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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hotel Bruce, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"He turned them out of the house and headed to bed. That's when the trouble started. It was a long night.
Can I have a glass of water?
You're hogging the sheets.
I want to snuggle.
I need to pee."

Oh, my! Poor Bruce ... those geese are at it again. What is a Papa Bear to do now? As he did in Mother Bruce (Disney-Hyperion, 2015), this burly bear continues to chaperone four geese as they migrate to Florida every winter. He has, after all, been adopted as their mother and he sees it as his duty.

Upon returning one spring, he is more than grumpy to find mice living in his house. They have turned it into a hotel! Bruce is quick to rid himself of the unwelcome rodents. He hasn't considered the overnight guests in need of his care.

The morning is no better. As the day goes on, his troubles multiply. The mice mak a return visit, and his geese become bellhops. The manager does not respond to his request for an audience, the cook's turtle soup is a disaster, and the kitchen has been dismantled. Bruce is ready to explode! And then, it gets worse. It is all he can take -


Kids and adults will love everything about this book - the textured images that fill its pages, the often scathing and oh, so funny facial expressions, the wonderful telling, and the chaos exhibited as Bruce tries to overcome his tired grumpiness and be the epitome of parental understanding and support.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Girl With the Parrot on Her Head, written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.00 ages 4 and up

"So when she found the biggest box she'd ever seen, the girl with the parrot on her head called out, "Aha! This box is perfect for the wolf."
However, something was already inside. "Oh," said Isabel. "Is this your box?" "Sort of," said the boy. "I was going to use it for a den." "
Why not a castle?" asked Isabel. "Why not an ostrich farm? "

I wonder if you know a child who seems to march to a different drummer; who is resilient, self-reliant, occasionally scared, very imaginative, and willing to look at new possibilities. If not, you have not yet met Isabel.

Isabel is fine, just as long as Simon is close and they can do things together. Then, Simon moves away and Isabel is left to deal with the fall-out after losing a best friend. At first, she deals with it all hatefully. When that happens, the parrot that is usually on her head finds another place to be. Isabel adjusts to her loss by assuring herself that she will be fine on her own. She has no need for friends. She has the parrot back on her head ...

" and ...
she had a system."

Her system has to do with sorting ... bears, hats, castles, monsters, the dark, ducks and a hula hoop, wolves, broken umbrellas, houses, etc ... Everything has a place, and everything is in that place. You get the picture. The parrot worries most about the wolves. In fact, Isabel is a tad worried herself. What if one of the wolves is too big for that box? Finding a huge box on the sidewalk might be just the ticket. Wait a minute! What (or who) is inside that box?

You will want to know, and so will the kids who share this book. They will also want to take a closer look at the wonderful illustrations that accompany this child-centered, unique tale. Bold colors, witty endpaper images, impressive characters, and a totally engaging look at Isabel's world will make it a story time favorite and invite conversations concerning friendship, fears and being independent.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2017. $26.99 ages 12 and up

"I startle,
Richard comes
out of the woods.
Richard is the owl,
and now he's
alongside me.

We're not laughing -
just breathing together."

This is such a special book, and so beautifully written. It tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving and the long journey they were forced to take in order to remain married and to live together.

Mildred and Richard both have a voice in telling their story. It begins in 1952 where friends and neighbors get together on Saturdays to eat, dance, play games and enjoy each other's company. Richard is one of the 'big boys' - all friends of Millie's big brothers.

Mildred enjoys these gatherings:

"If I stop and watch
I see young and old -
Indians, Negroes, Whites -
all mixed together.

Everyone likes each other
in our neighborhood.
Everyone dancing

It isn't until 1955 that the two begin dating, and also to feel the hatred and discrimination faced by a biracial couple. Secrecy allows them to date and spend time together. Because there is no anti-miscegenation law in Washington, D.C., they are married there. For the next ten years and through the birth of their three children, they are in and out of jail because they love each other and want to be together. The cruelty they face from a hateful sheriff and so many others allows readers to see up close and personal how hatred and discrimination can rear its ugly head. They are forced to live far away from their families, residing in D.C. where they are safe, while everyone they love lives in Virginia. Richard's job there keeps him away from Mildred and his children for lengthy periods of time.

Richard loves Mildred:

"She's standing at the well
holding a bunch of greens
like they was a bouquet of wedding flowers
carrying my child
smiling at me
that deep warm
Any doubts I might've had -
like this being too much trouble -
drifted away on the wind.
My country gal.
I am her husband."
In desperation, they send a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy seeking his help and advice. He suggests going to the American Civil Liberties Union. Thanks to the dogged determination of a young lawyer there, who persists in taking their court from one ruling to another, their case is finally heard by the Supreme Court - a landmark case that legalizes marriages between races.

There is much to learn through the factual information included, as well as the archival materials and photos. It is a beautiful love story, told eloquently and with heart. Written in blank verse, it forces the writer to choose the very best words (and as few as possible) to ensure understanding. Patricia Hruby Powell does just that. This is a complicated and long story, told powerfully. Shadra Strickland's artwork is equally as elegant as are the words, making this a book to be shared and admired.

It is a story about love first, and politics do play a role. It is a story worth knowing. Once you have read this remarkable book, please check out the movie, a historical drama written and directed by Jeff Nichols.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, by John Boyne. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2015. $22.99 ages 14 and up

"It took a long time for Pierrot to fall asleep that night, and not because he was excited about the arrival of Christmas morning. Interrogated by the Fuhrer for more than an hour, he had willingly revealed everything he had seen and heard since his arrival at the Berghof: the suspicions he had felt towards Ernst, and his great disappointment in his aunt for betraying the Fatherland ... "

If you read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Random, 2006), you will know what powerful stories John Boyne tells. They are compelling and memorable, and their characters are quite remarkable.

He returns us to World War II with this story about Pierrot Fischer who lives in Paris. He is of French/German parentage. Both parents are dead and he is being cared for by his friend's mother. His aunt Beatrix who is German, sends for him and gives him a new name ... Pieter. As housekeeper to Hitler, she takes him to the Berghof where he lives with the rest of the staff stationed there. Hitler is a periodic visitor.

Although his aunt offers precautionary advice, Pieter loves the attention that Hitler gives and soon falls for his rhetoric and charisma. In the nine years from the time he arrives until the end of  the war, we go from feelings of sympathy for to abhorrence at his actions. Their discussions and the descriptions of their encounters are played out for readers in clear and perfectly paced writing.

It is not hard for readers to grasp the path that Pieter is being led down. The characters are compelling and real. Many moments that are chilling and unsettling. The trajectory of Pieter's indoctrination is evident. His own brutal behavior and its aftermath are sure to encourage conversation and discussion concerning his childhood, his admiration for the Fuhrer, and his anger at what he deems traitorous. Was it better to be a bully than be bullied? Can he ever redeem himself?

A surprising and very emotional prologue catches readers up the events that followed the end of the war. This is a compelling and unusual story and worthy of being shared in middle years and high school classrooms.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, by Megumi Iwasa with illustrations by Jun Takabatake. Gecko Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $26.99 ages 7 and up

"Dear You, Whoever You Are,
Who Lives on the Other Side
of the Horizon

I am Giraffe. I live in
Africa. I'm famous for my
long neck. Please tell me
all about yourself.

Yours sincerely,

Boredom often results in a search for something new and exciting. Giraffe feels that the solution to the way he is feeling could be assuaged by the presence of a friend. At the end of a long day, as he watches the sunset, he begins thinking about what might be on the other side of the horizon. As luck would have it, he finds a notice for a new mail service offered by a 'bored' pelican. He decides to write a letter to help satisfy his curiosity. Pelican will take it as far as he can and deliver it to the first animal he sees there.

Pelican's return is delayed by the length of the trip. Turns out the first animal encountered is a Seal, a mail carrier who delivers to the animals of the area. The only one who receives and sends mail happens to be Penguin. He must count on Seal to make the final leg of each letter's journey. Finally, Pelican returns with a letter from Penguin. Giraffe, having never seen or met a Penguin, has many questions. Pelican returns to deliver the next letter and helps Giraffe and Penguin become pen pals. What fun! There is so much to learn as the letters pass back and forth from one to the other.

Is there a chance that they might meet? Perhaps a Penguin costume would make the meeting easier for the two. How will Giraffe design such a thing when he has no idea what a penguin looks like? Penguin tries to help by providing an apt description of himself. Pelican cannot help much since he has not met Penguin.

Delightful, and sure to elicit giggles from young listeners as it is shared, this is a charming import from Japan. The misunderstandings are funny and endearing. Most kids today have little or no experience with letters coming in the mail, and have likely rarely written a letter to anyone. I have very fond memories of the few years when I had a pen pal in Bakersfield, CA. I was a grade school student and unfortunately, we did not keep the communication going. I still think it is a worthy pursuit. This delightful book might just inspire someone to give it a try.

Barkus, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Marc Boutavant. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $20.99 ages 6 and up

"It was Monday morning.
I put on my sweater and coat
and boots.
Barkus watched me.
I put on my gloves.
Barkus watched me.
"Goodbye, Barkus. I'll see
you after school." I patted
him on the head."

Patricia MacLachlan has the same love for animal tales as do her many fans. In this early chapter book, she tells the story of a very big brown dog. Barkus is dropped with Nicky and her family when his owner, Uncle Everton, heads off to travel the world. Nicky has many questions. In the end, she decides that she will be Barkus' new owner.

The second chapter proves that ownership comes with a bit of a problem. Barkus does not like to be left alone while Nicky goes to school. Her teacher seems to like him, and agrees that Barkus can stay and be the classroom pet. One problem solved. In the third chapter, Barkus' birthday party is celebrated in a quiet way as Nicky's mother had hoped. 

"He got a ball.
He got a tug toy.
Barkus rolled the ball.
Barkus chewed the tug toy.
But he looked sad.
He stood in the window and looked out into
the darkness. He looked out for a long time."
Clearly, there is something wrong. The family soon learns they are not the only ones who know it is Barkus' birthday! The final chapters concern another new pet, and an overnight tenting excursion which results in Nicky offering choice in bedtime stories that Barkus does not like. She ends up telling a brand new story ... one that Barkus can really appreciate.

This is a strong story, with a promise for another adventure in 2018.

Charlie & Mouse, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Tess and Lottie followed Jack and Max, who followed Helen and Lilly and Sam, who followed the wagon. Charlie and Mouse passed Spenser's house. They passed Marley's house. They passed Nora Ann's house. Baby Sylvia rode in the wagon with Blanket. Soon they could all see the playground."

Short stories are a terrific way for young readers to get to know new characters. They learn much about them as they see the characters in different situations and in the interactions they have with one another as days pass.

In the four linked stories about Charlie and Mouse we also learn about their parents, their friends and the things that make them happy. Rising early in the morning, it takes Charlie some work to wake 'the lump' who shares his bed, and then the two lumps who are his parents. Excitement is palatable as Charlie announces that the day has finally come for the neighborhood party!

Everyone must get up, have breakfast and get going. The family heads off, blanket and cookies along for a ride in the wagon. As they go, they pick up the children of the neighborhood. Only when the entourage finally arrives at the park do they realize they are the only party goers. No matter.

In an attempt to make some money, Charlie comes up with a solution ... they will sell rocks. They have so many. As they haul them to neighbors, they learn that no one wants rocks, they would rather get rid of them. They will even pay to have them removed. It is hard work hauling so many. A stop for ice cream seems like the perfect solution for two tired and hungry workers. The tale comes full circle when they arrive home with their own rocks, and many more - and no money.

The final story has them considering a bedtime snack for today and tomorrow ... and returning to the same bed where they began their adventurous day.

Perfect for reader's theatre or shared reading because of the entertaining dialogue, and accompanied by irresistible detailed artwork, I think this is a winner! I will look forward to another.

Waiting for Sophie, written by Sarah Ellis and illustrated by Carmen Mok. Pajama Press, 2017. $12.95 ages 6 and up

"Sophie was small, but she was heavier than Liam had expected. He was very careful with his feet when he carried her through the door. He put her on the couch and unwrapped her like a present. She was practically perfect. She had toes like peanuts and ears that the sun shone through. The top of her head smelled especially nice. She smiled at Liam and held onto his finger."

Sarah Ellis is such an accomplished writer. She constantly writes strong stories that have lasting impact for her audience. Many remain on my 'keepers' shelf to now be shared with my granddaughters. If you haven't shared her wonderful books about Ben and his family, be sure to check them out.

In this early chapter book, she introduces us to Liam and his family. Upon meeting him we learn that his parents have gone to the hospital in hopes that baby Sophie will soon arrive. Liam is super excited, but wants everything to happen now!

"Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I waited
through half of kindergarten. I waited
through my birthday." Liam bounced on
the bed. "Waiting is my worst thing. I
want to jump on waiting and smash it to
smithereens and flush it down the toilet."

Nana-Downstairs does her best to offer up solutions to help with all that waiting - being bad might help. After a day filled with doing those things not usually allowed, they learn that Sophie will be home the next morning. Once home, he makes other unexpected discoveries. Mostly, he begins to understand that it will be a long time before Sophie is his daily playmate. In the meantime, he will do all he can to care for her ... and wait!

Even the Get Older Faster Machine that he builds with his Nana doesn't seem to help Sophie grow up. Change takes time, even for older brothers.

Sarah Ellis tells another timeless story with beautifully chosen text and Carmen Mok matches the tone of the story perfectly with gentle images and soft colors.

"Liam sat on the ground and hugged
and rocked her.
"Hush, little baby, don't cry a bit.
Liam's going to make you a banana split.
If that banana split tastes yucky,
Liam's going to buy you a garbage
If that garbage trucky gets stinky ... "

Wolfie and Fly, written by Cary Fagan with illustrations by Zoe Si. Tundra Books, 2017. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Renata liked to make things.
She was good at it. And she liked
making them by herself. That way
she didn't have to "cooperate" with
others, the way adults always
insisted. She didn't have to
"compromise" or "respect other
people's opinions." She could do
things just the way she wanted.
"I like my own opinions, thank
you very much ... "

I'm going to go on a roll today and tell you about the five early years novels I have read this week. Each is individual, perfect for those wanting badly to read a chapter book, and full of fun, action and terrific characters. How lucky are we that spring lists make them available to our young readers!

First up is this book penned by the productive and inventive Cary Fagan.

Renata Wolfman is a force unto herself. She likes being alone, has particular interests, and is not at all keen on being friends with the neighbor boy. Livingston Flott - or anyone else for that matter. On a day when she is left to her own devices, she hauls a refrigerator box up from the basement and, with
her creative juices flowing, manages to fashion a submarine that gives her pleasure. In fact, for a fleeting moment, she thinks she might want to share it with someone. That might, however, mean having a friend and Wolfie has absolutely no need for such a thing.

Enter Livingston! He is on the run from his big brother and needs a safe haven. Fly (as he is called for his annoying tendencies and his constant movement) manages to bring his creative bent to the ever-so-proper Wolfie and impact her own sense of adventure. Together, they enjoy an afternoon of imagined exploration aboard her spectacular new creation. There are some twists and a great deal of fun as the two also explore the beginnings of a new friendship. I will look forward to the next installment, as will new fans of Wolfie and Fly.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children's Rights. Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Felicita Sala. Kids Can, 2016. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"The first day of the march seemed like it would never end, but Aidan and Gussie kept each other going. All the same, they were very happy when Mother Jones shouted, "Camp time!" While the tents were being set up, Mother Jones helped some of the women make a large pot of meat-and-potato stew. It smelled heavenly."

This is a story I had not heard. I found it very interesting to read about it as part of the Citizen Kid series which I find absorbing and very informative. Now is a good time to share it, as there are so many protests and rallies occurring around the world about issues that impact many of us.

In the early 20th century those concerned with the deplorable conditions facing young children who worked in the cotton mills of Pennsylvania decided they must act to force change. The children described in this book, Aidan and Gussie, worked long hours in unpredictable and often unsafe surroundings. They earned little for the exhausting work they did. Too often, they could not attend school because their families needed the meagre wage they were paid.

Mother Jones was bent on changing that. To that end, she lead a two-week march from the mills in Kensington, Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay, New York. One hundred miles! Aidan and Gussie were invited to march with her. Mother Jones had seen the damage done to many children due to the dangers involved in the work they were doing, and she wanted President Teddy Roosevelt to know it! She hoped that along the way they would garner support from the public, and make an impact on the future for these children. President Roosevelt chose not to meet with the marchers, but they had made an impact that would result in new legislation the following year.

The journey is long and tiring. We are witness to the toll it takes, but also to the spirit of Mother Jones who works tirelessly to keep the marchers well fed, encouraged and willing to always move forward. She talks endlessly in public places as they go, always with a message about standing up for what is right at the heart of her story.

Monica Kulling adds background information following the text to encourage readers to learn more about the march, Mother Jones, and those who continue to speak out today about some of the same issues. Such stories continue to encourage young people to work in non-violent ways to make a difference. They also encourage listeners and readers to respond with empathy and a better understanding of our history and the changes we can make for the future.

Monday, February 13, 2017

We Found a Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"How does it look on me?

It looks good on you too.

It looks good on both of us.

But it would not be right
if one of us had a hat
and the other did not.

There is only one thing to do."

If you were looking to learn about the PERFECT last book in the 'hat' trilogy, and by some weird happenstance you haven't read how wonderful it is yet, I am here to tell you it is INSPIRED!
I have shared the first two books so many times they look like my original copy of Where The Sidewalk Ends (Harper, 1974). Much loved and very tattered. I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011) and This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick, 2012) remain perennial favorites in many classrooms and homes. Deservedly so!

Skip ahead to 2016. I waited with much anticipation to get my hands on this new book - I just knew I would not be disappointed. I WAS NOT! I never get tired of sharing it, of listening to young listeners as they voice their reactions and their plea to read it one more time. "OK! Fine!" I say.

The artwork is familiar, and the characters appealing. The desert, two turtles, and a white hat. Their discovery is shared; there is only one hat and two heads. It looks equally good on each. They make the difficult decision to leave it where they found it. So many emotions are shown in deceptively small movements of the turtles' eyes and bodies. On they go. Part Two has them partaking of a beautiful desert sunset. Their thoughts concern very different things. Finally, sleep comes to both tired terrapins ... or does it?

Full of sly wit and finishing in a warm and wonderful way, this book is sure to become as much a favorite read as the first two have always been. The story is told simply, with emotion and subtlety. Friendship is a wondrous thing!