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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bee: A Peek-Through Picture Book, text by Patricia Hegarty and illustrations by Britta Teckentrup. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2017. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Gathering nectar as she goes,
From every foxglove, every rose,
Dusty with pollen, the little bee
Buzzes, buzzes, busily.

Bee travels on from bloom to bloom,
Drawn in by their sweet perfume.

Harvesting flowers one by one,
Her compass is the midday sun."

I know that I have earlier posted my admiration for Britta Teckentrup's joyous, detailed artwork. In this book, a companion to last year's Tree (Doubleday, 2016), she matches her images to the rhythmic text created by Patricia Hegarty. Together, they show young readers the important role that bees play in our world.

The hexagonal window on the front cover is a delightful invitation to children to open to the book's pages and see what is going on inside. Cut paper collage explodes in brilliant color on every spread, and mixed media scenes beg attention for the many details included. The fields are alive with movement, light and texture. The tiny honeybee described in lyrical, carefully chosen words invites readers to share the many places and spaces that share the benefits of its flight.

"In the treetops, birds start to sing.
The little bee beats her wings.
As she travels here and there,
A gentle humming fills the air."

Outstanding care has been given to the production of this book. The cover begs a lingering touch, the die-cuts are much appreciated by young readers, and their senses are piqued by the attention given to the true beauty of nature. The role of honeybees cannot be downplayed. This is a perfect introduction for young children to their importance.

"As the bees fly on through buds and burs,
A tiny miracle occurs:

So many plants and flowers you see
Were given life by one small bee."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Happy Dreamer, by Peter H. Reynolds. Orchard Books, Scholastic. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Sometimes I'm a
quiet dreamer
when I make time
to stay still and
hear myself think -
to let go and see
what takes shape.


Peter Reynolds has written some of my favorite books about children finding out who they are in those things they love to do. I hope that you have seen The Dot (Candlewick, 2003), ish (Candlewick, 2004) and other books he has published to encourage children and teachers to find their best selves in this world. He wants us never to let go of our dreams.

After attending a learning difference conference at Harvard where many of the attendees were highly successful people who shared some of their own challenging learning differences while they were in school, Peter found himself thinking of a poem. He called it Amazing, Delightful, Happy Dreamer, the initials spelling out ADHD. That poem became his new book. I want to share my thoughts about it with you tonight.

It is signature work from a man who knows what struggling with paying attention in school was like.
He wrote it for those kids in every school who may be labelled ADHD, and wants them to know it is 'a gift, not a label'. Truly, their dreaming can lead to many wonderful places. He recognizes their creative spirits, and the fact that many people would rather that they move quietly through life and give focus and attention to learning what must be learned.

The dreamer in this book in jubilant in his love for the dreaming that he cannot help but do. Full of energy and joy, he moves through his days expressing himself in sound, color, surprise, and chaos.

"I have so many dreams it can get messy.
Cleaning up hides my treasures.
If you MAKE me,
I will put my things away.
But then there is
less ME to show."

He is not always happy. Mostly, he is able to find his way back to joy!

The author has a wish for everyone who shares his book:

"May it reassure you that good things are ahead for all us dreamers. And in fact, I do believe that if we are to solve some of the planet's biggest problems—we can't keep trying the same solutions. We must invite inventive, flexible minds to the table. World problem solving aside—if this book encourages my readers to simply be happy with themselves, then I'll sleep—and dream— better at night."

Pages filled with color, movement, and hand-lettered text pull readers along in celebration of dreaming. The final gatefold opens to show many children as happy dreamers  - nature happy, space dreamer, alone happy, daydreamer, and on it goes. It's such a pleasure to take the time to really look at each one. And, it offers opportunity for discussion and perhaps even an answer to the question the author leaves with his audience:

"(What kind of dreamer are you?)

 Don't miss the endpapers! If you are interested in hearing more from Peter Reynolds, please have a listen.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hattie Peck: The Journey Home, written and illustrated by Emma Levey. Sky Pony Press, Thomas Allen and Son. 2016. $25.99 ages 3 and up

"Hattie had braved
the elements rescuing
abandoned eggs around
the world.

Big ones,
small ones,

no matter what their size.
she loved each hatchling
just the same."

Hattie Peck proves herself a very special mother in this new book. I will have to find Hattie Peck (Sky Pony Press, 2016) to learn her whole story. Seems she is meant to be a mother, but unable to lay eggs of her own. So, she has gathered as many motherless eggs as she could find in the wide world and her home is now full of a menagerie of exuberant and demanding hatchlings.

Everywhere they go, and everything they do, is chaotic. Imagine trying to keep an eye on such a motley crew. Kids will have great fun identifying the many creatures hatched from eggs, and will concentrate fully on the details that Ms. Levey adds to each of her playful and full-of-love pages.

Their days are full of wonder, and celebrated together. Every single birthday is highlighted with a handmade gift from their hen mother. Their many happy memories intact, the time has come for each of her babies to make a life for themselves. Hattie is determined to help them find their way back to their place in the world. Together, they 'fly the coop'!

Their shared journey is fraught with danger, and adventure. As the family gets smaller, the journey becomes more arduous. No matter, soon they are all where they are meant to be and Hattie is home alone, working at new projects. A surprise visit results in an equally happy surprise for a very special mother.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Freedom Over Me, by Ashley Bryan. Athenenum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

“No matter what work I do
on the estate -
even learning carpentry
from Stephen -
I think of drawing.
I plan one day
to draw freely
from free Negro people.
I will create
loving portraits
of their strength  ..."

In an author's note following the text, Ashley Bryan explains how this beautiful and necessary book came to be written:

"A name. An age. A price.
    People like you. Like me.
    For sale!
    Many years ago I acquired a collection of slave-related documents.
They date from the 1820s to the 1860s.
    I was deeply moved by these documents and have long wished to
work from them. Finally, I chose the Fairchilds Appraisement of the
Estate document from July 5, 1828 to tell this story. Eleven slaves are
listed for sale with the cows, hogs, cotton; only the names and prices of
the slaves are noted (no age is indicated)."

He goes on to say he wanted to give these names a voice and a dream. He chooses an age and the work they are assigned to help tell their story. It is a deeply moving and necessary accounting of the time of slavery in the United States when 'Negro people were not considered human beings'. They were merely property to be bought and sold at an owner's behest.

There are 11 slaves here named, and Mr. Bryan does exactly what he set out to do: he gives them an identity, a purpose in life, and a dream for the future. As we read about them, we hear their voices, their personal history and their description of the work they do on the plantation.

Jane is the seamstress:

"I'm seamstress to Mrs. Fairchilds.
for my skills with cloth,
I design and sew
all of Mrs. Fairchilds's dresses,
tailor shirts and trousers
for Mr. Fairchilds as well.

I enjoy matching colored cloths,
creating unusual patterns.
This has brought many compliments
to the wearer.
Some deep remembrance
of woven African cloths
lives on in me."

And her dream:

"I have grown in artistry
through the clothes I create.
The praise I receive,
I offer as a tribute
to my ancestors.

Stephen and I
treat the young slave John
as our son.
We never lose hope
that we will one day
live free."

The gorgeous and boldly colored pen, ink and watercolor portraits are mesmerizing. You cannot help but be drawn to their faces, their demeanor, their hard work and their dreams; and the price they are expected to bring. They make a meaningful contribution to the success of the plantation. Their world is captured in their telling words. Ashley Bryan shows he cares about the people and their stories, and he makes us care, too. This is a powerful book, and it should be shared.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Laundry Day, by Jessixa Bagley. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"Well, how about building a fort?" asked Ma Badger. "We already made one," said Tic. "Then we invaded it and it fell apart," said Tac. "What about fishing?" asked Ma Badger tiredly. "We caught all the fish in the pond," said Tic. "Then we let them go ... 

Young readers are sure to get a kick out of this tale of two brothers, full of pep and always on the lookout for something to keep them from being bored. Tic and Tac would be described as boisterous, I think. Ma does her best to keep them busy, and makes many suggestions - reading, fort-building, fishing. They have been there, and done that!

She mentions hanging laundry. That catches their attention. They have not done that! Ma gives instructions, and they are keen to follow them. Leaving them to finish while she goes for groceries, Ma has no idea the mischief that might follow upon completion of their given task. There is no limit to the additional items the two find for hanging outside on this warm and sunny laundry day!

They soon run out of room on the laundry line, presenting no problem at all when Tac allows that they are NOT out of twine. Kids will be hooting as they watch the collection grow by leaps and bounds.

"They ran all over the house gathering every whatnot, bauble, and trinket they could find! They picked up every knickknack, this and that, bric-a-brac in the house. They grabbed buckets and books. They pilfered pots. They pirated pillows. They looted lampshades and even took the toaster!"

Oh, my! When  Mama comes home, Tic and Tac learn the true meaning of being hung out to dry! Be prepared to read this one again and again ... such terrific fun!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Let's Eat: Sustainable Food for a Hungry Planet. Written by Kimberley Veness. Orca Book Publishers, 2017. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"I love quinoa, and it's super easy to grow. Our garden on Vancouver Island was about the size of a backyard swimming pool, complete with a 2-meter-wall (7 foot tall) deer fence with large stones at the base to keep the wild rabbits from burrowing under. The tall, colorful buds of quinoa rested lazily on the top of the fence."

The Orca Footprints series has been very successful, and deservedly so! They tell readers about issues of importance and do it in a way that is accessible and educational. In this newest edition, Kimberley Veness teaches those who read her book about the many traditional ways that food comes to our tables.

Today, there are opportunities for children to learn first-hand about food production through visits, planned activities, and even video access to growers and producers. She has included four chapters: Let's Eat, which raises awareness of some of the challenges faced when trying to get food to the table; Small is Beautiful, which takes into consideration family farms and those who produce food for us in a much more personal way; Urban Foodscapes, where the larger centers offer new ways of growing indoors, or in gardens designed for rooftops, and purchasing locally prepared foods from the food trucks often seen on city streets; and finally A Farm for the Future, which is pretty self-explanatory. Here readers can consider advances in food production and what the future may hold for each of us.

As we have come to expect, the design invites us to check out the many exceptional archival and contemporary photos provided, and the text is written to grab attention with small bits of useful information:

"FARMING FACT: Twelve percent of land on Earth, more than 1.5 billion hectares (3.7 billion acres), is being used to grow food. That's an area nearly twice the size of Australia, and it's expanding every day."

From Farm to Table, Farming Fact, Chew on This sidebars, as well as clearly captioned photos,
suggestions for learning activities, and charts provide everything needed to guide us through this relevant and thoughtful book. A resource list for further learning, a glossary and an index are also helpful.

My daughter has lived in Victoria for more than ten years now, and I was quite proud to be able to share some of what I learned when reading this fine book. She did not know the Mason Street City Farm which is within walking distance of downtown Victoria. Now she does. Their family has not yet been lucky enough to sample a local food truck, owned and operated by Aidan Pine:

"I met Aidan Pine one summer while working at a farmers' market. In the course of a year, his family went from raising 20 chickens to 200 to keep up with orders at the truck, and that was just the poultry. All the produce, lamb, pork and chicken he serves from his food truck come from the farm. It isn't unusual to serve 50 pounds of beets in one week. People can't get enough of his farm-fresh flavors!"

If you  live in Victoria, or are visiting, be sure to see if you can find the Juma food truck, and give local food a try!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm, written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. two lions, Amazon. Thomas Allen & Son, 2017. $ 25.99 ages 3 and up

"They puddle-jumped together.
They plopped through mud


And they dropped a stick off
a bridge and watched it rush
on down the creek.


Happy first day of spring, everyone!

When I was teaching kindergarten my students loved Jonathan London's Froggy books. There have been many over the years. Froggy had some of the same experiences his young fans had. As with series books, they liked knowing a little more about Froggy and his family each time a new book was added to our classroom library. Now, we have this first book in a brand new series. I do hope you are happy to meet Duck and Hippo whose adventures will continue with another adventure in August, Duck and Hippo Lost and Found.

Although we still have snow on the ground and March is not over yet, knowledge that it is the first day of spring brings hope for April showers, May flowers, and a return to warmth. Kids like nothing better than splashing through puddles, sailing inanimate objects in the flowing waters created during a spring thaw, or following a rainstorm. Meet Duck and Hippo as they enjoy those same things together.

They are friends, and they are very different ... in looks and in personality. Those differences are cause for concern occasionally. Hippo, elegantly dressed and enjoying a spot of tea, is interrupted by a knock at the door and an invitation from a friend. Duck wants Hippo to join him for a walk in the rain. Duck has an umbrella, Hippo has rain boots. They head off with the agreement that Duck will share his umbrella!

"But there was no room for Hippo!
He tried walking in front of Duck.
   But that didn't work.

He tried walking behind Duck.
   But that didn't work.

Then Duck stood on Hippo's feet,
and Hippo held the umbrella.
   And that worked just fine!"

Silly situations, repetitive language, appealing new characters, and the promise of future adventure ... what more can we ask of the prolific Mr. London? Andrew Joyner adds expressive, impressive artwork to assure that little readers have a budding new friendship to appreciate and enjoy.