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Friday, March 16, 2018

Petra, by Marianna Coppo. Tundra, Random House. 2018. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"Nothing can move me.

Not the wind.

Not time.

I don't go anywhere.

Everyone comes to me."

Just exactly what is Petra? Little ones will take great pleasure in trying to guess her identity. By watching the artwork, and hearing what she says about herself, the guesses might be even be wide-ranging. Cold, wet weather doesn't bother her, so long as she has her scarf. It appears she lived at the time of the dinosaurs. She even seems to have a small village perched atop her head. What is she?

She finally shares with her audience:

"I am strong.

I'm a fearsome, fearless,

mighty, magnificent mountain!"


A series of wordless pages offers a different perspective. Will her confidence be compromised?  No! She just rewrites her own story, again and then again. Never losing her certainty that she is something very special, Petra teaches a lesson that should sit well with each one of us.

We are what we are, and we should be happy with what change brings.

The story is carefully constructed in language sure to appeal to our youngest readers. Petra embodies adaptation, always with grace and charm.  Ms. Coppo uses tempera, pastels and digital collage to create the emotional twists and turns in her story, always with slight changes in expression and eye movement. White space ensures that little ones understand the changes in size that occur, almost by magic.

Joyful and uplifting, this is a book that needs to be read out loud ... loud and proud. I can't wait to share it!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Red Sky at Night, text and illustrations by Elly MacKay. Tundra, Penguin Random House. 2018. $21.99 all ages

"Long ago, here and far away, people looked for clues in nature to predict the weather. They learned from experience by watching the shapes of clouds or noticing the behavior of animals. This wisdom was passed down ..."

Elly MacKay, whose magnificent artwork has graced the pages of If You Hold a Seed (2013), Shadow Chasers (2014), Fall Leaves (2014), Butterfly Park (2015), Maya (2016), Beach Baby (2016), Waltz of the Snowflakes (2017), and Forest Baby (2018), does it again in this ingenious book concerning many familiar weather sayings.

She begins by asking her audience what they know about weather, and whether they have a saying that describes it. From page to page, she adds a new prediction and accompanies each with her signature cut out images placed in a diorama before each is lit and photographed. It is quite an amazing process. You can see her work here:

We share the journey from one image to the next with a man (perhaps a grandfather) and two children as they spend time together and explore the beauty of nature. They spend time fishing, swimming, camping, sailing, and encountering weather fair and foul. It is quite the trip.

Readers may or may not have heard each of the sayings - I had not. As their overnight camping experience enters its second day, they take notice that all nature is pointing toward bad weather. It is  the encouragement they need to make tracks for home, and none too soon.

"Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning!

Trout jump high when rain is nigh.

Hear the whistle of the train?
'Tis a sign it's going to rain."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten. Written by Laura Veirs and illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2018. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"When her brother Claude was at work, Libba snuck into his room and borrowed his guitar. "Dang!" she whispered. Claude was right-handed. Libba was not. She turned the guitar upside down and played it backwards. It was kind of like brushing your teeth with your foot. Or tying a shoe with one hand. Nobody else played that way, but it was the way that felt right ...  "

As a child Elizabeth Cotten felt music from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. Her everyday life was filled with sounds that were music to her ears.

"She heard it in the river when she brought in water for her mother. She heard it in the ax when she chopped wood for kindling. She heard it in the freight trains moving down the tracks near her home."

She loved to play her brother's guitar when he was not at home. When he moved out and there was no guitar to play, Libba went to work doing what she could to earn money to buy one of her own. Five months later she had the $3.75 she needed to buy it. She played it endlessly, even writing her first song before she was 13!

Then life got in the way;  it wasn't until she was a grandmother working in a department store that fate stepped in and offered a new musical path. Helping a little lost girl find her mother led Libba to meeting Ruth Crawford Seeger. The two hit it off, and soon Libba was hired as housekeeper for that musical family.

"You could hear banjos in the bedrooms, pianos in the parlor, and bass drums in the basement."

Once the family was witness to Libba's musical talent, they got the word out. Finally, Libba was able to share her gift with people around the world in concert performances.

Using graphite and digital color, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh creates images dominated by the guitar Libba so loved, and the music that spoke to her soul. I appreciated how she used a train to show Libba passing through various periods of her life, as a train was such an important part of the music she heard around her when she was a child.

A lengthy author's note chronicles Libba's life, and shares the author's keen interest in her subject. Works cited include websites, videos, interviews, recordings and liner notes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Who Says Women Can't Be Computer Programmers, written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2018. $26.99 ages 10 and up

"This was a major turning point for Ada. She was excited to realize that math and imagination did not have to be opposites - as her mother had wanted so desperately to impress on her - they actually went together! Ada saw in Charles a person with whom she could discuss ideas. A great friendship started to grow. Dozens of letters began ... "

In her first book in this series, Tanya Lee Stone asked Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? (about Elizabeth Blackwell). In this brand new book, she introduces readers to Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord and Lady Byron. Lady Byron was concerned about her daughter's imagination, thinking it a detriment. It connected her to a father who left early in Ada's life and was not seen again.

"Lady Byron decided the best way to make sure Ada didn't grow up to have a wild imagination like her father was to train her to think like a mathematician, so she hired tutors for Ada from the time she was four."

Ada's other interests included "drawing, writing, singing and playing the piano and violin."

Her imagination led her on many flights of fancy, all disapproved of by her mother who only wanted her to marry well. At one such gathering meant to introduce Ada to proper society, she met Charles Babbage, an inventor with a fine mind. The two of them talked endlessly, sharing ideas and empowering Ada to find her own voice concerning mathematical discoveries. Writing about Babbage's Analytical Machine, and imagining how it could really work, brought recognition today as the first computer programmer.

"Charles never raised the money he needed for his invention, but if the Analytical Machine had been built at the time, it is quite possible that the entire age of computers would have begun more than one hundred years earlier than it did. And in large part we would have Ada, with her brain of a mathematician and her imagination of a poet, to thank."

Marjorie Priceman's soaring gouache illustrations fill the pages with details concerning the setting, the historical period, the joy Ada found in learning, and the imaginative wonder that was part of her being.

Should you want to learn more about this deserving woman, here are a few books to check out.

Ada's Ideas by Fiona Robinson (Abrams, 2016)

Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science by Diane Stanley (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

Ada Lovelace by Isabel Sanchez Vegara (Frances Lincoln, 2018)

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark (Creston Books, 2015)

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind. Written by Cynthia Grady and illustrated by Amiko Hirao. Charlesbridge, Penguin Random House. 2016. $19.99 ages 7 and up

"The US government thought Katherine and all people of Japanese heritage living on the West Coast could be dangerous. They looked like an enemy of the United States in a complicated war halfway around the world, so the government ordered that they be imprisoned. Miss Breed gave Katherine a stamped, addressed penny postcard ... "

We have all heard stories of the Japanese internment following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. In Canada and the United States, governments made the hasty decision that all people of Japanese descent were a potential enemy to their country, and they removed them from their homes and communities to isolated locations where they lived out the duration of the war.

It is hard for any of us to imagine what it was like for those families and their children. Clara Breed loved and empowered all the children who visited the San Diego public library where she was librarian, offering guidance for book choice and encouraging their passion for reading. So, when some of the children who were regular visitors were forced to move away, she wrote to and received letters from many of them. Those letters made a connection to the lives they led before the war made them prisoners.

Ms. Breed sent books, postcards and art supplies, wrote letters to the children and to those who had put them in those camps. She sought justice from an unjust system. The letters are housed at the Japanese American National Museum and speak to the power of books to make life better. Many quotes from the children's correspondence are included on the pages of this uplifting  book.

"Dear Miss Breed,

I was overwhelmed with joy to see
the books when the postman
opened the package for inspection.
Thank you, Miss Breed, Thank you!

Very sincerely yours,
Louise Ogawa"

"Dear Miss Breed,

We have one large shower
and one large laundry room.
We certainly don't see how
they expect over 16,000
people to be clean and also
have their clothes clean.

Yours truly,

Archival photographs with informative captions are featured on front and back endpapers. Colored pencils are used to create the soft, sepia-toned artwork that shows the conditions in the camps, the joy the children felt when books and postcards arrived, and the uncertainty that awaited them at the end of the war. An author's note, a timeline of important dates in Ms. Breed's life, a short history of the people who came from Japan to live in the USA, source notes, a bibliography, and books for further reading extend the learning.

Teachers and parents wanting to know more about Miss Breed should check at the library for Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim (Scholastic, 2006). It is also worth your attention.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and LInes, written by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 8 and up

"One day when Maya looked at the patterns of light and lines on the ceiling of her college library, she imagined she would become an architect who created buildings with art, science, and math."

It constantly amazes me to see the number of quite remarkable picture book biographies being published today. As I was looking through the ones I had piled up to share while honoring women this past week, I was quite surprised to see how that stack had grown. We have good reason to celebrate those who have accomplished exceptional work in their field, and I want to tell you a little bit about one more of them.

It recognizes the Chinese-American artist who created the design for the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. As a child, Maya Lin loved to play in the woods near her home, and often spent hours in silence, watching the wild animals who lived there. She even held out a hope to tame them. At home, she and her brother enjoyed chess, art and doing what made her happy.

Her parents, artists themselves, encouraged Maya's ability to learn. In her last year at college, she decided to put that learning and artistic ability to work by entering a contest to design a memorial honoring those who had died in the Vietnam War. She visited the site where the memorial would stand. Everything she felt about the soldiers, the space and the reason for the contest led her to a design that was accepted from a strong group of 1,421 entries.

What an accomplishment and what a furor it caused. Despite many objections, Maya remained true to her vision. Work began.

"The first time Maya visited
the finished wall, she searched
for the name of the father of a friend.        
When she touched the name, she cried,
just as she knew others would."

Since that day, many thousands of people have visited - seeing, touching, remembering those who gave their lives. The memorial was only the beginning for Maya. She has gone on to work on many different projects, all with the same wish for those who visit.

"Each piece  is different,
but all share Maya's vision.
She wants people to be
a part of the art. Look. Touch. Read.
Walk around. Sit by. Think about."

This book is a quiet celebration of the artist-architect's work, and gives readers a real sense of what she has accomplished, including being inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, and being awarded the National Medal of Arts. 

Detailed artwork offers varying perspectives, clean lines, and the wonder that Maya Lin saw around her. An author's note follows the clear and impressive text.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created FRANKENSTEIN, written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. 2018. $28.99 ages 14 and up



There is a special curse
reserved for girls
who dare to run away
without a wedding ring."

What a glorious, and heartbreaking, introduction to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley this is! It is a departure for Lita Judge from her much admired picture books. For five years Ms. Judge has researched and crafted a brilliant novel in verse about a teenage girl living in 19th century England. What was it in her life that led her to write the fascinating story of Frankenstein, first of its kind and a book that remains popular even today?

Written in first person, readers follow the events and experiences that fueled Mary's imagination and gave her inspiration to write. Working diligently through considerable sources, Ms. Judge follows  Mary from 1812 through to the publication of her first book in 1817, at a time when she could not even be named author because of gender bias. It is a harrowing journey.

Mary, at 16, is ousted from the family home for her relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley. She is a teenager, deeply in love at first sight, and pregnant with his child. Their relationship does not sit well with the mores of society, and the two are plagued by poverty, grief, and misfortune.

"Father promised
freedom, love, equality
for women.

But for me, it seems,
he has locked the door
to any future
beyond selling books."

The many struggles, untimely deaths, Shelley's dalliances with other women, his cruelty and mental illness are woven though Mary's story and help readers understand how such a young woman could write her most celebrated work. Knowing  more about the times she was living in helps to explain why she remained in that relationship ... she had few options, and she loved him.

Written in nine sections, paralleling  the nine months it took to 'give birth' to Frankenstein, the book is illustrated using a combination of pencil, watercolor, ink and digital techniques. The realistic black-and-white images evoke all of the emotions felt as Mary lived her life - fear, sadness, love, passion, anger, agonizing grief. Realistic and innovative, it will attract readers with its exceptional design, and distinct format.

The introduction, the prologue and epilogue (written in Frankenstein's voice), further notes about Mary and her times, an author's note, concise notes on each of the characters and a list of the books they were reading at the time, source notes and a bibliography speak to the dedication Ms. Judge had for her research and this remarkable story.

I will leave the final words to her; they are taken from an interview with Julie Donaldson:

"By using free verse and full-bleed art, this is not just a novel in verse or a graphic novel. It is part biography, part visual fantasy, and part feminist allegory. I also wanted readers to emotionally connect with this remarkable young woman. I thought poems paired with art could accomplish this best."                                                                

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Not Your Princess: Voices of Native American Women. Edited by LIsa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. Annick Press, 2017. $14.95 ages 16 and up

"What are you?
Excuse me?
You don't look all white.
I'm Indigenous.
Oh, well what kind of Native
are you?
You don't really look it.
I am also Scottish and Metis
on my dad's side.
Were you raised on a reserve?"

Francine Cunningham describes her conversation with a massage therapist, and goes on:

"No, I was raised in the city.
Oh, well, I guess you're not a real one then, right?
What do you do?
I'm a student.
High school upgrading?
No, I'm getting my master's degree.
Well, good thing you got the taxpayers to pay for it,
right? Wish I could go to school for free.
Anyways, I guess you're one of the good ones, right?
Well, you're not a drunk or anything, good for you.
Okay, turn over, let me get to your back."

Read that again, and then again.

This amazing book offers a look at the Indigenous experience from the point of view of women, young and older. It is a diverse collection; as diverse as the women whose work is included. Artwork, poetry, photography, news articles, op-eds, and memoir all find their way onto its pages, informing and enlightening readers.

Fifty-eight women have made contributions, and their vocations are as varied as can be: athletes, filmmakers, politicians, students, elders, artists, environmentalists, actors, photographers, physicians, and businesswomen. Their accomplishments, the obstacles they have faced, their life experiences and their hopes for the future are presented in four sections, beginning with The Ties That Bind Us. Their bonds with family memories and lessons are presented in various ways.

In the second section, It Could Have Been Me, the artists explore their many fears about becoming one of the missing and/or murdered Indigenous women. They also show concern for the actions and mindset that have led them to being victims.

"I don't want to be afraid
"All over the news there are Native girls being
hurt and abused. I feel afraid when I walk
around. But I don't want to be afraid.
I want to have good energy."
             -Imajyn Cardinal (Cree/Dene)

The third section is titled I Am Not Your Princess. It explores media that does not value the culture of Indigenous people, by stereotyping and negative representation. There is sadness, anger, and bewilderment.

"I've finished my lunch. I walk alone out of
the dorm cafeteria. The smell of fries and other
processed foods lingers in the air. I walk out the
door and down the paved sidewalk to my next class.
                                 -Cecelia Rose La Pointe (Ojibway/Metis) 

And finally, Pathfinders is a celebration of strong women who lead with distinction, honor, and hard work. Their stories are emotional, inspiring and worthy of attention.

It is a book written to speak of what has been, what is now, and where the future might lead. The design is dramatic, authentic, and full of observation and wisdom. It provokes thought and causes readers to reflect and consider alternate ways of looking at diversity, history and identity. You should read it, and then share it!