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Monday, September 25, 2017

Old Hat, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett. Two Hoots, Publishers Group Canada. 2017. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"The latest hat!
It was fashionable, fresh
and fun.
It was low in fat, high in
fibre, and could provide
80% of his daily vitamins.
It was the latest,
most up-to-datest
hat there was.
     Until ... "

Do you try to keep up with trends, or opt for what is most comfortable? It is a often a tough decision for adults, never mind children, teens and animals! Harbet has a much loved hat, made by his Nana when he was little and offering warmth and comfort every time he wears it.

When his friends, who sport the fruity, turban-like headgear currently in fashion admonish him for wearing an OLD HAT!, he checks out the hat shop and finds one to match. It is very like what the others are wearing, but comes with its own set of problems. Soon, the birds have picked it clean. Harbet becomes the object of further laughter and mockery for wearing an OLD HAT once again.

This time their hats are fashioned from pylons and spotlights. Off he goes. By the time he has his, they have a new one. What is a fella to do? Determined to be first in fashion, he tries all the latest trends. The others are always ahead of him. Recognizing the futility of the process and wanting to be himself, he removes the hat ... and sets a trend of his own!

Kids will love the illustrations. You will not be surprised if you are a fan. Emily Gravett creates brilliantly colored,  bold and inventive hats that cause giggles and careful attention to detail. Imagine the creations when young children are given the materials and motivation to see what they can do - when it comes to wearable headgear!

Learning to be true oneself is valuable motivation for change.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, written by Shelley Johannes. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $15.99 ages 7 and up

"Beatrice marched to the emergency clothes bin, determined to find something to wear, determined to get back to Lenny. The blue lid popped off with a snap. "It's time to take matters into my own hands," she said. A tangle of cast-off clothing filled the container. Beatrice took a deep breath and dug in. She considered each item, one by one. Then she tossed them aside, two by two ... and too by too."

In this first book of a new series, we are introduced to Beatrice Zinker, a third grader who does not look at the world in the same light as most of her classmates. She doesn't want to be in their box, preferring to see the world from an upside-down point of view. It mostly works for her, although it does result in a few blips, and some unusual responses.

Beatrice is keen to get to school following the summer break, after previously planning a spy mission for herself and her best friend Lenny. Lenny (also known as Eleanor) has other ideas. It is as if she has forgotten everything the two had talked about before the summer break. She comes to school in a dress, with a new friend in tow. This friend wants to play veterinarian at recess, and Lenny is agreeable. Where will that leave Beatrice?

Beatrice is not keen on sharing Lenny with Kate. But, she makes the best of a changed situation. The story is filled with humorous drawings that match her quirky character, the punny dialogue, and the constant action. Although her relationship with Lenny is changed, Beatrice remains a force to be reckoned with; well-liked, appreciated, confident, and refreshing. Beatrice is kind, friendly, inventive, obliging, and someone we will be happy to meet in future stories.

Great for the non-conformists, and much needed for those who are beginning to make decisions about who they want to be. It would make a terrific class read as the year gets underway, providing opportunity for careful consideration and thoughtful discussion.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $20.99 ages 7 and up

""When you are medium," said Mouse,
"you can read some books. But also, people
read books to you."
"What else?" asked Grumpy.
Mouse thought again.
"When you are medium, you can swim.
But your mom sits on the steps and watches."

My kids were lucky to live in the same city as their grandparents. In order to keep them straight, they were called Granny and Grandpa, and Nan and Grumpy. People would often look askance if they heard our conversations with Grumpy, who was never that way!

When I saw Laurel Snyder's second story about Charlie and Mouse, I was thrilled that they also called their grandfather Grumpy. My dad died many years ago, and my granddaughters only have the stories we share with them to help them know the wonderful man he was. Grumpy is an unusual name for them at this point. Having this book, they will learn about another Grumpy and how similar he is to their great-grandfather.

Charlie and Mouse are thrilled to welcome him for a surprise visit. Grumpy's dry humor and full attention is much appreciated, as he spends his days with his ever-growing grandsons. There are four short chapters, each describing a single episode: Medium, Pouncing, Songs, and Good-bye.

When Grumpy notes that Charlie is getting 'big', Mouse reminds him that Mouse is not. Grumpy is reassuring.

 “You are bigger than you were. You are not getting small.”

Mouse agrees that he is 'getting medium'. On they go to new discoveries and adventure. Pouncing on Grumpy while sleeping is the plan; Grumpy is already awake, drinking coffee. Blast! There's no catching him early in the morning. But, later in the day might provide opportunity. While babysitting, Grumpy proposes food, entertainment, ideas for fun. A good night song reveals Grumpy's terrible singing voice, no matter the chosen song. Charlie takes over. Finally, when the time comes to say good-bye, the boys are extremely sad. That is as it should be!

Charming, warm, and perfect for early readers. The illustrations have a comfortable, familiar and affectionate feel. I will look forward to future editions.

Friday, September 22, 2017

rulers of the playground, by Joseph Kuefler. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2017. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"Everyone played in King
Jonah's kingdom.
Everyone except for Lennox ...
because she wanted to rule the
playground, too.
"This side of the playground
is now mine," announced Lennox."

There is a lot of talk about power and control in the news today, and every day it seems! If you went to school, even if you can barely remember being there, you will recognize the kind of power often wielded on school playgrounds. Have the rulers been designated during your first few weeks? They likely have done their best to establish territory and dominance.

For young children it is a lesson tough to learn. The powerful seem to take for granted their place in the hierarchy, and others too often comply. All it takes is one person to upset the status quo; a person who might actually lead to a bit of a revolution and deliver a revelation. In this astute and often humorous tale, Jonah makes himself  'king of this land' - the school playground. The front endpapers offers a look at "Jonah's Park" as established by said ruler. Everything is my on the map. There is even the suggestion that the big field might have booby traps!

"Jonah's kingdom had slides,
so everyone pinkie promised.

And just like that, Jonah became
king of the playground."

Until Lennox ...

"This side of the playground is now mine,"
announced Lennox. "Cross your heart
and promise to follow my rules."

The swings are an enticement. Soon, Lennox's side of the playground is rife with children and an argument ensues. A divisive map is drawn. Both rulers make elaborate plans for growth. Their thirst for power becomes overwhelming. Soon, they are on their own. A new plan is made; the leaders rethink their actions; the playground is, once more, a happy and vibrant environment.

The thirst for power is pointedly evident in the endpapers and the demeanor of the two vying for dominance over all playground participants. The expressive faces of the other children show exactly how happy, then frustrated, they get with decisions being made for them. It is great fun to pay attention to them as the conflict rages on. I love the double page spreads reflecting the playground panoramas, and all of the action. The art of compromise is a welcome outcome ... perhaps!


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Imagine, written by John Lennon and illustrated by Jean Jullien, with a foreward from Yoko Ono Lennon. Clarion Books, Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 all ages

"Imagine all the people
living life in peace.

You may say I'm
a dreamer,
but I'm not the
only one.

I hope some day
you'll join us ... "

Today is the United Nations International Day of Peace, and I want to share this beautiful new book with you. It is perfectly appropriate for these trying times.

It is the first published picture book set to John Lennon's original lyrics, and has been created in collaboration with Amnesty International. Let's hope it helps each one of us to imagine a better world, a world at peace.

Jean Jullien has chosen a pigeon as his main character; a bird bent on spreading the message of peace and friendship to the birds of the world ... no matter their color, their shape or their size. She offers an olive branch, a gentle hug and encouragement to live a life without conflict. With every positive message passed on, the feelings grow. In the end, when the pigeon is exhausted by its efforts, the birds previously met join her on a branch to show they are now all willing to 'give peace a chance.' It is a gentle reminder  to readers to pay it forward.

By sharing such a thoughtful and beautiful book we encourage empathy in the kids whose lives we share, and offer a message to them that they can make a difference when they care about others. Speak up! Be strong! Let your voice be heard, just as John Lennon let his voice ring out for tolerance, unity and understanding.

It is a lovely book, and I'm sure it would find favor with its famous songwriter. He was a dedicated campaigner for a better, more peaceful world for all. Yoko Ono Lennon adds a foreword, Amnesty International an afterword that speaks to readers of the importance of human rights, now and forever. It provides information about becoming an AI member. With every copy sold, money will be donated to help raise needed funds for the charity.

If you are interested in others who want to spread a peace message, or want to add one of your own, you can go to for more encouragement.

Home At Last, by Vera B. Willams and Chris Raschka. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2016. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"To Lester, the middle-of-the-night quiet was the quiet of a strange house. It had a persistent whisper in it, and he was sure that whisper would eventually get Daddy Rich to mutter, " What's up, little guy?" or get Albert to swing his long legs and big feet off the bed and into his great big slippers and to stand up and put his arms ... "

For those who have admired Vera Williams' wise and marvelous books, this is posted with the sadness that comes in knowing it is her last. Published posthumously and illustrated by the incomparable Chris Raschka, it is a worthy story to share.

It is a story of adoption. Lester is a young boy living in a group home as he waits for the completed paperwork before he can be adopted by Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert, and finally go home with them.

"It always takes a long time to adopt someone. Lester had visited Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich a lot. He had a picture by his bed of the three of them, plus Wincka. In the picture they already look like a family."

Changing the family dynamic and learning to live with a new reality for all is a learning curve, and not always easy. Having made many moves, Lester is not ready to have his little blue suitcase stored in the attic. It is a haven for his most prized toys, where they are protected and safe from harm.

"So every evening, after Rich or Albert read his a story and tucked him in and Wincka eased off the foot of the bed to follow them out of the room, Lester talked to his action figures. Afterward, he carefully arranged them in the suitcase and zippered them in."

It isn't long before he and his suitcase make their way to his parents' room, waiting patiently at its side in hopes of being noticed. Concerned for his health and worried about his nightly visits, they do not understand his urgent need to be scooped up and placed between them, with Wincka at his feet and his suitcase nearby, in an attempt to feel safe. Lester cannot explain his stomach churning worry.

"They explained that all of them in bed together was special for Sunday mornings. Mornings when they could sleep late and no one had to go to work or school. And perhaps they could even eat pancakes in bed."

It is a difficult and somewhat lengthy transition. There are so many surprising, lovely moments. Lester eventually shares his fears, the parents face their own worries, and Wincka puts it all in perspective.

"Two not-so-smart dads. One brilliant dog," said Albert. "Maybe Wincka should have adopted Lester instead of us."

 Chris Raschka's watercolors bring life to a house that is full of energy and warmth. He creates a 'home' for all. He finished the book following Ms. Williams' death, focusing on talks they had together and the sketches she had made for this beautiful final work.

The notes that follow are informative and important.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Nightlights, written and illustrated by Lorena Alvarez. Nobrow, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $27.50 ages 5 and up

"Hey,. Sandy!


Let's walk home together.
How was school today?

I met the new girl, and
we're already friends!
She's so nice!
Her name is Morfie ... "

Sandy's imagination and creativity are vividly portrayed in wondrous spreads alive with color, movement and form. They originate in her dreams, and she spends her spare time bringing them to life on the page the following day. When a new friend approaches her during a school break asking to see what she has drawn, Sandy is pleased. This friend is unseen by her classmates, and mention is made that she might be the girl from the fountain, where she drowned. It sets an eerie tone.

Often her homework and her time spent at school suffer because of her vivid imaginings. She is admonished by her teachers and parents for succumbing to distraction. Morfie, her new friend, is responsive to her art. Her ethereal presence is soon felt in Sandy's nighttime world as well, when she appears wanting to take charge of what Sandy is creating. Morfie's demeanor changes dramatically, becoming demonic and cruel. Readers will know Sandy is in danger, and be grateful for her ingenuity.

The palette choices are bold and brilliant, filling the pages with color, action and interest. The graphic format is sure to appeal to many readers. Sandy's nighttime world is full of wonder. Eerily compelling and sure to captivate its readers, this is a magical world. Those who love fantasy and imagination will want to read it more than once.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Soldier's Sketchbook: The Illustrated First World War Diary of R. H. Rabjohn, by John Wilson. Penguin, 2017. $22.99 ages 12 and up

"Huge German bombers called Gothas flew over, seemingly whenever they wished. Shells exploded all around. Survival or death was largely a matter of luck, and sometimes Russell's diary reads like a catalogue of his friends dying."

There are many books about World War I. John Wilson is an exemplary historian and writer. In this book he bases the writing on a memoir written by Russell Hughes Rabjohn, A Diary: A Story of My Experience in France, and Belgium, during the World War, 1914-1918 (1970), and on sketches he did while serving Canada during that war.

It is a unique look at the conditions, the fighting, and the horrific effects the war had for so many. Russell recorded his thoughts and images even though it was against all protocols and orders. A trained artist, he carried a sketchbook onto the battleground and was able to maintain a record of what he experienced. The thoughts and images he recorded are integral to the work John Wilson has done to bring his story to young readers today.

Mr. Wilson looks at the diaries in six parts: training, Vimy, Ypres, Vimy again, the last hundred days and the road home. In a note about them, he mentions the freedom that having a sketchbook with him afforded Russell:

" ... he used this freedom to capture his experiences -
the defeated look of a downed German pilot; the ruined
buildings and devastated landscapes of the war zone;
the endless digging and repairing of trenches; and the
jubilant mood in the streets when the Armistice is
finally signed."

Each section begins with 'background information' to describe the war's current events and encompass the young soldier's entries and images. Russell's war began on February 22, 1916 with training. At 18, he could join the Canadian Army and he did. His diary entries begin on Thursday, September 7, 1916 while still in training. Placing his entries alongside Mr. Wilson's explanatory, descriptive text gives readers a real sense of the hardships, the soul-destroying action, the toll it took not only on humans, but on animals, nature, and the towns and homes destroyed. He gives historical context to a young soldier's writing.

Vivid and honest, it is a book that is unique in the canon of First World War literature. These edited diaries, enhanced dramatically with first-hand, heartbreaking images of the devastation, provide an invaluable resource for those with an abiding interest.

Back matter includes a First World War timeline, an index and suggestions for further reading.