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Monday, November 30, 2015

Kyle Goes Alone, written by Jan Thornhill and illustrated by Ashley Barron. Owlkids, 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"After what seemed like a very
long time, Kyle looked up. He
couldn't see the tiger-legged
monkey tree frog. He couldn't
see the green and yellow whip-
snake. He couldn't see the red-
spectacled parrot. And he
couldn't see his mom.
Maybe he should turn back
... except now he really,
REALLY had to go. "

Here's a 'potty' book you haven't likely heard! Jan Thornhill, whose informative books are very popular, writes a  new picture for children that focuses on one event in a young sloth's life. It is Kyle's first time to 'go' on his own.

We set eyes on Kyle in the first spread, clinging to his mother while requesting help for his plight. We are told that he is a three-toed sloth and learn a little about him: where he lives, how he moves, chews, and scratches. And, we learn that he does all these things ... slowly.

In fact, he only has to go to the bathroom once a week. You know how he does that, I imagine. His mother assures him that it is one more of those things he can do by himself. Kyle checks. It is a long way to the bottom of their tree:

"Kyle felt dizzy. The forest floor
was a long, LONG L O N G way away.
He wasn't sure he was ready to go alone."

His mother continues to encourage him. Off he goes. Still fretting, but with nature calling, he slowly makes his way. As he goes, he meets other creatures who live in his tree and realizes that he has company along the way. It is all the impetus he needs. Soon, well not too soon, he finds that he has made it to the forest floor ... JUST IN TIME. 

The return trip goes much more smoothly, although he now has the confidence to know he can do it all by himself.

Ashley Barron's cut paper collages are textured and crisply edged. Variety in perspective allow young readers a taste for the height of Kyle's home, and show his ultimate success as a young and inexperienced sloth. Readers will be keen to see the other animals who share his leafy abode and watch as he makes his way from top to bottom with great anticipation.

Two additional endnotes provide welcome information, and are followed by a list of sources for those readers who want to know about this peculiar animal of the rainforest.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Red Spider Hero, written by John Miller and illustrated by Guiliano Cucco. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $23.50 ages 3 and up

"One day, Harry began to stamp his feet and yell and carry on in such a way that everyone gathered around to see what was the matter. "I'm tired of being a little spider on a small patch of sidewalk!" Harry hollered. "I want to see the world! So I've made up my mind to run away and become the most famous spider ... "

I had no idea how tiny red spider mites are! Luckily, the author ensures that we do know more by the time we finish his book about a young spider with a burning desire to know about the wider world.

All his spider relatives and friends are happy with their lot in life. Not Harry! His grandfather seems amenable to Harry's leaving; he does have a reminder for his young grandson:

"If you want to run away, go right ahead, Harry.
But it will take you more than a week to reach the
end of the sidewalk, and a whole year of climbing
through grass to cross the park."

Harry is not to be deterred. He has a boat in mind and plans to build it before the next rainfall. He won't just sail on the raindrops either. He has bigger plans ... much bigger plans than that. Those plans involve sailing and hunting and exploring and making his name a household word around the entire world.

Always encouraging, and relying on life experience, Harry's grandfather shows his wisdom by making suggestions that give Harry pause, and a chance to carefully consider the plans he is making. First plan in the tank, he offers up another, and then another. With a clearer head, he makes a change in his planning and finds that home might just be the best place to be.

 A final page offers some interesting information about red spider mites, leaving young readers with a new quest to undertake when it comes to being outside and combing their world for new discoveries.

Young Harry the red spider mite dreams of glory. In the short information page that follows this artful, gladdening story, readers learn that spider mites are “smaller than the head of a pin,” which also makes them cousins to angels, and Harry couldn’t be much sweeter. As Miller dreamed him up (some 50 years ago and only now seeing the light of print), Harry has an itch to know what lies beyond his little patch of sidewalk. Harry’s grandfather is a wise old geezer sporting overalls, a pipe, and a boater who encourages Harry to live his wildest dreams in his head. When Harry declares he is running away, his grandfather says, “go right ahead, Harry. But it will take you more than a week to reach the end of the sidewalk.” OK, right, then he’ll stay there and become a famous hunter, until he considers the beasts’ poisonous fangs and spooky eyes. He’ll escape on the back of a flea and join a flea circus, and so on. After a series of further imaginary adventures, Harry sighs. He’s a little tired. “Now I must rest and play with my friends.” Harry may flag, but this tale won’t burn out, nor will Cucco’s illustrations, with their M&M colors and their shared aesthetic with William Steig, Jules Feiffer, and Quentin Blake. Just so, a story that celebrates the dreams of even the smallest of us—the really, really smallest.

The Red Spider Hero, which tells the story of an teeny-tiny red spider who dreams big and longs for adventure. As he talks with his grandfather, the big-dreaming, little spider sails forth on the wings of his imagination. Since red spiders are microscopically small, they are too small to go far, but they can dream!

Harry is so unhappy, in fact, that he has a foot-stomping fit, during which he loudly announces his intentions to see the world and "become the most famous spider to have ever lived." All the other spiders look alarmed. Harry's green-hatted grandfather says "go right ahead," but warns Harry that it'll take him a year just to cross the park. Harry is undaunted, boasting that he'll sail on a boat in a river of raindrops to the ocean, then go deep into the jungle and be a famous hunter and explorer. Harry's imagined exploits become more and more ambitious, even taking him to outer space. The late Italian artist Giuliano Cucco's playful, color-soaked illustrations make the outlandish scenarios leap to life, whether Harry is circled by ferocious jungle animals or performing as a flea rider in a circus. Throughout Harry's tirade, his grandfather calmly warns the wee mite of the dangers that may face him--"fleas like to eat little red spiders," for instance--but heroic Harry has his escapes planned out, too.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America, written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $24.50 ages 10 and up

"But Mary was frightened. At last she knew what the health department wanted. They wanted to perform surgery on her. They wanted her gallbladder. Later, Mary would reveal her fear that the health department wanted her out of the way and that they were trying to murder her. Mary's fear wasn't baseless."

I am always interested to see trends in publishing. Who knew that would mean two exceptional books about Typhoid Mary in one year? Reading the two in such close proximity made for some interesting connections to Mary's sad life. Knowing almost nothing about her, I had always thought of her as someone who cared little for the value of human life. Having shared both versions of her story, I must admit I now see her in a very different light.

Given the time and her circumstance, she is sure to have heard stories from Irish history of grave robbers who sold bodies to the medical community for purposes of research and dissection. The fact that she was fearful of that medical community can easily be understood. In contrast to Fatal Fever, Susan Bartoletti focuses her book on Mary herself and helps readers understand what her world was like.

The book begins with the story of a wealthy woman's search for a cook. Good ones were not easy to find and keep. Her requirements were demanding:

"Mrs. Warren needed a cook who wouldn't mind the lack of freedom and the fourteen-hour days. She needed someone available morning, noon, and night. Someone who wore a white servant's cap and apron, a plain dress, and thick-soled shoes. Someone who never left the house without permission. Some cooks shared rooms with other servants. Others made themselves comfortable in the attic or the cellar. A good servant wasn't uppity. She knew her place. If the servant was smarter than her employer, she never showed it. She was humble. She ate in the kitchen, using the plain crockery and ironware, not the good family china and silver."

We learn much about Mary before we meet George Soper and discover how he tracked her, the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever. It was argued that she infected close to 50 people in her lifetime. Once found, she was confined to hospitals for most of the rest of her life - against her will and while other healthy carriers were allowed their freedom. Mary didn't understand how she could be making people sick when she was not sick herself: she railed against any attempts made to convince her to have the surgery that would provide the answers that were needed.

Using photos, official documents, firsthand accounts of her life, a letter that Mary herself wrote, newspaper articles and journal entries, Ms. Bartoletti weaves a story of what the early twentieth century was like for an Irish immigrant wanting a better life. She discusses the medical misconceptions, the at-all-cost need for advancement in science and medicine, and the half-truths printed that made Mary a scapegoat. The notoriety lasted until her dying day.

"For the last time, Mary Mallon left North Border Island. Her casket was ferried across the East River and taken to St. Luke's Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx, where her funeral mass was held.  Nine mourners attended the funeral. Reporters flocked to the church."

A comprehensive afterword, a photo album, a timeline of events in Mary's life, an extensive source list, a bibliography, acknowledgements and an index are added in back matter.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary. Written by Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $21.99 ages 12 and up

Early on a damp March morning in 1907,  Mary Mallon answered the knock at the servants’ entrance of a New York brownstone house. She took one look at the visitors and lunged at them with her sharp fork. As they flinched, she ran toward the kitchen.

Mary knew why they were there."

So opens this intriguing and carefully researched book about typhoid fever and the havoc it wreaked in the early twentieth century. Many thousands of people died before the medical community was able to find a way to stop its spread.

In the case of Mary Mallon, it proved extremely difficult. Mary herself seemed perfectly healthy to all who knew her. Through careful tracking of her work history authorities thought they could safely assume she was a healthy carrier.

There is much to digest here as the author alternates between describing the fever itself (how it was diagnosed, how it spread and how it was finally treated with great success) and the story of Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary. We come to know and appreciate those who worked so tirelessly to understand and deal with the disease itself. George Soper and Dr. Josephine Baker were the two most prominent researchers and were responsible for being able to track Mary as a source of spreading typhoid, trying to prove their theory and protecting the public from her.

The chapters concerning Mary provide a clear picture of a woman who refused to accept that she could make people sick when she was not exhibiting any symptoms. She was unwilling to submit to medical testing and ended up being quarantined to contain its spread to the healthy families for whom she worked. How difficult it must have been for Mary to understand and accept that a healthy woman could be the cause of such death and suffering. It is a book that will encourage careful consideration and discussion about public health issues, human rights, and medical history.

The design is very appealing. Included are archival photographs, posters, misleading cartoons of the time, and a variety of information contained in sidebars. A list of famous typhoid victims, glossary, timeline, further resources, a thoughtful and informative author's note, generous source notes, bibliography, and index are appended and offer its intended readers a look at the careful and detailed work that is done to provide an exemplary work of nonfiction.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Say It! Written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Charlotte Voake. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $21.00 ages 3 and up

"Just then a small black kitten
scampered down a driveway
and stood paw deep in a pool
of orange and brown leaves.

"What a little black cat you are,"
said the mother.

The little cat curved its paw
and went scrambling away in
a scurry of leaves."

Shoot! I missed our lovely fall with this one. Sorry about that ...

In this reissue of a 1980 book, we watch a little one and her mother as they share the inherent joys of being together on a glorious autumn day. As they wander along paths and through the nearby countryside, they savor the many little adventures that await them. A tiny kitten scampers past, a small pond provides a reflection, a friendly dog lopes toward them and milkweed fluff lands gently.

All the while, the little girl keeps a careful watch on her mother and issues a repeated refrain - "Say it." Mama tells her all about the things they are seeing and enjoying together. Her responses are not exactly what her daughter is seeking. And so, they walk. They listen together to the many familiar sounds, observe the seasonal changes, feel the strong wind blowing past and through them, smell the smoke from her father's 'welcome home' fire.

As the get nearer to hearth and home, the little one cannot contain her joy and her anticipation any longer:

"The little girl ran up to her mother
and flung her arms around her.
The purple clouds blew into the chimney smoke,
the leaves whirled around them,
and the mother picked the little girl up.

"Say it," shrieked the little girl.
   "Say it,
       say it,
           say it!"

Finally, she hears what she has been longing to hear. All is right in her world!

Charlotte Zolotow's beautiful, clear prose is matched perfectly by Ms. Voakes' soft watercolors. Simple lines and clearly communicated emotions show young readers the beauty and joy to be found in this delightful experience. The language written so long ago by Ms. Zolotow has certainly stood the test of time, and today's readers are in for a lovely experience when sharing it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Edmond: The Moonlit Party, written by Astrid Desbordes and illustrated by Marc Boutavant. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $24.95 ages 4 and up

"Harry the bear lived at the bottom of the old chestnut tree. He was known throughout the forest for the parties he threw each season. As soon as he announced a party, no one would talk of anything else. This time, when Edmond heard the excitement through his window, he thought how fun singing, dancing and talking with friends must be."

Three neighbors share the same chestnut tree. Edmond Squirrel is shy, loving his own company as he reads about the adventures of others, makes pompoms and delicious nut jam. His pompom hats are spectacular and he thinks that might they might just be his calling. George is a owl who lives in the tree top. He gads about collecting whatever suits his fancy for making unbelievable costumes. When he is out and about in one of his disguises, he goes unrecognized by the other forest inhabitants. Harry Bear lives at the bottom of their tree. He is a party planner extraordinaire. He loves to party with friends, and they love to accept his invitations. In fact, Harry is just planning his next party when we meet him.

As Edmond listens to the sounds coming from downstairs, he realizes that he is lonely. To avoid feeling that way any longer, he prepares for sleep. That's when George arrives, telling Edmond that he can smell his jam. After a quick taste, he reminds Edmond about the party. Edmond throws caution to the wind, dons his pompom hat, scoops up what is left of the jam and heads out with a disguised George. Harry is delighted to welcome Edmond and his seagull (George in disguise). The party is a rousing success. Might it change Edmond's mind about future gatherings?

Brightly colored illustrations offer readers a chance to see how each of the tree's inhabitants live their lives through the many lovely details. They are cheerful and inviting and add depth to a story about personality and friendship.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An Inuksuk Means Welcome, words and art by Mary Wallace. Owlkids, 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up

is for inuksuk,

the stone messenger
that stands at the top
of the world."

Inuksuit have many purposes in Inuit culture. Because of the vast expanses of land in the north, an inuksuk may be used as a beacon, providing a kind of map to help travellers find their way. They are also used as a means of welcome and joy for those who see them.

"For thousands of years, people living in the Arctic have built stone towers called inuksuit to guide them across this land of ice and snow. A single marker is called an inuksuk. It can mark where to find food or how to find home. It can even be a way of saying, "Welcome."

Mary Wallace uses an acrostic framework to introduce her readers to seven words from the Inuit culture, each beginning with one of the letters of inuksuk. In reading it, we learn something about the customs and traditions of Arctic life for the Inuit people.

The words are first given in English and accompanied by textured and beautifully rendered artwork. The double spread that follows each of the seven words presents a portrait of the Arctic landscape, with a phonetic guide to saying the word properly as well as the word show in Inuktitut characters.

You will see the polar bear, a umiaq, a kamik, the siku, a umimmat, and the kunik. Interested in knowing more? Find this book at the library or your local bookstore. Then, you will know what each word describes.

Mary Wallace's paintings show readers the depth of beauty in the Arctic and the power of the stark landscape. As well, she allows a glimpse at family and the variety in form for these iconic towers on the northern landscape.

A final page shows and explains the meanings for the various inuksuit that may be built as messengers of the Arctic landscape, also giving their pronunciation, their Inuit spelling and the English translation. Readers are encouraged to go back and see if they can find each of the seven images.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Princess Pistachio and the Pest, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Translated by Jacob Homel. Pajama Press, 2015. $12.95 ages 4 and up

"Pistachio throws her clothes on. No crown for her this morning. She slaps on her baseball cap, takes her backpack and her flashlight, and careens down the stairs. She rushes into the kitchen like a tornado. She's singing loud enough to rattle the windows. Loud enough to wake the neighbors. "No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' - "

Instead of going exploring with her friends on the first day of summer vacation, Princess Pistachio is tasked with the challenge of looking after her little sister Penny. The princess has a penchant for adventure and she is not pleased with her mother's request.

"Half an hour later, Pistachio hits the road. She is dragging behind her the wagon piled high with dolls, stuffed animals, plastic buckets, shovels, rakes, and ... her little sister!
Penny wears her rabbit-ear hat and her Superman cape. She looks ecstatic. She has also managed to hide the dog under a stuffed elephant."

It is not an auspicious beginning. Things just keep getting more and more complicated as the day passes. First, Pistachio is accused of stealing bananas and a melon from the grocer, only to later catch Penny chomping on a pear from her wagon. Who's the thief? Each friend she meets is excited about their planned adventure. Pistachio must decline their repeated invitations in favor of caring for her sister. YEESH!

When Penny climbs a wall and promptly falls off, Pistachio is scared for her safety. Hurtling after her to the other side, she is angry when Penny pretends to be hurt and is not. Only then do they realize that they have landed in Mrs. Oldtooth's garden. The kids in the neighborhood call her a witch. Penny and Pistachio must deal with her threats before making their escape while Mrs. Oldtooth is distracted.
They head to the park for a play ... a recipe for further disaster. They are asked to leave after a series of infractions. If  the opportunity to care for her little sister tomorrow arises, how will Pistachio react?

Perfect for early readers wanting more text in the books they are reading! There is so much action, humor and description. The illustrations perfectly match the tone and share with readers the adventures that the sisters have. It's quick to read and worthy of reading again.

Huzzah for Princess Pistachio! I know we will meet again!


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bug in a Vacuum, written and illustrated by Melanie Watt. Tundra Books, Random House. 2015. $24.99 ages 5 and up

Bug in a Vacuum Melanie Watt
"Excuse me,
you've vacuumed

I wouldn't hut a fly.
There's the insect
you want ...

So pal, what are YOU
in for?"

I seem to have had a run on bugs lately. Here's a new book from the glorious Melanie Watt with an attention-grabbing tale of a vacuum and its prey! Before we begin the reading, Ms.Watt helps to prepare us for what is to come by showing that there are different meanings for the same word:

"Bug (buhg)
*an insect
*an unexpected glitch

Vacuum (vak-yoom)
*a cleaning machine
*a void left by a loss"

I know I have been guilty of swooping up bugs if I see them while I am running the vacuum. To tell you the truth, I have never (ever) thought about how those bugs might feel. Here, we learn just how devastating going from the 'top of the world' (it's sitting atop a globe before capture) to the inside of a dirt encrusted vacuum bag can be!

In fact, this small creature feels trapped and all alone as he begins a journey through the five stages of grief described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Each stage is pictured on a series of household items.

A spray can label describes denial - "FINE AND DANDY

                                                           WIPES OUT
                                                           THE UGLY TRUTH

                                                           An ounce of doubt
                                                           and gallons of disbelief"

The bug is tenacious in his bid to escape. Each of the stages provide narrative fodder for his situation and his attempts to free himself from the trap that is confining him. From the outside we see that the family dog is feeling remarkably sympathetic, as he mourns the loss of his own much loved chew toy to the bothersome machine.

Kids and adults are going to establish an empathetic connection with the wee guy as he does his level best to improve his situation. It is so clever, with brilliant artwork taking a major role in the storytelling. It is funny, bordering on hilarious at times. It is tender, in keeping with the story being shared. The illustrations are filled with a host of details that will garner attention and allow for deep discussion.

There are so many ways we can learn to handle changes in our lives. This book definitely helps us see that is true. I can't wait to read it to some unsuspecting adult or child just to enjoy their reaction!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I See A Pattern Here, by Bruce Goldstone. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 7 and up

"Since patterns repeat,
you can use them to
guess what comes next.

What bead would you
add to each string?

Look at the pattern
of beads on the string.
Which keeps the pattern

Bruce Goldstone's other books have considered estimation and probability (two mathematical concepts that are not as easy as one might expect for young learners). His exceptional photographs and clear writing help enormously when introducing such things to his audience.

In this book, he shows us the many patterns that we are sure to see when we put our minds to finding them. There are many places that provide examples of pattern in nature and in manufactured objects. Beautiful, often intricate, patterns enhance every page, filling them with color, interest and even awe. The language is simple and direct, encouraging mathematicians to look closely and think about what they are seeing in each of the many images.

In MathSpeak balloons, he provides further information concerning math words and concepts that are related to patterning:


The math word for slide is translation. That doesn't mean naming a shape in another language. In math, a translation is a move from one place to another."

There are so many examples of patterns, readers are sure to spend an inordinate amount of time searching them out when they have closed the book on its last page. They will also know more about slides, flips and folds. Questions are asked, instructions given, and growth in mathematical language is sure to result: translation, rotation, symmetry, scaling, tessellation, and more ...

"Another artist used a stencil to paint his temple wall in Laos. To make a stencil, the artist cut a pattern out of a thin sheet of paper or other material. Then the painter placed the stencil on the wall
and painted the part of the wall that showed through the holes. Finally the painter slid the stencil over and repeated."

In a final bold and colorful spread the author encourages his readers to find each kind of pattern that he  has introduced in this book. Finally, in backmatter, he provides encouragement to try a hand at creating our own patterns using blocks, stamps and cutouts. An answer key assures that there will no sleepless nights trying to figure out if we got it right, or not.

Quite beautiful and very useful, this book makes math more manageable for many young learners.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Once Upon A Rainy Day, written and illustrated by Edouard Manceau. Translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou. Owlkiids, 2015. 18.95 ages 5 and up

"But today it's raining. So Mr. Warbler doesn't venture outside, and the Big Bad Wolf sleeps in. And so it goes. The same old story, day in, day out, except when it rains. The trees know the story well: every morning they see the Big Bad Wolf race over to Oscar's house."

Are you up for adventure? The premise sounds mundane as the same story plays out every day - well, except when it rains! On rainy days, the actions of the characters are thwarted right from the start. And, my friends, this is one of those rainy days.

Most every day, Mr. Warbler is the first one awake and he sets out for the Big Bad Wolf's house where a special signal will awaken the wolf and set him on his daily routine. But, not today - it is raining. That doesn't stop the author from letting us know what usually happens!

On normal days, Wolf sets off in pursuit of his daily sustenance, beginning with Oscar. Oscar is of particular interest to Wolf as he is 'a delectable pig with plump thighs and tender feet' - the perfect meal, it would seem.

 I want to be in Oscar's procession on rainy days:

"He lived in the city before moving here with his entire library. Oscar adores rainy days like today. Snuggled all cozy and warm under a tartan blanket, he devours stacks of books."

On the days when it isn't raining, Oscar is an escape artist. He always manages to avoid Wolf by making a getaway on his bicycle and racing to Amadeus' house. And so it goes ... each animal that might serve as a meal for Wolf manages to find safety with another, leaving Wolf constantly chasing them. When they get to the end of the road, a final blast from a giant trumpet sends Wolf tumbling and grumbling about missing his meal. Then, he heads for home ready to begin all over again when Mr. Warbler awakens him in the morning - if it's sunny.

Because today is a rainy day we meet none of the characters who usually enact this wild, rambunctious saga. We rather see scenes of the places where the action takes place on sunny days. Here, there is no action and we are left to our own imaginations when considering how the tale plays out day, after day, after day - except when it rains!

A perfect book to share with a little one, allowing extended time to stop and talk, and picture the scenes as they might look on the next sunny day.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hilda and the Midnight Giant, by Luke Pearson. Flying Eye Books, 2011. $16.50 ages 8 and up


The forms are widely


Crazy about ensuring the
wellbeing of my people ... "

This second book about Hilda is testament, once again, to the artistic talent and storytelling prowess of Luke Pearson. It is also a coup for the skilled publication team at Flying Eye Books. I want to thank Tucker Stone, US Sales and Marketing Director at Nobrow US, for sending it along for my enjoyment and a chance to share it with my readers.

Hilda is a feisty and admirable protagonist, and is sure to win followers with her strength of character and plucky determination to get things done. She's still sporting blue hair and bright red boots, and accompanied by her tiny foxy pet.

She and her mother are settling in for a cup of tea in their home in the mountains when the sixth tiny letter of the week arrives. It's from the hidden people: their note states that the two have to move immediately and then the tiny, invisible people are going to smash down the house they have been living in. Hilda sends a terse reply; rocks begin flying through their living room window. Those flying missiles are followed by a pronouncement:


While sending the attackers packing, Hilda notices a very large, shaded character overlooking their land. Hilda is unafraid, but wanting to tell her mother. When she gets back inside, her mother insists that they should move into town where she has been offered a job and they would be safe from such attacks. Hilda is shaken and begging to stay - her mother relents for the moment. If anything else threatens them they are gone, she says.

During an unsettling night, Hilda hears a voice in her head that turns out to be one of the elves, a young girl named Alfur. By forging a number of relevant papers that will allow Hilda to see those who are threatening her home, Alfur sets Hilda on a quest to change her own future. While trekking from one elected official to the next, Hilda is always aware of the mysterious being, taller than the mountains and unknown to her, who is always nearby.

Humorous, mysterious, and quite magical, this book is sure to find many fans and is worthy of a spot on library, classroom and personal library shelves. Check it out!

Next up, Hilda and the Bird Parade, and then Hilda and the Black Hound! I will tell you all about them as soon as I receive copies from Tucker.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hilda and the Troll, by Luke Pearson. Flying Eye Books, 2013. $15.50 ages 8 and up

"A monster!

A monster ...


Of course cosiness
is even more appreciated
with a friend.

Even a soggy one."

If you haven't yet met Hilda, now's the time!. In this reissue, with added pages and a brand new title, you will share the story that captured attention as Hildafolk  (2011), and begin to understand why she is as popular today as when her story first appeared. If you know kids who love graphica and want adventure, it's the perfect book!

Hilda is just a little girl, as you can see by looking at the cover. Luke Pearson has created a charming character sure to be embraced by readers. Her small blue-and-white fox companion, the little man who shows up as a constant guest, even the particularly nasty looking Troll also have character and appeal.

Being outside on a dark and stormy night does not daunt her. She shows no fear, she loves adventure and she is keen to face whatever life might bring. She likes the rain and the wind, every bit of it. Once the night is done and daylight dawns, she is off to explore and pursue her love of drawing what she sees wherever adventure might take her. She loves life and she shows it at every turn!

Luke Pearson provides a wondrous adventure for his young readers, playing with color and design and adding humor that will take his audience back again and again to check out all that is happening on the image-filled pages. I love the feel of the matte finish, the bright colors, and the very classy look of the book as a whole. It is an auspicious start for a series of stories that now number three.

If you are looking for a special book to entertain and enchant, you have a winner in Hilda.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bite Into Bloodsuckers, by Kari-Lynn Williams and Ishta Mercurio. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"Many schools have head-lice checks. Head lice are famous for being difficult to eliminate. Once lice move in, the only option you have is to go through a thorough de-lousing ritual. Special shampoos can be used to kill the lice and eggs. Combing with a special comb also helps to get rid of all the eggs ... "

While we are on the subject of bugs, you might be interested in learning more about those creatures who really do want to 'suck our blood' ... Ha! Ha! Ha! as Count Dracula on Sesame Street taught us to say!

"Most bloodsuckers are parasites that feed on their hosts' blood in order to survive. These bloodthirsty creatures come in many shapes and sizes. Whether they are worm-like leeches, six-legged flying insects, eight-legged arachnids, birds, fish, or small mammals, they have one thing in common: they practise bloodsucking, which is also known as hematophagy ... "

There is a lot of information here for those readers who have an interest in these vampires, and their many sizes, shapes and species. They can be extremely irritating, as well as actually responsible for death in some cases. They bore into your skin, or the skin of beloved pets, and other animals. They drink blood and they are know to carry diseases, too. Here's the good and bad news: in order to have healthy and beneficial ecosystems, we need them! They provide untold benefits. So, love or hate them, they are here to stay and we must be thankful that they do a much needed job all around the world. As I have said before, it would take a lot of convincing to make me appreciate that whining
mosquito, but the authors even make a case for appreciation of their place in the world:

"Mosquitoes also help keep our ponds clean because, as larvae, they feed on decaying leaves, organic debris, and microorganisms. So next time you eat a fish dinner, see the bottom of a pond, or have a dragonfly land on your shoulder, you can thank a mosquito - it played a small part in what you are experiencing at some point. In these ways, mosquitoes are part of our ecosystem and benefit humans."

The authors include an index, a glossary, a list for further reading and a website for a full list of the works used in researching this book that will attract readers who love to know more about our world and the creatures in it.

If you want to know why they need blood, where they live and who they are, what their lifecycles look like, why we fear them and how they are dangerous to us, their benefits in the natural and medical worlds, and how to keep yourself protected from their bites, you need to read this book!

Monday, November 16, 2015

All Year Round, written and illustrated by Emilie Leduc. Translated by Shelley Tanaka. Groundwood Books, 2015. $16.95 ages 2 and up


Mademoiselle Clementine
hides under the carpet.
A princess like you should
keep her coat shiny and dry.

I love the month of April,
and so does my sweet tooth."

I'm not feeling a lot of joy on this cold and windy autumn day. Pair it with the sunshine and warmth that we experienced in the two days that came before, and it gives real understanding to this weather quote: Welcome to the land where you can get sunburn and frostbite in the same week. It occasionally applies here.

In this celebration of the joys to be found in all seasons, the author takes us from January through  December. We see the world in the eyes of a child who knows that there is something to love about every single month in each year. The double page spreads offer the poem on one side, accompanied either facing or across the spread by bold and smiling images of that child taking in the wonders of the world. The colored pencils used to create the artwork give a soft, gentle feel.

Full of joy and meant to be savored by all who share it, here is a child in tune with the changes, the delights, and the wonder of each new day and month. The companion's cat is not quite as joyful at every stage, but is a solid presence on each page.


The snow drifts everywhere.
But beneath my feet lie hidden
in all the colors of the rainbow.

I love the month of November
and the gentle flakes of snow."


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Smithsonian Eyewitness Explorer: BUG Hunter, by David Burnie. DK Canada, 2015. $10.99 ages 5 and up

"Insects are some of the finest builders in the animal world. Unlike human builders, they do not have to learn to carry out their work. Instead, their instincts tell them what plan to follow, and what materials to use. Bees often make their nests from wax, but other insects use wood fibers, leaves, or clay. If you look carefully, you may be able to spot insects ... "

Ah, I love telling you about the amazing books that come to us from DK Canada!

While the world of bugs definitely slows to a 'crawl' here on the Canadian prairies in the fall and winter, it's always a good time to learn about the little 'critters' - especially for those bug-loving kids on your Christmas (gasp!) list, or that fascinated student in your classroom.

As with ALL of the books that I  see in the Eyewitness Explorer series, Bug Hunter has a myriad of things that make it immensely appealing. It's filled with activities that will encourage exploration and learning. Kids will get their eyes beaming in, and their hands dirty as they embark on the listed activities, their methods and their results. The photographs are colorful and clear. The text is accessible for many children.

Kids always want to learn more. Here, they have the opportunity to understand how to observe with a scientific eye and to find out about those things that hold high interest for them. They are immediately introduced to the 'world of bugs' with clear photographs, conversational captions, and helpful labels.

"Real bugs are always insects. There are more than a million different kinds of insects, which makes them the most numerous animals on Earth. Unlike other creepy-crawlies, insects' bodies are divided into three parts - head, thorax, and abdomen. They have six legs, and most insects have wings. For insects, being able to fly is a huge plus. It is one of the reasons they are so widespread."

Some suggestions for activities to help acquaint children with increased learning about bugs include
a bug collecting kit, making a butterfly net, fashioning a butterfly bar to attract those beautiful creatures, raising caterpillars, making a moth, and so much more ...

There is much to admire about their adaptations, their work ethic and their many skills. An essential equipment list is provided and bug habitats explored,, including drawers and cupboards, kitchens, basements and bathrooms. YECH!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Sleeper and the Spindle, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell. Harper, 2015. $24.99 ages 12 and up

"She called for her fiancé and told him not to take on so, and that they would still be married, even if he was but a prince and she a queen, and she chucked him beneath his pretty chin and kissed him until he smiled. She called for her mail shirt. She called for her sword. She called for provisions, and for her horse, and then she rode out  of the palace, towards the east."

What a treasure this book is - if I could do nothing but look at it, I would feel the same! It is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, with a few twists which only makes it all the more appealing. It is one of those books where text and art come together to make it a perfect read for its adolescent audience. Don't miss it!

If you know Neil Gaiman's work, you will not be surprised that his text for this familiar tale (plus another!) is brilliant. He is such a terrific writer and always astonishes with his ability to bring a story to life, even if you have heard that same story more than once. You will have read other retellings if you are a fan of fairy and folk tales. Many have been written. Despite thinking that I knew the characters I was about to meet, Mr. Gaiman manages to move away from the stereotypes I was expecting. 

It actually begins with Snow White who has been preparing to be married without much enthusiasm, when she hears that a sleeping plague is moving slowly toward her kingdom. She quickly abandons her wedding plans and sets out on a quest to make her way to the castle where the 'sleeper' queen has been under a long lasting spell. Never has the story had such an interesting twist! Once Snow White (with the help of a team of three dwarfs) arrives at the castle, things take an unexpected turn. Neil Gaiman sweeps his audience along to a superb ending.

Chris Riddell uses pen and ink, and a hint of gold, to create the delicate details that will grab attention and encourage extended perusal of all that he includes to help tell this unforgettable new story. Filled with energy and expression they are emotional and stunning.

Both courageous and  menacing, it is a story about empowering women to be the best they can be without princes coming to their rescue. I did not want it to end. I would have read on and on ...

You need to add this book to your library shelf!                                                                             

Friday, November 13, 2015

Have You Seen My Monster? By Steve Light. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 3 and up

"Have you seen my monster?


Maybe he's already at the

County fairs are full of wonder for children. The little girl who visits this one is consumed by a search for her monster. It is not a monster meant to terrify; it is a monster who is loved by its owner, and she is desperate to find it.

As she spends her day visiting the various exciting spots where a monster might hide, she asks those who are sharing this story to help her. While having fun at the rides, games, food stops and exhibits, she is on a constant lookout. No matter where she goes, readers can see that the monster is close by. At times, it is very obvious exactly where he is; at others, it is a bit tougher to find him.

That monster is having a great deal of fun, too. Perhaps he doesn't really want to be found until he, too, has enjoyed the many enticements of the carnival atmosphere. It isn't until she is ready to head home, after a grand day, that the wee girl finally catches sight of him.

As he did in Have You Seen My Dragon? (2014), Steve Light creates detailed artwork that fills the pages with entertainment and engagement for young readers. The scenes are busy, and the language simple enough for complete understanding of the joy to be found in the search. Black banners and white lettering assure that the boldly colored shapes are named and added to math vocabulary. Twenty shapes, familiar fair attractions, finely detailed black and white images with splashes of bold color ... perfect to get little ones talking and learning.   

Educational in the best way possible, this is a book that is sure to become a favorite, and should find a place on your child's library shelf right alongside the book about a lost dragon.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver & H. C. Chester. Harper, 2015. $21.00 ages 9 and up

"Look for proof, Pippa had told him - but what kind of proof, she couldn't say. It was extremely improbable that Potts had the shrunken head just stuffed into his bureau wit his socks, especially since the money in his pocket suggested he had already sold it. But maybe there was evidence the head had been here and then moved - or maybe the payment was merely a portion of the money ... "

This book is great fun, and boasts a promise for more. Four children, each  with a very special attribute, live in a house of magic. It's New York in the early 1930s, and the world is very interested in the four who live at Mr. Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities and Wonders. Pippa who reads minds, Sam who often forgets his own strength and finds himself in trouble for it, and Thomas who can bend himself into all sorts of unlikely places are recently joined by Max who throws knives with incredible precision and picks pockets with ease. The others have always been there and are uneasy in welcoming their newest member.

The cursed shrunken head is a recent acquisition, meant to draw big crowds and much attention. When it disappears, it sets off a series of murders and strange events that convince the children to become investigators. Mr. Dumfrey's arrest only fuels their determination. Their path to solution is not without complications. The museum needs an influx of money to keep it in operation. The children are able to use their best assets to try to save the only home they know. But, there are inherent dangers and deceit afoot. They must work quickly to try to bring the museum back to its former self and welcome guests once more.

Its cast of interesting characters, the mystery that lies at the heart of the children's adventure, and moments of terror and humor are just what middle graders need to keep them interested and wanting more. It's a story about friendship and bonding, deceit and death, having a home and family, and being patient, smart and determined. The pace carries the reader along rapidly, always wondering what is around the next corner. They have a past, but it is mentioned briefly. This leaves us open to anticipate the second volume of a projected four book series.

We have much yet to learn.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jasper John Dooley: Lost and Found, written by Caroline Adderson and illustrated by Mike Shiell. Kids Can Press, 2015. $16.95 ages 7 and up

"Jasper had to whisper the song because you aren't supposed to sing in the library where people are reading. He did the dance, waving high and low and turning in a circle. Then he told her about the terrible thing that had happened. "Flushed down the toilet!" The librarian shook her head and clucked her tongue, just like a hen."

Welcome back, Jasper John! I hope you know how happy we are to see you again.

You likely know how much Jasper loves visiting with his Nan, and how much he loves the stories that she shares. One time while there, he finds his father's much-loved Marcel Mouse - a toy from his childhood. The television show his father watched as a child came to life in a toy representing the main character. Jasper is entranced to have Marcel in his possession. He is so taken with the toy that he puts him on a long string and wears him every day around his neck. Turns out that Marcel is a very wily one!

Marcel is so tricky that he actually goes missing on a few occasions. First in Jasper's bedroom, and then in the principal's office ... and finally, something really awful happens to him. Jasper has great concern that Marcel may be gone forever.

If you haven't shared Jasper John Dooley's first four adventures, you might ask your librarian for copies of each. Jasper is a character whose unique view of the world is original and appealing. He's funny and his relationships are worthy of our attention. He is a grand friend, brother, son and grandson. He may not be perfect. Who is? But, he is a young boy worth knowing.

This is a perfect series for those kids who are looking to read chapter books for the first time. Once finished the first, they will surely be looking to move on the next. Have it ready, and they will thank you for it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dad's First Day, written and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2015. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"On the first day of school,
Oliver's dad didn't feel good.

My tummy hurts.

It's okay, Daddy, you're
just a little nervous.

Come on, let's go -
we don't want to 
be late for the first day ... " 

I want to begin by apologizing for the lateness of this post. It should have been done when school was starting. Maybe you can put it on your list for next year. I think it merits your attention for its humor and the way the author turns a child's typical anxiety about starting school on its ear.

Oliver and his dad have spent the summer months doing everything together. With games of baseball, puppet shows, singing and reading on their daily agenda, it was a very happy time. Now, it's time to return to school and the two prepare lunch, fill a backpack and declare themselves ready!

Morning arrives and Oliver is a bundle of happy energy, keen to get on his way. Dad's tummy hurts. Oliver is reassuring, and eager. His dad is more focused on those things that should get done before they head out the door ... finish a puzzle, a game of hide-and-seek or two or three, a long slow drive. Reaching their destination has Oliver out of the car and into the classroom lickety-split! Dad not so much. In fact, he can't bear to say goodbye and must be removed from the classroom by an understanding teacher.

His morning is spent with chores, and worry. He will not be happy until he ensures that Oliver is fine. Once back at school he realizes that Oliver is ready. Now, he can relax and be ready as well.

Terrific gouache illustrations allow readers to see the angst felt by Dad and the joyful anticipation felt by his son. Plenty of white space keeps the focus on the two as they navigate their first day.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood, by James McMullan. Algonquin, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $26.95 ages 12 and up

"These memories of late afternoon, when I played with my toys as my father sat at the baby grand and casually sang or experimented, doodling out some variation on the melody, happened at that moment when the sun coming through the tall windows would be carved into clear rectangles on the carpet into which I would steer my trucks."

Two things jumped out at me when I finished reading this book. What? James McMullan is Jim McMullan who illustrated I Stink! (Harper, 2014)? - and - If  you are wanting your middle and high school students to learn about memoir writing, have I got a book for you!

I pored over the pages of this book, learning about missionary work in China, the outbreak of war and its effect on the McMullan family, travel, bullying, family and the birth of an artist.

Family life was calm and peaceful for the first few years of James' life. Then, the occupation of China by Japan threw that life into chaos. By the time he was 7, their British family was being warned that escape was their only option. He and his mother travelled to Seattle, and then to British Columbia where they lived with relatives while his father joined and served in the British army. Over the next four years many changes had an effect on the young boy. New homes meant new schools, resulting in bullying and intimidation for the young student whose proclivity for athletics was a nonentity. A reunion for his parents in India meant another boarding school for James. Because of his artistic abilities, he found new friends and shares some of his strong memories of that time. His father's accidental death resulted in a return to Salt Spring Island when he was just 11. By then, he had lived in four countries and travelled extensively - far more than most children at that time.

I applaud the design: each episode shared from his early life is presented in single titled pages of text, accompanied by pen-and-ink watercolors that match the text and tone perfectly. The endpapers display a map of his travels, across continents and back again. You will surely have your own favorite illustration, as so many are worthy of intense study. Though it is not full of great joy and happiness, it is a story that helps young adult readers understand the way that our experiences (both ordinary and not so) determine the path our lives are likely to take. Aspiring artists will find much to admire here.

A postscript, and acknowledgments are appended.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bernice Gets Carried Away, written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Everyone else had gotten
strawberry-melon sodas ...

... but not Bernice.

All that was left for her
was the prune-grapefruit ...

and it was warm."

We all assume that birthday parties are great fun for everyone in attendance. Bernice would beg to differ with us. First of all, the dreariness of the day is a perfect match to her mood. Then, she gets to the party and it is one annoying thing after another ... her piece of cake has no rose in the frosting, her soda is abhorrent, and she doesn't even get a chance to hit the piñata. Man, can it get worse? Apparently, it can!

When she notices a clown holding a lovely bunch of brilliant balloons, she sees her chance to make her day better. The balloon bunch proves a bit too much for her, and it carries her off into the sky. A dark rain cloud is the first thing she sees there, again reflecting exactly how she is feeling. Given some time and a meeting with a sorrowful mama bird, Bernice begins to see her problems as minor. Her world changes!

The story is not wholly original, but it certainly will be appreciated by its intended audience. Many young children will understand and appreciate the emotions felt by the young cat. The beautiful acrylic illustrations grab attention with their fine details, and glow with light. The mood throughout is evident, from muted tones to brilliance as Bernice changes her attitude toward the events of the day. The design and mix of spreads and perspectives evince humor and encourage readers to talk about the indignities and emotions felt. Personalities sparkle as much as the art does, and readers will be delighted to meet each one.

There is much here to enjoy!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

House Arrest, written by K. A. Holt. Chronicle Book, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 ages 12 and up

"I walked out
and went to the only place I can go,
even though technically
I should have told Mom
where I was going,
and even though technically
I should have told Jose's mom
that I was coming.
But here I am.
I won't stay long.
I just need to catch my breath."

This is another one of those novels in verse that I tore through, wanting to understand Timothy's anger and actions. We know from the beginning that things have gone badly wrong for him. He has been given house arrest by a judge in response to his theft of a wallet. In order to avoid 'juvie' he must abide by the conditions of this judgement: meet weekly with a designated parole officer, see a psychologist, and keep a journal to help him find an outlet for his emotions. The entries tell the whole story, and offer the reader a chance to grow to know and honor Timothy for the way his life has evolved.

Timothy is 12. He and his mother work day and night to keep his sick baby brother safe from a condition that could rob him at any moment of the ability to breathe. His brother is dependent on a trach tube to keep him from choking. The tube constantly clogs, and the machines that he is dependent upon for life are perpetual reminders of how tenuous that life really is. All of this leads Tim to steal the wallet and use the credit card inside to buy the medication Levi needs, because his mother does not have the money to pay for it herself.

They do have some help, but not nearly enough for the 24 hour daily care that Levi needs. His father is gone. House arrest from the judge is not much different from the life that Timothy and his mother are living anyway. There are times when he is the only one there to deal with the emergencies, and the care. As we read his journal entries, we are privy to his anger at his father, his frustration with the lack of services available for a critically ill child, and his need to help make the situation better.

"I bet it's so easy
just so super easy
to take a
when you are not the one
or even one of the ones
When you are not the one
or even one of the ones
staying up all night
doing the suctioning
cleaning the barf
carrying the oxygen tanks
wiping the tears.
Let's wait and see
if we all go crazy
or if the bank takes the house.
That sounds like a great plan,

Timothy realizes that he has the support of a fine man in James, his parole officer, and a caring and compassionate woman in Mrs. B, his therapist. Touches of humor lighten the reader's load, and a forward trajectory for Timothy and his family is promising. But, there is much work to be done to help him find a peaceful and happier place in life.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Welcome Home, Bear: A Book of Animal Habitats, written and illustrated by Il Sung Na. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"He paid a visit
to Orangutan,
but it rained
and rained
and rained.

He decided
to find the
hippos, but
there was mud

Having a home that exactly suits you is a most important thing ... for every single one of us. Bear is not so sure of that sentiment when he wakes up each morning in the same place with nothing new to see or celebrate. He decides to find greener pastures.

Checking out the homes of other animals proves to be an interesting lesson in life. His first visit is a bit of a climb for him, and unsuccessful as he never does make it to Bird's nest. Maybe below ground will be better. He has powerful claws, but dirt in his nose and the lack of wide open spaces are definitely deterrents to an underground lifestyle. Mountain Goat's lofty home produces vertigo and a fervent wish to be back on solid ground; no cliffside existence for Bear, thank you very much.

Under the water with Octopus proves to be too deep, and so it goes with Bear also exploring the North, the desert, the rainforest, and a river mudbath. None suits his sensibility; but, he learns a great deal about himself:

"He wanted to be somewhere that was
not too high,
not too stuffy,
not too steep,
not too deep,
not too cold, hot, rainy, or muddy ...
He knew just where he wanted to be."

It's a worthy lesson, I think.

The art for this book about home and habitats was 'created by combining handmade painterly textures with digitally generated layers which were then compiled in Adobe Photoshop.' In doing so, Il Sung Na has designed a book that is sure to appeal to the young children who will share it. The various habitats are made clear in cleverly designed double page spreads. Bear is an appealing character whose expressions show the unsavory discoveries made as he searches for a 'better place' in the world.

There really is no place like home!


Drive: A Look at Roadside Opposites. By Kellen Hatanaka. Groundwood Books, 2015. $16.95 ages 2 and up

"Worm's-eye view

Bird's-eye view"

The stunning design and very effective artwork that enhance the pages of this book make understanding the concept of opposites an easy task for little ones. The added benefit is that it ups their vocabulary in the best possible way!

There are few words, and those used will help to build a sight vocabulary of useful words for those wanting to read on their own. We begin at home, watching a station wagon loaded to the hilt, start. As they travel away from their home, and alongside a variety of scenes, two opposite words are evident on each double spread. Their destination is a cabin, their trip is lengthy, and the many vistas they see may or may not be familiar to a young audience.

However, there is much opportunity for discussion and quiet close looks. The artwork was 'created digitally, using hand-drawn patterns and textures.' They are busy and clearly illustrate the concepts being considered. While the view always is horizontal, there are many changes in perspective for young readers to explore as they accompany the unseen family on their trip. The scenes are busy and will delight, especially the double gatefold in the center which helps the reader to understand the difference between the view that a worm sees from his place on the ground, and that same scene in the view of a bird who soars above it. It is a wonderful companion to Kellen Hatanaka's debut, Work: An Occupational ABC.

Harmonious in its execution, this book is sure to garner discussion and advance learning for its target audience. It is also proof positive that the destination is not always as important as the journey.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Scritch Scratch Scraww Plop! Written and illustrated by Kitty Crowther. Translated from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $23.50 ages 3 and up

"Mama, I want a hug!"
"And a kiss."
"Another hug."
"And a kiss."

"All right, my little
green bundle ...
It's time for sleep. I'll
leave  the light on in the

We learn immediately that Jeremy rails at the coming of the night. His parents are patient and help him through all of the nightly rituals before he snuggles down with his dad for a bedtime story. Jeremy loves being so close to his father as the night closes in and 'lights out' approaches. Always reassuring, Dad tucks him in, wishes him a good night, and calls mama in for a final hug, and a kiss, and a hug, and another kiss. Not feeling 'snug as a little mouse', Jeremy has disquieting thoughts:

"I'm all alone in my room," thinks Jeremy.
"All alone in my bed.
All alone in my heart!"

It's a sad place to be for the little frightened frog; and, it isn't long until the quiet is disturbed by a 'scritch scratch scraww plop' that sends him scurrying to his parents' bedroom. He awakens Daddy, and they return to Jeremy's room, with calming words. Not much later Jeremy is back at his father's side of the bed, and returned once more to his own bed. His worries do not abate; soon, he is on his mother's side of the bed and welcomed into her open arms. Jeremy's comfort in the space between his parents has the opposite effect on his father. Dad retreats to his son's bed, and sleeps peacefully ... until he hears that very same sound.

He wakens Jeremy and takes him outside to investigate. Watching from a lily pad, the two make a comforting discovery.

"Scritch scratch! A mole digs a hole to her home.
Scraww! A bird calls into the night.
Plop! A fish leaps out of the water
and dives back in."

Together and settled on their lily pad, the two are finally able to drift off to sleep.

The illustrations hold great appeal, and are sure to elicit a snicker or two. Done is a palette of greens and greys, with an occasional series of spot pictures to move the action along, children who share this book will have need to discuss what is happening. The bonus will be in upping their comfort to talk about some of their own nighttime fears.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

George, written by Alex Gino. Scholastic, 2015. $20.99 ages 10 and up

"George walked her bike from the shed in the backyard, along the cracked cement path, and up to the street. It was Sunday afternoon, and Kelly had invited her over to practice for Monday's auditions. Kelly said they would take turns playing Charlotte, and George's stomach danced at the idea of reading the spider's words aloud. George biked to Kelly's house ... "

This book will be a window for many readers - a window into the world of a transgendered child. It is a chance to see that being who you are is all that you can be. It will be a mirror for others - for those struggling to understand who they are and to help them know that there are other children just like them who struggle every day to be who they are meant to be.

GEORGE is a book that should be shared. I know that it will not always be so.  Of course, there will be classrooms where reading a story about a boy struggling with his gender identity will prove too uncomfortable for sharing.  That is sad, but it is a fact. In those classrooms where GEORGE is read, young listeners will learn so much more than they knew before hearing it; just as I did when I read it.

George is in fourth grade, was born a boy but is aware that he is really a girl. Her story is told in third person and George is called 'she' from the first page. It is a particularly fine way of allowing the reader insight into her stream of consciousness and the many daily things that remind her that everyone else sees her as a boy. It has nothing to do with sexual attraction; she identifies herself as the girl she feels she is. She cringes at the many assumptions made and stated about her future as a successful young man.

We can only hope that transgendered young people will find some support, just as George does. Her best friend Kelly reacts with barely a blink, due to her accepting and enthusiastic nature. She is instantly supportive of George's wish to try out for the part of Charlotte in their class dramatization of Charlotte's Web. When her teacher is unwilling to cast a boy for the part, the two find a way to give  George the chance to show her stuff. Her older brother is there for her. Her mother, of course, has some difficulty understanding. Ultimately, she is able to get past her own worries and offer support for an uncertain future. George's principal is also a stellar character whose understanding and actions provide just what George needs. There is such power in awareness and empathy for all.

Powerful, important and touching, George is a character you want to know. She shows us what life is like for the transgendered kids who deserve honor and recognition in our homes and classrooms. Her voice is strong and honest, while also being painful but promising.  Timely, and essential. I repeat, this a book that needs to be shared. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Ticket Around the World. Written by Natalia Diaz and Melissa Owens, with illustrations by Kim Smith. Owlkids, 2015. $17.95 ages 7 and up

"Fernanda and her family speak Portuguese. Her parents are from Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. Now they live in Sao Paulo, which is the biggest city in the country. As in most of South America, the most popular sport in Brazil is soccer, also known as futebol."

There are thirteen countries on this young man's travel map; his audience is invited to share his experiences with making new friends and learning about the world.

The table of contents is front and center. Each country to be visited is placed on a world map, with the page for finding it displayed on the map itself. This will allow readers to start at the place that most interests them, and move forward or backward from there.

Every double page spread brings a new friend, several short paragraphs of information to describe the nation itself, the child and family, something about the seasons, the food, important landmarks and customs, and an animal or two. A larger map of the country visited provides a backdrop with major cities marked, and the country's flag is flown.

I find it reads a lot like a travel journal, conversational in tone and conveying interesting info for its target audience. Countries included are Australia, Philippines, Botswana, India, China, Jordan, Greece, Morocco, France, United States, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Canada. Bits of local language will add to the appeal.  In back  matter, the authors invite readers to think back on all  they have learned to answer a set of 13 questions ... one for each country.

This is a book for those interested in world geography, world communities and travel.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lineup for Yesterday, written by Ogden Nash and illustrated by C.F. Payne. Creative Editions, Raincoast. 2011. $26.99 all ages

"G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.

*Henry Louis Gehrig
Position: First Baseman
Major-League Seasons: 1923-39
Team: New York Yankees."

While the NFL is in full swing, NHL teams are on the ice in head-to-head battles for early season wins, and NBA basketball is keeping fans focused on their television sets, baseball fans are also glued to their sets to watch the battle for the World Series pennant. It's November already and the winner is not yet declared. It's what we wait for every year ... through the preseason games, and a long season, to the postseason and this grand finale. A baseball fan's dream, for sure. I finished this post as the Kansas City Royals won their first World Series in 30 years ... now, that's an accomplishment!

Ogden Nash was a huge baseball fan and penned poetry for some of the legends of the game. He wrote the poems in 1949 with humor and admiration for some of the greats who were playing at the time, or had played earlier. I must admit to learning about players I had not known. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are here. That was a comfort.

In an introduction, Mr. Nash's daughter Linell shares her own love of the game that so excited her father. His passion started with his own father and their baseball outings, then continued when sharing that love with his own family:

"We always sat on the first base side, a lineup of Nashes - my father, my sister Isabel, me, and my mother Frances. Both my parents kept score faithfully and taught Isabel and me the intricacies of doing so ourselves. I still equate Tinker to Evers to Chance with a 6-4-3, and the letter "K" will always remind me of Casey's disastrous third strike."

Their father shared much concerning those famous players that he so loved to watch. Some were immortalized in the short, often humorous poems gathered here. Except for one, each of the players has been honored with induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Following his death, they were annually shared by broadcaster Larry King.

" ... Mother would look forward to Larry King's annual recitation of "Lineup for Yesterday" on late-night radio at the opening of each baseball season."

The twenty-four poems that fill  these pages are accompanied by wonderful close-ups of each player. C. F. Payne uses mixed media to add interest and context for the time in which they wielded their athletic prowess. Accompanying each is a player description, giving full name, position, seasons played, teams, batting and throwing preferences, height, weight, and career stats. Then, after the inclusion of 3-4 poems, the author provides further detailed information about each player presented.

A perfect gift for the ardent baseball fan!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Scholastic, 2015. $19.99 ages 9 and up

"He approached the building the same way I had, using the shadow of the wall to hide him. I waved him in through the window, and after he slid inside, we shut the boards up again. Fritz was bigger than me, so he had separated the boards even wider and the nails were bent. If someone really looked at this window, they might notice that the boards didn't shut tight anymore."

I found it hard to read this book at night. It is filled with a sense of urgency and terror that threatened to keep me from restful sleep. Strange enough, since I know it is a story. Understandable, since I cannot imagine the heartbreak that came when the Berlin Wall was erected, effectively separating families from one another for such a long time.

Jennifer Nielsen is one terrific storyteller, which you will know if you read her Ascendance Trilogy - The False Prince (2013), The Runaway King (2013), and The Shadow Throne (2014). I shared my feelings about each book in earlier posts. She continues with her winning ways in this story about love, freedom and separation. It is very real, and moving.

It happens overnight. Gerta goes to sleep one Saturday night and when she awakens on Sunday morning, it is to find that a wall now separates she, her mother and one brother from her father and their other brother who have been visiting in West Berlin. Gerta is eight when the wall goes up, and it is four long years before the family even begins to consider being reunited. In the meantime, they have had to endure the police state created in East Berlin - a place where neighbors are encouraged to spy on each other, where suspect families are threatened and have their homes bugged so that the government may keep close tabs on their activities.

Gerta and her family have little: their life is bleak, they are hungry, and soon Fritz will be forced to join the Soviet military. A chance sighting of her father and brother on the other side of the wall sets Gerta on a dangerous course. It is her decision to change what is happening, and to find a way to freedom in the West. It is very dangerous to even consider an escape, when you know that you are constantly under surveillance and the slightest mistake is sure to bring you face to face with the Stasi and their cruelty.

Gerta's bravery and love of family guide her to find an answer to the many questions she has about freedom, and a realization of how truly precious it is. Her plan for escape is a tunnel. Sure that she has read her father's secret message correctly, she discovers a place to begin. She may be young, but she is fiercely determined to take the many chances a successful escape demands. With help from her brother and a few surprises along the way, Gerta works to bring the family together, no matter the danger.

Strong storytelling, a memorable cast of characters, a fast pace and a bid for a much better life will find favor with middle graders and anyone wanting to learn about the cold war years.