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Monday, August 31, 2015

Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, with color by Lark Pien. Scholastic, 2015. ages 9 and up

"Miss Sniff!
Miss Sniff!

Hi, Mrs. Levarski.
What's going on?
Miss Sniff ran away!
I haven't seen her since
last night! Would you
look for her?
Who's Miss Sniff?
Her cat."

Substance abuse affects many; it also has a devastating effect on those who love the abusers. In an note at the end of their book, Matt and Jennifer Holm explain:

"Sometimes it's hard to be a kid. It can be even harder
when someone you love has a drug or alcohol abuse problem.

Like Sunny, we had a close relative who had serious
issues with substance abuse. As children, we were
bystanders to this behavior and yet it affected our
whole world. It made us feel ashamed and embarrassed
and scared and sad. Most of all, it was something that
we felt we had to keep secret."

This book shows their readers that it can happen in any family, that it is sad and scary, that is all right to feel confused about it all - and perfectly fine to want to talk about it.

Summer vacation for Sunny is definitely not what she was expecting. When we meet her, she is at the airport in Florida waiting for her Gramps to meet her. Expecting fun in the sun and a trip to Disney World, she is disappointed when her days are spent running tedious errands with her grandfather, sleeping on an uncomfortable and very squeaky pull-out bed, and visiting with the elderly people who are his neighbors in the retirement community.

It's pretty bland, that is, until she meets Buzz. His father is the groundskeeper.  Buzz loves comic books and passes on that love to Sunny. They read together, search for lost golf balls and lost cats. In doing so, they make enough money to buy more comics. It's a win-win situation.

Always on her mind are the events of the past year. In a series of flashbacks, we learn more about Sunny's family. She loves her older brother, and fears his behaviors. When he is taking drugs, he is careless, impulsive and hurts Sunny without knowing he has. As the family intervenes after a violent altercation, they make the decision to send Sunny to Gramps for the summer rather than take a family trip to the beach as planned.

The storytelling is clear, and sensitive to all. It shows the devastating effects of substance abuse on the abuser and on the family. It's funny, emotional, and hopeful. It encourages those who read it to recognize that there is power in sharing feelings and emotions. The graphic novel format is the perfect choice for telling this story. The use of labels, dialogue and telling, silent reactions have a critical impact.

Now, please spend time with Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp and learn how the whole book came together from start to finish in The Yarn ... it is as brilliant as the book itself.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Blue Whale, written and illustrated by Jenny Desmond. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $24.95 ages 5 and up

"A blue whale can measure up to 100 feet. That is the same length as a truck, a digger, a boat, a car, a bicycle, a motorcycle, a van, and a tractor - all lined up."

Wow! Kids who love learning as much as they can about whales are going to be delighted by this warm and most enjoyable nonfiction. It is a celebration of Earth's largest creature and will be a welcome addition to library shelves - personal or public.

The text is entirely appropriate for young readers, allowing them a wealth of information and giving them a sense of the immense size through a series of useful perspectives:

"The top of a blue whale's mouth is lined with
300-400 baleen plates which are made of a
black fingernail-like material. A blue whale's
tongue weighs three tons, and its mouth
is so big that 50 people can stand inside it.
Fortunately, blue whales don't eat people."

I love that the little boy who is learning all he can about the blue whale is reading this very book ... we can see him on most pages. The author's careful research provides a spirited look at this magnificent being - its size, color, markings, sight, hearing, food, young, life span, breathing, and some of difficulties it faces. A world map shows that blue whales have been found in all of the earth's oceans. The mixed media illustrations capture the spirit of learning about something so loved. Lively, beautifully designed to assure understanding, they will captivate those who share this wonderful book, and encourage careful consideration of all that is presented.

At the end of a long day of discovery, we find the boy back in his bedroom and just finishing his book. The window wall is decorated with the many drawings he has made while reading. His stuffed animals and toys are all asleep on the floor. We have yet one more thing to learn about the blue whale and its sleep pattern:

"Blue whales sleep by taking very short naps while slowly swimming
close to the ocean’s surface. This is called logging. They sleep in this way
because they have to remember to open their blowhole in order to
breathe. Blue whales can never completely lose consciousness,
not even in sleep, otherwise they would drown."

Aah! To sleep now and to dream.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Gustave, written by Remy Simard and illustrated by Pierre Pratt. Translated by Shelley Tanaka. Groundwood Books, 2014. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"So I cried.
I  cried all day long.
I couldn't go back home.
Not without Gustave.
What would I say to
my mother?
She always told us
not to go too far.
To play close to home.
But we didn't listen
to her."

This is another book that generated much discussion for our jury last year. It begins in great sadness for Gustave is gone - eaten by a cat. The two mouse friends are out on an adventure. They have strayed far from home when they suddenly meet up with a cat. They are surprised and terribly frightened! In a selfless move, Gustave attracts the attention of their tormentor. That allows our young mouse narrator the opportunity for escape. When he comes back, the cat is gone. So, sadly, is Gustave.

Alone and mourning, the mouse spends the day crying and worrying about sharing the news with his mother. She had warned them many times, entreating them to stay close to home. But, they craved adventure and further pastures. Off they went. Now, the survivor must deal with the anguish of sharing the news concerning his best friend. He walks slowly through dark urban streets alone. As he approaches the warm light of their mousehole, he fears his mother's wrath.

He need not worry. As he cries puddles of tears while explaining what has happened, his mother is not surprised and offers comfort for his loss. She expresses her love for Gustave as well. She holds her son all the while he is crying out his anguish. Then, she leads him to her closet where she finds a new companion, who greatly resembles his friend. His name is Harry and he is stuffed mouse.

"You will never be Gustave,"
I tell him.
"I know," he seems to say."

They like each other.

The India ink and gouache artwork done by the very talented Pierre Pratt is sombre and haunting, absolutely fitting with the subject of death. He creates huge landscapes that allow readers to see the tiny mouse and feel his sadness in the midst of such a huge loss. Once home with his mother, the dark tones lighten to match the warmth of her support and her thoughtful and loving gift.



Here in the Garden, written and illustrated by Briony Stewart. Kane Miller, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $16.50 ages 3 and up

"You'd help me plant
seedlings in the garden
as we chatted and hummed
like the birds.
My breath is making mist
on the rain-dotted windows
and I wish that you were here."

His time in the garden is pleasant. For the boy who is there, it is also a reminder of someone he is missing. Throughout the seasons he and his friend spent many hours together sharing the joys of growth and abundance, the sunshine and the rain.

As he works on the garden for a new year without his friend, he filters through the many memories they shared. His heart is aching, but being in the garden is a perfect place to feel the joy to be found in nature - just the way the two of them always did. It is a gentle and beautiful way to help those who have experienced the loss of a loving pet.

The watercolor artwork is as gentle and telling as is her story. The sense of movement and the muted palette bring a closeness to the boy and his world that is touching. A reminder of his beloved pet is there in many small ways, on every page. While it is a story about the sadness felt, it is also a tender celebration of the life they shared.

Touching and memorable, it is a welcome addition to those books you want to share when dealing with loss.                                                                           

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Little Gardener, written and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Flying Eye Books. 2015. $i22.50 ages 4 and up

"Only, he wasn't much
good at gardening. It
wasn't like he didn't work

He worked hard,
very, very hard.

He was just too little.
But there was one thing ... "

This little gardener and I have much in common. We both want our garden (well, my yard) to be inviting and verdant. It can be hard work, and no matter how hard one might try, that work causes concern and some anxious moments.

At the beginning of the our visit to his garden, it doesn't look like much. It's very big; he's very small (think Thumbelina) and no matter how hard he works, that work is never done. As a result, the garden is looking bedraggled and plants are dying. There is one saving grace - a stunning, red zinnia. It is what gives him hope and keeps the gardener working as hard as he does. He loves this place he calls home.

After working morning, afternoon and night:

"Still, the garden was dying.
He would have no home.
He would have no supper.
He would have no joy."

Just before succumbing to a month long restorative sleep, he makes a wish. While no one hears the wish, someone does notice the zinnia. It gives her hope as well. The young girl, and her equally young helper, work daily while the little gardener sleeps. When he finally wakes up, his garden is transformed.

Emily Hughes works with colored pencils to create the beautiful spreads that show readers what hard work and a love of growing things can accomplish. There is joy immeasurable for the little gardener whose home it is.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible. Written and illustrated by Ursula Vernon. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $16.99 ages 8 and up

"There is a power that all mothers possess, although some of them rarely use it, to wake their children from a profound sleep. Queen Hamsterbone gritted her teeth, took a deep breath, and yelled: "IT'S TIME TO GET UP!" Harriet shot out of bed with her sword, swung it wildly over her head, realized that it was her mother, and dropped the sword on her own foot."

I have always been a fan of new takes on old stories - specifically, fairy tales. In this novel, Ursula Vernon uses the Sleeping Beauty tale and many of its elements to engage a brand new audience. It is the first in what is meant to be a series of adventures starring the persistently upbeat and no-nonsense Harriet Hamsterbone.

At her birth she is the victim of a curse involving  a hamster wheel. An evil and indignant mouse named Ratshade curses Harriet with an extremely long sleep at 12, all because she wasn't invited to the christening. Sound familiar? That changes pretty quickly. Being a modern and progressive hamster princess who pooh-poohs the norms in princess behavior, Harriet likes fractions and checkers, swordplay, and solo rides around her realm.

Harriet's parents love her with abandon, and worry daily about her future. They are bent on finding  a suitable prince to save her from the curse that threatens her. The caveat to the curse is that Harriet cannot die prior to the curse's promise. We learn quickly that her parents need not spend one moment worrying about their very accomplished heir. In fact, when she learns at 10 that she is the recipient of Ratshade's curse, she couldn't be happier.

"Until I'm twelve,
nothing can touch me!
The curse needs me alive until
I'm twelve, or it can't

"Um ... "


She spends the following two years participating in all manner of dangerous and exhilarating activities, glorying in that invincibility. When things go awry, Harriet proves her mettle as a brave and brilliant leader, focused on saving all that she loves.

The text is complimented with speech bubbles and graphic artwork that will have readers rolling with laughter, determined to share each observation and pronouncement made by the endearing heroine. She is a princess to be admired and honored ... isn't that what we want from our regal leaders?

Bring on Book 2!!!

How To Draw a Dragon, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

when they wake,
are grumpy.
And their heads
are rather bumpy.

Soothe your dragon
with a song
as you draw his
teeth so long."

I have long been an admirer of Douglas Florian and his work. I think that I have a copy of almost all of the more than 30 books he has created. They all  remain on my shelves despite constant culling to keep only the best! So, I was keen to see a copy of How To Draw A Dragon. There are few subjects that young readers find more attractive.

The opening endpapers show the recognizable parts of a dragon, and a few versions of how they might be drawn. If you are anything like me, you will probably immediately flip to the back endpapers to see if they are the same. Surprise! They are not; however, they do have elements from our initial introduction.

The children within in the book change with every turn of the page. Each turn offers a new look dragon, a glimpse at the neighborhood, and uncountable details. Each one of those children has somehow persuaded a dragon to pose for them.  The dragons, in turn, manage to get the child's  creative juices flowing as they draw what they see.

We are encouraged by the author to recognize that there is some inherent danger in being so close to a dragon, and to be careful when drawing particular parts as we go. The spreads are filled with color, of all different hues depending on the dragon being drawn. Advice is given freely:

"Draw your dragon's pointed spines
using lots of jagged lines.

While your dragon's laying eggs,
take the time to draw her legs."

Using mixed-media collage for his wonderful artwork encourages readers to pay close attention to the colors, patterns, expressions, and textures. He makes his images seem as if they have been created by the children themselves - a quite brilliant accomplishment, but not surprising when you know his other work. What an invitation for readers to head off and draw their own dragons!

Don't miss the final gatefold which provides the real reason for the advice given. Then read it again, and the let the imagination determine what's to follow. You need this book!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Boats for Papa, written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 4 and up

"A few days later it was Buckley's birthday. He and Mama had a glorious time. She gave him a brand new set of paints and brushes for making his boats. That evening, Buckley and Mama went for a walk. Buckley brought along the little boat ... "

Living in an idyllic ocean environment, Buckley and his mama love to explore the shore for driftwood. Using his many found treasures he builds things. His favorite of all activities is boat building - boats that he makes especially for his papa.

For his birthday celebration, Buckley and his mama have a beach picnic and she gifts him a set of brushes and paints to help with his hobby. Later in the day, he and mama take a stroll so that Buckley can send a boat to his papa.

"I'm going to send my boat to Papa. If it doesn't come back
to shore, I'll know he got it!" said Buckley as he placed his
little boat in the water. They watched it bob up and down
as the tide carried it gently out to sea."

He wants to send more. His mother agrees.

Each new boat is more beautiful than the last. He keeps the best to send to his papa. One year later, as they are celebrating Buckley's next birthday, he rushes back to their cabin to get forgotten paper to add a note to his newest 'boat for Papa'. He makes a sad discovery - and shows his understanding with the thoughtful note and boat his mama later discovers as she is walking the beach alone.

Buckley and his mama are both dealing with loss. The way that is handled in this beautiful story is a triumph for debut author Jessixa Bagley. With warm, detailed artwork she sets her story in peaceful environs awash with earthy natural tones, and gives both time to heal and honor Papa. There are so many lovely moments, tinged with both sadness and hope. Truly lovely.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Such a Little Mouse, written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Stephanie Yue. Orchard Books, Scholastic. 2015. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"He sees a snail
climbing up a fern.
He watches the busy bees
on the clover blossoms.
"Busy, busy, bizzzzzz,"
say the bees.
He hears a woodpecker,
hammering a tree."

Following an engaging little mouse through the seasons from spring to winter is the premise for this lovely new book from master poet Alice Schertle. I look forward to each new publication, knowing that it is sure to engage readers and make a great read aloud for little ones.

He may be little but, he is an explorer. Each day he resolutely leaves his burrow in search of adventure in the big wide world. He listens to the many sounds, admires the sights, and manages to bring home a morsel to be stored in his warm, cozy hole. He does the same thing in summer. He stops to watch, to visit as he explores, and returns home with another item for his storeroom.

As leaves turn color and begin to blow around, he leaves his home to note the rustling sounds of falling leaves and to feel the nip in the air. There are many observations to make about the coming winter ... his meadow friends are preparing for its arrival. His storeroom is full.

When he pokes his head out at his first glimpse of winter, he knows exactly what to do.

"Back he goes, down
into his warm hole.
He makes a loaf of acorn bread.
He makes seed-and-watercress soup.
He snuggles up under
a little moss blanket
with a book of mouse tales."

There he stays ... until spring.

What an invitation this is for Ms. Schertle's young audience to get outside and make some discoveries of their own. Her text is repetitive and structured. Stephanie Yue paints a playful picture of nature, making it attractive and inviting for her audience. Her pages are filled with energy and warmth, allowing  us a close look at the meadow that is this little mouse's home.

A Tale of Two Beasts, written and illustrated by Fiona Roberton. Kane MIller, Publisthers Group Canada. 2015. $12.99 ages 4 and up

"But then a small furry shadow appeared at the foot of my bed. The strange little beast had returned. He seemed quite pleased to see me, and I began to think that maybe, just maybe ...

... he wasn't that strange after all."

I love stories told from variety in point of view. When they are told as well as this one is, it makes a big impact on readers. It also provides mentoring for young writers when it comes to telling their own stories.

The first voice is that of Beast One - a young girl. In first person voice she describes a walk from her grandmother's house through the woods. From behind a tree she notices a small beast (a gray squirrel) moaning sorrowfully on a nearby tree branch. She saves him, wraps him up and takes him home where he is coddled, dressed, fed and given a new home. He is put on display for all of her friends, but doesn't seem all that happy. When he leaves abruptly, she worries and frets. To her surprise, he returns and convinces her to go back to the woods with him.

That is when we are told the second part of the story - from the perspective of The Terrible Beast.
He explains that he was singing, not moaning, when he was 'AMBUSHED' by another terrible beast. That beast growls, hogties him and takes him home to her lair. His life with her is miserable:

"She showed me off to a herd of even wilder beasts, who were just as terrible as she was."

His escape is a success and life returns to normal, until he remembers the hat he wore and wonders if it might keep him dry in rainstorms. He sneaks back to get it. As we know from the first part, his return is noticed. It leads to a romp together in the woods, and a warm and heartfelt realization.

The artist keeps the art almost identical for each character, but for the small, telling details that clearly show their differing views. It's a feast for the eyes and the heart.

Monday, August 24, 2015

llama llama gram and grandpa, written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney. Viking, Penguin. 2015. $20.99 ages 2 and up

"Who will take good care
of Llama?
Llama Llama's Gram and
Bag and fuzzy?
In the car!
Buckle up!
The drive seems far ...

Hugs and kisses.
Big hellos ... "

In this newest adventure, Llama Llama is off to have his first sleepover. His mama helps him pack his bag, while sharing his excitement for the visit with Gram and Grandpa. A long ride in the car, a quick goodbye, and the three are ready to settle in. They have a snack, unpack his bag and make a distressing discovery.

Fuzzy Llama is not in his backpack, Mama is nowhere to be seen - Llama is no longer happy with this new situation. To distract him, Gram and Grandpa take him outside where he helps with mowing and the garden. A niggling thought comes to mind:

"Llama's having fun.
But ... oh ...

Fuzzy is still left at home.
Maybe Fuzzy feels alone?"

Off to the workshop they go to build a little chair - another reminder that Fuzzy is not along for the visit. Soon, it's time to prepare dinner. Llama is a great help, the food is delicious, and the starlit night is a wondrous sight. Then, it's time to get ready for bed. Why so sad, young Llama?

He needs Fuzzy before he can go to sleep! No worries. Grandpa has the perfect solution.

Anna Dewdney deftly captures the feelings of the young in her Llama Llama books which make them perennial favorites for reading aloud. They tackle the issues of illness, bullying, sharing, waiting, homesickness, and anger. This one is perfect to be sharing for the upcoming Grandparents Day on September 13!

Sonya's Chickens, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl. Tundra Books, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Sonya took her job of tending to the chickens very seriously, and they grew quickly into gawky pullets. As her mama and papa went about their duties of the farm, Sonya was proud to do her part. Everywhere Sonya went, her little birds were at her heels, peeping loudly. Every morning, Sonya would rise to the crow of the old rooster ... "

We meet the three little chicks on the same day Sonya does. She assures the three that she will be their 'mama'. She cares for them inside until they are ready to go outside into their chicken house in the farmyard. Sonya works hard, as does everyone on the farm. In her care, the chickens are healthy and good layers.

One night Sonya hears a ruckus in the farmyard. She quietly leaves the house to investigate the source of all the noise. She makes an alarming discovery - one of her chickens is missing. In the midst of her tears, her father's strong arms enfold  her and she cries out her sadness.

Sonya wants an explanation. Her papa patiently explains that anger at the fox who stole her chicken may be misplaced. A fox is only trying to care for hiss family. It may seem unfair. He tells her a story:

"He works hard every day to find food to
bring home to his babies. Most of the time
he can find mice and moles, but sometimes
 the fox needs a big meal for his family, so he
does everything he can to find one. He didn't
know or care that it was our chicken he took.
He just saw a chance to feed his family."

Papa is so attentive to Sonya's sadness while helping her to understand loss. They have a short service of remembrance for the lost chicken, allowing Sonya to move on with the two chickens she has left. They repair the chicken house, and get the back to the business of collecting eggs for the family's meals.

Phoebe Wall uses watercolor, collage, and colored pencil to give her story warmth and appeal. She uses peaceful scenes of both families - human and fox - to help her young audience see that both provide love and care. In her farmyard scenes she allows a close look at the work that is required to raise chickens.

I like this story of love and loss, and its connections within the natural world.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jessica's Box, written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas. Kane Miller, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $16.50 ages 4 and up

"At first, nobody noticed.
But by lunchtime, a crowd
of curious children had
gathered. Jessica reached
into the box.


Some children laughed.
Some tried not to.
Others just walked away."

While we are thinking about the return to school in upcoming weeks, we need to be aware that for some children the first day of school can be pretty daunting. Whether it's a brand new school and a fresh start, a return to old friends and familiar settings, or the very first day ever in any school, there are fears to be faced, concerns addressed and a plan devised.

Jessica is so excited about her first day of school, she can't sleep. When the new day dawns, her family is very supportive. They offer advice and help her make a plan. Her teddy in a box should invite conversation, encourage curiosity, and help her make new friends. The plan backfires when she opens the box, and some of her classmates laugh and walk away.

Jessica talks with her mom about her miserable day. Another plan is made. Next day, her cupcake-filled box seems just right. Cupcakes gone, not even a thank you; Jessica is determined to try again. The third day she takes her dog to school to a chorus of delight - until the groundskeeper passes by with the news that dogs are not allowed at school. He takes Doris home.

Feeling blue, she turns to Dad for advice. What can he say? Together they contemplate space and the wonder of being together (without words). It's up to Jessica to decide what to do next. On the fourth morning, she takes an empty box. When she puts it over her head, she discovers that it does exactly what she has wanted from the very first day.

Jessica’s disability is irrelevant to the story and is not mentioned at all, nor is her aboriginal heritage.  Peter Carnavas allows his readers to make many discoveries for themselves through his wonderful artwork which is fraught with feelings, and surely will encourage conversation. It is done quietly, carefully and memorably. It is going on my 'keeper' shelf!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What If I Won't? Written by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Qin Leng. Owlkids Books, 2015. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"What would you do if instead of staying in time-out, I ran around the house drawing on the walls with permanent marker?" asked Benny. "What would you do if I put on my muddy rain boots and jumped on the couch?'

The days of taking a stand with my kids are long gone, thank goodness. However, no parent can totally forget the whys, who says? and what-ifs?

Benny's mother is not immune to them as she tries to deal with her young son, and his emerging independence and questions about authority. To start it all, her request is simple ... "Benny, please put your plate in the sink."

It sets off a series of questions and answers that become increasingly imaginative and funny.

"But what would you do if you couldn't
catch it?" asked Benny.
"And it smashed into the wall, you mean?"
said his mom.
"Exactly!" said Benny.

"I'd make you clean up the mess, of course."

Impish behavior and a mother's tolerant responses carry this story from page to page in quick time. Qin Leng's digitally colored illustrations are great fun. She gives each new vignette a liveliness that is sure to attract readers' interest. The color changes make it easy to differentiate between what is real, and what is imagined.

The zoo, the circus and even a trip to space seem appropriate responses to Benny's always naughtier
premises. If even the aliens didn't want to keep him and send him back home, what do you think his mother might do?

"I'd give you a big hug," replied his mom. "I'd tell you how much
I'd missed you and how much I love you ...

... then I'd ask you to please put your plate in the sink."

Moms always have the last word; that is how it should be, don't you think?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Appleblossom the Possum, written by Holly Goldberg Sloan and illustrated by Gary A. Rosen. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"Little Appleblossom forgets that she is scared. Now she is just interested. She watches as the people walks straight out into the dew-covered grass and picks up the red ball. The dog jumps to his feet as his mouth opens and he makes a high-pitched noise filled with anticipation. The people throws the red ball. It sails through the air."

Ms. Sloan surely knows how to write a grand story. She has proved that time, and again. If you haven't had the great pleasure to read I'll Be There (2012), Counting by 7s (2013) and Just Call My Name (2014), head to your local public library or bookstore and get ready for a weekend of fine reading.

If you are looking for a family read before the kids head back to school, meet Appleblossom and her family. She is the last born in a litter of 13 and has much to learn if she wants to survive on her own. Their education is meant to help the young possums understand their role in the world of nocturnal beings; it comes with warnings, with advice and with guidance to keep them safe and thriving.

"Mama Possum explains: "When something really, truly scares us, all kinds of things happen. Our lungs slow down. Our arms and legs go limp and then they turn stiff. Our eyes fall shut. And for some of us, our tongues roll out and spit starts bubbling from the corners of our mouths." A smile spreads across Mama Possum's face. There's more good news to share. "The final touch is smell. Dead things stink. That's just a fact. And to add to the illusion of death, we possums can release a gas. A real stink bomb. "

So, the A-babies learn about acting, their perfect defence when faced with impending danger. That is not all they learn, and it is certainly not all that we learn in this fascinating tale. When Mama leaves her babies to fend for themselves, Appleblossom, and her brothers Amlet and Antonio, stick together. They feel safer that way. On their first night, having learned about dangers presented by dogs, cars and people, they are foraging for sustenance when Appleblossom's attention is drawn to a nearby backyard and the little 'people, she sees there. In her eagerness to learn more, she climbs onto the roof and accidentally falls down the chimney, landing her in a house that presents untold danger, especially from the resident dog. Appleblossom is terrified, as are her brothers. While she tries to navigate the dangers and joys of her captivity, her brothers are off to find the help needed to rescue their little sister.

Gary Rosen's art matches the tone of the tale, adds humor, and brings the possums to life for eager readers. While we are caught up in the pace of the story presented, we all also privy to a great deal of new learning about the possum itself.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Beastly Babies, words by Ellen Jackson and beasts by Brendan Wenzel. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster. 2015. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Mama tigers crawl
and creep,
walking, stalking -
then they leap.

Tiger babies pounce
and fail
when they aim for
Mama's tail."

Don't we all love babies? Does it matter at all that they are animals? I don't think so.

In the rhyming text accompanied by Brendan Wenzel's 'rendered in almost everything imaginable' illustrations, we meet a menagerie of babies. Their physical attributes are described, as are their activities, their dispositions, and their families. The pace is quick, descriptive and will keep little hands turning pages in order to enjoy each ensuing pair of couplets. The rhythm is infectious; it is sure to encourage those wanting to read on their own to give it a try.

The art will prompt discussion and invite return visits. The artist covers each double page spread with movement, expression and a parade of appealing babies in their own environment. White space allows the attention to be given to the fun they find in life. Their googly eyes and penchant for playfulness make this a book that will be enjoyed on many occasions.

While growing up is not always easy, and certainly not endlessly funny, these babies don't know that yet! Parents, on the other hand, are fully cognizant that it can be a trying and tiring time, for ALL of us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Me, Too! Written by Annika Dunklee and illustrated by Lori Joy Smith. Kids Can Press, 2015. $ 718.95 ages 4 and up

"When Annie goes to Lillemor's house, she gets to try all different kinds of Swedish foods.

Blueberry soup?
Mmm, sounds delicious.

And when Lillemor goes to Annie's house, Annie likes her to try something different, too."

There is nothing that Annie and her friend Lillemor don't like to do together. They are so much the same. They are the same age, have the same favorite colors, and can both speak two languages. Lillemor's second language is speaks Swedish; Annie's is Oinky Boinky! They are a match made in heaven.

When Annie arrives at school to see Lillemor playing with another girl, she is surprised and concerned - perhaps a tiny bit jealous. It's made worse when Annie discovers that Lillemor and Lilianne also have a great deal in common. Lilianne also speaks French. Oh, my!

"Annie frowns. Both girls' names begin with "Lil"!
Lilianne. Lillemor.
Annie doesn't have a single "L" in her name!"

It's enough to make Annie break into her second language, and hide herself in her hoodie. She admits she is feeling left out. In talking it out, the three realize that they have a lot in common. They can ALL play together!

So, what's the worry??

This is sure to be a hit with listeners and for readers. The cartoon-like, friendly images speak to the tone of the book, and the happy ending. Friendship is not always easy - this would be a perfect book for those first days of school as you try to build understanding and community in your classroom.

Uh-Oh! Written by Shutta Crum and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"Uh-oh ... "

"Uh-oh ..."


I could look at these illustrations all day long - and then tomorrow, too. Anyone who has a toddler in their daily lives will recognize the joy of being at the beach with these two young friends and their mothers. You will surely also recognize the ever-present 'Uh-Oh' in response to a variety of daily events.

They can hardly wait to get set up - moms in beach chairs under an umbrella, children with pails, shovels and other necessities, playing with abandon. A gull is definitely curious about the little one's sippy cup. Wet sunglasses, that cup, a stick and a shell are inspiration for a hilarious sand figure. When that bothersome bird sends them off on a new adventure, we are witness to the meandering path taken, and the problems present as they make their way to a nearby slide. That sets us up for yet another little adventure - and a final dousing!

Moms to the rescue!

The words are few, the fun is plentiful and the double-page spreads (including the front and back endpapers) enliven the story and are sure to elicit conversation about memorable days at the beach for the book's young audience.                                                                                  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay, written by Cari Best with pictures by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 5 and up

"We come to school in our uniform blues by bus, by car, or by our mommas, like me - our blouses ironed, our hair shampooed. Four best friends who help each other, four best friends who help themselves - Maya, Nancy, Zulay, and Chyng. We link our arms and skip our legs and sing like the stereo till Ms. Perkins, the hall lady, tells us to stop."

Ah, first graders! They have such energy and high spirits. Take four of them, put them together and nothing will stop them. At least in the case of Zulay and her friends who walk confidently into their classroom every single morning. Arms linked, legs skipping and voices proudly singing, they are a force to be reckoned as they are happily welcomed with a hug from their teacher.

Then, it's straight to the work of the day!

"I feel with my knees for where the chair fits and sit in my seat like Ms. Long at the library - like I can't wait for someone to ask me a question. Inside my desk there are crumpled papers, pencils, kisses, and a folded-up cane that I push back for later."

Oh, Zulay is blind. Unless you carefully considered the cover, this is your first indication. It doesn't stop her from being a part of everything that is happening at school - except for gym. Ms. Turner helps Zulay with her cane while the others are in gym class. Zulay knows it won't be easy to learn, and she doesn't much like being singled out as the only student learning to use one. But, she is patient.

When their teacher announces that Field Day is coming up, the children are keen to go home and think about it, and to determine what event is of interest to them. The next day, Zulay makes her choice for participation.

"I would like to run the race in my new pink shoes,"
I say - to a class as silent as stones."

Ms. Turner is as excited as Zulay about the race. They will have to work hard with the cane, and with running. That practice makes for a very successful Field Day.

The vivid colors, expressive faces and movement-filled artwork give young readers an opportunity to see first graders in their element; learning, exploring, supporting and caring for each other. The addition of the braille alphabet on the back cover is an added bonus. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Song for a Summer Night: A Lullaby. Written by Robert Heidbreder and illustrated by Qin Leng. Groundwood Books, 2015. $17.95 ages 3 and up

"While night air keeps singing
its soft lullaby,
the tired-out moon
seeks its bed in the sky.
Then animals leave,
on feet or on wings,
but the summer night song
lingers on as it sings."

The four children who grace the cover of this very special book show their excitement for the events to come. As daylight fades and night awaits, they join with their friends and neighbors to delight in the coming dark, and all that it promises.

As the pink in the sky settles toward the horizon, the children watch from their windows. There is much to see and savor, to hear and enjoy in an ever-growing cumulative collection of sounds.

"Night owl hoo-hoo
Weave a musical strain
to the click-click of cricket's
rhythmic  refrain.


As the night animals and sounds grow in number and the cool of the evening entices, the children leave the inner warmth of their homes to take in the cool of the evening, and explore. They appear to be mesmerized by the action and joy they find in celebrating the beauty of their natural surroundings. The moon rises. The animals seek shelter. The children return to their rooms, drawing their curtains against the darkening sky, succumbing to slumber:

"They slip into beds,
             eyes shut sleep-tight.
             They know singing dreams
             will ring round them all night."

Then, morning arrives and they greet a new day with all the exuberance that comes with being young, active and excited about all that a new day brings ... and the night that will follow it once again.

Absolutely lovely, and meant to be shared for many nights to come. It will evoke childhood memories for the adults who share it and spark stories from days long past. Qin Leng has created memorable artwork using ink and brush, and painted digitally. The light changes create a contrast between warm and cool; the children are joyful and show their great pleasure in the experiences they are sharing; the color palette is perfect to create the mood that will make this book a favorite for bedtime reading. Another book for Sicily's book shelf ... I can't wait to share it with her!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Wonderful Year, written and illustrated by Nick Bruel. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. 2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"We are a merry trio!
A trio!
A trio!
We are a merry trio,
So happy are we three!
We'll sail upon a pirate ship!
A pirate ship ... " 

A sudden realization that it has snowed while she was sleeping leads a young girl with a huge grin to head for the great outdoors; but not before she dons each of the items suggested by her parents, her pets, and various and sundry others. She is unrecognizable when she is finally dressed to everyone's specifications. Not only that, by the time she is ready, spring has arrived! So much for Part One: Winter Wear.

The full double page spread announcing spring's arrival has the dull, gloomy grays of the houses on her street in winter replaced by a brightly colored assortment of styles standing boldly in the warm sunshine. Welcome, Spring Slendor! With magic wand and wearing a tutu, she is off to sing her way through its sunny days, until she meets up with her cantankerous cat who has no interest in hearing her songs. Refusing to be discouraged, she insists the cat join her merry band. When the cat becomes even more annoyed, the girl and her loyal canine sidekick agree to go on without her. HA!

Facing the blazing heat of Summer Sidewalks, she is joined by a huge purple hippopotamus. She is so hot she melts into the sidewalk. The hippo, brilliant idea in mind, slurps her up through a straw and puts her in the fridge freezer while he takes a break to watch TV. As you know, TV watching can make you forget time is passing. Four hours later, the girl is a block of ice, a new idea for righting the situation is born. The shoe is now on the other foot!

In Fall Foliage, we find her reading under a tree. The tree has questions about her book. She explains that in reading she is learning about trees, and the fact that their leaves change color in the fall. By the way, they also lose all their leaves. The tree is reassured when told it is what should happen, before we learn what happens to the last leaf.

This is a picture book wander through the seasons, in a format sure to please young readers - especially those who are getting closer to reading independently. It mixes traditional story book form with the panels associated with comics. Fun to share, and wacky enough to bring a laugh or two.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I YAM A DONKEY. story, pictures, and bad grammar by Cece Bell. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"So you is a donkey - you
just said so! Let's hear
your hee-haw, donkey!

No, no, no! You
are a donkey.
I am a yam.

You is a yam? I yam

Oh, boy! It is one of those routines that will have listeners and readers giggling with delight. The yam wants immediately to put the grammar-challenged donkey in his place by giving him clear instructions on how sentences should be constructed. The donkey takes the language guidance literally, creating a situation that has the yam frustrated, and persistent in trying to bring clarity to the conversation. They are at a crossroads ... the donkey just doesn't get it. But then, neither does the yam!

"You is a yam?
I yam confused. Because
I know I heard
you say, "I yam
a donkey."

"Don't say
"yam"! It's "am"!
Am, am, am!"

Concerned passer-by vegetables hear the 'big fight' and get involved in the demonstration. Only then does the donkey realize the truth about the story. It has nothing to do with grammar ... it's about lunch!

Terrific wordplay, and a boatload of fun in the china marker and acrylics on vellum artwork, make this one of those books that will be shared again and again. Great for voice and character, it would be fun for readers' theatre or for an assembly performance piece. The moral is a perfect ending to a most enjoyable romp concerning language.

Be sure to share this with older, savvy readers and they will be rolling in the aisles!

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Tweedles Go Online, written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Groundwood, 2015. l$16.95 ages 5 and up

"All afternoon Mama made pickles and thought about how handy it would be to order groceries by telephone. At supper Mama made a surprise announcement. "We are going online! We are getting a telephone." Frances, or Franny as her friends called her, shouted, "Goody Gumdrops!"

Poor Mama! She doesn't want Mrs. Hamm to have what she doesn't have. So, after talking with her neighbor about how wonderful it is to be 'online', Mama orders up a telephone to be installed in the Tweedle house, too.

Franny is delighted and can't wait to talk with friends. Frankie is not at all impressed because it isn't a car, and you can't drive it. Papa doesn't like the idea of losing the family's privacy. Family members initially admit that they are fascinated by the telephone's presence in their lives. Franny is quick to master using it, as she has been secretly wanting one for a while now. Mama takes a call and talks to her neighbor for enough time that the family has retired for the evening when the call is completed.

Papa is still getting used to his new car. He wants to master one new invention before attempting to learn about another. He does use it once to clear up a parting message from his wife.

"Isn't it amazing? You are there, miles
away in the city, and I am here and we can talk
to each other."
"It is amazing," agreed Papa. "But I have nothing
to say."

The noise from the telephone's ringing interrupts family fun. The constant ringing is enough to make even Franny disconnect the bells, meaning they do miss one important call from Mrs. Hamm concerning smoke coming from the coach house. False alarm. No fire! Mama is convinced that the telephone is their 'lifeline'. Other family members are not so sure. So, it's back to crokinole they go!

Marie Lafrance uses graphite on paper and mixed media collage, then colored in Photoshop to transport readers to the early 20th century. The tones are quiet, and perfect for showing older fashions in both finery and hairstyle. Her expressive faces add to our enjoyment of this cautionary tale about what happens when 'new' replaces  'old', not always with the best results.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mama Seeton's Whistle, written by Jerry Spinelli and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2015. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"Whenever the Seeton kids
heard the whistle, they came
running from the backyard.
And from their friends' backyards.

And from the Beswicks' living
room, where they sat on the
floor watching TV.
For these were the old days,
when only one family on a
block had a TV."

I have a dear friend whose whistle brought her kids running for home from wherever they happened to be playing in their neighborhood! I was in awe of it. Mama Seeton's whistle does the same thing, and she uses it as often as is necessary.

It starts when Skippy is only two. Mama calls him to dinner, and doesn't get a response. Without thinking, she whistles. It brings Skippy running (he is right behind her the entire time). As the family grows, the whistle becomes Mama's way of gathering her family for meals and chocolate cake. Even as the four kids grow older, their mama's whistle is all they need to hear to bring them running.

"The whistle wasn't loud and it wasn't fancy. But it went in all
directions. It flew right through the talk of people and the noise of
cars and buses."

And then, the children grow up and leave home. They no longer can come home for dinner - and chocolate cake. It is a sad time for the whole family as they miss each other terribly. Even Mrs. Seeton succumbs to the sadness of being separated from her children. Her husband encourages her to step outside to whistle - just once more. No child hears it ... or do they?

I love the way Jerry Spinelli tells a story! He needs no extra words; yet, he conveys a sense of comfort and sentiment that is sure to please. LeYuen Pham's art is a perfect match to the wonder of his words. Her ink and watercolor paintings take me back to my childhood, when children played outdoors all day long and somehow managed to be home in time for dinner - mother's whistle or not.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Duck's Vacation, written and illustrated by Gilad Soffer. Translation from Hebrew by Rena Rossner and Ilana Kurshan. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 3 and up

"So you turned the page

Look, when I'm on vacation,
I want to stay on the same page.
To relax in my chair.
To enjoy the beauty of nature.

See? Look at the lovely bird....
Just great."

Duck is well prepared for his vacation. Sunglasses? Check! Beach chair? Check. Beach ball? Check. Snorkel? Check. Ice cream cone? Check. A tropical drink? Check. And a sandy beach - it's all he could possibly need.

Suddenly, his sunglasses and ice cream cone are sailing across the page. Duck is indignant. Who is turning pages in his book? What, you????

With each turn of the page, Duck has something to say. Growing ever more indignant, he is not averse to letting the audience know his true feelings about the state of his day. He doesn't want to be bothered, and he is quick to suggest that no more pages be turned.

Who's going to follow those instructions? That is when the action ramps up, and readers come to realize that Duck has good reason for being alone. First, a bird poops on his head, then a crab  nabs his foot, and then people on the beach! What is happening?

Just when he thinks it cannot possibly be worse, he learns that it can. Poor Duck!

A terrific surprise ending will have listeners begging to hear it 'just one more time, please!'

The illustrations are bright and engaging, the story meant to be shared and the format perfect for a young audience!                                                                   

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Circle, Square, Moose, written by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Greenwillow, Harper. 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"What about that
sandwich you had
for lunch?

That is a ...

And if you look
closely at a square
you will see that ... "

Before the author can get the rest of the sentence finished concerning squares, she is already urging Moose:


Too late ... the square shape of the sandwich has been transformed!

I fell in love with Moose when he managed to totally crush Zebra's stage production of the alphabet. I love reading that story to eager audiences who can't help but hoot at Moose's antics. Now, he's taking on shapes. It begins innocently enough ... until Moose can't resist that sandwich. Let the mayhem begin!

The book does some talking to try to curb Moose's enthusiasm for its shapes. Moving on, the triangle is introduced. Moose knows what a triangle is. While it may be a piece of pie or a sail, Moose prefers a cat with triangle-shaped ears. The two are asked to leave as they are messing up the learning that the book is trying to impart. Then,, the temptation is too much when the rectangle is introduced.

The pace grows more frantic as Moose lets his excitement overwhelm. When Zebra comes to the rescue, the chase is on. What chaos ensues! A 'curvy' ribbon puts a stop to Zebra's pursuit when he becomes totally entangled in it. Now, it's Moose to the rescue!

There is as much to love about this second book as there was to love in the first one (Z Is for Moose 2012). I am a huge fan. Ms. Bingham and Mr. Zelinsky are a perfect pair to create comical
stories about an exuberant Moose!  There is so much action, such expression and a duo of memorable characters that make you hope this will not be the last time we see them. Hang in there, Zebra. I think that Moose has enough enthusiasm for a future romp. I certainly hope so.

 Zany, and totally engaging.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wherever You Go, written by Pat Zietlow MIller and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"Roads ... zoom.
Beneath city buildings
that tower so high,
twinkling like stars
in the dark velvet sky.
Racing past signs.
Reflecting their light.
Zigging and zagging.
Turn left. Then turn right.

Roads ... bend."

Oh, the places a road might take you!

Come along with a rabbit and his owl companion as they explore many roads to adventure in this lovely, happy book! The rhyming text is certainly an invitation to exploration and freedom. The rabbit's bicycle is equipped with everything needed to keep the adventure real and enjoyable.

Along country lanes, on busy city streets, at the seashore, all avenues are explored. Occasionally a detour takes them to unexpected places that offer entertainment and delight. Always, they return to a road that will bring fascination and new discovery.

Each turn of the page brings a new vista. Eliza Wheeler creates landscapes that encourage readers to consider new personal stories, and to take a careful look at all she has included in her light-filled and detailed artwork. I was constantly drawn to all there is to see in double page spreads awash with autumn colors.

"Roads ... wait.
For click-clacking trains
and boats with tall sails.
Slow-going hay wagons carrying bales.

Stoplights and crosswalks,
a deer with a friend.
Roads sometimes pause,
or just come to an end."

Can't you just picture it yourself? Your imagination may not even bring you close to the scene that Ms. Wheeler has created! But, what wonder awaits!

It's perfect for sharing repeatedly ... and always welcomes the little ones home:

"Back to the hill,
under that bridge,
deep in your valley,
high on your ridge.

Roads take you all over the planet, but then ...
you always can follow them home once again."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Daddy Sat on a Duck, written and illustrated by Scott M. Cohn. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2015. $17.00 ages 5 and up

"Daddy sat on a duck
at dinner one night.
"Excuse me!" he said,
which I thought was
I know that if somebody
sat on MY back,
I'd be angry enough to
let out a big QUACK!"

Not every one likes books that allude to farting, and snoring, and other noises often heard in family households. But, kids like them and are intrigued by the noises that are so effortlessly part of a father's repertoire.

The little girl who voices the story is somewhat concerned by the noises she often hears, but cannot distinguish what they are, or where they are coming from in her house. It seems that her dad is always there when they happen.  In fact, when she sits down to dinner one evening, she wonders if he put the squish on a duck. The sounds are varied, and happen often.

When she hears a lion's roar in her parents' bedroom, she opens the door just as her dad wakes up. Where could that noise be coming from and then, why is there a gorilla in the shower? And, what is that smell coming from the bathroom?

When she asks her dad to enlighten her, he responds with questions of his own:

"Have you ever had dinner with a chimpanzee?"

"Or sailed on a walrus's back through the sea?"

"Or ridden a bald eagle up into the skies?"

The illustrations, created digitally using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, show images of the father and daughter swimming together and her riding on his back as they head up the stairs.

This is a book for those little girls who love their fathers despite the sometimes disgusting sounds they make, and the dads who make them. It's a terrific book to share together! A silly read aloud that will be appreciated by many. Keep it for Father's Day next year, or pair with Scott Cohn's next book. Daddy Said a Word I Never Heard is due in November from Little, Brown. Just in time for Christmas giving!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Land Shark, written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Ben Mantle. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 ages 3 and up

"No enormous saltwater tank.
No rows of sharp teeth.
No awesome dorsal fin.
No ... shark.


"What's this?" Bobby asked.
"A puppy," said his mom.
"The 'very best, most coolest
present ever.'"

While most kids, at one time or another, REALLY want to have a pet, most are not likely to want 'a real, scooped-out-of-the-ocean, chock-full-of-teeth shark.'  Bobby assures his parents he is not particular about the kind of shark it should be. But, a shark is what he wants.

When he is disappointed at the appearance of a puppy for his birthday, his family is flabbergasted. They had never had any intention of getting him a shark. They even laughed at him. Bobby did not get so upset that he cried. He knew that shark lovers would never cry.

His mom tries to console him, asking that he give his new puppy a chance. Nope, not going to happen. Hmmm! As days pass by, the puppy proves to be quite formidable. He loves dirt, garbage, chewing. Bobby is impressed. The more trouble caused by the puppy, the more likely Bobby will get the pet he would love to have. Give up the naughty puppy, get a shark!

It isn't exactly the way it goes for either Bobby or the puppy.

"And the puppy HAD done it.
She had barked and chewed and bitten her way ...
right into Bobby's heart."

Ben Mantle does a superb job of showing the mischief and the path of destruction one young, exuberant puppy can create. His spreads are awash with the humorous details that give Bobby such pleasure and the rest of the family such consternation. His humorous takes on the author's fun, adding some of his own unscripted details, are most welcome. Happy birthday, Bobby!


Friday, August 7, 2015

Giraffe Meets Bird, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bender. Pajama Press, 2015. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"If Bird wants Giraffe
to help,
he has to be pleasant.

If Giraffe wants Bird
to give him a scratch,
he has to be polite.

In this prequel to her earlier story Giraffe and Bird (Dancing Cat Books, 2010), we learn how the two friends meet. It is quite a surprise to both. They are fascinated with each other, and often exasperated as well.

"Bird learns that it's easy to make Giraffe cross.
Giraffe discovers that it's a cinch to make Bird angry."

They spend their days learning to be friends, accepting one another despite their differences. Each finds it difficult to be in the same space without altercations.

Then, one day, when Giraffe is scratching an itch on their tree, Bird is ousted from her nest. Luckily, danger is averted when Giraffe manages to snatch his friend from certain death. Later in the day, they manage to share the tree without a fuss. Now aware of that danger is ever-present, they think perhaps the tree is not their best shelter. Cautiously, they check for the lion when they awaken.

Sensing no danger, they say goodbye to their old leafy abode. With help from a family of elephants, they set off to find a home they might happily share.

As she did in that first book, Rebecca Bender gives us memorable and lovable characters. Her double page spreads provide a close-up look at the developing relationship. Her expressive characters are quite the pair. As you can see from the shared quotes, she uses words that are synonymous to describe their relationship. It allows her young readers to build vocabulary without really knowing that it is happening.

If you haven't met Giraffe and Bird, you are in for a treat. Your little ones are sure to thank you for introducing them to this charming pair. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Have You Seen My Dragon? Written and illustrated by Steve Light. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"2 Hot dogs

Maybe he got hungry
and stopped for a hot

3 Buses

Or perhaps he went
downtown on the bus."

Where, oh where, can that dragon have gone?

I mean, how do you lose a dragon? The detailed search begins with 1 dragon. It is New York City, and there are so many things to see that it might be easy enough to lose your dragon, don't you think?

It is a counting book. It is an homage to the streets and sounds of the Big Apple. It is a journey of the imagination. It is a terrific book to give to those who are just mastering the joys of reading on their own. It has all the elements needed to make it so - visual clues that help a child decipher the familiar places, context for  the words encountered, an imaginative story that intrigues any young child ... and a dragon!

In the beginning, the dragon is GREEN. He's easy to spot, and very big. In disguising himself from detection, he manages to blend into his surroundings making it tough for his master to find him. As the boy wanders city streets, he is able to guess most of the places that his dragon might go. There are many things to count as he makes his way to discovery.

As we travel with him, we note that the boy is a kind of every child ... small with a round head and no real distinguishing features. The dragon, on the other hand, is quite splendid! His ability to hide himself from detection is a real accomplishment. While we can always spot the boy (and the dragon), the dragon manages to keep itself just out of sight for the young detective. Colored images of the chosen objects to be counted make the task easier.

So, there's counting, and colors, and map reading (if you take a careful look at the endpapers) and a  chance that early readers might discover enough on their first trip through the pages to begin to read in on their own. Each time they return to it, there will be more to discover.

That's a book to call a '10'!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig, written and illustrated by Emma J. Virjan. Harper.2015. $12.50 ages 4 and up

"This story also needs
a rat.

A rat with a hat,
on a trunk,

with a skunk,
in a house,

with a mouse ... "

I have mentioned this before: if we want early learners to love reading, we need to give them books that are worthy of their attention. In this story, Emma Virjan introduces us to a pig, a frog, a dog, a goat, a rat, an elephant, a skunk, and finally a panda. It all begins in a boat and the action only lasts as long as the boat can sustain its beastly cargo.

That pig in a red wig is joined by the frog, dog and goat. Her boat is not that big and she makes it evident through facial expression that she is not thrilled with the situation. More animals join them As the stability of their transport becomes more precarious with each new addition, she has finally had enough:

It's getting crowded
in here,
don't you think?
Off of this boat
before we all sink!"

The other critters respond by bailing out as per her request, leaving the pig in the wig  on the boat in the moat feeling lonely:

I made a mistake
when I sent you away.
Can you swim back
so we can all play?"

Lesson learned, and reading made most enjoyable!

Cartoon-like, boldly colored images are sure to add to the appeal of this for early readers. Be prepared to hear it read repeatedly!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Wait, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2015. $19.50 ages 3 and up






If you have young children, or can remember when your grown children were young, you will know just how this mom and her little boy feel. They are on their way to catch the morning train. Mom is frantic to make it on time. Her son, having no concept of time as it passes, wants to check out all that interests him along the way. It is a tug-of-war.

With each hurry! she pulls him along. With each Wait. he wants to stop and satisfy his curiosity concerning the action on the city streets as they pass by. There is so much to discover! That is so true for the young boy as they make their way to his mother's destination. It is also true for those of us who are sharing this lovely, thoughtful story. On the title page, a close look and you will see what first attracts his attention - surprise! - it isn't the letter 't'. Look more closely.

Mom is checking her watch, the boy is wanting to stop for a visit with a dog being walked on this early morning. Mom, phone in hand, tugs him along, only to make it as far as a construction site before his attention is captured once again. Even a stop to capture raindrops on his tongue is of great importance, while Mom frantically tries to cover him up with a rain slicker.

Read it slowly, and then read it again. Antoinette Portis, as she has done in previous books, uses pencil, charcoal and ink to create her brilliant images. They are digitally colored and boast thick black outlines to ensure attention to the world in action.

Then a surprise - and the rush lessens. Together, they stop to savor the rainbow that follows the rain.

"Yes. Wait."

The young have much to teach us, don't they?