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Friday, January 31, 2020

Almost Time, written by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Is the sap running yet?'
he asked.
Dad shook his head. "Not
until the days are warmer."
That afternoon, Ethan took
his sled to the Big Hill. It
was a sunny day, so he left
his hat and his scarf and his
mittens at home.

But the day wasn't warm."

Our days aren't either, but they are surely warmer than is usual for the last day of January! That got me to thinking about this book by one of my favorite writers, Gary D. Schmidt. It is also unlike his other books I have read. Except for one, they have all been novels.

Mr. Schmidt sets this book at a time of year when Ethan and his father no longer have maple syrup to put on their pancakes. Applesauce as a replacement lets Ethan know that sugaring time is upon them - the wait begins. The timing has to be exactly right. Ethan can tell when he is goes sledding that, although it is a fine day for such entertainment, it is not warm enough for the sap to run.

One week later, there is butter for their corn bread - no syrup! His father answers his many questions  as patiently as possible. Weeks pass, the time is endless. How long will it take for his loose tooth to fall out, he asks. His father has an unexpected answer:

"About as long as it takes the sap to start running," Dad said."

Arrgh! Waiting for his tooth and the sap is made longer by cold days and long nights. That tooth finally does fall out - and just in time! One week later, after a lot of hard work, the bottles are filled and the two can enjoy the warm, syrupy goodness of another Sunday pancake breakfast. 

Brian Karas uses textured images and soft colors to complement the text. I found his series of panelled images just right for showing listeners a simplified process for making maple syrup. All of the important information is presented as father and son work together to process this very special treat.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Tradition, written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $24.99 ages 4 and up


On weekdays and holidays
Supper or dinner
Powwows and festivals
Moments together
With family and friends


Sculpture, landscape, portrait
Our daily craft ... "

I think that Kevin Noble's decision to share the fry bread tradition in Native American families through repeating phrases is both thoughtful and engaging. It assures that listeners learn about family and those things that connect them. The family it describes is varied, brought together to make fry bread. Everyone helps!

While fry bread is a traditional food for the families in this book, all fry bread is not the same. There are many factors that determine its taste - length of frying time, the cook, the recipe used. No matter what, it is enjoyed by all family members and reminds therm of their long and honored heritage within their communities.

This important book is not only about their fry bread traditions, it is also about history - the history of Native Americans, the arrival and upheaval of European settlers, and the meaning of fry bread itself.
On hearing the words of this book, children will make a connection between history and tradition. It is a testament to courage and survival, and helps to celebrate both.

The illustrations add warmth and needed detail, expressing the love that family connections hold. The images show the diversity within Native American communities, the joy felt in being together, and the ingredients and methods used to create a traditional diet staple. The prominence of the words "Fry Bread" to begin each verse shows that it has meaning in every aspect of life.


The long walk, the stolen land
Strangers in our own world
With unknown food
We made new recipes
From what we had."

An author's note is lengthy and very informative. Each one of the topics gets a boost in material to be used for providing context when sharing the book and what is included in it. Fry bread is a common connection between the many tribes. A very important addition for classroom and family libraries to encourage discussion about truth and reconciliation.

A recipe is included, and useful back matter. It may also beg a question about what food traditions  each family holds.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Way With Wild Things, written by Larissa Theule and illustrated by Sara Palacios. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"She sat among the wildflowers, listening patiently to the cicadas' newest symphony.

She coaxed the shy roly poly out of her shell."

Following up on a story yesterday about one imagined day in the early life of a young poet whose love of nature was exemplified in her life's work, today we meet another little girl, not unlike Emily Dickinson.

Poppy Ann Fields, a likely introvert, finds great joy in the bugs she encounters. She likes them better than most people, and sees them as her friends. If she is quiet and observant, she is able to be a part of their world. She spends hours talking with ladybugs. It is a marvelous place to be!

With people around her, Poppy prefers to fade into the background, finding solace behind a plant or in front of wallpaper, or anywhere else that provides a cloak of invisibility. At her grandmother's 100th birthday party, Poppy watches and notices many things. When a dragonfly lands on the birthday cake, she comes out from her hiding spot.

"Uncle Dan said, "Poppy Ann Fields, you 
wallflower, you. So that's where you've 
been hiding this time." His voice vibrated
louder than a thousand cicadas.

     Guests stopped milling about.
     Poppy froze.
     Every eye fell upon her.
     Her throat closed."

Just at that moment, the dragonfly flits from the top of the cake to Poppy's hand. All eyes are on the two of them. Rather than looking at the many humans surrounding her, Poppy finds comfort in the bug itself, and breathes. With quiet confidence, Poppy is able to share what she knows about the dazzling dragonfly. In so doing, Poppy's grandmother gives her a warm hug and an uplifting compliment.

Now, Poppy realizes she is not a wallflower, but a 'wildflower.'

A note about the illustrator, whose bold, colorful artwork complements the text beautifully, states:

"Sara Palacios created the artwork for this book in layers, with cut paper, acrylic paints, and hotoshop. Sara loves Poppy becauseshe has always been shy herself, especially as a little girl, and hopes all the little wallflowers - wildflowers! - out there feel inspired by this book."

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and Her Poetic Beginnings, by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Christine Davenier. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2020. $25.99 ages 8 and up

"She scribbles curlicues
and circles,
though not actual letters,
some round like the moon,
or a summer peach,
some the spiral of a hanging vine.
A year and a half older,
Austin already knows
how to write his ABCs."

Putting her words on paper begins early for the young Emily Dickinson. She picks up scraps in her father's study and uses discarded pencil stubs. Though she can not form the proper and accepted letters of the alphabet as her brother can, she believes that she is putting on paper what she wants to say about the natural world she so loves. Though Austin tries to teach her proper form, she prefers to use curved lines to bring her ideas to paper.

On this particular day when the story is told, her father is not responsive to his young daughter's desire to share her new poem. So, Emily takes it to Mrs. Mack in the kitchen. Mrs. Mack knows exactly how to encourage her young charge.

"Mrs. Mack studies the paper with great care.
"What does it say?" she asks.
"I don't have my glasses."
Emily giggles and points.
The glasses are on the top of Mrs. Mack's head.
"Oh, those aren't my poetry glasses," says Mrs. Mack.
"Those are my cooking glasses."

Would that all aspiring writers had such encouragement. The two spend time together sharing words, enjoying Emily's initial attempt, and eating delicious treats. Her mother, confined to bed each afternoon, cannot listen, nor can baby Lavinia whose task is to get lots of sleep. Emily must find attention elsewhere.

In the garden her senses are awash with the sights, the sounds, the touches and the smells of the world she so loves. It is perfect place to test her poem once again. On her way indoors, she finds an envelope on the floor and wonders aloud what word with it. Mrs. Mack offers the advice Emily  needs, hinting at Emily's future work. This early experiment with finding the right words for her thoughts is an apt beginning for a life spent writing. It is a lovely introduction, while also being warm and inviting.

Ms. Davenier's watercolor ink artwork is lovely, and provides a historical setting for the story being told. An author's note is both engaging and informative. A few of  Emily's poems are included, as well as a list of the three books where they are found, and a selected bibliography.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Don't Feed the Coos, written by Jonathan Stutzman and illustrated by Heather Fox. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2020. $24.50 ages 3 and up

"Wherever you are,
they will be too.
At orchestra practice.
At the arcade.
Even at karate lessons.
Your sensei will not
be pleased.
And to thank you
for feeding them,
the coos will leave poos.
Coos poos covering

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I read a lot of books every week. It is definitely one of those things I LOVE to do - and I am ever impressed by the breadth of story and information in the books I am able to share with you. To that end, I love to tell you about books that surprise and delight. This book is one of those.

It is evident from the title page that pigeons are going to be a problem for the small bespectacled girl who is the object of their full and somewhat frightening attention. It starts very innocently. Our sweet narrator provides advice for when you meet up with a 'coo' (aka pigeon). It is all innocence ... and 'adorable, peaceful, kind of silly'. Obviously, the coo is hard to resist.

"But Don't FEED the Coo!'

She continues to let her audience know exactly what will happen if you feed even one. Oh, dear! That one small mistake sets her up for a great deal of consternation as she is followed everywhere she goes by a flock of persistent pigeons. No matter where she goes, there they are! Because of the feeding, another problem is created. It's poos. They poo everywhere. It will be your own fault for feeding them in the first place. Spraying them won't work. Nor will hiding. They will read all signs, then ignore them. Finally, you are likely to accept that the coos and their poos are forever a part of your life. Unless... you are as 'clever' as this young lady!

While this story is great fun for a dramatic read aloud without showing the accompanying illustrations, the joy is amped up when you read it the second time and your listeners meet the plethora of wide-eyed coos and their yucky poos. The expressive narrator and her dilemma are sure to evoke giggles, and requests for repeated readings. You would do well to have this in your book basket.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day. Harper, 2019. $21.00 ages 10 and up

"Serenity rolls over onto her stomach. "Are you really sure about this?" "Sure about what?" "Reading this stuff in private," she says. "Instead of just asking your parents about her." "I already told you, they lied when I asked about my name. They'll probably deny the rest of it, too." "I don't know. They might surprise you." "They lied. They won't tell me anything." "I doubt that." Serenity bites her lip."

Edie has always known that her heritage is Native American on her mother's side, Her father is white. Her mother was adopted while young by a white family. Edie has been told that her mother knows nothing about her birth family. While Edie would like to know more, the three live a happy, secure life in Seattle. Until the day Edie discovers a box in the attic and sees photos of a woman who looks exactly like she does. Who is she?

The two have the same name. Knowing her mother's reticence to discuss her past, Edie does not approach the subject with her parents. She wants to find out as much as she can on her own. That creates tension with her best friends, and eventually with her parents. Through the letters, postcards, and photos she becomes aware of some of the difficulties faced by Edith while she is pursuing a career in film. The fact that she is treated poorly in that industry because of her native heritage, and that her brother Theo does work with the American Indian Movement lead to a catastrophic event when she gives birth as a single mother. It is a story Edie's parents have been hesitating to share until she is 'old enough'.

Now, it is out in the open ... and her parents do as they had always intended. They share Edith's story. In so doing, Edie learns her own mother's history as well. Painful truths and an event that is alarming to say the least are exposed, and a path to trust and healing can begin. 

This enlightening book handles aspects of the historical treatment of Native American children with dignity and assurance. Adoption and cultural identity are at its heart. Written by a debut author whose own roots are similar, it is a worthy book to read aloud for middle graders. It is a relevant read in these days of reconciliation and understanding our collective history. We continue to hope for healing and justice for all those affected.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Misadventures of Frederick, written by Ben Manley and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. Two Hoots, Publishers Group Canada, 2019. $25.95 ages 4 and up

"My Dearest Emily,

The lonely salmon makes
his ragged run upstream.

It is with bitter regret that I
inform you I may not go
swimming in the lake today
on account that I might
catch pneumonia and have
to go to Switzerland."

For Frederick, life inside is the best way to spend his days. He is more likely to get into trouble should he venture into the outdoors. To his surprise, the day comes when a paper airplane sails through his bedroom window.

It is from Emily, who can see him from the forest and says that he looks bored. A invitation to go for ice cream ends her note. Checking with his mother, he is reminded about the last time he was outside. Back he goes to return a note to Emily. Emily receives it and immediately responds from the tree she is climbing. Does he want to join her?

Frederick responds:

"My Dearest Emily,

The finches twitter in the sycamores,
startling the drowsy dormouse.

It is with bitter regret that I
inform you I may not come
out to climb trees today on
account that I might
break both of my collar bones.

Sorrowfully yours,

Emily is not a girl who gives up easily. She continues to send notes relating the joy she is finding in nature; Frederick  knows his limits and regretfully replies to each invitation. He imagines all manner of things that might happen. No bike riding, swimming, exploring for him. When Emily gives up on sending notes, and arrives with a personal greeting, Frederick cannot refuse. Let the fun begin!

Fun and friendly, the joys of the outdoors are fully displayed here and the melancholy of always being inside. Adventure vs. boredom? Which do you choose? As an added bonus to the enjoyment of a grand story, the letters may encourage young listeners to try their hand at writing one themselves.

Emily Chichester Clark uses watercolors to contrast the two worlds. Frederick's is dark and lackluster; Emily's is filled with color and joyful exuberance. Frederick waxes poetic in his notes; Emily's are short and to the point. The final spread is a surprise, and provides assurance that things have changed. Friendship prevails!

Friday, January 24, 2020

Your, Turn, Adrian. Written by Helena Orberg and illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom. Translated by Eva Apelqvist. Groundwood Books, 2019. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"Sometimes the teacher
asked me a question.

My heart was pounding.

My head was in a fog.

My cheeks burned.


Adrian is not like the other kids in  his school. Because of it, he is bullied. He would prefer never to be called on to answer questions or participate in class. He dislikes attention being paid to him. It causes anxiety, and adds to the notion that he is too different to be accepted by his schoolmates. He does like climbing trees and eating his lunch on his own. We learn quickly that he is athletic and strong, doing headstands and walking on his hands on the trip back home after school.

When he meets Heidi, a large lost wolfhound, he finds a soul mate. The two spend all their time together; Heidi even attends school with him. That makes a marked difference to Adrian's confidence and ability to cope with the demands of the classroom. Unfortunately, Heidi is reunited with her owner, Adrian has trouble coping. Once reunited with the dog, Adrian meets her owner and discovers a welcoming world where his talents come to the forefront.

Most of this poignant and heartfelt story is told through its emotional and telling artwork. Ever-changing perspectives provide a clear look at Adrian's life and emotions. Using black and white to suggest the bleakness he experiences, and then colorful images to share the love and joy is inspired and makes for a wonderful 'read'.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Dragons?! Written and illustrated by Lila Prap. Firefly Books, 2019. $16.95 ages 7 and up

"Our mom is always
finding strange books.
The last one said we are
descended from dinosaurs.

As a descendant of dinosaurs
you seem to hatch even
weirder creatures!

Who would have thought
that we have cousins that
can bite elephants?"

In this playful book about those creatures that will have interested readers begging to be the first to borrow it, said readers will find much to make them chuckle while also learning historical hype about these mythical monsters. And they will be loving what the book has to say.

Luckily, we have a a chicken, a rooster, and their brood of chicks to guide us through the pages of this book that is both entertaining and strikingly illustrated. Their opinions are shared, and questions asked in speech bubbles on every page. They provide comic relief throughout - a much appreciated respite amidst the many fearsome dragon tales.

 A statement is made at the top of each spread, accompanied by an intriguing composite image of a continually evolving dragon. Along the bottom, information is provided concerning the mythology that surrounds the term 'dragon'. From Mesopotamia to Greece, from Jason and Medea tricking a dragon into self-imploding to villagers who believed that dragons gushed water (and baby dragons) out of the ground, from Europe to Russia, stories abound.

"Killing a dragon with many heads was almost impossible.
If you didn't chop off all its heads at once, new ones would
immediately grow back."

"Vikings called their stories sagas. One saga describes Kraken,
a sea monster feared by all sailors. The Kraken was so big that
when its head was sticking out of the sea, many travelers
mistook it for an island."

All around the world, people told stories of battles, mysteries, ferocious creatures, gods, and forces of nature. Dragons are at the heart of many of them. As well, readers are reminded that Chinese dragons are worshipped as gods for their goodwill and insight.

"Most often, dragons are depicted playing with a pearl, which signifies wisdom, eternal life, strength and the moon.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Goodbye,Friend! Hello, Friend! Written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Goodbye to sitting alone ...

... is hello to sitting together.

Goodbye to outside ...

... is hello to inside.

Goodbye to snowmen ...

...  is hello to puddles!"

If you are a big fan of Ms. Doerrfeld's previous book, The Rabbit Listened, you are sure to enjoy and want to share this new book about friendship with those you love. It is story that recognizes the feelings children have for each other, and it makes certain that readers and listeners understand the importance of such emotions.

Some of the story is told in introductory pages which show a little girl who loves her dog, and accepts with sloppy licks as she tries to put her boots on before heading to school. Both are thrilled to be in  each other's company. She feeds her fish on the way out the door, past Mom who is holding the pup's leash. The opening spread shows a now worried little one saying goodbye, as the school bus pulls up to the curb.

That sad goodbye leads to a warm and welcome greeting upon arrival in her classroom. Charlie quickly introduces herself, and offers friendship from that first meeting. Stella and Charlie sit together in the cafeteria, on the bus, and play together when at home. As autumn turns to winter, they move from playing outside to being inside where they find much to keep themselves entertained.  And so it goes ... seasons pass, and the two are great companions in water play, summer hikes, butterfly chasing. When her fish dies, Charlie is there for comfort and memories. The two are friends forever. Or are they?

"But sometimes, when you least expect it, a goodbye
comes along that really feels like the end. Sometimes,
goodbye is the last thing you want to say."

Young readers will find much to see in the detailed artwork, 'made with digital ink, Dr. Pepper and a good dose of nostalgia'. Every page turn offers up something new to notice, and evidence of the years as they pass. As hard as it is to say goodbye to someone you love, it is often a fact of life.

It is true, however, that when one door closes another opens.                                                                         

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Sunny, written and illustrated by Celia Krampien. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2010. $24.50 ages 3 and up

"Now, being trapped in a
small boat and adrift on
a stormy sea is what most
people would call an awful,
horrible, and terrible kind
of situation. But not Sunny,
who thought she preferred
boating just now to swimming."

Sunny is nothing if not eternally optimistic. She is quite the happy little girl, and proves it at every turn. While most people see a rainy day as cause for a gloomy and miserable attitude toward it, Sunny sees it as the perfect excuse for using her favorite umbrella.

How lucky that a strong gust of wind gets itself under the umbrella's protection and offers an aerial adventure! As she soars above the town, Sunny is aware of all that is going on below her. She can see the children crossing the street to the school entrance, the school bus dropping its students, a dog-walker, vehicles going about their business, the lighthouse, and the beach.

Suddenly that town disappears and Sunny finds herself blown out to sea. She loves the rolling waves. A catastrophe with her umbrella lands her in a small boat that has lost its mooring and is rocking wildly and about to be overtaken by a rogue wave. Not to worry, it lands Sunny on a rock formation.
With the company of a sea gull, Sunny sees the 'sunny' side of her situation.

"Now, most people would say that things were looking
exceedingly bleak. That being stuck on a rock, in a boat,
surrounded by a stormy sea was probably as bad as
things could get. But not Sunny, who thought things
weren't that bad because at least she wasn't alone."

An abrupt change in that cheery outlook is not surprising. Just when all looks dark and dismal, a most welcome surprise lands her exactly where she needs to be.

I love the warmth of the predominately yellow tones placed on teal backgrounds. It keeps Sunny and her disposition front of mind. Sunny's response to a dire situation is expected. She soon perks up again, realizing that help when it's needed makes all the difference.

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Million Dots, by Sven Volker. Cicada Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2019. $25.95 all ages

"Double the numbers
to get from one to one
million in 40 pages!

A remarkable visualization
of numbers big and small."

Let's start with 1 ... 1 green circle sitting atop 1 short brown triangle. A turn of the page shows the number 2 on the verso facing overlapping green circles on 2 triangles. Add 2 apples to each tree and you have 4, then 4 more apples fallen from the tree in autumn and you have 8, and so on. Turning page by page to 16, 32, 64. 128. 256. 512, 1,024. The numbers become more and more astronomical as doubling the numbers continues. That does nothing to lessen the visual appeal of this unusual and outstanding book.

From 1 to more than a million in just over 40 pages: that is the opportunity that presents itself to those who read this book from start to finish. As the numbers get bigger, the dots get smaller. On the final page, they can barely be seen. Someone did the research and gave this report:

"At one number per second — with no breaks, at all, for any reason — it would take 11 days, 13 hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds to count from one to 1,000,000."

I will leave it to those who can do the math to suggest  that particular statistic. It would be impossible to count each and every dot shown on the final foldout panorama as the book ends, assuming you have the time or the inclination to even try it!

All will be in awe when the book is done! Though meant for young readers, it is sure to find fans of all ages. The graphic illustrations are the perfect means for presenting such an idea. What an imaginative and fascinating undertaking. 

A Million Dots was named to the NYT Best Illustrated Children's Books list for 2019. Well done, Mr.Volker.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Map Into The World, written by Kao Kalia Yang and illustrated by Seo Kim. Lerner, Carolrhoda Books, Thomas Allen & Son, 2019. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"At night, I looked out our big window at Bob and Ruth's house to see their lights shining across the dark street. Sometimes I saw a shape of a person looking back at me. I waved, but the shadow person never waved back.
On a cold morning, cars came to our block, filling the street. Car doors slammed as men and women in thick jackets walked quickly to Bob and Ruth's house."

In her picture book debut, Kao Kalia Yang introduces readers to Paj Ntaub, a young girl moving into a new house with her family. Paj Ntaub soon meets their new neighbors, Bob and Ruth. They are an older couple living across the street.

The arrival of twin brothers soon after they settle into their new home brings a certain amount of noise that has the girl and her father going outside for a walk. Bob and Ruth wave from their special bench as the two pass by. Summer turns to fall, and then to colder weather. With the arrival of winter, the neighbors rarely see each other. When her father tells her that Ruth has died, Paj Ntaub is sad.

Spring brings new life to their yard, the babies enjoy being outside, and the girl and her grandmother tend to the garden. Bob brings his special bench back outside.

"I asked my mother to ask Bob
if I could draw on his driveway.

I said, "If he doesn't like it, the rain
will come and wash it away."

Bob nodded and said, "Go ahead,"

What Paj Ntaub leaves on his sidewalk is a beautiful invitation, and a testament to all that she sees as she looks closely at their neighborhood. Her art shows a world of wonder, and she hopes that it will provide comfort. How kind!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Beware! Written by Bob Raczka and illlustrated by Larry Day. Charlesbridge, Random House. 2019. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"A bear? Baaa!"

"A bee? Baaa!"

"A B - B - BEE!"

"A B - B - BEAR!"

A bee - bear war."

Bob Raczka here creates an amiable tale about a bear and a bee. The two are not destined to be friends, as their parents will attest. Bree, the bee, and Abe, the bear cub, are warned to avoid each other. It sounds like sage advice, knowing a bear's penchant for honey and a bee's ability to make a bear wish it had never approached the hive.

Bree is dancing her way from flower to flower, collecting pollen to take back to that hive. Abe is gathering bright yellow flowers from the forest floor. Both sets of parents pose stern warnings as the two find themselves in close proximity. Neither young one is fazed by the advice given. Coming face to face with the other sets a new tone. A 'bee-bear war' ensues, much to the consternation of each. Then, through tears, they acknowledge each other. A moment of sympathetic understanding sets them on a new course.

That, my friends, is a story that your little ones will want to hear more than once. The fact that five letters are all Mr. Raczka uses to tell this heartwarming tale is quite the accomplishment! Using watercolor and pen and ink, Larry Day presents readers with endearing characters whose facial expressions are shown up close and personal. Emotions change in quick time as the two encounter each other, do their best to intimidate, and finally see a way to a satisfying ending. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Caspian Finds a Friend, written by Jacqueline Veissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Until one day he has a new
thought. He hurries home to
find paper and pencil.

On his table sits a bottle
with flowers. He empties it,
rolls his paper,
slips it inside."

Living in a lighthouse can be very lonely for a young boy. Caspian is that boy. Our first glimpse of him is on a double page spread that shows the lighthouse sitting atop a wall of bare rock on an island surrounded by the sea, the child standing on an outcropping of mostly bare land watching that sea ... alone. A turn of the page shows the darkness of night, and the brilliance of the light that continues his search.

Caspian is patient, to a point. When he tires of waiting, he springs into action. He writes a note, puts it in a bottle and sends it out to sea. Releasing it, he can only watch it float 'farther and farther' away from him. For days, and weeks, and months, he goes about living his life while always wondering if a friend might find it. As luck would have it, the bottle is returned. Inside is a note with one word.

Caspian is soon off on a sea adventure, with satisfying and spectacular results.

A gorgeous mix of text and art, this is a book that will be enjoyed by all who read it. The rhythm of the words match the gentle movement of the water. The luminous artwork created with oil paint, relief print, and charcoal changes from the sadness of being ever lonely to the joy of adventure and hopefulness that comes with finding a needed friend. Its quiet allure make it a perfect bedtime read. 


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Big Cats, by Nic Bishop. Scholastic. 2019. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"Leopards are expert climbers and strong enough to haul their prey up a tree using just their mouths. There they can eat in safety. Leopards are very widespread and also adaptable to different environments. They live in Africa and parts of Asia as far north as Siberia. They hunt in forests, grasslands, dry scrublands, and even in some cities. Some have black fur ... "

I am always on the lookout for books that have any association with Nic Bishop. He is the most excellent wildlife photographer. I know that I have posted other books in this series: Spiders, Frogs, Butterflies and Moths, Marsupials, Lizards and Snakes. Checking for his work, and seeing the lengths he goes to in order to get the photos that he does is a most interesting and informative pursuit. Kids love these books, and can be heard oohing and aahing over each and every page. So, they will be thrilled to see a new one if they have had access to the others.

Who doesn't love big cats, or their little ones?

The majestic power of a male lion invites us in, and the next image we see is a charming shot of a very young and adorable cheetah cub. Readers will want to reach out and stroke the soft fur and wax lyrical about how 'cute' it is. What follows is a glorious look at the big cats: 'tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards, and clouded leopards'. Pumas and cheetahs are also included.

Each double page spread offers a glorious, captioned photograph of a particular cat in its own environment. The design is eye-catching and provides welcome information about these big cats. On each spread, one line is in bold font and is accompanied by other accessible and conversational text.

"They may walk for miles between sunset and
sunrise, patrolling a home range in which they
know every trail, resting place, and feeding
ground of their prey. Often they prowl near
waterholes and other places where prey gathers,
waiting for an opportunity to strike."

Their similarities and differences are exposed. Details concerning their hunting methods, power, birthing, protection of territory, and prey are shared. I learned a bit about the cloud leopard, new to me and fascinating. It encouraged me to find out more. At the end of the book, Nic Bishop shares stories related to photographs for his book. Not all were found in the wild because of the difficulty in ever seeing them ... it is often an impossible task. These stories are short, lovely, scary and even sad.

For more information, please take time to check

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Is 2 a Lot?: An Adventure in Numbers, written by Annie Watson and illustrated by Rebecca Evans. Tilbury House, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2019. $23.95 ages 4 and up

"What about 3? Joey asked.

"Is 3 a lot?"

Well, Joey," his mommy
replied. "I'd say THREE is
not a lot of books on a
shelf ...

"but three is a lot of broken bones."

Little ones show a great deal of interest in numbers as soon as they are introduced to them. Joey is like most, wondering about mathematical terms. He has questions for the meaning of 'a lot'.

As he and his mother journey into the country where every detail of their adventure is brought to life in wonderful, full-color artwork created by Rebecca Evans, every question and answer between mother and son is pictured in images that interpret their conversation. Fantasy settings, humorous signage and expressive characters help to broaden the scope of their talk.

With each new number reference, Joey's mother offers a comparison.

"What about 10, Mommy?"
"I had a feeling that was coming," said his mommy.
"I'd say TEN is not a lot of pieces of popcorn,
but it is a lot of chomping dinosaurs."

It's great to see that the author shows the numbers written in two ways of interpretation. The scenes are absolutely engaging for the target audience and will entertain those reading it as well. There is a LOT to see here.

Numbers between 2 and 1000 (two and one thousand) are part of the conversation, making this a relevant way to inspire interest in little ones about numbers and viewpoint.

"Joey took a deep breath and thought hard. Then he asked,
"Mommy, what about 1,000? Is 1,000 a lot?"
Mommy said, "You ask such great questions!
I'd say ONE THOUSAND is not a lot of grains of sand ...
"but ONE THOUSAND is a lot of hot air balloons."

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Fairy Science, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2019. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Esther can't help observing the world differently from everyone else. Where other fairies see a path to hidden gold, Esther sees light and water colliding.

Follow the rainbow!

The water helps us see all the colors that are hidden in the sunlight! That's dispersion."

All the other fairies believe in magic; Esther does not. She knows that science explains most things that the others think are magical. She and her bird, Albert, do their best to discount the learning that takes place in magic class, even though it is a teacher who expounds on the principles of a magical world.

"Fairies were born when a drop of rain
passed through a rainbow and landed on
a flower bud. When the flower bloomed,
the first fairy took flight."

Esther makes all the arguments, using scientific facts while explaining the ways of the natural world. She suggests they use the scientific method before making statements that are untrue:

"Ask a question!
Do some research to find out more!
Make a hypothesis!
     (A fancy word for guess.)
Do experiments!
Study the results!
Draw a conclusion!"

The fairies suggest magic would be easier. Poor Esther. She has so much to teach, and no one to listen. A dying tree provides what is needed to show the fairies that magic in all of its forms will not cure that tree. So Esther sets to work, using the scientific to find an answer. In the end there is a question about who really healed it. But ... Esther also encouraged new questions from progressive fairies ... and that is the best thing about science, isn't it? She has exactly what they need to help them find out.

Don't miss a single detail in the fine digital artwork, and have supplies at hand for children to try their hand at the experiment suggested following the story. I read that this is the first in a new series from the exuberant and engaging Ms. Spires. Young readers love her Binky series, and there is certainly much to admire in this first book about the plucky Esther. I will look forward to seeing another.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Stargazing, by Jen Wang. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2019. $16.99 ages 8 and up

"I hear that kid might have
a black eye.
He lost his tooth.
I didn't realize Moon was
so strong.
That's because Moon was way
bigger than Gabriel.
She was just trying to stand up
for my sister.
I know! I'm just saying. The rumors
are true - Moon beats people up."

When Moon and her mother, who are experiencing financial difficulties, are invited to move into the extra unit in Christine's family home, she is not sure what to think. Her family knows very little about them. Christine has heard rumors.

"You see that girl that just walked in?
Don't go near her. I hear she beats people up."

The two attend the same school, and are as different as different can be. Christine works hard to live up the expectations of her Chinese American parents. She is quiet, well behaved and somewhat shy. Moon is loud, confident, is a Buddhist, a vegan, and loves art and music. In spite of their differences, the two become fast friends and spend endless time together. They share interests, stories, and love of family.

Moon encourages Christine to try things she has not experienced, including a few she knows are not what her parents expect of her. When her father notices she has painted her toenails, he is disappointed and shows it.

"Hey, Christine.

I'm glad you two are friends. But, just because Moon
does something doesn't mean it's right for you, too, okay?

You're different girls with different paths.
Remember who YOU are."

As Christine gets more serious about her schoolwork, Moon becomes more popular with the kids at school. It begins to affect their friendship. Christine does something meant to hurt Moon. Then, when it is discovered that Moon's odd bouts of curious behavior are a real medical problem, Christine realizes how much her friend really does mean to her.

Jan Wang creates characters whose expressions and body language are presented in such a way that readers become very familiar with their thoughts and moods. The doodles and extra drawings add interest and teach readers a bit more about each girl. Middle graders will see themselves in this fine graphic novel; especially those who are uncomfortable with their place in their own community.

In an afterword, Ms. Wang tells her readers that it is a 'totally fictional story' that has some relatable events from her own life. She, too, had a brain tumor removed when she was very young following seizures that threatened her sight. She wants them to know that many young people struggle to find their own personal place in the world, just as she did.                                                                         

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Dare To Dream Big, written by Lorna Gutierrez and illustrated by Polly Noakes. Sourcebooks Kids, Raincoast. $14.95 ages 4 and up

"Dare to be
to none. 

Dare to see
when others
don't ...

Dare to speak
when others won't."

In this week that has shocked and saddened so many people in the world, this book is truly meant for all ages, I think. How can we ask our little ones to dare to dream big, to speak out, to fly higher when too many adults in their world refuse to do so?

It is a lovely message we want our children to hear from us. We want them to experience life in all of its possibilities. How can we not? Ms. Gutierrez' poetic text invites her readers to explore their own unique selves and embrace all that makes them special. It is a needed invitation, and the adults who share it need to take heart from its message as well.

There are many ways to be our best selves. We just need that reminder. Every double page spread encourages children to try what might seem impossible. Polly Noakes uses loose and lively watercolor and ink artwork to create sunny scenes that show children 'daring' to try to enliven their days with worthy pursuits. 

"Dare to sing,
dare to dance.

Dare to have
a hand to lend.

Dare to be
your own best friend."

Saturday, January 11, 2020

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Lee & Low Books, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2019. $26.95 ages 10 and up

"She shakes the box, smiling,
while I stare at her hands
untying the ribbon,
tearing the paper,
lifting the lid.
She holds the rock with flat fingers,
like some rotten egg.

Mother walks into the kitchen,
puzzling. She puts a clove of garlic
on her thick round cutting board
and brings the rock down hard."

This amazing compilation offers brief glimpses into each of the poet's memories of times - both good and bad - spent with family. The diversity and culture of each is celebrated in heartfelt vignettes of lives lived and differences acknowledged. Each looks with open hearts and eyes at the depth of family connections.

The format for each double page spread includes the work of a distinguished poet, accompanied by an illustration from an equally revered artist. Both share short personal thoughts concerning their contribution to the anthology.  Any words needing an explanation are placed in tiny script at the bottom of the poetry page. The artwork is as diverse as the poetic forms. Each is a very personal glimpse at an event, a feeling, a time in the artists' lives, and brings the reader into the experience itself.

The introductory poem, a part of which is shared above is from Janet S. Wong and describes a Mother's Day when she had no present for her mother. Of her poetry she says:

"Poetry shows you what you are inside,
what is on your mind or in your heart
when you might not even know it."

Simone Shin, whose quiet collage artwork faces the poem, says of her art:

"Art to me is when you gather your past, present, and future and somehow
express them as one; when you allow your memories, your current
condition, and your hopes and dreams to vibrate together in harmony."

I have read these poems numerous times and find something new each time, as also happens when taking a closer look at the gorgeous images created. The About the Poets and Artists is most enjoyable. It provides photos of each as both a child and the adult they have become, as well as a  short biography that describes their heritage and their work.

Reading this book on your own, or with your children, will give you pause to think back on your own life's memories. Perhaps a poem is in your writing future.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Paws and Edward, written by Espen Dekko and illustrated by Mari Kaanstad Johnsen. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Where are all the rabbits? 
thinks Paws.
And the birds? And the other dogs?

Edward has found the stick.
"Are you tired, Paws?"
It feels good to lie in the grass.
Together with Edward.
Paws has walked and walked.
His paws are heavy.
Paws doesn't have to walk anymore."

Paws and Edward are inseparable. Edward has all the energy that young children exhibit. Paws, his aged companion, has seen more sprightly days. Paws love to stay inside to sleep and dream; Edward likes getting outside to enjoy the weather and a walk. Paws loves Edward and wants to do what makes him happy.

Although he would rather be cuddling up beside Edward and his book, Paws goes for the walk to ensure Edward enjoys the benefits of fresh air and exercise.

"It's chilly outside.
Paws knows where they're headed.
His pace is nice and easy.
Paws doesn't feel the urge to run anymore.
He has run enough."

It is not an easy undertaking for an old dog. One morning when Edward calls for Paws, there is no response. Edward discovers that Paws has fallen into a dreamless sleep, and will not wake up. Edward is awash in the grief that comes when a best friend is no longer there to share space and time. He walks without Paws and finds himself lying on the park bench where they spent so much time. Everything else is the same; there is no Paws. On a final spread, Edward dreams of Paws in a place where he is happy, and energetic as he once was.

Gently acknowledging that heartbreak is inevitable when a much loved pet is lost, this book will provide comfort to those children who must deal with such loss. Written from the dog's perspective, they will more easily acknowledge that Paws is just too tired to go on, and wants only to sleep and dream on Edward's bed. The illustrations effectively convey the emotions felt by both Paws and Edward, and show the love the two have for each other.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Can Cat and Bird Be Friends? by Coll Muir. Harper, 2019. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Can't I be your friend instead? 

Oh, I'm not sure about that.
How would a bird make
a good friend for a cat?

Well, I know a fun box 
for a cat to play in. 

I love this box!"

When said cat notices a nearby bird and asks that creature to identify itself as a bird, the cat knows what it must do. Cats EAT birds, and that is that. The bird doubts that  prescribed notion, and asks if they might be friends instead.

The bird has good reason to encourage friendship: there are things it knows that would be of benefit  for the cat. Agreeing that friendship is indeed an option, the cat offers its own  reasons for exploring and encouraging a friendship between the two. So, they decide to be friends.

Only then do they begin to consider the differences that will make being together all the time a  hardship. Can they really be friends?

"Well, I don't like playing 
in boxes, getting stuck 
up in high trees, or 
hiding under cars. 

And I don't like sitting
on wires, making nests,
or eating worms."

Oh, dear! Will they find any common ground? After a series of suggestions and none being amenable, they make the further decision that they cannot possibly be friends. Inadvertently, as bird says goodbye, he makes a startling revelation.

The digital illustrations are full of fun and thoughtful observations.  Done in black and white, with the dialogue between the two matching their given colors, makes this a perfect book for shared reading with two readers each taking their own part. Only as the story ends does the color palette change.

Friendship may be taxing, but it is worth it! Humorous and entertaining, it's sure to be a hit.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Fiive Minutes: (That's a lot of time) (No, it's not) (Yes, it is). Written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick. Illustrated by Olivier Tallec. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin Random House.. 2019. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Five minutes is forever!

Five minutes is an eternity!

Only five minutes?

Five minutes is too long.

Five minutes is way too long."

It's all about perspective!

As you can see when reading the opening quote from this new book by the team that brought us Dear Substitute, 2018, without Olivier Tallec's effective and amusing artwork the text would have little meaning for the intended audience.  I love to share picture books with children by reading the text without showing the illustrations; it would not be effective at all with this fine book.

Exploring the concept of five minutes with children can lead to impressive differences of opinion. The three collaborators begin with a child peeking into his parents' bedroom at 6:55 when they want five more minutes in bed. Time passes far too quickly and soon there is almost no time to get ready and out of the house by 8! Pair that with a trip to the dry cleaners when the wait is 5 minutes before being served, Interminable!

And so it goes with great variety in the circumstance and clear feelings about how long five minutes does take out of a day. Waiting while a parent shops is vastly different than spending that same amount of time at a pet store. The child whose day the book follows goes from bored to fascinated, depending on the circumstance. It is pretty easy to feel sympathetic because we have all been there at one time or another.

The simple text is paired with entertaining and oft-changing feelings as the father and son spend their day together. A perfect interpretation of those varied feelings is shown in expressive and entertaining artwork. Young listeners will recognize themselves in many of the scenarios presented, making this a book that is sure to be enjoyed, and requested again and again.

A timer set for five minutes as you read will give a real feel for the concept. Five minutes will be up before you know it, giving you time to read it once more.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Animals Illustrated: Caribou. Written by Dorothy and David Aglukark and illustrated by Amanda Sandland. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2019. $15.95 ages 5 and up

"Caribou have large, flat teeth
that are perfect for slowly
grinding down plants. Like cows
and goats, caribou belong to a
group of animals called 'ruminants'.
This means they chew their food for
very long periods of time, bringing
it up again and again to be broken
down by their flat, wide teeth."

I have told you about this series in previous posts. I think they are terrific, and exactly right for use with early years children wanting to know more about the animals of the Arctic. Each book in the series provides factual information that is perfect fare for them. The illustrations help with context and provide visual literacy. The facts presented will hold a child's interest without overwhelming them with too much information.

The format is the same for each, and the design has real appeal as a way to show young writers how to organize and present the important information they are gathering. Written by residents of the Arctic, they are personal accounts of what is observed as they pay attention to their surroundings. Facts presented include how the caribou care for their young, where they live, what they eat, and how the herd communicates. A labelled skeleton is especially impressive. 

The final two spreads add Fun Facts and Inuit Uses for the Caribou. 

"In addition to eating the meat, Inuit have many uses for parts of the caribou. Caribou skin is still used to make various items of clothing and was used traditionally as bedding in an iglu or qarmaq, and as diapers for the babies. Caribou bones and antlers were used to make tools such as combs, snow goggles, and parts of an ulu." 

Other books in the series include Arctic Wolf, Bowhead Whale, Walrus, Musk Ox, Narwhal and Polar Bear. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Two For Me, One for You, by Jorg Muhle. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"One for you, two for me.
That's fair because I found
the mushrooms."

That's not fair at all! You
brought them home to me!
And I did all the work. I
wiped the mushrooms and
seared them and seasoned
them and simmered them in
the heavy pan. With parsley!"

Threes! Always awkward and a big problem when it comes time to share.

Bear is on her way home when she finds three mushrooms on the forest floor. She brings them home to Weasel who loves to cook. Weasel prepares them for dinner. When the time comes to sit and enjoy the results, Bear is quick to claim ownership of two. Citing size and hunger, she does not waver when Weasel pleads preparation time and the need for food for growth.

An argument ensues. There is no easy answer to the dilemma with each presenting their own particular point of view. The squabble leads to an impasse, and a good deal of anger. When Weasel reaches over, stabs the mushroom with his fork and holds it aloft, it seems the argument has come to an end. PERHAPS SO! A wily fox passing by puts a quick stop to the fight when he snares and  devours the third mushroom.

Problem solved, or is it? What about the three wild strawberries meant for dessert? Little ones will be screechy to share their own solutions to the ongoing saga.

Forest scenes created with humor and detail add lovely context for this delightful story. Each page turn provides increased visual text for young listeners. From appreciating the forest kitchen scene to watching the fox make its way closer to the dinner table, children are sure to want to have a say in what is happening.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Snack, Snooze, Skedaddle: How Animals Get Ready for Winter, written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Claudine Gevry. Lerner, Millbrook Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2019. $25.99 ages 4 and up

"Hide away seeds as your
winter stash grows.
Nap curled up with your
tail on your nose.

This chipmunk snacks on 
her stashed food between 
long winter naps. 

Gobble up acorns and
beechnuts by streams."

Adaptation is quite the amazing thing, isn't it?

In this book of rhythmic verse, Ms. Salas once again looks to animals in nature and the many ways they change as they look toward the coming winter. We humans need ways to deal with the brutal cold that winter can bring ... animals are no different. The title gives readers a hint that there are three ways to do it.

They leave one place to find warmth in another. They fill their bodies with food needed to sustain them as they sleep through winter's icy blast. Or, being brave as they can be, they stay put and find ways to keep warm on the coldest days.

"Slither and bask. Stay solo.
Stay single.

Swarm with some friends.
It's warmer to mingle.

This garter snake snuggles with thousands 
of friends to share body heat." 

If you live in Manitoba as I do, you will likely know something about the Narcisse Snake dens:

On each double page spread, animal behavior is described as the animal first makes preparation for the winter weather, and then manages to survive it. She explains migration, hibernation, and how those that stay behind are able to sustain life with changes they make to usual behaviors. Claudine Gevry uses 'soft pastels on sanded paper with accents of silver or copper leaf' to create enjoyable settings for the chosen animals, and for the animals themselves. Detailed and inviting, they provide context for the rhyming couplets and the accompanying additional line of information.

Backmatter bolsters the learning in two separate sections. In Three Survival Strategies, the author provides further information about migration, hibernation, toleration, and even a few variations. In Amazing Survivors, she speaks specifically about the Migrators, Hibernators, and Tolerators she has chosen to highlight in the main text of this very welcome book. She also includes a glossary of pertinent words.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

A Day So Gray, written by Marie Lamba and illustrated by Alea Marley. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"This field is blah brown. 

No, it isn't! ...

It's dots of orange,
and vines of black ...
with sticks of licorice red,
and poofs of tan.

Well, this snow is boring 

It's funny how even little ones can see the world from different perspectives. In this book about just that, two friends take themselves outside on a snowy day meant for exploring. One thinks the day 'is so gray.' The other will not be discouraged by her friend's complaint.

Once they are outside, she encourages her rather grumpy friend to look beyond the clouds to the many splashes of color that are there, if only one looks. She says there are 'soft brown', and 'shining blue'. Even 'silver splashes on bright yellow'. What could be better than that?

As they journey onward, each gloomy remark is matched by resounding affirmation of what is really there to be seen. The conversation continues as they wander through the snowy environs. Once inside, the persnickety child cannot even find joy in the warmth of the fireplace. She doesn't like orange. She is reminded there is much more than orange in the colors that emanate from the roaring fire. Finally, she agrees that it is cozy. Aha! Cozy can be found in some of  the most amazing, colorful things that surround us.

Where can we find color in bleak, overcast days? What happens when we slow down and take note of all that is around us? When we share our optimism, the bleak world can be changed for others.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Up Down Inside Out, written and illustrated by JooHee Yoon. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Caanada, 2019. $28.50 ages 8 and up

"A little rain
must fall into
every house.

You can lead
a horse to water,
but you can't
make it drink."

These graphic prints, done in a two-color palette while also using gatefolds and flaps, shrewdly bring to humorous and enjoyable life the meaning for a number of adages. Some will be familiar to readers; others may not be. They are each persoanlly interpreted in this thoughtfully designed new work by JooHee Yoon.

Allowing listeners to take a careful, prolonged look will help them understand and consider each one individually. Doing so may also lead to further research into other such sayings and an opportunity to try a hand at visually interpreting the meaning in a personal way.

Playing with language in such a surreal way assures interest for a variety of readers. It is unusual and affecting for many children who see the world differently than the adults in their lives. Ms. Yoon gives them license to look from their own vantage point, and consider what each saying means to them.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Just In Case You Want to Fly, written by julie fogliano and illustrated by christian robinson. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House, 2019. $24.99 ages 2 and up

"and if you get itchy
here's a scratch on your back

here's a rock to skip
and a coin to wish
and a fork
and a spoon
and a cup
and a dish ... "

Take two amazing artists who adeptly capture the spirit of little ones, put them together to create a book full of appeal and charm, and you have this adventurous romp that will have listeners smiling from start to finish.

It is an invitation to readers to take flight, offering every imaginable support for embarking on the  challenge. It proposes dreams filled with magic, and encourages those dreams and many others. It has no boundaries ... from forks and spoons to rocks and wishes to ringing bells and needed toothbrushes. It encourages singing, telling jokes, and a warm and loving end to a busy day.

"here's a blanket
and here's a dream
and some kisses
on your head

here's a pillow
and here's a song
for when you go to bed"

Perfect picture books are made when two brilliant people work to make what Peter Reynolds calls "wisdom dipped in words and art!" The great book needs both. That happens here. Ms. Fogliano's playful words are strengthened by Mr. Robinson's lively paint and collage illustrations. It's their second book together (When's My Birthday?, 2017). In the spirit of this one, we can hopefully wish for more.

What fun awaits when you choose this for your next bedtime read!