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Friday, September 30, 2016

I Won A What? Words by Audrey Vernick and pictures by Robert Neubecker. Alfred A Knopf,.Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"I won a whale!
"This is impossible,"
Mom says.
"It's impractical,"
Dad says.
"But you promised,"
I say.
My parents are practical."

While being practical, his parents are also true to their word, and 'very, very fair'. So, when the boy narrator wins that whale at the local fair, they agree to give it a try and see how it goes. Nuncio makes the trip aboard a many wheeled cart, and makes himself at home in the family's swimming pool (which has been filled with salt water).

The two get along famously, sharing conversation while Nuncio fills up on mounds of krill and assorted sea creatures. Nuncio sings with gusto, and terribly. He's great on a trip to the ocean, providing adventure for the family as he hauls them through the water in their small boat. Mom and Dad are not as thrilled as their son is. But, pool cleaning? It is a tough and complicated task. Only when his parents begin to have reservations about keeping Nuncio does the young owner point to the many benefits of keeping him around ... he can help with the garden and car washing. It's enough to change minds about this new pet.

A final observation leads to a wonderful surprise ending that will thrill readers who want Nuncio to remain part of the family. There are moments when laughter seems the only response and others that warm hearts. Robert Nuebecker's illustrations, created using an Apple computer and a #2 pencil, are sure to please young readers with their bright colors and expressive characters, a solid match to the humor of this story.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. By Susan Cain, with Gregory Mone and Erica Moroz. Puffin, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 all ages

"Not everyone will understand your nature, though, even if you try to explain it. When Robby, a teenager from New Hampshire, first learned about introversion, he felt a great sense of relief. He had a tendency to turn quiet in large groups, and although he’d always felt comfortable talking and joking with his closest friends, he had a limit."

Listening to Robby explain how he felt can be heartbreaking, but also very empowering for those kids who are introverts:

“After a couple of hours I’m like, ‘Whoa, I can’t do this.’ It’s draining. There’s a wall that goes up and I don’t want to talk to anyone. It’s not physical exhaustion. It’s mental exhaustion.”

As the mom of an introvert, I was interested in having my adult son read this book and provide some insights. The most notable thing for him was that he would have liked to know he wasn't alone in feeling the way he did when he was younger. Isn't that the case for most of us? It is good to know that others are feeling some of the same things we are ... it allows for acceptance of ourselves.

Based on the tremendous success of Quiet (reprinted 2013), the author has followed it up with a 'guide for KIDS and TEENS'. It focuses on their lives in families, at school, with friends, and at their activities beyond. The stories belong to many young people who live in a world where talk and gregariousness are much valued. In their own quiet ways, they are able to find success for themselves. She also talks about further personal experiences as she explores the world of introversion.

Ms. Cain has real purpose for this guide:

 “Through the stories and experiences of other young people like you, I’ll address questions that introverts often wonder about: How do you carve out a place for yourself as a quiet person? How can you make sure that you’re not ignored? And how do you make new friends when it feels hard to muster the confidence to be chatty?”

It is not her intention to make them over; she wants young people to know they have amazing worth in the world. It is not wrong to be the quiet, thoughtful one. It is just who they are. There are certain traits exhibited by most introverts, and she points them out for her audience: they like being with fewer rather than many people, they often express themselves through the written rather than the spoken word, they prefer to be alone and to avoid any conflict, they work best when they are alone, they feel 'done in' after spending considerable time with others, they are rarely bored when focused on something they find interesting, and they would much rather be the asker of questions than the answerer.

She also makes some pretty telling and empowering observations: There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much, thinkers.”, most great ideas spring from solitude, two or three close friends mean more than 100 acquaintances, and it's perfectly fine to cross the hallway to avoid unimportant conversation. My son, an athlete, would have appreciated her game plan I'm sure: practise alone, study your game, visualize success, shrink your world, exercise solo.

Every one of us, not just kids and teens, can benefit from the insights shared and the advice given. Imagine the power that would come from parents, teachers, friends, coaches and others being empathetic to those kids who, like Bret, faced being considered insolent rather than simply quiet. It is a very important book to read!

Back matter includes an afterword for teachers, a guide for parents, source notes and an index.

I wish we had known more when our son was his 'younger' self.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton. Tundra, 2016. $16.99 ages 6 and up

"Hey, Narwhal, why are you
looking under that rock?
Ahoy, Jelly!
I'm looking for my pod.
Your pod?
I read on the net the other
day that narwhals usually
travel in groups called pods.
I seem to be missing mine,
so I'm looking for it."

When Narwhal finds himself in a new part of the sea, he is interested to meet Jelly. Jelly is not as keen. In fact, Jelly is not even sure that Narwhal is real. By the end of the first chapter, each has proved to the other that they can be friends.

Two pages of fun facts let readers know just a little bit about each, including the facts that narwhals can live up to ninety years, and jellyfish a group of jellyfish is called a smack. Narwhal has just recently learned that narwhals travel in pods, leading him to search for his own. Jelly is afraid he will not find it, as he is the only narwhal ever seen in this part of the sea.

Now, Narwhal is determined to organize his own pod, and asks Shark, Turtle, Blowfish, and Octopus to join. Jelly is s bit put out that he hasn't been asked and wonders what a pod does before making a decision to join. Narwhal has some explaining to do:

"I'm not really sure!
But I imagine a pod plays
ultimate cannonball, eats
waffles, fights crime and ...

has super awesome parties!"

That's only some of the fun that will be enjoyed by early readers as they share this comic novel. The two are mentors for teaching how to make a new friendship work. They share ideas, read books and make the very best of the day to day activities that friends love to do together. Full of joy and charm, it is sure to be a hit!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Thyra Heder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Tomorrow is Sleepover Under the Stars Night, Jelly!" To prepare, Penny and Jelly watched constellations beam down from her bedroom ceiling. The Big Dipper flashed. The Pleiades, those Seven Sisters, sparkled. The Dog Star, Sirius, shined. The brightest in the night sky, it was Penny and Jelly's favorite."

As we say goodbye to summer skies and welcome the harvest moon, all thoughts of a sleepover under the stars must be quickly forgotten. Luckily, Penny's invitation comes at the height of summer when excitement for sleeping under the stars is almost more than a little girl can stand. To say she is disappointed to learn that Jelly is not invited is an understatement. 

Penny and Jelly have much knowledge of the summer sky, after studying the constellations on her bedroom ceiling. Determined to feel Jelly's presence at the event, she attempts to make a stand-in for him. She does her best, but nothing can compare to her much loved pet. Paper is no match for his soft body, nor is yarn, and certainly not fleece. Not one to give up, Penny tries everything. Nothing is just right.

Her solution to the dilemma is perfect, and will be much appreciated by all pet-loving readers.

Thyra Heder's accompanying illustrations are pitch perfect, and sure to encourage listeners to take an interest in the night sky. They will also inspire them to get out their art supplies to see if they can make a reasonable facsimile of their own pets. Terrific fun!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Finding Wild, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd with pictures by Abigail Halpin. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Wild is full of smells - fresh mint, ancient cave, sun-baked desert, sharp pine, salt sea. Every scent begging you to drink it in.

Wild is forest-fire hot and icicle cold."

After singing the praises of Scott Sampson's How To Raise A Wild Child, I thought it would be appropriate to share this book that shows readers how close the wonder of the wild is, even if you live in the city.

Two youngsters explore the wild that is in close proximity to a subway entrance by wandering through the dense foliage they find there.  It leads them down a path where they notice wild things, both tiny and tall. There is an island-filled lake, a mountain path, gentle breezes, warm sunshine, a shoreline that begs a bracing swim. 'Wild' surrounds them with wonder, and they take the time to notice and appreciate it.

Abigail Halpin uses watercolor and colored pencils to  create lovely landscapes sure to entice and encourage exploration. Whether it's warm sunshine or stormy skies, readers will be tempted to be part of the many experiences that being in the wild offers. Senses are fully engaged whether smelling the mint, feeling the heat of the sun, tasting sweet, juicy berries, or listening to the whispers of the wind. Taking in the many fine details in the lovely images add to the joy of sharing this lovely book with little ones.

As they emerge from their first journey, the two are faced with a scene that is 'clean and paved, ordered and tidy'. What happened to their wild? Just when they least expect it, they are lead to  another, beauteous place where they can visit 'wild' once more. All is takes to discover it is a sense of adventure! Megan Lloyd obviously shares Dr. Sampson's love of nature and its importance in our lives.

Now, you can get outside and follow your own leaf to see where it takes you.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How To Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, by Scott D. Sampson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2015. $22.95

"... a first big step in deepening children's connection with nature is for you to start noticing it. If you don't pay any attention to the natural world, it's doubtful that your children will. So when you step outside in the morning, instead of rushing to the car, pause for a moment. Feel and smell the air. Check out the clouds and trees. Listen to the birds; how many different kinds of song can you hear?"

Now is the perfect time to get started on creating a wild child! There is so much for children to see outside as summer turns to fall, and Dr. Scott Sampson makes a compelling case for the importance of kids making a connection to the nature that is part of their world.

Using research studies to show the benefits that we all get from being in nature (less stress, better immunity, and improved concentration), he walks his audience through three themes to being more aware of our natural settings which will, in turn, encourage all of us to be more likely to protect these places: experience, mentoring and understanding.

We all need to be outdoors more often, taking part in hands-on activities that have more beneficial results than learning on screen. These jaunts don't need to be mind-blowing. Many can take place in backyards and parks. As a mentor to our children and their children, we need to show a genuine interest in learning alongside them: "Being an effective mentor means becoming a co-conspirator, a fellow explorer, a chaser of clues.” Finally, we can show we value understanding by helping them see how everything connects in the natural world, and that they are a part of it. He doesn't want to completely ignore the benefits of technology, suggesting apps for using GPS in treasure hunts, watching the birds in the area, and identifying plants as nature walks are taken.

If we want our kids to be involved, we need to be there with them. Most of Scott Sampson's writing for this book is devoted to practical suggestions and advice to parents and communities to “Get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!” We can all be mentors, by acting as 'teacher questioner, and trickster'. We need to remember that: “When a child asks a question and you know the answer, it’s natural to want to share it. Providing the answer makes us feel good and we presume that kids really want to know. But this inclination can lead us astray. Often times, our response ends the interaction by cutting off curiosity. Counterintuitively, children are often looking for our engagement more than our answers, hoping that the focus of their attention will become ours too.”

 Each of the ideas for connecting with nature are practical and real. They are also simple and easily applied. One of my favorites is the suggestion to have kids start 'sit spotting':

"Sit spot allows you to get to know one little place in intimate detail. What kids of plants and animals live here? When are you most likely to see and hear the various critters?  How does this place change over the course of the day, and through the seasons? Eventually, your sit spot becomes an intimate friend you look forward to being with. And that friend has potential to be your greatest mentor in deepening nature connection. Guided by your sit spot, you'll develop a quiet mind and learn how to open your senses, both critical to being an adept mentor."

 It takes concentrated effort and a concern for the well-being of each one of us: most of all, our children. Our kids will be interested if we are. That's a pretty compelling argument, isn't it?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Apples and Robins, by Lucie Felix. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2016. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"All you need for a
birdhouse are walls
and a roof and a little
door ... and a string
to hang it with.

Now there is a place
for a robin's nest.

But all you need for
 a storm .... "

You say you want fun in the books you read? And you want smart? You get both in this clever and very inventive book that has cut outs, geometric shapes and many surprises. For instance, we are told that what we need for apples are circles and the color red. They are there on the page ... flip to the next, and three white circles on a red background become three shiny red apples on white background,  hanging delicately from a leafy branch.

We move on to rectangles, both short and long that quickly become a ladder. Or two circles that are bites from ripe and yummy apples on the following page. As each page is turned, children will 'ooh' with wonder at the transformations. Each scene is cleverly connected to what has come before and what is sure to happen next.

It will inspire readers to try their hand at creating their own art using shapes, color and space. An appealing walk through the seasons, done with thoughtful brilliance, this is a book that holds attention and appeals to the artistic nature of the young child. Cut outs are an intriguing way to create those special moments. This book captures that through the simplicity of shape and thoughtful, brilliant design.