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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Being Toffee, written by Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2020. $24.50 ages 14 and up

"I am not who I say I am,

and Marla isn't who she thinks she is.

I am a girl trying to forget.

She is a woman trying to remember."

Allison has taken enough of her father's abuse. His latest girlfriend, Kelly-Anne, has moved on. In a fit of rage, her father burns Allison's face. She no longer has anyone there to protect her. So, she runs away - she wants to find Kelly-Anne and live with her. But, Kelly-Anne is not where she is supposed to be, and Allison must find a place for herself. She finds it in a house that she thinks is empty. It is not. 

Its owner is an elderly woman who has dementia. Upon meeting her, Marla thinks that Allison is a childhood friend, Toffee. She invites Allison to stay. In the beginning, Allison pretends that she is Toffee. She doesn't want to be Allison anymore. The two get along for the most part. Marla is generally happy with the company; Allison has found food, money, and a place to stay. She hides when a negligent caregiver visits and also when Marla's mean son is there. Allison is appalled at the way they treat her new friend. That helps her make the decision to stay and make Marla's life worth living. 

Allison's memories of her previous life are presented to help readers understand what has brought her to this place, and to make understanding the connection between the two more evident. The sympathy and love that is established is mutual and will have a strong impact on teens who read their story. Telling the story in verse, with compact and powerful words, has real impact. The ability to do so, as Sarah Crossan does so well, is quite the remarkable feat. 

Though filled with excruciating pain, bawdy humor, kindness, mutual admiration, and uncertainty, its poignant ending is hopeful. I will reread it; the next time more slowly - now that I know Allison and Marla's story - to savor the brilliant words and to learn more about each of them. I know I missed much as I tore through it that first time.  

"Single Ladies

Marla and I are giggling, 
clinging to each other, 
swaying, spinning to 
Beyonce singing out 
from the radio's tinny speakers. 

Now like this! Like this! I tell her. 
I hold one hand aloft and twirl it
like any single lady would, 
and Marla copies the choreography - 
         hands in the air, 
         hands on hips, 
         fist punching forward, 
         hair flicked back.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

If Winter Comes, Tell It I'm Not Here, written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 202o. $22.99 ages 3 and up


"So I look out for signs of winter. 
One by one, they come, just as my sister said they would. 

There's a chill in the air. 
The trees begin to lose 
their leaves.

The little boy who narrates this story loves EVERYTHING about summer. It's hard to get him out of the swimming pool, The offer of an ice cream cone often works. As big sisters love to do, she warns him to enjoy the warmth and sunshine while he can - summer will soon be over. What does that mean, he wonders. He asks; she explains that winter is coming. 

"Then winter comes. It will be dark all the time.
The cold rain will turn to snow. You'll be stuck 
on the sofa for days. Everything will be SO dull, 
and you'll be SO cold, you wouldn't dream of 
eating ice cream.

Sounds awful, doesn't it? The signs are there. Soon, it is winter. Trading hot chocolate for ice cream, he finds it is not nearly as bad as expected. He likes the fun it offers. While making the best of it, he expresses concern that it might not last. 

Ms. Ciraolo creates seasonal settings in pencil and watercolor, and shows the beauty of each. Our narrator's face and body language are filled with expression and anticipation as winter shows its best side. After 2 days of snowfall in British Columbia brought great delight and outdoor exhaustion to my granddaughters, they would willingly agree with his take on the changing seasons.

Friday, February 26, 2021

I Am Every Good Thing, written by Derrick Barnes and illustated by Gordon C. James. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"I am a brother, 
a son, 
a nephew, 
a favorite cousin, 
a grandson. 
I am a friend. 
I am real.

I once read a quote from the incomparable Walter Dean Myers that read: We need diversity because kids who never see themselves in a book will eventually become kids we never see with a book. I immediately printed it on a card and tacked it to the bulletin board in front of my desk. I read that observation every single day. We are doing better, but there is a long way to go yet. 

Books as wonderful as I Am Every Good Thing show that we are supporting Black writers and their amazing work. The team that celebrated Black children with Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (2017) return with another book that honors the boundless imagination and endless joy of a young Black boy. 

This boy shows readers that he is full of confidence and energy. His first-person voice makes his story ring with truth and bravery. He tells the audience that he is a product of his ancestors' dreams for him, and that he is worthy of all those same things that every child in the world deserves. 

"I am good to the core, like the center
of a cinnamon roll. 

Yeah, that good." '

He shows the world around him that he is the same as other boys his age. He has the same hopes, feels the same pain, loves learning, and treats people with respect and kindness. Despite all this truth, he will face obstacles in our world. That sometimes makes him feel afraid of what people might call him, what they might think of him without knowing him at all. It is a sad truth. 

Still, he says: 

"I am brave. I am hope. 
I am my ancestors' wildest dream.
I am worthy of success, 
of respect, of safety, of kindness, of happiness.

Mr. Barnes uses remarkable, uplifting language to share this welcome and needed look at the experience of Black boys. His words are definitive and empowering. Mr. James provides exceptional images in textured oil paints of many young Black boys who deserve the same love, admration, and honor that all children do. They are, for certain, Every Good Thing. It is a beautiful book to read aloud in any K-5 classroom and beyond.

Dedicated by the author to Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, EJ Bradford, Jordan Edwards, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis and Julian Mallory, and by the artist to his son Gabriel, this book deserves a place in every school, family and public library. 

I would like to end with another wise observation from the same interview with Walter Dean Myers quoted above -

Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in these books?                                                                     

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Maggie's Treasure, written by Jon-Erik Lappano and illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka. Groundwood, 2020. $19.95 ages 5 and up


"Maggie stomped to her bedroom where she 
sat and stewed like an emperor surrounded 
by great piles of riches. 

But looking around, even Maggie could see
that something had to be done. 

     What do people do with treasure, she wondered."

Four years ago, this team created Tokyo Digs a Garden. It was a book I read a number of times, and it won the Governor General's Award for illustrated books for young people. Well deserved ... so I was very interested to see that they have once again collaborated on a new picture book. 

The focus for this story is a young girl who loves collecting treasure. Well, she calls it treasure; others would call it junk. Her travels within her neighborhood find her making new and exciting discoveries at every turn. She loves sparkle, and sees something sparkly wherever she looks. It's only a small collection in the beginning. Anyone who finds joy in treasure hunting will know exactly where Maggie's story is headed. First a box, then a drawer, then a chest. Will nothing stop her? 

Her neighbors and city workers are impressed with her willingness to rid the streets of trash. Her parents are not so enamoured of what happens in their home. Maggie realizes that there is a problem, but she is not sure what should be done with her treasure. Then, a bird provides inspiration. 

"For days, a symphony of sounds
rang out from Maggie's garden. 
The neighborhood buzzed with 
curiosity. Ms. Pimms peered between 
her rosebushes but couldn't get a 
decent look.

With her work completed, Maggie is able to offer a new use for the many treasures she has collected. An invitation to her neighbors results in great demand for her re-purposed cache of special objects, all gathered together by a young girl with a love for found things. 

The digital artwork is filled with brilliant color and a sense of wonder for Maggie's imagination. Her collection is as different as the community she lives in, and its evolution from junk to art is brilliant. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

So You Want to Be an Owl, written by Jane Porter and illustrated by Maddie Frost. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021.$22.99 ages 4 and up

"Owl feathers aren't 
waterproof, so we don't 
like to go out in the rain
(except for our cousins the 
Little Owls - they don't 
mind getting wet).

Can YOU fly silently? 
Go on - give it a try. 
Oh dear, that's just 
embarrassing. Well, 
if you can't fly, let's see
if you can at least blend in ...

Do you know a child who might want to know what it takes to be an owl? Neither do I! That fact will not diminish their attention to this most enjoyable and humorous book. It provides a professor's guidance through a list of the nine rules for taking up membership on Team Owl.  There is a checklist before starting with the instructions. It is a bit unnerving: stealthy movement, willing to try many new foods, hidden ears, see in the dark, invisibility, swivel toes, carry heavy objects, amazing hearing. That seems a lot to ask, right? 

The nine lessons provided for membership are then presented on double-page spreads that emphasize the many attributes and skills of this wise bird. Facts are presented concerning flight, sight, hearing, regurgitation, homes, eating, sounds and babies. Meant for young readers, it appeals because of its nonfiction features - clear presentation of information, captioned illustrations, food list, diagram of an owl pellet, and an index to take readers back to what they find most interesting and pertinent. The illustrations add context, humor and appeal.  

 “Be alert! Be watchful! Be silent!”                                                                                 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Hold On to Your Music: The Inspiring Story of the Children of Willesden Lane, by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Adapted by Emil Sher and illustrated by Sonia Possentini. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2021. 23.99 ages 6 and up


"The train station was filled with a 
symphony of sobs. Children with 
numbers strung around their neck
clung to their parents. Lisa could 
see her papa struggling not to cry.

"Remember to" - her mother started
to say through her tears. 
"I won't forget, Mama. I'll hold on to 
my music and never let go."

This warm picture book is written to tell the story of concert pianist Mona Golabek's mother, Lisa Jura. That story has been shared by her daughter in an acclaimed one-woman show, performed throughout the world, and also told in the novel called The Children of Willesden Lane. That novel for adults has been adapted by Emil Sher for a much younger audience, and is presented in illustrations created by Sonia Possentini. 

Lisa's story begins in Vienna in 1938, with her dreams of becoming a famed pianist playing works by both Mozart and Beethoven. Those dreams are shattered one day, upon arrival at her music teacher's door. He is sad to tell he can no longer teach Jewish children. Wanting an explanation, Lisa returns home. Her heart hurts. Her parents explain that things for Jewish families are tenuous in the face of new laws and the threat of a war. Her mother is adamant that Lisa always remembers 'to hold on to your music'. 

It isn't long until Lisa must leave her parents, and board a train bound for England where she will be safe ... and without family.  

"All day and all night, Lisa heard the clickety-clack
of the wheels as young children called out for their 
parents in their sleep. Lisa gazed through the window, 
pretending to play for the moonlit windmills. As she 
imagined the music, she felt less alone.

Her arrival in London has her placed on Willesden Lane, where she finds a warm reception, 32 new friends, and a chance to share her music. It provides hope for all who live there (even when the piano must be housed in the basement to keep it safe from the many bombings), and leads to a lifetime of musical performances.

Ms. Possentini’s pastel and gouache artwork brings the story to life in scenes of realism and hope. An author's letter to her readers offers family history, while an explanation of the events of Lisa's childhood are presented as well. Endpapers at the back of the book offer archival photographs from Lisa's life.  

Monday, February 22, 2021

Ways to Make Sunshine, written by Renee Watson. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2020. $22.99 ages 8 and up

"'Baby girl, you are beautiful. Not just your hair or your
 But who you are. Your kindness makes you
beautiful and the way you’re always willing to offer help
makes you beautiful,’ Grandma tells me. ‘And how
creative you are with your recipes. That’s what makes
you a beautiful girl.'

Ryan Hart is an African American fourth grader: feisty, brave, thoughtful, funny, and blessed with an amazing family and good friends. Her family is forced to move when the house they are renting is sold. Her father has a new, less profitable job. Their new home is old, small, and offers up a treasure in old hairpins - or so Ryan believes. Her older, often annoying, brother tries to convince her that the hairpins may just be haunted. Oh, Ray! 

Ryan knows that her name, meaning "king', is meant to make her feel powerful in all situations. Her parents know she can be a leader. Ryan works hard to live up to their expectations with help from her friends, and her family. Disappointment and opportunities result in Ryan creating an alternate parade for the one cancelled, finding sunshine in her own room, being a sous chef for her mother's work, and speaking up and out when the talent show needs someone to take over the announcer's duties. It's a lot for one girl, even if she is full of spunk and optimism. 

Many middle grade readers will recognize the Black experiences of Ryan's life, her responses to them, and will find much to admire about her in this fine novel. The cliffhanger ending leads me to believe this won't be the last time we read about Ryan Hart. Let's hope not! 

"I wonder if my little sister will like chocolate cake
and chocolate ice cream. I wonder if she'll have 
adventurous taste buds and if she'll like playing chef
with me and be taste tester for all the concoctions I 
cook up. Will she like having make-believe parades?
Will she know how to make the sun shine even on
the rainiest of days?

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Into the Forest: Wander through our woodland world, written by Christiane Dorion and illustrated by Jane McGuinness. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2020. $32.50


"While some creatures make their home
high up in the trees, others prefer
the damp, dark forest floor. Fallen leaves
and branches shelter an abundance of small 
creatures, from shiny beetles to slimy slugs,
snails, and shy toads.

The table of contents offers welcome help for readers wanting to know what they might find within the pages of this very attractive book. Each of the chosen references cover two pages, and offer a look at the forests found in our natural world: coniferous, deciduous, and tropical rainforest. The first two pages show a map of the six continents where these forests are located. A legend places each in its appropriate area on those continents. Readers are also invited to trek through the forest areas to discover the creatures living in them. 

Each two-page entry provides relevant information concerning the topic presented. The first entry, From seed to tree, concerns a dense forest teeming with life. The life of a tree is described in stages from small seed to fully grown, as well as the ways seeds are spread to sustain growth within the forest itself. The writing is informative, accessible, and clear. The outstanding, full-of-detail illustrations will encourage readers to stop to examine the natural environments. And, so it goes ... from one double-page spread to the next. Beautifully designed and filled with scenes meant to attract and intrigue those who read and share it, this book deserves attention. Perfect for reading in classrooms one spread at a time, or placed in a classroom library for browsing, you will not be sorry to have this book in your collection. 

Interactive invitations for careful observation, suggested follow-ups, a glossary and a list of websites add to its usefulness and enjoyment. Perfect nonfiction fare ... many treasures to be found here.                                                                                           

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Bedtime Ballet, written by Kallie George and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2021. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"Daylight dims down
and stars twinkle on.
Fireflies cluster 
to spotlight the lawn.

If you have a young dancer in your family, she will be delighted to hear this bedtime story that embraces the wonder of ballet. It is evident that all things are better when experienced through the joys of dance. 

The child and her stuffed bunny eagerly await sunset before bursting outdoors to make their debut performance. Dressed in perfect nighttime attire, they delight in watching the fireflies, wonder at the stars' sparkle, and listen as the owls and crickets prepare music for the dance. With toads, leaves, seeds, flowers and birds, they share joy. Then, tired and ready for bed, return home. 

goes the curtain.
The dance moves inside. 
The two eager dancers
gracefully glide.

As bedtime rituals are performed with ballet moves, they are soon ready to be tucked in for the night. 

Using ballet moves in word and artwork will appeal to tiny ballerinas, and those showing an interest in taking classes. A glossary of terms at the end is helpful, and will be much appreciated by those already knowledgeable about the moves. The cozy watercolor images are sure to soothe tired children who will share this book with parents and caregivers. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Bo The Brave, written and illustrated by Bethan Woollvin. Peachtree, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2020. $23.99 ages 5 and up


"Bo went to her room and sulked. 

I'm not too little, she thought. 
I'm smart and brave and strong! 

And so Bo crept out of the castle to 
catch a monster of her own.

Bo has two older brothers. They are monster hunters. Bo wants to go with them as they set out on their newest quest. They scoff at their sister telling her that she is too little to accompany them. They leave her at home. Bo knows she is brave, strong, and SMART. She makes the decision to find her own monster, and to prove she can do it. 

It isn't long before she meets up with a griffin, then a kraken. They look like monsters; their actions prove they are not. The griffin offers transport when Bo tells him that she is looking to find a sea full of monsters. In the sea, she meets the kraken. In her haste to prove her bravery, she falls overboard. She is saved because she cannot swim. The kraken mentions cave monsters and offers help. There they find a weeping dragon who has lost her baby. 

Bo wants to help, and thinks she might know where to look. The four set off at Bo's direction. In the distance a burning castle offers hope that the baby may be there. What a surprise to discover her brothers at the site. She finds them to be more monstrous than any of her new friends. 

"Beware, you nasty beasts!" shouted Bo.
"I'm Bo the Brave! Get ready to be got!" 
And with that, she threw water over the 
flames - and her monstrous brothers.

Given the trouble they find themselves in, the brothers are willing to admit they were wrong about their little sister. They choose to follow her on futures excursions as she pays visits to her old friends and other monsters she happens to discover. She is indeed, Bo the Brave!  

Love the effective and engaging artwork, and the notion that powerful girls have much to offer the world - fantasy or not. Bravo, Bo!                                                                           

Thursday, February 18, 2021

What's the Matter, Marlo? Written and illustrated by Andrew Arnold. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2020. $25.99 ages 4 and up


"But not today. 
Today, something was wrong. 

When I asked Marlo what he wanted
to play, he didn't answer.

The narrator of this heartwarming and needed book knows how lucky she is to have a friend like Marlo. The two spend their days together, like the same things, and can't imagine being happier than when they are with each other. They like dogs, basketball, funny books, and playing hide-and-seek. When one bit of fun ends, they are happy to move on to another. 

It comes as a big surprise when, one day, Marlo doesn't want to play, or listen to jokes, or even talk. Just watching Marlo's body language lets his friend know that something is very wrong. Marlo gets angrier and angrier, without any explanation. Too soon, Marlo's anger is out of control and he disappears. Good friends hang in, despite setbacks. With persistence and a thorough search, Marlo is finally found ... crying and extremely sad. Only then does the audience realize what is causing his sadness. All a friend can do is exactly what happens next. 

"I'm sorry, Marlo," I said. 
And that's when Marlo
and I cried together. 
Because we're best friends,
and that's what best friends do, too.

In this debut picture book, Andrew Arnold captures all emotions clearly and with poignancy. The illustrations exude happiness when readers first meet the two, then explode with the anger and sad feelings that Marlo is experiencing, and finally, with the love and empathy that come from a true friend. Without explanation in the text of the book, readers learn from the detailed images created what has caused this honest response to a heartbreaking loss.                                                                                

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Mosquito, written and illustrated by Elise Gravel. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2020. $12.99 ages 4 and up


"She can find us by detecting the 
that we emit when we breathe. She 
can also smell us and feel the heat 
from our bodies. 

Someone has bad breath
around here, yummy!

Fans of the Disgusting Critters series will be delighted to learn that this10th book is published for their reading pleasure. Many kids love learning about, and being disgusted by, the critters Ms. Gravel has described so far: bat, cockroach, toad, head lice, spider, worm, fly, slug, rat, and now, mosquito. As a reader iof these books for a young audience, some bother me more than others. Kids who listen, and then want to read the books on their own, are delighted by the ewww moments felt as pages are turned. That is exactly what makes the series so popular. As a bonus every time, the books also provide for giggles and guffaws. 

The conversation that happens between reader and critter makes for quality learning concerning what causes the mosquito to be so disgusting to many. As the narrator presents the clear information, the mosquito provides a running commentary on what is being shared. The goofy illustrations add hilarious situations for much of the description shared. 

The speech bubbles that account for the mosquito's need to be a part of the story invite students to work with others to read the book together. One person provides the narrator's comments, while another (in a few cases, more than one) speaks for the mosquito. It's a fun way for parent and child to read and learn together, or for shared reading in an early years classroom. 

Quick facts about this disgusting critter are presented, including habitat, species, and the discouraging tidbit that they have been around for 79 million years! What are the chances we might get to live without them? 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

What Ollie Saw, written by Joukje Akveld and illustrated by Sieb Posthuma. Translated by Bill Nagelkerke. Levine Querido, Raincoast. 2021. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Ollie wouldn't have minded, just once in a while, 
adventuring by himself.
Without his sister. 
Without grizzling. 
But his mom might not have thought it was 
Happy Family Time if he said that.
So Ollie kept quiet. 
And looked for a spot by the window.

Ollie does not see the world through the same lens as others do. This book is about Ollie and his personal and imaginative observations. His sister is bigger - and older - and very grizzly. She feels totally confident that she knows what is best for everyone concerned. Ollie prefers not to say too much when his sister is in a mood. 

On a family adventure into the country, Ollie's sister gripes about not having an ice cream. Ollie would like to gripe about his sister, or to be somewhere she is not. He doesn't want to upset his mother, so he says nothing. She doesn't like the cows they are passing in a rail side pasture. Ollie sees the cows as water buffalo, horned and making loud noises. He thinks he would like them to meet up with his sister. 

The same thing happens on their way to visit Grandma. Held up by slow traffic, his sister complains. She decides she doesn't like all the cars. Ollie sees a circus parade, with ball-balancing seals and acrobatic rats. No matter where they go, his sister sees one thing, and Ollie sees another. Because he sees things differently, his teacher suggests a need for glasses. His parents and sister agree. Ollie knows he does not need them. The majority vote prevails. Glasses are bought, worn, and rejected ... for most of the time. Ollie likes the world the way he sees it ... and that's okay! 

Expressive, humorous watercolor and ink illustrations ensure individuality in a young pig who likes being who he is. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Louis Riel Day: The Fur Trade Project. Written by Deborah L. Delaaronde and illustrated by Sheldon Dawson. Theytus Books, Orca Book Publishers. 2021. $19.95 ages 8 and up


"When Louis's faithful followers
Were forced to fight again,
They battled at Batoche
But lost to Middleton's men.

Riel was called a traitor, 
A defender to the end. 
His deeds would live forever - 
In time hearts would mend.

The young Metis boy, whose story is told here, is surprised when his teacher assigns a project about the fur trade. He is not too impressed with the need to learn about the past. His teacher suggests working with a parent. Because his mother works, he turns to his grandfather for help. 

The two search for information on his computer, making discoveries about the fur trade and its importance. As they continue their learning, they travel back in time to become part of the story. They learn about the Metis, and help with their work. They watch the trappers leave in their canoes. Then watch as Lord Selkirk brings settlers to live on Metis land. 

They learn about the buffalo hunt, the greed that led the government to take that land, and the anger the people felt when their questions about ownership were not heard. Louis Riel was asked to help them keep their land. To no avail. The Metis people were forced to move to a place that could not support them, with no help from the government or the people who settled their on what had been theirs. 

They kept their spirit, their traditions, and their family histories. They also honored Louis Riel for his legacy through his List of Rights. After learning so much with his grandfather, the boy is happy to return to school and present his poem. He reminds his audience: 

"I didn't think the past important, 
That brave deeds a hero make. 
I learned that history teaches us. 
Don't repeat the same mistakes.

It is an important message. 

Today, Manitobans honor Louis Riel as the Founder of their province, and celebrate his contribution to their province with a holiday in his name. Sheldon Dawson's illustrations provide both contemporary and historical scenes to help readers have a clear understanding of the life and times of Louis Riel and the Metis people.  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Together, written and illustrated by Charles Fuge. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"And when we're together, 
we don't mind the cold.
We always have each other's 
warm hand to hold!"

As families celebrate Valentine's Day today, the kids might appreciate reading this book about a polar bear family, their love, and the delight they get from spending time 'together'. The stunning artwork presents a snowy winter playground that encourages playful energy and action throughout the telling. 

They are safe in their winter cave when their story begins, seeing the world from the inside through a tiny opening into the outside world. The older of the two affirms that all they really need is to spend time with each other. As they wander through the winter landscape, they find much to do. Roaming together, flying through the air from iceberg to icy water, making their way through stormy weather, they are happy in each other's company. 

"We often imagine faraway lands, 
with parrots and palm trees
and warm golden sands. 

But then we agree that
we don't need that stuff ...

All they really need is to be together. It is a lovely warm feeling to spend the day with those we love, and to bask in the joys of family fun. The illustrations are warm (despite the cold environs) and have great appeal. The adorable bears will attract attention for the love they share, and their icy home is a perfect setting for this adventure. It is a very special and beautiful place. 


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Kate's Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse, written by Elizabeth Spires and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2021. $24.99 ages 6 and up


"A steep ladder led to the topmost floor, 
the glassed-in lantern room. The great 
light stood, still and silent, in the center 
of the tiny room. It's polished lenses 
sparkled in the sunlight, bright as a 

Aren't we always looking to those who do heroic things, so we can share their stories with our kids and students? I am a great fan of picture book biographies, as I have mentioned in other posts. I have suggested that if teachers spent a half-hour each week sharing just one such book and discussing it, their students would get to know nearly 40 people who have lived amazing lives ... and they might know nothing of their stories if these books are not shared. Over the years, I have been introduced to many heroes through my reading. 

Kate's Light caused me to wonder how many working lighthouses there are in the world today. Of course, it must be a hard list to keep current. Wikipedia tells me that, according to Lighthouse Directory,
there are more than 18,600 lighthouses worldwide. That is almost unbelievable to consider. I cannot imagine the isolation, the dedication, the often-difficult circumstances that those who keep the lights burning must face. In Hello Lighthouse (Little Brown, 1918), Sophie Blackall gave her readers a tour of a lighthouse itself, and told the story of the people she imagined lived there. 

In this book, Elizabeth Spires introduces Kate Kaird, a widow from Germany with a young son, Jacob. Following her husband's untimely death, she sought a better life for the two of them by moving far from home. The year was 1882. It wasn't long until she met and married John Walker who was, at the time, the keeper of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. When he accepted a new position at the Robbins Reef, they moved offshore where life might prove very lonely. 

Added to that, Kate became an assistant keeper ... one of the first women to hold such a position on the East Coast of the US. Readers are invited to spend time with the Walker family as they go about their duties, the rescues, the schooling that took Jacob away from the lighthouse for a time, and Kate's eventual appointment as keeper when her husband died. In her time there, she rescued more than 50 people and did not retire until she was 71, when she passed her duties to her son. Kate helped to pave the way for other women to be considered for such work. 

Ms. McCully matches the energy, fortitude, and drama of the story with exemplary and detailed scenes of the demanding work such a life entailed. Her watercolor images of New York Harbor, Robbins Reef Lighthouse, and the family that made their life there makes for quite a remarkable story.   

An author's note and archival photos add important information. Also included are notes and additional sources for kids wanting to know more. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Nature Out of Balance: How Invasive Species Are Changing the Planet, written by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox. Orca Book Publishers, 2021. $19.95 ages 9 and up

Once again, I thought I would scan the pages of this newest addition to the Orca Footprints series. As has happened countless times before, I found myself quickly caught up in the learning. I appreciate the amount of research done, the familiar and welcome design, the conversational writing that draws its audience right into the book, the many accurately captioned photographs, and the text boxes that add even more pertinent information for its target audience.  

The author begins in her own community - she knows it well. She lets readers know that Uplands Park near her home in Victoria, B.C. is home to many Garry Oaks, camas, pink shooting stars, fawn lilies and spring gold. They are not the only species evident there. There are also species that don't belong in the park; English hawthorn, Scotch broom, English ivy, and a variety of animals have been brought from elsewhere. 

In four following chapters, Ms. Wilcox apprises her readers of a number of issues that will help them understand what an invasive species is, how these species affect the ecosystems to which they are introduced, the complications that can arise in trying to control their spread, and concluding with ways humans might help through growing awareness of the problems apparent and solutions needing to be undertaken.  

Along the way, she provides a wealth of information that is useful to children's learning and thinking. Readers are sure to be i mpacted by the many clear, captioned photographs, the placement of "Eco-Fact' boxes, and the half-page introductions to some of the world's 'Invasive All-Stars'. 

"Cane Toads

In 1935 native beetles were damaging Australia's sugar 
cane crops. A giant South American toad was being used
to control cane-eating beetles in Hawaii, so government
scientists went there and 
captured a small number of the
Back in Australia they bred them and, a few months
later, released 2,400 toads 
in hopes that they would eat the
They didn't. The toads preferred other local insects
and happily began to hop 
beyond the cane fields ... Today
are 1.5 billion cane toads spread over 400,000 square
miles of the continent.

OOPS! That story and others included in the 'all-stars' boxes are very informative and often startling. Species included are: zebra mussels, starlings, cane toads, yellow crazy ants, kudzu, chestnut blight, rats, Asian carp, cats, Burmese pythons, and now for the author's environment, the black-tailed deer although it is native to the B.C. landscape.  

This book is written with a historical perspective, and certainly includes the role that humans have played, and continue to play, as one the most remarkable spreaders of invasive species. Readers will be empowered with the knowledge gained to discuss, consider, and help to make a difference where they can. Final pages include acknowledgements of those who brought this book to publication, a list of important resources for further study, a useful glossary, and a helpful index to take readers straight back to what they found was of high interest to them.  

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Starla Jean: Volume 1, written by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by A.N.Kang. Raoring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2021. $20.50 ages 4 and up


"It turns out that not everything I 
knew about chickens was true. 
Last Thursday, I went to the park 
with my dad. We rode there on our 
double bicycle, like we always do.

This is a wonderful debut to a brand-new series of stories for readers wanting to move on to chapter books that are accessible and entertaining. Starla Jean is being touted as the new Ramona Quimby, which to me means a delightful, energetic, and animated young girl with many adventures ahead of her. 

In this first one, she and her dad are on a familiar bike ride around the neighborhood when they make a stop. Dad sits to read a book while eating the sandwich he brought. Starla Jean wants to spend time basking in their natural surroundings. All is well, until she hears a loud squawk and sees the skinniest chicken she has ever seen. Her dad is as suprised as Starla Jean. When asked if they can take the chicken home, he only agrees if his daughter can catch it. Big mistake!

Once caught, the three head for home, and their adventures begin. For the entirety of the ride, Starla Jean does her best to make the chicken comfortable and calm. Once home, her mom is also surprised. She suggests that the chicken must belong to someone. Starla Jean agrees. She and her dad make posters to help find the owner. Before Dani arrives to thank Starla Jean for finding her chicken, many humorous events occur for the family. Dani feels future visits for the two should be a plan. Agreed! 

As narrator of her own story, Starla Jean is sure to win fans. Dialogue between family and members of the community are laced with humor and praise for the young girl. Cartoon artwork adds setting and a close look at family and their neighbors. In the end, Fun Facts About Chickens is a bonus. I will look forward to reading Starla Jean Takes the Cake, set for publication in September.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Outside Art, written and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2021.$21.99 ages 6 and up


"It is "The Artist" and it is very 
busy 'Making Art'!" said a 
small voice nearby. "That's 
what I overheard it squawking
    "Oh, hello, Chickadee. Yes, of
course ... Art!" said Pine Marten, 
nodding wisely."

This visual examination of art and an artist is shown to readers from a rarely written perspective. The opinions of the animal inhabitants of the woods that surround the artist's home are shared: pine martin, chickadee, hare, moose, mouse, doe, fawn, coyote, grouse, and finally, the artist's cat who offers its own pretentious take on what art is. 

The animals are keenly interested at watching from a safe place outside the window. Each has observations to make as they watch Human. Pine Martin wonders why Human is doing what she's doing. Chickadee explains that 'it' is making art. Pine Martin is not sure what art is. As the growing assembly talks together, readers will realize that each creature bases what it is thinking on its own experience in the natural world. When Grouse bursts into the conversation, he takes the position that "THERE IS NO MEANING!' 

Only then does the cat inside offer its thoughts, after having observed Human over the course of its lifetime. 

"The Artist is trying to create a dialogue
between its everyday life and the current
political climate through combining both 
representational and abstract imagery while
incorporating soft colors with aggressive 

Surprise! That explanation leaves each of the animals befuddled. With a thoughtful suggestion from Pine Martin, each takes a step back, considers what they do best, and makes art for themselves.  

Artwork created using colored pencil and gouache, then colored digitally provides a cozy, wintry backdrop for the curiosity exhibited by the forest creatures. The inside scenes are filled with warm details, and a close look at how this artist works and the many projects that keep her productive. 

all of us were right about what Art can be … And every one of us is a great Artist.”    

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

ICE! Poems About Polar Life, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2020.$23.99 ages 6 and up


Fish and penguins, squids and seals
all find krill make splendid meals.
Blue whales eat krill by the millions:
Millions! Billions! Trillions! Krillions!

KRILL are shrimp-like creatures that grow to a length
of about two inches. Krill live in the waters of both 
the Arctic and Southern seas. Though small in size,
they are a big part of the food chain of sea creatures
and are eaten by penguins, seals, whales, squid, and 
fish. A blue whale may eat as many as 40 million krill 
a day. That's a meal of about four tons! Antarctic 
krill are perhaps the most abundant species on Earth, 
as they may number up to 400 trillion.

I did not know how much I had missed the poetry that comes from the mind and pen of the prolific and accomplished Douglas Florian. The last book from him that I remember reading was a book about space. It was a while ago. 

Prior to retirement from teaching in early years classrooms and being the teacher-librarian in a K-5 school, I was constantly on the lookout for his newest books of poetry. I was never disappointed with the topic (he knows what kids are interested in learning), his precise word choice, or his distinct artwork. Reading this new book last night reminded me of all the other books that impacted my teaching and my students' learning. 

Ice takes readers to the polar regions - the Arctic and the Antarctic. Each very enjoyable entry is filled with the wonderful, inventive language that is customary in his work. Each poem is accompanied by a note at the bottom of the page, offering further fascinating information. The illustrations that face each poem are created using colored pencil and pastel. They add humor to the already sly text, and seem to make the creatures presented come alive on the page. 

His poems offer a lovely observance of the geography of the polar regions, the changing climate, and the creatures that live within. Back matter adds pertinent information about Mr. Florian, and a bibliography of both books and Internet resources used for research. 

This glorious book is going straight to our 'keepers' shelf. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Sloth Went, written by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Benson Shum. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2020. $24.50 ages 4 and up

"It's your big day," 
Butterfly said. 'How's it going?"

I don't think I'm gonna
make it," Sloth grumbled.

"It's okay if you don't,"
said Butterfly.

Following up on Lenny's story from yesterday where a sloth was one of the smelly animals he met, I thought I would share this tale of a young sloth whose trip to the bottom of its tree is a source of concern. Uncertain and worried, he needs cheering on as he descends the tree for the very first time. Momma does her best to let him know he will be fine. She promises a surprise when he gets back.

The trip is painfully slow. Along the way he meets Butterfly who assures that it will be fine even if he doesn't make it. Trying is the important thing. Moving ever downward, Sloth meets Frog who understands what is happening, and the angst that comes from trying something for the first time. On the ground, Sloth makes haste (even passing a turtle) to the marked spot. He does what he has come to do and, with great happiness, heads back home to share that joy. 


Every week, from that day until the end of his life, Sloth will make the same trip. Little ones will love when they learn it is a 'poop' story, without it being totally evident. The author follows her enjoyable tale with The Real Sloth Poop Adventure, allowing readers to get a true picture of sloth life. Benson Shum adds humor and empathy for a young animal learning about life. The expressive faces as he does his business, his happy dance when he has succeeded, and his fairly quick ascent to spread joy is a just-right ending for a new adventure.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Poo! Is That You? Written by Clare Helen Welsh and illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne. Macmillan Children's Books. Publishers Group Canada, 2020. $10.99 ages 4 and up


"Lenny gave both the anteater 
and the skunk a big sniff. 
But neither was the whiff 
he could sniff. 

He settled down in his sunny 
spot to try and snooze, but it
was no good. 

Whatever it was, the nasty
was getting right up 
his nose.

Poor Lenny the Lemur is on vacation in South America. Finally finding a comfortable spot for a snooze, he is just settling in when his nose is assaulted by a nasty smell that almost knocks him off his perch. He blames a nearby millipede. The millipede admits to a bit of a stink, and lets Lenny have it. Yep, it's powerful; it is not the smell that has Lenny so upset. 

Lenny goes on to blame the stinkbird, an anteater, a skunk, a stink bug, a sloth, and finally, a giant pelican flower. All smell terrible, but none as bad as the odor he is trying to find. After all the moving about and searching, the animals of the rainforest offer their help. They ask Lenny to describe the bothersome odor. As he tells them, they share a giggle and make the point that the odiferous smell is coming from ... Lenny himself! 

Just as he is settling once again, Lenny's nose is assaulted by a smell he cannot describe ... and he turns to the reader!  

What an imaginative way to write a nonfiction book for young readers! Animals of the rainforest are introduced, as is their habitat, in colorful, appealing artwork created by Nicola O'Byrne. The facts are clear, the setting lovely, and the story is a hoot. You can hear the guffawing, can't you?   

Following the story, the author provides 'Super Stinky Facts!' about each of the creatures Lenny meets in his quest to find the origin of the smell that is so bothering him. She adds a quick, and slightly worrisome, fact about her readers, too. Poo!                                                                                      

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Maud and Grand-Maud, written by Sara O'Leary and illustrated by Kenard Pak. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2020. $21.99 ages 4 and up


"Once Maud and Grand-Maud have put
on their nightgowns, they are ready for 
breakfast for supper. "No matter what
you like to eat for breakfast, it somehow
always tastes better at suppertime,"
says Maud.

Maud and her grandmother love spending time together. They appreciate their Saturday sleepovers; the black-and-white movies, the food, the memories, the storytelling. Maud loves to think back to the past when her grandmother was the same age as she is now. She likes to imagine what it will be like for her to be a grandmother when she is older. How much fun will it be for her to have a granddaughter to love as Grand-Maud loves her. 

She has great affection for the bed she sleeps in there, as it offers up good dreams. The wooden chest found beneath it holds treasures and items that belong to Grand-Maud's past or ones made especially for Maud It might be a piece of jewellery, a pair of mittens, or a bag of cookies. There is always a special surprise! There are memorable stories to go along with its contents. The conversations between the two are lovely, and thoughtful. 

Kenard Pak's pencil, watercolor and digital images make the transition from present to past with ease as the story is told. They perfectly match the tone of Sara O'Leary's text. This is a warm and comforting story to share before bed, when there is time to savor the memories and talk about wishes for the future.                                                                                           

Friday, February 5, 2021

Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring. Written by Matthew Burgess, with pictures by Josh Cochran. Enchanted Lion, Publishers Group Canada. 2020. $28.50 ages 8 and up


"Keith arrived in New York City
and enrolled at the School of Visual Arts.

He was 20 years old. 

One day, he found rolls of paper
that someone had tossed in the gutter. 

He unrolled them in the studio at school
and began making bigger and bigger paintings.

Not long ago, I shared another book about Keith Haring. I knew little about him or his art. Now, I have another exceptional picture book biography to share with you. One of the things I loved learning concerns his affinity for children, and the way he treated them while doing art with them.

He died thirty years ago, but the joy found in his art lives on. This book honors his life with clear, compelling text. The pictures show readers the movement and bold colors found in every piece of art Keith created. The book begins by showing him working with Japanese children. He draws the thick. black outlines while the children fill them with their own ideas and colors. 

The following spread takes readers back to where it began ... at home with his dad. They often made art together; taking turns to transform what started as one thing into another. Keith loved making art, and filled his days with the joy he found in sharing his ideas. His life with his sisters and his friend Kermit was filled with working in a garage studio. It wasn't long before he needed to find inspiration elsewhere. At 16, he left home. 

For the rest of his life, Keith spent every minute he could learning more, doing more, sharing his work with anyone interested in seeing it. He learned much during his travels, from other artists, and upon his arrival in New York when he was 20. His art became bigger and bolder. He wanted to spread the message that 'art is for everybody'. His life in New York was busy. He worked at many jobs - his favorite was drawing with children at their day care center. 

Seeing blank spaces in the subway, he decided to fill them. His love of life and drawing inspired many, and filled his days with much happiness. When he learned that he had AIDS, he was sad but it didn't stop him from working every day. 

"From the time he was four-years-old drawing 
with his Dad at the kitchen table, until the day he
died at thirty-one, Keith remained spontaneous
and free, following his line wherever it would 

That is some legacy. 

Josh Cochran's art is inspired and inspiring. Without it, this book would be an excellent example of a well-told biography for middle grade readers. With it, the pages are filled with the love of art that defined Keith Haring's life. The variety in perspective, the continuous lines that brought international attention and acclaim, and the way he fills the pages with joy honor the artist at every turn. 

A biographical note, an author's note, and an illustrator's note add to the appeal. I have read this impressive book more than once, and will do so again.                                                                       


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Why Are You So Quiet? written by Jaclyn Desforges and illustrated by Risa Hugo. Annick Press, 2020. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"She started collecting things she noticed, 
because Myra Louise was a very good noticer. 

She collected copper wire and bits of 
string and lost buttons and tinfoil. 

She collected seashells and tiny
stones and egg cartons and wool.

I am constantly on the lookout for books that find value in the quiet that introverts seek. I wish I had known more while I was still teaching. I strongly believe that all children need to see portraits of themselves in the books they read. When a child who craves quiet in a very loud, boisterous world reads a story about a person who has similar feelings, that child can relax a bit knowing they are not alone in feeling the way they feel. 

Myra Louise is such a child. She likes the beauty to be found in the silence that surrounds her, and the chance to really hear what is happening where she is. She listens to the crickets in the evening, loves the hum of a dryer when she is at the laundromat, and the sound of her own very soft voice. Her classmates, her teacher, her mother, and her friends don't understand why she is 'so quiet'. She finds herself wishing she had the answer to their oft-asked question. 

She sets herself the task of finding the answer. Reading and collecting materials leads to the creation of 'a listening machine'. What she does next is authentic and inspiring.  Along the way, she discovers something very important about herself and can then share it with others. 

Risa Hugo creates scenes that match the quiet tone of the telling, allowing young readers a chance to explore and examine the emotions felt by Myra Louise. If no one is quiet, who will do the listening? 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2020. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"But the walls in Evelyn's room 
are sunny yellow, while mine
are pink like cotton candy. 

And I live with my mami and a
hamster, and she has a mami, 
a papi, and a cat.

Oh, I love such heartwarming stories of friendship! 

Evelyn and Daniela are the very best of friends. The sadness that comes with the sun rising on this day is the acknowledgement that the two will soon be separated. They have one more day together before Evelyn moves to a new place. 

It's early morning and Evelyn calls Daniela (our narrator) from her window across the street, to come over and play - just as if it is any other day they spend together. The moving truck in front of Evelyn's apartment block is filling up with familiar objects that have been a part of their happy days as best friends. 

Evelyn greets her at the main door. As the two race up to Evelyn's apartment they greet familiar faces ... just like any other day. Daniela's visit brings a flood of shared memories and an opportunity for readers to learn the true nature of their strong friendship. They know that, after today, they will be communicating by phone and promised future visits. 

"But I know that tomorrow
everything will be different. 

Evelyn will be in a new home
that doesn't match mine.

Told poignantly with spirit, love and honesty, readers are left to understand that this is a lasting friendship with a happy future, despite the distance that will divide the two. 

Sonia Sanchez uses bold colors and wonderful textures in mixed media art to create scenes that are  emotional, energetic, and filled with tender images of best friends whose lives are changing. The two girls are full of expression ... wonder, worry and hope. Joyful exuberance is on display, as is the sadness inherent in saying goodbye to 'my mejor amiga, my numero uno best friend'.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Together We Grow, written by Susan Vaught and illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"Careful glances,     

                  taking chances.

Frightened faces, 

                    strange new places."

There is no one, human or animal, that does not experience need. What happens to assuage that need makes for stories worth sharing. Children love to read stories about animals, and I know that they will love this one! 

Often, needs make for new and remarkable bonds. As all of the farm animals take note of the darkening clouds, they sprint for the barn in hopes of finding safety until the storm passes. Endpapers bring an awareness of the threat and their reaction to it. The title page offers pertinent information; a rain-drenched fox is shown at a distance from the fleeing animals as they head toward the warm light of the barn's windows.

As lightning flashes, the fox is startled by the noise. It approaches the barn. The fox peeks through a lighted window, badly frightening all of the sheltered animals. Each is clearly adamant that the fox should leave. The barn is full! One tiny duckling is brave enough to check outside. There it finds a frantic mother, and her three young kits. As the other animals watch from a safe distance, they take a different stance on accepting the fox family. 

"Learn and show
    together we grow."

There is room! 

Gentle rhyming couplets, absolutely incredible scenes created using acrylic paints, oil paints, and gel, and a story of acceptance and kindness provide a clear message that young readers will want to hear often - and talk about it. Bravo!                                                                                     

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Little War Cat, written by Hibs Noor Khan and illustrated by Laura Chamberlain. Macmillan, Publishers Group Canada. 2020. $25.99 ages 4 and up


"But after a full day of sniffing and searching,
she didn't see any of her friends, and there was
no food to be found. 

By the time the stars rose, 
she hung her little head
and wished life was like it was before.

This beautiful story was inspired by Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, 'The Cat Man of Aleppo'. I have mentioned him in a previous post. 

It tells the tale of a tiny cat living in Aleppo, Syria. She plays with other cats, basks in sunshine and is properly fed. When civil war does horrific damage to the city, she can no longer find her friends, food, or refuge. She is frightened by the loud boots of humans who tramp through the streets. She hides in old boxes, stays in the shadows and is overwhelmed by constant hunger. 

"Until one day, she noticed a different human. 
This one didn't make bangs and crashes.
This human had a gentle voice and spoke kind words. 

Buoyed by his kindness, she follows him. His journey leads to an oasis in the middle of the war-torn city. There, she finds other cats, food, a peaceful place, and eventually the kindness of this stranger. It doesn't take long until she is feeling right at home. When she sees a lonely and scared little boy, she knows exactly what he needs and what to do. 

Sensitive, gentle artwork by Laura Chamberlain provides a clear setting and enriches the meaning of this story. 

An author's note is inspirational: 

"This story is for the millions of children and animals
affected by wars, every year, all over the world. After 
working to help war victims and visiting refugee camps, 
I saw for myself how homes and loved ones are lost, but 
hope never is. A little kindness goes a long way."