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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

the scariest book ever, written and illustrated by bob shea. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2017. $17.99 ages 5 and up

"Now I have nothing
to wear.

I guess you'll have to
go into the scary dark
woods without me.

You go check them out,
and I'll meet you in a
couple of pages."

Ghost is not one of the brave ones! Sure there is a terrifying forest just outside the door, it does its best to convince readers to stay inside and not risk the imminent danger beyond.

Thinking fitfully about what must be faced, the ghost accidentally spills orange juice on its nice white ... and spends the rest of the book naked and unable to explore the woods. Encouraging the reader to go and investigate, it will await news. With each assurance that there is nothing scary out there, the ghost finds new excuses for not taking part. Cleaning the bathroom and sharing doughnuts do nothing to encourage readers to stay put.

We are witness to all discoveries made beyond the ghost's house ... in the endlessly frightening forest where a rabbit doles out party invitations to the creatures and other inhabitants of the forest itself. There are crafts, food, and pumpkin harvesting. What fun! Will the ghost finally be cajoled into joining them?

I will leave that for you to find out!

Bob Shea's digital spreads, in bright and colorful geometric images, show the action on bold backgrounds. Compared to the crisp black and white interiors, young readers realize how much the tiny ghost is missing. Keeping up with the naked ghost makes for a laughter-filled and most enjoyable story. You are sure to read it more than one time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

I WANT to BE in a SCARY STORY, written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $22.00 ages 4 and up

"Would you rather
something else jump out,
instead of the witch?


How about a ghost?

A ghost."

Don't all kids love the thought of 'scary'? It sounds like fun, but is it? In this interactive story, a little monster begs to be part of a 'scary' story. The unseen narrator offers choices concerning the where of the scare. A dark and scary forest? Well, maybe not. A spooky house? Maybe ...

The next choice has to do with who will do the scaring in the little monster's story. Will be a witch? Nope! A ghost? Even that proves too much.

'HOLD ON! This is too scary!
Well, you did say you wanted to be
in a scary story.
I know. But I want to be in a
scary story where I do the scaring!
Oh, you want to be the scary one?
OK then. You can creep up the stairs,
sneak over to the door and then ...
All right!"

But is it? Perhaps a funny story would be better after all. After a few shared ideas, the little monster turns the tables on the spooky house's inhabitants and provides both a scary and a funny story for readers to enjoy.

Enjoy it they will as they follow the antics and respond to the emotions felt by the little purple protagonist with the big head, yellow eyes, missing teeth and a penchant for stories. The tale moves along quickly, told completely in interactive dialogue. Jean Jullien provides a suitably scary backdrop for the creepy tone of the tale. The colors are striking, the double page spreads filled with expression and detail.  White space on alternating pages alert readers to the upcoming results of his requests and keep attention on the little monster who is creating the action for the book.    

Funny and just on the edge of frightening, this will be enjoyed by listeners as classrooms prepare for the Halloween festivities. It is perfect for paired or shared reading as the dialogue is controlled by contrasting colors. One reader reads the black text, the other the purple. Definitely two voices. I have shared other books that I feel would make terrific performance pieces. Add this on to the list.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Herbert's First Halloween, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Steven Henry. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"Herbert's father measured
Herbert from head to toe.
He measured him for ears.
He measured him for a tail.
He measured him for paws
with claws.

Herbert asked, "Can I roar?"
The answer was yes!
Herbert would roar on

My kids, when they were quite small, thought they would love Halloween. We decided on a costume, I got it done,and we were ready! As a mom who didn't much like Halloween (well OK, I thought the candy part was great!) and absolutely did not like dressing up ever, I should have known. Genes do run deep! They thought that the costumes were wonderful until it was time to put them on, and head out for the candy collection. Then, it was no thanks! Off we went in warm coats and a little face paint to gather the goodies being offered by friends, family and neighbors. It was mostly like that until they decided they had had enough of the whole thing.

Herbert is not sure about Halloween and how it works. His father, an aficionado, encourages his son to share the holiday with him. Herbert wonders if he might be a tiger. Of course! The delighted dad gets right to work while encouraging his son to help with the costume, the decorations and practicing his tiger persona. It is a warm and winning tale of togetherness.

When the big night arrives Dad dresses as a cowboy, emulating the little boy he was in a picture shown to Herbert. They walk from one place to another in their neighborhood, note all the other costumes being worn, collect candy, and call it a success. We leave the two as Herbert considers next year's costume.

I love the tone created by Ms. Rylant's carefully chosen text. The storytelling is thoughtful and reassuring for our youngest readers who share Herbert's uneasiness about the unknown. The father patiently encourages Herbert and listens carefully to his concerns. Steven Henry does a fine job with  digital illustrations to keep to the calm tone of the words, using soft lines, muted colors and inviting scenes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How To Make Friends With A Ghost, written and illustrated by Rebecca Green. Tundra, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Once the ghost knows you
are friendly, it will most likely follow you.
Welcome the ghost into your home. If it is reluctant, a simple blow will get the ghost inside.
Warning: Never ever put your hand through a ghost. It can cause a serious tummy ache."

It is not a certainty in life that you WILL meet a ghost. No one is ever sure that it will happen. However, it might! If it does, you want to be prepared. That is the premise of this debut book by Rebecca Green. Her contention is that, should you be lucky enough to come face to friendly face with such a spirit, you should know what to do.

She does her best to assure your success. In a step-by-step handbook, she offers up her advice for making the best of a very rare occurrence. She begins with an introduction, telling her audience that few people will ever meet a ghost:

"A ghost is nearly impossible to find.
You can look till your face turns blue.
But if you're a person who is sweet, warm, and kind,
a ghost may come out and find you."

Wouldn't that be something? Ms. Green follows up with Ghost Basics, Ghost Care, and Growing Together. Each section offers helpful tips in a well-laid out plan for maintaining your ghost's health, happiness and friendship throughout the many years you may spend together.

"Then your friendship will last
for it knows no bounds -
you'll be friends even after the end."

Written in hand-lettered text, with images created in gouache and colored pencil and edited digitally, it is a book that will appeal at any time of year. I was always on the lookout for picture books to help young writers develop skill in nonfiction writing. They were not always easy to find. This book will work brilliantly. Told with humor and imagination, it will find fans in every library and classroom.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Pomegrnate Witch, written by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 7 and up

"The Pomegranate War was on!
The troops made preparation;
They plotted how to storm the tree
in fruit-assault formation.

At noon, the watchcrow cawed,
The players took their places:
The Witch, she hunkered down;
the gang spread at twenty paces."

Here's a story with wonderful appeal, and a great read aloud style. Its impressive, atmospheric language requires those who want to share it to take the time to read it once or twice before doing so.

Five kids in a battle with an old woman - the witch who guards the pomegranate tree and its luscious fruit. A bike ride leads a young boy to first set eyes on it.

"And before its sagging porch, amid a weedy foxtail sea.
Found the scary, legendary, haunted pomegranate tree.

The gnarled tree loomed high and wide;
 its branches scraped the ground.
Beneath there was a fort, of sorts,
with leafed walls all around.
Its unpruned limbs were jungle-like,
dirt ripplesnaked with roots,
But glorious were the big, red, round,
ripe pomegranate fruits."

The boy and his friends make plans to steal the fruit despite the constant presence of the woman they dub the Pomegranate Witch. Unseen, but clearly present, the children believe all the many warnings they have heard about her. But, they are brave and they WANT that fruit. What must the five of them to do to achieve success? As they stealthily approach, she shouts out a warning:

"Now, hear this! Pomegranate Gang,
I see you in your ditch!
High noon! Tomorrow!" double-dared
the Pomegranate Witch.
Shocked and scared - caught by surprise -
the gang froze, firmly rooted;
Then one, then three, then five stood tall -
and all of them saluted."

Obviously, it is not just the fruit that is luscious. I read it once, and then read again. Now, as I write this post, I am going over and over certain phrases and descriptions to remind myself of the rhythm and meaning in the wonderful text. I can only imagine the pictures it must have conjured for Eliza Wheeeler as she read it repeatedly while working on her magical watercolor images. It is a stunning collaboration, and worthy of reading in classrooms as Halloween approaches, or at any other time of year. The more often you read it, the more surprised you will be by its beautifully chosen language and inspired art.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Grumbles From The Town: Mother Goose Voices with a Twist. Poems by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich and illustrations by Angela Matteson. Wordsong, HIghlights. 2016. $23.50 ages 5 and up

"Song of the Vegetarian Princess

Sing a song of salad,
a pocket full of beans,
four-and-twenty canteloupes
stashed inside my jeans.

Will I eat some blackbirds
baked in a pie?
No, I'd rather see them all
flying in the sky."

Taking familiar Mother Goose rhymes (which are appended in back matter) and giving them a twist as promised makes for a fun read, especially for those children familiar with the originals. In an author's note before introducing their new poems, Ms. Yolen and Ms. Dotlich explain:

"We've reinvented them in two different voices, playing with points of view. So, we rhymed the old woman who lives in the shoe from the viewpoint of the shoe itself, spun our own webs as the spider tells of meeting Miss Muffet, became the plum as he shouts in bouncing lines his anger at Little Jack Horner, and more."

They chose 14, knowing there were so many more. Perhaps readers would like to try their hand at poetry and point of view, too. There's an idea!

As the old man (and all of the nearby animals and birds) snores while it rains and pours, the dog has a complaint!

"It's raining, it's pouring,
and everyone is snoring.

Despite some cotton
in each ear,
the only sound
that I can hear
is snore-snore-snore
and snore some more
coming straight at me
through the doghouse door.

It's so dang loud,
I cannot think.
I cannot dream
or sleep a wink.
I much prefer
the drip-drop rain.
No wonder, then.
this sad refrain:

It's raining, it's pouring,
and everyone is snoring.
   (Except for me!) "

The old man has a short retort:

Yes, yes, yes, I snore.
Long, loud, goose-gurgling snores.
Usually when it rains.
Especially when it pours,
I snores."

Need I say more?

Just a wee note about the illustrations! Angela Matteson uses acrylics and colored pencils on wood board to bring life to this lively group of reimagined rhymes. There is a skateboard, and a banjo, charming characters, and details sure to attract attention and conversation. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Our New Home: Immigrant Children Speak. Edited by Emily Hearn and Marywinn Milne. Second Story Press, 2015. $13.95 ages 8 and up

"On the first day that I came to Canada my family and I were very confused but luckily we received help by our uncle. Our uncle came and picked us up from the airport. Afterwards he drove us to his house to stay for a while. The roads in Canada are very different from the roads in Guang Zhou.

... Stephy China"

This second book in today's post is meant to be read by older readers. It is written by immigrant children who share in stories, songs and pictures how they are feeling about settling into a new place. It is often a tumultuous time for them. They are both uneasy and enthusiastic about leaving one home to find another. Their voices tell how they feel about being in Canada, what they find different from their previous experience, and how they are adjusting.

Readers get a chance to hear their personal stories. They will come away from reading this book with a better understanding of what it feels like to be new and confused about all that is happening with their families. For children who have never had to leave one home to find another, it provides an opportunity to put themselves in someone else's shoes (someone who might be the same age) and try to comprehend what it is like. For those who share the experience, they will feel some solace in knowing that others are feeling the same way.

A world map shows their home countries. The editors then divide the entries into five sections: Leaving, Differences, Adjusting, Problems, and Feelings. For Canadian children reading these entries, the learning is important. It is hard to imagine how many changes they face:

"Less pollution, less population, friends with good habits, school with more extracurricular activities and places with more security are some of the ways that my life has changed for the better. But some things like my family and my culture stayed the same and will never change.  (Vivek India)"

In each section the authors are listed, as well as their country of origin. Illustrations by some children are included. Their stories are sometimes frightening, and certainly filled with angst over all the changes they face as they attempt to adjust to their new circumstances. The stories are left as written, providing readers a chance to see how well they have adapted to reading and writing in a new and unfamiliar language. They are honest, often funny, and telling.  Reading one entry a day could result in meaningful classroom discussion and further understanding.

Bravo to these young writers for sharing their stories and their insights.

Where Will I Live? Written by Rosemary McCarney. Second Story Press, 2017. $$19.95 ages 3 and up

"They ride ...
or walk ...
or run, hoping to find
a peaceful place.

But where will I live?
Will it be down the road ...
beyond this hill ...
past this fence ...
across the sea?"

Is it possible to share enough books about the plight of children in our world today? So many have been displaced by war, weather, and religious persecution. It is important that we have empathy for each and every one.

This book, filled with compelling photographs of children and their families who do not know where the path they are on might lead, is essential to have in school libraries today. No matter the means of travel, they must wonder every day what will happen to them, to their family, and to the others who travel with them. Seeing their beautiful, haunting faces cannot help but make readers think seriously about the joy these children often find in life despite very trying circumstances, the love they feel for their family and friends, the hope they hold in their hearts for better times.

The text, written by Canada's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, reflects the trauma of being forced to leave home to find another place of peace and understanding. Nations of the world are welcoming these children and their families daily. It is our chance to help those who do not have the security of a home. Will they find one with us?

Let's be sure we start those discussions in our families, and in our classrooms. Their journeys are long, their lives uncertain, their future might depend on our response to their arrival in our towns and cities. Surely we can do out best. Knowing other cultures and helping fellow human beings can only make our lives better.

"I hope someone smiles and says "Welcome home."
I hope that someone is you."