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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cricket Song, written and illustrated by Anne Hunter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $23.95 ages 4 and up

"Out in the yard, cricket-song
mingles with the kreck kreck
kreck of frogs in the stream.

The frogs puff their
throats full of cool air
from the woods,

where the poorwill
calls poorwill! poorwill! and
listens for the footfall of the fox."

Two young children, each on the opposite side of an oceanic panorama, settle for the night. As the sun sets in the east and makes its way west, the young boy sleeps in a bedroom awash with dimming light. The breeze blows softly through his window. He and his cat are companions in the growing darkness. His eyes are closed and he embraces a whiskered, furry sea otter to his chest. Crickets can be heard softly calling, along with other nocturnal stirrings.

A peaceful scene runs along the bottom of the double page spread showing his house in fast fading light, and the ocean that separates his home from the sunny beach of a tropical setting. The sounds of the night are gentle and lead readers from animal to animal as they listen to the noises heard at dusk. As his beloved sea otters doze in the waters near his home, they hear whale song. Those whales are warmed by the more tropical waters where the little girl is now also dozing, as the sun begins to set on her yard and her home, while she also listens to the crickets' song.

Lovely language and stunning artwork are sure to bring a halt to the pace of the day, as little ones settle in to hear this enchanting bedtime story. They are sure to be captivated by the many sounds that emanate from the peaceful surroundings. Using pen, ink and watercolor, Ms. Hunter portrays a night in shadow and the creatures whose presence is felt as both children slip into sleep.

The panoramic borders effectively capture the shared experience of two children from diverse settings, showing that we have much in common no matter when we live. The changes from page to page are not dramatic, encouraging attention to the many small details as the sun moves west. What a beautiful invitation to sleep and dream!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $21.00 ages 7 and up

"Sheila held out a bag of jelly beans. Baby selected a yellow one. "Eugenia often says that jelly beans are bad for the teeth," said Baby. She put the jelly bean in her mouth. It tasted like sunshine. "Eugenia is not a fan of the jelly bean." "That doesn't surprise me," said Sheila. "Have another one." She held out the bag again. Baby selected a green jelly bean. It tasted like green leaves ... "

In this third book in the Deckawoo Drive series we meet the Lincoln sisters, Eugenia and Baby. They are elderly and have spent their lives with Eugenia (the older sister) being the 'boss' of Baby. It's difficult to believe it began when Baby was a baby and Eugenia refused to call her Lucille, her given name.

"Your parents named you Baby?"
"No," said Baby. "That is what my
sister, Eugenia, named me. Very early on,
Eugenia said, 'I don't care what her name
is. I am going to call her Baby. She is the
baby, my baby.' And so I became Baby.
And remained Baby."

Baby is having lovely dream about taking a journey when she is rudely awakened, once again, by her older sister with the terse reminder that 'goals must be set. Lists must be made. Tasks must be accomplished.' It's the final straw in a big box full of straws. Baby lays down the pencil she is using to scribe her sister's list when she announces that she is going on a journey. Baby knows it is an important decision, and necessary. Stella, the little girl who lives next door, has questions and the answers lead to her helping Baby make the first step in her journey. Stella takes Baby to the train station and help her buy the ticket that will take her to Fluxom.

So begins a path to new learning and understanding for Baby. It is one of wonder - meeting with fellow passengers and talking about her life helps her discover who she really is - and joy. She tells people her given name, shares laughter, realizes that she loves comics, and that she has an affinity for small children and meeting their needs.

Kate DiCamillo's ability to tell a tender-hearted yet humorous tale is shown to perfection here. Imagine young readers as they discover Baby to be a grown (in fact older) woman who shares the same concerns and annoyances they feel at the hands and directions of their siblings. Perfection!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Did You Know? Animals. By Derek Harvey. DK Canada, 2016. $26.99 ages 6 and up

"When a person bends over quickly and stands back up the sudden rush of blood to and from the brain can cause dizziness. Because giraffes grow as tall as houses, they have special blood vessels in their necks to stop this from happening ... When the giraffe's head is down special valves in its blood vessels snap shut to stop blood from rushing downward ..."

It's another one of those brilliant books that children love to pore over, seeking information about animals that are familiar and those that are not. As I will tell  you repeatedly, DK produces beautiful books that are a constant source of information and inspiration for children and their learning.

In this one more than 200 questions are asked about animals, and then answered. Questions like:

"Why don't woodpeckers get a headache?

A woodpecker can hammer its beak against a tree trunk
12,000 times a day looking for insects to eat, and not
hurt its head. That's because its brain is held snugly
inside a skull made of special bone that cushions
it from the blows."

Included on this double page spread is a clear and colorful photo of two woodpeckers doing exactly what they do to find food. As well, there are labelled captions describing more fully the skull, tail prop, claws and beak. An information box describes how a woodpecker finch and an aye-aye get their food from tree trunks. Never heard of an aye-aye? (You'll have to look it up.) A true and false section includes three statements asking readers to think back and provide an answer.

There are five sections: mammals, birds, underwater, creepy-crawlies, and reptiles and amphibians. The final ten pages provide answers to the questions asked throughout, two pages of questions and answers you might use to trick your friends, a glossary and an index.

Engaging and always accurate in those things that most intrigue a target audience, this is another terrific book from DK.

Don't forget to check out this website: or this one:

And, I'll leave you with this question:

Which bird builds the best nest? If you really want to know, you need this book.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Detective Dog, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. Macmillan Children's Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"Everyone followed
the Detective Dog Nell.
She stopped at the lights.
What could she smell?
Sniff, sniff, sniff!
Haddock and hay,
Pizza and penguins,
and further away
The smell of the thief, and ... "

You have not likely ever met a dog like Nell. She is known as a hero to many for her record-setting crime detection skills. There are few crimes that can't be solved when Nell uses her powerful sense of smell. She is Peter's pet and that is a good thing - Peter doesn't have a good record when it comes to keeping track of his own things:

"The bus in the bowl and
the book in the bed.
The sock in the sofa,
the shoe in the shed.
The tumbledown teddy,
the bounce-away ball.
Nell the detective dog
discovered them all."

Nell does her work every week from Tuesday until Sunday which leaves a day of rest on Monday. Every Monday morning she goes to school with Peter. She listens to the children in Peter's class read to her. She loves it, and so did they! She does that until one Monday when Nell knows straightaway that something is amiss. The books are gone!

There are clues. In her biggest challenge yet, Nell is off to find the much loved tomes, and to bring them home. It takes some time despite the speed of the chase. Kids will be in for a surprise when they learn who has the books and why. A further chase with a motive in mind - to show the thief the best place in the world to find books. And, it's free!!

The double page that shows the interior of the library with its patrons and workers, its books and its spaces, and the joy to be found there is my favorite. Of course, it is! This would be a worthwhile book to share with little ones before taking their first trip of the new year to the school library.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Amazing Animal Journeys, written by Chris Packham and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft. Red Shed, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. ages 4 and up

"Not all animals migrate
massive distances or in huge
numbers, some only come
down from the mountains
to the seaside ...
... or move from the
countryside into towns.

But wherever you live
you will be able to see
migrating animals."

We are told that every year billions of animals migrate from one place on the planet to another. It wasn't long ago, in Jeannie Baker's masterful book Circle, that we learned about the bar-tailed godwit, an endangered bird from Australia and New Zealand, that migrates to Alaska and back every year. It is quite the story.

In this lovely new book we learn about barn swallows, Bewick's swans, blackcaps, blue whales, Christmas Island red crabs, eels, free-tailed bats, golden jellyfish, leatherback turtles, monarch butterflies, pied wagtails, red deer, sardines, harbour seals and wildebeest.


Sardines are small fish that travel in big numbers!
Shoals of billions swim up the coast of Africa,
but an awful lot end up in the stomachs of
hungry whales.

Fishermen catch sardines too, and because so many get
caught in their nets, these fish have begun to disappear.
This is bad news for the animals that eat them, especially
the poor whales!"

Clearly this book is meant for young readers, and it is an fitting introduction. The text is just right for the target audience: understandable in its simplicity while also informative. It's just the right amount of detail to keep little ones interested and eager to know more. The accompanying artwork is quite beautiful, serene and warm while helping to add detail to the words.

A world map shows where you might find the animals and their migratory routes. A back section titled Discover More adds expanded detail about each one.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World. Written by Kathy Lowinger. Annick Press, 2015. $21.95 ages 12 and up

"Slaves sang work songs to keep in time with one another on jobs like hoisting a heavy beam or rowing a barge, and to lighten the drudgery of picking cotton under a blazing sun or harvesting rice in a sweltering paddy. Religious songs were part of every prayer meeting, promising a home in heaven as the reward for a lifetime of suffering. And in the rare happy times, there were joyful songs ... "

Kathy Lowinger did diligent research before penning this fascinating history of slavery in the United States. It opens at the time of the Civil War and takes readers through to the early twentieth century. It tells the story of Ella Sheppard and the Jubilee Singers and spotlights the role education plays in changing long held opinions and attitudes.

The author has divided the story she tells into nine chapters, and opens each one with a pertinent quote that speaks to the chapter's main idea. The first chapter begins with a quote from Ella's mother. By telling the story through Ella's experiences and introducing readers to her mother Sarah, Ms. Lowinger explains the slave trade and the routes taken to bring slaves to North and South America. There are sidebars, a map, archival photos and artwork, and a carefully drawn accounting of Ella's early years.

Each of the following eight chapters will help readers grasp the struggle that slaves faced in trying to make a better life for themselves - the right to education, freedom and change for all. The Sheppard family's struggle is clearly framed in context with all that is happening around them. Once the world at the time is clear and understood, we follow Ella as she enrols in Fisk University (then the Fisk Free Colored School) and, with determination and grit, begins to earn the education she craves.

A threat that their school might close encourages a group of young people, once slaves, to form the Jubilee Singers and raise the funds needed to keep it open. Their program gained tremendous popularity when the began to sing the songs of their enslaved ancestors: today we call them spirituals. Their tour took the path of the Underground Railroad and they brought music to those who didn't know their stories, even singing for Queen Victoria on a European tour. They raised enough money to fund Jubilee Hall, which still stands on the Fisk campus in Nashville.
By sharing this history through Ella's eyes and experiences readers have a clearer and more personal look at the many challenges of the time following the Civil War. The sidebars, paintings, postcards, included quotes, archival photos, posters and the inclusion of and explanation concerning some of the popular songs add context and will encourage interested readers to look for answers to their unanswered questions elsewhere. Back matter includes an afterword, a time line, a list for further reading and a comprehensive index. Still, the book feels like a story, and is never overwhelmed at any point by the historical details.

Ella and her choir members worked extremely hard to have their story heard. Their success changed history in many ways by changing minds in a dynamic and entertaining way.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. Kids Can Press, 2016. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"It wasn't long before Theo and Poppa were sketching a map. "This is where we are," said Poppa, marking an X on the page. "And this is where the streetcar goes," said Theo, drawing a long line from where they were to where they wanted to go."

Poppa is a traveller, and a collector. Theo loves looking at the souvenirs he has garnered on all of his trips. It makes her want to be just like him. In thinking about that, Theo comes up with a great idea to celebrate his birthday. She will create a new trek she is sure he will love, and she will be with him for it.

Together they make a grand plan, even designing a map of the journey they will take. It includes the street car ride, some time at the beach, and a visit at the restaurant there. It's a carbon copy of the birthday celebrations he and Nana had shared when she was still alive.

Plans made, the big day arrives and the two are off on their new adventure. They see so much from the streetcar window, and soon they make their stop at the beach. The map comes in handy to
guarantee they are in exactly the right spot. The beauty of the beach makes it feel as if they are on one of Poppa's past trips. There's time to explore the soft sand, the shallow water and take some pictures before they make their way to the restaurant where they eat gazpacho, delicious and worth every last slurp. Poppa takes a picture of his granddaughter to add to his treasure trove at home. To say Theo is pleased is an understatement.

Once home, there is another surprise and Theo has things of her own to add to Poppa's trunk.

I have mentioned my admiration for Irene Luxbacher's mixed media artwork in other posts. It is rendered in Photoshop and the illustrations demonstrate the joy found in spending time together. The colors are rich, the pages filled with details sure to attract a child's attention and perhaps to encourage a try at creating collage for themselves. The trees are glorious, the hustle and bustle of the city evident, as is the peaceful quiet of time spent at the beach.

Short trip or long, it's who you spend your time with that makes lasting memories. This is such a special story, and it will be much appreciated by all. You might want to remember it for September's celebration of Grandparent's Day. This is a gift to be savored.