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Saturday, October 31, 2020

When Pumpkins Fly, written by Margaret Lawrence and illustrated by Amanda Sandland and Margaret Lawrence. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $16.95 ages 5 and up

 

"When the pumpkins arrive, some older students help to 
bring a pumpkin to each of the classrooms. 
I look at our big, orange guest. What kind of thing is a 
pumpkin? What are we going to do with it?
"

Halloween in a northern Inuit community brings some surprises for some of the children who live there. The large plane bringing cargo for the last time before winter holds many needed items, and a special load of never-before-seen pumpkins. Once they are delivered to the school, one is distributed to each classroom. 

Once the pumpkins have been cleaned, seeds roasted and eaten, a face cut out and prepared for an evening's fun, it goes home with one student to be put on the porch as a Halloween decoration. Our narrator is the lucky one. With only time for tea and bannock before the excitement, darkness has engulfed their small community. Donning warm clothes, boots and costumes, they are off. 

"There are kids, teens, Elders, parents with babies, and toddlers all out trick-or-treating. It's fun to go to every house. Our bags full of candy are heavy to carry when the wind is blowing hard."

After going home for a meal, community members gather at the hall for dancing, a parade, a costume contest and games. It is quite the celebration. Too soon, it's late and time for bed. Bed brings thoughts of the tunnaat, old and wise beings who visit the community under night's darkness. The pumpkin candles burn out and the pumpkin freezes. 

Maybe they will be taken away by nighttime visitors? 

This is an inviting look at cultural traditions in the North, where pumpkins are not grown, darkness comes early, and the entire community comes together to enjoy Halloween. Setting plays an essential role in the bright, snowy artwork. 


Friday, October 30, 2020

Your House, My House, written and illustrated by marianne dubuc. Kids Can Press, 2020. $19.95 ages 3 and up

 

"Little Rabbit adds candies to the top of his
cake. When he's done, all he'll have left to 
do is wait for his guests! Who will arrive
first? 
he wonders.
"

Oh, what an apartment building to visit! The cut-away spreads allow readers to see exactly what is happening for the families living within its walls. There are three full floors and an attic for their viewing pleasure. The main floor's two apartments are occupied; the larger one with a family of rabbits easing into an early morning; the smaller one by a mama hedgehog and her baby waiting for the day papa will be home again. On the middle floor, readers will note the bear occupying the larger apartment is in bed with a cold, and the foxes in the other are awaiting the arrival of a baby. The third floor has one empty apartment (those carefully scanning the page will see who's moving in today), and the other is filled with mice -a mama, a papa and three sleeping babies. A darkened interior in the attic shows it as a storage space; on the other side, a skylight allows a peek at what looks like a studio apartment awaiting the arrival of an approaching owl. 

After taking a careful look at this first detailed page, the reader is anxious to move forward. Whether trying to see what is happening in each apartment again or choosing to watch one family at a time, there is an opportunity to spend a lot of time in looking, thinking and discussing the various scenarios. Bear's cheeks get more and more flushed, until there is the need for a doctor visit. the fox parents leave their little one with the neighbors as they leave for the hospital. The cats continue the work of moving into a new home. The owl prepares for a good day's sleep. 

It is a place filled with friendship, kindness, and never-ending activity. It's not all about what is going on inside the building. There are small stories taking place outside as well. Kids who have knowledge of fairy tales will see some familiar characters as they pay unexpected visits. Those devilish three mice in the apartment below his studio cause a sleep disturbance for the owl, but he mostly manages to sleep through the chaos. He is ready to be up and out as everyone else is settling in for a rest after a long, eventful day.   

This is signature artwork for Ms. Dubuc. She is brilliant with creating small scenes in a pastel palette. Her families and characters will delight young readers and provide opportunities for a number of repeat visits.                                                                            

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Girl Versus Squirrel, written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Renee Andriani. Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2020. $24.99 ages 4 and up

 

"With her hockey stick and some duct tape, Pearl extended the teacup's pole. "There," she said, "that's tall enough to stop any squirrel in its tracks." She watched, breathless with anticipated success, but was disappointed. "Drat, drat, that speedy squirrel," she groused. "I'll make the pole taller."

Pearl knows what she wants in her backyard. She wants to birdwatch. What better way to do that than with bird feeders; she builds three. They each have their own special look, and all are meant to nourish the birds they will attract. The birds visit; Pearl is pleased. 

Until a squirrel decides that peanuts are a prize, and worth persistent effort to gobble each and every one that Pearl leaves. Determined not to be outwitted by the squirrel, Pearl begins a campaign to deter it from stopping at her feeder. Pearl is no match for the enterprising rodent. No matter the work she does, the squirrel is equal to the task. 

"Drat, drat, drat you, squirrel, " growled Pearl. "You're a 
bird-feeder-crashing, teacup-smashing, peanut-poaching pest!"

Pearl doesn't give up; nor does the squirrel. When Pearl discovers what the mother squirrel is doing with all those peanuts she is stealing from the teacup, she has a change of heart. What Pearl does next will delight readers, and encourage some creative ideas of their own! 

This first-person narrative is laden with lively language, and great voice. It is a real treat to read aloud to a group of early years listeners. Ms. Andriani fills double-page spreads with action and enthusiasm for each new attempt made to bring the squirrel to its knees. Humorous, empathetic, and full of fun. Back matter adds Some Squirrelly Facts that are sure to please and inform.                                                                                         

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Girl With the Cat, written by Beverley Brenna and illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $19.95 ages 5 and up

 

"In the last room, I see a piece of art just my size. It's a girl in a rocking chair. She's holding a cat and her face is full of secrets. A poster tells me this is a sculpture made of something called bronze. The girl's name is Nina and her cat is Sammy. They are named after the artist's daughter and her cat."

When Caroline and her brother visit the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon for the first time, she is overwhelmed by the high ceilings, the quiet, and the beauty of the art that adorns the walls. It is not until she visits the very last room that she finds a piece of sculpture that speaks to her soul. It is exactly her size. Although a sign asks patrons not to touch, she cannot resist rocking its chair, or patting the cat. Caroline is full of questions she would love to ask Nina. 

As they leave, Caroline tosses a penny in the wishing well, assuming her wish is not likely to come true. She returns to the gallery week after week, telling Nina her secrets and concerns about the family's recent move and the adjustments she is making to living in a new place. When she sees a Moving Soon sign beside Nina and Sammy, she is disheartened. 

Instead of getting angry as she did when the family had to move, she decides to write a note to the gallery's director. She inserts coins that she and her brother have saved to help pay the cost of buying the art from its owner. It's all they have. What happens next is heartwarming, and applauds activism in the young. Back matter provides archival photos and further information about Caroline herself.                                                                           


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Protectors of the Planet, written by Jamie Bastedo. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $24.95 ages 12 and up

 

"Fast forward to the 20-teens. Ian has become a mighty conservation force to be reckoned with. He has another five award-winning books under his belt, on everything from wolves to whales, all showcasing the Great Bear Rainforest. For his efforts in fighting for this area, he's been honored as a "Kickass Canadian,", a Globe and Mail "Highly Accomplished Canadian", and one of TIME'S "Leaders of the 21st Century".

Their future, in terms of the natural world they live in, is of great worry to young people today. They have reason for unease as climate change and a too general lack of concern for the environment plunges Earth toward a point of no return. These young people need to know there are heroes out there working to make the world a better place. In his new book, Jamie Bastedo offers hope and heart for those who are concerned. Of course, we should all be worried; sitting around and doing nothing is not going to make the problem disappear, and will not change the helpless feelings prevalent in today's world. 

The author turns his attention to the trailblazers who live among us, and are doing their best to make a difference across Canada. He shares twelve lives, ages 7 to 97. Each is dedicated to, and passionate about something near and dear to them. Their causes are varied: climate change, rainforest, activism, bees, giraffes, sea turtles, wolves and wilderness, Inuit culture, adventure, and green cities. 

Rupert and Franny Yakelashek live in Victoria, British Columbia. They do not let their ages define them in terms of a fight for environmental issues. They are now 16 and 13 years old. In 2017 their names were listed among the "Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25."  That is when Jamie Bastedo first heard their names, and began learning about them. He quickly discovered they were veterans, having begun when they were seven and ten. Who wouldn't want to know more about such admirable young people? An interview provided much of the information the author needed for his book. The chapter about them is inspiring and would make a great read for any middle years classroom, as will the others. What stories to share with your students about the stellar work being done to make our world healthier and safer for all. 

The book is based on interviews done personally with each of these remarkable trailblazers. The research is exemplary, and the result is a book that is conversational in tone, and filled with the passion that fuels the work these amazing people do. I started with three names I knew, learning more than I already knew about Ian McAllister, Elizabeth May and Kathleen Martin. It was only the beginning. I have now read each chapter and am impressed beyond words with what I have discovered.  Be sure to take a close look at the list of "Trailblazer Tips" included at the end of each chapter. Great advice, and perhaps a shot of the motivation needed to step up. 

Their hope and optimism make our world a much better place because of the role they play in it. Blessed we are to have them in our midst, to hear their stories, and to perhaps take up a cause that opens our own hearts to something that matters. You will be inspired! 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Only a Tree Knows How to be a Tree, written and illustrated by Mary Murphy. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 4 and up

 

"Water has no color, 

but you can see it. 

It makes rivers and oceans, 

clouds and rain and snow. 

Fish live in water. 

They flash like jewels.

Everyone needs water. 

Only water knows 

how to be water.

Ms. Murphy begins with trees, letting her young readers know what makes a tree so special. She reminds them that nothing else knows how to be a tree; only a tree does. Turning from the tree itself to a nest home made by birds, she then reminds that only birds can do the things they do. 

As the words move from page to page, she talks about dogs, water, fish, even our Earth. There is no other planet like it, as far as we know. Eveything here is its own unique being, and each is different from every other thing. She turns finally to people. We number in the billions. 

"We eat and talk, 

sing and walk. 

We work. We play. We tell stories. 

Every person

has their own thoughts

in their head

and their own feelings 

in their heart.

That is the way the world works. What wonder is there in that! 

The bright and childlike artwork was drawn in brush and ink, then rendered digitally to evoke a lively and affirming mood for the inspiring and reassuring text. The children pictured move freely across each spread, showing diversity in color, culture, and ability. Visual literacy leads to animated conversation, and close observation at every turn of the page.

Quiet message received and appreciated, with thanks. 

https://youtu.be/p2noT0Ovz9M

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera. Written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2020. $24.99 ages 6 and up

 

"Not yet ... nursing. 

The grub-like larvae get all her attention. 

She checks them. 

     Inspects them. 

Feeds them a milky-sweet 

liquid made with those glands. 

On Apis's eighth day of life, 

she leaves the nursery. 

For flying?

I have seen few such beautiful books this year. Following up on Giant Squid (2016) this exceptional team invites readers to take a close look at the biology of the worker honeybee. The long, incredibly detailed poem begins in front matter as the bee emerges from its nest into a world that trembles with activity, and moves on to follow one small bee from birth until death. 

"Tongues lick.

Antennae touch. 

Bodies clamber and scramble over thin wax comb. 

The new bee rests. 

Soft, fuzzy and female - like all newly emerged worker bees - 

her scientific name is Apis mellifera, 

or Apis for short."  

Ms. Fleming then shares, in precise text, the life of a worker honeybee. The roles played seem endless;  there are many, many tasks that must be completed before Apis is ready to venture beyond the hive. Those jobs include preparing the cells, nursing, taking care of the queen, building the comb, receiving the nectar ... the list fills each and every day. Always Apis is wanting to fly; always there is an important job yet to be done. 

"At last, on the twenty-fifth day of her life - with 

the sun just rising and the dew still drying - 

she leaps from the nest and ... "

A gorgeous gatefold opens to Apis in full flight over flower-filled fields, ready at last to forage for sweet nectar and fly back to the hive. Her stomach weighing as much at the bee itself, she returns to give up the nectar to another worker, and to dance. Her dance leads other bees on a trip she will make nine more times before she rests that day. At thirty-five days old, she has covered five hundred miles in her quest for the nectar 'to make one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey'. Her life's work done, she drops to the ground and dies. In the nest, another tiny worker emerges and life begins once more. 

A captioned image of a worker honeybee's body follows. The book concludes with ways to help bees, further details about this remarkable tiny wonder, and places to find even more information than has already been shared. 

WAIT!

There has not yet been mention made Eric Rohmann's stunning and dramatic oil paintings. Using brown, black and yellow, he creates the detailed interior reaches of their home and the tiny creatures that inhabit the honeycomb, before bursting forth into sunshine and flowering fields. Extreme close-up details within and the glorious beauty on the outside, along with ever-changing perspectives, hold attention from start to finish. 

What an impressive collaboration this is! We are left to hope for more from this noteworthy team.                                                                              


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Science Comics: Crows, by Kyla Vanderklugt. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $26.99 ages 10 and up

"Crows are able to do such amazing things because they learn from personal encounters and by watching other crows. They use their sophisticated brains to remember what they've experienced and to think before they act. Sound familiar? Yes, as social beings, crows use their brains in much the same way as we do. The mental ability of crows is important because it allows them to solve real problems, such as where to hide surplus food and how to coordinate the movements of their family when a predator lurks nearby."

After yesterday's post about a book that was perfect fare for young readers learning about crows and what makes them special, today's post is for an older audience. It is a new release in the Science Comics series. The series itself is quite remarkable for the diversity in subject matter, and in its presentation of subjects that intrigue and enlighten middle grade readers. Other books in the series include: Coral Reefs, Dinosaurs, The Brain, Bats, Plagues, Dogs, Sharks, Cats, Robots and Drones, Trees, and more. If you haven't seen them, they are worthy of your attention and are sure to be popular in any library. 

That leads us to this book about crows. I have read other books about them, watched informative videos, and thought I knew a lot.Turns out that I still had much to learn. I knew they could make their own tools. I even knew a bit about their trickery, their ability to mimic sounds, and their raucous voices. I do not remember reading that they never forget a human face. (It makes me think carefully on how I speak to the ones near my home when they are disturbing the backyard peace.)  

Scientists are continually doing their research, and learning the many secrets of the crow's brain and how smart they truly are. Reading this book made me even more astonished and fascinated by crows and other members of their bird family (magpies, jays, and ravens). Ms. Vanderklugt's crow has personality and appeal from the opening page. Talking with companion birds, the crow is about to set up a dog for a friendly search for food beyond his own backyard. Gullible and eager, the dog is quick to accept the invitation and they are off! 

The two characters are filled with personality and expression. Buddy is keen to be on an adventure with a crow who can open the gate to let him out, find food that fills him up, and learn all that the crow has to teach. So much is explained as the two make their way around town. Readers will be fascinated by the intelligence displayed so naturally in a very conversational tone. Buddy is previoussly unaware of the crow's abilities, but accepts the learning with a great attitude toward his new friend. 

Readers will be amazed at all there is to learn about these remarkable birds! Uisng a graphic novel form to present her extensive research is clever and absolutely right on for a middle grade audience, and for anyone else who picks this book up to see what it says. Back matter includes an extensive glossary with terms in bold print, a page of notes for points made within the text, a section entitled Living With Crows 101, and a long list of books, articles and web sources that interested readers will look to for further learning.                                                                                  

Friday, October 23, 2020

King of the Birds, by Elise Gravel. Harper, 2020. $9.99 ages 6 and up

 

"See? It's not that easy for a bird. I can count because I have a big brain. 

*Crows have bigger brains than most birds. Some scientists say that they are as intelligent as seven-year-old humans."

This is a grand start to a new series, written in graphic format. It introduces two avian characters: Arlo is an overconfident crow, and Pips is s tiny yellow bird. Pips likes to get under Arlo's skin. Arlo doesn't mind answering any question posed or reacting to any comment offered as it allows him to do what he does best ... show-off. 

Arlo is skillful, smart and not afraid to let Pips see how talented he is. Their banter and genuine affection for each other drives their story, while teaching young readers a lot about what crows CAN do. They learn what crows eat, how they behave, and the many skills they have. 

"Look! There's something shiny over there! 

What is it? What is it? What is it?

It's a fork. 

Oh my god. It's so beautiful it hurts my eyes. 

And it's so SHINY! I've never seen anything prettier in my entire life."

Pertinent facts about crows are woven onto the pages in footnotes that are quickly and easily read by the intended audience. The book's humorous tone, the simple sentences and the appealing visual jokes will attract fans to this series, and leave them wanting to have another visit with Arlo and Pips.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl, written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Marianne Ferrer. Kids Can Press, 2020. $19.99 ages 10 and up

 

"Sundar grows up, marries and becomes a father. He has two daughters and a son, and he and his wife raise them with equal love and joy. As his children grow, he teaches them the names of trees and birds. He shows them how their lives depend on the natural world. He guides them to embrace all forms of life."

Following the death of his mother and older daughter, Sundar determines that he will work toward replenishing the land in his village that has been destroyed by a nearby factory. He wants life to be better for all villagers. He wants to relieve hunger and to have all children go to school. So, he runs for election as village head, and wins! 

His heartbreak over loss of family leads him to turn to the earth, planting saplings to allay his grief. The trees will live in memory of his mother and his daughter. He quickly decides what he will do. Girls have long been ignored at birth; seen as a burden to the family because of the dowry to be given to a future husband. Sundar will change that. 

"Every GIRL born in the village will be welcomed with the planting of 111 trees."

At first, his plan is rejected. Sundar is persistent, and spends much time explaining the its merits. Slowly, the villagers come to an understanding for the viability of such an idea. With Sundar's guidance and the help of engineers, a plan is put in place - a very successful plan. 

"Soon, the men see that women no longer have to walk for hours to fetch water. The women see that their children are no longer hungry. The trees are making life better for everyone. The villagers begin to place their trust in Sundar. and every time a girl is born, the villagers plant 111 trees.

What an inspiring true story this is! Follow-up pages provide relevant and important facts about Sundar and his village, and the great success experienced there. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Beccoming a Good Creature, words by Sy Montgomery and pictures by Rebecca Green. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"DON'T BE AFRAID

In India, I met tigers. 

In Africa, lions. 

In the rivers of South America, 

I swam with piranhas and electric eels. 

In the ocean, I met sharks. 

None of them ever hurt me."

I truly enjoyed reading How to Be a Good Creature (2018), Sy Montgomery's memoir concerning animals that had impacted her life. I am a fan of her books in the Scientists in the Field series and have great admiration for her in-depth research and her genuine love of the world's creatures. 

I am thrilled to be able to share this adaptation of that earlier work. This time, it is reimagined as a set of lessons she has learned from her travels and interactions with the creatures she has met throughout her life. Its message is clear: we are not the only creatures living here on Earth. There are so many more. It is our duty to show love and offer protection for their future, as well as for our own.

Ms. Montgomery offers advice from those that have taught her meaningful lessons. First up is Molly, a small puppy who taught her patience and to pay attention to the world. Three emus in Australia came next, then gorillas in Africa, and on and on. From her experiences with all the creatures she met, she learned. In this beautifully illustrated guide, she shares those lessons with her young readers: school is not the only place to find a teacher, find good teachers, discover your passions, respect others, don't be afraid, wait patiently, make your own family, see for yourself, love little lives, learn forgiveness, find common ground, and trust tomorrow. 

Lessons for each of us to live by? Yes, indeed. All learned by observing, being patient, celebratiing the actions of others. The organization is perfect for young readers, the stories appealing, and the message accessible to their understanding. The tender artwork appeals with a warm, earthy palette. The connection between creatures and humans apparent. By using our senses and opening our hearts, the world will be a better place for all.                                                                          


https://youtu.be/bAGm3DA81tA

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Nature All Around: BIRDS, written by Pamela Hickman and illustrated by Carolyn Gavin. Kids Can Press, 2020. $19.99 ages 8 and up

 

"A northern shrike is a robin-sized songbird, but it feeds on small mammals and other birds. It has a sharp, hooked beak, like a bird of prey does, but a shrike's small feet are too weak to hold its food. Instead, shrikes stick their prey on large thorns in trees or shrubs, or on barbed wire, to hold the food steady while they eat."

Just when you thought you knew a lot about birds, you open a new book in the Nature All Around series and find out about shrikes. I know others will know what I did not, but I am betting their will be children out there who did not know about them. That is what has happened with each of the previous books in this exemplary series, Bugs and Trees (2019), then Plants (2020). Each new publishing season brings another exemplary book! 

Kids who love birds will be thrilled to take a look at this book that encourages new learning, and an appreciation of the world of birds that surround them. This summer, as we dealt with the effects of the world-wide shutdown, I noticed a number of birds rarely seen in my backyard. It was lovely to sit out in the porch with my bird guide close by. It will be the same for those who read this book, and discover how fascinating birds are. 

The book is a friendly guide for all who are interested in knowing more about species, their unique features including feathers, eggs and nests. A yearlong journey allows readers to think about birds through the seasons, and encourages them to watch for clues in all weather. A bird-watcher section is included, as well as a welcome glossary and index. Realistic images are presented in watercolor and gouache artwork by Carolyn Gavin that is sure to please. 

Did you know that a herring gull has a bright red spot near its beak tip? Did you further know that it is a target for a baby gull? A chick pecks that red spot to remind the parent to open its mouth and regurgitate the food that is there for the young ones. If not, now you do! 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice, written by Mahogany L. Browne, with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood. Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. $25.99 ages 10 and up

 

"Say the names

of leaders who came before

and made the world better; 

say their names, 

so that uttering letters

might lend you courage."

Three women poets offer meaningful messages to raise young readers' awareness of and need for social justice in the world.  By being 'woke', readers will learn to see what is going on around them, and to choose to stand for freedom and justice for all. They connect this rise in awareness to many historical and contemporary movements focused on having a voice for freedom and acceptance. The poems are as varied as the perspectives each poet has concerning justice.

In his introduction, Jason Reynolds explains:

"It's a collection of proclamations, megaphoning to the young world that they are human and therefore have the right - I'd even go so far as to say the obligation - to talk back, to speak up, to connect with the fortifying elements outside of them, as well as those that exist within."

Each poem is placed on a double-page spread, accompanied by a contextual and colorful illustration that boldly represents the powerful words. Beside each page number, alphabetized subject headings are included. This allows a reader to quickly access the poems that hold a particular interest. There is variety in form, as well as subject matter and voice. Some are quiet and encouraging; others are louder with a call to action. Topics include immigration, gender, ability, empathy, and equality. 

In her poem about stereotyping, Olivia Garwood encourages readers to resist putting people in boxes:

"So resist the box! 

Burn it down!

Why have a box

when we could have a swimming pool

or a trampoline instead? 

A playground or a giant green field? 

We don't need those silly squares!

We need to let everyone be

exactly the way they are

so that we can be too. 

And isn't that so much better 

than a boring old box? 

Readers will find wonder here - and challenge, and thoughtful contemplation, and a need to make changes in the only way they can. Bravo! 

                                                                          


Sunday, October 18, 2020

If You Were Night, written by Muon Thi Van and illustrated by Kelly Pousette. Kids Can Press, 2020. $19.99 ages 3 and up

 

"If you were night

and you heard a frog bellow 

and another croak, 

would you hop away quickly? 

Or would you drum

your heart's desire, too? 

Young children turn their imaginations to thinking about those things that rarely enter an adult's mind. When was the last time you thought about being night? The questions posed by Muon Thi Van about taking on a night persona are sure to encourage both inventive and critical thinking in listeners who hear her questions. 

How would it feel, and how would children act if they were night, or morning, or summer, or whatever? Each thoughtful question inspires readers to consider the various scenarios presented. They beg them to think clearly about the sounds that might be heard at dusk, in the still of night, or as sunrise peeks over the horizon. There is much to consider, depending on where a child lives. What are the night noises where you are? 

"If you were night

and you felt an otter splash, 

would you shrink from the cold? 

Or would you dive in 

and let go of your worries, too?

Art to accompany the delightful questions 'was created with paper-cut pieces and dry media in a diorama format, and colored with pastels.' Besides taking the time to carefully consider each of the many scenes created to complement the questions, readers might consider giving a diorama a try on their own. The use of light and shadow creates a mood that adds mood and context. Imaginative, provoking quiet thought, and with a calm tone, this is a terrific bedtime tale. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Izzy in the Doghouse, written by Caroline Adderson and illustrated by Kelly Collier. Kids Can Press. 2020. $16.99 ages 6 and up

 

"When she went back tomorrow, Zoe wouldn't be mad anymore. She was never mad two days in a row because after just one day, she started to miss Isabel as much as Isabel missed her."

This is the first book in a promising new series from Caroline Adderson who introduced transitioning readers to Jasper John Dooley. From the initial book in 2014 through the sixth and final book in the series in 2016, Jasper entertained and inspired young readers with humor and heart. 

Now, along comes Isabel and her friend Zoe in the first book of what promises to be another winning series. The two are fast friends, with a great deal in common. They share the same classroom, a witty sense of humor, and spend a lot of time together. Even their coats like each other. As happens in every friendship, there are trying times. 

Some of the time, Isabel and Zoe weren't each other's favorite friends. Because some of the time, the fun things they did ended in a no-fun way. Like when Zoe hit her head on the bookshelf in the book nook, or when they were sent to the principal's office for being lizards with toilet-paper tails ... or today, when they played babies with the kindergarten kids."  

Today, Zoe is very annoyed with her exuberant best friend and stops talking to Izzy. Izzy has two empathetic listeners at home - her nanny Rosa and her mother, who has just returned from a business trip. Together they two agree that Izzy has a lot of love to give, and maybe she should have a new puppy to channel some of that love and energy. Izzy is ecstatic, and can't wait to share the news with her friends at school. She even creates a schedule for after-school visits. Of course, Zoe is at the top of the list. 

Short chapters, zippy dialogue, fun artwork, and familiar circumstances make this a new series that many readers wanting to move to chapter books will certainly appreciate. I'm sure they will be keen to see what Isabel and Zoe are up to in their next adventure. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Do Lizards Eat Ice Cream? Written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by Jenna Piechota. Owlkids, 2020. $19.95 ages 4 and up

 

"Do elephants use fans? 

YES! (Sort of)

Elephants have huge ears with lots of blood vessels. 

When they flap their ears, they create a breeze. This 

cools the blood in the ears. The cooler blood then 

returns to the rest of the body. Ahh, now that feels better!"

In a companion book to Do Frogs Drink Hot Chocolate? (2018), where interested readers learned how certain animals keep warm, Ms. Kaner shifts the focus to ask questions about how animals keep cool. The format remains the same. Question asked; question answered, and then explained. Kids will find this one equally fascinating. 

Questions are presented on the verso, accompanied by an appealing illustration of the featured animal doing its best to keep cool. The recto gives the answer (YES! NO! (SORT OF)), and a short paragraph that explains what each animal does to 'be cool'. 

Most animals will be familiar to the target audience, with a very few exceptions. It is always fun for young readers to get answers to questions they may not think to ask. Information about adaptations can be answered through careful research and accessible text. Ms. Kaner provides these answers in a format that is sure to please. 

13 animals find a place in this new book, and they are situated around the world. The design is familiar and welcome, helping young readers easily navigate its pages. If you are keeping a classroom focus on nonfiction and how it is presented, this would be a welcome read-aloud for your students. It also acts as a mentor text for student presentations of their own research. On the final spread we meet a child who shows a few of the ways we humans manage the summer heat ... not always an easy task.  

"Do oxen get haircuts? 

NO!

Musk oxen have long, shaggy outer hair with a layer

of soft, warm wool underneath. This undercoat is 

great for winter but too hot for summer. So every 

spring, musk oxen shed their cozy undercoat. No 

need to go to a barber!"

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Alligator Pie & Other Poems: A Dennis Lee Treasury, written by Dennis Lee. Harper, 2020. $24.99 all ages

 

"I'm thinking in bed, 
'Cause I can't get out
Till I learn how to think
What I'm thinking about;
What I'm thinking about
Is a person to be - 
A sort of a person
Who feels like me.

I might still be Alice,
Excepting I'm not. 
And Snoopy is super,
But not when it's hot;
I couldn't be Piglet, 
I don't think I'm Pooh, 
I know I'm not Daddy 
And I can't be you." 

The arrival of this wonderful collection in the mail yesterday had me sitting down to pore over its many pages. Dennis Lee, I have missed you. Reading poems from three books that were perennial favorites when our kids were small, and when I was teaching in kindergarten and early years classrooms, had me rememembering how much we enjoyed sharing them every day. 

This welcome collection includes Alligator Pie, illustrated by Frank Newfeld and published in 1974, Jelly Belly, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard and published in 1983, and finally The Ice Cream Store, illustrated by David McPhail and published in 1991. I have always loved sharing poetry with children and have many fond memories of these poems that entertained and fascinated my kids and students day after day. Many were memorized with little work because Dennis Lee's writing is filled with wonderful images, accessible language and excellent wordplay. We had many favorites at home and at school. 

"As I went up
To Halifax, 
I met a man 
with nine black cats. 

   ONE was tubby, 
   TWO was thin, 
   THREE had a pimple 
   On his chin-chin-chin: 
   FOUR ate pizza, 
   FIVE ate lox, 
   SIX ate the wool
   From her long black socks; 

   SEVEN had a dory, 
   EIGHT had a car, 
   And NINE sang a song
   On a steel guitar. 

So tell me true
When you hear these facts - 
How many were going
To Halifax?

Love it! And, the many other wonderful poems that came back to me as I read to my heart's content last evening. What a gift this is! 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Nesting, written and illustrated by Henry Cole. Harper. 2020. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"They begin to build a nest.

The nest is finished. 
It is perfect. 
It is just the right size and shape. 
The mother robin settles into it and sits quietly. 

She lays an egg. 
It is smooth and blue." 

I fear I have seen my last robin for this year. As the weather has cooled over the past few weeks, only a very few have visited the backyard. I will miss them. But, come spring, they will be back and ready to rebuild their nest as they do every year. 

This informative story of a returning robin begins with a spring song. The song attracts a mate; the two find an ideal spot for a nest, and their work begins. It isn't long until hard work and diligent attention to detail has created a welcome home for four smooth, blue eggs. Patient nesting begins to keep the eggs warm, and the baby birds growing. 

The constant care doesn't end until those babies hatch, are fed and protected, grow and leave the nest, each in its own time. Soon, they can fly to any chosen destination. They note the changing weather, and instinctively know they are ready to survive winter together in warmer climes. They will be back! 

Using Micron pens and acrylic paints, Henry Cole adds little color (save the striking blue of the eggs) to illustrate this fine story of one robin pair and their eventful summer. These detailed images bring his simple story to life for young readers and will be much appreciated by those who share his book. Changes in perspective hold a child's interest, and an author's note presents further facts about the American robin.  

                                                                              

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

If You Come To Earth, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 all ages


"People mostly live on the land 

           in big cities

           and small towns

           and tiny villages or ... 

just in the middle of nowhere.

A small child, clad in a jaunty red cap, pens an invitation to any 'visitor from outer space' to come to Earth and have a look at the beauty and diversity to be found here. What the visitor needs to know begins with which is the planet issuing the summons. Earth is clearly described and shown through stunning, ever-closer images. Once the reader is placed in a small house 'just in the middle of nowhere', the child continues with a description of our planet. 

Each turn of the page then shows variety in homes, families, bodies, feelings, clothing, weather, travel ... the list goes on and on, accompanied by intimate and engaging detailed images that encourage full attention and endless discussion for the multitude of scenes encountered. The human characters are as diverse in shape, ethnicity, and action as can be imagined. They are often humorous and full of kindness in their interactions. I have pored over the pages numerous times. Each time the illustrations conjure new stories and memories. 

Ms. Blackall does not stop with the human beings who inhabit Earth. She moves on to show animals of ocean, land, and sky. Each new spread adds to a world that can be shared with all visitors, new or old. It is a planet which heralds our diversity and our ability to stand together as the most important constants in taking care of each other and this place we call home. 

Spread love and joy by reading this book with family and friends, in homes and classrooms! If you are thinking about a gift at Christmas, here's a book for you! 

From Sophie: 

"I have made books about boars and babies and bears and lighthouses, but what I wanted in that moment was a book that would bring us together. A book about their home and mine. I wished for the same book when I was with children in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in India and Singapore, and in Brooklyn, New York. And so, I decided I would make such a book." 

https://youtu.be/coJ6hx9NRd8 

                                                                   


Monday, October 12, 2020

Hike, by Pete Oswald. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up

 

"A father and child head 

out on a hike, 

keeping a cherished family

tradition alive."

In this wondrous tale of a father and his child exploring nature with a clear purpose in mind, there is no need for words. Rather, the joy to be found in the telling is in keen observation of the many details that take them from early morning to bedtime. You will be amazed at how much there is to see! 

The child's room in early morning light shows all that will be needed to ensure a full and happy day of being together in the outdoors. Dad is a human alarm clock, allowing time for preparation for the day ahead. Once ready, the jeep is packed and they are off. Out of the city and into forest wilderness. One there, their trek is long, peaceful, and uphill. They pass wildlife at every turn; some seen, some unseen. With binoculars, a magnifying glass, and camera in hand, they often stop to explore and carefully observe their surroundings. 

Donning helmets for the final ascent to a rocky peak, they are rewarded with the beauty of everything below them and of high-gliding eagles above. It is quite the vista. There, the purpose of their hike is revealed. They have come to plant a tree in a copse of evergreens nearby. A timed photo captures their special moment. The descent is marked by darkening skies, and ends with a celebratory thirst quencher as they return to the trailhead for the ride home. The rear-view mirror clearly shows the joy felt in the day spent together.

Once home, they share milk and cookies, and a visit to a photo album which shows their day is part of a long family tradition. No further words are needed, except to say this remarkable and memorable book is meant to be visited again and again.                                                                                      


Sunday, October 11, 2020

In My Garden, written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Philip Stead. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2020. $24.99 ages 3 and up


"In the FALL what I love best in my garden 
are chrysanthemums. 

Of course there are other things I love in my 
garden - the tree turning red and golden brown, 
the wild wind blowing and the squirrels 
gathering nuts. 

But what I love best are the chrysanthemums, 
tangled and shaggy and smelling like spice. 

This lovely book was first published in 1960, and is an homage to the seasons and the pleasures they bring. There are two speakers. One is an older woman in a red raincoat. She speaks to the joys she finds in her garden as the seasons come and go. The other, a young child in a a yellow raincoat and red boots, loves each season for a different reason, all related to play. 

"In the fall what I love most to do is rake leaves. 
Of course there are other things I like to do 
in the fall - buy new sweaters and skirts and pencil
boxes for school, and pick the ripe golden pears
from my tree.

Philip Stead has created amazing images. "The artwork for this book was handmade using oil-ink linotype techniques and carbon transfer printing." He places his characters in warm natural surroundings that speak to the peace and contentment they feel as they explore and enjoy their world. Young readers will pay full attention to the tiny black kitten that accompanies the young girl.  

In the following video, Mr. Stead describes the process he uses to bring these characters and their world to his readers. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Pokko and The Drum, written and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. Simon & Schuster for Young Readers. 2019. $23.99 ages 4 and up

 


"Pokko started tapping on her drum 

just to keep herself company. 

But something stirred behind her. 

A raccoon playing a banjo started 

following her. 

So Pokko hit her drum louder."

I am late to this party, I am so happy to be here now. Pokko's tale is a very special one, finding many fans for its upbeat family story. Pokko has wonderful, though fallible, parents. The proof is in the pudding when they gift her with a drum. What are they thinking? 

Pokko loves her drum as all young ones would do. The din she creates in the home has her father quickly suggesting that the outdoors would be much more appropriate for her music. Off the little frog goes into the nearby forest. It is so quiet there - much too quiet for Pokko to feel comfortable. She begins a light tapping meant to keep her company.  

She is soon joined by a raccoon with a banjo; and she beats her drum louder. Next a rabbit with a trumpet tags along. Pokko keeps playing. The wolf that joins them has no musical ability, but loves listening. They march on ... 

When the wolf eats the rabbit, Pokko has something to say. 

"No more eating band members

or you're out of the band."

The wolf apologizes. The band moves on, adding additional members as they go. Everyone is following Pokko, while enjoying the parts they are playing with instruments or not. Just at that moment, Pokko is called to dinner. What a surprise to hear music grow louder and louder outside their door! That is not the only surprise for Pokko's proud parents. 

Read it first without the illustrations; then read it again. What a feast for the eyes the second time through ... full of forest glow, gorgeous fall colors, and a myriad of characters to capture attention. The kids are going to LOVE this one. Oh, and music teachers, too.                                                                                


Friday, October 9, 2020

How I Survived Four Nights On The Ice, by Serapio Ittusardjuat and illustrated by Matthew K. Hoddy. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $18.95 ages 9 and up

 


"It was getting late. 

I decided I would spend the night on the ice

and try to fix my snowmobile in the morning. 

I needed to stay dry.

This graphic novel is a page taken from the author's life. An Inuk stone carver and former mechanic, Serapio was on his way back from a fishing camp north of his home in Igloolik.  The pull cord on the engine of his snowmobile was broken, and there was no way for him to continue his travel toward home. Little did he know that he would have to use everything he had been taught about living through dangerous times on the polar ice. While optimistic that he would be fine because of those teachings, he knew to fear the situation that would take all those skills to ensure survival in the harsh climate.

His first-person retelling is as calm as he appeared to be while spending those four long days and nights alone in the Arctic wilderness. His first real concern was thirst. Using traditional knowledge, he had to pay attention to his need for safe water. Improvisation and constant attention to staying dry and as warm as possible was his main task. For most of the days and nights he stayed on his snowmobile, doing his best to keep his own spirits up, and also understanding help would come. Would it be too late? 

Glistening light and deep, dark shadows match the tone of the telling, with blue and grey tones accompany the text to give context to the passing time. Pages of white wilderness add to the feelings of how trully alone the storyteller is. The engaging design, and a well-told survival story are sure to garner attention with readers who enjoy true tales of adventure and survival.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Blue House, written and illustrated by Phoebe Wahl. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2020. $21.99 ages 5 and up


"Leo loved the blue house in winter, 

with its hiding places and cozy spaces. 

When the old heater broke, they would bake

a pie just to warm up the kitchen. 

They would dance.

 How are you at adapting to change? I feel about the same as Leo does - I would rather avoid it. Leo has many good reasons. They both love the old house. Despite its many flaws, they are happy there together and cannot imagine living anywhere else. They love it in all seasons, and for many good reasons. 

Their neighborhood is changing - much construction and new builds happening right next door. His dad doesn't know that Leo heard him talking about having to move. He remains optimistic that things will not change for them. Then, they do. 

His dad breaks the news while they are enjoying ice cream at the beach. Their house is sold. Leo is furious, and determined to stay that way. Dinner and loud music help a little. Like it or not, the packing up begins. Just before leaving the blue house, Leo and his father leave a lasting impression on the wall. A final goodbye to the home they have so loved. 

Their new house holds none of the feelings of warmth they left behind at their blue house. Walking past the hole where the house had been has them longing for it. Wait! Leo knows just how to make the new home seem a bit more like their beloved blue house. Perfect! 

Ms. Wahl's colorful artwork is created using watercolor, collage, and colored pencil. Its rich and detailed spreads speak eloquently of the love felt for their beloved home. There is so much to see on every single spread. The handwritten text adds depth of feeling and emotion at a difficult time for the two. Memories are strong, feelings stronger as they navigate a new reality. It is felt intensely by readers. Endpapers show just how clearly the changes impact their neighborhood. 

What a treasure this is! 

                                                               


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 78 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names. By Matthew Murrie and Steve Murrie and illustrated by Julie Benbassat. Workman Publishing, Thomas Allen & Son. 2020. $19.95 ages 10 and up

 


"While other tortoises and turtles tuck into their shells

when threatened by predators, the African pancake tortoise

takes off running or climbs over rocks in order to escape. 

That's right - a climbing pancake tortoise. Has the world 

gone mad?"

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you will know that I love books like this. They are books that kids love for the information they present. They are intrigued by animals they have not heard about, and do not know. They look forward to learning new information they can share with others. I feel the same, and often find myself caught up in reading such books from cover to cover. 

This one focuses on names, as you learn from the subtitle. The introduction discusses why names are important, how scientists name animals, and the way those scientific names then help identify variety in the animal kingdom, and they even present some crazy common names. All this before the first chapter: Funny Names. They follow that section up with Magical Names, Fierce Names, Delicious Names, and finally, Just Plain Weird Names. 

I started by scanning through each chapter looking for names I recognized. There were six. Then, I chose a section I thought sounded interesting: Delicious Names, because I like food. 

"Rasberry crazy ants are the first known species of 

insects capable of neutralizing another creature's venom. 

They can coat themselves in formic acid, which acts as an 

antidote to the venom of fire ants."

The design is familiar and welcome. An illustrated, labelled image of the animal itself, accompanied by an information box giving species name, habitat, and a short description is there. Included as well, on each two-page spread, is a carefully chosen, clear photograph of the animal in the wild, and a descriptive entry with further helpful information. 

Will just reading these names - sparklemuffin peacock spider, the Australian ghost shark, the bone-eating snot flower worm, the cookiecutter shark, the headless chicken monster- entice a reader to check it out? I think so. Almost 80 species are described. What's not to like about that? As if that weren't enough, the authors include a further 15-page section called More to Explore. First awards are given to longest scientific name, most head-scratching name, etc. They then provide a method for discovering and naming an organism, an alphabetical and extensive glossary, a list for further reading, and a note on conservation. What more could we ask for, I wonder? 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The List of Things That Will Not Change, written by Rebecca Stead. Wendy Lamb Books. Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 8 and up

 


"I had forgotten to do my worrying before dinner,

which is probably why things kept popping up in 

my brain: Angelica. Sonia. Mission. I kept telling 

them, "I'll see you later," the way Miriam taught 

me, but worries don't always listen. I took a 

little RSVP envelope and rubbed one sharp 

corner on all the itchy places between my fingers."

Bea is thinking about what life is like since her parents' divorce four years ago, when she was 8. At 12, she talks about the way her family now works. Her first-person voice makes for a directness that is appealing, and reflects on her age and response to all that is happening. She talks about how the two parts of her one family are coping with the changes marked by separation. We learn about her mother, her father and his new partner, their extended family, and the new 'sister' who will be hers when their dads finally get married. 

As she shares moments from her life at school, readers recognize the frustration she is feeling, and the angry outbursts and aggressions toward others. Many concerning issues are part of Bea's life now; things like divorce, gay parents, anger, needing and getting help for her personal struggles, family upsets, and her battle with severe eczema.  

Bea's voice is always real and open; her responses are moving and authentic, if not always carefully considered. She has a great family, good friends, and a belief that 'the list of things that will not change' is viable and true. Not every problem can be solved, but there is always hope that, with help, it can be improved. 

Empathetic, messy, wonderful and full of love, you need to read this book! 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Skunk and Badger, written by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Harper, 2020. $16.99 ages 8 and up

 


"Skunk sighed and nodded. "Yes, 'hope' seems right to 
me. Gentle and kind is the way I would like the world 
to be. I hope it will be that way. But Badger, if it were 
true that kindness and gentleness were the best way 
to win a kingdom - or win anything at all - wouldn't 
everyone do it?  Not everyone is gentle and kind."

Just say Jon Klassen and I am going to look to buy a book he has illustrated. Because of my admiration for his work, I found this new novel by Amy Timberlake. I am very pleased that I did. Thank you, Jon. 

We meet Badger first. Badger loves his quiet life. He lives in a house that belongs to his Aunt Lula who no longer lives there herself. The biggest room in the house (known as the living room to many) is given over to his Important Rock Work. He has filled it with rocks and minerals, and spends many quiet hours and days identifying them. To him, it is necessary and provides much-needed research and learning. 

Then, Skunk arrives, full of noisy bravado and insisting on a comfortable place to stay. Badger is not keen on company, and does his best to discourage Skunk's occupancy. Skunk is determined, and begins making changes that are very uncomfortable for Badger: taking over his Box Room, making a mess with his cooking while expecting Badger to do the clean-up, inviting chickens for a visit, and so on. 

Can things actually get worse? Oh yes, they can. A visit from a stoat causes terror, and an accidental skunk spray leads to an angry and hurtful response from Badger. Skunk makes quick work of leaving. Badger is happy to be alone once more, or is he? 

You are going to love this book; kids are going to love it, too. Great as a classroom read, or for a family, this is a story that will resonate with all who share it. Humorous, poignant, sly, and silly, kids will want to hear it again and again. 

Oh, and Jon Klassen's artwork? Everything we have come to expect. He gives such character to Badger and Skunk ... and all those many chickens! Expressive? Yes! Exquisite setting? Yes! Charming? Of course, they are. Enjoy every minute spent immersing yourself in this new 'classic' read. You will not be sorry! 

"It would never work out! But Skunk certainly has his moments ...” 

Could this be a new series? One can only hope so. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Hockey Night in Kenya, written by Danson Mutinda and Eric Walters. Illustrated by Claudia Davila. Orca Book Piublishers, 2020. $7.95 ages 7 and up

 


"Kitoo rolled around the dining hall. It was 

the only paved surface at the orphanage. 

In fact, it was the only paved surface in 

all of Kikima." 

Kitoo and his best friend Nigosi have a good life at the orphanage. Nigosi loves to play soccer; Kitoo loves to read. While Nigosi is off playing, Kitoo can be found helping the librarian in the orphanage library and borrowing books. When the librarian offers a few books to Kitoo before they must be destroyed, he is delighted. One concerns sports of the world; for the first time, Kitoo reads about ice hockey. Mrs. Kyatha explains ice to him, as she has spent time in Canada where it is a revered sport. She tells them there are people playing roller hockey in a city park close by. 

The next time Jackson goes to the city for supplies, the boys ask if they can help. While there, they visit the park and see a roller hockey game. Kitoo comes home with discarded boots and blades. Jackson promises to help him fix them up. From then on, Kitoo is more often on skates than in shoes. Practice makes perfect, always with encouragement and support from Nigosi. While he has an imagination that keeps him ever hopeful, Kitoo is quite sure he will never see an ice rink or know what it's like to play ice hockey. 

Little does he know that a surprise is in the offing. The next time the boys offer to help Jackson with supplies, they drive all the way to Nairobi, and The Paneri Hotel, site of the only ice rink in East Africa. Will Kitoo's dream come true? What do you think?  

Uplifting and welcome. The book allows young readers to learn about life in an orphanage in rural Kenya, which is based on the Hope Development Centre that was co-founded by the author's parents and Eric Walters and his wife. 

https://www.hopestory.ca/ 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Before The Ever After, written by Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 10 and up

 


"Too many of them, Mama says, 
are going through some kind of thing. 
Headaches and rages, memory loss
and fainting spells. Zachariah isn't the only one
suffering. And yet, Mama says. 
setting her coffee cup down hard,
the doctors act like this is new

I'm not the only football wife out here, Mama says, 
who thinks they're lying."

I will admit that I have never read a Jacqueline Woodson book that I have not loved. She is a stellar poet who writes with clarity, feeling and absolute perfection. So, I was thrilled to read about this new verse novel that centers on a hidden health epidemic among many sports stars. This book concerns football, and the rising numbers of young (and older) football players dealing with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. 

The first part is set in 1999, when ZJ's dad, 'Zachariah 44', begins to show symptoms that something has gone definitely wrong with him. ZJ Senior is a revered football player, an attentive and loving father and husband, and a faithful and caring friend. The many concussions he has endured are ending his career and the life the family has known together. ZJ has three very special friends who are also loyal, supportive, and see him for himself, not as his famous father's son. 

As the headaches, memory lapses, and angry outbursts intensify, ZJ and his mother are frightened. The many doctors they see have no answers, and offer no real treatment. 

"There's not a name for the way

Daddy's brain works now. 

The way it forgets little things like 

what day it is and big things like 

the importance of wearing a coat outside

on a cold day. There's not a name

for the way I catch him crying 

looking around the living room like 

it's his first time seeing it."

Written with impact through ZJ's first-person narration, this heartbreaking story includes exceptional and caring friends and family members who give support and love to a family dealing with the tragic effects of brain trauma. It has only been in the past few years that the NFL has begun to recognize the lasting effects of football injuries on many of their layers. Still, this does not read like a warning; instead, it is an introspective look at loss and the longing a family feels about that loss. It is also a testament to the hope felt by even a tiny flicker of hope.  

Friday, October 2, 2020

Stepping Stones, written and illustrated by Lucy Knisley. Random House Graphic, Penguin Random House. 2020. $27.99 ages 9 and up

 


"I thought we talked about this. 

Your dad said he's been doing your 

flash cards with you. 

I know - I know my sixes pretty well, but ... 

You've got to be able to make change

if you're going to work at the market."

I have read other graphic novels by Lucy Knisley; this is her first for young readers. What an excellent way to share, in often funny and very poignant text, some aspects of her own life story. 

Following her parents' divorce, Jen and her mother move to a rural setting. Jen is not thrilled; she misses the many amenities of her city life. She loves comic books and Chinese food. They are not to be found anywhere close to where they live in the country. Now, her days include caring for their chickens by keeping them fed and their henhouse clean, hauling water, milking cows, laying down wood chips to create dry pathways around the farm. She must also contend with the grumpiness of her mother's boyfriend, Walter and his daughters who visit on weekends. 

Jen helps at the farmers' market. Her math skills are lacking and causing some issues. When Walter's girls start making their weekend visits, Jen has more to make her angry. Andy is a know-it -all - capable and bright, and always wanting things to be done her way. She is also good at math. The three must share Jen's room; it is an uncomfortable time of adjustment for everyone. Jen relies on her art and writing to give her outlet for her conflicted feelings. 

Humorous and emotional, this book will resonate with middle graders who feel burdened by their own inablitity to make decisions for themselves, while under parental control. It is heartening to see that Jen grows and thrives as she learns new skills, focuses on her artistic ingenuity, and becomes friends with her new 'sisters'. 

A realistic story that allows readers to relate to well-developed characters, accompanied by expertly crafted visual storytelling. Love the farm scenes, and the rural setting. Back matter is much appreciated.                                                                    


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Catch That Chicken! Written by Atinuke and illustrated by Angela Brooksbank. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 3 and up


"Big brother Bilal 

is brave with bulls. 

But when it comes 

to chickens ... 

Lami is braver."

Life in Lami's Nigerian compound is filled with adventure for the young girl. That's because there are so many chickens, and she loves each and every one of them. Everyone in the village counts on Lami's prowess at nabbing those chickens and keeping them under control. Lami may not be as good as others at certain pursuits; she is definitely the very best at chicken catching. 

One day, her determination to grab hold of a black-and-white chicken leads her into dangerous territory. With everyone cautioning her to 'slow down; (SANNU!), she pays no attention and follows that chicken up into the branches of the huge baobab tree. Lami will NOT give up. Unexpectedly, she loses her balance, slips, and falls. The result is a sprained ankle, and an inability to catch any chickens. To the rescue comes Nana Nadia, who offers sound advice for Lami to use her head rather than her legs to get the job done. Lami considers what her Nana has said, and comes up with her own plan for catching chickens in a fully productive way. 

Angela Brooksbank's splendid mixed media artwork offers a close look at Lami, her chickens, her  family, and her home. She also allows a bird's-eye view of the compound and fills it with people, action and a remarkable setting this warm tale. White space on many of the spreads keeps attention fully focused on the chicken chaser - her braided hair, blue jeans, bright shirt and neon green flip-flops. Other scenes show the huge baobab and the role it plays in the community. Superb!

The beauty of the people, their home and their daily activties assure a very special read aloud experience for young children.