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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Meerkat Christmas, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett. two hoots, Publishers Group Canada, 2019. 9. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"The decorations are amazing at Trevor's, and there are plenty of trees, but it doesn't look anything like the Christmas in his magazine. Where is all the snow?
Hello Everyone, 
The food here is delicious.
Crickets for dinner, but I 
still haven't tasted  ... " 

Sunny and his meerkat family live on the Kalahari Desert. It is getting close to Christmas and the family is busy making sure that all tasks are completed before the big day. There is much excitement among family members. Sunny is the only holdout. Sunny feels little anticipation for the upcoming holiday.

Sunny has been reading the XMAS EXTRA edition of Perfect Magazine. The ideas shared include PERFECT festive foods, PERFECT decorations, and PERFECT gifts, and do not at all match the goings-on in the desert. The first foldout shows readers How to DO Christmas. Sunny's face is gloomy as he reacts to the real scene compared to the one presented to him. Bags packed and full of resolve, he is off to find a better place to celebrate the season.

Through a series of letters sent home, he lets his family know where he is, what he is doing, and how Christmas is being celebrated where he is visiting. Each of his destinations is enjoyable but none match his ideas for the PERFECT place to spend the holidays. As he travels and comes closer and closer to what he has been looking for, he recognizes that the most important thing of all is missing.

Luckily, Santa reads his final note:

"I miss you all VERY much
love from Sunny

Santa does what Santa does best - brings joy to families celebrating Christmas wherever they might be!

Be sure to take careful notice of the endpapers, both front and back. And, of the many wonderful details Ms. Gravett includes on every spread. Warmhearted and charming, this is sure to become a favorite read year after year.

Bask in the beauty of the season and the love of friends and family. 
I will be back in the new year to tell you about more worthy books to read with your kids. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Santa's Story, written and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. two lions, Amazon. Thomas Allen & Son, 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Santa sighed. "Oh my, I have looked far and wide; near and far; high and low; here, there, and everywhere ... Did the reindeer disappear?" Santa decided to play the all-call on his horn.
                    TOOT ... " 

After learning how Santa found the reindeer he needed to pull his sled in yesterday's post, today we find out that while Santa is ready, those reindeer are now nowhere to be found. He is concerned; the reindeer are not!

In fact, each one of them is doing just what their name implies: dashing, dancing, prancing, vexing, commenting, crooning, dozing, and boasting. What will Santa do?  He does have a few aces up his sleeve: his very loud horn, the sleigh bells, even a familiar and hearty ho, ho, ho. Nothing!

"Santa wondered, "Have I overlooked something?'
Then he saw Comet ... and remembered their
Christmas Eve tradition."

The reindeer are thrilled to hear their favorite story, and joyous as they head out to help Santa make all the children of the world happy. Make sure you have a copy of The Night Before Christmas at hand and ready as a follow-up to this fine new tale.

We all have them, don't we? Things we do as the days wind down to Christmas Eve and the long-awaited arrival of the jolly man from the North Pole. Kids are beside themselves with excitement, while parents try to hide the exhaustion they are experiencing as they prepare for Santa, family,  guests and the culmination of all that hard work ... a good night's sleep.

Christmas Eve seems a perfect time to take a page from the Icelanders: buy some chocolate and a new book, hunker down in bed for the evening and read your book while munching on a delicious chocolate treat.

Children will appreciate Will Hillenbrand's lively digital artwork which shows expressive and attentive reindeer as they hear their favorite story and prepare for a long night's ride. Indeed, there is magic in these pages! Warm light fills windows and lanterns, the snowy landscape will have little ones eager to welcome another snowfall in time for Christmas revelry, and who doesn't love a lighthouse? Its beam reaches far and wide and provides guidance for take-off and landing.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Dasher, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Life was not easy for the reindeer family of J.P. Finnegan's Traveling Circus and Menagerie. They spent long days crammed together under the hot sun as an endless stream of curious people jostled to catch a glimpse of them. Even at night, there was little rest."

Ever wonder about Santa's reindeer and how they came to help him in his worldwide travels on Christmas Eve? Read this new book by Matt Tavares and you will learn their story.

He uses an author's note to introduce a back story for the children who will share his engaging book. At first, he says, Santa had only one horse to pull his sleigh. That horse was named Silverbell, and provided all the help Santa needed to deliver many fewer toys then than he does today. Believing in Santa's magic meant his list grew, the sleigh got much heavier, and Santa realized he and Silverbell needed assistance. How fortuitous that he met Dasher on the very night that she escaped her pen to follow the North Star.

She walked for hours, never seeming to get any closer. Finally, lost and unable to return to her family, she made a wish. Instantly, she heard a noise ... a soft jingling sound led her to a man in a red suit and his horse. Both were concerned about their workload and their inability to deliver all the presents in the sleigh. Dasher offered help. Santa was delighted. For the first time ever, Dasher pulled a sleigh and she flew! What a night!

Landing at the first sign of light, Dasher finally looked for the star that had been her guide. There it was ... right above her head.

"The North Pole was just as wonderful as Mama's stories.
Dasher roamed wherever she pleased, and Santa gave her all
the carrots she wanted. But something was missing."

Santa knows how to help with that. And he does. Voila! A new team to help with his growing workload, and a home for Dasher and her family

Readers and listeners are sure to be enthralled by Mr. Tavares' story and his watercolor, gouache, pencil and pastel illustrations. Full of emotion, awash in striking light and bold color, and providing a historical setting, it is a wonderful addition to any book collection.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Francesco Tirelli's Ice Cream Shop, written by Tamar Meir and illustrated by Yael Albert. Translated by Noga Applebaum. Kar-Ben Publsihers, Thomas Allen & Son. 2019. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"He opened his ice cream shop
right in the center of Budapest.
He sold ice cream and chocolate
to everyone, even to those who said
nobody would buy it.

Francesco thought to himself,
"Mothers are always right. I did
end up with an ice cream shop
growing in my tummy (and my
head), just like my mother said."

This is a quiet story of two ice cream enthusiasts, the war, and heroism. Francesco, an Italian boy, loves his Uncle Carlo's ice cream cart and all it has to offer. Once a day he finds a reason to visit and choose his favorite flavor. Francesco loves it through his childhood, his teens, and as an adult. But, when he moves to Budapest, there is nothing to compare,

Though an ice cream shop is not the norm in Hungary and many try to dissuade him, he cannot get ice cream out of his thoughts. Despite the naysayers, Francesco's Gelato opens, attracts many customers and is a huge success. A young Hungarian boy named Peter is a regular visitor, loving ice cream as much as Francesco has always loved it ... every flavor. Peter's mother tries to discourage his visits, warning him as Francesco's mother had warned her son that too much ice cream is not a good thing.

Peter grows up, and Hungary changes. War comes and everyone lives in fear. He no longer stops for ice cream. Eventually, Francesco is forced to close his shop. Such sadness for all. Francesco worries about the war, and about his neighbors even more. Peter's family makes the decision to hide, but don't know where. Francesco knows exactly how to help all who need shelter.

"Someone ... I've got it!
My ice cream shop!
I will help them.
I am that someone."

So, he does. Slowly, Jewish people gather there to hide. Francesco cares for them all. Sad to be hiding in darkness, concerned about missing Hanukkah and the celebration of the light, Peter decides he will make a difference just as his good friend has done. Ingenuity wins out, the improvised menorah is lit, and all who celebrate hope that summer will bring better times. It does.

Based on a true story, the final scenes follow Peter to Israel where he raises a family of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who love ice cream as much as he and his old friend. An epilogue tells of the "Righteous among the Nations', who protected the fugitives during the war. Francesco Tirelli was one of the many. Archival photos add interest and context to this very special story told by Peter's daughter-in-law. 

Moving, memorable, and illustrated with detailed, historical settings and worthy characters.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Shortest Day, written by Susan Cooper and illustrated by Carson Ellis. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"And everywhere down the
of the snow-white world
Came people singing,
To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in
the winter trees;
They hung their homes with
evergreen; "

I am always keen for the winter solstice, as it signals a return to each new day having a bit more light. I do not recall  reading another book specifically portraying 'the shortest day.' So, I was keen to read this one, given the artists who bring it to life. It is based on a poem written by Susan Cooper. It is read each year for the Christmas Revels, and is performed in celebration of Yule.

In earliest times, the sun is given a mythical body and is shown shining its light on cave dwellers and their animals. Moving forward in time, the artist observes wood gatherers picking up piles of sticks as the sun provides light to help them with their task. They carry the wood to warm their homes as day ends and the darkness settles. Candles light the windows, and soon people emerge singing and dancing to 'drive the dark away'. A Viking father and child place candles in trees, hang their home with greens, and join a fire dance that lasts all the night long.

Celebration ensues when the sun pokes its light above the horizon before rising high in the sky. As the poem comes to an end, children rejoice as they run toward a contemporary home, decked out for a Yuletide performance. Once done, they return to the outdoors to enjoy the return of light.

Carson Ellis creates a dramatic accompaniment to Ms. Cooper's words that envisions for readers the changes that have come to pass down through the centuries. She very effectively shows time moving forward and the way that the celebration has evolved.

An author’s note provides important and telling facts about the changes throughout history, the Christmas Revels and Jack Langstaff how founded the performances. The full text of the poem follows.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Bear and the Star, written by Lola M. Schaefer and illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. Greenwillow, Harper. 2019. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Bear stood and began his
for a tree -
a tree that would be strong,
a tree that would be tall,
a tree that would be the
of all to come.
And then, on the top of a
windswept hill, Bear found
the tree - "

Lola Schaefer centers her expressive, hushed book on the concept of peace in the world. It begins for Bear on a December morning with the sighting a new star - one not seen before. That star serves as a reminder to Bear that 'the time' has come. In so doing, Bear sets off on a quest to find the perfect tree - a tree that would be 'the center of all to come.'

When his search results in the desired object, Bear makes it known that all should gather. Sending his message to North, South, East and West, it is heard clearly everywhere. Animals join him as he takes his place beside the tree, and calls ever more loudly:

"As the star shined brighter,
Bear roared louder than before,
his voice booming
across mesa and meadow,
over sea and peak,
from cliff and bluff."

People put down what they are doing to join Bear and the other animals. It is time for everyone to come together in celebration of peace.

Bethanne Andersen's soft, textured oil paintings show a quiet gathering of the creatures of the world -animal and human - as they find a common place.  There is such reverence in each double page spread for all who quietly gather there to revel in the love and joy of the world. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Great Santa Stakeout, written by Betsy Bird and illustrated by Dan Santat. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"STEP 1 in Freddy's plan:
String the roof with cans,
so the sleigh can't land
STEP 2: Rig the whole
living room with motion-
sensitive cameras.
STEP 3: Put milk and cookies
on a pressure-sensitive plate.
STEP 4: Practice staying
up late."

What child has not dreamed of staying awake long enough to see Santa on Christmas Eve? Many have tried, and all have failed. What about Santa's biggest fan of all - Freddy Melcher? No one loves Santa the way Freddy loves Santa. He wears his Santa outfit for every special occasion throughout the year; his room is filled with posters, action figures, a lamp, mugs, and a Santa lunchbox. Why, he even has - wait for it! - Santa underwear.

What he doesn't have is a photo of himself with Santa, "fresh out of the chimney." This year is going to be Freddy's year. He has a plan. Working tirelessly, with only the end result in mind, he has created an elaborate four step strategy to ensure he meets his favorite jolly man. All he needs to do is stay awake until Santa's arrival. OOPS! Classic fail!

It isn't until he hears a loud CRASH! that Freddy awakens, and rushes outside to be sure Santa is none the worse for wear, where he finds a lawn ornament headfirst in the snow. That's not all. Attached to the Santa figure is a note - NICE TRY, FREDDY! 

"Santa has duped him and dashed!

Freddy was ... angry?
No, that's not it.

No, no. Not that either.

He was sobbing his heart out,
pounding the snow,
having the most broken tantrum
of his short life?
Well, actually Freddy felt ...


Maybe not this year! But, wait until next ...

Awesome storytelling is matched in humor with Dan Santat's brilliant artwork created using ink, watercolor, and Adobe Photoshop, as well as wit and charm. He fills the spreads with bright color, perfect lighting, and endless details that will have readers returning again and again to see what they missed the last time they read it. The expressive faces constantly on display, the embellished blueprints, the impressive reaction to failure add the best kind of response to Betsy Bird's joyful words.

One can only hope Freddy will have time to develop a more viable plan in upcoming months, and try to prove his resolve again one year from now.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

How To Hide a Lion at Christmas, written and illustrated by Helen Stephens. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2019. $ 23.50 ages 3 and up

""Don't worry. He'll probably
just sleep the whole time." said Dad. "And you can bring your toy lion to keep you company," said Mom.
But Iris was still sad. She hated leaving her lion behind. The lion didn't like to see Iris unhappy. So, when the family set off to the train station, he followed ... "

Iris loves her pet lion, and never wants to be away from him. As the family prepares to board the train for the trip to Auntie Sarah's house for Christmas, Iris is very upset when her mother explains that, although the people in their own town like the lion, others will not know just how friendly and kind he is. People on the train are sure to be upset with his presence, as will those who live in Auntie Sarah's small village. It is not possible to have her lion accompany them. She can, however, take her toy lion. Luckily she does; readers will learn why as the story develops.

Seeing Iris so sad triggers the lion to take action. He follows the family to the train station, climbs aboard and hides himself in the luggage rack. A sleep is in order; as luck would have it, the lion sleeps through the family's stop, and remains aboard until the train comes to the end of the line.

How on earth will he find the way back? The railroad tracks prove helpful. An fearful encounter with carolers in a nearby village forces the lion into a nearby tree. From there, he spots what the thinks is Iris' stuffed lion and initiates a plan to be sure it's the right place. The chimney? An encounter with a jolly man in a red suit provides inspiration and yet another problem. On the ground and covered in snow, the lion is just another snowman in the front yard.

Or is he? Iris thinks not. The lion is unmasked, and Christmas dinner is much appreciated after his long and arduous trip.

Warm, comfy humor and a satisfying conclusion will make this a new Christmas favorite.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Good Morning, Snowplow! By Deborah Bruss and illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic. 2019. $22.99 ages 2 and up

"Wind picks up and
whirls the snow.

It's a whiteout! Take it

Watch the flags and feel
the road.

Push on with your heavy

So often during the winter, while everyone sleeps, the snowplow drivers leave their beds in darkness to do the work that makes life easier following a storm. This driver, with his canine companion riding shotgun, checks his equipment in preparation for a long night of work. Sand and salt fill the hopper, and he is ready.

"Drop the plow, extend the wing,
Giant drifts won't melt till spring.
Strobe on top sweeps round and round.
Frosted branches touch the ground."

Young ones who love watching machines at work are sure to follow the actions of the plow as it moves through the snow-covered streets. It does its best to stay ahead of the storm. Obstacles are considered - the loneliness of the long night, the conditions themselves, drivers who drive too fast for the slippery roads, wind, and the continually falling snow. After a long night of work, morning light streaks the sky. The snow has stopped. The plow has done its job.

With school cancelled, children can appreciate the wonder of this new day, including the driver's own child. A warm cup of coffee is most appreciated - and then, a warm bed. While children romp, our driver sinks into a deep sleep. As does his trusty companion.

Ms. Bruss' rhyming couplets describe the work entailed in making streets and roads safe during a snowstorm. Kids will fully understand the work, the solitary feeling of plowing while everyone else sleeps, and the pride felt in a job well done. The illustrations, created using acrylic paint, colored pencil, pen, and collage bring the entire scene to life. The textures created add depth to the storm and help readers understand the importance of work that ensures safety for all when the storm is done. Deep colors, swirling snowflakes and frequent stops makes the reading experience powerful and real.

A perfect read for a snow day!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story From the Border. Written by Mitali Perkins and illustrated by Sara Palacios. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2019. $23.50 ages 4 and up

"Abuela drops kisses on our
fingers. She is short, brown,
plump, and jolly. Hugging
her would feel like hugging
a chunk of cookie dough.
Juan's eye is pressed against
a hole. One edge of the
picture is in the dirt. Maybe
Mama was right."

It has been five years since Maria, Juan and Mama have seen Abuela. Today is the day! They are on the bus to the border, ready to visit with their grandmother once again to celebrate Las Posadas. They have gifts in hand, and excitement in their hearts. As they approach the 'high, strong fences' that will separate them from Abuela, they keep their eyes peeled for the first sight of her.

Twenty-five people at a time can approach the meeting place, and they will have 30 minutes to visit. Will that be enough? When it is their turn, a gate opens and they hear Abuela's voice calling to them. Filled with warmth, love and stories to share, they make the most of the time they are able to spend. Too soon, time is up and they must let another group take their place.

Maria tries to pass the scarf that took so long to make to her grandmother. A border guard hands it back - nothing can pass through the fence. What about the picture from Juan? Nope. Such sadness for everyone. Is there a solution? All it takes some ingenuity on the part of a young and determined girl, the supplies in her mother's knitting bag, a strong wind - and the kindness of a border guard - to implement a successful plan.

"We try again.
Watchers on both sides of the border are calling out advice.
The patrol officer's voice booms down: "Don't give up, kid!"

Sara Palacios’ artwork captures place, time and love as the family has a chance to relish a cherished moment with a loved one, too rarely seen.   An author's note explains the nine-day festival and the work people in Mexico and the United States have done to allow families separated by the walls to gather and enjoy a brief period of time together each year.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

One Wild Christmas, written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland. Kids Can Press. 2019. $17.99 ages 3 and up

"The three friends had a big problem. There was no way the bear would let the beaver and the moose harm this tree. And the beaver and the moose were not about to let the bear get in the way of their perfect Christmas
 tree ...


They are back, and young fans will be thrilled to see them again. At this very special time of year, the bear, moose and beaver are preparing for their first Christmas Eve together. Each is taking a turn at helping with getting everything ready for a happy celebration. They are late in realizing they need a tree.

Off they go into the forest. Finding a perfect tree proves a difficult task for the friends. They consider many; each presents a problem. Finally, they see it! It's a pine tree that emits a wonderful, woodsy smell and is absolutely right for the space they have. When the beaver sets about gnawing on the trunk, the bear is shocked. Despite the doggedness of the other two, the bear will not budge. They will not cut down this tree!

The bear, being the strongest, wins the argument. Will his love for that tree spoil their first Christmas? Perhaps a tiny bird can help with a solution. Kids will love watching as the bear returns home determined to recapture the spirit of the Christmas the friends have planned.

Humorous, heartfelt and fun, fun, fun!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Piano Recital, written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"For their finale, the circus
performs a towering mouse
pyramid. Sprinting across the
stage, the last acrobat leaps
right to the very top. Momo
claps excitedly. "Wow!"

The next performance is a magic
act. As the orchestra plays, a pair
of mice dances. Then a scarf is
thrown over the mouse in the red
dress, and ... "

I received a video this morning from a dear friend whose granddaughter had just experienced her first school holiday concert. It brought back so many memories of my time teaching kindergarten and the unmatched joy most little ones found in being on stage. It also made me think of this book about a little girl trying to deal with the anxiety she is feeling about her first piano recital.

Her demeanor is evident on the title page. Walking with her parents, and wearing a bright red dress that matches her ruby cheeks, there is no sense of excitement. Turn the page and readers see her standing amidst a group of performers; her head is down, her concern showing. As first one, then a second performer walk onstage, Momo repeatedly reminds herself that she will be okay.

When she hears that very thought spoken aloud, she looks to see who is feeling the same way she is.. It is a tiny mouseling. She invites Momo to attend her recital, and promises Momo they have enough time. What surprise awaits when Momo follows her! Each act is a wonder, and Momo is totally distracted from her own anxious feelings. 

As it turns out, the piano piece Momo plays to help her equally anxious mouseling friend is her own. She plays it with joy and confidence, and then comes to the realization that she has actually performed her own recital piece - the human audience is very appreciative.

"Momo smiles happily. She thinks she hears the mice clapping, too."

Accompanying her story with a gorgeous setting created in pencil, gouache and charcoal ups the appeal for everyone who shares this tender story. Using red and other softened colors keeps focus on the performers and performances. Being able to retreat to her imagination helps Momo participate with some confidence in her real world recital at a time when she is very vulnerable. Memorable and unique.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Some Places More Than Others, by Renee Watson. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2019. $22.99 ages 9 and up

"This has been the longest week of my life. We leave for New York tomorrow night, and it's been torture having to wait. Mom's been fussing at me all week because every free moment I have, I've been on my phone or laptop looking up things to do and making lists of places I want to go. I have all the things Titus suggested, plus seeing a Broadway play. But more than going to any of those other places, I want to sit on the stoop of Dad's childhood home."

Amara's interest in knowing more about her father's family grows insistent when her teacher assigns The Suitcase Project. Her wish for her 12th birthday is to travel to Harlem and meet her father's family. Her mother has been refusing to consider it. 

Amara wants to meet her paternal grandfather, a man she knows only through the phone calls they have and the cards he sends. Her father rarely seldom speaks about his family and rarely visits even though he often travels to New York for his work. Amara wants to accompany him on his upcoming trip, and meet the family she does not know. Her parents' reluctance to let her go is met with persistence on her part; finally they agree.

Her father has not seen his father in twelve years. Amara makes it her business to find out why that is. Her mother has asked her to try to get the two of them to spend some time together.They are only going to be in Harlem for one week. It means she has a lot of work to do if she wants to help heal the rift. It is not an easy task she sets for herself. No matter how much love they share, there is not a lot of room for forgiveness. Still, Amara is a pretty determined young lady. As she spends time with them, she learns a lot about her father she did not know.

Being in Harlem is an eye-opening and unforgettable experience. It is as different as day and night from Beaverton, Oregon where her family lives. As she wanders its streets she visits many places of great importance in the history of African-Americans. She has never seen anything like it. Both Harlem and New York City become unmistakable characters on a list that is powerful and endearing. She loves the neighborhood and her explorations there. Visiting some of her father's favorite places, as well as her grandmother's grave, leads to better understanding of the flaws that are a part of every family's history.

The Suitcase Project is a fascinating one. Amara is tasked with filling her case with poems, objects and written entries concerning family. As she works to complete her assignment she begins to understand that she and her father had expectations placed upon them that made both  uncomfortable. As she narrates this heartwarming, often humorous, and humbling tale, readers are sure to feel that they are a part of the trip of discovery Amara is making. It is an exceptional read for a family during the holiday season, or in any middle grade classroom when students return for the winter term.

Amara's final poem makes me wish I were still teaching and in a middle grade classroom, where could use the ideas inherent in The Suitcase Project. Here's a small part of it:

'My Suitcase Carries

Grandma's recipes;
a little bit of this, a little bit of that.
Ginger for tea, brown sugar for oatmeal.
A deep pot for stews and soups, an iron skillet for
everything else.
Instructions for stretching a little bit into a whole lot."

She goes on to write about her grandpa, her mother, her dad, and her two homes. A wondrous tale, beautifully told.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Snowy Race, written by April Jones Prince and illustrated by Christine Davenir. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"Snowflakes start to tumble

Snowplow starts to head for

Wintry wind brings snowy

Trusty motor hums with power."

It's a publishing season for books about snowplows. First The Little Snowplow Wishes for Snow, and now this exciting errand completed with a young child in a car seat.  Early morning shows the child and her father preparing for their trip: dressing warmly, eating breakfast, and quickly heading outside to get their day started.

The truck is ready, and off they go. The plow plows falling snow as they head toward town and the reason for their rush. From street to street they go, wipers wiping and truck humming with hard work. So much excitement to get where they are going!

"Pushing, mounding.
Whistling, howling.
Climbing, growling.
We plow with all our might!"

The storm is working as hard to fill the streets as the plow is working to clear them. A sudden lull in snowfall allows the two to make it to their destination on time. The train is pulling in, Mom is there with hugs. One race done, the trip home can now begin.

The snowy scenes show the beauty of the winter season, while also awakening memories of storms past. Contrasted with the falling snow and the chill of the slippery streets is the warmth of the early morning at home, the close quarters of the truck's interior and the hugs at the train station. The perspectives change often, and allow readers to see the action from different viewpoints. A snowy and entertaining tale.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Nutcracker Night, written by Mireille Messier and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. Pajama Press, 2019. $22.95 ages 2 and up

goes the fancy fountain.

Swish! Swish! 
goes my frilly dress.

go Daddy's new shoes."

This lovely book is filled with the joy that occurs when a little girl and her father attend their first ballet together. The Nutcracker seems a perfect introduction, much to the delight of the father who is the recipient of her abundant enthusiasm for their outing. The story is told with simplicity, and wonderful sound effects that make for a dramatic reading. It is a feast for the senses.with both sights and sounds.

Each of the scenes from catching a taxi to the theatre, dancing past the 'fancy fountain', meeting friends in the foyer, listening to the orchestra in preparation for the performance, cheering at the opening scene, experiencing the drama of the ballet itself, the intermission, and the final scene are captured perfectly in Gabrielle Grimard's wondrous art. Using watercolor, gouache, oil, colored pencil and digital media she explores the entire experience, down to the final kiss of thanks bestowed on the father's cheek. You will certainly find your own favorite scene: mine shows the emotions felt by the two young attendees as the first act ends in terror. The curtain comes down, the lights go up, and the darkness disappears.

The writing, wtih its perfect sound effects, gives readers a real feel for the excitement inherent in such an exceptional moment. What a delightful way to introduce young readers to the entirety of the experience. An author's note concerning both the story and the history is welcome.   

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Line Tender, by Kate Allen. Dutton, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"She died," he said. He rubbed my
back with one hand and covered
his eyes with the other. I felt like the
air was stuck in my chest, half used.
Sometimes I wonder why Mr.
Patterson broke the news instead
of my dad, but when my mom
collapsed on the boat things stopped
happening in the usual way. She didn't
finish her research. She didn't come
home for a late dinner. She didn't
come home at all."

This debut novel is a beautiful thing. I devoured it in one sitting, and wanted to go right back and read it again. Lucy's biologist mother died when she was 7. Now, five years later in 1997, she finds herself thinking about her even more than she usually does. Her mother had a passion for sharks, and a great white has just been snagged by a local fisherman near Lucy's home in Rockport, Massachusetts. It is unusual to find them near Cape Cod.

Lucy's first person voice brings clarity to everything that is happening during a summer that holds incomprehensible grief and a lot of learning. She and her best friend Fred are doing a summer project for school - a field guide to the animals they find as they spend their summer outdoors. Fred does the writing, Lucy does the illustrations. The local fisherman is a family friend. Her father is a police diver. Their lives have much to do with the ocean that plays an integral part daily.

The discovery of  the shark makes the news, and Lucy sees an old video of her mother who was a well-known expert. Lucy wants to know more. She and Fred find her mother's research materials, and keep working on their field guide. One night, a terrible accident at the quarry where friends are swimming results in a death. Lucy's father recovers the body; the entire community plunges into  unbearable grief once again.

Lucy's need to do further research concerning the anatomy of the shark and her tenacity to get everything just right, plays out as a way to honor those she has lost and dearly misses. There is such a clear sense of setting, a very strong cast of characters, a good deal of humor in Lucy's narration, absorbing facts about marine life, and a promise that the heart will heal.

Auspicious, brilliantly written and so realistic, you don't want to miss Lucy's story.

“All life is interconnected. If one species moves away or becomes extinct, the order shifts.”

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Little Snowplow Wishes for Snow, written by Lora Koehler and illustrated by Jake Parker. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"But the winter solstice
brought glittering stars,
not snow. The little snowplow
carried firewood to the
park for a bonfire to light
up the longest night of
the year. January brought
northern lights, but no snow.
The snowplow graded trails.
February brought flurries ... "

The Little Snowplow is not the only one waiting for snow around here. We had a big storm in early October, and not much of the white stuff since then. We have had freezing rain, slush, a great deal of ice; nothing much for a snowplow to clear.

For those little ones who long to see machines at work, they will have to wait. Little Snowplow knows exactly how they feel. He's very happy to help at every turn when it's warm and there's work to be done. What he loves most is SNOW! As the days grow colder and the trees lose their leaves, he knows it's time. He watches the sky, checks weather reports, is delighted when winter is due to arrive. Nothing! He waits through December, January, February and wonders if there will be snow before his March birthday. Poor little guy!

After making plans for a birthday celebration with the idea to pretend there is snow, imagine the refreshing surprise when the sky is filled with white flakes - and a purposeful job to do. The party is put on hold and the hard work begins. Will he get the chance to actually celebrate his special day? If he does, what do you think he will wish for when he blows out his candles?

Little ones whose love and appreciation for machinery will find much to admire in the colorful images and winning personalities of each machine.                                                                         

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, written by Karina Yan Glaser. HMHKids, Raincoast. 2019. $22.99 ages 8 and up

" Oliver was pulling out extra folding chairs from the closet when the doorbell rang. Franz howled his way to the door, and Laney shrieked with happiness after they let in Auntie Harrigan, who swooped in, gave out hugs and lemon drops, and exclaimed over the kittens. Papa came home from work a few moments later, froze when he saw the box of kittens, then breathed a sigh of relief when everyone assured him this was a temporary thing."

Whoop! The Vanderbeekers are back in this third book in the series about their marvelous, loving family and community. It starts with the news that Mama's home-based cookie business is going to be featured in an upcoming Perch magazine. Ecstatic and celebratory, that is the name of the game for this family. They enjoy every success with great gusto.

There are a few things that need to be done before the photo shoot. All too soon, it's spring break and the date for the shoot looms. Progress must be made quickly! Plans are made and launched, including a paint job in the living room that goes awry. When a food inspector from the city appears and finds a plethora of pets in the house - and in the kitchen - Mama's license becomes a thing of contention. The children do not tell their mother about the first inspection or the follow-up. Instead, they decide that they will set things straight without Mama having to worry.

If you have read the first two books about these amazing children, you will know that their best laid plans can lead to hiccups. A bungled paint job; the arrival of a box full of kittens, two guinea pigs New Dog and a flock of chickens, all left overnight by an unknown someone; a return inspection that surprises Mama and leads to her discovery that she has been operating for a week without a licence leads to further concern. Oh, my!

The unique personalities of each of the characters, the loving nature of the relationship the family has with each other and those they love, the chaos and joys of the days spent trying always to do the right thing, and the neighborhood scenes ensure reading pleasure for all who sit down to savor their adventures, and make them hope that the next instalment is not long in coming.

What a glorious way to spend some time at Christmas: a family read!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Sunny Rolls the Dice, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Scholastic, 2019. $16.99 ages 10 and up

"Where would you want to go?  
I've never been anywhere except
the Jersey Shore and Florida to
see Gramps.
My folks came all the way from 
India to live here. 
Wasn't it scary? To start over?
They say it was hard, but that it
was exciting to have an adventure.

I know there are many fans of the Sunny series. They will be very pleased to read this third book, following Sunny Side Up (2015) and Swing It, Sunny (2017).

The setting is the 1970s, and Sunny is starting middle school ... ready or not! As happens for so many adolescents, life with friends becomes ever more complicated and confusing. There are many changes to acknowledge and try to accept: hair rollers, the relationships between boys and girls, how you know if a boy likes you. The list goes on.

When she checks her score on the Groovy Meter, Sunny finds she is not! Groovy, that is. This score is a constant reminder to her that she does not meet the expectations of cool girls entering middle school. Her focus is not on popular music, new fashion trends, or constant talk about boys. Does she want to move up on that groovy meter, or would she rather just be her own self?

Sunny finds that she likes being with her friends who play Dungeons and Dragons. Mostly boys, they are willing to teach her how to play, and don't mind that she's a girl. There is a place for everyone in their games. But, the game is not acceptable to her best friend Deb. Giving it up, and choosing to attend the spring dance makes Sunny miserable. She finds the perfect way to brighten her evening. Is having fun worth it? You bet it is!

The visual storytelling is compelling; it offers humor, clarity, empathy. Sunny continues to work toward being the best version of herself.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Even More Lesser Spotted Animals: More Brilliant Beasts You Never Knew You Needed to Know About, by Martin Brown. David Fickling Books, Schollastic. 2019. $25.99 ages 9 and up

"The maned wolf's nickname is
the fox-on-stilts. But it's not a fox.
It's not even a wolf. Nor is it that
closely related to either foxes of
wolves. Just look at it. It's taller
than the biggest true wolf yet less
half its weight. And it doesn't hunt
in big moose-chasing packs like
wolves either. It hunts alone. Those
lanky legs are for stalking silently
through the long grass ... "

Following up on Lesser Spotted Animals (2017), Martin Brown lets his audience know that there are many additional animals who need our attention. They are rarely seen and even more rarely discussed in books for children. He is going to help to remedy that with this book about 26 new 'lesser spotted' animals. He voices a complaint in his introduction:

"Take those big-name, bigwig, big cats for example. Lions fill our picture books. Tigers are always on TV. Jaguars have become cars and Pumas are shoes. They're all over the place! Just like their famous big-name animal friends. So much so that when we think of animals we thing of the BIG names - and only the big names."

 His mission is to ensure that we begin to pay attention to many other animals needing our attention. It's pretty tough to save them if we know nothing about them. His new expertly designed book is meant to give readers all they need to know about each animal on a double-page spread that provides  pertinent information, as well as a charming image of the animal itself on the facing page. Information includes a few paragraphs of witty description accompanied by useful thumbnail sketches, and an information box with five descriptors: size, what they eat, where they live, status, and ...

The text is humorous and conversational, giving middle grade readers a chance to learn about animals they have likely never encountered. Animal commentary through the use of dialogue balloons ups the appeal. I like that size comparisons are provided to give perspective. A table of contents and glossary are provided. Although its tone is upbeat, it reminds readers that many animals of the world are in great danger of extinction. Fascinating, coherent and worthy of classroom discussion.

Are you ready to learn something new? You would do well to begin with this fine book.

"Slender lorises generally hunt alone, but, when the sun rises, they retreat to their favourite thicket of branches, high in a tree, to cuddle up with as many as seven others in a tangle of arms and legs called a “sleeping ball”. All safe and sound."

Thursday, December 5, 2019

I Love My Glam-MA, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Sujean Rim. Orchard Books, Scholastic. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Glam- MAS
don't just celebrate
holidays ...

they celebrate everything!

Glam-MAS don't just
carry a purse ...

they carry a treasure chest!"

My granddaughters will NEVER call me a Glam-MA! I do not have the style of many of the  grandmothers introduced in this delightful homage. We are called many names ... mine does not make the list, but I an pretty sure the two of them will be happy to share this book with me just the same.

"Everyone knows grandmothers go by many names: Grandma, Granny, Gigi, Mom-Mom, Yaya, Meemaw, Nana, Gram, Abuela, Bubbe, Oma, and Big Mama G. But MAYBE they should really be called "Glam-MA." Because Grandmas are some of the most glamorous people you're ever gonna meet."

I am Nona, and no spoken word sounds better to me than that one. I try to do some of the things that the grandmas here do. Celebrating the wonders of grandchildren is the best job in the world. The watercolor and collage portraits created by Sujean Rim spectacularly match the fun of Samantha Berger's amusing text.  The many joys of time spent together include gifts, dress-up, long walks, even siestas and fiestas. Mindset is everything and it shows on every page.

That author offers up suggestions that will remind children of the things they do with their own beloved grandmothers. The age, style, and hair color may vary from one grandma to the next; the love and great happiness children feel for them is evident, no matter the activity they experience together. 


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast, written and illustrated by Sophie Gilmore. Owlkids, 2019. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"Little Doctor examined Big Mean
for bruises, scrapes, or broken bones,
keeping a wary eyes on those jaws.
The crocodile's eyes followed her every
move, making Little Doctor feel as though she were the one being examined. Big Mean seemed fine. Perhaps it was a fever? Little Doctor approached the beast with a thermometer to pop under her tongue. But Big Mean did not like
that. Not one bit."

A very young girl with a dangerous job is the premise for this entertaining  tale. She is called Little Doctor: she pays attention to and provides treatment for the jungle's many crocodiles. The care she affords covers a variety of maladies;  some are physical. Others have more to do with feelings, and self-confidence. The crocs pay for her services by amusing her with adventurous stories.

"Each legend teemed with terrible danger, dizzying escapes, and acts of great mischief."

She loves each and every one of her patients. Then comes the day that Big Mean shows up at her door. A full examination reveals nothing about the huge crocodile's medical condition. Big Mean is not prepared to cooperate in any attempt to determine a course of action. Disgruntled, Little Doctor moves back to treating willing patients. Her gentle care captures Big Mean's attention, and finally a state of relaxation.

Little Doctor has an idea ... which fails miserably. It becomes a stroke of luck for all. Little Doctor is finally able to calm the fear that brought Big Mean to her. Big Mean's tale of determination to protect those she loves is lovingly shared, and leaves readers with a sense of satisfaction and wonder. Bravo, Little Doctor!

Sophie Gilmore's brilliantly detailed illustrations add a sense of danger while also showing a love of all things crocdilian. The doctor's house is filled with images that are sure to capture attention and invite discussion. Do take the time to look carefully with little ones.

What an auspicious picture book debut!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

What Is A Refugee? Written and illustrated by Elise Gravel. schwartz and wade books. Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Most refugees would have
preferred to stay in their own
country with their friends and

But it was too dangerous. Also,
often, their homes were destroyed
and they didn't have anything

Refugees had to find another
country to live in ... "

The first line in Elise Gravel's straightforward description of refugees is a universal truth:

"A refugee is a person,
just like you and me."

That is the most important thing of all. But for some very different circumstances, any of us could find ourselves a refugee. There are different reasons that lead to people leaving their own countries to live elsewhere. The faces of the people on that first spread may not look the same, but they are ... they are all refugees from their country of origin.

Reasons are listed for their departures, and their varied journeys to find safety and shelter are explained. The cartoon like drawings prevent the book from feeling too ominous, while letting young readers see just what happens when bad things occur. It also helps them understand that the results of leaving often mean finding a new life with friends, work, and feelings of gratitude and peace.

Back matter includes quotes from children the author met while writing her book. She then introduces a number of famous refugees with a short biographical paragragh and a visual representation.

"Bob Marley, the reggae superstar, had
to flee his beloved Jamaica when people who
didn't like his political ideas tried to kill him
in 1976. He recovered in the Bahamas and
then moved to England, where he recorded
more reggae hits."

Important for introducing the subject, in hopes it will lead to further questions and raised awaeness for the plight of so many.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"My twin brother is a Baller.

The only thing he loves more
that basketball is betting. 

If it's ninety degrees outside
and the sky is cloudless, he
will bet you that it's going
to rain. 

It's annoying and sometimes

The Crossover (2015) was my introduction to Kwame Alexander's amazing talent as a storytelling poet. I read it numerous times, and recommended it as often as I could. I do the same today. Now, I also have this graphic adaptation of that original book to share with readers who love his work. and for those who don't know it.

I came to reading graphic novels late. I was not a parent who read comics to her kids, and rarely read 'the funnies' or comics on my own. What is available to readers today astonishes me. So, I share this powerful new take on the story with admiration for the visuals that bring Josh and Jordan to life.

Their story takes place over a year. Their father, a star basketball player, teaches his twin sons about the game he loves. Josh does most of the narrating. His game descriptions are personal and filled with all that he is feeling as he plays, and as he lives his life. He loves his brother, and aches to be who he wants to be. 

Dawud Anyabwile fills the novel's pages with expressive characters, and much attention to the details of the game and their lives. Every scene flows into the next, giving the reader a sense of the determination and work that goes into each play in every game. Their father's rules play an important and obvious role in the game and the way they live their lives.

"Basketball Rule #1  

In this game of life your family is
the court and the ball is your HEART.

No matter how good you are, no matter
how down you get, always leave your
heart on the COURT."

I love the way this book reads aloud. The brothers become real, their rivalry evident, and their differences obvious. Their love for each other is never in question, nor is their love of the game. There are many twists to their story.  If you don't think you like graphic novels, you will like this one. While it's focus is basketball, it is about so much more than that. Adding visuals to an already brilliantly told story ups the appeal, and leaves the reader heartbroken.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Big Bed For Little Snow, written and illustrated by Grace Lin. Little, Brown and Company. Hachette. 2019. $24.99 ages 3 and up

Was Mommy coming?
Little Snow flopped down on
his bed. "Little Snow," Mommy said. "What are you doing?" "Nothing," Little Snow said, and he put his head back down on his big bed."

This companion book to A Big Mooncake for Little Star (Little, Brown 2018) will be appreciated by those who read that first one.

Winter is just beginning when Little Snow gets his new bed. Mommy tells him that it is warm with feathers, and it is not meant for jumping - only sleeping. Observant children will note Little Snow's mischievous grin and know that this is a rule bound to be broken.

On that first night Mommy tucks him in, wishes him a good night, and quietly slips from his room. He waits patiently for quiet to descend, then opens his eyes and succumbs to the allure of the 'puffy' softness. In no time, he is jumping and causing feathers to rain down from the sky.

After a good sleep, Little Snow is keen to begin jumping with even greater gusto. So it goes throughout the winter; always listening for Mommy's return to his bedroom, then waiting for quiet to settle in and finally, time for jumping, jumping, jumping.  An inevitable tear in the bed causes a lot of 'feathers' to fall on those below. The 'storm' is met with wonder.

Repetitive text makes this a book that children will want to help with reading. Spreads are filled with the white space of winter sky. Little Snow wears perfect pajamas for the entire adventure. He provides great joy for the children awaiting the fun found in snowy weather. P.S. Don't miss Little Star!