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Saturday, December 22, 2018

                         Happy Holidays 

I have been sharing daily posts on this blog since November 11, 2009. It brings me great joy to be able to talk about the books I read and love. To know that so many find it worthwhile is a real incentive for me to keep doing what I love to do. 

For the first time in nine years, and after almost 4,000 posts, I have decided to take a short break this December. 

I wish you a blessed family time, filled with the peace and  wonder of the season. As we say goodbye to 2018 and welcome 2019, may you find comfort and delight in new books and more time to read them. 

I will be back here soon.  

Friday, December 21, 2018

Sing A Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, selected by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. Nosy Crow, Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $49.99 all ages

"Winter Morning

Take one starry night
without cloud blankets.
Sprinkle icing sugar all about.
Leave to set.

Frosted leaves
sugared trees
spider's web appears
marked out in silver pen.
     (Angela Topping)

If it is true that we learn to love poetry one poem at a time and one day at a time, this is the perfect book to start a new tradition in your family. With the beginning of a brand new year just around the corner, this 'big' book of selected poetry is the perfect family book for sharing. It would also be a wonderful addition to a classroom or school library.

More that 90 poets are celebrated here in 366 poems; each one is grounded in the natural world and written by both familiar and not-so-familiar writers who share their observations with a wide audience. Ms.Waters has selected verses that are grounded in the conservation of the environment as well as the way we must treat all creatures of the earth.


Hurt no living thing.
ladybird nor butterfly,
Not moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper, so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat,
Nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.
        (Christina Rossetti)

I have read each of the poems, and found some old favorites and made brilliant new discoveries. There is humor, beauty, and variation in the type of verse chosen and presented. The design is perfect. The captivating double-page spreads that accompany each set of poems are done in mixed media. They are an homage to the natural world and designed to attract attention and careful consideration.

The table of contents includes the introduction and a listing for each month of the year. The name of the month and the poem titles for each day are placed at the beginning of each section. Finally, index pages are provided for the poets, the poems, and the first lines.


As snow falls outside my window, I would like to share this ...



The frost-bitten garden
huddles beneath
a heaped duvet of snow.


are granite with cold.
          (Wes Magee)


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Yoga for Kids, by Susannah Hoffman. DK, 2018. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"When a cat stretches, it rounds
its back upward and when a cow
moos it arches its back down.

Cat-Cow pose combines these
two movements to help you
stretch your back.

You can even make animal
noises as you do it!"

With a foreword from Patricia Arquette and an introduction by the author herself, interested kids and parents will learn about yoga and the mindful ways it can impact daily life and learning. Patricia Arquette is aware that the world today can be a real challenge for children. She extols the practice of yoga, and speaks clearly about the author's experience and passion for teaching:

"She instructs with an awareness of how best to help children deal with stress in their daily lives. A blessing for both kids and parents, she makes practicing yoga at home seem effortless."

And the author shares some of the many reasons it makes sense to try it:

"The poses have many benefits, such as lengthening and stretching your body. Some bring courage and strength, while others are calming and good for improving concentration. The breathing techniques allow us to become still in our mind - to observe and let go of our fears and insecurities."

As she begins the text of the book, Ms. Hoffman reminds her readers about warming up, breathing, equipment needed, and how to use the book to learn a new practice. In specific information for adults on each page, she offers ways for helping as well as the benefits of each pose.

It is a step by careful step process that leads kids from one pose to the next, and then she combines those poses to help use their previous learning to make their practice enjoyable and constructive. Each new set of poses eventually creates a sequence for warming up, for energy, for confidence, and finally, for calming and restful relaxation.

As I have said in previous posts, DK does a marvelous job of design, numbered methods, and useful and detailed photographs. Learning the poses really is child's play when you see how well laid each one is. Well done!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Houndsley and Catina and Cousin Wagster, written by James Howe and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2018. $18.00 ages 6 and up

"There was so much noise that Houndsley could not hear what Wagster was saying now.

But he could tell by the way Catina tilted her head and laughed that she found Cousin Wagster charming.

Everyone found Cousin Wagster charming.

Suddenly, Houndsley felt invisible."   

I think I am right when I tell you that this is the sixth book in the Candlewick Sparks series about Houndsley and Catina. They are best friends who like to spend their time together, and who support one another in every circumstance. Early readers have gravitated to the series for its lively adventure, real dialogue, and the believable highs and lows that characterize true friendship. The two seem able to accomplish anything ... as long as they are together.

In this latest caper, Houndsley welcomes his loud and brash cousin, Wagster. Wagster arrives by train for a short visit before he is off  to experience more 'razzle-dazzle'. His visit is marked by enthusiasm, charm and nonstop compliments. A lot of those compliments come from Houndsley's good friends and are aimed at Wagster. As they sing his praises, Houndsley often feels left out, and fearful that his friends no longer care for him as much as they once did.

As happens with difficulties among friends, it is Catina who reassures her best friend and helps him realize the visit is just that ... here, and then gone!

'Catina laughed. "Don't be silly," she said.
"You are like a beautiful butterfly that stays 
in the garden. You make every day brighter
just by being you."

The book is divided into three chapters, and is just right for  children looking for a bit more difficult text. The sense of accomplishment that comes from reading those first 'chapter books' is hard to measure unless you are looking at the huge smiles and hearing the independence that comes from their taking another step forward. As she always does, Marie-Louise Gay adds just the right touch with endearing characters, repeating patterns, and details that enrich the story itself. 

The first five in the series are available in paperback, making them a viable purchase for a classroom library. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Blue, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $23.50 ages 3 and up

"maybe blue

very blue

ocean blue

sky blue"

Green (Roaring Brook, 2012) was a concept book of the best kind. Laura Vaccaro Seeger showed us green in its many variants and ended with a hint at keeping an eye of the environment and protecting it. Blue is another striking book about color; it also tells a fascinating story about a boy and his dog.

'Baby blue' is the perfect opening. A baby boy and his pup, tucked together with a baby blue blanket that will be there with them through their life together. It is some life. The two share the joys of growing, the ups and downs that make a life together, and the boy experiences the sadness of loss. It is a story that rings true for those who share it.

As she has done so expertly in earlier concept books, Ms. Seeger uses acrylic paint on canvas to give texture and expression to each of the double page spreads. The colors are deep and perfectly chosen, as are the couplets that accompany each new stage in the lives of the boy and his beloved pet. Her signature die-cuts invite careful consideration and a turn of the page to make the connections.

Her story is filled with joy, a hint of great sadness, and a return to joy. Remember to watch for the blanket as you make the transition from one stage of life to the next. Heartwarming and hopeful, you need this book. I promise you will read it more than one time!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Pearl, written and illustrated by Molly Idle. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2018. $ 23.49 ages 3 and up

"With that, Pearl was left alone.
A wave of disappointment washed
over her.

She was surrounded by thousands
of grains of sand ... millions
... billions beyond counting!

And here she was entrusted with just one?
Her heart grew heavy ... "

Pearl sees that the other mermaids have important daily work to do. She is discontent. She complains to her mother about the lack of meaning in her life. She wishes for a chance to help. Her mother responds by giving Pearl a seemingly small, but important, job. A grain of sand? To care for through day and night? How can that possibly make a difference in their watery world?

Pearl does as she is asked, caring for the tiny grain while watching it change and grow. Eventually, the weight from Pearl's heart is lifted as the pearl's light shines forth from the sky above. It illuminates land and sea from its lofty place in the night sky.

"Pearl beamed up at it.
It beamed back.
Its light touched everything."

Molly Idle's gentle fable is winsome and heartwarming. It speaks to young readers of the importance of even the smallest things having impact. From one single grain of sand, a pearl grows and makes the world more beautiful. Pearl does everything right as she provides attentive care, and watches how time and patience helps her pearl be its best self.

With curving lines, gorgeous pastel colors and the sea as a backdrop, Molly Idle creates a world of wonder for little ones who love mermaid stories. The book's luminescence is remarkable; the light shimmers throughout, in keeping with the beauty of the front cover.

This is a lovely book to be read aloud.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Santa Bruce, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney/Hyperion. Hachette. 2018. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Bruce also did not like
being cold. Which is why
he started wearing long
underwear and a warm

And then it happened ...

Oh Bruce! I am so happy to see you again. If you haven't met him yet, you are in for a treat. In his previous three adventures (Mother Bruce, Hotel Bruce and Bruce's Big Move), he proved himself a real curmudgeon. He's a big blue bear, who has been plagued by mistaken identity since the day he thought he would make a meal of the geese eggs he found.

His move to a quiet cabin in the woods has done nothing to provide assurance of a long winter's sleep. His family - the four geese who adopted him when they hatched and the three mice who invited themselves to be a part of his family- have no intention of letting him sleep through Christmas. They want a 'cozy, snow-filled' time spent in each other's company.

Bruce is a bear who doesn't like holidays, or fun, or cold; he certainly doesn't like being mistaken for Santa Claus. When a band of woodland creatures make their way to his cabin door, he gives careful instructions.

"Tell them
I'm not Santa.

Everyone, listen up! 
Single file! No pushing! 
Santa Bruce has time
to see all of you! 
Who wants cocoa?"

As he puts up with hearing Christmas wishes from all and sundry, Bruce remains committed to his curmudgeonly ways. And the fun never ends! While animal parents thank him and his family continues to encourage his participation, Bruce remains adamant that he will not do as they are asking. 

I love Bruce. I have yet to see him smile, and that makes me happy.  Ryan Higgins keeps him true to form with lots of laughs and detail in both text and artwork, and ensures that this book will be read repeatedly throughout the holiday season. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sea Prayer, written by Khaled Hosseini and illustrated by Dan Williams. Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House, 2018. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"I wish you remembered Homs
as I do, Marwan.

In its bustling Old City,
a mosque for Muslims,
a church for our Catholic
and a grand souk for us all
to haggle over gold pendants
and fresh produce and bridal

As they stand on a beach awaiting sunrise and the boat that has promised passage from the nightmare they are living to safe harbor elsewhere, a father writes a poem to his young son. He shares his wish that Marwan, his son, will remember the peace and joy of growing up in Syria, in the town of Homs. He describes the beauty of his childhood surroundings and the adventures shared by the family. All of that happened in a time past, before the war, and the bombs, and the terror and destruction. This is what Marwan will remember.

"You know a bomb crater
can be made into a swimming hole.
You have learned
dark blood is better news
than bright."

The three now stand with so many others, worrying and impatient. He explains that they may not be welcome when they arrive at their destination. But, there is little to be done except to try for a better life. Marwan's mother does her best to reassure her husband.

"But I hear your mother's voice,
over the tide,
and she whispers in my ear,
"Oh, but if they saw, my darling.
Even half of what you have.
If only they saw.
They would say kinder things, surely.'"

Do we? Should we?

Compelled to write this book when he saw the pictures of Alan Kurdi washed up on the Turkish coast in 2015, Khaled Hosseini has turned that grief into a prayer to the sea to keep the refugee family safe. Dan Williams creates companion images that show the beauty of the early landscape, the devastation of war, and the uncertainty of the sea they must trust. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot, written and illustrated by Mike Curato. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. $23.50 ages 3 and up

"How do I find the
Christmas spirit?" asked

"I don't know," said Mouse,
"but I will help you look!"

Elliot and Mouse looked for
the Christmas spirit at a show.

They went to see a beautiful

They even went sledding ... "

Mike Curato begins telling his Christmas story with the illustration of a young girl wanting to mail a red envelope. A turn to the title page shows the open flap of the mailbox, and the little one running to try to catch her envelope which has been blown away in the wind.

Turning to the story, we learn that Little Elliot cannot feel any excitement as Christmas approaches. His best friend, Mouse, does what best friends do. He takes Elliot to see Santa. Maybe that will perk him up. After waiting in a long line, Elliot knows what he will request from the big, jolly man.

"Could you give me the Christmas
spirit?" Elliot asked Santa.

"I'm afraid I can't give
that to you," said Santa.

"You have to find
that yourself."

Mouse leads on. Nothing works ... until that bright red envelope flies up and smacks Elliot right in the eye. It's a letter to Santa. They try to deliver it, but Santa has gone. Worried, Elliot opens the envelope and reads the letter. It sets the two off on an unforgettable adventure ... and a wish come true!

Beautiful, snowy scenes from New York City, appealing and familiar characters (if you are a fan of earlier Little Elliot books), and a heartfelt trip to bring happiness to a lonely little girl make this a delightful read at Christmastime.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Night Job, written by Karen Hesse and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Our radio travels with us from
room to room. We scrub the
cafeteria, then sweep the stage
while listening to a game played
miles away, where the sun is
shining on an emerald field
in a stadium filled with people
eating hot dogs and peanuts and
drinking lemonade. We tack back
and forth down the hallway,
sweeping the school from stem to

I seem to be on a run with stories about dads and their children. Lovely!

In this one, a father and son head out together on an early Friday evening. A lunchbox is packed and tethered to the back of a motorbike ... and they are off!  Across a bridge and straight to the school where his father cleans. Inside they go; the work begins. While Dad cleans the gym floor, his son shoots hoops. They move throughout the building, listening to the radio and sharing the workload.

Their initial work continues until 10, when they take a break in the outer courtyard to have something to eat. The library is next: Dad does the work while the boy finds a book, a pillow and a 'green vinyl sofa' ... the perfect invitation to read and relaxation. He reads aloud to his dad until he succumbs to sleep. When dad has completed the work at hand, he wakes his son, bikes back to their apartment, and the two settle in to quiet slumber. Ahhh!

The first person narrative voice gives such a personal perspective to this hushed, and beautifully told tale. The two work together in quiet familiarity. The gentle, serene telling is just wonderful. There were many moments when I went back to reread the carefully chosen words. Brian Karas uses mixed-media to complement the agreeable mood. The soft colors of dusk and dawn are an invitation to enjoy the bond the two share as they venture out together to a familiar setting, and then home again. 

Full of warmth and wonder, this is a book to treasure. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Construction Site on Christmas Night, written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by AG Ford. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2018. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Cement mixer has
concrete to pour:
He lays the foundation,
walls and floor.

And then he churns
another load
that will be used
to make a road.

He twirls, he spins ... "

For fans of the Construction Site gang, here's a special Christmas gift. As she did in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and then again in Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, Sherri Rinker introduces each one of the construction team workers. They have a job to do, and their deadline is Christmas night. It's the last important work for the year.

They are building a 'special house' and their hard work is essential. No need to fear their work ethic. They will do their best as they cooperate to get the work done, and on time. Bulldozer's work must be completed before any other work can start. Done in quick time, he turns to find a spectacular 'thank you' gift left for him. Excavator is next to complete his part. Surprise! Another perfect gift with a thank you card from the crew. Next up ... Cement Mixer, and then Dump Truck, who has seen better days.

"An icy wind blows in his face,
but Dump Truck revs to keep the pace.

His back is sore, his tires are shot,
but Dump Truck gives it all he's got ...

and soon, there's nothing left to haul.
He slows his engine to a crawl."

He, too, receives a personal gift. Crane Truck is the final worker; his hard work completes the task. Now, readers will discover why the work was so important. I will leave it to you to find out how truly important for the community it is.

Expressive artwork from the gifted AG Ford will give young readers great pleasure. He fills his spreads with a crew of happy vehicles whose hustle and bustle assures their work meets expectations. The gifts they receive will bring warm smiles, and the soft snowfall at the end of the day emphasizes Merry Christmas wishes. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Dam, written by David Almond and illustrated by Levi Pinfold. Candlewick Studio, Penguin Random House. 2018. $23.99 ages 6 and up

""Archie Dagg the piper
played here. And Gracie
Gray, she of the gorgeous

"There were dances here.
There were parties. 

"I came as a boy to hear
them ... "

When the father wakes his daughter early in the morning, he asks her to bring along her fiddle. He knows the dam will soon be completed, and their valley will be flooded. There is, of course, no family living within the area anymore . Everyone has been required to leave; each is given a new home.

Walking past the many buildings, the father spots an abandoned cottage. Quickly, he pulls the door away and the two enter . He assures that there is no danger within its walls. But, he has a request for his daughter.

"Now play.
Play for all that are gone
and for all that are still to come.
Play, Kathryn, play."

"Sing, Daddy, sing.
Dance, Daddy, dance."

They know the dam will change everything, and they are not angry. Their adventure takes them from house to house, filling each with music, and offering all who listen a glorious musical tribute to the land they have so loved. When the dam is done and the lake is their new reality, they find beauty in its existence as well. And the music stays.

Using charcoal, ink, pastel and digital imaging, Levi Pinfold evokes an earlier time. His muted palette gives life to a moody landscape and a feeling of reverence for a place that will be no more.
The spreads are varied in perspective and detail. The change in palette once the lake has formed and the people can enjoy its many pleasures is uplifting.

Beautifully told, with music at its heart, this is a story that is wistful and empowering as it shows that change may be hard to take, but it can be equally wondrous.

An author's note tells readers that this is a true story. Unforgettable!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Dad's Camera, written by Ross Watkins and illustrated by Liz Anelli. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Mom asked him why he didn't take a photo of us, but he wouldn't say. He just put the camera to his eye, pointed it at his cereal bowl, his coffee cup, and clicked. Dad took photos of the things he didn't want to forget. When Dad finished his first roll of film, he took it to an old store in the city to be developed. He came home with a thick envelope under his arm, went straight into his study, and stuck the photos across the window."

As the agony that is Alzheimer's Disease becomes apparent in the narrator's father, it is apparent to his son and the boy's mother that he is taking photographs of everything but his family. As his memory grows worse, Dad starts putting things away in funny places. The doctor has explained the progression of the memory loss. It doesn't make it any easier for his family that they know that.

As he takes pictures of the minutiae of things that are part of his everyday life, the son assumes his dad wants the photos to help him remember. As the films are developed, Dad places his photos on the window until it is filled with the many pictures he has taken. His wife is angry that there is no family picture among them. When he comes home one day without his camera, they assume he lost it.
Upon his death, they learn what happened to the camera and what Dad had left for them. One photo from one roll of film ... the most important one of all.

Using collage, watercolor and digital coloring, Liz Anelli is able to capture the emotions of the family as they lose their loved one to advancing disease. The endpapers are especially telling and painful. Many families face some of the same effects of memory loss, and do their best to accept its consequences. This honest account is sure to invite discussion concerning family, illness, love and memories. While sadness is at the core of the telling, it is also tender and hopeful.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

King Alice, by Matthew Cordell. Feiwel & Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2018. $23.50 ages 4 and up


Then the pirates came in their
big pirate car! Captain Bellyfish
walked around and said, "I'm
the toughest pirate on Earth!"
And the little pirate said, "No
more cookies? They you will
all eat fish, Knight Princesses,
and I won't say please! Walk the

Following up on the theme of imagination, today I want to share a book about Alice and the absolute joy she finds in spending a snow day ordering her father about as they play together. Alice has a regal presence from the moment her tired father arises, scratches his butt and becomes part of the brouhaha.

"Good morning, Sir Dad."
"Y-a-a-a-a-w-n ... Morning, Alice," said Dad.
"No! KING Alice! The First!" shouted Alice.
"You mean ... Queen?" asked Dad.
"No, KING!"
"Umm ... King," Dad said."

Obviously, they have had such days prior to this one. Alice wonders about returning to earlier pursuits ... 'super-sparkly strawberry muffins', a 'super-pretty' makeover for Dad. Dad is not keen. What about making a book together?

The book will be about King Alice, obviously! It's not a very long book ... one short chapter. Encouraged by her parents to expand on the initial premise, and with some added props, the story takes on a new life in a further chapter. Bored following this second chapter, King Alice is on to something else. Wait! An idea produces Chapter 5, skipping 3 and 4, and it's done before lunch! The snow day is continues following that. A bit too much enthusiasm lands her in the 'time-out' chair, followed by a return to calm and additional artwork.

What a family read this is! You will have great fun pouring over the illustrations and perhaps recognizing yourselves in some of its pages. Done with watercolor, colored pencil, markers, and pen and ink, it is indisputably Matthew Cordell having a great deal of fun while presenting what he knows about young children. It so honestly captures the chaos that can be part of the way families spend their days. It also offers humor and the supportive love parents provide when helping a young child toward independence.                                                                         

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Imagine, by Raul Colon. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 2018. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"A boy passes a museum
many times but never goes

Today is 
different ... 

What will it be like

I trust that you are fans of the incredible artwork in books illustrated by Raul Colon. In his latest wordless picture book he proves, once again, how imagination has inspired him to think, to create and to honor its power.

A young boy sets off from home, skateboard under his arm and helmet on his head. His journey takes him through New York streets and over the Brooklyn Bridge to the doors of the Museum of Modern Art. As he wanders through and admires all there is to see there, he imagines that characters from the paintings join him in a joyous dance. Following this pied piper of imagination, they follow him outside into the streets, through Times Square, and onto the subway for a visit to some of the most recognizable New York destinations. The ride the Cyclone at Coney Island, stare down at the world from the Statue of Liberty's crown, eat hot dogs from a street vendor, and share a song in Central Park.

When the time comes to return to the museum, they hail a yellow cab and head back to the home of artworks so many admire ... Picasso's Three Musicians, Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy and Matisse's Icarus. The boy collects his helmet and board and makes the return trip. On his way, he notices a blank wall that begs for splashes of color. Taking inspiration from the experiences of his wondrous day, he does himself proud. Absolutely breathtaking!

Raul Colon uses watercolors, Prismacolor pencils, and lithograph pencils on Arches paper to fill this book with light, movement, texture, and wonder. In an author's note he explains that he did not visit an art museum until he was an adult. What might have happened had he visited as a child?

"I believe that visiting the art museum and experiencing all the other countless works of art I knew only through reproductions became one the most rewarding experiences in my development as an illustrator. My mind was freed and I felt compelled and confident to express what was inside me and to create what wasn't. Seeing the works of great artists then and now gives me inspiration and stimulates my imagination."

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Day War Came, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2018. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"I can't say the words that tell you
about the blackened hole
that had been my home.

All I can say is this:
War took everything.
War took everyone.
I was ragged, bloody, all alone."

After hearing a story about a refugee child who could not attend school because there was no chair for her, Nicola was compelled to write this poem. After publication in The Guardian with illustrated images of empty chairs, it influenced many, many people to post their own photos of empty chairs with the hashtag #3000chairs. In this timely and stirring picture book, she reminds us that kindness is at the heart of the human condition and we all have the power to share it with others.

It is not an easy read; it is unquestionably a necessary one. More than half the people forced to leave them homes because of conflict and endless suffering are children ... just like yours, mine, ours. Can you imagine? I doubt it.

The young girl begins her day with her family at breakfast. Mom walks her to school where she spends her morning learning. The afternoon changes everything ... a bomb explodes nearby, destroying everything she knows.

The aftermath is terrifying. Walking, riding, sailing to an unfamiliar destination with people she doesn't know ... alone and scared and with little hope.

"But war had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart."

Accepted by no one, turned away at school when there is no chair, and finally seeing kindness in the face of a young boy with a chair in his hand, she begins to heal. Children come from all around, carrying chairs, offering an invitation and assurance that all children will find a place in their classroom. 

Colored pencil and watercolor artwork by Rebecca Cobb does not sugar-coat the terrible effects of war, and displacement. There is darkness and terror in the face of the bombing, and in the hut she finds for shelter once she arrives in a new place, There is also a hint of hope on the faces of the kind children who help her begin to 'push back' the war that has turned her life upside down.

We all need to be kind, and hopeful. Children often lead the way!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

My Father's Words, written by Patricia MacLachlan. Harper, 2018. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"The truth is that we know the dogs need people. But people need the dogs even more sometimes. To teach people how good they really can be. I call it turnabout." I thought about Finn and Emma - helping each other. When I went outside with Jenny and found Luke with Lulu, I saw the bumper sticker on Martha's car. I pointed it out to Luke.


Fiona's father loved words, and shared sayings often with his family. Following his untimely, and accidental, death, Fiona and Finn understand they might never know what they all mean. However, they remember them and they spark those memories of their father that will forever hold him in their hearts.

Declan, a psychiatrist, is on his way to help a patient when a child runs out in front of his car. In avoiding a collision, he drives into the path of another vehicle and is killed. The family is left to deal with the anger, grief, and their dreadful loss.

As they try to move forward, comfort comes in a variety of ways. Fiona begins speaking once a week with one of her father's patients, Thomas. He has insights to share - and the words he remembers from the many visits he has had with their father. The two talk for a short time every Monday, always ending with a promise for next week's visit.

Finn, who is younger than Fiona is having a very tough time processing the loss and his anger with a parent who would let her child run out into the street. Luke, who lives next door, asks both Fiona and Finn if they would like to visit an animal shelter with him. Perhaps, it will help both of them by connecting with the rescue dogs housed there. It does, indeed.

Patricia MacLachlan is a master at making every word count. She creates characters and story in precise and thoughtful language that will live long in the memory of those who share her books . And, she loves dogs! This is a beautiful story of hope and healing - and, as their father often said, "the eternal fitness of things."

Perfect for reading on these cool winter nights - hot chocolate, a cozy blanket, and a family hug.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Saving Winslow, by Sharon Creech. Harper. 2018. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"The first time Louie gave Winslow a shot, he almost fainted. He kept telling himself, I can do this, I can do this, but he didn't truly believe it. He was afraid of getting it wrong and hurting Winslow. He could hardly bear it that Winslow was sick, but it would be even worse if he hurt him more. His father held Winslow while Louie prepared the syringe. For a moment, Louie felt dizzy and queasy. He thought he might vomit as he injected the needle ... "

Louie's experience with raising animals has not been exemplary. At 10, he decides that his love of animals should win out; he is keen to take care of the tiny, feeble donkey his father brings home from his uncle's farm. His mother is concerned that Louie will become too attached to the donkey and take it hard when the donkey doesn't make it. Louie will not hear of it being a lot of work; he is determined to do everything needed to help it survive and thrive.

"Louie's mother bent her head to the donkey,
studying his sweet face. "Go on," she said.
"But I'm warning you both. He may not last
the night. And if he does, he may not last
another day or two. You're going to be so,
so sad." "No!" Louie said. "I will save Winslow."

Thus, the donkey is named, the battle to save him begins.

Already added to my 'keepers' shelf, this is a book that tugs at heartstrings and will have readers or listeners engaged from start to finish. Emotional and heartwarming, it is a tale of love and friendship that has many poignant moments, some humorous ones, and is always uplifting. Louie misses his brother Gus, who is serving in the military. He counts on his best friend Mack for support and cautious optimism. He deals with his eccentric friend Nora's pessimism concerning loss and Winslow's fate, accepts and appreciates her growing love for the tiny donkey, and shares small triumphs with her.

There is so much feeling shared in this story of love and perseverance. I admire the characters ... all of them. Mrs. Tooley gets on my nerves, as she will do for all readers and listeners; in the end, I have empathy for her as well. The ending is perfect.

If this is the first Sharon Creech book you have read to your kids, or your classroom, I hope it won't be your last. Hers is an amazing collection of memorable tales.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield, by Falynn Koch. First Second, Roaring Brook Press. Raincoast. $17.99 ages 11 and up

"Humans can be infected
with viruses in the same
way as bacteria. But once
inside, they act differently.

Unlike bacteria, viruses
cannot replicate on their
own. They need a host cell.

"That's right I like a nice 
healthy cell to get comfy in!"

As I considered this post and what I would say about the four Science Comics I have just finished reading: Plagues, Rockets: Defying Gravity, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, and The Brain: The Ultimate Thinking Machine, I thought I would tell you I was 'scienced-out'. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know how uncomfortable I often feel when writing about science. I do not, in any way, consider myself scientific, or qualified to review them. But, I can tell you how they make me feel. The first four books I have read in this wonderful series left me feeling 'scienced up'. I know so much more now than I did when I sat down to read them.

As happens with each book in the series, the author/illustrator shares a wealth of information in comic book form, making it appealing and memorable for the audience it is meant to serve. In Plagues, we meet Elena who is a researcher accompanying Bubonic Plague and Yellow Fever through glands and tissues while trying to convince the two infectious diseases to act as vaccines within the body. She shows them how harmful each has been throughout history. The two are delighted with the destruction they have caused. They even laugh at her pleas.

Ms. Koch uses both history and anatomy, adding touches of humor, to create a bit of a lighthearted tone to the teaching. She details how certain plagues originated and how they spread. But, she also informs readers that those plagues helped to improve medicine and the treatment of future outbreaks.
She does not shy away from the terrible things that have happened, while providing facts concerning the variety in pathogens, their ability to attack the body, and the ways the body works to fight off infections of all kinds. Learning about our own bodies was enlightening and surprising to me. White blood cells are pretty amazing! And there are so many different kinds.

There are a lot of superbugs out there. Medical research is making some tremendous progress in  areas of control and understanding clinical care and treatment. We can only hope it will continue. The illustrations help readers to make connections and to begin to understand more about the bacteria that too often take root in our systems.

This is a very complete introduction to the particular subject of plagues, with a glossary, timeline, end notes, and bibliography added to help with further learning.

Besides the four titles mentioned at the beginning of this post, works already published and forthcoming titles include dogs, dinosaurs, the solar system, trees, bats, robots and drones, sharks, flying machines, cats, cars, wild weather, polar bears, and volcanoes. Surely there is a title there to impress someone you know who has a scientific bent.                                                                       

Monday, December 3, 2018

All Right Already! A Snowy Story, written by Jory John and illustrated by Benji Davies. Harper, 2018. ages 3 and up

"Goodness gracious, it
snowed! And not just a
little. It snowed a lot."

"I've got to tell Bear! He
won't believe it. But it's
true, so he'll have to
believe it."

"Bear! Open up! It's Duck!
From next door! It snowed,
ol' buddy!"

While parents who have read the other three books in the Goodnight Already! series might be thinking they have had enough of Bear and Duck, two neighbors of entirely different personality
and passion, their kids are going to be thrilled to be meeting up with them once again. I know I was excited to find this next adventure, and will surely put it in the cupboard that houses the books I love reading to Sicily and Chelsea when they come to visit.

If you have seen the others, you will know Duck to be over-the-top excited about almost anything that happens. Always willing to share that excitement with Bear, he has no filter for the enthusiasm he brings to encounters between the two. Bear is an introvert, happy in his own company and longing for the peace and quiet a warm bath affords on a cold and snowy winter morning.

Duck will have none of Bear being inside when there is so much to do outside.Duck is full of ideas! Bear is not enthralled with any of them. Duck is persuasive and not to be discouraged despite Bear's reticence.

"Come on, Bear. Let's make snow
angels together. Then you can go
back to sitting around."


All right already, Duck." 

"Okay! Lean back in the snow and
move your arms and legs back and
forth. Just flap around and ...


"Like this?" 

Drenched and feeling the first signs of a cold, Bear just wants to go inside ... alone. Not going to happen, if you know Duck. He's concerned about his friend and prepared to nurse him back to health. How's a bear to get healthy with constant commotion and care? Disgruntled, Bear sends Duck packing.

What happens next prompts a realization that new neighbors might be in order!

Familiar to fans, this is a book that will be read again and again.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Boy and A House, written and illustrated by Maja Kastelic. Annick Press, 2018. $12.95 ages 4 and up

"A boy.

A cat.

An adventure.

A mystery undone.

A lovely surprise."

You know about animals and children, don't you?! They are so keen on each other, and seem prepared to follow them anywhere. It's exactly what happens in this exquisitely illustrated adventure.

A young boy heads away from home, enjoying the neighborhood and interested it what surrounds him. Neighbors can be seen at their apartment windows, a man bicycles past while another many walks his dog. A girl looks out from the lighted door at #42.

While mice frolic in the window at #34, a cat peers into the darkening street from another lighted doorway. The boy edges closer, hand held out in hopes of making a new friend. It does not happen. The cat climbs the stairs in the rather dilapidated building; the boy follows. He picks up a drawing as he approaches the staircase. Along the way there is much to see - on the walls, on the staircase. As he goes, he picks up other drawings that have been left behind.

An open, lighted door at the end of a long hallway leads to a room set for a tea party. The two soldier on - past a library, up a spiral staircase, past an art gallery. The pace quickens. First a sitting room, followed by another staircase, all littered with more and more discarded pictures. Does danger await?

I love every detail of his journey to the attic.There is much to see and so many stories to be discovered by paying close attention. I guarantee that you will not 'read' it only one time. Children will find many familiar items as they make the journey with the boy and the cat. While the adults who share it may not see the mice that take part in the adventure, children will see them every time! 

The author uses a sepia-toned palette and makes tremendous use of shadow and light to create a mysterious, and ultimately very satisfying story. No words needed.

Of her book, Maja has this to say:

" ...  is a silent book about a little boy’s morning wandering, and also, or even more, a story about going up and following the light, about curiosity and daring, getting lost and finding, friendship, secrets, and also about hoping for and believing in happy endings. I also wished to make it as an homage to literature, illustration, and to the nostalgic beauty of old times and timeless things.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands, written and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Orchard Books, Scholastic. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"We've got the sun and the rain
in our hands.

We've got the moon and the
stars in our hands.

We've got the whole world
in our hands.

We've got the wind and the
clouds in our hands!"

This celebration begins with a many-colored ball of yarn that moves across the endpapers and stops at the feet of a young girl. She begins to unravel it, and seems tangled in the glory of the brilliant colors. Soon, she is embracing those colors as she releases the ball of yarn to the world and the children therein. As the children follow the yarn over hills and across meadows, they capture the attention of the sun, the rain, and many animals from a wide variety of environments.

On they go to many countries of the world. The yarn connects one child to the next, and all of them to each other. They reach for it, they walk on it, and they welcome many of the animals found throughout the world to their parade. It finally becomes the strings for a hot air balloon that carries them to the night skies and the wonder found there.

Music for this well-known spiritual is provided, as well as a note about its origin, and a note about the inspiration that brings it to book form. That description is wonderful to read:

"Rafael Lopez loves color because it speaks all languages. He uses an array of hues that come in large recycled salsa jars from Mexico, along with mixed media. Using his collection of tools and twigs, he scratches texture on the illustrated surface of wooden boards and watercolor paper. With his favorite pair of scissors, he cuts shapes out of Bristol paper and then plays with pen and ink, watercolor, and Adobe Photoshop to conjure the personalities of clouds and characters."

I would love to know that much about every illustrated book I read. It sends me right back to the pages of this wondrous book to see if I can see how he did it. 

We all need to hear messages that empower us and give us hope. This is a glorious celebration of unity through love for the world we live in and the future that lives in the hands of our children. There is diversity in everything, and we need to embrace it as they do.