chris Raschka"

If you read a book about animals to young children, they are likely to ask if you have a favorite one. It is an oft-heard question. In this book, 14 familiar and much-loved illustrators answer that same question for us. They are listed alphabetically on the front cover; their answers are randomly placed within the pages of this most entertaining and beautiful book.

It begins with Eric Carle, as it should. All royalties from the book will be donated to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Check it out at if you want to know more about this truly amazing facility. Mr. Carle's favorite animal is a cat. He favored cats at a very early age, despite an apparent allergy. This particular cat is named Fiffi, and she lived with the artist in New York. His story is charming and obviously, memorable.

With every page turn, a double page spread allows a look at the artist's rendering of their own favorite animal. They vary in form, as do the accompanying notes. They include sketches, panelled stories, even carefully drawn realistic drawings of the chosen animal. They might of be a memory, an imagined creature, a beloved pet, or just plain fun. Their approach to the images drawn allows us a bit of a look at each artist's personality.

Here is a list of the contributors: Eric Carle, Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, Mo Willems. Brilliant! 

I know you will be as impressed as I am with this fine new collection.             


Bear and Bee Too Busy, written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. Disney Hyperion Books, Hachette. 2014. $16.50 ages 3 and up

"Hmm. What else is there
to do?" says Bear.
"Bee!" says Bear.
"Come and climb the tree
with me.
You will love it!"
"No, thank you, Bear,"
says Bee. "I'm too busy to
climb the tree."

They are back! In this second story of unexpected friendship, Bear and Bee discover that everything is better when shared with a friend. Bear is bent on fun, and does everything he can to entice Bee from her morning's work to have fun with him.

With each new suggestion, Bee replies that she's too busy. Bear heads off to find something else to do; along the way, he discovers that 'fun' is more fun with friends to share it. He has great ideas. He suggests rolling down the hill, climbing a tree, even splashing in the pond. Bee just can't allow herself to abandon the work that needs doing. (Have you ever sounded like that when your little one issued such an invitation?)

Bear is quick to share his feelings with his best friend:

"Oh Bee….Having fun is not as fun without you.”

So true, isn't it?

When Bee's work is done, and she wants to share a look at the moon with her friend, Bear is busy.  Bee finds a way to entice him from his slumber, in a perfect ending. 

The illustrations bring these familiar characters back to us for a welcome repeat visit. The cheerful colors, the warm expressions, and the homey setting combine with repetitive text sure to encourage early readers to pick it up and try it for themselves. All the while, they will building confidence, finding pleasure in the story and wanting to read it to someone else!  Huzzah!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Duck, Duck, Moose! Written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Noah Z Jones. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2014. $17.99 ages 3 and up




I want to make it my mission to get little ones reading again....AND LOVING IT! We are pushing too many young and vulnerable children into reading levelled books that have no real meaning. If kids don't see story in the books they are reading, they will learn to decode! They may know how to read; but, they don't want to read a book that has no innate appeal. How do you become a lifelong reader if you don't read anything that speaks to your heart, your head, or your funny bone?

There are hundreds of books written by brilliant and talented artists out there! We need to get those books to our little ones, and ensure that they grow to be readers who long to read because they are reading books they love and want to share.

That little bit of a rant brings me to this book....two words, that's it! Kids will want to read it again and again, and then again. It is full of the kind of humor that little ones get; it tells the story of three friends and it speaks to us of real friendship. We meet the three on the cover and then once more, on the title page. As we move to the dedication page, we begin to learn something about them. The ducks, in nightcaps, are quietly sleeping on tidy beds marked with a D. Moose, on the other hand, is sprawled across his much-too-small bed, feet hanging over the end, on his tummy, mouth wide open and clothes strewn around him. His blanket barely covers his back!

The kitchen table shows signs of his appearance at breakfast. The coffee is spilled on the tablecloth and the floor, his chair is upended, and he is out the door with a cheery wave. The ducks sit quietly reading the morning news, coffee cups at hand and their food carefully consumed.

As the ducks set themselves to a morning's work and then set the table with a delicious lunch, we prepare ourselves for Moose's return. Some return it turns out to be! Hilarious and sure to delight, we are bombarded with the cleanliness and fastidiousness of the ducks and the total annihilation of their ordered world by their friend. It turns out that they are preparing for a party. Moose manages to make every part of the plan a catastrophe!

Poor Moose! He doesn't mean to cause persistent problems for his friends. Off he goes. The party plans move into high gear, and all is ready! Where's Moose?

As I said, written words number two...they are repeated on each double page spread. But, their impact is created by perfectly chosen punctuation and lively digital art that says everything else that needs to be said.  It's a story filled with fun and friendship, and will certainly leave young readers wanting to read other books just like it! That's exactly what we want, if they are to live a literate life!
Oh, he comes!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Josephine, words by Patricia Hruby Powell and pictures by Christian Robinson. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2014. $19.99 ages 9 and up

"So, instead of dancing,
Josephine became the DRESSER.
She helped dress the dancers
down in New Orleans.
Until her usefulness ran out.
And who just happened to be in town,
but the ragtag JONES FAMILY -
Papa, Mama, and Doll."

I have seen videos of Josephine Baker's performances ( and was totally intrigued to read a book for children about her.

In the early half of the twentieth century, Josephine was an internationally known 'star'. In fact, by 1927, she was known to be the highest paid entertainer working in Europe. While a book intended for a young audience that introduces her celebrity as a dancer and performer can show much about her life, it cannot possibly bring full disclosure. She was NOT a children's entertainer. That does not negate her importance in history.

This beautifully designed picture book autobiography does much to show Josephine to be a strong, willful and bold African-American woman who didn't allow barriers of race and poverty to keep her from her calling - dance! Her mother had had the same dream. It was quashed by the need to help provide for her beloved family. At her mother's side, Josephine soaked up the music and the dream:

"She flung her arms,
                      she flung her legs,
Like she flung her heart and her soul.
'Cause DANCIN' makes you HAPPY
                       when nothin' else will."

Unable to find work in any vaudeville show, Josephine became a dresser. She watched from the wings and learned the routines, in case a chance to perform presented itself. When she did get that chance, she added her own flair, much to the delight of every audience. She faced the same segregation that all colored entertainers faced at the time:

                     kept squeezing tighter,
    way below the surface -
hot magma,
         MOLTEN LAVA,
                           TRAPPED WITHIN."

Paris offered artistic freedom, rapt audiences and a chance to do what she loved doing. It didn't matter her color or background. The audience wanted to be entertained. Josephine had found a perfect place to hone her craft and have her star rise. Eventually, she longed for home and fame in America. She became the 'FIRST and ONLY Negro Follies star. EVER.' But, discrimination forced her to return to Paris and show her gratitude to those who had supported her career. She worked for the French during WWII, and was lauded as a hero.

As dramatic as her stage life was, her personal life matched it. Following the war she married and, in her remaining lifetime, she adopted twelve children from varied cultural backgrounds. She dubbed them her Rainbow Tribe.

I love the design of this book! It is arranged as acts on stage, encompassing the various periods of time in her life and marked by her singular personality. There is so much to see, and to come to understand about the life she lived. I have great admiration for the team who created this book filled to the brim with Ms. Baker's personal triumphs, her mesmerizing personality and her great beauty. The acrylic artwork, the free verse text placed so purposefully and elegantly, the personal quotes and the celebration they create are exemplary. Bravo!

If reading this post has piqued your interest, please find the book at the library or in your nearest favorite bookstore. Then, you can really appreciate the brilliant pleasure of it. Further, you might want to check this out:

Let's CELEBRATE World Read Aloud Day!

I cannot imagine my life without a book in my hand! I dream of a world where everyone reads because they can, and because they want to read. We need to celebrate every day; but, let's make today (and every March 5) special by reading aloud to our kids at school, our kids at home, our kids who live miles away from us, to our parents and grandparents, to our friends and neighbors. Make it a real celebration.
There is so much to share. There is such wonder in the pages of a book. We are truly blessed to live in a place where there are books in abundance, and the time to read them if we make it.
Spend precious time today reading aloud to all who will brighten your day and raise your spirits. Happy 'World Read Aloud Day' to all!  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

the SCRAPS book: Notes from a colorful life. Written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"On a trip
to the aquarium,
while I watched
colorful fish
swim by,
a book idea swam
into my brain.
I sketched and
made notes
before it floated

The first time I saw and heard Lois Ehlert speak to an equally rapt audience as I was myself, I wanted to be just like her...full of wonder at the world, dressed and adorned in a bounty of colors that made each of those in attendance swoon, and gifted with the heart and the talent that comes from the encouragement and freedom to choose your own path to success. As a fan, I have a Lois Ehlert shelf in my library. I will most happily add this new memoir to it!

Her career as children's book creator inspires at every turn of the page. With each new book published she celebrates the colors and forms found in our environments. Children are immediately attracted to the collage images that she continues to create. Even our youngest readers find familiar images everywhere they look on the page, and reason to stop and savor what is there for them.

Ms. Ehlert has filled this new picture book with family photos, lovely images from her published books, places where she finds inspiration, and how the books are actually conceived and then written. It is a wonder, and I am delighted to share it with you. If you have read any interviews, seen her present to a group of attentive children or adults, watched videos that describe her artistic process, you will know that her parents influenced her work throughout her life. They provided the encouragement for her to follow her dreams, while also providing the space and materials that gave her artistic spirit wings. It is a perfect picture of her world!

In it, she shares her life, her wisdom, her art. Her many captioned photos offer an up-close and  personal look at the life of this artist. Her varied and fascinating collections spark ideas and inspire new work. They are numerous and mindful of other world cultures and their history. Looking at the work she shares in this wonderful memoir, young readers are sure to be inspired to take a trip outside to see what they can find there. It doesn't have to cost money to create captivating scenes and beautiful bits of art. You just need a spot to work, some inspiration, and the time to create without restrictions of time, materials and the expectations of others.

"I created lots of art, though not for books right away. But I didn't worry. Everyone needs time to develop their dreams. An egg in the nest doesn't become a bird overnight."

I LOVE this book!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Florence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2014. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Florence made many improvements in her new job. She taught the nurses who worked with her that the hospital must be clean and organized so that they could give the patients the best possible care. She stressed the importance of providing hot water and hot food..."

Florence Nightingale was born a child of great wealth. The family's lifestyle was extravagant, and privileged. It meant little to Florence. Rather than attend parties and social gatherings in her home, she preferred to be alone. Even as a very young girl she liked to imagine organizing health care for sick dolls and running a hospital that would help the sick and infirm.

Her family's wealth allowed for extensive travel. At each new destination, she was less enamored of the famous people she met and more aware of the plight of the poor and sick. She kept clear records of the facilities available to help others. She realized that nursing was her true calling. Her parents were not in agreement; in fact, they were aghast at such a thought. Further travels only intensified Florence's resolve. Her parents were finally convinced that she must find her own way.

It was the beginning of a long and illustrious career for a determined, thoughtful and brilliant woman. Florence did her research and developed new and successful ways to alleviate the pain and suffering of many, while also informing government of ways to improve the conditions in hospitals around the world. Her work was relentless. Despite suffering from lingering health issues throughout much of her life, Florence never gave up working to make change, consulting with governments to effect that change and constantly striving to improve thinking about the way in which care was provided.

Her legacy lives on:

"The International Red Cross began awarding the Florence Nightingale Medal in 1912, two years after her death. It honors outstanding nurses. We remember Florence Nightingale today as the driving force behind improvements in nursing during her time and as a woman of extraordinary vision, who believed that no problem, however big it seemed, was ever too big for her to solve."

A detailed timeline and a short list of suggested books for further reading are found following the text of her story.

Demi does a brilliant job of giving life to this epitome of the nursing profession. Her watercolor and mixed media images are rich and detailed, as is her story. While we are always aware of Florence in the accompanying artwork, she doesn't overpower with her presence. She is at the 'heart' of the story, but never the focus.