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Monday, May 30, 2016

Otters Love to Play, written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Meilo So. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.00 ages 4 and up

"And now that the pups' furry coats are grown in and waterproof, let the swimming lessons begin!  The otters' mother carries the pups by the scruff of their necks to the riverbank and drops them in. Ka - Splash! Being in the water is fun, and the otters' mother gives the pups a ride ... "

Comparing children with otters is likely to draw nods of agreement and understanding. Both love to play, and everyone loves to watch them. Jonathan London's new book is proof positive that an otter's playfulness holds tremendous appeal for those lucky enough to have the chance to just spend time watching what happens when they are left to their own devices ... and they choose to romp with gleeful abandon.

It is also a tale about an otter family. It's spring! They have moved into an old beaver lodge where three new babies have recently been born. The story's main text is conversational and very appealing.

"Within days,
the otter pups
gracefully spin
and flip
and swish
like underwater

Additional informative text is printed in a smaller font, and has a more scientific tone.

"Otters' whiskers are long and sensitive. They use them to feel along the bottom and inside cracks in rocks, searching for food. Otters' main food is fish, and they can eat a quarter of their body weight in a single day."

The mother is fully in charge of the care, comfort and teaching that will ensure her little ones are curious, thriving, and able to take care of themselves in the wild. It is a daunting job carried out with skill and purpose. Readers will learn a lot about these amiable, adaptable creatures as they listen to the text and pore carefully over the stunning illustrations.

The design is quite beautiful, made even more so by the talented Meilo So. Her watercolor artwork is full of color and lively expression. The lines flow as elegantly as the otters themselves, begging readers to spend extended time checking out every detail. Her celebration of the otter family is warm and moving.

An index and a further note will satisfy those wanting both to go back to their favorite pages, and to know more than the already adequate text has provided. A winning introduction to the 'most playful creatures of all wildlife', it deserves a place on bookshelves in classrooms, libraries and homes.

If you just can't get enough, here is a video that is sure to delight!

and one more:

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Grandad's Island, written and illustrated by Benji Davies. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.00 ages 5 and up

"At the top of the island, where a cool breeze blew through the trees, they found an old shack. There was a lot to do, but with a little help, they soon had the place shipshape. They explored the island high and low. At every turn they saw new wonders."

Syd and his grandfather are two peas in a pod, cut from the same cloth, two halves of a whole ...  they are on the same page when it comes to a love of adventure and each other.

Their adventure this time begins in Grandad's attic. They pass through a metal door to board a ship set to sail to a fantastic island. Upon arrival Grandad leads Syd on a search for lodging. They find an old shack and work together to create a perfect home. Their exploration leads to wondrous discoveries and much delight. In fact, when it comes time to leave, Grandad tells his beloved grandson that he is going to stay. Syd is concerned that his grandfather may find it lonely. No worry about that at all!

So, home Syd sails. He will miss his grand companion with all his heart.  When next he visits his grandfather's house, he finds it quiet and lonely. Syd misses his granddad. A tap on the window and a delivered note shows Grandad smiling and surrounded by his new island animal friends. Syd is consoled.

Benji Davies' warm digital artwork is awash with brilliant details that depict a life well lived and the joyous companionship between generations. The island is indeed a glorious place: full of riotous color, impressive wildlife, and splendor. It feels magical. 

Readers will interpret this comforting story in appropriate ways. While never mentioning death, the loss and yearning for a loved one is clear and deeply felt. Many readers will know the sadness of loss. In this book it is handled sensitively and with compassion for the one left behind. As kids do, they will take what they need from Mr. Davies' wise and heartfelt tale. It is not sad, but touching. Check out the double page spread of island life, featuring an orang reading in a hammock, Grandad's yard with all the creature comforts needed to enjoy peaceful days with tea, a book and a host of companions. Pretty hard to beat, don't you think?

Saying goodbye is never easy. Knowing that Grandad is in a spectacular 'better place' might just ease the lonely sadness that loss brings.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Surf's Up, written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Daniel Miyares. North/South. Canadian Manda Group. 2016. $21.95 ages 5 and up


What happened?


Oh, I cannot wait to share this story in a classroom! It has all those elements that will have kids begging to hear it again. It's about friends, about the beach, about surfing, and about reading. Reading? At the beach when the waves are high and perfect for exhilarating action? You just never know when a book will grab you, and take your attention away from every other thing that you love to do! You have been there, right?

Two frog friends named Bro and Dude (oh, you know it's going to be a great readaloud) love the beach and surfing. So when Dude is anxious to be on the way, Bro is distracted by a book. Dude cannot believe him ... a book rather than the beach? What the heck is happening here?

Finally, they set off:  Bro with his nose in the book, and Dude hauling all the equipment including his book-loving friend. The conversation goes back and forth: Bro reacts with great gusto to what is happening in his book about 'a man looking for a WHALE!' Those reactions get Dude's attention and distract him completely.

They found the whale again.


Full of fun and lively emotional language, this is a book that will thrill those who love the lure of a good story. As happens in perfect picture books, Daniel Miyares captures that emotion in the faces of these big-eyed froggy friends and the non-stop action of the waves from both the ocean and the reading experience. His textured, colorful images will draw readers to every action portrayed and encourage them to take the time to pore over each spread.

A fully realized adventure of the imagination, with a shout-out to the power of reading the 'just right' book!

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2016. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"The team was made up of older teenagers and women in their twenties, but the manager allowed Edith to try out ... even though she was still in elementary school. Edith was so good she made the team. Edith was so good she was named starting shortstop. Edith was so good she was playing professional baseball ... "

Audrey Vernick is a baseball fan ... it's not hard to tell. As she did in 2012 when she wrote a book about the 1930s Acerra family in Brothers at Bat, she opens our eyes to another legend of the game in The Kid From Diamond Street.

Edith Houghton played ball in the early twentieth century, at a time when most girls did not.

"It didn't matter that there was no such thing as Little League. Or that most girls didn't play baseball. If there was a sandlot game anywhere near her house on Diamond Street, you could bet she was right in the middle of it."

Baseball consumed her. When she wasn't playing, she was watching. She was much admired by her teammates, playing mostly with males. She was only ten when she heard about a Philadelphia women's team. They were called the Bobbies, and looking for new players. She made the team! Her hair needed a new cut, the uniform didn't come close to fitting her, and she impressed everyone who watched her play.

The team's success mattered little to the young woman. She just wanted to play the game. A chance to travel to Japan was a welcome adventure. Practicing on the ship's deck was great fun, providing hours of improving skills, as well as much enjoyment in watching balls sail over the rails and into the ocean waters. Japan was nothing like home: so much to see, baseball to be played in city after city, singing and playing instruments together with her teammates.  Despite the fun, Edith missed home and her family.

When the team returned, Edith arrived with many wonderful memories and a continuing love for the game that had afforded her so much adventure. Edith played for other teams, took a turn at scouting in high schools and colleges, and remained a fan of the game until her death in 2013, just days short of her 101st birthday.

Hers is a remarkable story well told. Steven Salerno creates illustrations in 'charcoal, ink, and gouache, with added digital color rendered in Adobe Photoshop'. They take us back to the 1920s when Edith found fame in the game she so loved. They bring the audience into the ball parks  of the time and to a faraway country. His sweeping double page spreads leave the reader fully aware of what life was like for a very young girl whose talent for playing and love of the game were unmatched.

An author's note concerning the time following the Japan trip and archival photos are welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Only Child, by guojing. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2015. $23.99 all ages

"The story in this book is fantasy, but it reflects the very real feelings of isolation and loneliness I experienced growing up in the 1980s under the one-child policy in China. When I was young, both of my parents had to work to support our family, so during the day, my grandmother would take care of me. But still, sometimes - if they had to rush to work or if Nai Nai was busy - "

It is loneliness that inspired the author to create this unforgettable and uplifting wordless picture book . Despite the best intentions of the entire family, there were problematic days. One particular day her father put her on the bus alone to travel to her grandmother's house. It is that experience that lead to this fantasy.

In each powerful image the author raises our awareness for the sense of isolation felt by a child left alone. She entertains herself with any number of things and finally sits to look through a scrapbook filled with family photos. In it she sees photos of her Nai Nai celebrating her last birthday. Those images are enough to spark purpose in her; she decides that she will leave a note, get dressed, and take the bus to her grandmother's house.

As she watches the passing sights from the bus window she falls asleep. She awakens to discover she has passed her stop. Off she runs into the woods ... alone again. She is frightened until she meets a majestic stag who carries her up to the clouds. Their adventure has begun. They meet a very special friend, play and explore this fantastic world throughout the day. When night falls, the stag returns the child to her home, where grateful family provide a warm and loving welcome.

Soft pencil drawings and the author's personal connection to the story told offer many moments of love and longing, and finally belonging. The warmth of the relationship between child and stag is evident as they meet, explore, play and share an afternoon adventure. The perfectly paced storytelling is stunning. It evokes emotions  that will capture the full attention of all who share it ... 8 or 80.

Absolutely beautiful, and not to be missed!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

How the Sun Got to Coco's House, written and illustrated by Bob Graham. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"The sun tumbled end
 over end.
It was caught briefly
in the eye of a whale ..
then headed up the beach
and out over frozen forests,
making shadows on the snow
and in Jung Su's footsteps.
The rising sun met birds
still flying south for the
winter and a plane ... "

If you have never read Bob Graham's marvellous books, please head out today and borrow a 'bunch' from your library. I have been an avid fan of this soft-spoken, thoughtful Australian writer and illustrator for many years. His many books, which seem so genuine and simple, are indeed quite extraordinary! You won't be sorry to spend a hour or so with his work. Each signature pen and watercolor illustration is packed with visual imagery meant to draw his young audience into thinking about the story being told. So it is with Coco.

You can see when looking at the front cover above that it is nighttime. If you could see more closely, you would note a starry night, a snowy backyard, a light in a window, and a young child (and canine companion) looking out into the darkness. The warm yellow glow from the lighted window and the soft light of the moon is calming. Open the book to find that young child hoisting the dog up onto the pink bed cover. The room is small, softly lit, and awash with things of importance to a small child.

Have we come to the title page yet? We have not. But, we are collecting information as we go. A turn of another page and we note the mother kissing the child, the father kissing the dog, and a wider perspective on the bedroom. Turn the page again, and our story begins with a polar bear mother and her two cubs ... oh, so far away from Coco's bedroom. Where they are, the sun is just poking its light above the horizon. From that moment we follow the sun on the journey it makes each and every day ... from sunup until sundown. We make many stops along the way, all the while knowing that we will eventually return to Coco where the sun has been shining throughout a long and busy day. Be sure to finish with a look at the back cover, too.

Constantly changing our perspective on the quiet action of the sun's movement across the world, Mr. Graham assures that there is much to hold our attention. The soft colors, the panels used to move us from place to place, and the occasional double page spread capture many beautiful moments.  The pace of the story is as warm and soothing as the sun's rays, allowing for a most pleasurable read.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paperboy, written by Vince Vawter. Delacorte Press, Random House. 2013. $8.99 ages 12 and up

"My face felt hot with everybody staring at me like I was Clarabell the Clown on a stage without a horn to honk. The burning in my face and neck wouldn't go away. The grown-ups finally stopped looking at me and started talking and smoking and drinking their wine like everything would be hunky-dory if they just ignored me."

There are some books that leave an indelible impression on the reader. Paperboy is one of those middle grade novels for me. I had read about it when it was first published and knew that I wanted to read it. Serendipitously, I finally came upon a copy while searching for another book. Vince Vawter's debut novel has scenes and a story that I will never forget. I think you should find a copy, too.

The narrator is a stutterer and uses his father's typewriter to tell his story. It begins:

"I'm typing about the stabbing for good reason. I can't talk.

Without stuttering.

Plus I promised Mam I would never tell what happened to my yellow-handle knife. Mam might say that typing is cheating but I need to see the words on paper to make sure everything happened the way my brain remembers it. I trust words on paper a lot more that words in the air."

Imagine starting a book talk with that lead ...

It's a Memphis summer in 1959 and our narrator is 11. Little Man is a terrific ball player, an aspiring writer and a good friend. He has agreed to take over his best friend's newspaper route while Rat is on vacation. Thus, we meet two of the people whose papers he delivers, and an intimidating junkman bent on proving he is a ruinous opponent ...

Through quiet and compelling narration we learn that life is not always easy for the young. Emotional scenes, especially those involving his African-American caregiver and housekeeper Mam and the racial injustice and segregation she faces, grip the reader. When the bully forces her hand, Mam must step in to protect Little Man, her beloved charge.

Finding your voice in this world can be a daunting task for anyone. Sharing the narrator's world helps the reader realize what the world is like for a young boy whose voice is often unheard due to his difficulty in controlling his stutter. Seeing through that window is an eye-opener and is sure to generate genuine admiration for the boy who is sharing his story.  There are setbacks, and there are successes. He learns through his encounters that everyone struggles with something ... an important thing for each one of us to remember. This is beautiful and memorable writing.

An author's note only ups my admiration for this amazing book:

"My first recollection of my stutter is just before I was five. I have
been stuttering - sometimes fiercely, sometimes gently - for more
than sixty years now. Despite my impediment, I had a rewarding
career in newspapers, and to my continued amazement, I enjoy
telling my story to audiences, especially young people.
Have I been cured of my stutter? No. Have I overcome it? Yes."

Bravo, Mr. Vawter!

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Seventh Most Important Thing, written by Shelley Pearsall. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"As they stood there in the darkness, with little sunbursts of light from the tree shining on their clothes and faces, Arthur felt strangely hopeful for a minute. It was as if their old life had briefly flickered back on, like an old movie - as if none of the bad things had happened to them yet. Barbara, who could be a real pain in the butt sometimes, had this sweet, angelic expression on her face."

Dealing with his father's death has been extremely difficult for Arthur, as you would expect. So, on a November day in 1963, after learning that his mother has cleaned out the hall closet of all of his father's belongings, Arthur is uneasy, hurt, angry, and determined  to get his father's stuff back. Out he runs to check the garbage cans. The cans are empty. When he sees the old Junk Man, who wanders the nearby streets checking those cans and filling his old rickety shopping cart, wearing his father's Harley-Davidson hat he snaps! Furious and out of control he picks up a brick and heaves it at the old man, hitting him hard at the shoulder and earning himself a three week stay in Juvenile Detention.

His appearance in court is fraught with increased anguish; he must now face the judge for sentencing. Worse than that he must face James Hampton - the Junk Man - and see what his anger has done to him. The judge has a lot to say before finally pronouncing sentence:

"The judge fixed his gaze on Arthur. "Instead of sentencing you to the Juvenile Detention Home for an exceedingly long time - which I won't hesitate to do if I ever see you in my courtroom again - Mr. Hampton has requested that you be assigned to work for him until his arm has healed."

And now, you are at page 21.

What follows, as Arthur pays his debt to Mr. Hampton and society, is redemption versus retribution. Mr. James Hampton is a famous folk artist, best known for the Throne of the Third Heaven, an installation made from bits of light bulbs, foil, wood, coffee cans, mirrors, bottles and cardboard.  Now, Arthur is to collect those pieces of junk that Mr. Hampton can no longer gather. They are the seven most important things.

Arthur is wary of the Junk Man and has no idea why he is doing what he is doing. As luck would have it, Mr. Hampton becomes a mentor and a guide as Arthur struggles to accept all that is
happening in his life. When things go sideways, it is up to Arthur to prove that he is worthy of the redemption offered.

With wonderfully engaging characters, the novel explores grief, friendship, art, and love. The voices are strong and distinct. The humor is lighthearted and necessary. The pace kept me reading, always wanting to know more and inspired by the consistently good writing. 

An author's note and archival photographs of the artist and his work follow to provide context.

What a remarkable book to share in middle years classrooms!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, written by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys , with illustrations by Claudia Davila. Kids Can Press, 2015. $18.95 ages 10 and up

"He burst out laughing and hit
me across the face with his gun.
I realized then that this was no
joke. I was thrown into the back
of a truck with several other boys
and driven into the hills. I was
so scared. Kevin was in another
truck. I couldn't talk to him. I
couldn't even see him. When the
truck stopped, we were ordered
to get out ... "

There is absolutely no way that we can imagine what life as a child soldier is like - unless we live it. Michel Chikwanine was only 5 in 1993 when he was kidnapped by rebel militia soldiers. He was, at the time, playing soccer with friends in the field near his school. It wasn't until they heard gunfire that the boys realized these soldiers were different from the government soldiers they often saw.

"We had never seen soldiers like these before.
They had red eyes and scruffy hair; they were
wearing shabby t-shirts over ragged jeans
and cheap rain boots."

The rebels gathered the boys, lined them up and initiated them into their army through a wrist cut. Into that wound they rubbed a mixture of gunpowder and cocaine. What happens to Michel next is brutal and terrifying - and too true.

This tragic graphically rendered story is told with empathetic understanding and great skill. There is so much more to it than Michel's kidnapping and terrifying time with the rebels. We also learn about the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, what happened to his family following his escape, and finally of his life as a refugee before becoming a Canadian citizen. While the illustrations depict the emotional effect of the violence experienced, they are not explicit except through the facial expressions of the children. That makes it so immediate and compelling. To know that it is still happening is almost inconceivable after reading of Michel's harrowing journey to where he is today.

This fine book is a worthy addition to the CitizenKid series from Kids Can Press. It is an inspiring tale of courage and understanding, and Michel shares it in speaking engagements and in his work as an activist to change the world. He reminds his readers that he tells his story for a purpose:

"I have discovered that people do care!
I am part of a movement of young people
who want to help, who are passionate
and who will take action so that what
happened to me will not happen to the
children of the future."

He finishes with a perfect quote from his father, a human rights lawyer, who inspired him to work toward positive change.

“If you ever think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”

Michel's story is followed by a number of pages in back matter that tell the audience more about Michel himself, about child soldiers, about what is being to done to help and how we can all help to make a difference.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Bear and the Piano, written and illustrated by David Litchfield. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"... the sounds that came from the strange thing were beautiful, and the bear had grown big and strong and grizzly. When the bear played, he felt so happy. The sounds took him away from the forest, and he dreamed of strange and wonderful lands. It wasn't long before the other bears in the forest were drawn to the clearing. Every night, a crowd gathered ... "

The discovery of a piano is the woods is lost on a small bear cub. He has never seen one, and has no idea what it is. He learns quickly that it makes a terrible sound! As he matures and continues to spend his time playing that piano, he is amazed to find that he has a talent for making wonderful sounds come from it. Other bears in the forest are equally impressed with his talent and love to listen to him play for them.

When a father and daughter out for a hike hear him play, they convince his that he should take his talent where it would be truly appreciated. They promise fame and fortune, and a future filled with 'sounds so beautiful they will make your fur stand on end.' Thinking first of his forest audience, the bear knows they will be sad if he leaves; the call of the world is too strong. He agrees to accompany the two back to the city where he attracts fans galore and great admiration.

His dreams realized, he lets his heart dictate his next move. He misses the forest and his friends. He wants to return home. He does so with trepidation, afraid that his friends will not be as happy to see him as he is to see them. What he finds will make your heart sing.

This is a story that will have different meaning when shared with a wide range of readers. Little ones will see if for what it is ... a story of friendship, and imagination. Reading it to older children will have a totally different effect ... a story of music, fame, finding one's place in the world, and home. It will resonate with all who share it!

This is David Litchfield's first book. I am sure it will not be his last. The story is poignant, beautifully written and the artwork is stunning. Done is mixed media, it is textured and infused with light page after page. Filled with emotion, readers will experience all that the bear feels in the forest, in the city, and when he returns home. The warmth of the colors used, the ever-changing design, the lovely telling endpapers ensure that this is another book for my 'keeper' shelf and one to share with those you love.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land, written by John Coy with photographs by Wing Young Huie. Carolrhoda Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2016. $30.99 ages 6 and up

"They opened their businesses
and poured all that they had
into them.
They shifted between languages,

between cultures,

between places."

While this book is filled with the exceptional diversity in the faces of people who have come to the United States to live, it is a book about many nations of the world that welcome immigrants from far-off places. It tells the story of those many families who took the extraordinarily brave step of moving from the place they called home to find a new life in a brand new environment.

Many followed a dream, fraught with great danger and adversity, to find a place in a country where they knew little of the language, the culture, the many obstacles that might stand in their way. Theirs are stories of courage, setbacks, hard work, and the determination that allows a better life for their families. These wonderful people have added to the fabric of the countries they chose to call their new home, while often supporting those they left behind them.

John Coy's text is straightforward and simple; that does not diminish the emotional quality of the telling. His words help readers understand clearly how immigrants are the same as we are ...  they love their families, work hard to provide for them, worship as we do. Our similarities are many,
simply not always so easy to see.

Wing Young Huie does a masterful job of capturing the people who come from many cultural backgrounds and counties. They are in photographed in black and white and in color,  and show children, adults and those of advanced age at work, at play, at home. I have gone back again and again to study their proud, happy, serious, even sad faces.

All readers are left to ponder the serious and important question that ends the text:

"What will we do with THEIR GREAT GIFT?"

The creators tell their own 'arrival stories' in appended matter, and share a description of the making of this fine and necessary book.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

OOPS POUNCE QUICK RUN! An Alphabet Caper, written and illustrated by Mike Twohy. Balzer + Bray, Harper. 2016. $21.99 ages 2 and up

"A little mouse is
asleep until a
ball suddenly bounces
into his home, setting
off an epic chase -
from A to Z."

I could start at the beginning frame of this inventive new alphabet book, tell you what each of the 26 letters stands for, and then you wouldn't have to get a copy! If you don't find it in your bookstore or at the library, you will miss a zippy story meant to delight young listeners, and the opportunity to follow the frenzied chase so brilliantly depicted by Mike Twohy.

A gray mouse's peaceful slumber is greatly disturbed when a ball bounces through his mouse hole and lands in his lap. A yellow dog comes looking for it, and the chase is on! Only one word per letter is needed to bring full meaning to all that is happening here.

Using India ink and felt-tipped pens, Mr. Twohy takes his readers on a lively adventure throughout the house. The two protagonists leave a path of destruction in their wake that will have kids giggling as they quickly turn pages to keep up with the action. Plenty of white space keeps their attention fully focused on the chase participants, their expressions and emotions - right down to the final Zzzz!

You know how much I love alphabet books! This is a 'keeper' for its ingenious format. Read it the first time for its pace and movement. Read it more slowly the second time to take in the storytelling details. It will be an endless favorite read, I am sure of it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to BEAR SPOTTING, written by Michelle Robinson and Illustrated by David Roberts. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2016. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Black bears are dangerous
and BLACK.
Brown bears are dangerous
and BROWN.
Although sometimes brown
bears can be a little BLACK ...
... and black bears can be a
little BROWN. Don't worry.
Chances are you won't even
SEE a bear."

If you find yourself in bear country sometime in the near future, you are going to want advice. I have the perfect narrator for you! This one knows that the explorer is unlikely to see a bear. Not to worry, the adventurer has a notebook with clear images of both black and brown bears. The narrator needs the child to understand that bears, if encountered, can be a real danger. So, it is preferable to know more than what each looks like.

One bear might be mistaken for the other because of variation in coat color. Lo and behold, the child meets up with a bear very early in the walk. The chase is on, and as the adventure unfolds we learn along with the nature lover just what we should be on the lookout for: 

"With a brown bear, the best thing
to do is play dead.

Although to a black bear, that's like
an invitation to dinner.

That would be a good time
to use your pepper spray."

Pepper spray doesn't work. Gum might slow them, but it is no deterrent to their longing for a human snack. Will anything work to distract them? Unexpectedly, yes!

The art is created with pen, ink, colored pencils and watercolor and perfectly balances the humor in the text, while also providing needed and pertinent information on graph paper backgrounds ... very helpful for the target audience. The child is ever hopeful and resourceful, while more than adequately clothed for any situation.

Encourage young listeners to bring their favorite stuffed bear for the reading; they are sure to find comfort here - and some hearty laughs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fabulous Frogs, written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Tim Hopgood. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.00 ages 5 and up

"This one is called
a flying frog,
although it can't
really fly.

He lives in trees in forests
in Southeast Asia. It spreads
out the skin between its toes
to help it float in the air when
it jumps from tree to tree."

In the first sentence of his new book (provided as front matter before the title page), Martin Jenkins astounds this reader with the fact that 'there are more than 5,000 kinds of frogs, and that each one is different. That is not to say that they are totally different; they do have some common attributes.

"All frogs have short bodies, big black legs, smaller front legs, and no tail. Almost all of them can jump, but some can only manage short hops. They eat small animals like snails, slugs, worms, beetles, and flies."

He goes on to tell his audience about almost twenty different species that are found throughout the world. There are eleven in the main text; then, wanting to include as many frogs as he can, he adds eight named species at the end, without description and surely as an invitation to look further if you want to know more about them.

Tim Hopgood’s mixed media illustrations allow children a close look at the variety in size, shape, and color. Changing views keep readers focused on each species while the author names them and provides the scientific name, and further information concerning their habitat and species.

If you have plans to go pond dipping to see what you can find in the water during this spring season, it would be a bonus to have this book to share with your dippers!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Twenty Yawns, written by Jane Smiley and illustrated by Lauren Castillo. two lions, Thomas Allen & Son, 2016. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"The moon shone through the window, a silver veil that fell across the floor. Everything looked mysterious, even Lucy's own hands on the bedspread. Suddenly, Lucy was wide awake. She looked around. Everyone in the pictures seemed to be watching her - ..."

It's been a eventful day for Lucy. She spent it at the beach with her parents, and they have all arrived home yawning and longing for an early start to a long and restful sleep.

As the sun sets and night settles in, Lucy and her mom watch from Lucy's bedroom window. YAWN. Story time begins with promise. Soon Mom is yawning and very quickly after that sound asleep. Poor Lucy. The moonlight is keeping her awake.

A quiet check in the living room finds her dad sleeping in his chair. Lucy needs Molasses for company. Retrieving her bear knocks each of her other toys to the floor. Are they lonely without Molasses and Lucy? Better safe than sorry I would think - Lucy gathers each in her arms and finds them a place on her bed. Finally, all is as it should be and Lucy can succumb to sleep, as her parents have done before her.

In simple language, Ms. Smiley tells the story of a day in the life of many young children. It is a day full of activity, a night not always completely quiet and relaxing while also being filled with wonder, and the love of favorite toys. It is a warm and thoughtful bedtime read., and there's counting.

Lauren Castillo chose to do her amazing illustrations digitally with painted textures, capturing the light and warmth of a summer day, and the quiet bliss of a moonlit night. I love the changing perspectives, the use of spot pictures to portray action, and the variety in mood that the chosen colors provide. There are, indeed, twenty yawns. Take the time to count them with your little one as you share this bedtime delight.                                                                      

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Real Poop on Pigeons, written and illustrated by Kevin McCloskey. A Toon Book, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"They're RATS with wings!
You're being SILLY!
Pigeons eat seeds and
grains ...
... and they find LOTS
of them in the TRASH!
Before airplanes,
pigeons carried ... "

Following up on his success with We Dig Worms, Kevin McCloskey creates another very appealing graphic plea for understanding when it comes to the pigeon. Many of us have a preconceived notion about their worth, in the same vein as the man we meet on this book's first page. He is eager to rid the area of the pigeons at his feet. He may like birds, but not these ones.

To their rescue, and with the pigeons' best interests in mind, a 'flock' of costumed children make themselves and their learning known. While they may make a mess, the children assure that there is much to be admired about  the work that pigeons do. They let the man, his companion and we readers know that pigeons have many accomplishments ... they are fast flyers, they are the epitome of the designation 'airmail' as they were mail carriers long before the airplane.

Much research has been done prior to penning this new book. Mr. McCloskey shares a history of the pigeon, their family background, the difference between mating (which they do for life) and breeding (which is done to them to create new varieties). In clearly drawn artwork, he labels the pigeon's body, shares the variety of breeds there are, and connects them to historical figures - Queen Victoria and Pablo Picasso to be exact. The children go on to explain that some people even cook and eat them. Finally, they provide fascinating information about 'pigeon milk'.

What a terrific way to help children learn about a familiar bird from an urban environment, and to put aside some of the misconceptions about them! To add to the fun, Mr. McCloskey leaves his readers with a hint at what we might expect from him next ... I wonder???

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Maggie and Michael Get Dressed, written and illustrated by Denise Fleming. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $20.50 ages 2 and up

"Maggie, did you hear that?
It's time to get dressed!

Look, Maggie - socks.
Yellow socks.

Maggie, come back here!

Socks go on your feet,
not in your mouth."

When Michael's mother lets him know that the time has come for getting dressed this morning, he hears her. He simply chooses to misinterpret her meaning. Maggie, his small dog and constant companion, will 'get dressed'.

With a focus on color (and humor), Denise Fleming uses her unmistakable and impressive pulp paintings to allow her readers to share the love between a dog and her young charge. Attuned to his needs and wanting to please, Maggie involves herself completely in play and her response to Michael's many suggestions. It is easy to see how much she loves him, despite the apprehension displayed. She bends to his will, accepts his help and licks his face when the task is almost completed. OOPS! Michael forgot the underwear. Hilarious!

A reminder from his mom about the task at hand has Michael scrambling to get Maggie out and himself into the chosen apparel. Mom, Michael and the baby are soon off to do what they need to get done, leaving Maggie and the ever-observant, astounded kitten to themselves. Maggie proves her prowess with chewing, taking on what is left behind; the kitten cautiously takes in all the mischief. The family's return is welcome, and all is well. If you check further, you will see that the baby has been just as sharp-eyed as the kitten.

I have been a fan of Denise Fleming and her work since I first saw her first book in 1991. I am always eager to see what's next. In an recent interview with Julie Danielson at she explains the process for creating her amazing images:

"Pulp painting is a paper-making technique. I pour recycled cotton fiber that has been beaten to a fine pulp and floating in water onto a frame covered with screen. The water drains through the screen, and the fiber stays on top of the screen. The beaten cotton fiber comes to me white. I dye the fiber with colorfast pigments. To create images, I cut stencils and pour the colored fiber inside the stencil shapes. I also use very finely-beaten colored fiber and water in squeeze bottles [to] draw images.
Once the painting is finished, I flip it off the screen onto a damp cloth. I put another damp cloth on top of the pulp painting and then, using a large damp sponge, I press down on the paper and remove as much water as possible. From there, I transfer it to a vacuum table that removes even more water from the paper. Then it goes into a drying press where it is sandwiched between blotter paper and Homasote board where it dries flat. The more pressure applied, the stronger the paper becomes. The image and sheet of paper are one.

Children, nature, and life in general keep me inspired, along with some pretty talented book-making friends. I can spend a whole day happily watching bees gather nectar, birds building nests, the wind blowing the tall stalks of bamboo outside my studio, and eavesdropping on conversations. Doesn't take much for my endorphins to flow and, with those endorphins, come ideas.

I also like to experiment with different art processes and materials. The book after 5 Little Ducks, which will be released in November, will be illustrated with collage and a variety of printmaking techniques. I am quite excited about that new technique and several others that will be debuting in the future."

If you want to know ever more, check this out:

You can also visit Denise's website:

Bear and Hare: Where's Bear, by Emily Gravett. Macmillan, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $11.99 ages 2 and up

"1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Where's Bear?


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Where's Bear?"

Oh, my! Have I got a treat for you today!!

Bear and Hare are back for another adventure ... this time, it's game time. The two are playing hide-and-seek. Emily Gravett once more proves why her books remain favorites with children and their parents. She offers brilliantly expressive illustrations alongside clever storytelling that has children at their heart. Emily Gravett knows little ones: she knows how they think, she knows what is sure to strike their funny bone, and she makes books that they REALLY want to read on their own.

I'm not sure you can imagine just how difficult it must be for a bear to find a hiding place. If you can't,  Ms. Gravett is up to the challenge of showing you. There are so many good places for Bear to choose. He tries a lamp shade, then a stack of books, even a transparent fish tank. Poor Hare ... it's frustrating that he makes it so easy.

What if Hare tries to hide? Will that make for a better game? Bear looks in a teapot, under the rug, behind a picture. No Hare! In a clever ploy inspired by noticing Hare's hiding feet, Bear finally finds success in making the game a contest. Without meaning to, he scares Hare into looking in all of the familiar hiding spots that Bear has used. Not finding Bear, Hare is frantic ... and yelling for her friend. Perfect ending!

Boldly colored, expressive faces, humorous, and chock full of opportunities for discussion and new learning, it would be a wonderful addition to your toddler's personal book shelf! If you are a fan of Emily Gravett's work, you will want to pore over the subtle details she includes in this wonderful board book; it is the newest in a series of four. Here are the others:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Horrible Bear! Written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $20.49 ages 3 and up

"Bear practiced barging.

He practiced making a

He practiced waking
someone up.

Bat squeaked.

"Perfect!" Bear said."

When a bear makes a mistake (inadvertently, because he is asleep), he has no idea about the ruckus that is unleashed when a little redhead yells at him! She is in his face, and full of anger. Once she has given him a piece of her mind - HORRIBLE BEAR! - she 'stomps'  away from his cave and heads for home. Anything, and anyone, in her path is made fully aware of her feelings for the bear who smashed her kite.

On the other side of the twosome is the bear, who feels exasperated by the tirade, knowing that he has no reason to feel badly. He feels righteous in blaming her for the predicament in which they find themselves. She came into his cave. She's the one who did the yelling. As he storms about, he makes a decision ... a decision that only a 'horrible bear' might make. Off he stomps!

The little girl tries to soothe her spirit with drawing, reading, talking it out - nothing works! Her ranting does result in her own big mistake. She has torn the ear off her ear off her 'stuffie' - her confidante. That mistake sparks a realization.

Bear, too, is very upset with what has transpired and is full of determination to set the record straight with the intruder. He roars himself from his place to hers. When he arrives, things suddenly change for both. All it takes are two little words. You might know them.

OHora’s acrylic paint on paper illustrations are full of the emotions felt by Ms. Dyckman's appealing characters. Young readers will find much to love about them. On every spread they demonstrate the unrestrained reaction fully felt by both characters. He also portrays humor in the stomping about and drama of each one's response, and fills the book with details sure to elicit talk.

It is a perfect for reading aloud! It won't be the last time you share it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

To The Rescue: Garrett Morgan Underground. Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra, Penguin. 2016. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 had killed hundreds, destroying homes and businesses, it took years for workers to rebuild the city. When firefighters entered a burning building, they were often overcome by smoke. It was difficult for them to rescue those who were trapped inside. Garrett decided to invent a hood to give firefighters a fighting chance."

With all the news that is being broadcast right now about the devastating wildfires that caused so much heartbreak and destruction in Fort McMurray, I found myself thinking back to this book that I read a few weeks ago. It is part of the wonderful Great Ideas Series from Tundra Books. Each is a story of an inventor and their amazing invention/s.

This one dates back to the late nineteenth when Garrett Morgan was born the son of freed slaves. His family worked hard every day in the fields of Kentucky, barely making enough to sustain themselves. Garrett wanted more. He was 14 when he headed north to make a better life for himself. Using his ingenuity and a penchant for finding better ways of doing things, he found success as a tailor. While trying to improve the way his sewing machine worked, he inadvertently invented a hair cream that made him enough money to work on his true calling ... inventing.

Following the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire in Chicago that killed far too many people, he turned his attention to a hood that firefighters would be able to use to protect themselves by breathing fresh air while inside a burning building. It was disappointing that it did not sell well. Taking a chance and offering his help, he was able to show its benefits in a real fire. It helped save many lives. That safety hood, once modified, also protected soldiers during World War I.

We read in a note called Safety First at the end of the book that Garrett Morgan also invented the traffic signal. Where would we be without these incredibly inventive minds?

This series has introduced me to people I had never known. I admire the way that Monica Kulling provides straightforward text that allows readers to know about their lives, their dedication to making the world a better place, and their successes. David Parkins captures the time and setting, while also providing details that add to the book's impact.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

BEATRIX POTTER & The Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Charlotte Voake. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Now we come to the heart of our story - the tale of the unfortunate guinea pig. Why Beatrix needed to borrow one is quite simple: while she enjoyed playing with her pets, her greatest joy came from painting them. Beatrix spent long hours sketching her animals. She liked to paint them doing ordinary, everyday things, like reading the newspaper ... "

Beatrix Potter always loved animals. As a young girl, she and her brother were proud caretakers to a large collection. Because of her affinity for drawing, she used those animals as models for the delicate watercolor images we so admire.

As she begins this lovely celebration of Beatrix Potter's life and work, Deborah Hopkinson gives us a clear accounting of her early life and the love that she had for many different species. There was a slight problem ... :

"Beatrix probably had more pets than any young lady in the city. But the sad truth is that although Beatrix loved animals, she did not always have the best of luck with them."
We meet some of the many animals who played a role in her early home life. Beatrix kept journals of the many mishaps that befell her beloved pets. About a family of snails, she wrote:

"An awful tragedy was discovered ... the whole Bill family, old Bill and Mrs. Little Bill, and ditto Grimes and Sextis Grimes his wife, Lord and Lady Salisbury, Mr. and Mrs. Camfield, Mars and Venus, and three or four others were every one dead and dried up ... I am very much put out about the poor things."

She may not have been the best choice as protector of her neighbor's guinea pig when she borrowed it as a model to appease her aching desire to paint the little creature. Miss Paget agrees to lend her pet. Beatrix promises to return Queen Elizabeth safely the following morning. While Beatrix attended a fancy dinner with her parents, the Queen explored the art supplies that had been left close by and had a meal of her own.

The rest, as they say, is the stuff of dreams.

Foreshadowing keeps us a bit on edge, and Ms. Hopkinson uses a slightly mocking tone to up the enjoyment of this perfectly innocent plan gone awry. I love that she uses some of Beatrix's own journal entries, then adds 'reminder' notes of her own to give guidance for our future endeavors.

Charlotte Voake uses pen and watercolor to take us back in time to Victoria England, and invites us in to the world of the Potter family, showing their support for their daughter's love of art, and the many critters that inhabited their lives.

Backmatter includes an author's note filled with details from the research, as well as archival photos, journal entries and drawings. Much appreciated if you want to know more about this beloved author and artist.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Daniel Finds a Poem, written and illustrated by Micha Archer. A Nancy Paulsen Book, Penguin. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"He looks up in surprise
when he hears Spider say,

"To me, poetry is when
morning dew glistens."

On Tuesday, Daniel climbs
the old oak tree. He sees

It's a surprise to Daniel when a Monday visit to 'his' beloved park has an invitation at the main gate - "POETRY in the PARK  SUNDAY at 6 O'clock." It sparks a question in Daniel's mind concerning poetry itself.

As he wanders its paths and meets up with the creatures that he loves, he is inspired to ask each one about poetry. Every day of the week, he gets a new and thoughtful answer. Finally on Saturday night, he has a chance to ask Owl the question he has been asking all week, and Owl has an answer, too.

"Oh, poetry! Poetry is bright stars
in the branches, moonlight on the grass,
and silent wings to take me wherever I go."

Thanks to his many friends, Daniel knows exactly what to share on Sunday at 6. He is elated, and ready!

What a glorious introduction to poetry this is for little ones! In lovely language Ms. Archer shows how Daniel's friends in the park view their world and serenely offer their thoughts. To add beautifully to the appeal, the author creates glorious images 'in oil and collage, using tissue paper and patterned papers created with homemade stamps'. Full of rich color and luscious detail, she has created an urban park setting that is textured and full of wonder for a small boy with a burning question.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Trouble the Water, written by Frances O'Roark Dowell. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2016. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"The best way to the river was to ride down through the Bottom and follow a path through the woods that Ray knew about. The Bottom was where the colored people lived, and Wendell had never spent much time there except to cut through it en route from one place to another. Now as he followed Ray down Marigold Lane, he thought about that girl Callie ... "

We meet the old yellow dog before we meet any of the other characters in Frances O'Roark Dowell's story about Celeste, Kentucky in 1953. A third person narrator lets us know that the dog knows he's dying, that he spends nights on the porch of an old woman who feeds him and allows him his need to roam, that he is searching for someone, and that his daily searches lead him down to the river.

He is the catalyst for a meeting between Callie Robinson, a young black girl who is always on the lookout for a story to tell, and Wendell Crow, a young white boy who doesn't mind being on his own, spending time by the river with his dog, King. When Callie comes looking for the yellow dog, while Wendell is looking for an old cabin his father told him about, the two make a connection. Callie wants to know more about the dog, as it has only recently appeared. Wendell has also seen it, not knowing anything more about it. As we watch them get to know one another, the reader also learns much about the two.

In their quest to learn what they can about the dog and the old cabin, they find out that the dog belonged to a boy who drowned in the river many years ago. While the story, for the most part, centers on Callie and Wendell, we also meet Mr. Renfrow, the editor of the black newspaper, The Weekly Advance. Callie has written a previous story for him, and would like to write another. She is in pursuit of the dog's story. We also meet two ghosts: the white boy who drowned and a young runaway slave who died at the river. They are both trying to make their way across. Their story is a reminder of the history of the area, and the need to remember the past.

In the meantime, Mr. Renfrow has written an editorial calling for integration of the town's new swimming pool. It is not an acceptable premise, in the same way that Callie and Wendell spending time together is seen as troubling because the presiding notion is not to 'trouble the water'. Both events lead to violence and act as a perfect invitation for discussion and understanding with middle grade readers.

Callie and Wendell are very likeable characters. Callie has courage and determination, and a passion for reporting. Wendell is fair-minded, loyal, and learning what it means to be “an eyewitness to injustice.” He has a lot to learn, but appears to be a somewhat willing student. There is no resolution for the way things are ... but, Callie and Wendell offer hope for a different future.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hilda and the Bird Parade, by Luke Pearson. Flying Eye Books. 2013. $16.50 ages 8 and up

"I've forgotten how to FLY!
The HORROR ...
Leave me. I'm finished.
Done for.
for the cats.

Oh Dear
oh ... "

OOPS! I don't know how I missed telling you about this third Hilda book. If you have read the first two, Hildafolk (2010) and Hilda and the Midnight Giant (2012), you will know how much she loves the life that she lives in her beloved fjords. It is tough work acclimating to a new urban setting. Hilda misses the joyful independence of the time she spent exploring the natural environment that was her playground.

Now, she is living in Trolberg  and her spirit is sagging. Mom is frightened for her, and wants her to stay inside where she will be forever safe. Hilda's independent spirit is quashed by that constant concern. When friends from school show up wanting her to join them for a play, she is pleased and eager to get going. Her mom remains cautious, offering many warnings before she gets out the door.

Once outside, she discovers that her school friends are poor models for good behavior. She is an unhappy follower until they knock a raven from a tree with a well-thrown rock, leaving it to fend for itself. Hilda cannot leave it there. Her 'friends' rush away. Hilda is left to aid a talking raven who suffers amnesia after the rock-throwing incident. As it can no longer remember how to fly, Hilda and the raven begin the trek back to her house, encountering all manner of frightening creatures according to the raven.  Soon, they also realize that they are lost.

So begins an adventure that has them meeting a variety of peculiar creatures while the raven shares stories about Trolberg itself.  Dusk falls quickly and Hilda has not found her way home. She knows her mother will be worried. She's right. Her mom is frantic, finally sending their dog Twig to find Hilda and bring her home. Twig does his job, and leads the two to safety. Mom is not there.

The rest of the story centers on the Bird Parade and the legend of the raven it honors. Oh, and all is  well that ends well.

My admiration for Luke Pearson just grows. Hilda's new urban world is wonderfully drawn for his  enchanting female character and is sure to rouse admiration for her independent, sympathetic spirit. Hers are comic book stories that I would happily have shared with our kids when they were young, despite my constant refusal to read comics. The panels are engaging, often humorous and full of adventure. Perfect graphic storytelling!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Blanche Hates the Night, written and illustrated by Sibylle Delacroix. Translated by Christelle Morelli. Owlkids, 2016. $16.95 ages 2 and up

"Blanche does not
like the night.
Actually, Blanche
hates the night!

So Blanche puts
on a concert to
chase away the moon
and wake up the sun."

Oh, I laughed out loud when I read this book for the first time! Blanche is like so many children who do not 'go gentle into that good night'. After all, the darkness and quiet can be quite frightening, right?

She is old enough to know that night follows day. She is not content to accept that as a given, and comes up with a number of scenarios which might possibly change the assumption. There are so many inventive ways to keep the dark at bay, if only her mother would allow it. They say good night, Mommy switches off the light and plunges Blanche's room into the blue-grey bleakness of bedtime. Eyes wide open, as are those belonging to her cat and her stuffed owl, Blanche is bent on remaining awake.

Mom is not so keen on the racket. Nor is her cat. Now she is alone with her owl, who is nocturnal after all. Singing is also not an option for her mother. A reminder that the night is for sleeping does not quiet the attempts to foil the darkness. Blanche is as persistent as her mother. Enough activity and an exhausted Blanche finally gives in to sleep. Another grand plan foiled by a toddler's lack of energy at the end of a long and busy day.

The lovely artwork, filled with gentle shadows and wide-eyed Blanche's lively antics, adds to the irresistible appeal of this bedtime book.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with illustrations by LeUyen Pham. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $14.99 ages 8 and up

"Down in Monster Land, the bunnies had been bored. Bored and hungry. With a hundred mouths, they had tasted everything. They had enjoyed monster fur. They had snacked on rock chips. They had dined on toenail clippings and lizard scales. And they were still hungry. There was a hole in the ceiling of Monster Land. An interesting smell trickled down."

Princess Magnolia and Frimplepants are back for their third adventure! This time, they are looking forward to having brunch with Princess Sneezewort. They are salivating just thinking about it - soft rolls with butter, cheesy omelets, sugar-dusted doughnuts. It's enough to make you skip breakfast altogether!

As happens when you are a monster-fighting heroine, and a warning signal sounds, you have no choice but to abandon your plans and get to work! That is exactly what happens:

"Princess Magnolia and Frimplepants rode into the secret cave. When they came out the other side, they were the Princess in Black and her pony, Blacky."

Ready for action, and off to help Duff - again! He has a grave concern about the flood of monsters overtaking the meadow. The 'monsters' are really cute-as-a-button pink bunnies! The Princess falls in love with them, and is not convinced that there is any need to worry. Duff assures her that they are an issue. They come from Monster Land and are eating EVERYTHING in their path! As the bunnies become even more problematic, the Princess and Blacky must take action or be eaten themselves. Finally, they persuade the bunnies to return home where the food they love to eat is much more plentiful.

Poor Princess Sneezewort! Her friends do not arrive for the planned brunch date; her mind is wandering and wondering about the same mysterious happenings from previous encounters. She is becoming quite suspicious. She almost has the puzzle solved when her attention is given to a surprise lunch with The Princess in Black and her brave steed, Blacky.  What good luck! Princess Magnolia is forgotten ... or is she?

Fans will be very happy to share another adventure, and will surely eagerly await the next.

Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe, written by Tricia Springstubb and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $20.00 ages 8 and up

"Cody had a friendly brain. When an idea knocked, her brain said, Come in, idea. Make yourself right at home. And what do you know? Knock, knock. Here came one now. First she found a clean slide. Then she worked up a great, gobby mouthful of spit. If you are thinking disgusting, you are right. But if you are thinking fun, you are also right. How can that be? In this life, many things can stump the mind."

I do hope you have met Cody in her previous story, Cody and the Fountain of Happiness (2015). If not, see if you can borrow it from your local library. Cody is a character worth knowing, just as Spencer Pickett is.

As we meet up with her again, Cody is deliciously impatient for Spencer's return to the neighborhood. His family is coming back to town to live with his grandma, GG. Patience is not one of Cody's virtues, although she does have many others. So, when Spencer returns, and things are not quite as Cody had hoped they would be, she has some new lessons to learn.

The biggest mystery for the two of them concerns the duplex unit that is right beside GG's. It looks empty. The only thing that would make someone think it is inhabited is the name on the mailbox - MEEN. Mr. Meen shows his face when Cody is stung by a yellow jacket and he comes to her rescue. It turns out he is an exterminator - which is good! He is the father of two girls - which is dreadfully bad. They stay with him sometimes.

Those MEEN girls are a perfect match for their last name. They are not friendly in any way. In fact, Molly threatens Cody and Spencer and refuses to allow them to play in their shared backyard. For Cody, it goes from bad to worse. First those rotten neighbor girls; then, she tries to help Spencer who is new to her school. She warns him about his teacher, the Spindle, and offers to introduce them to make for a smoother transition. No need! Spencer and his teacher have much in common, and like spending time together. Cody's friend Pearl likes Spencer and shares his love of music, as well.

Where does this leave Cody? Not to fear! Cody has a kind heart, is a loyal friend, and understands that our differences make the world go round.

"Are those the kids who were mean to you?"
Wyatt whispered, and Cody nodded. "They don't
look so bad," he said. "Maybe you should let bygones
be bygones."
Cody thought this over. Wasn't that the same
thing as forgetting? The very thing people were
always scolding her for? Was there such a thing as good
forgetting? Whew. In this life, there is always something
new to think about."

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

This Is My Home, This is My School. Written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Of course, we have a
trusty school bus.
It's always ready to
take us to ...
the library.
Or ...
on field trips!
This is our art room.
This is the world!"

I hope you listened when I told you that you needed to have Jonathan Bean on your children's literature radar, and that having Building Our House (2013) in your library was an absolute necessity. If not, here's your second big chance! If you did read and value the story that Jonathan tells of his parents and their need to raise their children in a more natural, respectful rural setting, you will not be surprised to learn that they were also parents who saw great value in homeschooling their children.

The blond boy who narrates this book is Jonathan himself. Its detailed, joyful pages allow his readers to learn more about his home, which was also his school. He and his sisters lived in a house filled with classrooms where 'Home and work, work and school, school and home were all seamlessly connected by my parents' curiosity to learn and teach'. He is obviously totally content with the learning that took place every day in every way - from the sofa in the living room, to the basement where science experiments were carried out, to the kitchen where the essentials of meal preparation and baking were practiced, to the pond which offered up any number of specimens to be examined, to the backyard which was the perfect playground for reading, building, swinging, constructing, and caring for a multitude of animals as their homework.

Every opportunity for new learning is captured in his colorful watercolor spreads. They are full of action and chaos, while also allowing a look at the joy that the four children found in being schooled in life with their parents as their guides. Nothing of importance is missed. Field trips and 'phys-ed' are taken with other children; art classes in the outdoors might have many participants. The sun-dappled colors, the happy exuberance of the teachers and students, the many little vignettes kept my eyes constantly wandering and wondering as I moved from one spread to the next. I especially love the double page spread that shows clearly the many hats Mom must wear throughout a very busy day. When she finally flops into a rocking chair exhausted, the children realize she needs assistance. They bring her the phone - she calls in the substitute! Hilarious to be sure ...

There is so much energy here - a perfect place for learning about life.  


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks with color by Jordie Bellaire. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $17.50 ages 10 and up

"A leg of lamb, two loaves of bread,
and an onion. That enough food for you?

For now, put it there and let's go.

So how do I do this?
Do what?

Run. Like you."

This is the first in a new series about Kai and Rat - two young people who meet and become friends despite the fact that they are members of opposing sides in a conflict that has lasted for generations. Many nations have taken control of the City over the years, changed its name, and tried to control the only way to get through the mountains to the ocean. The City settles, and then another nation advances, takes control and rules for a time. The new rulers never last long, nor does the name they have given the City. Those who live on the inside call it The Nameless City.

Its inhabitants have lived in peace for thirty years. Despite this, they are always training for battle. Kaidu, whose father is one of the ruling Dao, has journeyed from his home to the city to begin that training. He is not committed to it. He wants to get to know his father, a strong and fair leader who does not always agree with the others in power. Kai is content to read, rather than take part in the training that is his lot for now. On the first night he reads a letter from his mother, leader of the their tribe in the homelands. She encourages him to find his own way.

While wandering the streets with his father, they encounter a young girl named Rat, an orphan and a resident of the Nameless City. The two are often at odds, and very compelling characters. Kai is curious to learn all that he can learn. Rat is a sassy street girl who can, if she is willing, teach him what he needs to know. She agrees to teach him to run free on the city rooftops if he will make sure she has the food she needs to survive. He agrees to her terms.

Their adventures show Kai the truths about the city, exploring important questions of history and identity. Together the two learn of a plot to assassinate the General of All Blades. They must work together to stop it. The pace quickens, and it is a race to a satisfying finish.

You know that I have little experience with reading graphic novels, and make no pretense concerning my knowledge of this genre. I can tell you I love the art, the characters, and the setting that Ms. Hicks gives such life. The action scenes are fully realized, held my attention and had me turning pages as quickly as I could manage it. I went back again and again to certain scenes. I will be as keen as other fans to read the second book planned for this trilogy!

Monday, May 2, 2016

When Mischief Came to Town, written by Katrina Nannestad. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"By the time she sits down at the table with a cup of tea for herself and a glass of milk for me, I have gobbled all three pieces of bread. The remaining butter looks like it has been attacked by a hungry troll, and the jam bowl is empty except for a few blackberry seeds clinging to the sides. My cheeks are bulging with the last piece of bread and jam, my tongue is dancing with sugar ... "

We meet Inge aboard a boat on her way to the island where her grandmother lives. It is 1911 and she is ten. As they make landfall, Inge can see her grandmother waiting for her. She knows who she is although she has never met her. Grandmother is the only woman waiting.

It is an inauspicious meeting, as a passenger goat whose softness has allowed a comfortable pillow for a young, unhappy girl has taken advantage while she slept and chewed off one whole braid. It is just the beginning of the trouble she will cause for the old woman and unlikely guardian. They head off to the farm that Inge will now share with her mother's mother.

The fun has really just begun. Inge is a lively, active, mischief maker. She is spirited and impetuous. Her grandmother is not amused by many of her actions, responding with anger and quick slaps that take Inge completely by surprise.

"I think of the horrible misunderstandings with the dancing snowflake that ended with a slap and harsh words. Then I recall how pleased Grandmother seemed when I thanked her for my soup. Perhaps I should learn to be thankful for the good things as they come along, no matter how small. That would show Grandmother that I am a decent girl. It might even make her love me."

Inge is hard not to love! She has such spunk and character. Despite the troubles and shenanigans that often follow closely on her heels, she inches her way into the hearts of some of the islanders, and especially her grandmother's. It takes time. It is her personality that keeps the reader on course and wanting to know what trouble will find her next. Her grandmother is in perfect contrast to Inge's exuberance. She is all business. The farm requires hard work and cooperation. The workload must be shared. Inge has lots to learn, but she finds joy in the animals and some of the people she meets.

The 1911 island town is very different from Copenhagen where Inge lived with her book-loving, gentle mother and their servants. There, she lived with few rules and a loving parent who indulged her strong-willed daughter, encouraging her imagination and opinions. In Bornholm, life is much more traditional - school days are endless, music lessons uninspired, playgrounds and rough play free to boys, not girls. Inge has much to say about it all!

Food and talk of food plays a role and so does humor. It is a perfect book to read aloud in a classroom, or as a family read. I promise there will be lots of laughter, and Inge will steal hearts. Engaging and heartwarming, while also exploring grief and love.