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Monday, January 22, 2018

Swish & Squeak's Noisy Day, written and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Swish hears the swoosh
of her toothbrush ...


and a tiny nibble as she
packs their lunches.

mwuah Mwuaahhh ... "

Swish is a listener, her sister Squeak is a noisemaker. Swish is the older, responsible sister who does what she can to make the day pass without difficulty for both. Birgitta Sif knows a great deal about sisters, as she has two young daughters to whom she dedicates this new book:

"To my little mice,
Soley and Salka,
quiet and loud but,
most importantly,
always together as sisters."

I cannot wait to share this with my granddaughters who are 3 and nearing 2. They, too, are noisy and quiet, and it warms my heart to see their love for each other - most of the time at this point.

Swish is sometimes annoyed with the noises that emanate from her little sister. She also hears the sounds she herself makes as the two get ready for school, and on their way there. There are so many sounds as the day progresses ... the bell, the growling stomachs, the school band's attempt to play in tune. There is a LOT to hear. When she can't see her sister as school lets out and there are children all around, she is overjoyed  to hear Squeak's voice calling our her location. Their trip home offers a quiet visit to the library, and new books to share at bedtime.

Listeners will love to hear the many sounds of  the day, and readers will have to practice to ensure their success during the telling. The sweet scenes are filled with energy and sound, and done in soft colors to emphasize the feelings between siblings.

It has a found a place on my 'keepers' shelf, ready to be shared when Sicily and Chelsea visit again.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

La La La written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"What if you were
able to connect with

What if you were
able to sing?"

She is a singer. She is lonely. She is on the lookout for a friend to sing with her. First, she sings in her room and no one responds. When falling leaves begin to slip into the house through an open space, she thinks she might find a response outside. No such luck. She remains alone.

Out in the woods, near a pond, she continues singing her solitary song, hoping that there will be a response. She sings to a rock, then to a tree, her song becoming more forceful and plaintive. She does not give up, moving past other flora until she gives in and heads back home. There, she waits through the afternoon until the sunlit sky gives way to the purple haze of evening.

She returns to the outdoors, enticed by the darkening skies and finally finding a spot in a beam of moonlight. She sings her song once more. Will the moon sing back? She is heartened by its brilliance and its presence. Nothing. Maybe she needs to be closer. A ladder brings her nearer, and she sings her song again. No response. Her wait seems endless, until dragging her ladder, she heads for home once more.

It is a long and tiring time ... but, what is that sound?

So beautifully designed and filled with hope and love, Kate DiCamillo and Jaime Kim stun their audience with this almost wordless picture book. The simplicity of the song is enhanced by the soft colors of day that give way to the strength and beauty found at dusk, and the emotions expressed by a small girl in each setting.

She is brave. She perseveres. She is seen!

 You need a copy.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 8 and up

"The radiator woke Hyacinth the next day, whistling a joyful good morning. Instead of feeling cheered by it like she usually did, Hyacinth felt as if sewing needles were poking around in her stomach. It was Saturday, the official start to Operation Beiderman. Through her window she could see the last wrinkled leaves gripping the branches of the ancient red maple, refusing to drift down to the ground ... "

Meet Isa and Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, Laney, Mr. and Mrs Vanderbeeker, Franz, George Washington, Paganini and the other wonderful characters who people their lives. You will not soon forget them, and you will highly anticipate meeting them again in the near future. We can only hope!

I read this awesome book last month, and remember every single scene penned by Karina Yan Glaser in her debut novel.

The Vanderbeekers live in a brownstone they love, in an neighborhood they love, and share their days with people they love, the exception being their grumpy landlord, Mr. Beiderman. Christmas is near. Though everyone should be happily anticipating the coming holiday, the family has just learned that their lease will not be renewed, and they need to be out by the end of December. They have no idea why has their landlord has made the decision, and the children are determined to campaign to have him change his mind. The five children all bring their own special expertise to the plan. Each of their attempts is met with the contempt exhibited by Mr. Beiderman. He is a mystery to them as they have never come face to face with him. They cannot comprehend how he can be so mean to a family he doesn't really know.

I love every one of the characters; each has a distinctive personality that is well drawn for readers. Their family is engaging, chaotic, full of love for each other and for their neighbors. As they do their best to find out more about their landlord, they make some discoveries that help to explain why he is the way he is, thus turning the tide for each and every one of them.

There is so much here to love. Any middle grade classroom, or student, would welcome the Vanderbeekers into their reading life. You won't want to say farewell, and you will eagerly await news that you might meet them again.

"I have always believed that raising kids means more that just being a good parent and trying to do the right things," Papa went on, his voice beginning to wobble. "It means surrounding your kids with amazing people who can bring science experiments and jam cookies, laughter and joy, and beautiful experiences into their lives. From every part of  my being, I want to thank you for giving me and my family the gifts of friendship and love."

Friday, January 19, 2018

Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2017. $23.99 ages 14 and up

"I Had Half A Second


get a grip,
grab the grip,
tuck the gun,
turn around,
ignore Buck,
catch my breath,
stand up straight ... "

In Will's neighborhood, there is a code: no crying, no snitching and get revenge. So, when his brother Shawn is killed, his path is set for him. Will has never even held a gun. He knows where Shawn keeps his, and he walks out of his apartment, gun in his waistband, on his way to seek revenge on the person he thinks is responsible.

The elevator is his means to get down to the street. As the elevator stops on each floor, Will comes face to face with significant people from his life, each a victim of the violence that has taken his brother, and that he is about to commit. The ghosts speaks to Will as the elevator moves from floor to floor.

Jason Reynolds uses free verse poems to tell his story; poems that are filled with scenes of violence, powerfully shown through the conversations shared. The trip lasts only one minute, but the emotion, story, and environment are full of impact and thought provoking for Will and for the readers of this remarkable book. The six stops, the friends met, and the stunning effect on Will himself offer a chance for deep discussion and careful thought for those sharing it.

I read the book in thirty minutes: its characters, scenes and importance will be in my heart and mind for much, much longer.

Please take the time to share the following interviews. They need to be heard. Then, introduce your kids and students to his website where they can learn more about this amazing young writer."

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Where Oliver Fits, written and illustrrated by Cale Atkinson. Tundra, Penguin Random House, 2017. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"It didn't go so well.

His second try wasn't
much better.

Too round!
Not enough square!

And on his third try ...
Well, all he got was
a laugh."

Oliver is tiny. A small piece with no notion of where he fits, Oliver sets out to find his place in the puzzle world. He has big plans. He knows that he would like to fit in somewhere, and he's willing to take the time it takes to find his ideal spot. Unfortunately, while he can see others who sport the same colors, he cannot find anywhere that needs a blue, orange and purple round-headed piece. It's hard to take!

The other puzzle pieces are disparaging, and argue that he will never find that place. It makes him sad enough to try and alter the way he looks. No matter what he tries, he fails to find acceptance. Finally, he restructures himself and paints himself purple. That should do it!

"Oh, hello there!" the other pieces greeted him.
"Please join us, friend. We love your fancy shape,  
and what fetching colors!"

"Where were you hiding? Where have you been?"
Finally, he finds a fitting spot. But, no one really knows who he is. It doesn't sit well with him. Removing his disguise has dire consequences. It doesn't take long for him to find others in the same predicament ... they don't fit anywhere. Might they find a place together?

The attractive colors and heartfelt scenes created 'with puzzle pieces, glue, space unicorns and Photoshop' are a perfect fit for the story. Readers will be intrigued to see how they match up, and to read the many speech bubbles that show emotion throughout the telling. Be sure to have some puzzles nearby when you finish reading it to your kids, or your class. It might prove just the right time to try their hand at puzzle building skills.                                                                     

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Another Way to Climb a Tree, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 3 and up

"Lulu climbs the trees
that trap cats
and the trees
that catch kites

Unlike Lou, from yesterday's post, Lulu likes nothing better than climbing trees. She loves their leafy branches, the joy found in being above the ground, the ways she can help others who are not so keen to climb as she does. She has no fear, despite the dangers inherent in her many ascents.

"When Lulu sees         
a climbing tree,

she's here

and then she's gone,
just like that."

When Lulu is sick and unable to climb, the trees miss her as much as she misses them ... not to mention the other inhabitants who share her lofty perches and those who share the outdoors with her.  As she sits inside and watches, she sees that both the sun and moon get to spend the day and night in the tree where she so badly wants to be. It makes her even sadder. She no longer wants to see her tree. So, she turns her back to it.

But, the sun has a surprise for her! Lulu only has to use her imagination.

What a celebration of Lulu and her trees! Hadley Hooper creates her illustrations using 'traditional art materials and printmaking techniques that were scanned in and assembled in Photoshop'. They are warm and welcoming with leafy greenness enveloping young Lulu every time she climbs a tree. Even her indoor world speaks to her ongoing love of the outside world, and her big window is used to great effect when separating her from it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Thing Lou Couldn't Do, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.95 ages 4 and up

"Lou tells them that
her arm is sore.
And anyway, the cat
needs a walk.
Also, she read once
that you shouldn't
climb so soon after

There are SO MANY
REASONS not to try."

Lou and her friends are wild with imagination! They imagine themselves all kinds of brave and spunky for the many backyard exploits they dream up. Lou is an active participant. Then, when a nearby tree becomes the ship for a pirate adventure, she wants to take a step back. Lou has never climbed a tree, and she is not in the least bit interested in trying it. Lou is afraid of what might happen.

Her friends are adamant; they want her to be part of this new outing. Lou is equally sure that she does not want any part of it. She starts by making excuses for not being able to join them. All are inventive, and slightly suspect. Even the ingenious ways she imagines for getting her up there without climbing are unreasonable.

With her friends' faith in her ability to do it and their need for a leader to neutralize an imminent attack, she decides to give it a try.

"The pirate captain has faced
some pretty scary things - sea monsters,
hurricanes, even a super-bad brain freeze.
And now, Captain Lou Skullbuckle is going
to do the scariest thing of them all. She's
going to CLIMB THIS TREE!"

Is she, or is Lou right in thinking that tree climbing is not her forte? Maybe another day, but not today.

I know how Lou feels. There were some things, as a child, I was just not willing to try. Tree climbing was one of those. I admit to envying those friends to whom it was no challenge, but it was not my cup of tea. Sometimes being afraid of something is your safest bet for staying safe. Lou did her best, and that is really all anyone can ask.

Ashley Spires' band of daredevils are appealing and expressive. They love to be together and their many escapades show the fun they share. Lou's reserve over trying something that elicits genuine fear make her vulnerable and honest. When it comes to helping her friends, she decides it's worthy of an effort, no matter how hard it is on her. Her facial expressions show the emotions she feels from start to finish.