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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mother Bruce, written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion, Hachette. 2015. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"But the fire in
his stove fizzled.
So he went out to
get more wood.
When Bruce came
back, he was met
with an unwelcome

Hey, Bruce is not likely the bear you want to meet when you are out for a hike in the woods. He is a mite grumpy, and there are a lot of things he doesn't like. He does like to take things that belong to others. He likes eggs best, stealing them to create some new and delicious meal for himself. One of the recipes he wants to try calls for some pretty special ingredients:

"First, he caught a few salmon.
Then he collected
honey from
a local beehive.
He liked to support
local business,
you see.

Last, he went to
Mrs. Goose's nest
to pay her a visit."

Bruce gets more than he bargained for when he chooses the wrong nest to rob. What a surprise when four tiny goslings hatch from the eggs he was hoping to cook! In a classic case of mistaken identity, the goslings attach themselves to Bruce, convinced he is their mother.  Now, he's got parenting troubles. Those hapless babies follow Bruce everywhere he goes. Nothing he does to discourage them works. They don't understand the threats behind his toothy snarls and loud roars!

His patience stretched to the limit, Bruce begins to find joy in their presence. He works to raise them with their future in mind, offering lessons in art, feeding them nutritious food, and assuring they get their rest. The seasons pass, the goslings thrive and grow from annoying baby geese to stubborn teenage geese to boring adult geese.

Fall hopefully brings a reprieve. Bruce explains how they will make their trip south. They are not interested. After many creative attempts to send them on their way, he resigns himself to accompanying them - by bus to Miami!

Not only is the writing wonderfully sharp and full of fun, Ryan Higgins creates endearing images throughout of a grumpier than average bear, four adoring goslings, and adds a boatload of sly humor that will have little (and older) listeners rolling in the aisles. The textures and colors are appealing, the perspectives are ever-changing, and the setting is perfect for presenting this unconventional family that eventually manages a peaceful co-existence.

A surprise ending is sure to ramp up the enjoyment for all. I cannot wait to share it with a classroom full of delighted listeners!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fable Comics, edited by Chris Duffy. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $22.99 ages 8 and ujp

"When I woke up in the spring,
I found these things in front of
my house.
A carrot and two pieces of coal.
Is it a special message from
Maybe it's a gift.
No, it's a snowman.
No it isn't.
It is. Or it was a snowman.
It melted when the sun shone ... "

I have told you about the two previous titles in this terrific series ... Nursery Rhyme Comics (2011) and Fairy Tale Comics (2013). They are a great way to get young readers with a penchant for graphica accustomed to some of our oldest stories and verse.

Most of the fables included in this collection were originally penned by Aesop. I was particularly interested in the ones that came from other cultures as they were new to me. Graphic renderings of these old tales are made relevant in their modern settings. There are twenty eight fables shared. The editor describes them as 'bossy stories with a message for you'.

Kids will love watching the fox try to get the grapes he so desires using a jet pack, the language of the tortoise as he boldly crosses the finish line after escaping the talons of a ravenous eagle ... 'In your face, you frikety fracking 'rabbit!', or the hilarious tale of the mouse council that comes up with the perfect plan to protect themselves from their enemy by belling it so that they will always know where that darned cat is. But, who is brave enough to place the bell around the cat's neck ... why, no one!

I like that most of the cartoonists choose to reinvent their fables in a personal way, while keeping the moral true to its original intent. The settings may change; that only adds to the appeal for their target audience ... those who love their stories to be told in graphic form. The panels are carefully drawn to assure attention, the print is easy to understand. Often funny, and certainly recognizable in form, this is a book that would make a welcome addition to both classroom and library collections. It works as an introduction to the traditional tales, or as a boldly imagined companion to them.

Read it. Then, read it again. You won't be sorry!                                                                       

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

We Dig Worms. A TOON book by Kevin McCloskey. Publishers Group Canada, 2015. $17.95 ages 4 and up

"My tunnels bring air
and water to the soil
to help plants grow.
When worms dig,
twisting and turning,
they make the earth ...

There can be few better ways for early readers to learn about earthworms! This is a book that is sure to provide answers to the many questions that children might ask about the worms they see following a rain, or when digging in the garden.

The author begins by telling his audience that there is variety in the worm family; the one he wants to discuss is the earthworm. There are many good reasons to learn as much as we can about them. He discusses their usefulness: how they help the earth by digging and by 'pooping'.  A map of the worm's body shows readers just exactly what they look like inside and outside, with labels and captions to aid with understanding.

Questions are answered in speech bubbles, while the author adds a short, concise bit of information to match the conversation between a child and a worm:

"Mister WORM?

Why do you come out
after the rain?

It's easier to WRIGGLE
when it's WET!


That bluebird might be a problem. The earthworm is quick to avoid its invitation to lunch by letting it know there is work to be done. Mr. McCloskey chose the perfect medium for his wonderfully, informative illustrations - gouache and acrylics on recycled brown paper bags. The earthworms would be pleased, wouldn't they?

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Whale in My Swimming Pool, written and illustrated by Joyce Wan. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 3 and up

"Maybe you just
need a little help.

Why my pool?
Why not the pool
next door?

They have the best
pool on the block!"

An inflatable pool might be the very best place to be on a hot summer day - at least that's what the small boy thinks when he makes his way into the backyard to enjoy a cool plunge. Wait a minute! What is that humungous thing atop the tiny pool? Can it be a whale?

Mom is interested in the book she is reading, doesn't really hear what her son is telling her, offers no useful advice. The youngster comes up with his own solution for the dilemma. He will count to ten, the whale will be gone, problem solved! Trying to dislodge the intruder doesn't work, a suggestion to use the pool next door has no allure, a game of fetch is ignored, even a fishing pole does not help.

When he runs out of ideas for enticing the whale away from his pool, he comes up with a perfect solution for making the best of the situation. A call from Mom to announce it's time for a nap creates a brand new dilemma. It will take ingenuity, but I am certain this further problem will also be solved.

Front endpapers are festooned with the initial problem; at the back, we are presented with the current difficulty. The thick lines of the illustrations assure understanding and humor for a young audience.
The simple, animated text makes for ease of reading and a guaranteed return to the book for a closer look and a repeated share.

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $14.99 ages 6 and up

"She took off her favorite
fluffy dress. She slipped off
her glass slippers. Underneath,
she was dressed all in black.
She fastened on her mask. She
was no longer Princess Magnolia.
She was the Princess in Black.

"The princess is back!" said the
Princess in Black. She slid down
the secret chute."

Poor Princess Magnolia! Her birthday party is perfectly planned for an afternoon filled with good times with her princess friends. She is suitably attired, the guests are arriving ... her monster alarm rings loud and clear. She must leave, change into her Princess in Black costume, and be off to stop a monster from eating a goat. Her horse is at the ready - off they go! Both are disappointed to leave the much-anticipated party, but duty calls.

That is only the first disturbance of the afternoon. It seems that every time the party goers are ready for something fun to do, an alarm rings and Princess Magnolia must create a diversion so that she can attend to the important work of defeating monsters. The diversions work. However, every time she returns, changes back into her party paraphernalia, she looks a little worse for wear. Princess Sneezewort picks up on some clues to what is happening. She notices that Princess Magnolia is not always where she is thought to be. Identity in check, the Princess in Black remains a mystery to the end.

There is much to ponder as early readers follow, chapter by chapter, the demands made of a superhero. It is not work to be taken lightly. It requires dedication, self-sacrifice and time. After a series of interruptions, she has every right to lose her cool when confronted with yet another monster threatening Duff the goat boy's charges. That monster is stunned by her reaction, and contrite. It provides a birthday gift that proves very useful when Princess Magnolia returns to her palace.

A funny, welcome addition to the Princess in Black series, this book shows fans that, while she may appreciate the many benefits of being a beautiful princess, she has the moves needed to slay monsters in another action-filled adventure.

February brings the third installment ... The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde. Sure to be a winner, leaving happy readers begging for more.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Written and Drawn by Henrietta, a TOON book by Liniers. Publishers Group Canada, 2015. $17.95 ages 4 and up

"What were you doing
inside my wardrobe?

We were looking for a HAT
for Louie. He doesn't have

Aw, poor Louie!

We sure could use some

Two stories for the price of one! How fun is that? In the hands of the very talented Argentine artist Liniers, it is quite the book to share. Henrietta is at the heart of it, with her new box of colored pencils, her vivid imagination and an awesome talent for getting her story on the page!

She loves her new art supplies:

"A  box of colored
pencils is as close
as you can get
to owning a
piece of the

Pencils in hand, she sets out to write a brand new tale, The Monster with Three Heads and Two Hats. The images are childlike, while also being scary - even scaring the artist herself with noises and mystery. She likes her story, using all she knows about writing to 'thicken the plot', build the suspense, and explain it all to her cat Fellini who offers an audience and pertinent questions about her work.

Humorous, observant to the elements of story building, and acknowledging useful punctuation add interest for the reader. Henrietta moves the story along with gusto. She is impressed with her own work, never knowing exactly what might happen next. She keeps it fluid and lively. I love the diversion from the intense action when she draws and captions the numerous hats to be found in Emily's closet.

"The best things
are the ones that
make you say


This old
encyclopedia really
knows a lot about
hat -o-logy."

There are monsters, a mute mouse adept at directions, and a wonderful gift for Emily. All bring the tale to its faultless conclusion. The two worlds - the one of the writer herself and the one of the story being told so wonderfully - keep readers aware and aching to know what comes next when creativity is allowed free rein.

Brilliant, wise,  and perfect for any aspiring writer you might know. Let this book be their inspiration to follow that dream!                                                                         

Friday, December 25, 2015

Book: My Autobiography, written by John Agard and illustrated by Neil Packer. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 10 and up

"Enter A E I O U

It must have been fun being a little letter in those days, with different people taking you and shaping you into their own language - straightening you here, curving you there, as they saw fit. Even writing you in all directions, right to left, left to right, not to mention downward and upward. A page must have felt like a trampoline."

Book is the narrator of this intriguing memoir which takes its audience from oral storytelling to the advent of the e-book. It provides a carefully constructed look at the evolution of itself over the 5,000 years it took to bring us to what books are today.

As we read, we learn about the growth of alphabets, the evolution from clay tablets to the codex. We readers have met Book many times over the years. We will have our own opinions about those: some wonderful, some mediocre, some not worth the paper it took to create them. Book is a most interesting historian of the beginning, middle and ending of its development. It tells the how and why of its genesis. The years have made it ever more accessible for those of us enjoying reading today ... no more scrolls, heavy tomes that would challenge some of the strongest among us.

Today, Book is for everyone ... in a variety of forms, from a variety of places. It is meant to be savored by each of us because of its being relatively inexpensive, more available, much easier to hold.  Whoever could have imagined the digital age, and the advent of the e-book?

Book is not so impressed:

"I let e-Book know in no uncertain
terms that my old musty smell is a
heartwarming perfume to the nose of
book lovers rummaging in used book
stores, yard sales, or charity shops.
Then I changed the subject and
told him it was a shame he couldn't
experience the thrill of being dog-eared.
That shut him up."

The design is lovely; adding trivia in boxes, through attractive illustrations and memorable quotes. Fonts change, history is shared and it won't take long to read aloud or alone. Accurate and bold, it is sure to be enjoyed by those who have a chance to share it.

Merry Christmas to all!


               With special holiday wishes for those who
                 read and share Sal's Fiction Addiction 
                            with family and friends!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus! By Antinuke and Lauren Tobia. Kane Miller, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $20.50 ages 4 and up

"It is brothers," Anna
Hibiscus tells her cousins.
"That big bump was brothers."
"Boys!" shouts Benz.
"Two boys!" whispers Angel.
"That means trouble, " says
"Big Trouble!" says Chocolate.

"Uh-oh," thinks Anna

As does any child whose life is turned upside down by a new baby, Anna Hibiscus has concerns. When the baby arrives, it is two ... and they are boys! She is warned that may mean trouble. It isn't long until she discovers that they truly are double trouble!

Mama is sleeping when Anna wants her usual morning cuddle. Uncle Bizi Sunday is making food for Anna's Mama and has no time to make her usual breakfast ogi. A shared breakfast with Grandmother (this time a banana) is impossible as Grandmother is also sleeping, having helped with the birth of the baby 'bothers'. Anna often helps the aunties with washing clothes. Today, those aunties are rocking babies. Where will the trouble end?

Not with the uncles ... they are doing twice the work because of the babies. It's Papa to the rescue, with a hug and reassurance. No one has forgotten the big sister. Anna is comforted and able to pass on some love and wise advice to her little brothers:

"We have Mama and Papa,
and Grandmother and Grandfather,
and so many aunties and uncles,
and cousins to share!
You don't need to cry."

This is a perfectly delightful story, made stronger with the bold and expressive artwork created by Lauren Tobia. Her full-page spreads and spot pictures show the gamut of emotions felt by the charming Anna. Having met her in prior stories, I knew that this one would be memorable, too. Together, both artists have given us a book to treasure and to pass along to families expecting a new baby. Pay special attention to the endpapers, front and back.

Warm and winning, keep a couple on hand for times when you need a special gift for an older sibling. You can't go wrong with it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Magical Animal Adoption Agency: The Enchanted Egg. Written by Kallie George and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. Harper, 2015. $16.99 ages 8 and up

"Then she made a final round of the Agency, turning some lights on for the hatchling, so it wouldn't be scared. Even so, after she locked the door, she lingered on the top step, unwilling to leave, until at last she heard a humph from the gnome's direction. She made her way down the path, stopping when she reached him. "The egg hatched," she whispered, "and the animal is loose."

If you are looking for a new series to share with a transitional reader - a child who is exploring longer texts with familiar characters, you might want to check out the Magical Animal Adoption Agency. This is the second book, and the second one that I have read. While you can read this one without first sharing Clover's Luck, it is important to know that the enchanted egg that is the focus this time around was rescued at the end of the first book by Mr. Jams, the owner of the agency, after a long trek to find it.

Clover, who loves animals and proved that she was worthy of Mr. Jams' trust when he left her in charge that first time, is again tasked to take care of things while he goes in search of an expert on unusual, magical eggs. Since no one knows what the egg might produce, Clover would like to think that it will not hatch before Mr. Jams returns.

While he is gone, Clover shows readers that she is trustworthy, astute and sympathetic to the plight of the animals in her care. We meet the clients along with her - giants looking for a pet that will guard their golden goose, an allergic unicorn, and a ghost who bakes cupcakes - each looking for the perfect magical pet for themselves.

Clover is more self-assured this time, having proven worthy the first time she was given a seemingly formidable task. When she checks the nest she has so carefully created for the polka-dot egg, she finds the shell broken, and the baby missing. With the arrival of visitors looking to adopt a pet for themselves and needing Clover's guidance, she has little time to look for the hatchling. Will she find the baby before anything happens to it?

The sequel is equally as rewarding as the first book. The series is sure to attract many fans. Let's hope we won't have to wait too long to see what Clover is up to next.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Doctor Nice, written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $23.95 ages 3 and up

"Who's next?" asked Doctor
Nice. "I am," said Moose.
"I fell through the ice. Achoo!
Please help me, Doctor."
"Don't worry. You just have
a cold," said Doctor Nice.
"Stay in bed for a few days,
and you'll soon feel better."
"I will. Achoo! I will.
"Thank you, Doctor."
"Who's next?" ... "

If you are looking for a book about professionals, you might want to share this one about a young and compassionate doctor who spends the day caring for each of the animals that pay a visit to the medical clinic. The variety in illness is immense. The tiny doctor, dressed in green scrubs, a mask and all of the paraphernalia needed to cure the multitude of patients, is IN.

First up is Mother Crow, worrying about her young son who hurt his foot while skiing. A cast for the broken foot is just what the doctor orders and mother and son are soon on their way. As one patient exits, a new one makes an entrance. From a moose with a cold to a cow with a broken tail, the doctor works medical magic in providing the perfect treatment for each. At the end of a long day of looking after others, there is a surprise in store for Dr. Nice ... and for the readers of this warm and lively book.

Valeri Gorbachev  uses watercolor and ink to bring this imaginative romp to life for his young readers. There are so many details sure to encourage attention and discussion as readers take note of the patients' complaints before they are shared. The pig is protecting her nose, the moose is carrying a large handkerchief, the goat kids are holding their heads protectively. On each double page spread showing the source of the medical complaint, we get a close look at the event that initiates a trip to the doctor in the first place. So much fun for little ones. A story to be shared when cold winter weather keeps everyone inside, and for using the imagination to get through the long, cold days.

That surprise ending is icing on the cake for this charming readaloud.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Silly Wonderful You, story by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. Balzer + Bray, Harper. 2016. $ 21.99 ages 3 and up

"And now ...
     since there was you ...
my days start oh-so-early,
with bright-eyed alarm clocks ...
Each time I step, sharp
little blocks go right through
my socks!
I find so many things
in unusual places."

If you live with a toddler, you will know just exactly what the mom in this new book by Sherri Duskey Rinker is feeling. Don't things change dramatically every single day?

I spent a month recently with my granddaughter and learned the real meaning of 'tired' as an aging woman with not nearly as much energy as I once had. However, the joys of being with her far outweighed the total exhaustion I felt by the end of a day spent playing, cajoling, checking up on, singing, chasing and reading with her.

This mother's rhyming text fully explores the many changes that take place with a growing child in the home, who wants to explore her environment, assert her independence and put all of her passion into bringing joy and laughter to those who love her:

"That you
could be

Or sometimes
(and maybe just a tiny bit whiny)."

I am going to love to read this with my daughter and granddaughter when they arrive next month! It is sure to speak to Mom for the life they now live, and at some point in time, to Sicily who will want to share all the memories that its words evoke.

The sound effects, the funny little surprises that arise on a daily basis are so ably captured in the pen, brush and ink artwork Patrick McDonnell has created to accompany the rhyming text. The child's absolute joy in living and her many emotions are evident on every page, whether she is splashing in the tub, purposely touching what is not to be touched, racing her mother to the top of the stairs in an effort to avoid capture.

Cozy, frenetic and all too true, I think you will relate if you spend any time with a toddler.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Marguerite's Christmas, written by India Desjardins and illustrated by Pacal Blanchet. Translated from the French by Carolyn Grifel. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada, Raincoast. 2015. $27.50 ages 8 and up

"Ding Dong!
She isn't expecting anyone.
Her heart begins to pound.
She is seized by anxiety.
This is it. Her time has come.
She's not ready.
She hears faint voices
coming from outside.
Peeking through the curtains,
she sees a car in front of her

This is my absolute favorite book for this Christmas season! It might be that it strikes a little close to home. I have not decorated for Christmas this year as we won't be celebrating until late in January, when my family is all together. It doesn't bother me in the least. When my son arrives next week, he is not likely to notice that there is no sign of Christmas being but a few short days away. Is it my age? Or am I just past the commercialism of it? The rush to buy, buy, buy when we need nothing and so many others have nothing. What a curmudgeon I am!!!

Marguerite might be seen in much the same light. She is elderly and not our focus until we have become familiar with her surroundings - her snowy road, her neighbors as they greet each other taking great delight in the snowy landscape. Only then do we meet Marguerite:

"Marguerite Godin would be happy if she never had to set foot outside her house ever again."

She likes Christmas and until last year, she did her best to decorate the whole house. But, it made her very tired and then she didn't have the energy to take it all down again. The wreath stays up all year, only lit during the holiday season. She is not afraid to be alone at Christmas, although her family finds that hard to believe. In truth, she only wants their happiness. Marguerite is feeling old, vulnerable, set in the ways that she does what needs to be done. Her fears are buoyed by newspaper reports of robberies, people preying on the aged, her inability to move quickly to protect herself. It is a lonely life to live.

When a family car veers into a snowbank on Christmas Eve in front of her house, members of the family need her help. It brings every one of her fears to the forefront, causing endless worry as she allows the father to use her phone, the daughter to use her bathroom. But, watching the family celebrate together inside their stalled car brings a sense of joy to the old woman. A sudden halt to the noises she has been hearing from outside leads her to think that their battery has died. The family might be in need of further help. She prepares a snack, clothes herself for the trip outdoors, only to watch as  the tow truck hauls the car away. 

A tender smile and a sense of wonder at the beauty of the cold, clear night leaves readers with a sense of the peace the season can bring. Contemplative, at times humorous, unquestionably memorable.

The design is quite beautiful, with a cloth cover, thick pages, candy cane endpapers and wonderful retro illustrations. It is a window into a world of the elderly; a glimpse at the vulnerability of someone who may be part of the family; a moving story that could become a family tradition to read during the holiday season.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Little Red Gliding Hood. Story by Tara Lazar with pictures by Troy Cummings. Random House, 2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"But Little Red needed a
skating partner. The Dish
danced with the Spoon, and
Hansel spun Gretel like
Little Red had no one. She
asked each of her friends.
T-t-t- too
c-c-c- cold!
Little Boy Blue just
shivered and quivered."

I can only hope that the children who share this story will have the background experience to make it the most fun possible. It concerns me how few children hear fairy tales and nursery rhymes as an integral part of their reading and listening lives. Fairy tales are perfect for offering a chance to discuss plot, characters and the battle between good and evil. Nursery rhymes help to ensure that young listeners can hear and repeat rhyming patterns, a very important part of learning to read in the first place. Knowing many of the actors who play a role in this rollicking tale will up the understanding and enjoyment.

Little Red is an accomplished skater ... on ice, that is. Her skates don't fit and are becoming more ratty with each trip to her grandmother's house. It won't be long until she can no longer make her weekly visit. Poor Grandma will be very disappointed!

When Red hears that a skating competition will net the winning pairs partners a new pair of skates, she has no success in finding that needed partner. On her way to Grandma's for advice, the Big Bad Wolf makes an appearance, frightening Red so badly that she comes close to taking a terrible fall. It's Wolf to the rescue, and a misunderstanding is quickly cleared up. Wolf protects Red, admires her skating prowess, and wonders if she might consider him worthy of being her partner. He, too, could use new skates.

Red shouts assurance, to those trying to protect her, that Wolf is her partner for the competition after his presence creates mayhem among the gathered participants and observers. They make an awesome pair. To everyone's surprise, they win the prize they both need badly if they are to retain their skating skills. Wahoo!

Kids who know and love these characters will take great delight in Troy Cummings' cartoony creations. They provide the perfect background for the many familiar and recognizable characters from beloved stories and poems. Fresh and full of fun, this book is great for reading aloud to a wide audience who will appreciate the wordplay and the detail-filled illustrations.

"The wolf frightened
Little Miss Muffet away.

She bumped Little Jack Horner
into the corner.

Humpty Dumpty
had a great fall.

And Jack and Jill came tumbling after." 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lost. Found. Written by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.50 ages 3 and up

"When a stiff wind blows
Bear's scarf away, it's

When Beaver wraps it
into a cozy cap, it's



A perfect gift for little ones just learning the meaning of certain words and the joy of reading. It is a book about the concepts of lost and found, and how one thing inevitably leads to the other. The bear's red scarf is the most noticeable thing on the cover, the title page and the first page of action. As he trudges through the snow on a very windy day the scarf blows away.

Two raccoons are the first to see it, and each wants it for himself. A disagreement ensues, a chase follows, the scarf is forgotten. Once again, it is lost. A beaver finds it and creates a warm turban which gets tangled in a tree and left for someone else to find.

It isn't until all of the animals with previous knowledge of that lovely red scarf converge at one time that the scarf finally comes to the end of its journey. Each is not to be outdone by the others in an attempt at ownership, leaving the scarf a mass of wool scraps. Can they possibly work together to ensure its place in their lives once more?

Matthew Cordell ramps up the humor with his glorious watercolor and pen and ink art, and engaging sound effects. The scribbly lines create constant movement and discovery. He just makes the story sweeter and more entertaining for a host of little ones who will want to share it again - immediately.


When Santa Was a Baby, written by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout. Tundra Books, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"The years went by,
and Santa grew older.
He began to learn his
colors. Right from the
start, he liked red best.
"What about these dandy
blue pajamas from Aunt
Mabel?" said his mom.

Santa shook his head.
"Want red!"

Have you ever thought about Santa's parents? Or, do you think that magical beings just appear? Linda Bailey put her imagination to work and brings us a story of Santa as a baby, a toddler, a child and a teenager - all those times in his life that led him to his true calling. What wonder awaits!

His parents loved his dimples and his cherry nose. They were surprised, to say the least, when his loud HO! HO! HO! replaced any other tiny baby's giggle. He was happy, strong and very, very special. He was unwilling to wear anything that wasn't made in his favorite color -red. After opening all of his birthday presents, he especially loved re-wrapping them and giving them away. Oh, so generous! For another birthday he wanted a reindeer. His parents couldn't understand his request, so they got him a hamster. And so it goes!

It is no surprise that this charming child grows up to be Santa Claus. Each year brings new discoveries about those things that he loves, and an explanation for who he will become. Children will be delighted to learn the backstory of Santa's journey to Christmas elf extraordinaire. It is sure to become a family treasure and tradition after sharing it this year ... a book to be passed along to future generations.                                                                  

The pastel and colored pencil illustrations make the reader feel as if they are sharing a family photo album, watching the child grow and prosper under the loving care of his astonished and accepting parents. The humor is gentle, the emotions evident and the nostalgia is touching. Young listeners are sure to have their favorites, and will want to return for a closer look again and again.

This is a winner!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein, written by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer. Illusrated by Christine Davenier. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Random House. 2015. $20.99 ages 5 and up

"The Rosensteins didn't
celebrate Christmas because
they were Jewish.
Being Jewish was fun
most of the time.
It meant you got to hunt
for the afikomen on
Passover, blow the shofar
on Rosh Hashannah, and
get a present a day for all
eight days of Hanukkah - "

In my first year of teaching, one of my students was Jewish and we, as a class, learned as much as we could about Brian's celebration of the festival of lights. Five-year-olds were pretty impressed that he was to receive a gift for each of the eight days of Hanukkah.

Rachel Rosenstein is not so fond of the idea that she cannot share all of the things she loves about Christmas. In fact when Christmas finally arrives ...

"... Rachel felt like a kid in a candy store without a mouth."

She wants lights, and a Christmas tree, and cookies for Santa's visit. She writes him a letter, visits him at the mall, and provides latkes decorated with chocolate chips to give him the energy he needs to make it through a long night of deliveries. She prepares the house for his visit, does her best to wait up for him, but cannot keep herself awake throughout the long night. How disappointing to discover that Santa has not even stopped at the Rosenstein house!

Her mom does her best to explain and to comfort her daughter before leaving for her job at the hospital on Christmas morning. Her dad fills their day with fun and frolic. At the end of that day, he takes their grandfather and his daughters to their favorite Chinese restaurant for supper. Only when she notices some of her school friends arriving for their own meals does Rachel realize she is not alone in not celebrating Christmas. It is a revelation!

Christine Davenier's artwork, done in watercolor and pen and ink, perfectly matches the lighthearted tone. Energetic and attractive, they enhance the humor that is inherent in this story of wishing and hoping, and finally accepting what is special about each one of us.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Toys Meet Snow, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2015. $20.99 ages 3 and up

"... the toys go out into
the snow.
"Is that a different tree?'
asks Lumphy. "It looks
like a different tree than
before the snow came."
"It's turned into a candy
tree," says StingRay. "It
tastes like peppermint."
"No, it's the same tree ... "

The Toys are back! Huzzah! The title lets us know that they are seeing snow for the first time. The subtitle offers information about each one of them: Being the Wintertime Adventures of A Curious Stuffed Buffalo, A Sensitive Plush Stingray and a Book-Loving Rubber Ball. That's a mouthful!

The stuffed buffalo (aka Lumphy) remains inquisitive with much to wonder about at this new and sparkling phenomenon. The stingray (aka StingRay) has one terrific imagination and a poet's sensibilities, providing lively spirited answers. The ball (aka Plastic) is a reader, and an avid learner of factual information, always willing to share what he knows.

Together they watch as the world transforms itself outside their window. Its takes some preparation and a good deal of thought to ensure that they are ready to head out, that they can open the door to winter's blast of cold air, and then that they can make their way down the stairs and into a brand new backyard:

" I mean, what is a snowflake?" asks Lumphy.

"A snowflake is a tiny ballerina," says StingRay.
"If you look closely, you can see it dance."

"No, it's just really tiny frozen water,"
says Plastic. "I read that, too."

All the joys that young children experience in the snow are a part of this wonderful tale of three friends and their journey of discovery. The panelled artwork and spot pictures placed on bright white backgrounds allow young readers a window into the fun to be had when a trio of very different friends work together for the greater good.

This charming story casts a spell that is not unlike the joys that are inherent in a winter storm.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings, written by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon and illustrated by Mark Siegel. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 5 and up

"The woman reached
inside her coat and gave
him a small loaf of bread.

It was fresh. It filled him.

He saw a newsstand full of
comics. One showed a
strongman in a cape ... "

With the Nazis gaining power in Europe in 1938, Oskar's parents make the almost impossible decision to put him on a boat headed for New York. Oskar carries nothing but a photo and the address of his aunt, a woman he has never met. His father's last words are meant to encourage and sustain him in this new life:

“Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

As he walks from Battery Park the 100 blocks down Broadway that will take to his aunt's house, Oskar is the recipient of eight blessings - one for each day of Hanukkah. It is the seventh day of Hanukkah, and Christmas Eve. He wants to be there before his aunt lights the menorah at sunset. It is a long trek. He is tired, cold, and hungry.

First a woman feeding pigeons offers a piece of stale bread to help with feeding the birds. He eats it himself. She provides a small loaf of fresh bread which fills him. Then, a man at a newsstand
gives a Superman comic as his gift. Oskar can hear his father's voice again, and opens his eyes to the blessings that surround him. His encounters are meaningful, full of hope and encouragement for a young boy whose life has changed so dramatically.

I have never been to New York. Like so many others, I have strong images of many of the places that Oskar passes as he walks. It is interesting that the authors reference, with each encounter that he has, an event which did happen that year in NYC. I love that about this story!

The artwork is done in a series of beautifully rendered panels, allowing readers to feel the cold of the winter night, the warmth of the people who help to make Oskar's trek bearable, and the love he feels when he hugs his Aunt Esther for the first time.

An author's note and a map of Oskar's footsteps from Battery Park through Manhattan to West 103rd Street add context and a feeling of wonder. Emotional and heartwarming, this is a 'keeper'.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Winter Candle, written by Jeron Ashford and illustrated by Stacey Schuett. Creston Books, 2014. $20.95 ages 6 and up

"But as they watched, the
flame shimmered and grew.
It glittered on the falling
snowflakes until the dark
street spun with stars. Many
blocks away, Papa slowly
steered the big truck through
snow-covered streets. What
did that sign say? Pine Street?
Vine Street? But then Papa
noticed a glow up ahead."

Every year on the first of December I light an evening candle in memory of loved ones who are no longer with us! It is a reminder of the many wonderful memories shared when we were together. Candles and their light give hope and strength, it seems.

Jeron Ashford's thoughtful tale of winter celebrations begins at Thanksgiving when Nana Clover does not have a candle to light her table. She can't imagine celebrating without one. So, she asks the superintendent of her apartment block if he can help. All he has is 'a lumpy stick of wax'. Nana uses her ingenuity and some reminders of fall to create a centerpiece that pleases her and welcomes her dinner guests.

Two weeks later, the family in 2G realizes they have no havdalah candle. Avi is sent to ask Nana Clover for help. She gladly passes on her Thanksgiving candle. It is not braided and has only one wick; nevertheless, it shines brighter than any other havdalah candle before it. Four mornings later, one of the candles on the Saint Lucia crown snaps in two and causes great distress for Liv, who is to wear the crown and carry the breakfast to be shared. The Danzigers are happy to help, just as Nana Clover had been.

And so it goes ... The candle is passed from family to family bringing joy to the celebrations taking place throughout the apartment building. Bringing bright light to each of those celebrations, it is passed finally to the newest neighbors who are awaiting Papa's arrival with their furniture. A storm and lack of electricity have them worrying that Papa may not be able to find them. Fear not, the candle will light his way!

Each family of neighbors soon make their way to the fifth floor, bringing everything needed for a shared celebration of welcome.

"And the gnarled candle glowed so brightly in the window that when the electricity finally did come back on, no one even noticed."

The richly textured illustrations are highlighted by the glow of the small candle and the love within  each family.  An author’s note shares information about the celebrations themselves.

Lovely ... perfect for sharing at this time of year!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Homemade Together Christmas, by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. Albert Whitman & Company, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"Luca went to his room and
wrote some ideas in his
bake a cake
"No, I can't use the oven
by myself."
plant a garden
"That won't work, it's not
make a warm hat
"But I don't know how to knit."

Gingerbread baked? Christmas tree up and decorated? Presents under the tree? What? No presents yet. Perhaps you and your family have chosen to do what Luca and his pig family are going to do. They are going to break tradition - this year they are going to make their own gifts for other family members. It's a grand idea! The secrets won't be revealed until Christmas morning.

Luca realizes that making a gift for his parents and sister Rosie may not be as easy as he thought it would be. He has ideas ... that is not his problem. He's just not sure how to carry out a plan. He talks with Momma and lists her suggestion. He likes the idea, but cannot make the paper bird he envisions. Dad is busy, too. He, too, has an idea to share with his son. Making honey granola for everyone is  a problem due to Luca's penchant for the sweet and delectable honey. OH, my!

Even Rosie has an idea for him. It seems perfect, until weather gets in the way. Reassurance from Momma that he need not worry sparks the perfect gift ... one we could all take to heart!

There is joy in this lovely family story and much to see in the artwork that accompanies it. Young readers will appreciate how hard Luca works to make Christmas special for everyone in his family.
They will enjoy taking time to notice the fun and coziness that adds charm and delight.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

How to Catch Santa, written by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $20.99 ages 4 and up


Santa doing stretches on
your neighbor's roof
Sleigh bells
Reindeer whinnying
in the distance
Elves giggling

"Ho, Ho, HO!"

Do your kids need advice for capturing Santa when Christmas Eve rolls around in just a few weeks? If they do, and they share the wacky imagination of other 'how-to' books such as How To Babysit a Grandma, How to Babysit a Grandpa and How to Surprise Dad, they will want to see this book.

The front endpapers are festooned with lively, often humorous request letters to the jolly man himself. Dad asks again for 'anything but socks'. The title page shows two young children trying to net Santa as he leads them on a merry chase. They have waited a long time for this night ... finally, they have the opportunity to use their best skills to catch him.

As the author sets out to provide clear instructions that might help, she also allows for a chance to ask him some important questions:

"How do you stay clean?

How do you squeeze down chimneys?

What about houses with no chimneys?

How fast do reindeer fly to get everywhere in one night?"

The list goes on and include many of the wonders that children have about Santa. Then, she suggests that there are facts they might like to share, things that they might give him, and even some wild suggestions for capture. Readers are sure to be entertained and intrigued. They will, no doubt, have some ideas of their own.

Great fun to boost the holiday spirits and encourage kids to think outside the box ... always with kindness in mind. Don't miss the thank you letters that can be found on the back endpapers. They add to the shared fun!

Friday, December 11, 2015

About Hummingbirds: A Guide for Children, written by Cathryn Sill and illustrated by John Sill. Peachtree, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2011. $19.95 ages 3 and up

"They have sharp
narrow bills and long
tongues that help them
reach into blossoms
for nectar.

Hummingbirds also
hunt and eat small
insects and spiders."

I spent part of last month with my daughter Erin and her family in Victoria. The days were a delight, often finding us sipping tea in the afternoon and occasionally watching hummingbirds that visited the trees outside the balcony window. They are such tiny, beautiful creatures. It is hard not to be in awe of them.

Following up on the About ... Series guides that include amphibians, arachnids, birds, crustaceans,  penguins, and others, this book is sure to please those who want more information about the tiny wonders. The text is simply written for the young audience this guide hopes to inform. It is accessible and easy to follow along as the author describes the many characteristics of the hummingbird.

We learn about their food, their means for getting the food they need, those things that make them unique, their descriptive markers, their homes, their young and their enemies. We learn that their habitats are many, and that the changing seasons affect the time they spend there.

The illustrations are appealing and look like they come from a birder's journal. They are carefully drawn, depicting size, color, setting for each of the included plates. In an afterword each of those eighteen plates are shown in thumbnails and accompanied by more detailed information about the type of hummingbird pictured:

"Most of the hummingbirds found in North America migrate north in spring. In fall when flowers stop blooming, they migrate south to spend the winter in place where they can find food. Rufous Hummingbirds migrate farther north than any other kind of hummingbird - as far as parts of Alaska. They spend summers in western North America and winters in Mexico and along the Gulf Coast of the United States."

Useful and informative, the book also includes a glossary, suggestions for further reading, websites and the helpful resources that were used for research.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Louis I, King of the Sheep, written and illustrated by Olivier Tallec. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2015. $24.95 ages 4 and up

"Louis I also told himself
that a good king should
address his people from time
to time.
Other than that, he would
spend his time hunting,
chasing after deer, wild boars
and, above all, lions.
But since there were no lions
in his kingdom, he would have
them brought to him ... "

Oh, what awesome power is granted to those who wear a crown! At least, from one perspective. With that in mind, readers are witness to the acquisition of such power. Louis, one of the flock, is in the right place at the right time when the wind blows a blue crown his way. He soon plants it upon his own head.

It is all the incentive Louis needs to make a name for himself ... Louis I, King of the Sheep. He takes his position very seriously and is soon wielding his power at every turn. First, he stands on his two hind legs, affording him a heightened place in the flock. Once he has assumed that regal stance, he feels the need to possess other articles of power. With these in place, he becomes the royal he was always meant to be.

As often happens, it takes no time at all for the power he has afforded himself to go to his head.

"But first and foremost, Louis decided,
he must bring order to his kingdom.
So he commanded his people to
march behind him in sheep step.
Next Louis decided that only the sheep
who resembled him could live at his side.
The others must be driven out."

It is only through great good luck (and a bit of a turn in the weather) that Louis I soon loses the crown that came to him so easily. Who will be the next king?

Olivier Tallec creates attention-grabbing spreads, then adds hand lettering to tell his story and make the book's design very appealing for all who will share it.  Readers will giggle at the other sheep as they take little notice of their monarch.  It's funny, and it's a thoughtful study of the fleeting nature of power.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ninja Baby, by David Zeltser and illustrated by Diane Goode. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 ages 4 and up

"Whenever Mom tried to
feed her, Nina had already
launched a sneak attack.
At bedtime, she climbed
her crib walls like smoke
and vanished.
And changing time was a
hand-to-hand combat.
Nina did not like to be

Nina is a ninja through and through, as evidenced when she gives her doctor a karate chop for assuring that Nina is breathing with a bum thump at birth. It is an auspicious beginning for one determined little girl. She manages to show her skills from an early age, all with as little assistance as is possible. My, she is stealthy!

The house is very happy, in Nina's estimation. That makes life good until the entrance of a Kung Fu Master! When  the new baby arrives, all things change. Nina watches with increasing concern. He does all things adorable, in direct contrast to his big sister.

"The Master could disarm his
captors with a single look.

He could force any opponent
to carry him.

The Master never did anything by himself.
Yet he won round after round after round."

No matter what she does to draw attention, no one notices. Baffled, she seeks advice from the Master.
Together, they share their personal secrets. It the dawning of a new day for everyone ... or is it?

The ink and watercolor art created by Diane Goode is outstanding! She is able to give perfect life to Nina, before and after the arrival of the Master. I have a special place in my heart for the spread that shows changing time and the 'hand-to-hand combat' it entails, since it is replicated on a daily basis by my granddaughter and her patient and persistent dad.

Cheerful and clever, this book is sure to strike a chord with siblings and their parents ... and for those of us lucky enough to share it!                                                                          

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2015. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you could just change one thing?" he asks. Not usually, but I'm starting to. What if I weren't sick? What if my dad and brother hadn't died? Not wondering about impossible things is how I've managed to be relatively Zen. "Everyone thinks they're special," he says. "Everyone's a snowflake, right. We're all unique and complicated."

Madeline's story is one that I will not soon forget. She suffers with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (baby bubble disease) and is protected from the rest of the world in a house that is sealed tight and very sterile. Her mother reasons it will keep her alive. She has a nurse who stays with her while her physician mother works. Carla is a kind and loving mentor. She has her mother who loves her and wants only what is best for her. She may be lonely, but she is content with the life she must live.

Then, Olly moves in next door, and life becomes much more complicated. Madeline is immediately drawn to him, while knowing that any relationship is impossible. Or is it?

Through IM, text and email messages, she and Olly grow a relationship of sorts. Telling the story in first person assures immediacy, and will appeal to its target audience. Readers will relate to the authentic voice and the problems inherent in wanting to know Olly better. As her feelings grow, her frustration about the life she lives does, too. She wants to spend time with Olly; not on the Internet, but in person.

We learn much about the two, and their family dynamics. Madeline's father and older brother were in a car crash and died when she was a baby. She cannot remember anything about the physical world beyond the walls of her home. Her world comes from what she learns in books, on the Internet and by watching television. Olly is a brilliant mathematician, and full of energy. We learn that his father is abusive; Maddy happens to see one of his angry altercations. Olly makes Maddy think about her world and the one she hasn't experienced. It's very easy to root for the two of them.

The pace for the telling is quick, the characters are memorable and sincere, the emotions will be familiar to a teen audience, the sympathy felt for all of the story's characters is strong and heartfelt.
Diversity is evident, but treated as factual not essential to the trajectory of this beautifully written  debut novel.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Eat, Leo, Eat! Written by Caroline Adderson and illustrated by Josee Bisaillon. Kids Can Press, 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"Once there was a little boy who went to see his nonna. He went at night. But at night the world looked so dark and different. 'I wish, I wish,' he said, 'that there was light to see by.' Then he looked up and what did he see?" "Stars?" Leo asks."

When the family pays their weekly visit to Nonna's house for lunch, Leo is uninterested. He would much rather be playing. All other family members love her lunches, and it isn't long until Nonna does just what is sure to bring a boy who is not hungry to the table ... she tells a story!

No matter what Nonna is providing for pasta lunch on each successive Sunday, Leo is rarely at the table when everyone else is ready to eat. Each week, no matter the food he refuses to eat, Nonna has a story for him and encouragement to 'mangia, Leo'. Whether it's stelline, or chiancaredde, occhi di lupo ... there's a story. It isn't too hard to entice the next week ... Leo does love spaghetti!

The next week Leo is first to the table. Is it spaghetti that he wants again? No, it's the end to his nonna's story! Leo is hungry for that. But is not to be. This week they are having creste di gallo. Leo will have to wait one more week for Nonna to tell him the rest of her story.

Readers share the warmth of this family's love for each other, their shared cultural heritage, and the food that brings them together one time every week. The cumulative storytelling adds depth and a connection to the variety in the pasta that Nonna makes to share with her happy Italian brood. The playful details of family life created in mixed media by Josee Bisaillon allows us a place at their table.

An endnote gives a brief look at the traditional pastas used in Italian cooking,  and there is a guide to the Italian words used throughout that is sure to add interest.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Doldrums, by Nicholas Gannon. Greenwillow, Harper. 2015. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"Mrs. Murkley shook her head. "This place is far worse that I thought," she said. "I've seen tree stumps with greater cognition." She folded her arms and tapped her foot while waiting for Charlie to say something, but it's awfully difficult to think once your thoughts have been hard-boiled. All Charlie managed was, "Never mind." Mrs. Murkley grinned. "Very good," she chirped. "I sense improvement ... "

Eccentric and adventurous is this story of the young Archer Helmsley and his two friends, Oliver and Adelaide. Archer lives in the shadow of his grandparents who are famous explorers and, at the time of this story, lost to those who love them on an Antarctic iceberg. They have not been in contact for two years; there is concern that they will never be found.

Archer and his parents live in his grandparents' house. It is filled to the brim with objects and treasures gathered from the senior Archers' many trips and explorations. Some are stuffed animals that Archer finds good company, talking to them when his loneliness is overwhelming. His mother is terribly overprotective, fearing that Archer has inherited his grandparents' proclivity for travel and adventure. She confines him to the house and school. Little does she know!

Archer is determined to set a plan in motion for finding his beloved grandparents and bringing them home. He enlists the help of two neighbors. Oliver Glub is wary of anything that makes him uncomfortable and most things do. Adelaide seems to have no fear, explaining to the boys that her wooden leg is the result of a tangle with a crocodile. After all the planning and early forays into trying to set events in motion, their plan is scuttled. Archer must await a further chance to rescue his grandparents. Luckily, a plan is the last thing he will need.

Tons of fun, with the author's accompanying detailed illustrations, this book is sure to appeal to those who love their adventure and reading a bit cock-eyed. There is humor, entertaining wordplay and elegance in the author's artwork. It's a great debut about family and friendship from a talented writer. I hope it won't be long until we see his second book.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Churchill Club: Knud Pedersen and the Boys Who Challenged Hitler, by Phillip Hoose. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. 2015. $22.99 ages 12 and up

"Every day we made up plays and
skits that mocked the authorities.
We played trial scenes over and
over in the jailyard, imitating the
court officials we were coming to
know. The plays always ended
with the death penalty to all of
us - we put a white hanky over
our hearts when we died - and,
no doubt about it, we were deeply
worried about being executed."

I have long admired the considerable research that Phillip Hoose does for the stories that he shares with us. His writing it impeccable, and his ability to make his nonfiction accessible to a wide audience is enviable. His books work, thus garnering fans who patiently (or not so) wait for his next book to be published.

In The Churchill Club he shares the story of a group of brave and defiant young teens. The boys were disgusted by the fact that very little was done in Denmark to oppose the German invasion and the control taken by German officers during WWII. They were angry, and even embarrassed that their countrymen did not want to stir things up. In defiance of German control, the Pedersen brothers, Knud and Jens, organized a small group of classmates to do what they could to sabotage the German presence in the country they so loved.

Using bikes to get from place to place, these outwardly fearless young men spent five months in 1942 wreaking havoc on the German forces. They carried petrol with them in preparation for any small opportunity they might have to light fires. They vandalized and sabotaged German vehicles and buildings, stole guns and caused chaos whenever they had the chance. Most of their work was done in daylight as they needed to be home in time for supper and attend school the next day.

Their story is told in two voices. Much of the text is shared word for word from a weeklong interview that Mr. Hoose had with Knud Pedersen in 2012. Alternating between Knud's memories of their work so long ago and the compelling story that the author shares, readers are sure to be inspired by the boys and their dedication, their patriotism, and their brash resistance. Though they were eventually taken into custody and imprisoned, their heroism inspired others to act and ensured a renewed sense of pride in Denmark. Readers will appreciate that some of the Churchill Club members were able to continue their support through nighttime forays while imprisoned. They would 'break out', do their damage, and be back in time for their morning meal. A wide national underground resistance grew (taking inspiration from the boys who dared to challenge Hitler and his troops) and lasted until the war finally ended.

As he has done before, Phillip Hoose brings a little known story to our attention. He shares this remarkable tale in clear relevant text, using archival photographs, chapter notes, and his many email exchanges and the  personal visit with Mr. Pedersen. I hope that reading this book will lead readers to check out others written by this brilliant writer. They will not be disappointed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

this ORQ. (he cave boy), written by David Elliott and illustrated by Lori Nichols. Boyds Mills Press, Publsihers Group Canada. 2015. $18.95 ages 3 and up


But Orq's mother
not convinced.
Woma shed.

Woma smell.

Woma not house-trained."

If you were a cave boy, what would your pet be? You wouldn't likely have the choices that children in the modern world have. Orq has a woolly mammoth! Woma starts out small, as babies are wont to do. Then, he grows as babies do. But, this baby has no stopping in him. Soon, Woma is so big that his size becomes increasingly more difficult for the family, as does his ever growing amount of hair. And there are other problems as well.

Mother wants him OUT! Orq is inconsolable and works hard to make Woma more appealing to his resolute mother.

"Orq get big idea.
Teach Woma tricks.
Mother think Woma smart.
Mother think Woma cute.
Mother love Woma."

The tricks lead to even more trouble. What can Orq do? Is there a solution?

One day while out hunting, he inadvertently garners the attention of a sabertooth tiger. Sure to be lunch for the tiger, it's Woma to the rescue. The tiger is off and the little boy is safe. That is all it takes! Woma is welcomed back into the cave with open arms.

There IS one slight problem!

Offbeat language, a funny premise, a surprise ending and lively pencil drawings by Lori Nichols are sure to make this a story time favorite that will have kids making noise to hear it all over again ... and then again! Be prepared.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shackleton's Journey, written and illustrated by William Grill. Flying Eye Books, 2014. $27.00 ages 9 and up

"Progress was slow and laborious. Of the 700-odd miles of pack ice, the last 250 miles consisted of tough, solid ice up to 3 feet thick, with pieces up to one mile long. The ship would repeatedly ram the ice at half speed to weaken it and to carve a V into the ice edge. Then the ship would fire its engines and drive full speed into the ice like a giant wedge."

What a remarkable book, and a harrowing story of bravery, endurance and
hope! Factual, yet conversational, it tells the incredible tale of Ernest Shackleton, his crew and their unprecedented attempt to cross Antarctica from sea to sea. It is a survival story of the best kind, told with passion and including the most glorious illustrations, worthy of being chosen for one of The New York Times Book Review's Best Illustrated Children's Book Awards.

While it is nonfiction, it reads like an adventure. The fact that their journey failed to accomplish what they had set out to do is hardly important when their story is shared. Fraught with obstacles to their desired success, the team made the very best of every situation they encountered. First, they lost their ship, the Endurance. Bogged down in ice, and being squeezed from all sides by the brutality of the harsh environment, she finally sank leaving her resolute crew more than 500 miles from civilization. Despite the hardships, the crew carried on, first to safer ice at Patience Camp, and then to Elephant Island.

"After 16 long months, the crew had found solid ground. Dehydrated and hungry, each man ate and drank until he was full. But their troubles were not over yet, as the coastline was exposed to the elements, and a cruel blizzard set in for days ... "

When the crew finally ended their journey in Chile, they had not lost a single member of the crew of the Endurance ... a remarkable feat given the conditions and the setbacks they had faced. It is one terrific tale.

It is the colored pencil illustrations that make this book so memorable. They make us a part of every mile of the journey, and will stun readers with the many details and the vast expanses of land and sea. Beautifully illustrated and endlessly compelling, it is a tribute to explorers, their bravery and their hopes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

little tree, written and illustrated by loren long. Philomel, Penguin. 2015. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"One summer, Little Tree could no longer feel the sunlight. The squirrels played high above on the broad, tall trees. And the mourning dove sang so far away that he could hardly hear her flutey song. Autumn came again. Leaves began to blanket the ground. Little Tree looked up at the other trees ... "

Who among has not, at one time or another, been resistant to change? I know I am, and have been. Change causes stress for many. It does the same for little tree.

He is witness to the changes that are happening all around him. All of the other saplings in his part of the forest are dropping their leaves as fall has arrived. They will bear the cold of winter without any covering at all. All the leaf dropping ensures that in the following year they will continue to grow tall and be even stronger than they have been this year.

little tree doesn't see it as the others do. He doesn't want to lose his beloved leaves, so holds tightly to them. He loves those leaves and doesn't want to live without them. The forest animals are surprised and can't help but question his choice. Still, he holds on. With the arrival of spring, as the trees around him sprout new leaves, the animals wonder if he is ill. He is not.

As the seasons pass, and little tree refuses to drop his leaves, he begins to notice that he can't feel the sunlight or hear birdsong, and he remembers he was once just like the trees around him. He is ready ... he lets go and his wilted, brown leaves tumble to the snowy ground.

It takes time, but he becomes a part of the verdant, thriving forest once more.

Loren Long's text is spare, and achingly simple. That is what makes his story so beautiful. Allowing his tree to take the time to make his own decision is what makes it a standout, exactly what will draw young readers to its message. Change is hard, but inevitable.

The artwork, created in acrylic, ink and pencil, and shown on plenty of white space assures that our attention is fully captured by the tiny sapling and his unwillingness to make a change he is not ready to make. It is tough to grow up, as those of us who have done it know too well.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Finding Audrey: A Novel, written by Sophie Kinsella. Doubleday, Random House. 2015. $22.00 ages 12 and up

"Dr. Sarah says positive visualization is an incredibly effective weapon in our armory and I should create in my mind scenarios of success that are realistic and encouraging. The trouble is, I don't know how realistic my ideal scenario is. OK, yes I do: not at all. In the ideal scenario, I don't have lizard brain. Everything is easy. I can communicate like normal people. My hair is longer and my clothes are cooler ... "

In a gentle and thoughtful exploration of mental illness, of the effects that bullying has on a family, and of love that transcends to help heal, we meet Audrey and her family. Audrey is only 14 and beginning, through careful and healing counselling, to deal with the devastating anxiety that has resulted from her encounters with bullies at school. Dr. Sarah's suggestion that she video her family (who are frenetic, funny and weird) gives us a chance to see both the humor and pathos in their relationships. She also wants Audrey to make an attempt to get out and meet people.

There are many humorous moments, mixed in with the angst and uncertainty of Audrey's healing. Linus provides complications, but he also brings some clarity. The rest of her family have their own difficulties, perhaps due to Audrey's illness.

 "Mum, please, can we talk about this?"
"I've tried talking!" Mum lashes back. "I've tried
cajoling, arguing, pleading, reasoning, bribing ... I've tried
everything! EVERYTHING, Frank!"
"But I need my computer!"
"You do not need your computer!" Mum yells, so furiously
that I flinch.
"Mummy is going to throw the computer!" says Felix,
running onto the grass and looking up in disbelieving
joy. Felix is our little brother. He's four. He greets most
life events with disbelieving joy. A lorry in the street!
Ketchup! An extra-long chip! Mum throwing a computer
out of the window is just another on the list of daily
"Yes, and the computer will break," says Frank
fiercely. "And you won't be able to play Star Wars ever
again, ever."

Tell me you don't want to know more about Audrey and her family! I bet you cannot. They are each unique and loving, while also dealing with stress in very different ways. They provide the support that Audrey needs while also being themselves as we discover in reading Audrey's transcripts for the movie she is making.

Audrey's anxiety and depression are palpable. Scenes from her family's daily doings provide some much needed humor. Audrey wears dark glasses, loves being in the family den when there is no light shining, and avoids meeting new people. Linus helps to change that with his tender caring for her. He helps to draw her from the darkness that surrounds her, and leaves readers wishing for a friend just like him.

In her first novel for teens, Sophie Kinsella shows her writing 'chops' for a younger audience who will appreciate all that her adult readers have come to admire in previous works. Giving Audrey a first person voice is magical, and making her proactive in her own healing is sure to give hope to others who read her story. Recovery is a long road, and not to be taken lightly. Ms. Kinsella makes that evident to her readers. Poignant, funny, and ultimately hopeful, this is a book that is sure to find a wide audience and many new fans. Deservedly so.