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Friday, July 31, 2020

When Aidan Became a Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. Lee & Low Books, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2019. $24.95 ages 6 and up

"Every baby needs a name. Aidan loved getting to choose his own, but he remembered it had been hard for his parents to let go of the name they had given him. He looked for names that could fit this new person no matter who they grew up to be. Babies need someone to read to them, ... "

For a while only Aidan knew that his name, the clothes he wore, and the room called his, did not fit who he knew he was inside. Everyone thought he was a girl. Aidan knew he was not. It was hard for him to discuss it with his parents. There was no other choice for him. For help in understanding their transgender son, Aidan's parents look to other families for help and guidance.

"Aidan explored different ways of being a boy. He tried out
lots of names until one stuck. They changed his bedroom into
a place where he belonged. He also took much better care of
his new clothes."

When Mom and Dad tell him there is going to be a new baby, Aidan is full of questions, and the anticipated joy of being a big brother. The family make preparations as all families do. In the midst of buying new clothes, painting the nursery and considering a name for the new baby, the reader is shown how certain expectations from others can lead to understanding the importance of a thoughtful response.

"Are you having a boy or a girl?' asked a lady.
Aidan didn't like it when people asked if he was a boy or a
girl, and he hoped the baby couldn't hear yet. He was glad
when Mom just smiled and said, "I'm having a baby."

Aidan's days are filled with thinking about the new baby, and worrying that the baby might feel as he did when he was little. He wants to do everything the right way. Will he make a mess of it? Assured by his mother that all will be well, Aidan gets on with being full prepared to welcome this new little one. 

“We made some mistakes but you helped us fix them. And you taught us how important it is to love someone for exactly who they are. This baby is lucky to have you and so are we.”

Ms. Juanita's digital artwork brings the family dynamic to clear and brilliant life. The colors and patterns are eye-catching and fun. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918, written and illustrated by Don Brown. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2019. $24.99 ages 12 and up

"Soon, six hundred sailors at the
Philadelphia Navy Yard were ill.
Within thirty-six hours, 1,500
soldiers at nearby Fort Dix in
New Jersey were laid low.
Civilians became ill.

WEEKS. (A.A. Cairns)"

There are three parts to this graphic novel about the flu epidemic of 1918: the first describes the first months in the year where the flu was an issue for many throughout the world; the second describes the fury of its spread from August to December, due in part to a lack of medical care and the fact that it was spreading in a time of war; and the third deals with the waning of the virus and its effects in the western world. The flu affected one-third of the world's population at the time, and killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Mr. Brown moves the action from one place to another as the virus makes its presence and deadly results evident. It is a dramatic and frightful look at its power, and its ability to cause death in numbers never previoulsy known. He clearly shows how the epidemic changed the fabric of homes, hospitals, public spaces everywhere. He also includes opinions and decisions made by those in charge who had no real idea about handling the chaos caused. Scientists tried and failed to stop it; today, scientists continue to try to understand it. The graphic artwork clearly shows the horror of its spread. Simple, stark scenes, done with a sepia and grey muted palette, are very effective in showing the toll the virus took in many countries of the world.

What a tragedy it was. So many hale and hardy young people died, and still no one knows why or how that really happened. I find it eerie that this novel was published in November last year. As the world now deals with Covid-19, the first pandemic in more than one hundred years, this story resonates with much of what the world today is facing. It is a compelling and dramatic read for many, especially those interested in scientific discovery, and history.

End matter includes an epilogue, source notes and a detailed print, online, and audio bibliography.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Barnabus Project, by Terry, Eric and Devin Fan. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"They turned on the lights
and checked each bell jar
one by one.

They made strange noises
to each other.

They peered
and they poked.

They peeked and they prodded."

The ARC for this book arrived in a lovely package - an invitation to read it on the spot. I did that, and wanted to read it again. I have done that often as well. Today, I want to share it with you.

Barnabus is unusual, to say the least. He is half mouse and half elephant - a rare and curious creature combination. Turns out that he lives in a jar in the secret underground lab of a specialized store called 'Perfect Pets'. To say Barnabus does not fit that mold is an understatement. It explains his current predicament and the fate of many other failed laboratory experiments meant to stock the store far above the lab. Fed cheese and peanuts, Barnabus is generally content. When a friendly cockroach allows that there is life beyond the laboratory, Barnabus and his friends are surprised. Pip tells them about lakes, trees, mountains, stars - a whole new world. It makes Barnabus sad to think about that. 

An upcoming crisis - the recycling of all failed experiments - generates momentum to do something before it's too late. Barnabus is first to break free of his confines, and works with the rest to plan their escape. As challenging and frightful as it is, they are determined to make it to the faraway floor and find a way out. Loud footsteps force them to do that quickly.

"They all crawled into the vent
with Lite-Up Lois leading the way.
It was a tight squeeze for some of them.
The vent led into an enormous lab.
They all looked up."

About to be captured, their final struggle frees them to float up and up, straight into the Perfect Pet Store. Out the door they go to visit the world Pip has promised. Together, they make a new life for themselves. Bravo!

The Fan Brothers, with help from their other brother Devin, continue to enthrall readers with dazzling graphite artwork. Full of color and eye-catching detail, they fill these pages with creatures to love and to cheer for in their quest for freedom, and a new exhilarating world. I cannot begin to tell you about the many small scenes that will attract attention and provide opportunity for discussion. This is their sixth book. If you are new to their work, be sure to check at the library for the rest. You have a real treat in store for you. 

Magical, hopeful, brilliant, and brave, this is a book needed for every library.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

They Called Us Enemy, Written by George Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott. Art by Harmony Becker. Top Shelf, Penguin Random House. 2019. $25.99 ages 12 and up

"We are going on a vacation ...
A long vacation to a far-away 
place called Arkansas. 

What's it like there?

I ... I'm not sure ... 

I saw people crying and couldn't
understand why. Daddy said we
were going on a vacation."

I have read two graphic novels recently that help readers understand the repercussions of internment for so many Japanese Americans during WWII. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese air force, the government determined that all citizens of Japanese heritage were an immediate threat to the US. The decision was made to take them from their homes, asking them to leave with what they could carry and shipping them to one of ten camps that were being set up to house the families.

George Takei was only 5, the oldest of 3 children, when he and his family were rounded up in the night and eventually sent to their first internment camp. His father downplayed the move, suggesting they were going on vacation - tough for a young child to understand when people around their family were frantic and crying. Arkansas provided wooden barracks, barbed-wire fences and a watchful rifleman.

Takei's narration is through the eyes of a young child. Their new home was hot and flooded often. The food was unfamiliar and unappealing. It was difficult to adjust to a life where furniture had to be built from scraps, where older children did their best to get the young boy into trouble, and where startling discoveries were made because nothing was normal (Santa was not his roly-poly self). His parents did what they could to make the most of their situation. His father became a leader in the camp, helping newcomers and dealing diplomatically with guards. His mother used a hidden sewing machine to ensure her children were clothed and comfortable.

When his resilient and proud parents refused to swear loyalty to the United States and denounce Japan, they were immediately coined 'No-Nos'. This meant a transfer to Tule Lake in California, a place where 'disloyal' Japanese people were sent, and notoriously labelled the 'worst' of the ten camps set up by the American government. The camp's atmosphere was strained, pitting activists against those who resisted protest. George had difficulty accepting some of his father's teachings as a young man; he did come to see what his father had been saying and has lived the rest of his life emulating his father's legacy of truth, kindness and understanding. 

George Takei speaks brilliantly of his childhood memories when he compares what he felt at the time to the plight of many people in the world today. He uses his celebrity to make a difference, just as his father used his intelligence and patience to help Japanese families when they needed his guidance.

This is another distinguished graphic memoir published by First Second. It gives readers a clear understanding from this author, actor, and activist of the impact that the internment had on generations of Japanese families.

If you want to hear more, check out George's TED talk from 2014, and his address at the  FDR Museum and Presidential Library in 2017.                                                                         

Monday, July 27, 2020

River, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper, Scholastic. 2019. $25.99 all ages

"The river turns white and roars. Drops, jumps, leaps from pool to pool. Bashes the canoe against underwater boulders. She digs her paddle into the spray. Her hat flies off. Gone. Her stomach flips and, for a moment, she fears the rapids will flip them over, but the canoe rights itself, and the river spits them out, down into the next rapids below."

Elisha Cooper knows how to tell fascinating stories, as writer and illustrator. I have a collection, and often return to them to share with my granddaughters and in classrooms. His artistic eye for detail makes every book a grand adventure.

He begins before he begins his text. The opening view is of a family; in the kitchen, the mom is pointing to a map as her daughter pays close attention, her son is busy with their dog, and dad is hoisting a canoe to the top of the family car. Don't miss the final frame; same place, same people, aftermath of the journey completed. Beautiful!

She begins on a mountain lake and paddles her way to the headwaters of the Hudson River. She has everything she needs, only getting out of the canoe when the water is too shallow. The silence and beauty of her surroundings are palpable ... until she rows into rapids. She is experienced, but concerned. It has not been an easy trip so far. Following her battle with the rapids, she is ready to stop, and spend the night under a moonlit sky.

She is off at the dawn, and rows on constantly taking note of her surroundings, and any warning signs for danger ahead.

"A dam. The river stops. She
must portage around the dam.
She takes two trips, first with her
gear, then with the canoe."

The journey is long ... 300 miles. The encounters are well documented with each new day. The hot sun, the scenes onshore, replenishing her supplies, thick fog, sketching, sleeping, waking, and moving forward mean the days pass quickly. What an amazing odyssey it is for readers and for the intrepid woman who braves every circumstance with resolve and bravery.

One last stop - to visit with the man who built her canoe. A quick stay for coffee, and she begins the final leg. It has been remarkable, and she would like to do it again. For now, she knows exactly where she should be.

"As she paddles, her mind plays forward. She can't wait
to be with them again. Can't wait to tell them about moose
and eagles, rapids and storms. And then to turn her sketches
into paintings and her words into a story."

This is a book about many things, not the least of which is the woman's strength to complete the journey despite her fears, the obstacles, and the time away from her loved ones. It is a careful and shrewd observance of the natural world, and the wonder it evokes in readers. You will want to read it more than once, as you cannot possibly absorb all there is to see in one reading. The stellar artwork will bring you back to it again and again.

An author’s note in included, as well as a note about the river's history.

I am going to leave the final words to Elisha himself:

"But I do hope this book inspires young readers toward their own adventures. This could be the adventure of reading (think of how we all get lost in books, like explorers). Or picking up a pencil. Or taking a nature walk in a local park, or, if you’re lucky, getting out on the water. If there is a sneaky point to this book, it’s to encourage the act of looking at the natural world around us, to see that it is so beautiful, and then to understand how important it is to protect it. So, my wild hope is that a young girl in Plano, Texas will read River, become an ardent environmentalist, grow up to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and save us all. See? I really do hope River changes the world."

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Hello Neighbor!: The Kind and Caring World of Mr. Rogers. Written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2020. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"Fred had a new mission: to create a very different kind of children's television program that spoke to its audience with respect and understanding. A program where Fred would perform, as never before, in front of the camera ... "

Lucky our family was to have Mr. Rogers to turn to when the kids were young! His gentle lessons about his neighborhood showed nothing but kindness and understanding for everyone who was a part of it. Using the imagination allowed freedom to think clearly about the world we all wanted to inhabit.

Fred Rogers knew a good thing when he saw it. He recognized immediately the power that television would have for young children. He knew that it could be used to help educate little ones, just as Sesame Street was doing. The difference was in the pace. Sesame Street moved quickly and entertained with flair and repetition; Mr. Rogers took it slow and easy - he never seemed to be in any rush. His understanding of children and their needs came from his need to know as much as he could about them. He was right. Children and their parents loved the show.

It was 1968. During the show's run, Mr. Rogers tackled issues that had rarely been considered television fare for children: diversity, inclusion, acceptance, art. music, death, divorce, being a good neighbor, and always sharing messages of love, kindness and being curious about the world. He treated every child with respect and they loved him for that. Whatever bothered them, Mr. Rogers offered a chance to talk earnestly and honestly about their concerns. Hopeful, quietly instructive and always gentle, Mr. Rogers was a beacon for countless families.

Matt Cordell shares milestones from Fred's life. This allows readers to see that his life determined his future in television, working with children and their families. Just as Mr. Rogers provided a safe and gentle place, so does Matt. His illustrations provide entrance to an immersive experience with this iconic and beloved man. His characters are as diverse as were Mr. Rogers' guests. So lovely to see that.

Backmatter is enlightening and worthwhile. It includes a biography, photographs from the show, a visual glossary of many iconic images sure to be recognized by fans. Matt includes his own connection to Fred. Websites for further learning are included. The front and back pages of the text present two very special messages that Mr. Rogers often shared with children.

Respectful, quiet and full of the joy that Mr. Rogers brought to his neighborhood every day, I love this book. I will happily share it with all who will listen.     

"It's our insides that make us who we are, that allow us to dream and wonder and feel for others. That's what's essential. That's what will always make the biggest difference in our world."
                                                                                                                           - Fred Rogers                                                           

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Little Fox, written by Edward Van De Vendel and illustrated by MarijeTolman. Translation by David Colmer. Levine Querido, Chronicle. Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"Fox cubs can bite too, you know!
But Little Fox doesn't want to bite
this animal.
He wants to drink some water.
And a little later that's what he does.
They drink water next to each other.
Birds are singing and the sun is not
wide awake.

When the animal happens to turn
her head towards him, Little Fox  ... "

Who doesn't want their children to wonder about the world? Only by being curious, open to new experiences, and empathetic to people and animals will they learn what they need to know about being a wise and contributing member of their own world. Of course, parents also want their children to be safe in every circumstance. But we cannot cripple them with our worries, or they won't want to go anywhere or learn anything by themselves.

Little Fox knows that his father wants nothing but the best for him. His father spends some of his time uttering warnings about this, that, and everything else.

"Daddy says, "Too nosy is dead nosy."
Little Fox doesn't understand.
But mommy and daddy know everything.
They show him how to be in the world."

One day Little Fox runs off while chasing two purple butterflies; he has the kind of accident parents fear. He makes a jump and lands with a thump, knocking himself out. It is then he begins to dream - a dream filled with adventure, new experiences, and all the other beautiful things he has seen in his short life. Part of the dream includes a meeting with a young human whose day draws parallels to that of Little Fox. His dream also reminds him of a terrible thing he learned and how the young boy helped him with his predicament. Following this latest escapade, the boy helps him once more. Readers will be delighted to see that all's well that ends well. It is a lovely story, told with energy, heart and compassion.

Marije Tolman's innovative artwork adds depth and makes the whole story seem a bit like a movie for observant and intrigued readers.

"To make the art of the interiors and cover, Marije Tolman took photos of the Dutch dunes and woods and made risograph prints of them. Then, she used various techniques to draw on the prints *gouache, watercolor, acrylic, colored pencil, pen, ink and chalk)."

Friday, July 24, 2020

Spit: What's Cool About Drool, written by Mary Batten. A Firefly Book, 2019. $12.95 ages 9 and up

"You don’t have to think about producing spit. Your body does it automatically. Signals from your brain tell the salivary glands to do their things. That’s because they are connected to your autonomic, or involuntary, nervous system – of which your brain is the control center. This system also keeps you breathing and your heart pumping, without you giving it a second thought."

This book will find fans with the younger set, when it is shared with them. Who doesn't want to know all there is to know about spit? We know what most adults think about it. Gross! However, it is definitely written with both middle and high school students in mind.

I rarely think about spit except when I watch sports. Then, I mostly find the habit very unappealing. To each their own, I guess. What Mary Batten does for her readers is fully describe saliva and its benefits to our bodies. We could not swallow, eat of talk without it.

"Outside your body, spit can seem
like a nasty, slimy blob. But inside
your mouth, it does some important

Spit is not only important to us. It is also important to a variety of animals; and, to scientists who use it to help them with research into cures for some devastating diseases. Now that you know that, Ms. Batten will go on to offer much more data to digest.

She begins with what is in our mouths and moves on to describe chewing and how it is done from species to species. Our spit contains information about our genetic makeup and can help to identify us. By analyzing spit, coaches and doctors can determine the health of their athletes. As spit can reveal many things about humans, it does the same for animals.

"Spit tests are perfect for zoo animals. Blood tests
are difficult to collect, and they're uncomfortable,
just as they are for people. Collecting spit is minimally
invasive and takes advantage of something the animal
has already been trained to do."

The comprehensive information is provided in 11 chapters, each one filled with boxes and revealing captions specifically describing how spit helps, protects, and even captures prey. The book ends with a chapter called Spitting For Sport, and includes a list of cricket spitting rules. Remember that you will need a brown house cricket if you want to participate.

"World Record Pit Spit

According to Guinness World Records, an American man set a new world record when he spat a cherry pit 93 feet and 6 1/2 inches (28.51 meters) in 2004 at the International Cherry Pit-Spitting Championship. That spit is really incredible. It's almost as long as an NBA basketball court!"

Fascinating, well-designed and very accessible for its conversational, often humorous, tone, this is a book that would make a useful addition to all school and classroom libraries.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Flight For Freedom: The Wetzel Family's Daring Escape From East Germany, written by Kristen Fulton and illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann. Chronicle Books, Raincoast.2020. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"The balloon fell faster and faster. Peter's stomach churned and turned. They had only been in the air for thirty minutes. Papa didn't think they had gone far enough to cross the wall. If they hadn't, he knew they would be seized, separated, and sent to prison. Peter cried as they plummeted.

They crashed to the ground in a thicket of trees. Lights beamed in the distance ... "

After Germany's division into distinct sides - east and west - a wall separated the German people. The Soviets took control of East Germany and the people existed under that socialist government. West Germany, on the other hand, was made a democracy with an economic system that matched many countries of the world. It was an abrupt change for those who now lived on the east side of the wall. Their movements were severely restricted, as were many other parts of their lives.

Peter Wetzel and his family did not like living in East Germany. To that end, they made a plan to escape. Their choice of escape was by hot air balloon - in the dark of night when they had less chance of being discovered. It took much careful planning by two families over many long nights. Finally, more than a year after determining that they would leave, they set out. It was September 16, 1979.

Although so carefully planned, it set them on a dangerous and harrowing path to freedom. When they determined the time was right, the families went to a secluded field, and climbed into the balloon they had made on their own. With hope in their hearts and a good deal of bravery, the balloon was finally aloft. As East German soldiers approached, they soared up and over the trees on their way to the west side of the wall.

"One thousand feet.
A distant spotlight broke the night.

Two thousand feet.
Guards spilled into the forest
where they had just been.

Three thousand feet.
The balloon began to tear.
Two of their six gas tanks were empty.

Five thousand feet.
Four empty gas tanks.

Six thousand feet.
The last tank of gas sputtered.
The balloon descended - too fast!"

The author was able to meet Peter's father while writing her book. Children will like that it is told from a child's viewpoint. It is an uneasy time and very stressful, but with a happy ending. Torben Kuhlmann's beautifully light-infused illustrations add tension and context for the terror the families felt as they worked so diligently to find a place of freedom. Endpapers show the route taken.

In back matter, the author describes the balloon and its construction, and the way that hot air balloons work. She also describes the three attempts they made to leave East Germany. An author's note is included as well as information concerning the cold war and the Berlin Wall itself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lost Cities, written and illustrated by Giles Laroche. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 9 and up

"For almost 1,700 years the city was lost, buried under one hundred feet of volcanic ash that destroyed the life of the city, but preserved Herculaneum's houses and villas, including furniture, Roman bronze sculptures, and even the skeletons of those unable to escape."

Readers who are interested in ancient times, architecture, history and imaginative artwork will find much to love in this new book by Giles Laroche.

His introduction states:

"... ancient cities once thrived. Some were part of
vast empires, while others were small and independent.
Many lasted for centuries, even millennia, and went
through great transformations. Most ultimately didn't
survive, but clues to their past exist in the ruins of their
buildings and monuments."

He includes many questions there that will inspire readers to wonder about those same things he wondered about. Before introducing KARNAK TEMPLE, he encourages them to think about our own cities and how they will tell our stories many years from now.

With each turn of the page, he creates a full-page spread to introduce an ancient city. He describes it in an opening descriptive paragraph. Other pertinent information follows: location, who lived here, why was it lost, how was it found, and what is mysterious about it. Short answers give all details needed before moving on to the next described city.

Thirteen such cities are presented, followed by a time line and a world map that provide world context and for additional thought.

Because I know little about art, I was pleased to find a description of the layering techniques this fine artist used to create his spectacular images. If you read this and like it, you might want to check your library for a copy of If You Lived Here (HMH, 2011) or What's Inside (HMH, 2009). You won't be sorry you did.                                                                         

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Over and Under the Rainforest, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"We scramble over roots and
rocks, climbing higher into the
trees. A poison dart frog makes
his way up the trunk with a
tadpole on his back.

Our hanging bridge teeters and
tips with every wobbly step. I
keep a tight grip on the rail.

We're eye to eye with capuchin
monkeys. They hold on ... "

Three outstanding books from this collaborative pair have preceded this one: Over and Under the Snow (2014), Up In the Garden and Down in the Dirt (2015) and Over and Under the Pond (2017). To read this book and find that it matches expectations is not surprising, but lovely just the same.

The first spread is a grand invitation to the grandeur of the rainforest. Tito and our child narrator approach its many sounds with wonder and with a question.

"What's up there?" I whisper."

Tito speaks of the hidden world that is there in the trees ... the place they are passing under as they move forward. The trees are filled with life, and the audience is made aware of that. As they hike along, the two take note as well of what is on the ground around them.

The South American rainforest has been the subject of much concern in recent months, due to the devastation happening there. Visiting it in the pages of this book and seeing the animals that share this natural habitat is a feast for the ears and eyes. Monkeys, insects and birds live where they cannot always be seen, but are certainly heard. The two hikers are always aware of what is above and below them as they continue along, crossing bridges from one magnificent scene to the next.

If readers don't know what an oropendola is, they will have a chance to get a good look in the brightly colored, detailed mixed media artwork that perfectly pairs with the author's descriptive text. The views alternate from above to below them, offering as much variety in perspective as in the creatures mentioned. As the sun goes down and shadows set in, Tito and his charge head home for a dinner prepared by Abuelita, and a much-needed rest after their grand adventure.

An author's note explains that visiting the rainforest had long been a dream. Her family's experiences in the Costa Rican rainforest led to writing this book ten years after that intial visit. She follows up with appreciated information about the animals featured in this lovely bookt. Educational and fascinating, Over and Under the Rainforest is sure to please many readers.

Monday, July 20, 2020

A Quiet Girl, written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas. Pajama Press, 2020. $22.95 ages 4 and up

"So Mary decided to be
quieter than she had ever
been before.

Suddenly, the world unfolded
around Mary as her senses were filled with more beautiful things.

A leaf hanging from a fine
thread of spider silk."

I knew I was going to love this book! Peter Carnavas is a marvel; I have admired each of his works. Meeting Mary is an absolute delight. She is someone very special, with her quiet ways and love of nature. Mary is a listener when few people around her are not.

Mary knows about the wonders of her world. She knows because she is observant, and always quiet. She hears things that her parents and brother don't appear to hear, and sees things they don't notice.  They are always occupied with busy, noisy things.

Mary has always been this way. Encouraged to speak up and be heard, she tries; it t doesn't work. No one hears her distinctly quiet voice. The family goes about noticing whatever is louder than Mary is. In response, Mary decides to be even quieter than she has always been. What remarkable images  await!

There is a problem:

"Now that Mary was very quiet,
her family hardly noticed her at all.

Soon she became so quiet
she felt like she just wasn't there."

For a while, no one misses her. When they do, their search is on. They call her name, search high and low, look inside and out. Only when they stop yelling and begin listening to the quiet do they hear her sweet song. 

The soothing artwork makes a perfect backdrop for Mary's many discoveries. Plenty of white space keeps the focus on Mary and all that she loves in nature. Quietly beautiful, this tale offers a lesson in being mindful to all that surrounds us.

Bravo to the introverts among us.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

This Is My Daddy!, by Mies Van Hout. Pajama Press, 2020. $22.95 ages 2 and up

"Who is my Daddy?

This is my Daddy!

Who is my Daddy?

This is my Daddy!

Who is my Daddy?

This is my Daddy!"

And so it goes with a tadpole, a baby snail, a newborn hippo ... and so on. Little ones are invited to take part in reading both the repetitive question and its accompanying answer. The question and the creature asking face a page with four choices each time. It affords growth in vocabulary, practice in reading (even for little ones), and a good deal of fun for all. Kids love interactive books, and are generally happy to read them again and again. They like the success that comes with knowing the pattern and the answer.

Each choice is made from a set of four dads. All have things in common, but only one is the Daddy. The baby rhino chooses from blue/green images of an elephant, a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, and a crocodile. Talk can lead to the difference between a rhino and a hippo, habitat, the fact that each has four legs, etc. Once the child listener has made a decision, a turn of the page provides a full-page answer spread of father and child enjoying each other's company. 

Some of the creatures are less easily identified than others. That will lead to further learning as explanations will ensue. For the very young, it won't be as important as it is the older toddler. Both will garner enjoyment and new learning from sharing it.

Perfect as a bright and appealing gift for a new baby, or to be included in a book basket meant to start a brand-new home library. Mies Van Hout is a talented writer and illustrator whose bold colors are distinct and appreciated by young readers.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. Written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and illustrated by Olga Mora. Schwartz & Wade Books, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"Your civil rights are 
in these pages. 

Mary didn't know what
civil rights were. She only
knew that top to bottom,
front to back, that book was
filled with words.

I'm going to learn to read 
those words, she vowed."

Following up on Clarence Brazier's reading secret from yesterday, I thought I would share Mary Walker's journey to reading - also amazing. Mary's story is not unlike Clarence's in many ways. However, the reasons for their not learning to read are vastly disparate. Clarence lived most of his life without a need to read. Born into slavery, Mary had no choice. She was not allowed to learn.

To say she was busy is an understatement; something always got in the way of her learning to read. It took 116 years; she did it! Mary Walker learned to read! She was 15 years old when the Emancipation Proclamation changed her life. Slavery was abolished. Though she couldn't read it, a bible given as a gift offered a place to record the birth dates of her three sons. Others wrote their names and Mary made her mark. That Bible was hers for more than 100 years before she could read its words.

Her 94-year-old son died before Mary did. She was the only living member of her family when, at 114, she became a student in a literacy program in 1963. She was determined to learn. Six years later she was verified to be the oldest student in the nation. Many celebrations honored Mary and her outstanding accomplishments. Mary died in 1969. She was 121 years of age.

I am a big fan of Oge Mora's mixed media artwork. Mary and the other characters and scenes created in collage and textured papers add depth to the storytelling. Children will be engaged in seeing Mary through the years, and knowing more about her. Observant listeners will note that everything written prior to Mary's learning to read cannot be read. Once she learns, that changes.

What an inspiration she was then, and should be now, to children and adults. Her story is worthy of telling, and now you can share with your own children and your students. Be sure to get a copy.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Clarence's Big Secret, written by Christine MacGregor Cation and Roy MacGregor. Illustrated by Mathilde Cinq-Mars. Owlkids, 2020. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Clarence needed a job where
his secret wouldn't get in the
way. So he and Angela bought
a farm and began to raise crops
and animals - and a family. They
had four daughters. They were
good farmers and so successful,
they even had an indoor toilet!

The girls adored their dad. He was kind. And funny. And a great
practical joker."

Imagine living to be 105! What a life lived!

Clarence Brazier was one of seven children. His early years were spent on his parents' farm where he helped with milking, harnessing horses, carrying hay bales. Clarence was strong, kind, and always thinking. He started school not knowing the alphabet, or how to spell his own name. When teased by his classmates, he sprinted away from school and headed for home. That was Clarence's first and last day at school.

As happened with many families at the time, a farm accident changed the course of the family's life. His father, now blind, needed help with daily chores and with keeping the farm viable. Clarence accepted the challenge. At 7, he was doing most of the chores, as well as helping his father cut down trees to sell to others for firewood. Through his formative years, he kept busy working as a logger. Impressed with his work ethic and his leadership, he was asked to be boss. Clarence had a secret and he didn't want to share it. So he quit the camp and soon began work in the gold mines.

Life went on. Clarence married, after finally sharing his long-kept secret with his soon-to-be wife. Their family life was happy and successful. Clarence was a good husband, a fine father, an excellent provider, and an attentive grandfather. Through it all, he kept his secret - for almost one hundred years! He was 93 when his wife died, alone and worried. He had needed Angela's help to keep his secret through all the years. He did not know how to read. How would he manage on his own?

With a great deal of determination and help from his daughter (the second person to learn he was illiterate), Clarence learned to read - and then never stopped! The final spread shares the joy he felt reading in a classroom filled with children!

The colorful illustrations fill the pages with memorable moments through Clarence's long life, and a clear look at farm life in the early twentieth century. Textured and inviting, listeners will enjoy every moment of this inspirational and joyful book.

An author's note adds a quick recap of Clarence's life, a photo, and meaningful data concerning illiteracy and the power that reading has to make a life better.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

displacement, by kiku hughes. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 12 and up

"I listened to her speaking to
her parents - my great grand-
parents - in Japanese as they
moved into the stall next to

I couldn't understand them
but I could tell by their tone
they were stressed.

I knew no Japanese ... "

This stunning graphic novel is both fact and fiction. It tells one family's story of the Japanese internment following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942. Learning about her family's history happens when Kiku and her mother visit San Francisco. Her mother wants to see the house where her mother grew up; Kiku is not impressed by their wandering about and is ready to head back home to Seattle.

Her mother is anxious to visit the mall that now sits on the site where the house once was. Kiku wants to sit and wait outside. It is her first time of  'displacement'.

"That's when it happened.

I heard the music first.

And when I opened my
eyes, all I could see
was a thick fog.

But when it cleared at last ...

I was somewhere entirely different."

Her return to the present time happens quickly. Then, she is 'displaced' again ... and then again. Finally, she seems to be stuck back in time where she experiences what her grandparents and many other Japanese families endured while incarcerated during World War II. She soon realizes she is going to be there for some time. She resigns herself to surviving along with the others. She watches the varied reactions of those sent to the camps. Some are determined to protest and not abide by the rules set for them by the government. Others yield to their circumstances, hoping that life will soon be normal again.

Although she knows that her grandmother is a camp resident, she does not make contact with her. Rather, she watches and sees in her grandmother bravery and refinement as she deals with the conditions of camp life. Kiku's 'displacement' connects her to a heritage she has not explored, as little has been said about it. Unsure that she will return to the present time, there is a sense of hopelessness that is shown in the memorable artwork that offers a rather bleak existence in the desert (where many of the camps were located), and a true sense of isolation that all must have felt so far from home and all they had known.

Readers - and there will be many interested in this historical, autobiographical graphic novel - will learn needed information about a time in history that is not often discussed. A connection is made to the current incarceration in the United States of migrant children, as well as the Muslim ban enacted by President Trump and his administration. It has an emotional impact that is memorable for all who read it.

Archival photos, an author's note, a glossary to terms used, and a list for further reading are useful and may encourage further research.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Clothesline, written and illustrated by Orbie.Owlbooks, 2019. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"This is what Mom would call a dilemma.

Either I fall,
because my left hand is already telling me that I’m too heavy for it to hold up, or I help my left hand with my right.

But then I’d have to drop my three dimes."

Oh, Reggie! You are something. I'm so happy that we met, and that I can share your scary, but happy-ending tale of woe.

Reggie and his mom live in a second-floor apartment above a corner store. Doing chores for Mom doesn't seem so bad, and is expected. As soon as he is paid, Reggie is off to spend whatever change she has given him. He zips down the stairs with his heart full of happiness at the thought of the candy to come. As he does, he yanks the clothesline knot because he loves the sound it makes.

On this fateful day, the events are as usual ... except that he trips, grabs the knot and ends up on the clothesline. Hanging above the backyard by one hand, he realizes he is in some trouble. Doing his best to hang on, he worries about dropping the coins he was going to spend at the store. Once dropped, he decides he needs help. He begins yelling for his mother, to no avail (readers see her inside reading with a headset on - totally oblivious to her son's pleas for help).

Reggie hangs around - wishing and hoping that someone will notice. It doesn't happen. With his strength waning, and his fear of falling overpowering, he yells again for help from his mother. Angrier and angrier, he moves about, slips from the knot and lands on the grass (and his hands and knees). A few tears result, and he finally notices his coins on the ground. Off he goes, not much the worse for wear.

Kids will love the graphic format, the humor, the dire situation that Reggie faces, and the end result. Satisfying and absolutely worthy of visiting again, and then again!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

bunny overboard, written and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2020. $22.99 ages 2 and up

"Now what?

Maybe you can
the book back and forth
to make waves.

Can you ... "

Do little ones love to read books that involve them in the action? Yes, they do! And, will they love an adorable little bunny with a sparkling personality? Yes, they will. In fact, they will be more than willing to do all the work needed to make the bunny happy.  If you know one of these children, I've got the book for you today.

Bunny is off in a tiny sailboat for adventure on a sunny day. But, where's the wind? Nowhere to be found, it seems. Bunny needs help - and readers are asked to provide it. That is all the incentive needed. When the rocking gets a little raucous, there's a request to STOP! Time for a rest. Anchor overboard. Then, bunny overboard with goggles and mask in place.

An underwater visit with creatures of the sea offers up a few surprises, and the discovery of a shipwreck. There's much to be seen both outside and inside the wreck.

"We startled the fish!
Let's go in!
A shell! Would you
to see what's inside?"

Bunny has had enough adventure for today - it's time to head back to the boat. Of course, wind is needed again. It takes no time till the bunny is back home with family, ready for refreshments at the end of an exciting day.

You will certainly be asked to read it AGAIN, PLEASE!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Bird Hugs, written and illustrated by Ged Adamson. two lions, Thomas Allen & Son, 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Embarrassed by his useless
wings, he tried to make them

Then he wondered if it might
be better to pretend they were
something else.

A scarf, for instance?

A nice big bow?
It was hopeless ... "

Bernard is a tiny bird with a BIG problem. When sitting on a tree branch, his wings reach almost all the way down to the ground. Bernard cannot possibly fly, although he hopes he can. Those hopes are finally dashed, and Bernard resolves that his life will be spent in a tree ... not at all like his bird friends who have taken to the sky and flown away. Poor, poor Bernard! His days and nights are filled with woe.

When he hears a plaintive sob one day, his sympathetic nature comes to the forefront. He leaps up on the sobbing orangutan, wraps his long wings around him, and gives the primate a HUGE hug! The orang is delighted with his new state of mind. The thanks given make Bernard realize he might have something special to offer. Upon awakening from a restful sleep, Bernard is bombarded with a loud chorus from a long lineup of creatures in need of a hug.

"He hugged a very
ticklish crocodile

and a very slippery frog.

Even a worm wanted a hug
(which, you'll agree, was pretty
brave of the worm)."

Every morning brings a new group needing the comfort of a hug, and a listening ear. Bernard is able to give up on his dream of flying, and replace it with something far more important. Wouldn't you agree?

With humorous, lovely text and gentle watercolor and pencil artwork, Ged Adamson tells a story to be savored by little ones. Readers will love the book turns that give perspective to the length of Bernard's wings which offer endless hugs, and his ability to show genuine concern for others.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

the SPACE WALK, written and illustrated by Brian Biggs. Dial Books for Young Readers. Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Clear for spacewalk," said
Ground Control. "Dress
warmly, don't forget your
camera, and be back for

"Roger that," said Randolph
as he suited up.

"And one more thing ... " came
the voice from Earth.
"Don't talk to strangers!" 

Randolph Witherspoon is an eager astronaut. Once in space, he becomes bored and is looking for adventure. How about a walk outside, he wonders? In space?? He's keen and wants Ground Control to give permission.

There is work to do before that approval is granted. Fine! When the work is complete, Randolph is out of the hatch and floating freely. What glorious sights await! Polka-dot planets, full of color and in varied shapes require constant attention and many photographs. Observant of the many constellations and falling asteroids visible, he is surprised to meet an alien friend. They share a good deal of fun together before a farewell hug. It's time to bring an end to the spacewalk; not before seeking approval for a future foray. There are no promises.

"We'll see in the morning."   

The wordless part of the story is what will be most exciting for young readers. Although Randolph and his new friend do not speak (as instructed by Ground Control), there is a lot of communication between the two anyway. Goofy photos, and playful interactions assuage the loneliness of this space adventure.

Biggs’s digital pictures contrast the two worlds - inside and outside the capsule. So much fun!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

William's Getaway, written by Annika Dunklee and illustrated by Yong Ling Kang. Owlbooks, 2020/ $18.95 ages 3 and up

"William wanted some time
by himself.
All by himself.

And the only place for William
to get that was ...

In his hot-air balloon.

William loved his hot-air balloon.
He loved being up high, looking
down at the world."

No matter how much one loves a younger sibling ... there are days! Need I say more?

Edgar is the younger brother. Edgar loves being with William. He wants to play with him all the time. William does his best to be patient. Then comes a day! No matter what Edgar suggests, William is NOT interested. He just wants to be alone.

Knowing that his little brother is scared to climb up into the balloon, William assures himself of peace and quiet. When Mom reassures Edgar that he will be fine riding along with his big brother, Edgar expresses a keen interest in climbing aboard. But, first ...

Edgar needs a lunch, and a water bottle. All the while, William is sure Edgar will chicken out. As he waits, Edgar finds a jacket to keep him warm and a toy in case of boredom. To say William is frustrated would be an understatement.

"Edgar was finally about to start up the ladder when ...

"What if ... what if .... I get scared, William?"


With William's quiet and patient reassurance, Edgat is able to climb the ladder on his own, with no props. All he really needs is his brother's quiet voice and extended hand.

Yong Ling Kang chooses watercolor-and-colored-pencils for the artwork that accompanies this heartwarming family story. The images attract and inform readers about the power of a child's imagination. The house's interior is transformed into another world to explore. The bunk bed becomes a world to share.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Federico and the Wolf, written by Rebecca J. Gomez and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2020. $723.99 ages 4 and up

"He filled the basket on his bike
with romas, herbs, and limes,
jalapenos, onions,
and a peck of Anaheims.

He added garlic, pickles, bread,
and other market goods,
then pedaled through the city park
and deep into the woods."

While teaching, I loved to read new versions of old fairy tales. This charming tale is a Mexican-American retelling of the Red Riding Story, with a twist. Federico is tasked with making a trip to the market to find each of the ingredients on his Abuelo's grocery list. It is an important job and Federico takes it seriously. He happily gathers every item on the list and is ready to travel on to his grandfather's shop (la tienda). 

He isn't far along the path when a fallen branch stops him - and a wolf asks him to share the goods in his basket. Rico refuses to be interrupted, as his mission is clear. 'Un lobo' is wily, and takes another path. Upon arrival at la tienda Rico is suspicious, then astonished at what he sees.

"Abuelo?" whispered Federico,
pulling off his hood.

"Yes, it's me, but I can't see.
Come closer, if you would."

"Ay! I think you need a shave.
Your beard has grown so thick!"

"You think so?" said el lobo.
"Steady grooming does the trick."

Rico makes all the arguments for how different his granfaather looks. El lobo has all the answers, while trying to keep his rising hunger from hastily ending their conversation. As he unloads his basket, Rico proves he can hold his own. Poor el lobo! He definitely has his work cut out for himself if he thinks the young boy will be his next meal. He is sadly mistaken.

Federico has saved the day! After a light lunch, grandfather and grandson prepare a bottle of Wolf's Bane Salsa. 

Photoshop illustrations blaze with the vibrant colors of Mexico. Young readers with a sharp eye will note welcome details. The Spanish vocabulary adds interest, and will be much appreciated by those children who speak the language.

Backmatter includes a recipe for The Perfect Pico, and a challenge to find each of the listed words within the story's text. Pronunciation and translation are also provided.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Truth About Wind, written by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert and illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Annick Press, 2020. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"He runs faster than any horse in the world so I have named him Wind." Wind raced across the tabletop prairie and up and over the rolling cauliflower hills while Jesse ate supper. He leaped deep canyons and sailed above tall waterfalls while Jesse had his bath. "Jesse is having a wonderful time with the horse ... "

Jesse is outside playing in the backyard when he spots people passing by, and notices something has fallen out of their wagon. He sneaks a peek at a small black horse that appears to be looking right back at him. What a find!

When his mother makes an inquiry about it, Jesse tells her it is a gift from Grandma. He sings the praises of his new acquisition, and allows his mind to conjure daring feats for Wind. Almost caught in his first fib, he tells another. That night, Jesse feels a twinge of regret ... quashed as he and Wind spent a full week together. Each day brings new imagined delight, and a growing love.

The uneasiness becomes more noticeable. A little girl searching with her brother, and a 'lost horse' poster have him hiding behind library shelves. He avoids looking at any other poster. Still, he cannot admit the truth.

"At supper, Jesse found it hard to
swallow the spaghetti he loved.

All evening, his stomach was sore."

After a night filled with disturbing images, Jesse knows exactly what he must do. Hugging Wind for a final time, he passes him through the fence into the arms of the small boy who has been so diligently searching. 'Midnight' goes home.

This is an admirable story, told well and with heart. The pencil-and-watercolor artwork is perfectly suited to the adventure, the joy, and the crisis of conscience. Filled with movement, expression, and a change in chosen colors as Jesse faces the truth in what he has done is very effective.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Kamik Takes the Lead, adapted from the memories of Darryl Baker and illustrated by Ali Hinch. Inhabit Media, Fitzhebry & Whiteside. 2019. $10.95 ages 4 and up

"In the summer, when the
weather was warm, Jake and
his uncle took the dogs out on the land.

"Summer is the best time to exercise dogs. Running in the heat will make them very fit and strong," Akkak said. Jake let the dogs run with his ATV. He made sure to give the dogs lots of rest and water."

This is the fourth book in the Kamik series, and continues the story of Kamik's life as a sled dog. It follows Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story, Kamik's First Sled, and Kamik Joins the Pack. These books are adapted from memories shared by Darryl Baker. Fans of the first books are sure to enjoy seeing Kamik again, and learning how his training has made him the leader of the pack for his first race around town. Jake knows the odds, as there are other young mushers who want to win as badly as he does.

The two had put in a lot of hard work to get to this point, Kamik was ready, and so was Jake. Akkak had offered advice about the amount of work it would be to give Kamik his best chance for success. Summer and fall they had worked every day to ensure that the dogs would have the stamina and strength to pull a heavily loaded sled over long distances.

"Dogs need to be taken care of all the time," Akkak told him. "You have
no choice but to get the work done!"

Through summer, fall and winter Jake was a good student and Kamik a strong leader. Jake had listened intently to his uncle's advice and teaching. He spent much time with his dogs, letting them know how felt about them. He fed them well in preparation for their race, and all were ready with the arrival of spring.

Readers are left to wonder how the team does in their first challenge!

Learning about the traditional ways of the Inuit in Nunavut makes this a worthy addition to classroom and school libraries. Training practice and useful lessons concerning patience, hard work, respect for the dogs, and taking responsibility over a long period of time are valuable. The illustrations are appealing, giving attention to the people, the dogs, the seasons, and the northern setting.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Panda Problem, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Hannah Marks. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House, 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Psssst ... this is a story!

 I'm the narrator.

And YOU are the main

The main character? 
That sounds important!" 

I have no idea how I missed telling you about this endearing and humorous tale when it was published last year. For that I am sorry. However, we do know that good stories are good stories whenever we hear about them, and it will be easy to find a copy. So, here's my take on this one.

The narrator introduces the panda as a creature who has a BIG problem. The panda is having none of it. Replying with a definitive Nope, he surprises the storyteller. In fact, the panda asserts:

"I don't have any problems. 
Lovely view, lots of bamboo to eat, 
sunny day - what could be better?"

In trying to show the panda how stories work, the narrator is stonewalled with a barrage of questions and comments from the protagonist. A problem cannot be found. In frustration, the narrator yells at the panda, who appears cool as a cucumber swinging on a hammock while wearing sunglasses, apparently unconcerned about the narrator's consternation. The panda, in fact, turns the tables.

Maybe you are the main 
character and I am YOUR 

What? Ridiculous!

You're right. 
How could a sweet little 
panda like me be a problem? 

Unless ... "

Creating chaos with its many inane ideas and suggestions, the panda befuddles the narrator completely. Kids will be hooting at the craziness. Suddenly, all action comes to a stop when the panda realizes there IS a problem. Can it be solved?

Exhaustion brings an end to the storytelling, and takes the story full circle.

This is a great deal of fun for two children to read as the voices are so distinct. Just a head's up, they may need a bit of additional character help as the story moves forward. Reading it together is easy, as voices are shown in different fonts. Witty, with terrific artwork, this story will be shared numerous times and is an appealing read aloud.


Monday, July 6, 2020

Butterlies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies. Written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Meilo So. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"When summer came,
I felt sure I'd see monarch
butterflies. I knew what to
look for: large black and orange wings with a border of small white specks. I wanted to see them flit from flower to flower sipping nectar. But though I looked hard - in parks, fields, and the community gardens ... "

Here is a positive and uplifting tale concerning a community working together to affect change for all. It begins in spring with a  class picture and the acknowledgement that the young girl sharing her story does not like being the center of attention. Moving to a new place, not speaking English, and counting on a librarian to help with book choice, she has learned much about monarch butterflies from one of the chosen books.

Before her story moves on to summer, a two-page spread of informational text concerning the monarchs is provided. A turn of the page, and the story moves on. The narrator is sure she will soon be seeing the beautiful creatures flitting from flower to flower sipping nectar. In fact, she does not. She compares the butterfly to herself.

"I wondered if monarch butterflies
belonged here. Sometimes I
wondered if we did, too."

Another inserted two-page spread describes the monarch's life cycle. Fall arrives with the child finding the familiar butterfly book again. Easier to read now, she makes a discovery that concerns her. There is a reason there are no butterflies. It's a big problem. The librarian adds new butterfly books to her reading agenda and tells her that she has been growing milkweed in her garden. Hmm! What about that sunny spot outside the library window?

With the encouragement of her friendly librarian, further learning about the butterflies she so loves, and time in winter to make a plan, all it will take is the courage to propose a plan for her classmates. Will they want to help? Of course, they will. After much work and many presentations, a plan is set in motion that goes beyond school boundaries. Spring brings success, and shows how important it is for just one person to care enough to do the preliminary work that will impact a community.

The writing combines storytelling with effective informational text. It will be appreciated by young people wanting to make a difference in their own communities. Meilo So's art, as always, is captivating and full of the details that hold attention and encourage action. In back matter, an author's note expresses concern for the dwindling monarch butterfly population. Ms. Hopkinson offers a quick guide for getting started on a garden, and adds numerous additional facts about the monarch. A list of books and internet resources provide incentive to learn even more.

What a treat!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

I'm Sticking With You, written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Steve Small. Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 2 and up

"Like peas in a pod,
you and I fit.

Like strawberries and cream,
we are a hit.

Whatever the game,
I'm on your side.

No mountains too tall,
no river too wide."

I can't wait to have a FaceTime visit with my granddaughters. I want to share this buoyant book with them. I know they will want to hear it numerous times. The delight for the sharing is in the exuberant rhymes and the wondrous expression-filled spreads that expose every meaningful moment of their love for each other. Real friends stick together through thick and thin; not always without problems, but always with loyalty and endless love. Now, there's a message for each of us.

Bear and Squirrel could not be more different in appearance. One is tall, one is small. One is heavy, one is light. One is wide, one is narrow. They do everything together, despite it all. Mood doesn't matter, small accidents are forgotten, harrowing journeys are undertaken, though uncomfortable.

"We sit by the cliff top.
We sit by the lake.
We sit by the ice cap.

I eat all the cake."

That might be the last straw for Squirrel. Recognizing a need to be alone, Squirrel decides to part ways. Because Bear loves Squirrel, an agreement is reached and the two take their leave. Squirrel is pleased with this newfound peace and quiet, an abundance of space, and the carefree feeling of being alone ... for a time.

Something must be done. Squirrel is off at a quick pace to make things right.

"Me without you?
It just doesn't work.

Me without you?
I'd just go berserk."

Bear lets love be the guide after listening to all of his best friend's cajoling. Life together is much better!  Drawn with pencils and watercolor, the artwork is both humorous and affectionate. It affords an abundance of white space throughout to keep the focus keenly on the two best friends.

We will read it many times.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

my best friend, written by julie fogliano and illustrated by jillian tamaki, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2020. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"sometimes when we are
feeling quiet we sit under
a big tree

she can turn the leaves
into skeleton hands

she picks away all the green


Julie Fogliano is absolutely tapped into telling a story that will be fully understood by young children. They will find her new book engaging and full of great delight. Our lively narrator describes her best friend from the first page forward in glowing terms. In doing so, she explains all that makes the two a perfect pair. Like Anne and Diana, they are 'kindred spirits'.

They are compatible in every way. As they spend this time together, readers are fully aware of the joy they find in one another's company. She praises her best friend for being smart, musical, funny, quiet when needed, artistic, helpful, and worthy of being called something so special.

"she is my best friend
i think

i've never had a best friend
so i'm not sure"

Their actions are endearing and familiar, heartfelt and full of fun. Knowing they don't always like the same things makes no difference to their relationship at all. As a parent takes each by the hand for the return home, the two look forward to seeing each other again. Only then does the audience learn they have just met. She doesn't even know her 'best friend's' name! She will - tomorrow.

Add to this glorious text the rust, peach and olive digital art of Jillian Tamaki, and I have a book that goes direct to our 'keepers' shelf. The energy and gorgeous closeup images that fill each page reveal the strength in feeling little ones exhibit at every turn. What a celebration!

Sure to inspire listeners to talk about their own 'best' friends, and the things they do together. Parents and caregivers who read it to their children are likely to do the very same thing.

 In a recent interview, Julie had this to say:                                                                 

 "Young kids connect with their hearts and imaginations first... the vroom vroom of a truck in a sand box, the exhilaration of rolling down a hill, the simple comfort of holding hands ... the language of childhood is love and joy ... "

Jillian shared her thoughts as well:

"Play is so intense and vivid at that age, and your best friend is your whole world. I wanted to conjure into images that sense of insularity and whimsy that Julie describes and I remember so well."

Friday, July 3, 2020

From the Desk of Zoe Washington, written by Janae Marks. Katherine Tegen Books, Harper. 2010. $22.99 ages 9 and up

"I've been wondering about 
what you did. I know a little 
about it. I don't want to think
about you being a murderer, 
not when you've been so nice 
to me in these letters. Are you 
sorry you did it? 

PS Please send another song. 
I started making a playlist ... "

Zoe is celebrating her 12th birthday when she receives her first letter from her birth father. She has never met Marcus because he was sent to jail before she was born. He is there because he was found guilty of murdering someone. Her grandmother knows about the letters they are writing, and allows Zoe to respond secretly.

There is a lot going on in Zoe's life. It is the summer before 7th grade; she is helping out at a bakery in hopes it will give her the experience she needs to audition for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge; she has been in a row with her best friend Trevor and is not speaking to him; and she is keeping a secret from her mom and stepfather about her communications with Marcus. Her mother and stepfather have never wanted any connection between the two. Her grandmother is willing to give Marcus the benefit of the doubt, and with her guidance and knowledge allows the letters to be sent and received - even a few phone calls.

In one of the letters Marcus tells her he is not guilty, as he had an alibi at the time. His lawyer did nothing to check for evidence concerning it.  Zoe wants to believe Marcus, and does. That sets her on a course to get him help and prove his innocence. She informs herself without letting any of her family know what she is doing. As she and Trevor have settled their differences,the two work together to gather the evidence needed. Together they set out to find proof that Marcus is telling the truth.  When they are caught, both are in big trouble. What happens next will please readers.

This is a beautifully written debut novel that is both lovely and compelling. Zoe learns about systemic racism, inequality, family relationships, trust, justice, and making friendships work. She is a terrific character who is kind and compassionate. She has a wonderful, loving family and a stellar best friend.
There is a lot to unpack here. Middle grade readers will find much to discuss together.