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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Breakout, written by Kate Messner. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2018. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"I'm on the bus and I have a stomachache because I started a fight with Cole and Walker today. It was dumb because it was about Elidee, and she's not even my friend or anything.

Actually, I'm not sure I want this in the time capsule. I've gotten used to writing to you, though, so I'm going to write and decide later if I want you to read it. That way, I can write without worrying about what you'll think of me."

As the end of the seventh-grade school year approaches, students in Ms. Morin's English class are given summer homework. At least five items must be submitted to be placed in the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule, a capsule meant to be opened in fifty years. Students are given a long list of pieces to be included, and invited to think of other ideas. The list cites such items as letters, personal narratives, descriptions, conversations, poems, appropriate jokes, student-written news articles, editorials and comics, lists, notes to yourself, hopes, dreams ... the list goes on.

Nora and Lizzie have always lived in Wolf Creek. It's a small town whose claim to fame is that it is the site of a maximum security prison. Nora's father is the superintendent. Lizzie is Nora's best friend, whose grandmother works in the prison. Elidee is a new student, just arrived from New York with her mother to be close to her brother, an inmate at the prison. Elidee, one of only two African American kids at the school, is struggling with her new reality and her longing to be back at her old school.

Following the escape of two dangerous inmates, the tenor in their small town changes. Kate Messner tells her story through the writings of the three girls, with additional information provided through school announcements, text messages, comics, and recorded and transcribed conversations. Through these, we get a real sense of the girls' personalities, their home lives, and their changing feelings about their community.

Nora does her reporting to future residents of Wolf Creek, letting them know her thoughts about her community and some of its members, the drama caused by the breakout, and her reactions to issues of race and criminal justice that she is noticing. Lizzie has aspirations to be a reporter, and uses her comedic skills to parody various events relating to school and community. Elidee writes letters to her brother Troy that often include poetry she is writing in an attempt to find her own voice. Her attendance at a performance of Hamilton in New York has had a huge impact on the way she thinks. She also is impacted by Jacqueline Woodson's poetry and also uses it to guide her own writing. 

I found the variety in writing styles and formats appealing and powerful. Each of the girls learns a lot as they get to know each other better, and become aware of some issues that have not been so obvious up until now. It gives both Nora and Lizzie pause to think on some pretty disturbing insights.

What a terrific way to build a reading community in your classroom were you to begin the year with this book! It will inspire in-depth and meaningful conversations, and perhaps help students consider their own feelings concerning elemental issues of race and privilege.

The book lists provided in the back are welcome and wonderful  .... and relevant.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Ruby in the Ruins, by Shirley Hughes. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"It was very crowded.

Ruby hardly recognized the big
sunburned man who got off the
train with all the other soldiers,
shouldering his heavy duffel bag   
and waving to them. Mum ran
forward and flung herself into
his arms. Ruby hung back, feeling very shy. She did not know what to say when he stooped down to kiss her."

The London Blitz is still a concept hard to grip when only hearing about it. To have lived through it was quite miraculous for many Londoners and their families. As she has done so often in her wonderful stories, Shirley Hughes shines a light on one young girl named Ruby in 1945 in London.

Ruby and her mother have survived the horrors of World War II together. Ruby's father was not with them; he was off fighting in the war. As they pass men working to clear the rubble left following all the bombing, they cannot help but remember the many terrifying days and nights they spent as the bombs dropped and the war raged on. Mum refused to leave their home, wanting to be there if Ruby's dad returned on leave. She tried to send Ruby to safety. Ruby needed to be with her mother.

"Then came the terrifying explosions, some quite nearby,
making their little house shake.
Mum hated going down to the cold,
crowded, smelly air-raid shelter.
So, night after night, she and Ruby
clung together in the big double bed,
covering their ears and praying
for the all-clear to sound
at dawn."

Victory brings celebration. Neighborhoods rejoice, and soldiers come home. Ruby and her mum set off to the station to welcome her dad back. Everything at home changes with his return, and Ruby must make adjustments to a new bedroom and another person in their small home. The newness of their fathers' return is felt by her friends as well. Wanting to distract themselves from life at home, Jimmy and Len invite Ruby to join them on their visits to the bombed-out areas in the neighborhood. Ruby's unexpected fall and resultant injury is cause for concern. Help is enlisted, and brings a welcome surprise.

Using ink, watercolor, gouache, and the authenticity of her own wartime memories, Shirley Hughes has created a classic tale that will help children today understand more about that time in England.
The book's design is wonderful, and offers many chances for discussion as it is read. Appealing for its setting and expressive characters, she handles the many difficulties of wartime with compassion and shows young readers both the joys and sorrows of a very challenging time. It is an exceptional story about a young girl and her family as they experience troublesome times.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mabel and Sam at Home: One Brave Journey in Three Adventures. Written by Linda Urban and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"Then first mate Sam heard a
sound. A rumbling sound.
"What was that?" asked First
Mate Sam. "Nothing," said
Captain Mabel. "Something,"
said First Mate Sam. "It was
a sea serpent," said Captain
Mabel. "I'm hungry," said
First Mate Sam. "Look,"
said First Mate Sam. "People!"

A book such as this one about siblings Mabel and Sam can be the precursor to a reader wanting to try an early chapter book. There are three sketches here, each is adventurous and amusing. Mabel, the older sister, takes the lead as they are wont to do. While she is a bit upended by the busyness that surrounds them as moving boxes and furniture find a spot in a brand new environment, she does her best to distract her little brother from the mess and confusion.

The first adventure has them in a room with little in it ... a rug and one box. Mabel's imagination kicks in and she takes on the persona of a sea captain, giving orders to Sam at a rapid pace and expecting obedience as they sail rough waters. Their trip is long; the seas finally calm. Mabel will not allow disembarking until the lure of pizza gives Sam hopes for dry land.

"The inhabitants have pizza," said First Mate Sam.
"They might be dangerous," said Captain Mabel.
"Starving might be dangerous, too," said First Mate Sam.
Captain Mabel looked at the inhabitants bearing pizza. They
did not seem as dangerous as sea serpents.
"Okay," she said. "All ashore."

The second adventure involves a lullaby chair in a brand new spot. That motivates Mabel to become  Tour Guide. The two make many new discoveries in this new museum. In the final flight of imagination They are inspired to take a trip to outer space. It turns a bed and some blankets into an exploration and explanation for the need for a new, bigger planet. Night is sneaking up on them, and they find the new planet decidedly homey. Sleeping together in their space ship offers comfort and reassurance ... a tired Dad tucks them in.

Hadley Hooper's wondrous artwork is created using traditional printmaking techniques finished in Photoshop. Her imagination matches the two enterprising and intrepid explorers. She uses variety in color to separate the three chapters ... navy for the seagoing, yellow for the museum visit, and a gray-green mix for their space exploration. Textured, filled with gentle humor and simply lovely all the way through, this book is perfect from start to finish.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Illegal. written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano. Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky. Raincoast. 2018. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"I make myself as useful as I can the
next night.
I get a smile and a small pot of food.
Penn has many friends here.

Do you know somewhere 
he can find day work? 

Soon, I have friends, too. I make the
wipes last as long as I can. The wipes
came to me for nothing."

This is a powerful and moving graphic novel that has at its heart one young orphan from Ghana, and his horrendous journey to find a new home. Ebo's older sister Sisi is in Europe. His brother Kwame is on his way as well. Ebo is living with his uncle, but wants to be with his siblings.

At the outset, we know that he has been reunited with Kwame, as we meet the two on an overcrowded boat drifting on the open sea, hungry and being chastised for the two even being together. It is considered bad luck for family to travel together in such circumstances.

Flashbacks, created by Giovanni Rigano in sepia tones, show Ebo in his village and as he begins his search for family. It is almost two years earlier, and Ebo has just discovered that Kwame has gone. Village boys taunt him:

"Forget it, Ebo. 
He's gone already. 

He got on the dawn bus. 

Can it be that your only brother 
left forever and did not tell you, Ebo? 

Perhaps he doesn't care about you." 

Ebo is gifted with three things: a voice meant for singing, a strong and optimistic nature, and enthusiastic ambition. Though poor and alone, he believes that he will find his family.  Searching for Kwame in a refugee camp in Niger, Ebo is told that Kwame has gone already to Agadez. By chance, he finds him there. Reunited, they are now faced with the struggle of so many refugees in the world today: to find safe passage to a better place in Europe, always in hopes of finding Sisi as well.

Moving back and forth from then to now, readers are made very aware of the dangers, the disillusionment, and the persistence needed to find a way out. Their need for water is ever-evident in the outstanding panels created to help tell their story. Such beauty and desolation sit side by side as the brothers board the boat, and endure the appalling conditions. It is a struggle that seems never to end.

Sensitive to its characters, and raising difficult issues, it is a story that will long stay with readers. No punches are pulled in telling this refugee story that is all too common. While heartbreaking, it ends with a sense of hope that allows readers to think that some good might come from this long journey taken. There are far too many Ebos in this world, and we need to know their stories. They are not the nameless, faceless people of news stories, once front page news and now rarely mentioned. They are human beings who deserve peace, and safety.

Back matter includes Helen's story, as told to Women for Refugee Women, and adapted by the creators. A map and a note from them is also included.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Made For Me, written by Zack Bush and illustrated by Gregorio De Lauretis. Familius, Raincoast. 2018. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"My new role in life
has just now begun.
You're life's greatest
treasure, my dear little one.

Of all the children that
ever could be,
you are the one made
just for me."

What a delightful book for a new dad, since we have missed Father's Day this year! Or put it in your cart, buy it at your local bookstore, and keep it until next year.

This is a dad who looks, for all the world, as if nothing could faze him. He's a bulky ginger with a full beard, strong arms and he emits huge from every pore. His demeanor is totally changed when he first sets teary eyes on his brand new baby. All brawn goes out the window as he cradles, feeds, changes, and plays with this amazing child of his heart. Words cannot convey the overwhelming feelings he has for every tiny bit of this brand new life.

"Your mouth, your ears, and even your nose,
your chubby cheeks and your wiggly toes.
I'll never forget your sweet little grin.
Your soft, thin hands. Your smooth, rounded chin."

The discrepancy in size between the two is enhanced in the digital artwork. Gregorio De Laurentis uses plenty of white space to focus attention on the huge dad, the tiny baby and the many special moments they share.

This celebration of fatherhood turns many misconceptions of the role played by the men in the lives of children on its end, and shows children a hands-on, loving dad whose life is made noticeably better with the arrival of a child.

Put this one on your list of go-to shower gifts!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie German. Written by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2018. $23.49 ages 8 and up

"Monsieur and Madame Germain worried that being smart would bring their daughter heartbreak and scorn. So they seized Sophie's candles ... they stopped lighting fires in her room ... and they snatched away her warm dresses, desperate to make her stay tucked in bed."

I am not intrigued by mathematics, and would not count myself among those who understand much about the subject. To look at the life and work of Sophie Germain as it is presented in this incredible book, and to know that she taught herself all that she learned about math is mind-boggling to me.

At a time when women were not allowed to attend university and without her parents' approval, Sophie was able to get secret notes from math classes, do her homework using an alias, and learn as much as she could about the subject she loved. Her tenacity held her in good stead as she worked for six years to prove a theorem that predicted patterns of vibration. It was a long and often bumpy road. Today that work has impact on the skyscrapers and bridges being built.

"Telling Sophie not to think about math was like telling a bird not to soar."

Her head was filled with ideas, and her longing to study math kept her awake while others slept, caused her parents to try any means to keep their daughter from studying a subject that was an impossible dream for a girl of that time in history. 'Nothing stopped Sophie.'

In an author's note, Cheryl Bardoe tells readers about the research done:

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if history always recorded the actions, ideas, and feelings of those who intrigue us? This book relies on Sophie's correspondence, a biography written by a close friend after her death, her journals, and writings by historians of her life and times. Even with an imperfect record, enough information exists to reveal an incredible person and story."

Her thoughtful and illuminating telling is enhanced by the remarkable artwork, done in markers, gouache and collage, by the award-winning Barbara McClintock. Ms. McClintock's note speaks of the terror she felt when asked to work on this book.

"I was an abysmal math student, and the thought of illustrating a book about a brilliant mathematician was ironic at best. Once I became involved in the work, though, I noticed parallels between Sophie and myself, and found ways to approach the project that married the mathematical with the artistic."

Nothing stopped Barbara. She has created a true sense of this thoughtful mathematical genius in spreads that evoke the period in which Sophie lived and worked, the attempts of her parents to deter her fascination with learning about the subject she loved, and the persistence she exhibited throughout her life. She fills her pages with numbers, equations, the many letters written, and the effects of vibrations in everyday life. Detailed and seamless, the illustrations bring attention to important moments in Sophie's life and to mathematical concepts, making them more accessible for the intended audience. What a celebration!

Back matter includes More About Sophie, Is This Math or Science, Discover the Effects of Vibration for Yourself, a Selected Bibliography and the notes from both author and illustrator.

When you are building your list of books about powerful girls and women, be sure this one is on it. Sophie Germain, the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences. How truly impressive is that?!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Can I Be Your Dog? Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings. Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Dear Butcher Lady!

Can I be your dog?

I think your butcher shop
would be a great
place for a puppy like me.

I could keep the floor
nice and clean!"

Readers will feel great empathy for Arfy. He is a big dog, and he is lonely. He is also homeless. Though finding a forever home might prove impossible, Arfy is not one to be deterred by misfortune. Rather he is creative, and persistent.

He begins his letter-writing campaign with the people in the yellow house. Focusing on his many good points, he lets them know they are first on his list. Their reply is disheartening. Next, the letter carrier delivers a plea to the butcher shop, then the fire station, then the junkyard guy and finally the 'last house on Butternut Street' which is boarded up and dark. Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems. That final letter is returned, as one would expect. Arfy retreats to his cardboard box in the rain. Lo and behold, the sunny morning light brings a hand delivered letter.

Help comes from the most surprising places.

Troy Cummings has his readers fall in love with Arfy at first sight ... eyes full of charm as he holds a plaintive plea in his mouth! Arfy's character is evident as he writes with panache, then accepts with sadness each refusal. The letters and responses vary and are humorous. Arfy's demeanor will encourage laughter and delight. The letter carrier takes her job seriously, obviously worrying about the big dog as she delivers his pleas for a home.

Don't miss the back endpapers that show a map of Arfy's neighborhood, and provide one last note from Arfy. In it he describes how readers can help homeless animals.

It's a hit!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Who Will Bell the Cat? Written by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Christopher Cyr. Holiday House, Penguin Random House, 2018. $$21.99 ages 5 and up

"For weeks, the two mice
worked. They cut a leather
band from an old saddlebag
and pulled the band through
the bell hoop. The mice made a knot at one end of the leather band and made a hole at the other end. Done! It was a perfect collar, tailor-made for Marmalade."

What a terrific retelling this is! The mice first meet Marmalade when she finds shelter in their barn. She is sick, and she is hungry. The mice are kind and caring - they share their food, and help the cat return to fine form. She proves unworthy of their concern. Once healthy, she returns to her feline ways. She intimidates them at every turn.

"You knew I was a cat when you let me in,"
Marmalade replied with a wicked growl "I'm
simply doing what cats do - chasing mice!"

The mice know they must do something. They have no desire to leave the only home they have known. No matter what they decide to do, the doing could be deadly. Seizing upon the discovery of a sleigh bell, the decision is made to 'bell the cat.'

Who will be brave enough to do that? Marmalade is a formidable foe. Perhaps, a pack of rats can assure success. Or, will cunning on the part of the mice provide an unwitting accomplice?

Christopher Cyr uses digital tools to provide artwork that is dramatic and powerful, matching the danger inherent in a tale that pits mice against a mortal enemy. He uses shadow and light, and dramatic hues to great success. Marmalade's eyes are terrifying as she boldly and consistently menaces the many tiny rodents wanting to feel protected from her wrath. I really appreciate the changing perspectives and readers will, too.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World, by Christy Hale. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $23.50 ages 3 and up

"A lake is a body of
water surrounded by

An island is a piece
of land surrounded
by water.

A bay is a body of
water almost
surrounded by land."           

Your kids are going to love this one! It is truly amazing how Christy Hale uses cut pages to so clearly show water and land forms. The title page will invite little ones in, and they will be hooked. First, enjoy a gorgeous autumn day at the lake where a young girl is chasing leaves and a boy lazily fishing from a rowboat turn to that same girl on a deserted island sending an SOS signal to a completely unaware fisherman. Brilliant! A bay turns into a cape ... and so it goes.

Reading it together will provide many moments of surprise, and encourage discussion for all that is happening on its pages. All the while there is learning going on. Some words will be new vocabulary for little ones, some will be brand new learning about the word itself. Every page is engaging and beautifully presented.                                                                           

Although readers are focused on the art, it never distracts from learning about the five land and water forms she includes. The connections are clear, and children will learn as they read. The final pages include a double page spread that repeats the partners, and gives a simple description of each. Open it 'up' to find a listing of some examples of each from around the world. Open 'out' to a world map where each of the forms is labelled.

The book is beautifully designed for numerous shares, and that is a good thing. Kids will want to revisit the book often. The thick pages, the fascinating cutouts and the information provided make every look worthwhile.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees. Written by Mary Beth Leatherdale and illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare. Annick Press, 2017. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"People are screaming. Shouting. Today, they forced us to leave the Havana harbor. All day we were sitting in the ocean off the Cuban coast. Now in the middle of the night, the ship is running full steam ahead. Did we turn around? Are we back in Europe already? I jump out of bed and follow the other passengers to the captain's quarters. He explains that Jewish organizations are negotiating ... "

In this fine book we meet five young people; each is a refugee. Their stories take place between 1939 and 2006. Their profiles tell of pertinent and heartbreaking events in their lives that forced each to seek sanctuary from brutal violence and unbearable existence in their home countries.

Ms. Leatherdale begins with an introduction that concerns the plight of all refugees. She follows with a two page 'brief history' called They Came By Boat. Beginning with the Hugueonots in 1670, and ending in 1914 when Sikh passengers arrived in British Columbia and were forced to return to India, she chronicles the many people who have been displaced by events of the time in their own countries.

Ruth, an 18-year-old Jewish girl whose family has been trying to escape Nazi Germany for two years, is the first of the 'young boat refugees' whose stories are told through careful text and with empathy for their plight. The family is finally able to board the St. Louis, a ship headed to Cuba and asylum. The pages that tell Ruth's story offer a brief description of the terror in Germany under Hitler's rule, a definition of Anti-Semitism, the ship's arrival in the Cuban harbor and the harrowing days spent waiting to disembark, and Cuba's final refusal to acknowledge their travel visas, thus sending them back out to sea, bound for Germany. A time line for the voyage taken, a brief description of what happened to Ruth, and harrowing quotes from passengers and Ruth are included, as well as what happened to the passengers aboard the St. Louis:


* 28 allowed to disembark in Cuba
* 1 died of natural causes en route
* 1 attempted suicide
* 288 given asylum in Great Britain
* 224 given asylum in France
* 214 given asylum in Belgium
* 181 given asylum in Netherlands

* 254 were killed in the Holocaust after returning to Europe"

The author goes on to introduce Phu from Vietnam, Jose from Cuba, Najeeba from Afghanistan, and Mohamed from Ivory Coast. Their stories are harrowing, and personal. Readers will find sidebars that offer context, provide quotes that help to understand the urgency and terror felt by each refugee, and a section about the lives they have lived since their perilous journeys ended.  Four are still alive and were interviewed by the author. Their stories are handled with grim honesty; they are hard to read. 

Ms.Shakespeare uses collage to present these stories. Maps are helpful, as are newspaper headlines, and archival photos. The hand-written quotes make them all the more heartbreaking. Their stories act as a mirror to much of what is happening in the world today. 

This is a very important book and its stories should be shared in late middle and high school classrooms. Students need to put a human face to young people like them who face conditions in their home countries that are inconceivable. It is a timely book. The personal stories presented here add the human touch that news reports often fail to provide. You will not forget these five young people, and their stories are sure to evoke empathy and concern for the plight of so many.

"Sixty-five million of the world's seven billion people aren't so lucky. They
have been forced to leave their homes because of war, persecution, or
natural disasters. Nineteen million of these displaced people have no hope
of ever returning home safely and are seeking asylum in another country.
More than half of these refugees are children and teenagers; many are
orphans or "unaccompanied minors" traveling alone."

Do many of us acknowledge how lucky we really are?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

I'm Sad, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Redpath Ohi. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Why do sad things happen? 
That's just the way it is.
But WHY is that just the way 
it is? 
Because if it were any other
way, then THAT would be
the way it is and it's not that
way. It's this way.

That doesn't make any sense 
at all."

Poor Flamingo! Filled with sadness, and concerned that the misery will never leave, he shares his thoughts with a lively little girl, and a potato. After a lot of empathetic sighing, the potato suggests that some cheering up might help. The little girl, exuberant and full of ideas, suggests ice cream, hockey, jungle adventures, spy stuff. All the while she is smiling and coming up with further suggestions, potato has only one solution ... DIRT! Nothing works.

Flamingo expresses another worry:

"Will you still like me if 
I'm sad again tomorrow? 

I don't like you just 
when you're happy. 
I like you all the time. 
When you're sad or angry 
or bored or anything else."

What a wonderful way to help young readers make some connections and gain understanding for feelings, and how we express them!  The two creators perfectly communicate the dialogue that happens between the three friends by using color coding - a different color for each speaker. It provides an ideal book for a shared and expressive read. What fun for all!

The text is appealing, and shrewd. The digital artwork matches the tone of the telling with plentiful white space and lovable characters whose demeanor is always obvious. Potato's final response, both verbal and evident in its depiction, provides a lighthearted moment and a splendid outcome. 

Don't miss this one ... and if you haven't yet read I'm Bored (Simon & Schuster, 2012), check that one out as well. You will not be sorry; nor will your listeners be.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Seven Pablos, written by Jorge Lujan and illustrated by Chiara Carrer. Translated from Spanish by Mara Lethem. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2018. $26.95 ages 6 and up

"There is also a Pablo living in
Ecuador. His home is in a part of
the Amazon jungle that is almost
impossible to reach. His mother
picks fruit for a living.
One day, a group of musicians
cross the dry riverbed and arrive
in his village. They add their songs
to the trills of the jungle. Pablo and
his mother are moved by their music.
Later, when the musicians drive off
in their ramshackle truck ... "

It is so important for all children to know the stories of other children who live in our world. There is much to learn when you consider those children, their circumstances, and respect the differences that exist child to child. Not only do they learn about other cultures, religions, and the wants and needs of each, they also learn about other places in the world and the history of those places. Kids have so many questions about everything ... they are constantly inquisitive. Sharing the lives of others builds understanding and empathy.

This story of seven boys, all named Pablo and living under varying circumstances in both North and South America, will be eye-opening and enlightening for every child who has a chance to hear their stories through thoughtful and memorable text. Jorge Lujan introduces each boy and offers a brief look at the life they lead. Each of their stories is told on two double page spreads and accompanied by telling images created by Chiara Carrer in color and graphite pencil. From Chile, to Ecuador, to Mexico, to New York, to Peru, to Rio de Janeiro, and ending in a trip from Mexico to the United States ...

"Pablo was born in Chiapas, Mexico, and is now on his way
to the U. S. border by train. His father was the first to cross,
followed by his mother. Both walking.

After two failed attempts, when border patrol sent him back,
Pablo sets out again. This time he wears his mother's
wedding ring around his neck."

These are children we don't often see, and we need to know their stories.

It is a book that is never too much for the children sharing it; it does, however, suggest some very complex issues. We learn only a little about each of the Pablos; the observations shared leave readers with questions concerning their future. What an excellent way to begin important conversations!  Honest and compelling, it deserves your attention.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Mason Jar Science: 40 Slimy, Squishy, Super-Cool Experiments, by Jonathan Adolph. Storey Publshing, Thomas Allen & Son. 2018. $22.95 ages 8 and up

"You think growing bigger takes a long time? Try being a stalactite. Those drippy columns you see in caves grow just a few inches every thousand years! You can observe how they do it by growing your very own string of stalactite crystals. The best part is, it won't take a thousand years! (More like a week.) Set up your experiment where no one will touch it, check your drip bowl every day, and watch what happens."

The table of contents shows that the purpose for this fun book begins with the importance of science, the reason for using mason jars, and also for using the scientific method to solve some of the mysteries of the natural world. The five sections include learning in chemistry, earth science, botany, biology and physics. That seems to cover it! Back matter has a glossary, a metric conversion chart, a barometric pressure chart and finally, an index. It is filled with fun, and a whole lot of learning.

The title reveals that there are forty experiments to try. The kids have been home now for a while, and might be looking for something new and different to do with new discoveries to be made and understood. This book is sure to inspire them. It would be a great instruction manual for a summer science camp.

The author begins each new section with a description of the science being explored, and then goes on to share ideas for activities sure to entice readers into making their own discoveries by following a clearly designed plan for each. An introductory paragraph gives pertinent facts and connections. A list of materials needed and clear instructions for using those materials follow. Experimenters are encouraged to observe carefully what happens, and are given an explanation for what they see. Information boxes are useful, citing Science In Real Life, Speak Like a Scientist, Tell Me More, and Take It Further.

The mason jar is the perfect container for many reasons; they are very effective as the reader moves from one experiment to the next, all the while using this versatile, inexpensive, and often found in the home receptacle. Clear and useful photographs accompany the investigations. So much here to try for those who are 8 and up, but also fun to do with little ones as long as they have some adult supervision while making their discoveries.

Low-cost and easy to try, while teaching children what they need to know about the science that is part of our every day life, this is a book that will make some long summer days more exciting and informative. Perfect for summer diversion, but worthwhile for any middle grade science class as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Step Up To The Plate, Maria Singh, written by Uma Krishnaswami. Tu Books, Lee & Low, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"After communion, everyone got back onto their trucks and drove the short distance to the picnic area at Los Picachos. Usually the Mexican Hindu families talked over each other at the tops of their voices, a small, tight community in the larger world that did not understand them. Today, the conversation was subdued. Even Tia Manuela was quiet, her laughter dampened. The sun shone cheerfully upon those low hills west ... "

Historical fiction brings new learning and interest in others to many young readers. It provides an opportunity to live in times past, and to develop an understanding for those whose lives have not followed the same path as their own. It has long been a favorite type of book for me. I absolutely love it when I read a book that teaches me about something I had not known.

That is exactly what happened when I read this wonderful book about Maria Singh and her adha-adha community. Adha-adha means half and half. Maria's father is from India and a Sikh, while her mother is from Mexico and a Catholic. Such communities were not unusual in California in the 1940s, following World War II.

Maria's story concerns both cultures; the men who came to the US through Mexico due to anti-Indian immigration laws. Their Hispanic wives have journeyed north with them, and they have settled on land, often rented. This means that their lives there are determined by their landlords. When the man who owns the land her father has farmed decides to sell, the family is thrown into unease. The government will not allow him to buy the land as he has no standing in the country.

That is not Maria's only concern. Maria loves baseball, and one of the teachers at her school is willing to coach a girls' team. Maria wants to play, but must first convince her father to allow it. Then, she must enlist her mother's help to make her father see that shorts, not a dress, are needed for her to play well. Finally, she must 'step up to the plate' in support of a new baseball field in their community.

Though the two cultures are very different, the author handles the storytelling with great care in helping readers see that working together and having respect for each other goes a long way toward tolerance and acceptance of those differences. Some problems are significant; others not as life-changing. Maria learns this, learns from the discoveries she makes and moves forward to a better understanding. There are a number of issues presented, but the author manages to keep her readers engaged as they consider the impact of each on Maria, her family and her community.

There is much to learn in this well-written and emotional tale about Indian independence, about racism and conflict, about community, and about culture. It is eye-opening and hopeful in the story it presents.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Hollow Under the Tree, by Cary Fagan. Groundwood, 2018. $16.95 ages 9 and up

"Ninety years ago, when these events occurred, parents didn’t worry so much about children being outside on their own. From a young age they walked to school alone and visited friends or went to the store to fetch a tin of baking powder or a spool of thread. But even then, children were not supposed to be out at midnight. Sadie did feel bad about deceiving her father, but she couldn’t see any other way."

I don't know about you; I love to read books that seem implausible while also being remarkably plausible. Kids do, too. Such books make them feel less vulnerable, I think. I finished reading this fine book on Sunday while I was watching the ball game, and wanted to get right to telling you about it. Many readers will find it worth their time.

Sadie Menken lives with her father, the pieman. They live in Toronto in 1925, at the very time a circus train car derails and a wary, frightened lion is let loose to find shelter and protection from the elements. That lion makes its new home in High Park which is very near where Sadie lives. Sadie loves the park but doesn't have time to visit it regularly. Her job after school is delivering pies to her father's many customers. Her final stop each day is at the Kendrick family mansion. There she meets the young boy of the family, Theodore Junior. The two become firm friends.

One of her few visits to the park has Sadie coming face to face with the lion, who has found the perfect hiding place in a 'hollow under the tree.' He is hungry, and Sadie begins trading pies with the butcher to get scraps of meat to feed him. The arrangement doesn't last long; Sadie must find a new source of food. That is where Theo Junior becomes an accomplice in feeding and in keeping quiet about the new park resident. Together, they visit their new friend and work to keep him a secret.

Miss Clemons, a retired librarian and newspaper enthusiast, boards with the Menken family and loves to share news items. One is of the monster that is living in High Park and killing animals and birds at will. A police search reveals no monster, thanks in large part to the action taken by Sadie and Theo Junior, who have found the lion a temporary refuge in the Kendrick garage. Until a group of school bullies make a startling discovery when harassing Theo and Sadie late one evening.

What happens next will bring smiles of delight to readers, and a sense of contentment. This is an amusing and entertaining story that is sure to please readers wanting books to read on their own. It moves along quickly, and offers numerous topics of interest.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Tale of Angelino Brown, written by David Almond and illustrated by Alex T. Smith. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"When Betty and Angelino get home after school, Betty starts making Bert's favourite: shepherd's pie with carrots and cabbage and lots of gravy. It's not the kind of food for Angelino, so she makes him a little bowl of raspberry jelly with banana yogurt and three mini gumdrops on top. It's dark when Bert comes through the door, and the stars are starting to shine. Bert kisses Betty. He pats Angelino's little head."

I'm reading some terrific middle grade novels this week. This is one of them.
I have great admiration for David Almond's writing. He is adept at character development and creating stories that draw young readers into this world that can be quite magical. Such is the case with Angelino Brown, and his very supportive 'family.'

Bert Brown is a grumpy bus driver, not much enjoying his passengers, his route or his daily grind, when he experiences a strange feeling in his chest. Thinking the worst, he supposes he is having a heart attack until he reaches into his shirt pocket and finds a tiny angel there. Bewildered by the turn of events and knowing that he should take the angel straight to his wife, he takes the tiny mite home with him. Betty opens her arms and welcomes the tiny angel into their home with love, food, and a place to sleep. The two, who lost their own young son, have love to share. They name him Angelino and he quickly becomes part of their family.

Betty takes him to the school where she works preparing food for staff and students. The children take to him immediately, and Angelino has a home away from home. The Acting Head of the school is not nearly as pleased as she is doing her best to keep a low profile and win back favor with higher authorities. Never mind that, the children do their best to teach him to communicate and to play soccer.

No one knows that two scoundrels are watching Angelino's every move; they have plans to kidnap  and sell him. The opportunity arises and Angelino disappears, leaving the Browns and his school friends overcome with worry and emotion. They do everything they can to find him and get him back. In the meantime, readers learn something about the two who have kidnapped him. They have not had easy lives. Bullied and abandoned, they are working hard to better themselves. Readers will feel empathy for their plight, and for their run-in with Basher.

Mr. Almond's storytelling hits at the heart, showing that every one of us is influenced by our upbringing and environment. A little love and understanding (with an angelic touch) can make all things more promising, and bring a change of circumstance for almost everyone involved.

Humorous, heartfelt, kind and magical. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sun, written and illustrated by Sam Usher. templar books, Candlewick. Penguin Random House, 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Granddad said, "Let's have a
rest." And I said, "What else
are we looking for, Granddad?"
And he said, "Somewhere with
a cool breeze."

So Granddad navigated and I
looked out. I said, "What
about this way, Granddad?"

The sun beat down."

The past two weeks here have been hard to bear with heat and high humidity. I know I may be one of the few who voice a complaint - our winters are long. But, the high humidity causes problems for many and has the weather network constantly offering heat advisories and reminding people to stay inside, keep hydrated and lessen their movement if they must be outside. It is good advice.

It definitely makes this third in a series of weather books from Sam Usher apt for today. Following Snow (2015) and Rain (2017), today I want to tell you about SUN. 

It is a very warm read, both figuratively and realistically. It features the same young boy and his ever-patient and congenial Granddad. It's sunny in the early morning. The boy wants an adventure.

"I said, "It's hotter than broccoli soup,
hotter than the Atacama Desert,
and hotter than the surface of the sun."

Granddad said, "It's the perfect day     
for a picnic."

After packing their provisions, and making the decision for who would navigate and who would scout, they are off on the day's adventure. Their search for the perfect place to have their picnic is hindered by the intolerable heat from the blazing sun. It beats down on them every step they take. The road is long. Granddad often needs a stop to rest, allowing more time to navigate and decide on their next plan of action. Granddad voices his requirements for the ideal spot as they walk on: picturesque, shade, a cool breeze. Their arrival at darkened cave brings a cool place and a big surprise!

Their experience at navigation and looking out holds them in good stead with those who arrived in the cave before they did. A shared picnic also wins them favor. An adventure, indeed, and a boisterous picnic to boot! What more could a grandfather and his beloved grandson ask? Their long journey proves that you never know what you will find unless you keep looking.

Look, then look again and again. There is a lot to see in the watercolor illustrations that help to tell this story of family love and friendship. Kids will be especially attracted to the double page spread of the many provisions needed to ensure a grand adventure and delicious picnic for two. Checking it out is sure to inspire some stories of their own.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Blinding Light, written by Julie Lawson. Nimbus Publishing. 2017. $14.95 ages 12 and up

"Will was at a loss. One minute he was watching a ship burning in the harbour. The next minute he was on the ground. He remembered seeing, hearing, feeling several things at once - a flash of light, thunder crashing, shuddering, a tornado-like wind - then nothing... He took his time standing up. Looked to the north, to the enormous black cloud looming overhead, and saw to his horror that the entire north end of the city was gone. Flattened ... "

I recently sat on a jury that allowed me the privilege of reading some pretty darn good books of historical fiction. This was but one of them. Prior to reading it, I had a fair bit of knowledge about the Halifax Explosion that happened in December 1917. I knew the horror of its impact, but with only superficial attention to the disaster that it must have been. After all, I was reading it from a historical perspective, full of facts and not much more.

Julie Lawson brings it to a very personal level for her readers as she explores the event that changed so many lives. While including all of the pertinent information that led to the two ships colliding in Halifax harbor on that fateful day, she tells her story from two points of view: Livy Schneider is 13, her brother Wilhelm, 15.

Both are treated badly because of their German heritage. Their story begins in November 1917 and ends in March 1918. We learn about the earlier death of their father, who does his best not to respond to taunts and jeers from those who hate him for his German heritage. He died while sailing rough seas.  He is sorely missed. Their mother is a critical and stern woman, who lives in the hope that her husband will someday return since his body was not recovered.

When the explosion occurs, Livy is running an errand for her mother in the north end of the city. She finds herself trapped in the rubble with a little one and a puppy. Unable to find where they belong, she takes them home. Prior to the disaster this would not have been an acceptable situation for her conservative, prudish mother who gloried in the family's status and wealth. Her mother's injury and loss of one eye occasions a change in her attitude toward others, and those in need of help and support. We see these changes through Livy's narration, and her own willingness to become more generous and accepting.

Her mother shares a very astute observation following the loss of her eye to flying glass:

"I had two good eyes but I never saw beyond my side of a story," she tells Livy. "Now ...I'll try to see two sides of a story with my one good eye."

Quite the turnabout!

Will, on the other hand, is busy delivering messages from one part of the city to another, and helping with the rescue and relief efforts. His viewpoint shares the havoc wreaked on the city by the explosion, as well as a clearer understanding of the events that led to that particular moment in history.

Ms. Lawson tells a strong family story of tragedy and triumph. The characters are strong, while flawed. They learn much about themselves, about recovery and about community as they face the changes the disaster inflicts on so many people. In her author's note she provides clear information and dramatic descriptions of what happened that fateful day in Canadian history.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Drawn From Nature, by Helen Ahpornsiri. Templar, Candlewick Press. Penguin Random House, 2018. $30.00 all ages

"Out in the meadow, summer is in full swing - poppies sway in a gentle breeze, wheat turns golden in the sun, and nimble harvest mice climb the stalks in search of a midsummer feast. Since the wheat is sown in spring, by summer it has grown tall and strong, and now its heads are heavy with grain. At summer's end, the crops will be harvested: the wheat grains will be ground into flour, and its stalks will be dried ... "

It is obvious that this book began with a consuming love of the natural world. Did the art come first? I would guess it was a love for the world around that drew Helen Ahpornsiri to design the absolutely wondrous compositions she constructs using pressed plants. You can see some of her work at this link:

After time spent poring over and treasuring the work found there, I want you to know about this  recently released book. Reading the careful, illuminating text that is testament to her great love for nature, you cannot help but be captivated by the language in both informative paragraphs and the delightful captions that accompany many of the images.

Spring begins the study. Observations include birdsong, nest building, awakening trees, growth, hares, pond life, butterflies and blossoms. Having helped her readers enjoy the eternal wonder of that early season, she moves on to summer: the meadow, cricket sound, the reeds, green leaves, buds and bees, summer nights. Autumn brings deer rutting, golden leaves, dandelion puffs, migration, nuts and berries, and fungi. Finally, winter is captured through observations about hibernation, bare branches, survival, berries, robins and red foxes. Could this just be the start? One can only hope!

I have barely touched on the delicate collage artwork that is breathtaking in its details. Each animal is created from carefully cut plant parts in pages designed to capture our full attention and awe. The colors chosen for each season are distinct and inspiring. Abundant white space allows for brilliance in the details, and encourages careful attention. Then, there is the negative space of this deep black background and the detail it brings to the fore. Can you tell I love it all?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Turtle Pond, written by James Gladstone and pictures by Karen Reczuch. Groundwood, 2018. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Summer ...
stretched out in sunlight,
turtles are basking,
warming their bodies
on all the dry rocks of
turtle pond.

their mouths are moving.
Are turtles speaking?
We try to hear them,
the sounds they're making
at turtle pond."

What is it about turtles? Is it that they carry their homes with them? Or that they appear to be shy and retiring? Or that they are a reasonably easy-care pet to have? Whatever it is, those interested in turtles and their habits will find much here to explore.

It is a book about one specific species ... the red-eared slider. It is recognizable as the one most often kept as a pet. In this journey through the seasons for a young boy and his family, readers learn a great deal about this particular turtle. They are frequent visitors to the turtle pond at the public gardens in their community. In those visits, they make careful observations concerning turtle behaviors.

"Piled high -
one, two, three, four, five!
They climb on each other.                 
Why do they do that?
A stack of turtles at turtle pond."

The text is accessible for young readers, and informative. Each season brings new observations to be noted and recorded in clear text. For those particularly interested, this quiet book is likely to lead to further study. An author's note provides additional facts about turtles in general and this one in particular. 

"Today there are close to 320 species of turtles
living in the world. Many of those species are
threatened with extinction. So it may seem odd
that Turtle Pond features a species - the Red-eared
Slider - that is far from endangered. In fact, the
Red-eared Slider is so successful that it is considered
an invasive species in many places. To be fair to the
Red-ears, they have become invasive in large part due
to the vast numbers we have bred as pets."

The author's fascination is clear, and the realistic graphite pencil and watercolor illustrations are rich in color and detail. The soft colors, with bright hits of red for the turtle's 'ears', speak to the quiet calm of the pond. Changing perspectives allow further understanding for these gentle, curious and ancient creatures.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Penelope Bagieu. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $23.50 ages 14 and up

"Tove Marika Jansson is conceived in Paris and born in Helsinki on August 9, 1914. She starts drawing before she can walk. Her father, Viktor, is a sculptor, and the family lives in an artist studio. Tove grows up in a joyous, creative household, where parents and children paint, tell stories, and have parties for days on end. Her mother, Signe, is an illustrator. She draws, rides horses, shoots rifles, and keeps her husband ... "

I did not know Penelope Bagieu's work. So, I was pleased to learn a bit more about her as I pored over the mini-biographies she presents in this book about strong and exceptional women. As happens often, when faced with knowing more about a familiar person or choosing to learn about someone new, I chose someone new. Doing that opened my eyes to many women whose stories I did not know. I love that!

There are 29 biographies here, and they have no connection one to the other. Instead, these women are internationally known, some in the present and many from the past. I had little or no knowledge of all but 8. So, I am feeling smug that I have now learned about many remarkable women. That learning was done by reading those stories in graphic form which requires the artist to be concise and often dramatic.

There is a lot of information presented in the 8 to 10 pages given to each amazing woman. In 6 to 9 panels per page, interested readers will read powerful tales of activists, athletes and artists, of explorers, leaders and scientists. Their lives are chronicled from birth through the events in their life that make them admirable and worthy of the readers' attention, and sometimes to their death. Information provided is sure to encourage further study. It is a marvelous format and provides inspiration and encouragement for young women wanting to make a mark on their world. Original and engaging, I have been rereading some.

Having recently read and posted Islandborn (Junot Diaz), I was especially interested to read about Las Mariposas (Rebel Sisters). Born in the Dominican Republic when Rafael Trujillo and his secret police are wreaking havoc in their country, the Mirabel sisters grew up in a happy household. Trujillo's persistent pursuit of  Minerva, one of the two younger sisters is unwelcome and resisted. Three of the girls become staunch fighters against the despot, leading to many arrests, torture and finally death.

"In the eyes of the Dominican people they are the face of the revolution ...
... and become an even greater concern to Trujillo, who can feel the winds
of change coming.

Las Mariposas are on edge. They worry about those famous 'car accidents'
that happen so often these days. They are right to worry: on November 25, 1960,
while driving to the prison to visit their husbands, a car cuts them off. They are
hacked to death with a machete, then their bodies are put back into the jeep, which
is hurled over a cliff."

Six months later, Trujillo's reign comes to an end when he, too, is assassinated.

This is an exceptional collection of stories that will be of great interest to many.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Party and Other Stories, written and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2018. $19.99 ages 4 and up

What is going on here?
Can't you tell? I am
having a party with my 
In my bathroom?
Oh, I see ... 
Let's go, guys. 
I guess he didn't 
mean it when he said 
I could use the bathroom." 

We are endlessly lucky to have terrific authors writing short stories for up-and-coming readers. In Sergio Ruzzier's hands, with his unique and most enjoyable art as the backdrop, we are doubly blessed. He uses great variety in presentation and lovable characters to tell three stories starring Chick and Fox. New readers will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the stars of the show in detailed and humorous images, filled with bubble speech dialogue.

Chick is full of life and enthusiasm; Fox is not. Fox takes life as it comes in an easy, accepting manner that is foreign to his pal. Nevertheless, they are great friends; Chick lively, Fox indulgent. They share three stories: The Party, The Soup, and finally, Sit Still. One involves a misunderstanding - or is it? The next concerns Fox's diet - what it should be, what it isn't, and what it might someday be. The last is about patience and understanding - at least, from Fox's point of view. He is ever tolerant. He is the friend we all aspire to be, and to have.

It feels like a graphic novel, and early readers will love that. Sergio Ruzzier's signature artwork is sure to please his fans, new and old. Filled with color, charming characters and backgrounds sporting eye-catching details, they will pore over the panels and delight in the subtle humor.

Do not miss the final page! It provides hope for meeting Fox and Chick again.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Vivid: Poems and Notes About Color, written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2018. $23.50 ages 7 and up


Oh, what did I do?

Even though blue is often 
associated with sadness, 
it is the most popular 
color, according to polls
taken in ten countries ... " 

I love the fact that Julie Paschkis chooses color as her focus for this new book of poetry. Her artwork is always bold and appealing. I first admired her work when I read Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile (Henry Holt, 2003) and then Through Georgia's Eyes (Henry Holt, 2006). If you want to see more of the art she makes and to read her blog, go to  I'm sure you will find it interesting and inspiring.

That being said, I wasn't surprised to find I really like this book, too. It is a gorgeous examination of color. I admire the way Julie has placed her art alongside the varied and enjoyable poems, and the short, informative paragraphs included about each spread's featured color.

The poetry is as varied as the art with each turn of the page. One that I especially like has a connection to a fairy tale, and the role color plays in our language. She even leaves her audience with a question to ponder.

"Red to Pink

Jack, in the red,
sold old brown cow
for three green beans.
Felt blue.
Black magic or green thumb?
Beans grew.
Up, up slow.
Fee. Fi. Fo.
Ogre grim.
White lie.
Jack didn't die.
Got bold.
Stole gold.
Quick, think!
Down in a wink.
Jack, tickled pink.

Lots of expressions include colors: 
feeling BLUE, tickled PINK, telling
a WHITE lie. Why? Why are you 
GREEN with envy instead of
ORANGE with envy?"


Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Round of Robins, written by Katie Hesteman and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Red-Hot Mama

A heater hides on Mama's chest
To warm each egg inside her nest.
With sensors set to incubake
In just a dozen days she'll make
Four little ones all set to hatch -

An up-and-coming birdie batch."

Having just spent some time observing a new round of fledglings learn about life from their parents and then leave the nest (in a tree in my front yard) for good , I was delighted to receive this book and take the time to read it a few times. I hope there is another 'brood' on the way. I haven't heard a lot of early morning bird song lately; perhaps the parents have moved on to a new nest. I will keep my fingers crossed as they seem to have found a quiet, safe place to start a family here.

There are sixteen poems and each helps young readers learn more about this first bird of spring. Every stage of family life is described in rhythmic text, often with humor and always with well-chosen and captivating language.

"Almost a Fledgling

Sleeping, eating, then repeating,
Heading in the right direction.
Changing, growing, and it's showing ...

Now they're fluffs of plump perfection."

Sergio Ruzzier's soft pen and ink and watercolor images capture perfectly the poetic tone. The expressive, humorous birds guarantee rapt attention to their daily lives as they navigate their way from total dependence to glorious freedom.

"Earning Their Wings

Fledglings' spots are fading fast.
Baby days have quickly passed.
Romping robins roam the lawn,
Hunting till the worms are gone.
Zipping through the 'hood in flight,
Roosting with their flock at night -
On their own, they'll be all right!"

Indeed, they will!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Saturday Is Swimming Day, written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2018. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"She took my temperature
and said I didn't have a fever,
so I could still go to my swim

She rubbed my tummy and
said it would probably feel
better once I got there.
I didn't think so."

It doesn't seem to matter what age a person is, it is difficult to forget those things that scared us as children. For me, it was many things. I have always been happy at home; as a young child, that was very true. New experiences were not my cup of tea. I remember being fearful of many new things, one being swimming lessons at our neighborhood pool.

So, I know exactly how this little girl feels as she contemplates a series of Saturday swimming lessons. The first week, she has a stomach ache. Mom is patient, allowing her to express her fear of the unknown in a physical way. She probably does have a knot in her stomach. Mom listens and then assures her that she will be fine. It doesn't go well. She sits at the side of the pool for the entire lesson. Her teacher, Mary, is understanding and lets her watch. The other kids seem just fine, and have personalities of their own.

The next week is no better. The stomach might even be worse. Mary once again listens and then promises to help. New discoveries are made ... the water is warm, kicking comes easily, and crossing the pool with help is possible. Each week gets better, as readers might expect.

The watercolor and colored pencil artwork is gorgeous, filled with bright color and a familiar setting. Expressive facial and body language creates a sense of initial fear and then growing comfort as the weeks pass by.                                                                               

Friday, July 6, 2018

Super Cats: True Stories of Felines That Made History, by Elizabeth MacLeod. Annick Press, 2018. $14.95 ages 9 and up

"When an indoor cat spies a bird just outside the window, it crouches at the window, tail lashing back and forth, and sometimes it makes a stranger chattering sound. Scientists don''t know why cats make this noise. Some think the feline is showing its frustration at not being able to get at its prey, while others think the cat is expressing its excitement at spotting the bird."

For whatever reason they do it, those who own and love cats have likely heard that sound. As she always does, Elizabeth MacLeod has done a great deal of research for this wonderful new book that will please young readers who have an affinity for felines and for heroes.

The design of the book and the many photographs that adorn its pages will keep those readers engaged and entertained for hours. There are nine chapters: Cool Cats, Cat Gods, Bad Luck Cats, Good Luck Cats, Inspiring Cats, Feline Hunting Machines, Working Cats, Spy Cats, and Cats That Help Heal. I went right to finding about cats that help and heal, having read previously about Doctor Oscar and wanting to know more.

"Oscar patrolled the length of the floor, stopping to sniff in a few doorways, sitting down in some, and trotting right by others. When he'd finally checked all the rooms, he leaped up onto a stack of files at the nursing station, closed his big green eyes, and curled up for a nap.

The nurse relaxed. Now that Oscar had done his round and checked all the patients, she knew they'd be safe for the night."

Oscar had proved to the staff that he had an uncanny ability to recognize when a patient would pass away. He would stay near that patient in the last hours of their lives. Amazing! I learned about therapy cats, watched suggested cat videos, learned more about Oscar, lifesaving cats, and even a cat nurse. And I had only read one of the nine chapters. There is much to read, to admire and to learn as kids take the time to share this book.

It is a journey through history, and shares some outstanding information. Each chapter begins with a tale told from the perspective of a cat, followed by many information boxes, sidebars, and other nonfiction features. Ms. MacLeod follows up with a timeline, a list of places to visit, a source list and ideas for further reading.

Cat lovers are going to love this one!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship. By Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, and illustrated by Scott Magoon. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2018. $22.99 ages 6 and up

"One day, a visitor came to see Jessica and she brought her service dog, Currahee. Jessica say how a smart dog like Currahee could help her. That very day, she started filling out the application to ask for a dog of her own. After a while, Jessica got some very exciting news."

Two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing have shared their story in this picture book that follows Jessica's recovery and Rescue's training in the days before their paths converge. While Rescue is working hard to learn to become a service dog, Jessica is learning to adjust to a new existence, following the amputation of  part of her left leg.

Once paired, the two must adapt to a life together. They work hard. Rescue helps with those things that Jessica cannot do for herself. Jessica ensures that Rescue gets the rest and exercise that all dogs need. When Jessica learns that she will lose part of her right leg, it is Rescue who helps her recover. He is a willing and loving companion.

"Rescue and Jessica had to start all over again.

Slowly, but surely, they learned how to do all
the things they needed to do.


The placement of service dogs is life-changing. This story makes that evident. This husband and wife team do have a service dog named Rescue. In their book, they do not relate their own experience. Rather, they use a fictional character with a similar injury to their own. While they share the joys and trials of recovery, they make no mention of how the child hurt her legs. Realistic and gracious, it is a story that will appeal to many and is an inspiration to those who know their true story.

Scott Magoon uses realistic digital artwork to exhibit for readers a look at the work done by both the child and the dog prior to their match, and of all they do to make it work. Their special bond and love for each other are evident in illustrations that show them working together.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

New Shoes, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Greenwillow, Harper. 2018. $21.99 ages 1 and up

"Let's go
to the

A man
off my

Getting new shoes can be a trial for little ones. In this new book, Chris Raschka does what he does so well. He gives voice to the child who is growing up, and whose old shoes must be replaced. The perspective is wonderful. Readers see nothing but legs, knees, feet and toes as the story plays itself out. Oh, and shoes!

Mommy helps with socks and shoes. The child notes the holes on top and bottom that spur a visit to the shoe store. The feet are measured, the choice is difficult; the first pair is 'pinchy' and the second pair 'comfy'. Those are perfect! The only thing left to do is show them to a friend.

As he does often, Chris Raschka sees (and allows his readers to see) the celebration inherent in what might seem to be a very small moment in a toddler's life. Instead, he shows it as a time of growth and independence. The bright colored washes of watercolor and gouache fill the pages and the short sentences displayed in bold white font will encourage multiple readings, and are just right for children learning to read independently.

A charming celebration of a very important occasion in the life of a young child.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Other Dog, written by Madeleine L'Engle and illustrated by Christine Davenier. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2018. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"I have beauty, wit, and charm.
I have been on the stage.
I am very talented.

And, until this other dog
was brought into our home
(without warning),
my master and mistress
seemed perfectly happy
with me."

An introduction by her granddaughter reveals Ms. L'Engle's love for both cats and dogs. She did, however, have a special place in her heart for Touche, her very first pet. In an author's note following the text, Ms. L'Engle tells readers that she began sketching life with Touche following the birth of her first child, and wrote this first (and only) picture book about their life. It was not accepted for publication until 2001, and has been reissued this year by Chronicle Books.

Touche is given voice to help readers understand the complete disruption in life when the 'other dog' arrives. Touche has always been the star of the show, coming from a theater background and having proven herself refined and stylish ... all the family really needed to be complete. This 'other dog' elicits feelings of anxiety and disappointment.

"If you ask me, this was a great waste of money.
Dogs are expensive to feed and clothe,
and one dog is enough for any family.
I fail to see why I did not satisfy all requirements."

The continuing lament So why another dog? is sure to evoke a giggle or two. There are many things that Touche can do that this new family member cannot. In the end, Touche realizes there is little to be done. The other dog is there, and that's that. Her acceptance is reluctant, following many humorous observations for all the trouble and work the little one provokes. As Jo grows, she exhibits signs of being very interested in Touche ... and that sits well.

"I must admit, though, that in our few conversations
she's been most interested in everything I've had to say -
which is, I think, a definitely encouraging
sign of intelligence."

The retro look of Ms. Davenier's loose watercolor illustrations add context for the humorous text, and give it a classic feel. Endearing and memorable, this is sure to become a favorite book for sharing.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Assassin's Curse, by Kevin Sands. Aladdin, Simon & Schuster, 2017. $12.99 ages 12 and up

"Is it?" the king said. "Think. This one" -  he pointed at me - "has now stopped not one, but two plots against my family - plus that business with the plague. He treats poisons, finds criminals - he even deciphers codes. Who better to go than him? And we'd all be dead without his giant friend, rolling pin or otherwise." To my horror, I saw Lord Ashcombe looking at us speculatively ... "

Charles, King of England, has summoned Christopher and Tom to court to praise their bravery and resourcefulness. He has heard about the Cult of the Archangel (The Blackthorn Key) and also of the scam in London (Mark of the Plague) where an unknown apothecary is determined to prove he has a cure for the Black Plague which is terrifying the citizens of London.

While the two are present at court, a plot to kill the king is exposed. However, a cryptic message left behind names the King’s sister, Minette, as the intended victim. Christopher and Tom, along with their partner and friend Sally, are ordered to accompany Minette to Paris, to provide protection. Christopher, a puzzle genius, uses his skills to decipher the code and discover the secrets of an ancient curse on the French throne, as they search for the long-hidden treasure meant to unlock that curse. Christopher constantly refers to the lessons taught and learned while he lived and worked with Benedict Blackthorn, master apothecary.  That connection to the past and the ongoing mention of his Master is welcome.

Above and under Paris streets, the three friends embark on a tension-filled race to find the treasure and thwart an assassination. They don’t always see eye-to-eye as they work together. Tom is right when he accuses Christopher of rushing forward with no thought given to the dangers the three may encounter. Christopher recognizes that Tom has a point; he knows he must make a concerted effort to think before further rash and impetuous action. There is also a hint at the deeper feelings Christopher is beginning to feel for the spunky, skillful Sally. Fans will relish this development, and will also further appreciate the team's continued growth as honorable, often funny, and very authentic characters.

Kevin Sands’ storytelling is remarkable. It is impossible for me to pick a favorite from the first three Blackthorn books. This one has the same strength as the first two, while serving up proof that it will not be the last. The Paris setting, the strong sense of 17th century history, the fast-paced action and complex plot make for a captivating and very satisfying read.

Spoiler alert – it ends in a cliffhanger.

Call of the Wraith is due to be released in late September. I will be waiting in line.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Everything You Need For A Treehouse, written by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"Or maybe it's one soldier
in an army of trees
and from far away
you'd have to squint to see
which one is yours -
Is that my turret
or a tangled crown? -
a grove of generals
your refuge in the flora.
Whether solo or squished
make sure your tree is tall -"

Speaking directly to her young readers Carter Higgins invites them to consider what a treehouse might look like if they allow themselves to dream it. There is no limit to what they can imagine if they take the time and look up.

"Everything you need for a
starts with time
and looking up
and imagining a home
of timber and rafters
in wrangled, gnarled bark."

From there, a lively group of ever-changing youngsters plan, gather materials, and create a series of original and diverse structures that will have readers inspired to dream their own dreams. You won't be surprised to learn that one of my favorites comes right in the center of the book. It shows a  perfectly bent tree that houses not one but two libraries ... and a cozy nook nearby showing children, alone and together, captured by the magic of words in the books they are reading. 

"You should build yourself a bookshelf
cause you might want to
sail sun-kissed seas
or dig a hole
through dirt and roots and rocks
to the other side."

The detailed graphite drawings provide perfectly imagined worlds for these small children. They are filled with rich details that will encourage a relaxed sharing and much discussion as each page is turned. The final image and message is all every child needs to keep dreaming big dreams. It is especially right that the author ends with the same words as she begins. Awesome!

Here are some thoughts from a fan: