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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gordon: Bark to the Future, by Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press, 2018. $16.99 ages 8 and up

Where is his secret lab?
Where is his bed?
Where is his dish?
Where is his bone?!?



Only one agent can protect the humans from alien attack. His partner Binky has been captured, calls to P.U.R.S.T (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) have not been answered, and the humans need help. Is Gordon too late? There is no time to test his new time machine to ensure it can do what it is designed to do. He will have to take a chance, go five days back in time, and attempt to thwart the contemptible flies wanting to make his humans' lives unbearable.

A 'bug' in the machine causes him to go back FIVE YEARS. Is there nothing to be done? He has no fuel to get home, he can't change what has happened because of its effects for the future, and dogs are the enemy. Can a dog do what needs to be done to change the future?

You may be missing Binky, but Gordon certainly helps ease that pain. We are constantly aware of Gordon's thought processing and decision-making, as well as his occasional senior moments - balls and steak can be real distractions. Gordon must depend on his mental acuity to find a solution. Can he do it?

Laugh-out-loud funny, witty, full of action and angst, kids new to the series will want to go back and find all books that have led Gordon to this time in his life. Emerging readers will love it, fans will be thrilled to have another adventure to enjoy, and all will look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Greetings From Witness Protection, written by Jake Burt. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 12 and up

"The first time I crashed a new school midyear was a disaster. The second time was ... well, okay, that was a disaster, too. By the third time, I started getting the hang of it. I guess that's one of the reasons the marshals picked me - I've done this sort of thing before. Granted, not as Charlotte Trevor, and not with people's lives at stake, but I know enough by now to have a plan ... "

I read a review of this novel, and knew that I wanted to read it. Thankfully, I did just that - and in one day! I only hope to meet Nicki and her new family at some future date, to see how they are doing.

Nicki is a foster kid, with some issues. The Trevors are a family in need of help. The U.S. marshals are taxed with putting the Trevors into the Witness Protection Program, and finding a way to keep a deadly crime organization from finding them. What if they change the family composition, move them to a new home, and let them start over with Nicki/Charlotte as their daughter? What could possibly go wrong?


Nicki/Charlotte is an crackerjack character - abrasive and charming, a pick pocket when nervous, thoughtful and kind, and looking to be loved. She is 13. Her life can only get better, she hopes. She does her best to maintain a quiet, inconspicuous life and keep her new family out of trouble. Her relationship with her new 'brother' is funny, and often contentious. Her past is not particularly conducive to her fitting in, but she does.

The Trevors love her and value the help she gives to keep them out of the public eye. She does nothing to make herself visible. She's not nearly as cool as she really is, she gets average grades, she makes few friends, and she doesn't do as well as she could do at basketball, even though she could be fantastic. Flying under the radar is not easy; it takes a lot of work and diligence to keep it that way.

Nicki's first person narration is powerful and strong, real and endearing. You will be happy to meet her. The pace of the story is quick, the bonds are strong, and there is a lot of fun mixed with the frightening chance for revenge if they are found. The ending is powerful, and will have readers hoping Jake Burt has another great story to tell.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Summer Color, written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Zoe Persico. Little Brown and Company, Hachette. 2018. $23.49 ages 4 and up

"The wind starts to stir.
A few drops pitter-patter,
and critters that creep in
the grass quickly scatter.
Rain batters down on the
blustery scene,
as cardinals fly into
treetops so green."

The family has gathered to have a cool drink together on a warm summer day. Two children can't ignore the allure of summer freedom and are off to explore the countryside. Away from the yard, down the path past the well, and through the meadow they run. Realizing they are a distance from home when a storm blows up, they must make a mad dash for  safety. As they go, they continue to take note of their beautiful natural surroundings - a creek, a waterfall, the nearby lake and the meadow.

"Our soggy shoes squeak when we race through the door.
We crowd by the window and watch the rain pour."

I like the way the author weaves common colors through the entirety of her verse. The pace picks up  quickly as the children notice the dark gray clouds and run home, in contrast to the drowsy and relaxed pace at the beginning while the family enjoys refreshment in the summer heat. Readers will enjoy the setting, and the day's action, noting the many affable details included in Zoe Persico's lively digital artwork.

It will strike an agreeable note with little ones as they enjoy the rhyme and rhythm of the text, and their introduction to the colors in this wondrous world.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night, by Rob Laidlaw. Pajama Press, 2018. $22.95 ages 9 and up

"Sometimes bats enter buildings through tiny holes or gaps that lead into attics, basements, or spaces between walls. People often want them removed, but if pups are present, the bats should be left alone until the pups have weaned and both females and pups have left for the season." 

Young readers love knowing as much as they can about bats. Rob Laidlaw writes terrific nonfiction on topics that kids love to read. It's a win-win situation. No one will be disappointed when sharing this new book.

Rob's writing style is conversational, and personal. He provides clear information, based on up-to-date study and creates a book that is perfect fare for his target audience.
He begins with a useful table of contents, one of the features I like to see to help kids find what interests them most. There are five main sections: It's A Bat World, Unbelievable Bat Biology, Bats for a Healthy World, Bat Challenges and Solutions, and finally Being a Friend to Bats.

The introduction is concise, offering a quick look at what we can expect from the book. A number of topics are covered in each section. These are far-ranging, and accompanied by numerous photographs, "Bat Facts" and "Batty Ideas" boxes to add appeal and enhance learning. "Bat Citizens" are frequently introduced with text explaining what each does to improve conditions for the animals they love.

In an entry called Safe Havens for Bats, a 'batty idea' box asks "Which Roost?" And we learn:

"Maternity roosts are where female bats gather to bear their young.
Their combined body heat may help to create a warm environment
for the helpless pups.
Hibernacula are winter hibernation roosts. During
winter, bats need stable, cool temperatures that do
not change very much, and moist air that helps reduce
the loss of body fluids."

On the facing page we learn about Dara McAnulty, a 13-year-old Irish conservationist "who does whatever he can to help bats and other wild animals. Dara blogs about bats, his own wildlife sightings and research, and his thoughts about wildlife conservation. He constructs bat boxes for local gardens, schools, and other organizations. He also goes out with a local group to do bat detecting, and he contributes his findings to a database that helps scientists studying bats."

Pretty admirable stuff!  And he's not the only one. I counted 11 entries for Bat Citizens. Worthy work they are doing for bats, for scientists, and for our planet. Kids will enjoy reading about their work, and thinking about what they might do to make the world a better place.

The information provided throughout is easy to follow, answers most common questions and leaves readers with a good amount of knowledge concerning these oft-maligned creatures. The final section provides ideas for being a friend to bats. Making sure that buildings are safe for bats to make their homes there, bat mapping, understanding how important bats are to a healthy world, raising money to help fund bat research, and celebrating their place in the world. A list of 14 Ways You Can Help Bats, and a list of the many organizations that help bats around the world are presented. A glossary and index follow.

 Impressive and well-researched, as are other books by Rob Laidlaw, there is much to like about this fine book.

“I hope this book changes the way you think about bats and inspires you to get active helping them.”

                                                                                                          (-Rob Laidlaw in his introduction)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Backup Bunny, written by Abigail Rayner and illustrated by Greg Stones. North/South. 2018. $23.95 ages 4 and up

"That was when I saw him.
He was slumped over the
edge of the tree house.

I decided not to mention it.
This was my chance.

I couldn't go back to the
sock drawer yet."

I am eager to share this new book with my daughter and her daughters later this week. It could be our story - with a few tweaks. When they visited last year at this time, the little one had just had her first birthday. She was mobile and needed constant supervision as she liked to explore, and loved the bathroom. She carried her stuffed bunny, Lady Grey, at all times. She loved, and continues to love her. Whenever the bathroom door was left open, she made a beeline for it, obviously aware that Lady Grey loved water and baths. The first time she was dunked in the toilet, it sent us into a tailspin. Who knows why? The water was clean and the toilet spotless. We wrung Lady out, put her in the dryer - all the while hoping that she would come out as loved as when she went in. Mom decided we needed a backup, rushed to get an exact replica at a local bookstore, and came home content that we had a solution should there be further incidents. The next time it happened, we took care of the drenched one and handed the new one over. It was promptly rejected with  full force - tossed aside as totally unacceptable. Best laid plans ...

The narrator for this backup bunny story is the backup bunny himself. Fluffy lives in a sock drawer, ready to save the day should Bunny ever go missing. Fluffy has happy dreams about what it will be like when he must spring into action. Finally, Bunny is lost and Max is inconsolable. It's what Fluffy has spent long hours imagining. At first, Max seems content.

"Max squeezed me. He pressed me to his cheek.
He petted the tips of my ears.
For a second, I was truly happy.

And then ... SPLAT!"

Max does accept Fluffy as an acceptable substitute for Bunny. They eventually begin to do things together. All end with Fluffy in some untenable position that requires time on the clothesline. There are moments of hope, but bedtime comes and Bunny is called for, not Fluffy. Feeling great guilt for knowing where Bunny is and not saying anything, Fluffy finally spills the beans. Bunny is found and Fluffy returns to the sock drawer for good. Or, does he? 

Fun, fun, fun! Greg Stones gives Fluffy a warm countenance. Feelings are fully on display from start to finish. Humor is clear, and appreciated as Fluffy must endure less that perfect treatment.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

All The Way to Havana, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mike Curato. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 6 and up


beside farms, forests,
beaches, and forts,
toward the curved road
by the seawall, ... "

I was very interested in seeing this book, although I have never been to Cuba. My husband, a high school coach and hometown baseball player, visited in the early 1970s as a member of the Canadian national baseball team asked to participant in a tournament held there. He was enamored of the 1950 era cars that were so lovingly cared for by their owners. When I saw this book, written 45 years later and focused on one particular car, I knew how he felt then.

It's old, rebuilt again and again, and remains the family's trusted vehicle as their make their way from their small village to big city Havana. Their trip is taken to celebrate the 'zero-year' birthday of a cousin. While some Cuban cars run beautifully, Cara Cara has her own special sounds ...

"Some of this island's old cars purr like kittens,
but ours is so tired that she just chatters
like a busy chicken -

cara cara, cara cara,
cluck, cluck, cluck ...

Today Cara Cara sounds like a tiny baby chick.
pio pio
    pio pio,

The car stops, Papa does some more tinkering, and keeps trying until finally they are back on the road. The car fills with others in need a lift, the family, the gift and the cake. Upon arrival in Havana, the boy notices many cars similar to their own. The family party is enjoyed, the trip home uneventful, and further attention must be given the next day to the lovely Cara Cara.

"When he asks me which city-trip car I liked the most,
the answer is easy - our car! This noisy blue one,
with its ragged seats and cloudy windows,
because Cara Cara already belonged to our family
on the day when Abuelo, my old grandpa,
celebrated his zero-year birthday."

A lively telling and incredibly realistic illustrations take readers to the heart of Cuba. I am a huge fan of Margarita Engle; I love her storytelling. Mike Curato has done his homework. In fact, he did his research on a trip to Cuba. Using artwork created in pencil with digital color, readers are drawn to the brilliance of the island colors. The landscapes are detailed and authentic, the street scenes vibrant and full of life. The cars are perfect, allowing readers to see the variety, the mixing and matching that takes place to keep them in running order.

Their cars are as resilient as the Cuban people who keep them running. This celebration of Cuban life will entertain and attract many readers. Notes from both author and illustrator are welcome.

Friday, May 18, 2018

what happens next, written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff. Owlbooks, 2018. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"What I Say About Bully B. When Mom Comes to Kiss Me Good Night: Everything. What Mom Says: That I'm brave for telling her. That she's sorry I feel scared and hurt. That she'll help. What Mom Says Next:
That everyone has their own way of looking at things and people. That each person's way of looking is made of where they're standing ... "

The bullied child is our narrator. Bully B. manages to make life miserable every school day. The text is to the point, the headlines bold and telling. Unsure how to get help, the vulnerable child expresses feelings alone and to readers.

"What I Want to Do on My Way to School:
Hurt something. Squish something.

What I Don't Do on My Way to School:
Hurt something. Squish something.

What Bully B. Does Today:
Swishes right past me like I'm invisible."

Mom sees the sadness, but there is no explanation for it. She suggests a walk. The two have fun, lying on the grass, talking about the vast blue sky. Upon the return home, the child looks at favorite books, considers a real love for Earth and life on it. And wishes Bully B. were an inhabitant of far distant star. Finally, the courage comes to share with EVERYTHING with Mom.

Mom tries to explain that everyone has their own view of the world that comes from circumstance, and Bully B. only sees the differences between the two. She offers advice and a few solutions for changing that perception. One takes special courage. It's worth a try, isn't it? Can they come to some sort of understanding?

If the solution to bullying were easy, we would not have to keep discussing it. Books can make a difference in the way children perceive its causes. Empathy for others is a perfect place to begin thinking differently.

Carey Sookocheff creates characters that are just slightly hazy in appearance. The main character is blue, the bully green and the rest of their world largely without color. Only when a cautious truce results does the world become more colorful and vibrant.