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Monday, February 28, 2022

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Pete Oswald. Penguin Random House, 2021. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Harry is stuck using his old backpack for first grade.
It’s brown and kind of ugly. But there is a new Fluff
Monster key chain hanging off the zipper. His sister
Charlotte gave it to him. It’s his favorite monster:
Gar-Gar, the black-and-yellow one that looks like a
bumble bee. Fluff Monsters are the silliest monsters
in the world. Harry loves them.

When I was teaching early years children, the journey from first to the 100th day of school was a big deal! Harry is not feeling confident about taking his place in a first-grade classroom. He's not sure he's ready for being there day after day ... for 100 days!! His teacher is kind and comforting, his sister supports him as they make their way to the big front doors. 

Using a journal style of writing, Emily Jenkins shows readers just how well she knows apprehensive first graders, and how things work in a first-grade classroom. The journal entries are written in third person voice, and in chapters that present every day and date for Harry's first hundred days. Replete with the adventures and learning that are part of daily routines in his class, Harry manages to make friends and, in turn, be one. He learns sight words, expresses how he is feeling about the sometimes- overwhelming emotions that are a part of his days, overcomes certain inexplicable fears, and manages to determine what he needs to do to both name and then complete his collection of 100 items for the mid-February celebration. 

In the company of a loving and supportive family, an understanding and encouraging teacher, and the friends he makes along the way, Harry is a memorable character. The book is funny and full of heart, and includes those things that will attract attention and entertain readers. Full-color illustrations are welcome and add context for every step on Harry's journey. 

A fun read aloud for any early years classroom. Take it day by day, and perhaps pen a journal entry for the days leading up to that special time in your own classroom. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Mina, written and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. Simon and Schuster, 2021. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Now go to sleep. 
Everything will be fine. 
you'll see." 

"I don't know," said Mina. 

But sure enough everything was fine."

Mina is a young mouse after my own heart. She likes nothing better than to read. Her nose is always stuck in a book, no matter where she is. Nothing much bothers her; then, her dad brings home yet another surprise from his forays into the outside world. Tin cans, old stamps, and a band of musicians leave Mina oblivious. When he brings home stick insects and tasks Mina to teach them to read, she does just that before they steal all of her books! 

One day her father brings home a very special surprise ... he calls it a squirrel. At this point, young readers will not be able to contain themselves. It is perfectly clear to everyone but Dad that the squirrel is really a CAT. Contradicting his daughter's concern, the cat stays. All is well. The cat proves itself useful, even though it isn't hungry for the acorns provided. Soon, Dad adds two more cats! They are not hungry! The vet is called. 

"Oh, I see the problem," said the doctor.  
"The problem is that these squirrels 
are definitely cats."

"Oh, no," said Mina's father.
"Oh, dear," said Mina. 
And then all at once ...

At just the right moment, when things look dire, one of the stick insects comes to the rescue. A story proves the perfect solution to the problem faced.  

Matthew Forsythe's gorgeous setting and soft palette of color conveys the beauty of home for the two mice. His use of light and shadow are of prime importance in terms of movement. The first cat is a wily one; its intentions are shown entirely in its eyes. Other surprising details add much to the enjoyment of the tale itself. 

Absolutely magical, full of humor and humanity.                                                                              

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Starfish, written by Lisa Fipps. Penguin Random House. 2021. $23.99 ages 9 and up


"I also eat slowly because 
I keep thinking about stereotypes. 
People stereotype me
all the time, too. 

They think fat people are dumb. 
I'm at the top of my class. 

They think we're slobs.
My room is spotless. 

They think we're unhappy. 

That's true. 

But they think I'm unhappy
because I'm fat. 
The truth is, 
I'm unhappy because 
they bully me 
about being fat.

There's a part of me that just wants to stop right there, and let Ellie's words sink in. Maybe how she really feels is all readers need to know. I am concerned that if I did that, I might not be able to convince you that this is a book you need to read. It makes me wish I were teaching in a middle years classroom, and could read it aloud to the kids in my class. I know there would be those who want to read it again as soon as the book is closed. It is that good - believe me! 

In her debut novel, Lisa Fipps grabs the reader's attention in the opening scene. From then on, I could not put it down. Writing it as a verse novel was an inspiration. She gets right to the heart of what is happening to Ellie, and has been since her fifth birthday. 

"Cannonball into a pool, 
drenching everyone, 
and wear a whale swimsuit
to your Under the Sea birthday party
when you're a chubby kid
who grows up to be a fat tween
and no one will ever let you live it down. 


The nickname Splash begins with her older siblings. She was FIVE! Ellie could not get the words out to let them know how it made her feel. Had she been able to voice her sadness, they would simply have suggested that the teasing would stop when she lost weight. 

And so, Ellie begins her Fat Girl Rules list. 

"Fat Girl Rules 
I learned
at five:
No cannonballs. 
No splashing. 
No making waves. 

You don't deserve 
to be seen or heard, 
to take up room, 
to be noticed. 

Make yourself small."

Ellie was five! 

Now, she is 11 and the narrator of this beautifully written book. Ellie is fine with how she looks, and her story is very personal. She has a powerful voice and a healthy wealth of humor which keeps her story from being dismal. With help from a therapist, and support from her best friends and her father, she learns how to speak up for herself. 

"I starfish. 
There's plenty of room
one of us
in the world."

Starfish? What a concept! That's it. If I haven't convinced you to find this book and read it, I have not done the job I wanted to do. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

What's In Your Pocket: Collecting Nature's Treasures. Written by Heather Montgomery and illustrated by Maribel Lechuga. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2021. $21.99 ages 5 and up


"Valerie Jane found wiggly, squiggly worms. 
She wanted to keep them close, 
so she put them ... 

under her pillow! 

Her mother persuaded her to put 
the worms back in the garden.

Readers are told on the following page that Valerie Jane was called Jane as an adult, and became a famous primatologist. Can you guess who? If you guessed Jane Goodall, you would be exactly right! 

"As an adult, Jane slept in the rain forest with animals 
all around her. She studied chimpanzees, learned their 
ways, and watched them use tools - a discovery that 
changed how people thought about animals.

Heather Mongomery encourages those who read this book to get outside and explore. She knows they will find something 'strange and wonderful' to put in their pockets. She explains that celebrated scientists do the same thing. She moves forward to introduce a diverse group of naturalists who are also explorers and researchers. Their work ranges through the centuries. Maria Sibylla Merian lived in the 17th century when people knew little about insects and their life cycles; through careful research, she discovered the real truth about caterpillars turning into butterflies. Today, Bonnie Lei uses her science skills to help the world's scientists 'use artificial intelligence and other technologies to conserve nature's treasures'.  The other seven included may be familiar - may be not. 

The text is presented in a most engaging way. Each scientist is first shown as a child, fully engaged with the world around them. There follows an informative paragraph to quickly explain their accomplishments. Maribel Lechuga uses digital media to create an accurate historical setting for the scientists and their work. Inviting scenes assure that young readers have context for the stories shared. In back matter, readers will find sketches and further facts about the adults the young naturalists became, along with a 'learn more:' suggestion. Finally, a helpful note from both illustrator and author, and a list of further resources. Excellent nonfiction!  

"Throughout history, kids have found all 
kinds of strange and wonderful things. 
They've created collections.
They've made discoveries. 
They've changed the world of science." 

What do you have in your pocket? 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Gladys The Magic Chicken, written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Adam Rex. Putnam, Penguin Random House. 2021. $24.99 ages 6 and up


"The Purple Pooh-bah chuckled. 
He was always skeptical of so-called 
"magic", but there was something 
undeniably amusing about that chicken. 

He decided she would make an 
excellent gift for his daughter, the 
Learned Princess (who, by the way, 
had become learned thanks to private 
tutors - remember there were no 
schools in Ancient Times).

The introductory map is titled The World of Ancient Times (with chicken snacks by region). It indicates a number of important landmarks:  the Shimmering Sea, the Large Lake, the Mountain Pass, Whispering Wheat Fields, Pomegranate's Fruited Plains, the Dusty Desert, the Village of Uhm, and the Palace of the Purple Pooh-Bah. Each play a part in Gladys's journey. 

You want to meet Gladys! Gladys is a dancer and a follower. She is also a pretty ordinary chicken. Each day she follows the Shepherd Boy through the mountain pass, and stays with him as he takes care of the sheep. That boy is no genius. He matures into a handsome, strong, good-looking man, and gives Gladys credit for his dream of good looks coming true. He extols her magical quality to a Traveling Merchant, trading her for a mirror that allows admiration for his new look. 

Getting rid of Glady proves difficult for the merchant. When she is stolen by a Long-Bearded Bandit, she almost becomes dinner - until she is stolen again by a Brave Swordsman. The exchanges continue, each made with a hint that Gladys may indeed be magical. Or not. Who knows? Whatever the case, Gladys leads a pretty remarkable and adventurous life ... for a chicken! 

This is such a fun book to read out loud that I found myself doing just that, even though I had no audience at all. The humor is engaging for readers and their listeners. Kids will love it when Gladys often 'ploops' out eggs. The illustrations suit the text in every way - bold, expressive characters, wonderful setting, unending zaniness. 

Want a giggle-worthy read? Gladys' magic can help with that. Bravo!

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Wounded Falcons, written by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Translated by Elisa Amado. Groundwood Books, 2021. $19.99 ages 5 and up


"And in a clump of grass, he finds it. 
A young wounded bird. Scared, 
unable to fly. 

They look at each other with wide-
open eyes. 

Adrian uses his school jacket to 
wrap it up carefully.

Today's post repeats the joy in the kindness that children feel when they are confronted with injured animals, or distressing events. Adrian, always in trouble, and Santiago, never so, are steadfast friends. They like to spend time together after school. While spending time in an empty lot, Adrian discovers a wounded bird in the grass. Readers know what happened to the falcon. It is shown in illustrations prior to the story's opening. 

He decides he will take care of it. Not sure how, he asks his mother. She has no answers. The next day Adrian skips school to care for the bird. Santiago knows how to help. They take the bird to someone who might be able to help.

"The old guy who cures bones
has never seen a falcon. But 
he does his work carefully - 
checks the wing, straightens it, 
immobilizes it, bandages it.

The box that shelters the bird is hidden high in a tree. The boys provide the care it needs. That bird fires a new kind of learning for Adrian. For the first time, he speaks in class and shares what he is learning about birds of prey. It is a turning point for him. When a storm threatens the bird, he and Santiago run to find its box broken and the falcon gone. Hopefully, they will see it again. 

Compassionate and powerful ... what we have come to expect from this fine team.                                                                                

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Anthony and the Gargoyle, written by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Maja Kastelic. Groundwood, 2021. $19.99 ages 4 and up


"When Anthony asks his mother 
where the rock came from, she 
shows him photos from a trip to 
Paris, including Notre-Dame
cathedral with its familiar-
looking forms perched on top. 

Can Anthony's new friend be 
a gargoyle.

Family is at the heart of this delightful, wordless book. Early spreads introduce Anthony's family history on a wall full of framed photographs. The final photo shows Anthony, at 2, holding a good-sized gray rock in his lap. 

Turning to the present, readers see Anthony at bedtime. He is cradling the rock once more, before putting it on his nightstand. In the morning, it has hatched. While Anthony does not know what has really happened, astute observers are very aware. Anthony's later discovery of it in his bedroom results in harmonious play, and a secret. He tells no one. 

His mother shares a book with him about the Notre-Dame in Paris and an album of photos taken when his parents visited. Together, the two new friends find clues to identity, accompanied by feelings of sadness for the visitor. As fate would have it, the family is soon called to Paris where Grandmother is in hospital. Preparations are made, and the train trip taken with Anthony carrying secret, precious cargo. Upon arrival in Paris, a taxi ride offers glimpses of many iconic sights. A visit to Notre-Dame is undertaken, and a chance to see the gargoyles. What wonder awaits!  

What a captivating tale is painted in watercolor and digitally colored artwork by Maya Kastelic! Two loving families, the beauty of Paris, and the warm-hearted finale make for a memorable 'read'.                                                                                                       

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Genius Under the Table,: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $22.99 ages 10 and up


"The light clicked off, but it was not 
the time for me to sleep yet. I waited 
until my family settled into their dreams, 
then I snuck a stubby pencil from under 
my pillow. I stole that pencil from Dad 
every night to draw on the underside of 
the table. The pine boards above me were
covered with my drawings like a ceiling of 
a prehistoric cave. The table was big. My 
drawings were small.

Eugene Yelchin's memoir is tender and often humorous. In the late 1950s and early 60s he lived with his parents, brother, and grandmother in one tiny room in an apartment that was shared by numerous others in Moscow. As you can imagine, there was llittle privacy for anyone living communally as his family did. Every night at bedtime, the room needed to be rearranged to give everyone a place to sleep. 

Yevgeny (as he was called then) found his place under the dining table. It afforded him a place to hone his artistic talents; he secretly drew on the underside with a pencil taken from his father. 

"Dad said that if I had artistic talent, 
I could have a private apartment. But
what did I need a private apartment
for if I could sleep under Grandma's 

Drawing helps the young boy endure the confusion that is his world. Every apartment has a spy who keeps order by threatening residents with reporting them to the KGB. No one talks about Yevgeny's grandfather who is no longer with them. Secrets abound. Only exceptional and talented citizens have certain luxuries. His brother is a talented figure skater, likely to be one of the fortunate few. Yevgeny's parents want what is best for him, too. His mother, a devotee of the ballet, thinks dance will provide security for her dance-challenged son. His dreams lie in artistic pursuits. 

It is only in the fine and telling drawings that accompany this outstanding memoir that readers see what might have been on the underside of that table. Images are poignant and add humor, as does the dialogue between family members. Despite the chaos, Yevgeny's art gives him an escape from his daily life, and hope for better times in the future.              

I wonder what happened next.          

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A Kit Story, written by Kristen Travy and illustrated by Alison Farrell. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2022. $14.99 ages 2 and up

"The summer sun crawls higher. 

I nap. 

The summer sun sinks lower. 

I wake."

The animals of the forest that surrounds the fox kit are doing what they do. The reader's attention is drawn to a question the kit asks. As the pages turn, young listeners learn much about this particular fox: what it looks like, how it moves, its habits in each of the four seasons, what it likes to eat, and how it compares to other animals in its environment. 

"Compared to a cow, 
I eat a little.  

Compared to a butterfly, 
I eat a lot. 

Munch. Munch.

As the seasons pass, the fox's adventures are chronicled in well-chosen language that expands vocabulary, while also providing pertinent information. In autumn, he romps with his vixen sister until the coming winter calls them home. The final two spreads show the family curled up, warm, and resting. 

Alison Farrell's charming images are created in gouache, colored pencil, ink, and digital mixed media. They invite young listeners to stop and enjoy this warm introduction to a fox kit's first year. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats: Urban Ecology, Community Science, and How We Share Our Cities, written by Cylita Guy and illustrated by Cornelia Li. Annick Press, 2021. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"In Toronto, there are more than 350 species of 
native bees. Some, like the Virginia carpenter 
bee, can grow to the size of a quarter and make
their nests in soft wood (you can hear them digging
if you listen close enough). Others, like sweat bees, 
are bright green and tiny. And some, like the 
common eastern plasterer bee, which often appears
first in the spring, dig their nests in the ground.

This is Cylita Guy's first book of nonfiction, and she does it up right. In it, she and ten urban ecologists like her are highlighted for the work they do in studying how a variety of species have adapted to life in cities. There is a reason for that. As the numbers of people living in cities around the world continues to grow, more and more natural spaces are lost. The animals, insects and plants that once inhabited these spaces are forced from their homes. Some do not survive; others are able to thrive. 

Each scientist, whose work is highlighted, shares stories, research, and adventure. They also offer a challenge for readers, encouraging them to get out into nature, listen and learn, watch and record what is going on where they live. There are eight chapters, and each one of them ends with a new and doable challenge. 

"Find a garden somewhere. Take a look 
at the flowers. What kind of insects do 
you seen visiting them? Can you snap a 
picture of one? You can use this picture 
to try and find out what species it is using
books or the internet." 

Their stories are funny, terrifying, intense, and even racist. They offer good advice, entertain, and inform. Questions asked require critical thinking, and discussion. Can city bees help us learn more about climate change? Through observation and further research, changes can be made to makes cities healthier for all that live there, not just people. Sidebars offer many additional facts concerning the research being done and the knowledge being gained.  

This is another book that encourages getting out into nature to begin to understand ways in which interaction can be beneficial and peaceful. Meant for older readers, it provides sensitive recognition for the idea of acceptance and understanding for those creatures who want to survive in new environments since they have been stripped of their old ones. 

Cornelia Li's mixed media artwork interprets the interactions between scientists and wildlife. Rich colors and eye-catching silhouettes offer visual details for the work being done, and add context for the encounters.  

The closing resource list is extensive and encourages further investigation. The included index is useful when wanting to return to something of particular interest. 

"Learn more about animals and plants 
not included in this book. Get involved 
in a local volunteer or community science
project. Find out what you can do to help
conserve the species that live in your city.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Burying the Moon, written by Andree Poulin and illustrated by Sonali Zohra. Groundwood Books, 2021. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"It's so hard

to stay silent

when you have

important things

          to say.

Important things

  that everyone

      stays silent


Life for 11-year-old Latika, and the other girls and women of her Indian comunity, is very different than what happens for the boys and men. She is not free to enjoy free days; rather, she spends much of each day taking long walks for water. In the evening, she and her sister weave baskets to be sold. They also join the females of the village on a walk to do their business in a darkened field where no one can see them. There are no toilets for them. The moon feels like an enemy, as its light illuminates their Shame, and Latika would like to bury it. 

Latika can still attend school where she finds much joy. Her time is running short, as the day she turns twelve she will no longer be welcome to attend. She longs for changes that will bring some happiness to her family members. No one talks about the Shame. So, when a government engineer arrives to discuss digging a well, Latika realizes that change can happen. Courageously, she finds a way to speak to Mister Samir. He agrees to listen to what she has to say. 

Once the well is dug and providing the life-giving water needed, the government workers move on. Later, when least expected, other engineers return to the village with the materials they need to build toilets. Mister Samir has recognized the villagers' needs thanks to Latika's bravery and intelligence. Life changes for everyone. 

This awe-inspiring novel-in-verse imparts information to its readers about the struggle that 4.2 billion people around the world face, concerning proper health and hygiene. It is an issue that can be changed through education, concern, and money. Not that much money, actually.  What do we, who have so much, do to change the circumstances for so many? Awareness is the key. 

Sonali Zohra's digital illustrations are bold in color and setting, adding depth and context for the story told. Beautiful!                                                                                        

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Wild Peace, written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Il Sung Na. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2021. $25.99 ages 3 and up


"Peace buzzes a 
sticky-sweet tune

and gnaws on logs 
all afternoon.

Amidst the chaos that is a busy, loud family, a young girl works quietly at her art. Even inside, she is an observer. Watching a bright red butterfly's flight from window to a large and lovely wall mural, she sees it disappear through the wall and follows it into the peaceful world outside. Off the two go to the nearby forest where color abounds. 

There they find songbirds, a spider spinning its web, and the beauty of the forest's natural surroundings. Squirrels gather nuts, a brown bear feasts on berries, and the child admires numerous flowers. They travel on, taking in all the sights and sounds. Rock hopping with bunnies, resting on a grassy field, watching a beaver prepare wood for dam-building, and running alongside fish swimming upstream ... what more could she ask? They revel in every small moment for the rest of their day, and return home at sunset. Her siblings are quietly cleaning before all give in to slumber, letting moonlight kiss their foreheads. 

Lovely well-chosen words bring forth the beauty that is nature. Il Sung Na adds his formidable talent for creating memorable artwork to its pages and invites readers into the peace and wonder.                                                                                  

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

I Love You More, written by Emil Sher and illustrated by Barbara Reid. Scholastic, 2022. $21.99 ages 3 and up


"I love you more than cones love ice cream. 

I love you more than syrup loves pancakes."

Reading this book will not stop at the first time it is shared. I guarantee it is just the beginning of numerous visits and many personal observations. In his author's note at the book's end, Emil Sher explains that while his daughters were away at summer camp, he and his wife sent them notes. They ended those notes with a red heart from their mother and an expression of love like the ones that make up the body of this wonderful book from their father. It wasn't long until the girls were writing back, and doing the same thing. What absolute fun! 

A young boy, awakened by his mother, spends his day seeing the many ways that love is shown through words, gestures, actions, and in numerous warm and uplifting scenes created by the remarkable Barbara Reid. Wake up, breakfast, leaving their apartment, the trip to and arrival at school all provide perfect opportunities for noting the love that surrounds him. That attention to his neighborhood continues after school when his grandmother picks him up, takes him to her place, and waits for his mom to arrive to take him back home.  

The details created for each scene will not be a surprise for Barbara Reid fans. She fills her spreads with energy and lovely moments from start to finish. Discussion will be endless when time is taken to note each fine point. 

Mr. Sher further explains that as children begin to write their own 'I love you' moments, they always come in pairs: 'the second part of the pair makes the first part feel happy because it feels needed'.

Carry on! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The House of Love, written by Adriana Trigani and illustrated by Amy June Bates. Viking, Penguin Random House. 2021. $23.99 ages 3 and up


"Mama and Mia climbed the dusty stairs to 
the attic. Mama found the bin marked 
Valentine's Day. It was stuffed full with 
red decorations, long tinsel garlands, 
glitter hearts, cardboard cupids with 
velvet arrows, and lace doilies. Mia 
helped Mama carry the box down to 
the kitchen.

Sorry! Just missed Valentine's Day with this celebratory story of Mia Valentina and her family. They live in a very old house that creaks and leaks outside air on cold days in February. The Amore family is large - two parents, seven kids, and a dog named Phyllis. Along with the creaks and whistles, their house is filled with 'conversation, laughter, and sometimes even an argument'. 

February 14th is Mia's favorite day of the year! She and her mom are at home by themselves while the rest of the family is away at her sister's basketball game. Mia is worried they will not get home in time for a celebration. Mama distracts her with chores; they are numerous and well-described. Once done their work, they are ready to make preparations for later. 

Working quickly, they do all they can to make the house festive. They create homemade, personalized valentines for everyone in the family, Finally, they prepare treats for everyone ... cupcakes and frosting just in time for the family's return. Only one thing left to do. The children help each other decorate the kitchen door! Then, it is left for Mia to showcase the beauriful parlor and the valentines she and Mama made for everyone. Wait! Is there one for Mia?

Cheerful, warm artwork was created using watercolor, gouache, and pencil. The illustrations make for a cozy setting and a happy family. Happy Valentine's Day to you again. You can always add this to your 'celebrations' basket for next year at this time. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Love Is for Roaring, written by Mike Kerr and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Bloomsbury Children's Books, Raincoast. 2022. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"What's this about love?
Love is for doves and not for a lion! 
I really don't love love!" said Lion. 

"But ... ," said Mouse, "how about ..."

Their teacher has made the homework assignment very clear: Homework: Show your love..

As lions are wont ro do, Lion roars. His feelings are as clear as the assignment. He is not going to do it! Lion doesn't want to work at the craft table. His friend Mouse worries, knowing that trouble is brewing for Lion. Mouse does his best to steer his friend away from thoughts of hug, kisses, and sweets. Lion is fond of no such things. 

Perhaps, with a little diversion, Mouse can turn the conversation to more agreeable ideas. Recess affords a chance to continue the conversation. Lion might love ... running, playing. Surely, lion loves those things. Mouse has no lack of ideas, and he continues to make suggestions in hopes that Lion will hear what he is saying, and return to get his homework done. It works. 

Mouse's friendship is just what Lion needs to turn his grumpiness on its ear.   

Gentle digital images created using warm, soft colors help youngsters experience many small vignettes that have occurred between the two friends. These quiet moments bring a sense of calm at a time when calm is needed. Mike Kerr's thoughtful story allows that not everyone shows love in the same way. Sweet and affirming, families will enjoy reading it together.                                                                                         


Sunday, February 13, 2022

Why Does My Shadow Follow Me? More Science Questions From Real Kids, written by Kira Vermond and illustrated by Suharu Ogawa. Annick Press, 2021. $19.95 ages 10 and up


"How Many Times Can You Spin Before You Puke?

... The number of times a person can spin before feeling
sick - called motion sickness - is different for everyone. 
Although we do know that kids, women, and people who 
get migraines are more likely to vomit than others.

Visiting kids ask their science questions, and receive answers from educators and science researchers at the Ontario Science Centre. Following up on their first book, Why Don't Cars Run on Apple Juice (2019), Kira Vermond and Suharu Ogawa again compile the comprehensive answers to 50 pertinent inquiries. This second book is also highly informative and very entertaining.  I love that every question is answered ... there are no silly ones! 

There are five chapters: Cute Critters and Up-ROAR-ious Creatures, The World Inside Us, This Planet We Call Home, Tremendous Tech and Inspiring Innovations, and Our Out-of-This-World Universe. Where would you go first? 

Ms.Vermond manages to keep the spirit of both questions asked and answers given accessible to her readers. The cartoon illustrations by Ms. Ogawa add levity to each page and information box. There is much to discover here. It would be a wonderful way to add to the science curriculum in middle years classrooms. Guaranteed to hold attention and encourage further learning, it is a welcome addition to both classroom and school libraries. You might want to buy two copies, as it is sure to be a requested read. 

Back matter includes Acknowledgements for both the scientists who answered and the children who asked their personal questions, a list of “Further Readings and Sources” show where readers can find at least one or more references for each of the questions presented. Who knows what other questions the learning might generate for kids keen on science? Finally, both the table of contents and the index are of value for searching.  

For now, I will just have to wait for the third book in this terrific series. 

"Go ahead, put down this book and play outside. Take a hike, meet your friends at the park, explore your neighborhood, or plant some seeds in your backyard or on your balcony. Even looking outside at greenery from your window can cause your heart rate to go down. You'll feel calmer. Try it! Your brain and body will thank you!"

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Powwow: A Celebration through Song and Dance. Written by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane. Orca Book Publishers. 2020. $24.95 ages 10 and up


"But no matter how small or large the powwow,
it is still the same in spirit. It's still a celebration
through song and dance, and it's public and open 
to anyone, even people who have no experience. 
People go to powwows to have a good time - to 
hear the songs and dance tor watch the dancers, 
see friends, share meals, tell stories and remember 
the past.

There are seven books in the Orca Origins series: Passover, Chinese New Year, Birthdays, Diwali, Christmas, Ramadan, and the book I will share here. Powwow was written after its author, while teaching a university aboriginal education course, realized how little her students knew about Indigenous peoples in Canada. She wrote this book for those students. 

As we have come to expect from such Orca series, Powwow shows how dynamic nonfiction can inform and engage readers. The table of contents invites choice, offering four separate chapters before moving to back matter that includes a glossary, resources, and an index. Chapter One speaks to the power of the powwow culture with the following topic headings: colonization, the Indian Act and the Pass System, The Wild West Shows, A Growing Powwow Culture, Banned No Longer, Twelve Months a Year, and My Father's Story. The three remaining chapters follow the same pattern. They are: What is Powwow Culture, Powwow Songs and Dances, and Powwows From Coast to Coast. As you can see, there is much to be learned. 

Filled with wonderful, colorful photographs and many archival ones as well, middle grade readers and their teachers are able to add to their knowledge through visual literacy. The personal stories and conversational language make for a powerful read. Books like this one can only help to bring understanding and knowledge as we strive to participate in truth and reconciliation initiatives. The more we learn, the better equipped we are to see the mistakes of the past and to do better in the future. 

The 88 pages are filled with recipes, powwow facts, captioned photos, and many personal stories. Traditions are varied, powwows themselves differ from place to place, and there is powwow etiquette to be honored. One of the Powwow Fact sidebars provides 10 rules meant to make attendance easier and more thoughtful. Powwow culture continues to guide those who have had little knowledge of their own cultural identity make valuable connections. 

This book should be in every school and public library. It gives such insight to all who will read it. I think it would be a wonderful read aloud in middle years classroom to encourage discussion and to promote empathy and awareness. 

"Today the powwow is a place where both Indigenous 
and non-Indigenous people can come together in peace
and harmony to celebrate tradition - and, for some, a 
place where they can be introduced to Indigenous 
cultural knowledge.

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Smart Cookie, written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. Harper, 2021. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"I couldn't sleep that night. 

But it wasn't because I was worried.
It was because I was excited. I felt
like I had really accomplished 
something. I felt ... smart."

If you and your kids are fans of the other books in this series (The Bad Seed, The Good Egg, The Cool Bean, and The Couch Potato), you will be happy to see that Jory John and Pete Oswald have added The Smart Cookie. This cookie lives in a supportive environment where 'life is sweet'. It has not always been that way. 

There was a time when the cookie didn't have the confidence to believe it was smart. It wanted more to give than it could. Uncertain about its grades, uneasy about being the center of attention and not knowing an answer, and not always living up to its own expectations caused problems. 

"I'd stay awake and 
stare out the window 
and worry. 

And it went this way, 
day after day after day.

Its teacher, Ms. Biscotti, made all the difference. Asking for her students to create something original, she gave the cookie a shot at showing its own strengths. That request sparked a terrific idea! After trying a variety of things, Smart Cookie decided to write a poem about its feelings, and called it "My Crumby Days". The following day students were encouraged to share if comfortable to do so. Scared but determined, Smart Cookie moved to the front of the class and read its very personal poem. 

Encouraged by classmates and Ms. Biscotti, its time at school changed for the better. After all, there are many ways to be smart. Humorous and filled with playful artwork, this book speaks to the power of confidence and accomplishment, no matter what your 'smart' is. 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

wombat underground: A Wildlife Survival Story. Written by Sarah L. Thomson and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Skink darts 
from her shady spot. 

Echidna runs 
through blazing grass. 

Wallaby bounds
over scorching coals. 

Hot wind blows through Wombat's whiskers.
He blinks and stirs and wakes.

I was lucky enough to be invited to read to the kids at Goulter School in Virden this morning. It was our second annual ZOOM visit in celebration of I Love to Read month. I wanted to share this book with them. I like learning new things, which reading allows. 

I remember seeing online videos when the wildfires were plaguing Australia in 2019-2020. They showed how wombats were able to provide refuge for animals fleeing the terror. This striking tale shows young readers what might have happened. Ms. Thomson initially introduces them to four animals: wombat, wallaby, echidna, and skink. Each animal is busy doing what they normally do. A lot of sunshine and a lack of moisture changes the look of their habitat. It is parched and susceptible to fire. Lightning from a passing storm starts a fire that will threaten those animals living above ground. 

Wombat is safe in the dirt underground where he has carved himself a cave. Alone and asleep, he doesn't know what is happening until he is awakened by the winds. Grumbling, he moves up the tunnel toward its entrance. He is unwilling to offer refuge to the animals waiting there. 

"Claws that dig can scratch. 
Teeth that bare can bite.
No stranger will enter
into the cave 
he carved to be his own.

The terrified animals move toward him, and Wombat backs down the tnnnel. Luckily, it's big enough to house and protect all of them. 

Vivid rhythmic language and realistic digital artwork give readers a real sense for the danger inherent in the Australian bushfires. An author's note speaks to Australia's fire season and the horror of the heat in 2019 when temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit. She also discusses the plight of the animals caught in thos fires and adds a short description of the ones included here. A list of resources concerning wildfires and Australian animals is included for those wanting to know more. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Lunch Every Day, written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi. kokidsbooks, 2021. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Next day at school, I shove him extra hard.
Just cuz I can. 

Someone sees me do it. 
I end up in the office. 

The principal tells me to try. 
              My potential ...


Kathryn Otoshi knows how to get to the heart of issues that bring power to the kids who read her stories. I am happy to share this book with you. It is based on a true story and dedicated to Jim Perez, an educator who lives in Southern California. Jim and his team spend countless hours working with kids 'through their bully prevention programs, gang interventions, and community building leadership services'; additionally, it is dedicated to 'the lady who kept making all those lunches for him, day after day'. 

Narration by the bully offers a unique perspective for young readers. He immediately chooses as his target a young boy sitting alone in the cafeteria.  Jimmy walks over, snatches that boy's lunch and walks away. By doing that, he avoids waiting in the free lunch line. Jealous that the boy likely has a better life than he does only makes the bully more aggressive. Not much changes in days that follow. 

Then comes the day when the victim hands out birthday invitations to everyone in his class ... yes, to Jimmy as well. Determined not to attend in the beginning, Jimmy finally makes the decision to go. When he arrives, everyone is having cake in the kitchen. He chooses to check things out in the living room, and makes a surprising discovery. Just then, the boy's mom walks toward him. He assumes he's now in big trouble! Instead, she has a quiet question for him:

"Jimmy, what would you like for lunch tomorrow?"

She promises lunch every day from that day forward! It is not the only change in Jimmy's life.  

Emotional in text and in perfectly-composed moody art, this book is sure to spark meaningful conversations at home and in classrooms.                                                                               

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dream Street, written by Tricia Elam Walker and illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Anne Schwartz Books, Penguin Random House, 2021. $23.99 ages 5 and up


"Each morning, unless it's raining, Mr. Sidney 
reads the newspaper on his stoop, dressed "to the 
nines," Ms. Sarah likes to say. "What's the nines?"
a child will ask, and Ms. Sarah will answer, 
"Fancy, fancy!" Mr. Sidney is a retired mail carrier
living his dream of never having to wear a uniform 
again. He tips his brown fedora and greets everyone 
with, "Don't wait to have a great day. Create one!"

Too often thesse days I long for people to treat each other with courtesy, kindness, and acceptance for differing opinions. It's hard to imagine that school playgrounds (and almost everywhere else) have become battlegrounds where acceptance is nowhere to be seen. If a parent isn't wearing a mask, someone scowls at them; if a parent is wearing one, they are derided for the choices they make. There is no common ground; there is so much polarization. What is that saying to the kids who share that same playground? 

We need our children to know about communities like Dream Street. In an author and illustrator's shared note at the end of the book, Ms. Walker and Ms. Holmes tell readers that this book celebrates their lives in the small community of Roxbury, MA. There, they grew up encouraged by family and friends to live their dreams of becoming a writer and an artist. It was a place for Black kids to live and thrive, always supported by those around them. 

"Welcome to Dream Street - the best street in the world! 
Just ask people who live here. The houses and the dreams 
inside are different as thumbprints." 

Dream Street is filled with life and the constant support of those adults who make sure the children who live there will fulfill the dreams they have for themselves. Each turn of the page tells the story of a community member who impacts their neighborhood. These character portrayals are a joy to read and savor for their beautiful words. They are accompanied by brilliant collage artwork that makes them even more appealing. Every child on Dream Street has the opportunity to be whoever they want to be; their support is endless and steady. Everyone there makes a lasting contribution. That positivity and strength are indicators for future success.

Here there is love and joy. Our kids need to hear these books to let them know such places do exist. This is a book to be celebrated at every age!                                                                             

Monday, February 7, 2022

Journey Around the Sun: The Story of Halley's Comet. Written by James Gladstone and illustrated by Yaara Eshet. Owlkids, 20211. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"So often you saw my light as a 
messenger of misfortune. But I 
am only a comet, neither good 
nor bad - a part of nature. 

Your thoughts were so fearful, 
full of old superstition.

Listening to Halley's Comet tell its own story is an ingenious way to introduce the comet that has been viewed from Earth over many hundreds of years. Its story is told in a large font, and accompanied with plenty of factual information in a much smaller font. 

This is what follows the above quote: 

"Halley's Comet returned in 1066, just a few months
before the Battle of Hastings. King Harold of England 
died in this battle, an event that was woven into the 
Bayeux Tapestry along with an image of the comet.

Human beings have been in awe when catching sight of it. Records show that it was seen by the Greeks as early as 466 B.C.E., and then throughout history. Many have written about it, and many others have included its image in their art. Lucky we are today to be able to make a more careful study of it. We can thank space probes for that. The first-person voice is very effective in leading readers on a path through history, sharing how different generations understood or misunderstood its appearance. Much was surmised until modern science was able to clear up some of the misconceptions. Its return every 75 years or so meant that many had never seen it. Finally in 1758, Edmond Halley was able to predict its orbit. In the early 1900s, photographs were taken.  

The watercolor art is stunning. Ms. Eshet fills the spreads and panels with dark skies of incredible depth, while also taking readers on a trip through many historical periods. There is a lot to see here.  Back matter includes a note from the author, a description of comets, and a list of the author's sources. The final two spreads offer a promise and a question. The next time Halley's Comet is expected to be seen is in 2061. Who of you will be there to see it? 

Captivating and informative, this wonderful book will find fans of all ages. 

"I have seen your past.
 And I will see your future,
the next time I take that sunlight journey."

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Sweater Weather, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Greenwillow, Harper. 2021. $21.99 ages 3 and up


"I don't like this color. 

I like that color. 


I need to sneeze."

I missed telling you about this book in the fall. Sorry about that, but I know you will be happy to take a peek at it. Add it to your 'seasons' basket, and it will be there for you when autumn rolls around once more. Or, read it anytime; it's a terrific read aloud. 

Peter Reynolds (the dot, ish, The Word Collector, Our Table) once described great children's books as 'wisdom dipped in words and art'. Those words seem meant for this new book by Matt Phelan. Though the text is spare, it tells a fun story that involves an adult bear and seven cubs. The title page begins the tale with the older bear, warm coffee in hand, looking out the window at the brilliance of a fall day. 

Not wanting the cubs to miss the joys of time spent outside on such a day, the bear offers a bit of advice: "Sweaters on!" The pajama-clad little ones disappear, and the wait begins. When the noises become suspicious, the bear heads upstairs to find a bit of a mess. Order is restored. Chaos ensues again. Of course, there are issues - wrong color, too hot, allergies, and unraveling. Finally they are ready, if not willing. 

The sun has set, the world is dark. Disappointed? Not at all. There are wonders to be found in the nighttime air and sky! Once inside again, the sweaters come off. 

"Pajamas on!

 The pencil, ink and watercolor artwork is full of humor, character, and expression. Small vignettes awaken curiosity and capture full attention. This is a book that young readers will want to read on their own in their own time, allowing close attention to every scene. 

Saturday, February 5, 2022

I'm Terrified of Bath Time, written by Simon Rich and illustrated by Tom Toro. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2022. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"It's the same every time. 
First, a scary giant comes into my room. 
Then he twists my eyeballs. 
I get so freaked out I shoot water
out of my nose.
You would not believe how weird it feels.

Oh, kids are going to love listening to this funny tale of surprise and humor. The secret is out; the bathtub is terrified of bath time. Generally, life is pretty good, hanging with his friends Toilet and Sink. The tables turn when he hears two paralyzing words called from outside the bathroom door ... bath time! The shaking begins, while endless preparations take place. 

Sink and Toilet are no help at all. Once filled with water, the worst is yet to come. Through the door strolls a toddler and her rubber ducky. Apparently, a bath is not her thing and she makes her feelings well known. While she is wearing herself out, the bath tub can only wait for the fight to be over. An entirely embarrassing event will never by forgotten by either participant.

The tub suggests there are easy ways to make things better. It is all up to the bather. Politely the tub asks for cooperation and kindness. 

"Bath time doesn't have to be scary. 
With your help, I bet we can even make 
it sort of fun.
What a great story this is!  It will appeal to little ones, especially those who brave bath time battles. Kids and their adults are sure to enjoy the funny scenarios. The illustrations invite close inspection. Clever and full of charm, you will be easily convinced to read it multiple times. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

The Story of a Story, written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2021. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"So it's still here:

an empty page, 
still calling 

                 to you. 

You make up your mind 
to try again.

Maybe a cookie will help."

An observer speaks directly to the boy who arrives with everything he could possibly need to tell his own story. Not only does he have the implements for writing and the sustenance to keep up his strength, the boy has everything else needed to write something in his own way. He has his senses, his brain, his heart, and his curiosity about the world around him. Is that all it takes? 

Nothing happens on the blank page. There's a partially eaten apple, a couple of broken pencils, crumpled paper on the floor, and not one word. His canine companion is with him through it all, but cannot do much more than offer unwavering support. Moving the paper to recycling allows a break, and a diversion. So much better to read what others have written. 

After a cookie, which is eaten in tiny bites over a long period of time, he works up his nerve to continue. What's that outside the window? Why, it's a chickadee. Careful attention to its movements allows a chance to really concentrate on what it is doing. 

"It takes so much

But he's determined. 
He doesn't give up. 
He comes back 
again and again.

Is that what writing is, too? 

Hadley Hooper charms with pen, ink, and paint artwork, which is finished in Photoshop. Ample white space allows readers a clear look at the aspiring writer, the pitfalls of writer's block, and the tenacity required to sit down and write something that makes the writer happy. In back matter, Ms. Hopkinson provides a guide for tackling the writing life by making suggestions for the way writing works. She adds a website for learning even more about chickadees. 

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Violet Velvet Mittens With Everything: The Fabulous Life of Diana Vreeland, written by Deborah Blumenthal and illustrated by Rachel Katstaller. Princeton Architectural Press, Raincoast. 2022. $24.95 ages 6 and up


"I was perfectly happy when I was dancing.
That's why I was dancing all the time. 

Along the way, I
found out something 

Everyone who has style shares one thing: 

That means being you 
and not copying anyone else.

I did recognize Diana Vreeland's name prior to reading this new picture book biography. I knew virtually nothing about her, beyond the fact that she had made her name in the fashion world. Through her imagined voice, I have made new discoveries about her, as will any reader interested in fashion icons and the lives they live or have lived.  

Ms. Vreeland was born in Paris in 1903. It was a time when much attention was given to fashion, art, and music. Diana and her sister flourished in that atmosphere until the family abruptly moved to New York City to avoid the terrors of World War I. Once there, she discovered a devotion to dance. She also dealt with her mother's contention that she was plain. That observation only encouraged her to create her own personal and eccentric style. That decision held her in stead for the rest of her life. 

She speaks honestly about her style and the lessons learned about fashion and color, and about her career - first at Harper's Bazaar magazine, and then at Vogue. 

"I saw things 
other people didn't see. 
Pink grass, 
green sky, 
and a scarlet sea
in a special light. 
Can you imagine?

No, I cannot; Diana could and did. 

The author adds further information in back matter and includes resources for any reader wanting to know more about Ms. Vreeland. 

You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes.                                                                                          

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

When We Say Black Lives Matter, written and illustrated by Maxine Beneba Clarke. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $22.99 ages 6 and up

"When we whisper 
Black Lives Matter, 

we're remembering
the past. 

All the terrible things
that were said and done, 

we're saying they
trouble our hearts.

Astute readers will notice on the title page that a Black family is going to have a baby. Following the wonder of its birth, the parents speak a love letter to their child. They remind the child that there are numerous reasons for repeating and acknowledging that Black Lives Matter. There is nothing but love displayed page and page through words and art. 

Vibrant colors, done in watercolor pencil and collage, carry their assurances from page to page. The emotions are evident in the words spoken and the scenes created to match those words. Life for their child will always be filled with love and lived with purpose. Yes, there will be conflict as history has proven; there will also be great joy. It is a story that begins at birth and ends with graduation and hope for the future (and a peace sign). 

"Darling, when we sing that 
Black Lives Matter, 
and we're dancing through 
the streets, we're saying: 

fear will not destroy our joy, 
defiance in our feet.

Filled with powerful words and marvelous illustrations, it is a celebration of Black children and their communities. It does not shy away from the many challenges of the past and present. There are many  reasons for the movement itself. Attention is needed. It is an important book for all children, and for their families and friends.   

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Maybe ... written and illustrated by Chris Haughton. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2021. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Hmm ... 
       maybe ...

maybe we could just 
look at the mangoes. 
        That'd be OK, 

You know what happens when orders are given to NOT do something. It happens with little kids, big kids, and even many adults. So, when the older monkey leaves the tree while telling its three charges to stay where they are, and not go down to the mango tree, adventure ensues. 

Immediately, the three have a conversation about how much they love mangoes. Maybe ... they could just take a closer look. Looking around, they see no danger. As they near the tree, the craving grows. Maybe ... they could just reach the little one. No danger in sight. 

'Quick as 
a flash!

grab the 
and climb
back up.

By now, listeners are antsy and totally caught up in the drama, and the danger. When the three have eaten that first mango, the appetite for more is too strong to ignore. Maybe ... they could drop right down to the ground. Surely, they would have seen the tigers if they were anywhere close. Getting their fill of the wondrous fruit does not prevent hearing a noise - TIGERS!!! Can the three escape and tell the tale? 

Do they want to share their experience with their elder? Wait! Did someone mention bananas?? I wonder if they have learned their lesson. What do you think? 

Brilliant storytelling! Chris Haughton, as he has often done before, proves how skillful he is at perfectly penning the kind of stories his readers want to hear. His talents at color, design and page turns are imaginative and extremely entertaining. Love this book!  

Just in case I have piqued your interest in an author whose work you have not yet seen, rush to your public or school library and check for these titles - 

Little Owl Lost; Oh No, George; Shh! We Have a Plan; Goodnight Everyone; and Don't Worry, Little Crab.