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Monday, November 30, 2020

A Long Road on a Short Day, written by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, with illustrations by Eugene Yelchin. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2020. $23.98 ages 8 and up


"Papa nodded, and Samuel ran to find them. 
They were all black as night and hard to see
in the shadows, so Samuel and Georgie knelt
down and Samuel held out his hand. But the 
kittens arched their backs and hissed and ran 
against the back of the stall -

When Mama expresses a wish for a cow with brown eyes, Papa and Samuel set out to search for the cow that will provide milk for the new baby and Papa's tea. Papa takes his best knife with him. The two trudge away from the farm on a snowy January morning. Papa warns that it is going to be 'a long road on a short day', and cautions Samuel to keep up the pace. 

At the first farm they visit, Papa trades his best knife for two tin lanterns. After a short visit, they are on their way again. At their next stop, Papa trades the two lanterns for a book of poetry, already knowing the right person for his next trade. From Widow Mitchell he accepts a pitcher, which he then happily offers to Dr, Fulton for a sheep. On they go, as daylight turns to darkness, always trading for the next best thing. Samuel manages to keep up to his papa despite the long trek. Will they finally find the right thing to trade for a cow - the brown-eyed one that Mama has her heart set on? 

There is enough suspense, with the trades and the growing storm, to keep readers fully engaged in this skillfully written family story that evokes a rural time and place when life was quite different than it is today.  The chapters are short, with perfect pacing. Samuel and his father are both willing participants in the winter adventure. Mr. Yelchin's artwork takes readers back to an earlier time when bartering was often the way people got what they needed when they didn't have the money to pay for it.  

This would make an ideal family read at Christmas time. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

If You Take Away the Otter, written by Susannah Buhrman-Deever and illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020.$22.99 ages 5 and up


"But the king of these forests, the hungriest
hunter, is the sea otter. Otters dive into the 
deep and fill their bellies with fish and clams, 
snails and crabs, abalones and octopuses, and 
the prickly, spiny sea urchins.

A sea otter needs to eat a lot to help it keep 
warm - about a quarter of its own weight each
day. If you ate like an otter, you would need to eat 
about twenty-four hamburgers every day.

Looking at the whiskered swimmers on the book's cover is a reminder of how endearing these ocean animals are. It turns out that cuteness is NOT their many claim to fame. Of course, it is one of the things we love about them. What scientists love about them is that they are a keystone animal on the Pacific coast of North America, where they ensure the good health of the kelp forests that grow there. 

The text is written in two fonts - one offers a story-like and informative look at the creatures themselves and their habitat; the other is much smaller and adds pertinent further information. Readers are told that the kelp forests are home to many creatures. When the forests are healthy, there is balance. It has not always been this way. 

At one time, hunting created an alarming loss. Indigenous people had always hunted for otter and ensured balance within the ocean's ecology. When 'new people' arrived, the explorers developed an international fur trade. In doing so, they took too many otters. As a result of the over-hiunting, the habitat was no longer in balance. Sea urchins flourished; the seaweed and kelp disappeared. Without the otter, there were no checks and balances. 

Eventually, recognizing the dearth of otter life, a treaty was signed to end non-indigenous hunting and selling of otter pelts. 

"And slowly, slowly, the otters began to come back.
And the otters, those hungry hunters, attacked and 
ate the urchin armies. With fewer urchins creeping
about, new kelp could once again grow tall, dancing
in the waves.

If you didn't love otters prior to reading this worthy book, seeing Matthew Trueman's captivating views of the ocean and its many creatures will have readers checking out the backmatter to see where they can learn more.                                                                              

Saturday, November 28, 2020

We Wear Masks, written and illustrated by Marla Lesage. Orca Book Publishers, 2020. $19.95 ages 4 and up


"Even these superheroes think that it's wise
to slap on a mask when they need a disguise.
Welders at work are protecting their sight 
from the heat and the sparks and the dangerous light. 
Now everyday heroes are all wearing masks, 
like doctors and nurses at work on their tasks.

I cannot for the life of me understand why it is so hard for many to step up to the plate, and just wear a mask. Kids are doing it without complaints, with guidance from parents and teachers who encourage them to care about both themselves and others. You don't have to look too far to see the many other places where masks are worn, for the same reasons. 

There is no doubt that kids are anxious in the midst of this pandemic that has changed their world. What they need is help with understanding those many changes they are being asked to accept. To that end, Marla Lesage (a New Brunswick registered nurse) has written calm and helpful words to encourage us  to look at those who wear masks for a variety of reasons. 

Double-page spreads effectively create scenarios, often familiar to the children who will be reading or sharing this book. In each of the scenes, Ms. Lesage shows mask wearers and then explains in rhyming couplets why they have donned protection. Whether they are artists, welders, ranchers, pilots, each has a good reason for covering their faces. It's a pretty simple message, isn't it? 

"You'lll find it quite easy to still share a smile
if you venture outside in a mask that's your style.

It is where we are. There are many reasons for wearing a mask, not the least of which is to show others that we care about them, too. Let's do what we are asked to do, and help children understand why we are.  It's a pretty normal thing to do. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Snow Friends, written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $25.99 ages 3 and up


"Back in the woods ... 
The two dogs dashed around trees, 
up and down hills, and 
across snowy fields. 

"Let's build a snow 
dog!" barked Oscar.

I know there are many children awaiting the first big dump of snow! In this exuberant tale, Oscar feels the same. He wants his boy to take him outside where adventure beckons. Matt, the boy, promises they will go out later in the day. Oscar can't wait. Off he bounds! 

Life on his own is filled with great adventure for Oscar, and gets even better when he meets up with another spirited dog named Daisy. With great abandon and much delight, the two run and romp, chase a ball, and then spend further time together building a snow dog, ice-skating, and constructing an igloo. Their friendship deepens with each minute they spend together. 

Matt is concerned when Oscar is nowhere to be found. It's time to track him down. In doing so, he meets the girl who is Daisy's owner. There is no question that they will join in the obvious fun their two pets are having. A new friendship is born. Together, the four share the warmth of the igloo - the dogs resting after their lively play, the children sharing hot cocoa while in the coziness of the igloo's shelter. 

Will Hillenbrand's mixed media illustrations are filled with action and great wonder. They are described as being 'created with 6B graphite pencil, colored pencil, chalk, pastel, pixels, china marker, crayon, ink, watercolor (with a melted snowball), collage, transparent tape, and kneaded eraser on paper." WHEW! It took me straight back to spending further time looking as his energetic spreads. Delightful!                                                                             

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Bear Is Awake! An Alphabet Story. Written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison. Dial, Penguin Random House. 2019. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"What would you do if 
Came to the 

Here's another amazing seasonal book I had not seen until recently. I do not want to miss telling you about it. It's an ingenious alphabet book. From the get-go, young readers will know something exciting is going on here. After all, Big Bear has awakened early, is hungry, and on the move! 

A cozy cottage is enticing and seemingly perfect for Bear's inspection. What is that smell? The young girl who opens the door to a very hungry intruder is surprised to say the least. After he has consumed everything in sight, she is quick to point him to the door. From cottage to town, with a number of stops along the way, the bear follows our unconcerned heroine from place to place. She manages to exert control over his antics, and prepares pancakes when they get back home. It is not the bear's home and the girl knows that. With evident uncertainty and a degree of sadness she leads the bear back to his den for a longer winter snooze. 

The artwork is so special - a kooky bear, a caring young lady, and page after page of hilarious action will have readers hooting with appreciation. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Little Goose's Autumn, written by Elli Woollard and illustrated by Briony May Smith. Macmillan Children's Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2020. $12.95 ages 4 and up


"Oh, dear!" thought the goose. "I do everything wrong! 
How should I be? Can I ever belong?
And waddling away, she went off to hide, 
Felling ever so tiny and silly inside.

This story of a young goose, confused by the sense of unease she is feeling as summer gives way to autumn, spends her time trying to figure out what she is missing. As she moves from one familiar place to the next, she knows there is something, but she does not know what it is. 

She turns to her forest friends for help with her dilemma. First, the beaver family tells her they are busy making a warm home for the coming weather. Well, that seems a good idea, so Little Goose decides to fell a tree. How? She moves on to have a discussion with the squirrel family as they gather and store food.  It is not easy for a goose to dig a hole! The bear is not helpful, leaving the goose to wallow in the misery of not knowing what she is meant to do. 

Only then does she look up and see what is happening in the sky above her head. Suddenly, and happily, she knows exactly what she must do. 

 "Feeling free as the skittering breath on the breeze
She soared over mountains and rivers and trees.
Always pursuing the voice of the throng 
Who called "Little Goose! Join the flock! Come along!

As she soars high above them, shen notes that her friends are settled in, their winter preparations complete. The story told has charm, and the accompanying beauty of the autumnal landscape provides much for readers to contemplate. Now, you can check for Little Bear's Spring (2019).  It's a perfect companion. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Cave Paintings, written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Groundwood Books, 2020. $21.95 ages 5 and up

"Traveling alone like a comet
to a dim, 
distant star
in the Big Dipper. 
From planet 
to planet. 
Sun to sun."

It's holiday time. That means the young boy, who is our narrator, is lucky enough to be taking his annual summer trip to visit his grandmother's home on Earth. Once aboard the spaceship, he looks out his window at the stars that surround the station where he lives. Those on board, while unlike the boy himself, greet other travelers. 

After takeoff, readers watch as the ship speeds through space, leaving other planets and suns behind. When Earth comes into view, the boy's excitement ramps up. Soon, he will be with his beloved grandmother again. Their summer adventures can then begin, culminating with a visit to a cave that holds secrets in its depths. There, they gaze in wonder at the paintings left by human hands. His parting gift from his grandmother is a box of pencil crayons. On the way home, he uses them to create reminders of the wondrous sights the two have shared during this most recent visit. 

This accomplished and thoughtful team continue to create wonder with their stories. The landscapes of the ever-changing spreads are not only eye-catching, but they are also filled with detail sure to attract attention and hold it. Kids who love books about space will find much to admire here, and will certainly want to share it with their space-loving friends. The story itself is a reminder that things from the past have a way of carrying us forward, under the right circumstance. 


Monday, November 23, 2020

The King of Jam Sandwiches, written by Eric Walters. Orca Book Pulishers. 2020. $12.95 ages


"Maybe we feel tired because we have to think about things other kids don't have to think about," I said. "That's probably it. Some people have to be older because of what life gives them. You have to be older just like I do. And so you know, like I said before, I won't tell anybody that you're poor," she said. "What?" "I won't tell anybody that you're poor." "I'm not poor." Harmony gestured around the room."

The two teens whose stories are told here will capture hearts and open readers to discussions of family, mental health, friendship, and fears. Both are surviving in the wake of truly dysfunctional parenting. It is with luck they find each other at school, and forge a strong and very supportive friendship. 

Robert is 13, and barely remembers the mother who died when he was young. His father is unable to properly care for his son. Robert describes his father's moods and behaviors as being on an elevator. The highs and lows he exhibits are only occasionally matched by a sense of things being normal. Robert cannot determine when the swings will happen. He lives in fear of the demands for perfection made of him, and for the periods of time when his father just disappears. He doesn't want anyone to know how bad things are, always fearing placement in foster care. 

Meeting Harmony, a new kid at school, brings a change for both. Harmony is not an easy friend or student. She is in foster care while her alcoholic mother is in rehab ... again. The beginning of their relationship is rocky. Robert's concern for Harmony and his support to help her stay in a caring foster home allows the new friendship to develop in a way that is mutually beneficial. Both are dealing with their parents' issues as best they can. 

Robert is a very good student who has managed to find his place in school, and at home. He knows what to do when the next crisis occurs and manages to remain an outstanding student and athlete while caring for his father to the best of his ability. Harmony is dealing with a complicated childhood, and many lasting scars. Her foster placement is a very good one, with a family who want what is best for her. As they spend time together and learn to trust one another, they are able to look forward to a better future. 

Both are amazing characters - strong, resilient, and worthy of the reader's attention and admiration. Their stories are realistic, compelling and often heartbreaking, and told with compassion. It's a keeper! 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree, written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Nathalie Dion. Groundwood, 2020. $18.95 ages 4 and up


"I've learned it never stays away for long - 
sometimes a few minutes, 
sometimes a few hours, 
sometimes a few days. 
But it always comes back.

Oh, what wonders there are in the natural world. For our narrator and her cat, they are evident even in early morning when the sun streaming in the window creates a giant shadow for her. For a time, the child and feline are content with the many joys found in chasing those shadows. When that shadow disappears, the child is morose. Eventually the shadow is sure to return. 

Outside, on a sunny day, the shadow is a welcome companion as the two explore a wintry wonderland. Hearing the wind tell its stories helps when the child returns home and is bothered by howling winds that occasion darkness and bad dreams. Returning to the outdoors while it is snowing offers sweet feelings in the joy of the moment. 

"Sometimes the snowflakes
toss and tumble
and arrive icy sharp 
to prickle my cheeks
and freeze my nose. 

But still
they taste
like clouds."

And, she recognizes that the buds they see on the cherry tree offer hope for spring ... and even more beauty to be found. 

This little girl's senses are alive with the seasonal changes she experiences. The gentle artwork guides readers through scenes of peacefulness and being alone in nature. Comfort abounds.                                                                              

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Counting Creatires, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sharon King-Chai. two hoots, Publishers Group Canada. 2020. $28.99 ages 3 and up

has ...

3 cubs

Tottering, swaying, 
pouncing and playing."

Thoughts are quickly turning to thoughts of Christmas and gift giving. It's going to be different this year, if we are following the many cautions for large gatherings. Bookstores are keen to help with getting special gifts to those who love books and reading. If you have a little one in your family, there are many fine choices for them. This one is perfect for those who are just learning to count ... and who also have an interest in animal babies. 

It is brilliantly designed counting book that hits all the high points. The animals will be familiar; the language is engaging, rhythmic, and descriptive; the numbers go from 1 through 10 and beyond by 5s up to 25; and the surprise ending encourages readers to go back to the beginning with a new task in mind. 

Wait! I haven't mentioned the glorious artwork, have I? The intricately created pages include cut-aways, die-cuts, flaps and fold-outs that begin on the front endpaper where little ones are shown the animals they will meet inside. Bright colors, textured images, and constantly changing settings add context and understanding for little ones. Each turn of the page answers the question of 'one more', and brings a new animal to the forefront. The back endpaper of a spider and some of her many spiderlings invites readers to go back and count exactly how many babies that mother spider has. 

There are many opportunities for counting, and discussion. Bravo! 

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Couch Potato, written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. Harper, 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Oh, and this! Check it out. This button activates a 
gadget that fetches me snacks whenever I want. 

Bam! Impressed? And I don't have to move an inch.
easier than going to the kitchen.

Following up on the huge success of previous stories in this series of books (The Bad Seed (2017), The Good Egg (2018), and The Cool Bean (2019)), this new book describes the way many of us must be feeling with all that is going on in the world today. Never have I felt more like someone glued to television shows, comfort food, and lazing about! 

This potato seems perfectly content with the many comforts of a lazy life. Keeping every single thing within reach brings ultimate joy. There are television shows to delight, video games to demand attention, and friends to visit on a variety of platforms. Why move at all? Even electronic gloved hands that reach all the way to the kitchen are part of the appeal of staying put. 

Oh, dear. What happens if there is no electricity to power the many machines needed to occasion this slothful lifestyle? Our potato deals by taking the dog for a walk ... in the outdoors. What wonder awaits! There is much to see and experience as the feeling for healthy freedom grows. 

Its conversational tone and well-chosen humor invite readers inside the book, and provides a thoughtful take on what balance in daily life could be. Pete Oswald's artwork is filled with warmth, humor and spirit, leaving readers with much to consider. 

Might there be life beyond the constraints of screen time? One thinks it might be so! 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Little Mermaid, by Jerry Pinkney. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2020. $23.99 ages 6 and up


"Just then, Melody felt a sharp tug on her tail. Her heart beat wildly, until she was greeted sternly by the sea turtle. Though Melody longed to speak to the girl on the shore, she knew she must obey her guardian and return to her kingdom."

Jerry Pinkney chooses tales he loves, and then makes them his own. In doing so, he recreates this classic tale with an emphasis on friendship and family. Melody is the youngest mermaid in her family. Her collection of artifacts from ships she finds below the surface elicit questions no one can answer. She longs to know more about the world above her ocean home. 

As one so young, she has a guardian turtle. One day she follows it to the world above and sees a young friendly girl on the nearby shore. She has a strong feeling that the girl might be the answer to her longing for a friend. When the Sea Witch offers to give her legs in exchange for her beautiful voice, Melody abandons all warnings she has heard concerning the hateful, ugly creature. In doing so, she forges a strong friendship with Zion, the young girl she had earlier seen. Only when Melody discovers that the witch is using her now powerful voice to attack the Sea King's domain does she realize the havoc she has released. 

Her friendship with Zion is strong, warm and lovely. Ultimately, it is Zion who convinces Melody to leave Zion's world, regain her voice, and make things right. With resilience and bravery, she returns to her ancestral home to challenge the Sea Witch, and bring peace and order back to her family and friends. 

Fans of this old story will find comfort in the telling. Admiration for Mr. Pinkney's artwork comes from the beauty found in the watercolors that fill the many spreads with brilliant color and amazing detail. Through careful observation, readers are fully cognizant of each of Melody's worlds. 

"You should never give up your voice, for anything." 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Swift Fox All Along, written by Rebecca Thomas and illustrated by Maya McKibbin. Annick Press, 2020. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"Swift Fox listens to the wind rustling the trees - the same kind of trees that are in the park she goes to with her dad. She notices a familiar smell drifting from the house. It's the bread her dad makes in the frying pan! Sometimes he puts raisins in it. He always serves it with butter and molasses. Swift Fox loves that bread."

It's a long drive. It gives Swift Fox even more time to feel nervous about meeting her father's extended family. He is very excited, telling her that she will learn to know and love them. She is wary. He reminds her that she has everything she needs inside herself. She is Mi'kmaq. Their visit is about meeting the family from whom she has inherited who she is. Swift Fox is worried they will not like her. 

The family welcomes her with love and great warmth. She immediately notices a red bundle like the one her dad has in his car. The family is about to smudge. She doesn't understand. Despite encouragement, she runs off in tears. Seeking refuge nearby, she can hear all that the family inside is saying, and she recognizes familiar smells. 

Another car pulls up and out steps a boy who shares her worries. He is Sully, and he is also wary of meeting a family he doesn't yet know. He wonders about the unfamiliar smell. Swift Fox is delighted to inform him. 

"It's the best bread in the world! 
My dad puts molasses and 
butter on it. It's so good!

Ms. Thomas has written a personal and poignant book that is reflective of her own life. She explains in an author's note that she grew up off-reserve. Her father attended a residential school when he was the same age as Swift Fox. Losing his language and culture, he wanted his children to know the ways of his people. It starts with family. Emotional and full of spirit, the visit is just what the young girl needs to begin to find her own identity. 

 Maya McKibbin’s delightful illustrations are filled with the warmth of family, while also fully showing the emotions felt by a young girl meeting unknown relatives. The artwork helps readers be part of the sights, smells, and sounds of this joyful gathering. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Our Little Kitchen, by Jillian Tamaki. Groundwood, 2020. $19.95 ages 4 and up


"Is your body warm? 

Is your belly full? 

One little kitchen can't give us

all we need, but ... 

Would you like seconds?"

Oh, to be in this 'little kitchen'! It is filled with kind people who care about their community and spend every Wednesday gathering and cooking what is needed to feed its members. Filled with charm and as uplifting as it can be for those who will share it, it is Jillian Tamaki at her best. 

It is a tiny, welcoming spot where everyone who can contributes what they have to make a communal meal. The ingredients might come from the fridge, the nearby garden, home pantries, or the food bank. Bringing those foods to the table will determine what the meal of the day will be. There is not a doubt that it will be eaten and appreciated. 

The joy found in the camaraderie and work it takes is evident on every spread. The pages burst with enthusiasm, color, inviting smells, and a diverse group of people willing to share their cooking skills and their wish to help their friends with a well-made meal. The warmth found in this kitchen emanates first from the people present, and then from the oven. Everyone talks, everyone works hard, and everyone partakes of the food they so lovingly prepare. They are thankful for each other at every step. All the people who sit down for dinner are filled with gratitude for a chance to enjoy such a meal every week. They leave promising to be back. 

After a short stop for a warm drink and whatever food is left to share, the team is refreshed and the time has come to do the CLEAN UP! Next week, they will do it all again. Energetic, filled to the brim with compassion and ever-changing perspectives, this book needs to be in every school library and classroom.  

Endpapers provide simple recipes for vegetable soup and apple crumble. In an author's note, Ms. Tamaki explains that she was once part of a volunteer community kitchen that provided a Wednesday meal for those in need. 

If your senses aren't on overload when you finish reading this book, you must have just eaten.                                                                                        

Monday, November 16, 2020

STARCROSSED, written and illustrated by Julia Denos. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2021. $24.99 ages


"Acamar was too busy to answer her - he was
watching his blood and bones appear. He was
watching the rivers and sands grow wider, the 
lights of Eridani's city grow warmer, and the 
window where she slept grow closer and closer.

Oh, what a wonder this book is to read. In a tale of otherworldly friendship, we meet a human girl. Eridani is a student of the night sky. Her best friend is Acamar. Acamar is one of the constellations she so admires. Eridani loves to work on school projects that require close study of sky maps and star plots. 
The two best friends speak with each other every evening - when school is done and the sky is dark enough for Acamar to be seen. They share conversation about each other's day. Eri has questions about Acamar's home, and he has equally pertinent questions about hers. 

Eri realizes that no matter what she learns, she will never know what it is like to be in the sky - to be the same as Acamar. She wishes that she might trade him places. While Eridani is wishing to be where he is, Acamar is yearning to feel his feet on the ground where Eridani lives. Their love and concern for each other has them realizing that Acamar will never see a sunset, and Eridani will never know what it is like to fly. 

One night, Acamar suggests his friend make a wish upon him. She does, and he does the same. It works. Eridani's bones dissolve and her body fills with light. Acamar watches blood and bones appear and lands with a BOOM! Eridani takes her place as a new constellation where Acamar had been. The special connection remains between the two, despite their reversal in roles. 

The textured illustrations are energetic and magnificent! The tale is told with wonder, and love. An author's note describes Acamar as a star in the constellation Eridanus. She also provides a list of  resources for those keen to learn more. So worth your attention! 

Might we meet them again? One can only hope so.                                                               

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Boy and the Gorilla, written by Jackie Azua Kramer and illustrated by Cindy Derby. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020.$22.99 ages 6 and up


"How do you know when someone dies?
A person's body stops working. 
Like their heartbeat?
Will we all die? 
Yes. We all do. But you have many more kites to fly."

After his mother dies, the little boy watches a gorilla trudge slowly into their house while guests are visiting. He is in his mother's garden when the gorilla first speaks to him. The gorilla offers the gentle acceptance and patient answers the child needs to the many questions he has. His father, while there with him, is unable to share his feelings yet. 

Days pass. The gorilla is a constant companion, listening closely as the boy shares memories, thoughts  and further questions. The answers given are honest, reassuring, needed. The gorilla is accepting and protective. He assures the child that his mother will always be with him ... in the memories he shares, the good times spent together. Through those initial first days of mourning for his mother, the gorilla's presence provides a warm blanket of protection. 

Soon, the boy reaches out to his dad. Together, they are able to express sad feelings and their need to be with each other. As they talk about the things they remember, the gorilla fades from view. In a final spread, the father and son add new flowers to Mom's garden, then head into the house hand in hand. 

The cheerless tone of the story is matched in quiet artwork done with watercolor, gouache, India ink and using digital collage. These illustrations are as comforting as the gorilla's words. Compassionate and luminous, it is a book that will be appreciated by many.                                                                          

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Little Wise Wolf, written by Gijs van der Hammen and illustrated by Hanneke Siemensma. Translated by Laura Watkinson. Kids Can Press, 2020. $19.99 ages 6 and up


"Far away, on the other side of the mountains, there lived a little wolf. He read big books. He discovered new stars. He knew every herb. He knew everything! Because he knew so much, almost everyone called him Little Wise Wolf. And that made him feel rather proud."

This little wolf speaks to my heart! He loves nothing more than reading, and what he learns from that reading is quite astounding. His woodland friends know he has the answers to their questions; in his quest always to be reading and learning more, he has no time to provide answers. In fact, he is quite grumpy when asked. 

But, when the king's crow arrives with the message that he is needed at the castle, Little Wise Wolf must leave his house, and his reading, and make a long, unfamiliar journey. He does not know that his neighbors are following him to be sure he is safe. When he runs into difficulty, they are there with food, a fire and a chance for needed rest. 

"And there, deep in the forest, 
Little Wise Wolf found a tent - 
and a pot of soup simmering 
on a campfire. He had no idea 
where they came from, but he 
had a lovely night's sleep.

Morning arrives with an understanding that his friends have been with him all along the way. They take him close to the castle, knowing that he will find his way from there. Once he arrives, he is uncertain that he is up to the task. The crow persists. Little Wise Wolf does what he has come to do. The king is soon well and filled with gratitude, offering the wolf a valued place in the castle where he can read to his heart's content. His answer comes straight from his heart. Wise, indeed!  

Marvelous storytelling is accompanied by perfectly matched, layered artwork that evokes an atmosphere sure to hold interest for all readers. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Camping Trip, written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Finally, we're here! It's so quiet.
 And big. 
It smells like trees, and fire, and dirt. 
You need a lot of stuff to go camping, 
so it takes a long time to unpack.
It is our young narrator's first camping trip. Invited by her aunt and cousin, she is very excited. She knows she is going to love everything about it. Aunt Jackie has provided a long list of supplies she'll need. She and her dad make all the preparations. They even make some trail mix. 

The big day arrives, the car is packed, and they are off. The drive is long; the two girls fill in travel time with reading, string games, singing, and keeping track of their surroundings. Once they arrive, they have work to do. Tired and hot, it's time for a swim ... something Ernestine has only done in a local pool. Since there are fish in the lake, she decides to sit and watch. 

An afternoon hike which requires few necessities when in the city, demands a much longer list of supplies when hiking in the woods. Backpacks full prepared, walking sticks in hand, the three head to the hills. Returning to the campsite after a long afternoon, they set the fire and decide on a menu. S'mores, a new taste sensation, are a huge hit! Night falls, and with it comes deep darkness and many worries. 

"Where's my water bottle?
"Where is Foxy? 
I'm freezing. 
Is anyone else awake? 
Is Dad awake?

Homesickness sets in. It's Aunt Jackie to the rescue; a look at the starry night sky is the antidote for fears and sadness. Tomorrow is a new day, filled with memorable experiences and much joy. 

Young campers will understand the feelings felt by Ernestine as she camps for the first time. They will also appreciate the wonders found, and the willingness to learn by experience. The artwork clearly demonstrates Ernestine's viewpoint through variety in spreads, lively dialogue, and humor. Endpapers catalog the BASIC equipment needed for a successful first camping trip. Readers will be happy to experience this trip again ... and then again. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Old Woman, written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Nahid Kazemi. Groundwood, 2020. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"When they got back to the house, the old woman sat in her chair and put her feet up. She noticed a hole in the curtains. Tomorrow I'll mend them, she thought. She was tired. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. The dog curled up, and soon began to snore."
An old woman and her dog are quiet companions.Their house is as simple as their needs. Almost any early morning finds the dog outside enjoying enough action to require a welcome snooze when he comes back inside. Today is a fall day, and nature beckons.  

Longing to hear some familiar autumn sounds, she enncouarges the dog to take a walk out into the surrounding hills. Gently blowing wind, and crunchy leaves beneath her feet are reminders of times past, when walks together were more frequent. The old woman has a destination in mind. As they go, she contentedly watches a crow fly past, and ponders the joy of flying. Throwing sticks for her pal results in her finding a perfect walking stick for herself. 

The boulder she has been looking for offers a perfect seat for her weary body. As they sit peacefully there, she thinks even more on times past. The harvest moonrise startles her with its almost indescribable beauty. Once home, the two rest their weary bones and fall into a relaxed and appreciated sleep. Morning brings warm sunshine, more memories, and contented companionship. 

The text is as unhurried as is the autumn day spent in quiet contemplation of all nature has to offer. Ms. Kazemi's textured mixed media artwork enhances the day's journey. What a joy it is to read.                                                                             


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Night Walk, written by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Ellie Arscott. Groundwood, 2020. $18.95 ages 4 and up


"In one house a big family was eating a meal too late for supper and too early for breakfast. They were so happy it made me happy too. Was it always like this when I was asleep in my bed at night? So many people everywhere!"

Sleep doesn't come easily to the little girl who narrates this tender tale. Dad notices and wonders if she would like to go for a 'night walk' with him. The rest of the family is settled. So, the two are off disturbinh anyone. It's the first time they have for such a walk together. 

The wonder they find in ambling through town is lovely to see. They pass numerous homes, using streetlights to guide them. An apartment building offers lighted windows, as do many of the houses they pass. Downtown is filled with light and activity, and even more to see ... families living above storefronts, people on the sidewalks and in a bus, and diminishing light as they move toward the park. Both make observations as they wander, and Dad talks about his childhood in the county. A quick visit to the park, a swing together, and a chance to look at the stars marks the end of the stroll, and a return to the warmth of home. 

This father-daughter tale is told with a sense of belonging that comes with being in exactly the right place. The light-infused illustrations add warmth at every turn, and provide comfortable vignettes that invite conversation between the two.                                                                                

Monday, November 9, 2020

Hockey in the Wild, by Nicholas Oldland. Kids Can Press. 2020. $17.99 ages 4 and up


"One morning after breakfast, the beaver
opened the front door to check the weather. 
It was official: hockey season had arrived.

As he has done in six previous adventures, Nicholas Oldland offers up laughs for and friendship between Moose, Bear and Beaver. Their hockey story begins when Beaver heads down to the lake for a morning dip. Obviously, he is not aware of how late in the season it is. Preparations done, and ready for a restorative swim, he dives in. And, lands on ice. 

Home he goes with high hopes ... hockey season is upon them. He encourages his friends to lace up, get their sticks and head back to the lake with him. Jumping onto the ice lands the three in bitterly cold water when they break through the not-yet-thick-enough ice surface. Next day, though better prepared, the result is the same ... too thin. 

The wait begins. Numerous activities result in boredom, too much food, and inactivity. When the weather finally turns and snow begins to fall, they are READY! Or, are they? There's work to be done to get back in shape. Then, it's hockey, hockey, hockey. It's just what any true Canadian would be doing when there is a lake at hand, and a burning desire to be out on the ice for hours on end. Bravo! 

Fans will welcome their friends back with open arms. Chuckles accompany every reading. Who doesn't want to read a book about friendship, perseverance, and HOCKEY? Visual humor, expressive characters, and lots of action invite careful observation and provide a story that every hockey fan will want to share.                                                                                

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sorry (Really Sorry), words by Joanna Cotler and illustrations by Harry Bliss. Philomel, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"When Duck came along, Cow kicked mud in her face. 

"Why'd you do that?' asked Duck. 

"I felt like it," said Cow. "And I'm not sorry."

Flapping furiously, Duck wiped mud from her beak."

Life is not without its difficulties. Even farm animals can have bad days, or so this tale proves. It begins with Cow, who is very unhappy with the mud she must slog through because of the overnight rainstorm. Duck, expecting a usual cheery greeting, is stunned when Cow covers her with mud, and then refuses to apologize. Duck is offended. 

Poor frog must bear the brunt of Duck's annoyance. Frog mentions the mud, and wonders about a swim. Duck is rude, but speaks an apology that has no sense of remorse in it at all. Frog is aware, and angry that Duck has called him a nasty name. Bird is quickly made to feel badly when Frog is mean to her. Frog is not sorry at all, but makes a stab at an apology even though he doesn't mean it. Bird follows through by kicking Goat off the branch she says is hers. Goat runs from Bird's meanness, straight into Pig. 

When Goat tells Pig that he did exactly what he wanted to do (even though he did not), Pig is heartbroken and breaks down in tears. Can Dog right the wrongs of a day gone badly? His kind nature, patience and gentle reminders about love and friendship turn the tide, and lead to sincere apologies from one animal to the next. 

Kids know being sincerely sorry is a big thing. Would that some adults might learn the lesson those kids so willingly teach. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A Polar Bear in the Snow, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Shawn Harris. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 3 and up


"Where is he going?

Is he going to visit the seals?
No, he is not hungry.

Is he going to hunker in a cave? 
No. His fur protects him from the storm."

Beautifully told, with wonderful snowy images, this is a book that is meant to be shared numerous times. The invitation to follow this gigantic polar bear on its way to an unknown destination is clear right from the beginning. 

Although unseen in the first illustration, a turn of the page exposes a black nose. Even though he is asleep, something is tickling his senses and about to lead him on a journey of discovery. Turn again ... and readers now know a smell has awakened the bear. Another page turn, and he is exposed from head to huge paws. In the next spread, the bear is crossing a wide, snow-covered expanse, clearly on his way to somewhere important. 

Questions and answers allow that the bear is not going to visit seals, find a protective cave to help him wait out the storm, or meet a man. Goodness no! What does he smell? Where is that odor leading him? Finally, his destination is evident. What happens next is glorious! 

Where will he now? I wonder. 

Told in simple text, its pages resplendent with an inviting setting and dazzling cut-paper-and-ink images, this book will find favor with young readers who love polar bears. It is filled with charm, and sure to become a favorite story for any time of the day. Not knowing where the bear is headed next allows readers to speculate and discuss what they think might happen.                                                                             

Friday, November 6, 2020

The Song for Everyone, by Lucy Morris. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2020. $25.99 ages 4 and up


"Nearby, the old lady hobbled slowly to town for bread and milk. She felt the chill of the breeze in her aching bones. As she walked, a trickle of notes tickled her ears. She rested for a moment beneath the little window and listened. The sound flowed down and wrapped itself around her weary body."

We are learning more and more about the power of music to soothe souls and impact mental health. In these times of isolation, music brings people together and helps to alleviate the fatigue and sadness so many are feeling. 

In thinking about that, I am happy to share this story about a community that changes when music becomes a part of their day. A 'delicate tune' drifts through a tiny window into the street below. A lonely boy, an old lady, a hungry cat and a young family feel an immediate impact. Quickly, the music spreads to all community members and brings change. Kindness, peace and caring become part of everyone's day. 

Suddenly, the music stops. The town flounders. Even flowers and rising bread are affected. With help from community members, the little boy is lifted up to the window and climbs in. The boy stays with the tiny wren that has worn itself with its endless song. Sustenance is provided for both as they spend time together. Everyone waits to see what will happen. 

"There in the little window stood the boy and the wren making music together."

Joyous in its message, with gentle, quiet artwork that sends music sailing through community streets to allay sadness and spread magic. 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Three Brothers, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood Books, 2020. $19.95 ages 4 and up


"Off they went 
across snowy fields, 
up the hill and into the forest. 
Ooley had insisted 
on wearing his bear suit. 
He walked sloooowly
like a bear, swaying 
from side to side.
"Wait for me," he said, 
in his growly bear voice.

I am always thrilled to learn that Marie-Louise Gay has written a new book. What wonder for each of us! She never disappoints. I love the way she creates children who look like 'every child', fills her spreads with action, detail and imagination, and creates stories that I love to read out loud. 

The three brothers in this new book are Finn, Leo and Ooley. They are adventurers, loving to be outside in the woods. Despite the overnight snow that blocks their door, they climb out the window with makeshift snowshoes and are on their way into the nearby forest. Their grandfather has mentioned that the woods were, at one time, rife with wildlife. Determined to see a wild animal while out exploring, they walk and walk. 

Quietly, they weave their way between trees and over logs without seeing one animal. Reaching the top of the hill, they discuss that absence of wildlife. Grandpa has explained to them that climate change is to blame. The animals no longer have the food and water they need. Perhaps spring will be a better time for an animal-sighting expedition. Little do the boys know (readers do) that some animals they sense while walking are actually close by and watching them.  

As kids are wont to do, they find their own fun in the snow. Creating snow animals alleviates their sadness. The final double-page spread shows the boys traipsing over the hill on their way home, leaving a lovely, snowy bunch of animals behind to bask in moonlight. The final wordless page is quietly beautiful. No doubt about it, it's a 'keeper'.   

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

This Old Dog, written by Martha Brockenbrough and illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo. Levine Querido, Raincoast. 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"But then, in the pale blue room
near old dog's bed, 
a pair of feet
touch the ground for the first time. 
"You can walk!

The endpapers show 'this old dog', leash in mouth and wide-eyed. He's watching as his owners (one very pregnant) put together a crib for the soon-to-arrive addition to the family.

In later days, young readers glimpse his morning routine. He's eager to welcome the new day, takes his time to move about, eats his breakfast, slurps his water, and then cleans up the mess he has made while dining. Now that the baby is here, things move a bit more quickly than his old body can take. He longs for slow walks, accompanied by a lot of time for smelling and listening. Instead, the walk is quickly over, leaving him to dream in the sun of the past when he was not so 'old'. 

He wants a friend who will love what he loves; a friend who will find wonder in the small things in nature and life. Great happiness abounds when the baby girl puts feet to floor and walks ... slowly, steadily, and right to him. As she grows and becomes more ambulatory, she proves to be just what he has been hoping for!  

This old dog has quite the personality, shown clearly in Gabriel Alborozo's winning illustrations. Those images clearly match Ms. Brockenbrough's homage to love shared between young and old. Enjoy it with someone you love. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

What We'll Build: Plans for Our Together Future, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. HarperCollins, 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"I'll build your future and you'll build mine. 
We'll build a watch to keep our time. 
We'll build some love to set aside, 
and build a hole where we can hide.

Oliver Jeffers has written another book for one of his children. As he did with Here We Are (2017) for his son, this time the book is for his daughter. It is an invitation to work together to build a future for the two of them. 

Some of what they build is meant to provide safety and comfort: a house, a hole for hiding, a wall for protection. Then, they will build a gate to let those enemies in, and a table for tea and apologies, because of earlier misunderstandings and the joys found in friendship. Some of what they build is less concrete; such as the love they will set aside, or the road to the moon. (although hammock sharing there looks comfy and worthy of the visit).

Together they might build an unsinkable boat, or a safe place for the storage of all things loved most. 

"We'll put these favorite things beside
the earlier love we set aside.
I think that we may want them later, 
when times are hard and needs are greater.

In the end, it's been a long day and a lot of work. Rest is needed. Hand in hand, side by side, they settle to sleep on the ground beside a fire under a moonlit sky.                                                                                                                     

Monday, November 2, 2020

you matter, written and illustrated by christian robinson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"When everyone thinks you're a pest. 
When something is just out of reach. 
When everyone is too busy to help. 
You matter.

Too many children in the world do not know how much they matter. No one tells them. Christian Robinson sets out to show them that they do. Just as every living thing in our world, and beyond, is worthy of attention and care. 

Endpapers offer a bird's-eye view of a playground set in the center of an urban community. A group of diverse children hold onto a colorful parachute, all working together to keep it in the air and moving. The dedication page makes the purpose for this new book clear to all who read it. 

"For anyone who isn't sure if they matter.
You do.

He starts with things too small to see with the naked eye, moving forward with every page turn to include more and more creatures who make our world the wonderful place that it is. It is fully dependent on perspective. No matter who, or what ... all matter. It might be a tiny mosquito, or a little girl in a pink hijab., That doesn't. Occasionally, the author repeats the affirmative words to remind his audience: you matter. 

Using acrylics and collage, Mr. Robinson does what he does so masterfully. He creates books that speak to children. He creates visual images that show connections from one spread to the next, that invite observation and conversation. In the end, he circles back to the beginning, repeating what he has said on earlier pages. 

"The first to go and the last. 

The small stuff too small to see. 

You matter."                                                                     

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Word for Friend, written and illustrated by Aidan Cassie. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $25.99 ages 5 and up


"The kids at
her new school liked talking, too. But 
their words were different. They spoke a language 
Kemala didn't know. 

"Do they speak our language?" she asked her mama. 

"No," Mama whispered, "but, we'll catch on."

Kemala is super excited to discover everything about this brand-new town where she and her mother are living. She likes the shopping, the foods, the smells, the babies, the money, even the hats the ladies wear. She is very excited when the two arrive at her new school. Kemala is a talker, and she cannot wait to make friends with her schoolmates. Welcomed by her teacher, her shyness fades and she talks and talks to no avail. No one understands a word she is saying. The tiny pangolin curls into a tight ball to ease her nervous stomach. 

It doesn't get better at recess. Kemala finds comfort in a nearby tree ... where she meets Ana, a friendly anteater. Without words, Kemala can show Ana what she is cutting from the leaves that surround them. Ana is not adept. She is keen to try her hand and show her work when they return to the classroom. Once home, Kemala happily shares school news with her mama and then, her concern about learning a whole new language. 

Kemala and Ana spend time making animals from thick paper and green leaves. Ana's skills improve as she practices. The two work together with their puppets to tell stories; Kemala without words, and Ana always sharing in words Kemala does not yet understand. A very special gift from Ana has Kemala wanting to share a story from home. She doesn't have all the words she needs. Still, she invites her classmates to a puppet show. Despite a few mistakes, her classmates cheer her attempt. The puppet show is a huge success. Only a few words that night lead her to add more and more every day. Most  exciting of all is her new friend. Amiko!

Using Esperanto as the language for the children in Kemala's new classroom is a wonderful device for all readers, who will feel much the same as she does. Brightly-colored, pleasing images give the book a feeling of warmth, kindness, and understanding. 

Closing pages provide information about Esperanto, a glossary of phrases used, and some additional details about pangolins.