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Monday, October 31, 2022

Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures. Written by Debra Kempf Shumaker and illustrated by Claire Powell. RP Kids, Hachette. 2022. $23.99 ages 5 and up


"One's butt is splashed 
with colored streaks.  

Some primates store 
food in their cheeks. 

One primate wears 
a cute mustache.

Another likes 
to soak and splash.

The endpapers are an enticing invitation to get right into this book that offers a field study of animals from around the globe. A world map plots the journey that will be taken to explore where the various primates live. The packing list begins with an admonition not to forget to feed the cat before venturing forth, and another that suggests coming home is the final leg of the journey. The in-between list is long and relevant for the trip ahead (including jam sandwiches for the trekkers and lots of bananas for the primates to be researched). 

The text begins with the ways in which primates are the same: they climb, breathe air, have big brains, hands and hair. There are also observable differences: where they live, how they look, their hunting habits, their anatomy, how they spend their time and where they sleep. 

"Peculiar looks, 
odd things they do. 
Some primates can 
be strange, it's true.

It's important for kids to realize they are primates, too.  

Debra Kempf Shumaker has filled the pages with details that grab attention and inform in a most enjoyable way. Claire Powell uses a bright color palette, constant movement, expressive faces and careful labels to move readers from one spread to the next. 

Back matter adds further information for each featured primate visited, as well as a list of websites, books, and videos for further learning. 

If you enjoy this book, be sure to see if you can find a copy of Freaky, Funky Fish. (Running Press Kids, 2021) 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Me and Muhammad Ali, written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by AG Ford. Penguin Random House, 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Like most folks, Langston looked up to the champ
because of his strength, speed, and confidence. But 
Langston loved him just as much for his poetry. He
was thrilled when Ali promised to float like a butterfly
and sting like a bee.

When Langston, a young and earnest fan, sees a poster for a meet and greet with Muhammad Ali, he also takes note of the Wall of Respect mural that features the faces of many Black heroes. While Ali inspires for a number of reasons, Langston is especially impressed with hearing him speak. He loves his way with words. 

Langston loves Ali's boasting; he even tries some his own rhymes while out on the playground. He excitedly waits for the day he will be able to see his hero in person. His mom is impressed with Ali's work to make the world a better place. A trip to the barber shop provides a haircut shaped to match Ali. There in much talk there and pride in the champ. Soon, it's time to go to school and fulfill a dream. When they get there, they are turned away by the guard who tells them it is for school students only, not for neighbors of the school. 

And then ... up walks Muhammad Ali! Once told the problem, Ali escorts Langston and his mother inside. What a hero for the young boy! 

"I'm quick and I'm strong. 
I'm Black and I'm free. 
I'm brave and I'm bold, 
like Muhammad Ali!"

In an author's note Jabari Asim makes it clear that Ali was a hero to his entire community. In their St. Louis neighborhood, Ali was an athlete, fearless in taking a stand for what was right, and not afraid of the press it would bring. The event described in this story is literally what happened for his mother when Ali visited her neighborhood school. 

AG Ford creates images in acrylics and colored pencil to welcome readers into an African-American community inspired by the grace, dignity, power, and athleticism of a great legend. The excitement felt by all jumps off the page at every turn. Energetic and emotional, this is a book that makes a terrific read aloud for early years classrooms. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Farmhouse, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2022. $23.99 ages 7 and up


"and whispered secrets.
played truth or dare,
and lost their teeth
and brushed their hair, 
where they kept collections 
of tiny toy cars
and feathers and bones
and movie stars, 
where they hung prize ribbons
for champion cows 
that lived in the barn 
behind the house

Sophie Blackall is a wonder; here, she proves it once more. In an author's note she tells her readers that she has a penchant for old things that tell stories. When she bought an old barn and the farmhouse that was also on the property, she decided to try to learn its stories before the excavator came to bury the house underground. Some things she found there that belonged to the Swantak family of long ago provided the inspiration and the materials used to create this remarkable homage to the past, the house itself and the family who lived there.

The illustrations for this book were created using Chinese ink, watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil, as well as materials salvaged from a falling-down nineteenth-century farmhouse in New York State: wallpaper, composition books, newspapers, brown-paper bags, clothing, handkerchiefs, curtains and string. 

What a treat readers are in for as they pore over each fascinating double page spread created by this incomparable artist. It begins with the setting: rolling hills, patchwork fields, wildflowers and the farmyard. Twelve children lived there with their parents. Their daily activities are lovingly captured in images that clearly show those reading what life must have been like for them.  

The text is rhythmic and most enjoyable to read. The textured illustrations are collaged in layers that reflect the house's history. The countless details are impressive, ensuring constant attention and discussion. Cross-sections hint at how many of the rooms may have looked when the large family took up all its space. There is a complete awareness for the changes that happen over time. Imagining the house's many celebrations and stories gives readers a real sense of what survived there over the years as it fell into disrepair. 

Tender and charming, stirring and superb, this book will be shared numerous times - deservedly so.                                                                               

Friday, October 28, 2022

patchwork, written by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Corinna Luyken. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 5 and up


"But the skill it takes to make people laugh
is the skill you'll use to help people learn
when you become a favorite teacher.
And when a restless kid like you 
lands in the back of the class, 
you will see her, 
you will love her.

I am a great admirer of the team that has created this ode to children being who they are. Matt De La Pena is an expressive and supportive champion of children and writes books that speak to the heart. Corinna Luyken shapes a diverse group of children using a palette of appealing colors while also setting the individual children on a patchwork pattern that is sure to concentrate attention on the child themself.

Affirming words and images encourage children to be themselves, not someone others expect them to be. Too often, a child is born with a plan for their future, without any knowledge of who they actually are. If given the chance, without restrictions, to explore and celebrate their own unique and evolving personality, they have much to offer. Their choices are endless and full of opportunity. 

A child fully engaged in 'any-kind-of-ball' might one day become someone else. 

"But soon you will see your sport for what it really is. 
An expression. 
The sound of a bouncing ball
is the language of your loneliness. 
You are bilingual. 
And one day you will carry words with you instead. 
You will spin couplets on your finger
because you've always been a poet.

Children are absolutely more than is expected of them. They need time to consider each facet of themselves to find where they can be comfortable. Each personal discovery is an affirmation for the children who read or hear these reflective words reminding them that eyes should always be wide open to the possibilities in life. Bravo! 


Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Boy Who Loved Maps, written by Kari Allen and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 6 and up


"The girl thought a moment, then smiled. 
"I'd like a map of the perfect place. A 
place that's toes-in-the-sand, wrapped-up-
in-a-towel warm." 

The Mapmaker checked his globe and drew
a map of the warmest place he could find,
with its sunny, sandy beaches. 

The girl studied the map, then shook her head.

When I was teaching in an early years classroom, we liked to try our hand at mapping. We started with the child's room, and moved out from there, almost always ending with a map of our school neighborhood. It was an appreciated learning experience for all.  So, I am delighted to share this new book about a boy who loves maps, and who does his very best to create the map a young girl in interested in having. 

The mapmaker has his own personal space for doing his work. It is a treehouse, and it contains all he needs to produce the maps he so loves making. He doesn't just make them; he collects them and studies them, too. They are different sizes and describe numerous settings. When the girl visits his tree house, she makes a request for her own map. She knows exactly what she wants. The mapmaker sets to work. With each try, the girl is enthusiastic but not satisfied. She wants more and more. Finally, he has to admit failure. He has never seen such a place charted. 

The girl suggests theyshould try exploring. Once he has everything he needs, they are off. The girl carries nothing. As they walk together through town, they find places that perfectly match her wishes. Their final stop is the girl's house where she adds found treasures to her growing collection. That exploration is all the mapmaker and his new friend need to create the one-of-a-kind, exactly-right map she has described. 

This debut picture book is an on-going riddle for readers, always encouraging them to think about the perfect place the young girl is describing. Mr. Karas uses gouache and pencil to enhance the story and provide maps that are sure to interest the kids who have the same interest as The Mapmaker. 

End matter includes an author's note, map words, a description of a map, step-by-step instructions for mapping a neighborhood, and a list of map activities.                                                                             

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

I Forgive Alex: A Simple Story about Understanding, written and illustrated by Kerascoet. Random House Studio, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up


"Here is a simple yet meaningful story 
that explores the complicated 
feelings that come with apologies 
and forgiveness.

If you read I Walk with Vanessa and you liked it as much as I did, you will be pleased to see that a second wordless book by this husband-and-wife team is on bookshelves now. It is another book about schoolchildren and their capacity for empathy and understanding. School yards are familiar with 'scraps' and small conflicts that may not seem so small for the children involved. 

The opening page shows children interacting with one another at the recess break. Two boys hold sway for very different reasons. One carries a red backpack and sports a jacket, t-shirt and long pants; the other is dressed in a red and blue uniform and is happily holding a basketball. Each attracts a group of children. The boy with the backpack shares portfolio pictures that he has drawn. The other is chased by kids wanting him to share his basketball. He likes to keep it for himself. 

When the basketball player throws the ball over the heads of those wanting to play, it lands on the artwork being admired, and splashes water all over the drawings. Readers can see that the ball player is upset, but holding back. They can also see many annoyed faces looking directly at him. Others quickly support the artist with sympathetic looks and support. As the athlete approaches, he shows embarrassment. At that very moment, the recess bell rings and the children go inside. 

Feelings remain clear for the rest of the school day. The ball player is left out. No one goes near him at second recess. From the midst of the recess crowd, the artist moves toward him. They talk together, shake hands, and move on. It takes one person! 

 No adults. This book is an endearing look at what it takes to admit a mistake, and offer forgiveness. It takes both bravery and compassion. Kids have both in spades if we let them show it. There is much to see in the faces of the children portrayed here. 

Suggestions for dealing with hurt are appended for both children and adults.                                                                                  

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Mouse Who Carried A House On His Back, written by Jonathan Stutzman and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"But the cat was mistaken. 
Vincent's house was much larger than it appeared. 

There was even room for a hungry cat. 

Clouds billowed in the west, and in blew a family 
of hedgehogs - one by one by one by one by one - 
each wet and tousled by a mighty storm.

It is certainly understood when readers catch their first glimpse of Vincent, the mouse carrying a house on his back, that there is little room inside that abode. After a long trek, Vincent finds the place he wants to be. Nothing special about it; it speaks to Vincent with the grass, the path, the hill, and the endless sky. He settles his house in an appropriate spot. 

Soon, an extremely tired bullfrog appears on the path. Vincent invites him in to rest. The bullfrog guffaws, assuming the house is much too small to provide him shelter. To his surprise, Vincent's house offers both space and comfort. The same thing happens with a hungry cat, a family of hedgehogs, and a multitude of other forest creatures. Vincent's house grows in relation to the number of its occupants. 

At dinner one night, a cold, tired, lost bear knocks at the door. Vincent remains kind and accommodating as the rest of the residents express shock and worry over the bear's intentions. Vincent will not be deterred; the bear expresses concern that the house is much too small for a bear its size. Vincent assures him that all will be well. There is definitely room! 

Following an overnight storm, morning brings sunlight and the departure of Vincent's many guests. Vincent's house is empty once again. He picks it up and carries it on his back until he finds the next place he needs to be.  

Warm and cozy artwork is as inviting as Vincent is. His house is a place of comfort, shown in the many fine details drawn by Ms. Arsenault. The dark rainy night creates a fearful atmosphere for those who want nothing to do with a bear. Generosity is at the heart of Vincent's welcome and the bear soon becomes another house guest. As the house grows, Ms. Arsenault creates additions to the original, until an open gatefold allows readers to see the many changes that need to be made to accommodate all. 

What an extraordinary and hospitable home it turns out to be. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

How to Send a Hug, written by Hayley Rocco and illustrated by John Rocco. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2022. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Luckily, I learned how to send a hug.
Let me show you. 

First, get something to write with. 
This marker is my favorite. 

Then find the 
piece of paper. 

Now you can create your hug. 
You can use words or draw pictures
or even do both.

Who doesn't love hugs? The first two years of the pandemic certainly changed many lives in terms of the ability to give hugs. We all need the warm feelings that hugs afford us. For grandparents and teachers, a letter is a magical way of keeping in touch. Teachers love them for the learning that comes from the writing. A grandparent loves them because a letter is a tangible way of communicating with their grandchildren, and it is also a treasure to keep until the grandchildren are older and can read it again. 

Hayley Rocco, in her debut picture book, introduces Artie (and her pet goose) who loves sharing hugs. She gives all kinds of them for many reasons. But her grandma Gertie lives too far from her to share a hug. Phone calls and Zoom calls help, but Artie has found another way to send a hug. She is keen to share that idea with readers. She starts with art supplies and notepaper, something to use for writing, and imagination. 

Once the letter is complete, the hug is ready for the long journey ahead. A number of things must be completed before it is ready to be mailed. The choices are many to send it on its way. The long wait then begins, and goes on and on and on. Patience is necessary, but difficult. Like so many other letters, hers will make its own special journey and will finally be delivered and fully appreciated by the loved ones who receive it. 

"How will you know if your hug arrived safely?"

You will get a hug (and a letter) back. What joy is there in that for Gertie? Endless!

In a letter to readers, Ms. Rocco explains how important letters were for her when she was young. Today is quite different for children; it is much easier and faster to communicate. Lucky we are for that, but the pleasure of writing and receiving mail from those we love should not be dismissed in our rush to get things done. 

Realistic artwork done by Hayley's husband John are created using watercolor and digital color. As he has often done, he creates characters and settings that add context and humor. A hug might take a long trip; in the end, it is worth every bit of wait time it takes to get where it's going. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Saving the Butterfly, written by Helen Cooper and illustrated by Gill Smith. Candlewick Studio, Penguin Random House. 2022. $23.99 ages 5 and up


"The bigger one said they were lucky.
They could have lost even more.
Yet they had nothing. 
Or almost nothing. 
Nothing left from before, 
except each other. 
The little one didn't think about that for long. 
But the bigger one did. 
She couldn't help it.

The title page shows a dark, moonlit night and a boat floating on a black sea. We soon discover there are only two survivors aboard: two children, one little and one bigger. The bigger one had worried for their lives. Yet, survive they did. Rescuers were quick to help, to do what they could do. 

The little one remembered nothing. The bigger one was able to tell their story. They were given shelter, food, and not much else. Now safe in the refugee camp, the little one found solace and growing strength in being outside and playing with other children. The bigger sat inside and continued worrying. She could not forget what had happened. She hid away from all the others. Concerned, the little one brought her a butterfly. The butterfly, despite its panic to be free, would not leave. The bigger one suggested space and time. 

Finally, the butterfly calmed. It would not be caught. The little one worried about the bigger one. Time passed and still she waited inside with the butterfly for company. She could not make the butterfly leave. One day, she took it outside in an attempt to finally set it free.  

"The butterfly didn't look back. 
She wished she didn't have to look back, 
but memories and shadows called 
from the dark safety in the broken house.

Now outside, the little one called to her. It was time, and for that day she was ready. 

Mixed-media artwork clearly conveys the feelings and uncertainties that plague the bigger one, and the joy and hope that bring bright color to the little one's existence. Gill Smith's endpapers move from barbed-wire fencing beneath a cloudy sky and one dandelion to the same scene in bright sunlight, many more dandelions (resilience), and a gracefully floating butterfly. Just right! 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Love in the Library, written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Yas Imamura. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 7 and up


"Tama did not know when she would
ever leave Minidoka - if she ever would.
But there was nothing to be done about 
that. So she worked in the library and
watched as each day passed her by. 

Some days, many people would come to 
the library and borrow something to read.

In a book inspired by her Japanese grandparents' experiences at a World War II incarceration camp, Ms. Tokuda-Hall builds a powerful story. They were sent to Minidoka, Idaho following the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Her story begins after her grandmother had been there for a year. Tama hated the desert, the dust, the fences that keep her imprisoned. Wanting to do her best to deal with the conditions she was living under, she worked at the camp library. She had no training; she did the job assigned to her. 

George was always first in line, waiting to return yesterday's books and check out more. Many things had changed in their the past year. Conditions in the camps were deplorable. Tama did her best to get through the worry and fear.  George brought a smile each day, and the books helped pass time. 

"Pressed between their covers were words that planted seeds in the garden of Tama's mind. How magical that -even in Minidoka - such a small little library could fit so much inside its four walls!"

Smiling was not as easy for Tama, as it seemed to be for George. She was able to talk to him about the confusion she was feeling. That helped. The more time they spent together, the stronger their bond. They married and had a child. What wonder they found in each other, at the worst time of their life! 

Ms. Imamura's earthy tones create a stunning look at the worry and the warmth of the internment setting, and the growing relationship between Tama and George. Their imprisonment was unjust and constantly filled with an uneasiness about their future. That is clearly shown in these remarkable images. 

An author's note speaks to the racism that put her grandparents in Minidoka, and that still exists. 

"Hate is not a virus; it is an American tradition.

Despite that, as her grandparents did, marginalized people continue to find hope and joy in their lives: perhaps a promise for a better future. When we know more, we can do better.                                                                                       

Friday, October 21, 2022

Tree Hole Homes: Daytine Dens and Nighttime Nooks, written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Amy Hevron. Random House Studio, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 6 and up


"A tree hole can be 
deep in the woods

High in the rain forest 
canopy, a female tree frog
searches for a tree hole 
filled with rainwater. She 
attaches her eggs to the 
walls above the pool. 

When the tadpoles hatch, 
they fall into the water. 

Every few days, the female frog
returns to the sky-high nest. She 
checks on the tadpoles and lays 
unfertilized eggs for them to eat.

I am forever grateful to Melissa Stewart and others who choose to pen nonfiction books for children. They have the best ideas, and a plethora of patience when it comes to doing the research needed to write reliable information books for the kids who are constantly on the lookout to learn important things about nature they do not yet know. 

On her blog, she says this: 

"My personal mission as an author is to share the beauty and wonder of the natural world with young readers. I want to inspire kids to see and appreciate the world around them in new and exciting ways.

For more information, be sure to check out her website at

In her newest book, she looks to the trees and presents an abundance of arboreal inhabitants. She begins with a child invited to imagine sitting at the base of a tall tree where there is a hole with a space big enough to provide shelter for that child. 

"As you crouch down 
and close your eyes, 
the sounds of the outside world
fade away.
And you wonder ... 

What would it be like 
to live inside a tree?

Ms. Stewart goes on to describe great variety in the types of tree holes that attract various creatures. They may be large or small, calm or rowdy, deep in the woods or on the edge of a field. The list continues with on-target facts concerning the animals who choose each of the habitats. Residents are described in short paragraphs that provide just enough information to send interested readers looking for more. Most will be familiar to kids who love the natural world. 

Amy Hevron creates acrylic and marker on wood illustrations that are then digitally collaged to give texture and depth to her images. Readers will certainly gain understanding by looking closely at each one. Melissa Stewart adds a fact list about each that includes scientific name, size, habitat, range, diet, life span and a fun fact. 

This is a stellar information picture book! 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Kumo the bashful cloud, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Nathalie Dion. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"What a mistake. 
She was stuck. 

Fortunately, a friendly kite
came along to help. 

And a kindly wind gave an extra lift. 
It felt good to be free again.

Poor Kumo. All she wants is to wander through the sky unnoticed. She likes being mostly invisible. A change comes for her when a problem occurs, and her help is needed. Cumulus and Cirrus are unable to do their normal work. Kumo is the answer to their woes; she, on the other hand, is seriously concerned. 

"What if people point?
What if I'm too airy? 
Too stormy?
Too wispy?

Her lack of confidence in herself has her wondering if she is up to the job entrusted to her. Closing her eyes, she sets off. Soon, she is stuck in a tree. Luckily, a kite helps. A wind moves her along. Her drifting takes her to many places, even dropping a touch of rain on a field and protecting a gardener from the sun. There is so much to see! A young daydreaming boy brings awareness for what the sky holds for dreamers. 

When she comes upon unfamiliar clouds along the way, she worries that they may not want her to join them. In fact, they do and she enjoys their company as they move together across the sky. Kumo enjoyes being in their company, and lets go of her doubt. As the sky darkens, all the clouds move off and leave her on her own. Well, not quite. What a day it has been! 

Mixed media illustrations by Nathalie Dion are very impressive. Young readers will feel they know the characters, and the softness long associated with clouds sailing across the skies. Kids who find the outside world a touch disconcerting will see in Kumo a kindred spirit. The images soothe and comfort as Kumo finds an ability to do what she has been asked to do, and to find friendship along the way to doing it. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Boobies, written and illustrated by Nancy Vo. Groundwood, 2022. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"But wait … the Blue-Footed Booby does 
not have any boobies at all. 

Birds are avian, not mammalian.
Mammals have mammary glands.
In other words, mammals have boobies."

Did you think that this book was going to teach readers about the blue-footed booby? That would not be a surprise; the bird is on the cover. Nancy Vo is quick to relate that her book is, in fact, a book about boobies. She makes sure to introduce one of the blue-footed kind. Then, she turns her story on its ear by asking a very pertinent question. 

Which of these animals have boobies? 

A dog?
A cat?
A hamster?

A fish? 
No. Fish are not mammals.

The book goes on to discuss variety in boobies and totalk about their ability to feed their young. She also explains that all mammals have mammary glands. It educates young readers and will engage them in the conversation provided from page to page. Certainly, they will go home with more knowledge concerning breasts and their function, as well as their cultural associations. 

Her approach to a subject that is often deemed taboo for shared talk is casual and educational, using stencilled artwork created with acrylics and pen. There is humor, and there are facts. It is scientific, and encourages young children to talk about body parts without any awkwardness. It might be the first book in a new series. The final spread offers a clue. 

Eye-opening and valuable.                                                                                     

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Midnight and Moon, written by Kelly Cooper and illustrated by Daniel Miyares. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2022. 24.99 ages 4 and up


"The school bus almost drives past Clara's 
stop because the blizzard erases hills and 
trees and turns in the road. Clara's mother 
wants her to stay in the house but she won't. 
The two of them go to the barn to see if the 
horses have found their way in the storm.
Her mother holds her hand tightly as they 
wade through drifts.

Clara does not speak. It makes school difficult for her as she is different from her schoolmates. What Clara has that others do not is a quite extraordinary sense of hearing. Clara also loves horses, especially Moon. Moon cannot see; he, too, has an exceptional ability to hear all that is going on around him. 

Clara has a friend Jack. Jack likes Clara just the way she is. They spend time together at school and beyond. Moon also has an ally; Midnight is her name. This warm book about the four of them is sure to capture attention for children who have a special place in their hearts for animals, especially horses. Readers will find comfort in the story about those who are different. They may even see themselves in its pages. 

The parallel stories that happen between Clara and Jack and Midnight and Moon are sure to hold the attention of readers as the story progresses. Midnight looks out for Moon, just as Jack supports Clara at school. A blizzard creates havoc with travel for children on the bus after school. Clara arrives home to find that the horses have not returned to the barn. 

The horses are caught out in the storm. They cannot find their way back. Thanks to Moon's ability to hear what the others cannot, he is able to lead them to the sound of Clara's soft voice beckoning them to safety. 

"None of the horses can hear what Moon hears. 
He steps out of the herd and starts walking, 
nickering for Midnight. Then all the horses 
begin to walk in a wind-tossed line, following
Moon as Clara's voice leads him ... 


Daniel Miyares' artwork, painted with gouache, draws readers into the heart of the story. Differing perspectives are welcome, the color palette inspiring, and the design as it deals with the parallel story lines ideal for providing context.                                                                                  


Monday, October 17, 2022

The Ugly Place, written by Laura Deal and illustrated by Emma Pedersen. Inhabit Media, 2022. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"There is only one way to get to the ugly place,
and you have to feel absolutely miserable

The child whose story is shared here is having a rough time. Hurt and angry, a solitary walk along the sea at low tide is the place to be. The ugliness of the mud, the slime, and the cold seem the perfect backdrop for the feelings that are so evident. No sun, no blue sky, nothing but gloom to make sure that ugly place is as unpleasant as it can possibly be. 

Boots leave ugly prints in a journey across the wet tundra, and the smell of salt and seaweed assault the senses in every way. Looking down for so long proves that this place is a just-right match for an ugly mood. Life is not good. Or, is it? Looking up, the effect that being in nature has soon invites careful observation of soaring seagulls and the sounds offered by the waves touching on the rocks as the tide begins to turn back. Deep breaths match the movement heard in the surf. 

" heart settles when I see the
seagull circle around again in effortless
flight, joined by another. Their crisp
white feathers are exceptionally bright
against the sunless sky. They play while
gliding and swooping through the air.

It isn't too long until the warmth of growing sunlight brings a more peaceful feeling. The child begins to find beauty in the surroundings. All at once, the ugly disappears to be replaced by all things worthy of huge smiles and warm thoughts. Nature has done it again! 

Opening eyes and hearts to the beauty of the natural world has proven to make the differences needed to help alleviate negative thoughts and moods. We all have ugly days. Often, taking the time to see what is in front of us is all it takes to shift a mood and bring us to a better place. 

Introspective artwork allows readers to feel all the emotions the child feels while facing the dull and dreary beginning to the day. As the day's weather changes to bright sunshine so does the joy felt by the child. The tundra landscape is effectively portrayed as the child travels a long distance from home, while dealing with all the real emotions felt.                                                                                   

Sunday, October 16, 2022

African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History, written by Tracey Baptiste and illustrated by Hillary D. Wilson. Groundwood, 2022. $24.99 ages 9 and up

"Mansa Musa (emperor of Mali from 1312 CE-)
ruled over forty million people, yet there was peace
during his twenty-five-year reign, likely because Musa
was smart about how to use the royal coffers. He donated
money to people and built schools and mosques. Because
Musa levied taxes against merchants as they came and
went, the Malian people themselves did not have to pay
taxes. It was a smart move that ensured peace inside
the country.

Whenever I read books similar to this one, I am amazed at what I learn. Tracy Baptiste here shares stories of ten historical figures from Africa. They are short biographies and her book also offers historical notes on the continent itself, making it all the more intriguing and informative. 

I am one of those people who know little about African history ... at least, I was before I settled to read this fine book. There is much inspiration to be found in the stories she tells. Ten names; three I recognized, and I did not know the full extent of their stories. In her introduction, Tracy Baptiste talks about Africa before the transport of African people to enslavement in the wider world. She wants her readers to know what was happening before the Middle Passage. 

She mentions the misconceptions about the size of the continent itself ... one-fifth of the total land area of Earth. The only continent bigger is Asia. A graphic map created by Kai Krause shows the actual size of Africa by placing other countries of the world within its vast borders. She also notes that its history is the longest, dating back more than two million years. Her book is the story of both a continent and its people. Her research was completed with much help, and was often discouraging. She is happy to report that African scholars are now telling their own stories - it is an exciting time. 

The design for the rest of the book is to present sections of historical information followed by the introduction of the African figures whose stories she wants to share with readers. Hillary Wilson creates compelling images of the included leaders whose dignity, strength, and confidence demand attention. The settings, maps and backgrounds offer important context. 

Ms. Baptiste does a remarkable job of telling their stories in accessible and memorable text. The sections are never too long, while filled with fascinating material that obviously has been carefully researched. It really is eye-opening and enjoyable learning.  What an important addition this will prove to be for Black History Month reading. Kids need to hear these stories of African history and the role models who made a huge impact there. 

Back matter presents an author’s note, extensive source notes, a select bibliography, and an index. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Rodney Was a Tortoise, written by Nan Forler and illustrated by Yong Ling Kang. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"At bedtime, Bernadette read stories
of creatures from creeks and forests
and did all the voices, as Rodney
snoozed in the tank beside her.

When she said the tortoise lines, 
she was sure she caught him 

Rodney is a pal. He is always there for Bernadette. He is her pet turtle, well-loved and admired. There is little they don't do together. They play games, hold contests, dress up, eat, and share stories at bedtime. Bernadette does most of the work that needs to be done; she is sure Rodney appreciates her every effort. At night, she keeps him near. 

Time passes; Rodney gets slower and slower. One day, he stops moving at all. Bernadette is comforted by her mother, helps with his burial, and sings him a goodbye song. Days pass. Her thoughts constantly turn to her beloved pet. Kids at school don't seem to care. Bernadette grieves in silence.  Nothing helps her feel better. She pulls into herself at school, creating her own protective shell. Does anyone notice? 

Amar does. Seeing her alone and tucked into her coat, he sits beside her. Quietly, he offers sympathy and memories of Rodney. He has his own story to share. With time and companionship, the two find comfort and joy in one another. 

Heartfelt and thoroughly sincere, this story allows Bernadette to feel all the hurt and sorrow that comes when Rodney dies. Soft watercolor and pencil illustrations work their magic as they take readers through her experiences. The palette is quiet, the emotions real, and the support of a friend evident.                                                                                      

Friday, October 14, 2022

Violet and Jobie in the Wild, written by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2022. $21.00 ages 8 and up


""Do you think that owl is still up there?’ she asked.

Zolian laughed.

"There’s always an owl,’ he said. "Or a hawk or a
weasel, or some other one who would enjoy gobbling
us up. We are popular in the tasty treat department."

"But–" Violet began, then stopped. She couldn’t
finish her sentence
Even so, even in that one word,
Zolian could hear the wobble in her voice.

"There’s always an owl,’ he said again, gently, 
"but there are ways to live so that you’re not always
 afraid of the owl. Just aware of the owl.”

Life in a warm and comfortable house is endlessly good for two young sibling mice. That is, until they are caught. Once discovered, the two are trapped and transported by the house humans to a state park. The mother reassures her child by explaining the mice are meant to be there. Of course, Jobie and Violet have no aptitude for living in the wild. 

Their knowledge of the natural world comes from watching television episodes of Nature Magnificent with their unsuspecting human hosts. Lucky they are to become acquainted with Zolian, a wiser and older member of their new community. He offers needed advice and introduces them to some of the wonders of their new environment, with touches of humor sure to be appreciated by readers. There are many dangers out there! 

Violet and Jobie learn what they need to know by watching, listening, and doing their best to pay attention to their surroundings. Although it often feels overwhelming and beyond comprehension, they persevere and do their best to make the best of the situation. Their journey to a new way of living is spirited and often surprising, with tough lessons to be faced and handled. 

Black and white pencil drawings are welcome, as they center on the family, the bonds they make, and their many new experiences. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Dadaji's Paintbrush, written by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane. Levine Querido, Raincoast. 2022. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"If they looked closely, in the background of every painting, they could see little splodges of paint. Sometimes made with fingers, sometimes with brushes made of sticks, reeds, and flowers. Together, the boy and his grandfather had turned every one of them into something wonderful. All it took was time and attention." 

A grandparent's love for his grandchild is at the heart of this story. The young boy loves to paint as does his dadaji; they live together in a house filled with their artwork. The boy learns how to paint using fingers first, then paintbrushes. His grandfather is his teacher, and is soon helping other village children learn as well. 

The two of them do everything together, spending their days selling the fruit they grow, sharing food with the children of their village, and creating art. They sleep together under the stars when they can ... they have each other and no one else. 

"Don't ever leave me," the boy would say. 
"I won't," his grandfather would reply, 
holding the boy so tight that his bones hurt ... 

but one day, he did.

Nothing helps the boy deal with his grief. Finding a box containing his grandfather's best paintbrush, with a love note from Dadaji, does not help. He cannot touch it. It brings only heartache. He puts it away. Time rolls on. Nothing is the same; no painting, no night skies to put them to sleep, no paper boats to float, no children coming to make art. He puts all paintings where they cannot be seen. 

When a little girl comes to his door asking for a painting lesson, he refuses to teach her. The girl does not leave; her mother had been taught to paint by his dadaji and she wants the same.  It is just what the grown boy needs. He remembers, once again, all he has learned and begins using the paintbrush left to him. Using all he has been taught by his beloved Dadaji, and with the love he carries in his heart, he returns to painting and to teaching the children.   

As one might expect in a book about art and artists, Ruchi Mhasane's tender artwork places readers in a place of warmth and joy when the two are together. The palette changes dramatically for the boy as he grieves the loss of his grandfather. It does not change until the young girl arrives with her request. As they work together the boy's joy in life as an artist returns. 

An author's note explains that the story was inspired by the love she had for her own grandfather. 

Love does live on ...                                                                                      

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Days Like This, a story by Oriane Smith with art by Alice Gravier. Milky Way Picture Books,2022. $23.99 all ages


"Sometimes, you feel like a giant.

Then, suddenly, so small. 

Sadly, yes, there are days when
you must face disasters ...

and moments soaked with tears."

There are only 17 lines in the poem that opens this extraordinary book! Each line is then repeated on facing pages in differently-colored print. The words describe those things that happen on almost any average day depending on time and season.  

When we look at the world around us, we realize the wonder of it all! There are surprises around every corner when we take the time to stop and consider its beauty. Two voices invite readers to consider the scenes before them. It is all about perspective; that is proved time and again with each turn of the page.  

The left side shows the world from a child's perspective, and the right from an unknown creature. The remarkable artwork shows obvious differences from one to the other. There will be a lot of stopping to ponder and discuss details as the pages are turned, and time is allowed to take clear and careful looks. 

I will not spoil the surprise concerning the second perspective. It's there for you to discover for yourself. 

"It's not every day that I get to meet someone like you."

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

My Life Begins, written by Patricia MacLachlan. Harper, 2022. $21.00 ages 8 and up


"I put the Trips in their cribs - one, two, 

I take out my notebook and watch them
from the half-closed bedroom door. 

"The Trips

I put them in their cribs. 
I watch them sit up and play. 
Then Liz yawns.
And they all yawn. 
Soon they will "fall into sleep" as Mimi says.
And they do. 

- Jacob"

I am going to miss reading new and remarkable books from Patricia MacLachlan. She had such a way of creating family stories that lifted hearts and honored her beloved characters. She will be missed by many.

In this new book we meet Jacob, an only child whose most fervent wish at 9 is to have a new puppy. He is sure that a new puppy will make him less lonely. Jacob is in for a very BIG surprise in his life. No puppy for now; instead, three babies. He has known that the family will soon grow. His parents have assured him that the arrival of the triplets will change his life, and bring much happiness. Jacob is not convinced. 

Their names are Charlotte, Katherine, and Elizabeth. Jacob calls them The Trips. Little does he know what awaits him. He names the time following their arrival, My Life Begins. 

"I am only nine, remember. But I can tell right 
away that it will be my job to study and train
the Trips. My mother and father are too tired 
for that.

His life does change immeasurably as he steps up to carefully watch and record the many milestones that his sisters reach. Studying the triplets for a school project, Jacob is ever-conscious of the growth, learning, and unique personality of each sister. Jacob is an admirable and nurturing brother. Patricia MacLachlan has proved time and again her expertise at writing meaningful, heartfelt stories. She does it again with this lovely book. 

This is a tender story worthy of family time reading with a young audience. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Bibi's Got Game: A Story about Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco, written by Bianca Andreescu with Mary Beth Leatherdale. Illustrated by Chelsea O'Byrne. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"While my game gets better and better, things at school
get worse and worse. 

I'm so busy with tennis that I don't have time for anything
else. No playdates. No birthday parties. No sleepovers. 

When I have to leave school early for practice or a 
tournament, I try to sneak out of the classroom. But 
someone always notices my giant tennis bag.

In a book written from her heart, tennis star Bianca Andreescu recounts the energy and tenacity she brought to every minute of her days as a young girl. Always in a hurry, and focused on world records and multiple challenges, she can't find a sport that feels right for her. While watching a tennis match on television one day, her father suggests trying tennis. Bibi agrees to try it. 

It's perfect for her. Coco, her beloved puppy, loves it, too. The days are filled with practice; Bibi has all the skills to be a champion player. Tennis makes her happy, while her school life suffers. She has no time for socializing with her classmates. The only part of school she likes is recess ... until the day she falls and hurts her ankle. Her fixation on the accident and the resulting injury leads her to consider quitting. 

Her mother offers a suggestion. She tells Bibi that meditation might help, as it helps her. Bibi is not convinced; her mother (and Coco) persists in encouraging her. Things do improve. 

"From that day on, every morning when I 
wake up and every single night before I go 
to sleep, I take three slow, deep breaths
and think of all the things I am grateful for.

That meditation continues to make a difference in life and for her tennis successes, even today. Photos, an author's note, and a description of Bianca's meditation routine are included in back matter. 

Dream on, young readers! 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Two Dogs, written and illustrated by Ian Falconer. Harper Collins Publishers, 2022. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Then Perry wanted to go swimming, 
Augie wasn't at all sure about this. 

Perry went for it ... 


What on earth was the family thinking when they left Perry and Augie to their own devices all day long? Alone at home and bored, these two lively and lighthearted dachshunds do their best to make the best of another day where barking at the squirrels in the backyard just is not enough for them. 

Perry is more gregarious than the serious-minded Augie, which often leads to fights. What if they could find a way to open the door and escape into the backyard? Easy peasy! Out they go to pee on the posies, roll around in poop left by visiting raccoons, swing, see-saw, and swim in the pool. As luck would have it, they also find a small hole in the lawn and proceed to make it much bigger by digging it up. Oh-oh! They hear the car pull up.

What happens next will have young readers giggling and astonished at their cheeky reasoning for the mess. The wonderfully expressive pair leave all listeners wanting more ... 

His art is fabulous, as Ian Falconer's Olivia has proven many times over. The opposite personas, the full-color allure of the backyard playground, and the thrill of escape are explored in images filled with energy and humor. Be prepared for multiple readings!                                                                               

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Like Cats and Dogs, written by Melanle Perreault and illustrated by Marion Arbona. Translated by Chantal Bilodeau. Second Story Press, 2022. $19.95 ages 6 and up


"Yes, it's true, Mom and Dad are not in love anymore. 
But I'm sure it could be better than this. 
How can they fight so badly
when I love them both so much? 
All I wish is that they could watch me play hockey 
without snarling at each other the whole time.

Life for Rosalie, a child of divorce, can be very trying. The problem, beyond moving back and forth from one parent to the other, is exacerbated by the way the parents continue to argue every time they see each other.

Rosalie's first-person voice is pragmatic and often humorous, as she describes her parents and their treatment of each other. She knows they love her, and she certainly loves them. Still, she has great difficulty understanding their inability to get along at all. As Rosalie speaks directly to readers, she explains what she needs from them. 

"I don’t care who is right and who is wrong.
I just want to be free to love them both, and to

love them loudly, all the time."

Each has their own strengths. They just cannot get along together. She knows - and they do not - that each loves the same song. It is special to Rosalie because it reminds her of them, and always will. When Rosalie hums the song while with them, both parents are more than pleased. 

"I have two houses, but only one heart. 
My parents live in it together.

Perhaps one day, the two will celebrate their daughter together. It's a wait-and-see situation. There will be children who see themselves in Rosalie, as sad as that may be. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

The Family Tree, written by Sean Dixon and illustrated by Lily Snowden-Fine. From an idea by Katerina Cizek. tundra, Penguin Random House. 2022. $24.99 ages 7 and up

"On Sunday, they went to visit Ada's 
little sister, Mia, who was only three. 
Mia wasn't much interested in the
family tree project, though she was 
interested in Ada. 
"That's a nice tree," said Mia's mama, 
"But I can see why you wanted more 
than the tree," said Mia's mutti, Gerta.

A commonly-given assignment concerning the family tree is the catalyst for a lot of questions and learning in this book. The image of the tree that Ada brings home from school has been drawn by her teacher and resembles a large oak with roots and bare branches. Ada is immediately concerned with how it looks, but says nothing until the next day. It is then her adoptive parents realize why she is upset, and suggest visiting Rosie, an upstairs neighbor. 

Rosie and her mother remember the same assignment from a year ago. Their dilemma at the time was that there were just the two of them; Rosie, being an IVF baby, explains to Ada how she completed her project. Each new visit to people in Ada's circle adds information to her story and images to her ever-changing family tree. In the end, it is a compilation of the love felt for Ada by those who represent the many ways that determine what makes a family. As an adopted child, Ada's connections are many and varied, both biologically and socially. Her finished family tree, while anchored by the tree given in the assignment, is much, much more than that. 

The author's own experience with his daughter was the impetus for writing this meaningful story. There are numerous ways to create a family; this book thoughtfully explores some of them. Ada's extended family is one of diversity, acceptance, and shared love. 

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Rock? Plant? Animal? How Nature Keeps Us Guessing, written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by Brittany Lane. Owlkids, 2022. $19.95 ages 7 and up


This is a leafy sea dragon.

Unlike most fish, the leafy sea dragon is a poor
swimmer. How does it stay safe from predators
if it can't get away quickly? It uses its leafy 
camouflage to hide. By living among seaweed 
and seagrass, and swaying its body back and forth
like a water plant, a leafy sea dragon makes itself 
hard to spot. It can even change color to match
its seaweed habitat.

Beginning with clues to help readers determine the differences that define rocks from plants from animals, Ms. Kaner then establishes the pattern for this informative and interactive book. She asks readers to be sure to look closely before moving on to answering pages. 

"Look closely at this picture. Do you think this is 
a rock, a plant, or an animal? 

Turn the page to find out the answer!

The question is asked and answered fourteen times. Many of those answers were a total surprise to me. I was not best at recognizing many of the images, or at guessing what they might be. That is sure to be the allure of this book for kids who love learning. The first of each question/answer pair shows the  image; the second offers pertinent written information about it, as well as an accompanying spread that provides a clear look at its habitat. The illustrations are very appealing and quite detailed. 

A final statement invites children to look more closely at their world.

"Now that you know that there's often more than meets the eye, it's time to explore your world more closely!"

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Courage Like Kate: The True Story of a Girl Lighthouse Keeper, written by Anna Crowley Redding and illustrated by Emily Sutton. Random House Studio, 2022. $23.99 ages 5 and up


"Clutching her lantern, Kate felt the sting of salt
spray hit her eyes. It took six hundred steps to 
make it from the keeper's house to the tower. Kate 
searched the dark for the rickety wooden walkway
that led to the lighthouse. The glow of her lamplight
revealed ice-coated planks.

One wrong move and Kate would fall off the boards
and into the icy water sloshing beneath her feet. 
Tap. She felt for her next step. Tap. Tap.

What a stunning story of the bravery it took to be a lighthouse keeper in the 19th century. When she was five, Kate's father was named the new keeper on Fayerweather Island in Connecticut. Considered by all to be the keeper's daughter, Kate had a very different opinion of herself and her abilities. She was her father's assistant. She followed him every minute of the day, learning how to grow a garden, shear sheep, milk cows, collect eggs and catch rainwater - all those things that made island life possible for the two of them. 

As you might imagine, life there was not a walk in the park. By the time she was 12, the only thing Kate had not done was to tend the lighthouse alone. The hard work of climbing the spiral staircase was by then causing some health issues for her father. He needed Kate's help. 

"Kate knew the walk was dark, the work was difficult, and the weather was treacherous. She knew the lighthouse's staircase was torturous. She knew the hours were tedious. Each dangerous duty was everything that little girls in the 1800s were not supposed to do. After all, women were told they were absolutely, positively not capable of such bravery, courage, or strength. Little girls were supposed to be ladylike, not lighthouse keepers."  

Kate knew she could do it; do it she did. Everything her father had done ... four times a day! Her courage, her resilience, and her many rescues earned her respect and accolades. When her father died, nearing his 100th birthday, Kate applied for his job. 

An inspiring tale, beautifully illustrated with watercolor, ink, pencil, and pastel, is sure to interest a wide audience despite knowing relatively little about this amazing woman. Emily Sutton's artwork shows readers the calm of the island and the terrifying conditions that often plagued it. Dark, windswept images of Kate climbing the ladders, tending to the oil lamps, and putting her own life in jeopardy to save 23 lives during the course of her tenure are compelling. The endpapers are wonderful. 

Back matter includes further information about Kate, a timeline, archival photographs, an author's note, an invitation to visit Fayerweather Island, and a selected bibliography. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A Home for Us, written by Sharon Jennings and illustrated by Eva Campbell. Red Deer Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2022. $19.95 ages 5 and up


"Light and dark. At school, Yula learns
this is called a day. Yula counts seven, 
and this is a week. Four weeks and 
this is a month. 

Yula plays and sings and learns and 
eats and prays and sleeps with others. 
Others are all like Yula. Mothers and 
fathers are late. 

Others are all orphans, too."

Readers quickly learn a hard lesson about Yula, a Kenyan orphan. She is 4. She is hungry; she cannot walk or talk; there are no parents. Stranger, who will soon be called Mum, picks her up, takes her to a hospital to be assessed, and gives her shelter. There Yula is fed, comforted, and guided in learning about the world. She and Mum form a strong bond before she is taken to an orphanage - it is a new word for the young girl. It is now home. 

Yula is greeted warmly by the children there. She learns more and more, still unsure about much of what is happening. After many days, Mum takes her to school where she learns with Teacher and the other children. When Mum leaves to do her work, Yula becomes part of the group of children living in the orphanage. After more than a month, Mum returns with a boy named Mutuku. Yula cannot contain her sadness and jealousy. She runs. It is a cold night of rememberance for her as she hides away from everyone. 

"Yula shivers. She remembers cold and dark.
Tummy is empty. Yula remembers hungry. 
Something howls. Yula remembers afraid. 

Yula remembers alone.

Morning sunshine brings Yula back to Mum and Mutuku with an understanding for this new home that will include him, too.  

This warm and honest story, illustrated with gouache, acrylic and ink, introduces a very special young girl and her new life. Ms. Jennings credits those who introduced her to the children who live in the Hope Development Center, a Kenyan orphanage.                                                                                        

Monday, October 3, 2022

Surely Surely Marison Rainey, written and illustrated by Erin Entrada Kelly. Greenwillow, Harper. 2022. $21.00 ages 8 and up


"Surely the only thing worse that being terrible 
at sports is having an older brother or sister
who is a fantastic athlete. When you have a 
sibling, there's always someone to compare 
yourself to. 

Marisol is better than Oz at some things - like
not being annoying and not making a mess in the 
kitchen - but sometimes Marisol wishes she was 
more like Oz.

As if she doesn't have enough to worry about already, Coach Decker announces that a two-week kickball unit is next in gym class. To say Marisol does not like gym is understating it. It is her least favorite thing. Her family and friends know it. Her best friend Jada shares her feelings about kickball. There is nothing to be done about it. 

Constant thoughts and worries (which Marisol dubs The Brain Train) plague her as they first practice, and then play their first game. Marisol has no doubt that she will be bad at it - she is right. Finally, in desperation, she and Jada ask for help from Marisol's brother Oz, a star soccer player. Oz does his best to help. He offers one particular piece of advice - 'keep you eye on the ball at all times'. It encourages Marisol to play her game with a bit more confidence despite a setback or two. 

Fans of the initial book about Marisol will be delighted to welcome her back. Many readers will identify with the concerns she has about gym, mean girls, family, and friendship. The books introduce an engaging cast of characters who strengthen the story and give it an emotionally honest feel. Short illustrated chapters celebrate this insecure young girl who gains confidence through determination. Full of heart, it will leave fans eagerly awaiting #3!