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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Boy and the Blue Moon, written by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Ashley Crowley. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2018. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"The trees of the forest
were blue as well, and
somewhere high in the
branches, something was
singing. It might have
been birds or it might
have been dragons. The
path through the forest
was as familiar to the
boy as any room in his
house, but tonight ... "

Looking out the kitchen window a few minutes ago brought a smile to my face as I gazed at the beauty of another full moon. I know that we see them every month, and every month I feel exactly the same way when I first see it. Because my kids and grandkids don't live where I live, I take comfort in knowing that we are all seeing that same moon, and hopefully appreciating its beauty.

The young boy in this gorgeous 'blue' story tells his cat that anything can happen when there is a blue moon. Leaving the warm yellow glow of their home, they set off together to embrace the beauty of the night. They hear bluebells, and other singing in the woods. They look on a grand lake they have not seen before, and row toward the blue moon that shines from its surface. It is close enough to touch, and he wishes again that he might go to the moon. Remember what I said about anything happening on such a night as this?

This new wish is all he needs to finally have the opportunity to play on the moon with his feline companion. Perhaps it could become their new home.

"The boy collected moon rocks
and skipped them through the air,
counting as they flew: one, two, three ...
and on and on."

What is it that draws them back?

The language used to tell their story is faultless and totally magical. It is quietly telling, and full of beauty. Ashley Crowley's impressive blue world, with hints of red, and white light capture the essence of the story. Red keeps the boy in focus when he sets off into the unknown, and warm yellow light is a needed beacon when it is time to return home.

Filled with quiet wonder at every turn, this is a book you are sure to read again and again.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World. Written by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Kids Can Press, 2017. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"While he sits outside his hut twisting leaves, Remy and his gang storm over. One boy pins Deo's arms behind his back. Deo struggles, but Remy grabs the twine and runs off, laughing. Deo goes inside his hut, blinking back tears. He kicks at his pile of banana leaves drying on the mud floor. The next day Deo stays indoors. First he twists more leaves into twine."

This is another book from the CitizenKid series. They are described as 'a collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.' Worthwhile and informative, they give readers a perspective that is often different from their own reality. They give children pause to think of others and what their lives are like.

This one is set in a refugee camp in Tanzania and based on a true story. It is a tale of hardship, loss and hope. In back matter, the author shares the story of one young boy forced to flee from Burundi, his journey and his eventual return home to help others learn about Right to Play and its many successes in creating peaceful communities using sport and play as a catalyst for change.

Deo's character is based on that Birundi boy. He arrives at the refugee camp at Lukole after weeks of travel. The family's quick exit from their war-torn country meant he had to leave his favorite soccer ball behind him. Separated from his family, and travelling on his own, he is finally found and brought to the camp. There, he attends school, keeps to himself, and longs to play soccer with his old friends. When food is scarce, gangs of boys bully others to get more for themselves. Remy is a gang leader.

Deo uses his spare time to fashion a new soccer ball from dried banana leaves. Remy steals the twine, leaving Deo to begin again. This time, he hides his ball. He is surprised when a volunteer from Right to Play brings a real soccer ball to the camp and encourages the children to get involved in a game. That game is the beginning of a change in the camp. It is enlightening and uplifting for the children to learn that together they are stronger, that they have much in common, and that communication will increase understanding.

The illustrations capture the warmth of the East African backdrop in light infused spreads that show the environment of the refugee camp, and allows Deo to think back on how much his life has changed since he first arrived.  

Birthdays Around the World, by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by Ashley Barron. Kids Can, 2017. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Shhh ... Delroy is coming! Today is his birthday, and I am hiding behind the breadfruit tree that was planted for him on the day he was born. I jump out and dump flour all over Delroy. He roars with laughter, and we wrestle in the grass. When Delroy's friends and the rest of our family get here, we all sing "Happy Birthday, Everyone!" Then we eat ackee and saltfish, jerk chicken ... "

Don't worry! They will get to Delroy's favorite part of the celebration: chocolate cake! Just so you know, the flour dumping will continue following the meal. Poor Delroy!

In this fourth book in a series that includes Children Around the World, Families Around the World, and School Days Around the World, Margriet Ruurs introduces her readers to 17 children in 17 different countries. Each is celebrating a birthday in the traditional ways of their home country. She celebrates diversity, and honors the children themselves as she pens their stories.

A world map is a welcome addition placed right at the beginning. It gives readers a chance to see the children themselves and where in the world they live. Each new double page spread gives the birthday greeting in their native language, and goes on to discuss in first person narration (not always by the birthday boy or girl) the events that make each celebration so special.

Many children think of their birthday as the best day of the year, and children in our classrooms who come from diverse countries will be happy to find their own celebrations here. If not included, perhaps they could create an additional page to explain the way birthdays are observed in their home.

Ashley Barron creates lovely collage artwork to add an international flavor and honor the children and their families, while also including familiar backgrounds and cultural specialties. Colorful and detailed they add impact and context to the writing. Those who can't yet read the text will surely learn from the illustrations that accompany it.

"Athom and Arunny live in
Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Reek reay thngai kamnaet!

In my country, we don't usually
celebrate birthdays. My grandparents
don't even know when they were born.
Instead, we celebrate Pro Kok Kun, when a baby
turns one month old. Today is the celebration for
my new sister. Our parents chose the perfect name
for her - Arunny means "morning sun."
Our relatives gather for a party with
lots of dancing to welcome the new baby.
Then, a monk blesses Arunny
with holy water, and I tie a red
cotton string around her wrist
to bring her good luck."

Back matter invites parents and teachers to follow up with extensions that make this book more enjoyable and informative for their children. Ms. Ruurs provides a link to her website, where videos of birthday songs from around the world can be seen. A glossary is useful and helps with pronunciation.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lucky Me, writtten by Lora Rozler and illustrated by Jan Dolby. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2018. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"For tea parties with
The Queen,
dank je (dank-ya).

For earth and
all its beauty,
kiitos (kee-tose).

Staying with leaning new words in a different language, I want to share this sweet little book about being mannerly and feeling grateful for what we have. The little girl narrator begins in gratitude for each day and the things it brings her way. Her thank you is spoken in her own language - English.

As she moves through her day, she shows thankfulness for many things - questions, pancakes, sidewalk art, playground adventures, moustaches, imaginary playtime, clouds ... her list goes on. Variety in languages ranges from Armenian, Romanian, Greek, Japanese, Tagalog, Hebrew, Cree to Russian, Albanian, Italian, Persian, Cantonese  ... and more. Each thank you is shown in the selected language, followed by a phonetic pronunciation and its country of origin.

Many communities are welcoming immigrants from numerous countries. How lovely for children just beginning to learn a new language to see their own in the pages of a shared book! It is also a wonderful way to get our children thinking about the many 'treasures' of their own days. 

Around the World in a Bathtub: Bathing All Over the Globe. Written by Wade Bradford and illustrated by Micha Archer. Charlesbridge, Random House. 2017. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"In Japan, grandmother scrubs granddaughter's cheeks and washes and rinses her hair before she gets into the bathtub. The family members, from oldest to youngest, take turns relaxing in a square tub called an ofuro."

Did your kids love to bathe, blow bubbles, splash and carry on in the bathtub? I know that mine sure did. They also loved to be in there for as long as they could be! But, I have heard from other parents that their children did not think a bath was a necessary part of their nighttime routine. To each his own, I guess.

The children in this most enjoyable book are not so keen to get their baths started. Parents chase, tempt, aid, and often just plunk the child straight into the bath water without listening to any complaints. It makes it a lot of fun for reading aloud. Parents lure with a 'yes, yes' while children refuse vehemently. In the end, the kids all end up being bathed.

The many ways that happens are described in short, explanatory text on double-page spreads executed with mixed media artwork filled with action, beautiful backgrounds, and blue-green waters. It may be a bathtub at home, a bath used by others, a river, a steam bath in a cabin on the tundra, a waterfall, a bogey hole, hot springs, a lake, or a muddy volcano. For every child the result is the same ... cleanliness.

As the text progresses from country to country, parent and child say 'yes, yes' and 'no, no' in their own language, with help for pronunciation included. This adds to the learning and appeal, and makes the reading more fun.

The story begins with a reluctant little boy not wanting to have anything to do with bathing, and ends with him never wanting to come out of the tub ... a common ritual for children of the world.

In end matter, the author adds an informative paragraph about each type of bath described and the countries represented. Lots to learn, and fun for the whole family.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth, written by Amy Stewart and illustrated by Briony Morrow-Gibbs. Algonquin Young Readers, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $12.95 ages 11 and up

"The bugs were a sign that bats were living in the attic. They were bat bugs, parasites that prefer bats but will seek out other warm-blooded creatures when they get exceedingly hungry. An adult bat bug can survive on one blood meal per year, so they don't need to eat often. But to have the energy to reproduce, they dine repeatedly on the blood of live bats. The bugs don't live on bats themselves."

This book is a young readers edition of Amy Stewart's earlier book for adults. It is chock full of information sure to make people squeamish, and will be loved to bits by kids who have a special affinity for insects, no matter how mean, deadly and gross they are. It is perfect for middle graders, and its included facts will be shared over and over again with anyone willing to listen.

Ms. Stewart has done her research, and regales her readers with just the perfect amount of information in themed categories that include: Deadly Creatures, Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, Serious Pains, Terrible Threats. She also includes data on scientific classification and  the fears that haunt us. A glossary, list of resources, bibliography and an index round out the well-designed, carefully written, and most attention grabbing text.  I went straight to
the Unwelcome Invaders to be sure I knew what to look for should my house face any invasion.

It led me to learn about Nightcrawlers, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, the African Bat Bug, the Millipede and five different kinds of Zombies. Ewwwww!!! There was much to be learned and I had reason to feel totally grossed out by some of them. But, it did not deter me. I didn't stop there. Because I found the writing enjoyable and compelling, I carried on. I hope not to have nightmares about them, but will admit to feeling a bit creepy-crawly at times. While I didn't find myself scratching or shivering, I did give myself pause while reading about some of them.

I know kids who won't be able to put it down ... and I don't blame them.

Illustrations throughout add to the overall appeal, and to the sense of ick that some readers will feel. They are detailed and provide a close up look for most of the included species. I didn't find myself wanting to make friends with any of the aforementioned, but was intrigued by some of the details included to tell their story. The fact box that accompanies each entry is useful, and provides scientific information and detail.

Be sure to visit and sign up for her email newsletter. You can also visit the Wicked Bugs section of her website to see the latest happenings with bugs. And, I hope you enjoy the following trailer:

Bugs From Head to Tail, written by Stacey Roderick and illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"A ladybug!
This brightly colored beetle can have anywhere from two to twenty spots depending on which species, or type, of ladybug it is. A ladybug has a set of tough outer wings that act like a suit of armor to protect its soft body. These wings are part of the ladybug's exoskeleton ... "

This terrific nonfiction picture book is just right for little ones wanting to know about bugs. Some may be familiar, while others may never have been seen by them.

There are eight described here, in four page sections that begin with a pertinent question, and end with the answer in a paragraph filled with further text and textured, telling artwork. Kids will recognize the format in quick order, and are sure to enjoy the guesswork needed to try to identify the bugs being presented. It is sure to appeal to budding entomologists. A truly unique and engaging design takes readers from head to antennae, eyes, body, wings, hair, legs, and finally tail. How cool is that?

There is a trick question at the end that readers are sure to appreciate.


A true tail grows out of an animal's spine,
and no bug has a spine!"

In final pages the author provides a group of seven 'other awesome bugs' and a text box that adds 'a bit more about bugs'. The gorgeous artwork, created in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, uses digital photographs and textures to add further unstated information and lovely environmental backdrops.

I'm very happy to share this excellent book with you today. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Her Right Foot, written by Dave Eggers with art by Shawn Harris. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2017. $25.99 ages 9 and up

"The point is that even if you have seen a picture of the Statue of Liberty, or many pictures of the Statue of Liberty, or even hundreds of pictures of the Statue of Liberty, you probably have not seen pictures of her feet."

Dave Eggers takes some time to get to taking a close look at the Statue of Liberty's right foot. First, he reveals all of the details of the statue's history before she arrives in New York: the decision to build a statue in France to celebrate the USA's 100th birthday, its construction there, its dismantling for travel, and finally the almost two years it took to reassemble it when it arrived in New York.

Now, he asks his readers to take a close look at Liberty's feet; both of them, but especially the right one. Only then will they notice:

"That's right! She is going somewhere! She is on the move!"

Visitors have noted those things that are most apparent: her size, color, symbolism, headwear, gown,  torch and the look in her eyes. Has anyone considered her feet, and noticed that she is on her way somewhere?

"But she is moving. She weighs 450,000 pounds and wears a size 879 shoe, and she is moving.  How can we all have missed this? Or even if we saw this, and noticed this, how is it that we have seen and noticed a 450,000 pound human on her way somewhere and said, Eh, just another 150-foot woman walking off a 150-foot pedestal?"

He surmises that there are many places in New York she might want to see. Most importantly, he ends his book with a beautiful tribute to the welcoming nature of the grand lady, and all that she stands for in the eyes of immigrants like herself.

Shawn Harris uses mixed media collage artwork to show readers the history of this very special statue. From the streets of Paris to her new home on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor, we follow her journey. Close-up views are abundant. Horizontal double page spreads exhibit all young readers need to know about Lady Liberty's purpose and her concern for those who make their way to a new life in America.

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, story by Dave Eggers and art by Tucker Nichols. Chronicle Books,. Raincoast. 2015. $29.50 all ages

"This time he asked for help. One of his helpers was Leon Moisseiff. Leon had come to the USA from Latvia and had become one of the most respected bridge designers in the world. He designed the Manhattan Bridge ... "

The two books that I am posting today will be shared by all those interested in landmarks and their historical significance, as well as the path taken to be where they are today.

I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge through fog and blinding rain. We were on a road trip home from southern California and passed through San Francisco at the peak of rush hour traffic in the early evening. Luckily, I wasn't driving and could catch a glimpse of the bridge through the rain splattered window. What an awesome sight, although I could not tell what color the bridge was from my vantage point!

In this book, Dave Eggers puts his research  skills to work to tell the story of its construction, from start to finish. It is as if he is speaking directly to each reader in telling his story. Mr. Eggers describes the city and its Bay area, allowing his audience to understand the need for a bridge to be built. Much had to be done before construction could begin ... all complete before the color of the bridge was even considered. Most bridges are gray, not orange.

Along the way there were many obstacles, not the least of which was the question of marring the beauty of the bay with a monstrous span. Color was a tough sell, but Irving Morrow, an architect, made a case for using orange because of its beauty. He would not be deterred from that decision.

 “This bridge, built to span this beautiful land against this beautiful sea, had to be beautiful itself.”

The construction paper collage artwork created by Tucker Nichols fill the thick, over-sized book with full spreads, bold color, and lovely backgrounds. He has an eye for compositions that completely suit the text, and allow readers to understand all that is happening as the text moves forward. The bickering between talking heads as people complained about construction, design and color are attention grabbing, and add context for young readers.

Playful and often humorous, Dave Eggers has written a non-fiction book that defies what we expect of the genre. Make no mistake, it is a book for all ages.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Windfall, written by Jennifer E. Smith. Delacorte, Penguin Random House, 2017. $24.99 ages 12 and up

"The money arrives on a rainy day in the middle of March. For the past seven weeks, Teddy has been doing a very convincing impression of a contestant on one of those game shows where they set you loose in a store with a bucket of cash and a ticking clock. With his growing assortment of credit cards, he's already managed to run up a debt so big it would've given pre-jackpot Teddy a heart attack."

Alice is not alone, although she lost her parents when she was far too young. Following their deaths, she moved from San Francisco to Chicago. There she lives with her aunt and uncle and their son, Leo. She has been with them for nine years. Leo and Alice are best friends, always looking out for each other and happy to let Teddy into their tight knit kinship. In fact, Alice has hidden feelings for Teddy.

Not knowing what to get him for his 18th birthday, she buys him a lottery ticket. It's a winner - a huge win! More money than anyone can imagine. Teddy's life with a single mother and an absent father, has not been easy. He is happy with this wondrous gift, and the incredible wealth that will allow a real reversal of fortune. He offers to share it with Alice, who turns him down. Her decision causes a rift between the two. Alice has always struggled to be like her parents ... helping others, working with the needy, selfless. She finds it hard to watch Teddy squander what he has been given, when he could do so much with it.

Funny, poignant, courageous, and even annoying at times, their story is one that will appeal to many. The characters are real, certainly flawed, but worthy of the reader's attention and even admiration. How wealth might impact a life is what those who buy lottery tickets try to imagine. In this book we certainly see how it affects friendship, family, acquaintances,  and the three teens themselves. It does change everything that came before the win.

The story has an interesting premise, and is handled well by Ms. Smith. It gives readers pause for thought, and deals with issues that make us consider how lives are shaped by circumstances, luck, and even perhaps how we make our own choices for the future.

What might you do if it happened to you?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ban This Book, by Alan Gratz. Starscape, Macmilllan. Raincoast. 2017. $22.99 ages 9 andup

"But I had never seen each book as such a valuable thing before. Even the books I wasn't interested in reading were like gold. It didn't matter what was inside them. One man's junk was another man's treasure, as my grandmother said. The same thing was true with books. One person's Captain Underpants was another person's From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler."

I am going to start with a short apology ... my computer has been in the hospital for the past week, and that means I have fallen behind with posting. I am sorry for that as I work pretty hard to post a book a day. Now, I am two days behind. So, I will try to play some catch up here and get back on track.

I loved this book! It begins with a brave young girl (she's in fourth grade) and her discovery that her favorite book of all time has been removed from the shelf in her school library. It is not the only one. Amy Anne, a book lover and avid reader, asks a few pertinent questions of her librarian, Mrs. Jones. She learns that Mrs. Spencer, a school parent, wanted it removed for a number of reasons. Thus, it's gone; no questions asked or comments sought from the students, or librarian. It happens far too often, doesn't it?

As more and more books are removed, Amy Anne decides to take matters into her own hands and establishes a secret lending library in her locker. The banned titles are stored there, and those who want to borrow them make arrangements with Amy Anne. The number of borrowers grows and the donations increase. There is constant fear of discovery, but Amy Anne is determined to show that "Nobody has the right to tell you what books you can and can’t read except your parents.”

When she is caught with the books, she is temporarily suspended by the same principal who fires the librarian for inviting Dav Pilkey, author of the banned Captain Underpants books, to talk with students. We hear both sides of the story, and you know which side of the argument I support. There are many serious moments, and some humorous ones.  Many of the books on the banned list will be familiar to readers ... if not, they will have a new list of wonderful books to read when they finish reading this one. Amy Anne would fully support any attempt to see what the books are all about, and why they were put on such a list in the first place.

Amy Anne is a strong character who stands up for her belief that she should be able to read any book her parents, of she herself, deem appropriate. She has the support of good friends. Together they face the obstacles meant to stop them, and come up with an ingenious plan to have the books returned to library shelves where they will be available to anyone who wants to read them. Amy Anne's family life is an interesting and a thoughtful part of her story, as well. Through her experiences, Amy Anne grows and changes, and finds her voice. That voice matters!

What a great book to read in a middle years classroom setting!

"Trust me," Trey said, "books have been challenged for all kinds of crazy reasons. I looked up some challenges on the Internet. The easy ones are anything that's got witchcraft or supernatural stuff in it, anything with bad words, anything with gay characters, anything with violence, and anything that mentions sex in it." He blushed when he said the last one, and we all found somewhere else to be looking."

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Witch Boy, by Molly Knox Ostertag. Scholastic, 2017. $16.99 ages 10 and up

"Something is taking our boys. Something that sneaks through our boundaries and evades us at every turn. It may be an animal spirit, but what would its motivation be? It may be a demon we've never encountered before. We need to stay on guard. We need to find out how this monster is getting to us, and where it's keeping our boys. I refuse to believe they're ...  not alive."

Graphic novels hold appeal for many. Not surprising when the books just keep getting better and better. I heard from one of the kids I know who loves them that I should read this one. So, I did ... and now I can tell you all about it.

Aster, at 13, is finally old enough to recognize his animal spirit. It is the animal that will allow him to shape-shift. One small problem, or perhaps an insurmountable one, is the fact that Aster has no interest in that destiny. He is far more interested in magic, only taught to girls. Witchery is forbidden for the boys in his community.

As his Aunt Vervain teaches her craft to the girls allowed to learn it, Aster takes careful notes from a hiding place close by. When caught, his mother has a family story to relate. She tells him that his grandmother's twin brother was also attracted to witchery, and his forays into the forbidden art ended in adversity for the villagers. He was forced to leave. She doesn't want her son to face the same fate.

Aster accepts the danger, but cannot let go of his dream. So, he practises when he is alone and far from the village. Charlie, a female outsider, sees him, understands the way he feels, and becomes his friend as he deals with his wish to be different from the others. When two of the village boys are taken by an unknown being, Aster knows he can help to find them. Can he admit what he knows and how he knows what he does? Can he help to bring them home?

Ms. Ostertag builds a credible world in distinct images filled with color and emotion. The characters are likeable, and focused. Readers cannot help but feel sorry for Aster's plight, despite his skill at witchery. He feels ostracized by his community for his differences, and looks to Charlie for the support he needs. She is a fine friend, and does all she can to support him.

Fans of graphic novels will find much to like about this one.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bear and Wolf, written and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada, 2018. $24.95 ages 5 and up

"The snow was slowing as they came to a great clearing in the woods. Both Bear and Wolf had been here before, but that was in the summertime, when the forest was green and bursting with sounds and smells. In the summertime, this place was a round blue lake."

During the winter, when the two meet, that lake is no longer blue. It is 'a huge, flat circle of white.' You can feel the cold of the lake right through to your bones. Daniel Salmieri has created an atmospheric tale of companionship and admiration between two denizens of the forest.

Their interlude on a snowy winter day begins when both are out walking in the forest. Bear is first to notice another form in the snow. The two walk toward the other, each recognizing a kindred spirit. They decide to travel together. As they go, they note the sights, smells, and sounds of their winter environment.

The language is as quiet and lovely as the winter landscape.

"No, I'm not lost. I'm out for a walk to feel the cold on my face, and to enjoy
the quiet of the woods when it snows. What are you doing?"

"I'm out for a walk to feel the cold under my paws, and to listen to the crunching
of the snow as I walk."

As they walk together in companionable silence and thoughtful conversation, the two thoroughly enjoy the experience. The time comes when both must return to family ... bear to his den and family for a long winter's sleep, and wolf to his pack and the winter hunting that will sustain them.

"I really liked walking with you," said Bear.

"I really liked walking with you, too," said Wolf.
"I hope that we'll meet again."
Using gouache, watercolor, colored pencils, and crushed colored pencil shavings, the artist evokes the winter woods. The atmospheric images are softly textured to provide a sense of wonder and calm, despite that fact that the two animals are often considered fearsome and worthy of worry. Having the text spread across the bottom of each double page spread allows readers to experience the calm of the animals' time together and the wonder in their friendship. 

Just lovely!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Unraveling Rose, written by Brian Wray and illustrated by Shiloh Penfield. Schiffer Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son, 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Life was just the way she
wanted it, and Rose did
everything she could to
keep it that way.
If the books on the shelf
weren't straight, Rose
wanted to straighten them.
At tea time, Rose made sure ... "

My granddaughter Chelsea has a very special companion. Her name is Lady Grey, and she goes anywhere that Chelsea goes. The nearly two year old  is not always careful with her rabbit. In the summer, while they were here visiting, Lady Grey made a few toilet plunges.  Chelsea is reprimanded by her older sister for being careless in caring for her. Sicily has been known to pick her up from the sidewalk and carry Lady Grey, letting everyone know that Chelsea 'is not a good listener'; she should not be left in charge of her best friend's safety. Chelsea loves that wee bunny with everything in her, and is seldom seen without her close by. I now have a special love for stuffed bunnies.

Rose is a sweet little bunny, and readers will feel an immediate connection to her. The little boy who loves her is much like Chelsea. The two doing everything together ... bedtime hugs, park play, reading stories. All is well until the day Rose notices a loose thread on her arm. Rose likes things to be orderly, and that tiny thread throws her off her game. She experiences such concern that she cannot concentrate on the many things she loves to do. She can only give her full attention to that loose thread.

She must fix it. As she tries, the thread gets longer, and longer, and longer. Rose is ashamed that she can't keep from pulling on the thread, always trying to fix it. Rose's arm becomes unstuffed. It takes up all of her attention, and means she can't do those things she usually loves to do. Finally, gathering up all of her courage, she works to fix her arm. In doing so, she begins to understand that not everything needs to be perfect.
A gentle introduction to OCD, and an opportunity to begin a discussion about differences, the author
offers a hopeful tale for children and parents, as well as some helpful advice in back matter.   


Friday, February 16, 2018

Ducks Away! Written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek. Scholastic. 2018. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Wait! It was four little ducks.

What? It was five little ducks,
except just then ...

a sudden gust of wind swept the
last little duck right into the river

"Oh,  no!" quacked Mother Duck.
"What should I do?  ... "

I may have told you this in an earlier post. I love Mem Fox and her wonderful books! When I was working in a school library, and with early learners, we used every one of them as incentive for independent reading. Young children love the repetition, the word choice, the rhyme and rhythm that is evident in each one. Mem works hard to pen these brilliant books, and I appreciate her talent and  love of literacy.  If you want to learn more about her, go to for a visit.

So, I am always on the lookout for a new book to add to my collection. Ducks Away arrived in the mail last week with a box full of new books from Nikole at Scholastic. I am grateful to her for sending it along; and I want to share it with you.

Mama Duck and her babies are off on an excursion that includes crossing a fairly high bridge. Mama leads the way and her ducklings follow right behind her. There are five of them. Unfortunately, just as the last little one catches up, a gust of wind blows her off the bridge and into the river below them. Mama is worried, of course. One in the river, four on the bridge! While the wee ducklings seem unconcerned, it is not the same for Mama. What is a mother to do? So it goes with each of the little ones  ...

"Oh, no!" quacked Mother Duck.
"What should I do?
Where should I go,
with three on the bridge
and two below?"

The text is so perfect that kids will soon be worrying right along with Mama, and they won't recognize that they are learning early math concepts as they go.

Judy Horacek has collaborated with Ms. Fox for other delightful titles: Where Is The Green Sheep?, This and That, and Good Night, Sleep Tight. She  uses simple images and lovely color to adeptly match the carefully written  text. Action is focused squarely on the duck family. Kids are going to love it!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Seamus's Short Story, wirtten by Heather Hartt-Sussman and illustrated by Milan Pavlovic. Groundwood, 2017. $16.95 ages 4 and up

"He tries a chair (but it's

a stepladder (but it's

and running jumps (which
are hit and miss),

his brother's shoulders (but
they are not quite high enough) ...

There are so many things that tall people can reach! Young children have firsthand knowledge of that. Seamus is no different. Being vertically challenged is a problem for him. He has great admiration for those who can reach top shelves anywhere, the elevator button no matter the floor, the television remote, and anything else that requires height. The world is not made for him, or anyone else who is short.

He is willing to give up some of his favorite things just to be taller. Then, while playing one day he is overjoyed to reach new heights:

"He tries on his mother's high
high-heeled shoes.
He stuffs them with socks.
He tapes them to his ankles.
He even decorates them with his
favorite stickers."

They are the perfect solution. Now, he can do all those things that have so often eluded him. The television remote is his! That awful baby picture is gone! The top button on the elevator? No problem. He likes being tall, and even puts up with irritating sore feet. Will the feeling last? As happens with anyone trying to navigate the world atop heels that are high, there are certain occasions when being lower would be a real advantage.

Are those heels a permanent solution? Seamus doesn't think so.

Milan Pavloic's colored pencil and ink artwork is humorous and expressive, allowing readers to see both the angst and joy Seamus is feeling as he navigates his world, first short and then taller. Contextual and colorful, the images match the tone of the story and invite careful consideration of the many fine details.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Old Man, written by Sarah V. and illustrated by Claude K. Dubois. Translated by Daniel Hahn. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son, 2018. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"The old man is so tired ...
It was a hard night.
He might stretch out for
a bit.
Just for a few minutes.
Watch the people going by.
There's the man with the mail."

This is a book that is absolutely extraordinary from endpapers to endpapers. What lies between those morning and evening scenes is quietly stunning, and perfect. It is a testament to children and their ability to see what is important in the world.

Their days are parallel at the start. The little girl wakes up, and gets ready for her day at school. She walks into school as the new day begins. The old man awakens from his place on the sidewalk, cold and hungry. He walks to keep himself warm. Hunger consumes him. He meets up with a skinny cat, also looking for sustenance.

His day is long, following a cold and sleepless night. He watches the world pass him by, occasionally overcome by memories of a past life. He moves when told he is not welcome. There are no stores open yet to warm his cold, tired body. Maybe the shelter will help ease his hunger. When he can't remember his name, he chooses to leave rather than admit it. He finds shelter where he can as the day passes.

"The old man is thirsty. Apart from the sparrows, he's the only one
who knows how delicious this fountain water is!

There's nobody watching. The old man takes off his shoes.
Ahhh, that's better!

What if he stays here for a bit?
No one can see him under his blanket ... No one?"

The little girl sees. The little girl cares. She shares her sandwich, and leaves the old man with hope for better times ahead.

The soft tones of watercolor pencil illustrations create a mood that perfectly suits this quiet, sad, tender and uplifting story. It will give everyone who reads and shares it pause to consider kindness and attention to those left fortunate.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Big Hid, written and illustrated by Roison Swales. Flying Eye Books, Publihsers Group Canada. 2017. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"They dress up.
And they have races.

But one day, something
Big didn't want to climb
or chew.
He didn't want to do

We all have those days. Things just don't matter! It's hard to put a happy face to the world, and to push forward to a new day. For whatever reason, they happen.

Big and Little are a team - a great team. Despite their differences, they find ways to have fun together. Little, a squirrel, loves climbing. With the help of a rope and his good friend, Big, the tortoise, can partake of a climbing adventure as well. While Little noshes on cake, Big chomps leaves. They like dressing up, and they love racing with others. Every day is fun and games.

Until it is not. A day comes when Big tucks inside his shell, and doesn't come out. He wants to be alone, and that feeling lasts. Little is worried about Big, and does whatever seems right to help him come out of hiding. A cake doesn't work; nor does anything else Little tries. Little is confused and very concerned. In trying to console himself and help his friend, he gives Big a gentle hug. The understanding and support of a true friend goes a long way.

It seems that, for today, that is exactly what Big needs.

In her debut picture book, Roison Swales helps little ones begin to understand the dynamics of friendship and compassion. Her artwork adds joy to everyday activities, and concern for a friend through facial expression and color. A pleasure to share and perfect for early readers to explore on their own.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Rodent Rascals: From Tiny to Tremendous - 21 Clever Creatures at Their Actual Size. Written and illustrated by Roxie Munro. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2018. $25.99 ages 8 and up

"Chinchillas have soft fur so dense that water can't dry fast enough to prevent the growth of fungus. Instead of washing in water they take dust baths, rolling around in dust. The dust absorbs oil and dirt from their fur. Though they look chubby and not very athletic, they can jump up to 6 feet high ... "

Kids will be poring over the information provided in this impressive new book by a respected and well-known author. Roxie Munro has written over forty concept and nonfiction books that have the power to attract and fully engage her young audience.

As you can see on the cover, there are 21 rodents described here. Each one is shown in actual size, whether you can see the whole animal or only part of it. She begins with the smallest:

"The tiny pygmy jerboa is the world's smallest rodent. They live in a desert habitat. It has such strong legs that it can jump up to 10 feet (3 meters), many times its length. They're as speedy as a fast human. Their quickness inspired Great Britain to name one of its World War II troop brigades in Northern Africa, where jerboas live, the Desert Rats."

She goes on to describe, in similar sized entries, a host of animals that run the gamut from the jerboa to - can you guess the largest one? 

"This sweet-looking capybara is the largest rodent in the world. It lives in South America and is a gentle and friendly creature. It is a herbivore. It can be kept as a pet and has reportedly been trained as a seeing-eye guide animal for the blind. Capybaras are very social and live in large groups. They're quite vocal and can make sounds similar to a dog's bark, a horse's whinny, and a cat's purr. Capybaras love water, and as you can see, their eyes, ears, and nose are high up on their head, so they can stay almost totally submerged while swimming."

With just enough text to keep readers interested and learning, this book will find avid fans. Readers will recognize many of those depicted, although they may not know how they stack up one to the other in size within the rodent family. Natural and distinct, Ms. Munro's  illustrations are sure to impress. The way she relates her animals to the text is perfect for helping readers retain what they want to share with others.

Did you know that the prairie dog has a vocabulary more complex than any other animal language?

Or that the African giant pouched rat can detect tuberculosis?

Or that many guinea pigs have a 'washcloth' (bald spot) on their front paws to help with grooming?

I didn't, but now I do! Thanks to Roxie Munro for that and so much more!

Endpapers (with images of the rodents described herein), an introduction, and back matter that includes a further informative paragraph about each animal, a glossary, sources, and an extended list of websites and an index make this perfect nonfiction fare.

Please enjoy this conversation between Ms. Munro and the dapper and well-prepared Julian, a child reporter.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Walrus, written by Herve Paniaq and illustrated by Ben Shanoon. Inhabit Media, 2017. $15.95 ages 8 and up

"A walrus's ivory tusks, which are actually large teeth, have many uses. Walruses can use their tusks as anchors on the ice to keep themselves in one spot. When they are in the water, they can use their tusks to break the ice from below so that they can breathe. Tusks are also useful protection against animals that might like to hunt walruses, such as polar bears."

And finally, for today, this is another excellent book in the Animals Illustrated series. Each of these fine books would make a wonderful addition to library shelves, and should be there for those kids who love to learn about new and not always common animals.

The setup is the same: awesome endpapers, a most useful table of contents, just the right amount of information to keep kids reading and not being overwhelmed by too many facts. Yet, they will learn a lot they did not know, and be able to share their new knowledge with others.

Each two-page spread has a heading, a few short paragraphs pertinent to the topic, and detailed and appealing artwork that draws the reader's attention. The facts provided are just what kids want to know. The illustrations will elicit wonder at the size and the charm of this creature that is rarely shared in books about the North. The blues of the ocean and the northern skies add interest, and a feeling of being present with these lumbering creatures on their ice floes. Author and illustrator perfectly collaborate to bring this seemingly awkward and clumsy denizen of the Arctic habitat to our attention.  
"Walruses move slowly  on land, but they can swim quickly. A walrus can swim just over 4 miles (about 6 kilometres) per hour. Some have even been known to swim over 21 miles (about 34 kilometres) per hour."

Now that you know about the bowhead whale, the muskox and the walrus, you might want to look for the other animals in this wonderful series: the narwhal, and the polar bear. It's a terrific set.

Muskox, written by Allen Niptanatiak and illustrated by Kagan McLeod. Inhabit Media, 2016. $15.95 ages 8 and up

"Both male and female muskoxen have curved horns that grow from the tops of their heads down to their jaw bones and then curve out into sharp points. The horns of the male muskox are much bigger than the female's, and the horns of the female are usually darker in colour. Muskoxen use their hard hooves to help them find plants to eat."

Yes! Once again, I learn much that I did not know. I had seen pictures, of course. The text presents the important data that so intrigues learners when they are researching new information.

The design is ideal, and the size just right for smaller hands. The quality in production is praiseworthy. Inviting, colourful endpapers move the reader forward to a table of contents that is familiar to those who have read earlier books in the Animals Illustrated series: the muskox, range, skeleton, diet, babies, predators, defence, withstanding the cold, fun facts, and traditional uses.

The author, a Nunavut hunter and trapper, knows the animal well and shares his knowledge of this very unusual inhabitant of the North. The illustrator is award-winning and a contributor to a First Nations comic anthology, Moonshot. His images add setting, perspective and further information. Their skills seem perfectly matched to present the facts related.

Impressive and culturally important, I have great admiration for the work being done at Inhabit Media to provide books that should be in every library.

Bowhead Whale, written by Joanasie Karpik and illustrated by Sho Uehara. Inhabit Media, 2017. $15.95 ages 8 and up

"Bowhead whales have the thickest blubber of any whale. A bowhead whale's layer of blubber is about 17 to 19 inches (about 43 to 48 centimetres) thick. This helps them stay warm in the cold waters of the Arctic. Bowhead whales live a very long time. Some bowhead whales still have stone harpoon tips embedded. Stone harpoons were used by Inuit hunters long ago ... "

This is the newest book in Inhabit Media's excellent Animals Illustrated series. I wish I had had them to use when I was working in early years classrooms on animal research. They are written with young readers in mind, and provide a perfect amount of material to inform them about the animals they choose to study.

Detailed, engaging illustrations on the endpapers are inviting and encourage kids to get quickly into the book. The table of contents allows choice in subject right from the start. Kids interested in diet, communication, predators, or babies can find said subjects immediately, and move on to other facts at a later time. There is just enough information provided to impress without overwhelming. The cool blues of the ocean environment and the ever-changing perspectives in the images shared by the illustrator will hold interest. There is much to learn here.

The fact that this book comes from a publishing house based in the Arctic adds to the appeal. The creators know the land and the animals, evidenced in the quality of the book itself. Following a familiar format to others in the series, and providing facts concerning a particular animal, their length is just right. Readers will appreciate the addition of fun facts to bring the book to its conclusion.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sleepy Bird, written and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard. Scholastic. 2018. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"Fox was too sleepy to play.
So Bird went to find Beaver.
"It's bedtime, Bird, " said
"Bedtime is for babies,"
said Bird.
"How about I read you a
story?" said Beaver.
"How about you don't, "
said Bird."

We have seen when he's grumpy, hurt, and hungry! This time, he's supposed to be sleepy. That would be asking too much of the quarrelsome, often contrary Bird. He is lucky to have the friends he has. They have his back, not matter the complaint and do their best to show patience and understanding when he is undeniably inflexible.

This time, when everyone else is ready to hunker for a good night's rest, Bird is ready to play.

"His wings wanted to flap.
His legs wanted to run.        
All of him wanted to play."

Ready to party, he checks in first with Fox. Fox is cozy, and offers an alternative to the party idea. Bird will have none of it. Leaving Fox behind, he is off to see his friend Beaver. Beaver has great books to share before bed; Bird is interested in playing tag. On he goes to Squirrel's spot while Beaver stays behind reading. And, so it goes.

Bird visits all of his friends, who each offer a diversion meant to help him feel sleepy. None are anywhere close to what Bird has in mind. He storms off  in a huff, mad and sad. He is sure that he is not tired, or about to be. His friends are concerned with his sadness and tears. Together they provide consolation and a perfect bedtime routine.

Jeremy Tankard uses strong colors, black outlining his now familiar characters to keep them at the forefront for young readers. They are expressive, generous and willing to listen to Bird as he rants about their lack of cooperation. Bird is as obstreperous as he has ever been  ... and so much fun!

Parents, you have all been there. This is perfect fare for bedtime reading. Don't miss it!

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Rabbit Listened, written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. Dial, Penguin Random House. 2018. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"The chicken was the first to notice.
"Cluck, cluck! What a shame! I'm so sorry, sorry, sorry this happened!"
"Let's talk, talk,
talk about it!
Cluck, cluck!"
But Taylor didn't feel like
So the chicken left."
There are those times when talking doesn't really help. The sadness is deep. Friends want to offer a helping hand, but are not really sure how to go about doing so. It is an experience many of us have shared.

Taylor's day starts with joy and imagination. A set of blocks, persistence, and ingenuity result in quite the amazing construction until ... it all goes out the window when the structure collapses. Poor Taylor! Excitement and sense of purpose wanes; sadness sets in.

Many friends offer help. The hen clucks and encourages talk. The bear roars and offers an opportunity to shout out the anger. The elephant offers reconstruction, only needing help in the replacement of the blocks. No one has a remedy to stem the hurt. Alone and aching, Taylor is unaware of the very quiet rabbit that finds its way to Taylor's side, providing the warmth and support of a friend willing to listen. Taylor asks the rabbit to stay. Only then can Taylor give voice to the depth of feelings suffered. The rabbit never wavers. Emotions spent, the two can finally move forward.

We all struggle to find ways to help those who are suffering. The book offers thoughts on showing love and concern without saying anything. Each small scene is filled with emotion and wisdom. The story will have a lasting effect on all who share it.

In her story of loss, Cori Doerrfeld uses plenty of white space, allowing focus is center on the little one who is struggling. She created her artwork 'with digital ink and a whole lotta heart'. Lucky we are to be able to share it. That rabbit is a keeper!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia. Harper, 2017. $21.00 ages 10 and up

"It didn't matter. People continued to fill Clayton's front yard. They saw the sign Yard Sale - All Must Go! and stopped their jogging, bike riding, and dog walking. Ms. Byrd gave them whatever they offered for Cool Papa's treasures. Sometimes she said, "Just take it." "Great stuff!" Omar exclaimed. At that moment "friend" was the last thing Clayton would have called Omar. Omar pinned one of Cool Papa's ... "

Clayton Bird learns a lot from his Cool Papa, his mother's father. Cool Papa is a 'bluesman', a music legend for his ability to make his guitars sing the blues. He and his band mates are well known in Washington Square Park, and Clayton is a fan and willing apprentice to the blues they play so soulfully. He has a blues harp, he practises endlessly and listens when Cool Papa tells him: “A bluesman ain’t a bluesman without that deep-down cry.” He won't get a solo until he earns it.

The unexpected loss of his grandfather leads to heartache and anger for Clayton. First of all, his mother, who has always played second fiddle to her father's need to share his music, wants no reminders of him left in her house. Second, Clayton has no say in what she offers for sale. In the end, he has his harp and his grandfather's porkpie hat. And a lot of hostility for his mother's refusal to hear anything he says. She wants Clayton kept 'safe' from her father's musical, wandering world. She doesn't want him to have his harmonica, or to spend any time with his father, Albert Miller. He is only allowed to see him at scheduled visits, on his mother's terms. The blues harp is hidden away, the hat as well. School and church offer no solace for the young boy.

After a time, it's all too much for Clayton. Angry and hurting, he sets off to find his grandfather's cronies, and make some music with them. It is a rash decision. The day leads him on a long trip by subway, and some scary moments along the way. When the dust clears, his mother has been called to pick him up from police custody. But, Clayton has found his voice. Now able to express himself, his grief and his anger, things begin to change.

The musical link is very strong throughout this remarkable story. I love the way Ms. Williams-Garcia shows her readers the power that it holds for Clayton and other important characters. Cool Papa wants Clayton to know that power. Readers make the connection between music genres - beatbox and blues. It takes commitment to the music itself, as well as the musician giving over to the feelings and growth it elicits.
Complex and realistic, family love, music and grief are at its heart.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Hello Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly. Harper, 2017. $21.00 ages 9 and up

"Virgil had drifted off. A few hours ago he wouldn't have thought it was possible to sleep when your life was in grave danger, but he'd actually fallen asleep, cradling Gulliver close to him. All the crying, fear, and loneliness had wrapped a big, heavy blanket around him and told him to rest, so he had. But now the darkness on the other side of his eyelids shifted and there was light ... "

I read this book a few weeks ago, and then received another by the same author a week later from Maeve at Harper Canada. I am so thankful to have the chance to share them with you now. To read both in a short period of time has me looking for more books by Ms. Kelly. Next on my list is Blackbird Fly. She creates worthy, memorable characters and quiet stories of relationships, family and hope.

In Hello, Universe we meet Virgil Salinas and learn that, although sixth grade is just finished, he is not looking forward to next year or the years after.

"He imagined all those years stretching ahead of him like a long line of hurdles, each of them getting taller, thicker, and heavier, and him standing in front of them on his weak and skinny legs. He was no good at hurdles. He'd found this out the hard way: in gym class, where he was the smallest, most forgettable, and always picked last."

Virgil is the quiet, shy child in his outgoing, noisy family ... and they let him know it. He has one wish - to talk to Valencia Somerset, one of his classmates. He just doesn't have the courage to approach her. His friend, Kaori Tanaka, is sure she is blessed with psychic powers, and offers to help him out. Then there is Chet Bullens, with a perfect last name. He bullies Virgil on a daily basis. At home, only Gulliver, his guinea pig, and his lola make it evident that they love him just as he is. Lola regales him with folk stories that make an impression, and Gulliver consistently listens to Virgil's thoughts and concerns.

It's the first day of summer. The chain of events that link these characters is told from varied perspectives and make for a fascinating read. Virgil is on his way to an appointment with Kaori when he meets Chet in the park. Chet is cruel, throwing Virgil's backpack down a well. He does not know that Gulliver is inside. Virgil is not about to let anything dire happen to his beloved pet, and ends up in an untenable position at the bottom of the abandoned well. Little does he know, as he faces the darkness and his fears, how much he matters to his friends and family. The chapters are short, the suspense palpable, and the characters worthy of knowing. Each of them has a story to tell, and each one is handled brilliantly in Ms. Kelly's deft hands.

Inspiring, and hopeful. Middle graders will love it!

And now to You Go First, also from Harper and published this year.

"Ben didn't want either of his parents to disrupt the stasis - his appropriately fluffed bed pillows, his smooth Ravenclaw comforter, the Star Wars Lego world he'd built three years ago and still kept in the corner. He didn't want devolving people in his land of sense and logic. But what you say when your father asks to come into your room and his eyes are wide and sad looking? You say yes ... "

Charlotte and Ben don't have physical contact with each other; rather, they are competitors in ongoing, formidable games of Scrabble online and eventually count on each other as they deal with their own grief. Charlotte's father is in hospital following a heart attack. Things at school aren't great - her best friend is more interested in others than she is in maintaining her friendship with Charlotte. Ben is new to his school, and his parents have just told him that they are divorcing. The two begin talking to each other on the phone, offering support as they try to understand the heartbreak that is part of both lives.

Once again, Ms. Kelly alternates her story between the two, allowing readers to get to know them better and to appreciate the honesty expressed in their stories. We learn that they are both very bright, thoughtful, and quite remarkable in their own right. Their story takes place over a period of six days. Each of Ben's chapters is titled Life According to Ben, while Charlotte's begin with a title and a short paragraph about something she finds intriguing and that foreshadows her story's action:

"Rabbit Hole: In 2017, Haitian immigrant Denis Estimon started a club at his Boca Raton high school called We Dine Together. Its purpose is to make sure no one eats lunch alone."  

This is serious stuff, handled beautifully in Ms. Kelly's powerful prose. She knows what matters to middle graders. It is also reassuring, allowing her readers to see hope in their ability to be patient and strong when life throws a curveball. Being yourself is a tough thing to do in adolescence. Charlotte and Ben show readers that it's possible. You are going to love them and their finely wrought world.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 7 and up

"At this, the princess felt heavy and sorry for herself. The meat tasted like cardboard. The roasted apples were sour, the potatoes dry and mealy. She thought of the frog, with cake on his bloated froggy-face, and felt that dinner with her father was even duller than a day with her ladies-in-waiting. She jumped as soon as she heard a knock at the door ... "

I have always loved fairy tales. Mom read them when we were kids, we did the same for our own kids, I read them when I was teaching and working in the library, and I read them now to my granddaughters. At one time, I had more than one hundred different versions of fairy tales, original and alternate. Some of my favorites from that large group still have a place on my 'keepers' shelf. Now, I have another to add to it.

There are seven tales here. I do hope that you are familiar with most, and that you have shared them with your children in other classic versions. Emily Jenkins has added a subtitle: A New Book of Old Tales. She is absolutely right about that. Most action occurs in or near a frozen forest where there are witches, and regal beauty, and trickery and comeuppance. They are easily recognized by those who have shared many different versions. I think it so unfortunate that too many of our kids have never heard these classic stories; but, that is for another time and place.

As a group of tales, they relate to one another in subtle ways. Is the huntsman sent to murder Snow White and bring back her heart the same man who assists Red Riding Hood and her grandmother in escaping from the ravenous wolf's stomach? I wonder. Ms. Jenkins, through her impressive storytelling, will have listeners and readers thinking about the ethics of some of the characters. The changes she makes do nothing to change the stories and their results, she just lets her audience know the characters in a deeper way.

Retold in carefully constructed and perfect language, Ms. Jenkins' voice shines through in each one. In an author's note she tells us:

"I wrote them simply as I myself want to tell them, using the storytelling techniques I have at my disposal. After all, before people began writing them down, these tales were passed down orally. They changed a bit with each new teller. I wrote to bring out what's most meaningful to me in the stories, and in that way I believe I am part of a tradition that goes back to the earliest tellers of these tales."

Each one ends in goodness; they also contain the often scary elements of these tales as they have been told through the centuries. You will have to decide when is a good time to share each one. There  is evil, hunger (for the wolf and for Hansel and Gretel), poverty, and humor. Engaging and
definitely entertaining, you won't be sorry you chose to read it. A watercolor and ink drawing by Rohan Daniel Eason provides an invitation to each tale. They set the tone and provide context for the story to come.

Soon, if children have had enough experience with hearing these classic tales, they will want to try retelling them for themselves.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Groundhug Day, written by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by Christopher Denise. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"The animals bickered all night long.
They didn't notice the black sky
turning gray.
They didn't notice the pink light
of morning creeping over the hills.
And they didn't notice Groundhog's
nose twitching at the entrance of his
hole -
was ... "

February is such a busy month, for kids and for schools. Many discuss Groundhog Day, then the 100th day, Valentine's Day and even I Love to Read. There is fun and excitement at every turn. It's almost too much! Moose and his friends know nothing about the 100th Day celebration, but they do know about what being a good friend means.

Valentine's Day is coming up soon, and Moose wants to be ready. He solicits help from his forest friends, with just two weeks to go. There is a worry, of course! Groundhog Day is just around the corner, and they are worried that he might see his shadow and return to his burrow, thus missing the party. What will they do without him?

Groundhog Day arrives and their fears become reality. Groundhog sees his shadow, and goes back inside to his newspapers and morning coffee. In an attempt to diminish his fear of shadows, each friend plans to show Groundhog just how much fun shadows can be - they dance, they provide silhouettes, clouds cast shadows, and tiny hands create shadow puppets. Groundhog is suitably impressed, and willing to take a chance on each of the different ways to have fun.

Despite that fun, Groundhog will not be deterred from saving himself from winter's cold. After sharing 'Groundhugs' with Moose, Bunny and Squirrel - and a nose-kiss with Porcupine - back inside he goes, until six weeks later ... when the world is warm and a new party is worthy of planning. Will someone else miss out this time?

Expressive characters, realistic backgrounds, and lush golden light and soft shadow add to the charm that makes this a terrific book for reading aloud this month.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Feathers, written by Phil Cummings and illustrated by Phil Lesnie. Scholastic, 2018. $14.99 ages 6 and up

"It flew over a crumbled
village where a small boy
sheltered, hoping the earth
would never quake again.
The sandpiper's shadow
swept across the rubble
of a boy's once-safe home.
The boy spied a falling
feather ... spinning and
drifting. He climbed ... "

Our world is harsh for far too many people. In places far and near, they are faced with difficulty and too often, cruelty. For many, there is little to inspire hope or promise for better times ahead. For those who live under threat from oppressive governments, who deal with the long-lasting effects of devastating weather events that have changed their lives forever, and whose bad fortune has nothing to do with their own actions, this is a story that sheds a tiny ray of hope for better days.

The sandpiper knows it is time to find a warm place, the breeding grounds that are its destination every year. It's flight is not without incident. As it flies it drops beautiful feathers in places where their beauty is needed. It does not know the borders it is crossing, or the destruction it is passing

The first feather lands amid the devastation of an earthquake, where a young boy catches it as it falls and places it against his cheek. The next feather falls in the path of a young girl carrying her brother on her shoulders as she and her family walk toward refuge and a better life far from the war that ravages her country. It tickles her brother's nose and makes him laugh.

"The bird left the laughter behind.
There was still such a long way to go.
It headed into a dark storm
of deafening thunder
wild wind
and rain."

As it emerges from the clouds, the land below is engulfed in water. The third feather falls upon that water. A mother takes it and makes a tiny boat for her terrified children. Nearing its destination, the final feather falls toward Mia who catches it, showing her dad how truly lucky she is! The nesting pond is close by.

Beautifully written, and perfectly illustrated with detailed, contrasting images that shine with light and hope, this is a book that should be shared in every classroom and library.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn. Owlkids, 2017. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"And perhaps this story will inspire you. Each year, letter-writing campaigns are held in cities all over the world. Last year, cards, letters, and emails were sent from over 185 countries. If you're interested in supporting this cause and making a difference, you can join Amnesty International's efforts by participating in a Write for Rights event ... "

It starts so peacefully. A father, his daughter and others set out to peacefully protest. The guards who meet them, touting helmets, clubs, and shields, beat the father and arrest him. The child is left to her own devices, after one of the men pops her little red balloon.

Father is hauled away, imprisoned and can only protest from inside a small, barren cell. He has no company, little food, and one guard to constantly patrol the perimeter. A blue bird and a tiny mouse are his only company. They share his bread and his presence. Memories of time spent with his much-loved daughter help him get through the very sad and lonely days.

Then one day, the bird drops a letter through the window. The guard tears it up. That happens each and every time the bird brings a new delivery. The letters (written in many languages) are burned. The smoke sends a plea for help that reaches around the world. More and more people find reason to write letters of their own. They are sent from every walk of life, from every part of the world, by any means possible.

The illustrations are skillfully created with pen-and-ink and watercolor. Through them, the reader experiences the pain, the boredom and the hopeless feelings the man has for the future. The letters provide a sense that others care. The exponential increase in their numbers allows the man escape from his prison, and a reunion with his daughter ... at least metaphorically.

There is a great deal of sadness expressed in these wordless pages; at the same time, the author injects slight touches of humor that allow the book to make just the right impression for those children who will hold it in their hands.

Mr. Goldstyn was inspired to create his book by the campaigns of Amnesty International that encourage people of the world to write letters to help combat the injustices that so many must endure. He dedicates it to Raif Badawi and his family. He is a Saudi blogger who has been in prison for five years. His afterword provides encouragement to get involved:

Friday, February 2, 2018

Did You Hear What I Heard? Poems About School, written by Kay Winters and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House, 2018. $22.99 ages 5 and up

" ...
When a word is wrong
I don't erase.
I just delete
and leave a space."

Then I type again.
The page looks neat.
No smudges or smears.

I love to delete!"

And here's a perfect poem for today: Groundhog Day!

"Question for
the Groundhog

Will you,
     Won't you
See your shadow?

Will it,
     Won't it
Really matter?

Do you
     Don't you
Grin to see

    take you

This new book of 35 poems follows the school year from the school buses rolling out on the first day to the final day before summer vacation. Each poem is written from a different perspective - a family rushing to make sure the children have all they need before boarding the bus that waits outside the door, to the school's voice welcoming the buses filled with the children who will fill its hallways and classrooms. New kids, math whizzes, language learners, wonderers, recess, science learning, field trips - so many things to consider when children are at school.

The poems describe common events; listeners will find much that is familiar to them.

"We collected crayons
and tiny gold stars.
We counted out 100 each,
and put them into jars.

We built a tall tower
of 100 paper cups.
It wiggled ... it wobbled.
It wouldn't stand up!

We made ten lines of Legos.
Each line had ten.
We counted and counted and counted
and then ... "

The poetic forms are as varied as the perspectives. Patrice Barton's digital illustrations will have a familiar look to those who admire her work. They have the softness of watercolors, textured with warm colors and full of energy and movement. The children are her focus; they are a diverse group. They enjoy their time together and have much to share.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

This is NOT a Valentine, written by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2018. $20.99 ages 3 and up

"... since sparkle and pink
and glitter are not your
favorite colors. You like
the brown in the mud
puddle and fish-food
orange and that purpley-blue
on your nose when it's
a mitten kind of day. But
red is pretty good for
superheroes, and you are
my favorite one."

What is a valentine? Depends on who you are, I think. Some love them, some are embarrassed by them, some are not interested in them at all. I have a love-hate relationship with them. When I was teaching kindergarten, Valentine's Day was quite special for the kids. For older kids, it was not always that way.

The young man in this wonderful book wants his best friend to know that the many little gifts he gives are not to be considered a valentine at all. He shares what he has to share, and then clearly explains why she should not consider it a valentine. After all, most valentines are filled with candy, flowers, mushy words and the signature colors of red and pink. He wants her to know that

This is not a valentine,

since sugared hearts and suckers
give you cavities and bellyaches.
But I found this at the bottom
of my lunchbox.
You can have the jelly side,
cause I like peanut butter best.
Maybe I'll have some left over.

Suave, for sure! He knows his friend well, and realizes that she is worthy of so much more than a traditional valentine. He does everything in his power to prove it to her. 

Lucy Ruth Cummins uses 'brush marker, gouache, graphite, colored pencil, crayon, ink and charcoal' to create kid-centiric images that perfectly match the tone and appeal of Carter Higgins' text. A day at school is perfectly represented at every turn. So is friendship and genuine interest in that friend.

I have read it over and over again - to myself. Today I debut it as a readaloud on my visit to J R Reid School for World Read Aloud Day. I am eager to see what the kids say. Then, I will read it again when I visit other schools this month.