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Monday, September 29, 2014

Madame Martine, written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Albert Whitman & Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Madame Martine and Max took the same walk every day. They wore the same coat. They sat in the same café. Then they went to Rue Cler and bought chicken on Monday, scallops on Tuesday, mushrooms on Wednesday, beef on Thursday, and fish on Friday."

As we grow older (and I know this from experience), we become a little more set in our ways. Madame Martine is quite content with her ordered life. She likes her comfortable clothes. She enjoys her favorite shops and familiar streets. Her daily walk takes her along the same streets. Even though the Eiffel Tower is within sight, she has no interest in visiting, deeming it a 'tourist thing.'

Finding a wet and bedraggled stray dog on one of those morning walks, she takes him home and 'Max' settles into Madame Martine's rigorous daily routine. Her ordered life changes dramatically one Saturday morning when Max is completely distracted by a squirrel, and gives chase without hesitation. The chase is an eye opener for Madame Martine! It isn't long until Max 's run takes him to the bottom of the tower steps,  and then up, up, up! It turns out that, like it or not, Madame Martine is going to learn all there is to know about the tower itself. That unexpected chase is all it takes for the two Ms to change their daily routines to include something brand new every successive Saturday morning.

I love the watercolor images created by Sarah Brannen. It is almost as if you are on the streets of Paris and visiting the Eiffel Tower for the first time. You will be charmed by the vista that meets their eyes as they reach the top. Children are sure to notice that the colors change as does Madame Martine's mood once Max is part of her life.  Lovely! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

joltin' Joe DiMaggio, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by James E Ransome. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Everybody knew that this DiMaggio kid was being brought in to fill Babe's shoes. And those were some pretty big shoes. Joe was terrified. What if he failed? Would he have to go work on a fishing boat? Joe knew one thing though - he wasn't going to let anyone know he was nervous. It was none of their business. In his first at-bat in Yankee pinstripes, with everyone watching..."

The Yankees and Derek Jeter finish their 2014 season today, and the storied team says farewell to yet another baseball hero. The postseason is sure to be a great distraction as the weather cools and we spend more time in front of the television. We all have players whose talent we admire, and that makes the watching even more inspiring.

So much has been written about past baseball heroes, and Joe DiMaggio is no exception. As he has done in previous picture book biographies, Jonah Winter brings his passion for research and a love of story to his book about baseball's Joltin' Joe. He ably captures the personality and spirit of the man, showing his young readers why Joe was honoured beyond the statistics of his many successful seasons.

His early years in San Francisco are captured by James Ransome in glowing watercolours that offer a strong setting and context for his time in history. Joe knows that following in the footsteps of his fisherman father is not what he wants to do. Only his innate and incredible talent for baseball will allow for his own personal success as a rookie replacement for the great Babe Ruth. As Joe climbs the ladder to that.success as one of baseball's greatest players, we are witness to his strong character and the esteem that so many fans felt for him. Even today fans are intrigued by his career and lasting records.

At the time he played, people were fascinated by the sport and every aspect of it...major, minor and  even local teams, the players, their personal lives. They knew the stats and followed their team with fervour. Jonah Winter allows us to follow Joe's stellar career, including his many achievements and still held records. Quite the amazing story it is, and we feel that right to the end.

Back matter includes an author's note, statistics, awards and resources.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Flora and the Penguin, by Molly Idle. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2014. $19.99 ages 3 and up



take a little


to warm  up."

Oh Flora! It's so wonderful to see you again!

Last time we met her Flora was spending her time with a flamingo who shared her love of dance. This time she takes to the ice with a penguin. What else? It's another book without text; and words have no real place in telling its amazing story.

Flora is her effervescent self; she is as happy to meet Penguin as she was when she met Flamingo. Once she has strapped on her skates, Flora is attracted to a tiny beak as it sticks up from the water and through an ice hole. It is all the two need to make an acquaintance, share the love of ice dance, and glide effortlessly over the hard surface. Only one thing can stop them...the penguin's insatiable appetite for fish. When one comes close to the ice surface, he is off.

Flora is miffed and quite sulky about the abandonment. Turns out that the penguin has another motive...the fish is a gift for his new friend! Seems Flora doesn't like fish. She throws it back. Poor, he's mad, too. Flora removes her skates, ready to leave this place that has made her so angry.  Did you see that loose lace? Flora does, and she knows just what to do with it.

How much fun can two friends have when they find a shared love of dancing...and fishing???

The soft blues and grays on each of the spreads, and the gracefully beautiful moves take every reader from page to gorgeous page. The small double-sided flaps add drama and expand the reader's imagination in this charmer of a story about friendship and the need for compromise when new friends are at odds.

Take a trip to the library, or a nearby book store, and add both books to a the book shelf of a favorite little one. They are very special!

Friday, September 26, 2014

FLASHLIGHT, written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2014. $19.99 ages 2 and up





If you didn't have the chance to get out into nature this summer and look at the world with your flashlight in hand, you will want to have this book. It will give you a real feel for the experience without ever having done it yourself!

There is fun within its pages, and also an opportunity for quiet contemplation. You just need to check out the wonderful cover to have a sense of what's in store for you. The backgrounds are black, with silver moonlight allowing readers a bit of a peek at what is happening beyond the flashlight's beam. When we get within the beam itself, we are cognizant of so much more. There are bats, mice, a beaver pond and flags hung between nearby trees. That is a small part of all there is to discover.

As she did with the stellar artwork for Inside Outside, Lizi Boyd uses gouache to entice us with visuals that are sure to evoke memories of times past, or yearnings for new adventure. The same little boy returns for another wordless book of wonder. From the opening endpapers and title page through to the fun as the story winds up, young readers will love the warmth and security of nighttime exploration. Words are not needed; they might, in fact, get in the way of the imagination.

I could go on and on...and on! There is much to appreciate about the visual storytelling. Using small cut outs to engage readers and to move her story forward, Ms. Boyd reveals many tiny details from the natural world and happily draws those sharing the book from one page to the equally engaging pages that follow.

It is a book about keen observation and wonder. It is another of those delightful books that beg to be shared many more times than just once. Each time you look at it you will make new discoveries. PERFECT!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rupert Can Dance, written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.95 ages 3 and up

"No more than a minute or two after Mandy was asleep Rupert tiptoed over to her closet and slipped on her dancing shoes. Now it was Rupert's turn to dance. As Mandy slept the night away Rupert danced the night away.

You can not believe how good he was. Not just a good dancer, but also a quiet dancer."

Mandy happily shares her love of dance with her cat, Rupert. She dances, he watches. It is not until she finally goes to sleep that Rupert fancies a dance or two of his own, using Mandy's dance shoes. He is extremely reluctant to share his secret.

As so often happens with secrets, he is discovered. Hurriedly, he finds a hiding place under the bed in hopes of avoiding Mandy's wide-eyed glee. He is not pleased with this new state of affairs. Of course, he is also wanting desperately to avoid her determination to teach him more than he wants to know. This free-spirited cat wants to dance on his own terms, without interference.

Mandy has taken to heart some of her parents' prowess at convincing her to do what she has steadfastly resisted. She tries that same psychology on Rupert, with surprising results. You might just giggle to see the ending. Might they be the next Ginger and Fred?

I have long been an admirer of Jules Feiffer's work. His bold, fluid lines and bright colors are sure to make you and your listeners want to join Mandy and Rupert in their joyous leaps and shared love of the dance. Such will love them!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Library Book for Bear, written by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $ 19.00 ages 3 and up

"Bear had never been  to the library. He had seven very nice books at home:
three about kings and queens, three about honeybees, and one about pickles.
Bear was quite sure he had
all the books he would ever need."

I'm so happy to be back in the company of Mouse and Bear! I have missed them...a lot! The fact that they spend some of their time in a library, with books, almost makes me giddy.

Mouse is the kind of friend we all want to have - concerned about Bear and wanting only the best for him. In this instance, Mouse wants to share a love of books and libraries; the work comes in trying to convince Bear that having a library card is a necessity of life.

As we would expect from previous tales, Mouse is the early riser and quick to pay a morning visit to his reluctant pal. We recognize Mouse as "small and gray and bright-eyed." We also know that Bear will not be keen on whatever suggestion his tiny sidekick makes.  Today, the library visit is front and foremost.  Bear is certain he has all the books he could ever need. There are seven of them!

The books he already has cover all of his interests: honeybees, royalty and pickles. Mouse is ever persistent. Grudgingly, Bear accepts the invitation. Ms. Becker ramps up the humor (and the charm) in a series of endearing scenes that will have her young readers wishing they were in that same library to share the fun.

The dialogue between the two is fresh and full of fun, the antics familiar, and the friendship strong. The five books in this very special series encourage talk about character, how to be a friend and the joy found in being together. Kady MacDonald Denton's enchanting watercolour illustrations create the perfect backdrop for these much admired characters. Her library is the stuff of dreams. Mouse and Bear come to life with expressions that elicit giggles and endless entertainment.

If you haven't met them in earlier books, you don't want to wait any longer. Is it too early to be thinking about gifts for Christmas? If not, give this book a close look. It's sure to be a hit. Then, go out and buy the entire collection!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Julia's House for Lost Creatures, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2014. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"It was a very sad troll.
The city had torn down
his bridge and he asked
if he could please stay.
Just until he could get
back on his feet.
Julia had just settled the
troll in her best chair..."

 If you have previously met Zita the Spacegirl, you will recognize Ben Hatke's name on the cover of his first picture book. One look at the young girl on the cover, and you will surely want to know more about her. First of all, a turtle carries her house on its back. They settle by the sea on a quiet beach; quiet is the operative word. In fact, it's far too quiet for Julia. So, she puts up a sign that invites any lost creature wanting shelter to come and stay.

 It isn't long until they begin knocking on her door. It doesn't stop at one either. Soon, there is a menagerie of creatures, all seeking comfort and company in Julia's house. What happens when the house fills up with guests and chaos begins to show the many difficulties that can arise with too many guests? Chores are needed and careful thinking is the order of the day.

Julia is a very special little girl, and it shows on every page of Ben Hatke's charmer of a debut. There is so much to see and appreciate about her nature and her ability to think clearly. There is a brief STOP in the action which gives readers a chance to catch their breath and enjoy the rest of the ride.

It is quickly read, and not so quickly perused. It is a perfect readaloud for two; in that way, close connections can be made with the visual images that accompany the short text. Using spots, panels and full spreads, Mr. Hatke delights with what happens when chaos reigns in a house meant to be inhabited by humans. Julia makes the right decisions to ensure that all is well again. Will they find a place for themselves, or move on? Wait! What's that noise? Who's going to fix that?

None of the magical quality of the story is lost, no matter how many times you read it.                                                                              

Sunday, September 21, 2014

ANY QUESTIONS? by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood Books, 2014. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Sometimes a story starts with words or ideas floating out of nowhere. Some words are captured and written down...

while others are thrown out or carefully put away in a drawer for future use. Until slowly, slowly, a story emerges..."

It seems far too long since Marie-Louise Gay's last book! In the interim she has created an amazing look at the work she does to make our reading lives lovelier. Her books have been perennial favorites with children in  classrooms, and with teachers. All for good reason...they honor children with humor, with understanding, and with a perfect eye for their own unique personalities.

In this beautifully crafted interactive story, she brings the work that she does to those who share it.
If you have been a participant or listener in an author's workshop, you will recognize the personal and real questions asked by the children who adorn the early spreads. As she responds to them, she explains just exactly how the process of making a book works. Because she is both author and illustrator, the children are privy to the way that both work together to fashion an impressive whole.

As they proceed, we all come to know just how tricky the work can be. Much experimenting goes on as Ms. Gay creates the design, the characters, the illustrations and the perfect words. There are many changes as she comes up with ideas and then abandons them for something different. In the end, she finds just the right setting, perfect characters and even includes some of the children in the development of the tale.

If you are familiar with her exceptional previous works, you will recognize the happy mixed media images that invite close inspection and much discussion. I love the children and their little round heads, the array of cultural faces, and the building of story. Be sure to check to see if you recognize any of the children on its pages.

Of this book, Marie-Louise has this to say on her blog ( about the evolution of this wonderful new book:

"Five years spent gathering materials, ideas and inspiration to create a story about how to create a story, with words and pictures, based on the wide experience I have had in meeting with children, reading to and with them, drawing and creating stories in schools and libraries and especially answering their endless questions.
I wanted my story to be playful, magical and surprising. I  didn't want it to be a book that tells children how to write, but rather to discover that there are many ways of writing and telling stories.
I wanted children (and adults) to realize that they will be moved to be more creative when they are facing the unknown in that uncertain, scary, exciting mindspace between the time you know you have a story to tell, but before you have found a way to tell it."

You did exactly what you were hoping to do, Marie-Louise! We are most grateful for that, and blessed to share it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Way to the Zoo, written and illustrated by John Burningham.Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"One night she brought
the penguins back.,
but they made a mess
splashing in the bathroom.

Then she came back with
a tiger and her cub."

 When teaching in early years classrooms in the early 1980s I loved to share would you rather?, Mr. Gumpy's Outing, Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car and Granpa. Since then, my students have loved Oi! Get Off Our Train, John Patrick Norman McHennessy, and Tug of War.  John Burningham has a way with creating books that are very special for young readers.

Today, if I were still teaching, I know they would want to hear this story on repeat! Since I am not, I will have to settle for reading it when I visit classrooms to share the joy to be found in books. It is vintage Burningham; and is sure to garner a host of new fans.

Is there a child alive who would not want to find a secret door in their bedroom? Then, imagine if that door were to lead straight to the zoo. When Sylvie makes that amazing discovery, she is dizzy with joy. She visits every single day. On each visit she chooses one animal to bring home with her. If they are small enough, they can share her bed. If not, other arrangements can be made. But, it's not just the sleeping arrangements that cause disruptions. Monkeys can be mischievous, penguins wet, and elephants can be...well, BIG!

All is well until Sylvie leaves the secret door open; the animals see it as an invitation to adventure! She returns from school to find them partying in the living room. Sure that she is going to be in big trouble with her mother, she shoos them back to the zoo and cleans up the mess...just in time!

The final line of the text will have listeners hooting when her mother greets her with: "looks as if you had the whole zoo in here!”

No discoveries are made by Mom, and Sylvie reserves a warm welcome for their continued nightly visits. Peace reigns, as is evident in each of the striking illustrations. Each of the visual images is sure to fill readers with laughter and the wonder of the imagination.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Families Around the World, written by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by Jessica Rae Gordon. Kids Can Press, 2014. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"I love weekends. No school!
Sometimes our mothers take
my brother, Joris, and me on
the train to the city. We visit
a museum or eat pannekoeken
on a boat.
Other times we ride our bikes
to the petting zoo, to the
playground or just to another

Children love books that are about other children and the lives they lead. Hopefully, they saw the companion book to this one, Children Around The World. Margaret Ruurs has done a joyful job of introducing us to the families she met as she was researching this book.

These families represent fourteen world communities, and their stories are presented in two page spreads which give readers a real sense of the lives they live daily. They come from all parts of the world. We are greeted in the family's language, and shown words for each of the family members. The families are diverse and inclusive. The voice is first person, allowing a more personal feeling for the information shared.

The beautifully rendered collage artwork allows children reading it a quick glimpse at children who live elsewhere and includes many small details that add punch to the telling. We see many types of homes, settings, and events that help us understand individual customs and favorite daily outings. By showing the reader that children around the world are much the same as they are, the author helps them focus on those things we have in common...playing, family, and the beauty to be found in our different spaces.

Meant to be an introduction to the global world, it is sure to lead those most interested to find further information. If that happens, their world view is expanded once more, as is their understanding of the some of the differences that make each of us unique.

Simple activities are suggested that parents might choose to do with their children to further enhance the reading experience. A glossary will help with pronunciation of the many cultural words used in telling these charming vignettes. It will be a helpful and enjoyable addition to family and classroom bookshelves.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Baseball Is...Written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Raul Colon. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"And baseball is the field -
that expanse of beautiful green,

with a smooth swath of brown
between the infield

and the outfield.


and foul poles..."

I am watching every Blue Jays game with a hopeful heart. I so want them to make the playoffs after such an impressive start this season. I know it's going to be a difficult finish, as they have some tough teams to face in the last two weeks of the season.

I have very much enjoyed reading Louise Borden's homage to the 'grand old game'. For anyone who loves sports, in particular the game of baseball, it is an informative and beautifully worded description of everything that makes the sport special to so many. She adeptly uses the senses to capture the essence of this summer pastime. As you can see from the opening quote, she uses carefully chosen text to bring the sights, sounds and smells to the reader. As fall turns to winter and readers continue to share the text, they will be taken back to the warmth of a summer day and the excitement of the action on the field and off.

She also shares some of the history of the game, making connections from past to present. So, that's how they made their announcements in the past! She also makes mention of how past Presidents made an impact, and some of the most honored players from baseball's history. Baseball has had a role in immigration, business and investment, armed conflict, and even the development of urban areas. Ms. Borden includes every angle of the game, and gives them equal importance.

Raul Colon uses colored pencils for artwork that glows with the golds and greens of every beloved baseball field. The textures are masterful. His double page spreads offer a close look at the game from every corner of the park, using frames to add further detail. The gatefold introduces three iconic baseball heroes to those who may not yet have met them...Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente, and Jackie Robinson.

Baseball is definitively celebrated in words and artwork. This will ensure its endurance on library shelves for everyone to enjoy time and again. It's like being a the ball park...real or neighborhood! Can't you just smell the hot dogs?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Weasels, written and illustrated by Elys Dolan. Nosy Crow, Candlewick Books. Random House, 2014. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"But technical difficulties
won't stop a weasel...
though they do like to stick
to the rules.
This is all very UNSAFE!
You'll have to find a different
way of fixing the MACHINE."

Have YOU ever taken the time to consider a weasel's actions on any given day? After reading this hilarious new book, you will come to realize that they are megalomaniacs bent on world domination. Starting with the spot illustrations that festoon the endpapers (different from front to back), you will gain knowledge of the antics they employ to infiltrate every trifling and significant facet of society.
With each turn of the page, readers are privy to the goings-on in the war room as the weasels show their true colors. Each spread is detailed, hilarious and sure to keep your readers intensely focused on the silly antics of a microcosm of weasel society whose goal is to gain control by any means. When technical difficulties shut down operations in the control room, it appears that the MACHINE is broken. If not fixed, all the plans will be for nought!

The weasels are called into action, each encouraged to bring tools and a willingness to help in getting it back up and running.

"Careful! Everything is very delicate and expensive.
We could recombobulate the hydrostability devices.
Or restart it?
I'm entirely confident that this huge drill will fix everything."

The jokes, both in dialogue and in visuals, will have readers poring over every spread carefully. There are weasels obsessed with coffee, technology wizards, many actions that would be frowned at by all Health and Safety experts...and then there are the bosses, and the red tape that is encountered in trying to solve the MACHINE's issues.

Who is that white weasel, and what is his role in the plot? I wonder if they will ever get the difficulties remedied and their quest for power back on track? It takes concentrated effort to keep track of all the action, and get all the jokes. I read it more than once; the second time I chose one weasel to watch and followed its trajectory through the entire story. You can do that again and again.
So much to see and to savor!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

March: Book One, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, 2013. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"After that trip,
home never felt the same,
and neither did I.
In the fall, I started riding
the bus to school, which
should've been fun...

But it was just another
sad reminder of how different
our lives were from those
of white children."

The graphic novel seems like a perfect way to tell this first story from John Lewis's perspective on the struggle for equality for all people under the civil rights act. In it, John Lewis collaborates with Andrew Aydin as co-author, and artist Nate Powell. It is a most effective way to share this compelling memoir.

It begins on January 20, 2009. Arriving at his office in Washington prior to President Obama's inauguration, he meets a mother and her two young sons. Not knowing he is there, she wants to share some of their history by visiting Mr. Lewis's office. He is happy to show them some of his memorabilia. He tells them he is the only person still living who spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, with Dr. Martin Luther King. One of the boys has a question:

"why do you have so many chickens?'

Leave it to kids to get to the heart of the story!  He tells his personal history as a memory that begins in tough times, when his family is working their farm in Alabama, and John is in charge of the chickens he so loves. He has strong feelings about the family eating those chickens, about becoming a minister and is not afraid to say what he feels. His Uncle Otis sees something special in him and arranges a trip in 1951 that makes a lasting impression, and leads John to his life's work.

Today John Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders, is serving his 13th term as a U.S. Representative. His childhood led him to take the steps that landed a meeting with Dr. King and allowed him to join the fight for civil rights. He learned about the power of nonviolence and heroism, facing unbearable treatment and almost unbeatable odds. His courage and his willingness to stand tall and work peacefully for social change is sure to inspire readers:

"Lawson taught us how to protect ourselves,
how to disarm our attackers by connecting
with their humanity, how to protect each other,
how to survive.
But the hardest part to learn --
to truly understand, deep in
your heart --

was how to find LOVE for your attacker."

Powerful, positive and presented in a perfect format for its intended audience, this is a book about people who have made a difference in our world. Bravo!

March: Book Two is due for release in December from Top Shelf Productions. It's on my wish list.

Monday, September 15, 2014

No Dogs Allowed, written by Linda Ashman and illustrated by Kristin Sorra. Sterling Children's Books, 2011 $17.95 ages 4 and up

"No one

with fur,


or shells


The text is minimal, with a clear message. The storytelling is found in the digital artwork that graces it's pages. We quickly meet, and begin to understand the personality of the cafe owner whose orderly life is inadvertently pushed off course with the arrival of his first customer. That first visitor is walking a thanks, says Alberto with a quickly rewritten WELCOME! chalkboard. NO DOGS ALLOWED!

As the day moves forward and more customers arrive with various and sundry pets, that sign is continually changed to meet Alberto's new regulations. As aware as he is of the people wanting to stop by, he seems totally unaware of what is happening as a result of his rejection stance. Across the square, his customers are gathering for a party of their own, full of joy and camaraderie.

Readers and listeners will be excited to take note of the many exciting activities being shared over there. The constantly reinvented sign offers an extra dash of humor and interest. For his own sake, it's prudent that Albert sees the error of his ways before it's too late to make a welcome and appropriate reversal of the rules.

The delightfully detailed and brightly coloured illustrations are sure to grab the attention of all readers. There is much to see that they will want to spend an extended time taking a leisurely look.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All the Way to America, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Dragonfly Books, Random House. 2011. $8.99 ages 5 and up

"When Dan grew up, he married Helen. These are my grandparents. Together Dan and Helen opened a market. They sold all sorts of wonderful Italian food. Now the little shovel belonged to Dan..."

In a strong first person narrative, Dan Yaccarino shares his family's immigration story. It begins when his great-grandfather Michele Iaccarino is given a little shovel that he might use while helping on the family farm. Upon leaving home to make a better life in America, his parents gift him the shovel and add some advice for his new life...'work hard, enjoy life and always love your family.'

It is a gift that will stand the test of time. First Michele - whose American name is Michael - uses it to help him in his work at a bakery. Later, he uses it to measure foods from his pushcart. Then, his son uses it first in the market to measure out olives and beans. When he opens his restaurant, he also finds a use for it there.Then, he has a son whose life work is in owning a barber shop. There, the shovel is used to protect his clients by spreading salt on icy sidewalks. The next son is our author/illustrator who uses the shovel to help with his own terrace gardening. His grandparents' verbal gift is also passed from generation to generation.

Dan Yaccarino provides a walk through his family history in the brightly coloured and detailed artwork that evokes the love and strong familial bonds so honoured throughout their many years. Sharing it with an interested audience is sure to encourage them to begin to search out their own family stories. What wonder will be found?

As Patricia Polacco did with her keeping quilt, and recently with her blessing cup, Dan Yaccarino uses the shovel as a warm symbol of family unity and spirit over generations.


Hug Machine, written and illustrated by Scott Campbell. Atheneum Books, Simon & Schuster, 2014. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"My hugs calm
people down.

They cheer them up.

They make them go
completely nuts!

I am the
Hug Machine!"

You'll need to be an observer when you read this feel-good book! There are many funny and sweet details that are not mentioned in the words. He calls himself the Hug Machine, and I can definitely relate to his need to hug.  I LOVE hugs!

He seems the perfect person to be what he is...he is little with long arms, seemingly made for the job he has made his own. No matter who, or what, comes within range, he wraps himself around it...people, objects, family. He even hugs rocks, machines and animals with alarming characteristics. He is irresistible to all he approaches! Just watch his content countenance when the hugging begins.

In this stellar debut, author/illustrator Scott Campbell creates an open-armed character who does his best to bring joy and serenity to all who inhabit his world. The delightful watercolors, done in muted tones, assure a feeling of snuggly warmth when the first reading is done. I love looking at the perspectives, including the wonderful close-ups. Don't miss out on reading it again!

The repetitive nature of the book gives it a feeling of gentle assurance and encourages beginning readers to try it independently. Please don'to forget to check out the endpapers...front and back!  Then, get your cuddle on...and share this smart and entertaining picture book with someone you want to hug! No one will be able to resist your 'unbelievable hugging' either.

It's going on my 'keepers' shelf and will be shared endlessly with my new granddaughter, via Facetime.


Friday, September 12, 2014

To This Day, written by Shane Koyczan. Annick Press, 2014. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"to this day
kids are still being called names
the classics were
hey stupid
hey spaz
seems like each school
has an arsenal of names
getting updated every year
and if a kid breaks in a school
and no one around chooses to hear
do they make a sound?"

If you are  a teacher and you spend your days with kids who are 10 and up....this should be your first class read every day in September. Then, maybe once a month, you could read it again! It is too easy to say 'kids can be cruel' and move on from there. Easy if you aren't the bullied.

The animated video for Shane Koyczan's anti-bullying poem was released last year in February and has racked up more than 12 million viewers since that day. Bullying is, and has been, a heartbreaking issue for so many.

I have had the privilege of seeing Shane Koyczan on stage three times. His performances are moving, humorous and often heartbreaking. His own experiences of being bullied are at the heart of this poem
about the lasting, lingering effect it has; and is hopeful that strength, support and an innate sense of self can help the victim move beyond the experience. He adds a preface, an afterword and a list of resources for kids whose life has been forever changed by being bullied, bullying or being a bystander.

"I didn't have many friends when I was in school, and I was often picked on and made fun of. I had to learn how to be my own friend. The way I did that was through writing. I could create my own world, and make myself the hero of the story. What I wrote as a kid was mostly just fragments - short sentences about the way I felt. As I got older I started to put those thoughts and ideas into poems. Today I am amazed to see how many people in the world feel the same way I do. I'm astonished by how connected we are through the things we've endured."

Annick has published his remarkable poem in this impressive book filled with images created by thirty international artists. The images are diverse and have tremendous impact for the writing. It is a collective plea to all who read it to put an end to bullying. I have read it numerous times, always with tears and with hope that it is the start we need to make a huge change. I am an optimist, and I truly believe in the power of words.

Shane looks to all of us to take responsibility:

 “Remember that the world will never hear you if you choose to say nothing.”

If you would like to see Shane perform his spoken-word poem, please check this site:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Africa Is My Home, written by Monica Edinger and illustrated by Robert Byrd. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $20.00 ages 10 and up

"It took seven weeks.
Seven weeks in a dark
and airless hold.
Seven weeks of heaving
Seven weeks of chains
and shackles.
Seven weeks of sobs
and cries.
Seven weeks of pain
and suffering."

I have read other books about the Middle Passage...all frightening and heartbreaking. I have never read about the children who were aboard the Amistad. To meet Margru was an honor, and her story is a mix of misery and hope. Monica Edinger explains why she felt she must tell this story in the author's note included in back matter:

"Children? There were children on the ship? It was the spring of 2000, and I was at an Amistad exhibit, of particular interest to me because the captives were from Sierra Leone, where I'd spent two years in the 1970s as a Peace Corps volunteer. Once I had learned about those children, I could not stop thinking about them. What must it have been like for them? I wondered. What is their story?"

Ms. Edinger did her research; that is evident from her writing and her compelling recount of Margru's story. It began as nonfiction. Not satisfied with making guesses about what might have happened, she made the decision to write it as a picture book, pairing the information she had garnered from many sources with a story about one of the children from the Amistad. In doing so, she is enables Margru to tell her own story.

Pawned for rice at age 9 by her father, and sold to slavers before he could repay the debt, Margru endures a long, arduous trek to the ocean and a waiting ship. Their stop in Cuba is short; soon, they board the Amistad. While at sea, they fear for their lives. The story of the passage is terrifying, and impossible to imagine. A slave mutiny, led by Cinque, gives power to the Africans and they demand that the ship set a course to take them home. The captain pretends to follow those orders. It wanders along the coastline and is eventually boarded by authorities from the United States.

Held in the New Haven jail, the children await trial for mutiny, as do the others on board. Their appearance, their clothing, their lack of English make them quite the spectacle for the townspeople. Margru's feelings are shared concerning everything, and especially her longing for home and family.

"I dreamed of the elders.
Telling us children stories of greedy Spider
and clever Rabbit.
Teaching up to be patient and brave always.
I dreamed of the elders.
I dreamed of home."

Once released from jail, the Amistad survivors face long waits for further trials; in the meantime, they learn about life in America and are introduced to a new faith. Margru loves the services, and finds solace in the new learning as she patiently awaits what will come next. Almost two years later, the children are freed to find their way in this new world. Treated with kindness and with derision, Margru recounts for us the rest of the story that leads to her training to be teacher, her return to her homeland, her marriage and a happy life.

The artwork is beautiful. Illustrations done in ink and watercolor allow readers to see the colors of Africa and Cuba, the deep darkness of the Amistad hold, the new and unfamiliar setting upon their arrival in the United States, the historical setting for the story and the many new experiences shared, including a very different return trip to Africa.

An author's note and selected sources are included, and welcome.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance, written and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"At school sometimes, when no one was watching, she danced with her fingers on her desk. Or she gently tapped her toes to the beat of her teacher's voice.

But mostly, she couldn't wait to go outside and dance!"

I shared Birgitta Sif's Oliver (Candlewick, 2012) with you in a previous post. I hope that you were able to find it. It is a brilliant story about children who are introverts.

In this new book, she introduces us to Frances Dean. Frances loves to dance. In fact, she would do nothing but dance if life allowed such a thing. When we meet her, there is a new concern about that dancing; she does it best when no one is watching. When there are people around, in the park or at school:

"all she could feel were their
eyes on her...
and she forgot how to dance."

The birds love that she dances and they relish time spent watching her. So, when their friend Frances finds herself overwhelmed by self-consciousness, they come to her rescue. They convince her to follow them, and take her to another bench in the park. There, a small girl is listening to the radio and singing along. Watching her sing so happily brings inspiration. That night Frances wonders what might happen if she could share her love of dance. Morning light finds her practicing her moves and showing her avian friends. As her confidence grows, so does her willingness to share what she loves.

The charming artwork is rendered in pencil, then digitally colored in striking tones of green, red, blue and brown. It's lovely to meet Frances' many bird friends (and a loving squirrel couple, too) on the endpapers, and to see her face when she knows they are nearby. To see Frances, in turns joyous and fearful, then confident once more, inspires close looks at the many details that the artist includes to help us understand this beautiful young girl and her journey toward renewed joy.

Thank you, Birgitta Sif. You inspire each and every one of us to look at children in very personal ways, to understand who they are and to honor their differences. We, and our children, are better for having shared your splendid stories.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Standing In for Lincoln Green, written and illustrated by David Mackintosh. Harper, 2013. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Watering, homework
and returning the Field
Trip Permission Slip,
are all on the list.

Lincoln Green makes
the most of every
opportunity for You
Know Who to help out.

But one day..."

We all need a 'stand-n', don't we? Lincoln Green uses his mirror image to tackle the tasks that he has no interest in doing. I could use someone right now to dust shelves, wash the kitchen floor, declutter the pantry. I guess I could get You Know Who to do it. It's a lesson I learned from Lincoln:

"Because the other things that MUST BE
DONE TODAY, like tidying and putting away,
straightening up and sorting out, will still be
done just fine, by his handy stand-in...

You Know Who."

Who is Lincoln? Well, he looks like a cowboy and lives a great life, it appears. He likes to do what he likes to do, preferring to give over the other stuff to...well, you know who! It isn't long until Lincoln is taking no responsibility whatsoever for what should be done. YKW gets pretty tired of being the scapegoat. An invitation to join a new club allows YKW to get back the freedom he has lost. Having  his stand-in shirk his responsibilities results in some dire straits, and Lincoln must deal with the fallout. In doing so, he makes an important discovery about friendship and dependability.

Imaginative and funny, David McIntosh uses cartoon-like drawings and a multitude of impressive details to bring Lincoln and his alter ego (clothed in a shirt sporting a reverse L) to glorious life for readers. Kids with keen eyes will find much to discuss while learning a bit about getting things done on their own.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dojo Daycare, wirtten and illustrated by Chris Tougas. Owlkids, 2014. $16.95 ages 4 and up

"Little ninja girls and boys
Fighting over ninja toys.
Pulling, pushing, tugging, taking,
Punching, kicking busting, breaking.

It's a full-blown ninja riot.
Master claps and calls out,

It's the final long weekend of the summer, and school starts this week. That will bring big changes for some children. Those who have been home all summer may be returning to day care as older siblings go back to school and parents return to work.

In the ninja world at Dojo Daycare, the day begins as might be expected. Warriors and their parents make their appearance from above, stealthy and wearing appropriate attire. Youngsters are 'dropped' off, shoes are removed, bows exchanged and KABOOM! KAPOW! Something is awry here. Master must find a way to contain the mischief.

A plea for quiet falls on deaf ears. Master has valuable lessons to teach:

"It's time for you to all reflect
On honor, kindness and respect."

Things settle...and then it's lunch. Oh, my! Noodle bowl firmly attached to his head, Master must once again demand quiet. It's the same at story time, although Master is looking a little undone. This time it is one of the ninjas that takes on the group, repeating the lesson about honor, kindness and respect:

"Every ninja understands.
And fists turn into helping hands
As little ninjas work as one.
Undoing all that they have done."

The audience is sure to be attracted to the tiny children wrapped in black and sporting wary, then determined eyes. Be on the lookout for the master's ninja teddy and the small details that invite particular attention. Never has a dojo been such fun!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Five Trucks, written and illustrated by Brian Floca. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"The first truck
 is large and heavy.

The second truck
is small and quick.

The third truck
is long and straight.

The fourth truck is..."

If you have young children or work with them, you will know just how fascinated they are by vehicles...almost any vehicle they encounter. You will also know that they have endless questions about those vehicles, what they do, why they do it; they can go on and on, can't they?

So, if travel is in your future and that travel includes a flight, you will want to have this very informative and beautifully drawn book at your fingertips. In it, Brian Floca introduces his young audience to the five trucks whose job it is to get airplanes in the air and on their way to their next destination. In simple descriptive words the author shares the name of each of the five, and the work that they accomplish in their efforts to make air travel efficient.

He tells us:

'The fifth truck moves up...
...and down."

Then, he provides further information:

"Food is unloaded from
the fifth truck.

Catering truck"

When the drivers and their five trucks have completed their work, they move away from the airplane and watch as it taxis off, bound for another airport and five other trucks.

Brian Floca's watercolor, gouache and ink artwork is full of light and detail, showing the clean lines of the vehicles, the camaraderie of drivers as they as they get to the work of their day, and their joy in a job well done. He creates small vignettes for the workers, and includes one of a young boy and his father as they arrive at the airport, luggage in hand, and then once on board as the plane sets off for parts unknown.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Skies Like These, written by Tess Hilmo. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"Roy frowned. "Don't forget who the real victims in this situation are. Losing a few days business won't kill a guy like Farley. It may shake him up and have people in town look at his store differently, but we both know fish heads won't close his doors." He put the cleaned pipe down and picked up a different piece. "And what's wrong with having a little fun along the way?"

Jade is very sure that spending vacation time in Wyoming is not what she wants to do. She likes summer in Philadelphia with her friends and familiar surroundings. Her parents want her to spend time with Aunt Elise.

"Jade looked sideways at her aunt. She studied her wild, choppy hair poking out every which way, then dropped her eyes down to the knit vest and awful brown corduroy pants that ended a full five inches above her sandals."

She is soon in Wyoming where she almost immediately meets Joshua Parker, who insists on being called Roy in homage to Butch Cassidy whose real name was Roy Parker. Roy has great admiration for Butch Cassidy's way of helping others and is determined that a search of his lineage will prove he is a descendant. At the moment of meeting, Roy is trying to come up with a way to rob the bank in order to get his family's hardware store back.

Jade is keen to help Roy; she would prefer legal means. She has a few ideas, including stargazing parties on her aunt's adobe rooftop. Aunt Elise loves the nighttime sky, and has much to teach others about the stars and the beauty of listening to its sounds.

Tess Hilmo gives us a community and characters to love and admire. They know and support each other through all of life's storms, weather-related or not. As the summer passes and Jade spends time with these very special people, her view of the world expands. Not only does she learn a great deal about the wide open spaces of Wyoming and its night sky, she is embraced by their caring friendship.

Her summer adventure is a revelation for Jade, proving to her that she can hold her own, and be brave when bravery is needed. I do hope that there will be more visits with Aunt Elise, Roy and the Parkers.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Some Bugs, words by Angela Diterlizzi and bugs by Brendan Wenzel. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Some bugs

Some bugs

Some bugs
curl up in a

What an invitation! In chipper rhyming text, Angela Diterlizzi shows her young audience the range of critters that they might find in their own backyards, if they keep a keen eye open for activity. The bugs they may discover appear to live happily together, except for the occasional appearance of a Hercules beetle. It seems they like to fight! Their lives are put under the spotlight to give interested future entomologists a close-up and personal look at the routines of their daily lives. They hop, glide, swim, as well as bite (those darn mosquitoes) and sometimes stink.

Brendan Wenzel's artwork is glorious and a visual reminder of the 'summer that was'. An illustration note says that 'the illustrations for this book are rendered in almost everything imaginable.' Infusing those images with light and filling the spreads with details that invite careful observation, he manages to conjure up a warm, sunny day filled with all things 'buggy'.

The bugs are plentiful, the colors are bold, the backyard is the perfect place. They range from the tiny dog flea to the much larger and more intimidating Chinese mantis. Each is depicted using mixed media and collage. A ladybug and a cat named Oskar are our guides as we make our way past the more than forty bugs that grace the pages in close-up shots of their workaday world.

An identification guide will take readers back to favorite pages, and perfectly ends this terrific book!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Anttoine De Saint-Exupery, written and illustrated by Peter Sis. Farrar Straus Giroux, Raincoast. 2014. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"Antoine could only think of flying, but his family hoped he would finish his studies and do something less dangerous. When he was called to military duty, he asked for aviation and was assigned to the ground crew. In time, he learned to fly. Two years after his service, Antoine heard about an airline that was starting to deliver mail..."

Peter Sis writes and illustrates brilliantly detailed stories for children, young and old. Previously he has written biographies of Christopher Columbus, Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei. As he did in those books, here he brings the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery to our attention. He complements his storytelling with numerous wonderful timelines and charts to further help his readers understand the writer-pilot's life.

He was born almost at the same time as airplanes themselves. Longing to fly, he built his own plane. It didn't fly! Undeterred, he spent his spare time with pilots at the flying field. He convinced one to take him for a ride, and that was it! Later, military duty led to work with the ground crew, and finally success in the air himself. Working with an airline that delivered mail lead to a new reality. He was assigned to take charge of an airfield on his own:

"Antoine rescued stranded flyers. He negotiated with hostile nomads who had shot down planes and held pilots for ransom. He made peace with others, who called him the Captain of the Birds. His life in the desert inspired him to write."

He kept flying and writing, returned to France and married. Always seeking adventure, Antoine had close calls, none quite so dangerous as his war pilot duties during World War II. His disdain for Germany's control over his beloved France led to his move to New York, where The Little Prince was published. Missing France, he returned to active duty in North Africa in hopes of flying back to France. It was not to be...

In a book about adventure and creativity, Peter Sis impresses with the unbelievable detail that is his signature work. It takes time and keen observation to appreciate all that he includes in this story about following your own path to happiness, and success in life. He challenges our eyes and our brain to take in all that he has included in this newest book. It's a perfect read for older children and teens, and for their parents and teachers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Teacher is a MONSTER! (No, I am Not), written and illustrated by Peter Brown. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2014. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"No recess for children
who throw paper
airplanes in class.

Ms. Kirby was a monster.

Bobby spent his free time
in the park, trying to forget
his teacher problems.

But one Saturday morning..."

It happened a very long time ago, when I was first teaching kindergarten in the early 1970s. I was shopping on the weekend when I met one of my students with her mother. The little girl stopped dead in the middle of the aisle and stammered YOU GO SHOPPING? It surprised me as I hadn't had much experience with five year old school children. It taught me a lesson about how young children imagine their teachers living life: living at the school, and doing teacher things all the time!

Bobby is one of those boys who make teaching worthwhile, and who make you earn your money. His behavior often leaves something to be desired. Ms. Kirby certainly shows her alarm at his actions when his paper airplane sails past her ear and lands at her feet. Her response is immediate:


Bobby is not pleased with his recess!

So, imagine how he feels when a Saturday visit to the park brings him face to face with his teacher 'monster'. He is incredulous, and scared:

"Bobby wanted to run!
He wanted to hide!
But he knew that would
only make things worse."

Neither wants to see the other; what can they do? They have an uneasy chat, and Bobby expresses his surprise at finding her away from school. A wind comes to his rescue when it blows Ms. Kirby's hat from her head. Bobby retrieves it, eliciting a surprise compliment from his teacher. The relationship begins to change, as they share some of the joys found in the park. Keen observers are sure to note that the changes are also physical ones.

I think that Peter Brown does brilliant work. Using India ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper in a subdued palette is absolutely appropriate for the book's funny take on this child/teacher relationship. His tone definitely brightens as the story moves forward.

In a recent interview with Maria Popova at  the author talked about his books:

The further I get in my career, the more I think about my readers. I see it as my responsibility to create books that will make kids laugh and think and want to pick up another book. The hope is that I might, in some small way, help to grow the number of readers in the world. And the best way to make more readers is to help people fall in love with reading at an early age. So I try to make stories and characters and art that appeal to the excitement and curiosity that occurs naturally in children.
The optimism in my stories is no accident. But I think you’ll find that in addition to positivity there’s always a dose of reality in my stories. Each of my characters face real disappointment, and their story is about them overcoming their disappointment. That’s real, and kids get it."

Beautifully done, once more!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

You're Wearing THAT to School? Written by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Sue Cornelison. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2013. $17.99 ages 5 and up

"I'll pack a picnic."

"You're going to eat THAT?"

"Yes, I love picnics."

"What will everyone think?
Come on." Tiny tugged.
"I'll help you pack a
perfect lunch."

Our teachers are back in school today, and their students will return tomorrow or Thursday. Hard to believe that the summer has slipped past us so quickly! I'm sure, as always happens, there will be relief in getting back to routines and joy in meeting up with friends in bright, fall classrooms. We can only hope that you all get a Penelope (or some facsimile of her) in each of your classrooms.

Penelope has all the self-confidence that I wish every child had! She has a distinctive style as well, and a good friend in Tiny. Tiny has some experience, having started school a year earlier. In doing so, he has also acquired a sense of caution about 'fitting in.' So, when Penelope announces that she is going to wear her sparkle rainbow outfit for the first day, Tiny offers assistance:

"You're going to wear THAT?" Tiny asked.
"Yes! It's my favorite." Penelope giggled.
"Everyone will stare. Come on." Tiny tugged.
"I'll help you find a perfect outfit."

Tiny has the best intentions. He doesn't want Penelope's school experience to be sad when she is anticipating such great joy. Everything she tries on gets his immediate negative reaction. His suggestions change Penelope's demeanor at every turn...clothes, lunch, even show-and-tell. At the bus stop in the morning, Tiny realizes that his advice has fallen on deaf ears. Tiny worries. Penelope does not. For good reason on her part....

If you know Olivia, The Paper Bag Princess, Ella Sarah, Pippi, Molly Lou Melon, Lily, Madlenka, Camilla Cream, Chrysanthemum or Lilly, please ask them to save a seat on the bus for Penelope. She will be so pleased to meet them and make their days better, too!

Monday, September 1, 2014

I Feel Five, written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $17.00 ages 4 and up

"On his fourth birthday,
Fritz Newton ate
birthday pancakes, got
his very own cape, and
picked apples for birthday

Being four was fun,
but tomorrow...
Fritz will be five!"

Do you remember being 5? It's hard for me to remember 60! Having taught kindergarten for most of my 32 years in education, I remember a great deal about five year olds. So, I know how they feel about birthdays, and especially about being FIVE!

Fritz is definitely thinking that his birthday is about to make a big difference in his life. He leaps from his bed, cape in hand and ready for anything. In truth, being 5 is no big deal. He feels a lot like he did yesterday! His parents help him celebrate with  5 pan'cakes', candles and balloons. It doesn't change much. Perhaps his birthday sneakers will be just what is needed.

Still, he can't do any of the things that he couldn't do yesterday. His teeth are still intact. The school birthday crown doesn't even work. When a new friend shows up in the park, in need of some help, it causes careful thought on Fritz's part. After helping, he thinks he might feel a shift. What a great story for kindergartners, or anyone looking for a change!

Every turn of the page invites familiar feelings for young readers. He is so happy when the calendar turns to his birthday. His smiling face, his hero cape, his leap to wakefulness. The spreads focus on Fritz as he navigates the ups and downs of his special day. Add it to your birthday book box, and celebrate along with Fritz the slow changes that affect each one of us.