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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Big Book of Canada: Exploring the Provinces and Territories. (Updated Edition) Written by Christopher Moore and illustrated by Bill Slavin. Tundra Books, Random House. 2017. $45.99 ages 10 and up

The Winnipeg Jets had joined the National Hockey League in 1979, but the team moved away in 1996. Winnipeg kept fighting to get its team back, and in 2011 the Winnipeg Jets were reborn.
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights opened in a spectacular new building near the Forks  ... "

This book was originally published in 2002. It has been updated this year  in celebration of Canada's 150th birthday! It will serve readers well for browsing, and learning more about the country they live in. Perfect for the coffee table, or the classroom bookshelf, it is meant to inform anyone interested in our history, and tells how Canada has grown both regionally and nationally. Being able to concentrate on the provinces and territories one at a time is sure to garner interest for families, too.

Each chapter covers landscapes, special moments, peoples, places on its map, industry, famous and infamous provincial characters, law and order, plus a list of general information and a page that describes something unique about the province itself. It's accessible format and easy style give readers the opportunity to visit a place that may be unfamiliar to them. It's a great way to visit Canada without leaving the comfort of your easy chair.

 Archival photographs, full-color illustrations, maps, and information boxes add to the appeal. Bill Slavin has done a wonderful job of providing details and garnering attention for what is depicted throughout the lengthy text. In back matter there are suggestions for further reading by provincial writers that give further context to life in each of the provinces. For example, Manitoba works include writings by Margaret Laurence, W. D. Valgardson, Arthur Slade, and Chester Brown.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Alphabet Thief, written by Bill Richardson and illustrated by Roxanna Bikadoroff. Groundwood. 2017. $17.95 ages 8 and up

"The Alphabet Thief
stole all of the M's.
A hockey team turned into tea.
It spilled on the ice - ice that
used to be mice -
And that's not the iced tea
for me!

The Alphabet Thief
stole all of the N's."

Full of fun and zany wordplay, this is an alphabet book that is sure to find fans among kids who love to read something different. It's small format makes it great for sharing with a friend, and its premise will have readers scrambling to come up with some of their own ideas.

Bill Richardson does a commendable job of taking letters from words to make new ones, while also creating a complete transformation for the verse as it began. He makes good on his promise to find a way through the alphabet without losing sight of the wacky idea that set him off. The rhymes are most enjoyable and quirky. Readers will find much here to like.

"CAN NOBODY STOP the Alphabet Thief?
Can nobody end her spree?
Can somebody best her, can someone arrest her
Before she takes all of the G's?"

Repetitive language, terrific rhythms, and well-managed rhyme make it great fun to share. The illustrations that accompany each of the word changes are filled with humor and appealing characters. The thief has a familiar witchy look ... big hat, long nose, striped stockings, buckled boots, a feathered hat and a mask. The little girl, a sleuth-like observer of the actions, is often perturbed by the results of the ever-changing words. Her dog feels much the same. In the end it is up to that young girl to put an end to all of the thievery. Using the letter Y as a slingshot, she pummels the thief with ammo in the form of the letter Z, putting the thief into a state of deep slumber and bringing the Alphabet Thief's spree to a halt! Brava, young lady!

Engaging and detailed, this is a book that will have readers poring over its pages and reading with great exuberance.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Fox Wish, written by Kimiko Aman and illustrated by Komako Sakai. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"The foxes were not very
good at jump rope. They
were good jumpers,. but
their tails kept getting
caught in the rope.

It didn't seem polite
to laugh at them, even
though they looked so
funny. But Lukie couldn't
help it."

Oh, what a lovely tale to read with little ones. They will surely see themselves in it - their belief that anything can happen, that wishes do come true, and that new friendships are worth pursuing. Told in Roxie's quiet voice, it is the story of a sister and brother who are sharing a snack when Roxie suddenly remembers the jump rope she left at the park. She invites Lukie along to retrieve it.

When they get there, the rope is gone. But, what is that sound they hear? Can it be their friends still playing? As luck would have it, it is, in fact, a group of fox kits and they are ... wait for it! ... jumping rope! Roxie and Lukie watch in awe from behind a nearby tree, not wanting to frighten the kits or disturb their play. They are just too darn comical! Without meaning to do so, Lukie laughs quietly at their antics. Their sharp ears know that someone is nearby. The children come out from their hiding place and are welcomed warmly. They are also asked for help in this rope jumping endeavor.

Roxie is quick to give instructions and the two join in their raucous romp. When the sky 'becomes peachy', they know their day of play must come to an end. As they prepare to say goodbye, Roxie notices that the rope being used is hers, as it has her name painted on it. That is when she discovers that the littlest fox shares her name and had made a wish for a game to play when they got to the park earlier in the day. The rope is her wish come true. The child Roxie handles the situation with aplomb and generosity.

If you are not familiar with Komako Sakai's artwork, having a close look here will send you to the library or bookstore to find her other books! She is so sensitive to children and their lives. She uses gorgeous acrylic gouache paints, oil pencil and ballpoint pen to bring the children and the kits together in park's warm setting. I loved the peach of the sunset and the pure joy the kits brought to an unfamiliar pursuit.

I know this is going to become a favorite new read for Sicily when I see her next. I am going to take great pleasure in sharing it with her - repeatedly.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bird Watcher, by David Burnie. DK Canada. 2015. $10.99 ages 8 and up

"Many birds fly thousands of miles, and some stay airborne around the clock until they are old enough to breed. Even if a bird is far away, you can often tell what kind it is by its silhouette, or by the way it flaps its wings. Birds of prey soar high into the sky, with their wings held out straight. Other birds speed past in straight lines or graceful curves. Some flap their wings in bursts ... "

I haven't posted any books from DK in a while now. I remain in awe of the work they do to get information books into the hands of young and keen nature enthusiasts. They design their books for assured ease of use, and fill the pages with incredibly detailed photographs that help young learners with context for that learning. Each page has short paragraphs of pertinent information that relates to, and improves on what is being shared.

A table of contents is helpful, and ensures that readers will quickly find what most interests them. Double page spreads help interested ornithologists understand what a bird's world is like, the equipment that is essential to make the study of birds accessible. A blind is described for watching from cover so as not to scare them away. A bird buffet is set up to attract hungry birds and includes such foods as mealworms, seeds, bread crumbs, fruit, and even bacon fat. Advice is given on making feeders that will attract birds to your own yard, what to plant in order to attract avian visitors, and
how to tell if birds are visiting your yard from the clues they leave.

There are 30 activities described to help readers learn how best to attract, feed, study, and name the birds they see. The science is explained, and the learning is most enjoyable and reliable. By putting out nesting materials in your yard, you can watch as birds construct their own individual homes. You will see which bird gathers, and which one builds. If you are lucky, they might build it close enough for you to watch them hatch and care for their new babies.

"If you have a nestbox in your yard, you will be able to see just how quickly birds grow up. Most people get by on just three meals a day, but baby songbirds need many more. Their parents have to work to keep them fully fed. By watching them for just 15 minutes, you can estimate how many times they bring food to the nest in a day."

And there's more! It's a great book to give a budding birdwatcher, along with a pair of binoculars and a field guide. They will be off and away.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Cat Named Swan, by Holly Hobbie. Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Yet day by day, he found
enough food to eat.
Day by day, he managed
to elude the threats that
surrounded him.
He survived.

One morning, though,
he did not escape the
peril that came down on him."

Poor little kitten! No family, no home, no way of truly knowing how to live in such a dangerous world. Yet, he manages to survive, though not exactly thrive.  When he gets stuck in a tree, he needs help. Oops! He is saved (or is he?) by an animal control officer.

Food, companions, no danger to avoid, and safety for a little one who has known none of it.

"Boredom was better than misery."
The boredom quickly ends when a forever family scoops him up and takes him home with them.

" ... he learned that the house was his house, the yard was his yard. He learned that the people were his people and he was theirs. He belonged to them and they belonged to him."

Much loved, eager to discover both the inside and outside of his new surroundings, Swan makes the most of every perfect day ... and night.

Holly Hobbie uses pencil and watercolors to bring Swan and his two very different circumstances to glorious life for her readers. From the dull and dirty city we are transported to the joyful colors of a rural landscape. She shows first the terrors, then the joys, in realistic and winsome art. She matches the energy and emotions felt by all and we are lucky to be rapt observers of Swan's transformation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Grand Canyon, by Jason Chin. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $27.99 ages 8 and up

"As you approach the rim of the canyon, the climate becomes cooler and more moist. Vegetation on the sloping Toroweap Formation is more dense than below. Before exiting the canyon, however, there is one more layer to scale: the Kaibab Limestone. The Kaibab cliffs are full of marine fossils that tell us about life here 270 million years ago ... "

It's a father and daughter excursion that leads us to observe the many wonders of the Grand Canyon. Luckily, we have a rocking chair observation station and will not actually feel the rigors of the challenging trek from the South Kaibab Trail up, up, up to the South Rim.

As they go, we have a great view of the geological landscape that has so inspired and intrigued visitors. By reading the accessible text and spending time pondering the incredibly detailed images, we learn a great deal about the creation of this mesmerizing place. From its basement rocks which are as much as 1.84 billion years old to the Ponderosa pine forest above the rim, Jason Chin affords us a most interesting lesson in geology and the passing of time. An illustrated image of the more than twelve rock layers found there is provided near the beginning of our trek, and acts as a guide and a reference as we move up the canyon.

The science lesson here is so beautifully constructed, and most enjoyable for his audience. He fills the borders with the flora and fauna of each habitat, the rock formations, the development of the layers, the fossils found in the various layers, the weathering and erosion, and the climates of each. It is a complex story made easier to comprehend through this stellar presentation. Cutouts at various points along the way peek through and give the child a chance to take a step back in time and experience first-hand the many changes the canyon itself has undergone.

Back matter runs to six pages and expands our knowledge for how the canyon was actually carved through eons. A short discussion of our journey, a look at the human history of this remarkable place, the ecological communities that are prominent in the canyon itself, its geology, formation, the Colorado River and the mystery of its formation are each briefly discussed. He adds a note from himself and then one about his illustrations before providing an extensive list of resources for further study. The man did his research. His art reflects his personal visit. A cross section of the canyon and a glorious four page foldout to give a panoramic view will hold readers in awe of its 'grand'eur.

Jason's author's note voices a wish for his readers:

"This book is my tribute to the canyon and also to the power of the imagination. After all, it's imagination that makes both science and art possible. I hope that this book captures my readers' imaginations, just as Grand Canyon has captured mine."

Monday, April 24, 2017

ida, ALWAYS. Written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Then the two friends flopped onto their favorite rock while the city pulsed around them. "I wish we could see it," Gus sighed. "You don't have to see it to feel it," said Ida. "Listen." They heard buses groan; police whistle; taxis honk; pigeons coo; ... "

In the gentle story of loss and the grief that follows, we meet Ida and Gus. They are two polar bears making a life in a city zoo. Gus is constantly attentive to Ida, loving being with her and sharing happy times and adventures.

"When the sky grew dark, Gus and Ida waved good night and crawled off to their caves. With the subways humming underground, they added their snores to the sounds of their city. Every day was always the same."

Until it wasn't ...

While they love being together, life changes for them. Ida doesn't always have good, happy days. She is tired, and cannot enjoy swimming as she used to do. She sleeps for lengthy periods of time and even coughs often. One day, Ida didn't come out of her cave.

"Keeper Sonya came instead.
Sonya told Gus that Ida was very sick.
Usually, there's a way to make a sick bear better,
but this time was different.
Ida wouldn't hurt, but she would get tired
and too weak to swim and play."

Caron Levis does not shy away from death, wanting her audience to know that it is a part of life. She even allows the two bears a growling, heartbreaking rant for what is going to happen. When it stops, the 'fold' into each other and enjoy the rest of their days together, wondering and guessing and imagining what is to come. As Ida's health declines, Gus is a constant companion. Gus is there when Ida breathes her final breath, and he is heartbroken. That is as it should be. But, he always remembers Ida and knows she is still 'there'.

"He steps into the spot
where Ida liked to soak in the sun.
He listens to their city pulsing around him.
He remembers that Ida said
you don't have to see it to feel it."

Filled with beauty and emotion, this is a story that will resonate with every child and adult who shares it. The digitally rendered artwork is so effective in its moody colors. There is sadness in the love lost,  and joy in the remembering. Their world is most often filled with blue skies, that change dramatically with Ida's death, and return to wonder with acceptance.