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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Crazy about Hockey, written by Loris Lesynski and illustrated by Gerry Rasmussen. Annick Press, 2015. $9.95 ages 6 and up

"Why We Win

we gotta get it
all in sync
the way we move
the way we think
the team's all speed
and skills and more
connected: that's
the way to score!"

I just finished watching the first game in the Calgary-Anaheim hockey series, and it made me wonder if anyone is getting tired of hockey yet. I am guessing that diehard fans still can't get enough of it! When I was working in a school library for grades K through 6, I could not get my hands on enough books about hockey. I would very much have appreciated having this new one by Loris Lesynski on my hockey shelf.

As she has done with soccer and basketball, this funny and adept poet has created yet another book of poetry for young sports fans. Witty and fun to read alone or with some one, every hockey fan will find something to love in its pages.

"What's It's REALLY About

Is it ALL about strength?
Or ALL about speed?
Or all about ALL of the skills
that you need?
Is it ALL about aim
(and a bit about luck)?
What MAKES hockey hockey?

If you have a hockey fan in your family, or in your classroom, you can't go wrong with this book.
Fun, accessible verses, and terrific accompanying art will make this an often borrowed and read book for young fans.                                                                                   

Beastly Verse, collected and illustrated by Joohee Yoon. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Be careful what
You say or do
When you visit the animals
At the Zoo.
Treat them as well
As they do you,
And you'll always be welcome
At the Zoo.

-Eileen Mathias"

How wonderful to see this collection of older poems, dating from the 19th to the mid-20th century, collected and illustrated by skilled printmaker Joohee Yoon! It is her debut picture book; yet, it is a masterful accomplishment.

Children, as you know, love animals and creatures. These poems have a childlike freedom and friendly feel for sharing on countless occasions. Many are new to me, and that just made the discoveries even more appealing. Of course, there are some 'old' favorites as well.


Once there was an elephant ,
Who tried to use the telephant -
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone -
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I've got it right.)

Howe'er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee -
(I fear I'd better drop this song
of elephop and telephong!)

-Laura E. Richards"

I taught that poem to my kindergartners every year. They were 'squeally' to share it with their families once they had aced it! I can hardly wait to watch my granddaughter's joy as she experiences the word fun.

I could  go on sharing other favorites from this collection. I would rather tell you about the incredible artwork 'created by hand drawing and computer techniques. Three Pantone colors were used in the printing of this book.'

Three colors? How is it possible to do create such brilliant images with only three colors ... cyan, magenta, and yellow? Overlapping establishes the secondary colors and enhances the surprise of the illustrations created in such a beautifully inspired way. The wild delight of its crowded pages will surely encourage a concentrated observation of every single spread. They are energetic, bold in design, and impossible to ignore as you read each well-chosen poem. Children will be intrigued by the many details that are meant to entice them while sharing the 16 poems chosen. The gatefolds add to the fun and provide a sense of movement that will inspire animated conversation.


Some birds lay eggs in towering trees,
And some in fens conceal them;
The hen seeks friendlier haunts than these,
Where every child can steal them.

-Arthur Waugh"

The size of the collection is 'just right' for its intended audience. The artwork inspires a connection that will be much appreciated by little ones who love to see such glorious representation of the words they are hearing.

Quite spectacular and oh, so impressive!

It's a perfect ending for the month long celebration of poetry in its many forms and presentations. Thanks for reading. I hope that you have made many new discoveries.                                            

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mammals: eye wonder. Written by Sarah Walker. DK Publishing, Tourmaline Editions, Inc. 2015. $11.99 ages 7 and up

"Apes, monkeys, and humans are the most widely known members of a mammal group called primates. A primate party would be a swinging one, since primates are playful and highly intelligent creatures. An orangutan mother and baby stay together for about eight years. The baby clings to its mother's fur as she moves through the trees."

In another terrific addition to the eyewonder series, DK focuses attention on the world of mammals. In double page spreads, children are enticed by full color photos, comically illustrated information boxes, a multitude of facts, and four follow-up games that will encourage new learning.

Kids who love to learn about animals will have much to appreciate when sitting to wander through its pages. There is something new to learn with every turn of the page:

"A hippopotamus would be perfect at the dentist's, with its large mouth and wide jaw stretch. All mammals have distinct jaws, meaning that the lower jaw is hinged directly to the skull."

"If threatened, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo rolls itself into a complete ball, protecting its soft parts. Tough skin and an awkward shape prove an effective defense against most predators."

"The largest living marsupial, red kangaroos live in Australia. They live in groups of about 2-10 animals, with one dominant male, and several females. When bounding at full speed, kangaroos can reach speeds of about 30 mph (50 kph)."   

"Pads on the ends of a tarsier's fingers and toes help it to grip a branch while its big eyes scan the forest floor for insects to eat. Can you believe that each eye is heavier than its brain!"

What's a tarsier, you ask. Well, here's where you can find out!

A glossary, an animal alphabet and an index are much appreciated additions.

Another reminder about DK's incredible, interactive site ... please check out

Bigfoot is Missing! By J. Patrick Lewis and Kenn Nesbitt, with illustrations by Minalima. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2015. $22.99 ages 7 and up


The definition of a 'crypid' is as follows: an animal or plant whose existence has been suggested but has not been discovered or documented by the scientific community.

In this introduction to 18 crypids, J. Patrick Lewis and Kenn Nesbitt use humor and offbeat rhymes in a wide variety of forms to entice readers to consider the notoriety of such things. Wanted posters, signs, newspaper reports, news broadcasting are but a few of the ways that they bring them to the forefront. The accompanying bold graphic representations of each do not offer a clear picture of any, often teasing with only a small part of the one being advertised.

I know those things that attract my attention and push forward my need to know; most of these creatures were not a part of my vocabulary, nor did I have any knowledge of them. If you are a teacher, or the parent of children who would know them, then you know the kids who are going to be intrigued by the verses in this book. There are poems about bunyips (those I knew), Mongolian death worms, luscas, the Beast of Bodmin Moor, the Kraken, even the chupacabra. The newspaper classifieds have never been so entertaining! 

Playful, brief, easy to read, enticing and even unsettling, these poems are sure to encourage those who want to know more to look elsewhere for additional material and information. There are people all over the world who believe that they have sighted one or more of these cryptids. None have ever been able to prove their claims. That fact does not seem to lessen the interest for many. Most of them I would certainly never want to meet ... or even see!

Endpages provide needed details about the creatures featured and others, and their suspected locations.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mommy & Me Bake: Bake and Learn Together.Edited by Laura Palosuo. Dorling Kindersley, Tourmaline Editions, Inc. 2015.$16.99 ages 4 and up

"Why does dough rise? Water and flour make a stretchy dough to trap the gas bubbles that yeast produces. This makes the dough rise. Whey do we need to knead? Kneading makes the dough elastic. When it's really stretchy, it can hold gas bubbles that the yeast makes. As more and more bubbles are made, the dough will start to rise."

A word of caution: don't read this when you are hungry. You might just find yourself doing the baking suggested on your own without waiting for the perfect time to share the experience with a young one. The pictures will make you drool! Plus, I think that you might learn something more about the baking process as you share some of these scrumptious recipes.

The table of contents shows that the baking tasks will include cookies, cakes, bread, and pastry. I knew that I could learn something new! Baking basics provides a comprehensive list of rules for the kitchen, a key to the symbols used and what every kitchen should have if baking is to be one of its functions. A double page spread, replete with excellent photos, then shows how Weighing and measuring are done. One more thing before we get to the recipes; Ingredient magic explains how the most basic ingredients impact the results.

Now, let's get on with it!  In a nod to the fact that baking is not just about desserts, parents and their aspiring chefs will find recipes that make a complete meal. The first spread has a colored border for the photo that shows just exactly which ingredients will be needed to ensure success. An information box allows that all of the necessary equipment will be at hand, and sets a time line for the task. Following that, close-up colored photographs walk readers (and bakers) through a clear step-by-step method for each of the recipes included.

If I were having company for dinner tonight, and children were involved, I would love to try the Pizza People with help from those in attendance. Then, all there is to do is enjoy the fruits of your labor before baking another tempting treat!

Beach House, written by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Amy June Bates. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Goggles, swimmies,
masks and fins.
Buckets, shovels.
Fun begins!

Breathe salt air.
Squint at the sun.
Hot-foot hopping.
Squeal and run."

I am not a lake person. That is to say I did not spend the summers of my youth at the lake. If we were visiting with family in Saskatchewan, we went to Katepwa Lake for the day. I loved it; I did not want to be there every day unless it meant that we could forgo chores. I have friends and relatives who live for summers and their annual treks to the same vacation home. Some have chosen to build houses in close proximity. This book is for them.

It is full to the brim with a detailed feel for the strong memories evoked by family vacations spent at one very special destination. From getting everything packed and ready, to the drive, to the arrival and adventure of discovery at every turn, the author is able to make the reader feel the wonder of the sun and sand, the beauty of the calm relaxation such a setting affords, the joy and delight in small discoveries and the immeasurable expanse of the night sky.

The beauty of each word and memory is captured brilliantly by Amy June Bates. She makes me want to share in the delight felt by so many others. If you remember brilliant summer days spent at the beach, this book  is perfect for you.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Peace is an Offering, written by Annette Le Box and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. Dial, Penguin. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Peace is gratitude
for simple things.
Light through a leaf,
a dragonfly's wings.
A kiss on the cheek,
raindrops and dew.
A walk in the park,
a bowl of hot stew."
This is a truly beautiful book and is meant to be shared daily, I think. There is so much in our world that overwhelms us. Too often the news makes us want to go back to bed and read something uplifting. This is just the book for that. It is read quickly but inspires at every turn.

It is a poem that quietly fills the reader with hope. It states simply that, although the world may seem too big, too brutal, too sad, too demanding, there are things that each one of us can do to make it a better place. In our own small ways, we can make a difference by helping those who need our help, by spreading our own joy to others, by doing little things that are big to others, by appreciating what is there, not wishing for what is not. We can find peace in the truly wonderful people and events that are part of our days.

"Peace is the words you say to a brother.
Will you stay with me?
Will you be my friend?
Will you listen to my story
till the very end?"

The lovely artwork is fashioned in pencil and watercolor, before being assembled and digitally colored. Each page is a gift. The intense colors, the detailed constructions, the diversity of the characters and the tranquil, detailed scenes are sure to inspire shared stories of happy, helpful times and encourage children to find some peace in their own worlds. A winning addition to any book shelf.

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama. Written by Hester Bass and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 9 and up

"These students know they will be asked to leave. Know that if they don't, they'll go to jail. But they sit at these lunch counters, day after day. It's called a sit-in, a non-violent gesture against "just the way it is." The seeds of freedom are planted in Huntsville. What will it take to make them grow?"

This is another book to add to your list of books meant to help us understand the struggle for civil rights. In Seeds of Freedom, Hester Bass shares the story of the people of Huntsville,  Alabama.

In 1962, Huntsville is known as the "Space Center of the Universe". Beside its cotton fields, engineers and scientists are working to build the rockets that will transport astronauts to the moon. While life may seem rosy from the outside, not everyone is happy. While there is no evident violence toward black people, many are treated as they always have been. Segregation is a word often heard; it is time for people to stand up and act.

Black students are allowed to sit at the lunch counter in stores; they are not allowed to eat lunch or use the washrooms. They know that when they sit down. They sit anyway, wanting to bring attention to the need for change. People are ready to protest, to stand up for their rights, and suffer the consequences for their actions. They need to bring attention to the issues. A pregnant doctor's wife, a college student, and a dentist's wife with a baby in her arms are part of a group refusing to leave a lunch counter and go home. They are arrested. That is big news for everyone in their city.

Rather than spend money on expensive clothing for Easter, a Blue Jean Sunday is organized that creates a great loss of revenue for local store owners. Parks are visited by black families on Mother's Day despite the fact that they are to be used only by whites. There is no outcry. When George Wallace states that black and white should be separated forever, black residents dot the sky with balloons of every color.

Within six months things begin to change. People are coming together; the one exception is with the schools.

" ... schools for black children have no library, no cafeteria, and no buses while the schools for white children seem to have everything. Are the seeds of freedom wilting?"

Then it is 1963, a time when things in Huntsville are mostly peaceful. That is not true in other parts of Alabama. This time, though, attention is given to the struggle on television. The beginning of another year of school is close at hand. A judge's ruling on school integration does not ensure attendance.

"Governor George Wallace has closed all Alabama public schools planning to admit black students."

Huntsville is the first Alabama city to allow integration in a formerly all-white school, something for all citizens to proclaim with great pride. Ms. Bass has shared a story of how one community did make a difference. The people of Huntsville proved willing to work together, without violence, to integrate the schools and make their city a better place for everyone. Of course there were challenges; residents proved that they could be overcome with support from all.

E.B. Lewis worked in watercolors to create the powerful and telling images of this struggle for civil rights. His emotional artwork helps readers realize the strength that comes when people work together to make things better. The poignancy and power of his images evoke hope and understanding, while never moving away from the struggles faced.

An author's note, two telling photographs and a list of books for further reading ensure that those who want to know more will not be disappointed.                                               

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, written by Kathleen Benson and illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"By the time they were teenagers, most of Benny's friends went to work in the fields full-time. But Benny was miserable there. Every row of crops was the same as the other row. The hot sun beat down through the straw hat on his head. The hoe was heavy in his hands. Benny dreamed of leaving. He did not have a clear plan, but he knew the first step ..."

In this brief look at Benny Andrews, his life and art, Kathleen Benson shows her admiration for the man and his mission. She begins with a lovely and telling note about the man himself, who knew that children in New Orleans were suffering following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

"The artist Benny Andrews traveled from New York City to Louisiana to work with those children. He showed them how to draw pictures of what they had seen, to use art to express their feelings about what they had been through. He knew from his own experience how important this kind of self-expression was."

He most certainly did. For years, Benny had been drawing life as he saw it. He was only 3 when his art career began. He took a careful look at his world, and made art from his surroundings. While attending church he created mind pictures that he would later put to paper. At school, the other children knew he was an artist. He was constantly drawing what he saw and heard.

While his friends went to work in the cotton fields, Benny dreamed of being anywhere but there. He knew that he needed further education, and was allowed to attend high school. He walked there and back, always thinking about a bigger world. Upon graduation, he went to college, then joined the air force. Following his service, he moved to Chicago for art school.

Inspired by the people he saw, he honed his craft and became a 'master of movement' on the painted canvas. Always working at his art, Benny became an advocate of art for everyone. His success as a working artist allowed him to share that art, and teach his students to draw what they saw ...just as he did.

As moving as the story of his life's work is, the artist's own art graces the pages to give readers a clear look at the man and to honor his art.

A 2003 photograph of the artist faces an author's note and list of sources and resources in back matter. An extensive and detailed timeline chronicles his amazing life and his many worthy accomplishments. Finally, each of the images used to illustrate this excellent picture book biography are described by title, medium and date.

The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices, written by Joan Bransfield Graham and illustrations by Kyrsten Brooker. two lions, 2014. $17.99 ages 8 and up

Step on -
I am wheels
and gears,
I am speed.
I will heed
your slightest
I will take you
I am wind ... "

Have you ever experienced writer's block? There are days for me when sitting to think about and write a post for a new book just doesn't happen. Luckily, on other days, it seems that words come easily and posts are quickly written. But, I have NEVER known the kind of problem Ryan O'Brian is experiencing. Ryan can't STOP writing poetry; thankfully, that is what assures his story will be of real interest to this book's audience.

It is constructed as one poem that tells the whole story. Included in the story are 22 poems enveloped by Kyrsten Brooker's energetic, textured mixed media artwork. Ryan's poems are reflective of his days and experiences. He continuously scribbles words, on anything and with any medium ... all day and all night. Will he ever be able to stop?  What will it take?

In back matter readers will find pages from Ryan's notebook constructed as a glossary to describe the fifteen poetic forms used to tell his story, as well the five voices used to create them. Examples are provided, and all are sure to influence aspiring poets and writers.

It's a great ride, and a useful mentor text for middle years classrooms.                 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

HOOT OWL: Master of Disguise. Written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"And here I come!

The night has
a thousand eyes,
and two of them
are mine.
I swoop through
the bleak blackness
like a wolf in the air.
And look there ... "

Hoot Owl knows that he is expert at predatory exploits. He has no concern whatsoever for tracking, tricking and taking the food that he needs to sustain himself. He does so with a healthy dose of confidence and villainy. Rather than chase, he disguises himself.

His prey (a rabbit, a lamb, a pigeon) are remarkably unconcerned with his sly hunting tactics. Each time he tries to prevent discovery, the prey catches on and makes an hasty exit. Hoot Owl is always willing to wait. When all seems lost, he spots the perfect victim. Once again he disguises himself; this time, he is a waiter which seems appropriate since that is all he has been doing in his attempts at securing sustenance. His final opportunity comes with a totally unexpected prey that cannot flee. His hunger finally sated, the Owl is tired of trickery and ready to be himself again. All is well.

The repetitive text, and its exceptional accompanying artwork are sure to have little ones begging to hear it 'one more time, please!' You won't mind one bit. Just listen to Hoot Owl's refrain:

"Everyone knows
owls are wise.
But as well as
being wise,
I am a master
of disguise.

I devise a costume."

The fact that he disguises himself as a carrot, a mother sheep, and a birdbath add to the silliness, and will encourage little ones to try reading parts on their own. Hoot Owl has no mean bone in his body: each time he devises a costume, he merely sits patiently and waits while doing nothing about capturing a meal. It endears him to the audience, for sure.

Be sure to read this aloud with your family and with your students. It begs an emotive tone, and a strong, persuasive voice. You will have a ball!

Sweep Up the Sun, written by Helen Frost, with photographs by Rick Lieder. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"Spread your feathers,
sweep up the sun,

ride the wind and explore.

Take off in a new direction -
sweep and soar."

As they did so beautifully in Step Gently Out (Candlewick, 2012), Helen Frost and Rick Lieder bring their impressive talents to a new book focused on many common North American birds. Once again,  Ms. Frost has written one poem. Mr. Lieder's arresting close-ups provide a brilliant accompaniment to her lyrical words.

Most of the birds are in flight; the theme of the book, once again, is to provide encouragement for her young audience to get outside and see their world with new and focused eyes. Exploration is sadly lacking for so many children today. The beauty of the photographs begins with the front endpapers ... two tiny robins begging for food. Our robins are back in Manitoba; hopefully, it won't be long until they are nest building and family rearing.

Ms. Frost encourages those reading this gorgeous book to spread their wings, take careful risks and 'fly'. In back matter, the 11 birds shown so elegantly are described in detailed paragraphs. A visit to the backyard, some close observation might just be the ticket to a new pursuit ... birding. What joy awaits!



Friday, April 24, 2015

A Violin for Elva, written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"When she could have
been learning subtraction,
or should have been going
to sleep, she was playing
music only she could hear.
Summer, autumn, winter,
spring, Elva played. And
Elva grew. She outgrew her
sleeves, outgrew her shoes."

Elva is a dreamy young girl, wearing overalls and soaking her feet in a nearby stream when we first meet her. She seems delighted with the world. As she picks up her boots for the walk home, she stops in her tracks when she hears music. She watches through a hedge; but. she doesn't tell her parents. All she says to them is:

"I want a violin."

She is polite, she is self-assured. Her parents refuse. Elva has a solution ... she pretends. As she walks home from school, she uses a tennis racket and a tree branch for her performances. At home, she uses her toothbrush to prepare for her future success. Music consumes her. Throughout the seasons, throughout the years, Elva uses her imagination to make the music she loves.

Although she is very busy with her job, Elva never forgets how much she once wanted to play.

"I'm much too busy," Elva said, though she began to borrow records from the library downtown. At home, she listened to them. And then she felt she had picked up her violin again."

When she returns the records, the music stops. Nothing but silence. She does her best to fill the silence. And, she works. Years pass, Elva flourishes at her work and life. Suddenly she is too old to play the violin - or is she? Buying a much-loved instrument is the least of her worries. Learning to play on her own is a most difficult undertaking. There is so much to learn. Despite her ineptitude she perseveres.

Then, one day ... a solution presents itself in a newspaper ad.

Tricia Tusa's watercolor and ink artwork allows readers to dream along with Elva as she grows from young, impressionable girl to responsible working woman, and finally to an aging music lover with recurring dreams of making the music she loves. The pages are full of life and action; music permeates its pages. When Elva finally realizes her lifelong dream, we cannot help but smile seeing her stand with all of Madame Josephina's beginning students, proudly showing their skills in recital.

Brava, Elva!

Raindrops Roll, by April Pulley Sayre. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Raindrop spangles
mark angles.

They cling to curves
and cover cocoons.

Raindrops settle.
They slip.
They dot.
They drip."

This morning, here in Victoria, the raindrops are rolling. They are soft and gentle, and make the air feel cool and refreshing. I can already see spots of blue sky. I might be doing the same thing that April Pulley Sayre did in writing this beautiful new book ... gazing in wonder at the beauty that is rain!

With lively text and stunning photographs readers are drawn to the wonder of a rainstorm, and the beauty of the sunlight sparkle that often follows. Taking the time to be awed by natural phenomena is one of the real pleasures that can be found to do with no money at all. We just need to let our curiosity lead the way to the beauty of our own backyards and neighborhoods.

April Pulley Sayre uses the rhythm of our language to engage our ears while we observe the many amazing things that happen well before the rain starts, through the storm, when it subsides. Little has escaped her attention. Her camera, ever ready, captures the most delightful small moments while celebrating the storm.

Stunning in design, this book will capture attention and hopefully do just what its author intends ... get us out there with cameras and open eyes to see what we can see. The day matters not; the sensitive observation is what counts. There is such joy in this wondrous world of ours.

In the concluding pages, aspiring scientists are sure to be enticed by the information shared. Rain is explained in terms of its science: how clouds form, what raindrops look like, the many things that tiny raindrops do.

"You return raindrops to the sky. Your breath is moist and full of water. The water you breathe out may become part of a cloud. It may fall as rain on a mountain, far away. When your tears dry, the water vapor goes into the air and could someday rain down again too."

If you want to know more, Ms. Sayre provides a list of further resources.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything, written and illustrated by Calef Brown. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.95 ages 6 and up

Pigeon Frogs

Pigeon frogs!
Pigeon frogs! ...
All day long
they hop and flutter.
Snatching crumbs
and catching flies
with bobbing heads
and bulging eyes."

Can you see yourself asking your students to choose two animals they might combine for their similarities, create a new animal and write a poem about it? Using the above poem might be just the impetus they need to try their hand at that type of writing.

If they wrote with the irreverent humor that Calef Brown employs in his poetry, you would have some wonderful writing to post on your classroom door as an invitation for others to join you. Maybe then you could  also invite them in to share the fun that fills the pages of this new book. There are more than 80 entries and each is full of nonsense and wacky wordplay.

If you have read any of his earlier books, you will be anticipating full concentration and a lot of thinking as kids read and then reread his poetry. They will enjoy the way he plays with words, always creative and oftentimes gross. Little ones will be intrigued by the details of the silly drawings that so cleverly accompany these descriptions of strange animals, people and other creatures. Want poetry that is silly? Here, you have it!

Be sure to check out the footnotes, like the one that ends this poem:

Lou Gnome

Look who came back home
to Hoboken--
it's Lou Gnome!
Like the G in his name,
Lou is silent.
Completely nonviolent.
He doesn't speak,
even when spoken to.
None of the Gnomes in Hoboken do.

Those that are gnome-schooled
are required to recite the Pledge of the Wee-Gents,
sometimes at huge events.

'Gnome-schooled'? Witty is right ...


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking. Written by Elin Kelsey, with artwork by Soyeon Kim. Owlkids, 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"All around you,
creatures seek solutions.

Pigeons procrastinate.
Bees calculate.
Elephants innovate.
Bears keep count.

When orangutans feel
puzzled, they stop and

I wonder if you remember You Are Stardust, 2012. If you read it at the time, I am sure that you can see some of its beautiful dioramas in your head. In this second book, Elin Kelsey returns to science to help us think deeper.

She begins by explaining how difficult problems can be for those facing them. Facing them can, at times, result in the most remarkable discoveries. We don't have to look far to see how animals have adapted to their environment, and achieved more that any person might have thought possible. For us to make such discoveries, we just have to be willing to open our eyes to possibilities and to look closely so that we miss nothing.

"Step outside.
If squirrels can learn to cross roads
   by watching people,
      what can you learn by watching squirrels?"

There is much to see, and consider if you will just allow yourself to look with clear, bright eyes. Young readers are encouraged, in mindful lovely language, to look and learn from those around them, to use their imaginations, to see if they find solutions to some difficult problems. There is so much to see and to appreciate when you give yourself over to discovery.

The fascinating and exquisite dioramas constructed by Soyeon Kim have amazing textures that are sure to have all readers wanting to return to this book's pages to savor the details, the imaginative scenes, the variety in media. The cool green endpapers are festooned with sketches of the animals and their problem solving abilities.

Read it once, then twice, and then whenever you seek inspiration and beauty.


Please check this site:

Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero Waste World, written by Michelle Mulder. Orca Book Publishers, 2015. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"...But a few decades ago, here in Victoria, BC, my time on the beach would have been very different. From 1908 to 1958, city workers loaded all of Victoria's garbage onto barges and dumped it in the ocean. The tide washed it back to shore, though, and picnickers brought rakes to clear places to sit on the sand!"

A slight blip in the road today; this is not a book of poetry. It is a celebration for Earth Day. Enjoy!

I look forward with great anticipation to each new Orca Footprints edition. They have been beautifully designed, well researched and blessed with terrific writing. This one is no exception.

Michelle Mulder wants her readers to know the many ways in which garbage has become an issue around the world. As well she makes them aware of the inventive ways people are dealing with the trash that we create.

She has designed four chapters to share her research: a history of trash, what happens to our garbage when we sent it to the landfill or throw it in our waters, the organizations and people who are trying to make use of what many deem disposable, and the initiatives that are being developed to help deal with the massive amount of garbage we are producing.

As she has done in previous books, Ms. Mulder writes as if she is having a personal conversation with her audience. She includes personal observations and anecdotes from her travels and from her life in Victoria today to make us cognizant of simple solutions to some of the ways in which we dispose of unwanted and unneeded objects. Some of the information shared is astonishing and almost impossible to imagine. Take the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located north of Hawaii. The amount of garbage that floats at its centre is six times bigger than the entire United Kingdom, causing the death of one million birds and 100,000 marine animals every single year. How tragic is that ?

Many talented and determined people work endlessly, and with great success, to make a difference.
They find ways to distribute surplus foods, use discarded materials and other recyclables to construct new homes, furniture and even musical instruments. Governments around the world encourage variety in ways to deal with trash, from banning plastic bags to teaching how other people's junk might become treasure for someone. There are many useful suggestions for families wanting to do their part in creating a 'zero waste' world.   
The "Trash Facts" are interesting and inspiring. A wealth of impressive color photos, a table of contents, an index and a list of additional books, movies and websites add to the appeal and to the value of this thoughtful new edition. 

"Even so, sometimes recycling makes environmentalists nervous. First of all, melting down used materials to make a new product takes a lot of energy. In most places, the factories that recycle our waste use electricity made with coal. Coal is a fossil fuel, and burning it releases harmful gases that contribute to global warming. Also, many materials- like plastic- can only be recycled a few times. Each time, the product becomes more flimsy and more likely to wind up as garbage eventually. Second, much like burning garbage, recycling often makes people feel better about using something once and tossing it away. But the best thing for the environment is to throw away less in the first place."

Once again, she gives us pause to think and to change our ways.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Special Delivery, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Please be gentle with him.
Do not bend him, or drop
him, or shake him much at
all. He is fragile and very
easily might break."

"You'll need a lot of stamps,

Even before I read the wonderful interview that Julie Donaldson did with Philip Stead and Matthew Cordell at a while back, I had made a personal connection with John Burningham's Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present (Candlewick, 2007). I love that book and it remains part of our Christmas collection of stories to be read every year! Now, I will add Special Delivery to my 'keeper' shelf as well.

What a premise! Sadie is a brave and resolute young girl with a purpose in mind, and the wherewithal to get the job done. She wants to send a package to her much-loved Aunt Josephine who lives alone and doesn't have much company. The package just happens to be an elephant. Sadie knows a mailbox won't work, so she goes straight to Jim at the post office. Sadie has specific instructions; Jim has a caution. When he shows her just how many stamps it will take, Sadie is pretty quick to find another option.

When one door closes, Sadie simply opens another one. Her neighbor Mary has a plane and a bit of a concern. Sadie is not one to be discouraged by naysayers. Soon, they are in flight and quickly in trouble. When they crash, an alligator catches Sadie's eye and proves reliable for the next phase of the journey.

Will Sadie succeed in her grand effort to show love and concern for dear Great-Aunt Josephine? Does she have the mettle to face all obstacles? Will she fulfill the promise she makes to the alligator as her way of thanking him for the assistance? I would bet on Sadie any day of the week, month, or year. If you want speed and unpredictability, this is the book for you. If you love to revisit a favorite story that has so much heart that you can hardly stand it, this is the book for you. If you love books where the art is as necessary to the telling as the words themselves, this is the book for you.

Matthew Cordell uses jaunty lines in pen and ink with watercolor to match the action and humor of this most enjoyable tale. The unrestrained motion and amusing details are brilliant in their execution and are sure to hold attention as young audience members pore over them once the reading is done.
Silly and totally captivating, this is a book you need to share!

In a recent post for the Nerdy Book Club, Philip E. Stead provided a perfect description of his new book for member nerds:

"Special Delivery is a book about postage stamps, and mail, and elephants, and monkeys, and bean eating, and kindness, and ice cream sandwiches, and ridiculousness, and alligators, and bubble gum, and determination, and airplanes, and hot chocolate. It's my most jumpy and disjointed absurd book yet. And, so, it's a bit surprise to me that I know that exact moment when this book came to life. One day over morning coffee a friend said to me, "Last night I dreamed I brought an elephant to the post office." "Oh, yeah?" I asked. "Where did you mail it?" "Nowhere," she answered. "I couldn't afford the postage."

Melvis and Elvis, written by Dennis Lee and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard. HarperCollinsPublishersLtd., 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Open this book,
And you will see
A secret path
Called POETRY.

Follow the path,
And you will find
A home for your heart,
And a treat for your mind."

Hooray! Dennis Lee is back, and we are happy to 'hear' his voice once again. Some of the poetry we loved to share when the kids were young were Alligator Pie, Garbage Delight, and Jelly Belly. They still have pride of place on our poetry shelf, and will surely be shared with my sweet granddaughter whenever she visits.

This new collection concerns Melvis (a monster) and Elvis (an elf), how they become friends and then find a book that suits both readers. It's strange; Melvis wants to read about elves while Elvis wants to read about monsters. Guess where they meet? In the library, of course. When they find a book about both elves and monsters, they settle in to share it.

Now, we can move on to page 2. The rest of the book comes directly from that shared book. Each short story is told in verse, and will surely tickle the funny bones of those reading it. Dennis Lee penned many poems before settling on the ones that would perfectly fit together for this brand new book for a young audience. There are more than thirty new verses, including:

To a Bully

We don’t like the measles,
And we don’t like the flu.
We don’t like bullies,
And we can’t stand you.

Each poem is full of fun and sure to entertain all who read them. It won't be long until you hear your little one repeating them endlessly. There are many Canadian references, a real bonus to my mind. They deal with subjects that kids find most charming and compelling: dinosaurs, food, animals, the playground. The rhymes are nonsensical at times, and full of witty wordplay. That makes them as enjoyable to read from the adult perspective as they are to be heard from the listener's.

Jeremy Tankard, as he is wont to do, creates boldly colored images to perfectly match the joy of the poetry. Every single one is illustrated according to its mood, whether quiet or boisterous. It is quite the magical pairing.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Should You Be A River: a poem about love, by Ed Young. Little, Brown & Company, Hachette. 2015. $20.00 ages 5 and up

"Should you be
a great forest,
I'll caress your
branches and make
you sway.

Should you be
a breeze,
I'll be ripples
dancing to
your tunes."

When Ed Young's wife died in 2007, his two daughters were young. In his role as single parent, he was tasked with loving them and learning to let them fly on their own. In this poetic reminder of the power that love has for each of us, he conveys a sense of his protective nature and his ability to let his girls take responsibility for finding themselves as the days and years passed.

The striking collages that accompany his poetic calligraphic text are made from torn paper and placed alongside photographs of trees, water and the sky. Every image is as powerful as the words they are designed to match. It is an engaging and lasting tribute to his wife and to their family, built be penning couplets that evoke the power of nature as it compares to the true power of love. They come from the heart, showing the pain of losing a loved one and honoring her memory.

It  is a brilliant journey, and a treasure to be kept in your own personal library.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Marilyn's Monster, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"Marilyn stopped trying to seem pretty and nice and friendly and fun all the time. She stopped looking around in the library and the playground after school. She started feeling mad. Where was her monster? What was taking him so long? She was so mad ... "

Her brother and all her friends have a monster of their own. What about Marilyn? Where is her monster? Why hasn't it found her yet? It's enough to initiate a temper tantrum of sorts!

The title page shows Marilyn trailing behind a line of happy companions ... each set includes a monster and an extremely happy child. Marilyn is all alone.

"Some of the kids in Marilyn's class had monsters. It was the latest thing. Marilyn didn't have a monster. Not yet. You couldn't just go out and get one. Your monster had to find you."

So, there is a rule. That effectively leads Marilyn through a wide range of emotions as she cautiously waits for her very own monster. They arrive in many different ways, and unexpectedly. Since monsters are finding their children in every conceivable place, Marilyn is sure hers will do the same. Unworried, she watches the many arrivals with only cursory glances and a heart full of hopes. As the only child without a monster, she is patient. Following that, she is thoughtful about the need for a monster of her own; then doubtful, and finally both mad and very sad. She likes the idea of having her own.

Instead of just waiting around, Marilyn sets herself a quest: to find her own monster, wherever it may be. She is prepared, and forewarned.

"She didn't just kind of look. She really looked.
She looked as hard as she could.
She searched behind the stone lions
that sat outside the library."

Further and further afield she goes, always on the lookout. Her perseverance pays off when she finds a small, scared, lost bundle of green and yellow, with very useful wings.

Michelle Knudsen's lively text is enhanced in all the best ways by Matt Phelan as he creates a plethora of brilliant monsters sure to capture the attention of eagle-eyed young readers who share this book. All of Marilyn's emotions are perfectly captured in watercolor and ink artwork that assure no child reading this book will fear any of those visions Mr. Phelan conjures up for this witty tale.

This is a book with heart, and I cannot wait to share it!

Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean, by Jane Lynch, with Lara Embry and A.E. Mikesell. Illustrated by Tricia Tusa. Random House, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Marlene, Marlene,
the queen of
the scene,
of the playground,
the sidewalk,
the school ...
Marlene, Marlene,
the queen of the mean,
was known for being
quite cruel."

If you are looking to add to your selection of books about bullying, you might want to check this one out from the library. Marlene is no one's favorite school girl. She spends her days making life miserable for the other kids there. She enjoys pinching, kicking, scowling, blocking. She has a  power that few are willing to challenge.

Only when Big Freddy takes it upon himself to ask some pertinent questions do the rest of his schoolmates begin to change. As he explains to them how bullying works, they begin to ignore her and diminish her power over them. It makes Marlene furious; that makes no difference to the others. They are no longer afraid.

"So Marlene
stiffened her back
and went on the attack,
unleashing her meanness
quite fully.

Though she kicked
and she pinched,
not a single kid flinched,
and Freddy said,
"You're just a bully."

Can Marlene change? Will that be easy? If she does, will it last?

I like that it is a schoolmate who brings the bullying to the forefront and leads in making change, rather than having teachers and administration step in to try and solve a pretty universal problem. When kids stand together, they can begin to bring their own strength to solutions. Tricia Tusa uses
soft watercolors and a hint of comedy to bring a sense of ease to the story. I love how her pert pink bow distinctively denotes Marlene's sense of power, changing from bold to frazzled to sagging. It's an inspiration!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

School Days Around the World, written by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by Alice Feagan. Kids Can Press, 2015. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Marta goes to school in Azezo, Ethiopia. I walk along the dusty road to school with my goddegna Ayana. It is early morning, but already the sun is hot on our backs. I am blind so I hold my friend's hand tightly as she helps me around potholes and cow patties. There are 70 students in our class and 500 in our school. But many more students use the same school."

In this companion to a welcome group of books about children and their families around the world, Margriet Ruurs once again introduces us to individual children from all corners of the globe. For each of them, school can be a very different thing. It is a warm and inviting look, accompanied by detailed collage artwork created by Alice Feagan.

"You will meet some children who
live at school and others who have
to walk a long way to get there.
You will see schools with libraries and
computers but also schools with hardly any books at all."

Following her introduction, a map plots the countries that will be visited, and the children who live there. Fourteen countries are visited and the children's stories are based on real children and their school experiences. Each describes in first person voice what is unique about their own schooling.

The carefully created artwork is sure to hold the interest of those sharing the book, and adds context for the stories being told. White space assures that our attention is on the children as they enjoy the many events of their days. You will be surprised at the differences from one school to the next, while also finding that much is the same the world over. Environments surely differ.

It is perfect for provoking questions and careful thought about school life elsewhere, and comparing it to what we know. It is meant to be a starting point, and is sure to encourage some children to continue their exploration of education around the world.

Back matter includes further information about schools and suggests ways of expanding our learning about them. It also has suggestions for making a difference for those not as fortunate as we are, and provides a glossary of unfamiliar words.

Water Rolls, Water Rises, written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Meilo So. Children's Book Press, Lee & Low. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"Blown by the wind,
water sails high.
Tumbling cloud plumes
curl through the air.

Soplada por el viento,
el agua se remonta.
Volutas nebulosas
ruedan por el aire. "

Do you love to sit and watch young children glory in the joys of water?  Bath time for babies, puddles for toddlers and their caregivers, rainbows and umbrellas for others; each will evoke memories from earlier times or spawn brand new ones. Then, consider water and how it impacts all that we do.

Pat Mora has chosen to pen charming and incredibly simple poems, written in both Spanish and English, to give readers pause and an invitation to join in her celebration of water in its many forms. Not only does she show her readers the variety to be found in life's sustaining liquid, she also varies the settings for each of her poems. She writes about waves, frost, clouds, waterfalls, geysers, rivers and other forms of running water.

This is a lovely and inventive trip around the world which shows us that just as water differs so do the people and places that reap its benefits. Meilo So's perfect watercolors accompany the pleasing rhythms of the poetic text, using beautiful lines and elegant details to explore the movement and grandeur. The design is elegant and eye-catching.

Back matter includes a key to the locations for each spread, and an author's note.

Truly beautiful, and worthy of our attention.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Work and More Work, written by Linda Little and illustrated by Oscar T. Perez. A Groundwood Book. $18.95 ages

 "Tom had never seen such
hustle and bustle! Up one
street and down the next -
people and horses and carts,
baskets and barrels and boxes,
dogs underfoot and birds in
cages, everyone hollering and
"Ho, boy!" a woman called out
to Tom. "Run this note up to
the parson."

Tom is not pleased with the drudgery of his daily life. Those days pass him by in a haze of work, and not much else. When he makes the announcement that he has bigger plans, his parents barely acknowledge his departure; they have their work to do. He hitches a ride on a passing hay wagon, and soon finds himself in town. A man in need of a helper gets his attention, and he spends his day working hard loading a barge. He is very happy, despite the hard work.

When the barge leaves in the morning, Tom is aboard. He is excited to see what happens in the city. He is astonished by the noise, the constant chaos, and all of the people needing his help. He runs errands, rolls barrels, and does a lot of carrying. He is very happy, despite the hard work.

Magnificent boats in the harbor encourage his wandering soul, and he decides that he will go to sea on one of them. As a seaman he faces a powerful storm, great fear and constant work as they stop at one port after another to load wares. They make stops in China, India and Ceylon. He is very happy, despite the hard work.

Finally, it is time for Tom to go home:

"When the ship landed, he made his way back through the city, up along the river to the town (that now seemed very tiny and quiet after all his adventures) and out along the winding road to the little cottage."

Rich language and vibrant settings take readers back in time to places they will not necessarily be familiar with, and give a sense of being right there with Tom as he leaves home looking for, and finding, a greater world. If you have an interest in knowing more about the work of the day, the places Tom visits and the riches he encounters, the author has provided a double page filled with such information.           

By Day, By Night, written by Amy Gibson and illustrated by Meilo So. Boyds Mills Press, Publishers Group Canada. 2014. $18.95 ages 3 and up

"We wash.
We brush.
We dress.
We eat.
We greet each other
when we meet.
We buy and sell.
We give and trade.
We offer what
our hands have made."

It is a simple text; it is also sincere and wise. It is a poetic celebration of people around the world. It shows how we do the same things in different ways on a daily basis.

In the reading, we move from rising in the early morning until 'daylight dies' and sleep overtakes us once again. In the pages between the two parts of a day, we meet children of the world. This lovely books was written to raise funds for The Global Orphan Project and is dedicated to all the children who are gifts to the world. The author pledges that the her proceeds from its sale will be invested in those children.

Meilo So's signature pencil and watercolor images show beautiful children occupied with daily living. The things they do are typical. Customs may be slightly different; these are shown brilliantly in double page spreads. Seasons change, as do circumstances. In each and every one, we realize how much we have in common despite those subtle differences. Children love to be with friends, to hope, to dream, to delight in the world around them.

Imagine the learning that will take place when young children closely observe each smiling face, each new experience. Be prepared to learn with them.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection. Poems by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke. Sourcebooks, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 all ages

"Lying in the Grass
Lying in the grass
looking up through the trees
at the sky,
I saw a small bird
flying over the trees
high high high.
He dipped and he swooped
and flew to rest
on the branch of the tree
far above me."

I am one of those readers whose discovery of a new author often leads to finding and reading every one of their published works. That has happened for me time and time again. When our children were born in the 1970s, I made a concerted effort to find out all I could about the literature that was being written for  young children. One of the authors I discovered and whose work I loved was Charlotte Zolotow. I continued reading and buying as many of her books as I could find. She was a prolific and sensitive writer who helped us look at the beauty of the world and the grace of children in new ways.

I was excited to learn that some of her seasonal poems were being collected for a new publication. I am happy to tell you about this collection today. The poems were originally published from the 1960s through the 1980s. Of  the poems themselves, her daughter, the author Crescent Dragonwagon, says:

"These poems of hers are deceptively simple, transparent and refreshing as a glass of clean, clear, cold spring-water. They follow the turning cycle of a year's seasons, and I think they will introduce
not only the pleasures and surprises of the seasons, but those of poetry itself, to young readers."

Charlotte Zolotow would have been 100 years old this year ... it is a lovely tribute to a woman who gave the world of children's literature such brilliant gifts.

The book begins with:


This summer
still hangs
heavy and sweet
with sunlight
as it did last year.

The autumn
still comes
showering cold and crimson
as it did last year.

The winter
still stings
clean and cold and white
as it did last year.

The spring
still comes
like a whisper in the dark night.

It is only I
who have changed."

Through the seasons, Ms. Zolotow clearly captures the huge changes that take place in the world of nature over the course of a year. In accompanying textural and detailed images, Tiphanie Beeke shows young readers the scenes created by the poet's personal focus on discovery, the senses and intense observation. Those who share it to are sure to wander back through their memories to small moments of happy times.

Magical and childlike, this is a book that will be shared time and again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nobody's Perfect, written by David Elliott and illustrated by Sam Zuppardi. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"And even my mom.

She gave me a time-out.
That's why I'm
sitting on this step ...

even though it's
not my fault that
Ralphie likes to sleep
on my bed."

Oh, there was a time when I needed the reminder that the title of this book assures. Don't we all work too hard to do the right thing, say the right thing, get everything right at one time or another? We know that we aren't, but we are not always content with that. It's an important lesson to learn ... nobody is perfect. No matter how hard we may work at it.

So, I began this book with a sense of serenity. It's a term oft heard. I no longer worry much about it. But the little boy who sits forlornly on the bottom step might need to be convinced. If he looks around, he knows the adage is correct. His sister may be cute and awfully cuddly, she is not 'perfect'. She is LOUD when she doesn't get what she wants. His best friend wants everyone to be paying attention to him. His mother doesn't fit the bill, either ... she is much too quick with the time-outs, and not apt to listen to excuses.

As he goes about letting us know that he's not perfect, we get to see his room before and after cleaning. What a hoot! His foray into painting will remind many parents of their own experiences with artistic expression. So, messy is his schtick, and that makes him not quite perfect. Is that such a bad thing, really?

I love the loose lines of the acrylic and pencil illustrations created by Sam Zuppardi. The child is an
'every child', and could easily be someone living in your house or mine. The energy displayed on every page has real appeal; my favorite images are the two views of the bedroom. Filled with familiar items, and the disarray that those with children know so well.

 Perfection is not an attainable goal. This book helps us be OK with that!

Spots in a Box, by Helen Ward. templar books, Candlewick, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"But instead
of the right kind,
these spots were
all wrong -

a big disappointment:
too tall and too long!

Soon more spots
arrived ... "

Poor guinea fowl! He is missing the white speckles that define him. He wants to make it right. A letter asking to 'please send spots' may be just the ticket. The results of his request are quite astounding!

The variety of spots that arrive in a box tied up with string allows the accomplished and innovative Helen Ward to bring all of her artistic skills to fashioning an abundance of wild and varied spots to be considered. There are spots that are far too big and others that are exceptionally small, spots that don't even seem to be spots, spots that are even striped  ... you know what I mean. It takes time and patience to find exactly what he is looking for, and to become the bird he wants to be.

The watercolor images are intricately detailed, as we have come to expect from this fine artist. They entertain and delight, and are sure to create interest in the glitter that comes from using foil and other sparkly materials. There is even one connect-the-dot illustration that may be just a little too enticing for young readers. The verse is as enjoyable as the illustrations. This book is sure to become a favorite for little ones.

It's funny, and beautiful as well.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Growing Up Pedro, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 8 and up

"Pedro keeps practicing,
and he starts studying English
every day.
In 1988, when he is sixteen,
Pedro is back at Camp Las Palmas.
He is ready to try out for the Dodgers.
Dozens of other boys are trying out, too."

Baseball has started in earnest, the sun is shining brightly and spring is in the air. Our attention is not only focused on baseball, but on hockey playoffs and soon it will be basketball, too. What watching the Jays did for me today was remind me of Matt Tavares' excellent new picture book biography about the terrifically talented Martinez brothers, Ramon and Pedro.

I have read Matt's other books about Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron; I have shared them many times. When you are finished reading this newest book, I think you will find that you have developed a much greater respect for the two brothers whose dedication to each other, their family and their sport is evident on every single page.

It is the Dominican Republic and it is 1981:

One sunny day in the
village of Manoguayabo,
Pedro Martinez sits in the shade
and watches the older boys play.
He wants to play, too.
But his big brother, Ramon, says he is too little.
The boys are using a hard ball,
and Ramon says it is too dangerous.
Pedro is mad, but he knows
Ramon is just looking out for him."

Pedro is very proud of his brother, believing that he is the best pitcher in the world. Pedro wants to follow in his big brother's footsteps. To do so, he much work diligently to improve his skills. At 17, Ramon plays his first season with the Dodgers, while trying to navigate the many difficult adjustments of a new culture and language. He passes on everything he learns to his little brother, believing that his baseball dream will also come true.

In 1990 when Pedro gets his first contract, his brother is already the ace for the Dodgers. Pedro has big shoes to fill! Trades and hard work lead to Pedro finding his own place in the spotlight, and the two brothers playing together once more with the Boston Red Sox. An injury leaves Ramon on the sidelines watching his brother play.

"On days when it's not his turn to pitch,
Pedro never stops talking and dancing
and laughing and joking with his teammates.
One night, to get him to settle down,
his teammates tape him to a pole in the dugout.
Pedro loves every minute of it.

But when it is his turn to pitch,
Pedro is very serious.
All day, he is quiet and focused.
When he takes the mound, he imagines
he is a lion fighting for his food."

Every fan of baseball will find much to love in the emotionally charged artwork, done in watercolor, gouache and pencil. We see Pedro's intensity at every point in his life. The focus is on Pedro throughout and, as readers, we can only be awed by his love for family, his outgoing personality, and his love for the game of baseball.

An author's note is much appreciated and heartwarming. Through his research for this book, Matt Tavares made discoveries that makes Pedro even more exceptional to this dedicated fan.

"I learned about all the work he had done for the people of his hometown of Manoguayabo. When he made it to the big leagues and became a millionaire, he could have left the past behind. But he stayed in Manoguayabo and donated his time and money to help improve the lives of people there, especially the children. He convinced the government to pave the main road. He built houses, churches, baseball fields, and a new elementary school, and he started academic programs."

A hero, indeed!

Interstellar Cinderella, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 ages 6 and up

"The prince's spaceship
jerked and hissed
and spewed a cloud of grit.
The prince hopped out.
"Oh blast! What now?
My chief mechanic quit!"
But Interstellar Cinderella
knew just what to do.
She zipzapped with her socket
wrench -
the ship was good as new!" -

What fun it was to read this for the first time ... and then, even more fun to read it aloud to others! The language chosen to tell it (after all, this is Deborah Underwood!) is exactly what makes it such a pleasure to share.

The text that enlivens every page has a lilting rhythm to capture attention and a carefully listening ear. At the height of collecting Cinderella stories in our house, we had more than 125 versions. There are many, many more than that! We would happily have added this one to the shelf, and I will be sharing it in workshops and classrooms whenever asked.

The joy that children find in fairy tales is that they offer hope, even when none seems possible. The protagonist often overcomes unbelievable odds to win out. As has happened in those other Cinderella stories, Interstellar Cinderella also battles the odds ... one evil stepmother and her two equally evil daughters. Cinderella has a vocation. She is a mechanic, and she loves feeling that she is making a difference in her world by fixing, building, and being useful.

With an invitation to the ball, her family heads off to enjoy the festivities. Before leaving, her stepmother makes sure that Interstellar has no tools to mend the spaceship that might take her there. A fairy godmother provides new tools that ensure Cinderella's attendance. When she meets the prince, she is less enamored of him than of his spaceship. The ship's problems offer no difficulty for Cinderella; once again, time is her enemy. She must flee before her spaceship stops flying at midnight. The prince is left with a socket wrench from her tool kit.

You may think you know what happens next! I wonder if you will be right. Check it out and see.

This is a terrific modern retelling of a very old and traditional tale. Cinderella has a needed skill, the prince recognizes it and appreciates her talent for mechanical prowess. Meg Hunt's inventive and colorful illustrations add to the allure of words and the imagination of its author. Wonderful!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred), written and illustrated by Josh Schneider. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"On the farm, the chickens doze.
The pigs nod off in stinky rows.
Sheep lie in a woolly heap,
count themselves, and fall asleep.

But not Fred.

Fred is breaking the world
shouting record."

While trying to break that record, Fred lifts the roof off the barn where the pigs, sheep and chickens are slumbering soundly. Everybody needs sleep! That boy Fred would like to think he is the exception to the rule. In sets of four line stanzas, Josh Schneider describes the many beasts and birds of the world who succumb to sleep as a way of rejuvenating themselves. Fred, on the other hand, has far too many things that he must be doing.

"Fred has a to-do list you wouldn't believe."

There are 100 things on that last. The last three are:

"98. Wrestle a bear.
99. Eat 300 cookies.
100. Go to moon."

Fred does all that he can to avoid any needed rest. He knows the best ways to keep himself awake; unfortunately, his antics cause difficulties for those trying to get the benefit of their nightly nap. Even before his story begins, we can see that Fred has the routines down pat ... a bath, teeth brushing. As he prepares, his pets observe their own sleepytime rituals. But, wait! We have no idea what is about to happen.

Every stanza designed to lure little listeners quietly into sleep is messed with by the exuberant Fred. No creature on land or in the sea is safe from his boisterous antics. Each new setting is what every kid dreams of, and each is hinted at in the front matter. Since Fred has no wish to sleep, he is going to ensure that the same is true for everyone else.

If  kids don't succumb to sleep after a few books, do parents turn to poetry in hopes that it will be boring enough to let nature takes its course? It works for some. Will it work for Fred? You will understand how when you read the lines of the book that are so clearly evident at the bottom of the poetry spread:

"Three Sleepy Bunnies

Sleepy bunnies blah blah blah.
Fluffly tummies blah blah blah"

My eyes are closing, my head is nodding. What about Fred? With thumb in mouth and hand securely attached to his stuffed lamb, he is off to slumberland. Please close the book quietly!

What an invitation comes with the warning placed on the final page! If you wake him, it might start all over again ... well???

There is not a chance that this will be the last time you read this zany, incredibly well written and perfectly designed book! With each repeated visit, you will make new discoveries; you are sure to snicker at Fred's antics; you will be even more impressed by the thought, humor, and detail that Josh Schneider has implemented to bring this very special bedtime book to the top of my list for reading with my inquisitive, determined, not-much-interested-in sleep granddaughter. Oh, we are going to have fun!