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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Fix That Clock, written and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2019. $24.99 ages 4 and up

“Wibble-wobble goes the clock,
shaking loose a noisy flock.

First, the flapping pigeons go;
second is the cawing crow;
third, the owl; then the bats,
swallows, sparrows, mice, and rats.

Flap and flutter! Scratch and hop!
Scramble to the tippy-top.”

There's a big problem with the town's clock. It was once beautiful. Now it is broken down; mice, rats, bats, and birds living within. Not to worry! Three builders have construction and repair on their minds. So, the work begins. It is not an easy job.

Each part of the clock is in need of a full makeover. The builders are willing; they are also hampered from their task by hidden surprises. There is a lot of noise and each step in the process dislodges the clock's occupants. Luckily, the builders are professional and proficient.

"Put some windows here and there.
Cut a circle. Cut a square.
Wide or narrow, short or tall -
make them any shape at all."

What will happen to the critters whose home has been changed and whose lives have been disrupted? There is no need to worry.

The rhythm of the words in the text carry the story along, making it perfect to be read aloud to little ones. They will love the noises, and be consumed by the detailed remake of such a tumbledown structure. The quiet moments that reflect concern for those creatures being displaced are a marked contrast to the hubbub taking place. As you read it, you can almost hear the clock ticking.

The artwork is clear and detailed, ensuring that listeners see exactly what is happening as the builders replace the old with the new. Changes in perspective add interest and visual appeal. Changes in font give the book a most enjoyable feel. Kids have opportunities to count along with textual clues.

Hey! Where's the problem with showing kids that not all things need to be torn down? They can be fixed!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Bad Dog, written and illustrated by Mike Boldt. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"My dog has black-and-white fur.

Pointy ears.

And a cute little nose.

Her name is Rocky,

and she is a bad dog."

While visiting schools for I Love to Read celebrations, this book was the one that seemed to hit all the right spots. It deals with a clear case of mistaken identity. No little listener can resist trying to clear up the misunderstanding from the story's opening. They are very vocal about it, which makes it all the more fun.

This little girl is aching for a dog for her birthday. Opening the box and welcoming her new friend is no deterrent, despite the fact that what is in the gift box is not what she is expecting. It makes no difference to her excitement when sharing the surprise with her audience. What she does admit is that this dog is NOT a good one. Rocky will not respond to being called. She doesn't like walks, preferring to play with the leash.

The list of bad behaviors goes on. No matter the circumstance, Rocky does not respond in the expected way. She is good at climbing, and at scratching. She is not a good listener. After some time, the owner does find a few things endearing. After careful thought and many unexpected experiences, our young miss admits that perhaps Rocky would be better as a 'cat'. Listeners will agree wholeheartedly.

I can attest to the fact that some children cannot let it go. They constantly intervened to let me know that the story was askew. Others were giggling with everything in them at the little girl who just would NOT realize the mistake she was making. All in all, it is one of those books that is requested AGAIN as soon as the book is read.

Mike Boldt's artwork is full of expression; effrontery on the part of the pet and eagerness for the patient owner. Both are perfect. Terrific visual humor keeps listeners totally connected to the story. They know exactly what is going on here, but can empathize with a girl whose plans have gone strangely awry.

Kids love to listen to books like this, and will be frantic to hear it all over again. 


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Bear Goes Sugaring, written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"Tapping the tree is like slowly letting a little air out of the tire. Only, instead of air, it's sap. And it's being caught in a bucket.
This cycle of freezing and thawing is what causes sweet sap to flow each day during this special time in the spring. It's why we have maple syrup. 
The trees are tapped, and the sap is running. Bear needs to put together her evaporator."

An item in our local newspaper this past week informed readers that trees are being tapped for making maple syrup. It reminded me of this humorous and informative book I have been waiting to share with you.

Bear is our leader. She is accompanied by two friends, Dog and Squirrel. Along the way to learning all there is to know about making maple syrup, the two provide a running commentary on the real reason for it ... pancakes! In doing so, they will have their listeners giggling. Bear is a skilled and knowledgeable worker who is diligent about the process, and moves forward with finesse and determination.

Mr. Eaton informs in an easy, accessible, and accurate manner the full process. The perfect time to start, gathering tapping supplies, choosing the right trees, setting the buckets, collecting the sap, turning that sap into syrup, and tasting it are all carefully described for maximum learning. Despite the often-unwanted help from her silly friends, she gets the job done perfectly. 

He uses text boxes, captions, banners, labels, and wonderful comic-like panels to draw readers from page to page, always learning something from the details provided for the complicated and satisfying process it is to make maple syrup.  The humorous repartee between Dog and Squirrel is a definite draw for young listeners, and smiles abound when the end result is the pancake feast they have been wanting all along.

Backmatter includes a North American map that shows maple syrup territory, a close look at the variety in evaporators and spouts, and a look at a traditional sugarhouse with its chimney and vent. Finally, the author provides a personal note and includes a short list for further reading.

As he has done with other books of nonfiction posted on this blog, Maxwell Eaton here creates a charming nonfiction book for young children. He certainly makes the learning fun for both readers and listeners.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

NIAM! Cooking with Kids. Written by Kerry McCluskey. Inhabit Meida, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2019. $19.95 all ages

" ... I began to look for a way to teach other children basic cooking skills. I found a solution and a welcoming space when my son started to attend kindergarten at Nanook School in Apex, Nunavut. So was born the Mamaqtuq Nanook Cooking Club, a weekly after-school program with the goal of teaching students to prepare healthy food in an enjoyable environment ..."

In the Inuktitut language Niam means 'yum'. The kids who share the learning and the cooking in Kerry McCluskey's after-school program have tested and tasted each recipe. The recipes would not be included in this very appealing cookbook without their full approval.

What an amazing gift was given to Kerry and her community when her son started kindergarten. The support shown, the excitement created with students, and the delicious meals they were able to make for their families will be an inspiration to others. There is great variety in the recipes shared, and all can be made with ingredients available in Nunavut communities. Each of the recipes has real appeal for all children, and provide life skills of great importance. The premise for the club itself is to have fun while learning something new.

The author includes plenty of upfront information before getting to the recipes. Notes on those recipes, safety, terms used, abbreviations, skills to be learned, community involvement, cooking club rules and tips, and advice on getting started with your own club begin the journey to great cooking. Then, it is game on! She begins with smoothies and a format that includes the skills the children will learn, the ingredients and directions. There are often community involvement pieces added.

"Quajaaq Ellsworth is a very dedicated parent
who frequently comes to cook with us and help
us out. Palaugos are one of his specialities:
sausage/hot dog wrapped in traditional Inuit
palaugaaq, or bannock. The kids go wild for
this recipe."

Accompanying each recipe with full-color, full-page photographs ups the 'yum' factor. The layout for each is well designed and organized, ensuring ease of use and a fun experience. In backmatter, the author offers a seven-step process for starting a cooking club, and a glossary. The casual photos of many of the cooking club kids at work only add to the charm of this very special cookbook.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Crafty Science, by Jane Bull. DK Publishing, Penguin Random House. 2018. $16.99 ages 6 and up

"What's the science?

Put your tongue against
the cut side of a lemon.
That tangy, sharp taste
is a shock, isn't it? Lemons
are sour because they
contain citric acid, which
activates the taste buds on
your tongue that detect sour

The fun begins on the first page with a sun clock: why make one, what's the science, and a list of items needed, are followed by a carefully-planned and numbered method to help with the construction of such an instrument. Every idea that follows is designed in much the same way and helps to assure that young children have success with projects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Whether they are constructing floating boats, making lemonade, blowing bubbles, or building a domino run, kids will be fully occupied by all they are learning as they follow the directions for making each crafty project. Using art, crafts, and cooking to help eager learners enjoy science concepts, Jane Bull does a super job of giving them a chance to try their hand at all of them. There are 20 projects. Each one has a good reason for the project, and they are fun! It is such a meaningful way to learn something brand new.

What new discovery will your children make when you tackle some of these enjoyable and entertaining things to do while you are home together? Try some, you might be surprised!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Junior Maker, edited by Sally Beets. DK Publishing, 2018. $18.99 ages 6 and up

"Much of the world has four seasons. Plants, animals, weather, and the amount of daylight are all affected as the seasons change.

What causes the seasons to change? 
The Earth is tilted. So as the Earth moves around the sun, different parts of the world tilt toward or away from it at different times of year."

I am guessing that many parents could use a book like this right now. Making, playing, exploring and learning through the projects included should keep kids interested and entertained for hours. In those hours, they will be learning about space, nature, history, animals and science.

Each section includes hands-on activities meant to help kids learn in an interactive way. The 5  sections open with very brief and accessible information concerning the subject. That first spread is then followed up with between 5 and 8 experiments, crafts and learning opportunities centered on that particular subject.

"Grass haircuts

Plants are living things that need
taking care of to survive. If you
look after your plant well, it will
grow enough to need a trim.

You will need:
 *grass seeds
 *plastic cups

The clearly explained two-step method helps kids learn that plants need air, light, and water for maximum growth. And sure enough, if they are patient enough, they will soon need to give their grass cups a haircut.

Engaging, full-color photos and easy-to-follow instructions make the 20 projects doable. The lists of needed items assure success as they can be found in most homes. There's lots of variety, and much to capture the attention of kids learning at home while the world waits for Covid-19 to run its course, and allow life to return to a new normal for each of us.

Here are a few of the maker projects included:

- Use buttons and marshmallows to map our solar system
- Make a bottle jetpack while learning about gravity
- Design your own rain guage to measure rainfall
- Discover Ancient Rome as you create your own Roman shield
- Craft cardboard animals while learning about the animal kingdom

Make sure to try the bird feeders, as many birds will be returning in the next few weeks. Let's help them settle back.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs, edited by Molly Birnbaum. Sourcebooks, Raincoast. $27.99 all ages

" ... this book is kid-tested and
kid-approved. That means there
are thousands of kids just like
you out there, making these recipes
and sharing them with their friends
and family, loving the process and
results. When making this book,
we had more than 4,000 kids testing
each and every recipe, sending us
feedback (and even coming into our
office to cook in the test kitchen) ... "

If you know the work of America's Test Kitchen, you will know that this baking book is going to be GOOD! And, it is. I'm very happy to be writing about it just after finishing breakfast and while I am not hungry at all. Or, I would be on my way back to the kitchen to bake something. In these days of social distancing and doing our best to stay at home and stop the spread of Covid-19, there are many opportunities to spend time with loved ones trying something new. The book is written for 9 and up; with parental help and guidance, younger children can also play a role. Imagine the joy your family will find in preparing something delicious together!

There are more than 100 recipes presented. Some will be familiar; others might be new to your palette. Each has been tested by many kids who have then offered their endorsements. As you would expect from this editorial staff, very useful information sections are provided from the onset. Symbols used, the recipes themselves, baking success, baking terms, ingredients, weighing and measuring, prep steps, and a comprehensive look at the tools used and needed get bakers started.

There are six chapters which include muffins and quick breads, yeast breads, pizza and savories, cookies and bars, cakes and cupcakes, fruit desserts and pies. End matter charts conversions and equivalents, offers recipe stats, and provides an index.  Every turn of the page presents a new recipe, carefully written in terms of ingredients, equipment needed, a clear method and the level for the young bakers themselves. Information boxes provide further bits of interest to bakers and anyone else who reads this exemplary cookbook. A full-color picture of each finished dish is included.

I love the many reviews from the kids who did the baking and tasting. They even have opinions about some of the products used.
Keep your kids busy, and reap the rewards!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Under My Hijab, written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel. Lee & Low Books, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2019. $24.95 ages 4 and up

"I help hang my very own
on the wall of her colorful
Auntie's hair is streaked
pink and purple -
a fine work of art she can

The young girl who narrates this book invites readers into her Muslim-American world, and offers a look at the women in her family and in her community. Each one of them is an inspiration to a young girl finding her way in a world that often doesn't understand the significance of the hijab.

Her grandmother is first. She is a baker who wears a carefully folded hijab as she works baking bread, buns and pies. When the two are on their own at Grandma's house, there is no hijab. Her mother, a doctor, wears hers tucked into her white coat as she tends to her patients. At home, her hair is plaited in a long braid as she works planting flowers in pots. With each introduction of someone of importance in her life, the pattern plays out. While out and about, a hijab is worn; at home, the audience sees what the hijab has covered.

The hijabs worn are as varied as are the women who wear them. Aaliya Jaleel's digital artwork is bright, warm and provides a perfect pairing with the child's narrative. Character shines through - in the style of the hajib itself, and in the hair style that is unique to each of these special women. 

An endnote adds:

"Hijab is a common word for the headscarf that millions of Muslim women wear to cover their hair and often their ears, necks, and chests. They may choose to dress in the hijab to reflect their faith, to feel closer to God, or because they believe their religion requires them to keep those parts of the body private."

Learning more by reading meaningful books helps to dispel misconceptions that we may have about cultures other than our own. The more informed we are, the more empathetic and willing to take a stand when negative feelings are expressed out of misunderstanding and ignorance. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Some Snow Is ..., written by Ellen Yeomans and illustrated by Andrea Offerman. Putnam, Penguin Ramdon House. 2019. $22.99 ages 3 and up

The worst snow is Driveway Snow.
Papa growls and grumbles snow.

Doesn't he remember snow
from when he was a kid?

We will help him shovel snow.
Why is this such heavy snow?
Almost never-ending ... "

Speaking of books about winter, as I did yesterday, this one looks at the great variety in types of snow, from its first appearance to its last hurrah each year. Ellen Yoemans knows snow, as do her siblings (at least, that is what her dedication states). Here she opens readers eyes to how snow looks, feels, and impacts daily life.

"Some snow is First Snow.
We've waited for so long snow.
Is it really snow snow,
or only heavy rain."

As winter sets in and stays, she describes for young listeners the joys found in the season. From Sleet Snow, to Fluff Snow, to Angel Snow, to Snowball Snow ... and so on. For those of us who live in wintery places, just hearing those descriptive words will conjure up images and memories - and certainly stories of forts, storms, trudging through it, getting stuck in it, tobogganing and shoveling, shoveling, shoveling!

"Soon, soon, all gone snow.
We've waited for so long snow.
Please, please, no more snow ...
our bikes are whispering."

All who share it will be captivated by Andrea Offerman's dazzling and oh, so accurate artwork. It elegantly captures the meaning in the text and the feelings of the many neighborhood children as they experience every sort of snow described by the author.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Day for Skating, written by Sarah Sullivan and illustrated by Madeline Valentine. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Rosy cheeks, cold nose,
sore bottom, frozen toes.

Hot cocoa, snack-bar hut,
drying mittens, warming up.

Good friends gliding in a row.
Holding on and letting go."

There's a lot of melting going on here. We have had sunshine four straight days, and temperatures above zero today. It is needed brightness as everyone struggles with this new reality of staying home and being safe for ourselves and everyone else. Dreary days might just make the self-isolation worse. Yes, I know it is 'spring'; experience tells me we may not have yet seen our last snowfall. That being said, I know for sure we no longer have ice skating rinks. And, if we did have them, we wouldn't be able to use them as we seek to social distance ourselves. I don't want you to miss hearing about a few books I received on Friday.

A Day for Skating is filled with familiar scenes of growing up where snow is with us for five months. Skating is a big deal, especially on a pond. This pond welcomes skaters of all ages. It is surrounded by snow and snow-laden trees. It has a bridge, benches, a skate shack that houses a canteen, and there are lots of visitors. The little girl and her father whose story is told experience the joys and pitfalls of a day skating. They are surrounded by kids skating on their own, or with parents, friends, and even a pup.

It is a happy place. That is evident in the digital art created with watercolor and colored pencils. Each spread offers a look at the action, moving from one detailed scene to the next as the day progresses. The skaters arrive in early morning ready for action. After much hard work, they stop for a snack and cocoa, and skate until early evening and a roaring fire. As darkness descends, it's time to pack up and head for home, where a warm bath and a quiet read result in peaceful slumber.

The brief rhyming text is what early readers need to make it a story they soon can share. The story from scene to scene, with familiarity and appeal. In schools where a skating program is part of the year's activities, this would be a very welcome addition to the library collection.

Do you find yourself wondering what might be happening at the pond once everyone has gone home to bed? Be sure to check it out!                                                                     

Saturday, March 21, 2020

What If Soldiers Fought With Pillows?: True Stories of Imagination and Courage, written by Heather Camlot and illustrated by Serge Bloch. Owlkids, 2020. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"The director of the Dutch National Ballet saw the documentary, raised money, and brought Joudeh to the Netherlands to study dance - just before he would have to serve in the Syrian army and have to give up his dream. Now a professional dancer and choreographer, Joudeh does everything he can to help others - from sharing his story, to raising money for refugees, to dancing ... "

Joudeh's story is told following a question that asks, "What if everybody showed up to a political party with their dancing shoes on?" That page's introductory sentence explains: In the fight for peace and survival, ballet beats bullets for one Palestinian dancer. 

That what if question is only one of fifteen meant to give readers pause to think critically about how and what they feel when they hear it. Narrating a true story about activists who are not well-known for each of the imaginary premises is sure to inspire and offer an outlet for imagination and admiration. Each entry illuminates a story of peace and compromise, and shows what can be done when the world is pictured in a hopeful and inspired way.

The design makes the entries very accessible. Two pages for each question: one is sketched by Serge Bloch to extend its meaning, while the other provides the explanation for the subject's inclusion. It is an intriguing way to look at changes that have huge impact. It is a call to readers to help make changes that matter. It sparks imagination, bravery and a feeling of hope in a world where it is needed. 

A glossary, endnotes, and selected sources follow, and provide for further study.

"In Nazi Germany, if you didn't shoot down the enemy. you could be punished by being shot yourself. Stigler knew this and still chose not to follow orders. He couldn't fire on a defenseless plane and crew. It would be dishonorable. It would be the action of a monster. Brown couldn't forget that day. Decades later he looked for Stigler - and found him living in Canada. Almost forty-seven years after meeting in the air over Germany, they met face to face in Seattle, Washington. Together they embarked on a new mission: to share their incredible story with young and old - from students to veterans - across North America, not as feared enemies but as close friends."

“We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” (J.K.Rowling)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound. By James Rhodes and illustrated by Martin O'Neill. Candlewick Studio, Penguin Random House. 2019. $36.99 all ages

"You hear the struggle in it.
Look at his manuscripts,
and there's reams of
scratched-out music that
he hated. He stops and he
starts. I love that about
Beethoven, his humanity
shows in his music.

- Billy Joel, aka the Piano Man"

If you, or your teen, or a teen you know, are wanting to know more about classical music, this is one fine book to read that makes it accessible, impressive, and engaging. The introduction provides much food for thought, and is very descriptive and enlightening.

"Classical music has a bad and, in my mind, unfair
reputation. Those composers with the white curly wigs,
such as Bach and Mozart, might seem super-old-fashioned
now. But they were the original rock stars. They changed
history, inspired millions, and are still listened to and
worshipped all around the world today. So I hope you'll
leave behind your preconceptions: even if you think you
hate it, give it an hour or two of your time and then decide."

MY ULTIMATE PLAYLIST invites readers to search for the link to the music Mr. Rhodes has chosen to examine throughout the rest of the book. The playlist has 14 pieces: 2 from each of the 7 featured composers. They are Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel. You will find it at

He then presents each on a double page spread which gives their name, a nickname and a full color, detailed image. Thus, Bach: The Godfather; Mozart: The Magic Man; Beethoven: The Original Rock Star; Chopin: The Midnight Man; Schubert: The Little Mushroom; Rachmaninoff: The Six-Foot Scowl; Ravel: Shock and Awe. The following 3 spreads reveal their life stories, descriptions of the chosen works, an invitation to listen to both after reading conversational and enthusiastic descriptions of each.

Included in between the composer sections are three informative spreads: the orchestra, the time line of western classical music, and the language of music. An extensive index is most useful.  The design is sensational, offering much detail and careful thought, quotes, impressions, and even references to pop culture. The bold collages are visually appealing, requiring careful attention to the details in each.

"This movement is filled with constant shifts in mood that Schubert creates by changing the key, tone, and pace of the piece: moving from happy to sad to uplifting to scary to hesitant to heroic to defiant and on and on. There are so many different melodies - as if Schubert had a constant supply of them that he couldn't help but pour out into the score."

Quite the celebration! This book is sure to be appreciated by anyone interested (or not) in knowing more about classical music.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Charlie and Mouse Outdoors, by Laurel Snyder with illustrations by Emily Hughes. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2020. $20.99 ages 6 and up

"A hike! A hike!

It was time for a hike!

Charlie and Mouse walked
along the stream.

Mom and Dad walked, too.

There was a trail.

The trail was pine needles ... "

Fans of the first three books in the exemplary series of early readers will be delighted to meet up with Charlie and Mouse once again. These siblings and their earlier escapades kept readers entertained and wanting to know more about them.

This is the first book that broadens their horizons. This time they are venturing outside their house and neighborhood to take a family camping trip. Once again there are four chapters - Boring, The Hike, Kittens, and The Fire. As readers of earlier books, fans will know that the text is accessible and filled with accurate dialogue between the two brothers.

Who knew the trip to the campground would be so long? Dad suggests thinking up a story to pass the time. As they progess, Charlie uses landmarks to begin his story. Mouse immediately wants to know what is happening. Charlie, who is making it up as they go along, must wait to add to the story. As his imagination revs up, he is able to hold Mouse's attention. Soon, the trip is over and the family has arrived at their campsite.

The nex three chapters include a hike, where found sticks provide all the boys need to protect their territory from inherent danger in the form of a lion-shaped bush. A snack provides sustenance needed to make endless discoveries about their surroundings and its inhabitants. The boys are soon in their tent, where Mouse concerns himself with numerous worries. Imagination runs amok, and provides lasting entertainment. Finally, it's time for a fire, burned marshmallows and another quick story.

Emily Hughes provides perfect visual context for each of the four chapters, and the close relationship between the two boys. Her details add further action for each chapter, and create a warm and nurturing adventure for all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Superluminous, written and illustrated by Ian De Haes. Annick Press, 2020. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"It's true, Nour thinks,
I'm not that strong. 
I'm not super fast. 
I'm not super funny. 

All I know how to do 
is shine, like an old 

If only I had real 

Nour has always been a shining light in her family - literally! From the day she was born, she has been bathed in a glowing light that has allowed her to shed that light in all corners of the family home. She sparkles like the stars in the night sky. Nour also likes being alone, and feels a touch overwhelmed when there are people nearby.

Her excitement about her first day of school and meeting the children there is quickly overshadowed when they ask questions she cannot easily answer. On that first day, after hearing what Lea has to say about her glow, her confidence is shattered.

"Glowing is not a real superpower," 
Lea decides. "Real superheroes can 
fly, or pass through walls, or are 
really strong - like me. Glowing, 
that's no big deal!" 

Immediately, Nour begins to doubt herself and her luminosity darkens with her wish to be invisible. She covers her glow as much as possible, and hopes that no one even notices her. At home one evening she realizes that her light has almost disappeared. It doesn't feel good, and the dark of that night suddenly seems frightening.

Leave it to a crying baby to show Nour the importance of who she truly is. Her nightlight glow is just enough to offer comfort to her little sister. The morning brings a surprise, and a renewed willingness to shine a light wherever she can.

Warm backgrounds with radiant golden tones are sure to capture attention and elicit some 'aah' moments during the reading. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

I'm The Big One Now!: Poems About Growing Up, written by Marilyn Singer with illustrations by Jana Christy. Wordsong, Penguin Random House. 2019. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Now, I wouldn't cry
for a toy in a store.

Or after a game
'cause I got a low score.

Or out in the yard
if my favorite pants tore.

But things like beestings?
Well, that's what crying's for!"

The kids who can describe themselves as 'the big one' will gleefully celebrate the benefits that come with growing up. There are many: taking the bus to school alone, riding a bike, whistling, being quiet in the theatre and LOUD at a ball game. Kids who are doing those things the children presented here are doing know they are the big ones, and they are proud of it!


I am sniffing the ink and smoothing the paper,
    remembering when I bit covers and licked pages,
    when I thought words were something
           to eat.
But today,
     today instead,
     I READ.
And I didn't use my teeth or tongue,
          like some hungry beast
to gobble that scrumptious alphabet feast."

There are many forks in the path that leads from being the little ones to becoming the big ones. The 21 poems written to celebrate such change and growth are as diverse as the children who share their stories in a a variety of poetic form. A three part poem about learning to ride a bike will certainly remind some young readers of the struggle that such an accomplishment can be ... and the bold feelings associated with achieving that independence.

The digital artwork is filled with color, expression, and movement. The scenes are friendly, accomplished, and joyful. The children represent a diverse community group who have much to be proud of, and who celebrate their many milestones.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Phone Booth in Mr. HIrota's Garden, written by Heather Smith and illustrated by Rachel Wada. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"It was a phone booth, painted
white and with many panes of
Mr. Hirota went inside.
His voice floated out.
      Fumika? It's your father. 
      I miss you. 

Makio was confused.
Fumika had been snatched by
the ocean.
Just like Makio's dad."

This beautifully told story is based in truth. The 2011 tsunami captured the attention of the world, as it was broadcast day after day. For those who saw it through television reporting, the true impact on families and villages was quite impersonal as it was so far away. 

The story of a telephone booth built in a garden following the disaster gave Heather Smith an idea for a story that would allow young readers a chance to think about the people left behind when loved ones died. She imagines this story as a way to share the loss and grief felt by so many. Her author's note provides a photo and a short description.

Makio and his neighbor, Mr. Hirota like to visit with each other. Together they watch Makio's father and Mr. Hirota's daughter bring in and clean their morning catch. They were on the hill above watching when they felt the shaking and saw the wave approaching. Death and devastation lay in its wake. It took their two loved ones along with many others, and it silenced Makio's voice.

The grief in their village was palpable. Then, one day Mr. Hirota began building a phone booth. Once completed, Makio could hear Mr. Hirota talking to his daughter, Fumika. It caused some confusion for the young boy. That phone booth began attracting others to pay visits and speak to those they were missing so dearly.

Angry with the ocean, Makio raged against it. When that changed nothing, Makio made his first visit to the phone booth.

It's me. 
Can you hear me?
I yelled at the ocean. 
It said good morning anyway.

Guess what?
I did really well on my math test. 
The cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Everything's pink. 
Mom painted your room your favorite shade of blue."

Wondrous, full of grace, and so poignant.

Rachel Wada's award-winning artwork was 'inspired by Japanese techniques, ... and created using watercolors, black ink and pencils, and assembled digitally.' The palette chosen echoes the changing mood, as well as the grief that is so evident throughout the village. The weaving of light and dark results in a powerful response from readers.

(FYI:  Rachel Wada is the recipient of the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award 2020)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

No Room for a Pup, written by Elizabeth Suneby and illustrated by Laurel Molk. Kids Can Press, 2019. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Mia thought there was plenty of room for a puppy. It wasn't like she was asking for an elephant. Every morning before school, Mia went down the hall to her grandma's apartment for breakfast. One morning, Mia spied a sign in the elevator. "Puppies to good homes! Apartment 202." Her eyes lit up. "That's where your friend Alina lives."

It is an age-old story. Children want puppies; parents are not so enamored of such a plan. Mia and her mom live in a small apartment in a big city, with little room for adding a fur baby. Mia is very unhappy when she hears her mom reiterate a tired response: "NO ROOM!"

So, when the little girl meets and falls in love with a pup while visiting her grandmother's neighbor, she must find a way to make her mother change her mind. Thanks to an attentive grandmother and her friends, Mia's idea results in an influx of requests from neighbors needing help with temporary care for their pets. Every day someone brings a much-loved pet to their apartment door, starting with Grandma who needs a place to stay while her apartment is painted. She brings her parrot Roger. Then Mia brings home the class rabbit from school - it's her turn to take responsibility. And so it goes!

If you are having a flashback to the first time you read Margot Zemach's It Could Always Be Worse (1997), you are not alone. Our family loved that book and its premise. The apartment begins to fill with all the chaos of an ever-growing group of houseguests.

"The dog dashed up, down and all around. The cat
chased the rabbit that zipped and zoomed around
the room.

With all the houseguests,
no one got up much sleep."

Soon the parrot, rabbit, cat and dog, are joined by a pig. Just when it seems Mom will totally lose it; the pets return home with their owners. All of them, except one small puppy. He doesn't make the apartment seem small at all.

Kids will love it! Do NOT miss the last page. I love surprises!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Song For A Whale, written by Lynne Kelly. Penguin Random House, 2019. $10.99 ages 10 and up

"Wendell took my hand and pulled me away from the science class. Two students walked by us in the halls, signing with each other. They waved hi to Wendell as they passed.
I'd known that most Deaf kids went to Bridgewood, but I didn't expect to see so many.  They'd be able to sign with one another all the time, like during class or PE games or in the hallways. At the lunch table."

Iris loves the ocean, whales and her grandparents who are deaf, as is Iris. When her family decides to make a move away from their oceanside home to Texas, life changes for her. The death of her beloved grandfather makes things even more difficult. There is so much he has taught her about electronics, old radios, and repairing them. It is a gift that gives her confidence when others simply characterize her as deaf.

She is the only deaf child in her middle school, and often feels lonely. When she sees a video about Blue 55, a whale whose song is at a frequency that no other whales can hear, Iris understands how he must feel. He is never invited to be part of a pod, since he cannot communicate. The same thing happens with Iris at school. Hearing Blue's tale, Iris decides that he needs her help and she sets out to create a song for him to hear.

Using the talent she has for repairing and hearing through the vibrations she feels on her radios, she asks members of the school band to create a song at the same frequency as Blue 55 sings. She makes a recording with hopes of making him feel less lonely in the ocean. She makes contact with scientists who are studying him and asks if she might use her recording to offer him her song of comfort and understanding. The scientists are interested in what she has done, but her parents refuse to make the trip to Alaska where he is being studied.

This is where Iris' grandmother, who is having great difficulty dealing with her own grief, steps in to help her granddaughter fulfill her dream. Without permission, the two fly to San Francisco where they board a cruise ship headed to Alaska. The trip provides great joy for both: Grandma in finding herself again, and Iris in trying to fulfill her quest to help Blue 55. 

The action is fast paced, adventurous, and compelling. Iris is an admirable, intelligent, and caring girl who is determined to help the whale whose life parallels her own. Iris knows what loneliness is, and what it is like not to belong and be part of a community. Readers learn a lot about the strength and challenges of the Deaf in the book's pages.

Don't miss the information provided by the author in end matter. There she describes the real whale whose story impacts her writing, and offers further facts about whales and deafness.

Friday, March 13, 2020

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson, written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"Every day Emily's life
rippled with new joys.
It was clear Emily was
becoming a person -
in many ways like other
people - only more so.
Her happys were happier.
Her sads were sadder.
Her thoughts were deeper.
Her desires were stronger."

Emily Dickinson loved to explore the natural surroundings of her childhood home in 19th century New England. In doing so, she thought carefully about words. She felt a very strong connection to the surrounding natural world.

"The bee is not afraid of me, 
I know the butterfly ... 
The brooks laugh louder 
when I come."

This picture book biography exhibits a gracious appreciation for an honored poet. It begins at her birth and chronicles her life until her death. It is a story told in a way that resembles the poet's own writing, and includes brief glimpses of her work. Emily found great sadness in her world, and used her poetry to help her come to the grips with it through her own eyes. She also found joy, hope, and determined exploration. Her written words were not shared with many while she was living. Today, they offer inspiration to readers throughout the world to look carefully with their hearts and imagination.

With gouache and watercolor illustrations that depict an accurate historical setting and abound with birds, butterflies, and other elemental natural scenes, the two create an exemplary look at a noted poet and her life's work. It was an unusual life filled with imagination, intensity, reading and writing. It is carefully drawn in both words and pictures to help young readers come to know a reclusive woman who penned (and hid) hundreds of poems that were not discovered until after she died.

Back matter has a note about Emily's poetry, an invitation to learn more about poetry itself, a list of books to read, and both an author's and artist's note about the making of the book.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Kaia and the Bees, written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"But only he goes on the roof
with the beehives - not me!

And the kids in my building?
I go on and on to them like
I'm a beekeeper. And, oh man,
they listen.

But I get twisty inside because
I'm not exactly."

Kaia is a very brave girl. She eats hot peppers. She doesn't mind spiders. BUT she has a giant fear of bees and their stingers! To add to her worries, the rooftop of her apartment building has two beehives and many, many bees. To make matters worse still, her father is the beekeeper!

Her father loves bees and knows how necessary they are to the environment and the planet. He is constantly learning more about them, and sharing his knowledge with his family. Although Kaia pretends to love bees when she is with her friends, she is very fearful when they are near. Her terror is front and center when one lands on her arm, and Kaia freaks out.

That experience is the impetus for Kaia to learn more about them. Her father is very happy to take her to the rooftop with him. It isn't easy, but he helps her learn to be calm and really watch what he is doing. He even offers a chance to hold one of the frames.

"And here I am, scared to death, but holding a thousand
bees (maybe more!) between my own two hands. The bees
are electric - buzzing, buzzing - and I'm electric, too."

An unexpected encounter with one of those bee's stingers causes a renewed urgency to keep her distance. When she helps with harvesting the honey, she comes to understand the true magic of the process - and look with a different perspective at the tiny insect that can do such a remarkable thing.

Angela Dominguez uses colored pencil, with color added digitally, to create telling and enjoyable illustrations that provide context about setting and process. Facial expressions are clear as Kaia deals with her fear, her reluctance to take part, and her amazement at the end result of keeping bees.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Girl Who Rode a Shark & Other Stories of Daring Women, by Ailsa Ross with illustrations by Amy Blackwell. Pajama Press, 2019. $26.00 ages 10 and up

"The Canadian space program was looking for astronauts. Roberta already had a private pilot's licence. She was the perfect candidate. She won a place out of more than 4,000 applicants. For nearly a decade, Roberta trained for her mission. She exercised her body into peak physical condition. She put together ideas for science experiments,. She spent long hours in NASA's classrooms ... "

The author offers readers a reason for wanting to tell these stories of daring women:

"I hope these women's stories inspire you to listen to your dreams and fall in love with our planet. After all, among all the galaxies in the universe, this world of frogs and fireflies and daytime moons is the only home we have. If you ever feel small, remember: adventure is within you. It's in listening to your own voice. It's going beyond your comfort zone. It's daring to be brave."

Ms.  Ross writes 52 quick biographies of women who live all over the globe, who lived in the past and are living now, who are culturally and geographically diverse. A world map is placed prior to each new section. That map, and the list of women included are placed on a double page spread that is, in effect, a table of contents for the women to come. They are artists, pioneers, scientists, activists, athletes, and seekers.

Each verso includes the name, the title, the birthplace and birthdate, and the home country. The facing recto shows a colorful digital media illustration of the woman presented. Personal quotes are included, as well as a short list of other daring women who fit the category: Zora Neale Hurston's story is briefly told, and an additional list of More Excellent African-American Writers at the bottom of the page includes Maya Angelou (1928-2014) and Alice Walker (b, 1944).

Conversational in tone, and with lovely artwork throughout, this book is full of tales that are sure to inform and entertain. Every one of the women here were looking for adventure and wanting to learn more about the world and the time in which they lived.

The maps are a welcome addition, as is the beneficial glossary. Inspirational, it will surely encourage readers looking for more information.

"Nujeen misses her mother and father, who are still
in Turkey, but she tries not to feel too sad. When she was
asked to define herself beyond labels like "refugee" and
"disabled", she said, "Nujeen Mustafa is happy with who
she is. She loves herself. She loves everyone else as well.
Nujeen Mustafa loves life and the whole world."

Other brave young women added to her biography page
are Malala Yousafzai (b. 1997, Pakistan), Greta Thunberg (b. 2003, Sweden)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Home Base: A Mother-Daughter Story, written by Nikki Tate and illustrated by Katie Kath. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2010. $24.99 ages 3 and up



Long day.



So tired."

A robin sings a good morning song.

The coffee percolates.

A cat stretches lazily in warm sunshine.

Turn to the title page and readers see the parallel scenes of morning preparation for a young girl and her mother. Both are considering their countenance in front of the bathroom mirror. Both look somewhat frazzled. Another turn of the page and the two face each other across the breakfast table;  the child is eating cereal with a banana and drinking juice while reading the cereal box, and the mother reading the paper while downing her first cup of coffee. It is the start of a day that begins with some anxiety.

In side-by-side stories we see what makes each nervous. The girl is trying out for a baseball team. The mother is facing an interview about a new masonry project. As their day passes, the audience observes each moment. Ultimately, it results in good news for both. After a quiet evening, the child goes to bed to sleep and dream. Mom is so exhausted by her many responsibilities that she falls asleep with chores left undone. The following day brings hard work, success and a satisfying shared treat.

Wonderfully meaningful and spare text is complemented by glowing watercolor and pastel artwork.
Seeing the story told in tandem with perfectly matched images is a treat to both ear and eye. I can't wait to read it to my granddaughters when I see them next.

Monday, March 9, 2020

From A Small Seed: the story of Eliza Hamilton. Written by Camille Andros and illustrated by Tessa Blackham. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019 $25.99 ages 7 and up

"Every day Eliza saw the same
little boy as she rode by.
An orphan.
A child with no parents.
No one to tuck his covers in tight.
No one to kiss his scraped knees.
No one to softly sing him lullabies.
Eliza shared what she had
but wanted to do more.
Then the boy was gone.
The stoop was empty.
And the carriage rolled on."

Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton and mother to eight children, would never forget the lonely boy she had seen as a young, privileged girl riding past the orphanage in her family's carriage. For the rest of her life, she showed her charitable character and her compassion for others.

I knew little about Alexander Hamilton until his story was told in the Broadway production. The publicity that it got must have led others to want to know more about him, as it did for me. In anything that I did read, I did not learn much about his wife. This admirable and well-written picture book biography taught me a lot about her, and I am happy to have read her story.

The lyrical language, along with its repeated references to planted seeds and trees, make it a lovely read aloud for elementary children. It gives them perspective on a historical time period, and offers a a look at a life well-lived in service to others.

Ms. Andros begins when Eliza was a child, showing her home environment and allowing that she had a very secure and happy childhood. She spent her days happily, and with abandon. When she saw the orphan boy each time her carriage passed, she was pressed to do more. She knew how blessed her life was, and wanted to share what she could with him. As she grew and matured, she found love with another orphan, her future husband.

"They believed in fairness, freedom, and faith.
Passion, persistence, and perseverance.
They helped found a new nation."

Following her husband's death, Eliza continued to show understanding for the plight of many. Her life was given to making things better for orphaned children. She never forgot the impact of seeing that little lonesome boy so long ago. Eliza made a difference for  the rest of her life. She died peacefully at 97, and is a remarkable example for all.

A note from both author and artist are included in back matter, as well a bibliography.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

I'm Brave! I'm Strong! I'm Five! Written by Cari Best and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"I see someone talking on
his phone.

I see Mr. Spock. He's rocking
his baby,

And Mrs. Bock.
She's playing the piano.
Her eyes are closed.

But mine aren't."

Little ones can be very frightened when faced with going to bed on their own. In this reassuring book, the story has been read, the jokes told, and kisses bestowed. It is time for Mama and Papa to leave and let their young daughter settle in for the night.

It turns out she is not tired enough to just close her eyes. Luckily, she has a flashlight to keep her company. There are noises coming from outside her window - a phone ringing, a baby crying, a piano playing - a lot of noises that need her attention. And, there is a brilliant moon's eye to cause some alarm.

She knows she can count on her parents to allay any fears she has. Rather than call them, she puts on a brave face, musters her courage and closes her curtains. Now, there are shadows. Again, she could get help, but ...

"I didn't call Mama. I didn't call Papa.
I did everything myself. Hooray!"

What a right of passage this is. A problem solver in the very best of ways, this little one finally succumbs to the sleepiness that comes from making the best of the situation and proving she can do it alone.

Boris Kulikov uses watercolor, ink, tea, and acyrla gouache to create the detailed images that show the only briefly disquieting moments she faces as she brings bravery to the forefront and manages to go to sleep on her own. TADA!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch, written by June Smalls and illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara. Familius, Raincoast, 2020. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"She teaches her children
and their children and their
children so that when she is
gone another matriarch will
lead her family.

Elephants are not born with all the skills they need. They learn from their elders. This includes interacting with other elephants, foraging, and safety. "

The quiet confidence of the oldest female elephant in this matriarchal family inspires from the first page. She is surrounded by the younger animals in her group.

In following pages, young readers learn about her many daily teachings. Her primary task is to ensure that there is food and water to sustain all. She also helps new mothers learn to care for their young, and works to protect her charges from any perceived threat to their safety.

"When danger arrives,
she protects and stands strong against threats."

With her continued guidance and tender care, the other elephants in the herd prosper. Because she is ever vigilant and always observant of their actions, she teaches the other females the many skills they will need to become leader when she is no longer with them.

Little ones are fascinated by the majesty and size of these gentle giants, and will find much to admire about them here. A story of strength and empowerment told simply, it also presents abundant and accurate facts in smaller, bolded font. The illustrations will intrigue and delight young readers who are the target audience. It is very important to have accessible books for this age group. This is a wonderful addition to both classroom and home libraries.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Canadian Women NOW and THEN, written by Elizabeth MacLeod and illustrated by Maia Faddoul. Kids Can Press, 2020. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Throughout this book, you'll meet individuals from the present and the past. Those in the NOW category are doing inspirational work in their fields today. Beside them, in the THEN category, are the groundbreakers from the past who paved the way. And some women were groundbreakers in one career and continue to inspire today in a different area - you'll find them on the THEN + NOW pages."

How fortuitous to open the spring collection of fine books from Kids Can Press yesterday, and find this one! It is wonderful to read the many appealing and informative stories of more than 100 women who impacted Canada in many different ways.

If you have read other books by Liz MacLeod, you will know that the depth of the work she does to research her chosen topics is stellar and meaningful to her readers. Here, she offers a unique and inspiring look at women who are living and working today, paired with those who came before them.

The table of contents shows wide variety in the work they do, or have done. There are two in each  section, and include activists, actors, architects, astronauts, culture keepers, dancers, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists ... and the list goes on until she finishes with writers. Many of those presented are well known to adults; many may not be known to her target middle grade audience. That is a good thing, I think.

The format is refreshing, pairing two women who are known for their accomplishments in the present and from the past. Many have faced unbelievable odds and injustice to have a voice. Their stories are told in concise, informative entries that include their name, birthdate, birthplace, and accomplishments. They are indigenous, immigrants, those with different abilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community and each has made a distinctive contribution to Canadian society. 

The design holds great appeal, with color portraits of each on their respective page. Quotes are often included, as well as Wonderful Women! boxes to add to the page's content. When deemed appropriate, a list of more amazing women in certain fields is added. In back matter, Ms. MacLeod asks questions of her readers concerning whose footsteps they find most inspirational on a personal basis, Knowing that one book cannot possibly include all Canadian women whose impact is of importance, she adds more names and a quick look at their accomplishments as well. She finishes with a timeline of important dates in Canadian Women's History, an extensive list of resources, and a useful index for readers to find their way back to personal favorites.

How timely this book is!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Billie Jean! How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women's Sports, by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 7 and up

"The match didn't last long. Even Billie Jean was surprised. Not only had she won, she'd done it in just two sets. She was going to the nationals - all the way across the country in Ohio! But she couldn't go alone, Mr. Jones said. GIRLS had to have a chaperone."

It would have come as no surprise to those who loved Billie Jean  King, and admired her tenacity even as a very young girl, that she would make a name for herself in whatever field she chose to pursue.

When her father took her to a ball game and she realized that she could not play the sport she loved, her parents suggested she try tennis. After all, girls at the time did play tennis. She did not know the game. That did not deter her from learning about it, and getting better at playing it. She was disheartened when what she wore was more important than how she played.

The struggles she faced while trying to make a name for herself in the tennis world were discouraging, to say the least. She worked harder than everyone else, and she was soon good enough to go to a national competition. She was an outstanding player in high school, and went to Wimbledon to play. It made little difference in her bid to be recognized, and offered no scholarships for further schooling. 

When she won at Wimbledon five years later, reporters asked inane questions about her hair, her future as a mother, and her jewellery - never a question about her game. Paid less than men, and watching those numbers continually dwindle, Billie Jean made a decision to force people to sit up and take notice. An all women's tour did little to stop the silly questions; it did encourage many young fans to emulate her remarkable play.

Even after winning three top tournaments in one year and being named Sportswoman of the Year, she had to prove herself once again. In a match against Bobby Riggs, who spouted the belief that men could beat women at 'everything', Billie Jean proved him wrong. Her patience, perseverance, and powerful play proved a point, and made people take notice - finally.

An author's note chronicles Billie Jean's life, her activism, her stand on equal rights for women in a field dominated by men, and her fight for gay rights. A selected resources list offers titles for further study.

Elizabeth Baddeley's ink, watercolor, acrylic and digital artwork brings readers onto the tennis court, and shows them the determination that made Billie Jean King a force to be reckoned with in the fight for equality for women. Women playing sports today owe her a debt of gratitude.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Anna and Samia: The True Story of Saving a Black Rhino, written and illustrated by Paul Meisel. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2019. $23.50 ages 5 and up

"Someday, Anna thought, you will be brave enough to explore the sanctuary on your own. But not yet. For Samia to live free, she needed to know how to smell and track other animals. One day, for practice, Anna hid, then called for Samia. When Samia couldn't find Anna, Samia opened a gate with her lips - she was getting good at doing that - and let out the dogs. With Samia close behind, the dogs ... "

I am always happy to be able to share a picture book biography with young listeners about a new and often not-well-known hero. Learning about Anna Merz, who was the head of the Lewa Wildlife Conservatory in Kenya is a tribute to those who quietly do the work they love in protecting animals.

Carefully watching an abandoned newborn rhino was heartbreaking for Anna. She waited for two days before stepping in to save the weakening baby. Bringing it home, wrapping it in warmth, and finally sharing her bed (and hot-water bottles) with it to keep it warm, Anna became its surrogate mother until it could fend for itself.

"Anna fed Samia from a bottle. The baby rhino slowly got bigger and stronger. At two months old, Samia could sleep in a stable on her own, but Anna had to sit with her until she fell asleep.
One day, thought Anna, you'll be able to live on your own. But not now. 

Thrive Samia did, and soon the two spent all their time together. The communication that developed between them was amazing and heartwarming. Everything Anna did for Samia was in preparation for a future when Samia could fend for herself. It was a long and patient process, and ultimately very satisfying.

Their bond is shown in warm and detailed illustrations, allowing readers to note the connection between the two and their humorous exploits together.  Back matter offers further information about each, and additional facts about rhinos. Those interested in knowing more will find encouragement in a list for further reading.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Girl Like Me, by Angela Johnson and illustrated by NIna Crews. Millbrook Press, Thomas Allen and Son, 2020. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"I'm flying
in Supergirl
up high,
with everybody I know
"A girl like you shouldn't be
there ... "

'in your underwear' is the rest of that particular scolding.
Why on earth not, if that is a young girl's dream?

 In a new picture book from this revered poet, Ms. Johnsom presents a group of dreamers. They are as diverse a group as are their dreams, and each is admonished for dreaming that big dream. Funny how so many adults think they should have a say about the dreams the girls dare to express. Their dreams are big, as they should be when they are young and searching for identity.

"Once I dreamed I swam
the ocean
and saw everything deep,
and was part of the waves.

I swam on by the people
"A girl like you needs to
stay out of the water
and be dry,
like everyone else."

Why would anyone want to be like everyone else? Much less a child who has her future ahead, and dreams that move her toward being her best self. Luckily, the girls depicted hear do not pay attention to the constant harping. Instead, they band together and welcome the challenge to be themselves and dream their best dreams. They wear costumes, and head to the beach together. The final spread shows them doing exactly what makes them who they are.

Nina Crews uses photographic collages that show these young girls happy and confident together, and inspiring to other girls who might see themselves among them. She extends Ms. Johnson's spare text with meaning reflected in the diversity of the group she has photographed. Following the text, a seperate spread encourages each girl included to share something special about themselves. Lovely and uplifting.

And sadly still needed today!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2018. $23.50 ages 8 and up

"The only things she didn’t count were the stars in the sky. Only a fool, she thought, would try that! Even so, the stars sparked her imagination. What was out there? Katherine burned to know as much as she could about numbers, about the universe – about everything! Katherine's boundless curiosity turned her into a star student. She was so bright, she skipped three whole grades."

The first time the general public really became aware of  Katherine Johnson was most likely due to the movie Hidden Figures in 2016. It garnered a lot of buzz with movie goers, and with many people who had not heard the story of the black women who worked for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics in the early 1950s. It surprised many!

This book relates Katherine's story. As a child she proved daily how intelligent and focused she was. She loved numbers, and counted everything she saw. Her acumen and skills with numbers allowed her to skip grades in elementary school, and to graduate from high school when she was just 14. In order to do that, her family had to move a new town where she was able to attend a black high school. Luckily, that made all the difference.

"In those days, though, there were no jobs
as research mathematicians for women.
Professions most available to them were
teaching and nursing. So, Katherine became
an elementary school teacher. She liked her
job. And she loved her students. But she
never stopped dreaming of exploring numbers."

When one opportunity fell through in the field she wanted, she waited until another came up. The race for prominence in space, and the restructuring of NASA afforded Katherine a chance to prove herself. Confident, tenacious, and patient, Katherine was finally able to work as a human "computer". She worked with other women who had been given those jobs deemed boring and not at all important by men at the time.

Katherine's work on Project Mercury led John Glenn to refuse to go into space without her approval of the numbers. Her promotion to the Apollo program and its success was tested when Apollo 13 enccounterd a problem only Katherine could fix. Fix it, she did. What an accomplishment!

Illustrations created digitally emphasize the historical time period and Katherine's neverending love of numbers. 

Katherine Johnson died Monday, February 24, 2020. She was 101 years old. What an inspiration!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hooray for Women: More Than 70 Inspirational and Amazing Women, written and illustrated by Marcia Williams. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"When Jane’s father died, Jane and her sister and mother moved to a cottage on their brother’s estate. And in 1811, her first book – Sense and Sensibility – was finally published! Jane published three more during her lifetime, all anonymously. It wasn’t considered “proper” for women to have jobs – or even to have their own opinions!"

The inspirational cover art for this book bestows distinction on 16 of the most notable women in history. Their portraits grace the banners both front and back, and the rest of the artwork invites speculation about the accomplishments of others who are worthy of our admiration as well. The front endpapers allow that they come from many walks of life: leaders, inventors, parents, discoverers, activists, thinkers, athletes, authors, freedom fighters, musicians, explorers, siblings, actors, scientists, feminists, directors, journalists, adventurers, nurses, environmentalists, doctors, campaigners, and artists. 

In an letter to her readers in back matter, Ms. Williams writes:

" ... I had to choose my favorite inspirational women.
 I do hope you enjoy reading about them.

These incredible individuals come from all backgrounds
and all nations and are all ages. It is impossible to say who
are the most important - it really depends on your own
beliefs and interests. But I am sure that at least some of
the girls and women in this book will fill you with wonder."

She includes in the same space a banner that lists many names ... too many to count, and accompanies it with a second banner that is empty and ready for the women her readers would most like to add. Finally, the back endpapers offer an index of each of the women included, listed alphabetically last name first.

In between (in comic book style), she tells the stories of the 16 women she has chosen to honor.  They are presented in chronological order, and begin with Cleopatra VII. The most pertinent facts are shown over a double page spread that focuses on the key moments in each woman's life. The text is conversational and often humorous. Birds at the panels' edges offer extra information. Two children along the bottom provide their own personal comments. The entries are diverse: some will be very familiar to readers, others not so. There is no doubt that another person writing about amazing women would not likely choose the same group. In addition to those fully presented, Ms. Williams adds six pages of 59 other accomplished women accompanied by brief notes for each in categories named Leaders and World Changers, Athletes and Creatives, and Scientists, Pioneers and Adventurers.  It's quite the introduction.  Who might you add to this list?                                                                   

Let's celebrate!