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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Walrus Who Escaped, written by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley and illustrated by Anthony Brennan. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2014. $16.95 ages 6 and up

"Like a big, black seagull, she used to sit at the shoreline, watching a particular walrus dive for clams. Walruses were different in those days. They had tusks that curved round and round in beautiful spirals."

I know that I have mentioned the books from Inhabit Media in a previous post. They are a most welcome addition to any bookshelf.
I recently received a box from Winston at Fitzhenry and Whiteside containing a number of new First Nations stories. I will be sharing them with you in coming weeks.

The first I want to tell you about comes from the folklore of the Inuit people. It is a pourquoi tale explaining why the walrus has straight tusks, rather than the original spiral shaped ones. Kids love to hear these tails as an explanation for why the world is the way it is.

Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley use their storytelling prowess to share their folk tale. It begins long ago when creatures of nature could take any shape. Raven is an envious creature who wants what others have. Watching Walrus gathering countless numbers of clams has her hungering for his talent. Walrus has no concern for Raven who only gathers clams when the tide is out; then she can safely hunt without worry about making any mistakes:

"So, Raven made do with waiting for the tide to go out. Then she dug each clam from the icky shore. All her clams tasted of mud. And this made her miserable."

One day, when Walrus makes the mistake of laughing at her, Raven proves herself to be an impressive foe. Given the Strength of the Land when she asks for it, Raven is able to freeze the water around where Walrus is hunting. What happens next is the stuff of winning, entertaining folklore and will be much appreciated by a young audience.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2014. $16.99 ages 6 and up

 "Is she a vegetarian?
Does she vote?
Is she nocturnal?
Does she like anything?
Is she powerful?
Does she have a cell phone?
"This is the worst idea we have ever had," says Violet, trying to get away from me.
"Ever," says Luke. "Ever. Ever. Ever."

I LOVE Dory Fantasmagory! She is strong-willed, full of imagination, and the youngest of three siblings. She is a force to be reckoned with, to say the very least about her! As with most little sisters, her older sibs would rather she wasn't anywhere close to where they are. Does that bother Dory? Well, sometimes. Mostly it encourages her to use her imagination to create a host of characters to keep her company, and who appreciate her take on life and her abundant energy for living it fully. Her siblings call her Rascal for many good reasons. They do their best to discourage, even creating a monster named Mrs. Gobble Gracker.

Rascal is unafraid of monsters, and doesn't even mind taking on Mrs. Gobble Gracker; her sister touts her as someone who loves to take baby girls from their homes. It might even be someone just like Dory. Of course Dory turns the tables when she wants to know more about Mrs. GG, and her imagination runs wild in creating the character and then causing great grief for her.  Despite their aversion to spending time with her, Dory loves her brother and sister and only wants to play with them. She is a charmer, but they fail to see it. She is funny, too. They would beg to differ.

Rascal's story could be a bit too sweet; in Ms. Hanlon's deft hand, it is so much more than that. It is a  very appealing story that focuses on family relationships. It is as funny as can be, while also being unusual. It takes some doing, but her plans are finally realized when her brother and sister give in to playing with her. Fait accompli!

Dory is so real, with a strong, clever voice and a big heart. She is a protagonist who proves to be very memorable and heartwarming. I want to see more of her, and you will, too! This is an absolutely terrific book for those readers wanting to move beyond the most basic early readers. As she did in Ralph Tells A Story (Two Lions, 2012), Abby Hanlon includes child-like, appealing artwork to enhance her story and add charm, and even more humor.

Please Abby, we want some more!!!

Monday, December 29, 2014

What If...? By Anthony Browne. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"What if they play
scary games?

They won't -
only fun ones.

But how do you

Is this it?
"NO!" said Joe."

I don't remember going to my first birthday party away from home. It's far too long ago for that! If my mom were here, she would have a story to tell about my being homesick and asking a million questions.

So when I read Joe's story, I can absolutely relate to the way he is feeling as he and his mother walk toward Tom's house on his way to help celebrate a birthday. There is a tiny problem with the address. Joe has lost the invitation and they must make a guess; they know the street, they are just not absolutely sure about the house number. This adds to the stress, of course. As they make their way down the street, they take a little peek into the windows that they pass.

On boy, what they see in those windows does nothing to assuage Joe's concerns! Strange doings, an elephant, a weird staring dog and the elderly people who own him, add to the unease that, by now, both mother and son are feeling. Even Mom is not sure that the party is going to be as much fun as she first thought ... poor Joe! Mom leaves him, and then worries until she returns to pick him up. As you have probably guessed, there was no cause for worry. Joe is perfectly content by the time she returns. He literally beams!

If you know and admire Anthony Browne's previous works, you will not be disappointed in any way by this newest book. It's so much fun to share a peek into each of the windows and appreciate the imagination that creates each small scene. His artwork, as always, is part of the storytelling and clearly shows the conversation that takes place between a young, apprehensive boy and his constantly reassuring mother. As they walk along, they are washed in blue tones, while the scenes in the windows are colorful and bright. The return home as the party concludes is created in full color, once more. Lovely!

Now, have a listen to what Anthony Browne has to say about his new story and how it came to be:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Great Big Green, written by Peggy Gifford and illustrated by Lisa Desimini. Boyds Mills Press, Publishers Group West. 2014. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"The thing is,
the thing is green.
And the green is,
the green is green.

And by green I mean

What a party for the color green, and the many places it can be found in our world!

Ms. Gifford fills her pages with lively and descriptive text that inspires Lisa Desimini to create intriguing and boldly colored artwork to show their young audience just exactly how much green there is to see and appreciate. The many things described will encourage children to think carefully about 'green' and where they might find it as well. She talks about socks and fruit, about lights and leaves. All the while, she is using the text to help solve a riddle about the 'great big green' ... and what that might be!

"Think rolling-waves-of-grain green
thick green vines
climbing high
green trees

mountains and mountains
of green"

 In an artist's note following the fresh text, Lisa Desimini describes her process:

"... I scanned my own paintings, papers, fabric, photos, and some other unusual materials. And then I used these scans to create mixed media collages."

That collage work is so perfectly created you will find yourself spending endless time poring over every single page, noticing something more each time you share it. Observant listeners will be delighted to find socks, balls, fish, frogs and many other objects as they take in all of the details.

 It takes all the way to the end of the book to discover just what Ms. Gifford has been leading us toward as we share the beauty to be found in green!

100 Things that make me HAPPY, by Amy Schwartz. Abrams Appleseed. 2014. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"Big-kid bikes
Little trikes


City lights
Starry nights"

If you want to do something fun with your kids to celebrate the New Year, rather than the old resolutions list, why not try listing the things that make you (or them) happy! It's a great lesson in gratitude, and counting. The 100th day of school comes around early in February, and that makes this a terrific book for sharing in January, as you begin to make plans for the upcoming
celebration. That's another reason to appreciate this cheerful, rhythmic new picture book by the brilliant Amy Schwartz. She sure knows how to capture the attention of children!

As you share the rhyming couplets repeatedly, you cannot help but appreciate the joys that she shares. There is never a time when I felt as if I had had enough of the list ... it remains fresh and entertaining throughout the repeated readings. As you share it, listeners are bound to get involved in telling stories about those happy things that they have also experienced. Smiling all the way, they will be sure to turn the pages as quickly as possible to get to the next joyful moment.

I love the way the font changes, and its varying placement on carefully designed pages. The beautiful bright colors used to dress and impress the children who share their likes, the movement and motion that floats from one image to the next, and the familiar and perhaps not-so-familiar many actions will hold attention and encourage young listeners (and readers) to make some lists of their own. If they rhyme, terrific! If not, what does it matter?

If you want proof that there are really 100 things, check out the poster on the inside of the dust jacket. They are numbered and repeated there for additional fun.

"Curly hair
Teddy bear


Chocolate chips
Camping trips

Birthday wish"

What makes you happy?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Andre The Giant: Life and Legend, by Gox Brown. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2014. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"Wait, explain it again. Talk slowly. Hold on a second, boss. Explain that again very slowly. Remember: I'm translating. ACROMEGALY. As big as he is now... He'll age prematurely. His brow and jaw will grow more pronounced. His heart and organs won't be able to keep up with his body. His joints, too. He'll be a cripple. Then the doctor said he won't live past forty..."

I am not a wrestling fan. Despite that, I have some knowledge of the wrestler known as Andre the Giant. What movie lover hasn't seen The Princess Bride? I had never read anything about the man until I pored over this Box Brown graphic biography of him.

The French Giant's life was relatively unknown to his many fans. Mr. Brown sets out to change that. Can you begin to imagine some of the difficulties he must have faced as a school boy? He could not fit on the bus, never mind any desk meant for children his age. His celebrity made him a name as both wrestler and actor. He was successful at both, and was admired by his fans.
In reading his story, he became more human to me. The pain that he suffered as a result of the disease, his constant travel, his friendships, his work ethic are shown with candor and often a hint of humor. I can only imagine the research that Box Brown must have done to write the attention-grabbing details that make this a readable and honorable look at this gentle giant who died at the very young age of 46 in 1993.

"You know, boss...
people think I
have a wonderful
They see me travel 
all over the world...
eating at the
best restaurants,
drinking fine
But I can
see people...
They point
at me...
People look
at me and think...
What kind of man is he?"

Sad, but true.

Luckily for his readers, Box Brown's passion for wrestling, and for learning as much as he could about Andre allows a very personal look at a man whose life was fraught with tragedy and celebrity. It is an empathetic and poignant homage. The graphic format will appeal to many readers in the target audience, and is sure to inspire empathy for the 'gentle giant'.

The Day I Lost My Superpowers, written by Michael Escoffier and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo. Translated by Claudia Bedrick and Kris Di Giacomo. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group West. 2014. $20.95 ages 4 and up

"The day I discovered
I could fly, I knew that
I was special.

So I started practicing
nonstop to develop my

I had a few setbacks
at the start ..."

Oh, to be that child again who believes anything is possible. Given that Santa has been and gone, with nary a whisper of awe at his superpowers, it is no wonder that the young child who narrates this book by the talented and very creative Michael Escoffier sees herself with abilities that would give an adult pause. From the time she is first tossed in the air by a keen parent, she believes in her ability to fly. Inherently knowing that practice makes perfect, she works hard to get those powers under control and useful.

Take the power to make things disappear ... works on cupcakes, not on peas! Some of the work can be mildly annoying to the adults in charge, while others cause real dismay. It happens when she tries walking on the ceiling, or through her home's walls. Despite her confidence and determination, her superpowers do fail her:

"I was happily flying around
in the backyard,
and suddenly
No more superpowers!
Gone! Finished!"

Might a mother exhibit special powers, too? I'm not telling!

Mr. Escoffier has an affinity with the way a young child's world works, and he uses it to create a protagonist who shows her audience the power of imagination and the wealth of possibilities that exist in her world. She lives life with such a sense of fascination and surprise.

The black mask and cape are a perfect disguise! The action-filled images will delight readers and show them what is really happening as she lets her imagination soar. What is in the text is not what is pictured on the page. Plenty of white space ensures that our attention is drawn to the various antics of the confident and lively young narrator as she goes about her day, proving that her powers are intact ... until they are not!   

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Pigeon Needs a Bath! words and pictures by Mo Willems.Hyperion Books for Kids, Hachette. 2014. $17.99 ages 3 and up

"Life is so short.

Why waste it on
unimportant things?

Like taking a bath!

What smell?

I don't smell

Welcome back, Pigeon ... I think!?!

In all the hoopla that has been his life, Pigeon has managed to garner a passel of grime upon himself. As dirty as you think he is, he does not want to hear it! So, don't bother passing along your thoughts on the state of his 'person'. He begs to differ!

As you would expect, Pigeon wants his audience to have a say in whether he really does need to clean up his act. Of course, he does. Really? When he asks for a definition of both clean and dirty, he is quick to suggest that they are merely 'words'. Turning the tables on those who accuse him of needing a bath, he wonders if perhaps the shoe is on the wrong foot. Maybe a bath is not what HE needs; perhaps, we should take a look to ourselves!

When he gets a whiff of himself, and notes the many flies that hover nearby, he rethinks his position. Even the flies suggest that a bath might be in order. Fine! He'll do it ...

Kids will love the amount of time it takes for him to finally 'take the plunge'. Using small panels to move the action along, Pigeon uses every excuse he can to stay out of the tub. Laughter ensues, and Pigeon graciously satisfies fans young and old with this new adventure.

It's been two long years without you, Pigeon. Personally, I am thrilled that you have made another appearance. I can honestly say you are as funny now as you were when we first met!

Thank you, Mo Willems.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, written by Barry Jonsberg. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"I couldn't blame Rich Uncle Brian for being surprised. He had been trying for years to get me on board and I had always refused. I refused, not because I was being deliberately obstructive, but because boats make me sick. Literally. I do not have sea legs. I don't have sea arms. In fact, no part of my anatomy, from the smallest cell to the most major of organs, is sea anything."

There's not much to make the reader envy Candice Phee and her family life. In fact, she suggests that no one would consider the Phees 'front-runners for Australian Happy Family of the Year.' Indeed, they would not. So much has happened to make them unhappy! The loss of a child, cancer, deep depression, and a feud between brothers.

In terms of herself, Candice is one of those young girls who just doesn't seem to find a fit with friends at school; she is a loner and not upset about it. She sees the world in the most literal way possible, is full of heart and unconcerned that people find her weird:

"There are several girls (and boys) in my school who call me Essen. It's a phonetic representation of S.N., which is short for Special Needs. Many people think I have learning disabilities, but they are mistaken. I once wrote a note to Jen saying that everyone is special and everyone has needs, so her insult (because that's what she intended it to be) is wide of the mark. She simply glared at me, chewed her gum, and ripped the note into little pieces. If I have to be honest - and I do have to be honest, it's something I can't avoid - then I must confess that Jen Marshall is not the sharpest tool in the shed, as Rich Uncle Brian might say. But that's not her fault. And she is very, very pretty. So I like her. Then again, I like nearly everyone, as my Mom often points out."

We are on page 4, and I already LOVE Candice - and you will, too.

An assignment from her English teacher precipitates Candice's sharing of her own story with her readers. Using the alphabet, she is to write one paragraph for each letter to tell about something that has happened in the past.

"So, I sat in my chair and thought about the assignment. A paragraph for each letter, and each paragraph portraying something about my life. Some of the letters would be difficult. Q, for example. And X. I have never had an X-ray, so that's not in the equation. But I decided I would worry about that later. A was obviously where I should start.
But the more I thought, the trickier the assignment appeared. I wanted to tell Miss Bamford about my life, but a paragraph for each letter just wouldn't do it. And that's when I got my great idea.
I wouldn't do one paragraph. I would do multiple paragraphs for each letter."

Of course, she would. Lucky we are to be able to read each and every one of them. There is so much she has to tell us about her world, her wishes, her attempts to help all those who mean so much to her.
Candice does have one friend, Douglas Benson from Another Dimension. Douglas wants to find his way back to his real parents. He says he is presently living with 'facsimiles', and talks constantly about climbing a tree, jumping from it, and landing back where he belongs. Candice is concerned with his focus on such a thing. She wants him to be careful; but, she's willing to help if she can, and if it will make him happy.

Her family is another story. She sets out to alter the difficulties that plague them. She is sure that she can help, and she does her best to do so. She, herself, is still greatly affected by her little sister's death from SIDS, while realizing that it really had nothing to do with her. Her parents are still struggling to cope. Her father and his brother are unable to sort out a disagreement that has left Candice's father spending all of his time with computers in his shop, and unwilling to have any sort of discussion with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian.

The descriptive language has me wanting to share it ALL with you. I will not. I will tell you that your life will be better for knowing Candice, her family and friends. Barry Jonsberg has created a book that  could be depressing for many good reasons. It is not. It is insightful, honest, hilarious, and hopeful.

I will let Candice have the last word:

"I still had the finer details to arrange, but everything was coming together nicely. It is true that family harmony had not been restored by my first plan. Indeed, throwing myself into the ocean had only made our problems worse. But Candice Phee does not give up.
This time, I thought, this time."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Another Day as Emily, written by Eileen Spinelli. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2014. $14.99 ages 8 and up

"On the way home
Alison hooks her arm
into mine.
"I know I'm a pain."
I don't say anything.
"A first-rate complainer.
Don't deny it, Sooze."
I don't deny it.
"It's in my DNA.
"Blame my Aunt Gertrude."

When her very special neighbor Mrs. Harden has a medical emergency and her little brother has the presence of mind to call 911, Suzy knows that things are going to change for her. Soon, Mrs. Harden is fine and back home. Parker is praised for his quick thinking; he is pretty proud of his hero status and doesn't mind flaunting it in front of his sister.

It appears there is no end to the accolades that come his way. He gets a special report in the local newspaper, and is the recipient of many gifts and surprises, including riding with the mayor in the Independence Day parade. He can be pretty obnoxious with his newfound status. In the midst of all the attention, Suzy holds onto the knowledge that she and her father are going to a Phillies game in honor of her 12th birthday. When Parker gets lost and everyone is out looking for him on the very day of the much anticipated ball game, Suzy berates herself for being mad at him for spoiling her time with her father. What rotten luck!

It's enough to make a young girl change her life course. Being part of the Tween Time library program with her best friend Alison allows Suzy to don the mantle of the reclusive Emily Dickinson in a program assignment. It is the perfect way to show the world that she needs no one, and she undertakes to become as much like the poet as she can. She wears white dresses, confines herself to the house, keeps away from friends and spends her time doing what Ms. Dickinson was known to do: write poetry, spend time in tune with nature, read. It can be a lonely life. Leave it to Mrs. Harden to come to the rescue with a special poem that allows a new outlook!

I like that Ms. Spinelli uses free verse once again to tell this lively and enjoyable story of a summer full of ups and downs. The illustrations add interest, and the writing is humorous and fresh. It makes reading accessible for those looking for a longer story; yet, the pace is quick. It is perfect for pre-adolescents trying to find their own sense of self, and their place in the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Child is This? A Christmas Story, by Caroline Cooney. Random House, 1997. $7.99 ages 12 and up

"Matt was overwhelmed by the desire for Santa to be real. For Katie to have Santa. "Think little," said Pollard again, tapping his pen the way Mrs. Wrenn tapped her nails. Katie faded like an old sheet, as if she'd been washed too many times. Her hands came down slowly, and she sat on them, squishing out hope."

As we race to get the presents bought, the tree up, the house decorated, we often forget that there are many who do not share the joys of Christmas that so many expect. Today's post is about a book that I have been reading every year since it was first published. I have just done so again.

Liz Kitchell and her family appear to have everything ... wealth, power, good fortune. At the heart of it, the family is struggling to deal with the death of Liz`s niece, her sister`s baby daughter. Liz knows that she is blessed with all that she needs and more, and wishes that her family could see to help those who have little:

"The camera work was brilliant. Slowly scanning a city block, it turned joyful Christmas into pain. You could tell the hearts of the neediest were dried and split like old vinyl. Liz had the loveliest home that money could create, and thirty seconds of the neediest made her feel homeless. But Liz`s parents were not interested in the neediest. "Why should be have to look at that?" her father had said irritably. "Why can't they stick to reporting and stop laying guilt trips and demanding money?" He hit the Mute button."

Tack is one of Liz's classmates - he and his family own a local restaurant. What makes Tack happiest at Christmas time is their 'restaurant tree' where wishes are placed and hopefully, granted. Matt is another classmate -a young man whose life has been spent in one foster home after another. He is always angry and keeps mostly to himself. Matt works at the restaurant as a busboy. Matt lives with the Rowens, a tired foster couple who can cope with Matt; they are finding it difficult to also care for Katie, whose Christmas wish is a family. She knows just the one she wants:

"You'd sit on their laps, and their hugs would last and last.
Not hugs like social workers gave: quick as grades.
Hugs like mothers gave: wrapping-you-up hugs.
Hugs like father gave: hoisting-you-into-the-air and tossing-you-around hugs...

Being a foster kid was like living in a blender.  Life was always flinging you against sharp blades.
But amazingly, as Christmas approached, Matt was suddenly willing to help Katie with spelling and arithmetic.  Matt was silent but mean; mean from years of no family...and Matt helped her.
She wondered if he would let her walk with him part of the way to the restaurant when he went to work tonight.  Sometimes he did, and sometimes he would let her stop and talk about the pretty decorations people had.  Once, he had held her hand."

For the first time in all of his years in foster care, Matt has opened his heart (just a little bit) to someone else. So, when Katie states that her wish for Christmas is a family, Matt fills in a paper bell with Katie's wish, places it on the restaurant tree with a hopeful heart, and then worries that he has given her false hope.

Will the true spirit of Christmas grant eight-year-old Katie's fervent wish for a family?  It might take a miracle, but isn't that what Christmas is all about? The story is told in alternating chapters about classmates whose lives intersect at school and beyond school walls. There is hope, then heartbreak and finally, a fitting ending to a story that will capture hearts at this special time of year. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Audrey (Cow), written by Dan Bar-el and illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. Tundra Books, 2014. $ 21.99 ages 8 and up

"First time out of the barn, Audrey was talking about going to the farthest fields and tasting this grass or that clover, or maybe talking to a passing fox. Imagine, talking to a common thief! I'd been here a lot longer than she had, but I never ventured past the first hill. And why should I? Plenty of grass nearby - who needs to go farther?"

Your life will be better for having met Audrey! She is a Charolais with big dreams - her heritage is, after all, French. We meet her first through the voices of the animals who share her farm home. They each have an opinion about who Audrey is, and don't mind sharing it. Her best friend is Eddie, a sheep dog, who has been with Audrey since birth. Eddie is her staunch supporter; when the going gets tough, Eddie steps up and lends a paw for anything she might need. His father is not totally pleased with Eddie's loyalty to the cow. He has his say, and then lets Eddie do what he thinks he must. Then, there is Roy, a horse. Roy keeps track of all the goings-on in the farmyard, and shares what he knows.

The farm family works hard. Cows are raised to provide meat and milk. That being said, it is the lot of some of them to be sent to Abbott's War, which is quite the scary proposition. Others have gone before Audrey, including her mother. Audrey wants more from life. With help from her farm friends, including the brilliant pig Buster, she plans an escape from the truck that is being sent to take her away.

The escape plan works; Audrey is able to break away from the truck and head into the forest. It is a brand new world, and she finds herself alone and frightened by it. As she makes her way down forest pathways, she realizes that there is much to see and to explore, new animals to make friends with, and others who see her in the same light as the farmer did. The darkness and unfamiliar territory causes untold worry and concern, as do those humans who are trying to track her down.  Audrey has a poetic heart and a longing to be more than meat in the supermarket, and she is going to do her best to avoid that lot in life. As her story progresses, more voices are added to the mix. Each wants to share a personal perspective on Audrey's attempt to shape her own destiny. She manages to evade capture for a good long while.

The personalities and voices are unique and very entertaining. Dan Bar-el makes each singular and absolutely believable, making this a tale that would make a wonderful readaloud for family story times and for classroom sharing. The illustrations add interest and provide a warmth that is totally in keeping with the text they accompany. The first-person narratives are short, and move the story along quickly. Funny, captivating, thoughtful and very cleverly written, this is a tale that will find a place in your heart and live long in your memory.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The River, by Alessandro Sanna. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group West. 2014. $28.50 all ages

"Here winter is warm breaths exhaled into the freezing fog, and shapes that simply vanish, stolen away by the dense afternoon light. An old country schoolhouse warms the children with their cold feet. In the stable, a calf is about to be born."

I am quite sure that I will never stop singing the praises of Enchanted Lion Books and the truly unique and lovely books they publish. I was delighted to receive a copy of The River and to take the time to pore over every page at my leisure. It is filled with brilliant detail, and the events seen as the seasons change.

The first chapter sets our focus on autumn, and builds brief sketches concerning life along the banks of a river. Each of the four chapters is introduced by the author. Then, his amazing illustrations provide a look at the life he lives on the banks of the Po River in northern Italy. He captures life as it evolves, virtually in his own back yard and over a period of years. Life constantly moves and shifts, just as the river's water does. It has its ups and downs, but is always moving forward, filled with life and inspiration. Each season offers a fully developed story of its own!

The watercolor images are done as full-page or a series of panels, each offering a part of the story being told. You cannot help but pay close attention to get the full meaning of every piece of the visual narrative. Autumn brings flooding. Winter is much warmer than what we would expect. Spring is as spring is everywhere - full of sunshine and new life, and music. Summer brings searing heat, and some discomfort.  As the seasons give over one to the other, so do the colors used to bring each season to glorious life for those who share this remarkable book. I guarantee that once you have made your way slowly through its pages, you will be inclined to start all over again. Do! It is so worth it...

Virtually wordless, it is quickly evident that the gorgeous artwork speaks for itself, captures attention fully and might even inspire readers to take a close look at their own environs and to try to capture life as it happens in their own neighborhood. It is a sketchbook for an artist, a seasonal journal for a writer and a worthy addition to any collection.                                                                             

Construction, written by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Brian Lovelock. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 2 and up

"Hoist the wood.
Hoist the wood.
Chain and hook and strap.
Swing it round,
then lower it down.


If you have a toddler who is as enamored of construction vehicles and building sites (as are most young children), you would do well to have the three books that make up this very appealing series ... Roadwork (2008), Demolition (2012) and now this lively and perfect addition!

It runs the gamut from digging the foundation, through every phase of building, to adding the final touches to a place of learning and delight for little ones. The rhyming text and the rhythm of the words will encourage listeners to read along as the work moves smoothly from first page to last.
Repetitive phrases are just the right touch for early readers. The fourth line of each stanza allows imagination and noise as the author creates sound effects to match the phase of construction being described.

Ink, acrylics and colored pencils are used to great effect as each spread shows clearly what happens, and who makes it happen. It's a huge undertaking and the illustrations show that clearly. Brian Lovelock uses changes in perspective to great effect, allowing those who share the book to see how the scene looks from above and below. This gives perspective to the various scenes. It will take time and effort to see everything, and everyone who plays a part as the building rises from the ground to become a hub of activity for the community.

Finally, an additional page provides necessary information about the machines and the clothing that the construction workers don before going to work.  The endpapers would make a perfect jigsaw puzzle - thousands of bolts spread across the double page.

If you want noise, engagement in the process and learning about the way construction of a building works, and a little one interested in such things, you would do well to find this fine series and share it.                                                         

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014. $20.99 ages 8 and up

"Teenage Peter was tall,
thin - and very shy. He
spent hours reading science
books. He especially liked
one written by Linnaeus,
a man who made lists just
like Peter did. Linnaeus put
the names of animals and
plants in categories, and that
made nature much easier to

I'm sure that I have no new words that have not already been shared to describe this spectacular new book from the impressive and much honored Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. You will not get past the title page before realizing that you are in for a treat! In fact, I spent a great deal of time right there, in well-deserved admiration for everything that Ms. Sweet has placed on that page. The letters of the alphabet, images to match those letters, a set of labels to describe the title page itself. Wonderful to say the least!

Peter Roget loved lists. This dynamic team use that love of words to build a story that immerses its audience in his life from birth to death:



Grown Up
Middle Age
Prime of Life
To Wind Up
Draw to an End



He loved books, words, and being alone to think. As he made his lists and considered their importance to him, he decided that he would like to have a book that listed all those words a person might choose to use. The idea for a thesaurus became paramount to his thinking and his work. The process was slow and tedious, but he was persistent and focused on the task he had set for himself.

Each page has plenty of text that helps a reader understand what life was like for the young boy. At no time does it overwhelm with information. It does give us a clever and enlightening glimpse into the keen interest that helped him as a student, and filled his days. His mother showed concern for him, and his endless lists. Peter loved the order they gave to his world.

His thesaurus was not his only accomplishment; Peter was also a lecturer on many and varied issues, a writer, and an inventor. His first thesaurus was published in 1852 and has never been out of print. Of course, it has been added to in the intervening years. His legacy and his belief in the power of words is evident at every turn of the page; at times, shared with a touch of fun. His mother often worried when he spent long periods of time on his own.

"Perhaps worry wasn't quite the right word.
What was the right word?
Peter began a new list:

Plague, provoke, harass.
ENOUGH to drive one MAD.

How wonderful it felt to find just the right word!"

This is an extraordinary book. Its story is told with compassion for a young loner, and with joy and inspiration for those who will share it. I hope that you look for it in your local bookstore or at the library, and that you give yourself ample time to savor the words and immerse yourself in the images that Melissa Sweet creates to accompany the rich text.

An Author's Note explains the research process that resulted in this truly amazing book, and why she wanted to write it:

"When I began to poke around in the real, historical details of Roget's life, I discovered that it encompassed more drama and contradictions than anything I'd written about in fiction. His transient and often lonely childhood, his precocious intellect and nervous habits, his friendships with inventors, his travels, and his medical career - all of these combined to create a broad and fascinating life that I wanted to share with young people."

An Illustrator's Note also adds interest:

"The idea of classification and scientific illustration crept into my collages, along with imagery from Roget's Bridgewater Treatise, old botanicals, vintage papers, book covers, type drawers, watercolor and mixed media. The back endpapers list Roget's thousand words with an abbreviated Plan of Classification."

Additional praiseworthy backmatter includes a chronology, selected bibliography, suggested additional reading, sources for the quotes used, and even a photo of one of the pages from his original work.

You NEED to have this book. You really do!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole, written by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chuck Groenink. Carolrhoda Books, 2014. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"December 11th

Kisses from Mrs.

Claus under the mistletoe

tickle like snowflakes."

You will have to wait until next year to bring out your copy of Santa Clauses to use as a memorable and most enjoyable advent calendar. One haiku for each day, all written by Santa himself. Don't let that stop you from reading the whole thing at one go right now!

Bob Raczka paints a picture of the man himself in an introduction before we begin his daily poetic diary:

"Santa is a man of many talents. He's a
toymaker, a reindeer trainer, a sleigh
pilot, and a world traveler. But did you
know that he is also a poet ...

...Now you can peek at Santa's haiku,
one for each day from December 1 to
December 25, and catch a glimpse of life
at the North Pole. Hear the snow crunch.
Smell the gingerbread. And see a side of
Santa you've never seen before."

Each of the poems is a little piece of Santa's daily endeavors in the days leading up to his journey from house to house bringing joy to boys and girls around the world. We are invited inside for some of the events, and also made welcome in the great outdoors through Santa's descriptive, thoughtful observances. Seems that Santa and the Mrs. partake in a number of activities that reflect what many children love to do ... making snow angels, wrapping presents, watching the night sky, listening to old favorite songs on the radio, mistletoe kisses (ewww!) and hot chocolate.

One of my personal favorites is this one:

"December 17th

Sitting by the fire
reading "A Christmas Carol,"
listening for ghosts."

Santa is reading, Mrs. Claus is basking in the warmth of the fire and the family cats, while tiny elves listen in from the darkness that surrounds them.

Each poem is placed with care on single and double spreads, allowing ample room for Chuck Groenink's wonderful illustrations to shine. The palette is subdued, the images speak to a time in the past, and the quiet tone make this a perfect bedtime read, adding one new poem each night until you read through the entire book for Christmas Day.

Amidst the craziness that is often our lead up to Christmas, this quiet, joyful book shows children that the season can be comfortable while also celebratory. It is sure to become one of our new favorites! If you have a cup of hot chocolate at the ready and a warm and cozy blanket, you are fully prepared to sit contentedly and bask in the beauty of both words and art. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Catch That Cookie! Written by Hallie Durand and illustrated by David Small. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"But Marshall sat down,
considering the evidence.
The raisin in his pocket...
and the bad handwriting.
What if the G-men could
That's when he saw the
silver ball on the gym floor..."

When I was teaching kindergarten, we often started the year with The Great Gingerbread Chase. It was designed to help those new to the school find their way around, and to meet older students that they would be able to count on when they needed help. We spent the first week reading a variety of picture book variations on the traditional story and by Friday, we were ready to execute the chase. It was a great hit!

In Mrs. Gray's class, reading tales of runaway cookies is a lead-up to a lesson in cooking. As they listen to the many variations, Marshall expresses his doubt:

"They can't run for real," he told
everybody. "No way."
"Hope you're right," Mrs. Gray said.
"Because we're baking ours today!"

Marshall gave a nod.
He knew he was right."

You know that child, right??

The cookies are prepared, decorated prior to baking, and locked in the oven. Oh, my! When the timer announces that the cookies are ready to eat, they have disappeared. Rhyming notes provide the clues needed to begin the hunt:

"Too bad you didn't catch us,
'Cause we taste like candy.
Now we're on vacation
On a beach that's _ _ _ _ _."

As they follow the clues, Marshall finds his resolve ebbing. A raisin in the big black pot, tiny footprints in the gym, a silver decoration left behind...soon Marshall is leading the chase, with an idea that might roust the tiny men out of hiding. Success! And the satisfaction of knowing that he is a super sleuth!

David Small creates wonderful watercolor images to ensure that young readers are fully engaged as this story is shared. Marshall is a redheaded, freckle-faced young man with a distinct air of doubt when we first meet him. He is forthright and full of confidence. The variety in perspective and loose lines keep young readers moving forward as the children extend their search. The final rear view mirror scene is full of fun! In the end, the gingerbread man suffers the fate of all cookie treats! YUM!


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Memoirs of an ELF, written by Devin Scillian and illustrated by Tim Bowers. Sleeping Bear Press, 2014. $17.99 ages 5 and up

"Launch time. Santa kisses Momma Claus and waves to the other elves. I've got the GPS. Bobbin is in charge of the toy bag. And Nutshell has the Nice List.
Little-known fact: We don't even bring the Naughty List with us.

Ever wondered how technology has made Santa's Christmas Eve journey more efficient? Isn't that what all the new gadgets are supposed to be doing for us?

In this third Memoirs book, following those that tell the daily tale of both a goldfish and a hamster, we are privy to the 12 hours that it takes Santa and his elves to make their yearly run, presents in tow and technology at hand. The first entry is recorded at 9:45 on Christmas Eve and lets readers know that the countdown is on ... two hours and they 'launch'. Spark snaps an 'elfie' to show that he is as ready as he can be. His job is to keep Santa running on time, and to ensure that every corner of the earth is visited. The reindeer are chomping at the bit, a text is sent to Santa. Midnight, a hug for Mrs. Claus, and they are off!

Timed updates keep readers apprised of the route, the many little known facts to be shared and Santa's joy at the toys being delivered. It is not unusual for the elves to hurry him along when they find him playing with his favorites. With only 30 minutes left before dawn, the last gift is delivered, a carol is sung and the team heads for the North Pole, only to discover the sled has a stowaway.

"But as we're unloading the sleigh,
Bobbin says he doesn't think the toy bag is empty.
How can that be? We gave away every present on the list.
But it's not a present in the bag, and it just licked Bobbin's ear."

Oh, my! What a dilemma:

Well-known fact: Santa gives things away.
He does not take things!"

Off they go to return the puppy Tugboat to his forlorn family, making Christmas merry and bright as it can be!

Appealing expressions and humorous details in the artwork will elicit comments and delight from your young listeners. Be prepared to share it more than once.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Here Comes Santa Cat, written by Deborah Underwood, with pictures by Claudia Rueda. Dial Books, Penguin. 2014. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"You're going to give
presents to children?

That's wonderful!
What happened?

The children didn't
want the presents?

What were you giving them?"

It was only recently I told you about Here Comes the Easter Cat. I love that book! So, I was anxious to see Cat in Santa garb when I heard that Deborah Underwood had written another installment. What a fun experience it has been to read it numerous times! I am almost giddy to read it to my granddaughter next week when she arrives.

This time Cat is going to take the proverbial bull by the horns and ensure that he gets a Christmas gift, even if it means he has to give it to himself. I wonder why he worries that he may not get one? Do you think he knows the naughty and nice song? I love his self-satisfied smirk as he finishes checking out Christmas store windows. There must be something there he especially likes, don't you think?

Lessons need to be learned; there is much that Santa does that is not usual fare for a cat. He has to learn about chimneys; he doesn't like that much and certainly looks worse for the wear. Why use reindeer when you can use a jet pack? Of course, you must be efficient at that as well.

Imagine his consternation when the real Santa doesn't gift himself. Rather, he gives gifts to others. At this point, do you think nice might work? You will love to see how much trouble a cat can actually generate while trying to help. In the end, he endears himself to a kitten, his indulgent narrator, and even Santa himself.

This is a terrific sequel and it reminds me that a gifted team is more than capable of repeating the success of the first one. It also gives hope to the dream that there may just be an upcoming addition to what might then be called a series. Although there is no hint at what is around the corner, might Cupid Cat be far from thought? My fingers are crossed!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dashing Through the Snow: A Canadian Jingle Bells, written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Werner Zimmermann. Scholastic, 2014. $16.99 ages 3 and up

"Maple candy dish -
What a letdown for this loon!
All she wants is fish,
She steals some from Raccoon.

Owl unwraps a prize,
So does Caribou,
Wouldn't it be wise for them
To make a switcheroo?"

I am sure there is a teacher, or more than one, out there who discovered this terrific new book prior to the holiday season and preparation for the annual Christmas concert. It would a great performance piece for a classroom!

It's the second book that Ms. Becker and Mr. Zimmermann have created in honor of a Canadian holiday season, using the tune and rhythms of Jingle Bells to share a very unique look at the True North and its many animals and wintry scenes.

It begins with Beaver and Porcupine setting off for a wild ride on a Ski-Doo over the northern landscape. Every animal had better get out of their way, it seems. With Sasquatch attached to their front bumper they look up to the sky and see not only the beauty of the aurora borealis, but the joy to be found in Santa's overloaded sleigh. In a quick moment, Sasquatch creates chaos that dumps many gifts from Santa's load, gift-wrapped but not tagged.

In the ensuing confusion, the animals open gifts that don't match their wishes or personalities, but it doesn't take much to make everyone happy. With melodic music and a lovely final surprise, they gather as friends to count their blessings.

Werner Zimmermann's detailed watercolors offer humor, and a good deal of energy to the celebration. It will take a number of readings to know that you have finally seen all there is to see.
I especially love the conflict that results when the loon takes a liking to raccoon's salmon; wait! it was also fun to watch caribou try to figure out just exactly what to do with the gift he opens. I guess you
will need to get this book to see for yourself!

Share it with your children more than once, and you might find them repeatedly singing brand new words to an old, familiar song. You are sure to join in the fun!  


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014.$21.99 ages 7 and up

"In Manitoba, Canada, scientists have discovered hibernaculums that host up to 20,000 garter snakes! While bromating, snakes neither eat nor drink. Their breathing and heart rate slow down and their blood thickens. They spend the winter in a communal mass ..."

Well, long term forecasts from various sources tell us that we are in the for four cold months of winter; others assure that it is going to warmer than usual on the prairies, or at least a bit warmer than is seasonal. Who do you believe? There are many who say that we should look to nature to help in predicting just exactly what might happen. I am of the mind that you just wait until it does happen, and then you make your adjustments one way or the other. All that is a preamble to letting you know that I finally have Joyce Sidman's Winter Bees in my eager-to-read hands.

I anticipate each of her books with the knowledge that there will be much to learn and to feel in the poetry that she creates for young readers. This s perfect way to help them understand how the animals they so love are able to survive without grocery stores and furnaces. We know they have warm coats, and there is food even if it is often hard to find.

There are twelve poems, and each is referenced in a sidebar that contains information important in helping readers understand much about the cold. The range is wide, in voice and poetic form. As we read the clean and clear text, we become fully aware of adaptations that the world of nature makes as winter descends and heaps its cold upon it. The double page spreads are consistent, making them as accessible as possible for a target audience. The poem is placed on the left hand page, facing the gathered scientific information on the right hand side.

As lovely and informative as the poetry is and as breathtaking as Ms. Sidman's ability to capture tiny moments and grand impressions of all things cold, Rick Allen's illustrations are a perfect match in every way...brilliant and impressive, they beg our full attention to every detail. The elegant movement and ever-changing perspectives provide an additional layer of interest for those sharing this stunning book of poetry. Always keep your eye on the gorgeous and playful fox from the front cover!

Mr. Allen explains his process in a copyright page note that faces the table of contents:

"The images for this book were made through the unlikely marriage of some very old and almost new art mediums. The individual elements of each picture (the animals, trees, snowflakes, etc.) were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks (nearly two hundred of them), and then hand-colored, composed, and layered to create the illustrations for the poems. The somewhat surprising (and oddly pleasing) result was learning that the slow and backwards art of relief printmaking could bring modern technology down to its level, making everything even more complex and time-consuming."

I think it is wonderful that publishers make such artistic process available to readers; I wish it were part of every illustrated book that I read.

I will let Ms. Sidman have the last words:


Ambling through the hoary crystals,
thinking of how I love
this powdery place
between iron-hard ground
         and snow-crust ceiling ...
how it bakes in the winter sun
like a crumbly white cake
studded with delectables:
crunchy roots, savory seeds,
          and tender bark of trees ...
How it appeared softly one night,
just as the bitter wind had almost
           sucked the very life from my bones:
a blanket made of sky-feathers!
Thinking of all the long, lovely tunnels
that smell of food, or sleep, or sky ...
they way they twist and dive
in search of their own ends.
Thinking of - Eeek!
Stop thinking.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Goose Is Getting Fat, written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Sophie Allsopp. Egmont, Publishers Group West. 2013. $9.95 ages 6 and up

"And so it was that Charlie came to rear the Christmas goose. The fluffy, flippered gosling was soon exploring every part of the orchard and soon outgrew her bad-tempered foster mother. The hen shadowed her for as long as she could. Then she gave up and went back to the farmyard."

A plump goose is just what the farmer ordered for Christmas dinner. That farmer is Charlie's father, and Gertrude is the goose. Charlie's mother doesn't like the job of fattening the goose and then eating it; this year that job goes to Charlie, who is quite honored to care for the goose until Christmas Day and ensure that she is fed and fattened properly.

"We thought that this year we all three of us could look after the goose, you know, together like. Charlie boy can feed her up each day and drive her in each night. He can fatten her up for us. I'll kill her when the time comes - I know it seems a terrible thing to do, but what's got to be done has got to be done - and perhaps you wouldn't mind doing the little bit of plucking at the end for us. How would that be, my lovely?"

So, Charlie spends his days with Gertrude, watching her eat and grow. As you might guess, Charlie falls under her charm as they work together. Soon, he is concerned about Gertrude's fate:

"As a farmer's son he knew that most of the animals on the farm went for slaughter. It was an accepted fact of life; neither a cause for sorrow nor rejoicing. Sick lambs, rescued piglets, ill suckling calves - Charlie helped to care for all of them and had already developed that degree of detachment that a farmer needs unless he is to be on the phone to the vet five times a day."

Charlie is very proud of his goose, and cannot imagine eating her. So, he does what he can to prevent Gertrude's fate as the star of their Christmas dinner. With his father encouraging him to feed Gertrude oatmeal and Christmas drawing ever closer, Charlie can think of nothing but his goose. His elaborate rescue plan is devised and considered over and over again. Finally, it's time to put his plan into action.

Will he be able to save his lovely goose?

If you need a sweet and funny story to add to a Christmas stocking, you would do well to find this tiny treat. Then, you would have a wonderful story to share with guests on Christmas Day!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Blizzard, written and illustrated by John Rocco. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2014. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"On the third day,
Dad shoveled the driveway
so he could get the car out
when the snowplows came.

We dug tunnels
and secret rooms
under the snow."

In this terrific book that will surely find fans with children who live where snow can sometimes overwhelm (think Buffalo, this year), John Rocco shares a story from his childhood.

It was 1978. It happened in Rhode Island where John lived as a child. By the time it had finished snowing, there were 53 inches on the ground! (The latest numbers from Buffalo range anywhere from 60 to 84 inches.) I can't even fathom it, and I have lived on the Canadian prairies for my whole life.

As so often happens with winter storms, it began slowly... on a Monday morning when the children were in school. As they watched out the window, we see the glee they were feeling. School let out early, the children plowed through an ever growing accumulation. It didn't stop all day or all night. John, in fact, wondered if it might ever stop falling.

By the time the storm ended, the family could not get out their front door; they used the window. It was almost impossible to make any headway. They sank deep into it, their sleds would not run on top of the snow either. They dug their way in, relaxed in front of the fire and pondered the next few days. Careful observation allows a hint at what is to come as our young protagonist is reading a book, appropriately titled Arctic Survival. No plows by the fourth day, and Dad was getting tired of shoveling. Not only that, food supplies were dwindling, tempers were growing short, and a plan to get to a store was becoming crucial.

The budding explorer formulated that plan, with help from his book learning. Now, it was time to put the plan into action. List in hand, equipment at the ready, and numerous stops along the way ensured that waiting out the storm's aftermath would be easier for all. Well done, intrepid explorer! 

What wonder and power is to be found in Mother Nature! In this newest book, and with humor and resolution, Mr. Rocco portrays both the beauty and the chaos that such a weather event can cause for those living through it. I love how he incorporates the days of the week into his artwork, and how he uses contrasting warm and cool colors to give feeling to the scenes shown both inside the house and outside. Oh, and that foldout that marks the trek taken to bring needed supplies to all and sundry is pure delight! It wasn't all hard work, was it?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Star Bright: A Christmas Story, written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"What about ...

Music to make
the baby laugh.

Music to sing
the baby to sleep.

But music was the
gift of the songbirds."

The Herald's headline says it all ...GOOD NEWS: Prince of Peace on His Way. For the newest angel, the celebratory story is exciting, but disconcerting as well. The angels all know about the baby, the date of its arrival and the joy it will bring. The littlest one is concerned that she might not choose the gift that is exactly right for the beautiful baby.

Her thoughts about it are front of mind. She has a number of ideas. They all seem meant for someone else to give. As preparations are made in heaven and on earth, she carefully watches. She is so small; the world is so big!

"All that darkness made her feel even smaller.
And a little lonely.
Babies were so small....
Would the baby feel lonely too?"

When three travelers come into sight, with gifts in hand and a map to follow, she knows exactly how to help these lost souls find their way. With great certainty, she jumps, tumbles, and falls down from the heavens:

"Until she came to rest exactly
where she was needed."

Thanks to that little angel, the wise men and other visitors know the exact spot to find the baby and his family on a dark December night!

The story itself is lovely, accompanied by Peter Reynolds' winsome pen, ink and watercolor images. The details used to give personality to the angel, the warm pillowy backgrounds, the earnest expressions, the star over Bethlehem that brings light to a dark and lonely world are sure to invite conversation, and awe at a little one who works so hard to find the perfect gift.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Book With No Pictures, by B.J. Novak. Dial, Penguin. 2014. $19.99 ages 2 and up


Wait a second - what?!

This isn't the kind
of book I wanted to

How many more pages
are there?

Oh, my gosh! If you are going to read a book, you have to read all the words...that's the rule! And therein lies the premise of this hilarious new book from the gifted actor, B.J. Novak. He knows kids, and he knows how to entertain them just as he knows about entertaining their parents.

Not many books for kids have no pictures; but then, not many books for kids look and read like this one. I know that for a fact. I also know it is a wacky and wonderful read, sure to have listeners guffawing and begging to hear it all over again. You will need to practice a bit before sharing it; and, you will not be sorry that you took the time to get acquainted with it. If you love to read to, and with, kids it is sure to become a brand new favorite. I promise you that!!!

If you like to ignore warnings, be sure to turn to the back cover. It provides the perfect enticement to get you right to the reading:


This book looks serious but it is actually COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS!

If a kid is trying to make you read this book,
the kid is playing a trick on you.
You will end up saying SILLY THINGS and
making everybody LAUGH AND LAUGH!

Don't say I didn't warn you..."

An invitation if you have ever seen one...right?

You won't be able to resist, and you will take great delight in sharing it.

Who said books for young listeners needed pictures?? Bah, humbug!
This is just the kind of book we want kids to see; it encourages their literacy by letting them know that there are so many books out there worthy of reading!

Now, take a few minutes to allow B.J. Novak to share it with you and a roomful of delighted young children...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Little Elliot, Big City. by Mike Curato. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"He had trouble
opening doors.
And he could never
catch a cab.
Even life at home
was a bit challenging.

Still, Elliot enjoyed
the little things...

...small treasures..."

I fell in love with Elliot the minute I saw him gracing the cover of Mike Curato's debut picture book! I surely hope that I will meet him again - and soon, please.

He's pretty tiny for an elephant. He's certainly intimidated by the size, sounds and never ending difficulties in  navigating 1940s New York City. There is so much he cannot do because of his size. Often, people do not even notice he is there. Poor Elliot!

There is only one thing that he really wants - a cupcake. The clerk in the bakery doesn't see him offering money for the treat he so desperately desires. Again, poor Elliot! Only one tiny girl, close to his size, takes note of his sadness. His walk home is very gloomy, indeed. That is, until he meets someone in worse straits than he is. In that moment, the two get just exactly what they need - a good and loyal friend.

Recognizable are some of New York's most iconic buildings and its busy streets and crowded subway. Elliot makes his way past them in his quest to find that one small 'treasure'. Mike Curato uses cupcakes on the endpapers as an invitation to taste his story, then fills its pages with images using rich earthy tones and a retro feel to show us the many small injustices of life for Elliot. Infused light gives each double page spread a warm glow, and assures a feeling of well-being as we say goodbye to the tiny pachyderm.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

DRAW! by Raul Colon. A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"A boy alone in his room.



Sketchbook in hand.

What would it be like
to go on a safari?"

I had read much about this thrilling new book by Raul Colon before I actually had it in my hands. While the reviews have all been appreciative and upbeat, I was totally unprepared for its revealing homage to the power of imagination in a young artist's life.

When he opens his story, Raul Colon draws himself on a bed, poring over a huge coffee table book about Africa. His safari hat is at his side, his sketchbook near him on the floor and his pencils close by. Turn the page. Pencil in hand, and sketchbook at the ready (and tongue out in concentration), he imagines himself on his way to the African plains. (Do the puffer and medication on his night table give a clue to his early childhood?)

From this point on, we are observers of an artist at work. His first subject is a strong and powerful elephant that definitely appreciates the young boy's talent at capturing his true character. He offers a
personal tour of his environs. Taking his place on the elephant's back, with binoculars in hand, the young artist is fascinated by the many majestic animals they encounter...zebras, giraffes, lions, apes, water buffalo, hippos, and a pretty belligerent rhinoceros! A safe place in a tree and rescue by his new friend affords a close-up look at baboons. They are able to turn the tables on the boy and practice their own artistic pursuits.

A walk into the sunset and a poignant farewell bring readers back to the beginning of this grand trek of the imagination, leaving the artist to display his work for his friends at school.

No need for words to capture the drama of a young artist's imagined world.

Using pen and ink, watercolors and Prismacolor pencils, Mr. Colon draws readers into the drama of the African plains His use of light clearly shows the day's passage as he moves us from one brilliant scene to the next with dramatic turns of the page, changing perspectives and a palette that evokes the dry warmth of his environment. The textures invite close observation and inspire an immediate return to the adventure shared.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quest, by Aaron Becker. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 4 and up




When we left them in Journey (2013), the friends were riding their tandem bike. As we might have hoped, our first glimpse of them in Quest shows them riding that same bike, and full of concern for the approaching storm. A purple quetzal accompanies them.

As their new adventure gets under way, they find shelter under a bridge. The bird is with them. So are the crayons they and purple. The bike leans against one of the bridge's walls. Our focus is clearly on them; that is, until a king bursts through a magical door, and hands them a map before soldiers appear and take him into their custody. The king tosses an orange crayon that the children retrieve as he is being led away.

So begins their quest. They first need keys to follow the king through the locked door. Luckily, they can draw them. Once through the tunnel, they come upon a huge castle. Held prisoner and aboard a boat, the king sails past the castle's walls. It's time to check their map. It has six colored circles, showing six different crayon colors, all needed to defeat the enemies of his kingdom. The circles give guidance to the hiding place for each of those crayons.

They visit an underwater world, find the crayon and escape just in time. On they go, finding each of the hidden crayons as they make their way around the map. Their quest is dangerous and the action ensures the attention of those sharing it. Luckily, their crayons work to help them escape the soldiers who are following them. When it looks like their goose is cooked, and they will be unable to elude capture by the enemy forces any longer, the gathered crayons and their companion quetzal ensure that good wins out over evil. Let the celebration begin!

Aaron Becker fills the pages with such careful attention to detail that young readers will want to spend additional time poring over the illustrations and bravely accompanying the two protagonists as they strive to bring peace to the king's people and land. A celebratory rhino ride returns them to the tunnel from which their quest began, appropriately crowned by a thankful king.

Where to next, young adventurers?


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, written by Bob Shea and illustrated by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"A hole this big means one
thing - T. rex," said the sheriff.
"Or dynamite," said the mayor.
"T. rex don't need no dynamite.
Largest predator of the Cretaceous
period," said the sheriff.
"Wow, you're good," said the

There is so much to love when Bob Shea and Lane Smith put their collective talents together. They have done it before! I can still hear the staff at Bolen's Books in Victoria calling out text from their first collaboration, Big Plans (2008). Please tell me that you have read that one as many times as it deserves to be read!!!

So, I came to this book with high hopes and ready to laugh. I was not disappointed from first page to last. You can tell from the cover there is trouble brewing, and concern over what to do about it. The sheriff wears a look of dismay as he tries to come up with a plan for the nasty and contemptible Toad Brothers.

You see, Drywater Gulch's toad problem has nothing to do with those warty amphibians you might have in mind:

"Not the hop-down-your-
britches kind of toad.

Not the croaking-all-night
kind of toad.

The never-say-thank-you
outlaw kind of toad."

There 'ain't' no trouble those Toads will avoid, and Mayor McMuffin has had it. So, he is very pleased when a new sheriff arrives in town, even though his entrance is somewhat unusual. He has none of the skills that a mayor would likely need in a lawman. But, he knows 'a really lot about dinosaurs.' How will that help, you might ask yourself. In the inventive hands of Mr. Shea, it helps enormously! The sheriff has it all figured out in no time, and irks those Toad Brothers to no end.

Put a bright and confident young sheriff in competition with a trio of numbskull outlaws and you have a recipe for one hilarious tale to be told repeatedly. Your western drawl will improve exponentially with each telling, and the laughs will just go on and on.

In a recent interview at Lane Smith talked about the process he uses in creating the amazing artwork for this book:

"For this book I did the characters in pen-and-ink and the backgrounds in oil and watercolor paint. I did them separately then scanned them into the computer to combine them in Photoshop. I don't create any textures, shapes, etc. in the computer. It's all hand done first then assembled digitally. It looks better that way."

I'll say it does. Using all of the colors of an arid desert setting, he takes us into Drywater Gulch along with the sheriff. You can almost taste the dust and dirt, and feel the heat on your skin. A host of unforgettable characters, perfect comedic timing and a story that begs to be shared make this a must-have for your classroom, your library, your family.