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Friday, April 30, 2021

The Best Place in the World, written and illustrated by Petr Horacek. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $22.99 ages 3 and up


"Still looking for the answer, Hare visited Owl. 

"Do you think our meadow is the best place in the 
world?" he asked her. Owl didn't answer. Instead she 
said, "You have asked us all this question. Why don't 
you explore the world and find out for yourself?"

Do animals wonder, as we do, if things are always better on the other side of the fence? It seems so for Hare. He loves his meadow, agreeing that it is grand.  His rabbit friends like it because it offers freedom and wide expanses for running and playing. Hare argues that there must be other places to do such things. As he moves across the meadow, he asks for an opinion from his other friends. Bear is pleased with the bees and their honey that he can happily share with Hare. Aren't bees everywhere? Birds love it because of the trees to sing in, and Duck loves swimming in the stream. No trees or streams anywhere else? 

Hare is not yet convinced. Finally, he seeks advice from Owl. When asked, she doesn't answer Hare's question. She suggests he take the time for some exploration and discovery. Hare does as Owl suggests. On his quest, he finds that there are many fine places with everything his friends love so much. 

"After traveling all over the world,
Hare came to the desert. He lay down
and looked at the stars above. He thought
about Owl and all the beautiful places he
had seen. He felt lonely. Suddenly he knew
the answer to his question.

Who wouldn't want to live in the luxurious meadow Petr Horacek creates using stunning mixed media? Every detail will attract the attention of the little ones who chance to see them. The animals will entice, and their reasoning might encourage listeners to discuss their own favorite places. Makes me long for summer sunshine, that meadow does. 


Thursday, April 29, 2021

I Dream of Popo, written by Livia Blackburne and illustrated by Julia Kuo. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2021. $25.99 ages 4 and up

"I hug Popo when I come back to visit. 
Now "ni hoa" is what feels strange in 
my mouth. Other words, too, are hard 
to catch, like fish in a deep well."

While living in Taiwan, the little girl who narrates this intergenerational story spends a great deal of time with her grandmother - her Popo. The family's move to San Diego changes that. Now, they are far away from each other and the joyful times they spent together are only memories. 

School begins, and she meets and makes friends with children of all cultures who have much to learn and to teach. As the days go by, the grandchild is in constant contact with Popo, letting her know what she is learning in her new home and what she is missing from her old one. A visit to Taiwan causes concern when her new language changes the way she communicates with Popo. Her mother offers assurance:

"I ask Mama why I can't talk to Popo like before.
"You can still hug her as tight as before," she says. 
I do. Popo hugs me even tighter.

As years pass by and both grow older, their love remains strong. When Popo falls ill, her granddaughter dreams about her. Although they cannot be together, that dream holds memories of connections, smells, and love always.   

Julia Kuo creates beautiful, telling artwork that is filled with the fundamental aspects of life in Taiwan and in the child's American home. It is lovely to watch the young girl grow and continue to bask in the love the two will always share. She talks about her new life with online calls, and continuing visits to her grandmother's home. It is a memorable story.    

Both author and illustrator provide notes that speak to their personal experiences as children of Taiwanese parents. They share poignant events from their lives: Taiwan, holidays, food, love for their grandparents, and happy times spent together. Finally, a glossary presents Taiwanese words, and the pinyin pronunciation for them.                                                                                           

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Dog's Gardener, written by Patricia Storms and illustrated by Nathalie Dion. Groundwood. 2021. $18.95 ages 3 and up


"It's the bright time of year. 

The little house frightens me. It's dark
and dusty and full of sharp things. 
But she needs what's inside.

I've been thinking about dogs a lot lately. Not because I want one - not at all. I just know how much they mean to the people who have them, and love them. Consider that from the other side of the relationship; that is the premise of this story about a dog and its gardener. This dog loves garden days spent in the company of the quiet woman whose calm voice wakes him each day. 

Dutch patiently waits while she has breakfast. Her invitation to be outside together is exactly what he has been anticipating. It is warm in the sunshine. While he loves being there with her, he definitely does not like being near the little dark house that holds everything she will need for her day in the garden. He stays back. 

Now, the two can spend rest of their day together. While Dutch gambols in the grass and takes in all the smells of nature, the gardener works. Dutch does his duty - making sure that the holes she is digging for new plants are worthy of his approval. He considers the rituals of the day - hard work, planting, and the need for rest, and knows that this day will proceed as all others have. 

"From up here I see the beauty of all her work.
Oh joy! She's bringing out the water." 

It is the best part of their day together. As the sky darkens, the two return to where their day began ... together. 

This book is not filled with exciting adventure. It is an homage to the peace to be found in being together, no matter the day's work. The serene words are accompanied by glorious artwork done in 'hand-painted gouache textures combined with painting using a digital paint brush'. The images explore the beauty of the garden, while also creating an atmosphere of soothing comfort. Filled with light and shadow, they help readers see, from the dog's perspective, why it is he loves to be there.  What a lovely visual exploration it is.                                                                            

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics, written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Christiane Engel. Harper, 2021. $23.99 ages 6 and up


"In 2019, a young whale washed ashore in the 
Philippines with eighty-eight pounds of plastic
bags, nylon ropes, and rice sacks in its stomach.
The plastic clogged its digestive system, and 
feeling full, the whale didn't eat. With no way
to digest or expel the plastic, it died of starvation
and dehydration.

Susan Hood begins her book with a poem about plastic and what a difference it makes in the world. Where would we be without it? While recognizing its many benefits, do we consider the lasting consequences of our dependence on plastic? 

"Imagine medicine without disposable surgical gloves,
IV bags, syringes, pacemakers, stents; sports without 
helmets, goggles, mouth guards, life vests; grocery 
stores without protective food wrapping. How do we
use - and reuse - the plastic we need, refuse the plastic
we don't, and avoid abusing the Earth?

Each poem is accompanied by information boxes that provide a close look at some of the many problems plastic is causing for the environment. She writes about the whales that are caught up in the plastic stew that threatens all ocean life; the life cycle of a plastic fork; the plastic particles we ingest every year; the garbage patches that form in our oceans; the plastic bags that never decompose; and more. 

"Americans use about 100 billion plastic shopping bags
every year. If you counted these bags one bag per second, 
it would take you (and your descendants!) nearly 3,200 

Luckily, we have concerned people working to create solutions to the problems of plastic waste. Ms. Hood introduces her readers to children who are also making big differences: buddy benches created by melting collected bottle tops (Sammie Vance did the collecting); raising money to clean up frog habitats (Justin Sather); building a school in Guatemala by collecting plastic bottles and filling them with other litter to make ecobricks; organizing a movement to ban the use of plastic straws (Milo Cress, who writes the introduction for this fine book); and creating a rooftop solar heater using recycled plastics (Xochitl Guadalupe Cruz Lopez). The list goes on, and the ideas are astounding. 

Kids don't have to be scientists or inventors; they need to be concerned about what is happening in our world. Every single one of us can change things in our own communities and make the world a better place to be. Children in classrooms today who have access to books such as this will know much more than previous generations ever knew, and they will learn to be better advocates for this place we all call home. 

"Many hands, many faces, 
many lands, many races
can scrap the old ways  
and piece together a craft - 
an ark, a lifeboat, 
a patchwork of many colors - 
to sail the seven seas, 
to tell the world
this is our home
and it's worth changing course 
to protect it.

It won't be easy. Together we can get it done. Sharing this book is inspiration for taking on the hard work. 

An author's note, a timeline, a definition of plastic, suggestions for what to use rather than plastic, a list of the top ten ocean polluters (cigarette butts are #1), current sources for each of the poems, notes on poetic forms, and books for further learning comprise a wealth of information in back matter.                                                                                

Monday, April 26, 2021

One-A-Saurus, Two-A-Saurus, written by Kim Norman and illustrated by Pierre Collet-Derby. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $22.99 ages 3 and up

scurry to the herd. 

Something's coming - 
something big! 
No one say a word!

It's early morning and the dinosaurs are keen to get themselves involved in a 'counting game'. One by one they repeat the patterned refrain. They have completed their counting up to seven when there is a problem ...  


8 and 9 are in a panic and seek comfort with the first seven of their friends. Perhaps being with the 'herd' will calm their fears. 

"Ready or not, here I come!" 

Far too scared to stick around and see what's coming, they all take off at a run. Finding a quiet place, they hide themselves behind their numbers. Something is getting closer! They do their best to be invisible. They are in for a BIG surprise! Likewise, for little readers who are sure to react with great delight, and want to be a part of the next game the herd dreams up. 

Kids will love the counting practice, and have the opportunity to practice their numbers more than once. The rhythmic text and clever illustrations carry readers quickly through the movement-filled book. The dinosaurs are appealing and colorful, and the hiding will produce giggles.  

Wait until you learn what their new game will be! I wonder if we might see it in print at some point in time.                                                                                   

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Wisdom of Trees, written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2021. $26.99 ages 9 and up



Our forest is woven
from a diversity of trees.
The oak, 
the juniper, 
the alder, 
the aspen.
The spruce, 
the maple,
the fir, 
the pine, 
each of us serves a purpose
in the rich fabric of life.

I am astounded by this book, and cannot wait to pass it on to a teacher friend of mine who is learning about plants and trees with her high school students. I am sure they will feel the same as I do. This perfect blend of poetry, art, and science is impressive from the first page to the last. It's almost impossible to share the depth of the learning here to explore. 

Lita Judge was inspired to write about trees following an exploratory trip to find one particular tree: 

"We travelled to North Wales in 2019 with the specific goal of finding an ancient yew tree named the Llangernyw Yew. The tree was once thought to be between 4000 and 5000 years old but more recent estimates are more like 2500 years old. When we found the tree, which was not easy, I sat within it, sketching. It sits in the old churchyard of Saint Digain’s Church, near 300 year old gravestones of long gone slate miners and their wives and children. Like other very old yews, the core of the tree has long decomposed, leaving only the exterior, which is literally so wide in circumference (over 36 feet) that you feel as if you’re sitting within the middle of many trees." 

Current research explained in beautifully written prose is quite astonishing. It is shared on double-page spreads that include exquisitely detailed watercolor images, a poem that gives perspective, and sidebar paragraphs that extend the poem's message to readers. Is this what the trees would say if they could talk? 

In fact, we learn that trees do 'talk'. Readers are told there is a Wood Wide Web that allows trees to communicate with each other, that trees counterattack when they are threatened by leaf-eating caterpillars, that they can create a climate of their own, that they can help nearby trees get enough food and that they provide a home for many creatures. 

"For a long time, scientists thought trees competed
in a forest, but we now know they help one another, 
even species different from themselves. Canadian 
scientist Suzanne Simard discovered this when she 
noticed Douglas Fir saplings weakening and dying
in a planted forest. Foresters had recently weeded 
out the paper birches growing among the firs
because they thought the birches were competing 
for resources. But through experiments, Simard 
discovered that the birch trees had been producing 
enough food for themselves and sharing it with the 
young firs. Removing them had jeopardized the 
firs' survival.

At this point, readers have not quite reached the middle of the book. There is so much more to learn! Explanations are accessible to middle graders, and include stories of specific trees from places all around the world. The final poem speaks to the importance of diversity, and the last line of the text reminds readers that 'trees are our planet's best defense against climate change."

Back matter comprises an author's note, further information about fungi, the longevity of trees, the trees that are in this book, the illustrations, and the secret kingdom of beech trees. Ms. Judge then continues with further notes on each of her poems, and ends with ways in which humans are destroying forests, and how readers can help them. A glossary and list of resources bring an end to a plethora of added information. 

Please don't miss reading this remarkable book!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation. Story by Alice B. McGinty and illustrations by Shonto Begay. Schwartz and Wade, Penguin Random House. 2021. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Cody hears the rumble of heavy wheels, 
then sees the big yellow truck. "The Water Lady!"
he cheers. "The Water Lady is here!" He 
bounds out of the house.

It is morning. Cody is awake and thirsty. There is no water in his cup. In the kitchen his mom is making oatmeal, his older brothers are off to catch the bus, and his baby sister is being fed. When he checks the water bucket in the kitchen, it is also empty. 

Not far from Cody's house, Darlene Arviso is preparing for a long day ahead. As she gets her grandchildren ready for their school day, she fills her water glass at the sink. She is grateful to have running water in her home. 

Back to Cody's home where there are three big water barrels ... all empty. Cody worries about the animals in the terrible heat of their desert environment. Darlene embarks on her trip around the reservation to pick up children in her big yellow school bus. Once her route is done, and the children are safely in school for the day, her other job begins. 

As Cody voices his worry, his grandmother smiles at a secret she is keeping. Her grandson will soon know it, too. The story goes back and forth from Cody to Darlene, until Cody sees the precious water tanker coming up their road. He is delighted to see and welcome Darlene. As she fills their barrels, Cody sings his own water song in celebration of her arrival. 

"Darlene will bring water to ten families today and 
ten more tomorrow. By the end of the month, two 
hundred families will have been served. Then she'll 
start all over. She knows the families will make 
careful use of their gift ...

It is always amazing to learn about the quiet heroes who go about making a difference. I very much enjoyed reading about Darlene Arviso and the appreciation felt for the work that she does each month to bring water to her people. They know what a precious commodity water is to their everyday life.

Shonto Begay uses ink and watercolor, and a desert-colored palette to create a setting that helps readers see the dry beauty of New Mexico. He captures color and style in the two home settings, the clothing, and other items of cultural importance to the Navajo people. The smiles are warm, the thanks given with excitement and appreciation. 

An author's note speaks to the fight for wells and clean, always available water. Darlene includes a note as well. She shares the joy she feels at delivering water and sharing stories, and her hope that someday they will not need anyone to haul water for them.                                                                             

Friday, April 23, 2021

Lights Out, written by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Susan Reagan. Creative Editions, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"Fox and Beetle wonder
if Night is only lost. 
Out there. Somewhere. 

And so, together, they set out. 
Across the wide, wide world, 
they search ... 
for the Dark of Night.

The author begins with a note about light pollution, knowing that readers are likely to be far more familiar with both air and water pollution. She wrote this book to address the problems that come from having too much artificial light in our world: birds are confused, frogs don't sing, fireflies cannot communicate as they once did, and it's not dark enough for nocturnal animals to find food. It can also change body rhythms in both humans and animals. 

When Fox and Beetle notice that there is too much light for them, they set out on an adventurous journey to find darkness once again. They remember how it once was, and wonder where Night has gone. They want to find it again. They set out together, aware that the lack of darkness is affecting so many creatures. No matter where they wander, they cannot find Dark. Always lights ... everywhere. 

Bird, Frog, and Bear join them on their search. When they finally get to the sea, they find tiny turtle hatchlings unable to find a path to the water. They are, instead, being attracted to the light. With determination the travellers run to the water, encouraging the hatchlings to follow them. Firefly joins in, as they make their way across the water to a nearby island. Blessed darkness awaits them there. 

Susan Reagan's illustrations move readers from the brightness of artificial light to the beauty of night skies. Each are important and necessary, but we must be ever-cognizant that light pollution is too prevalent, and often overlooked as a source of concern for the continued good health of the earth and its inhabitants. 

The closing artwork reminds us of the beauty to be found in the night sky - if we can see it!                                                                            

Thursday, April 22, 2021

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey, written and illustrated by Henry Cole. Scholastic Press, 2020. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"From a tall tree growing 
in the forest - to the checkout
counter at the grocery store - one 
little bag finds its way into the 
hands of a young boy on the eve
of his first day at school.

This story begins in earnest before the title page is presented. In black-ink drawings - from the gifted and incomparable Henry Cole - the 'reader' visits a forest of trees. One stands out, and remains center of attention as it is felled, trucked, milled, processed, and shipped in a Hart-Felt Paper Bags carton to a general store. There it is used to hold a brand-new flashlight for a young male customer. The precious package is carefully placed in his bike's basket for safe passage home. 

The bag's journey has begun. For his first day of school the boy's father uses the bag (brightened with a bold red heart) to transport his lunch. In the cafeteria at noon, his brown bag stands out from the lunch boxes and trays that others carry. He returns home with the bag intact. From that day on, readers see that the bag plays an important role in his daily life. Through school and into college, the bag is part of his days. It is never far from where he is, and is an integral part of many of his life's big events. As its journey came to a poignant end, I admit I teared up. 

Such wonder shared without one word of text. I am in awe!  

Henry Cole does add an author's note that speaks to his passion for conservation vs. consumerism. He explains that he used a brown paper lunch bag 'about seven hundred times'. He asks readers to consider what would happen if all paper bags had such a long life.  

He dedicates his book: 

WHO ALWAYS CARRY REUSABLE BAGS."                                                                               



                               HAPPY EARTH DAY 2021 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest, written by Heather Lang and illustrated by Jana Christy. Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills and Kane. Penguin Random House. 2021. $24.99 ages 8 and up


"Meg tried to climb at night,
but dangling from a rope, studying leaves, 
is difficult
and dangerous
in a dark forest 
     with deadly snakes
         and spiders 
              and ravenous biting ants.

She had to find a better way. 
She brainstormed with other scientists.
She thought and imagined ... 
What if I fly up in a balloon? 
Or work from the edges of hillsides? 
Or train a monkey?

I've been thinking this morning that Juana Martinez-Neal's Zonia would have loved to meet and have a conversation with Meg Lowman had they had the chance. Of course, Zonia's fictional love is for her beloved Amazon rainforest, Meg Lowman's life's work has been in many rainforests. Both played an active role is standing up for the forests they loved. Both are worthy of great admiration from those who read their stories.  

It began in childhood when Meg's love for all trees consumed her thoughts, and led her through years of learning about them. She wanted to know everything she could; she realized that would only happen if she could find her way to the tops of them. There was very little to see from the ground. 

"We had already been to the moon and back and nobody had been to the top of a tree." 

She set her goals high, and moved her body higher. To do the work she wanted to do, she had to work hard at learning, discovering, and finding ingenious ways to study the canopies that no one else had studied. Following her many experiences, she wanted to teach others about the need to protect this world she so loved. 

"To insects, a tree is not just a tree,
it is a "salad bar" - 
all-you-can-eat leaves.

To birds and mammals, a tree is a buffet -
juicy fruits and plump beetles, 
salamanders, and frogs.

A tree is a sponge,
soaking up water from the forest floor,
and a recycler, 
giving water back to the clouds,
ready to quench another day's thirst." 

Along with this marvelous description, the author adds an information 'leaf' with further information: 

"When animals eat leaves and feed on dead
and weak trees, they return nutrients to the 
soil through their digestion, nourishing trees and 
future seedlings.

This is a picture book biography that exemplifies what is best about the books we are able to share with our children today. The text is inspiring and uplifting. It is filled with detailed descriptions, personal quotes from Ms. Lowman, additional learning at every turn, and compelling adventure. Jana Christy's digital illustrations constantly shift perspective, provide brilliant and useful details, and ensure that readers will want to slow down and take the time needed to observe the action, the beauty of the forests and the daring escapades of the book's inquisitive activist.   

Heather Lang shares her impetus for writing this captivating book:

"I began my work on The Leaf Detective with a deep passion for our natural world. I’m in awe of its sounds, smells, sights, mysteries, and wonders. Every time I encounter stories about how we are destroying nature, I feel a sense of dread and desperation. We’ve already lost more than half of our forests. I knew from the outset I wanted to write a book that was both a biography and a science book about the rainforest. As I researched Meg Lowman, I was struck by the depth of her connection to trees— a connection that grew from profound respect, appreciation, love."       

Please find a copy, and read it.                                                                           

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Zonia's Rain Forest, written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Candlewick, Penguin Random House. 2021. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"In Zonia's rain forest, green and full of life, 
she visits old friends and meets new ones. 

"Good morning!" she says one, two, three, four times.
She stops to talk with some chatty new neighbors.

"Welcome! I live next door," Zonia sings.

How wonderful it is to meet Zonia, who lives in the Amazon rain forest. She loves and appreciates everything about her home, spending each morning walking with purpose to visit her animal friends and enjoy the beauty of her natural surroundings. Her days are filled with delight and cheerful meetings, led by a blue morpho butterfly from place to place. As she returns home one such day, she is astonished by what she sees for the first time. She runs to her mother with sadness and a wish to help the forest that is being decimated by deforestation.

Her mother listens and offers wise advice.

"Mama, look!" Zonia says, and opens 
her hands. "The forest needs help!" 

"It is speaking to you," says Zonia's mama.

"Then I will answer." says Zonia, "as I always do."
"We all must answer."

Zonia is of Ashaninka heritage, the largest Indigenous group living in the Peruvian Amazon. Her people are striving to preserve their rain forest by working together to organize and protest the way their home is being used for profit. They remain strong and determined in the face of ignorance and threats. 

Young readers will enjoy the meetings with the animals, while older readers will want to know more about the Ashaninka people, their history and their stand against those willing to destroy their land. An Ashaninka translation of the book's text is included, as well additional facts about Zonia's people and the Amazon itself. Threats to the environment are listed and include illegal logging, farming, mining, and oil and gas extraction. Finally, thumbprints of each of Zonia's animal friends, in the order of their appearance, are presented with a short list of resources for further learning to bring this glorious book to an end.  

One cannot help being drawn into the book through Ms. Martinez-Neal's artwork created with 'acrylic, colored pencil, pastel, ink, and linocuts and woodcuts on handmade banana bark paper'. She was able to source the paper from a very small group of women of Chazuta who make that paper using local banana bark. Thus, the Amazon itself becomes a part of her book in this wondrous way.                                                                               

Monday, April 19, 2021

Dear Earth ... From Your Friends in Room 5, written by Erin Dealey and illustrated by Luisa Uribe. Harper, 2020. $21.99 ages 5 and up


"Dear Room 5, 

The stars in the universe thank you. 
Our friends in the ocean will too. 
Some turtles and fish mistake plastic for dinner! 
Does that sound nutritious to you? 

Your friend, 

The children in Room 5 begin a brand-new year with a letter addressed to Earth, in which they offer their support. They would like to help in any way they might, making resolutions to keep them on track. Earth writes back with thanks to all who care, and suggests that turning lights off will save energy and please those who love to study the stars. 

A new letter every month offers ways in which classmates are protecting the planet, helping to teach readers to follow in their footsteps. There are many efficient and purposeful things that can be done to make a real difference where they live. Of course, Earth is pleased with their efforts and tells them so in return letters each month. 

Many of the suggestions made will be familiar; they are always worth repeating. With each new action, readers are reminded that they play an important role in effecting changes for the good of the Earth. Saving energy, tracking plastic use, planting a garden and trees, learning about climate change, walking and biking to school ... their list goes on. 

By April, Earth has begun calling them Earth Heroes, rather than Room 5. They are proud of their many accomplishments and happy to keep doing their best work to make their natural home healthier. The letters are placed upon lovely, detailed digital backgrounds that clearly show an eager group of students learning and leading others. 

On the final two pages, a thank you note from Earth explains how climate change affects all of us, and the author offers an Earth Heroes pledge to practice the 4 Rs at all times. It's never too late to start your own Earth Heroes Club at home or at school. Together, we will all make a difference!                                                                                   


Sunday, April 18, 2021

My Nana's Garden, written by Dawn Casey and illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle. Templar, Candlewick Press. Penguin Random House. 2020. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"My nana's garden
is full of seeds
with plenty of flowers, 
grasses, and weeds. 

My nana's garden is lovely and wild. 
"Blooming with life,"
Nana says with a smile." 

In this charming walk through the seasons that a young child spends with her nana, readers are invited to experience the joys and peace the two find there together. Abundance is evident from the opening spread. Flora and fauna find a home within its confines. Nana sees weeds as food for bees, shares rainy days gathering fruit from trees, and warmly welcomes all manner of wildlife. As the seasons and years pass, the two spend endless hours together. There is much work to do, and so much more to see as the garden changes from the early warmth of spring, to the abundance of summer, to cool autumn nights when stars sparkle in the dark sky, to the quiet of winter. 

Observant readers will notice that as the years go by, Nana needs more and more help. One winter, Nana's snow-covered chair sits empty and alone in the garden. 

"In my nana's garden, 
I curl up and cry. 
The sun doesn't shine
in the winter sky.

Nana's spirit lives on as the child and her mother welcome spring growth once again. They continue Nana's work through many seasons and years. The child is soon all grown up, with a child of her own. The two continue to find comfort in the legacy of love and growth inspired by a very special grandmother. 

The rhythms of Dawn Casey's simple, heartwarming words are matched by the beauty and affection shown in the double-page spreads created in watercolor and digital media. Delicate and filled with all that Nana and her family loved so much, they convey the touching loss of a loved one while honoring the legacy she has left.                                                                                       

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Hello, Rain! Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Chris Turnham. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2021. $22.99 ages 3 and up



a drizzle, 
a mizzle. 

So many words 
for rain!

I am often lucky to be able to watch my grandchildren play in the rain. Not here in Manitoba, where we have been waiting for rain for weeks. (A winter storm has helped somewhat with the need for moisture.) They live in British Columbia. There, you need to find pleasure in being outside in the rain, or you miss many days of fresh air and wondrous delight. 

They are much like the little girl and her playful puppy in this fine new book by the prolific and accomplished Kyo Maclear. We see the two inside the house as the first raindrops fall. They are not about to stay there. 

"Old raincoat, 
rubber boots, 
big umbrella, best umbrella:

green, orange, yellow, blue.
Let's go outside!

Once outside, they find much joy in their rainy day. They have no need to hurry, as so many others around them do. Rather, they can splash through puddles, launch boats in rushing water, check for worms and frogs, admire the smells of rain-soaked flowers and plants, and find shelter under the branches of a tree. Lightning an d thunder send them back inside to warmth and rainy-day activities. There, the little girl ponders the beauty she will see now that the storm is over. 

"The ground is 
glistening green. 

Can you smell the 
grassy sweetness? 

Butterflies and bugs
sip, sip, sip, 
from muddy puddles. 

Can you hear the 
chirping birds?

Ms. Maclear's words sing. It is a beautiful book to read aloud with little ones. The digital artwork evokes the magic of the rainstorm and the camaraderie of the two partners in discovery. Adventure abounds in scenes that are filled with life and movement, and so much color. 

Joyful, imaginative and adventurous. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Home is in Between, written by Mitali Perkins and illustrated by Lavanya Naidu. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2021. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"But outside, town was strange. 
New money to learn.
New manners, too - 
Like napkins on laps. 
No elbows on the table. 
English words Shanti didn't know.

As with many immigrant families who leave their home countries to find a new life in another place, Shanti and her family have left loved ones behind them. They have come to America from their home in India and are doing their best to make the adjustments needed to find comfort and connections in their new home. As they do so, they continue to be connected to India and family there through their memories and their traditions. It leaves Shanti feeling 'in between' the two places she calls home. 

It isn't an easy task to make the transition. Her parents help her remember her life in India with traditional foods, music, language, Bollywood movies, and a call to Bidu's home where the rest of the family has gathered to celebrate Holi. 

The book is mostly designed for readers to see the Indian part of her life on one side of the full spreads, and the new part of her life on the other. Shanti moves back and forth from the two cultures. It is exhausting. Finally, she takes a step back and rests, only to discover that her concerns have been assuaged with careful thought. 

"Where was she from? 

I need a rest, she thought. 

So Shanti lay down. 
Right there. 
In Between."

Digital illustrations add details to help bring knowledge of both cultural communities, and an understanding that Shanti is now part of both. An author's note concerning her own immigration from Bengal to America helps with understanding the feelings and confusion experienced by newcomers. A glossary includes Bangla terms, and proves useful to readers.                                                                      

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh / This Is How I Know, written by Brittany Luby and illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley. Translated by Alvin Ted Corbiere and Alan Corbiere. Groundwood, 2021. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Pii mnidoonsag mookbizwaad megwemtigoonski 
zaawaabminaagog gewe ni-bngishmod giizis. 

When insects billow black from the trees, 
and the sun slips into an orange dream. 

Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh niibing. 

This is how I know summer."

This lovely new book that celebrates the seasons is written in both Anishinaabemowin and English. Ms. Luby is of Anishinaabe heritage, and is a specialist in North American Indigenous history. Written to bring memories from her childhood near the Great Lakes to young readers today, it tells the story of the relationship between grandchild and grandparent as they note the changes that come seasonally. 

The text is spare and rhythmic, and begins with signs of summer. The question for each of the passing seasons begins with 'How do I know?' Together in the outdoors, the two take careful note of what they see happening around them. They move fluidly from summer, to autumn, winter, and spring. The two make discoveries for each in turn as they explore the landscape together. There is much to see, and appreciate. 

The illustrator, Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, is an Ojibwe woodland artist and a member of the Wasauksing First Nation. His digital spreads give prominence to the characters and every detail of the ever-changing setting. The dark outlines and beautiful palette filled with nature's brilliant colors invite careful observation for those reading it together. As the seasons change so, too, does the single image that has been chosen to represent the changing environment.  It is a lovely journey of discovery.  

If you are looking for books that honor Indigenous culture, traditions, and language, this book is a perfect choice.                                                                                    

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Road Trip: A Whiskers Hollow Adventure, written and illustrated by Steve Light. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $22.99 ages 4 and up


"Mouse liked being together with Bear
and Rabbit. Still, it was scary. But Mouse
ran inside to get something - a first-aid 
kit, because you never know - then 
hopped into Bear's truck.

Early readers are going to be very pleased to meet the inhabitants of Whiskers Hollow. We can only hope that this will be their first adventure of many. It begins with Bear and his desire to be out in the sunshine for a drive. He's fast, but generally good at driving. On this day, an accident with an acorn results in a broken headlight and the need to find a new one. Now, he has a purpose. 

He wants Rabbit to join him. It being lunch time is not an excuse. Off they go, planning to stop for a snack as they go. Bear is sure that Rabbit will be helpful in the search. On they go to Mouse's house. Mouse is a worrier and not sure about joining the two. Bear cajoles with the promise of making this trip together. A final stop for Donkey, and they are on their way to Elephant's Old Junk Tree. Donkey can help with directions. He goes on ahead, aboard his speedy scooter. 

The first obstacle is a rickety bridge meant to take them from one tree to the next. No problem. Finally, a thorny tunnel leads them right to Elephant and his mounds of junk. Headlight? No, sir! But, so much more! A slight mishap, an elephantine solution, and a surprise discovery brings this first adventure to an end. 

What a world for young readers to discover! Steve Light is adept with gouache, pen and ink, and with providing attention-grabbing details. Through these illustrations he captures and showcases the individuality of his characters, right down to the treasures they find within the confines of Elephant's 'junk'. Oh, and don't miss the endpaper's map.

What a world to discover!                                                                                 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

the tree in me, written and illustrated by corinna luyken. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House. 2021. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"The tree in me
is seed and blossom, 
bark and stump, 
branch and trunk
and crown!

This stunning book acts as a tribute to trees, and the natural world that both astonishes and sustains all of us. The child narrator brings attention to all those things that trees are and provide for our abundant lives. Not only that, but those things become a part of each one of us. An apple that comes from a tree offers a healthy look on the child's pink cheeks. 

The lyrical words, the diverse group of friends assembled to play together, and the glorious, energetic illustrations show the benefits of trees that make us a part of them: swinging, climbing, resting, providing leaves for joyful jumping and limbs for quiet reading. The trees would not flourish without good soil, welcome moisture, and the sun's warmth. We would be remiss in not acknowledging the squirrels, the bees, and humans who help to give new life to those trees that enrich our environment. 

Artwork done in gouache, and pencil and ink, and explodes with movement and bold color, especially neon pink and gold. The author shows at every page turn that we are all connected. This is a remarkable book to read aloud to anyone willing to listen.  There will be many requests to hear it again!  Gorgeous!                                                                                 

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story, written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. Tilbury House, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2020. $23.95 ages 5 and up


"In class, Mrs. Haugen asks all the children
to share three facts about themselves. 

When it is Kanzi's turn, she says bravely, 
"I am Egyptian. I love to swim. I love to 
write poetry!" Then she sits, looking 
down at her desk.

It's Kanzi's first day of third grade in a new school in a brand-new country. She is apprehensive, as one might expect when facing something new and missing something old and familiar. As she readies herself for this new experience, she carefully folds the quilt her Teita (grandmother) made for her before leaving  Egypt. She packs her poetry notebook in her backpack before sharing breakfast with her family. 

Upon arrival at school Kanzi joins her classmates in the day's activities. When her mother brings her purposely forgotten lunch, Kanzi is hurt by the callous classmates who make fun of her language. A reassuring teacher helps; Kanzi does her best not to be 'different' the following day. When Mrs. Haugen finds her dropped notebook and reads Kanzi's poem about her grandmother's quilt, she is impressed and asks if Kanzi would like to bring the quilt to school. 

What follows is lovely, inspired by a caring teacher and eager classmates. 

Artwork by Anait Semirdzhyan adds the warmth of acceptance and support in images that are emotional and reassuring. The quilt provides a bright spot and comfort for a little girl navigating a new world. This is a story that encourages each of us to learn about another culture, making it easier it is to accept and honor our differences. 

A glossary of Egyptian words is included.                                                                                     

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Hello, Jimmy! Written and illustrated by Anna Walker. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2021. $23.99 ages 6 and up


"Dad loved Jimmy. 
Dad told his jokes 
and Jimmy laughed. 

"He can walk, he can talk, 
and he can even do the dishes," said Dad. 
"He's amazing!"

Jack wished he was amazing too.

So much of this heartfelt tale is told through Anna Walker's tender gouache and pencil illustrations. Her dedication draws the reader in, with the same tenderness. 

This book is dedicated to my brother. 
And for the child who feels lost,
may you feel found
and know you are loved. 

That is absolutely the driving force for her new story about a father and son, who spend some days together. When they do, they do quiet things, often without conversation. The house is very quiet, and dishevelled. Jack worries that his dad is lonely when he is not there. Jack recognizes that feeling all too well. 

He is definitely surprised to meet Jimmy, his dad's new companion. Jimmy is a bright green parrot that has much to say, and makes Jack feel uncomfortable. Jack's father loves Jimmy and thinks he's amazing. Jack wishes the same were true for him, in his father's eyes. Despite what Jack sees as Jimmy's flaws, no one else does. Jimmy is much loved. 

In two nighttime spreads, readers clearly see how Jack really feels about the parrot, and what he does to deal with that worry. Morning arrives with regret for his actions. In trying to make amends, his father shows him what is really important in their lives. Life changes for the better! 

Background details are worthy of note, and certain to inspire discussion. I love this book, and have already added it to our 'keepers' shelf.                                                                                   

Saturday, April 10, 2021

This Is A Dog Book! Written by Judith Henderson and illustrated by Julien Chung. Kids Can Press, 2021. $19.99 ages 4 and up


"Do you like to run 
and catch a ball? 

Of course! And in 
addition, I can hop. 

You don't have much 
of a tail. Does it wag? 

Yes. And in addition, 
it wiggles.

You know how kids love to read, or listen to, books that don't really seem to honestly tell what is happening inside. For instance, this funny and entertaining book is built on the premise that a bunny wants those who are refuting its presence in a dog book to believe it actually is a dog. The dogs are adamant that it has no place in their book. They refer it to books about bunnies. Said 'dog' will not be dissuaded. 

The 'dog' even offers proof. Cookies in the shape of dog biscuits, assertive answers to dog-trick questions, avoidance of discussing dog 'doo-doos', and even clearer verification of its claim to be what the dogs think it is not. 

"Do you 
like treats?

Yes, I like lettuce and cauliflower
and brussels sprouts ... 

That's not a treat! 

I see your point. 
May I interest you 
in another cookie?

You get the drift. If you are looking for a book to tickle the funny bone, you've come to the right place. It's also perfect for shared reading in a small group. The most work will be done in figuring out just exactly how many dogs are offering advice and asking questions. I 'guesstimate' you could opt for six. All readers would be part of the dialogue. Then, you need the 'bunny', who fits the most important criteria for being included ... friendship. 

Don't forget the COW! There's the twist that adds even more fun, to an already delightful tale. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Swashby and the Sea, written by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2020. $24.99 ages 4 and up


""SING," the girl read.
And did just that. 
She sang every song she knew while
dancing up and down Swashby's deck.
"What now?" she asked. 
"NOW VANISH!"  Swashby wrote later that evening, 
adding a starfish exclamation point.

And the sea fiddled, just a little."

Swashby loves the sea, and his life beside it. No one knows as much about this old man as the sea does. He lives a life of peace and contentment; alone, and happy to be. The day comes when that life changes greatly. It begins with the little girl who moves into the house next door. She and her grandmother upset all of his peace and solitude. 

Swashby is perturbed, and makes his feelings known by refusing to answer the door, or eat the cookies they leave. He doesn't need company. To be sure they know his true feelings, he writes a note in the sand - NO TRESPASSING. 

The sea he loves turns traitor, changing the note to something a little girl can read - SING. That, she does, and she dances on Swashby's deck. Each new message in the sand does nothing to deter the girl and her grandmother from trying to make a new friend. The sea does nothing to help. Swashby mumbles and grumbles, doing his best to avoid them at all costs. As luck and persistence would have it, the little girl begins to grow on the crochety old man. He does what he can to teach her about the sand and the sea. When a near catastrophe happens, Swashby finds a whole new side to himself. 

The prolific Peter Reynolds has said that a great book for children is 'wisdom dipped in words and art'. That is absolutely the case here. The sea is as much a character as the people in this very special story. It would not be as charming were it not for the acrylic, colored pencil and graphite artwork that adds a depth and beauty to enhance its every well-chosen word. This is a wonderful addition to your 'perfect readaloud' basket. Your kids and students will want to hear it on repeat.                                                                                       

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story. Written by Caren Stelson and illustrated by Akira Kusaka. Carolrhoda Books, Thomas Allen & Son. 2020. $23.99 ages 9 and up


"War for Sachiko means less and less of everything.
Now Grandmother's bowl offers only
bits of mackerel floating in broth,
but the family is still together. 
Even sister Misa and little Toshi learn to press 
their hands together.


No one knows where or when Grandmother's bowl began its journey from mother to daughter, down through the generations. What they do know is that it is a valued part of every dinner Sachiko's family eats together. Those meals fill them up. As WWII brings more pain and suffering, it also causes a severe food shortage. Soon, the bowl is filled with balls made of wheat, and softened with hot water. Sachiko is only six years old when the atomic bomb drops on Nagasaki, and her life is forever changed. The family's home is destroyed; one brother dies and two more later die from radiation sickness; the family must move away. Two years later, a return to Nagasaki blesses them with the discovery of Grandmother's bowl in the rubble - in perfect condition. 

I read Sachiko's story (Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story) 4 years ago, and was left with such a sense of sorrow for her losses, and also of admiration for her bravery and stamina in the face of such loss. In this picture book, Caren Stelson has taken one part of Sachiko's story and written this book for younger readers. She tells the story with quiet assurance, and offers an ending that is full of hope. Digital paintings help readers to recognize the setting for the story, and for the real importance of the bowl's central position at the dinner table. Its presence is shown in repeated scenes, always offering a sense of calm during dark times.   

An author’s note describes her meetings with Sachiko to learn her about her family, and bringing her story to a wide audience through the first book. She discusses life in Japan during the war and emphasizes the importance of finding the bowl, and the gratitude with which it was used. Archival pictures, including one showing Grandmother's bowl, as well as a description of some of the history of the war itself are an important part of this back matter. An illustrator's note is added, written in English and Japanese. It is followed by a short list of  recommended books for further research. 

 “Itadakimasu” -  “we humbly receive this food”. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs, written by Leslie Bulion and illustrated by Robert Meganck. Peachtree, Douglas & McIntyre, 2021. $22.99 ages 8 and up

"Ogre-faced Spider 

upside-down ready
tremendous eyes scan the dark
motion detected
snap open leg-net - bagged it! 
(food never sees me coming) 

Garden Spider

An orbweaver called it a night,
Belly stuffed in the dusk's waning light. 
Then a hurrying fly
Crashed her web and stuck by, 
And the spider shrugged, "Well ... one more bite."

Ray Orbweaver 

Hung from dry silk rays that span a river, 
Down to water's surface, holding fast, 
Sticky threads that trap and then deliver, 
Water strider dinner skimming past.

The three spider poems quoted above are found on a double-page entry titled Worldwide Webbers. The poems are accompanied by a descriptive paragraph concerning the way these spiders design webs to trap their prey. That opening is then followed by further scientific data for each of the three.  

This is another celebration of the natural world from the team that gave us Leaf Litter Critters (2018), Superlative Birds (2019), and Amphibian Acrobats (2020). Of the 48,000 spider species that exist in the world, they have chosen 35 for their collection. 

The research done to produce such a stellar collection of poetry and prose is quite remarkable. The organization of text is limited to double-page spreads that deal with particular topics: spectacular silk; food prep, mealtime, leftovers; on the prowl; tricky spider enemies; spider comes a-courting; spider mamas, to name some of them. The design for each topic is similar, as above noted. The illustrations are upbeat and often humorous. Language chosen is expressive, and the poetic forms used are varied.  

A final tribute to the spiders themselves thanks them for the work they do to help humans provide protection for our Earth. They are an extremely important part of our ecosystem. And then, there's the backmatter! It begins with a comprehensive glossary, and moves on to provide notes on poetic form, spider identification for every spider illustrated, easy-to-follow guidance for a spider hunt, and further reading for any budding arachnologist. The final pages of comparison between a No. 2 pencil (which will be very familiar to the intended audience) and each included spider is a cool way to show accurate size.  

As has been the case in their previous collaborations: IMPRESSIVE!  

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Burt the Beetle Doesn't Bite, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press, 2021. $14.99 ages 4 and up



Let's see what these 
four wings can do. 

Are you watching? 



Ashley Spires fills both front and back endpapers with trading card-like images of numerous insects, fittingly presented with a descriptive rather than scientific name. This is in keeping with the kind of humor we have come to expect in her books. 

Burt, a beetle, is narrator of this engaging graphic novel. He uses one-liners and zingers to convince readers that he is a lot like the many species of insects that inhabit our world. Informative insects are pleased to introduce their own personal characteristics. While some fly and some crawl, Burt asserts that he can do both. He describes himself as a 'ten-lined June beetle' and offers up the atttributes that make him one. 


It's a style choice. 


All natural. 


Don't worry - I may be big,
but I don't bite. 
I'm more of a hugger.

Burt continues being a giver of knowledge concerning insects of all shapes and sizes. As he does so, he becomes quite desirous of being more like them. He has aspirations to do what they can do. Truthfully, there isn't much that Burt can do. As he tries to show that he has capabilities he doesn't have, he gets himself in some tricky spots - almost always landing on his back and needing help. He does eventually prove useful when some of his friends become entangled in a spider's web. 

The art is full of fun, and effective. Ms. Spires offers facts along with some amusing fictional elements. Together, they make for a book to be enjoyed by many. Readers looking for accessible text, mixed with some giggles will be fans. Burt is a positive and thoughtful go-getter. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Over The Shop, story by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Qin Leng. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $22.99 ages 4 and up



Once 'read', you will hold this memorable story of love and family in your heart for a long time. It speaks the truth to what family can be. The opening pages show a young child waking, getting ready for the day, and scooting to the breakfast table. The food is prepared, the table set by a seemingly agitated grandparent who is in a rush to eat and open the store that fronts the apartment where the two live. 

Boxes of produce are placed outside the front door as a neighbor looks on. A passing cat tries to swipe food from one of the open boxes, and is quickly chased away. The child takes note of the cat hurrying past the kitchen window, and brings a bowl of tuna to the alley. Then, child and grandparent get to their business of the day; one drawing, the other making a 'for rent' sign for the upstairs apartment. Business has not been brisk. Rental income will be welcome. The sign does attract the attention of many passers-by; none are impressed with the dismal condition of the available living quarters. The sign is being removed as a young couple arrives showing interest. They agree to rent the apartment, move in quickly and begin the arduous backbreaking work of making it habitable. The child helps as much as possible. As their work transforms the entire building, the two also join in helping run the store. Initial doubtful impressions are set aside by the grandparent and their neighbor.  A new family of four (and a cat) is born. 

Qin Leng's ink and watercolor illustrations brilliantly tell this wordless tale, with heart and great warmth. The ever-changing panels and perspectives ensure that every action adds to the story's arc. Readers will pore over the details and be keen to share this story with others. Pride colors, worn in a belt and a hat, and then shown in a flag that flies on the storefront hint at gender diversity. 

JonArno Lawson dedicates this exemplary story 'for trans activists of all ages'. Does it matter that three (perhaps four) of the book's main characters are not defined by their gender? I think not.                                                                              

Sunday, April 4, 2021

It's April 4, 2021!


Every Color of Light, written by Hiroshi Osada and illustrated by Ryoji Arai. Translated from the Japanese by David Boyd. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2020. $26.50 ages 4 and up

"Shimmering, light fills the sky.

The blues are blue again,
and the greens are green.

Slowly, the air clears.

Here, where it is extremely dry after a winter that produced little snowfall, we are keen for rain. Although it is early, the promise of spring rainfall is front of mind for many. While this book describes the wonder of a rainstorm in summer, I think it is worthy of sharing today. 

The setting is a lake. It sits enveloped by dense foliage in colors that run the gamut of nature's greens. The rain falls gently; then grows in intensity. The darkness of the storm clouds brings a color change to the forest envrions. It rains harder; the wind blows furiously; thunder pounds; lightning strikes with obvious intensity. As happens with summer storms, it is soon over. The rain stops. The sun shines upon this beautiful natural space with a shimmer that changes the greens once again. As it sets, shafts of golden light bathe the setting in golden glow and silver shimmer before dusk descends and the moon rises into a darkening sky. Through the night, the dark sky is filled with starlight's glow that leads to peaceful slumber for all. 

No humans, no animals, just the pure beauty of nature in all of its glory. Stunning!