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Saturday, February 29, 2020

The SUPERPOWER Field Guide: OSTRICHES. Written by Rachel Poliquin and illustrated by Nicholas John Frith. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. $25.99 ages 8 and up

"Part of the reason birds see so much better is they have huge eyes. An eagle or an owl is less than a third of your size but has eyeballs as big as yours. And Eno? Well, Eno has the biggest eyeballs of any animal on land. Let me say than again: ENO HAS THE BIGGEST EYEBALLS OF ANY ANIMAL ON LAND. His eyeballs are bigger than a giraffe's or even an elephant's!"

Whoo! Whoo! This is the third in this remarkable series. Kids are in for some laughs as they gather information about another very distinct animal of the world. First came Beavers (2018), then Moles (2019) and now Ostriches.

The author assures readers from the get-go that ostriches are some kind of wonderful ... and truly extraordinary.

"Believe it or not, that neck helps ostriches run at
supersonic speeds. Those skinny legs can kill a lion
dead. And that bad attitude? Well now, you can't be
one of the biggest, fastest, fiercest warriors around
without having a touch of grumpy swagger."

Eno has it all, and more. As she has done in the other books, Ms. Poliquin provides chatty and descriptive content that entertains and informs in the best way. Eno lives on the Serengeti, and is blessed with everything he needs to survive and flourish. That is because of his many superpowers: colossal orbs of telescopic vision, thighs of thunder, toe claws of death, super-fantastic elastic striders, two-toed torpedoes, do-it-all dino flaps, the impossible ever-flow lung, epic endurance, the egg of wonder, and his hydro-hoarding heat shield.

Tell me that doesn't pique your interest. If you are thinking that you know enough about ostriches, you are in for a big surprise. There is so much more to learn. His horrible feet are mentioned before the reader even gets to Eno's other remarkable superpowers. A trip to the savanna is in order, if we are to understand that particular environment. There is virtually nowhere to hide because each and every animal is on the lookout at all times. This leads to learning about Eno's first impressive superpower ... and so on.

Each new discovery about the ostrich is meant to astonish, and it does. There are quizzes again (2), a glossary, and further reading. The labelled artwork enhances the information assembled and provides humor as well as clear context. The details shared are memorable and will provide dinner conversation that is sure to inspire wonder and questions.

As inventive as previous books and full of well-presented material, fans will find much to learn here, and it leaves them with a promise for more. Eels will be relealsed in June. Huzzah!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Join the No-Plastic Challenge: A First Book of Reducing Waste, written and illustrated by Scot Ritchie. Kids Can Press. 2019. $16.99 ages 5 and up

"Pedro finds the idea of so much plastic pollution upsetting, but Nick reassures him that it's not all doom and gloom. There are lots of creative ways to avoid using plastic. Around the world, people are taking action!"

Nick is a leader. He wants his friends to be the same. They are exactly what we need when trying to inform young readers about the impact they can make on the world by taking small steps. Kids, who learn such things, can then help to educate their parents and that will go a long way to improving the amount of waste we produce daily.

It is very easy, and important to start at home. A powerful first step is to begin to reduce the single-use plastics that have become a way of life for many. It's Nick's birthday, and in celebration he wants his friends to help him spend a full day without using any plastics. Before leaving home, they are reminded of the numerous items in the home that are made of plastics. It is not always easy to recognize just how much is there: clock, computer, lamp, flip-flops, pens, gum, phones, fleece jackets, blender ... the list goes on.

Living near the seashore, it is easy to see the impact of the world's dependence on plastics. Before boarding the ferry for their trip to the island for their picnic, Nick's mom takes them to a store that sells products meant to encourage customers to choose better alternatives. There are lots of options if we seek them out. As the ferry travels across the water, the children recognize what happens when recycling is not a choice for disposal of waste.

Mr. Ritchie adds a simple explanation of the five ocean gyres that exist throughout the world. These huge patches of plastic and garbage are proof positive that humans are creating an almost insurmountable problem. Each new spread shows in simple text, and with accessible illustrations, the impact plastic is having and some of the creative ways to combat the abundance of plastic products. The party goers do their best to show readers the many ways we can make small changes that will make a big difference for the future.

The five friends leave readers with a challenge ... 'go one day without using single-use plastics.' Can you do it?  Timely and informative, this book will help kids change the world, even at a young age.
As the adults in their lives, can we rise to the challenge as well? Can we change our own habits?

Make one small change, and then another.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Gone Is Gone, by Isabelle Groc. Orca Book Publishers. 2019. $24.95 ages 9 andup

"In Vancouver, British Columbia, Stanley Park has one of the largest urban colonies of Pacific great blue herons in North America. Pacific great blue herons are considered a species at risk in Canada, their populations declining because of habitat loss and human disturbance. Seeing these magnificent birds in and around the park is always a special experience."

Ms. Groc's credentials as a distinguished photographer and filmmaker are matched by her dedication to the environmental issues that face our world today. So, to have her name on this first book in a new 'Orca Wild' series is proof that it was well-researched and worthy of a close look. That look makes it easy for our committee members to see this as a very important and worthwhile addition to the list of books that caught our collective attention in a recent  look at nonfiction for Best Books for Kids and Teens, Spring 2020.  

The photographs she chose come from her personal collection, gathered over her long career. They provide context for this study of mostly endangered animal species, with additional focus placed on plants and ecosystems. Jane Goodall writes the telling foreword, and Isabelle Groc follows it with an introduction that chronicles how her interest as a child led to her life's work. Her words encourage readers to involve themselves in making a difference in the world by caring. She also relates a family story which began when her daughter was only eight months old, and the family visited the Adams River in British Columbia to watch the salmon run. They have returned many times.

"I feel so lucky that we get to experience
this natural miracle as a family. Every time
we go, I tell the children that Pacific salmon
feed the entire ecosystem: bears, wolves, bald
eagles, gulls, ravens, jays, insects - all come to
feast on the salmon."

There are four sections: wildlife under threat, understanding endangered species, saving endangered species, and endangered species in your background. I think most middle grade readers might start where I did: in the backyard. She offers advice that we need to open our eyes to what surrounds us, and then look for ways to help. Provide suitable habitat, help collect data as a citizen scientist, raise awareness where we live, reduce impact in as many ways as possible, are just a few of the ways all can help.

The Red List is a measure of risk for all species, published each year by the International Union for Conservation of Natures. It is called a 'barometer of life'. Wild Encounters describe personal stories from the author's travels. Act For the Wild describes ways in which people are helping to keep endangered species safe and surviving. She is clear in documenting what is causing the losses the earth is experiencing: pollution, micro-plastics, habitat loss, climate change, selling wildlife as exotic foods, sport, introducing new species into established habitats. The table of contents is very specific, allowing readers to find what most interests them right from the beginning. Unfamiliar words are shown in bold font, and then included in a glossary in back matter. A list of resources, both print and online, allow those who want to know more access to further information.

Personal, beautifully designed to provide as much interest as possible, and hopeful to those willing to take a stand and make a difference in their own communities.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Map of Good Memories, written by Fran Nuno and illustrated by Zuzanna Celej. Cuento deLuz, 2016. $23.95 ages 5 and up

"First she marked the house where she lived. Here she had learned to walk and spoken her first words. Her room had always been a wonderful place, full of games and daydreams. Her home had become a place full of good memories. Then she marked the place where she was at that particular moment - her school. While she did it, she ran through the names of her teachers and her favorite classmates."

World Refugee Day falls on June 20th each year, and is observed throughout the world. With the millions of people who have left and who are still being forced to leave their homelands, it is important that we take time to honor them. It takes great courage to leave what they have always know for a place new and unfamiliar with a dream of a better life.

It is impossible to fathom the number of people today who live in unsafe and terrifying conditions. Now, as many countries put stringent conditions on immigration, many are left to linger in refugee camps around the world, all wanting a chance to protect and keep their families safe and intact.

Zoe has always loved her home, and war is the reason she and her family must leave. Before they leave, the ten-year-old decides to draw a map of her neighborhood and all the places that have made her happy while living there. She begins with the family home, then her school, the library and the bookshop. She goes on to include the park, the movie theater, thr river, and North Bridge.

As she draws her map, she thinks fondly of the memories in each place.

"Zoe loved going to the movies, so she
drew a circle around her favorite cinema,
and remebered all the films she'd
enjoyed there.

She also thought about the candy
counter, the big seats, the lady who
showed  you to your seat with a flashlight
... and the magic of the big screen!"

The watercolor images give the reader a real sense of being present in Zoe's world as she names and draws those things that mean the most to her. They evoke a feeling of her life leading up to this terrible time when the family must pick up their lives and move. The feel of the pages themselves and the beauty of the book's artwork is striking. 

Good memories, indeed. Readers are richer and more empathetic for having read this book.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Reader, written by Luciana De Luca and illustrated by Cynthia Alonso. Interlink Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son, 2019. $23.95 ages 5 and up

"I read without stopping.
I am not distracted by anything.
Neither the laughter, nor the
train, nor the pigeions that
walk on the clothesline where
the laundry hangs.

The more I read,
the bigger the world

There is nothing this child would rather do than read. I walk in that procession. Blessed with accomodating parents, a large in-home library, and more books than can be counted, life is good. Early mornings provide freedom to choose and to read away the time. That love of books is bolstered by parents who suggest that any book within reach is fair game. The ones on higher shelves will be available as time passes and growth allows for new adventure.

The 'reader' is our narrator and tells those listening (or reading the book itself) that the wonders of reading are countless and forever changing. There is no distraction from the outdoor noises nature provides, and no end to the wonders that are found in the pages.

"Some books have lots of pictures.
Others are very serious; the words,
like ants, run across the pages.
Some books are long and mysterious.
Others are light and fast.
Some are like vines holding me tight.
Others, like the wind, carry me far away."

Even children outside the window offer no temptation from the pleasures of reading. Content and contemplative, there are always new places to visit, new adventures to imagine, and time (always time) to read, read, read. Reading makes a child invincible and invisible.

Transnlated from Spanish and accompanied by boldly colored, joyful worlds provided by this child's reading, this is a lovely book for bookworms, parents, and librarians. What a world! It is a lovely, fresh look at books and readers.

Give me a cozy, comfortable chair, a hot cup of tea and a string of 'pajama days', and I will be 'the reader.'

Monday, February 24, 2020

Motor Mouse, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Arthur Howard. Beach Lane Books, 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"The hedgehog invited them
to follow behind his motorcar
for some pie.
Soon they were out of town and
flying over the hills.
shouted Telly over the roar.
Motor Mouse said nothing.
He was busy keeping up with
the hedgehog's motorcar. It was
a mighty machine."

I have enjoyed Cynthia Rylant's writing for many years. Her works are varied, and number more than 100 books. I know I have not read them all. I have read many of them, and shared them with my students and my own children. So, I am delighted to see this first book in a new series about Motor Mouse and Friends.

I did think that Motor Mouse was a little reckless when I looked at the cover. Turns out that first impressions do not always hold weight when faced with the real thing. There are three delightful chapters in this tale about a delivery mouse who drives a little red car from place to place. Neither of those facts is of great importance for the telling. There are three chapters. Each has a different focus: a cake day, a trip to familiar places, and an argument about popcorn.

Motor Mouse and Telly (his good friend) love cake. They look forward to Friday because it has been designated Cake Day.  Upon arrival, they find the cake shop shut, and no cake available. They are visibly distraught. Hedgehog offers an alternative. Might pie work? I wonder.

In the second we learn that, while Motor Mouse does love his car, he rarely notices anything as he drives about as he must keep his eye on the road at all times. Hiring a cab provides a solution and a 'look-about' down memory lane. The cab driver is willing, with help from his tiny passenger on destinations. It is a mostly pleasing trip.

Finally, in the third, Motor Mouse and Valentino (his brother) spend another Saturday at the movie theatre. It's a wonderful place to be entertained. It also causes great grief over the popcorn bucket deal. Will they learn how to share? 

Heartwarming as we have come to expect from such a dedicated and thoughtful writer, and humorous, and engaging, and with a new hero for little ones to emulate. Memorable characters, pleasing friendships, and perfectly matched artwork auger well for young readers looking to find a new series.


Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Bug Girl (a true story), written by Sophia Spencer, with Margaret McNamara and illustrated by Kerascoet. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2020. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"When the other kids in my class started a karaoke club, I started a bug hunter club. Every weekend, my friends and I took our bug buckets and nets and magnifying glasses out to the stream near my house. We collected fireflies and watched them glow. We identified beetles by their two sets of hidden wings, and counted the spots on ladybugs. We even collected stinkbugs, which really can stink!"

Sophia has loved bugs since a blue butterfly landed on her shoulder when she was 2 and visiting a butterfly conservatory with her mom. It stayed while they wandered through the conservatory, and had to be removed by a guard as they were leaving. Sophia immediately understood why - it was meant to be protected.

Her interest continued to grow as she did. She saw bugs wherever she went, read books about them, and was soon collecting them for show-and-tell in kindergarten. The kindergartners thought they were very cool. Collecting bugs for study while on jaunts around the neighborhood, she often took them home to the front porch.

Her love of bugs led to Sophia following one rule.

"I have just one rule:
If there's a mosquito
buzzing, I snatch it up in
a napkin and let it go.

We don't have
a flyswatter - we
have a fly net."

When her grade one friends decided Sophia was weird for liking bugs so much, they did something about it. They killed the grasshopper she brought to show them, and they began bullying her. It was a terrible blow, and had lasting repercussions. Sophia stopped sharing what she knew. She no longer brought bugs to school. Still, the kids made fun of her.

"Why doesn't she like regular things?

I don't want to be friends with a bug lover.

She's so strange."

She began to question her love of bugs. and took a break from them. Her mom knew that Sophia needed to know about others who loved bugs as much as she did. She wrote an email, hoping other entomologists would respond to her daughter. The first letter came from Morgan Jackson, and he asked if he might pass it along to others.

It wasn't long before Sophia heard from many others.

"I couldn’t believe how many people around the world loved bugs as much as I did. And how many of them were grown-up women!

There were scientists who wrote about the work they do in their labs. Others shared videos of themselves with bugs on their arms and sent pictures of themselves hunting bugs in the wild."

It was the inspiration she needed. Sophia shares her story in this captivating book. How wonderful is it to find something you love to do? She is very happy calling herself  'the bug girl'. Following her first person narrative, she includes a section called MORE BUG FACTS. In it, she lets readers know that her top four bugs are (it was really hard to choose): the grasshopper, the blue morpho butterfly, the praying mantis, and the fly. Oh, and she adds a little bit about ants!

The ink, watercolor and colored pencil artwork is as lovely as this endearring account. Brightly colored and energetic, it captures Sophia's generous spirit and her gentle love for all things 'buggy'.

Don't miss this video, please.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2020. $22.99 ages 10 and up ages

"Although she and Papa had never spoken of it, she had gradually come to realize what leaving California had meant for her future. In the Chinatowns of Los Angeles and San Francisco, there were so many men and so few women that she might have been able to marry a Chinese man, despite being half-white. But the further east they went, the fewer Asians they had seen, and here in the eastern half of the Dakota Territory, ... "

The challenges of the long days of travel come to an end after three years: now, in LaForge, the two are faced with further concerns. In this new town, there are no Asian faces. Hanna's father is seeking a better life for the two of them. Her Chinese mother has died, after teaching her young daughter dressmaking skills that should ensure work in her father's new store. Hanna has to convince her father of that, and deal with the town's rampant prejudice toward a young mixed-race girl in 1880. She wants to finish her schooling before becoming the seamstress she so badly wants to be. While many of the townsfolk, and in turn their children, are unkind to Hanna, she uses all the lessons she has learned from her wise and gentle mother to overcome their racism with dignity and as much warmth as she can muster.

Readers of the Little House on the Prairie books will find similarities when reading Hanna's descriptions of food, life on the frontier, the construction of new buildings and available fabrics and dressmaking details. Her quiet, observant nature allows many memorable moments, including her encounters with a group of women and children from a nearby Ihanktonwan community who teach her skills she can use at home. Luckily, hints at humor throughout offer respite from some of the meanness Hanna faces.

Reading this book, alongside the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, helps children look closely at historical events. It is a powerful and impressive tale about a young girl who yearns to fulfill her dreams: education, meaningful work, and finding a true friend.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections, written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Carmen Saldana. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2019. $

"Stashed in the attic,
a small shadow box
holds rows of keys
long lost from their locks.
Fashioned of iron
with patterns ornate.
What might they open?
Which cupboard? Which gate?"
The latch to a castle
or secret chateau?
A wardrobe that leads
to a land white with snow?"

There are 18 poems here - the result of a school assignment and a search for something 'collectible' by our youug narrator. The assignment is of real concern to her as she watches her classmates excitedly discuss those many things that have captured their attention.

"I've emptied out my closet.
I've searched beneath my bed.
The random items I've unearthed
don't share a common thread.
I hope my friends and family
can give me some direction.
I'm trying not to panic -
but I need a good collection!"

Her search has her checking with members of her family for inspiration. Each one has a collection that is very special to them. Dad has trains, Mom a button box, Sister has snow globes, and her brothers have baseball cards. She talks with her grandparents, her aunts, her friends and neighbors.

There seems no end to ideas for collecting. None seem to spark an enduring interest for this young lady. It is lovely to note that each collection brings joy to the collector, and helps readers learn a little bit about each through the poems shared. After careful research and abundant thought, she is finally able to find a collection that is unique and perfectly shows readers who she is.

There is variety in poetic form, and presentation. Digital art provides context for the poems, the people, and the personal relationships. At the end, Ms. Schaub offers suggestions to her readers for getting starting at collections of their own. Let imagination guide the search, take time, and be patient.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Salma the Syrian Chef, story by Danny Ramadan and art by Anna Bron. Annick Press, 2020. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"Back at the Welcome Center, Salma organizes her vegetables on the kitchen table. "My mama won't be laughing at all if I use a knife," Salma tells Amir and Malek, who came together from Lebanon. "Can you help me chop these vegetables?" She blushes when Malek kisses away Amir's onion tears. The three of them giggle ... until Salma realizes she forgot the spices."

There is such a sense of camaraderie when people get together to make a meal. Parents and children, aspiring chefs, food lovers, partners, friends - all can find a common bond in creating something delicious to eat.

Salma and her mother are living without Papa after a move to Vancouver from Damascus. They are lonely for him, and for their homeland. Mama works hard to learn English and find a job. She is always tired and so sad. Salma misses her smiles and does her best to brighten Mama's days. Nothing works.

In talks with new friends at the Welcome Center, Salma decides that making Mama a familiar meal might help. With assistance from Jad, a center translator, she is able to find a recipe for foul shami. The Syrian recipe brings another set of problems. Salma does not know how to translate the Syrain words to English in order to get the ingredients she will need.

Using her crayons she is able to draw pictures that will help her get the groceries needed to make Mama a very special meal. Ayesha provides company for the shopping trip, Malek and Amir help with prepping the vegetables, and Granny Donya provides understanding for Salma's sadness over leaving her home and having to learn a new language in a brand new setting. Oh, and she has some sumac, a missing spice for Salma's recipe.

"Look at those beautiful flowers and all those blossoming trees."
Granny Donya points out the window. "This home might be
different from everything we know, but it's beautiful in its own ways."

Salma takes a deep breath, filled with the smell of sumac and rain.
Her anger escapes a little, like water droplets flying off her hands
when she shakes them dry."

Do all of Salma's efforts work to cheer her Mama? Yes, they do!

The warm colors and patterns used for the illustrations help to create a feeling of community, culture and support, just what is needed when refugees find a new home. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Our Corner Store, written by Robert Heidbreder and illustrated by Chelsea O'Bryne. Groudwood, 2020. $16.95 ages 8 and up


When my sister and I talk about growing up, we remember the freedom we had back then.
We could explore, make mistakes, find friends, grow in our own way and live outside our small family. We were free to roam.
Bert, Mr. and Mrs. Stanstones and Toby were a big part of this freedom."

This last poem in Robert Heidbreder's new book about childhood memories follows up on Rooster Summer (2018), and is a strong companion piece. As written above, it was a time when children were away from home a lot, and allowed to come home when called (or when it got dark). He explains in the end that it might not have happened had parents not trusted their children to take advantage of what life offered..

"You're wild cards, free to roam,
with not just one, but many a home."

So very true of my childhood as well. We were lucky to have neighbors who invited us in, who were friends with our own parents, who watched out for all the kids in the neighborhood, and who expected us to behave as our parents would want us to do. It was a great community.

We were lucky enough to have two corner stores within walking distance. The owners knew us, and we knew what they expected of us. In the Heidbreder neighborhood, the corner store belonged to the Stanstones, a couple who worked hard and treated children with tender care. Then, there was Bert, the always-there store employee, who allowed them to see inside the big freezer, warned them never to be back there on their own, and assured their safety should the door ever close if they did not do as they are told.

The poems are telling, filled with fun and displaying carefully chosen, spirited words to show a world that is decidely different than the one children live in today. The store is at the centre of many of their experiences and adventures, and figures clearly in numerous memories.

After a summer spent at the farm (you know that summer if you have read the previous book), they return to find that the arrival of new, bigger stores has forced their friends to make a difficult decision.

"Mr. and Mrs. Stanstones walk over slowly.
                                        "Money's short.
                                         We don't have enough ...
                                         to keep going ... to compete.
                                         Too many bigger superstores
                                         are opening now, too many.
                                  We told your mom and dad,
                                         but they wanted to wait
                                         until you got back."

Chelsea O'Bryne's gouache and colored pencil artwork brings the store and its many wonders to life, and places it in a warm and welcoming setting.


Happy I READ Canadian Day! 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

In The Red Canoe, written by Leslie A. Davidson and illustrated by Laura Bifano. Orca Book Publishers, 2020. $12.95 ages 3 and up

"We paddle up to baby ducks
who quickly turn around.
They motorboat their little legs
and make a splashy sound.

Green lily pads like floating hearts
hold yellow flowers up.
And dragonflies with shining wings
rest on these petal cups."

While the northwest winds blow hard enough to give us a -36 degree day, we turn to dreams of better days ahead. The days in spring and summer when the sun that is shining today will feel a whole lot warmer than it does in the deep freeze that is February 18. Perseverance will get us through it - again!

The child who narrates this warmhearted tale of a day spent with a beloved grandfather enjoys every single thing about it. They set out in early morning light, both paddling as grandpa has taught in earlier outings. Their adventure is quiet and consuming as they closely watch the wildlife that shares the environment they so admire. Grandpa points to each and every wonderful creature they encounter, and teaches his grandchild what he knows about habits and behaviors.

Their story is told in rhyming verse, and celebrates the joy to be found in being in a natural enviironment. There is so much for them to see together - fish, beavers, ducks, frogs, dragonflies, an osprey and swallows. Each has a role to play in the life of the lake.

Sunrise takes them out and sunset brings them home. Both are tired and satisfied at the end of their day together, with Grandpa providing the help needed to get his grandchild up the stairs and into bed. 

Ms. Bifano's gorgeous gouache artwork fills each double page spread with details and the beauty of the surroundings. The ever-changing perspectives are especially effective and very reminiscent of times spent in the natural world and at a summer retreat. Careful consideration is given to light and its effects as it changes from early morning sunlight to the starry glow of early evening.

Monday, February 17, 2020

I Wonder, words by K.A. Holt and pictures by Kenard Pak. Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"What if the ocean
is one big water bottle?

Do tires get tired?

I wonder if dragonflies

Children love to ask questions, don't they?

Here Ms. Holt honors what little ones think about and imagine in the world they live in, and the many different circumstances they encounter on a day-to-day basis. They are looking to learn, and naive in the best way.

"Does a grasshopper take hopping lessons?"

"I wonder if cars and trucks
speak the same language."

Adults rarely have to wonder what children are thinking about; they are happy to share those thoughts. Often, they make those of us who are older consider some of the same things that they do.
At times amusing and often playful, the wonderings create a mood that is both engaging and joyful, as are the children who 'wonder' about them.

Kenard Pak creates a diverse group of children who ask their questions with clear thinking, and in no need of answers. The artwork is as quiet as the questions being asked, providing comfort as the children speculate on their world. Always allowing time for personal reflection and giving each question a place of prominence on the page, the artist matches the tone of the text with aplomb.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Mother Goose of Pudding Lane: A Small Tall Tale. Told by Chris Raschka, with pictures by Vladimir Radunsky. Candlewick Press. Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"The cock crows in the morn
To tell us to rise,
And he that lies late
Will never be wise:

For early to bed
And early to rise
Is the way to be healthy
And wealthy and wise."

This is a story about a real Mother Goose. Her name was Elizabeth Foster, and she married Isaac Goose in the late 17th century. He was the father of 10 children. After Elizabeth and Isaac married, they added four more to their already very large family. Does that remind you of a nursery rhyme? I am certain this family did NOT live in a shoe.

"Elizabeth Goose was certainly a mother,
and she was also a Goose.

She must have told stories.
She probably recited rhymes.
With fourteen children, how could she
not sing lullabies?"

Chris Raschka tells her story with a wide selection of verses that reflect the lives the Goose family lived - how the two met, the proposal, the marriage, and the life they had once married. It is a story told poetically. The nursery rhymes chosen for the telling are penned in a more original version than the ones we have come to know, love, and share with our children. The language used reflects upon the time in which the family lived.

There is talk that Elizabeth did indeed write lullabies and verses to occupy and entertain her many children. Unfortunately, there is no proof of them being published as no original copy has been found. Mr. Raschka includes his own poems, mixed with traditional rhymes. Was she the REAL Mother Goose, or one of many? We don't know, but it is lovely to think that Elizabeth might have been.

Vladimir Radunsky chose to use gouache and pencil to create his wise and humorous images that perfectly match the text and the way in which the words are placed on the book's pages.

It's important to note that many children today know few of these rhymes. So unfortunate, as we know that hearing and learning rhymes is very important for little children in developing a literary language. Kids who recognize rhyme are often much more accomplished readers in early years classrooms. This book could be the impetus in a classroom to reintroduce students to the real joy to be found in hearing and repeating traditional nursery rhymes. Why not try it?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Sourcebooks. Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"BEAR is going," I say.
He'll be
   without you."

Suddenly, you come 

We know the arguments that can be voiced by young children not at all prepared to succumb to sleep. This one is no different. No is the repeated drum beat that parents must endure when bedtime is announced. Wondering 'who' is meant when considering the announcement, the narrator ignores the lament suggesting that the child's stuffed bear is on its way.

Bear in hand, the child reluctantly and angrily climbs into bed. Assuring safety from all manner of imagined threats, including the family cat, leads to a bedtime story and a final attempt to avoid sleep.

"You yawn
and grind
your teeth like a
ready to nibble the night.

"I'm not sleepy,"
you tell me.

I smile and
tuck you in tight."

Hooting, growling, hissing, roaring ... none of these sounds and complaints change what is happening. A hug, a warm kiss and an assertion of love seem the perfect ending to their day. Lights are dimmed ... but wait, what about a glass of water and a bathroom break? Patience and creativity win out, and soon the house is silent. Parents are tucked in as well. A final request is met with warmth and cozy comfort.

Parents and their children have been there. This epic and emotional battle is accompanied by a collection of vibrant and stylized animals created with paint and collage, as well as expressive faces for each of the varied characters. What a lovely way to entice children to restful sleep and peaceful dreams.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Fanatical About Frogs, by Owen Davey. Flying Eye Books, Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"Some frogs hang out in logs or under rocks during winter, with little protection from the cold. When the temperature drops, the frogs begin to freeze: they stop breathing and their hearts stop beating. They appear dead, but amazingly, these frogs survive thanks to a natural antifreeze in their bodies. After temperature increases again, the frogs thaw out and get on with their lives as if nothing happened."

There are no frogs in Antartica; they do, however, live on every other continent. Did you know that? If not and you want to know more, this is the perfect book for you.

Owen Davey fills the pages of this remarkable addition to his bestselling series (Mad About Monkeys, Smart About Sharks, Crazy About Cats and Bonkers About Beetles) with captivating graphics and a whole lot of engaging facts. Each and every page is designed to capture attention and to inform.

"Many frogs are slippery. Their skin produces
mucus, similar to the stuff that comes out of our
noses, and this helps them keep their skin wet. This
mucus can sometimes contain chemicals too,
which protect frogs against bacteria, fungi, and,
in some cases, from being eaten by predators.

If you picked up a yellow dyer 
rainfrog, it would feel slimy and your
hands would be dyed yellow!"

It would be easy to continue regaling you with all that can be learned in this fine book, but then you would have no need to read it yourself. Mr, Davey writes in a conversational and easy manner, and shares the enormity of his research with confidence. He includes just enough infromation that his target audience can take it all in, and then share it with others.

He includes information on the body's construct, skin, eating habits, variety in colors and patterns, effects of temperature, sounds and calls, life cycle, lifestyle, size comparisons, perspective, award-winning qualities, conservation, and even a section on frog mythology. All compelling, and sure to amaze with the fact that there are already 4000 different species discovered.

"If you see a frog anywhere, feel free to look at it and
study what it does, but make sure you leave it where
it is. Please don't pick it up, especially if you have
sunscreen or insect repellent on your hands - those
will easily absorb through a frog's skin and make it sick."

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Our Future: How Kids Are Taking Action, written and illustrated by Janet Wilson. Second Story Press, 2019. $18.95 ages 9 and up

"So, I thought to myself, 'Enough is enough! I'm no longer fighting this battle myself - I'm doing it for my entire community.' I proposed an anti-bullying bylaw that would see fines for offenders who torment others. This would assist police, provide a safety net for victims, and give counselling support to the bullies."

This new book from Janet Wilson is the fourth in a very uplifting series. It follows Our Earth, Our Rights,and Our Heroes: each is about kids around the world who are making a difference by taking action in areas that concern them. Ms. Wilson celebrates their tenacity, their empathy and the many ways they are getting things done. Each book is a celebration, and meant to encourage readers to do the same. Adults would do well to follow their lead.

Released at the same time that Greta Thunberg's actions were being noticed around the world, it invites readers to meet and to hear what young people are truly capable of doing when they put their mind to taking a stand and acting in others' best  interests. These voices from around the world show that with courage, determination, and a wish for a better world, much can be done.

The book begins with an adaptation of a traditional folktale, an author's note, and a sidebar that includes a quote from the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed.

"Young people are part of the
largest generation in history - two
billion strong. Around the globe,
young people are coming together
to build a movement for success ...
Yes, we face a lot of big problems,
but we can start fixing them through
a lot of small actions ... If each one
of you takes action, you will create
a wave of action like this world has
never, ever seen. Be a part of two
billion acts of good."

Each double page spread that follows introduces an activist. The desgin for each is the same. The verso side of the spread shares the child's name and county, a short comment by them, and a lovely mixed media portrait. The recto provides information, a pertinent photograph of the child, and a sidebar that gives them voice. They are from Canada, the USA, Indonesia, Kenya - most being from North America. Their causes are varied: the environment, clean water, racial injustice and brutality, plastic pollution, gender identity, climate chamge, wildlife protection, oil pipelines and a sustainable future, kindness, cyberbullying, and gun violence. Those included range in age, as does their participation. Each is a shining example of what can be accomplished by the young. They are amazing role models.

Clear photographs, personal stories, informative sidebars, an invitation to take action, ways to create opportunities for change, and guidance for getting involved will appeal to a wide audience. There are many challenges to be faced and they are being met with strength, optimism, and mutual concern. Be sure to check back matter for websites and further information should you want to learn more.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Last Goodbye, written by Elin Kelsey and illustrated by Soyeon Kim. Owlkids, 2020. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"After you die,

friends and family
will gather.

Some will travel
long distances

and stay for
many hours."

In their latest collabroration, this amazing team invites readers to consider conversations concerning death. Using a gentle and affective first person voice, Elin Kelsey speaks of the loss of a loved one. Soyeon Kim's absolutely stunning ink-and-watercolor artwork is shown in dioramas, adding depth and detail to the scenes of sorrow and support for the dying animals.

The book begins with the elephant, the orca and the chimpanzee as they perform final rituals before death, and then continues as other animals mourn the loss of the one that has gone by stroking, lying beside, and staying near. Howler monkeys emit mournful cries, hyenas hold tight and gorillas keep watch in tearful sadness.

Communities gather. Whales swim long distances to be with family, elephants cover the dead in greenery and come back to visit. They know that those bodies offer a gift to the land and the sea, nourishing it for new growth to take place.

"I will miss you forever.

Yet, one day
I will think of you and feel joy.

I will remember you in the places
you loved to nap.

And sometimes I will be sad
and wish I could  play with you."

There is such beauty in the natural world and the ways in which animals mourn their loved ones. In accepting that death is a part of life, this team helps us see the wonder of it all. Gentle and reassuring, with amazing artwork once again, this is a book that is as hopeful as it is beautiful.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Birdsong, by Julie Flett. Greystone Kids, 2019. $$22.95 ages 4 and up

"It's getting cold and windy and creaky. Agnes says she's getting creaky too. "Would you like to see what I'm working on, Katherena?" she asks. "I'd like that," I say. Agnes is working on a pot that is round and bright. She tells me about waxing and waning moons. I tell her about Cree seasons."

When a young girl and her mother leave the city to live in quiet rural comfort, she finds a friend. Agnes is a neighbor, aging and accomodating to a young girl needing company.

Agnes is an artist, as is Katherena. As seasons move from one to the next, the two spend a lot of time together. Katherena draws all that she sees in visits with her new friend. Those visits are frequent, and rewarding. As summer turns to fall, Katherena is a willing helper in the garden. It is growing colder, and Agnes invites her inside to see the clay work that she does.

In no time at all, winter arrives. Throughout the long season, Katherena and her mother do what they can to help Agnes deal with the cold days that don't allow her to be outside. Salmon stew is a favorite meal for her. Agnes provides a gift of snowdrop bulbs for planting the following fall.

Soon, it is spring again. Agnes's health is failing and she is unable to be outside anymore. As they sit together in Agnes's bedroom, the two can hear the birds and other spring sounds. Agnes can no longer see spring's beauty. It gives the young girl an idea, inspired by all the pictures she has created since coming to her new home. Agnes's daughter helps put each of the drawings on the walls that surround her mother's bed. 

"Agnes says it's like a poem for her heart."

Together the two share memories, and a discussion about making art. When it is time to say goodbye, Katherena leaves with an aching heart. She knows that Agnes will live on there, and in the snowdrops sure to bloom next spring.

Moving is never easy. The joy that comes with new friendship can erase some of the sorrow. Julie Flett accompanies her warm and lovely story with her signature work. Images done in pastels and pencil are then composed digitally to show the landscape and seasonal changes of their new home. Spare language, stunning illustrations that take the reader from one spring to the next, and the soothing warmth that friendship brings make this a story to be read again and again.                                                                   

Monday, February 10, 2020

Over The Moon, written by James Proimos and illustrated by Zoey Abbott. Chroncile, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"When the first wolf says, "I love you,  child," and the second wolf says,  I must admit you make a better girl that you would have made a meal," the girl is happy. The days pass, and the girl grows stronger and wiser. The first wolf says, "Time moves too fast." The second wolf says, "I'm afraid she will leave us one day."

A cover that pictures a little girl between two wolves howling at the moon is rare, is it not? I know that anything can happen in a picture book, and also that the cover is meant to intrigue the reader with an invitation to take a look.

I had no idea what to think when I opened this unusual and appealing book. I was surprised by its story, and the tenderness it shows young readers when letting them know that families are often different from what might be expected.

What is inside is the tale of a baby in a basket floating nonchalantly down the river.

"She just goes with the flow."

Two wolves on the riverbank, contemplating very different views of their world, happen to see the basket and decide to bring it ashore. Seeing she is all alone, they take the baby home with them. Delighted with her presence in their den, each has a contrasting notion for having her there. One plans on nurturing and teaching her, while the other has plans for a ready meal.

Luckily for all concerned, they do teach her well. She grows older and wiser in a world filled with love and admiration. Then, comes the day the wolves have feared. While she out picking berries, she is inspired by something she has never seen before and it makes her restless for a change.  She knows it is time for her to go, and so do the wolves. It is what they have tried to teach her throughout their days together ... "good and evil, light and dark, right and wrong."

The tables are turned and the girl is able to show her love and appreciation for all they have provided by doing the same for them. Lovely artwork and compelling storytelling will make this a favorite read.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems About Sleeping Animals. Written by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Jennifer M. Potter. Running Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 9 and up

"His mother taught the ocelot
That during daylight hours he ought
To sleep in leaves and trees a lot
Where he is hard to spot.

She also taught the ocelot
To hunt at dawn and dusk a lot
When it is often not as hot
And he is hard to spot.

But if the ocelot forgot ... "

Facing this poem called What The Ocelot Was Taught is a mixed media image of a drowsy ocelot family, softly created in a warm and sleepy color palette. Beneath that the author provides an informative paragraph, as she does on every other double page spread throughout this fine book. This one reads:

"The nocturnal ocelots sleep for twelve to fourteen hours a day in thick vegetation on the ground, in hollow trees, or on tree branches. While the female ocelot sleeps in a different spot every day, once she gives birth to her kittens, she comes back to their den daily to care for them. Ocelots hunt at night, stalking rabbits, rodents, iguanas, or fish. They are also crepuscular, which means their greatest periods of activity are at dawn and dusk. Although ocelots are predators, they are also prey animals, hiding both from animals they want to eat and from animals that want to eat them."

The language and rhyme have a varied tone and tempo for each of the 18 creatures presented. The animal  are as varied as the poetry, and will be of interest to middle years readers. There is a lot  to learn here, and it is presented to readers in easily accessible text that is meant to please and inform. 

I was interested to learn that sperm whales sleep in either a head up or head down position, and there are times when they change from one position to the other. And, that mallard ducks sleep in a row, with the duck on each end keeping one eye open and allowing the other to close, thus letting one side of the brain get some rest while the other keeps watch. I also love the poem about the zebra finch and its early morning songs. I could go on, but then you would have all the information and might not read it yourself or with young readers.

Ms. Hosford explains the differences between nocturnal, crepuscular, cathemeral, and diurnal creatures in her opening introduction, while also explaining that all animals need sleep just as humans do. Her information is clear and useful to readers before the poetry begins. Ms. Potter creates images in keeping with the quiet and dreamy scenarios presented in the poetry. Readers will enjoy a close look at these nighttime habits, and learn as they share each scene.

Engaging and full of interesting information, it encourages future readings.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Stinky Science:Why the Smelliest Smells Smell So Smelly, written by Edward Kay and illustrated by Mike Shiell. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 9 and up

"There may actually have been some people throughout history whose brains thought the smell of rotting meat was yummy or who couldn't smell it at all. But those people probably died from eating the rotten meat before they could have children and pass along their genes to them. And that's why we have evolved so that many things that are bad for us smell bad to us, too."

It is not hard to find books that you know will capture the attention of kids who love to be grossed out. You can tell from the subtitle that this one is going to be fun, and it does not disappoint. It delivers - just as the author promises in an introduction.

"A considerable amount of sweat has been expended in researching this book. Hopefully it just smells like paper and printers' ink - although if other people have read it before you, there may also be what is sometimes known as 'grubby little fingers' odor. So take a deep breath - through your nose, of course - and prepare to become a scholar of stinks."

The table of contents gets the reader started with such chapters as the why and how of smell, smell and memory, the stinkiest stinks (animals and vegetation) and the structure of stinks. The book ends with a chapter on super sniffers (think vultures and sharks), before ending with an appreciated glossary and a most useful index.

In between, kids who love to learn about such things will be entertained by the conversational tone of the writing, and the many ways the sense of smell helps people and animals live their lives. As Mr. Kay explains scientifically the way the nose works and the scents it can detect, he also explains the role that memory plays when a person smells a familiar smell. In fact, a smell can help you think about things you might not otherwise have remembered. Bad and good smells have the same effect.

He also explains why some animals smell as bad as they do, and which have an extra powerful sense of smell. Fact after fact provides endless entertainment and learning.

"Sloths, on the other hand, smell bad just because of their slothful habits. They move slowly and don't do much of anything - including grooming. As a result, sloths have algae and fungi growing on them. And insects. One study found that a single sloth had 980 beetles living in its fur. They share that space with up to 120 moths at a time. The moths eat secretions from the sloth's skin and feed on the algae that grows on it."

Yes, you heard that right.

If you spend time with kids, or have your own, you will know that they are obsessed early with butt jokes, and an interest in all things 'poopy', including fascinating smells. They are the ones who are going to find this book appealing. It is well-researched and provides lots of information that is sure to hold their attention. I learned a lot, too.

The cartoons, drawn by Mike Shiell, up the 'ewww' factor with a bright and humorous depiction of the information being presented. This is a great book for kids who want to know more about our senses and how they work. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Violet Shrink, written by Christine Baldacchino with pictures by Carmen Mok. Groundwood Books, $17.95 ages 4 and up

"Violet knows her father isn't trying to be mean. He wants her to go to parties for the same reason he keeps putting celery in her soup - he thinks it is good for her. But when Violet's father tells her that the Shrink family reunion is coming up, she silently goes to her room. There will be a lot more relatives than usual, and more people means more voices ... "

Violet is like many other children who prefer their own company to the noisy gatherings that so many children love. Violet likes solitude and she likes quiet spaces.

With her headphones on in the quiet of her room, readers can see this is very true. She has all she needs to be truly happy in the moment - her crayons, her stuffed toys, her books and papers, and time all to herself. Smiling and attentive to what she is doing, she is content. While others at school play outdoors, Violet likes to wander about quietly gathering items for her window sill at home. From that window, she watches the birds that gather daily at her feeders.

Readers are told there are things she doesn't like as well - especially parties. Her father reminds that there are party things she does like. That may be true, but Violet doesn't like them all at the same time. They bother her palms, ears, stomach and teeth. Her father means well, describing parties in variants meant to distract his daughter (reception, function, potluck, shindig, bash, get-together). Whenever she is tricked into going, Violet finds a quiet place to hide and pretend she is an animal that does not react in the same way as she does to the hoopla.

"Her ears don't feel hot anymore because sharks don't have ears that stick out the way hers do, and her palms aren't sweating because sharks don't have hands."

A discussion prior to attending the Shrink family reunion results in a perfect compromise. It is true that honest, brave communication is key.

"Dad, I have an important thing to say," Violet says as he is tucking her into bed for the night. "Okay," he says, putting on his listening-for-real face."

Carmen Mok uses gouache, color pencils and graphite pencil in colors that are quietly contemplative, matching Violet's persona.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers, by Celia C. Perez. Kokila, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"This was the first time she'd had friends over to the house. She crossed her fingers that Hurricane Hendricks wouldn't make an appearance and muck things up. She could hear them in their backyard, their shrieks carrying across the street. "Can you please stop hitting that thing?" Ofelia said to Lane. Lane was tapping lightly on an old capstan head attached to the house, just to the left of the front door, with the little wooden mallet that hung next to it."

Four girls from disparate backgrounds, and with their own personal summer plans, meet under the most unusual circumstances, soon sharing a summer not soon forgotten. Full of humor, friendship, adventure and warmth, this middle grade novel is perfect for readers wanting to meet admirable characters, learn valuable lessons, and have a go at the establishment.

Lane is staying with her grandmother, founder of a beauty pageant group called the Floras and keen to have her granddaughter join. Rather than acquiesce to her grandmother's wishes, Lane decides to form a group of her own. She names it the Ostentation of Others and Outsiders. To garner recruits she leaves secret messages in hopes that others might be enticed to join her. Those notes are found by Aster Douglas (artist and food lover), Ofelia Castillo (would-be writer) and Cat Garcia (lover of all feathered creatures). They have nothing in common, and won't have until they can find a project to consider.

As they learn about each other, Cat tells them that she has just quit the Floras. Done without her mother's knowledge, she is worried what will happen when she is found out. In the meantime, she provides a reason for the group to meet - her desire to have the Floras stop using the hat that crowns each new Miss Floras. It is made from real bird feathers, and Cat finds that practice dismaying.

Finally, something to give them focus. Their ideas are numerous, their successes not so. As each new plan fails, the threat of being discovered and the knowledge that the pageant is creeping ever closer forces them to make a decision about further action. What happens in the end will affect each of them in resoundingly different ways because of their backgrounds and present circumstances. 

The strength that comes from their developing closeness and respect for each other is what holds them together despite those differing familial circumstances and expectations. Communication is at the heart of their growth as worthy characters. Ms. Perez gives each a distinct identity and voice as they navigate the ups and downs that come with burgeoning friendship and loyalty. The chapters focus on each of the club members in turn, allowing readers a close-up look.

"So, you think it’s important to fight for what you believe in even if it means getting in trouble,’ Aster said, looking her grandpa in the eye. "Sometimes it just can’t be helped," her grandfather said. "Sometimes the desire for change is bigger than anything else. It has to be."

The Ostentation's Handbook and an author's note are perfect additions to this tale of fierce, yet complicated friendship.

Once you have read Strange Birds, head to your local or school library, or to your favorite bookstore and find a copy of Ms. Perez's earlier book, The First Rule of Punk (2017). You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Good Kind of Trouble, by Lisa Moore Ramee. Harper, 2019. $21.00 ages 10 and up

"I want to be alone. I can't believe a minute ago I was trying to find Isabella so I could say I'm sorry. I used to think I was super lucky because some people only have one best friend and I had two. But what do I do when my two best friends have both done me dirty? The bottom row of bleachers is pulled out, and I sit down and stare at the crowd of laughing, dancing people and want to bury my face in my hands. The slow song ends, and a good fast song starts."

It's seventh grade, and life is about to dish out some challenges for Shayla. Always the good girl who never wants to even think about it, trouble finds her as she navigates school hallways and a growing willingness to stand up for what she thinks is right.

As luck would have it, Shayla is blessed with parents who listen to her and support how she is feeling. At school, her coach and other teachers quietly do the same. Bernard proves to be just the kind of friend she needs when her alliance with Julia and Isabella faces some major blips. The book exposes many of the challenges that rear ugly heads in middle grade - relationships with both girls and boys, friendship, identity, activism, and unfair decisions about following rules. 

Shayla's first person narrative exposes her inability to see her own behaviors while complaining about the actions of others. She is, however, a very sympathetic character as she experiences the emotions of growing both socially and personally. It is hard for her to come out from the safety of her past views and stand tall when faced with injustice at school.

Ms. Ramee tells her story of a brave middle grader with humor, and with an abundance of heart. Shayla is not on an easy path. She is painfully aware of the Black Lives Matter movement and waiting to hear the verdict in the police-shooting of an unarmed black man. Appalled at the verdict, she must make a decision to decide if trouble is worth her taking a stand. She does her best to do the 'right' thing, all avenues considered: Shayla chooses to wear an armband in support of Black Lives Matter. That breaks school dress-code rules, or does it really? Breaking the rule provides lessons for Shayla about courage, having a voice, and friendship. Shayla's story is timely, personal, and unforgettable. Absolutely a book to be read in a middle years classroom.

I never knew walking right into trouble would make 
me feel strong. Maybe it has to be the right type of 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! Written by Alex Gino. Scholastic. 2018. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"You see, the first few years are
critical if we're going to help a
child make the best use of her
ears. That's why it's so very
important that we get your baby
sister fitted for hearing aids today
so that we can get her back onto a
normal track as soon as possible."

The way she says the word normal 
makes me feel itchy, and the more
she speaks, the less I like her."

The topics related in Alex Gino's second novel are as relevant and significant as in the first one, George (2015). Handled deftly through Jilly's first person narrative, readers will come away from reading it with questions, new insights and the feeling that they have read something relatable to their own lives. How important is that?

Jilly has a lot on her plate. She is enamored of one of the boys she has met in a chat room about her favorite fantasy books. He is black, deaf, uses ASL to communicate, and attends a school for the deaf. She has a new baby sister, born deaf. She has just heard another news report concerning a black youth killed by police. Her own family is diverse, yet often racist in its viewpoints. And, her parents are unwilling to be forthcoming when she has questions.

Jilly is encouraged by her Aunt Alicia, who is black, not to ignore racism, to ask questions, and to say something when she has the opportunity.

“Nothing changes if we don’t talk.”

So, Jilly talks and gets herself into some uncomfortable situations. With each mistake she makes, she learns to do better and to apologize when an apology is needed. Her willingness to learn and her honest, heartfelt voice make her story personal and uplifting despite the blips along the way. She learns that people face many different challenges, and recognizes that seeing them only from her own perspective impacts the outcomes in many situations.

Alex Gino handles each of the lessons learned with thoughtful words and opportunities to begin relevant conversations. Communication is at its heart, offering readers a way to talk about family, race, privilege and making mistakes. Kids today are faced with uncomfortable and challenging events. Let's hope this book sparks many conversations.

Alex Gino writes in an author's note: “this book is consciously written for white people as a catalyst to talk about modern racism and police violence in the United States” and to teach them “about their privilege and how to support marginalized people in their lives.”

Please read all of the note. Also, please read this book with your middle grade kids.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Don't Read This Book Before Dinner, by Anna Claybourne. National Geographic Kids, Penguin Random House. 2019. $19.99 ages 9 and up

"Hagfish are famous for their astonishing slimemaking abilities. When a hungry predator tries to grab a hagfish in its mouth, it will suddenly find the fish is covered in thick, gloopy, supremely sticky slime. It's hard for the hunter to hang on when it has a mouth full of slippery goop. If it's a shark or other fish, the slime can clog its gills and stop it from breathing. The predator soon lets go of the hagfish - "

The subtitle for this 'sure to please' book states that it tells 'Revolting Tales of FOUL FOOD, ICKY ANIMALS, HORRIBLE HISTORY, and More. And, it does exactly that. So, you know it's sure to be a popular title for many kids in classrooms, school libraries, and even at home. Reading and sharing it will up the gross meter by leaps and bounds. You know they love being grossed out by stuff they read.

As with all worthwhile information books this begins with a comprehensive table contents that allows readers an early chance to take a look at what is included and what looks most interesting to them. A four page introduction is followed by similar chapters that concern toilets, cockroaches, dinner, doo-doo, records and habits.

This section is followed by a two page spread inviting readers to take a quiz before moving on to the next part of the book. Thirty chapters in all, and five quizzes will provide all interested readers with what they need to know about the truly gross, including some truly repulsive information about nails, of all things.

"Fingernails harbor dangerous germs, like salmonella, which
causes food poisoning. Not to mention other really gross things
like parasitic worm eggs and tiny skin creepy-crawlies such as
mites. That's why people wear disposable gloves to prepare food
in factories and to carry out surgery."

And, the reasons given for not biting your nails are enough to make you quit immediately.

The photos are amazing, as we have come to expect from this fine publisher. The quizzes are worth doing, and often funny as well. The title and cover say it all. If readers are brave enough to venture inside, they are not likely to be sorry.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Dear Mr. President, written by Sophie Siers and illustrated by Anne Villeneuve. Owlkids, 2019. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"Dear Mr. President,

I'm writing you a letter from my
bedroom. Sadly, the room does
not belong only to me. I have to
share it with my big brother, who
exactly fits your description of an
undesirable person.
I watched you on the TV news
tonight, and you said you were
building a wall. It made me think
that perhaps I need one too."

I did get a little chuckle today when I heard that some panels of the wall being constructed between the United States and Mexico were blown over by strong winds. It reminded me that I should tell you about this book that has to do with a different kind of wall - or is it?

The president's announcement that a wall is needed to keep people out has Sam thinking that the two are in equally untenable positions. So, he writes a letter describing his own predicament. That first letter is followed by others. His parents do not agree with the idea of a wall, and tell him so. There will be no bedroom wall.

Kids at school are equally unimpressed by the idea of the president's wall. Sam thinks they should spend time sharing a room before being so opinionated about it. Each of his letters to the president provide information concerning his lack of progress with making the wall he wants a reality. A talk with his father and brother, practice at building walls in the backyard, a complaint to his mother about his brother's continued behavior, and reporting on the progress he is making on a wall project assignment at school have no effect. Regretfully, the president makes no response. That does not stop Sam.

While he spends time with his grandmother, the family spends time trying to find a solution for the impasse between the two boys. Upon his arrival home after the visit, Sam takes note and reports on it to POTUS.

"Dear Mr. President,

There has obviously been some "dialogue" while
I was away. My brother is using words like
"harmony" and "spirit of sharing" and suggesting
that a wall is not needed.

I, however, remain unconvinced.


Turns out that communication and negotiation make a big difference to Sam's ability to see the other side. As the brothers work together to make their situation amenable to each other, Sam writes a final letter, offering advice based on the lessons they have learned.

"I feel a bit silly changing my mind, but my brother says
it's cool, and Mom said she admires a man who admits
when he's wrong.

Dad didn't say anything.

Anyway, good luck with your wall.

Perhaps a small one would do?

Best wishes,

Anne Villeneuve's signature watercolor images are humorous and telling. The addition of tiny aliens is not lost when reading this book and thinking about the state of the world at this time. They also offer, as does the story, a spirit of hope for the future.