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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Little Big Girl, written and illustrated by Claire Keane. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"Matisse went to
big places,
and saw big things.

She used her little
hands to make big

There was nothing
Matisse could not do."

Sicily, who is a big sister, asked me most days to read this book to her. She, like Matisse, still needs a car seat, loves to read books on her own, brushes her own teeth, and chooses what she will wear for the day (or for the first hour of the day!). She would dearly love to carry her little sister around with her - she cannot. She is too small, and Chelsea is growing quickly. She can teach her new tricks ... and does so with some delight.

When we first shared this delightful book about a 'little big girl', she was surprised to see she is like Matisse in many ways. I am not even sure she noticed that the baby was a brother. She did notice that Matisse likes to build large pillow piles and dive into them with gusto. We have a few videos of Sicily doing exactly the same thing ... all running and jumping ending with a resounding BOOF!

They both wear a cape, and exhibit super heroine powers. They have a doctor kit, and take cat naps. They love their babies and are duly impressed with every little thing they can do. They share kisses, help with diapers and choose clothes from a wide selection for the baby. They are caring, sharing teachers who help their siblings learn about the world that surrounds them.

Claire Keane has some pretty amazing illustrative 'chops'; her grandfather is Bil Keane, beloved creator of Family Circus. She shares his eye for the details that are life within a family and his sense of humor as she shows the many small moments that happen each and every day when you have a big and little in the house.     

Monday, February 27, 2017

The King of the Birds, written by Acree Graham Macam and illustrated by Natalie Nelson. Groundwood Books, 2016. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"You think you got
enough birds?" the boy
from next door asked.
Flannery shrugged.
"Not really." Life
was still a little too

A peacock
would be more exciting
than a thousand birds!"

Flannery O'Connor's penchant for all birds was evident in her early years. She even taught a chicken to walk backward - it already knew how to walk forward. Her skill gained her some fame. It was fleeing. She needed more. What if she had more birds?

"She collected her savings and bought one
of every type she could find."

They were willing workers; she was not totally satisfied. She wanted a peacock. Of course, she had to work for it. Soon, she was picking him up at the train station. Making him the 'in charge' leader of all birds didn't help when it came to showing off his tail. He just didn't feel compelled to do so!

Flannery tried to convince him using every ploy she could dream up. Nothing enticed him out of his complete disinterest. Would it always be so? No, indeed. Flannery finally hit upon the solution. Life did not remain quiet for long!

Natalie Nelson creates a bevy of birds in illustrations done with 'hand-painted paper, drawings and found photography, compiled digitally into collage' - and she does it wonderfully. From the splendid front endpapers to the book's end, she shows the birds with expression and personality.

She had this to say about the art in an interview with Twenty by Jenny:

"For this book, I painted a bunch of papers (with gouache paint) in the colors I wanted to use. Then, I scanned the painted papers into the computer and used Photoshop to cut out the various shapes to create all the characters and scenes. I also sprinkled in some cutouts of found photography, which is something I try to do in all of my work. In the end, I wanted the art to feel both modern and vintage, to tie the story back to the era Flannery really lived in."
Kids who know nothing about author Flannery O'Connor will not be bothered by this fact. They will find here an interesting young girl, whose love of birds is fully on display. There is a short note at the back of the book that speaks to the inspiration for this lively tale. One of Flannery's essays was called "King of the Birds" and was published in a collection called Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1969).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

One Minute till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep, selected by Kenn Nesbitt and art by Christoph Niemann. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $25.99 ages 3 and up

"Little raindrops
Through the glass,
See the raindrops -
Watch them pass.
Let's go out!
Little raindrops,
Feel them land
On your head,
And on your hand.
Let's go out!"

I have always wanted to share new poetry with my kids - both at home, and at school. It was a promise I made to myself and I kept it, reading poetry every day. So, I am always on the lookout for a new book that might peak some interest and entertain. The above poem by Edel Wignell (Gentle Shower) is one I would be looking forward to sharing as spring comes round the corner in the next little while.

The poems are selected by a former Children's Poet Laureate who is a poet himself. So he knows first hand the power of words and the part poetry can play in the lives of our children. There are more than 140 poems here, and they are written by some of the most important poets writing for children today. You will recognize many names - Sharon Creech, Jane Yolen, Charles Ghigna, Bobbi Katz, Janet Wong, Helen Frost, Mary Ann Hoberman, Nikki Grimes - some of my favorite writers. They are all meant for bedtime reading, but will not always inspire quiet contemplation.

The first one selected is one of my favorites because it speaks so clearly of the end of many a day for young children. 


Finished dinner.
Cleared my plate.
Took the trash out.
Shut the gate.
Had a bath and
brushed my teeth;
those on top
and underneath.
my gramps and grammas.
Changed into
my soft pajamas.
Fluffed the pillows.
Got my Ted.
Said my prayers.
Climbed into bed.
All that's done;
at last I'm freed.
it's time to read.
           - Kenn Nesbitt"

They reflect on so many of the experiences that their readers will have had; as well, they are funny, witty, dreamy, and so creative. The poetic forms are as varied as the poets and their poetry. They are  emotional, funny, joyful, thoughtful ... a treasure trove for families and teachers to share.

Christoph Niemann adds depth with appealing depictions of the content that are full of the spirit of the selected poems. They perfectly complement them.


The armadillo dwells inside
The scaly armor of his hide
And while deep down he's soft and sweet,
He's harder than a city street.
So please don't pick an armadillo
to go to sleep on. Use your pillow.
               - X. J. Kennedy


Saturday, February 25, 2017

There's a Bear on My Chair, written and illustrated by Ross Collins. Nosy Crow, Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $23.00 ages 2 and up

"He is so big,
it's hard to share.
There isn't any
room to spare.

We do not
make a happy pair,
a mouse and bear
with just one chair."

I have read many books a multitude of times. It is so much fun to share when you love it yourself. So, I was happy when I read this one over and over again to my two-year-old granddaughter while they were here visiting at Christmas. She laughed every time and so did I; often she was a touch indignant. She is just beginning to feel the push for space from her little sister, who is eight months. It is going to be a long-standing battle, don't you think? Not all the time, of course!

Poor Mouse is really annoyed by problems caused when a bear takes over his favorite space. How is he going to get that HUGE polar bear off his chair? It's easy to see the small rodent's chair is not a fit. It's also pretty funny - or so we thought. Nothing works to get the bear to move his butt - not pushing, or glaring, or tempting, or scaring.

"Maybe I'll give him
a scare -

I'll jump out
in my underwear!

But no.
Of course
he does not care.

That stinky bear
sat on my chair."

Finally, the mouse loses it!

"That's it! I'm done!
I do declare!
This bear
had led me to
It is not fair!
It is not fair!"

A surprise and witty ending draws laughs and a certain feeling of 'it serves him right'. Ross Collins has great fun with his characters giving them life and emotions that his readers will totally understand. The bear has absolutely no concern for the mouse's pleas or predicament. The mouse's anger builds, as does his voice. This rhyming tale is full of witty text and is an absolutely charming  read as many times as you are asked for it!

Friday, February 24, 2017

What Will Grow? Written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Susie Ghahremani. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Shiny, brown.
Bumpy crown.

What will grow?

Oak Tree.

Very tiny.
Then so viny!

What will grow?"

There are signs all around us that spring is coming! We will have to endure more cold weather, perhaps a return of snowfall ... but, spring is coming. After all, February is almost a thing of the past!

To that end, I wanted to tell you about this lovely book that concerns seeds and growing. If you know about it now, you will have it ordered and arriving in time for spring planting. Maybe your school has decided to plant a community garden, or your children are old enough now to plant and water the seeds, and benefit from watching their food grow in their own back yard. How exciting is that?

The endpapers offer an apt invitation by showing the seeds included. There are twelve different kinds. The simple, descriptive text provides the information needed for children to learn about them. There are the familiar pine cones, sunflower seeds and even dandelion fluff, and others.

In rhyming text, accompanied by art created with gouache on wood, we learn about those things that will grow from the seeds we plant. There are hints in the words and in the illustrations to help answer most riddles. Some encourage young readers to take a very close look. Cleverly designed gatefolds provide the answer to four of the riddles in images absolutely appropriate to the answer. An upward unfolding one answers the riddle stripy black/crunchy snack/what will grow? with a tall and perfectly placed sunflower!

It is an elegant design - the content is carefully chosen, the warm spring colors offer quiet contemplation, and the thick, naturally recycled papers give it a satisfying feel. Endnotes provide a closer look at each of the seeds presented.

"Acorn (oak tree seed)

Sow: fall

Steps: Gather acorns and remove the caps; soak
acorns in water overnight, then discard the
ones that float; bury acorns in soil about 1 inch
deep, providing plenty of space for growth

When will it grow? In the spring, a sapling
(baby tree) will sprout, maturing to a shade
tree in about 20 years"

The four stages of plant growth are also described. Useful and entertaining, this is a perfect book to add to any bookshelf.

Now, I am going to see if I can find a copy of  What Will Hatch? (2013) by the same team.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

When Grandad Was A Penguin, written and illustrated by Morag Hood. Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan. Publishers Group Canada. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Perhaps he was just
getting older,
but I kept finding
him in the strangest

It was all a bit

Then one day the zoo

One of the teachers in my school loved to share penguin books with her first grade students. They learned a lot, and grew to love the little tuxedoed birds. So, I know Sheila would have loved to share this funny, imaginative book about swapping places.

A little girl is invited to stay with her granddad, a visit she usually loves. This time, however, she is a bit perplexed by his appearance. They sit together on the sofa - she keeps her distance while he drinks his coffee. Their conversation is filled with talk about fishing. His has great difficulty finding clothes that fit, spends a lot of time in the bathroom, and his resting places are quite strange. When she appears to be at her wit's end, a call comes in from the zoo. It explains why this visit is so bizarre!

Every turn of the page offers up an alternative to the written text. Told simply, I would read it first to kids without showing them the illustrations and let them imagine what is happening to cause her discomfort with the visit. Then, I would read it again with the art, and listen to their hoots of laughter and exclamations at the real reason for her observations. What about that hilarious surprise ending!

If you like this one, be sure to have a look at Morag Hood's other book that I loved, Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea (2016).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mighty Mighty Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"Skid Steer's nimble,
small, and quick.
She turns,
she spins -
she does a trick!
Bulldozer's heavy,
wide, and grand.
He'll push and plow
to clear the land ...
but even he can use a hand!"

Is there someone in your life who just loves to meet up with the mail carrier every day? My granddaughter Sicily, who is two and a half, has always loved having a visit with the carrier, and then bringing in the mail. So when I told her last night about a new package of books, she wanted to know all about them. She loves Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (Chronicle, 2011) and was pretty excited to learn that she would be meeting those favorite vehicles again the next time she comes for a visit. I promised I would put it away in her book cupboard! But first, I want to tell you about it.

They get an early start, and have the plans at the ready. It's a big building - and there are only five of them. Can they do it alone? Cement Mixer doesn't think so. He calls in a larger team.

"Mighty trucks all hear the call -
they start up in no time at all!
Out on the road, they drive full steam.
They rush right in to join the team."

They are ten of them now - double the power to get the job done!

Ms. Rinker is quick to share just what each vehicle brings to the mix. Her rhyming text keeps the action going and Tom Lichtenheld uses lively, earth-toned oil pastels to create detailed spreads showing the work at hand and the joy with which each of the vehicles contributes to the overall results.

"Just like the plan - the job's complete!
This awesome team just can't be beat.
Cooperation got it done;
teamwork made it fast - and fun!"

She's going to love it! And, I am going to love sharing it with her, and her little sister.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Both of them were just pups. They had a lot to learn. First they learned about each other. Then it was time to learn about other things. So off they went to school. Lucky went to his school ten times. Frank went to his school thousands of times ... "

I have a son. He has two English bulldogs. They are perfect for each other. Together, they have learned a lot. Their similarity to Frank and Lucky ends there. Percy and Ed don't learn a lot from outdoor exploration; they prefer home and hearth. They have not experienced the many scenarios which lead both Lucky and Frank to new learning; they are content with that. But, they are loved and have learned to love. Isn't that the most important thing of all?

Now, I want to introduce you to a young red-headed boy and his curious and active black pup. When they meet, they are both coming to the end of an awful day. Lynne Rae Perkins lets us know so, beginning on the copyright page. She draws a series of panels depicting the many accidents and annoying events in Frank's day. Life has not been kind. A turn of the page adds panels that may, in fact, change his perception of the day itself. We also see the kind of day Lucky has experienced and how he came to be at the very shelter Frank's parents choose for a new dog for their son.

"One day when Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky.
And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank."

The story from there shows just how perfect a picture book can be. Together, they learn about each other and about their world - the Science, the Reading, the Math, the History, the Art, the Geography, the Foreign Languages, and even an alternate fact or two.

"Not so long ago, a dog named Lucky jumped up onto a chair and ate an entire birthday cake that was on the table. At least, the evidence suggests that's what happened. Sometimes in History there are different versions of what really happened, depending on who is telling the story."

Learning together is what makes these two happy, and what gives us a glorious book to share and then share again. Filled with numerous opportunities to take learning into the real world, and written with great skill and enthusiasm for such an education, Ms. Perkins fills her pages with subject matter that is sure to entice and entertain. Her watercolor and pen-and-ink artwork is filled with ever-changing perspectives, thought and speech balloons, maps, labels, thumbnail sketches, and a multitude of panels and full page spreads meant to draw attention to all that is happening in this full of heart story of a boy and his dog.

One of my favorite scenarios is the math that is nighttime, when Lucky and Frank share space on the same bed. I wish I could show it to you. I guess you will just have to head to the library or your favorite local bookstore to get yourself a copy.

"When it's nighttime, how much of the bed is Lucky's, and how much is Frank's?
This is fractions and percentages. The answer changes throughout the night."

Innocent curiosity, clever writing, gentle love, humor, useful facts, and the discovery of and wonder at the world we live in make this an in-demand book at home and in the classroom. It definitely ups my admiration for Ms. Perkins' writing. I have not missed one of her books yet, and I don't think you should miss this one!                                                                               

Fish Girl Blog Tour ... courtesy of Raincoast Books, March 2, 2017

Be on the lookout for my post for Fish Girl (Clarion Books, 2017 from Raincoast Books). I will tell you all about this exceptional graphic novel next week! Can't wait to share it. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Water's Children, written by Angele Delaunois and illustrated by Gerard Frischeteau, with translation by Erin Woods. Pajama Press, 2017. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"For me, water is the ocean:
the gray waves that break on the sand,
the damp air where the gulls soar,
the boat that carries my father into the horizon,
the hold heavy with fish when he returns to port.

For me, water is a sea star."

You know those days when the water must be turned off because of problems in the system, or when a water heater leaks. Only then are we aware of how much we depend on water for our daily activities. So many moments in each day when we turn to water for hand washing, cooking, drinking, making ice cubes, showering, etc. As a teacher I often asked my students to keep a list of the many times they reached for water on an ordinary day. They were always surprised at how much it mattered in their lives.

In this book about water in its many forms, we are introduced to twelve children of the world, quick to share what it means to them. They have been invited by the author to share their thoughts. They do so in their own language, and their answers will inspire those children who share it to voice their own thoughts and may lead to valuable discussion about its importance to every one of us.

Written in poetic form, and accompanied by light-infused illustrations that are full of life and detail, it is a book that will be appreciated in classrooms and at home. Water is our most precious resource, and each speaker honors that.

"For me, water is everywhere:
the tap that I turn on without thinking,
the bathtub full of bubbles,
the sprinkler that greens the grass,
the lake that summons us for vacation fun.

For me, water is a burst of laughter."


"For me, water is the rice paddy:
the sparkling grid of flooded fields,
the green islets full of young shoots,
my mother and my father planting out the seedlings,
the children and the ducks wading in the mud.

For me, water is a bowl of rice."

Indeed, water is life.

Translators and their countries are included in an accompanying list following the text. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hotel Bruce, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"He turned them out of the house and headed to bed. That's when the trouble started. It was a long night.
Can I have a glass of water?
You're hogging the sheets.
I want to snuggle.
I need to pee."

Oh, my! Poor Bruce ... those geese are at it again. What is a Papa Bear to do now? As he did in Mother Bruce (Disney-Hyperion, 2015), this burly bear continues to chaperone four geese as they migrate to Florida every winter. He has, after all, been adopted as their mother and he sees it as his duty.

Upon returning one spring, he is more than grumpy to find mice living in his house. They have turned it into a hotel! Bruce is quick to rid himself of the unwelcome rodents. He hasn't considered the overnight guests in need of his care.

The morning is no better. As the day goes on, his troubles multiply. The mice mak a return visit, and his geese become bellhops. The manager does not respond to his request for an audience, the cook's turtle soup is a disaster, and the kitchen has been dismantled. Bruce is ready to explode! And then, it gets worse. It is all he can take -


Kids and adults will love everything about this book - the textured images that fill its pages, the often scathing and oh, so funny facial expressions, the wonderful telling, and the chaos exhibited as Bruce tries to overcome his tired grumpiness and be the epitome of parental understanding and support.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Girl With the Parrot on Her Head, written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.00 ages 4 and up

"So when she found the biggest box she'd ever seen, the girl with the parrot on her head called out, "Aha! This box is perfect for the wolf."
However, something was already inside. "Oh," said Isabel. "Is this your box?" "Sort of," said the boy. "I was going to use it for a den." "
Why not a castle?" asked Isabel. "Why not an ostrich farm? "

I wonder if you know a child who seems to march to a different drummer; who is resilient, self-reliant, occasionally scared, very imaginative, and willing to look at new possibilities. If not, you have not yet met Isabel.

Isabel is fine, just as long as Simon is close and they can do things together. Then, Simon moves away and Isabel is left to deal with the fall-out after losing a best friend. At first, she deals with it all hatefully. When that happens, the parrot that is usually on her head finds another place to be. Isabel adjusts to her loss by assuring herself that she will be fine on her own. She has no need for friends. She has the parrot back on her head ...

" and ...
she had a system."

Her system has to do with sorting ... bears, hats, castles, monsters, the dark, ducks and a hula hoop, wolves, broken umbrellas, houses, etc ... Everything has a place, and everything is in that place. You get the picture. The parrot worries most about the wolves. In fact, Isabel is a tad worried herself. What if one of the wolves is too big for that box? Finding a huge box on the sidewalk might be just the ticket. Wait a minute! What (or who) is inside that box?

You will want to know, and so will the kids who share this book. They will also want to take a closer look at the wonderful illustrations that accompany this child-centered, unique tale. Bold colors, witty endpaper images, impressive characters, and a totally engaging look at Isabel's world will make it a story time favorite and invite conversations concerning friendship, fears and being independent.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2017. $26.99 ages 12 and up

"I startle,
Richard comes
out of the woods.
Richard is the owl,
and now he's
alongside me.

We're not laughing -
just breathing together."

This is such a special book, and so beautifully written. It tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving and the long journey they were forced to take in order to remain married and to live together.

Mildred and Richard both have a voice in telling their story. It begins in 1952 where friends and neighbors get together on Saturdays to eat, dance, play games and enjoy each other's company. Richard is one of the 'big boys' - all friends of Millie's big brothers.

Mildred enjoys these gatherings:

"If I stop and watch
I see young and old -
Indians, Negroes, Whites -
all mixed together.

Everyone likes each other
in our neighborhood.
Everyone dancing

It isn't until 1955 that the two begin dating, and also to feel the hatred and discrimination faced by a biracial couple. Secrecy allows them to date and spend time together. Because there is no anti-miscegenation law in Washington, D.C., they are married there. For the next ten years and through the birth of their three children, they are in and out of jail because they love each other and want to be together. The cruelty they face from a hateful sheriff and so many others allows readers to see up close and personal how hatred and discrimination can rear its ugly head. They are forced to live far away from their families, residing in D.C. where they are safe, while everyone they love lives in Virginia. Richard's job there keeps him away from Mildred and his children for lengthy periods of time.

Richard loves Mildred:

"She's standing at the well
holding a bunch of greens
like they was a bouquet of wedding flowers
carrying my child
smiling at me
that deep warm
Any doubts I might've had -
like this being too much trouble -
drifted away on the wind.
My country gal.
I am her husband."
In desperation, they send a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy seeking his help and advice. He suggests going to the American Civil Liberties Union. Thanks to the dogged determination of a young lawyer there, who persists in taking their court from one ruling to another, their case is finally heard by the Supreme Court - a landmark case that legalizes marriages between races.

There is much to learn through the factual information included, as well as the archival materials and photos. It is a beautiful love story, told eloquently and with heart. Written in blank verse, it forces the writer to choose the very best words (and as few as possible) to ensure understanding. Patricia Hruby Powell does just that. This is a complicated and long story, told powerfully. Shadra Strickland's artwork is equally as elegant as are the words, making this a book to be shared and admired.

It is a story about love first, and politics do play a role. It is a story worth knowing. Once you have read this remarkable book, please check out the movie, a historical drama written and directed by Jeff Nichols.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, by John Boyne. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2015. $22.99 ages 14 and up

"It took a long time for Pierrot to fall asleep that night, and not because he was excited about the arrival of Christmas morning. Interrogated by the Fuhrer for more than an hour, he had willingly revealed everything he had seen and heard since his arrival at the Berghof: the suspicions he had felt towards Ernst, and his great disappointment in his aunt for betraying the Fatherland ... "

If you read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Random, 2006), you will know what powerful stories John Boyne tells. They are compelling and memorable, and their characters are quite remarkable.

He returns us to World War II with this story about Pierrot Fischer who lives in Paris. He is of French/German parentage. Both parents are dead and he is being cared for by his friend's mother. His aunt Beatrix who is German, sends for him and gives him a new name ... Pieter. As housekeeper to Hitler, she takes him to the Berghof where he lives with the rest of the staff stationed there. Hitler is a periodic visitor.

Although his aunt offers precautionary advice, Pieter loves the attention that Hitler gives and soon falls for his rhetoric and charisma. In the nine years from the time he arrives until the end of  the war, we go from feelings of sympathy for to abhorrence at his actions. Their discussions and the descriptions of their encounters are played out for readers in clear and perfectly paced writing.

It is not hard for readers to grasp the path that Pieter is being led down. The characters are compelling and real. Many moments that are chilling and unsettling. The trajectory of Pieter's indoctrination is evident. His own brutal behavior and its aftermath are sure to encourage conversation and discussion concerning his childhood, his admiration for the Fuhrer, and his anger at what he deems traitorous. Was it better to be a bully than be bullied? Can he ever redeem himself?

A surprising and very emotional prologue catches readers up the events that followed the end of the war. This is a compelling and unusual story and worthy of being shared in middle years and high school classrooms.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, by Megumi Iwasa with illustrations by Jun Takabatake. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $26.99 ages 7 and up

"Dear You, Whoever You Are,
Who Lives on the Other Side
of the Horizon

I am Giraffe. I live in
Africa. I'm famous for my
long neck. Please tell me
all about yourself.

Yours sincerely,

Boredom often results in a search for something new and exciting. Giraffe feels that the solution to the way he is feeling could be assuaged by the presence of a friend. At the end of a long day, as he watches the sunset, he begins thinking about what might be on the other side of the horizon. As luck would have it, he finds a notice for a new mail service offered by a 'bored' pelican. He decides to write a letter to help satisfy his curiosity. Pelican will take it as far as he can and deliver it to the first animal he sees there.

Pelican's return is delayed by the length of the trip. Turns out the first animal encountered is a Seal, a mail carrier who delivers to the animals of the area. The only one who receives and sends mail happens to be Penguin. He must count on Seal to make the final leg of each letter's journey. Finally, Pelican returns with a letter from Penguin. Giraffe, having never seen or met a Penguin, has many questions. Pelican returns to deliver the next letter and helps Giraffe and Penguin become pen pals. What fun! There is so much to learn as the letters pass back and forth from one to the other.

Is there a chance that they might meet? Perhaps a Penguin costume would make the meeting easier for the two. How will Giraffe design such a thing when he has no idea what a penguin looks like? Penguin tries to help by providing an apt description of himself. Pelican cannot help much since he has not met Penguin.

Delightful, and sure to elicit giggles from young listeners as it is shared, this is a charming import from Japan. The misunderstandings are funny and endearing. Most kids today have little or no experience with letters coming in the mail, and have likely rarely written a letter to anyone. I have very fond memories of the few years when I had a pen pal in Bakersfield, CA. I was a grade school student and unfortunately, we did not keep the communication going. I still think it is a worthy pursuit. This delightful book might just inspire someone to give it a try.

Charlie & Mouse, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Tess and Lottie followed Jack and Max, who followed Helen and Lilly and Sam, who followed the wagon. Charlie and Mouse passed Spenser's house. They passed Marley's house. They passed Nora Ann's house. Baby Sylvia rode in the wagon with Blanket. Soon they could all see the playground."

Short stories are a terrific way for young readers to get to know new characters. They learn much about them as they see the characters in different situations and in the interactions they have with one another as days pass.

In the four linked stories about Charlie and Mouse we also learn about their parents, their friends and the things that make them happy. Rising early in the morning, it takes Charlie some work to wake 'the lump' who shares his bed, and then the two lumps who are his parents. Excitement is palatable as Charlie announces that the day has finally come for the neighborhood party!

Everyone must get up, have breakfast and get going. The family heads off, blanket and cookies along for a ride in the wagon. As they go, they pick up the children of the neighborhood. Only when the entourage finally arrives at the park do they realize they are the only party goers. No matter.

In an attempt to make some money, Charlie comes up with a solution ... they will sell rocks. They have so many. As they haul them to neighbors, they learn that no one wants rocks, they would rather get rid of them. They will even pay to have them removed. It is hard work hauling so many. A stop for ice cream seems like the perfect solution for two tired and hungry workers. The tale comes full circle when they arrive home with their own rocks, and many more - and no money.

The final story has them considering a bedtime snack for today and tomorrow ... and returning to the same bed where they began their adventurous day.

Perfect for reader's theatre or shared reading because of the entertaining dialogue, and accompanied by irresistible detailed artwork, I think this is a winner! I will look forward to another.

Waiting for Sophie, written by Sarah Ellis and illustrated by Carmen Mok. Pajama Press, 2017. $12.95 ages 6 and up

"Sophie was small, but she was heavier than Liam had expected. He was very careful with his feet when he carried her through the door. He put her on the couch and unwrapped her like a present. She was practically perfect. She had toes like peanuts and ears that the sun shone through. The top of her head smelled especially nice. She smiled at Liam and held onto his finger."

Sarah Ellis is such an accomplished writer. She constantly writes strong stories that have lasting impact for her audience. Many remain on my 'keepers' shelf to now be shared with my granddaughters. If you haven't shared her wonderful books about Ben and his family, be sure to check them out.

In this early chapter book, she introduces us to Liam and his family. Upon meeting him we learn that his parents have gone to the hospital in hopes that baby Sophie will soon arrive. Liam is super excited, but wants everything to happen now!

"Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I waited
through half of kindergarten. I waited
through my birthday." Liam bounced on
the bed. "Waiting is my worst thing. I
want to jump on waiting and smash it to
smithereens and flush it down the toilet."

Nana-Downstairs does her best to offer up solutions to help with all that waiting - being bad might help. After a day filled with doing those things not usually allowed, they learn that Sophie will be home the next morning. Once home, he makes other unexpected discoveries. Mostly, he begins to understand that it will be a long time before Sophie is his daily playmate. In the meantime, he will do all he can to care for her ... and wait!

Even the Get Older Faster Machine that he builds with his Nana doesn't seem to help Sophie grow up. Change takes time, even for older brothers.

Sarah Ellis tells another timeless story with beautifully chosen text and Carmen Mok matches the tone of the story perfectly with gentle images and soft colors.

"Liam sat on the ground and hugged
and rocked her.
"Hush, little baby, don't cry a bit.
Liam's going to make you a banana split.
If that banana split tastes yucky,
Liam's going to buy you a garbage
If that garbage trucky gets stinky ... "

Wolfie and Fly, written by Cary Fagan with illustrations by Zoe Si. Tundra Books, 2017. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Renata liked to make things.
She was good at it. And she liked
making them by herself. That way
she didn't have to "cooperate" with
others, the way adults always
insisted. She didn't have to
"compromise" or "respect other
people's opinions." She could do
things just the way she wanted.
"I like my own opinions, thank
you very much ... "

I'm going to go on a roll today and tell you about the five early years novels I have read this week. Each is individual, perfect for those wanting badly to read a chapter book, and full of fun, action and terrific characters. How lucky are we that spring lists make them available to our young readers!

First up is this book penned by the productive and inventive Cary Fagan.

Renata Wolfman is a force unto herself. She likes being alone, has particular interests, and is not at all keen on being friends with the neighbor boy. Livingston Flott - or anyone else for that matter. On a day when she is left to her own devices, she hauls a refrigerator box up from the basement and, with
her creative juices flowing, manages to fashion a submarine that gives her pleasure. In fact, for a fleeting moment, she thinks she might want to share it with someone. That might, however, mean having a friend and Wolfie has absolutely no need for such a thing.

Enter Livingston! He is on the run from his big brother and needs a safe haven. Fly (as he is called for his annoying tendencies and his constant movement) manages to bring his creative bent to the ever-so-proper Wolfie and impact her own sense of adventure. Together, they enjoy an afternoon of imagined exploration aboard her spectacular new creation. There are some twists and a great deal of fun as the two also explore the beginnings of a new friendship. I will look forward to the next installment, as will new fans of Wolfie and Fly.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children's Rights. Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Felicita Sala. Kids Can, 2016. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"The first day of the march seemed like it would never end, but Aidan and Gussie kept each other going. All the same, they were very happy when Mother Jones shouted, "Camp time!" While the tents were being set up, Mother Jones helped some of the women make a large pot of meat-and-potato stew. It smelled heavenly."

This is a story I had not heard. I found it very interesting to read about it as part of the Citizen Kid series which I find absorbing and very informative. Now is a good time to share it, as there are so many protests and rallies occurring around the world about issues that impact many of us.

In the early 20th century those concerned with the deplorable conditions facing young children who worked in the cotton mills of Pennsylvania decided they must act to force change. The children described in this book, Aidan and Gussie, worked long hours in unpredictable and often unsafe surroundings. They earned little for the exhausting work they did. Too often, they could not attend school because their families needed the meagre wage they were paid.

Mother Jones was bent on changing that. To that end, she lead a two-week march from the mills in Kensington, Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay, New York. One hundred miles! Aidan and Gussie were invited to march with her. Mother Jones had seen the damage done to many children due to the dangers involved in the work they were doing, and she wanted President Teddy Roosevelt to know it! She hoped that along the way they would garner support from the public, and make an impact on the future for these children. President Roosevelt chose not to meet with the marchers, but they had made an impact that would result in new legislation the following year.

The journey is long and tiring. We are witness to the toll it takes, but also to the spirit of Mother Jones who works tirelessly to keep the marchers well fed, encouraged and willing to always move forward. She talks endlessly in public places as they go, always with a message about standing up for what is right at the heart of her story.

Monica Kulling adds background information following the text to encourage readers to learn more about the march, Mother Jones, and those who continue to speak out today about some of the same issues. Such stories continue to encourage young people to work in non-violent ways to make a difference. They also encourage listeners and readers to respond with empathy and a better understanding of our history and the changes we can make for the future.

Monday, February 13, 2017

We Found a Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"How does it look on me?

It looks good on you too.

It looks good on both of us.

But it would not be right
if one of us had a hat
and the other did not.

There is only one thing to do."

If you were looking to learn about the PERFECT last book in the 'hat' trilogy, and by some weird happenstance you haven't read how wonderful it is yet, I am here to tell you it is INSPIRED!
I have shared the first two books so many times they look like my original copy of Where The Sidewalk Ends (Harper, 1974). Much loved and very tattered. I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011) and This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012) remain perennial favorites in many classrooms and homes. Deservedly so!

Skip ahead to 2016. I waited with much anticipation to get my hands on this new book - I just knew I would not be disappointed. I WAS NOT! I never get tired of sharing it, of listening to young listeners as they voice their reactions and their plea to read it one more time. "OK! Fine!" I say.

The artwork is familiar, and the characters appealing. The desert, two turtles, and a white hat. Their discovery is shared; there is only one hat and two heads. It looks equally good on each. They make the difficult decision to leave it where they found it. So many emotions are shown in deceptively small movements of the turtles' eyes and bodies. On they go. Part Two has them partaking of a beautiful desert sunset. Their thoughts concern very different things. Finally, sleep comes to both tired terrapins ... or does it?

Full of sly wit and finishing in a warm and wonderful way, this book is sure to become as much a favorite read as the first two have always been. The story is told simply, with emotion and subtlety. Friendship is a wondrous thing!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How This Book Was Made, written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Adam Rex. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"When I had the idea for this book, I went to a quiet place and I wrote. I wrote from early in the morning until late at night. It was very hard work. Soon I had a bunch of words on paper. Those words were a first draft. The first draft of this book was not so good. Neither was the second ... "

So, how often have you arm-wrestled a tiger? In the profusion of ideas that must bombard authors I wonder how many have considered such a premise for the introduction to a book about making a book. Well, leave it to Mac Barnett to show us that ideas come to writers at unexpected times and in many weird places.

His hard work begins with an idea ... as all books must. After much writing, and many drafts, the story is ready to be send to an editor.

"An editor tells you what parts of your
story are good and what
parts you need to fix."

After a back-and-forth between author and editor (described with much humor), the book is approved and sent to an illustrator. It is assumed that he works extremely long hours to ensure that his interpretation of the words meets the author's and the editor's vision for the book. Finally, it is ready to go to print ... in Malaysia!!!!

The printed works arrive back where they belong. After much waiting by everyone who has been involved in the lengthy (and often indirect) journey from idea to publication, it finds its way to a 'reader' which is what ultimately makes it a book.

Listeners and readers are sure to enjoy the hectic nature of the process for making this particular book. Mac Barnett often ups the humor, and Adam Rex uses mixed media to match the tone and wordy descriptive account. It's full of witty images and many details. Kids will delight in poring over its pages, and then going back to see if they missed anything important.

Clever, imaginative and full of surprises. I can't wait to share it!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

SHY, written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman. Viking, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"It was the bird!
She sparkled!
Just like the sun ...
... and the sea ...
Shy never imagined
the world was so grand.
Perhaps, one day, he
would try to see more.
With the bird, Shy
thought, he could go

As the very proud mom of an introvert, I can only wish that he had been able to read Deborah Freedman's book as an inquisitive and aware child. He would have appreciated knowing that others were like him ... content with his books and avoiding conversation when possible.

Shy literally wants to be 'between the pages of a book'. The very thin arrow on the book's first page show readers where he is hiding. He's in the gutter of the book. We learn that Shy loves to read books, especially books about birds. He has never heard birdsong.

When a yellow songbird lands on his pile of books, Shy is captivated and wants badly to speak. Before he works up the courage, the bird has flown away. For the first time ever, Shy leaves all that is comfortable to follow the bird. The journey is long and filled with wonder for Shy, who sees so much that is new. Astonished, he finds even more birds, including the one he has been seeking. What a friendship they might have. If only ...

Will Shy be too timid to speak?

You know me to be a fan of this brilliant artist! I have told you about her earlier books. The artwork here is captivating, providing a glorious background to Shy's journey of discovery. The soft watercolors and beautiful lines create a world that welcomes Shy and gives him the courage to step away from what is familiar to find his way to something new and quite lovely.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Snow White, by Matt Phelan. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $27.00 ages 10 and up

"A problem, my darling?


I thought not. The King of
Wall Street need not worry.
The only man clever enough
to survive the market crash.

That was partially luck.
Or something like luck."

How do they do it? Where do these simply brilliant ideas come from? Matt Phelan again ups my admiration for his work and his vision. In his retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, he uses his superlative skills as a graphic artist to take readers back to the 1920s and the time of the stock market crash and Great Depression. This graphic novel is fabulous! I would like to wax poetic about it, but cannot do it the justice it deserves. So, I will just share my thoughts with you.

Matt Phelan introduces us to a young Samantha White (nicknamed Snow), whose mother has died. Ten years after her death, Snow's aging father, an important cog in Wall Street's wheel, remarries. Snow's stepmother is a grim and callous actress, known in theatrical circles as The Queen of the Follies. She loves her new position as wife to a rich and powerful man and soon dispatches her stepdaughter to a boarding school.

Move forward some years and Snow becomes a further threat to her because of her beauty and her father's unwavering love for his daughter. The Queen's desire for wealth and riches of her own has her poisoning her husband. She soon learns that he has recently written a new will, leaving most of his vast fortune to his beloved daughter. Thus, Snow becomes her next victim. She hires a man who tracks Snow, threatens her, but cannot kill her. He does issue a warning:
"She isn't like no other woman.
She's powerful. Dangerous.
Don't go back, kid.
Don't ever go back."

Snow flees. Lost in the alleys and threatened by two burly attackers, she is saved by a gang of seven young boys. They are orphans and suspicious of all the things she tells them. Ultimately, she wins their support and their protection. Her stepmother learns that she is alive, and sets out to finish the job herself. A poisoned apple does the trick. Will the boys be able to protect her now? Is there a prince to save the day? What do you think?

Matt Phelan takes a magical fantasy and gives us a historically accurate setting, making us believe such a story is totally reasonable! It is full of emotion, perfectly paced action, and a remarkable storyline. His artwork is exemplary. He uses pencil, ink and watercolor to create a drama of the best order. It has a classic cinematic feel, is stunning in its presentation and will surely be forever memorable. You need to have your own copy!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

the whale, by Ethan Murrow and Vita Murrow. templar books, Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $24.00 ages 5 and up

"Giant Whale or Giant Hoax?

Fifty years ago today, the mythical Great Spotted Whale was allegedly sighted swimming close to these shores. But was it all a big hoax? No one knows for sure. It's time to find out if this creature exists."

It's long been a legend in their harbor town ... A Great Spotted Whale swims there! In the opening spread, we see a young boy with a headset and recording equipment looking out to sea, while below that we see a young girl, obviously intent on photographing a model of the legendary creature. A poster, and a front page headline story, explain the premise for the story. The article poses a challenge:

"So this reporter calls all serious whale researchers
and maritime theorists to come out of their labs and
studies, to abandon books and microscopes and take to
the waves in the name of truth and science.

Let's solve this tale of whale!"

Turn the page. On the left side a young girl works at setting up a camera on a small boat. She is clad in jeans, a t-shirt, and sunglasses. On the right side, a boy with hammer, nails and an illustrated plan for placing sound equipment on his boat is shown. Each is ready to embark on their search, with the means to document it. An angry, roiling sea soon brings them to a point of impact. Their boats are ruined. Their senses bring them back to the task at hand, The whale is within sight and sound. They want to prove it exists!

Realizing they both want the same thing, they manage to fashion a new boat from the strewn parts. The rest of this beautifully drawn tale is focused on the "hunt'. They manage to bring forward conclusive evidence that the whale does exist.

"Armed with tracking and recording equipment, these intrepid explorers
survived a mid-sea collision and joined forces to prove with sound and
image that the ocean still holds gifts unknown and teems with beasts
of beauty."

There is an added surprise chronicled on that same front page!

The very realistic graphite artwork will captivate 'readers' of this book. They bring a presence to the adventure that is both eerie and exciting. You can almost feel and smell the sea spray. Dramatic, immediate and engaging, it is a book to be savored again and again.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785, written by Matthew Olshan and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $20.50 ages 8 and up

"Jeffries found Blanchard
at the parade ground. He was
entertaining a large crowd
with a violin, while his dog,
Henri, snoozed at his feet.
A military band was playing
along. Pretty girls were
tossing him flowers. The
balloon was full and
straining at its ropes."

I am endlessly fascinated by the stories authors choose to tell. What motivates them to do the research needed to find out more than they already know, and why is this the story they choose to tell? It is explained in the biographical information provided on the book's back cover:

"A Voyage in the Clouds has its
roots in Matthew's fascination with
manned flight, particularly its humble
beginnings, when every flight could
spell either glory or disaster. (Things
were a lot different when he learned
how to fly an airplane himself.)

This is the same team who gave us The Mighty Lalouche (2013), and I found it just as entertaining and rewarding as I found their first work. Together they tell the story of the very first international balloon voyage. The year is 1785. The balloonists are Dr. John Jeffries from England and Jean-Pierre Blanchard from France. The journey will take them across the English Channel. It is not without its challenges. There is a problem before take-off.

"Bad news? What bad news?
With all our provisions,
the balloon cannot carry
the weight of two men
and two dogs. Only one man.
And only one dog. Henri."

Of course, this is a lie. Blanchard has donned a lead vest to add the needed weight. Once discovered, the flight can go ahead. Soon, they are on their way. The tension remains high, and arguments are rampant. They floats higher, the balloon gets bigger. Jeffries opens a valve to release gas; the needed wrench is accidentally dropped. The balloon continues its downward plunge. Jeffries must enlist help from Blanchard, who manages to stop the gas. Losing altitude, they must rid themselves of weight ... sacks of sand, oars, rudder, violin and bow, thermometer, umbrella, decorations, even the flags. What they do next will have kids hooting.

During the two hour and forty-seven minute flight they experience danger, anger, cooperation and ultimately, success. It's a grand story to tell. Sophie Blackall's detailed artwork holds many surprises, and gives readers a real sense of the time in which the story takes place. She adds to the inherent humor with expressive faces and telling body language. Funny, informative, and worthy of reading during a study of flight, or just for love of reading and entertainment.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

City Shapes, written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $20.49 ages 3 and up

"A truck rumbling by
to deliver the mail,
a silvery cart with
hot pretzels for sale,
and stacks of brown
packages hauled up
the stairs ...
Some SHAPES in the
city are ...
on-the-go SQUARES."

Youngsters are quick to find shapes in their environment. Introduce a concept and watch them fly with it, as they peer carefully everywhere they go to find examples of the letter, shape, color, item they are meant to discover.

I love the lively verse as it describes an urban landscape filled with shapes that delight and entice a little girl to spend her day enjoying her busy environment. There is so much to see! As adults we know that we often don't take the time that children are so willing to give to really seeing what surrounds them. She finds the shapes she is seeking at every turn. As we watch her journey through her neighborhood, we also notice so much more on the book's pages.

Bryan Collier uses his daughter as the model for our guide. His gorgeous watercolor and collage artwork brings her to vibrant life as she wanders the city streets in her search for shapes. She is so close to us; it feels as if we are making a new friend. Each double page spread is filled edge to edge with color, activity, and images from the city. From early morning until dusk, we wander with her, witness to the joy she finds there.

"The pigeon flies back through the night cityscape
as city lights sparkle, SHAPE after SHAPE.
But her heart starts to ache for the SHAPE
she loves best.
The SHAPE that is home -
her own CIRCLE nest ...
where the whirring and beeping of cars rushing by
helps her fall fast asleep, like a sweet lullaby."

Young readers will not be able to contain their enthusiasm as they share the shapes they see, and listen to the rhythm of the words. It is a celebration of the city itself, and all that is found there. Lovely!

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Sound of Silence, written by Katrina Goldsaito and illustrated by Julia Kuo. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $20.49 ages 5 and up

"Suddenly, Yoshio heard
the strangest sound, high
and then low, squeaky and
vibrating - amazing! It was
a koto player carefully
tuning her instrument. Then
the koto player played. The
notes were twangy and
twinkling ; they tickled ... "

How often do we take the time to listen for the silence that surrounds us? In the fast-paced modern family life lived by so many, it seems those times are few and far between, doesn't it? In this lovely and admirable story, we get a chance to feel that silence, and to appreciate it.

Yoshio, a young Japanese boy sets off through Tokyo streets for school. As he goes, we are witness to the constant movement and noise that surrounds him. He makes his way along those busy streets, allowing readers to see the Japan he knows so well, to hear the many sounds that surround him, and to share in his joy in life.

"Yoshio listened to the sound of his boot squishing
and squashing through the puddles, and the tiny
raindrops pattering on his umbrella. The sound
of his giddy giggles made him giggle more."

In the midst of all that noise, he hears a strange new sound as well. It comes from a koto player tuning her instrument. He comments on his love of sounds and asks if she has a favorite one. She says it is ma ... silence. Yohsio is left to wonder where he might find it. He spends the rest of his day listening; but, silence is not to be found.

It isn't until the next day that he finally hears that silence at school, and before anyone else has arrived.

"In that short moment, Yoshio couldn't even
hear the sound of his own breath."

Only then does he understand that silence is always there ... in the in-between moments, when you really listen for it.

Beautifully illustrated to match the author's remarkable storytelling and enhance this exploration of both noise and silence, it already has a place on my 'keepers' shelf!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Go Home Bay, written by Susan Vande Griek and illustrated by Pascal Milelli. Groundwood, 2016. $18.95 ages 6 and up

"He steps out on our dock -
Over one eye
his dark hair falls,
and my father says,
"Helen, meet Mr. Thomson.
He's come to stay."

I shake his hand,
tanned and strong,

One definition of a memoir is this: a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation. I think it is really important to share books that offer  stories to our young writers that come from a memory or an experience that impacts a life.

In this new book from Susan Vande Griek, a young girl meets a man her father introduces as Mr. Thomson, and who introduces himself as Tom. He smells of 'campfires and all outdoors'. She listens as her father and the stranger converse about art, lakes, fishing and camping. She watches as he makes a big pot of stew which they are invited to share. She follows him throughout the summer days as he sketches their surroundings, takes canoe trips and finally, invites her to try painting with him.

"We slap down our colors,
green branches,
gray trunk,
faster, faster,
rush to paint water,
riled up."

For those who know nothing about acclaimed Canadian artist Tom Thomson, this might be just what is needed to spark interest and a wish to learn even more. Pascal Milelli uses outdoor scenes and bold colors and textures, reminiscent of Thomson's paintings, to illustrate it. In free verse poetry, Ms. Vande Griek imagines how the young girl felt as she watched and learned from an artist whose passion for northern Ontario and its beautiful surroundings is evident in the work he produced.

An author's note describes his work, and that summer in 1914 when Tom Thomson was invited to paint on Georgian Bay .... the summer he taught a young girl how to paint. A list of resources is included as well.                                                                

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Journey, written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna. Flying Eye Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $25.95 ages 6 and up

"And one day the war
took my father. Since
that day everything has
become darker and my
mother has become more
and more worried. The
other day, one of my
mother's friends told her ... "

Children need to know the stories of the many refugee families presently fleeing from the terror of living in war-torn countries. They are constantly in the news these days, and all are longing to find peace and acceptance in a new, safe place for them.

The family in this book loves being at the beach. They play with abandon on weekends away from the city and do all those things that people do at the beach - build sand castles, read in the sun, watch birds and people, commune with the nature that surrounds them. War changes everything.

Word is passed from friend to friend about planning an escape to a safer place - a country far away from where they are now. It is their only hope.

"We don't want to leave but our mother tells us it
will be a great adventure. We put everything we have
in suitcases and say goodbye to everyone we know."

It is a long journey, fraught with anxiety and made up of many parts. As they approach the border wall, they have little more than what they can carry when they try to scale it. An angry guard sees them and sends them back. An unfamiliar man provides aid for money. They find their way to the sea, a huge blue expanse of water that has no end. Stories help pass the time through endless days at sea. When land is reached, there remain many borders to cross before they may just find a new home where they can be safe once again.

This is a book that can be shared with young children. Francesca Sanna creates images that evoke the cost of war to all who are threatened by it. It is full of motion, even to the migrating birds that seem to be accompanying the family. Emotional, often stark, yet also hopeful, they will allow readers to share the emotions felt by the many refugee families looking for shelter and safety.

"The further we go ...
the more we leave behind."

Friday, February 3, 2017

Elliot, written by Julie Pearson and illustrated by Manon Gauthier. Translated by Erin Woods. Pajama Press, 2016.$18.95 ages 4 and up

"When Elliot cried, his
 mother and his father did
not always understand why.

When Elliot yelled, his
mother and his father did
not always know what to do.

When Elliot misbehaved, his
mother and his father did not
always know how to react."

Not all children are born into families where their needs can be met. There are many reasons for that. Perhaps the parents are too young, too inexperienced, incapable of providing the monetary support needed to help a child grow and flourish. Whatever the reason, there are times when children must be placed in foster care to ensure their growth and well-being.

There was so much his birth parents did not know when it came to caring for Elliot. Because they asked for help, a social worker placed Elliot with a new mom and dad. His life improved with foster parents who could respond to his needs. Elliot was allowed visits with his birth parents. After a period of time, he was returned to their care. Unfortunately, his parents still struggled with providing the care and understanding that Elliot so desperately needed. So, he was placed with another family.

"In this family, everything was different.
The smells were different. The toys were different. And there was
a big bird that sang too loudly."

Elliot was happy there, but he wanted to be with his birth parents. Sadly, the social worker had to explain that his parents were incapable of caring for him, even though they loved him. A forever family would be his next move. Elliot was worried. He need not have been.

When Elliot cried, they dried his tears.
When Elliot yelled, they listened to him.
When he misbehaved, they loved him anyway."

With time and much understanding Elliot learned that, in this family, he would be loved forever. That was all he needed to know.

Honest and heartfelt, this book about foster parenting and adoption is a needed addition to any collection. Told in clear prose, with cut paper collage art done in quiet tones, it reflects the experiences of many children. I have not read another picture book dealing with the foster care system.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor. Harper, 2016. $21.00 ages 10 and up

"They were so ... nice. I thought I might feel scared." She admits it. "But then I wasn't." Her smile does a funny little thing - turns downward at the corners. Her bottom lip quivers. Her chin tightens like a little nut. Zoey Samuels puts up her hand to wipe away the tear that comes down her cheek. She won't look at me right now. She keeps her shining eyes on the square of light."

Perry Cook's mother was in jail when he was born. The only home Perry knows is the Blue River Co-Ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska. It was the decision of a compassionate and caring warden to keep him there in a room as close to his mother's cell as was possible. The warden has been his unofficial guardian through the years. It has been a wonderful and nurturing place for a young boy to grow and flourish.

A new District Attorney likes nothing better than strict adherence to the rules. When he finds out about Perry's living arrangement through his stepdaughter, a school friend of Perry's, he determines that his circumstances must change. He takes over as guardian for Perry. Perry must leave the facility and all of the people he has loved throughout his content and happy life.

Perry is aware that many of those who support him are deserving of the time they are spending incarcerated. But, he misses each one of them and is homesick for their company. His heart is broken, and he spends the rest of this beautifully told tale trying to right the wrongs done to him. He does everything he can to make sure that his mother is paroled on time, despite the DA's opposition. Interesting that Perry has never felt that he lived in a prison until he is forced to live with the VanLeers in their home.

These characters are so special. Perry is a mature and memorable boy whose upbringing has given him faith in friendship and understanding for the mistakes people make. You will love Jessica, Big Ed, Eggy-Mon, Zoey and the others who have their own tales to tell. It is a story full of hope and heart. Perfect to be read aloud in a middle years classroom, it is sure to inspire conversation and discussion.