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Monday, August 31, 2020

Pirate Nell's Tale to Tell: A Storybook Adventure, by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty. Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky. Raincoast, 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"What's this?" he ordered,
with a frown.
"I think," said Nell,
"it's upside down."

"Don't tell me how to
read a map,
you good-for-nothing
There's treasure here,
that's plain to see ... "

Nell can hardly believe it when her dream of being a pirate comes to fruition! She has always longed for adventure. In preparation for her time at sea, she includes an almanac with her gear, and carries stories in her head. The crew loves her daring tales.

Her days aboard the pirate ship bring reality to the fore as she scrubs pots and mops floors ... the plight of the youngest and newest crew member. Captain Gnash is full of orders, and little praise. On a sleepless night when Nell is gazing out to sea, she spies a bottle floating on the waves. Lo and behold, it has a map inside. The map sports an X on a flag-shaped island. It spurs even more dreams of adventure and treasure hunting.

It takes little time for Captain Gnash to claim the map for his own, and set sail to discover the treasure he reasons to be his own. Countless snafus and solutions along the way show Nell's innate ability to take her rightful place on the crew.

"She led them safely through the storm.
The sea grew calm; the air grew warm.
The treasure map was barely dry
when something distant caught Nell's eye.
Some craggy cliffs, a sandy shore ...

The island they'd
been searching for!"

And a treasure that is a complete surprise!

Enjoyable rhyming text keeps the story moving forward, and makes for a fun readaloud. The acrylic ink illustrations add to the fun, with action-filled, detailed spreads sure to be appreciated by kids who love pirate adventure. Librarians and early years teachers, rejoice!                                                                             

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Tiny Bird: A Hummingbird's Amazing Journey, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Wendell Minor. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $25.99 ages 6 and up

"Flower to flower,
backward, forward, under, over,
like an acrobat of the air!

Radiant green feathers glimmering, ruby throat shimmering,
Tiny Bird delicately dips its beak into the heart of each flower, extracting precious nectar.

The endpapers are a delightful invitation to readers of all ages to learn about the hummingbird in this tale of one bird's remarkable journey ... one that is taken every year as these tiny, brilliantly-colored birds migrate 1500 miles from the northeastern United States to their winter home in Mexico. Captioned images provide data comparing its tiny size to familiar objects, and a map that plots that migratory feat.

First spreads are given to its preparation for what is to come. Its whirring wings, acrobatic moves from flower to flower, and its need to feed is captured in beautiful close-up images created in gouache watercolors. Autumn is just around the corner, and the bird is feeling the pull that marks the beginning of its long, solitary journey. It will not be easy. Many obstacles will stand in its way, as they will for all other hummingbirds heading for a warmer climate.

It fuels itself with nectar and insects while also doing its very best maneuvering to keep out of the reaches of its predators - a hawk first and then the Gulf of Mexico, a non-stop flight from one side to the other of more than twenty hours. Keeping close to the water's surface provides protection from the winds, while also putting it very close to leaping fish. Then, a sudden storm adds danger and results in exhaustion.

"Slower. Slower.
Tiny Bird begins to falter.
Its wings grow heavy as it dips
ever closer to the dangerous water."

It finds reprieve on fishing boat, and the strength to go on. Worn out and thin from lack of food, it finally arrives at its destination. There's food and comfort in this winter home. In the spring, it will make an equally arduous return trip. What wonder is that?

The final two pages are given to Fun Facts About Hummingbirds and How To Become a Member of the Hummingbird Helper Club, as well as a suggestion from Mr. Burleigh.

"The author especially recommends one online source that contains well-organized information about hummingbirds: The site is divided into many small and easy-to-understand sections that cover every aspect of hummingbird life."  

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Paper Kingdom, written by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Pascal Campion. Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Their old car sputtered as they
drove to Mama and Papa's work

The big glass building always
looked angry. It seemed to say
"Stay out!" "Can't I just sleep in
the car?" Daniel asked.

But Mama and Papa said no. They
hurried inside and waved at Sam,
the security guard."

In a story based on the author's childhood, we meet Daniel and his parents. Most nights, as Daniel's parents prepared for their job as night janitors, Daniel got ready for bed. On this particular night, a phone call changes that. Auntie Clara is not available to take care of Daniel while his parents work. Daniel, tired and already in bed, must get up and accompany them to their work.

He begs to stay on his own. Not an option. Into the car they get, and head downtown to begin their night's work. Daniel offers to sleep in the car. Again, not an option. They wave to the security guard Sam as they enter the office building. Daniel is impatient as his parents get the things they will need to complete their work.

As they go, they tell Daniel a story about the Paper Kingdom.

"Didn't we tell you before? This is the land of the Paper King!
"The Paper King?" Now Daniel felt awake. "How come I
never saw him? Where is he?"

When they look for him in the throne room, all they see is the paper left behind. They suggest that he must be sleeping, and they will clean up for him. Daniel wonders why they have to do it. They whisper to him about the queen, who is responsible for paper being sent to everyone in the kingdom. As the story is shared and the cleaning done, Daniel is entertained and forgets he is tired.

Imagination reigns. Soon it is time for the family to return home for a good night's sleep ... Daniel to dream of a future where people clean up after themselves so Mama and Papa don't have to do it. Storytelling, humor and imagination wins out, just as it did for Helena Ku Rhee when she went to work with her parents.

Pascal Campion's digital artwork clearly depicts a hardworking family who find a way to keep their son entertained as they carefully clean every inch of the Paper Kingdom. Expressive and emotional, they show readers tight family bonds, as well as what happens at night in some buildings when most people are in bed.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Amphibian Acrobats, written by Leslie Bulion and illustrated by Robert Meganck. Peachtree, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $10.99 ages 10 and up

"This small warty father,
Nose pointed and slender,
Takes tadpole care further
Than any (frog) other.
With no help from mother,
He guards eggs on litter,
Until larvae quiver
Through jelly-clear covers.

Then trusty Dad gathers
His egg sons and daughters,
And gulp! provides shelter ... "

The last book I read by this very accomplished pair was Superlative Birds (2019). It was one of my favorite books of the year. As someone who loves poetry, I was in awe of the literary acumen and the amount of research done to provide so much information concerning the birds chosen. 

I was, then, not surprised to find that this book is also quite stunning. This collaborative team manages to perfectly match art and text in a book that is sure to satisfy a young person's need to know more about the featured amphibians (caecilians, salamanders, toads, and frogs). Ms. Bulion describes where they are found, how they move, the differences between them, their life cycles, and their young.

Each entertaining entry is accompanied by a fantastic digital image, and a comprehensive description that provides a scientific name, where they live in the world, and what is unique about each one.  She has this to say about the Star-Fingered Toad, that lives in South America and Trinidad and spends most of its life moving about underwater. The mother frog's back provides a perfect environment for 60 to 100 eggs.

“Her skin grows pockets, capped with lids,
to shield her embryonic kids,
whose tails shrink as they sprout four legs,
no tadpoles hatch—they stay in eggs,
til star-shaped toe and pointy snout
poke through Mom’s skin…pop, pop they’re out!”

Robert Meganck's artwork adds to the humor of the descriptive and entertaining text. He helps readers see and understand that these amazing creatures can alter their shapes, change their colors, and execute some pretty amazing feats.

Back matter includes a useful glossary, poetry notes for each poem included, acknowledgements, a section concerning the help that is needed for all amphibians and how everyone can play a role in saving their habitats and self-education. A list of resources, a world map to show where they can be found and a key to their size and endangered status brings this wonderful book to an end.                                                                                 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist. Words by Linda Skeers and pictures by Marta Alvarez Miguens. Sourcebooks, Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Day after day, Mary scrambled over the cliffs. Week after she searched, Month after month. After almost a year, Mother Nature lent Mary a helping hand. The powerful wind and pounding rain from a devastating storm caused several landslides. In one night, the cliff's long buried ancient layers were exposed."

Mary Anning needed a hammer, a chisel, and an inquisitive mind to do the work she so loved. With tools in hand, and a sense of wonder for the world near the cliffs where she lived, she spent her days searching and bringing to earth the bones of an enormous, never-before-seen creature. Her discoveries were not appreciated at the time because of her gender.

Unafraid and fiercely independent, Mary accomplished many things that were not expected of the women of her time. She learned to read and write, studied hard, and kept notes about her many discoveries. Her brother often accompanied her on her searches and was there when she discovered
'a four-foot-long head with a pointed snout'. Unperturbed by the size of the discovery, Mary and her brother persuaded villagers to help them bring it to their home. Now, where would she find the strange creature's other parts?

She searched through days and months. Finally, nearly a year later she got help from a storm. Landslides led to visible bones. Mary now knew exactly where to spend her time. When it was fully exposed, the villagers were aghast. A collector offered a sum of money that would support Mary's family during hard times, so she sold it. Donated to a London museum, it garnered attention and a name - ichthyosaurus - meaning fish lizard.

Mary's discovery made scientific history. Mary continued working while others discussed what she had found. When she discovered 'poop', she was mocked. She did not let what scientists said dissuade from the work she loved.

"Even though Mary could identify a species from one
single bone and rebuild entire skeletons like a jigsaw
puzzle, she couldn't join the Geological Society of
London. Women were not allowed."

She knew her work was important, as did many others. Today, her accomplishments are well known. Thanks to excellent picture book biographies like this one, a new generation of readers will soon know more about her, too.

Back matter includes a section called Bone Bits and Fossil Facts, a Mary Anning timeline, and an author's note.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The One Day House, written by Julila Durango and illustrated by Bianca Diaz. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2020. $9.99 ages 5 and up

"One day," said Wilson, " I will
fix the chimney so you can make
a fire to keep you cozy."
"I will like that," said Gigi. "But
today, you are all the warmth I

"One day," said Wilson, "I will
fix the roof on Gigi's house to
keep out the wind and snow."
"That's a smart idea," said the

Wilson is a caring child in his community. He loves his friend, Gigi. He wants to do whatever he can to make his elderly friend's life better for her. In front matter, we learn from a poster he sees that there is a neighborhood program called Build Up Neighbors. It encourages neighbors to work together to help one another. Wilson is quick to take a slip with a phone number as he heads toward his daily visit with Gigi. He tells her that one day he will paint her house 'orange and yellow like the sun.'  Gigi smiles and offers a compliment.

As Wilson travels throughout his community, he mentions to others the things that he will do to make Gigi's house more comfortable. Every person he meets encourages his dream of a better life for his friend. Gigi loves his ideas, and always lets him know she is happy with his being with her. He is more important to her than home repairs.

And then, one day ...

What a surprise when the community steps up to ensure that all the things Wilson has noticed will happen!

The colorful mixed media artwork shows a multicultural community where neighbors greet neighbors warmly and with interest. Readers will appreciate Wilson's child-like drawings of what he will do to change things for his beloved friend. This is a warm and engaging look at the way communities work together for the greater good. It is a perfect read for those wanting to encourage children to be kind, and to make the world a better place through generous and volunteerism.

An author's note talks about a local project in her own community, and encourages readers to see if they can a way to help others.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer, written and illustrated by Gillian Goerz. Dial, Penguin Random House. 2020. $14.99 ages 8 and up

"I couldn't make sense of my
new companion.
Some times she was chatty
enough and would tell me
all kinds of things. And some
times she didn't walk to talk.
She seemed to be thinking
really hard.
Or not at all.
But I was there to play ball.
So I tried to accept I might
never know more about her."

Oh, my! I can't wait for the next book about Shirley and Jamila. Following this incredible debut, I can only hope there will be one. To say they are impressive and fascinating is definitely an understatement.

The two meet at a garage sale. Jamila is new to the neighborhood; she and her mother have come to check things out and meet the new neighbors. Shirley has coerced her mother into attendng with her need for various and intriguing items. It turns out that they are the same age, and this is about all they have in common. Jamila Waheed is obsessed with basketball. Shirley Bones is obsessed with observation. Her very astute comments about Jamila without knowing her at all are befuddling to Jamila, because they are true. As they get to talking, they realize that they have another thing in common ... their parents are intent on enrolling them in summer camps, deemed to keep them involved and out of trouble. Shirley is headed to dance camp, and Jamila is off to a science camp that both of her older brothers have attended. Neither is keen.

They strike up a friendship, convince their parents that together they will be safe. Jamila will get to play basketball at a nearby court, while Shirley will accompany her and stay with her every day.

“I’ll go with you to the basketball court on Robert Street every day. As long as we’re together, our mothers should let us go out on our own.”

What's in it for Shirley? We know she is very vigilant, and that is what she likes to do ... observe people and quietly watch what is going on around her. It turns out that Shirley is quite the sleuth; other kids come to her with problems they hope she can solve. The two girls get involved in a case of stolen objects and end up solving a complicated mystery, while helping other children. Jamila is not sure what to think about the trench coat-wearing Shirley. As they work together to solve the mystery, they learn much about the other and come to an understanding concerning their relationship.

Gillian Goerz has created credible characters whose story rings absolutely true. Kids who love mysteries will be charmed by the story, and fully involved in their working things out between them. The artwork is brimming with details of summer life. The constant movement, the setting, and the connections from one character to another are attention-getting and very satisfying.

There is no mystery to this new friendship. It takes work, and it is so worth it!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Son of Happy, written by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Milan Pavlovic. Groundwood, 2020. $18.95 ages 7 and up

"But this Halloween, I didn't
want to go out as a clown.
So I made my own costume.
I became a vampire with
blood dripping from my fangs.
"Hey, Dad, look!" I made scary noises and gnashed my teeth. Dad swiveled in his easy chair. He looked at me over his glasses and sighed. Very nice," he said and went back to reading the Clown Times."

Our narrator is not thrilled when invited to his friend Teddy's birthday party. There is a clown. That clown is named Happy and is astute with creating balloon creatures. The party goers love the things he makes. The surprise comes when we learn that the clown is the boy's father.

Not keen that his father doesn't have a 'regular job', the boy decides he isn't enamored of clowns or the life they live. It wasn't so when he was a younger child. Then, he liked watching his dad prepare for his work, and considered himself lucky to have a dad who was also a clown. In fact, the boy often dressed just like his dad for Halloween. But things are changing.

Business has slowed right down for a working clown. When his father puts a sign on their lawn offering his services, the boy is embarrassed.

"But the sign didn't bring in any new business.
At dinner one day, Dad made an announcement.
"There's just not enough work for a clown anymore.
I'm going to have to go back to my old job."
"You had an old job?" I asked.
"Before you were born, son."
"What was it?"
"I was a lawyer."

His son is astonished. He tries to tell his friend Teddy that having a lawyer for a dad, not a clown, feels weird. Teddy is asleep and doesn't hear him. He begins to worry about whether his dad is truly happy anymore. Can he turn things around, and make his dad's world a happier place?

This story warms my heart. Readers will enjoy the mixed media images created by Milan Pavlovic. The colors are bright, the expressions clear, and the setting effective at every turn. This is perfect fare for kids who want a longer book to read. Well told, and illustrated to help with context, they will like the success they feel when reading it independently.

The final spread offers a chuckle.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Act, by Kayla Miller. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2020. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"Is this what sit-ins are 
supposed to look like? 

Well, in the videos I
watched, the protesters
all held signs and would
sing or chant ... and ideally,
we'd have more people.

I didn't have the time to
come up with a song or
slogan or make more signs."

This is the third graphic novel in a series, following Click (2019) and Camp (2019). Olive is pretty excited to be starting her grade six year. She looks forward to meeting new friends, new teachers and finally getting to go on a field trip to the theater in the city. When they get back Olive is surprised to find her friend Beth crying in the washroom, and learns that she was not able to go on the trip because her mom did not have enough money to send her.

At the same time, the sixth-grade classes has been asked to name, by election, two student representatives to the student council. Trent and Sawyer, two of Olive's best friends, decide to run together on a platform to bring chocolate pudding back to the cafeteria lunch program. They are loud, funny, and almost obnoxious about it. Olive, having thought carefully about those students who cannot afford to go on field trips, decides that she will run with hopes of changing school policy to fund all students.

As the competition heats up, Olive begins to listen to other students about their particular issues and feels she should take a stand for them. Can she run in the election without losing her friends? She decides that she must do something if she can. Emotional and uplifting, this is a terrific story about taking a stand and making a difference for her classmates.

Olive is a great character, inspiring and thoughtful. Her family supports her, as do her friends. Her new story is a welcome addition to a very popular series.

In the Odds and Ends that follow, Ms. Miller includes a recipe for the Mint Chocolate Chip-Ins cookies the students make for the bake sale held to fund all student field trips. As well, she briefly describes Protests of the Past and offers a list of suggested reading materials.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Finding Narnia: The Story of C.S. Lewis and His Brother. Written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Jessica Lanan. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2019. $25.99 ages 6 and up

"Upstairs Jack made his own
imaginary world, and Warnie
joined him. They called it Boxen.
Jack drew a map of Boxen's teeming capital city. He sketched the parliament house, the stock exchange, shipyards, a train station, and a music hall.
Warnie designed a steamship to travel from Boxen to India and back."

Here is yet another excellent picture book biography that offers a window into the lives of two brothers whose imaginative and adventurous childhood led to the creation of a series of books long loved by generations of children.

Jack and Warnie Lewis were each other's best friend. While Warnie saw the world around him through a nearby window, Jack saw a completely world in his imagination as he read book after book after book. They pretended to live other lives than their own, spending countless hours drawing; Warnie envisioned reality while Jack sketched imaginary adventure.

The family's new house in Ireland provided opportunity for Jack to create his own new world ... called Boxen. Warnie helped design it. Their mother ill, and their father consumed with worry, allowed the two boys much leeway for their own respective talents. Jack drew the map, while Warnie designed a ship. Together, they made themselves 'kings' of this new land. It would have been wonderful to live there. It was not to be.

Too much time at boarding school was followed by military service during WWI. They were not in the same regiment, and worried endlessly about each other. Upon their return home, Jack chose teaching at Oxford, while Warnie continued with his army work. Upon retirement, they lived together in a house similar to their old home in Ireland. During WWII, they chose to help young children displaced by the war. When the two girls found a wardrobe with creaky hinges and asked a pertinent question about it, Jack knew just what to do ...

Boxen is gone, Narnia is born!

Beautifully written, and brilliantly illustrated to show readers both the world the boys grew up in, their many worthy works, and the magical world named Narnia make for a fascinating read. Notes from both author and illustrator add wonder to the evolution of this picture book biography through discoveries made while doing their research.

Fans of the series will love it; those who have never read the seven books may just feel the pull to find out more about them.

Friday, August 21, 2020

All Together Now, written and illustrated by Hope Larson. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $17.50 ages 10 and up

"Ugh. Maybe I should have 
tried harder to make it work 
with them. 

"I thought the idea was to see
and be seen."

"I know. I didn't think I'd feel
so weird about this."

This follow-up graphic novel to All Summer Long (2018) has been long anticipated. It is a fan's chance to catch up with Bina and her love of music. She's in grade eight now, and still very interested in creating and playing music in a band. Her new friend Darcy is excited to play keyboards. When they realize that a drummer is what they need to improve their sound, they find Enzo.

Darcy and Enzo begin dating and quickly decide they need a new sound; Bina is out. Austin, Bina's neighbor and best friend, provides sympathy while also seeking support following a break-up with his girlfriend. After spending time together, Austin shows a romantic interest in Bina. Her interest lies only in music, not dating. How weird would it be to date your best friend? she worries.

It is tough for Bina to prove herself as her own person. She is bright and capable, and finds a way to make new relationships work while also following her own path. Written and drawn by Ms. Larson, then colored by Hilary Sycamore and Karina Edwards, this is a worthy novel that offers strong characters in familiar circumstances and will be appreciated by fans, old and new.

Readers will welcome back matter that includes Ms. Larson's explanation of her work as this story evolved. Useful and very interesting to read.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Follow The Recipe: Poems About Imagination, Celebration & Cake. Written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. 2020. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Smidgen, pinch, dash,
drop, jigger, gill.
How much to put in?
How much to fill?
Scant, rounded, heaping,
level, sifted, packed
(firmly or lightly).
Must you be exact?
Grams, drams, and ounces,
a soupcon, a cup.
You need to use a glossary
so you don't mess things up."

Gifted poets amaze me! Marilyn Singer is one of my favorites. In this new collection, she proves her mettle once again. Using variety in poetic form she has created 'recipes' for a plethora of scenarios, including a disaster, a bit of magic, nature, reading, patience, and even social situations.

"He's the apple of your eye.
He's a sugarplum.
She is such a peach,
makes you want to hum.
He's the cherry on top
of your favorite ice cream.
You go bananas
when you see her.
She's a honey, she's a dream.

School lunches now are
no longer pallid.
Love makes the most
delicious fruit salad!"

Whether it's haiku poetry to help readers enjoy the seasons, making a connection between writing and cooking or considering memories, Ms. Singer draws her audience in and offers thoughtful musings on a wide variety of questions and important concerns in today's world.

Ms. Priceman wows with artwork created in gouache, printmaking and collage. Her images flow seamelssly around the poetic text creating a true feast for the eyes. An imaginative book that will be enjoyed for its exuberant, colorful art and its wonderful words.


Lemonade, if I
      had a butterfly's tongue, I'd
never need a straw."

Readers are sure to enjoy it more than one time!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story. Written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Jonathan Voss. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Mama calls her mate
Papa delivers a snake
Belly full, she preens.

Mama lays an egg
In the starlight it glistens
A moon of its own.

Today there are three
Papa hunts and Mama broods
Wind whips; eggs are warm."

When I was presenting poetry workshops in schools, I was always surprised at how easy teachers thought it was for their students to write haiku poems. It is not. There are many rules to writing such a poem, not the least of which is that science is often the impetus for its theme.

Choosing the right words is a gift, and Maria Gianferrari rises to the occasion in this poetic tribute to the most common of North American owls: the great horned one. The author has an admitted penchant for raptors, and she shares her knowledge and admiration in this brilliant new book. Having Jonathan Voss join her as collaborator makes for a pretty perfect picture book. He uses sepia ink and watercolors, with color added digitally, to provide a stunning look at the life cycle of this proud and fearless predator.

Readers watch as the two mates choose a squirrel's nest for their new home. Mama lays three eggs, loses one when crows attack, and the two nuture the other owlets that do hatch. The words chosen for describing this rearing of their young allows readers a close look at the nature of the bird itself, and the threats to bringing the babies to independence and a home of their own.

The stunning images of these imposing birds bring nature and its tensions to fully realized life. The dark of the forest and the light of the moon are always evident. Occasional panels are inset in the double-page spreads to accentuate drama.

End notes offer further facts and suggest worthwhile resources to show readers just how unique and fascinating these raptors are.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Clover Kitty Goes to Kittygarten, written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. two lions, Thomas Allen & Son. 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"It took Clover furever to reach
home. "You look like you had an
exciting day!" said Mama. Then
her whiskers drooped. "Are you
okay, Clover?"

Without a meow, Clover curled
into a circle. Mama rubbed just
behind Clover's left ear until
Clover fell asleep."

Clover's first day at kittygarten does not go as well as her mother might have wanted. For a small kitty with sensitivity to noise, sunshine, colorful wall displays, and the hubbub of a very busy group of kittens, it is overwhelming. She already has some reservations, and it's even worse than she thought it might be. Poor Clover.

One of the other kittens does his best to make Clover feel at home. Oliver welcomes her, sits beside her, notices her discomfort when the class gathers on the story time mat. Outside is no better. An invitation from Oliver to sit quietly and enjoy the seesaw is waylaid by the enthusiasm of all the other kittens wanting Clover to participate in their boisterous play. Lunch is unbearable. Even nap time is too much for her.

When she can't take anymore, Clover bolts out the door and heads for home. Her Mama is happy to see her and excited for school news. Clover says nothing, curls up, and is soon fast asleep. Tuesday is a day of rest at home. Oliver brings greetings from the class. Mama promises a Wednesday return. It doesn't happen.

Oliver is persistent in wanting to let Clover know how much he misses her. Clover avoids his Wednesday visit, but begins to feel uneasy about her decision. Being on the seesaw at home alone is not much fun. Oliver does not return on Thursday. Is Clover missing him? She wonders.

On Friday, she makes the decision to return. This time she will be better prepared.

"Clover stuffed her backpack with survival gear. She used sunglasses when Ms. Snappytail flashed the spotlights. Earmuffs to soften the circle time gong. And her own silky knitted rug for story time."

Friday is much better. Having 'calm, kind,' Oliver there helps makes a big difference. Expressive watercolor artwork shows readers that school can be overwhelming for some students, and allows them to see the emotions Clover exhibits in the midst of it all.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Bringing Back the Wolves: How A Predator Restored An Ecosystem. Written by Jude Isabella and illustrated by Kim Smith. Kids Can Press. 2020. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Nothing is as it should be
in Yellowstone National Park:
the spindly trees have trouble
standing up, grasses have spread
across the landscape, and the
streams are deep and straight
instead of meandering and
shallow. The landscape looks


Yellowstone National Park existed for too many years without the presence of wolves, a fundamental
predator in balancing the entire ecosystem that had once existed. Without the wolf, the elk herds had become a detriment to the balance needed to sustain a healthy environment.

"Wolves are top or apex predators. When such an
important member of an ecosystem goes missing, many
other living things are indirectly affected, causing a chain
reaction of events. This is called a trophic cascade. 

A trophic cascade works in the opposite direction, too.
Reinstating the missing link can also cause a chain reaction."

In 1995, work began to bring the wolves back to Yellowstone. The author relates her text to the changes that affected the park, and adds sidebars called It's Elemental to show how natural forces impact those changes as well. She provides clear information about the wolf, its pack, and its effect on the overpopulation of elk.

The content is easy-to-understand for readers because of its design and exceptional research. As the wolves reduced the elk population, the park was allowed to return to its former glory. Plants grew and provided berries for bears, and offered homes to insects and birds. On and on it went, changing the pastoral environment in every way. This is a book that will give readers a close look at how ecosystems work, and a better understanding of the need to ensure their future. It is just one example of ecosystem recovery that clearly shows interdependence and adaptation.

"Twenty-five years after their reintroduction, about 500 wolves roam the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, staking their claim in the food web. Wolves have balanced the ecosystem just by being themselves, apex predators."

Readers will enjoy the illustrations done in Photoshop. They provide context for each step along the way to success and help celebrate the welcome return of a vital component to the park itself.  A glossary, a list of resources and an index bring this excellent piece of nonfiction to a close.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Don't Worry, Little Crab. Written and illustrated by Chris Haughton. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Maybe it's better if
we don't go in the
ocean," says Little Crab.

"Don't worry,"
says Very Big Crab.
"It will be OK."

But the waves are
getting bigger ...

Look! A huge wave!"

We have all been where Little Crab is, in this very special story of overcoming fears. As happens with many young children and others, trying something new has Little Crab feeling very frightened. Very Big Crab is intent on providing a new experience for the little one.

The two live in a small tide pool, and they know there is a completely different world out there. The adventure begins with a positive attitude on Little Crab's part, following Very Big Crab across the pools of water and through the 'slimy, slippery seaweed'. The expanse of the ocean and the sight of the crashing waves give Little Crab pause.

Preferring to cut the journey short as the waves get bigger and wash over the two, Little Crab needs the constant reassurance and friendship that Very Big Crab provides. The waves wash ashore, the two creep closer and closer to the water's edge. Very Big Crab stays the course until they are IN the ocean and washed underwater by a final huge wave. What wonder awaits!

Chris Haughton's visuals capture attention at every turn, despite their simplicity. Expressions of fear and humor are evident throughout the reading. He manages to capture both with perfectly designed spreads. In a recent interview with Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes, Chris talked about his art:

"I use collage to work out poses to make sure they are the simplest they can be. I just try to make everything very simple and clear so that it can communicate well to the youngest children. I also try to make it as colourful and eye-catching as possible so I think those two things give it a distinct look."

Brilliantly done, I say!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Henry and Bea, written and illustrated by Jessixa Bagley. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2019. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"They always had
fun together.

It's as if they could
tell what the other
was thinking without
saying a word.

Except for one day,
when Henry seemed
quiet and sad."

Jessixa Bagley certainly knows the ways of children; she proves it every time she writes a new book. Lucky we are to be able to share them.

Henry and Bea are best friends, each understanding what is important to the other. That relationship changes when Henry becomes unusually quiet and obviously sad. Bea does not know why. Though she does her best to sort it out, Henry refuses to spend time with her. She misses their friendship and doesn't know how to make it better.

When a field trip to the farm is announced at school, Bea shares her excitement with Henry. Henry remains glum and brooding. Bea does not give up on being a friend, even though Henry offers no real response to her.

"The class was given a tour
of how the farm was run.

But Henry was still having a tough time
and went off on his own again."

Bea seeks him out, and discovers what is making him so sad. Finding an old cat collar in the barn is a poignant reminder of his cat Buddy. Henry tells her that Buddy has died. Bea responds as best friends do. She listens; she offers sympathy, understanding, and respect for keeping his pain private.

Ms. Bagley's watercolor and pencil images allow all emotions to be shown. Through her use of white space and perspective, she keeps the attention on the two friends throughout their story. Readers know the depth of the feelings shared through both text and illustration.

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon: The True Story of Alan Bean, written by Dean Robbins and illustated by Sean Rubin. Orchard Books, Scholastic 2019. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"The Moon was barren, but also beautiful in its own way. Gray dust as far as he could see. Thousands of black craters. Hard white sunlight. and everything perfectly still. Alan and Pete pushed a red, white, and blue American flag into the dust."

Others may have known that Alan Bean was an artist. I did not. That is what impresses me about the range of picture book biographies being published for our children and students. Through them, we learn about people we may not have known previously. I know that, once again, I am late posting this as the anniversary of the moon landing was celebrated last year. It does not make the book any less worthy of our attention; it is, in fact, quite fascinating.

Alan Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon; he was also the only man to paint what it looked like when he took his first steps there.

"My paintings record the beginning of a quest
never to end, our journey out among the stars."

Alan had always dreamed of this moment, training for many years and studying as a scientist to take his turn at space travel. His love of model airplanes and his dreams of being a pilot led to navy flight training. He also loved to paint, crafting images that were often unlike what other artists were creating.

As the astronauts got closer to the moon, Alan prepared to step out of the hatch. The two took many photos of the strange environment, and made many discoveries about personal movement and strength in a brand-new atmosphere. Once back to earth, people asked many questions that he could not answer with words. He used his artistic talent to try to show what he had seen, and how he felt while there.

"The only artist ever to see the moon up close.
Maybe a painting could show how it felt to be in outer space?"

He did just that, affording new dreams for children who saw his work. Alan Bean died in 2018; his artistic legacy continues to inspire others. Back matter includes an author's note about the astronaut/artist, and pairs his paintings with photographs taken on the moon. All are accompanied by quotes from the artist himself. A timeline for space exploration, and a bibliography are also included.

Text and art work brilliantly together in bringing Alan Bean's life as a scientist and an artist to life for young readers.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Bob Goes POP! written and illustrated by Marion Denchars. Laurence King, Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"But Roy's sculptures really
Bob needed some new ideas.

That night he crept over to
Roy's workshop.

"Just a tiny peek,"
he whispered.

The next day ... "

I hope you have met Bob in previous books ... Bob the Artist (2016) and Bob's Blue Period (2018).
If you have, you will know he is the best artist in town, and he knows it! There is no question in his mind. No doubt about it - until there is some doubt, indeed.

It's Owl who mentions it first, telling Bob there is a new artist in town. His name is Roy, and he's a sculptor. Seems everyone has noticed and loves his work. Bob sets out to meet this blue parrot who seems pretty darn proud of himself, too. Roy is keen to have Bob's opinion about his work. So, he takes Bob on a tour. Bob is 'underwhelmed' by Roy's talent.

"Oh! But they're just ordinary objects except bigger."
said Bob."

That is not the way to make a friend. Soon, the two are in competition. Bob makes his art first. Roy makes another. Bob's attempts don't have the same pizzazz as Roy's. The audience is quick to point out Bob's inadequacies. Try as he might, Bob cannot match Roy's talent at sculpture. His solution angers Roy, and causes a huge blow-up! Is there a solution? Of course, there is!

Young readers will enjoy this story for the conflict and the friendship. Older readers might find themselves wanting to know more about 'pop art' and using it as a starting point for a look at such artists as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Old Man of the Sea, written by Stella Elia and illustrated by Weberson Santiago. Lantana Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son. 2019. $25.99 ages 5 and up

"From that day on, Grandpa told
stories of the time he spent at sea.
He was a great sailor, my grandpa.
On board his ship, he studied maps
and compasses and navigated the
oceans by the stars in the sky.

Whenever he began one of his tales,
he would look at me in a way that
embarrassed me a little. "All aboard!" he would yell."

This loving intergenerational tale is told by the grandson, who visits with his grandfather every Sunday. From his bed, the frail man tells stories from his days at sea. Grandpa lets his grandson know that the lines on his face tell the story of his happy, fulfilled life.

In fact, most of Grandpa's life was spent sailing the seas, and loving every minute of that time. In his earlier years, he would peacefully sail under starry skies from one place to the next. Each new place - Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania - offered many grand experiences. Spending time in each meant new learning, new discoveries and eventually, a wavering interest because the call of the sea was so strong. As he moved from place to place, he 'filled his luggage with stories'.

After spending so much of his life at sea, peaceful and inspired, a frightening storm changed the way he lived his life.

"When he opened his eyes, Grandpa
found America kneeling beside him.

Together they set out for the wide
horizon and passed through springs,
summers, autumns and winters side
by side.

With America, my grandpa found true
love. They married, worked hard, had
children and made a family."

Grandpa no longer felt the pull of the sea. Thus, he can now share his many stories with his beloved and curious grandson. Warm, loving and worthy of reading aloud for Grandparents Day in the coming-too-soon month of September.

Weberson Santiago's 'watercolor on paper, completed digitally' images are an absolute delight. Each of continents visited is represented by shape and iconic images created in vibrant colors, always surrounded by the sea's brilliant blue. Varying perspectives create constant interest and encourage lasting attention to each spread. The boundless sea vistas provide for the calm and peace Grandpa always found there.

What a journey this is - one readers will want to take again and again!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Red Rover: Curiosity on Mars, written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Katherine Roy. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $24.99 ages

"The tracks play hide-and-seek ...
waiting for the rover to find them

The rover never gets tired.
It crosses plains,
climbs hills,
and traces the
bottoms of craters.

It rolls on and on."

In keeping this week's attention on space, I thought I would share another book about Mars before turning attention to another topic.

Richard Ho presents his story about Curiosity, just one of the rovers that have made a long and successful journey to Mars, from the perspective of the planet itself. It reminds readers that this rover is not the first visitor Mars has welcomed.

"They sailed across
a sea of space
and landed on
unfamiliar ground.
They found paths to
strange new places
and journeyed
far and wide.
They had a spirit
of adventure
and seized every
opportunity to explore."

Those who have an avid interest in space exploration will know the earlier rovers were named Mariner 9, Viking 1, Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity lives up to its name, exploring every part of Mars and sending all data captured back to those who sent it. As it measures and collects that data, it is always on the search for water. Mars observes some of the drawbacks to living there: thin air, strong storms, a sandy surface, and RED.

Katherine Roy's spectacular artwork matches Mr. Ho's description with swirls, desolation, storms, bleak landscapes and a wonderful double gatefold, sure to awe readers. Including a carefully-drawn and clearly labeled diagram of Curiosity is a perfect final spread.

Back matter includes welcome information about the planet itself, the time Curiosity has spent on Mars making priceless observations about Earth's closest neighbor, and prior rovers that paved the way for the success achieved since landing there almost eight years ago. A new launch is being prepared right now, and is expected to land on Mars in February 2021!                                                                             

Monday, August 10, 2020

Mars' First Friends: Come on Over, Rovers, written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli. Sourcebooks, Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Disappointed but determined, Mars
headed for Jupiter. "How about a little hide-and-seek?" he asked.

But Jupiter was too busy juggling his many moons. He just didn't have time.

Mars had high hopes for a game with Earth."

In this new book by the team who brought us yesterday's featured book, Mars is yearning to find a friend in his solar very own solar system. Although there are seven other planets, not one of them is interested in enjoying adventures with the fiery-red fourth planet. Loneliness has set in; Mars asks for advice from his father, the Sun.

All Mars wants is a pet - not Pluto whose time is already divided between Neptune and Uranus. The Sun wonders if Mars can handle the responsibility that being a pet owner requires. He sends him off to play with the other planets. Reluctantly, Mars takes his father's advice; they are all too busy with their own pursuits to pay attention to Mars' requests.

It is quite the surprise for Mars to see two small spacecrafts heading into his atmosphere.

"Then the pieces that had kept
them safe and snug for millions of
miles dropped away in stages.

As the crafts' parachutes popped
out to slow them for landing, Mars
wondered what they could be."

Both rovers drop down onto Mars' surface. Could they be the pets he has wanted? Spirit and Opportunity love everything about the red planet; Mars loves everything about them. What fun to have company! Perhaps there will be more.

Once again, Ms. Paganelli has created characters with big smiles and expressive faces, nearly accurate for comparative size and color. In back matter, readers will learn about the solar system, with additional information about Mars itself. Following that there is a description of the Mars Rover program, present and perhaps future.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Moon's First Friends: One Giant Leap for Friendship, written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli. Sourcebooks, Raincoast. 2019. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"The Moon watched as she
circled and circled the Earth.
On the wide sweep of the hot
Sahara, the Egyptians built stone pyramids that towered toward
the sky.

"They're trying to reach me!" the Moon marveled. But though the pyramids were mighty ... "

I missed telling you about this book a year ago ... how did that happen? It is just one of a number of books published fifty years after the Apollo 11 mission and its landing on the moon. I wanted to be sure to post this before I post a brand-new book by this collaborative team tomorrow. So, here we go. Told from the Moon's perspective, it is definitely an alternative look at a pretty important space odyssey.

The Moon's story begins at a much different time in space history. She was lonely and always aware of what was happening on Earth - beginning with the dinosaurs. They made no plan to visit, even though she promised that they would feel much lighter if they did. She watched, from afar, the many ways that Earth changed through the years. No animal ever wanted to make the journey.

When she saw people, she had new hope. Those people also stayed put. She did her best to entice them, but nothing helped. Then, scientists began experimenting with ideas for space travel. She was more than delighted when a chimpanzee passed close by. No visit.

"And then, one hot July day, a tremendous rocket stood upon a
launchpad with two small spaceships perched on top.

The countdown began!"

Finally, the Moon's most fervent wish came true ... visitors at last. It left her with hope that it might happen again. 

This is a very interesting look, for young readers, at the Apollo mission that ended with the moon landing. It helps them understand the moon's proximity to Earth, and the work that went into making the first landing a success. Friendly, luminous illustrations are sure to add to the enjoyment and to help with the learning about such a special space event.

Back matter explains Mission Moon by describing NASA and adding some out-of-this-world facts. It also includes a look at the moon's phases from new moon to full and back to waning crescent. Further information concerns the voyage itself (with archival photographs), the space suit, the rocket and a timeline that follows Earth's eras.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Plastic Problem, written by Rachel Salt. A Firefly Book, 2019. $12.95 ages 10 and up

"Sea turtles love snacking on
jellyfish! Unfortunately, jellyfish
and plastic bags can look a lot
alike. This is bad news for turtles,
as ingesting a bag can result in a
stomach blockage. If a turtle has
too much plastic in its stomach, it
will have trouble digesting food,
causing it to be malnourished
or even to starve. If a turtle
isn't getting enough nutrition ... "

I sat on a committee in the spring that read and reviewed new Canadian nonfiction books for kids and teens. This was one of our starred books because of its design, its conversational tone, and the amount of relevant information it provides for a middle grade audience. We were impressed with the significance of the research done to fully inform readers about the amount of plastic that is in the world's environment, and the catastrophic effect plastic is having on natural resources and the world's human and animal populations.

Ms. Salt has some pretty impressive credentials. She is the head writer for the YouTube channel, AsapSCIENCE, a highly accessible science channel. It is worth your while to look for it. Though the book is only 79 pages, it covers many important topics for those wanting to know how to make a difference. There are 18 sections, including an introduction and a glossary and index. The rest of the book opens readers' eyes to all things plastic; what it is, how it's made, where you find it, and how much waste it generates. Each short section is very informative. Using graphs, contextual illustrations, side bars, startling and clearly captioned photographs, she describes a rubber duck's journey, a garbage patch, and shows how plastic moves through the food web.

Organization makes the text accessible, as does the amount of information shared. The author wants her readers to know that moving forward toward helping solve the plastic problem must be done sooner than later. There are things that can be done now. It is a major issue and it needs our attention and action. She suggests using the 6Rs: reduce, reuse, rethink, repair, refuse, and recycle. We can take the pledge, and we can do better. This book helps readers spring into action on a small scale: one person at a time.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Arithmechicks Add Up: A Math Story, written by Ann Marie Stephens and illustrated by Jia Liu. Boyds Mills Press, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"4 chicks fast plus
3 chicks slow equals ...

7 chicks slipping down a slide,
while a lonely mouse watches. 

1chick in front plus
7 chicks behind equals ...

8 chicks playing follow the leader ... "

This is a lively and educational look for little ones at the concept of addition. Ten chicks are in the group, all following their mother's advice and heading off to the park to play.

On the first spread they are numbered, which gives interested readers a chance to count from one to ten, and back again. Their arrival at the park allows each to seek a favorite place and activity. Observant readers will quickly note the little grey mouse watching the action from behind a plant.

One chick tracks the numbers of chicks to be found at a variety of spots - the seesaw, the sandy path, the climbing bars, the slide, the swings, the basketball hoop. The mouse is a constant onlooker to the action. He likes to do what they are doing, but is too shy to join in the fun.

As the activity nears the end, their basketball gets caught in the mesh. One chick on top of another, all the way up to ten, cannot solve the problem. Can they find help? Yes, indeed.

"10 chicks tumble down,
plus 1 helpful mouse.

What a way to end the day!
for new friends!"

Backmatter explains some of the ways grouping can occur when trying to solve mathematical problems. Playful illustrations add to the light mood, and the fun to be found in counting and friendship.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $17.50 ages 10 and up

"My name is SNAPDRAGON! 
They're my mama's favorite flower!

Favorite flower, hm? I like that. 
All right, Snapdragon. 
My name's Jacks and I got a deal 
for you. 
I'll keep them possums here. But 
you gotta take care of 'em. 
I'll even show you how ... 
But in exchange for helping you, 
you's got to help me with my ... " 

This debut graphic novel mixes fantasy with a realistic tale of a young girl who meets her town's resident 'witch', described as missing an eye because she fed it to the devil, eating animals killed on country roads, and casting spells. Snapdragon meets said 'witch' when Snap's dog is lost and she finds it after climbing rickety stairs and making her way to the woman's house. Good Boy is found healed and happy. Snap is relieved and wants the woman to know she believes none of the rumors. Their second meeting is the result of Snap's finding abandoned possum babies and looking for help to care for them. 

Jacks (said witch) is nothing like the image people have of her. She promises Snap to teach her about the babies. To have Snap pay it forward she enlists her help with the work she does collecting roadkill and using the bones to build skeletal remains. The skeletons are then sold to interested patrons on the Internet. It isn't long until Snap discovers Jacks does have some magic powers. She uses it to send her roadkill's souls back to nature. Snap wants to know if she, too, has any magical prowess.   

The characters are wonderful. They are beautifully created, with a firm connection through identity. Snap is outspoken, unafraid to be herself. Her best friend Louis likes wearing skirts, loves nail polish and wants to be called Lulu. Both are bullied at school, but rise above the clamor to support each other. Snap's mom is single and working, while also going to school. Life for them is not easy, but better without her mom's abusive ex-boyfriend (he does make himself known a few times). Learning more about Jacks reveals a connection to Snap's grandmother. Jacks' story is very complicated and truly her own. 

Through this heartfelt, compelling book, readers meet a cast of worthy characters whose love and friendship power the action from start to finish. The graphic artwork is energetic and lively, filling the tale with details that maintain that action and offer clear emotional perspective. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Dive In; Exploring Our Connection With the Ocean, written by Ann Eriksson. Orca Books, 2018. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"For one, humans are excellent at catching fish. Trillions of wild fish are caught every year worldwide. Fish from the ocean is the main source of food for many people. But too many of us are eating too many fish, and we’re eating them faster than they can reproduce. Many are used for fertilizers or to feed farmed animals, even other fish species. Scientists who study fish and fishing say ... "

The more we inform ourselves about the environment and the impact that we have on it, the more able we are to improve conditions and make our world healthier and more sustainable. The Orca 'Footprints' series in an excellent example of books that inform and encourage all readers to help to make a difference. 

By learning about oceans from an ardent protector of the sea world, readers will be much more fully aware of the connectedness of everything, the universal need for clean and safe water, and ways in which they can lend a hand to improve the health of our oceans. 

The design and format remain the same as with other books in this series. It is a fine example of excellence in the field of informative text for young people. The table of contents introduces the four chapters of focus for the book: You Are Ocean, Ocean Overload, Operation Ocean Rescue and Be an Ocean Hero. Each chapter heading is accompanied by the subjects covered and provide a chance for readers to scout areas of particular interest. I began with Be Seafood Wise and Beat the Plastic Binge. I want to be more cognizant of the best choices to be made concerning purchasing seafood and I certainly want to improve the footprint I leave concerning use of plastics. 

Ms. Eriksson's introduction makes it plain: 

"Humans have not been kind to the ocean. We've used the 
ocean as a bottomless lunch bowl, and as a garbage dump. Walk
along the seashore, hop in a boat or dive underwater and you'll 
see that the ocean is complaining." 

The chapters themselves immerse the reader in information, personal perspectives (My Marine Life), carefully captioned photographs, 'Ocean Facts', and 'Make a Splash'. The author describes the threats that are impacting the world's waters right now, offers ideas for everyone to help make a difference and then suggests appropriate and doable ways to become a hero in making necessary changes. We need water to live, that is abundantly clear. In this book, we learn that we are capable of making the changes needed - and that children can lead the way.  

First person narrative from a marine biologist gives the book a clear perspective and a practical outlook for being part of the effort to improve the state of the oceans, thus making life better for all. Kids can do much to help. Ms. Eriksson shows them how in an impassioned and very personal way through her own lifelong love of the water and her many efforts to discover its bounty. 

"Shoreline plants provide food for ocean fish, so my family is 
careful to keep shrubs and trees growing on the bank in front of 
our house. Up to 40 percent of the food of young chinook salmon is plant material and insects that blow or fall into the water from trees and shrubs on shore." 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The End of Something Wonderful: a practical guide to a BACKYARD FUNERAL, written by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and illustrated by George Ermos. Sterling Children's Books, 2019. $22.95 ages 8 and up

"A SHOE BOX is usually
the best choice of all.

If you want to add things
to the box to keep your
Something Dead company,
that would be fine.

A GUINEA PIG might like
an orange nub of carrot.

A FISH might appreciate ... "

What's a child supposed to do when 'something wonderful' ends up dead? It might be a goldfish, a turtle, a pill bug, a guinea pig. There is no doubt that it was much loved for a time. Having left no instructions for what to do following its demise, a child must believe that the pet trusts that a fitting funeral will be arranged for backyard burial.

"Because even dead, they know how much you
miss them, and how much you want to be able to
explain that to everyone.

But that sort of explaining can be hard. Having
a backyard funeral helps when you can't find all
the words.

(Or when they get stuck on the way out.) 

Planning is needed - for the container, the resting place, the stories to be told, the love felt, favorite songs, the presence of a tissue box and even flowers, once the hole is covered over. There are no rules. The right way is the one that feels right for the child experiencing the loss. It is sad, there is no doubt. Suggestions are made for follow-up remembrances and the prospect of another pet in the future.

Full of purpose, while also meant to provide some comfort in the face of death, Ms. Lucianovic has created a book unlike any I have read. The various spreads created by George Ermos perfectly match the tone and humor of each scenario, adding an extra dash of comic relief. It is perfect fare for older readers who will appreciate the humor presented when losing a pet that does not often become part of the family, as would happen with a family pet of long standing.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children, edited by Kath Shackleton and illustrated by Zane Whittingham. Sourcebooks, Raincoast. 2019. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"In 1938 when I was eight
years old ...

... there occurred what has
become known as the

Early in the morning, we
were all sleeping in our beds
in our home in Germany. The
Nazis entered our flat."

Memories of the Holocaust are always heartbreaking, yet often remarkable. The six Jewish children whose first-person narratives are shared in this outstanding graphic novel survived. That in itself is noteworthy and helps readers recognize this harrowing time in our world's history.

Courageous and honest, Heinz speaks of the persecution in Germany because of his family's Jewish heritage, finding refuge in England, followed by internment in Canadian camps when the British wanted them gone. Solemnly, Trude tells readers that many children died at the hands of the Nazi regime, and how she was sent away from her family to England where she lived in 15 to 20 places over the war years. She never saw her parents again.

Ruth's remembrance is of her father running from the Nazis, leaving her mother with two small children. Unable to find protection for her children, the family awaited the Nazi soldiers. A brave British woman found them, and gave them papers to get them to England. Just as they arrived at Liverpool Station, Britain declared was on Germany. Martin was only 8 when the Nazis came for his family, and put them on a train. Separated from the family, he and his sister found safety on the Kindertransport and spent the rest of the war with a foster family in England where they endured and survived the Blitz.

Suzanne was living in Paris when the occupation forced her parents from their home. Luckily, a neighbor claimed Suzanne as her own, and she was saved from her parents' fate. She was then moved into hiding at a farm where she worked hard and spent extra years  as the family had no knowledge the war had ended. Arek, at 15, was sent to Birkenau, Auschwitz where he endured the continual horrors of confinement and abuse.

Back matter includes an up-to-date photo of each of the survivors, who live in Leeds. England, and a short report on What Happened Next for each of them. It is a painful novel to read, but so important, too. Each testimonial ends with a touch of hope. Though their stories are different, their lives were changed through events that were not of their making or by choice. What happened to these children should act as a reminder today that it should never happen again. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Born To Draw Comics: The Story of Charles Schulz and the Creations of PEANUTS, written by Ginger Wadsworth and illustrated by Craig Orback. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2019. $25.99 ages 6 and up

"With encouragement from his friends, he started drawing cartoons that featured kids. They had large heads and bodies with arms and legs, but Sparky purposely left out their necks, knees, elbows, and wrists. The girls were as big and strong as the boys."

It is ever amazing that we have such an abundance of worthy picture book biographies to share with children at home and in school. There are many worthy subjects, and no shortage of writers and artists willing to help tell their stories. The Peanuts comic strip is a family favorite, and has long been so. To learn more about Charles Schulz and his journey to creating this gang of friends is most enjoyable for me as a reader and fan.

Attention from a kindergarten teacher about one one of his works of art was the impetus for 'Sparky' to begin to believe in himself and his artistic talent. He loved drawing and spent his time at it as much as possible. The family read the comics together, and it wasn't long until Sparky was copying his favorite images. Practice led to success and recognition from his classmates. When his entry of a picture of his dog, Spike, led to a contest win at Believe It or Not, he was hooked.

After he finished school, he began drawing in earnest and sending his work, hoping for publication, to a variety of magazines. Having his work rejected time and time again dashed his dreams for a while. Service in the army interrupted any plans for the near future. Once he returned from that service, he went back to his art. With motivation from his friends, he began drawing kids. He kept sending his cartoons to national magazines and newspapers. Finally, he sold a cartoon to the Saturday Evening Post. Success at last! Soon, Peanuts became a national hit.

Craig Orback's images are created with pen and ink, colored pencil, and gouache paint. Their inclusion is as important as the story told, showing major events from Charles' life. They show his dedication to his craft and to the cast of characters he so lovingly created for a rapt audience.

Back matter offers the rest of his story, with the inclusion of an author's note, a note from the artist, a list of his beloved characters, a list of places to visit, sources and further notes. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Keeper of Wild Words, written by Brooke Smith and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"From sunup to sundown,
we'll walk and run and walk
sit and wait,
listen and touch,
until we find every word on
the list," said Mimi.
"Or every word on the list
finds us."
"I'm ready," said Brook, and
they were off."

In this heartwarming and thoughtful book that describes a visit between two generations, the little one is looking for something special. It will be her show and tell on the first day of school. We can only hope, at this point, that there will be a 'first day of school' this fall for many children as the pandemic rages on.

As they wander Mimi explains to her granddaughter Brook that many words concerning the world of nature are beginning to disappear. Mimi is a writer and someone who uses words that matter in everything she does. She expresses a need for 'keepers' of such words and encourages Brook to know them, and to care about them enough to use them. Mimi has nineteen words on her list; together they will look for them. 

"Words disappear if we don't share
them when we talk.
If we don't write them in our stories.
If we don't read them in our books."

The list begins with acorn, and moves through the alphabet to wren. In between are words familiar to many readers. They are off for a day of adventure and discovery! They find the words from the list as they walk, each one encouraging a lovely description, and a quiet look at the nature that surrounds them. They visit the shimmering pond, the bright meadow, the quiet of the woods, a babbling brook ... where Brook learns the reason for her name.

Does she now have what she needs for show and tell? You can bet that she does!

Vivid descriptive wording, and bright artwork that honors their natural surroundings make for a day filled with the wonders of their environment and the joy to be found in words worth keeping.

On the last page, readers will find a pouch, and voiced encouragement to begin collecting their own wild words.                                                                             

From Brooke:

Several years ago, I learned that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had decided to remove over 100 natural words from its pages—my namesake, “brook,” being one of them. The editors no longer felt the words had relevance for today’s children. At first I was angry, then disillusioned, and ultimately very sad. But the power of being a writer is that you can create a world you want to see. I decided to write a book where some of these lost wild words would be celebrated and recognized beyond the pages of the dictionary. To make sure they remained an integral part of our language and our children’s stories. Nature has always been a crucial part of my life, and my daughter Mimi’s, too. We were fortunate enough to raise her on our property in Bend, Oregon with many of these wild words naturally present. I wanted to write a book that would allow children everywhere to experience the beauty of nature and feel what it’s like to wander and explore. It’s absurd to think that nature could ever be irrelevant to children. In fact, I’d argue that in the technology-filled world we now live in, nature plays a more important role than ever to provide a place to dream, rest, and wonder. I hope parents, grandparents, libraries, and schools will all become Keepers of Wild Words by sharing this book—and most importantly, the words it celebrates.