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Monday, November 20, 2017

The Only Fish in the Sea, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

""The important thing,
Sherman, is that Ellsworth
stays hopeful and brave, knowing that we're on our way!" "Hey, Sadie, wait! Who's Ellsworth?" "Sherman, you have to keep up. Every fish deserves a proper name."

I have an abiding admiration for the creative work Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell bring to the children's book community. Their stories are much loved by many, including myself. I have posted 9 books from Philip and 18 illustrated by Matthew. I want to introduce you to their newest adventure today.

Amy Scott no longer sees a goldfish as worthy of being her pet. Thus, her birthday fish, still swimming in its pet store plastic baggie, is tossed into the sea. What? How could an albeit spoiled and sardonic young girl be so inhuman and unfeeling? This scene is played out in the prologue, and readies us for this new tall tale.

Sherman shares the disturbing news; Sadie is agitated. She lets Sherman know the perils of the sea for that poor abandoned fish. She only hopes it will know that help is on its way. They will need equipment to assure the rescue.

"Now, we'll need to borrow a boat ...
a net, and two long fishing poles ...
twenty-one pink balloons ...
a bucket of paint ...
and appropriate headwear in case of weather - good or bad."

One can only imagine how each item will aid in the recovery. Six nattily dressed monkeys will be their companions in adventure. Sadie has no concern. Sherman's expressive response to her assurances show significant uncertainty. Never minding those same dangers that might harm the poor fish, off they go! Once rescued the villagers rally round, providing friendly comfort and care for the recovered fish. Amy Scott? She gets what she deserves, I guess. 

The dialogue is entertaining and appealing. Matthew Cordell's signature pen and ink with watercolor illustrations will have little ones poring over every page as they enjoy the silly antics of the monkeys, the sea rescue and the triumphant return of the intrepid partners ... with Sherman!

Welcome back, Sadie! What? This is your first meeting? Get yourself to the library, or book store, and see if you can find Special Delivery (2015).
                                                                       

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bruce's Big Move, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"Finding a new house for
a mother bear and his
four geese can be difficult.
But Bruce found the perfect
place eventually. It was in
a quiet neighborhood,
with a lake, meadows
nearby to explore ... "

I hope you remember Bruce and his adventures as the reluctant father of four geese, after he mistakenly adopted them in Mother Bruce (2015). His life has not been easy since then, although he has come to love them and give them the care they need. All grown up, they have no intention of leaving Bruce and the comfort of home.

The mice who managed to take over his house in Hotel Bruce (2016) are another matter altogether. They, too, are grown and enjoying the amenities of a ready bed (right on top of Bruce along with their geese counterparts), sharing the bathtub, and his living space while making as big a mess as can be imagined.

Bruce wants them out! His attempts to have the mice move are unsuccessful ...no matter what he tries. So, Bruce decides that he will be the one to move, and he will take his geese family with him. Finding the perfect house is fraught with problems. Bruce perseveres. Finally, he finds the perfect place, settles in and rejoices in the dearth of mice.

The geese feel decidedly different about their circumstance. What's a father to do?

Fans love the grumpy bear and the difficulties he faces! They also love the geese who reveal their thoughts through action and expression, while never saying a word. The talkative, exuberant mice are without filters, humorous and as annoying as they can be. All that is not said is shown in the delightful 'scans of treated clayboard for textures, graphite, ink and Photoshop' images that fill the book's pages. Hilarious and highly anticipated! There will be giggles galore as you share it.
                                                                             

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Snow, written and illustrated by Sam Usher. templar, Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Granddad was taking forever.
So I shouted,

"All the others will get there
first, Granddad!
DON'T FORGET ABOUT
THE SNOW!"

And Granddad said, "Don't
forget your hat!"

I love the pristine look of new-fallen snow ... before anyone (or any hare) manages to make tracks and change the beauty of it. We have so many hares in our neighborhood now that it is rare to actually see new-fallen snow without tracks at anytime. I miss the chance to be the first one to step into it. So, I totally understand the little boy's angst over his grandfather's complete lack of understanding for the need to rush and be first to walk in it.

Every peek out the door has him noticing the others who are out and making their marks in the shimmery snow. Granddad is still abed when his grandson is bursting with the need to get out there. As he lays aside his book, heads for the shower, and slowly dons the proper attire for being outside, his grandson offers a running commentary on what is happening.

"HURRY UP,
GRANDDAD!"

And he said,
"It's OK, we're not
going to miss
the fun."

The boy is unconvinced, until he discovers his grandfather is spot-on!

I love all the white space, and the way it changes as more and more traffic is observed passing by. The ink-and-watercolor illustrations are perfect for children who will be charmed by this relationship between a child and his beloved grandparent. The chaotic fun at the park even entices Granddad to have a go at flinging snowballs and enjoying the gamboling.

After reading and sharing Rain, now Snow, I am highly anticipating the release of Sun in 2018.
                                                                        

Friday, November 17, 2017

Mama Lion Wins the Race, written and illustrated by Jon J Muth. Scholastic, 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"While Tigey tuned up
their car, Mama Lion
noticed Tigey's cup.
It was worn and dented,
and had a hole in it.
"I wonder what the prize
will be for the winner,"
said Mama Lion. "I don't
know, "said Tigey."

Tigey is hyped that race day has finally arrived, and he is geared up to win ... and win big! Mama Lion wants him to know that a win is not the be-all and end-all. We know that she has an ulterior motive for him being happy should he not come in first. At the start, they are ahead and the young cub couldn't be more excited.

When misfortune rears its ugly head, the car loses one of its wheels. The Flying Pandinis stop to offer aid. While repairs are being done, the wily Bun Bun is able to pass them all and take the lead. Once they are back in the race and nearing the finish line, Tigey and Mama Lion are faced with a difficult choice to make. How badly do they want to win?

There is a subtle lesson here, as can also be found in Jon J Muth's Zen books. Kids won't be aware they have learned it, as it does not, in any way, feel meant to teach. The toy characters are filled with a zest for the task at hand, and with a winning warmth. Kids will like them immediately. Mama Lion is in charge from the get-go, knowing that she wants what is best for all involved. Little ones will love the joy in the race, and the chance to be a winner. In the end, isn't kindness what it is all about? And, wasn't that adventure a great deal of fun for all?

“Here is our chance to do something really amazing."

Please do take the time for a long and leisurely look at the lively gouache, pencil and ink, and watercolor images. They are filled with the full action of the race, cameo appearances by a few beloved characters from a child's favorite stories, strong colors, lush backgrounds, and oft-changing perspectives.
                                                                         

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Middle Bear, written by Susanna Isern and illustrated by Manon Gauthier. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"In the afternoons, his father would often go out with his older brother to gather walnuts and almonds, while his mother would nap with his younger brother. That's when he would read himself a story. A middle-sized story, like this one."

Poor middle children! They are too young to do what their older sibling can do, and too old to do what their younger sibling is allowed. They can't stay up as late as the older one, and can't go to bed as early as the little one. They are not big, nor small ... you will know all of this if you are that middle child.

Middle bear feels for you. He is all of those things, and more. Always the middle one! His clothes, his umbrella, his meals are all meant for the 'middle-sized'. It is his lot in life. Because of these many things, he is often sad. He doesn't want to be in the middle. Until one day ...

A quest to find the willow bark his parents need to cure their colds leads the brothers to the riverbank. The river is only partially frozen; it is too dangerous for both the older and the younger brother to try to cross. Not so for the middle one. He is the right weight, has the right stride, and is successful in accomplishing the task given. Off he goes to get the willow bark. Only when the task is completed does he realize that middle might be OK at times.

"At that moment, he was overcome with pride. He cut a
middle-sized piece of bark, put it in his middle-sized
backpack and, with one middle-sized step after the other,
made his way back down the mountain."

The text is bland and repetitive, in keeping with the middle bear's sense of ennui concerning his place in the family dynamic. It is perfectly written for describing how Middle Bear sees his circumstance. With the use of repetition to describe him as middle (spell mediocre), readers are painfully aware of how his life is affected.

Using collage, muted colors in black, grey and tan, and unsophisticated images that make each brother look exactly the same but for their size, Ms. Gauthier creates artwork that perfectly emphasizes the plight of the middle bear.

Middle children, rejoice! You do have your own special place in the world.
                                                                  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Snappsy The Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (probably). Words by Julie Falatko and pictures by Tim Miller. Viking, Penguin. 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"I did not agree to
any of this.
Sure you did!
I'm your BFF!
You can tell we're
BFFs because we
have these shirts.
Who's Bert?
Me, I am.
You never told me
you had a name."

Snappsy is back; so is his chicken friend. Neither personality has changed much since the last time we met. Snappsy continues to be reticent about being made the center of attention. The chicken continues its constant over-stating of Snappy's attributes, and persistently focuses on their many adventures together. Inherently false, Snappsy is embarrassed by the chicken's presence and adoration. The chicken insists that being the alligator's BFF is paramount and evident.

Snappsy finally succumbs to anger, resulting in Bert's departure. Will Snappsy miss Bert's constant conversation and ebullient spirit? Of course he will. The humor will have kids and adults chuckling as they share this second tale of enthusiasm and avoidance. The illustrations 'made with brush and ink and computer hocus-pocus' add appeal and context. The two are so different; the speech bubbles and comical art assure understanding of each distinct personality as they go about their days.

Mayhem is at the heart of the tale, right up until the final spread.

"And Snappsy the alligator and his BFF had a lovely evening
doing the things that best friends do.
They had such a wonderful time that they decided Bert should
move in.
WHAT?"

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Shelter, written by Celine Claire and illustrated by Qin Leng. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.99 ages 4 and up

" A STORM IS COMING!

There's no time for panic.
Together, the animals all
set to work gathering wood ...

... squirreling away food and
quieting their fears.

They must be prepared.
At last, everything is ready ... "

A STORM IS COMING! no longer frightens me at all. That is what happens with retirement - on most days. Of course, I will have to deal with its aftermath; when it arrives, I call SNOW DAY and stay put.

When the forest animals hear the news of an impending storm from worried birds, there is no panic. Instead, they all get at it. They gather wood, food and other necessities that will help them weather any inconvenience it might bring. As the wind picks up and the storm rages, the fox family enjoys the warmth of their den and the meal prepared for them. Little Fox has a worry.

"What if others are still outside?"

A turn of the page shows two indistinct figures emerging from the windswept landscape. The animal families are aware of their presence and have questions. When they hear a knock on their doors, they are quick to refuse entrance and hustle them off to the next home. Each family has a lie to tell concerning the help they can give the two bears.

"Our bellies are empty. In exchange
for some tea, could we have a few cookies 
for dipping?"
"We have no food. Try next door."

Readers see the giant pile of acorns stored in the squirrel's tree. Poor bears! The story is the same at every turn ... no one is willing to help. Don't forget Little Fox. His kindness shines through. The brothers determine to make the most of a nearby hill, knowing they will be fine as the snow falls around them. They have their tea to keep them warm.

Will they repay the kindness shown when the Fox family finds itself in peril?

At a time when we are in need of kind gestures and warmth, this gentle story is perfect for reading aloud with our children. The watercolor and ink artwork adds compassion and depth to this tale of finding refuge when it is needed.