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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, written by Jonathan Auxier. Penguin, 2016. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"You could have told me the truth." Sophie felt a coldness taking over her body, as if she had used up every ounce of sorrow until only anger remained - anger at her mother for dying, at her father for lying about it, at herself for not somehow being able to stop it. "That book was called The Book of Who, and it contained descriptions of remarkable people all throughout history."

This companion book to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (Puffin, 2012), once read, had me scrambling to order a copy of that first book. Now, I just have to get to reading it, too.

Sophie loves books. She loves mending them as well. In fact, she is quite famous concerning those book-mending skills. Peter and his companion, Sir Tode, have been sent to find her. When they do, they learn that Sophie engaged in a battle with Inquisitor Prigg who wants to ban all the books in their town, considering them nonsense and without merit. Sophie is convinced she will not let that happen - she is the perfect Last Storyguard.

The enduring magic that books hold for Sophie becomes even more palpable when she is given a remarkable book meant to change her world, The Book of Who. This book that Peter and Sir Tode bring is one of four ancient books that hold untold power. It is important for one to possess all four in order to save the world. With the two trusty companions at her side, she embarks on a journey fraught with terror, battles and a need to ensure that those responsible for her mother's death are brought to justice. All this while also saving the world! Not too much to ask for such enduring and memorable characters ...  It is a rollercoaster journey. That is putting it lightly.

Every single one of his characters elevates Jonathan Auxier's storytelling beyond any expectations I might have had. The world he creates is endlessly fascinating and believable. The fast-paced plotting, the natural conversations between friends and foes, and the message about word magic will hold readers at the edge of their seats from the opening page until the final scene.

Oh, and I won't forget to read The Night Gardener (Puffin, 2014) either. I think you should try them!

Monday, January 30, 2017

In Plain Sight, written by Richard Jackson and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $20.50 ages 4 and up

"Here I am, Grandpa," she says.
"How was the morning?"
"Surprising," he says.
"I had me a paper clip, you know?
Nice and shiny.
Now it's vanished.
Help me find it, will you, with your bright eyes?"
"Where?" says Sophie."

Sophie and her grandfather are kindred spirits. Grandpa lives with her family, and they love to spend time together. Every time she comes in from school, she greets him with the same words. Every time she does that, he pretends that he has lost something while she was not with him. And so begins a game that they play looking for a number of 'lost' objects.

Such love in this family. Grandpa, who is confined to a wheelchair and watches the world outside through a window, cannot wait for his granddaughter's return. As the week passes, we are witness to the joy they share. The watercolor paintings are classic, detailed and warm in every way. They help us learn much about Grandpa, his life, his loves, and what interests him still.

Of course, before any page is turned, young readers will want to do a search of their own in the wondrous illustrations created by the incomparable Jerry Pinkney. Each search requires concentration and observation. Some are easier than others. Richard Jackson has carefully chosen his text, and Jerry Pinkney perfectly matches the gentle, loving tone of this intergenerational story. It is a very special and memorable family tale! 
                                                                              

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Typewriter, by Bill Thomson. two lions, Thomas Allen & Son, 2016. $25.99 all ages

"A bike ride.

A merry-go-round.

A bumblebee with a
mysterious box.

And then?"

Most kids today are not even sure what a manual typewriter is when they see one. Not surprising, given that few are seen these days. So, it is not unusual that the three children in Bill Thomson's new and equally stunning wordless book find delight in the many discoveries they make when they do find one.

A butterfly leads the way along a path edged with banks of snow. The cyclists approach an old carousel, where they are astonished to see that one of the seats is a huge bumblebee. On its back is a black case with unknown contents. It is covered with letters of the alphabet and has a snap opener that allows a look inside the case. The typewriter inside is branded with the words 'Spelling Bee'.

Luckily, the young girl has paper in her backpack. She quickly gets to work. Her first printed word is BEACH. A warm beach magically appears before them. Winter gear abandoned, two of the three play in the balmy waters while the third types another word. Each has a turn, resulting in the perfect accoutrements to a day at the shore ... until the girl returns to type the word 'crab'. This results in a scary turn to their adventure. With imagination and perfect timing, they save themselves and move on to "The End'. Sly, my girl!

As he did in Chalk (2010) and Fossil (2013), Mr. Thomson uses colored pencils and acrylic paints to create a realism that matches photography. His stunning images use light and shadow, emotional facial expressions, constantly changing perspectives and a delightful sense of adventure to assure that those who 'read' it will be fully entertained. It is a story of discovery that every child will want to experience. Magical, exciting, and intensely dramatic  ... and it all seems so REAL!
                                                                                

Unspeakable, by Caroline Pignat. Razorbill, Penguin. 2014. $11.99 ages 12 and up

"Monday came and went, and Steele never showed up for our second interview. Instead, I got a note saying he had to do an interview up north. This whole deal with Steele was a bad idea, especially if he was going to bring my father into it. Wasn't it enough that I told him about the ship? What did it matter how I ended up on it? Or why? Those were my secrets .. "

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will know that I am keen on historical fiction, and I am especially indebted to Caroline Pignat for creating incredibly moving stories about the people whose lives are changed forever by events beyond their control.

In the early hours of May 29, 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland, bound from Quebec City to Liverpool, U.K., was struck midship by the Norwegian coal freighter Storstad in heavy fog. It took just 14 minutes for the Empress to sink into the frigid waters of the St. Lawrence River, sending 1,012 of the ship’s 1,477 passengers and crew to their deaths. All of this has happened before we meet Ellie Ryan (also known as Ellen Hardy) in the harrowing opening scene.

"    This isn't real. It's a nightmare. It has to be.
     But try as I might, I couldn't wake. I couldn't forget. And
 I couldn't stop shaking.
     I thought that the long night would never end. That I'd never
see the sun again, never feel it on my face or the solid ground
beneath my bare feet. I staggered forward on my trembling
legs and stopped for a moment to reassure myself. But nothing
felt steady. And neither the sun on my head nor the stranger's
shirt that reached my bare thighs did anything to keep away
the chill."

It is only after she returns to Liverpool to her Great-Aunt Geraldine's house in time for her funeral that we begin to learn Ellie's full story. On her own, she must begin to deal with a gamut of feelings that threaten to overpower her ... grief, shame, even guilt. So, when journalist Wyatt Steele shows up at her door wanting to know more about a survivor's story, she refuses to talk about it. She wants nothing to do with him until he also tells her that he has her beloved Jim's journal. Wanting to know about the young ship's stoker who captured her eye and her heart on board the ship, she reluctantly agrees to share her story. Steele will give her bits from Jim's journal as long as she cooperates.

Through a series of vignettes we learn Ellie's story. As she opens up to the reporter about her life before the tragedy, we learn that she grew up in an affluent family, brought 'shame' to her widowed father and was sent from his house to live with her great-aunt. Wanting Ellen to learn about real life, Aunt Geraldine had signed her up to be a stewardess on the Empress of Ireland, feeling that it would broaden her experiences and make her a better person. In fact, that is exactly what it did. As she shares her stories with Steele, she feels a sense of relief from all that has happened in her very short life. Although she does not know if Jim is still alive, she begins to find her way to a new life on her own.

This is an outstanding work of historical fiction. While we learn about Ellie and her life, we also a great deal about the life she leads just prior to WWI, about society itself and how the sinking of the Empress altered so many lives. It is a love story, a story about family and society, and a tragic telling of an important historical event. Beautifully written, with pacing and plotting that will entertain and intrigue her audience, and exceptional characters who will live long in the reader's memory.

Impressive!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Duck on a Tractor, written and illustrated by David Shannon. Scholastic, 2016. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"B-a-a-a!" said Sheep. But what she thought was, "This is too dangerous!" "Get on, Sheep!" everyone shouted, but Sheep wouldn't budge. So Duck started driving without her. "Wait!" cried Sheep. "Don't leave me here alone!" She ran after the tractor and took a flying leap into it. "Quack!" yelled Duck. But what he thought was, "WAHOO!"

If you are a David Shannon fan, you will be forever on the lookout for any new book - just as I was. So, I was thrilled when Nikole at Scholastic made sure I got a copy of this one to share with you!

After his bicycle adventure, Duck has not had enough ... you will know that if you were lucky enough to share Duck on a Bike (Sky Pony, 2002). At the end of that book, he spies a tractor. It has taken him 14 years to work up the courage to take to the road on that huge red piece of farm equipment. Where should he take it? Why, to town, of course. Isn't that where everyone wants to be?

The ride is as wild as the idea itself. Doubts aside, every single one of his farmyard buddies are willing to partake of the adventure. They pile on and they are off! Main Street has never seen so much excitement. That is evidenced by the incredulous looks that greet them as they roll through town.

"A little boy named Edison was having lunch with his grandma.
"Did you ever?" Grandma gasped. But what she thought
was, "A duck on a tractor? That's impossible!"

"That's totally awesome" Edison shouted. But what
he thought was, "No one's gonna believe this!"

Optical illusion? Some are convinced it was just that. Better ask Edison ...

Kids who share this book will love the carefully chosen pattern of the text, and are sure to spend endless time making sure that they see every detail David Shannon so humorously includes in each double page spread. The facial expressions and constantly changing perspectives are sure to elicit giggles. It is a terrific read aloud.

A bicycle, a tractor .... I wonder what's next?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Still A Work in Progress, by Jo Knowles. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.99 ages 11 and up

"When I go into the kitchen, I can tell Emma is still upset, because she's chopping vegetables with a vengeance and every time my dad opens the oven to baste the turkey, she runs out of the room, saying the smell is making her sick. I have nowhere to go but escape to my room with the Captain, who hates it when Emma gets angry. I wonder if his dog-years ratio is even worse because of the stress ... "

As if being in seventh grade isn't enough for Noah. If you remember being there at all, or have someone you love living in those shoes at the moment, you know about school expectations, friendships and the hormonal changes that are happening to challenge any young teenager. For Noah, family life is also a big issue.

Noah's voice is strong, emotional and often matter of fact. He goes to a small school in a small town where everyone knows everyone. School is school. His family life? Not so much. His sister Emma has a lingering eating disorder. A previous crisis struck the family hard. Since then, they have managed to skirt the issue by not acknowledging or talking about it. However, the impact is forceful  and the family is constantly focused on Emma's demands concerning what they all eat. No one wants her to go back to where she once was. Be that as it may, not acknowledging it adds to the stress and does nothing to assure the problem is solved.

Once again, Emma must return to a treatment center. This time it is long-term care. The family barely copes. Noah's account of the downhill slide runs the gamut of emotions felt when a family is in crisis ... guilt, sadness, anxiety and an inability to understand how it all came to be. The writing is personal, immediate and gives readers a clear picture of the impact felt by all members of the family as they struggle to understand and deal with an eating disorder.

Often humorous, Noah helps readers see that the many everyday things that happen at school - stinky lockers, first love, boring classes, pimples, - can be a focus for his attention when problems at home threaten to overwhelm him. Help from those who have his best interests at heart make coping with what he cannot understand easier.

Don't miss it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

LOOK UP! Written and illustrated by Jung Jin-Ho. Holiday House, Thomas Allen & Son, 2016. $26.50 ages 6 and up

"They look like ants.

Look up!

Look up!

I'm here!
Look at me!

Come down!"

There are few words (only 40). There is no color, until the final image. From an unusual place, high above the ground, we see a city sidewalk. A door slams, a child in a wheelchair is seen from above looking from a balcony to the street below. There are people there: They look like ants.

The child peers down. We see only the top of a head, a nose and two hands gripping the balcony railing. She is interested, but ignored. Eventually, a boy looks up when he hears her call. The child sees little of the boy until he lies down on the sidewalk.

Realizing that he is now fully visible, he encourages others to join him. He wants others to see the girl he sees. In her happiness at being noticed, the young child looks to the sky (and toward the reader) with a beaming smile.

Nothing more needs to be said, does it?

Beautifully designed, powerfully shared and certain to open discussion with those who recognize its beauty. We need encouragement to be mindful of what surrounds us - this is a perfect push to do just that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Teacup, wirtten by Rebecca Young and illustrated by Matt Ottley. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2016. 23.99 ages 6 and up

"Some days shone bright
on an endless sea of white.

Other days were so dark
that the boy longed for
the stars.

Every day he watched
the horizon for a speck
that he could follow
until it grew ... "

Where is home? For the young boy in this beautifully crafted tale, it is somewhere else. The story opens with him standing beside a rowboat, prepared to leave one home for another. We do not know why.

He has what he needs ... a book, a bottle, a blanket. He also has a teacup which contains earth from where he once played. His journey is both 'kind' and 'bold', his destination unknown. It is obvious that the teacup is exceptionally important to him. He holds it with careful concentration through each days' travel. He is constantly on the lookout for land, while also remembering the joys of the life he has left in his wake.

"The way the whales called out to one another
reminded him of how his mother
used to call him in for tea."

As he changes, so does the tree in his teacup.

"The tree gave him shelter and shade,
apples to eat, branches to climb,
and cozy nooks that he knew were
just perfect for daydreaming."

With land comes hope, and a chance to make a new life for himself.

There are no words to adequately describe the beauty found in Matt Ottley's gorgeous images. They shimmer, they acknowledge the elements and the mystery of the sea, they add hope and wonder to an incredible journey.

Remarkable!

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Bike Like Sergio's, written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.00 ages 4 and up

"I stand in line, mad, with the
bread my mom wants, waiting
behind the lady in the blue coat
who we see all the time. She
steps up to pay and gathers
her bags. In the shuffle, her
purse tips. A dollar floats to
the floor. No one sees.

I scoop the money up fast."

I loved sharing Those Shoes (Candlewick, 2007) for its message of kindness to and concern for others. In her new book, Maribeth Boelts is able to bring those feelings to the forefront once again. This second story is informed by the same issues - money, motivation and respect. I have said it before, and will surely say it often in the future: Kids need to see themselves in the books they read ( a mirror), and they need to see how others live their lives (a window).

Ruben's friend Sergio has a brand new bike. Ruben has a wish. He would love to have a bike just like it. The solution seems simple to Sergio - ask for one for the birthday that will soon be here. Ruben knows that birthdays are not the same in his family as they are in Sergio's. But, he has the ability to dream, and to wish for one.

While they are at the store for a pack of football cards (Sergio) and a loaf of bread (Ruben), a lady in front of them loses a dollar bill from her open purse. Ruben notices, picks it up and keeps it. When he finally takes it from his pocket, he is astounded to find it is a $100 bill!

"That money is enough to buy a bike like Sergio's. Then I won't
have to run; I'll be riding."

It is a lot of temptation for a boy who has few finances. He knows that his family has little, and must give up one thing to have another. When his mother asks him to stop at the store on the way home from school the next day, he is conflicted. Will he see the lady again? When he checks his backpack, the money is gone! A quiet search reveals nothing. Sleep does not come easily. All hopes for a new bike vanish.

A chance meeting with the very same, now sad, woman the next day proves a blessing. She is oh, so thankful.

"I am happy and mixed up,
full and empty, with what's
right and what's gone."

No reward but the pride his parents offer when he relates his story. Bravo!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Smart About Sharks, written and illustrated by Owen Davey. Flying Eye Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2016. $28.95 ages 8 and up

"Seals can easily outsmart a shark if they see it coming, so great white sharks stage surprise attacks. Stalking the seals until the perfect moment, the shark will attack from below. Using only a few massive swipes of their tail, a great white shark can snatch the seal from the surface and leap up to three metres out of the water, landing with the prize ... "

In this second book about one particular animal, Owen Davey provides an exceptional look at the shark in all its wonder, and the unknowns that have so many of us fearful of even seeing one.

The table of contents intrigues with such two-page offerings as: A Bite to Eat, Making a Meal of Things, And the Award Goes to ... , Hammer and Tail, and Congratulations! It's A Shark. Inviting, no?

The man has done his research. He helps readers learn about reproduction, anatomy, and behaviors while also exploring some of the cultural myths that make the shark an integral part of history.

"There are many shark gods in Hawaiian culture, but the chief of them is Ka-moho-ali'i. He could take on the form of any fish, and was known to guide Hawaiians home from sea if they offered him a drink known as awa."

There is much diversity in the shark world, and Owen Davey is adept at providing very informative and engaging text for shark lovers everywhere. This is a book that should be on classroom and library shelves. His artwork is quite beautiful, providing a perfect framework for the information shared. Each page is full of fascinating facts that will have young readers eager to share what they have learned while reading it.

In an informative interview he had this to say about his work:

“Most sharks aren’t great for drawing from life though – they’re not great at staying still,” he adds. While illustrations are fairly accurate, he says there are not designed to be “completely anatomically correct”. “I’m trying to get people interested and excited about these animals. Nobody will read my books and be an expert. I mean, I’m nowhere near an animal expert…. I’m hoping these books will ignite a curiosity in people so that they find out more on their own; watch documentaries for themselves, or read books, or visit the animals, or even try and help with some conservation of them,” he adds.

What a treat this is - beautifully detailed pages that are filled with facts that are sure to delight both children and adults. Don't miss Mad About Monkeys (Flying Eye Books, 2015) and if you are anything like me, wait impatiently for what he is working on next. It is sure to be a delight!
                                                                             

Saturday, January 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

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

"Hey,. frowny frog and
dancing cake?

How are you today?
Happy?

Maybe we can make
things a little happier?

Can you clap your hands
and say "YELLOW BO-BELLOW'?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

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

"I WILL HAVE A
MAJESTIC PEDESTAL
FIT FOR A KING.

THAT'LL DO.

YAWN. NEXT, PLEASE.
IS THAT THE BEST
YOU'VE GOT?"

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

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

"I NEED BIG
ROCKS, NOT
PUNY
PEBBLES!
BE GONE, LITTLE BUG!"

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

Payback? You will be surprised and delighted.

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

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

                                                                                 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will he find her, and make amends?

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

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Owl Sees Owl, written by Laura Godwin and illustrated by Rob Dunleavy. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"Tree

Nest

Hop

Look

Jump

Flutter"

It's Owl's first independent adventure ... and a lovely one it is. He sets out on his own, in tune to the beauty around him and the joy to be found in being by himself. Each double page spread consists of a four word poem that describes every stage of his foray into the deep dark of the nighttime forest. He leaves his family behind as he makes his way to the end of a branch - and takes flight.  Noticing the fall colors that enhance the beauty of the night and the glimmers of light and movement evident around him, he flies on.

When he finally finds a spot to land, he is frightened at the sight of another owl. This one he sees in reflection on the water below him. "Owl sees owl".

Thus, at the center of the book, he begins a new journey - it is the exactly backward to the one just completed, and the text is the same. Laura Godwin uses a reverso poem, turning each set of four words on their ear to tell her readers about the little owl's flight back to the safety of his treetop nest. Simply lovely!

Rob Dunleavy uses mixed media and careful color choice to create the soothing scenes that bring a sense of calm. Readers will experience it when sharing this story they will soon be reading on their own. The night sky is star-filled and edged with light. Try it at bedtime - you won't mind reading it again and again.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I Am A Story, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. Harper, 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"I was written on papyrus

and printed with ink and
woodblocks,

then woven into
tapestries

and copied into big books
to illuminate minds."

I have pored over this seemingly simple story many times, and each time I see or think about something that I am not sure I saw in previous readings. Each beautifully designed spread has one line of text, offering a look at the part that stories have always played in our lives.

They have been shared, protected, and saved throughout history and continue to play a significant role. Whether in words or pictures, on cave walls or special stock, stories bring people together to share them and to wonder at the power they have to move and inform us. Stories are kept alive in countries throughout the world using great variety in medium, and voice. We read them at the library, in our homes and schools and we watch them on television, at the theater or on our computer screens.

Dan Yaccarino uses India ink on vellum to create his powerful and telling images for a tale that begins with a caveman and his son looking at the night sky, followed by storytelling to a kindred group gathered around the campfire and seeing all the signs of the zodiac in that same sky. He then shows the many way that stories have been shared from one age to the next - on walls, stone tablets, papyrus, woodblocks, tapestries, books and iPads.

There is so much history and culture within its pages. It is sure to inspire careful thought and discussion. Watch for the little red bird to make its appearance on most pages, and also for the contemporary family sharing a story around their own campfire under a sky lit by the constellations we know as the same zodiac signs from the opening. Bravo!

What an invitation this is to surround ourselves with the stories we love - and to keep on reading!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Squirrrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $20.50 ages 2 and up


"Squirrels gather.
Squirrels store.
How many seeds?
More, more, more!

Squirrels stretch.
Squirrels yawn.
Munch the acorns.
Are they gone?"

I am always delighted to learn this team has created another superb book for young readers who love learning about animals. I love to watch the little squirrel who makes his way along the wires above my lane from one neighbor's tree to another many, many times a day. He is never still for longer than five seconds before he moves forward! Now, I know so much more about him.

April Sayre lets us know the constant motion is not unusual ... squirrels have much to do! The rhymes she has created allow her readers to know about those daily habits, the characteristics of these tiny dynamos and the joy they seem to find in what they do. Steve Jenkins, as he has done many times before and will surely do again, fills the pages with carefully constructed paper collages allowing young readers a window into the squirrel's doings. The textures he creates for the animals and the seasonal settings add context to Ms. Sayre's brilliant, descriptive text.  I love that she begins and ends the book with the same four lines. I have put it on my 'bedtime' pile, awaiting the December arrival of my granddaughters for a Christmas visit.

This lively book can certainly be used as a mentor text to show older writers just one more way to share their learning.


To close the book, the author provides additional paragraphs about the squirrel species mentioned.

"A squirrel's tail helps the squirrel balance. A squirrel can stretch or curl its tail to distribute body weight as it climbs. A squirrel may also curl its tail over its head when it rains, helping to keep water off the rest of its body. (This works in light rain, but heavy rain can soak the squirrel.) Many squirrels also communicate with one another by waving their tails."


                                                     

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hungry Bird, written and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard. Scholastic, 2016. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Bird's tummy rumbled louder. "Hey, Beaver," said Bird. "Have you brought anything delicious to eat? I'm hungry." "I have lots of nice, crunchy sticks," said Beaver. "Would you like some?" "Stick?" said Bird. "Are you crazy? Birds don't eat sticks!" "Well, beavers do. Yum!" said Beaver."

He's back ... and this time he is neither Grumpy nor Weepy. He is HUNGRY! Imagine going on a trek with friends and no one thought to bring him the perfect snack. What were they thinking when they set out? Seems they were thinking about their own snacks, and perhaps Hungry Bird ought to have done the same!

Each of his animal friends did bring a snack that they themselves would enjoy; that was their pre-trek responsibility. As they volunteer to share what they have, the bird just becomes more and more adamant that he has no interest in their berries, grass, sandwiches, carrots and crunch sticks. Not one of those holds any appeal for his growling stomach or his wish to assuage his hunger. They walk on, he continues to complain. High drama sets in, and he is left behind when he collapses to the ground in the agony of hunger pangs. He drags himself to where they are sitting having a snack. Finally, he gives in and tries what his friends have packed.  Surprise!

Oh, I do love Bird although he gives his friends a run for their money at every turn. In this, his third book, he remains true to the original ... often obstreperous and grumpy as are the toddlers sure to love hearing this new book. Tankard's expressive text is filled with important words - ravenous, disgusting, medley of flavors, collapsed - all inviting conversation between reader and listener as they share this delightful tale of friendship and adventure.

Jeremy Tankard's signature ink and digital media images are bold and engaging. Children who are familiar with his earlier stories will recognize old friends and welcome them back. I love the way he uses color to convey growing irritability as Bird's drama reaches fever pitch. The expressive faces will have little ones understanding exactly how Bird's friends feel as they do their best to appease him.

Humorous and highly entertaining, this is a stellar read aloud for any story time with little ones.
                                                                      

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Little Bot and Sparrow, written and illustrated by Jake Parker. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $20.50 ages 2 and up

"Sparrow had never seen
a robot before.

Curious, she watched ...
and watched ...
and watched ...

... until she realized that
the robot just needed to
be taken under her wing."

This was Sicily's favorite book while she was here this past August. She carried it with her everywhere she went; it was one of the books she wanted read every night before bed; and, she is looking forward to seeing it again next week. That is staying power for a book loved by a two-year-old who has many books read to her each and every day.

Quite the winsome tale of a discarded robot and the tiny sparrow with enough insight to recognize Little Bot needs a friend. She patiently watches as he makes his lonely way in the world, not really understanding the many discoveries he is making. That is when she decides to 'take him under her wing' and show him the way .

"She led him to the
forest, introduced him
to her friends,
and taught him why robots shouldn't fly."

He has a lot to learn. Learn he does. One thing he has no schema for is the coming of winter. Sparrow warns that she will soon be gone. Sadness grows in Bot`s heart. When the day comes, he watches her journey away from him. Winter is a lonely time. As he wanders, Bot remembers all that Sparrow has taught him - and he remembers their conversation about dreams, another concept he could not fathom.

Turns out that he just needs the right circumstance.

Tender and charming, it is no wonder that we are both looking to sharing it again next week.
                                                                          

Monday, January 9, 2017

TEK: The Modern Cave Boy, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $20.99 ages 4 and up

"All cave boys lived in
caves, of course. But the
problem with this cave
boy was that he never
wanted to leave his. Even
when friends came to
visit. In the evening, an
eerie glow came from
Tek's cave, making it
impossible to see the
twinkling stars above."

I'm not sure if this book about the dangers of the technology that seems to surround us is meant for  adults like me who often rail against our dependence on it, and the focus that we give to it in our daily lives, or for our kids. 

Tek is a caveboy and quite the modern guy. He lives in a tiny igloo-like cave and most everything about him (except perhaps his beard) will be familiar to any children who have read other stories of Neanderthal people. Tek is happiest within cave walls, and never makes his way outside to spend time with friends.

"Tek stayed alone in his cave room,
glued to his phone, his tablet,
and the game box, all day, all night,
all the time."

He is oblivious to the outside world, and his parents are concerned. Matters not to Tek, even though he does miss a lot. He is uninterested in anything beyond his technology and his cave walls. Then, Big Poppa, the village volcano 'shakes things up'. Tek and his technology crash, and the boy learns a great deal more than he ever thought he might. Lesson learned.

I love that Little, Brown and Company put some publishing 'chops' into designing a book that cleverly resembles the iPad! Its size and look are dead on; it has signal bars, a home button, the need to input a password before entering ... read diagonally from top left to bottom right. The battery life indicator shows how quickly it is used up, and the WiFi signal shows no power following the eruption.

This is fun!    

Sunday, January 8, 2017

HOORAY FOR TODAY! Written and illustrated by Brian Won. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"But Elephant did not
want to play.
"NOT NOW.
I'M SLEEPY!"

So Owl tucked
Elephant back in
and whispered,

"Maybe another day.
Good night, Elephant."

What a lovely book to share with little ones, just learning about the joys of friendships and how those friends can make each day better! Of course, it's after dark when Owl is finally ready to take her toys (a horn, balloons, books) and find a companion for shared play.

Not everyone is awake at night when Owl is. In fact, each animal friend welcomes her, each one ready for bed. Elephant willingly trades his night cap for Owl's party hat, and is also happy to be tucked back into bed by his avian friend. Owl moves on to Zebra. Zebra is not impressed with Owl's trumpet until Owl plays him a lullaby to send Zebra off to dreamland.

On she goes, willing to offer her toys for playing, and undisturbed by each refusal. Instead, she assures that each is soundly sleeping before she seeks the company of another. She has great love for each one. When she finally hoots a request for play into the nighttime, no one answers.  Poor Owl!

"Today is a bad, bad day," Owl said.
"Nobody wants to play!"

Finally, as the sun came up,
she walked back home ... "

Guess who's waiting to play? Owl begs off in order to get some sleep, with a promise that a nap should do it and then she should be ready again!

 Using repetition for the telling makes this perfect fare for little ones wanting to try some independent reading. They will surely help with familiar phrases as it is read aloud to them. The artwork evokes the cool of the night, with splotches of bright color to bring Owl's toys and her animal friends into the spotlight. Listeners will love it when the book must be shown vertically to grasp Giraffe's size.

Full of charm, and endless fun. Here's to another book for our 'bedtime' reads!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Small Thing ... but Big, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2016. $24.99 ages 4 and up


"Lizzie held the leash,
just so. And she and
the quiet old man
and the quiet dog,
Cecile, walked
quietly around
the park.

A small thing, but big."

Lizzie and her mom love visits to the park. So, it is not surprising to find them there this fine day. Upon entering its gate, Mom waves to an older man walking his dog. She finds a spot for enjoying her book on a park bench, from which she can keep watch on her adventurous little one. Suddenly, Lizzie stops in her tracks. We see in shadow that she has come a bit too close to that dog. The owner suggests quietly that she need not worry, softly answering Lizzie's timid questions. His reassuring tone, and the dog's friendly countenance, win her over enough that she is willing to offer a pat on the dog's head. Cecile (the dog) seems rapturous.

Lizzie is duly impressed that she has faced her fear. It is ' a small thing, but big,' she is reminded. Cecile is impressed, Lizzie equally so. Soon, they are walking together. Then, Lizzie holds the leash. Mom follows watchfully. After a quiet walk with the man at her side, Lizzie is ready to take a giant leap - she will walk the dog on her own!

Mom and the man watch with pride as the two step out, full of independent spirit.

"Walking a dog alone.
A small thing, but big."

Ms. Johnston handles the telling with warmth, confidence, and grace. She knows young children, their concerns, their willingness to take on new learning. Just as Lizzie has learned to overcome her fear of dogs, the dog's owner has also faced a fear of his own.

"The quiet old man replied,
"Before today, I was very afraid
of children."

Who knew?

Hadley Hooper's relief printmaking and digital techniques are just the ticket for this story about facing fears, making new friends and enjoying summer pastimes. The warm oranges, yellows and greens of the park's setting and the many lovely details will encourage careful consideration of all that is happening here. Wouldn't you like to take a walk right alongside them?
                                                                             

Friday, January 6, 2017

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. Little, Brown and Company, Hachette. 2016. $23.49 ages 6 and up

"Samoo moves from street corners to art gallery walls with powerful color composition and line, collaging and painting on anything he can find. His art is still not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still BEAUTIFUL. With his MAGICAL charm, Jean-Michel draws a crowd, but when it's time to work ... "

His life was far too short, only living 28 years. In that time, Jean-Michel Basquiat had a lasting effect on the art world. In this beautifully narrated and exquisitely designed biography, Javaka Steptoe pays tribute to another young artist whose work was influenced by many things and continues to influence those who have followed him.

Jean-Michel's mother provided an introduction to the beauty of the art world through museum visits. She also gave him a copy of Gray's Anatomy. His father's love of jazz and Jean-Michel's own love of poetry added to the mix that led him to make his mark. He always knew that he wanted to pursue art. Through hard work and an ever-evolving style he did shine, although too much of his young life was steeped in tragedy: his mother's mental illness, a  debilitating car accident, his tough teen years, and the move from Brooklyn to New York at 17. Working as a street artist, he named himself Samoo. His wondrous walls of poetry and art caught the eye of many - artists, those who loved art, and passersby drawn to his brilliant work.

Mr. Steptoe describes his own art for the book that honors the artist whose story he is telling:

"Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, I used bits of New York City to create the artwork for this book. I painted on richly textured pieces of found wood harvested from Brooklyn Museum exhibit materials, the Dumpsters of Brooklyn brownstones, and the streets of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side."

Basquiat's influence is evident on every page of this rich and 'radiant' illustrated biography. Everything that happened in the artist's life influenced his growth until he won global success. His highly prized works can now be found in galleries and personal collections throughout the world. Only in arresting back matter, which includes additional facts about the artist, a section about motifs and symbolism in Basquiat's work and an author's note, do we learn about his addiction to drugs and his untimely death.

It is an exemplary introduction to a very special young artist. I am happy to know his story.
                                                                        

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sea Otter Rescue, written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas. Owlkids, 2016. $18.95 ages 7 and up

"All young pups at the center are kept in the intensive care unit. They sleep, rest, and play in cozy playpens, where they are safe and secure. The playpens are the same kind used for human babies. In the wild, a sea otter pup would rest on its mom's fuzzy belly ... "

Suzi Eszterhas follows the design style chosen for her very popular Orangutan Orphanage (2016) and Koala Hospital (2015) to bring readers the story of the work that the staff at the Alaska SeaLife Center does to protect and rehabilitate orphaned otters.

Having seen otters in the wild as a child, they hold a special place in her heart. Only when she visited the SeaLife Center did she actually see one up close and personal. Her admiration for their caregivers led her to share their story.

"All the workers have one thing in common - they love marine animals. From microscopic animals that drift in the ocean, to huge, elephant-sized walruses, the Alaska SeaLife Center cares about them all. And when marine animals in Alaska need to be rescued, team members do an incredible job of saving and helping them."
She goes on to describe (and show with her clear and endearing photographs) just exactly how the staff manages to bring them to Seward where their care is of prime importance to all. The pups are challenging to raise and to prepare for life beyond the center's walls. The staff is highly trained and work extremely hard to create an environment similar to their natural surroundings.

We learn a lot about otters themselves:

"Sea otter moms are devoted mothers, and their pups are completely dependent on them ... Their mothers feed them, keep them dry and warm, protect them from danger, and teach them the skills they need to survive."

That is a lofty goal when considering how to ensure an orphan's health and strength to live on its own. These tiny creatures are in danger and their continuing care is critical if they are to flourish.

The design has great appeal for young readers wanting to know as much as they can about the fluffy babies. Each two page spread is given a heading that describes its focus, a few short and informative paragraphs, and a captioned (and very appealing) photograph. Readers are encouraged to learn more about otters and the conservation efforts that help to ensure their survival. She also gives tips on making a small difference in our own ways. Included in back matter are questions for Suzi from her readers. As well, she adds a glossary, an index and a source list.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

I Am Henry Finch, written by Alexis Deacon and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $20.00 ages 6and up

"This was the way it always
was. Until one night something
else happened. A finch woke up
in the dark and the quiet. He had
a thought, and he heard it. He sat still and listened to his thoughts. He had more of them. He liked them. AM I THE FIRST FINCH TO EVER HAVE A THOUGHT? he thought."

There is absolutely no room for quiet thought in Henry's days. He is part of a flock of finches that are endlessly noisy and boring. They spend the entirety of their days saying four things - good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night. There is no time for anything else. The only thing that changes their routine is the occasional arrival of the Beast, who comes to make a meal of them.

On the day when Henry awakens ahead of the others, he realizes he has time to think. When he does that, the thinks he would like to stand up to the Beast. He does. It does not go well. The next time we see Henry, he is in the darkness of the Beast's belly. There, all he can do is think, and it is not pleasant. When he finally calms his thoughts, he is able to hear what the Beast is thinking:

"GOT TO EAT.
GOT TO HUNT. GOT TO
FIND MORE FOOD.
BIG FAMILY ALL NEED
FEEDING. CRAWLING,
SWIMMING, FLYING,
WALKING ... ANYTHING
WILL DO."

That is when Henry thinks loudly enough for the Beast to hear him. He convinces the monster that he should consider a life of vegetarianism. Can he now make the Beast open his mouth and allow Henry to escape? Why yes, he can!

This is a tale of trusting in yourself, thinking your way out of problem situations, being brave and independent of others while still being a community member. He leads others to find their own way, and to then return home different than when they left. There is a lot to think about here.

Using unique fingerprints and black ink to give character and expression to the finches, Viviane Schwarz adds humor and appeal. You can just see little ones who hear it wanting to explore their own prints. Get the inkpads ready!
                                                                         

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Strange Trees: And the Stories Behind Them, by Bernadette Pourquie and Cecile Gambini. Translated by Yolanda Stern Broad. Princeton Architectural Press. 2016. $23.95 ages 8 and up

"You're trapped! You already put your finger on my page! But I promise that I won't strangle you right away as long as you need to read my story. One day, at dawn, in Asia, a bird eats the fresh flesh of a blood-red fig. Then it flutters over to the first tree it finds, where it leaves a little poop. And, with it, a banyan fig seed that starts to sprout. Roots form on the branch ... "

I am constantly aware of how much I do not know, and how much there is to learn on a daily basis. That is partly why I love to read new books about things that are mostly unfamiliar to me.

Isn't nature strange? We know that animals have made many remarkable adaptations when it comes to existing in their environment. Here, we learn that it is not unusual for plants to do the same thing. Here's a little something I learned about the Sausage Tree (Kigelia Africana):

"While my fruit may not end up on a plate, they are unusual and rather decorative, so people plant me anywhere the climate works for me: in Latin America, Asia, and Australia - I cast a fine shadow everywhere. But be careful, on your travels, not to take a nap under my branches. If one of my fruits falls on you, you would end up with a bump the size of an egg on your head!"

The fruit that looks like a sausage can be 'three feet long and weigh up to twenty-five pounds!' Some bump that would be!

With every turn of the page, we are introduced to a new 'strange tree'. The endpapers boast a rudimentary world map that places each of the named trees in its native habitat. I had some knowledge of  two of them - the giant sequoia and the chocolate tree. I was fascinated to read each spread - a page of information about each one faced with a colorful bordered image of the tree and its surroundings. There are sixteen of them. The descriptive language is humorous, clear and first person, making it fun to read and to share.

A word of caution: If you find yourself visiting South America and look to take cover under the Rain Tree (Saman), don't count on its leaves for protection. As might be expected when a shower surprises you, you would like to seek shelter. Under the Saman tree you will find none of that. Its leaves fold down to allow the rain to flow into its roots. Whoops!
 
Fun to browse, with new learning at its heart, I like it!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Secret Tree Fort, written and illustrated by Brianne Farley. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $22.00 ages 4 and up

"There's even a basket for snacks and other emergencies. Inside the fort, there's a marshmallow and chocolate storage compartment, lots of maps, and a walkie-talkie. There are also different flags that mean different things so I can call for backup. One flag means HELLO! One means HELP! One means OUT FOR SNACKS, COME BACK LATER."

Sounds like the bee's knees, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to spend time in a fort with such amenities? I think that I must have, at one time or another, dreamed of a place of silence and solitude where I could read  books, listen to  music, drink tea, and let the world pass me by! I no longer dream that dream. I have that place! It is not in a tree - and that's OK with me.

When they are sent outside to play on a beautiful day, the little one wants to PLAY! Her big sister wants to read, and she does just that. She pays no attention to the entreaties of her bothersome little  sister.

"FINE!
I can play by myself.
It will be great.
It will be even better than if we played together.
I know just where to go.

I HAVE A SECRET TREE FORT,
AND YOU'RE NOT INVITED!"

The older one looks totally unimpressed. The little one moves on to describing all the glorious deliciousness of her tree house, never holding her imagination in check as she sings the praises of  this perfect place. It has everything one could possibly need: a skylight, signal flags, secret tunnels, a crow's nest for seeing the ocean ... and it's made of CANDY! Can you imagine?

The older sister's response is less than stellar, insisting that it doesn't exist. A shouting match ensues and the little one succumbs to tears. Seems that is just what was needed. Perhaps, together, they can work out a solution.

Just listening in on the conversation and her imaginings as she tries to persuade her sibling to play will have readers intent on each of the fort's amenities as they are added in a long list. Luckily, they can see the fort grow in the tree above the bookworm's head. The expressions of both are evident in every illustration, which have been created using 'charcoal, pencil, and ink, and colored digitally'.
The older sister's countenance never changes, and that keeps her surroundings calm and serene (and boring!). The younger one's world fills with color, action, people, and secrets as her imagination sky-rockets.

Visually delightful, and so entertaining, you will want to share this again and again. That it concerns the special bond between sisters only makes it even more appealing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree, written by Daniel Bernstrom and illustrated by Brendan Wenzal. Harper, 2016. $21.99 ages 3 and up

""I'll bet," said the boy,
in the belly dark and deep,
"that you're still very hungry,
that there's more that you
can eat."
Slurp, buuuuurrrp! came a
belch from the leaves of the
tree. Oh! An ape eating
grapes, lounging like a queen."

Don't kids love books that pit someone small (like them) against a much bigger protagonist? Of course, they do! They are going to love listening to the luscious language that Daniel Bernstrom has penned to bring them this rhythmic tale of a snake, a boy, a toy and a ploy.

As he skips along under the shade of the eucalyptus tree, the boy is oblivious to the danger sheltered there. Too late to save himself, he is gobbled up by a huge, yellow snake. Both the boy and his toy, in fact! From inside the snake's dark belly, and undeterred by his predicament, the boy taunts the snake with the fact that he must still be hungry. After all, there is a lot of room in the snake's belly. Convinced to find more to satiate him, the snake goes on to eat a bird with a worm, a napping cat, a mossy sloth, a grape-eating ape, a vegetarian bear, a hive of bees, and perhaps just one more bite.

You know where this will end, don't you? And indeed, it does. The snake, full to bursting, can do nothing but belch his captive prey back out again!

Just listen to this language:

"Out whizzed the fly,
Out rolled the fruit,
Out buzzed the hive,
Out ran the bear,
Out swung the ape,
Out slunk the sloth,
Out  dashed the cat,
Out flew the bird,
Out slimed the worm.

And out skipped the boy
with his whirly-twirly toy."

A wonderful story of comeuppance, its pages filled with exquisitely executed digital images, this book is a WINNER! Don't miss the genuine pleasure of sharing it!  It is most assuredly a joyful experience.