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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 7 and up

"Gyo was nervous to leave her home for the buzz and bustle of downtown Los Angeles. Not many girls, and even fewer Asian American girls, went to college in 1926.

But Gyo was determined.

She sketched statues, flowers and faces. Her sketchbooks filled up, one after another."

I did not know how much I wanted to see this book until it arrived in the mail this morning. One of the first childtren’s books we had when our kids were little was Oh, What a Busy Day! Published in the same year as our first was born, it was a wonderful book to share together. And, share it we did … for hours at a time, and over days and years. It was worn out by the time we were done with it. Erin and Bret both loved it.  Two years ago, I bought a new copy to share with my granddaughters when they are here visiting.

Gyo Fujikawa was just a name and someone to be admired for the  much-appreciated artwork.  At that time, there was little opportunity to learn more about the people who were writing the books we loved. To learn her story through the pages of this book, created by such an amazing and inspired team, is pure joy.

It was not an easy life for a single, Asian-American female artist in the early to mid-twentieth century. Born in the United States in 1908, and eventually wanting to earn a living with her art, Gyo faced many obstacles, as a child and later as an adult. Her persistence, her passion for social justice, her incomparable talent, and her need to show the book world what she saw finally won acclaim.

Kyo Maclear’s thoughtful text offers readers an authentic look at the isolation of Gyo’s childhood, the artistic path taken, the turmoil of World War II for her Japanese family, and the career that led to designing books at Disney, decorating store windows, creating stamps, painting murals, and eventually writing and illustrating books for children that showed the multiculturalism she saw everywhere she looked. At a time when few books showed any diversity, she refused to compromise, and eventually her books helped children see a ‘bigger, better world’.

"Gyo's family was sent to a prison
camp far, far away from their home.

Gyo's heart was broken.

For the next three years the world shrank,
became tiny and terrible.

Now when she gazed at a white page,
no pictures would come.

Gyo mailed her family letters and sent gifts
to her new nephew, born in the camp.

But her heart would not mend."

Julie Morstad’s liquid watercolor, gouache and pencil crayon illustrations could not be more perfect when presenting this story. The convincing settings, the times of desolation, the joy found in the children she so lovingly creates with respect for Gyo’s art are stunning.

Archival photos, a detailed timeline, notes from both author and illustrator, a selected bibliography and a list of sources are welcome and valuable. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Lili Macaroni, written by Nicole Testa and illustrated by Annie Boulanger. Pajama Press, 2019. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"At school, I meet Eleanor and Frankie and Lou and Fatou. I learn to draw chalk pictures and play hopscotch. I listen to new stories. And I count lots of things, not just stars. I learn about
butterflies and moths - blue ones. orange ones with pretty designs, and black and white ones. My favorite is called the luna moth."

I have been reading this new book almost every day since it arrived in the mail. There's a great reason for that. My granddaughters are here to visit this month, and they love listening to it before bed each night.

Of course they have questions. Why? from the three-year old. Why polka dots on a butterfly? Why red hair? Why blueberry blue eyes? Why does that boy stick his tongue out? The almost five-year-old is readying herself for school, and was more interested in why the children would tease Lili, and what you do when you go to school. What does a luna moth really look like? Why don't they like red hair? So many reasons to read it again and again - almost every time noticing something new.

Lili is an only child; she shares one special trait with each of her parents and maternal grandparents. It isn't until she goes to school for the first time that she begins to think about those things she has always loved about herself. When her new classmates make fun of her name, her hair, her blueberry blue eyes and the spots on her nose, she is too sad to play.

She decides she will do her best to become someone else, until she thinks how disappointed everyone will be that she no longer wants to share what is so unique about her: her mom's hair, her dad's freckles, her grandma's blue eyes, and her grandpa's magical laugh. Careful thought has her deciding  she will be stay the way she is. But, she will have to come up with a plan for her aching heart. Her dad helps.

At school Lili explains to her class that the polka-dot butterfly on her shoulder helps to make her aching heart feel lighter. The next day, the children and her teacher have a surprise for her.

The colorful illustrations help children know and appreciate Lili's personality; they only change with the sadness she feels. We talked about the changing perspectives and how seeing something from above was an interesting way to watch what the children were doing. Many small details held our attention and provided for discussion.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Lottie & Walter, by Anna Walker. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Lottie had a secret. Her mom
didn't know the secret, and
neither did her baby brother.
Her swimming teacher
definitely didn't know the

Only Lottie knew a
shark was hiding in the
swimming pool. The shark
didn't want to eat the other
kids. It wanted to eat Lottie."

I am a big fan of Anna Walker and her books for our youngest readers. She exhibits such a child's sensibility in the stories she writes for them. This charmer of a tale speaks to the fear of water she remembers feeling as a child. Even today, when she does swim, she occasionally would love to have a walrus hold her hand.

Lottie is afraid of the water, too - and what might be swimming there. She is convinced that she is the only one who knows the secret at the swimming pool where she takes her lessons. The shark that swims under the water there does not appear to be interested in eating any of the other children in her class - only Lottie. Every Saturday Lottie, her mother and her baby brother attend her swimming lesson. Every Saturday Lottie sits on the edge until the lesson is done, then she gets dressed and goes home.

A surprise announcement about next week's pool party has her wondering what she will do. Enter Walter.  Walter does for Lottie what so many imaginary friends have done for other children like her.  Walter is constant companion, and cheer leader through the week leading up to Saturday's party. As  the days pass, Lottie discovers that her friend loves many of the same things she loves. His calming presence and quiet song might be just what she needs.

Lottie remains hesitant. Can Walter help her face her fear?

The watercolor illustrations are wondrous! Soft and beautifully rendered, they are the perfect partner to the warmth of the telling. Lottie is as tiny and uncertain as Walter is huge and gentle. The details displayed are important without any sense of overwhelming the young reader. They speak to the hearts of those who share this book.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Superlative Birds, written by Leslie Bulion and illustrated by Robert Meganck. Peachtree, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2019. $22.95 ages 10 and up

"Turkey Vulture

This vulture
on chickeny feet
and doesn't tweet
or cluck
or peep
or cheep.
It hisses and grunts
and hunts
on the fly ... "

A chickadee pops up in the corner of the first double page spread to let readers know any needed hints will be provided by it. The first poem allows that the book is meant to show which birds are best at what. And that is not all.

"... Who's smallest? Who's the fastest flier?
Deepest diver? Loudest crier?
Stores most dead prey on barbed wire?
This we've got to see!

But ... 
Which traits give birds special flair,
On land, at sea, and in the air.
Traits only birds (and most birds) share?
Do you know? Let's see!

What follows is a series of double page spreads that include a colorful, detailed illustration of the bird presented, a descriptive poem (in a variety of forms), a quick hint from the chickadee, and a science note that adds pertinent and worthwhile information about each 'superlative' bird. The edges of both verso and recto display the trait for the bird shown.

"Walk on Water

The jacana splays spindly toes,
Skip-trots across broad lily pads,
Picks tasty insects as it goes.

Young jacanas kept warm by Dad,
Tuck under wing, with trailing toes
too long to fit, but still - not bad!"

The chickadee asks, 'How long are your toes?'
The verso displays LONGEST TOES. 
And the Science Note adds two fact-filled paragraphs
of further research.

There are 18 of them, and each is exceptional for a particular trait. Poetic descriptions are carefully worded and present ways in which birds can differ one from the other, despite their many similarities. The facts are amazing; the information well researched. The birds come from all over the world and those traits that define them are as varied as the birds themselves. The digital artwork gives life to the birds and their habitats. The chickadee is always helpful, often humorous. Observant readers will note the difference between the front and back end papers.

It is sad to think many of these birds may, in fact, disappear. Ms. Bulion makes reference to that in her final poem. The concluding back matter has a glossary, notes on each of the poetic styles used, advice for doing more exploring in a bird's world, and resources that can be used to help with further study. 

What a terrific book this is!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Bloom, written by Kevin Panetta, with artwork by Savanna Ganucheau. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 13 and up

"What's streusel?


How do you work in a
bakery and not know what
streusel is?
It's the crumbly delicious
stuff that goes on top of
muffins, coffee cake ...
... it is the food of the gods."

Following high school graduation, Ari is keen to leave town and find his own way with his band. He wants to experience the excitement of life in the big city. But ... his family's bakery is struggling financially and his parents need him to stay and help them. His sister is married now, and is no longer available to help out. What can Ari do?

He can come up with another plan. He does just that when he meets Hector. Hector is the perfect person for the job. He loves to bake; Ari hates it. A culinary student, he is back in town for the summer, following his Nana's death and wanting to decide whether he will stay in her house or not. He takes the  job at the bakery. As the two work together, Ari finds himself enjoying time spent with Hector and even begins to think of baking as a worthy pursuit. The feelings they have for each other take time to grow.

When an accident caused by the two of them results in a fire and the loss of the bakery, Ari makes a big mistake. He blames Hector for it. Hector is fired and leaves town. Ari is left to consider what he has done, and if he can ever make it right again.

The art for this graphic novel is wonderful. Full page spreads throughout give a real sense of family and baking with family recipes, and offers many scenes of the joy baking brings to all. The black, white and blue images convey the feelings, people, and action in a very natural and appealing way.  It's a winner!


Friday, July 26, 2019

Big Problemas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.00 ages 9 and up

"Another thing I learned about
Luis is that he likes jazz and has
a big music collection. We listen
to his music when we drive to La
Finca, his country house.

He goes there on weekends
and sometimes invites Mami
and me to come along. As it
turns out,
I like jazz!"

Juana is back to bring us up to date with her life. She thinks that life is almost perfect, and has valid explanations for feeling that way. She loves her city, her neighbors, her Mami, her grandparents, her school. Oh, and Lucas.

"The number one most perfect thing
of all things in my life is LUCAS, 
He is the most perfect perro in the whole entire world.
Despite being neurotic, eating my homework,
and snoring, he is the best of amigos.

But, life is changing, and in ways that are not all that pleasing to Juana. Her mother? That is another story. Her hair is different. Other things are changing, too. We learn about her aunt Piti and her cooking skills, her cousins and their dog, and how much she likes spending time with all of them. But, she is missing her Mami.

Turns out that Mami has a new friend, Luis. Obviously, he is the reason for the new hairstyle, and other changes as well. Luis likes jazz; Juana likes jazz. Luis has a cool house in the country; Juana likes everything about that place - the air, the animals, the cheese, the lunch they stop for on their way to the country. There are many things to consider when thinking about Mami and what is happening in Juana's 'just about perfect' life.

Juana's first person description of her life is humorous and dramatic; it allows readers to feel the emotions she is feeling as she navigates her new normal. Readers who met her in her first book, Juana and Lucas (Candlewick, 2016), will be delighted to welcome her once more. The design of the book is most enjoyable, as was the first. As the relationship moves toward marriage and the preparations for the wedding are in full swing, she wonders what life might be like if her father were still alive, even though she did not know him. The new house, the wedding, the extended family offer a new perspective - one that Juana learns to accept, blending the new and old.

"New and old might not add up to perfect, but life is interesting and that, right now, seems much better than perfeccion."

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up. Written and illustrated by Hyeon-Ju Lee. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"For the first time ever,
I could see myself. I was
happy and excited and
full of life.

Sometimes, the groundskeeper
trimmed my branches. It was
painful but it helped so that I
could grow up quickly!

When I turned seventeen ... "

Published in Korea in 2016, this story, narrated by a gingko tree, honors the passage of time and the changes that come with it.

The tree begins by explaining that it was ten years old when it was planted on its present site. In that year, on the ground floor, it could see and hear the lovely sounds coming from a piano studio where young students were learning to play. Its growth continues on past each floor, always watching that floor's tenants go about their daily lives. It gets an occasional pruning from the groundskeeper to help it grow.

Floor by floor, the tree is witness to the lives of the people who live in the apartments whose windows are closest to its many branches. It feels the joy and pain felt by the tenants. When it reaches the top floor where no one lives, it is lonely and isolated from any familiar sights. For some years its life is very different than in previous years. Finally, as its branches rise above the rooftop, it can 'hear the greetings' from other trees. Ahhh! A family of its own, and a lovely end to this contemplative tale. 

The artwork is spare and moody, in keeping with the lives it shares and the tree's experiences. The deep blues and nighttime darkness of the years spent alone give over to warm yellows and abundant growth when the tree finally finds its own family.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Being Edie Is Hard Today, written by Ben Brashares and illustrated by Elizabeth Bergeland. Little, Brown and Company. Hachette. 2019. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"At recess, Edie sat in her favorite spot and ate her favorite snack (sardines)." Only squid eat sardines," one boy said. "Edie, the stinky squid!" they sang. "EE-dee-the-STINK--ee-SQUID!" And they circled her like sharks.

Oh, to be a squid."

Edie's day does not begin well. She explains to her mother that she is too tired to eat breakfast, or to sit up. Choosing to have her hair done in pigtails rather than a ponytail is not a good decision. She knows it as soon as she boards the school bus.

Readers will quickly realize why Edie was not excited about getting up and going on with this morning. One schoolmate is tugging at  her pigtails while another whispers mean things at her. At school, Edie contemplates spending the day as a bat in her cubby where no one can bother her, and she will be alone. Her day does not get better. She cannot answer a teacher's question, she is teased for her snack at recess, and then gets herself in enough trouble that she is sent to the principal's office. Poor Edie!

Imagining herself with the characteristics of specific animals sees her through a miserable day, and the bus ride home. But, it doesn't really help make her feel better.

"For the ride home,
Edie considered a porcupine
or a hissing cockroach.
Eventually she decided to be an armadillo.

But inside, she felt like a naked mole rat."

After continuing with the animal fantasies at home, Edie finally shares with her mother why she is so sad and unwilling to return to school. Letting go of her pent-up emotions helps. In the morning, Edie is ready to face another day on the bus and at school ... as herself.

The pencil and watercolor images are done in soft tones, allowing young readers to experience the emotions felt. Front endpapers reveal Edie with wings and leaf antennae pulling a rope leash for a squid, sloth and armadillo through a desert setting, with accompanying emojis that hint at her feelings. The endpapers at the back are filled with peaceful abundance that shows the rest of the animals imagined throughout her day. In between, emojis placed above the heads of the story's characters make it clear to readers how each is feeling. Throughout, there is promise for better things to come. Diligent observers will know what that might be.

This is a lovely book to share with a small group of children. It offers a chance for those experiencing some of the same feelings Edie has to express themselves in a quiet setting. Hard days are not unusual; talking about them can bring acceptance of that fact.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

I AM HERMES! Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 9 and up

"I sang the cows a song.
It was the first cowboy song!

Oh, beeeootiful cows, 
Come follow me. 
I'll show you what fun
A cow's life can be. 

I'll turn your hooves backward
With just a small twist, 
And off we'll go
And never be missed!"

I do hope you saw I Am Pan! when it was published a few years ago (Roaring Brook Press, 2016). If so, you are more than ready to hear this new story about Hermes, Pan's father. Hermes is gung ho to tell his own story, and Mordicai Gerstein is just the person to help him. Mr. Gerstein's portrayal of the messenger god is as free and easy as the god himself.

Born to Zeus and Maia:

'He had golden curls, dimples everywhere,
and a smile that lit up the room when he said
 his first word ... GIMME! This baby was the
sweetest, cleverest, sneakiest, most mischievous,
and greediest baby ever born."

Nothing stops Hermes from being who he is. There is nothing he doesn't want, and most things he wants he takes. He is an inventor. His first day provides a lyre and music for the world. He loves his brother, Apollo, and travels with him to Mount Olympus where he meets more family members, accepting gifts from all. Unlucky for Apollo that Hermes has a hankering for his brother's cows. That spawns the Great Cow Mystery. And so it goes ...

I love each of the references to current or recent culture. It adds to the humor of the telling, and will give readers a laugh. Each of the book's stories involving the impetuous and conceited god is full of action and told at a quick pace. The dialogue is fantastic, and ensures that readers will want to keep reading from first page to last. Astute readers might, in fact, see some connection to the present political climate. First clue might be in Hermes' predominately orange coloring. Expressive artwork gives life to the supporting cast of other gods and characters.

An author's note and brief bibliography of resources are included.                                                                       

Monday, July 22, 2019

Lubna and Pebble, written by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egneus. Dial Books for Young Readers. Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Soon, a little boy arrived.
At first, he had no words.
Just blinks and sneezes
and stares.

"This is my best friend, Pebble,"
Lubna said.

The little boy coughed. And
sneezed. Then smiled."

When Lubna arrives on the beach with her father in the middle of the night, she immediately finds a very special new friend - a 'shiny and smooth and gray' pebble. As she enters the refugee camp, she knows that her father and her pebble will help her feel safe in this unfamiliar place.

Giving her pebble a happy face with a found marker, Lubna takes it with her everywhere she goes. She tells Pebble her stories and shares her feelings.

"Lubna told Pebble everything.
About her brothers.
About home.
About the war.

Pebble always listened to her stories."

Sadness pervades this powerful story. It is amplified when another child, Amir, arrives at the camp. He, too, is scared. He finds a new friend in Lubna, who is kind and helpful as he adapts to this new home. As children do, they make the best of their circumstances, playing games together and loving Pebble. When Lubna's father announces that they will be leaving for a new home, Amir is distraught. After a sleepless night, Lubna knows what she can do to make things better for her new friend. She offers advice for Pebble's care, and boards the next ship with a hopeful heart.

The title page provides context for the coming story: a boat overflowing with people as it approaches the shore on a stormy sea. Marvelous close-up images of two young children beckon to readers as this important story begins and ends. Both are smiling, and clutching a pebble. Daniel Egneus uses a warm palette of color to offer a feeling of peace in a chaotic world for both children. His art is full of emotion at every stage of the story; there is a sense of security in the curved lines, the father's presence, the play of the children and the warmth of their friendship.

The plight of refugees is constantly in the news these days. We can use stories such as this to help our kids understand what life is like for too many children in our world. Questions will be raised, answers are needed. Kindness is the one thing we can all provide without cost.

Personal, emotional and worthy of sharing in homes and classrooms to help children process a current and frightening world issue.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Extreme Abilities, written by Galadriel Watson and illustrated by Cornelia Li. Annick Press, 2019. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"Despite being land mammals,
we humans are actually pretty
good at holding our breath - and
we do it best when underwater.

On land, we generally manage a
couple of minutes at most. But
in 2009, France's Stephane
Mifaud immersed himself in water
and held his breath for 11 minutes
and 35 seconds."

NOPE! I cannot imagine doing any of the things that the people described in this book do. Kids who have it read to them, or read it themselves, will be astounded by the many feats described here. We all know that bodies are amazing. It's hard to believe that a body, the training it does, and the persistence in practice can achieve these remarkable triumphs.

There are nine different types of accomplishments, described in separate chapters that focus on the variety of talented people who are willing to do the work it takes to find a place here: strength, flexibility, memory, endurance, meditation, underwater breath-holding, speed, mental math, and balance.

Each chapter is designed to introduce the people, the science, and the ways in which others can train to try to do something similar.  Their ability is described, with some background information about them. Further to that an explanation concerning the feat is given, often accompanied by Fast Facts which add context.

"A windy helper 

In 2011, the United States' Justin Gatlin ran faster than Usain Bolt - but he
had an advantage. A Japanese game show set up huge fans behind the sprinter,
and the wind helped push him along. He ran 100 meters in 9.45 seconds - 0.13
seconds faster than Usain."

The physiology is explained and a Hazard Alert talks about certain concerns for health, safety, and taking things slowly . Over To You offers advice for those wanting to try to improve personal skills. The artwork, done in cartoon-like images, adds helpful connections.

“It’s important to remember that the people in this book either were born with these traits or trained long and hard to get them. Never put yourself in danger by trying to copy what they’ve done.”

The research is admirable, the text is entertaining and informative and, at times, almost unbelievable.

"Louis picks 18 men out of the audience, the biggest ones
he can find. The men are weighed. They step together onto
a platform resting on wooden supports.
Louis bends. He slips under the platform. He rests the top
of his back against it. His goal: to lift all 1,967 kilograms
(4,336 pounds). Yesterday's newspaper declared in huge
MORNING AT 10:50." But can Louis do it?

He heaves. His muscles strain. His legs push. His face turns red.
The platform starts to tremble. The platform starts to lift. Finally,
it clears the supports. The audience erupts in cheers."


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Kiss Number 8, written by Colleen Af Venable and illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 14 and up

"Cat's at the Zipper. Can you
give me a lift.

I don't know ... 
My parents will freak if I 
drive back by myself. 

Then stay out with us.

No way. That place is 
super sketchy. How are 
you even going to get in?"

Amanda lives a full life. She loves her Catholic high school and the friends she has there. She and her father have a strong relationship, sharing a love of minor league baseball, terrible television, and time together. She has a best friend, Cat, who does her best to get Amanda out of her family bubble by taking her to hear a wide assortment of new bands any chance she gets.

When a letter and a large cheque arrive for her, Mads' contented life begins to change. She hears her father talking to Dina and assumes that he is seeing someone new ... someone who is a threat to her parents' marriage. As well, Mads is beginning to consider her true feelings for Cat, a dynamic force in her life who is not necessarily the best influence or example of a real friend. There is a lot going on here, and many references are made to the 2004 setting. The secret that her father has been keeping from her is as uncomfortable for many today as it would have been back then. Misunderstanding and and a lack of acceptance for what happened in the past, and a refusal to accept the very real circumstances of her transgender grandmother's transition late in life led to irreparable tension for her father, and now for Amanda as she struggles to find common ground with her beloved dad. The support of her friends helps her to deal with the art of kissing, the adolescent angst of just being, and her changing family dynamics. Learning the truth sets her on a path to understanding more about those she loves, and about herself.

This picture of a young teen and her family, her relationships with peers, and her growing awareness of her own sexuality is told with candor and class. It has everything a teen reader is looking for in a graphic novel that captures the messy dynamics of family, friendship and personal growth. The remarkable artwork perfectly matches the book's content in black and white, expressive, fully developed images. It is a coming-of-age story that packs an emotional punch. Readers will want to read it again.

Moving, human and hopeful, this is a perfect summer read!

Friday, July 19, 2019

the Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, written by Natascha Biebow and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $25.50 ages 6 and up

"Edwin thought about his company's

When you drew a picture with a gray
slate pencil, it rubbed off at the drop
of a hat.

When you drew a picture with their
white chalk, it smudged everywhere.

If you drew a picture with Edwin's new ... "

Edwin Binney wanted the best for children ... something to color with that was safe and cheap enough for their parents to purchase. His invention of Crayola crayons has obviously had a lasting effect on art programs in school and in homes everywhere.

Edwin was a man to whom color brought great happiness. He spent his days working with and selling carbon black, 'a new kind of pigment'. Also an inventor of slate pencils (gray), chalk (white), and a black wax crayon for writing on various surfaces, he was encouraged by his wife (and others) to invent better crayons for children.

His path was set. He led a team who tried and failed, then tried again ... always experimenting to find the perfect mix that would provide a world of color for children as they went about creating their personal masterpieces.

"They came home covered in color.
They experimented some more and discovered -
a pinch of this pigment
a sploosh of that one,
a little hotter, a little cooler ...

and voila. LOTS of different shades! 
Now there were greens, oranges, violets, and pinks too!
Edwin came home covered in color."

Children who use crayons with abandon will recognize many of the names given to the wide array of crayons available today. The first eight packs had everything children at the time needed for their artistic pursuits ... and their parents could afford to buy them. Each new color invented had to have a name appropriate to its shade and provide children the colors needed to draw anything they wanted to draw.

The illustrations are bold, historically accurate, filled with expression and detail. Go to Steven Salerno's website at , to see how he created the many wonderful images for this entertaining read.

Text boxes throughout provide additional, relevant information for readers. Follow-up matter provides a 10-step look at the way Crayola crayons are made today; as well, there is further biographical data provided for Edwin Binney, and a selected bibliography. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Harold and Hog Pretend For Real, written and illustrated by Dan Santat. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2019. $10.99 ages 4 and up

"But they are 
best friends, like us.

If we cannot pretend
to be best friends -

Then maybe ...


The newest in the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! series adds Dan Santat's voice to the mix. And what a voice it is! My granddaughters are here right now and, although they have not read each of the Elephant and Piggie books, they sure think this one is funny. They may not understand the nuances of personality presented, but they love the art and have much to discuss every time we read it ... and that happens often.

Harold and Hog are huge fans of Elephant and Piggie. When they notice the famed duo is reading this book about them, they make the decision to pretend to be their heroes. Mr. Santat is obviously ready for a romp.  So, when his new characters don the accroutrements needed to change their appearance, we know we are in for a book full of surprise.

Pretending is easier if Hog is wearing a facsimile of Piggie's nose and Harold dons the same style of glasses worn by Gerald. Harold takes on Piggie's energetic and cheerful demeanor, hoping to help Hog get into the pretense. Then, he will become as careful as Gerald is about life. Turns out it is just not in either of them to be someone they are not. What will they do now?

Engaging dialogue, hilarity, clever touches and ingenious artwork ensure that fans of Mo Willems will be pleased to see their beloved characters honored in such a way. Even the Pigeon gets a cameo role which will simply add to the appeal.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bear Came Along, written by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2019. $23.49 ages 3 and up

"Froggy was a lonely frog
who was looking for a friend,
but she didn't know how many
she had ...

until ... the turtles showed up.
The turtles tried to warn them
about the things that could go
wrong, but they didn't know
how much they would enjoy
the ride ... "

The river does not even know itself until the day Bear shows interest and curiosity in its presence. Bear has not seen a river previously and has no reason to recognize its power, until the fallen tree he is standing on falls into the water and carries him along on an adventurous journey in its fast flowing waters.

Frog, alone and friendless, jumps aboard looking for a friend. Turns out she does have friends ... the turtles, who are busy trying to warn her about things to come. When Beaver joins them, he proves he is meant to be in charge but doesn't recognize there is trouble ahead. And so on, and so on, and so on ...

When they realize a waterfall might be their downfall, they ride it out, clinging to each other and delighted to find a peaceful and beautiful ending.

"So many different animals
living their separate lives,
but they didn't know they
were in it together ... "

The rhythmic and repetitive text will please young readers, and have them clamoring to hear it again and again. The large format, full page spreads, and changing perspectives assure interest and much discussion for the action. LeUyen Pham proves her mettle with expressive faces as the animals learn about the turns one day can take, and the fact that being together is certainly better than being alone. With the addition of each new forest creature the colors used intensifies; the final spread is joyous.
Psst! Don't miss the endpapers!

Dramatic and humorous, it is a great book for reading to a group. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Alis the Aviator, written by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail and illustrated by Kalpna Patel. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"G is for Goose,
a swanky flying boat.

H is for hot air balloon,
up above it floats.

I is for Islander,
a well-known island hopper.

J is for Jet Ranger,
a useful type of chopper."

"The Alis in this book was inspired by a real pilot: Dr. Alis Kennedy. Alis has spent her life helping people and animals, going on adventures and pushing the limits."

Related to Louis Riel and a member of the RCAF for a short time, Alis flew planes without her pilot's license. That military experience led her to get her own private and commercial pilot's training and license. She is believed to be the first indigenous woman to do so. Her tireless work has earned her many awards:

"... but the one that means the most to her is the eagle feather.
The eagle feather is a symbol of strength, courage, wisdom,
honesty, power and freedom; an eagle feather acknowledges
a person's hard work and achievements. It is one of the highest
honors that can be awarded to indigenous people."

We learn this in the back matter for this book that includes Alis in archival photos, a note about her many accomplishments, an annotated list and thumbnail photo of each of the planes making up the alphabetical list.

The poetic text of the book itself allows readers to see the many types of planes that fly our skies. It is quite the journey for those interested in all things aviation. Each piece of aircraft is designed using cut paper collage, shown clearly on ever-changing and appropriate backgrounds.  The details in each of the bright spreads will encourage questions and conversation concerning the history depicted here. Alis is our guide throughout, and we are witness to her many different adventures. 

Both entertaining and inspiring, it is a book that we will be welcomed by everyone interested in flying machines.                                                                     

Monday, July 15, 2019

Sir Simon:Super Scarer, written and illustrated by Cale Atkinson. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"OK, first of all, don't call
me 'Ghost.' It's Simon or Sir
Simon Spookington. 
Secondly, Chedder -

It's Chester. 

I don't have time to play 
Ghost with you. I've got a 
ton of chores to get done ... "

Sir Simon is a 'haunter'. His business card reads that he is a 'super scarer' and a 'ghostest with the mostest'. While he has tried to scare many people in a variety of places, he cannot truthfully call himself a success. So, he is moving on ... to a house. It's his first. His chore list is long. Once his work is done, he wants to move on to trying his hand at much more important ventures.

"I'm into a bunch of things.



Learning French
Bonjour! Je suis
Simon le fantome!

I'm even writing a
thrilling novel."

First, he will have to deal with the inhabitants of his new assignment. Imagine his surprise when one of the kids can see him, and wants to be his friend. Chester us willing to abide by the rules set our for him by Sir Simon. But, Chester is inquisitive by nature, causing great consternation for his ghosting guide. Back on track, Simon provides a lengthy list of jobs for Chester. This leaves time for Simon to pursue his story writing.

Poor Chester just can't get it right. Simon is always correcting him. It isn't long until Chester does what little kids do who are tired of listening and trying to follow directions. He falls asleep. In the morning, Simon has a change of heart and tries to be more human than ghostly. Now, it's Chester who is giving the orders.

Expressive illustrations accompanied by speech bubbles add interest that will have young listeners poring over the action and finding humor in the similar feelings that Simon and Chester have about  the tasks at hand.

 “Chester isn’t the best at being a ghost, and I’m not so hot at being a human. But it turns out we are both pretty good at being friends.”

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Restless Girls:A tale of daring, a quest for freedom. Written by Jessie Burton and illustrated by Angela Barrett. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2019. $25.99 ages 10 and up

"One morning, King Alberto opened their bedroom door as usual. And as usual, his daughters' twelve pairs of shoes were lined up neatly against the wall. Except this time (Why this time? Who knows - kings are unreliable characters) he bent down and lifted one shoe in order to admires its craftsmanship. The king was in for a shock. He stood there in the morning light, shaking his gray head as his girls slumbered away."

As happens in any home where a mother dies, the twelve young princesses of Kalia are filled with grief at their loss. Looking to their father for comfort offers nothing as he is also in deep mourning. He cannot hear what any of his daughters try to tell him. He seeks only to protect them from all perceived danger. They spend their days in a prison of his making. Princess Frida does her best to help him see he is only making things worse in the kingdom, and for his daughters.

There are no windows in the one room they share. They have no sunlight to brighten their days, or the comfort of any personal beloved  possessions. They have only a portrait of their free-spirited, independent mother on their wall. There is no escape .... until they make an amazing discovery one evening when everyone else in the palace has settled in for the night. A hidden door leads them to a marvelous underground world. They pass through caves, cross a lagoon, and walk through a forested area that leads them to a tree palace where exotic animals including a lioness surround them. In this very special place, they begin to thrive and find solace in the dancing and company of others.

They return to their secret world night after night, only having to stop when their father becomes suspicious about the constant replacement of their shoes. When confronted, Princess Frida refuses to divulge the secret and is banished. A proclamation is issued by Alberto, stating that anyone who can discover the truth concerning his daughters will replace him as King. A surprise competitor, a new monarch, and a return to great prosperity for the kingdom has each of the daughters playing a vital role.

The princesses are presented with unique personalities, each showing strength and bravery when facing a world suddenly changed by an overprotective and unbending father. They love each other deeply; they want to have a say in the way they live their lives, and are willing to defy their father to do just that. It is a spirited tale of adventure,  humor, and imagination. A new twist on an old tale will find fans for its originality, its interesting characters, and the fun it pokes at a father who forgets his responsibilities to his kingdom in his dogged attempts to control the lives of twelve feisty, witty, kind, independent, free-thinking daughters ... traits they have inherited from his beloved Queen.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Be My Love, written by Kit Pearson. Harper, 2019. $14.99 ages 12 and up

"A psychiatrist! But that's for
crazy people! Dad isn't
c - crazy!"

Crazy isn't a very helpful word,
Maisie. Your dad is obviously
deeply troubled. There's nothing
shameful about it. Lots of men
were affected badly by the war.
He should have seen someone
long ago, before he broke down."

The second world war has ended. The year is 1951. Things are beginning to return to normal for most people. For Maisie, who is 14, much is changing and causing her to worry. Her father served in the war, and has returned with lingering mental health issues following his service as a chaplain. Her friend Jim has stopped talking to her. She is not really interested in what other girls her age are doing. The icing on the cake is when she arrives at her grandparents' house on Kingfisher Island, and her lively and loving extended family are nowhere to be seen. They are away in Vancouver. As luck would have it, they will be back soon.

She has been looking forward to seeing her best friend, Una and doing all the crazy things they love to do together during their summer on the island. Even Una has changed; she is pleased to be wearing new styles in clothing and fully enraptured by an older boy, David. Maisie does her level best to keep Una close. That becomes a problem that almost ends their friendship. Can Una trust Maisie after what she did? Can Maisie let Una know exactly how she feels?

As she so deftly does in each of her wonderful books, Ms. Pearson has created a story that resonates with Maisie's struggle to find an even keel while dealing with so many changes in her life. She is strong, articulate, persistent as she tries to help her father, deal with her feelings for Una and Una and David, and find the right people to help her on her journey to becoming herself. With the realization that it is normal to feel the way she does, she becomes a more assured and understanding daughter, friend, and person. 

As happens in Ms. Pearson's stories, the historical setting is vital and enlightening. It would an excellent read in a middle years classroom to show how much certain long-held beliefs have, and continue to change.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me, written and illustrated by Susan Roth. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"The differences between
a bowerbird and me are
fewer than you might

We are both
of unusual,
often unrelated

There are so many people I want to tell about this gorgeous and unusual book! So, I will start with you.

Susan Roth, a noted collage artist whose work I have admired in previous posts, immediately introduces her readers to the bowerbird and allows that they have many things in common. Each likes to collect things - things that have nothing to do with each other and that are often seen as quite amazing. Each double page spread consists of matching images of the two doing what they do best. They collect, they design, they build artful things in small spaces, each putting them together with a different purpose in mind.

Ms. Roth wants to tell a story. The bowerbird wants to attract a mate. They are always changing the design of the work they do. Their process is very similar while using comparable tools. They even want their work to stand the test of time, despite its fragility. And, they look for praise.

"Where do we get our ideas?
We get them
from the spaces we choose
for our compositions,
from our chosen materials,
and from the world around us."

As he creates his nest, she creates this book.

How stunningly beautiful and beautifully creative this book truly is. I have read it again and again, poring over its pages - always seeing something different from what I saw the last time. I will continue to do so. It is definitely a keeper!

 End matter includes facts about bowerbirds, how they work, how I work, and how we are the same. A bibliography follows and is accompanied by a clear photo of the Male Satin Bowerbird.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

My Grandma and Me, written by Mina Javaherbin and illustrated by Lindsey Yankey. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"We sent our baskets down
with ropes, the bread boy
placed the bread inside, and
then we hauled them up.
My grandma's basket was
so big, I could fit inside it.
I would sit in that basket
and pretend to be flying
my own plane.

My doll played, too."

In this loving tribute, the author shares stories of growing up in a house her family shared with her grandmother. Their life in Iran before the war was idyllic, the young child following in her grandma's footsteps throughout the day. They swept and cooked together, and then prayed as well. They began with prayers at dawn, a time much appreciated by both.

"Because only the two of us were up at that time,
and no one was there to stop me, I could climb
up and lie on her back while she prayed.
My grandma never told me to stop or broke out
of her prayers."

Gentle and kind, she provided her granddaughter with a shining example whether it was for getting bread, sharing it with neighbors, or being a good and faithful friend. As two young friends spent time together enjoying childhood pursuits, their grandmothers spent time knitting together, chatting, having coffee, and practicing their separate Muslim and Christian religions.

The artwork gently incorporates the many details of life in Iran, and in both households. Young readers will gain an awareness of the customs of an Iranian household, and see the similarities the two families share, including the grandmothers' prayers for each other.

Warm and lovely, this memoir of special times spent with a much loved grandmother is a joy to share.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Why? Written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Claire Keane. Chronicle Books for Children, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"At the mall ...

Go ahead and RUN,
puny fools! No one
can withstand the power


Because of my X-RAY
Blaster and because ... "

If you live with a toddler, or any young child wanting to know everything about the world and how it works, you will know what is coming when you open this book to read the first few pages. You are sure to have answered an inordinate number of WHYs on a daily basis.

I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my daughter and granddaughters next week. Sicily, closing in on 5, has mostly stopped asking her whys. Chelsea, just past 3, has not. So, I am preparing myself for endless questions about the plan for their visits, the trips we will be taking, the people who will visit us while they are here. It's going to be so much fun.

I know that I will read this book many times while they are here. Art and text work perfectly together in the presence of this tiny inquisitive girl and the man who threatens all mall shoppers. Both Adam Rex and Claire Keane know this child well. Chaotic action, lasting memories from childhood, humorous details and accurate expression keep listeners engaged and giggling. The feisty little one shows no fear concerning his threats. He continues to answer her repeated question, despite his obvious agitation.

"Even my dad
doesn't understand me.
He wanted me to be a doctor.
A real one.
Because he was a doctor.
Because his dad was a doctor.
And his dad's dad was a doctor.
That's how it is in my family.
Because we all just did
what we were told!
So now it's my turn
to tell people what to do!

Why, indeed? Poor Doctor X-ray! He hasn't got a chance.

The final spread is all you could ever want it to be!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Charlotte the Scientist Finds a Cure, written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Brianne Farley. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Charlotte wondered if they
were right.
Maybe she couldn't do it.
She was little.
And the doctors were very
Maybe she should leave it
to the experts.
But then she remembered
what Grandpa had told her.
She would find the cure ... "

In this second book about using the scientific method to do research and find a solution to a big problem, Charlotte sets out to discover why illness is infecting the animals of the forest. Her grandfather, a noted doctor, has always encouraged Charlotte in her work and lets her know that she can make a difference in the world with the work she is doing.

Taking what she has learned along the way, Charlotte moves out of the lab and into the community with hopes that she will find a cure for what is ailing her community. She talks with each patient, learning their history and examining them carefully. She can draw no conclusion based on the information she gathers. But, the infection is spreading. She finds it very difficult to keep the various animals under quarantine, and worries about it spreading even more.

Other doctors arrive to speak with her grandfather, ignoring Charlotte's work. Should she leave it those more educated and experienced? Nope, she has confidence in herself and she decides to continue the work despite setbacks. It doesn't take too long for her to make an important connection between those who are sick.

"If the carrots were bad, then eating
them was making everyone sick."

Further research confirms her thinking. A disaster is averted ... all because of a young rabbit who sees herself making a difference.

A glossary and an invitation to find our more completes the book.

Humorous, expressive illustrations allow readers to see how a careful, scientific look at community problems can bring a solution. With ingenuity, intelligence, and persistence, Charlotte is able to contain a health crisis despite some understandable misgivings.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Writers and Their Pets, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Violet Lemay. DuoPress, Workman. Thomas Allen & Son, 2019. $21.95 ages 9 and up

"For the first time, Rowling could afford her own pets - tropical fish, a cat named Chaos, a rabbit (at last) named Jemima, and a guinea pig named Jasmine. Dogs were her favorite as she built the Harry Potter universe. Butch, a Jack Russell terrier, accompanied her to pick out a companion: Sapphire, a rescued greyhound. Sapphire couldn't decide whether to be in the same room as her or not, so Rowling had to spend precious Harry Potter writing time ... "

There is not a lot to tell about this book, without repeating what you are about to learn if you read it. If one of the 20 authors featured is a favorite, middle graders will find the tales of their lives with their pets of interest, adding to the information they may have already gathering concerning their lives. Once they read one of the chapters, they are likely to continue on. There is a lot to digest, and they are sure to learn more about the author presented than they had known.

The chapters begin with a short introduction to the writer. What follows are two to eight pages of historical significance in terms of the effects their pets had on the author, their lives, and sometimes even their death. A featured box in most chapters provides a further connection between writer and pet(s).

"Sendak was laboring on a picture book
about an angry boy named Max 
(also the name of Sendak's German
shepherd). It was called Where the 
Wild Horses Are - until one
day he decided he really didn't
draw horses very well.
"Horses" became "Things."

Readers interested in writers, animals, history and the effect that pets have on their owners will find much of interest here.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The INVENTION HUNTERS Discover How Machines Work, by Korwin Briggs. Little, Brown and Company. Hachette. 2019. $23.49 ages 6 and up


This truck has a PUMP that
pushes LIQUID a little bit at a
time into a TUBE beneath its
bucket. As the liquid moves, it forces the front of the bucket up until ... "

I wish this book had been available when I was looking for books to help kids learn about simple machines. Teachers were always on the lookout to help them fulfill curriculum requirements. I remember there being few available. And none with the action and enthusiasm shown by this crew of hunters ... they are always on the lookout for new inventions.

Though told by his mother to stay away from the construction site, it is just too darn enticing. On the sidewalk beyond the barrier, he tries to launch a rocket. It fizzles. With a complaint about such a useless 'invention', he manages to get the attention of a group of 'invention hunters'. They land close by, and express interest in adding items to their Museum of Inventionology. 

"HEY, KIDS! Did you notice the sign that says WARNING: NO ENTRY?  Stay away from any construction sites - they're dangerous! Oh, you know that already? Well, these Invention Hunters sure do have a lot to learn from you!"

In the hunters go with no concern for being where they are not supposed to be; they are constantly reminded by the young boy that they are going to be in big trouble. After much ridiculous speculation, he explains what they are really looking at, what it is used for, and how it helps with work that needs to be done.

Each following double page spread offers a clear explanation for the machines they are seeing. Labels, captions, and an information box at the bottom of the page help readers understand how these machines work and how they came to be. The machines presented include a wheelbarrow, a jackhammer, a crane, a dump truck, and a toilet. 

Readers will love the wacky fun, and learn a lot as they go! The Hunters may be goofy; the information presented is not. It is a sound description meant to inform while entertaining. Don't miss a single detail.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Waiting for Chicken Smith, written and illustrated by David Mackintosh. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 4 and up 5

This year, Chicken Smith's
cabin looks different.

The windows are shut.
The grass is long, and
I don't see his bike.

Chicken's window has a
huge cobweb with a fly in it.

So I leave the shell there and
walk down to the beach."

Our narrator is waiting for his summer friend to arrive. The two boys have spent endless days together at the beach through the years, and he is highly anticipating more carefree days exploring and enjoying their usual pursuits.

As he stands quietly waiting, readers can see that his little sister is busy with castle building. He is busy thinking about past summers and the many things he and Chicken have done, and will do,  together. His sister does her best to entice him with things worth seeing. He can't turn his attention to her because he is so intent on watching for his friend.

Each treasured memory of those things he admires about Chicken make the story personal and nostalgic.

"Last year, Chicken Smith gave me a piece of
driftwood he had carved into a whale.
So this year, I got Chicken this crazy shell
from the gas-station shop."

He waits and waits. When he finally acknowledges the excitement in his sister's voice, he decides to follow her. For the first time ever, he sees the whale he and Chicken have so desperately wanted to see themselves. The two watch together until it is time to return home for dinner. They spend the evening reading a book about whales, finally realizing that Chicken is a no-show this summer. Next? Or the one after that? Who can know? In the meantime, he and Mary Ann have found a sense of camaraderie.

Changing vistas, beautifully designed pages, and dynamic use of color ensure close observation. Readers will feel themselves immersed in beach life and the warmth of the summer season. I love this book!

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Invisible Garden, written by Valerie Picard and illustrated by Marianne Ferrer. Translated from French by Sophie B. Watson. Orca Book Publishers. 2019. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"In The

Invisible Garden,




It's Grandma's birthday. Arianne and her family leave the bustle of their city home to travel a long way into the countryside, before finding themselves at her grandmother's house in the woods. After greeting her and wishing her a happy day, Arianne is surrounded by the chatter of the adults present and finds herself with little to interest her. She is happy when someone suggests a visit to the garden.

There, tired from the long journey, she lies down. Not spending much time outside in the city, this is a new experience and gives her a new perspective on the garden's inhabitants. Whether she falls asleep and dreams, or lets her imagination run wild, will depend on the child reader's perspective. However it happens, the visit to the garden becomes a fanciful adventure that sees her shrink to a size where she can run with the locusts, float on a dandelion seed, follow a thrown pebble into the ocean depths where a dinosaur-like being emerges from the water to carry the little girl into the sky and capture a star in her net. The star enchants her, bringing the action back to the garden where her father finds lying on the ground in the darkness. What just happened?

The text is minimal and leaves Marianne Ferrer's artwork to charm readers with ever changing vistas. The warmth of the garden's browns and greens gives way to the deep blues of the ocean, then the darkness of the night sky. Being tiny is often a wish for little ones ... to see the world from a very different perspective than is usual for them. Spending time in nature is given a real boost when children share such stories. Imaginative and full of adventure and action, this is a book to be enjoyed by many.

One of the things I find so wonderful about books with minimal words is the power it gives children for interpretation. They are able to bring their thoughts, their own style and their past experiences with books and language to help them tell their own stories. How empowering is that?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

ROTTEN! : Vultures, Beetles, Slime and Nature's Other Decomposers. Written by Anita Sanchez and illustrated by Gilbert Ford. Houghton Miifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"When you see a nice, fresh
pile of dog poop, hold your
nose and take a closer look.
Can you see any decomposers?

In warm weather, chances are
a fly will discover the dog bomb
before it cools off. Flies lay eggs
in animal droppings, and soon
hungry larvae (maggots) start
feeding ... "

Anita Sanchez meets too many children today who have no idea that what happens on their computer screen or on their television set can also be happening outside their window. In fact, she talks about going on a nature walk with urban children when one of the children is surprised to see a real acorn. He knew they existed because he had seen one in the movie Ice Age; he just never imagined seeing one in 'real life'. Sad, don't you think?

There is so much for kids to learn when they take a walk just outside the walls of their home.. It is Ms. Sanchez's wish that kids will stop reading her books at any point to take what they are reading outside and discover that what she is describing is actually happening near where they live. In her book Rotten, she does much to encourage them to make some amazing discoveries by getting up close to things in their backyard and neighborhood that are rotting. Most everything does rot at some point.

I know you have seen it in your fridge, in a plant pot, on the playground, even in the garbage you take to the curb to be picked up. You may even have a compost bin. If not, she shares how to get one started in hopes that compost will help in gardens and flower beds around your yard.

She begins with a short introduction to the process of rotting.

"But wait a minute. Revolting as it seems, rot isn't necessarily bad. What would happen if nothing ever decomposed? What if every dried leaf, pile of dog poop, or dead animal just sat there forever and didn't rot away? Our cities would be piled high with garbage, forests would be clogged with logs, the ocean would be full of dead fish. Think about it ... "

Each new chapter presents a topic such as dung beetles, scavengers, fungus, rotten logs, earthworms, those things that rot in our houses, and a description of what happens to two sandwich crusts. She manages to control the amount of information provided, giving readers a chance to read and absorb it. A wealth of data will hold readers' attention, as will the often humorous and certainly helpful illustrations that adorn each page. There is much here to learn, and the way the presentation is handled will hold attention and provide much to discuss further. Personal experiences and shared ideas for accessible projects provide a sense of immediacy, and a call to action.

I was very interested to read an interview with the author in which she described some of the environmental and scientific work that she does with children and adults.

"I take students outdoors for science classes–students of all ages, from preschool to college. The tools of my trade are insect nets, hand lenses, feathers, mammal bones, and birds’ nests. During my classes we wade in streams, turn over rotting logs, watch chickadees, observe tadpoles. We get wet, scratched, mosquito-bitten, and muddy. Over the years, I’ve noticed, it’s gotten harder and harder to persuade my students to leave the blacktop behind. Many children today have a disconnect with nature that is truly scary."

Having books like this in the home and in the classroom can help to change that.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Little Juniper Makes It Big, written and illustrated by Aidan Cassie. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"At bedtime she couldn't
concentrate on her book.
For my whole entire life, 
everything's been too big 
for me, she thought.

movie seats
car seats"

I guarantee that any young listener will want to stop and talk about the end papers. The front one shows a tiny raccoon struggling in a variety of situations that will be familiar to many of them. Finding ways to get at the cookie jar is a right of passage for toddlers. Juniper's ingenious and tenacious attempts will definitely grab attention before the reading begins. The one in the back is filled with the satisfaction for what she has learned along the way.

A stool is her constant companion. The result of using it in the bathroom ensures a quick smile and a touch of empathy for her plight. She wants to be bigger; her mother assures her that she will grow; there are no quick results. Patience is definitely an asset. She never tires of trying to find a solution to her problem.

The problem is alleviated during school days, where she is of average height. Her new friend Clove, a flying squirrel, takes the prize for being smallest. Juniper quickly discovers that being small does not deter Clove from performing amazing feats. A sleepover at Clove's house is welcomed, and turns out to be a real eye-opener for Juniper. Being 'too big' can also be a problem. The visit puts things in perspective for the young kit.

This is a terrific book for reading aloud. The artwork is energetic, humorous, and a perfect match to the very enjoyable storytelling. Kids are sure to see themselves in some of the action, and certainly in much of the wishing to be different than they are at a particular time.                                                                           

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Me and My Fear, by Francesca Sanna. Flying Eye Books, Penguin Random House. 2018. $23.95 ages 5 and up

"And when I have to go
to school, Fear doesn't
want me to go. Fear hates
my new school. When the
teacher says my name wrong,
she grows angry ...
... even though I know it
was an accident.
At break time, Fear keeps
me all to herself."

The little girl who narrates the story has always kept her Fear secret. Fear has been a tiny friend for as long as she can remember. They have spent their time exploring and facing threats together. The move to a new home in another country allows that fear to grow. In fact, Fear grows and becomes a hindrance to new experiences.

" I want to go outside and discover
my new neighborhood ...

... but Fear won't move."

School is the same. Fear holds her apart from her classmates whose language she does not understand. Even at home, Fear feeds itself and causes sleep disruptions. It results in isolation for the new girl and misunderstandings at school. When a classmate offers friendship, Fear subsides and the two begin to spend time together. A noisy dog shows the girl she is not alone in her Fear. The boy has his own small companion. Funny how much alike kids are even when they are not.

"Fear is getting smaller each day.
And school is not so difficult anymore."

Francesca Sanna's depiction of Fear shows that it is always with each and every one of us. It begins as a small, nondescript white blob and grows as the same image with the insecurities the child feels. With friendship, empathy, and time it grows less, joy is increasingly evident in the art. Knowing that others feel the same is empowering.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Grandmother's Visit, written by Betty Quan and illustrated by Carmen Mok. Groundwood Books, 2018. $$17.95 ages 7 and up

"I like washing the rice
until the water becomes so
clear you can see every
tiny white grain. Grandmother
remembers when she was a
little girl just like me. Her
fingers were too small to
measure the water, so she
would dip her braid in
until the water reached her

Loving grandchildren unconditionally is the greatest joy for grandparents. Today, as I celebrate having family with me on Canada Day, I am aware of how joyful and strong those connections are. It reminds me of this story of a young girl and the love she shares with her grandmother. They are blessed to spend hours each day together. 

Grandmother is visiting with her family, teaching her beloved granddaughter the secrets to cooking rice perfectly, telling her stories of life in China, and walking her to and from school each day. They like to make meals together. The time comes when all that changes. Grandmother no longer walks her grandchild to school, and a sadness has settled over the family home. Visiting with Grandmother in her room is no longer an option. Then, one day, the room is empty and everything changes forever.

The little girl, while sad, will always have memories to keep her grandmother in her heart after their final goodbye. While I do not want this to be the case for us anytime soon, I know that making memories with family has a lasting connection for all who share joyful experiences.

Sad, and absolutely beautiful. The chance to understand some aspects of Chinese culture through words and pictures makes it memorable, and will be welcomed by those whose background is evident here. At its center is the love shared between grandparent and grandchild, no matter the traditions or experiences.

Today we will make new Canada Day memories with sparkly headbands, face tattoos, spinners, and a meal served on Canada Day plates. It will be just one of the many things we do over our month together. I know those memories (whenever they are needed) will invite animated chats about our 2019 summer adventure, and keep us reminiscing until the next time we have the chance to spend quality time together.