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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Polka Dots for Poppy, written and illustrated by Amy Schwartz. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son, 2016. $26.50 ages 4 and up

"All night the girls dreamed
of princessy princesses,
of puffed purple sleeves,
of horses named Trigger
and of Polka Dots!
The next morning, bright
and early, Mama and the
girls left for the mall. When
Cinderella Shoes opened, they
were the first ones inside. "Pink
jellies!" Ava said."

It's time to give up the joys of summer freedom and return to school. For Mama and her four daughters that means some back-to-school shopping. Each of the girls has her own distinct style. They know what they want and they hope to find it. Poppy, the youngest, has only one wish - polka dots!

They go to sleep dreaming of their favorite things. A trip to the shoe store is the morning's first order of business. Ava gets pink jellies, Isabelle gets purple sneakers with socks to match. Charlie Ann finds cowboy boots. Just what they wanted. Polka dots? No luck.

Next stop is for clothing. Ava loves the 'princess dress with the pink princess sash'. Isabelle finds a 'purple dress with twelve purple buttons'. Charlie Ann adores the 'cowboy vest with long cowboy fringes'. Polka Dots? There are none ...

No cajoling helps deter Poppy from her love of polka dots. She goes home empty-handed, while her sisters return content and pleased with their purchases. That evening, as the girls prepare for bed and their first day, Poppy is first to sleep. Her loving sisters quietly get to work to create the most wonderful morning surprise for their little sister!

Whimsical and light-hearted, this is an inspired story of family love and concern for all members.

Friday, January 20, 2017

the happiest book ever, written and illustrated by Bob Shea. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2016. $17.99 ages 2 and up

"Hey,. frowny frog and
dancing cake?

How are you today?

Maybe we can make
things a little happier?

Can you clap your hands

If you have a penchant for interactive books, or you know kids who love to hear them, this is a great deal of fun - and very HAPPY. Except for the frowny frog ...

The narrator is so upbeat and willing to do whatever it takes to bring a smile to our faces. It cannot help but feel disillusioned by the inability to bring the frog around to its way of thinking. Readers and the book itself are willing participants in the concerted attempts to bring smiles and laughter. Facing ages to the narrator's inviting suggestions become lively and animated, filled with images sure to delight young readers and bring a smile.

In spite of that, the frog manages to bring a sense of serious contemplation and ennui to the experience. It is enough to set the narrative face on a path to anger and ultimatum:

"SCRAM! Silly old frog!
No one wants you here! We're
making the happiest book ever,
not the frowniest book ever!"

When the frog disappears, there is a change of heart - and a lesson in kindness.

I love, as will the kids who share this book, the zaniness of the premise for the telling. The bold colors, the ever-changing images, and the pure delight felt in experiencing some of the happiness sought will have them laughing as they pore over its pages and ultimately realize that each of us is different and our personalities are meant to be honored and appreciated.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bring Me A Rock! Written and illustrated by Daniel Miyares. Simon & Schuster, 2016. $22.99 ages 3 and up




The grasshopper king is extremely regal, and very demanding. He has command over a loyal and productive group of lowly subjects. They do what they can to respond to his every wish, despite the silliness of the request. If he wants a pedestal, and a majestic one at that, they will do his bidding. He is not thrilled with their efforts.

He is especially not pleased with the littlest bug's desire to please.


Off the little bug goes, despondent yet knowing. The pedestal is built, the grasshopper king sits atop it. That is, until it teeters and then totters, leaving the king hanging by his tiny front feet. Then, it's the little bug to the rescue. He has the perfect solution! Funny that from small things come big solutions, isn't it?

Payback? You will be surprised and delighted.

I love to read a new fable, and this one is just right for its message that everyone matters and can make an equally valuable contribution. The artwork is stunning. Color choice, perspective, and individual characterization beg careful concentration of all that is happening here. It is a wonderful book to read aloud ... once, and then twice, and maybe even a third time.

And, if you have not yet seen Float (Simon & Schuster, 2015), don't wait any longer. It will simply up your admiration for this talented and insightful artist.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Good Morning, City, written by Pat Kiernan and illustrated by Pascal Campion. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"The bus driver is
behind the wheel.
Vroom! Vroom!
Soon it's time for

The construction
crew is hard at work.
Whack! Bang! Thwack!
They'll build that wall
by lunchtime."

I imagine few children spend their time wondering what happens where they live before their own day begins. For twenty years Pat Kiernan, morning anchor at NYC's NY1 news channel,  has been privy to exactly that. No matter how early it is, people are up and about - getting ready for a new day, doing what they do to make life easier for others. Whether it's a paper carrier, or a baker, much is going on while we are still abed.

The soft yellow endpapers offer warmth and an invitation to turn the page to the early darkness of an awakening city. The moon sheds filtered light on the city's silhouettes, and we get a passing glimpse of people at work and a welcome sunrise.

"Wake up, city.
Dogs out walking. Joggers out running.
Dawn's first light peeks through the tree branches."

The text is descriptive, and onomatopoeic. Children will enjoy hearing, and mimicking, the early morning sounds of delivery trucks, traffic, cafĂ© patrons, even garbage collection. They will also see just what happens before they set about spending their own day at personal pursuits. A little girl awakens, as does her wee brother. They are set for adventure as a new day begins!

There are many lovely and lively moments, captured in colorful scenes. Pascal Campion's use of the changing light is quite remarkable. My favorite image is of the baby's bedroom, as seen from the door where his sister so happily welcomes the day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One Day on Our Blue Planet ... In the Savannah. Written and illustrated by Ella Bailey. Flying Eye Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. 24.95 ages 3 and up

"Adult lions are very good at relaxing, and can spend most of their day sleeping, but this little cub is best at playing! He loves nothing more than hunting and growling and stalking and chasing. The sun begins to set and the air grows cooler."

This is the first in a series of books about the natural world. Sharing them offers young readers a chance to see the animals as they live and thrive in their natural spaces.

The front endpapers are the perfect invitation to spend a day in the savannah. Labelled animals spread from one side to the other, allowing a chance to talk about those that are familiar to readers, and perhaps some that are not. These animals are the species one might see should they visit in the daytime. Kids will be quick to turn to the back to see if there are more. This time, they are met with images of the many animals to be seen at night. Are they the same? I will leave it to you for check it for yourself.

In the pages in between, we follow a lioness and her cub as they explore their surroundings in the early morning, emerging from their 'secret den' into African sunshine. We learn a bit about the family of lions called a pride, the animals that find sustenance and life there. While parents sleep, the cub explores and plays.

As day begins to give way to evening, his mother rounds up her family, and begins the hunt for prey. The sun is setting, the savannah settles and the older lions keep watch for their next meal. The tiny cub, satiated with his mother's milk, finds a place to rest. He will wake tomorrow ready for more adventure.

The warm illustrations are rich with life, and showcase the variety that makes the savannah a dynamic, colorful environment. Designed to hold attention and encourage talk, this is a book that is sure to appeal to all those who love seeing animals in their home environment.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Pond, written and illustrated by Jim LaMarche.Simon & Schuster, 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"The pond filled slowly as the warm spring days passed. Wherever we found a leak we plugged it with more rocks and branches and muddy grasses. As we waited, Pablo practiced his music and Katie read to us about the new birds ... "

I could not even get to the text of this new book by Jim LaMarche before poring over its magnificent illustrations. I have always had great admiration for his work and the impact it has on the children with whom I share his books. He manages to capture place, time and characters in realistic spreads that speak to the experience of children and adults alike.

In this book about seasons and habitat, he creates an almost magical place with his acrylics, colored pencils and opaque inks. It is an exploration of the ways in which young children can make a difference to their surroundings, and it concerns three explorers. Matt makes the initial discovery that the place they have always called "the Pit" is much more that. That realization leads him to enlist the help of his sister Katie and his friend Pablo in working to make things different.

The focus is always on the pond, and the hard work it takes to make it a place that can be enjoyed in every season. Before the pond begins to fill once again, the three work tirelessly. They know it will be worthwhile. With time it becomes evident that they have done what needs to be done for the pond to provide a verdant place of discovery and recreation.

They collect natural treasures, read about the many creatures who find shelter and food there, and share their many discoveries. They also must deal with annoying insects, changing weather, and even threatening rainstorms. They find and refurbish an old rowboat which provides endless enjoyment. They enjoy the changes a new season brings.

I particularly love the bird's-eye view of the children basking in the beauty of this idyllic place. It is sure to make every reader want to find a place there, too. The gentle message is that the nature that surrounds us can replenish itself if it has the chance ... that is a very hopeful feeling to have when you want to make your own small difference in this world of ours.

 At almost no cost, without adult interference, and asking for only a little support, the three have worked hard and with determined patience to bring life back to an important local ecosystem.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

the pros and cons of being a frog, written and illustrated by Sue deGennaro. Simon & Schuster, 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Frogs are not solitary creatures.
I decided I needed a friend.
Camille agreed to help.

At first we worked well together.
Camille did the measuring and
I did the sewing. But putting
together her costume was
taking a little longer than
expected. Camille started
singing her six times tables ... "

Here's a boy who loves to dress up. He begins as a cat. His friend Camille is unlike him in every way. She loves everything mathematical. Still, they like each other very much. In fact, it is Camille who suggests that being a cat is problematic, and perhaps he should consider another animal. After all, he is getting far too much attention.

"Dodie would bark at me
the whole way to school
and the whole way
back home again."

The difficulty comes when choosing that other animal to be. After trying many, Camille suggests a frog. Frogs, it turns out, don't like being alone. Camille is not an easy model when fashioning a new frog costume for her. Stressed by her constant movement, he shouts at her. Camille picks up her stuff and heads for home. Too late, he realizes that being alone is no fun at all.

It gives him pause to think on the 'pros and cons'. It is a thoughtful list and occasions an apology.

"Everywhere I looked,
all I could see were numbers -
but not Camille."

Will he find her, and make amends?

The expressive and entertaining illustrations created in ink, pencil, Conte crayons, and collage add such personality and humor to the pages of this lively book. The thought bubbles, the math symbols and the love for frogs will grab attention and inspire wonder for the story being told. You will be asked to read it often.