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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Home Is a Window, written by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and illustrated by Chris Sasaki. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"Home is Ms. Vera's lamplight
shared with you,

a book before you fall asleep,

and a kiss afterward.

Home is what feels
the same each day
and sometimes
what is new."

Moving can be exciting, scary, disruptive and hopeful. This family is first met in their much-loved apartment home, with all of its familiar spaces, sounds, and memories. There are many ways to describe all that has happened in the family's life in this home they so love, from its physical appearance to its warm welcomes, family dinners, shared chores, and bedtime rituals.

All the special feelings felt in the old home can be carried with the family as they move on to something new, and unfamiliar. The hugs are the same, the journey is a together time, the adventure is welcome and exciting. And the new place? It isn't long until it is HOME. 

You may move to a new house in the same town, or to another place far away; the people are those who love you and the desire to make this new place yours is what family is all about, isn't it?  It may take some time but there is comfort to be found in a new room, a place for your things, the sunlight that shines through a window, and the beauty of a sunset.

The digital artwork is filled with the warmth of family and home. It offers a warm and gentle look at a family in transition, using backdrops that awaken feelings of both the joy and sorrow that comes with a move.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Fox Wife, written by Beatrice Deer and illustrated by D. J. Herron. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2019. $16.95 ages 6 and up

"The fox watched as the
family set up their camp.
The man held up some long
driftwood while his wife
draped many sealskins sewn
together over the wood to
make a tent. The boy placed
the large stones he had moved away earlier to hold the tent ... "

This is traditional Inuit folklore, told with a contemporary bent. On the night that the beautiful red fox falls from the sky, there is no one to see it happen. As she explores her new surroundings she hears a new sound that stimulates her curiosity and leads her toward it.

She takes note of a family close by - a father, a mother, their young son, and a baby on the mother's back. The family works as the fox takes note of their attire and their actions. She has a particular interest in the amanti that the woman is wearing to carry her little one. She is so intent on it that she only suddenly realizes the older boy is close by and watching her. She flees, knowing she must be more careful in the future.

She follows the family through many seasons as they roam from place to place in search of food. She learns the ways of the family, only rarely seen by the older son.  When it is time for the young man to leave his family and fend for himself, the fox follows him. Returning from the hunt, Irniq is surprised to find his tent clean, food and tea awaiting his return. He is determined to find who has done it. As he watches from a hiding place, he notices the fox enter his tent. There he is finds a woman who tells him she is his wife.

"Not wanting to be alone,
Irniq decided to accept her
answer and keep her as his
wife. Still, he wondered what
had happened to the fox."

After a time, Irniq begins to complain about a musky smell in the tent. His complaints hurt his wife, and force her to make the decision to take up her former self. She cannot endure the indignity of being judged for who she is and is afraid to speak the truth. It is a sad ending to their love story.

The illustrations present the beauty and the loneliness of the tundra on full-page spreads that speak to its the vast and boundless space.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Hum and Swish, written and illustrated by Matt Myers. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House, 2019. $24.99 ages 3 and up

" The sea tells stories,
but it doesn't ask questions.

Jamie's dad brings sunblock.
"Is that a horse?"

"Maybe," Jamie says.

Jamie's mom brings a
juice box."

What a lovely tribute to the creative spirit this book is. Matt Myers has captured the beauty, the uncertainty, and the perseverance of Jamie. It's a summer day at the beach - full of possibilities and inspiration. All Jamie needs to do is look around her to see what will motivate her to create something personal and fascinating. 

She doesn't request or need help. In fact, the questions and comments made as she works quietly at her task are somewhat off-putting. She has no answers; she is too busy working. She loves where she is, what she's doing, and is unconcerned about what her project might become. There is no end to her imagination or inspiration.

As she sits and works, another artist comes along and makes herself at home with her own supplies. Jamie asks what she is making; the woman responds that she does not know. Jamie is impressed to have found someone who understands her own process. How cool is that?

The two continue to enjoy the sights and sounds of the sea, basking in the sunlight and summer breezes, and continuing with their work. No need for talk. Once done the work they set out to do, they take time to appreciate the other's success. It holds quite the surprise for Jamie and for the readers of this wondrous book. 

Matt Myers' artwork is created with acrylic and oil paint. He fills the double page spreads with light and shadow, the gentle waves and breezes of a day at a sandy beach, and industrious endeavor. Jamie's expressions allow a clear look at just exactly how she is feeling throughout her productive day.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Daniel's Good Day, written and illustrated by Micha Archer. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House. 2019. @22.99 ages 3 and up

"He sees Emma heading
to the park with a kite.
"What makes a good day
for you?" Daniel asks. "A
steady wind," says Emma.

"A day in the park with a
bench in the shade," his
neighbors tell him."

Daniel experiences happy times in his neighborhood. Waving from his doorstep at passers-by, readers encounter Daniel at the beginning of this new day. On his journey to his Grandma's house he takes note of the many people, pets, workers and families out doing their jobs and taking their walks. He greets them happily. He often stops to ask those he sees about their day, and what makes them happy.

Each person he encounters is willing to engage and provide an answer. And, each one has a different response. In this way, readers get a different perspective from which to view their day. Once he has arrived at Grandma's, she has a loving answer to his question, engaging in the hug that makes her feel so good. After time spent with his grandmother, they make the return trip to Daniel's home. As they go they see many of those same people Daniel when he set out earlier. They are happy, visiting with their friends and still busy at their jobs. They are all having good days.

That is the report Daniel makes to his mother when he and his grandma arrive back where he started his day. He names all those things that made his day a good one, and shows happiness that all his friends are safe. Will Mom be able to make it even better than good?

The beautifully bright artwork contains all the wonders of a culturally rich and diverse community. The oil and collage images are stunning in design, and ooze details that will attract attention and give readers pause to stop and delight in the visual stories told. Young readers will find joy in telling their own versions.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Ruby Finds A Worry, written and illustrated by Tom Percival. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"In fact, it was so small that,
at first, Ruby hardly noticed

But then the worry started
to grow.

Each day it got a little bit

It just wouldn't leave her alone."

We are hearing more and more these days about the anxiety young children are feeling. Goodness, it is a growing dilemma for people of all ages. To think about little ones having worries and concerns that change their days is frightening and heartbreaking. Books like this one might be just what is needed to allow all kids a chance to give voice to those things that worry them.

Ruby is the picture of contentment when we see her with her parents at the beach on the title page. They are ready for a picnic, Dad has just bought a new toy. That tiny windmill whirls as she runs, she enjoys a high swing, and she wanders off to explore the farthest part of the family garden. She is a very happy child ... until she meets a Worry. It certainly isn't a big one!

As the Worry grows, Ruby becomes more aware of its presence. It is always there: while she's playing, when she's having breakfast, even just before bed. Only Ruby can see it. It stops Ruby from being her happy self and enjoying all the activities she has always loved. It takes some time for Ruby to realize what is happening. The Worry is making her worry all the time!

"The Worry became the only thing that Ruby could think about,
and it seemed like she would never feel happy again."

No little one should ever feel that way! It isn't until she meets a little boy with a Worry of his own that Ruby suddenly realizes that Worries bother other people, too. She is not the only one. The two talk and their Worries lessen, and disappear.

Tom Percival uses color - then a lack of it - to clearly represent how Ruby is feeling. As the Worry grows, the color goes out of her world. When she meets another worrier and begins to understand more about it, the color returns. Young readers will notice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Last Peach, written and illustrated by Gus Gordon. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"It's the most beautiful
peach I've seen ALL 
summer. Wouldn't you

I do agree. In fact, it's 
the most beautiful peach
I've seen in ALL the 

Oh, my! These bugs have a problem. The conversation goes back and forth from one to the other as they try to make a decision about eating the finest peach they think they have ever seen. It should be eaten immediately, shouldn't it? One would think so. Just when they make the decision to gobble it up, a praying mantis comes along to tell them they should not eat it, since it is the last of the season.

Why would that stop them? Another bug suggests that it might look fine on the outside, but what about the inside? It does look good ... almost too good to be true. What if they eat one bite, and can't stop? Will they give themselves a stomach ache? It is a scenario worth considering. Might it have magical powers? Should they share it? So many questions, no right answer. As they watch it hang among the leaves in all its delicious loveliness, it fosters an argument that gets loud and aggressive. Their surprise at the anger their inability to decide occasions is enough to make them give up and wish the peach a fond goodbye.

Did they make the right choice? I will leave it up to you to see when the final page is turned. Surprise!

The dialogue is strong, and makes the book perfect for shared reading or readers' theater. Full of expression, indecision, consternation, even anger, it makes for a very funny and entertaining time. It will make you laugh out loud at the two bugs and their antics as they sing the peach's praises and waver over what they should do with it.

Listeners will immediately want to hear it AGAIN! When that need is satisfied, they are sure to go back and pore over the fabulous illustrations. There is so much to discover here! This mixed media artwork is wondrous and will inspire much discussion. Every time I go back to the beginning, I see more than I saw the last time. Kids will feel the same way. And the ending ... perfect!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Sweeping Up The Heart, by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow, Harper. 2019. $2100. ages 10 and up

"After lunch Amelia rushed off to the studio because she needed to get her hands back into some clay. She thought if she stayed home waiting for Epiphany any longer, she might explode. She also felt badly about the way she'd treated Casey. Without explaining anything, she wanted him to know that everything between them was fine. "Are you mad at me!" asked Casey the second he saw her. He was sitting in his usual place."

Amelia is not surprised when her father decides that they will not go to Florida for spring break. It is not the first time that he has decided to stay home, rather than be social. He has been reclusive since the death of his wife ten years ago. Amelia's best friend is in France, and Amelia has no idea how she will fill the days now that she has to spend them at home in Madison.

Her friend and neighbor Mrs. O'Brien, who has cared for Amelia since she was little, continues to love and support her, and ply her with delicious food. She also encourages Amelia's  visits to Louise's clay studio where Amelia makes the tiny clay animals that decorate their house. This week is different; Louise's nephew Casey is staying with her while his parents are at a retreat in hopes of preventing a divorce. At first, Amelia is concerned at having someone new in the studio. The two find they have some things in common, and they begin to spend time together.

Casey teaches Amelia a game he plays where he gives people he sees an imagined existence. When they see a woman who resembles Amelia's mother, the two use that game to imagine that perhaps she is trying to send Amelia a message, or that she is a ghost watching over her. Both are enveloped in their own grief, and wanting their lives to be different than they are. Parents can be so frustrating for the adolescent. It is tough not being a child, and not yet anywhere close to being an adult while facing such obstacles to real happiness. 

Mr. Henkes gives us wonderful characters, whose lives converge in the best of ways. He writes their story with elegance and wonder. The solution to the mystery of the woman both notice so often is resolved in a refreshing and hopeful way. Written with grace and a clear understanding of the adolescent mind, this book is filled with love and the courage both need, and blessed with new friendships that make all the difference. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Seashells: More Than a Home. Written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2019. $19.99 ages 6 and up

 "Seashells can let in light 
like a window ... 

Some areas of a heart cockle
shell let sunlight pass through.
That's good news for the tiny
algae that live inside the clam's

If you are lucky enough to visit a beach where seashells wash up, you are likely to gather some and see them for the treasures they are. You may not know much about them; that is where this beautifully illustrated and well-researched book can help.

Following the publication of Feathers (Charlesbridge, 2014), Melissa Stewart found herself thinking of the book's final page and the little boy running along the beach as he watched a gull flying over the water nearby. It made her wonder if he might turn his attention from the sky to the beach itself and see the many seashells to be found there. As writers do, it encouraged her to do some research and find out all that she could about seashells. After much reading, and a few dead ends, she was finally able to find all of the information she was seeking. Now, she could set her mind to a brand new book with her collaborative partner from their book about feathers.

Today, we are the lucky audience for that book. Once again, Sarah S. Brannen provides detailed watercolor artwork to make the new learning accessible for young children. They will learn about the many jobs that shells do, how they move, how they offer protection through camouflage, and their versatility.

"or hide in plain sight like a soldier in camo clothing."

The accompanying paragraph for this detailed illustration and simple description reads:

"A flat periwinkle's shell matches the color
of the seaweed it lives on. This makes it
hard for enemies to spot the little sea snail."  

All 13 featured seashells are placed on front and back endpapers. Information there includes their common and scientific name, and where they are found with an accompanying helpful map. A note from both author and illustrator is included, as well a list of further resources.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids, by Elizabeth Haidle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2019. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"When a screenwriting job was canceled, Roald found time to finish an old idea he'd had for a children's book. Wishing to avoid stereotypical heroes, he wrote about a timid boy who befriends giant insects. Sales were initially slow in the United States because of bad reviews. However, a later reprint in England immediately sold out, and Roald's reputation as a writer received a boost."

In her introduction, Elizabeth Haidle talks a bit about what makes a writer. Her observations are telling and diverse. This helps young readers (and aspiring writers) to see that their are many paths to a writing life.

"Determination was crucial, as the road to fame was never smooth. Encouragement from a mentor or teacher often made the difference when it came to braving the toughest years. Most authors endured rejections. Some got their books published only to have them banned. More often than not, day jobs paid the bills while writing was squeezed into early mornings and late nights."

She continues by telling the stories of ten authors: Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Cisneros, Roald Dahl, J. K. Rowling, Gene Luen Yang, Beatrix Potter, C. S. Lewis, and Madeline L'Engle. From diverse cultures, different countries, and varying backgrounds, each has found success in writing and bringing their stories to a wide audience.

I turned first to Roald Dahl. His funny, irreverent, often heartrending stories were (and still are) family favorites. We loved to snuggle up together and hear about the adventures, trials and triumphs of James, Matilda, Danny, Charlie, the Fantastic Mr. Fox and the BFG. I know we read them all. I shared them with my students, my brother shared them with his students, and my daughter is beginning to read them to her little ones.

His chapter begins with a quote from Matilda and a depiction of Mr. Dahl. A timeline is placed at the bottom of the page, and what follows are four pages of brief vignettes from his life. The narrative paragraphs that caption the artwork are chatty and tell of the circuitous path taken from early childhood to a famous and often-used quote: Writing is mainly perspiration, not inspiration.

As readers might do ... I went on to read about authors whose work I knew. That was quickly followed by learning more about each of these fine writers. There is much to learn from each and every one of them as the navigated the path to success.

The design for each page is appealing and does a commendable job of sharing intriguing events from a writer's life. I found myself slowing down and taking time to really consider each panel and its accompanying text.

"You just have to resign
yourself to wasting a lot
of trees before you write
anything really good.

That's just how it is."

                 J. K. Rowling

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Patchwork Bike, written by Maxine Beneba Clarke and illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"These are my crazy brothers,

and this is our fed-up mum.

Here is the sand hill
we built to slide down.

and shrieking 
and laughing."

What a debut this is! It begs to be read repeatedly to savor the sounds and rhythms of word choice and storytelling. A tour of their village allows readers a glimpse at the mud homes, the abandoned car, and the amazing sand hill they have built for sliding but also for much more boisterous fun. There's even a huge tree for climbing and for jumping.

"But the best thing of all
in our village
is me and my brothers' bike."

Readers will be astonished to see the workmanship using wood scraps, tin cans, old books, a bent bucket seat and Mom's old milk pot. That bike is a wonder of modern design, and can take the children anywhere they want to go. Who would have guessed?  It 'shicketty shake's, and 'winketty wonk's, and 'bumpetty bump's ...  all the while providing speedy hi-jinks and more fun than you can shake a stick at!

The artist uses acrylic paints on recycled cardboard to create energetic and detailed art that brings glorious life to a trio of children who use their ingenuity and resourcefulness to make the best of their days, despite the poverty of their surroundings. The BLM license plate is telling and timely.

In her author's note, Ms. Clarke says:

"What these times have taught me was how to make something out
of nothing, and that children will try to find joy no matter the
circumstances. ... The girl and boys in this story love their patchwork
bike just as much as a kid with a brand-new, expensive BMX might
love theirs - or maybe even more. All they see in it is possibility and fun."

Little ones will love hearing the little girl's story, while older students will take their understanding to a deeper level, and want to discuss issues of poverty, justice and persistence of spirit.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Home Sweet Neighborhood: Transforming Cities One Block At A Time, by Michelle Mulder. Orca Book Publishers. 2019. $19.95 ages 10 and up

"Tree forts, tag, hopscotch, and marbles kept kids entertained long before TV arrived on the scene. With all these activities, neighborhood sidewalks were bustling places. Sometimes kids roved from house to house in packs, having a snack at one place, using the bathroom at another. Kids picked up news from each family, and when they went back to their own houses ... "

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have great admiration for Orca's Footprints series. They remind each one of us that we can make a difference, no matter how small or big if we just get involved. Ms. Mulder has penned earlier books for this series, about cycling, light, water, trash, money and wildlife in cities. The writing is well-researched, often personal and very informative. I hope reading this will encourage interested readers to get into their communities and help make them more vibrant, inclusive, and satisfying.

Neighborhoods have lost some of their charm in past years. Busy people, demanding jobs, technology and other obligations keep families inside for much of the time. How do we change that? How do we get back to neighbors caring for neighbors, sharing friendship and comfort in good times and bad?

"Placemaking is an international movement dedicated to making
neighborhoods more personal and changing outdoor spaces to
draw people together. Kids are natural placemakers, building
tree forts, setting up lemonade stands and chalking hopscotch
squares onto sidewalks. Now adults are getting into the act too."

This descriptive book speaks to the importance of bringing back 'neighborhood', where people know and help each other with things big and small. When I was a kid we knew everyone in our neighborhood. If you didn't have enough flour for a cookie recipe, you asked a neighbor. Visits over coffee offered daily enjoyment and neighborhood gossip. Playing outdoors with our friends was the norm. One neighbor set up the family TV in the front yard for all the kids to watch. Scientists believe that humans are happier when they live in a strong and thriving community.

Ms. Mulder looks carefully at the historical significance of neighborhoods and community. She explains clearly how changes have been made to archaic laws, how simple acts have changed dangerous traffic patterns without stopping traffic, how knitting grandmothers on their lawn chairs have discouraged drug traffic in problem areas, and more. She explains that many small changes can have a huge impact on mental and physical health, on the environment, and on the general feeling of happiness because of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

The colorful, captioned photographs, the pleasing design and information boxes called Neighborhood Fact and My Happy Place are inviting and provide guidance for placemaking on a small scale. Once started, it isn't difficult to find other ways to improve the way we live. Story-filled and positive, it is an inspiration to any reader wanting to have an impact in their own community.

"Wherever you live, you've got everything you need to create a stronger community. With a little curiosity, a few smiles and some creativity, you can help turn your neighborhood into a place full of friendly faces ... a place that's more fun to live in than ever before!

Back matter includes acknowledgements, a list of print and online resources, a glossary and a comprehensive index.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

CAMP, written and illustrated by Kayla Miller. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $15.50 ages 9 and up

"Come on, Willow.
Can't you sit with me
We can all sit together ...
I don't want to sit with 
Max's friends. Or anyone. 
You spent all day hanging 
out with people, can't we 
eat dinner at our own 
Okay ... "

Following the success of Click (HMH, 2019), Kayla Miller takes readers along as Olive and her friend Willow attend summer camp. This graphic novel begins by showing the two girls saying a quick goodbye to family and boarding the bus that will transport them to Acorn Lake Camp. They are new recruits, keen to be together and to experience camp life ... at least, it starts out that way!

Assigned to the same cabin and sharing a bunk bed, they spend their time together learning the ropes and enjoying all of the activities together. It isn't long until Willow begins to feel homesick and uneasy. As Olive meets new people and revels in camp life, Willow finds little that she likes about it. The food does not appeal, she is uncertain when faced with new experiences, and then becomes overly dependent on Olive and their established relationship.

Olive wants to be a good friend, supporting and encouraging Willow to take part. The strain is too much for them, and they end up having a fight that keeps them apart. It seems to be just what was needed to happen. Willow must  strike out on her own, finding friends and new interests without worrying about what Olive is doing. As often happens, the two eventually see that having new friends and finding new interests is exactly why you go to camp. Their relationship improves and heals. 

The action is real, and certainly in keeping with the the many changes that come with adolescence and growing up. Interested readers will understand this story from both perspectives and find comfort in knowing that relationships do tend to sort themselves out when given space and time. The artwork is appealing and expressive, showing clearly the many activities the attract so many summer campers each year.

I wonder where and when we might see Olive and her friends next. I, for one, will look forward to any further adventures.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

An Owl At Sea, written by Susan Vande Griek and illustrated by Ian Wallace. Groundwood Books, 2019. $19.5 ages 5 and up

"There's no grass,
no field,
no mouse,
no vole,
only hard, cold metal,
ladders and posts.

But the owl's exhausted,
closes wings and eyes."

Kids love to read true stories - especially if they consider the fate of an animal or a bird. In this tale, based on something that actually happened, they will learn the story of a short-eared owl and its fortunate landing on an oil-drilling platform far from land.

What readers need to know is that it is not unusual for short-eared owls to fly over long distances. They are often seen in daylight, and live in open fields, and grasslands where they sit right on the ground and fly low as they hunt. Still, it was a shock to the riggers living in the North Sea to find an owl aboard their platform. Exhausted and needing gentle care, the men attend to it until it can be shipped back to land where it is cared for by a bird-rescue team.

"The copter's unloaded,
soon ready to fly,
but this time it's carrying something more
than men and supplies.
It carries the riggers,
it carries their gear,
it carries one owl
far from home,

Airborne again
but this time in flight,
the owl's wings
are closed
and held in tight."

Once recovered, the owl is released to its home ... healthy and right where it belongs.

The poetic text is filled with emotion, and the story told with power. There is much action, and a feeling of concern as the owl flies such a long distance, always on the lookout for somewhere to land. Stormy seas up the tension, followed by a  real sense of calm when it finally sets down. Ian Wallace's seascapes echo the power of the storm and the extraordinary expanse of the sea.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon. Wendy Lamb Books, Penguin Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Pixie wore a zebra-striped headband with black-and-white mouse ears poking up off it. She was my age, I guess, though all the twirling made her seem like a little kid. Her name is Penny," Styx informed us. "Call me Pixie," she insisted. "Are you going to tell them why?" Styx asked wryly. Pixie crossed her arms. "It's personal." Styx had this little smile on his face now. It was funny. He seemed like a different kind of guy with her around. Softer, but no less cool.

Caleb and Bobby Gene are brothers whose father keeps them on a pretty tight rein in their rural Indiana home, wanting to keep them safe from the greater world and its perils. Caleb longs for excitement, to break away from being 'ordinary' as his dad calls the family and the life they lead.  Then one night, when Caleb tells his dad he likes classical music, his dad shows no surprise at all and calls him extraordinary, a compliment Caleb takes to mean extra ordinary ... a term he does not like at all. 

When they trade their sister to a friend for a bag of fireworks, they get themselves in a heap of trouble that ends with their having to complete assigned chores in order to make amends. Disgruntled and wondering what to do with the fireworks they cannot use, the time is ripe for meeting Styx Malone, a kid older than they are, who seems like an answer to Caleb's prayers. Styx is cool and carefree, always up for new adventure and wanting the boys to be part of his Great Escalator Trade. It is a scheme that involves trading up from one thing to the next, always for something better than the thing being traded, until you get exactly what you want.

As they follow in Styx's footsteps and find themselves in trouble with their parents, Bobby Gene tries to get his younger brother to back off and be careful. Caleb won't hear anything bad about Styx, even though he has begun to have some reservations about Styx's motivations. They learn as the days pass that Styx has no permanent family, having been moved from one foster home to another throughout his young life. What he wants is ordinary, while Caleb wants the freedom that he sees in Styx.

Humorous, heartbreaking and hopeful ... and quite extraordinary. You won't soon forget Caleb, Bobby Gene or Styx Malone. It is a great summer adventure, and would make a perfect read aloud in a middle grade classroom when students return after their summer break.

“A happy ending depends on where you stop the story.”

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Chickens Are Coming, written and illustrated by Barbara Samuels. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"The next day Winston and
Sophie went out with their
baskets to collect the eggs.

There were no eggs, but
there was plenty of chicken

Three days later -
still not a SINGLE egg. All
the chickens did was roll in
the dirt."

I love the farm eggs we get twice each month, and I have learned from our farmers the joy that comes from raising chickens on pasture. Their eggs do not taste like any I buy in a grocery store. Raising chickens as egg producers is now becoming more popular in small urban backyards.

Winston and Sophie's community has a number of families raising chickens. When their mom sees a sign offering chickens for sale due to a move, she is interested. Soon the family is involved in creating a backyard environment for the chickens advertised. They have good reason for wanting to raise those birds. The children are excited for their arrival.

Five chickens in total! They run in fear from Winston's boisterous welcome. Days pass, and there are no eggs. Lots of chicken poop, not one egg! The chickens love to roll in the dirt, offering a new form of entertainment for a little boy. No matter what the children do, the chickens show absolutely no interest in egg laying. Music doesn't help, nor do stories. As the children do their best to make the chickens feel at home, they begin to learn about each unique personality.

"Desiree was the best flier.
Delilah was the most curious.
Divina was bossy. Dawn was shy.
And Daphne bumped into things."

The children spend much of their time with these new charges. When they finally begin finding eggs in every corner of the yard, they are upset to discover that, while there are eggs, there are no chickens! Kids will be overjoyed to learn where they are finally found, and what they are doing.

The colors are bright, the chickens captivating, and the work to keep them content is full of action and accommodations. The chicken's individuality is evident from the moment they arrive, and that adds an extra element of fun and frustration.

An author's note provides additional information, and is followed by Sophie's Chicken Chart which identifies each breed, their weight, country of origin, and the color and size of the eggs produced.                                                     

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Count on me, by Miguel Tanco. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"I've tried them all,
but they just aren't
for me.

There is one thing I really
like, though ... MATH!

Math is all around us.
It's often hidden,
and I love finding it."

Anyone who knows me is likely to tell you that math is not my thing. The math this little redhead has a passion for is what I do love about it. It was while I was teaching in a grade two classroom that I came to appreciate looking at the world in terms of mathematics. My students and I would make neighborhood excursions looking for patterns, and shapes, and the way math really was a part of our larger world.

In this little one's family, everyone has a passion. While hers is not the same as theirs, hers is very important to her and that is evident on every page. She notices math everywhere she looks. She knows there are many other things that might strike her fancy; math remains top of the list.

She shares with readers the many places math is found in her daily activities, on her won, with her family and even on vacation. She uses what she knows about math every single day. We all do; perhaps, we are not as aware of it as she is.

Miguel Tanco does a very thorough and enjoyable job of showing his audience how enveloping mathematical concepts truly are. Each turn of the page shows exactly how prevalent: a checker board, the gradation in containers of art supplies, carpet design, cabinets, even the curve of a tuba ... limitless! Math is but one way to look at our surroundings.

In a personal notebook that follows the text, readers are treated to visuals of some of the math concepts explored throughout this very appealing book.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Finding Baba Yaga: A Short Novel in Verse, by Jane Yolen. Tor, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $!4.50 ages 12 and up

"The longer I am in these woods,
I learn words.
I become cornucopic
with language
which rolls around my mouth
like dark chocolate,
like butterscotch,
like peppermint.

There's no one to caution my tongue,
no one to soap my mouth,
no one to bridle my brain."

I have always been drawn to Jane Yolen's writing. Some of her books remain favorites, and have a permanent place on my 'keepers' shelf. When I read about this verse novel, I knew that I would like to see a copy. Thanks to Fernanda at Raincoast for sending it to me.

As she has done before, Ms. Yolen blends traditional folklore with present-day sensibility to bring readers an engaging story about Natasha, a runaway whose emotional journey leads her to Baba Yaga and her little house with chicken feet.

An opening poem tells readers this is a not the story they think it is going to be.

"Stories retold are stories remade.
A sorrowing girl in a house.
An old witch with iron fillings.
A hut in the wood,
in the meadow, in the hood.

This is a tale
both old and new,

borrowed, narrowed,
broadened, deepened.

You think you know this story.
You do not."

What an invitation to jump right in and be immersed in this old story, told new. In a series of chapters, readers learn what life is like in a house that has no peace. A domineering and abusive father makes life so difficult that Natasha sees no solution but to run away to find herself and some peace.

"If I'd made a plan
it wouldn't be this one.
If I'd packed a bag,
it wouldn't be my backpack.
If I'd left a letter,
I couldn't have written a word.

See, it all begins and ends
with that.
A word.
But which word:

Leaving is difficult, and frightening, and even peaceful. Eventually, she finds herself at Baba Yaga's door. The house invites her in; the meeting with the Baba is a revelation; and there are numerous jobs to be done if she intends to stay. Baba Yaga, it turns out, likes 'feisty gitls'. Boys? Not so much.

"Boys, on the  other hand, she devours whole,
spitting out the little finger bones.
Even if they can dance and sing.
Even then."

When Vasalisa arrives, Natasha meets a new best friend. Their differences soon cause strife. Vasalisa's departure to marry a prince is a blow. Natasha stays on, always learning from the witch. This is a her family now, and she will continue her life in this new role, taking over for Baba in the future. 

"She promises me I'll be the Baba ever after.
For now that's quite enough."

Beautifully written in language that is smart, sensitive, magical, and memorable. This is not the only time I will read it!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

MOLES: Superpower Field Guide, written by Rachel Poliquin and illustrated by Nicholas John Frith. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"Then back to digging, another somersault, and more pushing. Dig, somersault, push. Dig, somersault, push. It's serious work keeping your tunnels tidy. Soon the dump tunnel is plugged. But by now, Rosalie has dug far enough down her tunnel that it's time to dig a new dirt dump anyway. That's why molehills are often evenly spaced across your lawn. How shipshape! How tidy!"

Oh, what fun it was to share the first book in the 'superpower' series, Beavers (2018). This time we get to learn all we can about Moles. Ms. Poliquin advises that moles also have 10 superpowers; readers are not likely aware of them all. So, she proceeds to share them.

She begins with its architectural prowess; moves on to allow a close look at paws, double-thumb-digging ability, incredibly strong arms, squidgibility, whisker warning system, hoarding talents, perhaps toxic saliva, and finally its blood of the gods. Along the way readers discover that evolution has been pretty wonderful when it comes to moles and their adaptation to the straw they drew in terms of life on our planet.

Keeping to the format and design of Beavers, the author names her mole (Rosalie) and proceeds to share each of Rosalie's powers, with accurate information humorously presented to up both the learning and the enjoyment for finding out all we can about this little insectivore. Along the way, quizzes are presented to test attention and knowledge. The tone is bold, even cheeky at times, but always meant to grab attention while informing.

"So how does Rosalie keep her pantry worms from escaping?


Now, that would be the end for you or me, but not for worms. A
worm can grow a new head in a couple of months. But until it gets a
new head, it can't move which is just the way Rosalie likes it. Sometimes
she stores hundreds of worms in a pantry. Sometimes she just pats a few
into the walls of her tunnels."

Nicholas John Frith's illustrations are humorous and contextual. Back matter includes a glossary and a brief bibliography, which includes nonfiction, fiction, and web links.

What a terrific middle grade series this is! Ostriches is up next. Watch for it in November. Do you have any idea what it's superpowers might be?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2019. $21.00 ages 11 and up

"There is an Arabic proverb that says:

She makes you feel
like a loaf of freshly baked bread.
It is said about
the nicest
The type of people
who help you

I just spent a perfect day in the warmth of the back porch reading to my heart's content. One of the books I read was this novel in verse that shares the journey of a young Syrian girl and her pregnant mother from their war-torn homeland to a new life in the United States.

Jude's life in Syria has become increasingly dangerous. She lives there with her parents and her 'superhero' older brother. Political unrest in their homeland is causing strife within their own family. Issa is not content to sit back and do nothing. The family fears that his activism may create an even more dangerous existence for their family. He wants to go to Aleppo to help those in need. Baba, Jude's father, decides that Jude and her mother must move to Cincinnati to live with family there. Baba will stay and look after their store; Issa will not leave when he is needed to fight the oppression that threatens Syria.

Life in America is quite a culture shock for Jude and her mother. They do not speak the language, the pace of life is chaotic and loud. Their life with Jude's uncle and his family is tenuous to begin with, although her uncle is welcoming. It takes time for all to accustom themselves to a new reality. Jude's aunt is excited to have her husband's family with them. Jude's mother is reticent. Jude's cousin Sarah, in middle school as is Jude, doesn't want to garner attention for this new person in her life.

"I love the way Aunt Michelle
greets me every morning with a plate of pancakes. grader
The way she speaks slowly
so that I can understand her,
and always smiles like she understands me,
even when I know my accent is thick
and I have put the words in the wrong order."

Once school starts, Jude begins to make friends. Her ESL class offers the support of a welcoming and patient teacher. There are four students, with varying abilities with the English language and they know exactly how Jude feels. Her abiding interest in the movies and music provides Jude an opportunity to audition for the school musical. Her daily walks in the neighborhood lead her to a Middle Eastern restaurant and a new friend, Layla.

Treatment of Muslim people is not always fair and right. Jude is the object of some racist comments. Despite that, she learns to love her new home, while still holding Syria in her heart. Jude's strong poetic narrative allows readers a close look at the emotions felt as she navigates all that is happening to her. She is initially apprehensive, always brave, sometimes scared, righteously angry, and still willing to do the work it takes to find a new life with her mother and baby sister.

There are powerful moments, both uplifting and heart-wrenching. Through it all, Jude proves she has what it takes to make the best of the cards she is dealt and to find support from family and new friends.

"I shake my head and
blink away my tears.
I tell her I was thinking of Issa.
She squeezes my shoulder again.

He's going to be okay, 
and he would be so proud of you.
Her eyes wander around the room
and find Mama, who is surrounded by lots of friends.
New friends,
American friends.

He'd be so proud of all of you."

In an author's note Ms. Warga reminds us:

"I will
show that you don't need to be afraid of these children
who are fleeing from a war zone. That they want the same
things all of us do - love, understanding, safely, a chance at

We're in a period of human history where empathy is
needed more than ever. As the mother of two little girls,
I'm constantly trying to teach them the idea that no one
every grows poor from giving. That sharing what you have
does not make what you have worth any less. I guess that's
what this book is really about - the ever-growing need for

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Olive and Pekoe In Four Short Walks, by Jacky Davis and Giselle Potter. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Olive is ready to
go home to her cozy

With soggy ears and
a sagging tail,
Pekoe says, Good-bye,
Olive, enjoy your pillow. 

Olive blinks the rain
away from her eyes.
Thank you, Pekoe." 

Olive and Pekoe prove you don't have to be the same to be grand friends. In four short stories, readers learn what it takes to keep the friendship fresh and enduring, while also being true to their own character.

Pekoe is big, energetic and always on the go. Olive is older, shorter, and much less spirited. Pekoe would like Olive to catch up; Olive would like Pekoe to slow down. They don't enjoy the same things when they go for a walk. After all the exercise, they do agree that a snack is in order. That's their first walk.

While out together a second time, a thunderstorm brings wind, cold rain, and a need to find shelter. Drenched and cold, Olive wants the comfort of home. Pekoe wishes her well, and heads for home himself. The third walk features an encounter with a chipmunk. Olive does not appreciate the species; Pekoe wants to meet one, but cannot find it again. Olive knows there will be more. Finally, a trip to the dog park offers many new and different dogs. Olive doesn't need to be up-close-and-personal with any of them. Pekoe is concerned about new behaviors .... especially from a bully bulldog. Olive proves her mettle, and then offers a chance to sit back, relax and watch what is happening rather than being in the midst of it all.

The watercolor, ink and colored pencil artwork gives life and understanding to two very different, but loyal, dog pals. Through humorous scenes, Ms. Potter adds depth through her expressions and settings. The two dogs may not have much in common; their friendship is all that matters.

Warm, quiet, this is a book little ones will ask for again and again. They may soon find themselves reading it on their own.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Daddy-Sitting, by Eve Coy. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I get him ready.

Then I make his
favorite breakfast.

Daddy is full of
energy and needs
lots of exercise.

Daddy-sitting keeps
me busy ... "

The little girl narrator of this charming story has her dad's best interests at heart. That is why she takes her 'daddy-sitting' job so seriously. She has had a stand-out role model for the kinds of things one must do to keep her charge busy throughout the day, and happy to be active and entertained.

Their day begins with waking him up, feeding him breakfast and getting him the outside exercise he needs to burn off an excess of energy. Riding his bike to the park, swinging, swimming, shopping, building with blocks, enjoying a tea party, and the occasional mishap are all part of the fun the two have together. 

As the book is read, listeners are witness to an entirely different story, playing out in expressive and humorous watercolor and colored pencil artwork. The day abounds with the many shared activities, with dad doing all the work and the child enjoying the many pleasures of their time together. It is as it should be with a child so young.

Though Dad appears exhausted at times, he NEVER stops participating in and enjoying every minute spent with his much-loved daughter. She encourages him at every turn (as I am sure he has done for her) and the two are obviously joyful about time spent together. Although she assures him that he can grow up to do 'anything' he would like to do, he only wants one job.

"But Daddy doesn't want to be any of those.

He wants to do only one job,
which is always packed with adventure ...

being my daddy."


Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Little House in a Big Place, written by Alison Acheson and illustrated by Valeriane LeBlond. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"She wondered about the
engineer, riding high in the
front. She wondered if he
liked his uniform and his
engineer's cap. Maybe he
wanted to wear a cowboy
hate or a suit. with tails
and a top hat.

She didn't know his name .."

One girl, one train, one engineer. Two passes every day ... one from the east, and one from the west. The girl and the engineer do not know each other. They have one thing in common. Each time the train passes, the girl waves to the engineer and the engineer waves back.

She lives in a house at the edge of town, with her family, their cat and their cows on patchwork fields, and close to the railroad tracks. The connection that she makes with the engineer has her imagining what his life might be like, as he probably wonders about hers. They will never meet. What she does not consider is not seeing him again. Then, one day she watches as something sails from the engineer's window and lands in a nearby field. It is a parting gift.

As she searches for what was thrown, she recognizes that there is much to appreciate about where she lives.

" ... she found wild strawberries, hidden and sweet,
and wildflowers along the tracks.
She picked some and lay in the warm-smelling prairie grass,
looked up at the sky,
listened to the songs of the grasshopper's chirps,
and felt the whoosh of the wind."

Finding the engineer's cap brings a smile. It almost fits. She is not so interested in the next engineer, finding other ways to spend her time as she grows and finally leaves home for the east and a new life.

The artwork is done using gouache, oil pastels and colored pencils and reveals a country setting that is pastoral and quiet. The variety in perspective, and the changing seasons bring attention to the inevitable growth that is part of life. The lyrical text is as gentle and peaceful as her surroundings, even as she moves on to a life of her own.

Told with warmth and grace, it will last long in your memory.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

What Are You Doing, Benny? Written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Kady Macdonald Denton. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up


Hey, Benny!

What are you doing, Benny?
Making a paper airplane?

I'm a genius at making paper
airplanes. I have a special way of
bending the wings up at the tips.

It makes them soar and swoop ... "

Little ones in a family love joining in the activities of their older siblings. That is true in this tale of two fox brothers as well. The younger fox's first person voice is honest and full of admiration for his big brother Benny. No matter what Benny is doing, his sibling wants to be a part of it. The little one is sure he can enhance every pursuit ... if only Benny will agree.

Agreement is not on Benny's mind. No matter what he is doing, and what the enticement promised, Benny has a pat answer: NO! Each time Benny walks away the little one follows, always wanting to be part of the fun. Each time Benny responds to the request for participation with one word: NO! Deciding to entertain himself with puppets, the little one is content until Benny shows up with a new pursuit.

"I followed him to the kitchen.
Hey, Benny! 

What are you doing, Benny?
Making a sandwich?

I like the way you use mustard and sliced chicken
and mayonnaise and pickles. In fact, you make the
best sandwiches in the world. I'm hungry, too.

So, can I have a sandwich, Benny?

No, said Benny."

Poor little one. Nothing is going to make Benny spend time with him. Benny is the manipulator. Or is he? What might it take to change his mind?

Kady Macdonald Denton, as she is so cleverly known to do, provides a n engaging setting, rich details, and gentle expressions that allow readers a clear look at the devotion the little one feels for his brother and the indulgence of the older for the younger sibling. Created with watercolors, ink and gouache, she places delightful images in boxes and on single and double page spreads to add humor, empathy, and awareness for every exchange.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Caterpillar Summer, by Gillian McDunn. Bllomsbury Kids, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"The ocean heard my anger, and eventually washed it away. Then I finally understood what I'd been missing all those years." Cat looked at him curiously. "What was that?" Macon blew a big breath out. "Being a parent is a kind of promise. A promise to stand by someone even if you think they're making a mistake. To love who you get, not who you think you're going to get." Cat thought about his story. Something was missing."

Keeping to the summer theme, I want to share how much I enjoyed this novel about family and the changes that come with knowledge and understanding.

It's vacation time and Cat's family has a plan to be in Atlanta for three weeks while Mom is teaching a college class. Cat and her brother Chicken will have time to visit with Cat's best friend Rishi, whose family has recently moved from San Francisco to Atlanta. Cat will certainly continue to concern herself with her younger, special needs brother. She takes her responsibility for Chicken seriously, watching out for him at school and at home while their mother works. We learn early that their father has died after a battle with cancer.

"It's sad backward and forward," Cat said quietly.
Lily paused. Cat realized Lily would wait for hours if Cat
needed her to. The thought made her want to keep talking.
"I miss him backward when I think about piggyback
rides or cracking eggs. And I miss him forward when I think
of all the things he isn't here for, the things he won't ever
be here for."
Lily reached out to touch Cat's face. "That's the heart of
it, my sweet girl. So sad and so unfair."
Her touch was so gentle, it made Cat's eyes tear. She
leaned against Lily.
"I wish someone would have told me that I would miss him
forever, and in all directions."

Their mother is a children's book writer whose early readers center on the relationship between Caterpillar and Chicken, modeled after her two children. It is not until they land at the Atlanta that they discover Rishi and his family will not be there to meet them. They have been called to a family emergency, and are on a flight to India. That sudden change in plans has them heading to Gingerbread Island, and three weeks with grandparents they have never met. Cat knows nothing about them as her mother has never been forthcoming about her early life. Cat does not know why they are estranged.

Over the course of the three weeks the children stay with Lily and Macon, Cat and Chicken learn much about their grandparents and their life on the island, about their mother and her life there, and about the issues that caused their mother to leave and not want to come back. Cat learns to trust and to let some of the responsibility she feels for her little brother be handled by her doting and gentle grandmother. Cat has many adventures with her grandfather, with her new friend Harriet, and various encounters with some of the island's inhabitants. She learns a lot about fishing, a sport her mother loved. She makes up her mind that amends will be made and the whole family will find a way to be happy again. That task does not come without its problems, but readers will root for Cat every step of the way.

This story is a brilliant debut novel. It is told with emotion, humor, heartbreak and healing. Readers will not forget this family that finds itself questioning past relationships and decisions, then looking to a better future. I would love to meet up with them again. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Summer, written by Cao Wenxuan and illustrated by Yu Rong. Imprint, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"The smallest of them all,
the field mouse, gets shoved
aside. Her little voice tries to
shout, "But it was me! I got to the 
tree first!" 

In Summer, 
the tree is barely alive.
Only a few leaves are hanging
on. Most branches are completely bare; with nothing growing from the twigs."

It is certainly feeling like summer with temperatures at 30C these days! It seems the perfect time to share this animal fable and its grasslands setting.

The sun is so HOT! The animals are all looking for respite from its blistering blaze. There is one tree, and seven animals want a spot under it. Being the biggest and most powerful allows the elephant pride of place. Then, the animals see how ridiculous it is to stand beneath a tree that has no leaves. The animals think it is VERY funny.

"Suddenly the animals start to laugh,
one by one, until they are all laughing.
They finally see that under the leafless tree, there is no shade.
The elephant is sweltering in the sun,
just like the rest of them!"

It is not until they see a father and son walking in the overwhelming heat that they consider an alternative. Noticing the father's shadow is protecting his son from the sun's rays, they rethink their own strategy. The lynx is first; he welcomes the mouse to the cool of his shadow. The book's design completely changes as each animal adds its shadow to the group. The six pages that follow expand in width as each animal moves in to protect the next.

Young readers see clearly how the shadow expands with the animal's size. Observant children are sure to notice how each animal changes as they move from the sunny side of the book's gutter to the growing shade on the other side. Well-chosen and lovely language, as well as brightly colored and gentle images, carry the story from page to page, always informing and entertaining as it moves along.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gecko, written by Raymond Huber and illustrated by Brian Lovelock. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Gecko cleans himself by
licking the grit from his
scaly skin. His tongue whisks
around his face and wipes his

The sun will soon set, and
Gecko is getting hungry -
so hungry, he could eat his own

Further to the story of this one particular gecko, the author places additional factual information concerning Gecko's species at the bottom of each page of the story. The follow-up for this page says:

"Most geckos' eyes can't close 
but are covered by a see-through disk
called a spectacle. Geckos' feet are 
self-cleaning - the rolling movement 
of their feet sheds dirt as they walk."

As children read the story, it connects them to Gecko himself. They also learn a great deal more than they might have expected. It's a great way to share natural history with young children. Gecko is a fascinating character, whose day's adventures are freely shown. His life is typical of the species. He needs and likes food, and doesn't want to be lunch for his enemies. He is persistent in his search, spending time both day and night watching and catching enough to satisfy his hunger.

"It's dark now and Gecko climbs
higher to search for flying food.
He weaves between leaves, slinks
along branches, and trickles over twigs,
his tongue flicking out to smell the air."

"Most geckos are active at night. 
Their big eyes help them see in the 
dark. Geckos smell with their 
noses and tongues."

The glorious artwork is done in watercolor, acrylic ink, and colored pencil. The paint-splattered backgrounds and use of light and shadow add drama and interest. Both beautiful and fascinating!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

from 1 to 10, by Mies Van Hout. Pajama Press, 2019. $19.95 ages 2 and up




Sicily is in preschool this year, and has become very interested in numbers. Her return from a morning at school has her, chalk in hand, planning her next hopscotch game. She jumps from square to square calling out the names of all numbers from one to ten ... and sometimes to eleven and twelve if she wants an extra jump. I love watching her on video as she grasps the concepts and uses them for new learning.

Counting from 1 to 10 is a romp with this attractive, beautifully designed concept back. Front endpapers begin with 1 and end with 10, while the ones in the back begin with 10 and count down to 1. That is a worthwhile learning experience in itself.

Opening to the first page, a big-bellied bear is placed on a bold teal blue background and the text reads '1 belly'. Unexpected, yes. Funny, indeed. Much appreciated, you bet! Who else has 1 belly? Each page turn adds bold color, appealing animal characters and a new number. Young readers are encouraged to count the items described, then move on.

The artist inspires constant touching by making the countable elements large and obvious, through text and art. Kids won't stop at counting the named features, they will want to show off their counting prowess with counting so much more. How many hairs on the monkey's head? How many toes does the crocodile have? How many spots on the fish's body?

In back matter, the author offers five ways for parents and caregivers to encourage children to be involved in counting activities beyond the obvious ones in this book, and then to their greater world. A world of fun and color that builds confidence in new learning, and provides for pure joy in sharing the book's pages. They will soon be reading it all by themselves, and you will be reading it again as well.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Lion and Mouse, written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Translated by Elisa Amado. Groundwood Books. 2019. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Where are you going,
breakfast?" the lion asked
"Breakfast?" said the mouse.
"Don't eat me today, please.
I'm off to see my girlfriend."
"Someone as small and ugly
as you couldn't have a
"But I do! And if you let me
go I might be able to return
the favor."

A retelling of Aesop's fable will find new fans in this book by a well-respected collaborative team. The lion and the mouse share their forest home with numerous other animals; each has a reputation there.

"In the woods there lived a very lovely lion who was
like a sun, and a small mouse who was a busybody
and a glutton."

That changes the dynamic of the original tale, don't you think? The mouse makes a nuisance of himself one morning while in the lion's den uninvited. Not too surprising that he should find himself in a bit of a pickle. The lion grabs him by the tail, with plans to make a meal of him. Mouse pleads, Lion releases. Lucky the lion has such a sunny disposition.

When the lion finds himself in a tenuous position of his own, he must count on the mouse to live up to his promise of helping him. The mouse does exactly that, earning the lion's admiration and gratitude. It turns the tables on a contentious relationship that will last for a very long time.

Readers will admire the strong characters developed by Jairo Buitrago, and the fact that he continues their story with acts of kindness and friendship. It is a tale told with humor, and a contemporary bent. Rafael Yockteng's mixed-media illustrations 'were created with an 8B pencil with color added digitally'. This is another wonderful collaboration, and a book to be savored.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Little Book OF BIG WHAT-IFS. Written and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $19,99 ages 4 and up

"What if you get lost?

What if someone can help?

What if you make the time?

What if you had a long way to go?

What if it was worth the wait?"

If you have children of your own, or you teach young children, you will have been bombarded at many points in time with the 'what if?' question. Their imaginations can take little children from depths of despair to pinnacles of joy. They are constantly wondering about the workings of their world, and not afraid to ask the questions that express their immediate feelings or show concern for any number of things.

The what-ifs come fast and furiously in this thought-provoking book for young readers. The characters are animals who have many of the same questions they share with children who read this book. If you have seen other books by Ms. Liwska you will recognize the warm soft edges of each of her signature characters. They are a group where one watches out for the other, and together they form a supportive community of friends.

Beginning with a what-if about a birthday is highly appropriate from an author who knows her audience very well.

"What if you slept through your birthday?"

At my age, I wouldn't mind. A five year old would be devastated. Someone has surely considered that concern for such a special day. The snowy illustration shows animal friends playing music, admiring a birthday cake, and bringing a present while a tiny bear cub snuggles sound asleep in the trunk of a nearby tree. (Of course, a bear would be sleeping if it's winter time!)

There are many charming moments when one character shows concern for the other. And there are many, many what-ifs to be considered ... each equally important.  The imagination of the young is endless. The animals who stand in for them gives them an opportunity to see that others share some of those same concerns. Some are silly, some are very serious ... that is in keeping with children as they live their lives.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Piglet Named Mercy, written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Someone very small and not at
all ordinary found her way to the Watson's house on Deckawoo Drive. Mr. Watson made the discovery when he opened the door for the morning paper. "Mrs. Watson!" he called. "Come see!" "Oh, the little dear," said Mrs. Watson. "Oink," said the piglet. " I think she's hungry," said Mr. Watson."

I can't wait to share this with my granddaughters when they arrive for a long visit at the end of the month. They both love to hear the Deckawoo Drive stories about Mercy, her adoptive parents, and her neighbors.

Mercy is a very popular lead character in the highly praised chapter book series. She is a 'porcine wonder' with an undying love for buttered toast. In this prequel to those six tales, readers will discover exactly how Mercy came to live with the Watsons.

Before her arrival on the scene, the Watsons are very happy with their very ordinary lives. They attend to their chores on a daily basis, regular as clockwork. Mrs. Watson does express a quiet wish for something to happen that will make things different for them. Mr. Watson is content. When Mercy suddenly shows up on their doorstep they are surprised, as are their neighbors, the Lincoln sisters.

Baby Lincoln immediately falls in love with the tiny piglet and wonders if warm milk is needed. Eugenia, her older and very contrary sister, is not at all impressed with the piglet's presence in the neighborhood. The Watsons, on the other hand, are enamored of every little thing Mercy does. Following a bottle of warm milk, they quickly discovers what Mercy is most interested in eating.

"She seems to like toast very much!"
said Baby.

"Oh, the darling, darling thing,"
said Mrs.Watson."

Welcome to Deckawoo Drive, Mercy!

Warm delight is shown in Chris Van Dusen's artwork, with its fond expressions, bright colors, and  joyful smiles as the piglet is welcomed to her new home.

If your kids haven't met Mercy yet, this is a perfect introduction and is sure to lead them to the early chapter versions of her adventures.