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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want To Survive the Cafeteria, written by John Grandits and illustrated by Michael Allen Austin. Clarion, Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"By the time the lunch lady let me go, the last seat at my class's table was taken. I set down my tray and tried to squeeze in anyway, but the other kids starting yelling about me pushing. The fly lady was back in an instant. "That's it! You've caused enough trouble for one day," she said. I hung my head. Ginny had especially warned me to obey ... "

With school on the horizon, some students will be considering the joy or terror of eating in the cafeteria for the first time. It is the same for Kyle. You will recognize him if you read Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Bus (2011). He's still looking for help when it comes to surviving those first days.

Ginny, his school bus seatmate, is older, wiser and very talkative. She is willing to share everything lunch with him, especially the one she is carrying for herself.

"How she likes carrots but thinks celery is too stringy. How rye bread is okay but only without seeds. How chocolate milk is better than plain, and squishy bananas are gross."

Kyle pays little attention, his focus on his favorite subject - insects. When Ginny learns that he is going to buy his lunch from the cafeteria, she goes on a tear about the rules that must be followed if he wants to survive his first experience. She insists that he write them down.

New to the many rules made clear by Ginny, Kyle approaches the lunch hour with knowledge in hand. Of course, he manages to break each and every one. In so doing, he also creates his own kind of chaos, sharing a table with the big kids as well as his very unique and useful knowledge concerning insects. It makes for a successful debut, and a satisfying experience  - for Kyle.

The way Kyle feels at every turn, and every broken rule, is captured with humor in acrylic, colored pencil and digital illustrations by Michael Allen Austin. They mix Kyle's own reality with his passion for insects, showing with humor his thoughts as he goes about his day at school, at lunch and on the bus. Kid readers will love the details, and it provides a fun read aloud story for early days.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Words in Deep Blue, written by Cath Crowley. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 14 and up

"It's a relief to tell Henry, to let everything out - losing Cal, how I failed, how everything feels ruined now. It's a relief to cry and have Henry tell me this  is the correct response and to hold out his sleeve. I feel exhausted afterward. I feel almost as tired as I did in those days after we dragged Cal out of the ocean and tried to force him back to life on the beach."

There are times when I just don't want a book to end; not because I am afraid for what might happen, but because it has been such a glorious read that I just want to savor it for a while longer. And sometimes I hug those book when I do finish.

That is exactly what happened with Words in Deep Blue. It is so real! It is filled with feelings of love and loss, grief and understanding - and best of all, the importance of words, and books, and the impact reading has on our lives.

Rachel and Henry were best friends - once! But, things have changed. Rachel's family moved away from their hometown three years ago. As a final act of bravery, Rachel left a love note for Henry in the Letter Library of his family's bookstore. The Letter Library is a very unique part of the store, a place where customers are free to leave letters for others between the pages of some of the special books placed there.

"It's called the Letter Library because a lot of people write more than a note in the margin - they write whole letters and put them between the pages of books. Letters to the poets, to their thief ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who stole their copy of High Fidelity. Mostly people write to strangers who love the same books as them - and some stranger, somewhere, writes back."

Henry did not respond.

Now, following the drowning death of her younger brother Cal, Rachel and her mother are returning to Gracetown, hoping the change of scenery might spark interest in living life once again. The only drawback is that she is sure to see Henry and open old, raw wounds.

No one in town knows that Cal has died, and Rachel is not about to open her heart and tell them. We do find out that Rachel is not the only one dealing with loss, and we learn much from each of the other characters what it means to lose something you love (or think you do). Henry's parents have divorced and don't agree that selling the bookstore is an option. Henry had just experienced a break-up. His sister George is harboring a crush on someone who has been leaving notes for her in one of the books in the Letter Library.

As Henry explains to their friend Mai Li - "Life be shit, Mai Li."

I could go on and on ... but, I will not. This is another of those books you need to read for yourself. It will tear at your heartstrings. You will journey with each impressive character along their path from despair to optimism. You will look twice at second chances. You will delight in words that are powerful and uplifting.

As Henry says,  “Sometimes science isn’t enough. Sometimes you need the poets.”

This tribute to words, and to life, is worth hugging.

Bull, written by David Elliott. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 14 and up

"Personally, there's nothing
I find less attractive
Than self-pity.
Yeah, it's shitty
What's occurred.
But why hasn't the boy learned
That life isn't fair?
It's true everywhere:
Fathers often destroy their sons.
Who do you think invented guns?"

Do you want to introduce your students or your own teenage kids to Greek mythology in an enticing and irrepressible way? Find a copy of Bull, read it, and then share it with them!

It is also a book for anyone who loves mythology, irreverence, breathtaking writing, and poetry. David Elliott tells his story in voices dramatic and poetic - Poseidon, Minos, Daedalus, Pasiphae, Asterion, and Ariadne. Each is allowed to have a say in their own unique poetic form.

Poseidon proves his mettle, with intimidating perspective and swagger.

"You think a god should be more refined??
... Never belch
Or swear
Or scratch himself
Or fart?
News flash:
You don't want a god.
You want a prude."

There is nothing prudish about this book. In reading it, you will learn much about the mythology itself, from a far different perspective than any other you may have read. The connections between characters are strong, hateful, and absolutely compelling. It is bawdy, off-color, and an absolute joy to read. I laughed out loud in places, and gave careful thought in others, and loved every minute spent reading it. I WILL read it again. Just talking about it makes me want to pick it up and do just that. Alas, I have other commitments today!

A cast of characters is helpful for those new to the myth. In an author's note, David Elliott lets his audience know that the elements of the original myth are the same:

"... All of these events you will find in Bull. All else - the characterizations; the relationships between the characters; their attitudes about themselves, their world, and each other; Ariadne's blackmailing of Daedalus; the hole in the labyrinth wall - is, for better or worse, my invention."

He also adds a note about the poetic forms chosen, which I always find so educational.

I want to leave the last word to our narrator, Poseidon.

"I miss the sea!
It's mystery.
Its kelp.
Its creatures.
Crabs and corals
Devoid of complicating morals.
Its secrets.
All its saline riches.
I'm going home.

Ta-ta, bitches!"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hello Goodbye Dog, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Patrice Barton. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Goodbye was a closing door.
Moose pushed through the screen.
It was time to say "Hello!"
"Hello, Moose!" said Zara.
Hello smelled like chocolate chip

"Dogs aren't allowed to eat in the
cafeteria," said one of the lunch
ladies.  "She'll be quiet - I'll just read  to her ... "

Moose loves the 'hello' part of each day - when Zara comes home from school and they can be together again. He hates the 'goodbye' parts. Because of that, he often finds a way to break free and follow Zara to school. Zara knows just what to do when that happens. She takes Moose aside and quietly reads to him. It is all that he needs. But, dogs are not supposed to be in school.

"Goodbye, Moose," said Zara.
Moose put on her brakes.
It took Mom,
Mrs. Perkins,
and Ms. Chen
to get Moose to leave.

The kids love him and want him to be at school with them. Instead, Moose is seen as a constant disruption. Despite Zara's ability to calm him, he should never be there. Zara's solution to the problem is to enroll Moose in therapy dog classes. Will his presence be acceptable once his training is complete?

The colored pencil and watercolor art is perfect for this story of a dog's love. Patrice Barton adds gentle humor with expressive faces, constant canine motion, and familiar school scenes. Readers will love Moose's exuberance, as well as understand the dejection he feels every time he is returned home, without Zara.

The author adds a short note about therapy dogs and the benefits that are found in having children read to them.

" ... reading dogs provide a "pawsitive" association with reading, and especially with reading aloud, since child readers are neither judged on nor corrected for mispronunciation."


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, Penguin. 2016. $29.95 ages 10 and up

"Carla Sherrinford-Cameron, her hands clasped together at her waist like lobster's claws, was singing "The Lass with the Delicate Air," and I found myself wishing that I had thought to bring a firearm with me - although whether to Carla out of her misery or to do away with myself, I had not quite yet decided. With her huge eyes, her lank red hair, and pale buttermilk skin, she looked like a sea creature ... "

I cannot believe this the eighth novel about Flavia de Luce, child detective extraordinaire. She's back home in England at Buckshaw, the family estate that has been left to her by her mother. If you haven't met her, you need to know that Flavia is only 12, and her success at solving mysteries is quite astounding.

She arrives to find that her father is very ill, and has been hospitalized. She is not allowed to see him. She cannot stand the way her sisters continue to treat her, and is soon happy to be caught up in the middle of another death that happened under mysterious circumstances. Flavia finds the body of a local carver, and then spends the rest of the book's pages trying to find out why he died and how the contraption she finds him in might hold the key to determining the events that led to his death. He has a long, and complicated history.

Under the tutelage of her favorite police detective, Inspector Hewitt, she moves forward and is often steps ahead of him. As she uncovers what has happened in the past, she manages to make connections to a writer, another murder, and a sad, untimely death. We are introduced to these additional characters in a series of mishaps that lead, ultimately, to the real culprit.

Flavia never disappoints. Her first person voice keeps the reader personally connected. Her inquisitive nature, her proclivity for chemistry and her persistence in finding the truth hold her in good stead. Her character is as unique, spunky, and clever as ever. I love her, and think you will, too - if you have not met her in previous cases. Subtle humor provides most enjoyable breaks as Flavia works hard to solve yet another mystery and to deal with the bleak conditions of her home and her father's illness.

I wonder what she will be up to next? We can only hope we don't have to wait too long to find out.

Forget Me Not, written by Ellie Terry. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"I want to pluck
the moon from the sky,
swing it around
in circles.

Is that what it feels like
to have a best friend?

Maybe we'll hang out
every day - "

Isn't it tough enough being a middle grader? You would certainly think so.
For Calliope, you can add that her mother has just come out of another broken relationship which requires another move for the two, that she is the new kid at school, and that she has Tourette's Syndrome. That should do it. Tendency toward self-consciousness is a way of being for kids in seventh grade - just try to imagine how Calliope is feeling.

When she meets Jinsong she begins to feel hopeful. He lives in her apartment building. He goes to the same school, and he seems interested in being her friend. It soon becomes apparent to her classmates that Calliope is 'weird'. As she concerns herself with the many things she has to worry about, her tics become more prevalent and apparent to her classmates. She is soon made the target of jokes and bullying.

“Sometimes my tics
are like gentle whispers,
asking me to do things,
            to say things.
But other times they’re like a


Jumping out so loud and strong
I could never hope to
stop them.”

Jinsong is a popular student and good friend. Will his popularity wane if he stands up for his new friend, a girl he finds appealing and attractive? That is certain to be a concern for any young person. If we are truthful, don't we often worry about such things?

"I walk into the boys' locker room and all I hear is:
   "The new girl wears old clothes."
   "The new girl rolls her eyes."
   "The new girl makes creepy sounds in her throat."
    It's all true. But somehow it feels wrong to hear them say it."

In honest and clear voices, one written in poetry and the other in prose, the two convey an emotional and uplifting story of fear, friendship and facing difficult times together. Will what they have learned from each other help them face Calli's next move, and keep their friendship strong despite an inevitable separation?

Because the author has Tourette's herself, the reader learns from the inside what it is like to live with the tics, the taunts and the other ways it affects Calliope and her relationships. She opens the door for understanding and meaningful conversation for those who share this story. Bravo!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stand Up and Sing!:Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice. Written by Suzanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Bllomsbury, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"At college Pete couldn't stop talking about workers' strikes and unions, the civil war in Spain, and the Nazis in Germany. He talked so much that the didn't do his homework. He lost his scholarship ... "
And finally for today, here is Susanna Reich's book about Pete Seeger and his music.

In his foreword, Peter Yarrow says this:

"In these times, there is so much that divides us, so much greed, narcissism, and other terrible threats to the dream of creating a caring, just, and peaceful society -  and to the survival of our planet. What Pete taught us was how to keep on keepin' on, how to keep on singing, how to not become cynical, and how to turn challenge and adversity into greater determination and love for one another. That was Pete."

Now is the time to teach our kids about people like Pete, who stand up for their beliefs and do the work it takes to make things better. This book opens with Pete's singing, and an invitation for his audience to join him in song and harmony. It is classic Pete Seeger.

Beginning with his birth and early childhood, the author moves quickly to his time at university, and to his love of the folk music he had heard while traveling with his family in that early life. His support for the downtrodden and worry about those who were being treated poorly led to his leaving university, and finding satisfying work with Alan Lomax in the music industry while also playing music every chance he got.

"He played all night, and he played all day, and after a while you wanted to ship him
off somewhere," said Alan's sister Bess."

His music is a tradition that has influenced many other musicians and listeners around the world. We always shared Pete's songs in the classrooms I taught, and kids loved to hear those songs as much as Pete loved playing them.

The text is dense and provides a very clear look at Pete's life and legacy. Older children will learn about civil rights, poverty, war, and taking care of the world we live in. Adam Gustavson uses 'gouache, watercolor, colored pencil and/or oil on paper, with little bits of Adobe Photoshop' to deliver a close and personal look at the man whose down to earth ways, whose love of music and its power, whose strong stands for a better world, proved his mettle time and again.

"A clean river, a peaceful planet, a living wage - as Pete got older, he continued to sing, to protest, and to inspire people to speak out for their beliefs ... Pete passed away in 2014, but his work isn't done. For in times of war, the world needs peace. In times of hatred, the world needs love. In times of injustice, the world needs truth. And wherever people gather in the name of freedom, they find strength and courage in song."


Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing. Written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Raul Colon. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"But that's not all.
Pete loved singing
with children,
and children loved
singing with Pete.
Thousands sang
with him.

"Froggie Went a-courting."
"Skip to My Lou."

This book is a perfect introduction to Pete Seeger: singer, mentor, environmentalist, protester, leader, civil rights activist, husband, father and hero. Kids should know about him, his music, his passion for life. This will help them on their way. The text is full of compassion and understanding. His impact on American folk music is shared in the song titles included.

In an author's note, Ms. Schubert writes:

"Over the course of his ninety-four years, Pete Seeger sang so much, did so much, wrote so much, spoke so much, and influenced so many people that at times he seemed to be everywhere at once."

He was an honorable man whose commitment to a better world ensured that he continues to be loved today, three and a half years since his death at 94. We sang his songs yesterday, we sing them today, and we will sing them tomorrow. If your kids don't know them, now is your chance to tell them about  him, listen to his songs and help them sing along. Then, they will pass them along later in life to their own children.

What a legacy! Long may he live in our collective memory.

Raul Colon's gorgeous artwork is filled with warm, textured color and fine, telling detail, helping children to experience the joy and sadness Pete found in life, and the spunk with which he faced every new experience.  It is a book written and illustrated with respect for a great man and a true hero of the people.

The timeline, endnotes, list of books for children and an account of recommended recordings add interest, and are sure to encourage further fact-gathering.

Not everybody had such courage.
Pete did.
When men and women joined hands to fight racism,
Pete sang a powerful song,
and millions sang with him:
"We Shall Overcome."
He gave people hope
when they needed it."

Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Written by Anita Silvey. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2016. $25.99 ages 12 and up

"To find the support and direction he needed as a child, Pete Seeger became a voracious reader, searching for information in books. After seeing what titles Pete checked out in the Nyack, New York, public library, a librarian suggested that Pete pick up the novels of Ernest Thompson Seton. Pete began to devour Seton's writings."

Most people recognize Pete Seeger as a folk singer whose impact was keenly felt during both the 20th and early 21st centuries. Many mourned his passing in 2014 at the age of 94. His legacy of bringing music to the people will have to be carried forward by others who share his commitment to social causes and environmental concerns.

Ms. Silvey looks carefully at Pete's life and shares it with a sincere concern to get it right for her intended audience. She begins with early family life, travel, divorce and Pete's separation from family when he was sent to boarding school in third grade. He saw little of either parent as time passed.

He looked to others for needed guidance. Reading made all the difference. He was introduced to the writings of Ernest Thompson Seton and found solace in learning about Native American culture, communal property and sharing. His life course was set.

"I saved my nickels and bought myself enough unbleached muslin
to build a teepee, twelve by twenty-four in size. I pegged it out,
hemmed it up, and laced up the front. I set this out in my grandparents'
cow pasture and had to install a fence around it so the cows didn't break
it down. Slept in it overnight, using spruce branches for a bed. Learned
to cook my food in it on a tiny fire. Later I took my teepee to school and
put it in another pasture, introducing others to the idea of outdoor life.
Living outdoors provided a better education for me than any other school or

She follows the early stories with the further development of his love for the outdoors, writing, art and music. It wasn't until high school that Pete met his first banjo. Finding a focus for his enthusiasm eventually led him to sharing with others the folk music he so loved. And, he got paid to share it! In 1940 he met Woody Gurhrie, an event that changed his life.

Despite hard times and many bumps along the way, Ms. Silvey shows readers how, through touring with Woody and then finding success with the Weavers, Pete continued to care about social justice, in all of its forms. Then, came government branding and a long decade of harassment for his earlier political leanings. He triumphed eventually and moved on to become a musical hero to many, and a
staunch environmentalist at a time when few were worried about the earth's health and what we were doing to make it worse.

His was an oft perplexing life, here told with honor, honesty and as an homage to a personal hero and grand entertainer. The archival photos show a happy, smiling man full of charm and pizzazz who wanted to leave his world a better place than it often was.

"Over time - just as the story of Abiyoyo predicted - people realized that they needed Pete Seeger. They needed him to slay the giants. They needed his integrity and his ability to tell inconvenient truths. They needed him to do what he had been doing all along - singing about freedom and justice.

Just as he had hoped he would in childhood, Pete Seeger became many things in his life. He was an author, an activist, a tireless advocate of human dignity, equal rights, and peace; and above all he gave a voice to the feelings and hopes of people all over the world."

Back matter includes extensive source notes, a bibliography, a list of other media and an index.

Perfect for a class readaloud in science, history, social issues classes. Don't forget to have his music close by.

Monday, August 14, 2017

To Burp or Not to Burp: A Guide to Your Body in Space. Written by Dr. Dave Willilams and Loredana Cunti, with illustrations by Theo Krynauw. Annick Press, 2016. $14.95 ages 8 and up

" ... astronauts exercise up to two hours a day in space. But the space station isn't a typical gym. Harnesses are needed to keep us on the exercise equipment, and here, no one wants to see you sweat. In fact, keeping sweat away from your body - and from everything else - means wearing dedicated exercise shirts and shorts that absorb sweat."

Did you dream of being an astronaut, or do you know someone who does? Kids are sure to find this book fascinating because it has to do with everything astronaut. There are many things we don't know, unless we have been there.

So, the authors have decided to fill us in, by answering questions we might not realize we want to ask, especially for budding astronauts. They are not afraid to speak frankly about toileting aboard a spaceship, or while wearing a suit designed to protect those who travel into space.

"A space walk  can last between six and eight hours. That's a long time to wait for a bathroom break. So, when it's time to lift off, do a space walk, or reenter Earth's atmosphere, it's back to basics. Time to bust out the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG) - better known to Earthlings as a diaper."
In ensuing chapters, the authors describe how those travelling in space manage to stay clean and neat, take care of their hair, handle the art of brushing their teeth, even blowing their noses. They describe the space suit, eating aboard the spaceship, and how food tastes in space.

"The taste of food in space is different from the taste of food on the ground. It's not that food tastes bad, it's just that it tastes ... less. For some astronauts, the bland blahs improve as the mission goes on, but for others, the sensation lasts for the entire mission."

The cartoon art and clear photographs will be a welcome addition for those interested in a future in space. I think you will find there is a lot you did not know prior to reading this informative book.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cody and the Rules of Life, by Tricia Springstubb with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.00 ages 8 and up

"...  Cody went to see Spencer.
He and his parents lived right
around the corner with his
grandmother. This was so nice.
The not-so-nice part was that the
house was a side-by-side. And who
should live on the other side but
Molly Meen, Pirate Queen. She
lived there with her sister, Maxie.
And their father, who killed bugs
for a living."

This is the third book in a winning series starring Cody, her family, and her friends. This time, she finds herself making a trade she never meant to make. At a sleepover with Pearl, she agrees to exchange her much-loved and worse-for-wear Gremlin for the almost perfect endangered Arctic Fox. To add to the drama, her brother Wyatt's brand new bicycle is stolen. What more can happen?

Cody is astute and concerned for Wyatt, and for herself. He seems to care more for his bike than for her, even though she helped him assemble it. She thinks she knows who has the bike, and wants to help get it back. She is also very upset that she let Pearl talk her into giving up Gremlin. That feeling helps her to empathize with her brother and his dilemma. She wants to renege on her trade with Pearl; but she knows the rules. Can she follow them when she is so unhappy? How will she get Gremlin back? Her plan angers Pearl, and leaves Cody wondering about the rules concerning truth that govern her life. 

This series is terrific for those readers wanting to move on to chapter books, and a longer story. The dialogue is spot-on, the tone is full of life and often funny. I think that Eliza Wheeler's black and white illustrations are a great match for the story's action.

I have enjoyed all three of the Cody books, and highly recommend them for series readers in grades 2-4. I look forward to meeting Cody again in the future.