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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Robins! How They Grow Up.Written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"One day, when Mom is away, a squirrel invades our nest! Luckily, Mom discovers him! Dad pursues him into the woods, pecking at his behind. But only three eggs remain. Mom sits on those three eggs for thirteen days. Then the first one she laid begins to crack.."

I like to think Ms. Christelow's 'teenage' robins, or robins similar to them, have taken up residence in my backyard. Certainly, their parents have. The nest they have used over the past few summers has been bolstered, and I see them keeping watch over its construction almost every day as I spend time in the warmth of
the back porch.

The 'teenagers' provide us with a plethora of asides about robins, while the author shares careful and considered data concerning nesting, caring for the eggs and chicks, their food, the dangers they face, fledging and even migration. It is amazing how much information is packed into this book's pages, all of it feeling accessible and engaging.

With each new fact presented the 'teen' robins add context.

"Mom sits on her eggs, keeping them
warm so baby birds will grow inside. She
turns the eggs often so the temperature stays
even - otherwise the babies might stick to
the shell!"

"She warmed
the eggs against
a patch of skin
on her belly."  

"Her brood patch."

As they chat, we watch and learn. From spring to fall, the author presents a concise abundance of data that is endlessly interesting. She lets us know that life is not always safe and secure for the eggs or the little chicks. There are dangers present in a world where predators are always on the lookout for food.
I will admit to surprise at some of the information shared. Their first two weeks following the hatch are astonishing.

"Over two weeks, we eat about 350 insects and fourteen feet of worms - each! All that food makes us grow quickly, We're almost as big as Mom and Dad!

The art is perfect for the text ... full of carefully drawn illustrations presented in a mix of form. Some are three-quarter spreads, some are side by side panels showing movement and change, some show sequences of action; all are accompanied by the teens and their speech balloons in marginal white space, adding accurate and additional info. It is a book about birth, chronological growth and development, and magical moments. It is created with a sense of fun, as well as with care and concern for this harbinger of spring. It deserves a place on every bookshelf!

An author's note, a glossary, and a question-and-answer provide final appreciated tidbits. If a reader wants to know more - is there more to know? - a list of resources is also there.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Harry and Clare's Amazing Staycation, written by Ted Staunton and illustrated by Mika Song. Tundra Books, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"Harry had an idea,
but his stomach was
growling and his hands
were full of suitcase. "I -"

"Look out," said Claire.
"Quicksand!" She ate
Harry's snack for him ... "

It won't be long until the kids are out of school for another year. Wasn't it just spring break? Seems a long past to them, I am sure - especially as the days turn warm and sunny, and the evening's sunshine lasts until after 9. Summer vacation can't come soon enough for many.

And the days are not always filled with amazing things to do, or places to go. Some of them can be rainy - and repetitive - and boring! You might want to seek advice from Harry and Clare if that's the case at your house. It's only a week for them. The family is staying home, the rain is falling, and Clare is being the 'boss' for everything they do. Isn't that the way it is for some kids?

Despite their circumstance, the two find a way to make the days more adventuresome. On Monday, it's Mars, with Harry carrying all the supplies while Clare takes care of the snacks. Distracted by his hunger and with Clare in charge, he is victim to quicksand. As he sinks, Clare gets to eat his snack. Tuesday is rainy, too. A race car (shopping cart) provides transport at the grocery store. Harry wants to navigate. Clare has other ideas. She lets Harry 'drive and park' their race car (using both hands) while she partakes of their granola bar snacks. Wednesday is not any better.

Time for Harry to take control of the adventures and the snacks. He must be very sneaky! When they can get outside on a sunny Thursday, their zoo trip is orchestrated by Clare. Harry keeps mum. His planning pays dividends! Bravo, Harry!

What respect for the imagination and for sibling conflict and resolution is shown in Ted Staunton's storytelling. Fun to read, and an invitation to share adventure and fanciful stories from listeners, the watercolor and ink illustrations show common settings for paired adventure.  High-spirited and full of joy, they will have all kids looking forward to a staycation of their own!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Secret Life of the Red Fox, written by Laurence Pringle and illustrated by Kate Garchinsky. Boyds Mills Press, Highlights. 2017. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"She dashes through the woods, crosses a road, leaps onto the top of a stone wall, and looks back. The dogs are still coming. Vixen runs on. She slips through a thicket of thorny brambles. She leaps across a creek and climbs to the top of a steep hill in a cow pasture. There she catches her breath."

Foxes have made their presence known in many books for children in the past year. Kids seem to love reading about them, and authors are willing to share their stories. It's a win-win situation for all of us!

We meet Vixen on a sunny winter afternoon. Once awakened from a warm and satisfying sleep, she is eager to explore her surroundings. She's hungry. Using her acute ability to smell and hear what humans cannot, she is off to hunt for a juicy meal. As she goes, Laurence Pringle offers up sound information about her anatomy, her diet, and her ability to sense movement even under the deep snow.

"She moves her head slowly to better pinpoint the sound.
Nibble, nibble, nibble.
She crouches, then leaps high in the air and dives into the snow,
landing with her head and front feet. The mouse is caught,
and soon eaten. All that remains is a little spot of blood on the

So we travel with her as she hunts, finds her mate, marks her territory, and continues to feast on food found. Danger is ever near. So, she must be vigilant as she searches for a burrow where the two can safely welcome a family in the spring. The kits are taught all the secrets of a fox's life under the gentle guidance of their parents. In early fall, they are ready to venture forth on their own.

Mixing storytelling and factual information seamlessly, this book will certainly appeal to many. Adding Kate Garchinsky's pastel and aqua crayon artwork is a perfect match. She captures the beauty of the surroundings, while also bringing emotion and dramatic energy to many special moments for the fox family. I have some favorites, you will have your own.

The author includes in back matter a More About the Red Fox section, a glossary for unfamiliar terms used, and a list of resources for those wanting to know more. Stunning!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Princess Cora and the Crocodile, written by Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Brian Floca. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $16.99 ages 7 and up

"After she studied, Princess Cora went down to the old castle prison, which the King had turned into a gym. Every day the King stood with his gold watch in his hand while Princess Cora ran in circles and skipped rope up to five hundred. "Faster! Faster! A future queen must be strong!" said the King. "Skipping rope is good for you!" Princess Cora knew that skipping was good ... "

Poor Cora! She enters the world as perfect as can be. It takes no time for her parents to decide she must be 'taught' and 'trained'. Suddenly, they are more concerned with what their daughter's impediments are than her accomplishments. So much is expected of her as heir to the throne. Her parents fill her every day with lessons, and all things meant to improve who she is.

Cora is never free to be Cora. Her nanny ensures tidiness, leading to three baths a day. Her mother oversees her reading countless meaningless books. Her father is a stern taskmaster in the gym. Cora does everything she can to please her parents. Some readers who share this book will have great empathy for Cora, knowing only too well how she is feeling. 

Until one day ... she decides she would love a dog. The idea is firmly pooh-poohed by her parents and nanny. A letter to her fairy godmother is a plea for help. A box at the foot of her bed in the morning does not hold the pet of her dreams; but it might just provide the help she needs. With the arrival of the giant green crocodile Cora begins to see a new and brighter future. The croc promises not to eat anyone so long as Cora supplies him with cream puffs, his favorite food.

He manages to take Cora's place, leaving the young princess time for solace and new learning in the woods. Alternating chapters shift venues from the turbulent royal residence to the peaceful pastures and welcoming woods. As the crocodile unleashes mayhem in the castle, Cora meanders serenely (albeit occasionally into cow poop) on her own and with no obligations. Is there a happy ending? You will have to decide for yourself. I can tell you that it involves fewer baths, a new pet, and a refreshing sense of independence for the young royal.

Laura Amy Schlitz tells a witty, captivating tale. Brian Floca creates ink, watercolor and gouache artwork sure to leave readers in stitches. Wonderful to read aloud, and then to pass to a child wanting to read it independently, it is a book that will be loved by many.

It's a charmer! And one for my 'keeper' shelf to share with Sicily and Chelsea.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park, by Celia Godkin. Pajama Press, 2017. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"Other animals build homes at the beaver ponds too. Muskrats make homes like beaver lodges, using rushes instead of sticks. Muskrat homes make good platforms on which ducks build their nests. Other birds nest among the rushes bordering the ponds."

The year was 1995. Thirteen wolves from Canada were delivered to Yellowstone National Park in an attempt to build new hope for the park's ecosystem. One year later, another ten were added. Twenty-two years later, that introduction has made a tremendous difference, and is proof positive just how successful carefully planned environmental projects can be. From that twenty-three, there are now about one hundred living in the park. It's an important story!

Celia Godkin does a truly admirable job of presenting the project in terms children will understand. The language is clear, the telling is positive and brings awareness for the remarkable results. She shows the natural course of events, beginning with a large herd of elk listening to a sound they have never heard. The wolves call to each other, and head straight toward the elk. It is the first kill for the wolf pack. The elk, of needs, find a safer place to graze.

As their valley home responds with new growth, it now provides an invitation to birds and bears to feast on its abundance. Beaver build dams, forming deep ponds that become home to various bird species, insects, fish, frogs ... even otters and birds of prey. It is an amazing transformation.

Those changes are portrayed in detailed mixed media artwork. The double page spreads clearly show the park and its dramatic change - all through the introduction of the gray wolf. The settings beautifully display the grandeur of the park, and the interdependence of the species living there. Don't miss having a close look at the endpapers. The illustrations there may result in further research for interested children.

Written for a younger audience, it will have impact for older readers as well. While much is learned about biodiversity and the environment, it is presented in a most appealing format. Never did I feel that it was written to teach me something. It is simply a story of life in a very special environment.

In final pages we are told a bit about the history of the wolf in North America, and the events that led to its near disappearance in both the United States and Mexico. Once the wolf was placed on the US Endangered Species list people began to ask to have it reintroduced into the country's wilderness. The Yellowstone Park project proves it can be a huge success.

Friday, June 23, 2017

a Letter to my Teacher, words by Deborah Hopkinson and pictures by Nancy Carpenter. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I hope you remember me.
I was the one who marched
to school that first day,
splashing through every
puddle I could find. I wore
a bright yellow raincoat and a dark, stormy frown - because for me, school meant sitting still ... "

It's second grade. For one small girl, it's her teacher who makes all the difference. As a teacher, I had a special place in my heart for the kids who didn't fit the mold, who acted out, who needed understanding and acceptance. They made me a better teacher every day, and I was grateful to have them in my class so they could teach me what I needed to know. I can only hope that I had the kind of impact this teacher did.

The child remembering her year in second grade knows a lot about herself. She can't keep her voice down, she likes to be the class clown, she needs constant supervision on field trips. She marches to the beat of a different drummer. She remembers how her teacher helps her find what she does best, and guides her through her days encouraging her to acquire the skills needed to be a friend and to find success in a place that holds little appeal for her. With each new success, things get better.

Nancy Carpenter captures every nuance of the memories the now grown woman shares in this emotional and memorable book. Those emotions are beautifully displayed throughout, in illustrations that capture the exuberance and unleashed energy exhibited. The teacher stands out on every page for the patience she shows and the guidance she gives when the going gets tough. She makes room for a 'different' learner in her classroom. Humor is evident as the two work together to form a lasting bond, one the teacher may not necessarily remember so many years later. The girl does not forget.

Her year end gift is testament to the difference a caring teacher can make, and her career choice is proof positive that teachers make differences in children's lives ... every day, and in so many ways.

"For a long time now
I've been wanting to write to tell you
that even though I didn't always listen,
and I know I was exasperating,
second grade really was the best year ever."

What a tribute ... and what a lovely gift for a teacher at the end of the school year. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Imagine That! let your mind run wild, by Yasmeen Ismail. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Lila ...
Slow down!
What are you

Nothing ...

I am the queen of
super speed! Nothing
can stop these noble ... "

It's a pretty normal day for Lila's mother. They are on their way to spend some time with Grandpa. For Lila it is just another occasion for allowing her imagination to take flight at every turn. Her mom has a need to keep Lila on task as they get ready to leave, and as they make their way to the meeting place. Lila's mind is full of so much more than following her mom's linear line of thought.

What an imagination she has! Young readers will be delighted to see that Lila loves pretend just as they do. Moving from page to page, we are carried on wings of whimsy. One double page spread puts us in real time - Mom trying to get Lila to pay attention. The next, filled with Lila's fanciful imaginings.

"FLIP and spring and ZOOM and tumble,
I won't slip, I NEVER fumble!
I boing and bounce!
I ping and pong!
I'm quick and swift
and super STRONG!"

On they go, with her mother following closely as Lila tears through the street lost in her own world.
When they finally meet Grandpa, she has a story to tell him. Surprise! It turns out that Grandpa has been waiting patiently for someone to come along whose flights of imagination match his. It's always better to share such experiences with a friend, isn't it?

The gorgeous watercolor artwork fills the pages with motion and joy. Kids are going to love listening to it, and will surely want to hear it again. It will surely spark fanciful stories of their own. And, they will LOVE Lila. She has a force to be admired.