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Friday, September 30, 2022

Fly, written by Alison Hughes. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.99 ages 12 and up



He wields his 
with a flick of his
shaggy brown hair,
a sly smile, 
a sarcastic comment
and his aura of 
He rides 
on the strong waves
of his popularity.
There's never an empty seat 
beside him.

Felix Landon Yarrow (aka Fly) is the first-person narrator for this powerful story. Fly has cerebral palsy. How he looks allows others to make assumptions about his mind, and about his abilities. His constant companion is his copy of Don Quixote, whose story of courage, fairness, and integrity holds him up when he has had enough of the world that surrounds him. 

This outstanding book is written in free verse that draws the reader from page to page, chapter to chapter, with a narration that is both compelling and authentic. Fly's concern for Daria (his crush) amps up when Carter shows he is taken with her. Anyone in middle or high school will know a Carter. He holds sway in hallways, classrooms, and outside of school. This Carter is a bully and a drug dealer, whose disdain for Fly, his physical disorder, and his virtual invisibility within Carter's circle makes it easy for Fly to literally be a 'fly on the wall'. No one suspects that he is learning anything from what is going on around the school. That is where they are so wrong! 

Fly is determined to protect Daria from Carter and his nefarious ways. His plan to show the world the real Carter is wily and well-planned. Felix proves to be clever and cynical, as he keeps readers aware of who he is and his ability to plan and carry out Carter's takedown. Action and emotion make Felix an empathetic character worthy of great admiration. This book reveals his 'quest/ for a noble life'.  

"and that I'm
to blame, 
I still feel a 
of exhilaration. 

Because she's 
looking right at me, 
yelling at me. 
At me. 

As though I was 
a regular person,
deserving of anger - 
worth a yell.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Sing in the Spring, written by Sheree Fitch and illustrated by Deb Plestid. Nimbus, 2022. $22.95 ages 5 and up

"Buds of leaves
still curled in knots
just like teeny polka dots
spots of green on bare-branched trees
soon buds will bloom and leaves
yes, shimmery light
on every thing."

While it is definitely not spring where I live, it won't matter when you read this book filled with 'word magic' by Sheree Fitch. Her verses sing with energy and carefully-chosen words. This celebration for the coming of spring is fun to read (with practice) anytime of the year if you want your kids to hear just how 'lip-slippery' reading can be. You will need to be familiar with the tone, the rhythm, and the language itself before reading it aloud to others. 

Winter can be long, and the shift to spring and its many sights and sounds is celebrated with wonder on every page of this beautiful book. Imaginative and filled with a love of the natural world and its many marvels, Ms. Fitch entertains and informs as she has always done. 

Her questions will have listeners pondering their answers, and wanting to discuss ideas inspired by them. 

"Does a butterfly have a mother?
Is its brother still a bitter caterpillar 
crawling on the ground?
I would love to ask a little butterfly
but the butterfly's such a slippery flutter-flutterer
never ever settles down.

What a magical season spring is! The brilliant quilted artwork created by Deb Plestid provides the most admirable backdrop for the coming of spring and its many celebratory days. It does indeed inspire hearts to 'sing in the spring', as does Sheree Fitch's inspired repetitive refrain that reminds readers: 

"Hum, hum, keep humming on 
Hum, hum, hum - along song:
Bring in, ring in, sing in the spring
Sparkly light on everything!

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Let's Add Up! Written by Victoria Allenby and illustrated by Maggie Zeng. Pajama Press, 2022. $21.95 ages 3 and up


"7 capes + 3 robes = 10 costumes ... 

... or a play!"

This book is a fine addition to the Big, Little Concept Books series by Victoria Allenby. It follows Shape Up Construction! and Listen Up, Train Song! 

What an invitation it is for little ones to begin to think about numbers through play. By taking familiar objects and grouping them together, she gives kids an opportunity to count, combine and come to understand adding on to make a new number. 

She does even better than that ... after coming up with the answer, the concept becomes a new activity to share together. 

"5 drums + 5 tambourines = 10 instruments ...
... or a band."

Once they get the hang of it, readers will be challenged to make guesses about what the resulting activity could be. It won't be long until they are reading it for themselves and perhaps trying some of their own addition ideas. Numbers here go up to 10. 

Maggie Zeng's digital illustrations show wide diversity in the children who remain the same throughout the book's addition challenges. Following the party attended by 9 friends and 1 more, the author offers 4 clear tasks for parents and caregivers to try with young children that will help expand the learning.

Count on! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

When I Listen to Silence, written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Carmen Mok. Groundwood Books, 2022. $18.99 ages 4 and up


"When the bears join in, 
twirling and whirling
and thumping and bumping,
the dragon that lives beneath the mountain
wakes up and 


A young child and her mom start the day with silence. Her mom needs that to get her work done. Kids who spent a lot of time learning at home during the pandemic may have experienced such a request. As she sits at the window and contemplates the outside world, her imagination takes flight. She can hear the trees breathing and then watches as they break into an energetic dance. Bears join that dance while the little one beats a tune on her drum. 

When the bears awaken the dragon, its smoky breath causes the child to take flight upon a bird's back which leads to ongoing adventure. With each new imagined result of a previous action, the author repeats what has happened and adds the action it brings. In this fanciful place, she meets a knight and his horse who take her to the moon and back with an accompanying visit to the stars. Arriving back on the ocean, they join a motley crew of loud pirates who are quieted by gentle mermaids. The mermaids' 'hush' encourages the whales to sleep at the bottom of the sea. 

"When the whales take a nap
on the seabed, 
I sit, 

When I sit, 
I can hear the trees 
breathing ...

It's quite fascinating for children to learn the power of their own imagination. So much joy comes to them as they realize they can fill their time with play that is directed by their own thoughts. Carmen Mok uses gouache, India ink, pastels and colored pencils to show young readers what imaginative play can be. The home setting will be familiar to many of them, and the way the story comes full circle is a delight. What a sweet way to show children the power of their own creativity. 

From an interview with Ms. Pendziwol: 

"I wanted to explore the idea of allowing stillness and silence – the opportunity for creativity – to have a chance to take root and to grow." 

Mission accomplished!                                                                                        

Monday, September 26, 2022

Tomatoes in My Lunchbox, written by Costantia Manoli and illustrated by Magdalena Mora. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"I want to be Olivia, Sophie, or Chloe. 
Or Emma, with yellow hair like the 
sun and the blue sky in her eyes - 
any other name that is an answer. 
They can laugh and dance, and 
everyone understands their names.

Unless a child has been there themselves, one cannot possibly imagine what attending a new school where no one knows you must be like. When we share books as poignant as this one, the children in our homes and classrooms develop empathy for young children and their families. 

In first person voice, the narration has real impact. This young girl doesn't even recognize her name when it is first spoken aloud at school. Both teacher and students have a difficult time with pronunciation; it feels entirely different than when her mama says it. She longs for a name that everyone will recognize, and even to look like the others in her classroom. Being different is just too hard. It's hard to fit her name on the short lines in her school books, and she never hears stories about a girl named Costantia. 

Having ripe whole tomatoes in her lunchbox tastes like home, and results in stains to be worn all day. It's hard to fit in, no matter how hard she tries. Finally, she gains enough courage to smile at Chloe. Chloe smiles back. They find that they are alike in all the ways that matter. Together they find joy in getting to know one anothe betterr; they even widen their circle of friends. 

"My friends say it again in turns, and my name is not a question anymore. It is familiar and gentle and beautiful. It is all one piece and ... 

sounds like home."  

Costantia Manoli has written a story inspired by her own life. In an author's note, she helps readers to understand what life was like for her growing up, and how coming to connect her name to her ancestors made it easier to accept and explain to others. Magdalena Mora used inks, pastels, and crayons to give young readers an authentic feel for the emotions experienced and the book's characters.

After sharing this book, there is an opportunity for further discussion about food, lunches, colors, friends, and even those things that make a person feel different from others.   

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Celia Planted a Garden: The Story of Celia Thaxter and Her Island Garden, written by Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 8 and up


"In the springtime, after long winters, Celia sailed 
back to Appledore, carrying the seedlings to plant 
her garden. Year after year, she planted. She planted
pansies, sweet peas and hollyhocks, dark larkspurs 
and foxgloves, and tall sunflowers and red dahlias
and nasturtiums and golden California poppies - 
and yellow marigolds. All summer long the flowers
blossomed and brightened the island ...

Once again, in the pages of a well-written and beautifully illustrated picture book biography, I have learned about an amazing woman I knew not at all. Celia Laighton was born in 1835 and spent her childhood living on two islands - White Island and Appledore Island - near Maine and New Hampshire. 
White Island, the waves, and the seagulls that surrounded her lacked color. Every spring, Celia planted a garden to bring color to a drab island life. While their father tended the lighthouse, Celia and her brothers enjoyed their lives there. 

Changing seasons saw her waving farewell to the birds she so loved; winter brought frost, snow and almost unbearable cold. Spring always returned with the promise of birds and Celia's next garden. At 12, the family moved to Appledore Island where Celia planted another admirable garden. When she met and married Levi Thaxter, they moved to the mainland. She missed the sea, and dreamed of her childhood gardens, while also writing poems about island life. 

She wrote, filled her house with colorful plants of all kinds, and painted from her memories of summers on the islands. She returned to Appledore to plant her garden year after year. Only after the birds had flown south and her garden had succumbed to the cold did she return once more to the mainland. 

Affection for this remarkable woman shines through on every page, in the carefully chosen words of Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt. Melissa Sweet provides a perfect artistic complement in her watercolor, gouache and mixed-media artwork. Numerous quotes from Ms. Thaxter are placed alongside, allowing readers to see and understand her love for the floral displays, the birds, and the lure of the sea. An author's note, a comprehensive timeline, and a lengthy bibliography make up back matter.   

"The very act of planting a seed in the earth has in it to me something beautiful."                                                                              

Saturday, September 24, 2022

If Tigers Disappeared, written and illustrated by Lily Williams. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2022. $24.99 ages 8 and up


"In 1900, there were an estimated one hundred thousand
tigers in the wild, but from 1900 to 2000, tiger populations declined by 96 percent. As human populations expand, tigers lose more and more of their natural land. Today, due to habitat loss and poaching, fewer than four thousand tigers remain in the wild.

As she has done in previous books about sharks, polar bears, elephants and bees, Ms. Williams helps her readers understand what life on Earth would be like without tigers. Although I have only seen a few in captivity, I cannot imagine a world where these giant, majestic cats have no place. 96% lost in the past 100 years! If scientists were not tracking their presence and discussing that loss, who would believe that fact to be true? Of course, they are in danger of extinction. 

A map clearly shows where the six existing tiger species can still be found ... the Bengal, Malayan, Sumatran, Indochinese, South China, and Siberian. What a shame that less than four thousand remain in the wild. As apex predators, they play a crucial role in the natural balance within the forests where they live. 

Large herds of mammals that tigers feed on, when left to flourish unchecked, would alter waterways and plant growth. When forest environments change, the creatures making their homes there would not have enough to eat and would perish. All world patterns change when such loss happens. 

"This ripple effect, called the trophic cascade, can spill out across the world, affecting all forms of life. What might feel like a threat to a single animal population far away can actually have effects that reach your ecosystem as well.

Luckily, there are indigenous communities who worship the tiger and seek to protect them. It is up to people of the world to learn from their ways. We all can learn more about the tigers' importance to ecosystems everywhere by asking questions, following advice and caring about their existence whether we live near them or not. 

Digital illustrations add interest and understanding for all readers. Endpapers are filled with images of the six remaining tiger species. A glossary, and a note about the troubles that plague tigers bring an end to the book.                                                                                  

Friday, September 23, 2022

Bear Has a Belly, by Jane Whittingham. Pajama Press, 2022. $21.95 ages 2 and up

"Owl has eyes - 

  Big, round eyes.

    Owl has eyes. 

I do too!"

In another of her outstanding books for very young children, Jane Whittingham turns her attention to body parts and their comparisons to nine familiar animals. Repetitive text and bright full-color photographs are ideal for upping the interest while sharing this informative book time and again. 

The animals are shown on the left side of the spread, with three lines concerning the animal, its definitive body part, and a clear and compelling photo of each one. Facing that page is a child showing that same body part, and stating "I do, too!" Perfect for lap reading in the beginning; it won't be long until a slightly older child will be reading it independently. Such fun! 

Following the text itself, the author includes a list of five activities to encourage interaction and play. The overall design of the book is very appealing. The soft, puffy cover encourages touching and has a pleasant feel for little ones. The sturdy pages allow for many readings. 

If this is your first Jane Whittingham book, be on the lookout for more ...  Animals Move, A Good Day for Ducks and others. You will not be disappointed.                                                                                

Thursday, September 22, 2022

It's My Body, by Elise Gravel. North Winds Press, Scholastic, 2022. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Your body will be with you
your whole life. 

It allows you to explore the 
in many different ways!"

Elise Gravel has a way with kids, quirky monsters, and writing books that appeal to her readers with pertinent and thoughtful text. In recent books she has helped kids understand that our differences are not the most important thing about us; in fact, they are really more alike than they are different. In this new book, she encourages further respect by talking to them about body image and the need to appreciate the body they have as their own, and belonging to no other person. 

Only by loving and paying attention to that body do we learn to be who we are meant to be. The fact that a body may differ in shape, color, and what it can do is what makes each child special. Her artwork is filled, on every page, with shapes that do not look like a person. Nonetheless, they come in every kind of shape, in every color imaginable, in all hair colors, and in many sizes - just as people do. Their bodies have some resemblance to the people that are found in every walk of life, of every ability, and who share both good and bad days. 

"No matter what body you have, 
how you feel inside it and what 
you can do with it ... 

Your body is your 

What bodies do for each monster here portrayed is remarkable. The most important thing to remember is that the body belongs only to the one who lives in it ... and it deserves full respect and care. Amen! 


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Maya's Song, written by Renee Watson and illustrated by Bryan Collier. Harper, 2022. $24.99 ages 7 and up


"How To Build a World

Words poured out of Maya and she felt revived. 
A whole world of words had been growing inside. 

She believed people became what they said, 
so she chose words carefully, 
planted powerful affirmations in her world. 

Words like forgive, like kind.
Words like brave, like powerful, like phenomenal.
Words like faith, like dream, like free.

This tribute to a truly powerful voice in American literature is both moving and memorable. From her birth in 1928 through 1993 when she read her 'poem for the nation' as a special request from President Bill Clinton at his inauguration, Ms. Watson's free-verse poetry chronicles the momentous events of a life of love, hurt, and courage.  

Her loving family moved from St. Louis to California for a better life, which was forever changed when her parents' marriage ended. Sent to Arkansas to live their grandmother, life was mostly happy. A return to their mother proved traumatic when Maya was abused by her mother's boyfriend. What followed was a period of selective mutism when Maya said not a word for five years. 

The children were returned to their grandmother, whose love and compassion meant everything to them. A family friend gave Maya the courage to try her voice again ... and the rest is history. Words bottled up for too long poured from her. Her life took another turn when she gave birth as a teenager to a son, and had to find ways to provide for him. She turned to performances in singing and dancing, and traveling the world to entertain others. 

Her life in Harlem allowed her voice to be heard, and close friendships with James Baldwin and Martin Luther King flourish. They wrote, they organized, and they worked for change. A move to teach in Ghana became home before returning to America once more. 

"Maya knew that home was never one place, with one kind of people.
Home was anyplace her voice could be heard. 
Home was anyplace there was love.

The assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. led to a short period of keeping her words inside once more. Her friend Jimmy Baldwin pushed her to tell her stories, to write them down, to let the world hear what she had to say. She did that and so much more. 

Watercolor and collage artwork by the brilliant Bryan Collier provides portrayals of Maya at every stage of her life. Using light, pattern and telling imagery he fully complements the book's words. Each spread is significant and worthy of careful examination as her story is read and revisited. 

A timeline, and personal notes from both author and illustrator conclude. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Serengeti: Plains of Grass, written by Leslie Bulion and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Peachtree, Penguin Random House, 2022. $24.99 ages 8 and up


"Hoofbeats thunder under blazing sun, 
a great migration toward the plain, 
grazing zebras, first to begin,
clear away taller, tougher grass. 

Plains zebras have sharp front teeth to cut through the tough stems and leaves of tall grasses. They get the nutrients they need by eating and quickly digesting lots of grass."

Using an impressive mix of carefully researched science and outstanding poetry, as she has done in earlier exemplary books, Leslie Bulion introduces her readers to the beauty and wonders of the Serengeti grasslands. What a truly complex ecosystem it is! 

In early winter as rains return to the Serengeti, a mighty migration brings vast numbers of large mammals back to feast on the plants now growing there. Each of those migrating animals has its own role to play in the complex web of life. Zebras are first, grazing on the tall grasses. Wildebeests make meals of the shorter grassy areas, while acting as transport for oxpeckers in a mutually beneficial practice. The speedy gazelle is next, grazing on the low growth 'gnu-mown grass', and any herbs they may discover. Giraffes, with their twenty-inch-long tongues are able to enjoy the leaves and buds on the tall acacia trees. 

Ms. Bulion then turns her attention to some of the smallest plants and creatures found there - butterflies, ants, and grasshoppers. A turn of the page offers clear information on boulder heaps called kopjes and furry rock rabbits called hyrax. There is so much to learn and to see. Each informative double-page spread brings an array of other residents of the grasslands. Readers will meet the dik-dik, termites, aardvarks, a black mamba, a brave secretary bird, jackals, cheetahs, vultures, hyenas, and dung beetles. 

"Dung beetles are busy recyclers
that mix air and nutrients back 
into the soil of the Serengeti Plain.

As monsoon winds shift, the mighty migration begins once more. It is late spring; new food sources and water must be found. 

Opening the book to the endpapers, you can almost feel the heat emanating from the blazing red and its touches of orange and yellow.  Wonderful horizontal spreads fully capture the vast expanse of the grasslands. Seeing through the artist's eyes, readers experience the beauty at all times of the day. Gouache and pastel illustrations bring out the spectacular colors, weather changes and continuous movement. This is a book that encourages further learning. 

In back matter, Ms. Bulion describes the poetic form utendi, a traditional Swahili form from East Africa that was originally used for 'serious subjects and shared wisdom on how to live a good life in the world'. A Serengeti Glossary is useful and enlightening. Websites are shared, as well as a list of books for further reading.                                                                          

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Gardener of Alcatraz: A True Story, written by Emma Bland Smith and illustrated by Jenn Ely. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House, 2022. $19.99 ages 7 and up


"As the days crawled by, he lay low. He endured
the no-talking rules. He avoided riots. He performed
his dreary job, scouring the ground for handballs
that had been knocked over the rec yard wall. 

Make no mistake: it was a tedious life."

Convicted on charges of counterfeiting, Elliott Michener was transported with nineteen other inmates to Alcatraz, the island prison in San Francisco Bay. He had no desire to stay, and spent his early time there hoping he could find a way to escape. As days passed, he remained quiet, and obeyed all the rules while doing the job assigned to him. 

When he found a key and handed it over to authorities, his luck turned. Administration in the prison was looking for someone to care for the gardens. They needed someone who was honest and trustworthy. Elliott seemed their man for the job. 

Knowing nothing about gardening, and hating the job he had been doing, he threw himself into his new work. He focused on preparing the soil, building terraces and learning all he could learn about plants and planting. Soon, he had used every available space on the island for the plants he loved. He also changed the people around him. When he was assigned to work for Warden Swope and his wife, he tended to their home and meals while also continuing to garden. Life was good for Elliott. Soon, he was left in charge if the family was away. 

"They trusted him and treated him 
like a person, and that made life 
on Alcatraz bearable.

When he was transferred from Alcatraz to Leavenworth, he was very unhappy. He took the lessons learned earlier about good behavior and staying out of trouble with him. Sure enough, he was given an early release and spent his days living on a farm in Wisconsin, surrounded by plants and color once again. 

Jenn Ely’s mixed media spreads depict the transformation that took place with Elliott in charge of the gardens. From drab and uninviting to glorious color, she fills her illustrations with detail, color, and daily events as Elliott spends his time doing what he loves to do. 

Extensive back matter includes a time line, historical photographs, further information about Michener and Alcatraz, and a selected bibliography.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Majagalee: The Language of Seasons. Story and artwork by Shawna Davis, with photography by Toonsa Jordana Luggi. McKellar and Martin Publishing, 2022. $22.00 all ages


"Majagalee sprouts.
We call the children "Majagalee."
Sweet wild flowers
fed from the river mist, 
showered with knowledge and love.
Deeply rooted in the land,
they are the oldest stories, 
told and retold.

The author, who is Gitksan and Nisga'a, uses her love of beadwork and paper design to bring her quiet poetic text to life. Her beadwork speaks to her identity as an Indigenous woman, and beautifully accompanies the words that pay homage to the strong relationship between her people and their land.

Ms. Davis's language plays a significant role in the work she shares. It is a lovely book to read aloud. All readers will relate to the words she has penned. The beadwork that accompanies the text is absolutely stunning and will capture attention as her words are shared. Hand-cut paper, photos, food and seasonal matter add interest and context. The photographs clearly show the grace in both art and text.

This study of each season has its focus on nature and the land Ms. Davis loves. She also speaks to the connections living things have within the natural world of the northwest coast. It is a lovely book for sharing, and pays homage to her culture.                                                                                    

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Marcel''s Masterpiece: How a Toilet Shaped the History of Art, written and illustrated by Jeff Mack. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2022. $26.99 ages 4 and up


"... TOILET?!

They saw it. 

They didn't like it. 


So they hid it.

Earlier this year I shared Jeff Mack's Art Is Everywhere: A Book about Andy Warhol (Henry Holt, 2021). This is an appealing companion book about another artist, Marcel Duchamp. An advertisement for a Fancy Art Show was all the impetus Marcel needed to plan a new curiosity. He created a piece of art using a urinal as his entry for the show. In doing so, he also created a stir in the art world - just what he had planned to do. 

Using a 'readymade', as Dada artists are given to do, Marcel turned the urinal upside down and called it a fountain. He signed it R. Mutt 1917 and entered it in the art show, much to the delight of the organizers. When they unwrapped it, they were astonished and appalled. They tried hiding it. It did not stay hidden. The hue and cry in newspaper reports were contradictory. Again, it did exactly as Marcel had hoped it would do. It got people talking about art, and thinking about it, too. 

"Can a toilet really be art? Maybe the real art 
was Marcel's idea to call it art.

Anything is art if 
an artist says it is.

Jeff Mack uses the urinal to appeal to his young audience, and it works brilliantly. It will have readers snorting with laughter as they hear and share the 'punny' dialogue as he buys, creates, and has it displayed as art. His goal is to have patrons really consider what art is to each one of them. 

"They argued about it. 

A toilet is not really art. 
I will NOT let you go. 

I say it is art! 
And I really need to go bad!

Yes, you read that right. There is much more! Potty humor, plentiful puns and other wordplay exist in abundance. Oh, so clever it is. As it will with its young intended audience, it gave me a much clearer understanding of the Dada 'movement'.

To add to the enjoyment and encourage full attention to the illustrations, the art was created 'with acrylic and watercolor paint, digital "ink", torn paper, cardboard, fabric, tape, string, wooden boxes, cotton balls, and whatever else I could find around the house'. The design is fascinating and characteristic of Dada art, which is fully explained in additional matter.                                                                                    

Friday, September 16, 2022

Cress Watercress, written by Gregory Maguire and illustrated by David Litchfield. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, 2022. $25.99 ages 8 and up


"Just then Mama backed her tail out of the knothole
in the hemlock tree. When she turned around and saw
Cress on the ground staring a slab of bear in the eye, 
Mama didn't shriek and she didn't faint. She only 
took the wax plugs out of her ears and said, "I'm 
sorry. I was busy in the back room. How may we 
help you?"

Recently, I have been reading some excellent middle grade novels. The first was Cress Watercress, and it was all I needed to get me going and try to bring order to my TBR pile. An animal fantasy, it is the story of a rabbit family and the bad times that have befallen them. It is also a story told with humor, a keen eye for detail, and rife with the ups and downs of life. 

Early on we learn that Cressida and her family (mother and baby brother, Kip) are moving, following the disappearance of their husband and father. Their search for a new home is made in moonlight. Cress is startled to encounter a fox, its mouth full of recently-killed chicken. That scene makes her wonder if her father might have met the same fate. While her mother knows Papa won't be back, Cress is heartsick to learn they may never know what happened to him. She holds out hope that he will return; should that happen, he won't have any idea where they have gone. It makes her very angry with her mother. 

The basement lodgings at the Broken Arms leaves much to be desired in terms of a new and comfortable home. The dead oak tree has a landlord named Mr. Titus Pillowby Owl, who demands rent of 10 moths a night if they hope to stay. Cress learns that the fox is not her only worry; there is also a snake known as the Final Drainpipe, humans, and a large honey-loving bear. The neighbors are a motley bunch. Getting to know them and their many quirks is a real pleasure for readers and for Cress. She is a carefully drawn character whose anger and fear is handled with empathy and understanding. Her many reckless escapades get her in some trouble. Luckily, friendship affords help when help is needed. She learns tough lessons along the way. Ultimately, she knows that life brings change that cannot be ignored; all she can do is face it with growing assurance.  

The story is expertly told in the deft hands of the remarkable Gregory Maguire. David Litchfield's light-infused artwork brings both setting and characters to glorious life.  

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The World's Loneliest Elephant: Based on the True Story of Kaavan and His Rescue, written by Ralph Fletcher and illustrated by Naoko Stoop. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2022. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Other groups took up Kaavan's cause. Animal 
rights activists posted videos on social media. 
One group started a petition demanding 
that Kaavan be released. More than four 
hundred thousand people signed the petition.

Cher, an American entertainer and activist, 
learned about Kaavan. She and her organization,
Free the Wild, joined the efforts to have Kaavan
released from the zoo.

The first time I remember hearing anything about Kaavan was when news broke that Cher had taken up his cause. Her advocacy for the lonely elephant focused unprecedented attention on his plight. Kaavan had been kept chained in a zoo for 35 years. His companion female, Saheli, had been with him for 22 of those years. Following her death, Kaavan grieved in continued isolation. It's hard to fathom such a thing. 

More than 400,00 concerned world citizens signed a petition to have him freed. One such person, an Egyptian vet named Dr. Amir Khalil, visited him. He found the elephant in terrible shape. He was depressed, unhealthy, and very aggressive. He wanted the Pakistani government to arrange a move to a place where Kaavan would get the care he badly needed. 

In 2020, the zoo was closed and its animals relocated. Dr. Khalil was given the task of finding a place for Kaavan. The Kulen Wildlife Sanctuary in Cambodia was his choice. Next, he needed to find a way to ensure a safe transfer. It was an endlessly long trip for an elephant whose temperament was not yet conducive to being near anyone, and certainly not for travel. 

Dr. Khalil worked tirelessly to win the elephant's heart. He spent time with him singing Frank Sinatra songs, fed him healthy food, and helped to raise money for a crate to transfer a nine-thousand-pound elephant and to pay for the unprecedented transport costs. Once on board the plane, Dr. Khalil traveled with Kaavan, singing songs of comfort and reassurance. 

"On November 30, 2020, Kaavan took his first
steps into the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. 
Now he had plenty of room to roam and play. 
And he had three female elephants 
as neighbors.

Life continues to be good for him! 

Naoko Stoop's illustrations are full of emotion. Using gouache and acrylic on wood, she captures Kaavan's pain in poignant scenes. The endpapers are wonderful. Textural and telling, readers will embrace this special story of compassion, and the satisfaction that comes from making a difference. 

End matter includes archival photographs and an author's note, as well as a list of sources. 

A Smithsonian Channel documentary chronicles Kaavan's story should you have access to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Global Ocean, written by Rochelle Strauss and illustrated by Natasha Donovan. Kids Can Press, 2022. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"Look around. How many things do you see that
are made of plastic? Plastic is one of the most widely 
used materials on Earth. It also makes up about 80
percent of the trash found in the global ocean. 

Plastic doesn't decompose, and many plastic 
items cannot be recycled. Like other garbage, 
it often ends up in the ocean.

I am a big fan of the Citizen Kid series from Kids Can Press. In this book, Rochelle Strauss takes a close and careful look at marine biodiversity and the effects of human activity on the health of the world's oceans. Her very accessible language helps middle grade readers understand issues and concerns felt the world over. Topics are diverse: the ocean and its inhabitants, garbage patches, climate change, warm waters, acidic changes in the waters, trash, plastics, overfishing, coastline habitats, and the charge to conserve and restore the global ocean. 

The design is exceptional. Her introduction presents the importance of interconnected ocean waters to us and the planet we live on, and its constant movement which sustains all life. She describes the diversity of life found in the global ocean, before moving on to present the biggest threats faced. Each is named on double page spreads that readers will find manageable. The main topic is clearly portrayed,  and accompanied by bubbles of further information of interest to readers. A large sidebar, entitled Ripple of Change!, offers hope for making the changes needed to reverse some of the damage done. Urgent action must be taken. 

"Seagrass meadows are important habitats and carbon sinks, which is why there are many conservation groups and researchers working to protect and regrow them. For example, the Seagrass Ocean Rescue Project in Wales has hundreds of volunteers, including children, stuffing seed bags and planting them in areas where seagrass has been lost. Their goal is to plant more than one million seeds to help replace lost seagrass meadows."

In final pages, the author discusses how readers can make changes that impact what has been happening. She encourages them to find how they can help from where they are - calling it "Finding Your Wave". There are many ways to make a difference. A note to teachers, parents and guardians includes for home and school. A list of websites mean to help find more information, and an index bring an end to the reading. 

Natasha Donovan's colorful, realistic artwork is attention-grabbing and helps readers with context for the importance of ocean protection and immediate action. Her views of the environments are varied and consequential to the learning. 

Fascinating and informative, positive and proactive, this is a very important book for youth wanting to know more than they now know.                                                                                          

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Adventures of ROBO-KID, written and illustrated by Diane deGroat. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"Boy - am I glad to see you! 
I have to swim in deep water
today, and I'm scared. 
Can you use your superpowers
to help me?

What an adventure for a boy whose comic book hero is Robo-Kid! 

Opening pages show Robo-Kid saving the city from a dangerous asteroid; it is what he is accustomed to doing. In accompanying illustrations which help frame the story, Henry with his canine pal providing close comfort is reading his Robo-Kid comic book. Mom calls; Henry needs a minute to finish. He slams the book shut as his mom becomes impatient. 

The slam causes discomfort for Robo-Kid and his own robot canine pal. In parallel stories, Henry heads uneasily to his swimming lesson while Roby explains to his family that saving the day (every day) has become routine and quite boring. Something's missing. Roby notices Henry in the real world and climbs up and out of the comic to check on him. The adventure then turns to spreads in the here and now. 

"Yes - it's me! 
The famous superhero! 
I'm here to save the day. 
You look worried. 
How can I help?

Henry can't believe his great good fortune; the two spend the swimming lesson supporting one another - in a role reversal of sorts. What a confidence builder for Henry! The final page shows the end result of their time together within their own nuclear families. What a day! 

Ms. deGroat does a fabulous job of artfully creating dual worlds based on a shared experience. Her engaging, detail-rich illustrations invite careful consideration of every spread. The contrast between the two worlds makes for a warm-hearted read. In the end, young readers will understand that both Henry and Robo-Kid have proved their worth when it comes to the work of superheroes. 


Monday, September 12, 2022

One Million Trees: A True Story, written and illustrated by Kristen Balouch. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 7 and up


"We motored to a dock where a crew
of 24 Canadians who mostly spoke 
French met us with trailers, campers
and trucks. 

Inside the trucks were boxes, and inside
the boxes were ...

One MILLION of them!"

When a California family travels north to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, they are met by a large group of French Canadians who are part of a plan to revitalize a forest depleted by overlogging. The author, who tells this story, was only 10 when it happened. Now, forty years after that trip, she has chosen to tell her story. It was obviously a memorable one. 

It begins on the day her parents explain the purpose for their family trip. Kristen, her sisters, and her parents are embarking on a mission to plant trees. They pack up, and fly by commercial and seaplane to a small town where they meet the rest of the team. She is clearly surprised to learn they will be planting ONE MILLION TREES! 

Once settled at their campsite, and after having had a hearty breakfast, Kristen accompanies her dad, who is driving one of the planting trucks, to the planting site a short, obstacle-strewn trip away. Everywhere they look, all they can see are tree stumps. It prompts them to get to work. That work takes 40 days, and ends with feelings of great accomplishment. 

"After 40 days of planting, the tree boxes were empty. 
The food was gone. Everyone was covered in mud, 
scratches, and bug bites. But we all went to sleep happy
because ...

So many wonderful memories shared in candid text filled with fascinating reporting, math puzzles based on nature as they live in it, and with a detailed look at the plugs to be planted, as well as step-by-step instructions for planting them. There are lessons learned in French, and numerous short asides printed in smaller text to help readers be part of every experience shared. 

The digital artwork is filled with action and people as they work together for the environment and to make a real difference. The British Columbia setting is ever present, and the gang of people who help with the job at hand diverse. There is much to see; readers will have an entertaining time poring over every spread. The final one is warm and satisfying. 

In back matter, an author's note discusses the importance of all trees to the health of our planet, and the need to continue to protect and replenish "old-growth forests" that continue to be logged without any thought to the future. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Look and Listen, written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford. Holiday House, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 3 and up


"A sea of sighing grasses sweep
across the meadow, wide and deep. 

Whose back foot stamps, loud and funny?
A GRAY and long-eared hopping ... 


It's the last Sunday before school begins again. When I was teaching, I loved taking my kids outside for a listening walk at the beginning of the school year. Once we were back to the classroom, we talked about all the things we had heard and seen while exploring the neighborhood. 

This lovely guessing game would be a terrific one to share, before or after said walk. It honors the joy kids get from being outside and the curiosity they have for the natural world. The child in the book whose stroll it illustrates begins on the path to a lovely fall garden where flowers bloom in abundance. Three rhyming questions are asked on one page and answered at the turn. 

He also visits the meadow, moving on to provide clues and answers to three creatures that inhabit that environment. Finally, he makes his way along a 'bubbling brook'. The pattern holds and the child is able to take note of three creatures sure to be seen near, or in, a tiny creek. Along the way he has listened, stopped and observed variety in sights and sounds, and enjoyed them very much. 

Delicate and colorful collage artwork accompanies the rhyming text, providing a tranquil setting for the child's venture into nature. Observant listeners will find visual clues for each answer provided on following pages. Fun to read, as it also presents a way for budding writers and artists to share their own new learning.  

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Told and Retold: Around the World with Aesop's Fables. Reold and illustrated by Holly Berry. Philomel, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"But still he could not reach them. He tried again 
and again with no luck. Exhausted, he finally gave 
up, realizing his efforts were in vain. 
Was Fox upset he never got to eat the grapes? 
No, he wasn't!
Fox headed home, telling himself, "Those grapes 
aren't worth any more of my time. I'm sure they 
are sour anyway.

This version of The Fox and the Grapes comes from 'MIDDLE EAST, ASIA' cites author Holly Berry. In her introduction, she tells readers: 

"This book is a collection of some very old tales, originally thought to be made up by a man, perhaps from Greece, named Aesop. We don't know if  such a man really did exist, but many familiar stories that we call Aesop's fables are still being told around the world."

Each entry indicates a place in the world for the included version, a direct retelling of the old tale, and a double-spread background filled with vibrant illustrations 'created with collaged linoleum block prints on colored papers'.  The illustrations bring clarity to the setting, add vibrant color, and afford high interest for young readers. 

Listeners will enjoy the question-and-answer format. It allows them to think seriously about the situation the animals are in and to offer their own opinions before hearing the author's take on it. As the stories move forward, Ms. Berry takes an opportunity to slow the reading by showing a recurring look at the already-mentioned animal characters as they slowly move across the page. Each stop adds the new characters until a final spread of all are walking toward Aesop himself. As he tells them their own stories, he sends them off into the greater world for their tales to be told again. 



Friday, September 9, 2022

Cher Ami: Based on the World War I Legend of the Fearless Pigeon, written by Melisande Potter and illustrated by Giselle Potter. Little, Brown and Company. 2022. $23.99 ages 6 and up


"She flew fast with the urgent message. 
only this time the enemy spotted her. Shots
echoed over land like a thunderstorm as 
bullets whizzed past Cher Ami, one after


An author's note lets readers of this true story from WWI know that her tale is "a blend of truth and legend". She then chronicles the life of Cher Ami, a pigeon born on an English farm. Her early days were filled with enjoyable flights with other pigeons and adventures that took her far from home. She always knew exactly how to find her way back. When war broke out, Cher Ami and other homing pigeons were called to duty. They were tasked with carrying messages to help the US Army. They trained in France, where Cher Ami proved her mettle; she worked hard and quickly proved her worth. Sent to the front line where it was noisy and dangerous, Cher Ami continued doing the work she was meant to do. Though tired from her many assignments, she could be counted on to make risky journeys.

When things became unbearable for front-line soldiers who were unintentionally being fired on by their own men, and other pigeons had failed to deliver the message concerning their whereabouts, it was up to Cher Ami to deliver the urgent message. In doing so, she was shot down by the enemy. Though badly wounded, she fought to carry on. Arriving at her destination, wounded and minus most of her leg, she completed her assignment. 

It was now up to others to take of her. She even got an artificial leg from a concerned and grateful soldier. Declared a hero, she became a mascot for the US Army. 

Taking some poetic license, readers see the events from a bird's-eye view. The clear and dramatic text imagines the bird's experiences. The watercolor and ink illustrations ensure that readers always focus on Cher Ami because of her coloring. Notes from both author and illustrator (mother and daughter), and a list of sources are included in back matter. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Cornbread and Poppy at the Carnival, written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2002. $21.99 ages 6 and up


"Down at the base of Maggie Valley, there were 
tents and booths and big mechanical moving 
structures. Animals of all kinds 
swarmed in and around it all. 

"Let's get down there and see the Carnival, 

Oh, I am very happy to invite Cornbread and Poppy back to the blog. What a welcome series this is for early readers. We know that Cornbread and Poppy are best friends, despite the differences in their personalities and those things they both like and dislike. It is the way of friendship. 

When Poppy offers her 'best news' that the Carnival is in town, Cornbread is quick to think back on Poppy's other 'best news' escapades. Not all have been Cornbread's favorite times with his friend. Others have been memorable and quite wonderful. 

Cornbread has NEVER been to a carnival; Poppy is filled with reasons, both enticing and disturbing, for their attendance. Poppy has always proved herself to be kind and supportive, so Cornbread reluctantly agrees. There is much to see, and many townspeople enjoying themselves. The two try the food (deemed delicious), a game (Cornbread wins to Poppy's anguish), a ride together (a giant, fear-inspiring ferris wheel). What a surprise when the enthusiastic and ready-for-any-new-adventure Poppy admits she is terrified of heights! It's Cornbread to the rescue this time. 

In the last of the three stories, the two have a huge argument over a found peanut. After much arguing and a terrible amount of yelling, they finally decide to share it (as best friends often do). That decision is made just as an elephant steps forward and claims it. 

"Do you want to get some cheese, Poppy? 
They have the kind you like.

Love these characters, love Matt Cordell's wonderful talent - can't wait to share this with Sicily and Chelsea when they make a return visit today. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Is This Your Class Pet? Written and illustrated by Troy Cummings. Penguin Random House, 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Dear School Principal, 

I am good at fetching. 
I fetch sticks. 
I fetch squeaky toys. 
One time I even fetched underpants. 

But today at school I fetched something
by accident: a teeny green rock hiding in 
my vest. 

But it wasn't a rock! It was a turtle. 
She is shy and quiet but also brave. 
I call her Hidey. 

I think she might be a class pet! 
What should I do?


We met Arfy first in Can I Be Your Dog (2018), then again in I Found a Kitty (2020), and now at his new job. He is helping kids become more confident as they read to him in the school library. Arfy is a writer, and uses that skill to let readers know what he is thinking. 

He loves his job at school, and promises to be the 'best' worker' they could have.  He has soft fur for cuddling, and his ears help him listen. What more is needed? The librarian offers a quick note of thanks and praise for his fine work. As Arfy and Mitzy return home, he feels a slight wiggle in the pocket of his 'helper dog' vest. It's a turtle; he must find the wee turtle's school home. 

The rest of the book is a series of questions and answers concerning where the turtle belongs. Letters go to the principal, the lunchroom cooks, the gym coach, the art teacher, and finally, an online chat with the kids in Mrs. Tortuga's class. How excited they are to know their lost class pet is FOUND! 

The final spread shows Mitzy and Arfy returning home from another school visit ... oops! This time the stowaway is a tiny surprise. Illustrations show Arfy's expressive demeanor, the messaging in various formats, and the diversity of both children and staff at the school. Comical and charming. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Mystery of the Monarchs: How Kids, Teachers, and Butterfly Fans Helped Fred and Norah Urquhart Track the Great Monarch Migration. Written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Erika Meza. Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 8 and up


"He created a gum tag that stuck 
to itself through a tiny hole punched
in the monarch's wing. This didn't 
hurt the butterflies and worked a  
bit better. 

Fred tagged for ten years, but never
got many back, and had no idea
where the monarchs spent the 

In July, while my family was here visiting from British Columbia, we were able to raise and release two monarch butterflies. Special thanks to our dear friend Judi who supplied the caterpillars, the jars, the netting, and the milkweed to ensure we had all we needed to give it a try. What a truly amazing experience it was! But, while we were watching with awe and hope, the news that monarchs are now on the 'endangered' species list made us very sad. They are so lovely, and incredibly resilient when you know their story of migration and their life cycles. 

Fred Urquhart grew up in Toronto with an intense love for insects. When he read a feature on butterflies and their migration, he wanted to know more about his favorite, the monarch. He asked a question of the writer concerning their destination when they disappeared in the fall. No one knew the answer to his question. Fred needed an answer! 

He learned all he could about them, then began tracking them. He marked them and asked others for their help in taking note of their path. His marriage to Norah Patterson led to a partnership that was marked by a mutual interest in finding out about their beloved monarchs. They developed a tag that didn't bother the butterflies and finally, people began responding with information that proved helpful in their quest. 

"Farmers, librarians, truckers, and doctors joined the Urquharts' "Insect Migration Association." Fred and Norah called their members "Research Associates" and sent updates on monarch science. Regular people acted as scientists - gathering tagging data, performing 
experiments, and sending their findings to the Urquharts.

It was kids and teachers from Canada, the United States and Mexico who helped the most. Year after year, Fred and Norah plotted lines on their map. They searched, and followed the butterflies endlessly. Catalina Aguado and Ken Brugger, who lived in Mexico and were keen on adventure, joined their butterfly family and after two years of searching made the most amazing discovery. 

"On January 2, 1975, 10,000 feet up 
in the cool forest on Cerro Pelon, they found ... 

Monarchs, millions of them. Blanketing the 
bark of oyamel firs. Packed wing to wing 
on branches like orange leaves.

Nearly fifty years after asking his question, Fred finally had his answer. 

The detailed text and dazzling artwork ('created using acrylic gouache, watercolor, ink, coffee splashes, and pastel pencils, before using Photoshop to tie it all up') make for a compelling story of proof that citizen scientists have a meaningful role to play in advancing scientific discovery. 

End matter is plentiful and includes notes from author and illustrator, archival photos, quotes attributed to Fred, the life cycle with photos and carefully written descriptions, and other pertinent data including a list of selected sources. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

Same Here! The Differences We Share, written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Sophie Casson. Owlkids, 2022. $21.95 ages 8 and up

"Boozhoo! I speak Ojibwe and English. 
My first word in Ojibwe was nookomis.
That's "grandmother" 
What was YOUR first word? (Canada)

No matter where children live in the world, they share the same needs: communicate, feel loved and protected, shelter, learn, eat, help our families, community, play, and dream. Of course, there are many differences, but needs are the same. In this valuable and celebratory book, Ms. Hughes takes a careful look at those differences in a child's life as well as the needs that make them the same as all children around the world. 

In six-page sections that focus on those needs one at a time, the author very successfully shows her readers that children from different backgrounds can voice their stories in first-person text that is both fascinating and accessible. The children talk about their first words in a variety of languages and across oceans in the opening section concerning communication. They live in the United States, Uganda, Colombia, New Caledonia, Egypt, Malaysia and Canada.  

The dialogue shared and conversational tone is very appealing for the target audience, and assures that many connections are made and much learning happens. Sophie Carson adds striking color to each page, while also providing focus on the variety in culture, community, and lifestyle. She certainly did the research needed for an authentic look at children and the lives they lead. There is so much to learn about the children of the world, and this team makes it seem easy. 

Sharing this book section by section in a group at school or with children at home will expand their view of the world itself and the people who live here. 

"Same here! For almost every meal, Mom cooks 
with maize flour. Most often, she cooks it into a
thick porridge called nshima. My favorite is when
she makes it like bread, to dip into ifisashi - peanut
stew. (Zambia)

We eat a lot of fish and seafood. But my favorite is a 
big square of gooey macaroni pie.  (Bahamas)

My family is vegetarian. We buy fresh vegetables
at the market every day. Sometimes we buy spices, 
too. Mom uses them to make the tastiest dishes - 
like my favorite, saag paneer! (India)

Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Three Billy Goats Gruff, written by Mac Barnett and illustated by Jon Klassen. Scholastic, 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


""I love goat! Let me count the ways. 
A rump of goat in honey glaze. 
Goat smoked, goat poached, a goat pot roast. 
Goat smorgasbord! Goat smeared on toast! 
A goat kale salad - hold the kale. 
Goat escargot! (That's goat plus snails.)
On goat I'll dine, on goat I'll sup. 
You little goat, I'll eat you up!"

Reading this new book, by two of my forever favorite artists, has me hooting with delight! 

It has arrived just in time to share with my granddaughters who are making a return visit this week for a family wedding. We will read it time and again. They love fractured fairy tales as I do. I have such admiration for writers who can take an old familiar tale and make it new again. 

Jon Klassen creates a troll not imagined in previous tellings. His round beak and oddly-shaped head make the first look compelling, not to mention his bone-littered surroundings, white bib and sharp fangs clutching cutlery needed for tasty meals. Oh, this story is bound to be lively and eventful! 

The troll waits in anticipation of his next meal; the last one was 'some goop he'd found in his belly button'. Can you hear the 'ewwws'? He is in dire need of real food. When the tiny goat takes its first step onto the bridge, the troll is quick to threaten it with making it his next meal. As tiny goats with big brothers are inclined to do, the little one offers up his bigger brother as a more practical alternative. 

The troll is extremely pleased with his ability to trick the little naive one into sharing such a remarkable secret. Along comes the second goat. The threat is familiar, and the result is expected. There's another brother on his way. Unbeknownst to the troll, there is a BIG surprise in store. 

"Oh ..." said the troll. "Um ... 
I, uh ... 
I ... 

Wow. You're really big."

Thus, ends any future threats to the Billy Goats Gruff who live to eat as much as they need on the grassy ridge they favor.

The troll? You will need to read this funny, marvelous story to discover his fate for yourself.

The finale is the stuff of a reckoning for past actions. It's just perfect! 

“Who seeks to reach the grassy ridge?
 Who dares to walk across my bridge?”

It's been said this is the first in a planned series of retellings. I will await the next with eager anticipation.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Brave Every Day, written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"Camila doesn't think of herself 
as very brave, but she is. 
She just doesn't know it yet. 

One Monday morning, Mrs. Flores
has exciting news to share: "We'll be 
going to the aquarium next week!"

It's very hard for Camila to get up and get ready for school each day. She is filled with 'what -ifs'. Many things create worry for her; her best defence is to hide. Or to say 'I can't'. At night, it gets even worse. At night, Camila is scared. She never considers that she is brave. 

When her teacher announces a field trip to the aquarium, and that there will be a presentation about each child's chosen sea creature, Camila does not even want to take a permission slip home. Two of her classmates tease her. 

"For the rest of the week, 
Camila worries about all the 
things that could go wrong 
at the aquarium.

Once there, she is overwhelmed by the crowd of visitors. Trying to find a place to hide, she discovers that she is not the only one scared. Kai is worried that he won't be able to get close to a sting ray, the creature he has chosen for his report. Kai loves reading about the sting ray, but isn't certain he wants to be close to one. Will together work? Will Camila's open heart overcome her fears? Can she help Kai? Helping Kai helps Camila face her own fears and helps her realize that she, too, can be brave when she needs to be. 

Pencil sketches, digitally painted offer calm in the face of many worries while also illustrating unmistakable emotions. End matter includes a list of questions that might be asked to initiate further discussion. A list of recommended reading for kids is also included.                                                                        

Friday, September 2, 2022

That's Not My Name, written and illustrated by Anoosha Syed. Viking, Penguin Random House, 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Even some of her teachers said it wrong! 

is mina here? 

Mirha didn't want to be called Mina for 
the rest of the year, but she was too shy 
to speak up and correct her teacher.

We read this book night after night when my granddaughters were here in July. They had many questions, and some opinions about it. We practiced ahead of reading it every time! 

The first day of school is not always easy. For Mirha that is especially true. 

"MIR - ha

MIR as in miracle
HA as in haha!

Mirha is so excited to be at school. Her entire family is encouraging and wish her well. She has been waiting for a long time. Despite being shy, she stands to introduce herself. The other kids in her class, and her teacher, have great difficulty remembering what she considers a pretty easy name. It makes her angry when they don't really seem to be trying. Her sadness is reflected in her thinking about changing her name to something easier, that everyone could pronounce. 

Her return from school sparks a conversation with her mama about changing her name. Her mama explains that Mirha is a name that means 'happiness' in Arabic. It was given because of Mirha's gift of laughter. Yes, it's different but it has great meaning. She tells her that people around the world well remember some very difficult names - Tchaikovsky being one of them. 

Mirha listens and hears what her mama is saying. Her return to school has her taking the time to repeat her name for those who need help. Other children then feel comfortable explaining the meaning of their own names. 

Engaging, expressive artwork shows a cast of diverse characters, and scenes that generate understanding for the frustration Mirha feels when others mispronounce her name. A welcome message honestly shared.