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Friday, May 31, 2019

The NOT-SO Great Outdoors, written and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"I have no idea why we have to ‘venture into the great outdoors’ this summer … It’s not like there’s anything out here. There’s no electricity. There are no fountains or sculptures. There aren’t even any playgrounds! I can't look out my window at the city lights. And where does anything live? It's not like there are any buildings."

Families will soon begin talking about summer vacation plans. After all, June starts tomorrow. Whether it's a Disney vacation, a trip to visit family, the summer at the lake, or a camping trip, there is always great excitement as plans are made. That is not so in this book for a young girl with very strong feelings about the non-joy of a family camping trip.

She is quite contrary about it all. It is difficult for her to fathom leaving the hustle and bustle of her home town. Her friends are out visiting, a hot dog cart and ice cream truck offer welcome treats, a young busker provides music, and others are buying what they need and visiting with their friends. Her family? Packed up and ready to leave it all behind them; what is a girl to do?

As they travel toward their campsite, she complains about seeing nothing of interest to her - no electricity, no artwork, nowhere to play, no city lights. She has a litany of concerns. Her first person narrative makes this the perfect book for a dramatic read aloud,. Observant listeners will be following the many wonderful discoveries the family is making, as they contradict every small beef she has with the trip. Luckily, they are unconcerned with her cantankerous attitude; they revel in every new sight and sound.

There comes a turning point:

" ... bears?

Well, I guess I could get by with songbirds
instead of street performers.

And I suppose catching a bus doesn't
exactly compare to catching a fish."

The mixed media artwork is gorgeous, showing colorful landscapes on double-page spreads filled with life and promise. It does take some time for her, but the wonder of the natural world is just too enticing. This family camping trip offers untold enjoyment - blazing fires, toasting marshmallows, brilliant starry nights, streams, family fishing, long walks, and bike rides. The many fine details included in the illustrations require careful observation and are sure to encourage conversation.

If you have a camping trip in mind, you would do well to read this fine book before embarking.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Dandy, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2019. $23.49 ages 4 and up


It'll take over your yard!

The neighborhood! 

You KNOW what you have 
to do. 


Daddy did."

It is very difficult right now not to be consumed by an urge to get outside with some kind of weed killer and spray, spray, spray. Dandelions are popping up everywhere. On this windy day, their seeds are floating on the air from place to place, sure to find an appropriate spot to land and germinate. We will see them again in the fall.

I wish I loved them the way children love them. Sweetie's dad is feeling the same way I am. He is conflicted. His neighbors are adamant that he do what he needs to do to get rid of the lone weed poking its head up in the middle of his very pristine lawn. Before he can do anything about it, Sweetie has taken it under her wing, watering it and calling it Charlotte.

What is a daddy to do when his neighbors notice and start complaining? Readers can see that he does his very best to get rid of it whenever Charlotte is otherwise occupied. By the time he gets the shovel, she has taken her book outside to read to her new best friend. Nap time is no different, and neither is snack time. Neighbors notice, and are not pleased. Sweetie is unaware!

When the perfect opportunity presents itself, will he be able to destroy Charlotte? What do you think? 

Charles Santoso's digital artwork is topped with handmade pencil textures. Each spread is filled with all the drama you would expect when a parent and child have opposing views of something. Readers will enjoy the surprising implements used when Daddy attempts to rid his yard of that one pesky weed. The changes from front to rear endpapers are sure to spark conversation. Wildly funny, and full of heart ... this book is perfect for 'right now!'

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Homes in the Wild: Where Baby Animals and Their Parents Live, written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"A home can be high in the trees. 

High in the trees, golden snub-nosed monkeys find lichens, leaves, and bark to eat and protection from predators like wolves and tigers. Their long limbs and tails make jumping from tree to tree and swinging ... "

This is exactly the kind of book I wanted for a science-project-in-a-day we did in a grade two classroom when I was a teacher-librarian. We looked carefully for books that would attract the attention of our students, were accessible enough for their grade four and five reading partners to share with them, and with just enough information to help them write a three point report!

Lita Judge packs this book with information sure to intrigue young readers, and with 'aw'some illustrations of a wide range of animals (bears, rabbits, bobcats, porcupines, and more). She then connects them through an opening statement concerning where they live. Each turn of the page following that statement shows other babies who live in such a place.

A hidden home shelters bears, as it does bobcats and porcupines. An underground home shelters coyotes, long-eared jerboas and nine-banded armadillos. The text paragraph that accompanies each of the specific illustrations provides the right amount to text to give readers an idea about the animal shown and its home. Many animals are included; some will be familiar, others will not. What children learn about each might just set them on a path to learning more.

She finishes with a reminder for her young audience:

"Pups, kits, cubs, and joeys - all baby
animals need a home where they and
their families are safe and sheltered ...
just like you!"

Back matter adds appeal by including additional facts and a thumbnail sketch of each animal.

"Golden snub-nosed monkeys live in the mountain forests of central and southwestern China. They live in groups of one male and up to ten females and their young. The females in a group care for one another's babies and groom each other. When a predator comes near, the male sounds the alarm while the females cling together in tightly packed groups with the babies in the center. Females give birth to one baby each year."

Also included is a glossary, a list of sources and suggestions for useful websites.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A New Home, written and illustrated by Tania de Regil. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $$22.99 ages 4 and up

"Cheering loudly for
our team to win at the

And spending nights
out watching the dancers
at the concert hall.

But what if there is
nowhere for me to play
in my new city?"

Children are not nearly as different as we often think they are. In this very special book about two young children concerned about an upcoming move, readers are able to see that first hand. The title page shows a map with a young girl traveling north toward New York City, while a boy is headed south toward Mexico City. It does not appear that they have met along the way.

We meet the boy first. His parents have explained to him that they are making a move to Mexico City. On the following page, the girl reveals that her parents have just told her they are moving to New York. What a coincidence this is. Each is unsure about leaving the home they know for a place that will be brand new to them.

In a series of comparable scenes, the author shows readers the similarities between their two homes. From walking to school, to visiting mobile food vendors, to stadium sports and concert halls, the two share many complimentary experiences. They also share many comparable worries. Where will they play? What will school field trips be like? They also share those things that are not as easy to accept about the place they live in, such as homelessness and noise.

There is much to miss about their old home. Still, the story ends on a hopeful note when the two smile at each other in the airport, as one family prepares to depart while the other heads toward baggage claim.

Colored pencil, watercolor and gouache artwork explores the cultural differences, while also displaying the ways in which they are similar. Children sharing this book will want to talk about those things, and are sure to take note of both. The final spread is full of hope and a touch of wonder at the adventures ahead of them.

I enjoyed the thumbnail sketches found in back matter, as they includes pertinent information about both places and their culture. Each has been shown as part of the journey through the book's illustrations and add a further layer of context and understanding. Impressive!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Merci Suarez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"Roli has only had his license for a few weeks and already we’ve lost a mailbox and two recycling bins to his skills behind the wheel. Even our cat, Tuerto, has learned to hide when he hears the jingle of car keys. Still, Mami has promised to let Roli drive us to and from school every day so he can practice. But today, as Roli lurches around the puddles in our driveway, I see there's even bigger trouble at home."

This 2019 Newbery Medal winner introduces readers to Mercedes (Merci) Suarez and her warm and loving Cuban-American family. Her life in South Florida is spent at an elite private school during the day, and with her exuberant, and sometimes exhausting, extended family. There is little time for anything else, despite the fact that Merci is an excellent soccer player who wants to try out for the school team. She is needed at home when her school day ends.

To help pay for her tuition at Seaward Pines Merci is tasked with community service. Now that she is in her second year, she is assigned to the Sunshine Buddies program. Her Sunshine Buddy is Michael Clark. A boy! Merci's reluctance to participate in the mentoring program gets her in some hot water with her principal, and results in teasing by Edna Santos, the meanest girl in Merci's sixth grade class. Edna has her eyes on Michael. and does her best to sabotage any contact Merci has with him.

Add to these school problems Merci's growing awareness of the conflicts within her own family. She watches with concern the difficulty that her beloved abuelo, Lolo, is having as he deals with Alzheimer's, and the impact it is having on everyone. She sees how difficult life is for her Aunt Inez who works hard at her bakery while trying to raise rambunctious twins. She is often angry with her very bright, yet distant, brother. Working with her father at his painting business, she is witness to conflict between her parents. 

This is a warm and loving family that has flaws, and they show. Their difficulties do not defeat them. Instead, they force conversation, acceptance, and shared responsibilities. The story is full of characters to admire. Full of humor and warmth, it creates a clear picture of an extended  family who live in each other's pockets, and who manage to navigate the ups and downs that come from their close proximity.

All accolades are well-deserved. I hope you can take the time to meet Merci and the Suarez family. You won't be sorry you did.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Follow Your Stuff: Who Makes it, Where Does It Come From, How Does It Get to You? by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka. Annick Press, 2019. $14.95 ages 11 and up

"About 300 years ago, English
doctor John Mudge made the first
"puffer" - a tin cup with a hole
poked in the lid. Patients filled the
cup with hot water and whatever
drug the doctor prescribed (often
opium, a serious narcotic). They'd
heat it and breathe in the steam
through a small tube.
American doctor George Maison
designed the modern inhaler/puffer
in the 1950s."

Five items are considered in this fine new book by the same team who penned Follow Your Money (2013). This time they look at a t-shirt, an asthma inhaler, a cellphone, eyeglasses, and this book they have created. They begin by asking a question meant to get their readers thinking seriously about their answer.

"Who made that shirt you're wearing? Do you know?
Can you say where it was made without looking at
the tag?"

It's a good question; the answer to which many rarely consider. The one thing we do know is that, in general, we didn't make it! That has changed greatly over the years, as advances have been made in technology, transportation, and the need to provide materials globally. Few of the items we use in our daily life are made locally, or even in our own country.

"This VERY BOOK will attempt to explain who those people are, where
they are (hint: everywhere), what they do, how they get paid, and how you
are involved in the global economy."

A t-shirt's journey may begin in China, move to Guatemala, India, and Mexico before arriving at the store that supplies North Americans with that particular piece of clothing. It is a fascinating set of circumstances and explained openly for targeted readers. As they describe, and show through straightforward illustrations, the cost of producing any of the five items discussed, they help provide an understanding for the very complicated path each takes until it reaches a buyer's hands.

It is eye-opening, and often startling. At every stage readers are asked to consider some very important questions. Each journey is filled with research-based information, accompanied by appealing artwork, and tasking us to think beyond our consumerism. There is much to consider when spending money on household items deemed essential. At the end of each section, a recap of shared information is provided.

I was particularly interested in the section on this very book.

"Our names may be on the front cover, but Kevin Sylvester
and Michael Hlinka are only a small part of the process for
making a book."

From idea to contract, paid advances, writing and rewriting before the book has even gone to publication, the authors describe how much work goes into every step in the process. The book is then sent to the printer, and finally to the bookstore which must pay all of its costs before it can claim any profit from selling the book. And the authors?

"Kevin and Michael will get a royalty of about 10 percent
of the "suggested retail price" - or the price you see printed
on the book - for every book sold ... sort of. Remember that
they received an "advance on royalties"? That means
bookstores will have to sell about 5,000 books before Kevin
and Michael start making more money off sales. A bestseller
in Canada is about 5,000 books. In the United States and other
big markets, its more like 45,000 books."

In the end that means Kevin and Michael will make $1.49 for each paperback copy and $2.49 for each hardcover copy sold beyond the target number of 5,000.  You have to write a lot of books each year to make a living wage, or have another job to support your writing life. The first time this same thing I was astounded. After reading this book, I have a better understanding for where the money goes. 

The References and Further Reading section is exceptional, offering connections to looking further at wages, environmental issues, human rights, and much, much more. Meant for teen consumers, but very informative for their parents and teachers as well. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Charlie & Mouse Even Better, by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2019. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Mom was making pancakes.

"These," said Mouse, "are the
best pancakes ever."

"Yes," said Charlie. "But
they could be better."

"What would make them
better?" asked Mom.

"They could be smaller," ... "

This is the third book in the Charlie & Mouse series of early chapter books for kids; another is promised for the fall. The short chapters and readability make them a great choice for early years classrooms. The fact that they are a series, involving familiar characters and family situations, boost confidence and enjoyment for fans of the two earlier books. 

In the first chapter, we find the two complimenting their mom's pancakes, with a caveat. They could be smaller; the baby ones are much appreciated and praised. But, Charlie has a further request - pancakes shaped like a turtle, then a dragon. It is easy to see Mom becoming increasingly annoyed with the requests. When it is too much, she offers a warning.

"It is a dragon," said Mom. "It is a dragon that
annoyed its mother."
"How did it annoy its mother!" asked Charlie.
"It asked for too many pancakes," said Mom."

End of chapter, and on the the next. This concerns a secret shopping trip to get a birthday present for Mom. Pondering together, they come with a terrific idea. Once home, they run into some difficulty. The following chapters show Dad and the kids make the final preparations for surprising Mom. The chatter between the children and the resulting celebration are humorous and full of warmth.

Artwork is appealing, and adds context for young readers.

Friday, May 24, 2019

My Happy Year by E. Bluebird. Written and illustrated by Paul Meisel. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"JUNE 14

I have real wings now.
The others are talking
about leaving the nest.
I like it here. It's safe.

A big bird comes by
and looks inside. He's
too big to reach us, so
he flies away. Phew!"

This first person narrative of an Eastern Bluebird's first year is dedicated to 'all bird and nature lovers'. It provides a very personal and informative look, with clear reporting beginning in front matter.

The author provides a number of useful facts about the bluebird. Clear and colorful illustrations take a close look at both male and female birds, noting the difference in their coloring. A map shows where these birds can be found in North America: in summer, in winter, and all year-round. Their range is extensive, reaching from Texas through to Maine, and into Canada during the summer months.

Migration patterns vary.

"Not all Bluebirds migrate. Some Bluebirds that live in warm places
stay there year-round. In September or the beginning of October, the Eastern
Bluebirds that do migrate join flocks that fly south to warmer climates where
they find more to eat. They travel to the Carolinas and other southern states.
Some Eastern Bluebirds migrate as far as Nicaragua."

The author also includes an illustration of the many insects they eat and shares facts about their nesting habits. The bird that is the focus of this book lives in a human-made house. The building of such houses has helped increase population growth in recent years.

Only now do we get to the story of this one particular Bluebird. Written as a dated diary, it begins on June 1 with the tiny bird breaking out of its shell. Short entries take readers from day to day, then month to month as the bird is fed, learns to fly, migrates, avoids predators and finally returns to its original home. Finding a mate, choosing a house, feathering a nest, laying and hatching new baby chicks brings life full circle one year later.

"June 4

Look at my beautiful chicks!
I'm so happy!"

Back endpapers feature additional illustrations, a glossary, and a list of websites for further research.
Young readers will be pleased to read the straightforward diary entries, while older readers will appreciate the inclusion of dense explanatory text in both front and end matter. This is Paul Meisel's second book in the A Nature Diary series. Digital artwork is appealing and will help inform with its clear details. It is a worthy addition to nonfiction shelves.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sea Bear: A Journey of Survival. Written and illustrated by Lindsay Moore. Greenwillow, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"I learned to be patient long ago
from my polar bear mother -

to be patient when hunting,
     to be patient with weather,
          to be patient in darkness.

A polar bear can outwait almost
anything -

     seals ... "

Watching this polar bear as she shows readers what it is like to depend on changing seasons in the Arctic is mesmerizing. The artwork, done using graphite, watercolor, drawing inks, conte crayon and color pencils, is stunning. It offers the reader a chance to imagine the cold of the Arctic landscape and the beauty of its endless skies, as well as the passage of time from deep cold to summer warmth, then back again.

The polar bear trudges across a barren landscape under a starry sky. Despite endless patience for catching prey, waiting out storms, and long periods of darkness, there is one more thing a polar bear needs: a  place to stand. When spring comes and the ice breaks apart, she must use all of her skills to get from one floe to another, always moving toward food while also taking time to rest. Throughout summer, the ice thins and hunting becomes much more difficult. The bear has nowhere to plant her huge paws. She is in for long periods of time.

A keen sense of smell convinces her that a beach will offer safety.

"I am a sea bear. I am made to paddle -
under wandering Arctic terns,
past lonely icebergs bobbing at the surface,
and above the deep, dark shadow
of a slow Arctic shark."

The reader senses the exhaustion of the long swim, the terror of a storm, and the need to keep paddling if she is to make land. Three days it takes before she feels the support of land beneath her feet. Land is not her natural habitat. A lack of sea ice forces her to wait out the summer. She waits and hopes. Food is scarce. As summer ends, the sea freezes and the bear makes her way inland, using the time in a den to care for and teach her cubs the lessons they will need to survive.

The story is told simply and beautifully with a rhythmic tone; it provides factual knowledge of the female bear and her life through one complete year. The first person voice given the bear is very effective. The Arctic landscape is beautifully rendered. Endnotes provide additional  facts about Sea Ice and Polar Bears, and further notes on other animals that live above and below the ice.

The author pens a plea to her readers:

"Polar bears have a remarkable life story. They are bears that make their home on top of the ocean. Their future, though, is tied to the future of sea ice. I wanted to give polar bears a voice, to tell what life is like for a bear in a changing Arctic landscape, and to inspire all of us to make changes in our own lives to slow climate change and help care for our earth."

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Oink, written and illustrated by David Elliott. Gecko Press, Lerner. Thomas Allen & Son, 2019. $15.99 ages 2 and up




Pig is perfectly prepared for his bath. Arriving at the bathroom door with towel in hand and a big smile on his face, he quickly climbs into the tub. Relaxed and soaking, he is unprepared for a knock at the door; he is even more surprised with the arrival and raucous attitude of Sheep. His bath is clearly no longer his!

A further knock has both Pig and Sheep wondering. Oh, it's Cow. Cow and Sheep are very pleased with the bath. Pig is visibly annoyed - even more so when an errant beach ball belonging to Cow knocks him on the head. The final straw is Donkey, who arrives clad in a life preserver and fully prepared to join them. Is one tub big enough for four animals - and a toy boat, a beach ball and a life preserver?  I think not, and pig agrees. How can the bathroom possibly offer a peaceful oasis with all this hoopla?

It cannot. Pig has only one recourse. It will bring  giggles of delight, and is sure to result in similar attempts at humor by young bathers. The month of waiting to share it with my granddaughters will be endless. It will remain top of pile until they arrive! You don't want to miss it!

No words - only animal sounds. The warm, clever and expressive illustrations are perfect for portraying all that children need to understand in this wonderful story.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

We Are (Not) Friends, written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant. two lions, Thomas Allen & Son. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Um ...
it's a two - seater. 

Then where do I sit?

You can be the dinosaur!

T. rex!


In their fourth book starring a large brown bear a small purple bear, this wife-husband duo of look at what can happen when a third character is added to the friendship mix. I know this scenario to be very true to childhood and even into adolescence. There were three girls (all the same age) in my neighborhood; it wasn't often that the three of us could get along together, although we were quite good friends. It was always a contest, and it caused some angst-filled times for all.  Someone was always left out!

Friendship can be tough. Before their story begins, we see the two sharing some of the treasures in a nearby 'tickle trunk'.  We also notice a blue rabbit watching them with interest. All the rabbit wants to do is play. Brown is keen. Purple not so. Blue is delighted to be accepted.  As Brown and Blue make plans to perform a duet, they don't notice their dejected pal.

Purple's skills are not so well developed. Off he goes, in a huff. His return with a fan blows Blue's  hat away. Off he goes, leaving Purple happy to suggest a different activity. Brown worries about their new friend, while Purple begs to differ. They are NOT friends!

Back and forth it goes. One is always left out. Anger leads to tears. A compromise is found ... until the story ends in a surprise.

Funny, true to life, energetic, and a lesson in empathy. This is a book that little ones will very much enjoy reading together. But, don't count on it settling the many ups and downs of friendship navigation. Human nature is a strong force!


Monday, May 20, 2019

Like a Lizard, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Stephanie Laberis. Boyds Mills Press, Highlights. 2019. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"Can you run
like a lizard?

Sun like a

Bob your head
like a lizard?

One, two!"

I see more and more families outside as the days warm, and nature begs our attention. In yards there are birds building nests, rabbits munching on an exploding dandelion population, and grass beginning to green. Soccer fields are beckoning, and birdsong fills the air. It's lovely to sit here at my computer, windows open and enjoying these spring sounds and the warmth of the breeze.

Kids love books about natural species that include movement and imagination. In this new book that focuses on lizards, their behaviors, their many types, and the way they move, Ms. Sayre invites her readers to try their hand at the many ways lizards avoid predators, move from place to place, attract a mate, and find food.

The language is rhythmic, and informative. The digital media artwork provides natural settings and realistic images of the many lizards presented. Each is captioned with its familiar name. There are 28 species from around the world and presented in spreads that clearly show the ways in which they move, their variation in size, color, and surroundings.

Back matter offers further information about all lizards, as well a bit more about each of the lizards featured here. The movement verb is the heading, the information provided includes the common and scientific name of each, their geographic placement, and their size. Further to that, a short paragraph follows.

Greater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi)
Canada, western United States, and Mexico
Length: 6 inches ( 15 centimeters)
This wide, flat lizard is found at high altitudes. On the back of its head are horns.
When threatened, this lizard may puff up its body, hiss, and squirt blood out of its eyes."


Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ojiichan's Gift, written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Genevieve Simms. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"There were no tulips or
daffodils or daisies; no
carrots, cabbage or peas.

Ojiichan had made a
garden out of stones -
big ones, little ones and
ones in between. Some
reminded Mayumi of
turtles. Others stood like
mountains, rugged and

Summer visits to Japan meant working on her grandfather's garden - helping him care for it by weeding, pruning, and watching him as he worked. The best part for Mayumi was raking the gravel, and making patterns that she and her grandfather could sit and savor. Once home, she missed the peace and contentment she felt while sitting there with him. Mayumi kept a small box filled with souvenirs from her visits, and used them to help her remember until she returned the following summer.

As happens, one summer things had changed. Her grandfather was no longer able to care for himself, his home, or his garden. Sad and angry that her beloved grandfather could not do what he loved to do, Mayumi did her best to move the large rock at the center of his garden. It would not budge. Even angrier, she kicked gravel around until one rock hit her. As she let go of her anger, Mayumi began tending to the raking once again. As she worked, an idea formed.

She could not have presented a more important gift to her grandfather. He is delighted with it.

Watercolor illustrations work their own magic for this story. The warmth of the relationship between the two is captured in patterns, growth, and shared experiences. The love shown is as gentle and peaceful as the garden they worked so hard and happily on together.

If you are building a collection of books to celebrate Grandparents Day when school resumes in the fall, this book would make a fine addition to it.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Carl and the Meaning of Life, written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman. Viking, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"A fox appeared.
Carl turned to the fox.
"Why do I do what I do?"
asked Carl.
"Who do I do it for?"

"For whom," replied the fox.
"Alas, my meal awaits. I am
here for the hunt."

But Carl did not want to hunt."

There are times when one question changes the course of a life. In Carl's case, it happens when a field mouse asks him why he spends his days doing what he does: "burrowing, tunneling, digesting dead leaves,, feasting and casting,  turning hard dirt into fluffy soil ..."

You may have guessed that Carl is an earthworm, and has never considered an answer to the mouse's question. Upon doing so, he finds he has no answer. Leaving the mouse behind in his search for that answer, Carl sets off on a journey of discovery. Along the way, he meets a rabbit, a fox, a squirrel and more. As he moves forward trying to find his answer, things around him begin the change.

The ground begins to change. The forest animals leave the area:

"... the birds had flown off to find grasses and fluff ...
the bear trundled away to look for berries ...
soon there was nobody to talk to."

Carl is left to wander alone. A tiny squeak from a nearby beetle has Carl noticing what has happened while he's been on his quest. He suddenly realizes what he must do next ... and he does it! In doing so, he finds meaning in his life.

Using pencil, watercolor, and bits of colored pencil to create Photoshop images that share the natural world and a worm's-eye view of Carl's work will delight and inform young readers. There are many little discoveries to be made, beyond the main forest speakers. An author's note is engaging.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Noodlephant, written by Jacob Kramer and illustrated by K-Fai Steele. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2019. $25.95 ages 8 and up

"They called the machine
the Phantastic Noodler. It
was a very complicated, but
also very simple. With a few
turns of the crank, it could
turn anything into noodles.
Noodlephant tossed in some
pens. She turned the crank ... "

It is advantageous for our children to learn to have a say in things that matter to them; we don't want them to be afraid to express their opinions. In the political and social climate that permeates the world today, too many people think that the way they think is the only right way to do it. We all need to remember that we have a voice; it does not have to be in agreement with the anyone else. But, we do need to have a say and help garner the strength to work together to make our world, and our own lives, better.

This witty book will have kids thinking about that.

Noodlephant loves food. That's obvious from the nickname her friends have bestowed upon her, right? She adores pasta, and likes to share that love by cooking for all of her friends. The kangaroos are the exception. Their main concern is enacting laws deemed unfair to the rest of their community.

"They made laws about who could swim at the beach
                                                          (only kangaroos)
who could enjoy the Butterfly Garden
                                  (only kangaroos)
and who could make laws
               (only kangaroos)."

When they decree that elephants must eat sticks and branches, they also inform that, should the law be broken, elephants are to be confined to the zoo! The rest of the animals are not pleased; they love Noodlephant's pasta parties. It takes time and effort to design a new kind of machine to solve their problem.

"Those kangaroos are kanga-rude
Making rules about our food. 
Telling us how we should think
What we can eat and what to drink."

A few turns of the new machine, and pasta can be made from anything. The kangaroos are furious and call Noodlephant to 'kangaroo court'. There, she tries to plead her case. The verdict is rigged. Once confined to the zoo, she turns her protest up a notch ... a hunger strike. Worried, her friends seek and find a brilliant solution.

The comedic images created by K-Fai Steele add a welcome dose of fun to the pasta parties, a gloomy sense of sadness to the enforced imprisonment, and a satisfied smile for the cooperative solution to the community's difficulties. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Follow That Bee! : A First Book of Bees in the City. By Scot Ritchie. Kids Can, 2019. $16.99 ages 6 and up

"Back in Mr. Cardinal's
yard, the friends watch
the bees at work. In a
hive, every bee has a job,
and they work together.
No one bee can survive
on its own.

"They have chores to do
around the house ... "

Bees are a hot topic in nonfiction for kids these days. So, I was interested to see this new book in the Exploring Our Community series by Scot Ritchie. It is the sixth book in the series that takes five friends into their own community to find out how it works. 

In this book about beekeeping, the five (Nick, Pedro, Martin, Sally, and Yulee) are pretty excited to be visiting with Mr. Cardinal, who is Martin's neighbor. He has backyard beehives and wants to share his knowledge about the bees that live there.

Full spreads of detailed scenes with a side bar of text describing the action, plus a section in bold font to provide pertinent information, help young readers learn what they need to know about the bees, their hives, what they need to do their work successfully. The kids visit a garden center where they choose natural plants for their community, and where they learn about the colors that attract the bees, and how pollinator gardens are grown. Dandelions get a special mention  ... which is good given they are blooming in backyards, playgrounds and boulevards in abundance at the moment.

Mr. Cardinal goes on to help the children learn to recognize what is, and what is not, a bee. The children learn about the jobs bees do as they work together, the anatomy of a bee, the dance they do to let the other bees know where to find food. It ends with learning how to care for a bee sting, and watching Mr. Cardinal gather the honey from the frame before selling it at market.

This is a comprehensive and accessible book for its target audience. Readers will enjoy the illustrations and be proud of all they have learned.

Other available titles are: Follow That Map!, Look at That Building!, Look Where We Live!, See What We Eat! and See How We Move!. All are worthy additions to a classroom library, or the library of any child wanting to know more about such things.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Noah Builds An Ark, written by Kate Banks and illustrated by John Rocco. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"We need to get ready, too,"
said Noah to the creatures in
the garden. And he went to
fetch his wagon.

Noah's father began to board
up the windows. Noah set to
work with his own tools.
And, while a grasshopper
looked on knowingly ... "

Noah loves animals, and he knows a storm is coming. While his dad is preparing their house for the wind and rain, Noah decides he must do what he can to provide for the denizens of the backyard. The salamanders, beetles, mice and ants seem to know something is amiss as they are already hunkering down to get out of the storm's path. The first thing he gets is his old wagon. Removing its wheels, and adding wooden sides and a roof, he fashions an ark to protect his animal friends.

His ark complete, he makes a visit to the kitchen where his mom and sister are filling the cupboards with provisions and bottles of water. Outside again, Noah gathers food for the ark - 'fists of brown nuts, spears of grass, berries, and seeds'. Noah continues to follow the lead of his parents, working until his mother calls him inside. Before he goes, he watches as all the creatures move toward the shelter he had built for them.

"Noah hurried into the house to watch and wait. Suddenly the sun snapped
off its light. A curtain of darkness drew across the sky."

What a storm it is! Four days and nights it rages. Will the creatures in the ark survive as Noah's family does?

John Rocco's impressive artwork is filled with all that young readers need to know as this book is read to them. The colors are bold, the expressive faces of both family and animals are impressive and the design is pure delight. Perspectives change, as does the variety in the way the preparations are shown. Once the storm begins, the artist uses his spreads to show what it happening for the family on the verso with what is happening in the ark on the recto. Lovely!

When the storm abates and the sun comes out, every character is safe and can return to their daily adventures.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Maisie's Scrapbook, written by Samuel Narh and illustrated by Jo Loring-Fisher. Lantana Publishing, Lerner. Thomas Allen & Son. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Mama says tomato.
Dada says aamo.
They hug her in the
same way.
She's as relentless
as spring rain.

Maisie hides behind
the shrubs.
Mama looks for her
behind the trees."

Mother's Day has come and gone, and now we can look forward to celebrating fathers in June. This is a perfect transition book, as it shows the unconditional love that parents have for their children. In this family, there are cultural differences that make Maisie's scrapbook intimate and refreshing.

Maisie is of mixed heritage - and it is a beautiful thing. Her parents may differ in customs and their responses to a variety of events, but their love for her and her spunky spirit is strong, accepting and filled with awe. The beauty found in the heritage of both is perfectly displayed in both text and visuals.

"Mama wears linen.
Dada wears kente cloth.
They praise her in the same way.
She's as bright as a summer's day."

Through the seasons, love is shown in numerous ways. The folk tales of her father's African heritage encourage her imagination and her mother's calm demeanor allays fear and sadness. She is described as:

'relentless as spring rain, as bright as a summer's day, as spirited as autumn leaves, as pure as winter's snow'

The mixed media artwork shows readers images of Maisie's parents and their many interactions with her, and includes lovely details from both cultures. No matter how different, the one sure message is that they love her 'in the same way'.  The full page spreads move from the peaceful scenes of her childhood to the brilliance of the imagination her father encourages with his stories from his West African home.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught The World to Laugh (And Cry), written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Ed Young. 2019. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"As Mum got stronger,
things got better.
Out of the poorhouse,
back on their own
She had Charlie practice
a poem.
"Miss Priscilla's Cat"
His schoolteacher loved
it, and Charlie recited it
To each and every class.
Howls of laughter!
Peals of applause!"

I have a young friend who is working on a picture book biography project with her grade 3/4 students. While collecting up some books for her to use in her classroom, it got me thinking about the bounty of these books that have been published over the past ten years. It also made me think about all I had learned from reading them. Learning about new people is a wonderful thing. These books, when done well, often provide just the right amount of information to satisfy a young person's curiosity; on the other hand, they can also provide impetus for interested readers to follow up on what they have learned and seek to know more. This leads to their being invested in their own learning. When speaking at workshops with teachers, I often suggest choosing and reading one picture book biography each week - doing so gives students access to people they may never otherwise know. Careful choice impacts curriculum, literacy and empathy. 

Charlie Chaplin is not known to many of the children who are attending school today. I feel sure that, in sharing this book with them, they will be immediately drawn in to the grim circumstances of his early life. His father was gone, his mother lost her singing voice when Charlie was five. With her last performance came Charlie's first:

"One night at a smoky music hall -
And five-year-old Charlie
Waiting in the wings
Stepped in front of the footlights.

He sang -
And a shower of silver coins fell about him!
He scooped them up -
And the crowd roared with laughter!
He danced -
And the cheering got louder!"

His mother did the best she could, encouraging Charlie's interest in story and the theater. When their money ran out, it was off to the poorhouse for her and her sons. They were terrible times for a young boy, separated from his family. Once out and back to some form of normalcy, Charlie would entertain his classmates with wit and humor. He loved it!

He once worked in a boys' troupe, entertaining others. Charlie was a skilled comedic actor, and a variety of parts earned him great reviews, and a trip to the United States. When Mack Sennet (now there's another story) saw Charlie perform, he knew he wanted him for his movies. There, Charlie thought back to a neighbor he had known in London and used his sad demeanor and clothing style to create a brand new Charlie - a funny little fellow named Charlie, who would go on to entertain through both laughter and sadness. And, that is the story of the Little Tramp!

Ed Young's brilliant abstract collage work and the book's design will garner attention to detail and to the many pivotal moments in Charlie Chaplin's life. His images clearly show the English and American settings, and allow readers to immerse themselves in a particular time in history.

An afterword adds to understanding Charlie as a performer and to his triumph in making people laugh and cry, often in quick succession. A list of facts provides a timeline, and a list of resources and selected books and movies are appreciated. 

Please enjoy the following:                                                                 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born, written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"Month Five
(Weeks 17 - 21)

Curve, dip, and groove.
She has a face.

She likes to move!"

A perfect book for Mother's Day, and an admirable mix of informative text, and poetic and visual literacy.

Miranda Paul textually describes each month of a baby's nine month development; the first month encompasses weeks 1-4, and the description of the fertilized egg at day 17 through to the development of a 4-celled zygote one day later. Accompanying that fact is a touching poem that describes what is happening. On the facing page, the family's story begins as well in a beautiful detailed illustration by Jason Chin.

Each page turn takes the family one step closer to the baby's birth. The months follow one after the other showing the changes that are happening in the developing child. Life goes on both inside and outside the mother. Captions show the the timeline, and provide actual size images of the embryo as it grows.

Jason Chin's exemplary artwork ensures that each month's changes are carefully detailed and real. The story he tells in his facing illustrations show a family of three as the parents help their older child understand all that is happening, and the changes that are coming. A story book about a baby at bedtime, a new 'big sister' t-shirt, a glimpse of the growing baby at the ultrasound, the little girl practicing parenting with a favorite doll, assembling a new crib, and all the while making the sibling aware of the changes that are happening in her mom's body. She watches, touches, sings to, and anticipates the arrival when grandparents show up to care for her while mom and dad are at the hospital. And, she is first to crawl up on Mom's bed and give that new being a careful welcome.

I can't get enough of the watercolor and gouache illustrations! I have returned to them again and again, always seeing some new small detail I missed in a previous reading. They are medically accurate, and the family's story is filled with warmth and wonder.

In back matter, Ms. Paul provides additional facts concerning the growth milestones for a full-term baby. She shares 'nine amazing things most babies can do before they're born', compares human gestation to that of other mammals, and explains what happens with multiple births, premature arrivals and if something goes wrong. A selected bibliography follows.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

First Laugh Welcome, Baby! Written by Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood. Illustrated by Jonathan Nelson. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2018. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"You often visit your
grandparents on the Navajo
Nation. From your
cradle board in the shade
of a pinon, you watch while
your nima, your mama,
weaves bluebirds and
thrushes into her tree-of-life rug. Ribbons of buckskin
hold you snug ... " 

Navajo families honor a baby's first laugh with a happy celebration they call the First Laugh Ceremony. The first person to make that baby laugh is to be commended and acts as host for the party. Everyone tries to be the first!

This baby is not altogether cooperative. That does not deter family members from doing their best to bring first a smile, then a laugh. The baby naps, wiggles, squirms, lies with open eyes and with what looks to be a smile. Nope, it is quickly followed by a frown and a hungry wail. It seems no one is going to be first, despite many fine attempts.

"Whoosh! Grandfather, your cheii,
splashes water sparkling with sunshine.
You squeal, legs kicking.
"Laugh, little one!"
But not even a smile."

The baby grows, pays attention, but remains calm and without laughter. No matter what is tried, no laugh erupts from that baby ... until Grandmother 'whispers a corn-pollen prayer'. Finally, the smile grows and grows until all present hear that first laugh. The home erupts with joy. The baby is then happily welcomed to the family, to the clans.

Jonathan Nelson's illustrations are drawn with pencils, and finished with ballpoint pen and Photoshop. They welcome readers into the Navajo world, complementing the text that speaks of a "Pendleton blanket' and he shows other details such a turquoise jewelry and a familiar woven blanket. The artwork shines a light on the culture of the baby's family. Watching the family as they resort to familiar antics to make the baby laugh will have readers smiling with pleasure.

An author's endnote describes cultural rituals from around the world regarding traditional baby ceremonies, and they also include a list of selected sources.

"In Nigeria, Africa, Edos families host a naming ceremony. During the ceremony, the eldest woman in the family asks, "What will you name your child?" The mother always replies with a terrible name. All the women shout "No!" The question and response are repeated six more times. Finally, after the seventh time, the father whispers the baby's actual name to his wife, who announces it to all."

Friday, May 10, 2019

Babymoon, written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Candlewick, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 all ages

"We're reading stories,
playing games.
We're getting used to
brand-new names.

Endearing sneezes.
Solemn eyes.
Delighting in each
small surprise.

A tender dance of
give - and - take."

My kids are 40 and 43. It should come as no surprise that 'babymoon' is not part of my vocabulary. I was in hospital for three or four days following the birth of both. I might have preferred a babymoon, I think! After doing some research, I found that the term was first used in a published book in 1996, and is defined as a "a relaxing or romantic vacation taken by parents-to-be before (or after) their baby is born."

The relaxing vacation taken in this serene tale follows the birth of their baby, when a new mom and dad take the time needed to bond with their little one. The rest of the world is put on hold, with a note on the door that says SEE YOU SOON. In the quiet glow of their home, the new family spends time together. Nothing intrudes. The parents take great delight in watching, holding, reading stories, appreciating every tiny moment in the little one's early days.

The rhythm in the language is soothing and tender. There is much to learn together, and that is shared in short phrases that speak to the changes, the joy and the love that encompasses them. It is not always peaceful and easy. Together, they manage to minimize the lack of sleep, the constant concern for getting things right, the little blips along their path.

"Soothing water and warm embrace
of tentative and awkward grace.

Here together. So much to learn.
We muddle through each new concern.

We're reassuring, building trust -
believing that we'll soon adjust."

The warmth in the illustrations matches every moment perfectly. The images are soft, circular ... always holding the three together. The details are endearing: a cat and dog unsure of their place now that the baby has arrived, the letter tiles that spell Mami and  Daddy, the warm tea and cookies, Dad feeding Mom birth day cake while she cuddles the newborn, the worry when the baby cries ... if you have a child or children, you have been there.

Looking for a gift for new parents or a baby shower? Look no further.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Anne Villeneuve. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages

"The dirt balls sail over the tall brick wall and land in the empty lot.
When we've pitched the last of them, we throw Toma's ball against the wall and try to catch it as it bounces back. We get up to forty-two catches without dropping it. "Do you want some ice cream?" I ask."

His mom is in need of rest following surgery, and Vincent is packed off to the city to stay with his Aunt Mimi. The neighborhood is cramped and gray, there is little to do, and he is missing home.

Good things happen as the days pass. Mimi lets him help choose colors to paint his guest room. Her balcony is bright and welcoming, and holds a mysterious box of dirt balls. She says they are a present and she doesn't know what to do with them. When Vincent meets Toma, a boy in the neighborhood, things change even more.

At first, Vincent is reticent. Then, he decides to make friends. What better way to make a friend that invite him to get rid of the dirt balls for his aunt. She says she will pay them to do it. Toma is hesitant as well. The lure of money soon has them tossing the dirt balls into the empty lot nearby. The next day a man calls from  his balcony, asking why they are throwing the dirt into the lot. Toma has a ready answer.

The two find they have much in common and spend their days together, often watching their nosy neighbor as he waters the plants on his balcony. One rainy day, he diverts their attention to the empty lot. What a surprise! As the seeds from the dirt balls sprout, Marco (aka Mr. Grumpypants) proves himself to be a gardener with much to teach two young boys with time on their hands and an interest in making things better. Their garden becomes a thing of beauty in the neighborhood.

Too soon, it is time for Vincent to go home. Will he be back?

I appreciate that Ms. Villeneuve's illustrations present the drab, gray cityscape as the story begins. She pictures a few spots of color. That color becomes more vibrant as the seed bombs produce garden blooms that attracts more and more visitors. It's amazing what hard work and dedication can do to change the landscape.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

You Are Never Alone, written by Elin Kelsey and illustrated by Soyeon Kim. Owlkids, 2019. $19.95 ages 6 and up

"You always have company.

Armies of microorganisms
snuggle against your skin,
keeping germs at bay.

Your face is home
to wee little cleaning mites
who evolved from mites that lived
on the faces of your relatives."

Elin Kelsey wants her readers to look around them and know that they are gifted each day by the natural world. In fact, she contests that it 'showers' them with gifts - the rain that falls, the air that plants create, the insects that assure the growth of food. It is endless and wondrous.

Ecosystems exist and work together. She describes the water cycle, pollination, forests, ocean life, the sun, plant life, trees, the microorganisms that protect and enrich every living person's life.

"Nature touches every bite you eat.

You gobble fruit from plants
pollinated by bats in the twilight
and bees in the day."

The connections that are part of all life on this planet are carefully explained and presented, allowing young readers a chance to think on the way life works and how nature impacts every single thing we do. Presented with care and in language that is manageable for the target audience, it helps in understanding how we are the same when it comes to breathing, to the gravitational pull that keeps us here, the immunity we need to stay strong and healthy, and so much more. It is a lovely tribute to this place we call home.

No matter where one looks, there is wonder. And wondrous are the dioramas created by Soyeon Kim on double page spreads to show the joy children find can in life. They play, they fly, they explore every nook and cranny of their environment. The perspectives given to the various images are worthy of close attention and much discussion while sharing this book with young readers. Eyes will be constantly drawn to the visual treats on each page.

An author's note reveals what led to her writing this book, and her need for children to understand the beauty and wonder of our planet.

"Every time I think of all the plants and animals and earth systems that make it possible for me to lie back in the sunshine without a care in the world, I feel so grateful and lucky, I want to dance a jig. So when you finish reading, I hope you will put this book down, grab the hands of someone you love, and give a gigantic jump for joy as you twirl around the sun."

This is the third book created by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim. It is another stunning collaboration, following on the success of You Are Stardust (2012) and Wild Ideas (2015).

Check out the inside of the dust jacket cover for a challenge, or two.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Music for Mr. Moon, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"Harriet Henry
wanted to play her cello

When Harriet was alone
she would change her room
into a little house with a
kitchen table, a chair, a
teacup, and a fireplace."
And when everything was
quiet and still she would
draw her bow, and - "

Harriet Henry is a skilled cellist whose parents recognize her talent. They share their hope that she will play with a large orchestra one day. They think it will make her happy. Harriet is not convinced.

"Harriet imagined crowds of people all dressed up like penguins. Her hands became sweaty and her face became hot. "No," she said with a sigh, "I don't think that will make me happy."

The tone for our story is set. Harriet is happier playing her cello for herself. She transforms her room for those solitary performances. A hooting owl outside her window does not please her. When it continues its hooting, she tosses her teacup out the window and scares it away. While regretting her action, something incredible happens. Her room fills with smoke from the fireplace.

Harriet rushes outside to find that the moon is stuck in her chimney. The tossed teacup knocked the moon from the sky. Oh, dear! Harriet's quick thinking soon has the moon unstuck and ready for a conversation. Harriet has some questions about what it is like so high in the sky. Mr. Moon is not completely content, and dreams of floating on a lake - only once. Determined to make amends, Harriet enlists the help of friends to make Moon's wish come true.

When it is time for Moon to return to the quiet of the sky, Harriet helps once again. Then, stays to play, but only for the Moon, who promises to close its eyes and not cheer.

Erin Stead's artwork 'was made with mono printed oil inks, colored pencils and graphite'. Her images are as quiet as Harriet is. Filled with soft light, expressive characters and harmony, they perfectly match this story told with such grace and imagination.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Amazing Idea of You, written by Charlotte Sullivan Wild and illustrated by Mary Lundquist. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"And in the nest
curled inside this egg
waits the idea
of a bird ...

and all the songs
she'll ever sing
for sunrise
or the lapping lake."

It begins with an inquisitive child and an apple. She knows there are seeds inside, and she has an idea. If she drops a seed, might that seed become a tree? If it does, will it house a nest? And so on ...

All around her nature is fulfilling its promise of life and hope. As she grows, so do many things that share her world.

"Even those waddling goslings
hold the dream
of whistling flight
over lake and field
through clouds and miles
and days and nights."

Ms. Lundquist uses pencil, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper to create a natural world that speaks to the small girl throughout her life. She lets readers see the girl's mother awaiting her birth. Then, the mother watches as her child grows and explores the world with her senses, her skills, and her dreams, and who becomes a mother herself.

That child who planted seeds, dared to dream, makes a difference in the world.

"Where you once planted seeds,
     now an orchard teems
with creatures singing,
    springing, fluttering, winging -
and people laughing,
     lounging, munching, swinging."

We all have the seed of an idea inside us - and it is worth exploring.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

How To Two, by David Soman. Dial Books for Young Readers. Penguin Random House, 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"How to three!

How to four?

How to five!

How to ...

How to ...

Kids showing interest in numbers and counting are sure to relish the scenes in this seemingly simple counting book. A lovely spread begins this adventure, showing a young boy celebrating a successful and exhilarating slide at the park. He zips away from the bottom to join the young girl seen in the background sitting on a seesaw. That's how to two ...

Each background provides the clue needed to consider the following number. At each page turn, the child from that scenario becomes a part of the fun ... all the way up to ten. Each new activity will be familiar, and allows for more participants. From skipping to four square, from the sandbox to a picnic shelter (protecting all from the rain when they join another child who is already there), from the shelter to growing puddles, from tree climbing to hide-and-seek, from scientific exploration to a return to the park where they find someone in need of company and friendship, it is a fun read for all.

The arrival of parents and caregivers is welcome as dusk settles over the park. As they head off with their families, there is a sense that it will not be the last time they see each other. The 'slide boy' and his mother head for home together. Once there, he settles with a book until he feels the urge to 'two' again, and takes his book to share with his mom.

David Soman's gorgeous watercolor, ink and colored pencil images of the playground show children finding wonder with others their age, no adults in sight. What a concept! Endpapers ask a pertinent question, sure to send readers back to carefully consider every lovely spread. And count, count, count!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Frog Book, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $24.95 ages 8 and up

"Most frogs spend at least
part of their lives in the
water. But a few never
leave. They are aquatic
frogs, and they've adapted
to a full-time - or nearly
full-time - life underwater.

The Titicaca water frog
lives in a deep, cold lake
in South America."

He's back! Steve Jenkins and his wife Robin Page have created another terrific book for young learners. They are experts in the nonfiction genre, generating topics that children find very inviting and helping them learn more than they could ever have imagined.

In The Frog Book they have assembled a fascinating collection of facts about frogs, their habitats, their anatomy, their life cycle, and so much more.

"To survive in so many habitats, frogs have evolved
different ways of finding food, escaping danger,
and attracting a mate. There are thousands of different
kinds of frogs and they are found in an amazing variety
of colors, shapes, and sizes."

Who knew? I was fascinated by that variety, and learned a lot as I always do when reading such exemplary information books. (6,000 species have already been identified and more are being discovered regularly.) As they have done in other books, the authors assure that perspective is given to size. On the first double page spread they include ten named frogs from around the world, ranging in size from the large ornate horned frog to the very tiny meowing night frog. In a captioned corner, both are compared to an adult's hand. Amazing stuff!

There's a start for you ... if you want to know more about either species. The authors go on to create additional spreads filled with clearly captioned illustrations that describe the frog itself, the difference between frogs and toads, the ways in which they find mates, egg laying, growth, differing habitats, food, defenses, record holders in the frog world, and present-day concerns concerning extinction.It is a very thorough exploration.

A chart in back matter plots each frog represented in the text. The chart includes name, body length, diet, range, and the page number where it can be found for further study. A list of additional books and websites is definitely appealing for kids who want to know more.

Cut paper collage illustrations will be familiar to fans, and are sure to attract new ones. The variety in perspective hold attention, and provide some up-close-and-personal views. Beautifully designed and easy to follow, this is the kind of nonfiction we want to share with our kids.

"One-third of all frog species are in danger of
extinction. They are threatened by a warming
climate, pollution, the destruction of their
habitat, and a deadly fungus that has spread
through many frog populations. Frogs and other
amphibians absorb air and water through their
skin, so they are easily harmed by pollutants in
the air or water. Sick or dying frogs are often the
first warning of environmental problems."

Friday, May 3, 2019

Forest, written by Kate Moss Gamblin and illustrated by Karen Patkau. Groundwood, 2019. $16.95 ages 4 and up

"Do you see the shadow
of the hawk as it soars
above, hunting its next
meal, or the swoop of the
swallow in flight?

Do you see the pine
needles, chestnut, oak
and maple leaves all
mixed together? "

Kids love books that require an answer to questions asked. In this exploration of the many sights and sounds you might see as you walk, the author guides the experience with pertinent questions that cause a child to take careful note of all that a forest environment contains. As well as what there is to be seen on the floor of the forest, she also points to leaves, needles, nuts, and the variety in changes that happen as the forest moves from one season to the next.

"Do you see, over time, the ever-changing
seasons - the warm hum of summer's bees,
the fall of autumn leaves,
the silence of winter's snows, the sprouting
life of spring?"

The digital art provides a realistic look at the many scenes children might find as they examine life in the forest, and matches the book's tone and text. It offers a clear look to how all aspects of forest life are connected.

This book is the first in a new series called See To Learn and will be much appreciated in classrooms and at home. A forest visit would be enhanced by having this book along for the adventure ... to help point out the many attributes of a particular environment. Perhaps it will lead explorers to ask questions of their own as they wander.

An author's note and a list for further reading (for both young and older children) is additional and worth your attention. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Girl and the Wolf, words by Katherena Vermette and pictures by Julie Flett. Theytus Books. Orca Book Publishers. 2019. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"The girl looked around.
Everything was quieter
and darker.
The girl felt very cold
and very scared.
"I don't know," she said sadly.

"Yes you do," the wolf told her.
"Take a deep breath. Close
your eyes, then look. What do
you see?"

A little girl and her mother are out berry picking when she wanders away, and finds herself lost in the woods. As would any child, she feels fear. It is getting cold, and she cannot see anything familiar. Luckily, a wolf appears - a wolf with a heart, and compassion for the little lost girl. Asking important questions while taking his place beside her, the wolf is able to calm her and help her think about all that she does know. He talks to her about hunger. She looks around and sees berries and water nearby. They will assuage her hunger.

When she still doesn't know what to do, he asks other questions. With guidance, she notices familiar trees, and recognizes the smell of the family campfire. She runs in that direction, while looking for the wolf that was beside her. The wolf is gone. She rushes to her mother, and shares her story. Her mother hears her story, and tells her:

"Real wolves can hurt people, but I've heard
old stories about wolves who help lost children, too."

Lucky the little one was, to meet that kind of wolf. To show her gratitude she leaves a very special gift.

While this is not a traditional fairy tale, it certainly has elements of the Red Riding Hood story. Julie Flett dresses the child in a bright red dress, keeping attention on her throughout the telling. The wolf's kind questions and gentle guidance allow her to dig deep and find the inner strength she needs to think through her dilemma and find a wise solution.

In an author's note, Ms. Vermette explains:

"It is inspired by traditional stories, yes, but in no way taken from one.
Tobacco is one of the four sacred medicines. It can be enclosed in a tie
of cloth, or simply given, in thanks or to ask for something respectfully."

Lovely and memorable.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I Am So Clever, written and illustrated by Mario Ramos. Translated by Linda Burgess. Gecko Press, Lerner. Thomas Allen & Son, 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Once he was hidden by trees,
the wolf ran off with a sneering

"I am so clever! I'll be having a
feast today. Grandmother for the
main course, and a little berry for

At Grandma's house, he knocked
lightly on the door."

Mario Ramos has written about the Big Bad Wolf in previous books: I Am So Strong (2011) and I Am So Handsome (2012). I have not seen either one of them. I won't miss them after reading this one to a group of early years students who found it hilarious. I am now on the lookout for copies of the first two.

This wolf has a little too much chutzpah. He likes to brag, and is pretty sure of himself. Upon meeting Red in the forest, he is very complimentary concerning her outfit. He suggests that meeting a shark there could be very dangerous. Red scoffs at him ... no sharks in these woods! He laughs at himself, learns where she is going and suggests that she take her time getting to Grandma's house. You know why, don't you?

Off he goes, leaving Red to gather flowers and take time to stop and smell them. Grandma is not home, but her nightgown is in the open. The wolf lets himself, dons the nightie, and is about to set himself up under the covers when he remembers he has not wiped his paw prints from the path in front of the house.


A gust of air slammed the door shut.
The wolf slunk into the woods to hide."

What else could he do? The huntsman has lost his glasses and luckily thinks he is talking to Grandma. The three bears, the three little pigs, the seven dwarfs, a marquis in search of a sleeping beauty all make an appearance, calling out to Grandma and heading off on business of their own. It's enough to cause a fit of anger for the wolf, and a desperate attempt to get out of that annoying nightie that has everyone mistaking him for someone else. Poor wolf!

What happens next had everyone giggling and wanting to hear it all over again ... the best response possible.

The illustrations are wonderful, and perfectly match the tone, the humor, and the telling. The language and dialogue are praiseworthy.