Total Pageviews

Thursday, July 31, 2014

How I Discovered Poetry, written by Marilyn Nelson. Dial, Penguin. 2014. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"This book is a late-career retrospective, a personal memoir, a "portrait of the artist as a young American Negro Girl." The poems cover the decade of the fifties, from 1950, when I was four years old, to 1960, when I was fourteen." I prefer to call the girl in the poems "the Speaker," not "me." Although the poems describe a girl whose life is very much like mine..."

This is the summer of reading to add to my ever growing knowledge of the many events of the civil rights movement, and of Freedom Summer. I was not ignorant of the struggles, the setbacks, the people who worked so hard to bring change. This summer I have read a number of worthy and memorable books written to act as a reminder and to honor those who worked so hard and dedicated their lives to bringing attention and understanding to the struggle for equality. The work continues...

When I first read Marilyn Nelson's A Wreath for Emmett Till  (HMH, 2009), I was heartbroken, and aghast. Although it is very difficult every single time I do, I read it almost every year as a reminder of injustice and a need for change. It also emphasizes the power of poetry to tell stories worth telling, in amazing ways.

In this memoir of her life in the 1950s, Ms. Nelson tells her audience about military life: all of the moves throughout her childhood, from one base to another. There are 50 poems and they provide a retrospective of the many events and memories that influenced her development as the writer she is today. It was a time of tremendous change, both socially and politically.

"Over the river and through the woods, for miles
of four-lane highways, slowed by blowing snow,
through towns named for long-vanquished Indians,
to Aunt Charlie's house in Omaha we go.
Hypnotized by the rhythm of tired chains,
I eat a sandwich passed from the front seat,
where Mama and Daddy are talking about a boy
named Emmett. Jennifer, whispering to her doll,
crossed the line between her side and mine,
and when I poke her just a little bit,
she howls as if it hurts, out of sheer spite.
Lost again in the inwardness of thought
and my five senses, I add to my list:
Thank you for not stationing us in Mississippi."

Her poems reflect her thoughts at the time. She talks about bomb drills and shelters, pets, the Red Menace, Rosa Parks and Emmett Till, food, television, the houses they lived evoked many memories of those years for me as I read it. I, too, am a child of the 50s. The poetry is both intimate and telling, showing a growing awareness of the fight for civil rights and how that will impact her life.  They also show her growing love of words, and writing.

"...I could spend hours searching the mirror
for clues to my truer identity,
if someone didn't pound the bathroom door.
You can't see what the mirror doesn't show:
for instance, after I close my book
and turn off my lamp, I say to the dark:
Give me a message I can give to the world.
Afraid there's a poet behind my face,
I beg until I've cried myself to sleep."

Message gloriously received, Ms. Nelson. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

MINGAN my village, poems by Innu Schoolchildren. Illustrated by Roge. With the participation of Josephine Bacon, Rita Mestokosho and Laure Morali. Fifth House, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2014. $14.95 ages 6 and up

"There are beautiful things in my life
The green trees and the sky
Thousands of birds flying in the sky
Waterfalls with fish
The forest with its animals
When I listen to nature
It's like a very long song to me

- Kaylene"

This is a lovely and uplifting book of poetry, written by the children who go to school in Mingan, an Innu village in northeastern Quebec. As they are read, readers will begin to understand each of the poet's connections to their environment, their culture and their families.

In a foreword illustrator Roge tells about his connection to the Innu people and their art. He made some surprising discoveries:

"The sound of the Innu language resonated with me like a drum that carried me, not to a distant land, but to a familiar inner place; to a long-ago time to which I was somehow linked."

His visit resulted in fifteen photographs to accompany the fifteen poems written by the young poets whose voices you hear in this book. When he got home, he carefully considered the photos he had taken, looked into the eyes of the children he had met. Then, he painted their portraits to accompany their words.

"In the wind's light, the pain of the heart
The blue river
When I listen
I have a memory of my grandfather
He tells me he is well
This comforts me
I know he protects me
That he watches me
I cry when he is not beside me


For this work he was made a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award in Children's Literature - French Language Illustration in 2013. Well deserved!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NIne Words Max, written by Dan Bar - el and illustrated by David Huyck. Tundra Books, 2014. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"It's been said that a butterfly's flapping wings might cause a storm on the other side of the world. Eggs cannot be unscrambled, and you should never put them all in one basket. Everywhere around us are sounds, but at some point there was suddenly music too. If all the world's a stage, then we should be wearing more makeup."

Max is a talker...not unlike two amazing women I know. Are you listening, Erin and Breanna? His curiosity leads him to ask the questions he needs answered in order to up the amount of real information he can hold in his head, and then happily share with anyone who might listen.

His three brothers? No, they are quite the opposite. They have no need to talk, and find themselves frustrated by their sibling's constant chatter. They see no value in learning more than they already know:

"In the evenings, the three older princes would sprawl on the royal couch and watch hours upon hours of puppet shows. Despite his best efforts to fit in, Maximilian could not sit and stare silently at the box."

When the four are left in charge of the kingdom in their parents' absence, it takes no time for the three older siblings to bring an end to Maximilian's verbosity. All they need is a wizard willing to cast a spell. The wizard suggests ten words at a time...too many. The decision is made for Maximilian to speak only nine words at a time.  A visiting monarch tests the brothers' diplomacy. Maximilian, who knows and understands what needs to be done cannot fully explain anything, and chaos is the result. The Queen is markedly unimpressed!

As is common in much folklore, magic can be undone, order can be restored, and the good will triumph...which is just as it should be.
This is a fine story, entertaining and filled with engaging language. It's funny, and has something fairly subtle to say about the state of communication in today's world (a la Nine Words Max). Listeners are certain to enjoy it, and readers will take pleasure in sharing its humor.

David Huyck describes his illustrations as artwork 'rendered digitally with sensors and doohickeys and magic.' Indeed...and a great deal of fun. Maximilian is a wide-eyed, bespectacled studious sort tuned to all the details of the kingdom, while his brothers are shown as doofuses more interested in boring pursuits than anything of importance. His cartoon-like work is filled with detail and comedy, panels and spots, and a good deal of action. Sure to invite giggles at every turn of the page...I think that each successive share will elicit further discussion.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Speckled Eggs, written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $17.00 ages 4 and up

"Finally it was time for silver-and-gold cake, Ginger's favorite. But Maggie didn't like coconut and Sara wouldn't eat the pineapple part. The rest of the girls just picked at the frosting and didn't touch the cake. Except Lyla Browning."

You know the scenario: a birthday party is on the horizon, and the birthday girl would rather not invite EVERY single girl in the class. Mom is adamant that if one is invited, they ALL get an invitation. So, Ginger invites Lyla, even though she would rather not. After all, Lyla is odd and a bit of an outcast.

As the party progresses the invitees would rather scuttle the party plans than abide by Ginger's directions. The tail for the donkey get stuck on the girls rather than the donkey. The egg in the egg and spoon race is ruined before the fun can even begin. Most have something to say about Ginger's favorite birthday cake, and refuse to eat it. Lyla Browning, who has been conspicuously absent from most of the activities while she investigates other more important distractions, loves the cake.

Ginger is discouraged by her friends' attitudes, and ends up in tears...until a ladybug lands on her nose! Lyla thinks it's funny, and so does Ginger. The presents are opened, the girls are off to other endeavors. The two are left alone with Lyla's present; it is the last ....and the very best! It's handmade, and holds two speckled eggs. When the rest of the girls have gone home, Ginger and Lyla discover mutual interests, and Ginger realizes it can be quite wonderful to have a friend who is independent, self-assured and giving.

Illustrations, done in pencil, gouache and digital collage assure that listeners take note of the story's characters, their demeanor, and their changing importance for the birthday girl. It's easy to see that a birthday party can be a bit of a challenge. This timeless story is a reminder that friends arrive in a variety of packages. It has a classic feel and is sure to inspire conversation for those who share it.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I AM OTTER, written and illustrated by Sam Garton. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2014. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"But then every Monday we get bad news: Otter Keeper will be going to work. I do all sorts of things to prevent Otter Keeper from leaving, like trying to stop Monday from happening altogether, or hiding his lunch where he'll never find it. But my plans never work. Teddy and I think it's very unfair that we don't have jobs."

Funny how one thing leads to another! Prior to reading and savoring this joyous tale of good intentions gone bad, I had never heard of the very entertaining blog of the same name. Now, I know both and am, as always, thankful for the paths that reading takes me down. You won't be sorry if you take the time to check it the blog out for yourself:

Now, to the book! It's bright and happy and oh, so funny!

Otter's life is pretty darn good. A box on the front step marks the beginning for Otter and Otter Keeper, who finds the box, brings it inside and sets about making Otter feel comfortable and safe. It takes time and effort. Oh, and Teddy helps. Teddy is a stuffed bear who makes life more 'bear'able for both Otter and his new human friend.

The only glitch in the happiness shared comes with Monday mornings. Can you relate? That is the day when, no matter how many obstacles are put in his way, Otter Keeper must return to work after a companionable weekend of full-out fun!

Disgruntled at the weekly disruption, Otter decides that he wants a job, and one for Teddy, too. A toast restaurant seems a suitable enterprise. With a modicum of training, they are on their way to full-time employment. Oh, boy! Things do not go well from the start; soon, they have themselves in a frightful mess. OOPS! Otter Keeper is due home, and clean up takes top priority. How does one explain the mess? Where has Teddy gone?

Keen listeners will 'get' all the nuances of friendship with a stuffed bear, and will delight in the many details created by Sam Garton in digital illustrations that pop with bright color and fun, fun, fun. It is a perfect blend of text and art, allowing imaginations to run free. Any parent of little children, who love to drag out every toy, blanket, and piece of clothing they can find to create needed spaces, will understand and appreciate the double page spread that is the chaos created in Otter's attempt to be a fully functioning 'worker'.

Kudos to Sam Garton for creating a charming and happy story that is sure to garner new fans; hopefully, it holds promise for another meeting with these wonderful characters.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

It's An Orange Aardvark! Written and illustrated by Miichael Hall. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2014. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Wait. What if there's an
aardvark out there?

Aardvarks are gray and sneaky...
and they have long tongues
that are perfect for eating
carpenter ants, you know!

Goodness! I'm scared.
Gracious! Me, too.
Yikes! Same here."

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know how much I admire Michael Hall's previous three books: My Heart is Like a Zoo (Greenwillow, 2009), Perfect Square (Greenwillow, 2011) and Cat Tale (Greenwillow, 2012). You will then also be able to guess how happy I am to share his newest, brilliantly designed book about aardvarks, colors and silly speculation. It's wonderful fun, and worthy of your attention!

We know it's raining. Five little ants do not. They awaken with wonder, and speculate on what might be causing the noise by drilling a hole in the stump they call home. The hole should let them see what they are missing. One little ant is extremely cautious, sure that an aardvark awaits in secret, ready to use its long tongue to put an end to life as the ants know it. He is assured that a peephole should not be a problem.

Lo and behold, it isn't gray that they see. It is brilliant orange aardvark!! Only when they are really hungry for ants do they turn orange. Did you know that? Another hole is sure to offer up an additional clue. Now, it's blue...perhaps pajamas!

So it goes; each new peephole offers up a highly dramatic and new possibility. Careful listeners may guess where this story is headed, but it will do nothing to deter them from full enjoyment right to the very end.

The format, the incredible design and the full-out fun of the game this book provides is sure to have you reading it repeatedly, and eager young readers soon wanting to read it on their own...with all the drama and angst that is part of the repetitive text. The bold colors take up every inch of space on the book's full page spreads. Perfect!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Eruption! Text by Elizabeth Rusch, with photographs by Tom Uhlman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2013. $22.99 ages 14 and up

"The team has remained small, and as much as the scientists want to, they can't be everywhere at once. So when facing multiple crises, VDAP scientists have to ask some very difficult questions: How many people are at risk? How dangerous is the volcano?"

This is another worthy addition to the Scientists in the Field series. It tells readers about a small group of dedicated scientists who spend their time studying volcanic activity in hopes of keeping people in their vicinity safe. Three separate eruptions are included...from Colombia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Since its publication a year ago, many other eruptions have occurred causing evacuations, health concerns, falling debris, and death. As students hear reports of volcanoes erupting across the world, this book can help them understand the geology of a volcano itself and the steps that are constantly taken to get clear information to those who are likely to be affected in so many ways. Such events are dangerous, compelling and of consuming interest to many.

Elizabeth Rusch explains the work of the Volcanic Disaster Assistance Program, as their scientists work to assist and train those who study volcanoes in monitoring techniques. They can even be called upon during a crisis. Her stories are well-researched, and tragic. The first happened in Colombia, when the Nevado del Ruiz erupted killing more than 23,000. It was November 13, 1985:

"Volcanic mudflow from the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz completely buried the town of Armero in up to fifteen feet (4.6 meters) of mud. All roads, bridges, and telephone, power, and water lines were destroyed. Sixty percent of the town's farm animals perished. More than 5,000 homes, 340 businesses, 50 schools, and 2 hospitals were wiped out. Three-quarters of the townspeople - more than 23,000 people - died."

Now, with advanced knowledge and an ability to read the signs that predict an eruption, scientists can assure that people are warned and brought to safety. With more than one billion people living close enough to a volcano that they might be reached by its eruption, there is continuing danger and an urgent need to keep the large group of international scientists always working to learn more. Once the people have been guided to safety and the danger has passed, life is likely to return to normal:

"We know two very frightening things about volcanoes like Mount Merapi," John says. "People always move back into harm's way...and the volcano always erupts again."

Astounding! Life goes on...

Vivid photos, exceptional research, a glossary, chapter notes, a bibliography and index are included. All assure that those with an abiding interest in these natural disasters get the information they need. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur, written by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Colin Jack. Tundra Books, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"In winter, it' a snowplow.

And on hot summer days,
just park it by the pool.

Your friends will line up
to try your exciting new
diving board!

Just think of all the things
your dinosaur can do."

I haven't worked in a kindergarten or early years classroom for a while; I suspect that there are still many children whose appreciation of and hunger for anything 'dinosaur' remain strong. Is that true?

If you just happen to have one lying around, and are wondering what to do with it, Linda Bailey has some imaginative and amusing suggestions for you. Just in case you have trouble trying to conjure up the images presented in the text, Colin Jack does an admirable job of bringing them to glorious life.

For those of us who will be sharing this story (repeatedly) there is much to appreciate about it. The text is lively, and filled with some truly funny ways to use that dinosaur. With each turn of the page, the growing list of ideas will encourage giggles and perhaps even more tasks to be accomplished by such a useful helper:

"There are oodles of things you can 
do with a dinosaur.
Try taking it into your yard. 
It will mow your lawn, 
trim your trees, 
blow your leaves
and dig you a garden in not time flat."

Hey, I could use one of those! 

The boldly colored digital illustrations are a perfect complement to the joy found in the words. The expressive faces, the recognizable species, the many entertaining details will encourage children to explore further, using their own imaginations. There is sure to be talk as you share the many wonderful details. Should things with your dinosaur not go so well, or you don't have one, remember that you have options:

"But what if you don't happen
to have a dinosaur lying
around your living room?"

Now, the ball is in your court!

Just So Stories For Little Children Volume II, written by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Ian Wallace. Groundwood Books, 2014. $ 19.95 ages 6 and up

"Then the Head Chief cried and sang, "Taffy, dear, the next time you write a picture-letter, you'd better send a man who can talk our language with it, to explain what it means. I don't mind it myself, because I am a Head Chief, but it's very bad for the rest of the Tribe of Tegumai, and, as you see, it surprises the stranger."

This post has not much to say about Rudyard Kipling's stories. They have been shared for more than one hundred years, and are appreciated with each new generation for their wit and longevity.

In this second volume, Ian Wallace as their illustrator has included the final six "Just So Stories': The Beginning of the Armadilloes, How the First Letter Was Written, How the Alphabet Was Made, The Crab That Played with the Sea, The Cat That Walked by Himself, and The Butterfly That Stamped. These stories each help to explain the way in which things of the world originated and were created for Mr. Kipling's daughters.

In an illustrator's note that follows the stories, Mr. Wallace extols the 'fertile imagination' of the writer and offers an explanation for the thread that runs through his artistic interpretation:

"I have used my art to create connections between the stories. Characters and artifacts from one story periodically appear in another. This sometimes means that an object or character from one part of the world appears in another, or that objects from one story may suddenly appear chronologically earlier or later than you might expect. Watch for the leopard butterfly flying through all six tales, as well as other animals from the first volume such as the Elephant's Child and the Camel without his hump."

The artist uses mixed media (watercolour, pencil crayon, pastel pencil and chalk) in varying combinations and one predominant color for each of the tales; the environment dictates color choice. The full page framed illustrations are light infused and seem almost magical, in keeping with the tone of the stories. The rich colors and intricacy of the drawings bring these stories to the children of a new generation, and will be enjoyed by all. 
Be sure to check out Ian Wallace's blog post about his stay at Mr. Kipling's house in Vermont. It's here:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Maple, written and illustrated by Lori Nichols. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin. 2014. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"Sometimes, when Maple was noisy (which was a lot), her parents sent her outside to play. Her tree didn't mind if she was loud.

Maple would sing to her tree...
and sway for her tree...
and sometimes even
pretend to be a tree!"

Do you love warmth and charm in the picture books you share with children? If you do, you want to meet Maple. Maple's parents plant a maple tree in the yard to celebrate her impending birth.

Maple loves her name, and the tree that also bears it. They are soul mates, welcomed at the same time and doing their growing together. There is nowhere Maple would rather be than outside with her tree. She loves to lie under the leaves and watch them dance. Through all of the seasons, Maple shows concern for her friend and does her best to ensure that it is safe, warm and has good company.

After a long winter, spring arrives. With its arrival come two surprises...a new tree and a baby sister, both named Willow. How will this new sister feel about first the maple tree, and then her own willow? What lessons has Maple learned that she might share with the baby?

Beautifully written and softly drawn to assure that young readers understand the grace and elegance of living things, and an affection and concern for them, Maple is a book that will be much appreciated. The muted tones of the digitally colored pencil drawings set a perfect mood. They will lure children back again and again to enjoy and to talk about what is on each page. The abundance of white space allows our focus to be on Maple and the many wonderful experiences she shares, both before and after the arrival of her new sibling.

The spreads that show Maple (and Willow) lying contentedly under the maple canopy just make you go aaaah!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hidden LIke Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival, by Marcel Prins & Peter Henk Steenhuis. Scholastic, 2014. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"Those first few months after the war were hard for my parents. They suddenly had four children in the house, three of whom were crying, "I want to go back to my mommy." "You're crazy," I used to say to them. "You're with your father and your mother." My little brother was six weeks old when he left and three when he came back."

The stories in this Holocaust remembrance are of Dutch survivors who were taken to people who could help find places for them to hide during Germany's reign of terror. There was little that the Dutch Jews could do but hide, when Nazi troops stormed family homes and businesses in an attempt to round them up and send them to the concentration camps. In each case, the fourteen men and women share their memories of their lives in hiding. Their voices are strong and honest, and they make it painfully clear to readers how brave and kind the people of Holland were in helping to save their lives. Each story is different, but has remarkable similarities in terms of the fear, the isolation, the cramped quarters where they spent long hours and the constant moves they made to keep everyone as safe as possible. The end of the war did not end the struggles that had become a part of each life.

Their hiding began for most at an early age; some were as young as three while others were teenagers. Their parents often sent them to live with friends, family, and strangers in an attempt to ensure their safety. Often they did not see other members of their families again. In fact many learned later that no one else in their family had survived. Some were treated with kindness and warmth. They found new families to share their lives, even after the war ended. For others, the ordeal of being away from all that was familiar was made worse by the actions of their sponsors and the terrible conditions they had to endure to remain safe. For some being reunited with their parents after such a long and stressful time was difficult. So much had happened to each that they had trouble finding common ground once more.

Their stories are hard to read, and heartbreaking. The survivors tell them with candor, and no expectation of pity. Readers will not soon forget the horror each faced as they struggled to survive, with no real awareness of what the future might hold for them.

The authors include maps, footnotes, and photographs (both past and present) of those willing to share their stories. A glossary is added, and there is a website where readers might find further information.

There you will find animated films to add detail to these stories. Dots on the map will connect readers to the survivors, and their voices can be heard telling the stories in their own words and voices. A photo at the end of each shows the survivors as they looked when the interviews were being conducted with the authors. An info button provides additional facts and some archival materials. Unlike Anne Frank, their stories have not been shared. This book ensures that they are.

The Bambino and Me, written by Zachary Hyman and illustrated by Zachary Pullen. Tundra Books, 2014. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"As Pops and I stood up to leave at the end of the game, some big palookas grabbed us and told us to come with them. Yikes! I knew that wearing a Red Sox uniform would get me into trouble. After waiting in a dimly lit hallway in the depths of the stadium for what seemed like an eternity, I finally heard footsteps in the distance."

George Henry Alexander is 10 and he loves baseball. Babe Ruth is his hero. It's 1927 and days are spent playing ball with his friends, and wanting to be better at the game. Despite his lack of skill, George will not give up playing.

In this story that is every baseball fan's dream come true, Zachary Hyman conjures a tale of what might have happened for some lucky young baseball fan. He uses some of the Babe's own words in the telling, and it presents as a memoir from that very special time in baseball history when the Bambino inspired thousands of young boys to go after their dreams with all they had in them.

George and his Pops listen to every Yankee game on the radio. He knows that is as close as he is likely to get to his favorite team. Imagine his surprise when his parents get him two tickets to see the Yankees play against their biggest rivals...the Boston Red Sox. With Babe now on their team, George is beyond excited to see his hero play. A second birthday gift - this one from his Uncle Alvin in Boston - causes some angst. He opens the package to find a Red Sox jersey and cap! No way is he going to wear those to a Yankees game...

His mother has another opinion and she insists that he wear the gift his uncle worked so hard to get for  him. Embarrassed and disgruntled, George and his Pops head to the game, amidst jeers and insults from friends, neighbors and the fans at the game. The chance to see his hero outweighs the taunting that he must endure. When Babe steps up to bat and George cheers loudly, his red hat stands out in the sea of blue. Does the Babe see him there in the crowd? It seems so...he points in his direction and slams a home run to the great delight of the huge crowd.

The Yanks win! George is elated. That is not add to the magic of the day, George meets his hero who shares some wise words and a gift or two. Imagine!

It's a wonderful tale, made richer with artwork rendered in oil paint and walnut oil on board. The rich illustrations are expressive and detailed, evoking memories of a time past. The earthy tones, the red and blue hues, the use of light and shadow to establish mood, allow today's readers a brief historical glimpse at baseball in America in the 1920s.

The CD narrated by Jason Alexander is perfect. He is adept at using his best acting chops to bring this story to life. Accompanying music and sound effects complement his storytelling, and his spot-on voices add depth and much enjoyment. You will want to listen to it more than once.

Monday, July 21, 2014

5 Elephants, by Rob Laidlaw. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"Elephants are extremely active animals. In the wild, they will walk, explore, forage, socialize, bathe and engage in a broad range of other activities up to 20 hours a day. Depending on where they live and what season it is, elephants may travel anywhere from a few kilometres to tens of kilometres every day. To behave naturally, elephants require a lot of space..."

I have read Rob Laidlaw's previous books and am always impressed with his ability to share his knowledge and love for animals and their safety without sounding as if he is giving a lecture. Instead, he brings that care and concern for their welfare, and his meticulous research and writing to his audience to inform and interest them in knowing more about them.

I don't know how you feel about elephants; I have always been intrigued by their gentle ways and their intelligence. They are so big and so singularly extraordinary with those huge ears, their active nature and their love for family. I have read other books about them, and have also watched numerous videos.

In his newest book, Rob Laidlaw lets his audience know that these gentle giants face some very serious challenges, no matter where they live, or how they live their lives. He presents some truly amazing information about them. Learning about five famous elephants helps to make their plight more personal to those who will share their stories.

Echo is one of the lucky ones, living in the wild, welcoming new babies and sharing their care with her extended elephant family:

"So much of what we know about the lives and relationships of elephants has come from studying Echo, the EB family and the other Amboseli elephants. They have provided us with a glimpse into the complex lives of elephants and forever changed the way we think about these astonishing animals."

Lucy spent far too much time living alone in a crowded space, with no stimulation, no room to wander and no reason to want a long and happy life. With company, she was more content. For the last seven years she has lived alone at the Valley Zoo in Edmonton.

"Some people say Lucy is an anti-social elephant, but leading elephant scientists say there is no such thing. Every female elephant should be in a family of in the company of other elephants. Lucy won't be replaced when she dies..."

Tusko was a travelling performance elephant in the early twentieth century, who didn't appreciate circus life and showed it by going on a rampage, leading to his being considered dangerous and moved from one show to the next. He was frustrated and constantly fought to be free of his chains:

"Tusko couldn't forage in the forest, swim in a river, or socialize with family or friends like a normal bull elephant."  

In the early 1980s, many people in the world knew, or had heard stories, about Tarra who performed at a theme park in California and was cared for by Carol Buckley. Carol's worry about Tarra's future led to her the purchase of property in Tennessee that served as an elephant sanctuary:

"When Tarra arrived, she quickly made herself at home exploring the fields and forests. She grazed on grass, pulled at the trees, and bathed in the ponds. Soon, Tarra was no longer alone as other elephants in need began to arrive at the sanctuary."

"Thandora was the only elephant left from her family during a culling operation in South Africa. Her life for many years was spent in a zoo, often alone. Conservation groups worked to have her returned to the wild on the Gondwana Game Reserve. 23 years of zoo living meant that much work had to be done to acclimate her to her new home:

"...her astonishing journey has shown that captive elephants can be successfully transitioned to the wild. Thandora is a pioneer who has helped pave the way for others to follow in her footsteps into the wild."

Lest you think that the stories of these five elephants is all there is, you should know that there is so much more! You will learn how elephants can be kept happy and thriving, learn about the challenges they face in captivity and in their shrinking and often dangerous environment, and learn that there is hope for their future. You can learn how to be an elephant guardian and help to ensure that happens. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Julia, Child, words by Kyo Maclear and pictures by Julie Morstad. Tundra Books, 2014. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"As they ate, the grown-ups began to argue. It seemed they were very hungry. Too hungry. They were hungry for the fun they had forgotten and the games they no longer played. They grabbed the food up all at once, fearful that it would not last. "Just look at them," said Julia. "Where did we go wrong?"

A lovely invitation begins this new book:

"You are cordially invited to this tale for all ages about a child named Julia. While the story contains no true knowledge of (the real) Julia Child and should be taken with a grain of salt and perhaps even a generous pat of butter, we hope that you will find something here to savor."

Savor it, I do. I am a big fan of Kyo Maclear's work and am delighted to share this new story with you. It is a celebration of good food, friendship, being young, enjoying life to its fullest, and loving your days spent doing what you happily do. I think (from the little I know about the real Julia Child) that she would approve its telling wholeheartedly. Bon appetit!

As a small child, this Julia falls in love with French food. Cooking it becomes her passion, and she shares that feeling with her friend Simca. Together they work to create deliciousness, not always with success. They do not give up. Lessons help, and persistence.

Their dream is to grow old, always enjoying being together and preparing delicious food. They are quick to notice that the adults around them don't take the same joy from life that they do. They set about changing that. They set themselves the task of finding foods that will make the adults they encounter feel young again.

"They would make recipes for growing young."

Hard work, and a strong desire to make life better through food results in their attracting many to their table. As the visitors eat, they realize that their hunger is not just about food. Chaos ensues. A new recipe is needed. Will it work?

As she did in Virginia Wolf (Kids Can Press, 2012), Ms. Maclear loosely bases this newest book on a familiar name. Channeling Julia Child's obvious love of life and French cooking, she tells a story about adults whose lives become so focused on growing up and being successful that they forget there is more to it than that. It is a reminder to each of us that 'mastering the art of childhood' can be a worthy and wondrous thing!

Julie Morstad's gouache, ink and Photoshop artwork perfectly matches the text. Her detailed spreads concentrate our attention on the relationship between the two girls and their love for food, and sharing experiences. Using color for everything childlike including the food, and black and white for the adults, she is able to accurately portray the feelings that are so elegantly expressed in this story of the joy to be found in the wonder of being childlike.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Just Joking 5, by Rosie Gowsell-Pattison. National Geographic Kids, Random House. 2014. $8.99 ages 6 and up

"What do you call a chickpea
murder investigation?
A hummus-cide.
Why did the farmer give up
training his pig to find buried
Because it was more truffle
than it was worth."
 OH! I happily remember those days when I was driving kids to nursery school. They had just learned what a joke could be, and did not yet have the subtleties for telling them. They sat in the back seat regaling each other with what they thought was hilarious. I, on the other hand, wondered how much longer it would take to get to Wee Wisdom and let Mrs. Thompson laugh uproariously as I was doing. I would give anything to be back there to listen to the small, sweet snickers.

Kids love jokes, and love to tell them. In this fifth book from the very successful Just Joking series, they will be overwhelmed with new material. There are 300 jokes here, and they range from knock-knocks, question and answers, to tongue twisters. As well, there are wonderful, clear photographs (this is a National Geographic publication!) of expressive animals, birds and people. Many of the photos are accompanied by teeny tidbits of information.

"Say this three times: Two-toed tree toad.

The red-eyed tree frog's brightly colored eyes and markings help to scare away predators."

Readers will immediately want to share all that this entertaining book has to offer. So, be prepared! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $19.00 ages 5 and up

"Mr. Secretary," said Taft. "I'm stuck in the bath." "Hmmm," said the secretary. "A huge vat of butter should do the trick. We'll have fifty farmers milk fifty cows. If Congress spends the might churning, we should have enough. We'll grease up your sides and the sides of the tub. Then it will be easy. You'll slide right out!"

Funny how old stories anyone sure that President Taft got stuck in the bath? It surely won't matter to the young children who get a chance to listen to this lively, silly tale. Mac Barnett doesn't mind not knowing the truth. That being said, he happily imagines what it might have been like, and Chris Van Dusen applies his comic talents to bringing the text to a sure-to-be-attentive audience.

Tongue in cheek, these two funny men take a page from history and run with it! And it is funny to see the rotund president sitting in his bathtub surrounded by the opulence of the White House, and the many subordinate officials who come to his aid. His wife makes the call when she realizes that he has been 'in the bath' for an extended time.

Their suggestions are numerous. The Vice President is ready to accept his new post as president. That will not do. With each new person called, the ideas become more preposterous, while always being related to the job held:

"Send deep-sea divers into the tub!" said the secretary of the navy.
"Throw money at the problem!" said the secretary of the treasury.
"The answer is inside you," said the secretary of the interior."

In the meantime, the vice president is persistent in his plan of action; and, in the end, it takes a team to get his out.  Did I mention it may have been inauguration day? It doesn't need to be a special day to share this funny tale with youngsters. They will love the action, the humor, the embarrassment. Just listen for the giggles!

Mac Barnett's wry comedic voice creates a tale that reads quickly, and with lively expression. Chris Van Dusen matches that voice with larger than life gouache images that fill the pages with action, expression and hilarity. In an afterword, Mac Barnett wonders if President Taft's predicament actually happened. Truly, it doesn't matter.

Don't miss the author's note, an archival photo of the President's custom-built tub, and a list of facts 'pertaining to President Taft and bathtubs'.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Edgar's Second Word, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Then - finally - it happened!
Edgar said his first word!
Mom reached for the Baby Book.
Hazel cheered.
Then Edgar said his first word
He said it with force.
With meaning.
With conviction!


I was thrilled to see that Audrey Vernick had written a book about a young girl, and her anticipation for her brother's arrival. She knows just what she will do...she will read to him. She practices with her bunny Rodrigo. That doesn't provide much satisfaction. When Edgar finally arrives, she is delighted, and perplexed:

"But Edgar wasn't much different from Rodrigo.
Or a pillow.
Or a watermelon."

Again, she waits. When Edgar's first word is a resounding NO!, Hazel can only hope that things will get better. They are on their way to communicating. NO! is used many times daily, and often with no seeming concern for expanding his vocabulary. Hazel has patience, and is willing to wait. But, she is a tiny bit frustrated by it all:

"She had waited forever for Edgar.
Then another forever for Edgar to talk.
"It's not sweet if he's grouchy," Hazel muttered.
"And mean. And angry sounding. And growly."

She doesn't give in to her feelings of frustration. She keeps smiling and trying over and over again. Finally, while reading him a bedtime story one night, Hazel hears what she has been waiting forever to hear.

Priscilla Burris' warm and captivating illustrations were executed digitally. The many details of family life (including Baby Edgar sticking his finger up his sister's nose) will entertain young readers as the book is shared repeatedly. Edgar is obviously adamant in his use of the word NO! with wide open mouth, closed eyes and humorous antics filling the pages. Kids are going to love this book. Parents and caregivers will appreciate the action, the imagination and the final, heartwarming result of sibling patience and understanding.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hooray for Hat! Written and illustrated by Brian Won. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son, 2014. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"It was hard to stay grumpy now.

Elephant cheered.

"I will show Zebra!"

But Zebra did not want
to look at any hats."  

We learned from Grumpy Bird (Jeremy Tankard, 2007) just how important your friends can be in making your life better. In his debut book, Brian Won reiterates that idea. He shows us that doing something kind for a friend can yield magical results.

Elephant is obviously grumpy upon our first meeting with him. His halo is a black, squiggly cloud. His eyebrows slant inwward in a permanent pout, as does his mouth. Someone at the door does nothing to lighten his mood.

Opening the door to a surprise gift, and the gift itself, completely change his countenance. Turning the book to its vertical position, the contents of the package is made known to readers. Elephant's head is festooned with a towering array of hats!

The first thing he wants to do is share his good fortune with friends. Zebra, in the midst of her own grumpiness, wants nothing to do with Elephant. A 'pay-it-forward' moment brings cheer and a wish to show yet another friend.

The repetitive text and recognizable animals will delight toddlers and early readers. They will definitely be attracted to the muted hues used for the animals, and the bold colors of the hats in question. The font changes color and size for the celebration each time a hat makes another friend feel better than when the story began.  White space surrounds and encourages rapt attention to the characters themselves and the humorous details of the shared chapeaus.

 Funny and uplifting, this is sure to become a storytime favorite!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Lion Who Stole My Arm, written by Nicola Davies, with illustrations by Annabel Wright. Candlewick, Random House. 2014. $17.00 ages 8 and up

"Of course they were brave boys and not afraid of the dangers of nighttime in the bush: the hippos grazing on the bank that will bite you in two if you disturb their supper; the leopards and lions stalking you, quieter than breath; the hyenas that will crack your bones; the crocodiles that will drag you under the water. No, what worried the boys much more was how angry their mothers would be if they were late getting back."

As he checks his snares for something to appease his mother, Pedru has no idea that carefree days in his small African village will soon change dramatically. At one of the snares, he is attacked by a lion. He manages to drive it away; not before the lion takes his arm.

As he begins to adjust to his new reality, he is overcome by a wide range of feelings. Sadness, fear, frustration and anger become part of his daily struggle to deal with the loss. He must learn to do so many things all over again. He is fearful of his surroundings, as he had not been previous to the attack. He is angry with the lion and determined to seek revenge on it should they ever meet again.

His father assures Pedru that his hunting skills remain strong, just as his father's are. When a lion enters the village, Pedru joins the hunt and helps down the lion. He returns a tracking device to a group of nearby scientists, who then help him begin to understand lions and their actions. Asked to assist the scientists, Pedru and his father find purposeful work and a new direction.

Nicola Davies does a commendable job (as she always does with her award-winning writing) of bringing the African landscape to life through her thoughtful, articulate writing and research. Annabel Wright's detailed illustrations allow readers to note the people, the wildlife and the village life of East Africa. In an afterword readers are encouraged to learn more about the conservation of lions and the projects that have been set up to protect them. It takes a tremendous amount of support and knowledge to help everyone involved understand both sides of the story. Her storytelling acumen gives readers a way of attaching this new knowledge to a young boy who is not unlike those who will read this first book in a new series.

I happily await the publication of the ones yet to come.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What in The World? By Julie Vosburgh Agnone. National Geographic Kids, Random House. 2014. $ 19.99 ages 5 and up

"Find these RAIN
FOREST items.

1 sloth
3 butterflies
1 tarantula
4 snakes
1 gorilla
3 birds
1 pair of binoculars
1 giant fly"

You know the wondrous talent of National Geographic photographers. You will not be surprised at the beauty of the images included in this game book which encourages readers to take a close and careful look to see what is really on each page.

The first image shows a green snake camouflaged in the trees of the rain forest. It is a promise for what is to come. The game is explained in the following two page spread, by sharing information about the brain and how it helps us see things, and by explaining how puzzles can work to 'strengthen visual perception and cognitive skill'. Your brain is about to get a workout!

Separated into sections that include What In The World?, Shapes in Nature, Take a Look!, Up Close, Hidden Animals, Optical Illusion, Double Take, and More Challenges, the book offers hours of fun and hard work for those who share it. Answers are provided in three pages at the end, and followed with a section offering more to explore through websites, magazines, books and television.

There are word puzzles and clues to help players make guesses at what they are seeing; questions that require careful thought; and fun facts that are sure to add to the store of knowledge they will have when the reading is done.

"Fun Fact!

Soccer balls were originally made from pig bladders."

There is so much to do, and see, and discover...this is another great book to inspire reading and summer fun!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Keeping Safe the Stars, written by Sheila O'Connor. Puffin, Penguin. 2012. $8.99 ages 9 and up

"I hope," Nightingale murmured. She sighed a slow, loud yawn. "Aren't you out of steam?" "Not yet," I said. I'd been racing past what-next since Old Finn got his fever, and no matter what last happened, some new problem waited to be solved. I had too much on my mind to fall asleep. I closed my eyes and tried to say the prayers. Dear God, please get rid of that infection"

Three young children, with Pride in charge at 13, are left alone when their beloved grandfather goes to the doctor about a headache, and is subsequently hospitalized when diagnosed with encephalitis. Pride, Nightingale and Baby Star have been living with Old Finn since the death of his daughter, their mother.

The children did not know their grandfather prior to his rescuing them from a county shelter, where they had been placed after their mother died in a car crash. Their father had previously died of cancer. Finn had to convince the county that the children needed to be with their grandfather. Once done with that, he brought them to his isolated country home in Eden. It is a much more peaceful place than the commune where they had lived in New Mexico. Miss Addie lives down the road, and is left in charge when Finn must be away from the children.  Few visitors ever make their way to their front door.

Together they are forging a new life. Reclusive and keen on being independent, Old Finn has much to teach them:

"Old Finn had been preaching self-reliance since the first day that we came. Nearly two years straight of self-reliance lessons. Independence. Even though I'd been standing steady on my own two feet since the day I learned to walk. Still it was Old Finn's self-reliance that taught me how to fix a toilet, change a fuse, brew potato soup for supper, weed the garden and chop wood. It's why we had our school at his table instead of going into Goodwell like everybody else."

Old Finn's lessons encourage the three to practice independence, fend for themselves and 'keep safe the Stars'. There is little they can do when he does not return, except to try to keep anyone from knowing that they are alone, just as their grandfather would want. Their bid to care for their needs and keep the county at bay results in a plan to make enough money for food and a bus trip to Duluth to see Finn. They do it by selling crafts and even pony rides to the tourists who are enjoying a Minnesota summer. Of course, that brings unwanted attention.

When Pride finds and reads old letters between Old Finn and Justine, she discovers a great deal about his life prior to their arrival. With wit and tenacity, they find Justine in Duluth and tell her about their grandfather's plight. She loves Finn and wants to help. Luckily, they can count on her.

Pride's voice is strong. Her sense of loyalty to Old Finn and her siblings keep her working hard to provide for their needs, while having to tell lies to the adults who show concern. The three may not agree on Pride's methods but they do stick together, growing stronger as a family unit as they face their adversity. Thoughtful and compelling, this is a family story that is sure to grab attention and please readers (and listeners) who will root for these brave, dedicated and hardworking children as they ultimately realize that they just might need help to carry on.

Satisfying and heartfelt, this tale is about family love at its best.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Absolutely Almost, written by Lisa Graff. Philomel Books, Penguin. 2014. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"I was an almost in second grade after I spent a whole weekend practicing my sounding-out words so I could move up to the red reading group. "Almost, Albie," Miss Langhoff told me. "You have a tiny ways to go." I was an almost in third grade too, when my poem wasn't picked for the wall for Parents' Night. "Almost, Albie," Mr. Vidal said. "I almost put yours up. But there were so many to choose from."

Right after that, Albie tells us that 'By fourth grade, I was an almost every day.' Will Albie ever be good enough? While he has an acerbic wit and a wry sense of humor, Albie also faces the constant challenge of trying to meet the expectations of others.

He is not a top student; that is made abundantly clear by the administration at the private school he has been attending. Because of his 'struggling' grades,  he is asked to leave. P.S. 183 is sure to be better: he hopes. His parents are angry and confused. His grandfather is dismissive. Albie is stressed.

The move results in a new friend, Betsy. She stutters and is an outcast because of it. Albie feels he has met a soulmate in his ongoing battle to be more than 'almost'. His new babysitter is a revelation. She is going to help him with spelling and math, and be a companion. Calista is open, and easy-going, encouraging him to branch out and to try new things. She listens when Albie talks, and hears what he is saying. Both new friends help him feel more positive and capable.

Some of the scenes are poignant and heartbreaking. When his mother discovers that Albie is reading Captain Underpants books, she disregards his interest and suggests a much more difficult book that holds no interest for her son. He pretends that he is reading it with help from Calista. Albie is an astute observer of his own world. He faultlessly discusses those things that he is good at, and also his weaknesses. Despite some setbacks, he moves forward at a slow and steady pace.

The writing is outstanding, giving us characters to admire and abhor. Albie's voice is strong and incredibly perceptive. The issues he deals with could overwhelm an audience; in Lisa Graff's deft hands the reader never feels burdened by them. Instead, we move forward with Albie as he makes progress toward being who he is meant to be.

You will  not forget him. You will be tempted to read his story again. This is another remarkable middle grade novel that would provide a perfect start to a brand new reading year for your class, or for your family.

"Some days, he pushed his shoulder into me while I was
getting into my cubby.
Some days, he called me "dummy" or "retard" or worse.
Some days, it bothered me.
Some days, it didn't.
But every day, what I tried to do was to roll the names
Darren called me around in my head, over over over, until
the edges were smooth and the words weren't so painful.
Sometimes it worked.
Sometimes it didn't.
But still I kept rolling. That was the only thing I had to

Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover, written and illustrated by Josh Schneider. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"But one day Princess
Sparkle-Heart had an accident.

Amelia was so sad.
She cried and cried.

"Don't worry," said
Amelia's mother."

If you are a careful observer of dogs, you might notice on the dedication page that Amelia and her pet have differing opinions of fun. Amelia is totally taken with her princess doll. Her canine pal, ball in mouth, is looking longingly at Amelia, and with undisguised contempt for Princess Sparkle-Heart.

Turn the page and the feelings are even more apparent. A persistent GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR crosses the page, while Amelia continues to cavort, Princess Sparkle-Heart in hand. It doesn't get any better as the two share a tea party, a royal wedding, even secrets (poor penguin knows how secrets can hurt). There are few activities that go unshared. Well, the princess cannot abide baths.

When Princess Sparkle-Heart thus becomes victim to uncontrolled anger from the family pet, Amelia cannot contain her grief. Her mother is full of assurance and offers a solution. While the dog happily gnaws at what is left of the Princess, Amelia and her mother must make difficult and acceptable decisions about reconstruction.

The results are absolutely perfect!

The writing is brilliant. The details added to each spread enlighten and entertain at every turn. Using watercolor and pen and ink, Josh Schneider assures that his readers are well aware of all of the pretend play that leads the dog to unleash its fury, and to the final resolution for all parties concerned.


Friday, July 11, 2014

The Shadow Throne, written by Jennifer Nielsen. Scholastic, 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"But there were other realities of life, often requiring partnerships to be formed for more practical reasons. Marriages to gain a provider or a cook or a companion were common, and for many people, that was enough. Amarinda and I were supposed to marry because of a treaty worked out between our families. Maybe people did marry for reasons other than love, but when I thought about it, a treaty was the most ridiculous reason of them all."

Jaron, King of Carthya, is back with a vengeance in this final tale from the Ascendance trilogy. I tore through this book as quickly as I did the first two. Jennifer Nielsen sure knows how to grab hold of her readers and take them on a roller coaster ride through the Carthyian and Avenian landscapes.

Jaron has just returned from time spent with the pirates when he learns that King Vargan has invaded Carthya, and he has enlisted the help of Gelyn and Mendenwal to make military strikes on all fronts. Vargan has also captured Imogen. Jaron is determined to find her. His rescue attempt falls short. He is taken and made a prisoner. His treatment by his captors leaves much to be desired. After being told that Imogen has been killed and realizing how much he truly loved her, he uses all of his wiles to execute his own escape. He returns to Carthya in hopes of leading his countrymen to victory.

Jaron is full of surprises (as we have come to expect), and the events that ensue are dangerous, and often seemingly ill-conceived. He barrels headlong into battle, accompanied by his closest and most trusted friends. As the war rages, Jaron acknowledges that love and the loyalty of friends mean more to him than the thrill of winning battles and destroying enemies. But, will any of that matter in the end?

Jaron's voice is strong and rich, allowing readers to know him as a spirited and determined young leader, thrust into a role that he did not seek but cannot ignore. The plotting remains strong and is awash with clues that avid fans will notice. The pace moves speedily from one catastrophic event to the next, holding the audience on the edge of their seats until the next difficulty arises. Through it all, he is accompanied by those who have been by his side from the beginning. Doing what is expected of him, and saving his country and countrymen from Avenian rule, proves arduous. Jaron is up to the task.

Jennifer Nielsen does not disappoint in this terrific finish. She manages to pull all the right strings and bring the three stories to a most satisfying conclusion. Jaron learns the lessons he needs to learn to be a respected and responsible ruler. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, those lessons are sure to stand him in good stead as he moves forward to prove himself a worthy ruler.

When you return to school in the fall, start your daily readaloud with The False Prince. Then, stand back and watch intrigued and motivated readers move on to the final two installments in this excellent trilogy. It will be time well spent.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Freedom Summer Murders, written by Don Mitchell. Scholastic, 2014. $20.99 ages 14 and up

"When Mickey, James and Andy didn't return to Meridian that Sunday afternoon, Roscoe Jones believed that the worst had happened. When Roscoe went home that night, he told his grandmother, "'Mickey and them is missing. They're dead.' And at that time they were still alive; probably about an hour later they were dead. I didn't talk to anybody about it. I blocked it out of my mind. I knew they was dead."

I knew their names...I knew little else about them. Three young men, whose summer was to be spent helping African Americans in Mississippi register to vote. On June 21, 1964 they were brutally murdered on a back road in Neshoba County, because of their belief in and support of that work.

Don Mitchell honors their lives in this compelling and factual book. The Freedom Summer Murders recounts the vicious killings in clear, revealing text. He lets his audience know that Mississippi was a very dangerous place to be for young men wanting to take a stand:

"For many years before the 1964 Freedom Summer, Mississippi held a special place of terror for America's black population. Indeed, blacks were victimized by violence in Mississippi perhaps more than anywhere else in the United States. And lynching, in which mobs took the law into their own hands, was the ultimate penalty."

Their murder was 'planned, deliberate'. The events leading up to that terrible June night are shared and the three young men - Andrew Goodman and  Mickey Schwerner from New York, and James Chaney, a young man from Mississippi who wanted a better life for his family - are introduced prior to Don Mitchell's chilling account of their murder. He also introduces the men involved in planning the heartbreaking end to such young lives, and their certainty that soon no one would even remember the three. They were wrong.

The author ensures that his audience gets to know the three very well. He describes their lives leading up to that fateful summer: their families, their upbringing, and the strong values that led them to want to help during the summer of 1964.

Andrew Goodman's grandfather inspired his children and grandchildren:

"He was kind of polite to the people he didn't think were terribly productive. But you could tell he didn't think much of them." "Be a doer" was an admonishment that Andy, his brothers, and his cousins took to heart and applied to their own lives."

James Chaney travelled with his father to work at plastering jobs, and learned valuable lessons along the way:

"He was able to observe the political hierarchies of the many towns and counties he passed through, and James obtained a broader sense of the unfair, unequal way that black people were treated. When James came home to Meridian from his travels, he would ask, "Why do we live this way? Why do we have to live this way?"

When his mother wondered at Mickey Schwerner's 1957 decision to buy a German-made Volkswagen after all that had happened to his relatives during WWII, Mickey was firm in his answer:

"I know how you feel, Mother," Mickey replied. "One reason I want to buy it is that it is a very economical and practical car. But, more important, I want to spend my life relieving hate, not preserving it. I see reason to hope that thee will never be another Auschwitz."

Their deaths make the final chapters all the more heart-breaking. In them, Mr. Mitchell describes the arduous, complicated, prolonged journey to justice for those men who were responsible. The discovery of the bodies, the funerals, the federal investigation, and the prevailing notion that white men were not convicted on murder charges in Mississippi led Don Mitchell to conclude that it wasn't just the men who were to blame. In fact, he believes "they were killed by institutionalized racism that in 1964 permeated every aspect of Mississippi's legal, political and social order."

Archival photos, an afterword, short sketches of notable civil rights leaders, detailed endnotes, the author's personal note on his sources for the writing, and an extensive bibliography add to the importance of this meticulously researched book.

The focus for the writing is centered completely on the three young men whose lives ended far too soon:

"James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner lived relatively short lives, but they were lives of consequence.  They risked, and ultimately lost, their lives to fear, ignorance, intolerance, hatred, and inequality. Those who believe in the importance of fighting against these things - like James, Andy, Mickey, and countless others - still cannot rest. Because, in the words of the song from that long-ago summer, freedom is a constant struggle."

There is no putting their story down, until you know that justice has perhaps been served.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bad Bye, Good Bye, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Bad day
Bad box

Bad mop
Bad blocks

Bad truck
Bad guy"

I was in Winnipeg last week to help my son move into his new condo. We had a great time, working together to unpack boxes, fill cupboards and wonder at how much a young man can accumulate in a pretty short time. It did a mom's heart good to look around at the end of two long days and see him surrounded by everything he loves...his dogs, his books, his music, his technology. I am not a mover; he has moved many times! I am sure there is a book to be written about it.

Moving can be incredibly difficult. Some time ago I wrote a post about a boy named Neville ( and I talked about how much I appreciated it as a perfect story about adjusting to a move from a child's point of view. Now, I want to tell you a bit about Deborah Underwood's equally terrific book about moving.

This one is told with simpler text. The feelings are equally fraught with concern and isolation. Of course, it begins on a rainy day. This gives the reader a clear feeling for the blues felt by the little boy as the movers pack up the family's belongings. He wants his box of toys back, and wrestles the movers for it. He's angry about everything and everyone knows it. It isn't until the third page turn that we learn what is causing his absolute gloom...he is leaving a friend.

The drive is equally miserable: gray skies, tears, concerned faces. As the gray clouds lift and golden wheat beckons from passing fields, the sun brightens the mood. Rest stops, naps, dog walking, a stop for the night and a swim in the motel pool alleviates concern, and helps to turn the trip into an appreciated adventure. Lots to see on the following day, and games to play while travelling, assures a happier arrival at the 'new'. Fears subside as a new friend surfaces, and all is well.

The rhyming text may be brief; it speaks volumes as Ms. Underwood shows readers just how hard making a move can be. Jonathan Bean uses ink and Prismacolor tone to deftly capture the changing events of the story. Every page needs to be explored fully, from the gray wash backgrounds of the movers' constant motion in the face of the young boy's reluctance to move on, to the shift from gray and gloomy to light-filled action as the move progresses. (I love, love, love Dinah's Dina!)

Don't miss this book!
It's definitely on my ever-growing 'Caldecott Calling' list.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Quiz Whiz 3: 1,000 Super Fun Mind-Bending Totally Awesome Trivia Questions. National Geographic Kids, Random House. 2014. $10.99 ages 8 and up

"True or false?
Only male mosquitoes bite humans.

Scientists have discovered that
birds dream about....

a. cats
b. songs
c. nest building
d. auditioning for American Idol"

Now, this is a book we might have taken with us every time we went out to eat dinner with our kids. It was always so much fun to have something to do while we decided what we were all going to have, and then waited for it to be prepared and served. It was also necessary, if you wanted to enjoy an outing that would not end in boredom, or squarrels (as David called them).

The book is filled with amazing photos that are sure to capture attention and elicit observation and discussion. Add to that the pages of trivia that will have kids challenging their parents, and vice versa. Here are the section titles: Pet Pals, Big Ideas, Pop Culture, Wild World, Sports Challenge, Making History, Play With Your Food, and The Numbers Game. The design is lively, and easy to navigate. Readers will be drawn first to their own favorite subject.

I chose Pop Culture. It opens with this Did You Know?

"The Diary of the Wimpy Kid series includes eight books, three movies and more."

Diehard fans will know all of those facts. Others may not. The section also includes toy trivia, music questions, famous pairs and much more. I found it hard to stop guessing at the answers. I didn't want to be wrong! Luckily, a note at the bottom of each set of questions told me where to check to see if I was right. Aah!

Going on vacation where you might need help distracting the kids through long hours on the road? Going camping, and need something to entertain everyone around the campfire. You could do much worse than take this book along to help with those minutes when distraction is the order of the day. And hey, you will come back home smarter than you were when you left...maybe!

Do you know the answer to these?

"What are the two long boundary lines called that mark the sides of a soccer playing field?
a. no-no lines
b. sidelines
c. out-of-bounds lines
d. touch lines"


"In which country did professional soccer first develop?
a. Mexico
b. U.S.A.
c. Brazil
d. England"

Do you need this book? I think you might!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Food Trucks, written and illustrated by Mark Todd. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"It's a piece of cake -
Though it doesn't take
Much time to eat one.

But make no mistake:
Too many cupcakes
Will surely bring

A bellyache."

Food trucks are filling city landscapes with sustenance on the run. They are found where people gather to grab a quick lunch, a tasty snack and even, fresh produce. They are portable, moving from one venue to another with ease, and an eye to the best place for enticing new customers.

We can probably trace their history to chuckwagons,canteen trucks, even the ice cream sellers who came past on bicycles when our kids were young. Today, they are often bigger, brighter, more mobile and their routes and stops are advertised on social media so favorites can be found quickly on any given day. They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a wide variety of other taste treats:


Here come the Food Trucks!
Talk about your meals on wheels.
These travellin' chow hounds
Are heading to your town...

Cookin' up a storm,
Revvin' up,
Takin' your order,
And servin' some tasty grub!"

We meet Joe first...he's here to provide breakfast. Accompanying the poem that describes Joe's offerings, is an anthropomorphic image of an impatient truck, covered with instructions. There are also information blurbs posted in surrounding clouds concerning that first meal of the day:

"The first breakfast cereal was invented in 1863 and was called Granula."

14 vehicles in all offer food fare from the Better Burger Builder Bus and Bubba Q, to Curry in a Hurry and Amigo. The poems that accompany each detailed, carefully designed truck are brief, descriptive and sure to entertain. The captions included add interesting detail to what readers will learn about this enticing, ever-growing part of the urban landscape.

Youngsters who share this new book by Mark Todd will find many good reasons to talk about what they are seeing and learning through its witty and informative text, including:

"July is National Ice Cream Month."

"The average number of licks to finish off a single-scoop ice cream cone is fifty."

Check it out!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. 22.99 ages 8 and up

"The eyes of the garden snail are perched at the end of two long stalks, so it can look in every direction without sticking its head out of its shell. The snail's eyes can resolve images, but they function mainly as light detectors. Sensing the shadow of a bird or other predator can help the snail survive."

I started reading, and could not stop. Who knew that animals' eyes could be so darn interesting? Or is it just that Steve Jenkins knows exactly how to capture attention, fill our heads with new information and stun us with his incredible torn and cut paper collages...AGAIN??

It is as if the animals he is describing are looking directly into your eyes, and you can't get out of their sight. The eyes have it for so many animals...they help with a variety of needs (food), and even wants (a mate). After a quick introduction, Mr. Jenkins invites us in to meet them:

"So turn the page and meet animals with more than 100 eyeballs, eyes that can look in both directions at the same time, eyeballs the size of a basketball, and many more."

He begins by telling us that there are four kinds of eyes: eyespot, pinhole, compound, and camera. Each employs a different way of seeing the world! Then, we meet animals who display each of the four types, starting with the sea slug. In short descriptive paragraphs, accompanied by brilliantly colored and gloriously designed artwork, he offers just enough information to pique our interest, and send some motivated learners off on a search for more. There is lots to learn here, and all of it is quite fascinating for young readers.

Evolution is a component of the book's trajectory. He moves from animals with fairly simple eyespots to the far more complex eyes of the Eurasian buzzard, known to have the sharpest eyesight of any animal on the planet. A timeline follows to clearly identify that evolution. As we have come to expect from his clear, informative and entertaining writing, a most useful list of animal facts (for each animal included) is in the back matter, along with a bibliography and a glossary.

Bravo, Mr. Jenkins!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Tweedles Go Electric, written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Groudwood, 2014. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"Gas cars are dirty and noisy, and they belch clouds of soot and smoke. Rattling down the road, they shake every tooth in your head - although that doesn't stop people from buying them. But Papa has a different idea. "We're going electric!" he says. "Electric?" everyone shouts at the same time."

There are four in the Tweedle family...Mama, Papa, Frances and Francis. They live their happy lives in the early twentieth century, a time when most people were wanting to own a car. Not the Tweedles; they liked their bicycles. They loved their horse Mercury who took them wherever they needed to go when the distance to travel required it.

Then, Papa makes the decision to keep up with the times. They will buy a car. Their car will not be the same as the other cars their friends and neighbors drive. They are going to buy an electric car! Their community 'pooh-poohs' it. The Tweedles prove that the decision is a good one, although unusual:

"It's electric!" shouts back Papa. He thinks Mr. Hamm admires the electric car.
"It's green," shouts back Mama, smiling and waving.
"It's smart," shouts back Francis, bouncing up and down."

It takes a neighborhood calamity to show that the electric car can be even more dependable and easy to drive than other cars. Mr. Hamm is mighty grateful that Frances has the wherewithal to get in and get him to the doctor's office when needed.

Marie Lafrance uses graphite on paper and mixed media collage to create her muted and detailed illustrations, which were colored in Photoshop. The backgrounds and scenes created will take readers back to an era that has long since disappeared, giving them a real feel for the timing of the story, the clothing worn, and the confusion of driving without clearly drawn road lines, or even clearly shown streets. And, hey! The Tweedles are definitely ahead of their time, opting for a green, shrewd choice in transportation. Check each spread carefully for cleverly added details.

Humorous, informative and entertaining...those are the signs that a book is sure to be read again!     

Thursday, July 3, 2014

chengdu could not, would not fall asleep, written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg. Hyperion Books, Hachette. 2014. $17.99 ages 3 and up

"It was late,
and it was quiet,

and everyone in
the bamboo grove
was sleeping...


Ah, Chengdu! I totally understand your plight. I have exactly the same troubles some nights. Poor little panda...can't fall asleep. All the other pandas are asleep. No matter what he does, Chengdu can not find comfort in the darkness of the bamboo forest.

He does everything he can think of to make himself comfortable enough to give in to slumber; nothing works. He twists, turns, twitches, rolls and even hangs upside down. Poor guy! He is VERY persistent and because of that, he is able to find just the right spot. Finally, he falls asleep and all seems right in his world. For Chengdu, it is perfect; not so for his brother Yuan.

This is a perfect fare for a bedtime read with toddlers; and older children will also appreciate it. It is simply told, and clever. The illustrations are gently created to give a soft, warm feeling to the story. It's the perfect nighttime setting. Chengdu's expressions are full of charm and sure to prompt talk about the many different positions he takes to find a comfortable spot.  His eyes tell the story, from start to finish.

The gatefolds and panels add interest and will be very much appreciated by listeners. No matter how tired they are, you should be prepared to 'read it again'. You won't mind, I promise. You're sure to appreciate the little giggles that will erupt when they discover Yuan's fate on this sleepless night!