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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Friend or Foe: The Whole Truth About Animals That People Love to Hate. Written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by David Anderson. Owlkids, 2015. $17.95 ages 10 and up

"Enter any bat cave and you'll step in globs of guano. Guano is bat poop, which piles up on the floor of a cave or any other place where bats roost. Guano in a crowded cave could be as high as a seven-story building! In warmer parts of the world, guano contains histoplasmosis, a fungus disease that can make people very sick."

There are ten animals here, none that assure our warm, fuzzy feelings toward them. Some are revolted by them, others are scared silly, and still others will be acutely aware of the danger they present. That is the joy of sharing such books as this one. They have an effect, and cause us to pause and want to learn more. You might not know, because of your previous perceptions, that each one also has decided benefits to humans.

In her introduction, Etta Kaner talks about differing points of view concerning the creatures that are part of this book. Bees sting; they also produce delicious honey. Both sides of the argument are presented. It is left to the reader to decide which of those truths mean the most when determining friend or foe.

Rats are first up. I know how I feel about them. A double page spread explains why we see them as disgusting, dangerous and decidedly deceptive. They cause damage to crops, spread disease, destroy wildlife and steal! 'On the other hand', they are tremendously athletic, and very smart, and love to cuddle when they sleep. Aww! or Eww!?

Others included are: cockroaches, snakes, leeches, bats, sharks, spiders, wolves, mosquitoes, and
vultures.  I couldn't wait, I went straight to page 38 - mosquitoes. I was prepared to quash any single argument made for choosing friend when discussing those annoying, whiny, pesky bugs! First, I was reminded of only a few of the reasons for hating them: kill people in some parts of the world, cause others to deal with pain and suffering, suck blood and annihilate certain bird species, drive caribou mad, and are attracted to the hum of a power station causing it to break down. What's the other point of view, you wonder. Well, not all of them suck blood. Their proboscis design has been used to create medical needles that don't hurt. They eat honeydew, also know as insect poop. They are dinner for many beneficial creatures. The even clean up water ecosystems. Enough to change my mind .... well, NO! But I understand the argument.

Cartoon-like illustrations add to the entertainment! This is a book that is sure be a starting point for further research into the up and down sides while determining an answer to the question: Friend or Foe?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Over in the Wetlands: A Hurrricane-on-the Bayou Story, written by Caroline Starr Rose and illustrated by Rob Dunleavy. Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House. 2015. $20.99 ages 5 and up

"Along the shore
the waves increase.
Pelicans scoop herring
for the littlest beaks.

Swirling the shallows,
the spoonbills stalk,
the cypress salted
with an egret flock."

You can tell from these opening lines that you are about to be amazed at the poetic language Caroline Starr Rose uses to help us learn about the Louisiana bayou. As resilient as the animals who inhabit these wetlands are, the place they call home is equally strong and capable of survival.

The first poems introduce us to the wetlands and its inhabitants when all is peaceful and pleasant. She creates beautiful verbal images that are then fully realized in the impressive artwork Rob Dunleavy creates in watercolor, ink, pencil, paint, collage and Adobe Photoshop.

A mother alligator senses that trouble is brewing, and acts accordingly:

"Mama Gator feels the coming storm,
wants her babies snug and warm.
She lumbers slowly toward her den
and nestles her gatorlings deep within."

As the storm moves in, the animals seek shelter and the skies darken quickly. The darkness deepens, the water whips, debris is scattered, and many animals cower in an attempt to escape the hurricane's wrath.

"Pounding,
wailing,
hours endless.
Blasting,
breaking,
storm's relentless."

The double page spreads are a stormy black, leaving the audience aware of the terror felt. Then, the clouds move out, the storm lessens and the bayou denizens return to their activities. Even the tiny and luminescent dragonfly has survived.

"Over in the wetlands
in the dead of night,
Dragonfly flits through the starry light.
The swampland stretches all around,
jumbled,
peaceful,
steady,
sound."

Back matter includes an author's note explaining the importance of these coastal waters, a list of websites and further information concerning the animals mentioned. This book would work brilliantly when paired with books about Hurricane Katrina, or the impact of any such weather system.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mud Puddle, story by Robert Munsch and art by Dusan Perticic. Annick Press, 2015. $6.95 ages 2 and up

"Mommy, Mommy!
A mud puddle
jumped on me,"
yelled Jule Ann.
Her mother dropped
Jule Ann into the tub.
She washed out her
ears and her eyes.
She even washed out
her mouth."

In the past few weeks I have been talking about some of the books that we loved reading in our family when the kids were young. After having read The Paper Bag Princess until I was worried that it might fall apart and require repurchase, we snagged a copy of Mud Puddle. It was published in 1979. By that time, both of our kids were revelling in nighttime (and daytime) reading. We had sure favorites ... many with a bit of zany humor. This suited us perfectly.

It makes me wonder still if kids actually do give life to the inanimate in their quirky and imaginative minds. I know, as an adult, I had never imagined a mud puddle jumping on top of me. The old adage in response to a parent's question about how we managed to get so dirty might clearly be that the mud puddle did it. In this case, it would be entirely true!

Jule Ann is just minding her business while enjoying nature in her backyard. She notes the clouds, watches birds flying by - then, POW! A mud puddle jumps right out of the tree and lands on her head. You can imagine what her clean clothes resemble at this point, and it's not pretty!

Jule Ann is covered in mud. Her mom is not concerned; after all, that is why children take baths. Am I right? So, Jule Ann has her bath, and heads out to the sandbox. That mud puddle seems to be in the most unlikely places, but it's aim is true. Once again, Jule Ann is in need of a bath. With each new scrubbing, her mother finds more of her body to clean:

"She washed
out her ears,
her eyes,
her mouth,
and her nose.
She even washed out her belly button."

It's up to Jule Ann to send that mud puddle on its way!

You know how much I love Dusan Petricic's illustrations. He never disappoints. His characters are so appealing, the responses by both Jule Ann and her mother are spot on, and the final confrontation is great fun. I am adding this to Sicily's board book stash in my cupboard - right there, and ready to be shared upon her return!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How To Babysit A Leopard: And Other True Stories From Our Travels Across Six Continents, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $26.99 ages 8 and up

"That evening she lay stretched out on the lowest branch as regal as the Queen of Sheba, then paraded back and forth in the light of our torch like a model on the runway, as elegant a creature as we had ever seen. Then she leaped twenty feet straight up into the leafy tree canopy, her show over for the night. The next  morning she was gone."

I know readers are going to love poring over this amazing and informative new book by Ted and Betsy Lewin. I have long admired their work. In this book that reads like a travel journal, they are sure to engage and enlighten with a series of highlights from their 40 years of carefully considering the world - human and natural. It is quite the story to tell.

In the first four pages, they entice readers with but a few of their exploits.  At the same time, they include sketches, and photographs from their journals. This wife-and-husband team have been sharing their stories and observations since their first book together - Gorilla Walk, which was published in 1999. They have chosen to share the stories they have collected on six continents. The design takes us from one to the next, chronicling their many adventures on each.

They begin in Africa:

"Our big adventure to East Africa was to set the tenor of our lives. We saw herds of wildebeests a million strong on the Serengeti Plain. We saw black rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards, giant forest hogs, and gorgeous birds like carmine bee-eaters, lilac-breasted rollers, and forest kingfishers that light up the sky like fireworks. We saw tens of thousands of flamingos feeding in the Ngorongoro Crater, and the famous tree-climbing lions of Manyara. We visited nearby Olduvai Gorge where the skull of Lucy, the oldest humanoid in the world, was discovered."

The whole book is like a lovely conversation, shared in equal parts by each contributor. They made me laugh before also making me shed a tear. I was on edge at times, as they encountered the terrors of meeting wild animals face-to-face, and in awe of anyone who could spend such a large part of their lives in places where I cannot imagine myself going. They share their own awe as they travelled the world.

Difficult decisions were made over a period of six years to determine the stories they wanted to tell and how they would tell them. Forty years of shared travel ensure that readers know the risks, the joys and the fears they have also shared. Informative, enlightening and oh, so entertaining, you will not be sorry to sit for the time it takes to read this incredibly engaging book.

It's especially perfect for those children in classrooms where the many stellar picture books written by the pair have been shared, or made available for free choice reading. Now, they will have background information concerning the ways that authors and artists work to bring us books to love.

It is a terrific tour!     
                                                                 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Alpha, by Isabelle Arsenault. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $18.99 all ages

"Juliet

Kilo

Lima

Mike

November

Oscar"

I was, when I was still teaching, a collector of alphabet books. I was often gob-smacked by the variety, and by the creators' imaginations and designs. I continue to be very interested in seeing what is available in themed alphabet books. When I saw that Isabelle Arsenault illustrated her new book using the NATO phonetic alphabet I was more than a little intrigued. I have a vague sense of each of the words used universally by police, the military, firefighters, pilots for clear communication over radio and telephone. It is meant to ensure that there is no miscommunication when sharing vital information.

That being said, who knew that Ms. Arsenault's graphic interpretation of said alphabet would be so entertaining and meaningful to many. It is not a picture book for kids, unless you want them to learn the code used around the world. It will surprise adults with the thoughts it provokes and the connections it makes. It also invites those who share it to interpret the significance of the artist's choices.

Each letter-code is presented on a double page spread. On the left (verso) side, is the letter. On the right side (recto), is the visual representation of that letter. Charlie is faced with a black bowler hat, a bow to Charlie Chaplin. Golf shows a bird's-eye view of the eighteen holes on a golf course. Quebec shows a brightly patterned toque. Tango shows a woman's shoe, perfect for the dance itself.

Beautifully designed and produced, it works on a number of levels. Witty in its thoughtful depiction of a number of the code letters, and even haunting at times, it will generate discussion and admiration for this accomplished artist.

You will not read this book without wanting to go back and read it all over again ... and then again. Rich and absorbing, I have added it to my alphabet shelf.

                                                                              

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sidewalk Flowers, written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith. Groundwood, 2015. $16.95 ages 4 and up


"A little girl collects
flowers while on a walk
with her distracted father.
Each flower becomes a
gift, and whether the gift
is noticed or ignored,
both giver and recipient
are transformed by the
encounter."

No words are  needed to tell the brilliant story of a little girl and her father. We notice her right away. She is wearing a red hooded jacket. Her father is holding her hand as they walk. It is evident that she is inquisitive and observant. She wanders beside her dad, but her attention is directed to all that is going on around her - a tattooed arm, the woman in a taxi, a pigeon on the sidewalk. Her father is talking on his cell phone and paying little attention to his surroundings.

Beside a parked bicycle she notices a patch of dandelions and picks them. As they stroll, she continues to pick the flowers that she finds in spots along the way. Her bouquet is growing. Dad always patiently waits when she stops. As they walk down a park path, she notices a dead bird on the sidewalk. She stops. As she runs to catch up to her father, we see that she has left some flowers on the bird's still body. She does the same for a man sleeping on a park bench, for a leashed dog, her mother upon her happy return home, on her siblings who are in the back yard, and finally, tucked behind her own ear as she wanders the backyard, aware of the beauty to be found there. We never see her leave the flowers. We are only privy to the results of her sharing.

Poet JonArno Lawson shared his idea for this lovely, thoughtful story in a series of sketches. Sydney Smith was left to interpret them with amazing skill. As the two walk their way through a virtually colorless urban landscape, our attention is given the little one whose red hoodie draws our eyes and keeps our attention on what she is doing. There are only splashes of color but for the flowers she picks and the odd little detail -the fruit stand, the yellow cabs, a woman's dress, glass bottles in a window,  - until she begins placing her flowers where they are most needed. Color returns to her world as they make their way home.

I have often said that the very best picture books are those created when the text and art are a perfect complement to each other. In this book, although there are no words, we are aware of the poetry in the author's heart as he imagines his tale,  and it is brought to glorious life in the hands of this astute artist.

Impressive and unforgettable!

                                                                     

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Billy's Booger: a memoir (sorta), written and illustrated by William Joyce and his younger self. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2015. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Billy liked the principal. He got sent to him all the time. Especially during the science fair. He called Billy "one of my most challenging students ever." So the day the winners were announced, Billy was pretty excited. But ...  He didn't win first place. He didn't win second place."

Not all kids who come to our schools will fit the established mode of learning. If you teach, you know that the first day of school. If you have raised children, you will be aware that children who are reared in the same environment with a similar upbringing can be remarkably different from one another. In terms of creativity, Billy does not fit what is 'normal' in his school. This results in conflict - with classmates, with his teachers, and with Principal Blisterbaum.

Billy likes the comics that come in the Sunday paper more than math, he likes invented sports rather than traditional ones. Notes are often sent home from school explaining to his parents that their son is prone to odd behaviors. His family is well aware! It isn't until the school librarian announces a creative writing contest that Billy begins to see the value in school work. Armed with a towering pile of books, he researches numerous subjects and settles into writing his entry for the contest.

It is called Billy's Booger - readers will find a reasonable facsimile of it inserted in the middle of this memoir by acclaimed author William Joyce. The small book is also a memoir -'of a little green nose buddy', and it is sure to delight those who fall under its spell. The booger explains that it had been a normal one inside Billy's nose until a chance meeting with a meteorite caused Billy to sneeze him out. Much to his delight, he made the discovery that he had very special math powers: not only that, so did Billy!

The results to the contest are disheartening, to say the least. Billy wins nothing; it's enough to make him emulate his 'normal' classmates. Going back to the library, with his borrowed books in tow, he makes a happy discovery. It sets him on a new life path - and we are the lucky recipients of that decision. Today, we have the opportunity to share all of the terrific books that William Joyce creates for our reading pleasure!

Once you read both 'memoirs', you will want to go back and spend the time needed to really appreciate the art. If you know his other books, you will surely recognize Mr. Joyce's incomparable style. You will hoot while reading the front endpapers, the title page and front matter that give you a sense of Billy's character, and of his life story. That quick glimpse will send you straight to the back to see if those endpapers are the same - they are not! In between,  you will pore over each spread with heightened interest before getting your chance to read his original 4th grade story. There is much to admire here!
                                                                        

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bulldozer's Big Day, written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2015. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Bulldozer's blade dropped a little. He rolled to where Cement Mixer was working. "Guess what today is?" called Bulldozer. "I already know," Cement Mixer belched. "Today is stirring day. Stirring ... stirring ... stirring." And Bulldozer's blade drooped a little."

Do you know someone who loves construction vehicles, and has a birthday coming soon? If you do, I have the perfect book for you
and your little one! It will be a smash hit - I guarantee it.

The premise of the story is appealing - one very excited young bulldozer comes to the construction sight full of joy that his special day has arrived and he wants all of his friends to come to the party. He rolls along, fairly jumping with energy and enthusiasm. He meets Digger first and begs him to guess what is special about the day. Digger knows the answer - it's scooping. Dump Truck knows it's sifting. Cement Mixer knows it's stirring ... and so on. Bulldozer becomes more and more disheartened as he scoots along wanting his friends to share his high spirits.

Each of the vehicles show their work ethic, keeping to the job at hand and giving cool responses to the little guy's question. Poor Bulldozer. The further he goes, the slower and sadder he is. Eventually, he crawls into Crane's territory. Crane is at the end of his lifting for the day. Wait! He has one more lift before he can leave for the day.

A cacophony of whistles fills the air. Bulldozer is perplexed. Then he watches with delight as he sees what Crane's final lift is actually carrying. Wow!

The text is just right for young listeners. Lots of site sounds, plenty of repetitive questions and answers, excitement and disappointment make it a book that will need to be read again. Eric Rohmann uses black outlines to keep our eyes on his expressive machines, the sandy setting and the work being done at every turn. The spreads, framed in black as well, give boundaries to the action. The double page spread that reveals the surprise is sure to elicit happy sighs of contentment.

You know who will appreciate this book! It's a wonderful birthday surprise in itself.

                                                                        

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

An Armadillo in Paris, ,written and illustrated by Julie Kraulis. Tundra Books, Random House. 2014. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Café Gustave is the place I like to go every day for breakfast when I am in Paris. I once met a talented architect here named Gustave who designed the Iron Lady. He was the man responsible for her worldwide fame. This is the perfect place to start your journey, Arlo. You must try the pastries!"

We read and starred this book last year when working on a jury for the Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens 2015 - Spring Edition. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to tell you about it. It is quite a unique and charming read.

Arlo has an inherited propensity for travel and adventure. At his birth, he receives an exceptional set of journals from his grandfather. Those journals contain descriptions of Grandfather Augustin's favorite travels, meant to encourage his grandson to follow in his footsteps. 

Arlo's trip to Paris is made more enticing by his grandfather's plea to visit the Iron Lady.

"Dearest Arlo, Paris is one of my favorite cities. I can't wait for you to explore this beautiful place overflowing with art, history and life. You'll love it as much as I do, especially my most favourite thing in Paris: The Iron Lady. Follow the path I've laid out for you in this journal and you will learn all about her - and even get to meet her! Bon Voyage, Arlo."

The entry is too tempting to ignore. Arlo is off on a wander through the streets of Paris, following the advice of his grandfather and the clues he provides. The informative journal pages are placed on each double page spread above the third person description of Arlo's journey. He is dropped off at the Arc De Triomphe ... the perfect place to take in all of the excitement found on Parisian streets. Next stop is Café Gustave and the start to his search, as suggested by Augustin.

Through Paris streets he wanders, past storefronts (is there a clue there?), a bakery, the pyramid in the courtyard at the Louvre, a bridge over the Seine, and many other famous attractions. Each new stop offers a clue to his ultimate destination. Finally, picnic basket in hand, he stands awed by the grandeur of the Lady herself. Readers need to turn the book to the vertical to see her rare beauty.

Following the text, the author adds further information about the lady herself, assuring that readers will understand the appeal of one of Paris' most famous landmarks.

The elegant illustrations done in oils and graphite add an absolutely gorgeous enticement for our trip, walking at Arlo's side and taking in all the sights. I love the subtle additions of red, blue and gold to grab our attention (Arlo's jaunty scarf is perfect!) as we wander and take in the clues that are so skillfully included. Changing perspectives help us see the city from varying viewpoints and give dimension to each of his many stops.

Arlo is charm itself, and a most delightful companion for our trip through the City of Light.
                                                                             

Monday, September 21, 2015

Good Morning to ME! Written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2015. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Look, there's Mouse.
Mouse is asleep.
I LOVE Mouse."

Beatrix tried to talk
softly.

"GOOD MORNING,
MOUSE!"

Ding-a-ling-a-ling"

When Beatrix is awake, so is everyone else! Mouse is the first to respond to her raucous voice. She thought she was speaking softly, but not really! Mouse is jolted awake; it's easy to see when you look at his terrified eyes and his sky-reaching arms. Beatrix will to try to be good - she promises. It's just that she really doesn't know how to do that.

Mouse is more animated when the parrot will prove her love for Kitty by waking her up with the same news. It is a rude awakening again,  and Kitty is none too pleased. Beatrix leads a merry chase through the house, until finally caught and begging Mouse for assistance. Of course, Mouse complies. Now, the two are at Kitty's mercy until basset hound Gracie arrives, with her long floppy ears and happy disposition. Another chase leads to disaster for Beatrix and Mouse, while Gracie is off to breakfast to prevent being blamed. Beatrix reassures Mouse, heads off to check on Goldfish, and finds herself in a heap of trouble. It's Gracie to the rescue! What next?

Funny, friendly and full of a variety in a design that begs young readers to slow down and take a careful look at the action on each of its pages. The characters are divine, the action full-out, the watercolor and pencil illustrations endearing, to say the least!
                                                                        
 
It's obvious
 that Lita's parrot Beatrix is pleased to be the star in her own book!
 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

I don't Like Koala, written by Sean Ferrell and illustrated by Charles Santoso. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2015. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Every night when it is
time to go to bed,
Adam has the same routine:

He takes a bath.
He puts on his pajamas.
He brushes his teeth ...

and he tries to get rid
of Koala."

It is evident before opening this wonderfully funny book that the young boy is not thrilled with his stuffed koala. Why? we wonder. What has happened?

Oh, it's a gift ... with scary eyes, no personality, and little to make the boy happy. So, he isn't. Adam decides immediately that he doesn't like koala. He tries to protect himself with the gift box top before Koala is even out of the box. It's those 'terrible' eyes always focused on Adam.

Adam does his best to let his parents know why he feels the way he does. They don't understand; so, Adam takes things into his own hands, doing his very best to rid himself of Koala. He spends much of his time hiding Koala in all manner of places. Koala always comes back. Every morning Adam finds him on his pillow, sharp nails digging into his cheek - it's much too close!

He takes Koala on a meandering journey, all in an effort to lose him. Nope, Koala is back by the time Adam returns. Despite his many protestations, his parents refuse to hear Adam. Koala persists, always there, always watching. It's almost too much. In the end, a very loud and scary storm may be just the thing to cement a relationship between the two. Snuggled down and close to sleep, Adam finds comfort in Koala's proximity and professes his love for his stuffed buddy. It's Adam's father who provides the last laugh.

Full of fun and sure to elicit laughter from listeners, Sean Ferrell has written an inventive tale that, when read without illustrations, makes perfect sense. Add Charles Santoso's witty pencil artwork, done in shades of blue, gray and brown, and the enjoyment is upped to an entirely new level. His koala is pretty disturbing with its piercing eyes, lack of mouth and spiky look. The textures and remarkable detail engage and entertain with wit and charm. The surprise ending is just perfect!

                                                                       

Saturday, September 19, 2015

SNAP! Written by Hazel Hutchins and illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Annick Press, 2015. $19.95 ages 4 and up

"He tried ordering the
crayon back together.
He tried pressing the
brown crayon back
together.
He tried taping the
brown crayon together.
Nothing worked.
Finally, he held it out
and stared at it - hard."

When Evan's first crayon breaks, he 's not sure what to do. He tries everything he can think of, but nothing works. Until the magic ... 'something changed'. Now, rather that just one brown crayon, he has two. His artistic verve is impacted as the number of usable crayons increases. Some even break into three pieces! The possibilities are now endless for waves, and stripes, and fireworks.

Evan is just beginning to notice the many ways to use squished bits, pieces without wrappers, and the bits and bobs left when the crayons break. He has much yet to discover. That doesn't happen until his last green bit falls into a hole. His attempts to rescue it are for naught. Evan is upset. That leads to much scribbling - and an amazing discovery!

Mixing colors becomes his new passion:

"And once he knew
that red and yellow
could be used as back-up,
he himself used up
all the orange!"

Using colored pencil and crayon, Dusan Petricic creates a world of color that lends itself to intense observation by those who share this lively and charming book. Flawless use of white space, changing perspective, expression, movement and detail, will encourage imagination and much contemplation of the events that lead to the 'just right' ending. Hazel Hutchins tells a fine story of a small boy who experiences frustration, uses his imagination, and expresses himself through his art.

                                                                               

Friday, September 18, 2015

Whose Shoe? Written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"My shoes are tiny. You are right.
I always tie the laces tight.
If I lost one, I'd be upset -
spider shoes are hard to get.
I have eight. I take great care
of all my shoes, since they are
rare."

"Myna Bird, is this your shoe?
I think it might belong to you."

What a pairing this is - for the THIRD time! Let's hope that Ms. Bunting and Mr. Ruzzier are only getting started. If you missed Tweak, Tweak (2011) and Have You Seen My New Blue Shoe? (2013), get thee to a library and check them out. Your children deserve to know those books.

You will also want to share this one. It's full of delightful rhymes, charming characters, and a very polite Mouse. When Mouse notices something in the bamboo grove it is evident that the owner must be found. It's a saddle shoe and quite sporty! Off Mouse goes in search of the foot that will fit it.   

Each new encounter begs the same question from Mouse, and each response assures Mouse that it does not belong. Too small for Tiger, too big for Spider and totally impractical for Myna Bird - no one seems to be missing a shoe. Hippo has four pairs, Elephant likes high heels. Perhaps, and finally, does it belong to Kangaroo?

"I have to say I am astounded
that you actually found it.
It hurt my foot. That made me cross.
I gave the shoe a mighty toss."

A suggestion is made, a solution found, and everyone is happy - especially Mouse.

Eve Bunting is always so conscious of her audience and their capacity to learn. Her use of a collection of words rarely found in fare for our youngest children is once again proof of that. Sergio Ruzzier uses pen and ink and watercolors, and an abundance of white space to keep our attention on the tiny mouse, and those met tn the quest to find the owner of the lost shoe.  The variety of shoes artistically created will certainly be appreciated and elicit comments from rapt listeners.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes. Written by Danel Nassar and illustrated by Julio Antonio Blasco. Laurence King Publishing, Raincoast. 2015. 20.95 ages 5 and up

"The ant is a social insect that lives in colonies organized into social classes. Every class specializes in a particular task: the soldiers protect the group; the workers collect food, build homes, and care for babies; and the queens lay the eggs. Leafcutter ants build fabulous nests ... "

Those nests are underground. The author tells us that they 'include gardens, and even rooms for the garbage!' On double-page spreads filled with just the kind of information animal lovers will want to know before they are finished reading, the creators offer both a textual and visual look at the tiny busy insect. The initial paragraph is followed by a description of the home, and the ways in which it is built. On the facing page, there is a detailed, cross-section collage rendering of the home so shrewdly built to house the colony. Finally, a list of the characteristics for the animal is presented, including length, habitat, behavior, feeding and enemies. Then, open the flap to reveal a list of building materials used, with clear captioned descriptions. A signed animal architect project card is also presented.

This is just one of the animal architects included. Don't miss finding out how the caddis fly, the African weaverbird, the monarch butterfly, the termite, the beaver, the gladiator frog, the honeybee, the African tree frog, the spider, the white stork, the chimpanzee, the satin bowerbird, and the hummingbird. Each use their remarkable instincts to build a home that is just right for them. Keen readers will be able to bounce from one favorite to the next, learning so much more than I had anticipated.

The design is admirable, and very accessible. The animals chosen vary for me in familiarity. I knew quite a lot about the beaver, the honeybee and the chimpanzee. I knew little to nothing about the satin bowerbird, the termite, or the gladiator frog. Now, I  know so much more than I knew when I started reading. Isn't there a mini-lesson in that somewhere? It is also a terrific mentor text for showing young researchers a way of organizing what they are learning.

Impressive!  
                                                                   

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Double Happiness, written by Nancy Tupper Ling and illustrated by Alina Chau. Chronicle Books, Raincoast. 2015. $22.50 ages 5 and up

"When I was young,
I placed memories
inside a special box.
Always, it was near me.
Together you can make
double happiness.
Here's my gift to you -
a box of your own,
so happiness will stay close
no matter where you go."

When the two children pictured on the cover of this emotional poetic tale of moving away from family and familiarity are making preparations for the coming change, a visit with their beloved Nai Nai is an occasion to celebrate. Of course, they are worried. They know nothing about their new home, and everything about San Francisco where they have always lived surrounded by their extended Chinese family.

Their grandmother's gift has a caveat:

"Find four treasures each,
leading from this home
to your new."

As they travel, the children keep Nai Nai's instructions in mind. Gracie takes the panda she loves from her grandmother's collection. Jake finds a penny, and Gracie a eucalyptus leaf on their bus ride home. At the airport, Jake finds an old stick of gum in his backpack, rolls it into a snake and now has the same number of treasures as his sister does - two! They each receive a set of wings from the pilot who flies them to their new home so far away. A reminder of their trip toward a new life. There is so much to remember and not much yet to anticipate.

It isn't long until they have made peace with the move, and grow to love the snowy landscapes, the lonely train whistle, their new rooms, and the never forgotten connections to all that they have left to make a new life together as a family.

The poetry is warm and inviting, despite the hint of sadness. These are much-loved children who have a strong heritage to envelop them as they move on to new adventure. The beautifully drawn images add a very personal tone, filled with the details of their life in San Francisco and the emotions felt as they come to terms with leaving the old, and arriving at the new. Chinese characters and symbols are evident throughout adding charm and context. The book itself is beautifully designed and produced, a testament to the talents of the folks at Chronicle Books.

                                                                 
           

It's Only Stanley, written and illustrated by Jon Agee. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Now Wilma wasn't happy.
And the children threw a fit.
"We'll never get to sleep tonight
If Stanley doesn't quit!"

"I understand," said Walter,
"And I'll talk to him right now."
But just as Walter turned to go,
There was a big -

KAPOW!"

The Wimbledons love their dog Stanley. On this particular night, they are less inclined to express that sentiment. The night is filled with noises; all of them stem from something that Stanley is doing. They hear him first when he howls at the moon. It wakes the Wimbledon parents, and Walter is sent outside to investigate. He returns with the news that 'it's only Stanley'. The parents  return to nighttime slumber.

The next noise is noticed by daughter Wendy. It's a definite clanking sound. Walter is off, once more, to find the source of  the noise. This time Stanley is fixing the oil tank. As the night progresses, Willie comes into his parents' bedroom complaining of a 'funky' smell. Upon checking it out, Walter announces that Stanley is making stew. The third visitor, and fourth sound, upsets Wanda because of a buzz. It's getting later and later. Walter returns to say that Stanley has fixed the old television.

The last of the Wimbledon children arrives with news that he has heard a splash. Can't be rain - they have experienced very little of it lately. A check of the bathroom finds Stanley clearing the drain in the bathtub. Everyone is now upset and want to see a change! The KAPOW! that greets Walter as he turns to deal with Stanley has the entire family thrown helter-skelter.

Walter's final inspection and discovery is quite remarkable - and very funny!

I look forward with great anticipation to every new book by Jon Agee. He has a way of taking a story, turning it on its head, and entertaining his audience from first page to last. He uses rhythm and rhyme to great effect in this one, and repetitive phrasing, to give eager young readers a very good chance at trying it on their own. He builds a sense of unease with each new noise, and every foray that Walter makes to find the source of it. Then, he lets it go with a KAPOW! Perfect and sure to be requested on more than many occasions as a favorite read.

His signature artwork focuses attention on the double page spreads that show just exactly what Stanley is doing, and how the cat is faring through it all. Eagle-eyed readers may even guess exactly what is happening, without benefit of text as Stanley works diligently to soothe his lovesick heart.

Another terrific book for my Jon Agee shelf!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Garbage Delight, poem by Dennis Lee with illustrations by Sandy Nichols. Harper, 2015. $12.99 ages 2 and up

"If somebody gurgles,
"Please eat my
hamburgles,"
I try to make room in
my belly.

I seem, if they scream,
Not to gag on ice-cream,
And with fudge I can choke
down my fright; ... "

It wasn't long ago that I told you about the release, in a re-issue, of Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie. I love it and so does my granddaughter. It takes me back to the early 80s when I was sharing poetry daily in my classroom. We loved Dennis Lee's books!

His lilting rhymes and silly situations had my kids at school and at home giggling. We shared the books over and over again, always happy with his Canadian references, his tantalizing subjects and his unique and most enjoyable ways with words. Taking one of our favorite poems and making it front and center for this new release is masterful.

The design is, once again, so clever, and the illustrations and filled with delight for the youngest readers. They tell their own story of a little bear leaving the warmth and security of his mother to follow an enticing path dotted with food. That path leads to a fenced yard, a straw picnic basket with a hole, and a garbage bin overflowing with bags of aromatic wonder. The apparently stuffed alligator and lamb, once languishing next to the basket, take an interest in the bear and his doings.

We are witness to all that he finds in those bags. We watch as he indulges himself with all manner of garbage, until he is full to the brim and looking quite squeamish. Then, it's new friends to the rescue.

It's published this time as a board book. So, it's just right for a brand new generation of admirers!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fuzzy Mud, written by Louis Sachar. Doubleday Canada, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"... he couldn't get the image of Tamaya's grotesque hand out of his mind; torn strips of bloody gauze had dangled from her blistered flesh. He saw her eyes too. They pleaded with him to do the right thing. Man, just when things are finally going good for me, he thought. Why do girls always have to go and ruin everything? He knew the right thing to do."

Here's another one of those books I could not put down! Meeting the three main characters was quite the experience, to say the least. We learn quickly that Tamaya and Marshall are social outcasts to some of their classmates. Tamaya, a fifth grader, is teased for always being 'good'. Marshall sits between two groups of seventh graders, alone and ignored by his classmates.
They have something else in common. They live a distance from their private school and they walk together each day.

"Marshall had a rule. They weren't supposed to act like friends around school. They were just two kids who walked to school together because they had to. They definitely were not boyfriend and girlfriend, and Marshall didn't want anyone thinking they were."

On this particular day, Marshall heads away from school in a different direction than their usual way. He is moody and gruff, and offers no explanation for the shortcut. Because she is not allowed to walk home alone, Tamaya has to go with him. The woods are an unacceptable route according to Tamaya's mother. Tamaya is caught between a rock and a hard place. She does not yet know that Marshall has been threatened with retribution by the class bully, Chad. Marshall feels he has no way out but to avoid a meeting.

What is in the woods is far more frightening than Chad's threats, but the two don't know that yet. It is the next day before Tamaya develops a rash, and the two learn that Chad is missing. The 'fuzzy mud' that Tamaya discovered and then threw at Chad is a mystery substance that turns their lives upside down.

As you most certainly know if you have read other books by this skilled author, the characters he creates and the elements of his books are compelling and memorable. In this cautionary tale, he reminds us to be ever mindful of the environment and what we are doing to it. Classified government meetings held to discuss the fuzzy mud are interspersed throughout the text, allowing readers a look at what was intended, and what really happened in developing a product called Biolene. Bullying and taking a stand are also relevant and topical issues for middle graders.

Each of the three main characters are greatly changed by their experiences. In the end, readers feel hopeful for their futures. This is a great read. It is mysterious, and full of suspense. It will give readers pause when considering the advances being made in science and the ultimate effects they may have on society.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Do You Know The Rhinoceros? Written by Alain M. Bergeron, Michel Quintin, and Sampar. Illustrated by Sampar. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015. $9.95 ages 8 and up

"You took your bath
before going to
sleep? What were
you thinking?

Rhinoceros bathe in
mud in order to cool
off and also to protect
themselves from bug
bites."

If you are a fan of this series, I need tell you nothing more about them. If you haven't seen any of the previous editions, you are missing out - and so are your kids. They are too funny for words, low cost, and written for those who love to learn about the world's animals. Other books in the series focus on Toads, Chameleons, Spiders, Leeches, Crocodiles, Rats, Crows, Hyenas, Porcupines, Praying Mantises, Dinosaurs and Komodo Dragons. They are brilliant, a huge hit with early and middle years readers, and absolutely worth your attention and the money you will spend to get them into eager hands.

The graphic art and speech bubbles hold strong appeal for the intended audience and have me laughing out loud. A double page spread shows a taxi driver standing outside his cab and pointing in the direction he would like the rhino, who is scrunched into the back seat of said taxi with his horn sticking through the roof, to go. The captions reads:

"I don't care about your
record. Get out of my
taxi right now."

The information concerning the rhinoceros is placed at the bottom in a clear white box, explaining:

"The record for the longest horn is held by a white rhinoceros. It's horn was 1.66 metres (5.4 feet) long. By comparison, that's the height of the average woman."

Great information, an apt comparison and quick-witted dialogue. What more can we ask? Also published at the same time is Do You Know Tigers?

Don't miss them!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Feet Go To Sleep, written by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Maggie Smith. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 3 and up

""Toes, go to sleep!"
said Fiona.

Toes were for gripping
flip-flops on the way
to the beach.

Toes were easy.
They went right to
sleep."

A day at the beach is not just what Fiona needed to make her too tired to fall asleep quickly. In fact, she is quite sure that she is not ready for sleep at all. She does admit to Mama that she might be 'just a little' tired.

Thus begins her journey to slumber, starting with her toes. She remembers how busy those toes have been gripping her flip-flops all the way to the water. Her toes are soon asleep. Her feet are next. They, too, have been busy in the sand and waves. As soon as they tire, she moves on to her knees, her legs, her tummy, her shoulders, her arms, her hands, her fingers, her mouth - finally, her ears, eyes and mind. Aaaah!

What a brilliant way to have young children think back on their busy day, while allowing their tired bodies to yield to sleep at the end of it. Oh, so calming for a child (and perhaps for myself when sleep is elusive at the end of the day), and full of promise for the day to come tomorrow.

The design of the book is very appealing. Full page spreads of beach fun and frolic are accompanied by an insert which shows Fiona working magic on her own tired body ... talking with a quiet, encouraging voice. The sunshine that radiates for each of the shared activities during the day is contrasted to the insert's cool blues and growing darkness. Maggie Smith uses watercolor, gouache, fabric and digital media to create the lively artwork sure to have little ones sharing their own similar experiences.

Fun and fitting, especially for those children who don't just fall into bed exhausted at the conclusion of their always busy days. If you need to relax at the end of your day, even you may want to try Fiona's approach.                                                                          



Friday, September 11, 2015

Dojo Daytrip, written and illustrated by Chris Tougas. Owlkid Books, 2015. $16.95 ages 3 and up

"Master winds up
in the trough.
While little ninjas
scamper off -
Scaring scarecrows,
freeing chicks,
Giving fences
roundhouse kicks.

It's a big barnyard
disaster!"

Are you sure there are only six of them? Once unloaded at the farm for their field trip, they seem to multiply and wreak havoc whenever there is the slightest chance of it. We have been with these ninjas before - remember, we met them at their daycare.

They are extremely happy to be at the farm, with Master in the lead. A visit to the pig's pen lands Master in trouble and allows the tiny ninjas to get up to roundhouse kicks (their speciality) and any manner of mayhem. Oops! They forget all about Master and his plight. (It seems they often forget their creed: 'Always help someone in need.' )

We are alerted to the next difficulty for Master when we see a snorting bull eying the red scarf he found in the pigpen. No milking cows for Master. He is off at a run, to save himself from disaster. The tiny ninjas are aping the chase with a feed bag. No matter what he tries to show his charges, Master ends up in one disastrous situation after another.

As they did in their previous adventure, the ninjas finally remember that they need to help him. Then, they get to work and finish up the farm work, impressing their Master with their prowess. He is suitably moved!

Chris Tougas fills the pages with details that will have young readers hooting, and wanting more. Bold colors, expressive eyes, fun, humor and adventure leave fans eagerly anticipating the next installment.

"Yee-ha!"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Night World, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2015. $20.00 ages 3 and up

"Everyone is sleeping,
even the goldfish.

Everyone except for
Sylvie and me.

Is this our house?
In the dark, it seems
a different place.

"Me-out!" says Sylvie."

After saying good night to his cat before sunset invites darkness to envelop the world, the young boy sleeps peacefully. Much later he hears Sylvie's plaintive cry to be released to the nighttime shadows. Although he tries to explain that it is not a good time to be out there, she will not be deterred. She is a cat with something important on her mind.

Together, they tiptoe through darkness; the only color visible are the cat's green eyes. They are the two members of the household awake, and they carefully make their way to the door without disturbing anyone else. The house is in shadow, making it seem unfamiliar and a trifle unsettling. Then, Sylvie speaks:

"Me-out!" says Sylvie. "It's coming."
"What's coming?"
"It's almost here," she says. "Hurry!"

The night world offers welcome with its starry sky, its comfortable shadows, its nocturnal animal guests. They are all excited and anticipatory. Something is coming, and they are eager in their for its arrival. Do you know what it is?

You will as you turn each glorious page. Shapes become easier to recognize, all eyes are turned upward, and 'there is a glow'. Turn once more, and color begins to emerge from the shadows. As the shadows begin to retreat, the animals do the same. For they are nighttime creatures, not meant to be out when dawn breaks. Break it does! With it, all the beauty of the boy's surroundings and the promise of a new day. As animals fade into the darkness of surrounding shadows, the boy and his cat return to the house and the morning hubbub of a family awakening, too.

Using acrylics, pen and ink, and colored pencils, Mr. Gerstein shares the mystery of the night, both inside and outside. Then, when the darkness makes way for light, he shows the beauty to be found in each new dawn. What a celebration of nature this new book from the incomparable Mr. Gerstein is! It has already found a place on my '10' shelf. Glorious!
                                                                        
 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Night Animals, written and illustrated by Gianna Marino. Viking, Penguin. 2015. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"What are we hiding
from?"

"Night animals!
Now keep QUIET!"

"Can you move
over?"

Sigh ... "Let's find
somewhere else."

There is not a lot to read here, and that is its charm!

Why is Possum hiding, Skunk wonders. Possum is quick to explain that she is hiding from the 'night animals' and she wants Skunk to be quiet and hide with her. It's a surprise to both when Wolf comes near, calling for help because he is being chased. Scared, Skunk does what skunks do and sends Possum into a faint with the scent that is released. Then, it's Bear who's scared of a HUGE follower. Can it be a night animal?

Thankfully, a young bat restores order with the fact that all those concerned are NIGHT animals! What a surprise!

While the text is just exactly the right number of words to capture the intended audience's attention, the art moves us along at a fast pace. From the tiny possum to the huge bear, the eyes grow bigger and the terror more palpable. The dark, dark background allow readers to see each of the night animals clearly.

Reading it aloud requires voice changes and a sense of silliness. The speech bubbles give readers clues for the  telling, and afford interpretation that will have listeners squealing in delight. Skunk's incessant use of his scent and Possum's feigning death make it even funnier.

Get your flashlight and read it in a darkened room. It's sure to be a forever favorite!

Psst! Don't miss the flipside of the jacket cover ... even more fun for all.                                                                        



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Crenshaw, written by Katherine Applegate. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.50 ages 10 and up

"I guess for most kids, imaginary friends just sort of fade away, the way dreams do. I've asked people when their imaginary friends stopped hanging around, and they never seem to remember. Everybody said the same thing: I guess I just outgrew him. But I lost Crenshaw all of a sudden, after things got back to normal."

With a writer as skilled as Katherine Applegate has proven to be, it shouldn't be a surprise that she can take the terrors of homelessness and its effects on  a fifth grader and give us a sympathetic boy who looks to an earlier imaginary friend to help him cope.

She tells us the story of Jackson and his family. This is the second time they make the heartbreaking decision to live in their family's van. It is scary, and Jackson feels that he is old enough to know the truth about the family circumstances. In the midst of it all, his imaginary friend Crenshaw returns. Crenshaw is pretty special, with his baseball cap, his green eyes and his ability to communicate with Jackson. It's been years since they have seen each other - he appeared the last time the family was homeless.

Jackson talks to Crenshaw about being old enough to know exactly what is happening with his family. He is one of those kids who looks at the world scientifically and wants to know the facts. Interesting that his imaginary friend makes a return visit. His talks with Crenshaw are engaging. His awareness that the problems being faced are made worse when his parents try to protect him from the truth. The fact that Crenshaw has returned causes him some anxiety after three unremarkable and fairly stable years.

This story, told in Jackson's clear and concerned voice, allows readers to move back in time to the first time they faced such adversity. It makes it very clear that he is in need of a friend, and of knowing that things in his life will somehow settle into a more secure place. Crenshaw reassures him:

“Imaginary friends don’t come of their own volition. We are invited. We stay as long as we’re needed.”

and he gives Jackson some sage advice.

“You need to tell the truth, my friend….To the person who matters most of all.”

If you are looking for a fabulous first read in your middle years class, this would be a perfect choice.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ellie, written and illustrated by Mike Wu. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2015. $17.99 ages 3 and up

"Ellie thought she'd ask
Walt to give her a job,
but he was busy, too.
When the monkeys called
him away, Ellie picked up
the strange object he'd been
holding ... "

It's a chilling announcement for the animals living in the zoo - their home is soon to close. What can the animals do? Gerard the gorilla always has good ideas. The first one being that they should clean it up, and make it more appealing to visit. The animals get right to work. Poor Ellie - she's too short, too weak, too slow. Ellie has no talent that she can use to help.

Or, so she thinks. Watching Walt the zookeeper paint gives her incentive to try again. Walt returns to find that Ellie has a very special talent. Off he goes, returning with supplies to keep her busy and very pleased with herself. She paints the walls, her friends, and gains notoriety for her endeavors.

It isn't long until many people are back visiting the zoo. Ellie is the main attraction, her friends the guides at the zoo and her creative work the reason for the zoo's resurgence as a popular destination. Bravo, Ellie!

Mike Wu's illustration are as charming as his story. He's a Pixar animator who cleverly shows his ability to create characters who will win hearts and make this a favorite book to read for years to come. Ellie is a reminder that we all have a place in the world, and something to give. We can all make a difference!
                                                                   

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Penny & Jelly: The School Show, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Thyra Heder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"I need a talent now!"
said Penny.

"Ruff-roo-roo!" barked Jelly.

"Ooh! I'll be a magician -
the Amazing Penny, " said
Penny, "and you'll be my
trusty assistant!"
Penny pulled Jelly out of
a hat. Sort of."

I know that I mentioned Thyra Heder's glorious artwork when I told you about Fraidyzoo. She adds an extra element of charm to this appealing school story. The place is Peabody Elementary School. The event is an upcoming talent show. The concern belongs to Penny who cannot name a talent that might get her a place on stage.  Every one of her classmates is participating; they spend all their spare time practicing.

Although Penny cannot come up with a sure-fire talent, she does have many ideas. Each of those ideas is listed, and then stroked off the list when she proves inept at the talent she has chosen to display. Jelly, her dog, is beside her every step of the way, encouraging and assisting when he can.
After every single thing she lists defeats her, Penny crosses the show off her list. She doesn't want to be embarrassed. Only when she feels totally beaten does Jelly show what they are best at ... together!

Will you be surprised to learn what that is? I wonder.

Thyra Heder captures school life brilliantly, using spot illustrations and bright whites for her backgrounds. There is so much to see in the images she creates. Discussions are sure to accompany sharing this disarming story.

Because Your Grandparents Love You, written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by R. W. Alley. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $21.99 ages 3 and up

"When you want
to pick the best apples
but the pole isn't long
enough, your grandfather
could say, Those lower
ones will probably taste
just as good.
But he doesn't."

I like to think that I was a patient parent. I know that I am a very patient grandparent, although I don't get nearly enough time to spend with that 'sweet baby girl'. To watch in wonder as she grows, makes new discoveries, melts my heart. It is the way all grandparents feel, isn't it?

A follow-up to his earlier Because Your Mommy Loves You (2012) and Because Your Daddy Loves You (2005), Andrew Clements takes us on a visit to the grandparents' farm where all manner of things might happen. No matter what the grandchildren want to do, they are indulged. Indulged, that is, in the very best sense of the word. Not only are the 'grands' patient with the requests, they are kind and responsive as well.

"When you're ready for bed,
and the guest room
seems chilly
and far away,
your grandmother
and grandfather
follow you
up the stairs.

Grampa reads you a story, and when it's over, he clicks
off the light. But he turns on the night-light, and Grandma
promises to sit in the rocking chair until you're sound asleep."

All of the joy of being together is captured in the quiet text and the accompanying warmth and humor found in R.W. Alley's artwork. The illustrations are created using pen and ink with colored pencils, gouache, and crayons on Bristol board.

Start building your pile of books about grandparents to share with your students and your own children as we get closer and closer to September 13.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T! Written and illustrated by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2015. $19.00 ages 4 and up

"Then during art,
an airplane will fly
across the room.
This is because the
alligator will be
showing you origami.

Your teacher will draw
a check beside your name.

Magnolia!"

You may, or may not, know much about alligators. You likely have no idea the kind of trouble one might create when taken to school as a show-and-tell visitor. You are in for a big surprise when you read this very funny, and surprisingly endearing, picture book.

First thing you should know is that alligators are trouble, with a capital T! It's quite startling the things they do when they attend school. In fact, much of what they do is definitely unwelcome in any school classroom. Paper airplanes are not to be flown. Funny pictures are not to be drawn, as they distract students from what they are supposed to be learning. Certainly, classmates are not to be eaten!

Poor Magnolia. She thinks that her show-and-tell will be so much more entertaining and less boring than sticks, stones, and nests. She is pretty proud of herself, until things begin going sideways. She knows her teacher does not want an alligator at school. Her teacher makes that perfectly clear; Magnolia is reassuring.

"You'll tell her that it's okay and that
you know all about alligators.
This alligator will be quiet and good,
and he won't eat anyone -
cross your heart."

With each new problem, Magnolia must deal with the consequences. First, her name goes on the board, then a new check behind her name for every bit of misbehaviour on the part of her companion. Soon, there are three checks AND an underline! Pretty soon, Magnolia is wishing she had followed her teacher's instructions for appropriate items to be brought to show her fellow students.

Magnolia has a bit of her own advice - wait your turn, then dazzle them with information! She does just that.

"Your teacher will be impressed.
You might not even have to go
to the principal's office
for all the mischief that day."

You need to have this book ... and share, share, share it!


                                                                       

The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School, written by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2014. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Trouble One:
I'm not smart!

Trouble Two:
I'll never get it!

Trouble Three:
I don't belong!

Trouble Four:
I should forget it!"

If you have a little one who is a fan of the Pout-Pout Fish, and you missed this book last year just before school started, here's a little bit about his first day at school.

He is frightened of the unknown, as so many are. The first thing he does is get lost. Everyone else seems to know what they are doing. Pout-Pout is shy, and not sure of anything. As he checks out the classrooms that he passes, he makes stops to see if it's the right place for him.

Met with failure at every turn, he moves on. He has numerous worries. No matter the doorway and the learning going on inside each one, Pout Pout finds himself unable to do what is expected of him. It's too difficult! Luckily, he doesn't want to give up. When all experiences point to his packing it in and heading for home, he finds solace in a gentle voice:

"Then a soft, kind voice said,
"Don't you fret!
You don't have to know things
You haven't learned yet!"

Finally, he finds a place of comfort at his new school. A door with a star welcomes 'Brand-New Fish'. His teacher instills confidence and his first day ensures that he will be back for more.
                                                                              

Friday, September 4, 2015

Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story. Written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Lorna Hussey. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.50 ages 3 and up

"You can hang your jacket in the cubby and put on a smock, just like the other bears," said Mr. Brown. "Not this bear," said Bear. He wanted to hold on to his jacket for a bit longer. So Mr. Brown helped Bear with a smock. And Bear held his jacket under his arm while he painted."

Many young children coming to school for the first time feel exactly as Bear does. They like the status quo. They have no need for things to change. They are apprehensive when it comes to making big changes.

Bear is reluctant to let Mama leave him at school. She reassures him with a hug and an promise that bears like school; we hear for the first time his pat response to such statements:

"Not this bear," said Bear.

There is much to see and experience in his new classroom, with acceptance for his reluctance to be just like 'all bears'. Mr. Brown allows Bear his feelings of anxiety and helps him make the transition from home to school in his own time. Bear keeps his jacket while he paints, But, paint he does. Bear sits with a soft stuffed rabbit on his lap for story time and enjoys the tale. He helps prepare for snack time even when he isn't sure he wants a snack that is not made by Mama.

His teacher is always there with support and praise. Bear is able to put all that he has learned from days at home with Mama to good use when he is taking part in classroom activities. Outside on the playground, he meets a bear who is a soul mate. Neither one loves what 'all bears' love. There are, however, things that they both love and they do them together - making rainbows, blowing bubbles, racing tricycles.

At the end of the day, Bear is not sure he is ready to go home.

Lorna Hussey's warm watercolor images enliven the tale and show exactly how Bear is feeling as he goes about his first day away from his mama. You will love him, and so will little ones experiencing school for the first time.                                                                              

First Grade Dropout, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Clarion Books, Houghton MIfflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Maybe I'll just put on
glasses and change my
hair and pretend to be a
new kid from ...
London.
Or France.
Or Cincinnati.

I can't stop thinking
about it."

Bring it on ... Audrey Vernick? Matthew Cordell? I have great admiration for both talents, and will check out any book that has one of those names on it. So, imagine having both together in a collaboration about humiliation on the first day of school.

Calling his new teacher 'Mommy' is enough to discourage our young, red-faced first grader from coming back to Lakeview Elementary School again ... ever! He is done with it. He can't get the mistake, or the laughter of his classmates, out of his head. He's mad at them, and thinking he should just make new friends.

"But I really like the friends I already have.
I'll miss playing basketball
with Emma.
Spying on Tyler's sisters
from the treehouse.
Fishing with Levon and his uncle.
But they all laughed.
And stomped their
feet. And pointed."

Seeing his embarrassment and feeling empathetic toward him might also have readers remembering some of those incidents in their own lives that have been shame-producing. When he inevitably meets up with Tyler, his best friend, who also laughed at his silly mistake, our narrator is surprised that it no longer seems to be an issue. Perhaps, he is making too much of it. When Tyler makes a simple mistake of his own, and with his own faux pas still front of mind, he laughs with his friend. All's well!

Matt Cordell's signature work in ink and watercolor bring all of the emotions felt to the forefront, inviting readers to experience those feelings as they read. He matches the humorous, imaginative tone with loose lines, wonderful expression, and lots of white space to assure attention to the plight of one young school student.

Building a classroom community takes time and patience, and is a work in progress. Sharing wonderful picture books that help listeners look at a situation from another's point of view is an effective way of bringing empathy to the forefront. When we care about the others who share our space, the classroom becomes a safe and welcome place to spend our days.