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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Teacher's Pet, written by Anica Mrose Rissi and illustrated by Zachariah Ohora. Disney- Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"We held a class meeting at recess.
Everyone agreed: Bruno had to go.
He'd grown and grown into a
bigger and bigger problem.
We just couldn't keep him.
But how would we convince
Mr. Stricter?

We tried to tell him.
"Bruno snores during silent reading."

Mr. Stricter loves science projects and wants to pass on that love of the subject to his students. To that end, one project has to do with hatching tadpoles. The children will be allowed to choose just one of the tadpoles to keep in the classroom. The others will be released back to their habitat. They choose Bruno. Mr. Stricter is giddy at the thought of having a pet; he is so excited, in fact, that he is not able to process just how different Bruno is.

The kids are not so blind to the havoc Bruno is wreaking in their classroom. In fact, any observant child is going to get antsy wanting to explain to Mr. Stricter what he cannot seem to understand. Bruno is a HIPPO! As things continue to deteriorate, the children take matters into their own hands. They vehemently share their concerns..Mr. Stricter remains adamant that Bruno is just doing what pets do. Then, the teacher is gone - eaten by a huge and hungry pet. Will he see the light?

Luckily, the kids have a plan. The teacher is saved, the class pet returned to the wild. When another science project hatches the following day ... and it looks a bit suspect, the kids know just what to do. They choose the new pet for their classroom!

Zachariah Ohara uses acrylic and pencil in warm and appealing colors to give us a close look at a na├»ve and caring teacher whose ability to identify a tadpole leaves readers wondering. The fact that he has so badly wanted to have a pet allows him some leeway, but not as much as he needs in this circumstance. Have a close look at the life cycles on the front and back endpapers to realize there was some foreshadowing for the arc of the story. So much fun! 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Storybook Knight, written by Helen Docherty and illustrated by Thomas Docherty. Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky. Raincoast, 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I dare you to a fight!"

"I'd rather not," said Leo.
"It wouldn't be quite right.

I've got my brand new
sword with me,
so I'd be bound to win it.

But how about a story
with some pictures of you in it?''

Leo is a kind and gentle knight who would rather read than do anything else. He is not a fighter,  as you will see from the very first page. While mayhem rears its ugly head nearby, Leo is comfortable and engrossed in a book on a nearby tree limb. He pays no attention; nor does his horse. His parents would rather that he fight; for that is what knights are trained to do. They are happy that he is a reader. They would like him to expand his horizons!

They send him off to tame a dragon, with a new sword and shield. He adds books and sandwiches to his horse's load. Along their way he meets a griffin begging for a fight. Leo offers a story instead, and then leaves the book with the thankful creature who finds himself in the shared story. Leo and his trusty steed Ned amble on, meeting a troll and convincing him to listen to a new story about tasty goats. The troll is intrigued as well, and is delighted to become its owner.

Finally he meets a fearsome dragon, the one in need of taming. Leo tells him about the book with all the dragons., then states there will be no story until the dragon has cleaned up his mess! You can guess what happens!

This story in rhyme is a pleasure to read, and enjoy. The cartoon like illustrations add to the fun, being filled with bright colors and plenty of action. Kindness and sharing have a place in each of us, and what better way to share that message than in the pages of a book!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the hard way), written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2017. $23.49 ages 3 and up

"It starts with an ALLIGATOR
and a BEAR
chasing a CAT.
(and a chicken and an egg!)
join in pursuit ,
things start to get

Oh, my! What a wonderful picture book this is! It is definitely one of my favorites so far this year. Is that even possible when we are talking about an alphabet book? It is proof positive that you can never have enough, if brilliant artists continue to think beyond what has been done up until now.

Obviously, Patrick McDonnell has done that with his new book. It will bring laughter and joy to those who share it ... and then 'read' it again and again. The pace is perfect, taking young children from one letter to the next while also making them feel as if they are on the very best kind of adventure. What a way to learn about the letters that will soon form the words they can not yet read!

There are no words; there are only letters (upper and lower case). Sunshine and an open door are all the incentive the little red cat needs to burst into the day and put him on a collision course with a  cast of six characters whose antics are filled with humor and whose adventure is filled with unexpected twists and turns. As an adult, I was not content to look at it once. I kept making new discoveries. All young readers will find what on the page matches the letter displayed.

Lots of white space allows for attention to be fully on the pen, ink, pencil and watercolor artwork that is so captivating.

You would be remiss to 'miss' it!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hector the Collector, written by Emily Beeny and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"They're all different,

and they're all the same,

and they're all beautiful."

Everyone was quiet.

"That," said the teacher
"is what makes a great

It's never too early to start talking with your students about collections, especially if you celebrate the 100th day of school each year. Collections are the perfect way to get them thinking about numbers, big and small. Whether they are collecting sets of five, ten, twenty or one hundred, a collection will give them plenty of opportunities to consider both counting and grouping.

What they collect opens up a conversation about things that are personal and important to them. As you begin the school year, it is very important for kids to share with each other what make them special and unique ... and it allows the classroom teacher to begin to generate a profile for each child in the class. There will be kids that are not collectors, but some may be just like Hector. Lucky he is to have a name that rhymes with a passion for gathering acorns.

He appreciates them all. As his collection grows, he is quick to note those details that make each one special. Of course, he loves them or he wouldn't pay such attention to his growing stash. It does lead to a bit of a problem.

"One day after lunch, his teacher checked
everyone's desk to see if they were all tidy.
Everyone else had pencils and notebooks.
Hector's was the only desk full of acorns.
Everyone laughed."

While the other students find it funny, and a bit strange, his teacher is very understanding and helps Hector explain. It begs the question of other classmates ... who else has a collection? Readers will be delighted to hear all about them, and may even want to talk about their own. Surely it will lead to thinking about other collections; perhaps an art museum. In an author's note, Ms. Beeny includes a few of those.

I really enjoyed the ever-changing perspectives and charming images that show Hector's neighborhood, park, schoolyard, and observant life. Many wonderful details are included to attract the attention of the children listening to his story, and to the adults reading it for them. Be sure to take a careful look.

Add this to your 'collection' and it might inspire the beginning for something new!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Give Me Back My Book! Written by Travis Foster and illustrated by Ethan Long. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I cannot part with my green book. It has a hard cover, a nice spine, the pages turn from right to left, and, if you are adventurous, from
left to right. There are letters on each page and they are gathered together to form words ... "

Redd and Bloo can't seem to get along while trying to decide who really owns the green book. One assures the other that each is the owner. The confrontation escalates, until Bookworm decides to handle the situation.

Redd has the green book in his possession when we begin to read. Bloo is angry and wants his book back. Redd sings its praises ... all those elements that make it a book. It has pages; it's green; it has a hard cover, a spine, and pages that turn right to left ... or left to right, if a reader so desires. It has letters to make words, and they mean something. Add to that a table of contents, chapters and occasional illustrations. Wow, it is very special indeed.

Bloo knows all about books, and he is sure that the book belongs to him. It even has a bent page, which is what Bloo did to it. The arguing continues. Hearing the ruckus, Bookworm pops up and retrieves it, quickly returning to her home in possession of said book. Redd and Bloo have no means to get it back. They cannot reach into Bookworm's reading room.

But, they have an idea. They will make a new book, using all that they know about them. They will entice Bookworm with it, and get their own book back. Did I say 'their'? I wonder if there is a solution. What will Bookworm think of the book they trade?

Young listeners will howl at their antics, and in the reading learn a bit more than they may have known when they started. A win for everyone involved!

Look I'm A Scientist, edited by Helene Hilton. DK Canada, 2017. $16.99 ages 4 and up

"Air is all around you.
When air moves from one
place to another, we call it
wind. You can't see air, but
it's strong enough to blow
your hat off.

Hear the wind.
You can make simple
wind chimes with sticks.
Hang them outside ... "

Kids are perfect scientists. They are endlessly curious and full of questions and observations about their world. They use their senses at every turn; at times, in front of horrified adults. If you have a budding scientist in your house, this is a terrific book to have and share.

It is filled with a ton of fun that kids can do at home. Here are some questions you might encourage if they don't think of them on their own:

"What will happen if I do this?
What can I hear, smell, see, taste
and feel?
Why did that happen?
Does the same thing always
How can I find out more?"

They will set them on course of discovery in the present, and perhaps for the future.

*Make slime and see what you can fashion using it.
*Discover the freezing and melting properties of water,
and how animals that get trapped in the ice can be
*Make a wooden chime and a pinwheel to help you
discover the power of the wind.
*Make your own bubbles ... of all shapes and sizes!

Sharing the 14 activities described here will make for a fun-filled day and will up your child's science knowledge! The photos are just right for the age group, showing kids just like them working at the various ideas shared. Needed materials are clearly shown, and the method is easy to follow. Learning about the senses and using them to make scientific discoveries makes for an awesome time spent together.

And don't forget to check out
It's a great learning site for all.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, written and illustrated by Lisa Papp. Peachtree, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2016. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"And I ESPECIALLY do not like to read out loud. "Keep trying," my teacher says. But sometimes I can't figure out the words. Sometimes the sentences get stuck in my mouth like peanut butter. Sometimes people giggle when I make a mistake. And I never get a star sticker from my teacher. Not even a smiley face."

Poor Madeline! Reading is not her strong point. In fact, it makes her not want to read at all. She wants a star, she gets Keep Trying hearts. She especially doesn't like reading out loud. It makes her nervous and she makes even more mistakes than when she reads to herself.

She is quick to share her dislike. There is really nothing she likes to read ... NOTHING! Luckily, she meets Mrs. Dimple when her mom takes Madeline to the library on the weekend. Mrs. Dimple is completely aware of the little girl's aversion, but she has a surprise!
Peeking through a nearby door, Madeline is shocked to see kids reading to DOGS!

The big white dog without a reader sports a bright scarf, a knowing look, and exudes comfort. Madeline is nervous and it shows. Bonnie doesn't mind at all. She waits patiently while Madeline works things out. With her turn at reading aloud in class on the horizon, Madeline is keen to get back to Bonnie for more practice. Bonnie is not there. Will she be OK when she has to read on her own? Can she pretend she is reading to Bonnie?

The use of therapy dogs is gaining popularity in many places. Children like Madeline often find the right amount of confidence, a whole lot of comfort and happy success in such a program. Lisa Papp tells her story with sensitivity and understanding for Madeline's plight. Her artwork is filled with expressions of disgust, sadness, frustration, anger, embarrassment, and ultimately quiet joy. Help comes from many places; this is one to be celebrated.

"On Saturday, we go to the library again. Mrs. Dimple is back!
"I got my star!" I tell her. "I want to give it to Bonnie."

Bonnie and Madeline each have a surprise to share.

Barnaby Never Forgets, written and illustrated by Pierre Collet-Derby. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $23.00 ages 4 and up

"OK, maybe things do slip my
mind every now and then.

I forget to hang up my wet
bathing suit sometimes.
I guess I don't always remember
to wash my hands.

And I may have a few
overdue library books."

Barnaby is proud of all the things that he remembers! Then, when it's time for school, he is stymied by a number of things that he has forgotten. Where are his glasses? We watch delightedly as he searches EVERYWHERE for them. Little ones will be hollering to let him know they can see them!

He is quick to remind readers of all the things that he never forgets ... to feed his grasshoppers, to get the mail (especially his own) and he is never wrong about ice-cream night. He does remember many very important things. Only when he goes to brush his teeth does he find his glasses - and that doesn't happen until he looks in the mirror.

Reluctantly, he admits that he is not perfect. He does, occasionally, forget something. Looking is half the fun; as he searches for one thing he often finds another. As luck would have it, he even finds a year-old lollipop in his backpack as he makes his way to school.

It isn't until he arrives that he realizes he has forgotten one very important bit of information.

The exuberant and whimsical artwork is perfect for young readers. There is so much to see, and those details are sure to lead to a pause for discussion. You absolutely must pay attention to the final two spreads. Your listeners will find them hilarious!  

Friday, August 25, 2017

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten, written by Candice Ransom and illustrated by Christine Grove. Doubleday Books, Penguin. 2017. $t23.99 ages 5 and up

"And she cannot wait to start

When she gets to school, she
will print her name in big,
important letters on the board so the whole class will know who she is. Next, she will build the tallest block tower. Finally, she will run the fastest of anyone."

Amanda is not necessarily the kind of kindergartener the class is happy to welcome. She knows just exactly who she is and that is who she wants to be. She knows what she likes, and what she can do. She is keen to be starting kindergarten. But, things go slightly awry.

"At the bus stop is a girl in head-to-toe pink.
So much pink gives Amanda a headache.
Amanda claims the seat behind the bus driver
so she can watch him steer.
Something very pink sits beside her."

Amanda is not as adept at friendship as Bitsy. So, she ignores Bitsy at every turn during a trying morning. Amanda knows better, but she lets her negative thoughts envelop her. Soon, she is done with kindergarten and off to spend the day with her brother in second grade. OOPS! Big mistake ... nothing there works for her.

Luckily, someone has come to find Amanda. Someone who is now lost and frightened. Amanda knows just what to do!

"It does not hurt one bit to be kind.
And second grade can wait."

Listeners will love the contrasting characters and the classroom/school atmosphere created in appealing artwork.

Super Saurus Saves Kindergarten, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Ned Young. Disney-Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $17.99 ages 4 and up

"Super Saurus packed ...

and plotted ...

and packed some more.

The big day arrived. "All
ready?" Mom asked.

"Oh, yes," said Arnold."

Emily is totally prepared for kindergarten, and she is as ready as she will ever be. Arnold, on the other hand, is prepared for escape, unsure of the risks that school might bring. His imagination is out of control when it comes to what is likely to happen once he starts school.

His alter-ego, Super Saurus, has plans and is willing to share them. At every turn, he does his best to thwart the dangers inherent in what appears to be a normal day for every other kid. He imagines that his teacher is Zorgo the Evil Genius (in disguise at Mr. Z). He packs everything he needs to avoid capture. In his superhero cape and mask, he works to the best of his ability to escape the sub (the family car) and dons Sticky Shoes to take him to the top of a nearby building (the school play structure). His dad is prepared for all attempts at escape and soon has Arnold standing in the kindergarten classroom, meeting the real Zorgo, Mr. Z. 

So it goes through his first day at school; the adventures of Super Saurus, always on the lookout to keep the others safe from danger and risking his own safety for the greater good. Mr. Z. is ever patient, and values all that Super Saurus does in the classroom. He makes it pretty easy for 'Arnold' to return the following day. He has been the hero every classroom needs, particularly this kindergarten class. He will be back.

Every detail shared in Ned Young's wild and wonderful illustrations will have readers stopping to reflect on all that is happening here. Clever and full of action and energy, they allow imaginations to soar right along with Super Saurus as he plies his trade and faces the inherent dangers of that first day. Be sure to take careful note yourself as you share this book repeatedly.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Way to Bea, written by Kat Yeh. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2017. $22.49 ages 10 and up

"I sit and eat my lunch and Will keeps on drawing and we don't say another word for the rest of the time, but I think that's okay, because I've said more today to this boy in the striped shirt in a few minutes here in the Zen center of the school than I have in any of my classes all year. And for the first time since this summer, I have this funny feeling. I feel like I might belong somewhere."

Have I got a book for you to share in a middle years classroom as you begin a new school year! It concerns family, friendships, poetry, school, and finding yourself in the midst of the muddle that is middle school.

Writing poetry is Bea's way of bringing calm to her body and mind.  Wanting to be inconspicuous after an embarrassing entrance at a back-to-school pool party, she keeps to herself and says little while at school. Her best friend has abandoned her to be with new friends, who are not 'weird' and who share an interest in boys, makeup and other distractions.

Because Bea can no longer write in free verse, as her former self did, she chooses to write haiku in invisible ink. Only a lighted match will make her poetry visible. Bea loves to write haiku. It seems the perfect way to express thoughts in a reliable and unfailing way.

She is so lonely. At home, her parents are busy with thoughts of the new baby's arrival, and their art. Bea spends little time with them. Now that her friendship with Sammie has changed, she feels alone and often flees school when she cannot express how she is feeling about events there.

Lucky she has Mrs. Rodriguez, a kind and caring librarian, who recognizes her love of words and invites her to join the team at the school newspaper. There, she meets Will, Briggs and Jaime. Each exemplifies a new kind of friend for Bea. Briggs has great respect for her work, and welcomes her as an important member to their team. Jaime is friendly, happy and eager to be work with Bea. Will is obsessed with labyrinths and lists, and learning about people.

Wanting to be a friend to Will, after spending many lunch hours with him, Bea makes a plan to show him how to get into the famous Leland Labyrinth.  Knowing the wealthy owner will not allow visitors, they hatch a plan to visit while no one is there. Best laid plans do not always work as they should. In dealing with unexpected events, Bea learns a great deal about herself and who she wants to 'bea'.

Bea's first person narrative is raw and full of discovery as she negotiates the puzzle that is real friendship and self-discovery. Not fitting in is a painful part of life for many middle schoolers. Reading this book will help them relate to Bea's brilliant and moving character, and perhaps recognize themselves within her story.

Fight To Learn: The Struggle to Go to School, written by Laura Scandiffio. Annick Press, 2016. $16.95 ages 12 and up

"... Police sirens wailed so frequently that he barely noticed them anymore. But the rundown state of his neighborhood wasn't the problem. Like all other students starting at Harper High, Deonte quickly learned not to walk to school alone. Walking in a group was better, and walking in a group down the middle of the road was best. "We felt safer like this," was how one girl put it."

It is inconceivable to think that two hundred and fifty million of the world's children, aged six to fifteen, do not receive the basic education they need to be able to read, write or do math of any kind. There are many barriers; the three considered in this book are poverty, discrimination and violence. So hard to accept or imagine that so many children face these obstacles every day. What does the future hold for them?

There are four sections, and each is filled with stories of children and adults who will do what they have to do to get an education for themselves, and for others. Despite the many stumbling blocks they must face, they remain resilient and determined. They will have a future. They are prepared to do everything they must do to make their dream a reality.

Each of the four segments - Poverty, Discrimination, Violence and Protest Movements - offer remarkable and heartbreaking stories of children in our world. The section on poverty highlights Babar Ali, who began teaching in his backyard and the literacy rates in his community climbed dramatically. After nine years, his school was registered and he became the world's youngest headmaster. Julia Bolton Holloway's story is equally inspiring. Upon retirement from teaching in American universities, she moved to Italy for a job and found herself concerned about the young Roma children she saw living in the streets of Florence. Determined to change their destiny, she set up a school in the cemetery where she worked as custodian. The children who attended learned to read and write; they also learned practical skills that helped them change their futures and the future for their families.

"I have taught university students at Berkeley, Princeton and Boulder," she said. "I prefer teaching illiterate Roma, all ages, and learning from them the richness of their culture, the excellence of their skills, and the strength of their families. We reciprocate, giving each what the other lacks, with dignity, in this pilot project."

Each section is equally moving, allowing readers a chance to meet people they have not likely encountered who are doing work that is uplifting and often difficult. The descriptions are lengthy, giving readers a clear picture concerning the problems and the solutions presented. It is quite a remarkable read. Accessible and inspiring, I think it would be perfect for sharing in middle grade classrooms where there is a concern for the rights of others and the plight of children around the world, including our own backyards. Frightening, but very important, it will provide incentive for much discussion in any classroom.

The inclusion of many pertinent photographs, personal quotes and further information add to its appeal. Ms. Scandiffio also includes an introduction, an afterword, a list of main sources, some suggestions for further reading, and an index.

"I would tell the children not to be afraid ... and follow their dreams.
I would tell them NEVER give up hope.
                                             -Shannen Koostachin "

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Buddy and Earl Go To School, written by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff. Groundwood Books, 2017. $16.95 ages 5 and up

"As soon as Buddy and Earl had taken their seats, Earl said hello to the other students. None of the other students said hello to Earl. None of them even looked at him! "What do you think their problem is, Buddy?" whispered Earl. "I think their problem is that they are only toys," whispered Buddy. "That is no excuse for being rude ... "

Oh, I am happy to see these astute and funny characters back for another adventure. Meredith, like me when I was young, loves organizing to 'play' school. Buddy and Earl will be attending, whether they are inclined to be there or not.

Earl thinks it's going to be great! After all, the hedgehog harbors his own aspirations for dentistry. Buddy doesn't see being a dentist in his future but he can see the advantages to being educated, thanks to Earl's encouragement. Their 'power' breakfast will have kids hooting. Now, they must gather what they need for a happy and purposeful school day.

Upon arrival in the classroom, Earl is concerned with the other students' lack of sociability. Reassured that it has nothing to do with him, he soon shows his own disinterest in the schooling itself. When Meredith is called away to attend a 'staff' meeting, Earl is put in charge.

"Then, in a voice filled with emotion, he said,
"You know, I've always dreamed of being a teacher."
"I thought you had always dreamed of being a
dentist, Earl," said Buddy.
"I prefer to be called Professor," said Earl stiffly.
"Okay, Professor," said Buddy."
Earl is an inspiring teacher, motivating Buddy to excel in all aspects of his personal learning - Sniffing Things, Tail Chasing, and Scratching Itches. A hastily called assembly brings a big surprise.

Carey Sookocheff imbues her illustrations with the humor we have come to expect from these very expressive and appealing friends. Fans will be happy to meet up with them again.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices. Written by Sally Derby and illustrated by Mika Song. Charlesbridge, Random House. 2017. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"J. W. Riley is a big, big school
but I know the way
to my new room.
I have a map in my head.
I go in the front door
and walk straight down the hall
to the third door.
I know my new teacher's name.
It's Mrs. Wilson.
And I remember what she looks like ... "

It's getting closer for most of us! School begins again for another year in the next few weeks, and I hope that you will be able to use this very special book of poetry as you help your kids adjust to their new reality after what I hope has been a carefree summer.

It concerns six children as you can tell from the cover. They are filled with all the emotions that children feel as they anticipate (or not) the start of a new year at school. There are six voices in each of the four sections - The Night Before, In the Morning, At School, and After School. The children and their lives are as diverse as their feelings shared.

Ethan goes to kindergarten, lives with his mom and has his grandfather living close by.

"Before I wen to bed,
I put Bear's blue jacket
in the pocket
of my new kindergarten pants.
Grandpa's the only one who knows,
and he promised not to tell."

Zach is a touch apprehensive about a brand new year, but soon realizes that kindergarten stood him in good stead for first grade, and he gains confidence as his first day moves forward.

"His name is Adam.
He was in kindergarten with me,
and now his desk is right behind mine.
Sometimes he leans forward
and whispers in my ear.
It's nice to have an already-friend."

Katie's mom and grandmother try to ease her concerns about a return to school. She is reluctant to go that first day.

"I think I have a stomachache.
And it wouldn't be smart to start second grade
on a day when I'm feeling sick.
Maybe tomorrow
would be better than today
for starting back to school.
But Mom says, "Your stomach just has butterflies."

Jackie has to come to school early because of her mom's job. Third grade provides new opportunities for responsibility and Mrs. McKinney seems pleased with her early morning helpers.

"A kid named Logan and I
both got here at seven,
and Mrs. McKinney
said she likes having two early birds
to keep her company.
And guess what I found out?
Third grade has a rabbit!"

Carlos shares his concerns about a brand new school with his positive and empowering father.

"What if no one likes me?"
Papa laughs.
"Not like? Un hombre like you?
So smart, so strong, so handsome"?
No es possible."
"It is possible," I argue. "What if - ?"

Mia wears hearing aids, loves books, and is impressed with her new teacher, Mrs. K.

"Mrs. K is like me - she likes poetry.
So first thing every day,
she's going to read us a poem.
I'm lucky I got shuffled, because
now I'll be able
to hear every word she reads!
Fifth grade may be OK after all.
We'll see."

You have met each one. As you read their four poems, you will get to know them better. You will also know what first days of school look like from various perspectives. I think you might even find your younger self in their poems. I know I did!

Mika Song's emotion-packed artwork is created in watercolor and sumi ink.  Her illustrations offer a glimpse into each child's world and feelings, matching the sensitivity found in Ms. Derby's poetry.

What an awesome way to begin a conversation about feelings, diversity, and poetry itself for your classroom, or for your own reluctant child. Having it on your sharing shelf the first day of school will provide perfect openings for kids to start telling their personal stories - perhaps even trying a poem of their own. Enjoy.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Me and Marvin Gardens, written by Amy Sarig King. Scholastic, 2017. $22.,99 ages 9 and up

How lucky are we to be able to share incredible stories written by equally incredible writers? I have read five such books this week and  they will be posted very quickly so that you might find a copy and share it in your classroom, or with your family.

Empathy is lacking in our lives; sharing books that build on how others are feeling about themselves and the world is just one step in making our world a better place to be. Through understanding and communication, we live a larger and more complete life.

"On the way to school, Annie chatting in my ear the whole way about how I was going to be famous, I thought about loners. Marvin was a loner - even with his family, he was still on his own. I was a loner. My dad was a loner and my mom was too. Even though they were married, they were married loners. Annie was a loner because people called her putrid and because of her backyard play prison. Even Tommy was a loner because he was stuck with a bunch of boys he didn't like but hung out with anyway. We were all loners because we felt like we had to do what someone else told us to do.

I wondered when we would just be able to do what felt right. I wondered when we'd be able to be ourselves and not be called names. I wondered when we could wear old sneakers. Middle school was coming."

I hope that makes you want to meet Obe, and Marvin, and Annie. I know you will like them! Obe is a very honest and capable narrator. He lives in a farmhouse that belonged to his great-great grandfather, who lost most of his land when his drinking problem got in the way. He sold it off bit by bit, until the only thing left was the small piece of land that surrounds the family home. Obe is a conservationist and spends much of his time cleaning up the creek that runs through the family's land.

While cleaning up trash one day, he meets a new animal  never before seen.  Obe names him Marvin Gardens and promptly falls in love with the very unusual creature. Marvin is a kindred spirit for Obe. He is friendly, loyal, and trusting. He eats only plastic. A new solution to an ever-growing ecological disaster? His poop is another issue altogether, and Obe must seek help. Obe realizes that he cannot only confide in Annie. He will have to alert the authorities in an attempt to ensure safety for Marvin and his family. It is the right thing to do!

This is a beautifully written story that is focused beyond the environmental. It also deals with bullying, friendship, failed expectations, anxiety, humor and wonder at the world. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

finding PERFECT, written by Elly Swartz. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $19.50 ages 8 and up

"Fewer yeses. That has to mean something. Right? I read on. It says if I have these thoughts, I likely also do the compulsive stuff. I look at that list. Sure, I do some of those things, but not all of them. I mean who doesn't wash their hands? And, how am I supposed to know how much is too much? And is there some site talking about kids who don't wash their hands enough ... "

It's hard being Molly Nathans. She's only twelve, and she is dealing with a lot, not the least of which is her ever-growing obsession with managing her own life. She has always been neat: cleaning and organizing, liking things in order, having spotless hands, and counting. New developments with her family cause her OCD to become more obvious and compelling.

Her mom has taken a job away from home, and she promises will last only one year. It throws the family into chaos, as Molly sees it. She wants to make sure that her mother comes back and is sure she will if only Molly can just win the poetry slam contest, and be even more perfect in the way she takes care of things. Her father is distracted, her sister is angry, and Molly worries about her little brother's health. Her best friend may have to move, and what will she do then?

Most middle graders are focused on their own lives; that is a natural thing. Molly has supportive friends who want to help, but can only do so much. The more Molly worries, the less she can control her obsessive behaviors. The way she thinks about so many things cannot be controlled, and it is creating problems in those relationships. Her bravery in seeking help as she feels herself spinning out of control is a leap of faith that has hopeful results.

Hearing Molly's voice as she shares what is happening is often painful, but also telling. This is a powerful and valid look at OCD. It helps those middle graders who will share this story become more informed and hopefully more compassionate for their friends who are experiencing some of the same feelings and behaviors. As a class read, it offers many opportunities for discussion and understanding.

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories, by Jack Gantos. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 9 and up

"It is an old-time skill used by the very earliest writers, and it is useful to this day. It's the subtle skill of being a good listener, or what I like to call being a good snoop. Being a good snoop means that you quietly develop a kind of antenna for overhearing sharp stories that take place throughout your day. That's how you fine-tune your Writing Radar."

If you are like so many others, and want to find ways to encourage your students or your children to find their writing voices, you need to have a look at this new guide by the funny, and very talented Jack Gantos.

It is a terrific read for kids who have writing aspirations. Mr. Gantos talks with them about the vital importance of keeping a journal, about being consistently on the lookout for stories to tell - by listening in on other people, by doing a lot of reading, and by relating events from their own lives.

"Reading good books turns on the powerful Writing Radar story-finding talent within you. Reading sharpens your eye for discovering keen details and unforgettable images. Reading coaches your brain to keep working until you discover the perfect words to describe powerful actions and precise emotions. Reading gives you an ear for clever dialogue that makes characters jump off the page and light up the imaginary theater within the reader's mind."
Using his own experiences and stories, he speaks to the inherent worth of keeping a journal, and writing in it every day - many times a day, if needed. Many of the memories he shares are a result of the journal keeping he has done since he was a young boy. He helps readers see that story maps, drawings, and word lists are all useful aids for crafting their best writing. All the building blocks for good writing are discussed.

It's a lot of work, but worthwhile if writing is a life goal. If not, just read the book and enjoy the hijinks and humor shared in many of his anecdotes. Both entertaining and educational, this guide is worthy of attention. If writing is your passion, here's a bit of sage advice:

" “Don’t be that writer who waits all day for the perfect first sentence, or you will grow old while learning to hate yourself and writing.”

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria, written by John Grandits and illustrated by Michael Allen Austin. Clarion, Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"By the time the lunch lady let me go, the last seat at my class's table was taken. I set down my tray and tried to squeeze in anyway, but the other kids starting yelling about me pushing. The fly lady was back in an instant. "That's it! You've caused enough trouble for one day," she said. I hung my head. Ginny had especially warned me to obey ... "

With school on the horizon, some students will be considering the joy or terror of eating in the cafeteria for the first time. It is the same for Kyle. You will recognize him if you read Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Bus (2011). He's still looking for help when it comes to surviving those first days.

Ginny, his school bus seatmate, is older, wiser and very talkative. She is willing to share everything lunch with him, especially the one she is carrying for herself.

"How she likes carrots but thinks celery is too stringy. How rye bread is okay but only without seeds. How chocolate milk is better than plain, and squishy bananas are gross."

Kyle pays little attention, his focus on his favorite subject - insects. When Ginny learns that he is going to buy his lunch from the cafeteria, she goes on a tear about the rules that must be followed if he wants to survive his first experience. She insists that he write them down.

New to the many rules made clear by Ginny, Kyle approaches the lunch hour with knowledge in hand. Of course, he manages to break each and every one. In so doing, he also creates his own kind of chaos, sharing a table with the big kids as well as his very unique and useful knowledge concerning insects. It makes for a successful debut, and a satisfying experience  - for Kyle.

The way Kyle feels at every turn, and every broken rule, is captured with humor in acrylic, colored pencil and digital illustrations by Michael Allen Austin. They mix Kyle's own reality with his passion for insects, showing with humor his thoughts as he goes about his day at school, at lunch and on the bus. Kid readers will love the details, and it provides a fun read aloud story for early days.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Words in Deep Blue, written by Cath Crowley. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 14 and up

"It's a relief to tell Henry, to let everything out - losing Cal, how I failed, how everything feels ruined now. It's a relief to cry and have Henry tell me this  is the correct response and to hold out his sleeve. I feel exhausted afterward. I feel almost as tired as I did in those days after we dragged Cal out of the ocean and tried to force him back to life on the beach."

There are times when I just don't want a book to end; not because I am afraid for what might happen, but because it has been such a glorious read that I just want to savor it for a while longer. And sometimes I hug those book when I do finish.

That is exactly what happened with Words in Deep Blue. It is so real! It is filled with feelings of love and loss, grief and understanding - and best of all, the importance of words, and books, and the impact reading has on our lives.

Rachel and Henry were best friends - once! But, things have changed. Rachel's family moved away from their hometown three years ago. As a final act of bravery, Rachel left a love note for Henry in the Letter Library of his family's bookstore. The Letter Library is a very unique part of the store, a place where customers are free to leave letters for others between the pages of some of the special books placed there.

"It's called the Letter Library because a lot of people write more than a note in the margin - they write whole letters and put them between the pages of books. Letters to the poets, to their thief ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who stole their copy of High Fidelity. Mostly people write to strangers who love the same books as them - and some stranger, somewhere, writes back."

Henry did not respond.

Now, following the drowning death of her younger brother Cal, Rachel and her mother are returning to Gracetown, hoping the change of scenery might spark interest in living life once again. The only drawback is that she is sure to see Henry and open old, raw wounds.

No one in town knows that Cal has died, and Rachel is not about to open her heart and tell them. We do find out that Rachel is not the only one dealing with loss, and we learn much from each of the other characters what it means to lose something you love (or think you do). Henry's parents have divorced and don't agree that selling the bookstore is an option. Henry had just experienced a break-up. His sister George is harboring a crush on someone who has been leaving notes for her in one of the books in the Letter Library.

As Henry explains to their friend Mai Li - "Life be shit, Mai Li."

I could go on and on ... but, I will not. This is another of those books you need to read for yourself. It will tear at your heartstrings. You will journey with each impressive character along their path from despair to optimism. You will look twice at second chances. You will delight in words that are powerful and uplifting.

As Henry says,  “Sometimes science isn’t enough. Sometimes you need the poets.”

This tribute to words, and to life, is worth hugging.

Bull, written by David Elliott. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 14 and up

"Personally, there's nothing
I find less attractive
Than self-pity.
Yeah, it's shitty
What's occurred.
But why hasn't the boy learned
That life isn't fair?
It's true everywhere:
Fathers often destroy their sons.
Who do you think invented guns?"

Do you want to introduce your students or your own teenage kids to Greek mythology in an enticing and irrepressible way? Find a copy of Bull, read it, and then share it with them!

It is also a book for anyone who loves mythology, irreverence, breathtaking writing, and poetry. David Elliott tells his story in voices dramatic and poetic - Poseidon, Minos, Daedalus, Pasiphae, Asterion, and Ariadne. Each is allowed to have a say in their own unique poetic form.

Poseidon proves his mettle, with intimidating perspective and swagger.

"You think a god should be more refined??
... Never belch
Or swear
Or scratch himself
Or fart?
News flash:
You don't want a god.
You want a prude."

There is nothing prudish about this book. In reading it, you will learn much about the mythology itself, from a far different perspective than any other you may have read. The connections between characters are strong, hateful, and absolutely compelling. It is bawdy, off-color, and an absolute joy to read. I laughed out loud in places, and gave careful thought in others, and loved every minute spent reading it. I WILL read it again. Just talking about it makes me want to pick it up and do just that. Alas, I have other commitments today!

A cast of characters is helpful for those new to the myth. In an author's note, David Elliott lets his audience know that the elements of the original myth are the same:

"... All of these events you will find in Bull. All else - the characterizations; the relationships between the characters; their attitudes about themselves, their world, and each other; Ariadne's blackmailing of Daedalus; the hole in the labyrinth wall - is, for better or worse, my invention."

He also adds a note about the poetic forms chosen, which I always find so educational.

I want to leave the last word to our narrator, Poseidon.

"I miss the sea!
It's mystery.
Its kelp.
Its creatures.
Crabs and corals
Devoid of complicating morals.
Its secrets.
All its saline riches.
I'm going home.

Ta-ta, bitches!"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hello Goodbye Dog, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Goodbye was a closing door.
Moose pushed through the screen.
It was time to say "Hello!"
"Hello, Moose!" said Zara.
Hello smelled like chocolate chip

"Dogs aren't allowed to eat in the
cafeteria," said one of the lunch
ladies.  "She'll be quiet - I'll just read  to her ... "

Moose loves the 'hello' part of each day - when Zara comes home from school and they can be together again. He hates the 'goodbye' parts. Because of that, he often finds a way to break free and follow Zara to school. Zara knows just what to do when that happens. She takes Moose aside and quietly reads to him. It is all that he needs. But, dogs are not supposed to be in school.

"Goodbye, Moose," said Zara.
Moose put on her brakes.
It took Mom,
Mrs. Perkins,
and Ms. Chen
to get Moose to leave.

The kids love him and want him to be at school with them. Instead, Moose is seen as a constant disruption. Despite Zara's ability to calm him, he should never be there. Zara's solution to the problem is to enroll Moose in therapy dog classes. Will his presence be acceptable once his training is complete?

The colored pencil and watercolor art is perfect for this story of a dog's love. Patrice Barton adds gentle humor with expressive faces, constant canine motion, and familiar school scenes. Readers will love Moose's exuberance, as well as understand the dejection he feels every time he is returned home, without Zara.

The author adds a short note about therapy dogs and the benefits that are found in having children read to them.

" ... reading dogs provide a "pawsitive" association with reading, and especially with reading aloud, since child readers are neither judged on nor corrected for mispronunciation."


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, Penguin. 2016. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"Carla Sherrinford-Cameron, her hands clasped together at her waist like lobster's claws, was singing "The Lass with the Delicate Air," and I found myself wishing that I had thought to bring a firearm with me - although whether to Carla out of her misery or to do away with myself, I had not quite yet decided. With her huge eyes, her lank red hair, and pale buttermilk skin, she looked like a sea creature ... "

I cannot believe this the eighth novel about Flavia de Luce, child detective extraordinaire. She's back home in England at Buckshaw, the family estate that has been left to her by her mother. If you haven't met her, you need to know that Flavia is only 12, and her success at solving mysteries is quite astounding.

She arrives to find that her father is very ill, and has been hospitalized. She is not allowed to see him. She cannot stand the way her sisters continue to treat her, and is soon happy to be caught up in the middle of another death that happened under mysterious circumstances. Flavia finds the body of a local carver, and then spends the rest of the book's pages trying to find out why he died and how the contraption she finds him in might hold the key to determining the events that led to his death. He has a long, and complicated history.

Under the tutelage of her favorite police detective, Inspector Hewitt, she moves forward and is often steps ahead of him. As she uncovers what has happened in the past, she manages to make connections to a writer, another murder, and a sad, untimely death. We are introduced to these additional characters in a series of mishaps that lead, ultimately, to the real culprit.

Flavia never disappoints. Her first person voice keeps the reader personally connected. Her inquisitive nature, her proclivity for chemistry and her persistence in finding the truth hold her in good stead. Her character is as unique, spunky, and clever as ever. I love her, and think you will, too - if you have not met her in previous cases. Subtle humor provides most enjoyable breaks as Flavia works hard to solve yet another mystery and to deal with the bleak conditions of her home and her father's illness.

I wonder what she will be up to next? We can only hope we don't have to wait too long to find out.

Forget Me Not, written by Ellie Terry. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"I want to pluck
the moon from the sky,
swing it around
in circles.

Is that what it feels like
to have a best friend?

Maybe we'll hang out
every day - "

Isn't it tough enough being a middle grader? You would certainly think so.
For Calliope, you can add that her mother has just come out of another broken relationship which requires another move for the two, that she is the new kid at school, and that she has Tourette's Syndrome. That should do it. Tendency toward self-consciousness is a way of being for kids in seventh grade - just try to imagine how Calliope is feeling.

When she meets Jinsong she begins to feel hopeful. He lives in her apartment building. He goes to the same school, and he seems interested in being her friend. It soon becomes apparent to her classmates that Calliope is 'weird'. As she concerns herself with the many things she has to worry about, her tics become more prevalent and apparent to her classmates. She is soon made the target of jokes and bullying.

“Sometimes my tics
are like gentle whispers,
asking me to do things,
            to say things.
But other times they’re like a


Jumping out so loud and strong
I could never hope to
stop them.”

Jinsong is a popular student and good friend. Will his popularity wane if he stands up for his new friend, a girl he finds appealing and attractive? That is certain to be a concern for any young person. If we are truthful, don't we often worry about such things?

"I walk into the boys' locker room and all I hear is:
   "The new girl wears old clothes."
   "The new girl rolls her eyes."
   "The new girl makes creepy sounds in her throat."
    It's all true. But somehow it feels wrong to hear them say it."

In honest and clear voices, one written in poetry and the other in prose, the two convey an emotional and uplifting story of fear, friendship and facing difficult times together. Will what they have learned from each other help them face Calli's next move, and keep their friendship strong despite an inevitable separation?

Because the author has Tourette's herself, the reader learns from the inside what it is like to live with the tics, the taunts and the other ways it affects Calliope and her relationships. She opens the door for understanding and meaningful conversation for those who share this story. Bravo!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stand Up and Sing!:Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice. Written by Suzanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Bllomsbury, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"At college Pete couldn't stop talking about workers' strikes and unions, the civil war in Spain, and the Nazis in Germany. He talked so much that the didn't do his homework. He lost his scholarship ... "
And finally for today, here is Susanna Reich's book about Pete Seeger and his music.

In his foreword, Peter Yarrow says this:

"In these times, there is so much that divides us, so much greed, narcissism, and other terrible threats to the dream of creating a caring, just, and peaceful society -  and to the survival of our planet. What Pete taught us was how to keep on keepin' on, how to keep on singing, how to not become cynical, and how to turn challenge and adversity into greater determination and love for one another. That was Pete."

Now is the time to teach our kids about people like Pete, who stand up for their beliefs and do the work it takes to make things better. This book opens with Pete's singing, and an invitation for his audience to join him in song and harmony. It is classic Pete Seeger.

Beginning with his birth and early childhood, the author moves quickly to his time at university, and to his love of the folk music he had heard while traveling with his family in that early life. His support for the downtrodden and worry about those who were being treated poorly led to his leaving university, and finding satisfying work with Alan Lomax in the music industry while also playing music every chance he got.

"He played all night, and he played all day, and after a while you wanted to ship him
off somewhere," said Alan's sister Bess."

His music is a tradition that has influenced many other musicians and listeners around the world. We always shared Pete's songs in the classrooms I taught, and kids loved to hear those songs as much as Pete loved playing them.

The text is dense and provides a very clear look at Pete's life and legacy. Older children will learn about civil rights, poverty, war, and taking care of the world we live in. Adam Gustavson uses 'gouache, watercolor, colored pencil and/or oil on paper, with little bits of Adobe Photoshop' to deliver a close and personal look at the man whose down to earth ways, whose love of music and its power, whose strong stands for a better world, proved his mettle time and again.

"A clean river, a peaceful planet, a living wage - as Pete got older, he continued to sing, to protest, and to inspire people to speak out for their beliefs ... Pete passed away in 2014, but his work isn't done. For in times of war, the world needs peace. In times of hatred, the world needs love. In times of injustice, the world needs truth. And wherever people gather in the name of freedom, they find strength and courage in song."


Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing. Written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Raul Colon. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"But that's not all.
Pete loved singing
with children,
and children loved
singing with Pete.
Thousands sang
with him.

"Froggie Went a-courting."
"Skip to My Lou."

This book is a perfect introduction to Pete Seeger: singer, mentor, environmentalist, protester, leader, civil rights activist, husband, father and hero. Kids should know about him, his music, his passion for life. This will help them on their way. The text is full of compassion and understanding. His impact on American folk music is shared in the song titles included.

In an author's note, Ms. Schubert writes:

"Over the course of his ninety-four years, Pete Seeger sang so much, did so much, wrote so much, spoke so much, and influenced so many people that at times he seemed to be everywhere at once."

He was an honorable man whose commitment to a better world ensured that he continues to be loved today, three and a half years since his death at 94. We sang his songs yesterday, we sing them today, and we will sing them tomorrow. If your kids don't know them, now is your chance to tell them about  him, listen to his songs and help them sing along. Then, they will pass them along later in life to their own children.

What a legacy! Long may he live in our collective memory.

Raul Colon's gorgeous artwork is filled with warm, textured color and fine, telling detail, helping children to experience the joy and sadness Pete found in life, and the spunk with which he faced every new experience.  It is a book written and illustrated with respect for a great man and a true hero of the people.

The timeline, endnotes, list of books for children and an account of recommended recordings add interest, and are sure to encourage further fact-gathering.

Not everybody had such courage.
Pete did.
When men and women joined hands to fight racism,
Pete sang a powerful song,
and millions sang with him:
"We Shall Overcome."
He gave people hope
when they needed it."

Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Written by Anita Silvey. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2016. $25.99 ages 12 and up

"To find the support and direction he needed as a child, Pete Seeger became a voracious reader, searching for information in books. After seeing what titles Pete checked out in the Nyack, New York, public library, a librarian suggested that Pete pick up the novels of Ernest Thompson Seton. Pete began to devour Seton's writings."

Most people recognize Pete Seeger as a folk singer whose impact was keenly felt during both the 20th and early 21st centuries. Many mourned his passing in 2014 at the age of 94. His legacy of bringing music to the people will have to be carried forward by others who share his commitment to social causes and environmental concerns.

Ms. Silvey looks carefully at Pete's life and shares it with a sincere concern to get it right for her intended audience. She begins with early family life, travel, divorce and Pete's separation from family when he was sent to boarding school in third grade. He saw little of either parent as time passed.

He looked to others for needed guidance. Reading made all the difference. He was introduced to the writings of Ernest Thompson Seton and found solace in learning about Native American culture, communal property and sharing. His life course was set.

"I saved my nickels and bought myself enough unbleached muslin
to build a teepee, twelve by twenty-four in size. I pegged it out,
hemmed it up, and laced up the front. I set this out in my grandparents'
cow pasture and had to install a fence around it so the cows didn't break
it down. Slept in it overnight, using spruce branches for a bed. Learned
to cook my food in it on a tiny fire. Later I took my teepee to school and
put it in another pasture, introducing others to the idea of outdoor life.
Living outdoors provided a better education for me than any other school or

She follows the early stories with the further development of his love for the outdoors, writing, art and music. It wasn't until high school that Pete met his first banjo. Finding a focus for his enthusiasm eventually led him to sharing with others the folk music he so loved. And, he got paid to share it! In 1940 he met Woody Gurhrie, an event that changed his life.

Despite hard times and many bumps along the way, Ms. Silvey shows readers how, through touring with Woody and then finding success with the Weavers, Pete continued to care about social justice, in all of its forms. Then, came government branding and a long decade of harassment for his earlier political leanings. He triumphed eventually and moved on to become a musical hero to many, and a
staunch environmentalist at a time when few were worried about the earth's health and what we were doing to make it worse.

His was an oft perplexing life, here told with honor, honesty and as an homage to a personal hero and grand entertainer. The archival photos show a happy, smiling man full of charm and pizzazz who wanted to leave his world a better place than it often was.

"Over time - just as the story of Abiyoyo predicted - people realized that they needed Pete Seeger. They needed him to slay the giants. They needed his integrity and his ability to tell inconvenient truths. They needed him to do what he had been doing all along - singing about freedom and justice.

Just as he had hoped he would in childhood, Pete Seeger became many things in his life. He was an author, an activist, a tireless advocate of human dignity, equal rights, and peace; and above all he gave a voice to the feelings and hopes of people all over the world."

Back matter includes extensive source notes, a bibliography, a list of other media and an index.

Perfect for a class readaloud in science, history, social issues classes. Don't forget to have his music close by.

Monday, August 14, 2017

To Burp or Not to Burp: A Guide to Your Body in Space. Written by Dr. Dave Willilams and Loredana Cunti, with illustrations by Theo Krynauw. Annick Press, 2016. $14.95 ages 8 and up

" ... astronauts exercise up to two hours a day in space. But the space station isn't a typical gym. Harnesses are needed to keep us on the exercise equipment, and here, no one wants to see you sweat. In fact, keeping sweat away from your body - and from everything else - means wearing dedicated exercise shirts and shorts that absorb sweat."

Did you dream of being an astronaut, or do you know someone who does? Kids are sure to find this book fascinating because it has to do with everything astronaut. There are many things we don't know, unless we have been there.

So, the authors have decided to fill us in, by answering questions we might not realize we want to ask, especially for budding astronauts. They are not afraid to speak frankly about toileting aboard a spaceship, or while wearing a suit designed to protect those who travel into space.

"A space walk  can last between six and eight hours. That's a long time to wait for a bathroom break. So, when it's time to lift off, do a space walk, or reenter Earth's atmosphere, it's back to basics. Time to bust out the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG) - better known to Earthlings as a diaper."
In ensuing chapters, the authors describe how those travelling in space manage to stay clean and neat, take care of their hair, handle the art of brushing their teeth, even blowing their noses. They describe the space suit, eating aboard the spaceship, and how food tastes in space.

"The taste of food in space is different from the taste of food on the ground. It's not that food tastes bad, it's just that it tastes ... less. For some astronauts, the bland blahs improve as the mission goes on, but for others, the sensation lasts for the entire mission."

The cartoon art and clear photographs will be a welcome addition for those interested in a future in space. I think you will find there is a lot you did not know prior to reading this informative book.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cody and the Rules of Life, by Tricia Springstubb with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"...  Cody went to see Spencer.
He and his parents lived right
around the corner with his
grandmother. This was so nice.
The not-so-nice part was that the
house was a side-by-side. And who
should live on the other side but
Molly Meen, Pirate Queen. She
lived there with her sister, Maxie.
And their father, who killed bugs
for a living."

This is the third book in a winning series starring Cody, her family, and her friends. This time, she finds herself making a trade she never meant to make. At a sleepover with Pearl, she agrees to exchange her much-loved and worse-for-wear Gremlin for the almost perfect endangered Arctic Fox. To add to the drama, her brother Wyatt's brand new bicycle is stolen. What more can happen?

Cody is astute and concerned for Wyatt, and for herself. He seems to care more for his bike than for her, even though she helped him assemble it. She thinks she knows who has the bike, and wants to help get it back. She is also very upset that she let Pearl talk her into giving up Gremlin. That feeling helps her to empathize with her brother and his dilemma. She wants to renege on her trade with Pearl; but she knows the rules. Can she follow them when she is so unhappy? How will she get Gremlin back? Her plan angers Pearl, and leaves Cody wondering about the rules concerning truth that govern her life. 

This series is terrific for those readers wanting to move on to chapter books, and a longer story. The dialogue is spot-on, the tone is full of life and often funny. I think that Eliza Wheeler's black and white illustrations are a great match for the story's action.

I have enjoyed all three of the Cody books, and highly recommend them for series readers in grades 2-4. I look forward to meeting Cody again in the future.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, by Deborah Heiligman. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $27.99 ages 14 and up

"The crisis brings out the very best in Vincent. He immediately writes to Theo and tells him the money he sends will go to Ma and Pa., not for his painting supplies. He nurses Ma with the kindness he showed the miners in the Borinage. Pa appreciates how helpful he is around the house. His relationship with both of his parents improves dramatically. When he's not helping his parents, he still works ..."

It is difficult to describe all the feelings I am experiencing having finished reading this remarkable book: melancholy, admiration, astonishment for the Van Gogh brothers and their lifelong commitment to each other. It is an impressive and incredibly descriptive biography, written with care and insight by the incomparable Ms. Heiligman. If you have not read Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith (Henry Holt, 2009), this book might be all the incentive you need to find a copy and put it on your TBR pile.

The relationship between the Van Gogh brothers is complicated, to say the least. They are born four years apart (Vincent is the elder). It is not hard to tell they are brothers on the outside; they look very much alike. Their differences are evident in personality, routines, and outlook. It is their abiding love for each other, despite these many differences, that is at the heart of this carefully constructed and impeccably researched biography.

"They promise always to be close, to keep the bond between them strong and intimate. They always will walk together. They will be more than brothers, more than friends. They will be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art. Together they will achieve lives filled with purpose. And they will, when needed, carry each other's parcels."

Using the nearly 700 letters exchanged between the two, the author plots her story as a series of gallery visits, using a reproduction of one of Vincent's pieces of art to introduce each one. The letters are quoted often, and allow readers a sense of the volatile, yet always loving, relationship. The style of her writing changes according to Vincent's work at the time. He sketches, draws, paints endlessly, always learning and searching for the best way to express himself. I read an advanced reader's edition which did not include the final full-color insert from the published work. I can tell you reading it sent me time and again to carefully study his body of work.

When I mention that the back matter is extensive, it is not an understatement. Beginning with a list of the people included in its pages, and moving on to a carefully constructed look at the journey the brothers took together, the author then adds an informative author's note, a lengthy bibliography, acknowledgements, and finally endnotes and an index. IMPRESSIVE!

It is a memorable look at the lives and loves of two brothers, whose deeply touching and creative connection ensures the world can celebrate Vincent Van Gogh and his life's work.

"The world would not have Vincent
                 without Theo."

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, by Jan Thornhill. Groundwood Books, 2017. $18.95 ages 9 and up

"It had to be able to ride the surf or waddle out of the ocean no matter how high or low the tide - onto a place flat enough to lay an egg. And because it couldn't fly miles away to find food for itself, and eventually, its ravenous chick, it could only nest where there was a reliable supply of fish in the waters surrounding the rookery. These were persnickety needs."

This is, hands down, one of the best information books I have read this year or ever! I was totally absorbed in the writing from first page to last, and had a lot to learn about the Great Auk. Jan Thornhill, in her brilliant and important look at the effects of climate change and the need for conservation of the world's endangered species, shows clearly and sadly what led to their extinction.

The Great Auk, as you can see from the cover, were not unlike penguins. They lived in the north Atlantic ocean and were perfectly suited for their life there - until humans and their own adaptations changed all that. Would that we all learn the important lesson this book shares, and do our best to ensure that it does not keep happening.

They lived, at one time, in great numbers. Today, there are none - not a one! Four hundred years have wrought big changes. Ms. Thornhill tells their story in words and pictures meant to help us understand the events that led to their disappearance. The details are rich, and the whole book reads like the most compelling story. It is sad, and told with compassion for their plight and a hope that we can see the error of our ways by knowing about their demise.

She introduces through her stunning art and absorbing text a very impressive bird, with one fatal flaw:

"But wait! There was a slight glitch in this expert fish-hunter's design. Over millions of years of evolution, its wings - though eventually perfect for propelling it underwater - became so stunted, so small, they couldn't get the bird off the ground. The Great Auk couldn't fly to save its life. Literally."

And that was its downfall. As it evolved, it had to find its way to land in order to lay eggs and further the species. That made it vulnerable to hunters, of the human kind. Once humans took to the sea, the Great Auk's fate was sealed. I could go on and on describing what I learned, but I think you deserve to read it yourself. You will certainly not be sorry that you did. Your children and your students deserve to hear the story. It is quite a remarkable presentation, and will not soon be forgotten.

"By the 1860s, it seemed obvious to a handful of people that, if nothing was done, many more species could soon meet the fate of the Great Auk. A group of scientists and other concerned citizens lobbied the British government and, finally, in 1869, an act banning the killing of thirty-three species during their nesting seasons was introduced.

The conservation movement was born."


A map, a glossary, a list of names given to the Great Auk, a  list of extinct species, resources for further study and a reference guide make up back matter. 


Thursday, August 10, 2017

There, There, written by Tim Beiser and illustrated by Bill Slavin. Tundra Books. 2017. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"In the mud, Hare sat and stared
At that poor, blind, wrinkled
Whose brown skin, all slimy-
Was his most attractive feature.
Hare compared the life he had,
And he thought,
Things aren't so bad.
"Yes, I see," the hare then

It seems that we have been waiting for rain here for a very long month, or two. We have had the rare downpour, but it hasn't been nearly what is needed for so many. Every time it showers, I want to do a happy dance. I love the smell, the immediate effect on yards and gardens, and I don't mind at all the quiet, contemplative rest it encourages.

To say Hare feels the same would be a gross miscalculation for his mood, when a daylong rainstorm forces him and his ursine roommate to stay inside! Hare is whiny, and angry, and ANNOYED. Bear does his best to placate his buddy with a chess game, tea and muffins, and the constantly
reassuring "There, there!" Hare's drama and constant complaining finally gets to Bear.

"Knock it off!" the old bear scolded.
"Let me make this very clear,
I have had it up to

Out they go. Bear reasons that Hare has little to complain about when comparing his life to that of an earthworm. The description of earthworm's lot in life is so funny. It is just what is needed to convince Hare his life is pretty darn good. As the two head back inside and the rain makes itself scarce, they leave a disgruntled earthworm behind them.

Bill Slavin uses acrylic paints on gessoed board to create textured backdrops and appealing expressive characters, that bring this humorous tale to full life for the youngsters who will get a real kick from its telling.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Flying Lessons and other stories, edited by Ellen Oh. Crown, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 9 and up

"Papi is going to yell at them
for ruining my work. Any second,
his voice will boom across the gym.
The walls will rattle. When Papi
loses his temper, it feels as if
you're trapped inside a huge storm
cloud. But as the seconds tick by,
absolutely nothing happens. I
finally turn to see that Papi has
stopped in his tracks, his hands
in his pockets ... "

Ruth Oh is cofounder of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS.   As such she has edited this collection of short stories written by writers who represent diversity in their writing and in their own lives. Each story is singular in its telling, and will hold the attention of middle grade readers.

They are boldly written by a stellar group of writers, who will be familiar to their intended audience. They tell stories of school, family, friends, sports, romance. There are 10 stories here and they are as diverse as their authors, their circumstances and will feed a reader's need for books that are both windows and mirrors. They show the importance of courage and creativity, escape and enlightenment, patience and perseverance, laughter and anger. There are stories of the past and present, of diverse settings and a more diverse world. There is so much here to enjoy, and to cause readers to pause and consider other lives lived.

A wonderful way to start the year in a middle years class - one story a day for each of the first ten days. Kids will identify with the kids in these shared stories, as they are inspired to initiate and prolong great conversation and set your classroom on a course for seeking other books to read together as the year progresses. And, it is a much needed book for all collections.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Maid of the King's Court, written by Lucy Worsley. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"With Katherine, it felt like we had gone right back tot he start, to the very day she had been so cruel to me upon my arrival. When I saw her laughing, or bossing the other girls, or flirting with the teachers, I felt I was looking at the devil in the form of a girl. Why could not everyone else see what I saw? To me she was cold, heartless, egotistical, and arrogant. I wondered how ... "

If you are a fan of Downtown Abbey, you probably know a teen who will enjoy this historical novel concerning King Henry VIII's court. After an early scandal, Elizabeth Camperdown has been trained to be a lady-in-waiting, thus more likely to find a husband who will help her to save her father's fortune. Elizabeth is a red-haired beauty. She and her cousin Katherine Howard arrive to attend to Anne of Cleves, Henry's new wife.

Henry is unhappy with Anne for her failure at marriage, and sends her from his court. Katherine becomes the object of Henry's attention, and after becoming his mistress, she subsequently is made his sixth wife. But, her fate is far worse than Anne's. She is tried and executed for adultery.

Elizabeth watches in horror (and narrates quite eloquently) the goings-on, and is careful to protect herself. She has a choice, which means she has some power. Will she become the next mistress to a bawdy, powerful ruler, or will she choose true love?

This is a look at a very particular place and time. It moves fluidly and quickly forward, packed with tension and an innate knowledge that both young women have little power over the situation in which they find themselves. Drawing from history, Lucy Worsley (chief curator at Historical Royal Palaces in London) has penned a compelling novel that is a romantic, and often terrifying look at the customs and circumstances of England in the mid 1500s. It is an auspicious debut.