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Friday, November 17, 2017

Mama Lion Wins the Race, written and illustrated by Jon J Muth. Scholastic, 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"While Tigey tuned up
their car, Mama Lion
noticed Tigey's cup.
It was worn and dented,
and had a hole in it.
"I wonder what the prize
will be for the winner,"
said Mama Lion. "I don't
know, "said Tigey."

Tigey is hyped that race day has finally arrived, and he is geared up to win ... and win big! Mama Lion wants him to know that a win is not the be-all and end-all. We know that she has an ulterior motive for him being happy should he not come in first. At the start, they are ahead and the young cub couldn't be more excited.

When misfortune rears its ugly head, the car loses one of its wheels. The Flying Pandinis stop to offer aid. While repairs are being done, the wily Bun Bun is able to pass them all and take the lead. Once they are back in the race and nearing the finish line, Tigey and Mama Lion are faced with a difficult choice to make. How badly do they want to win?

There is a subtle lesson here, as can also be found in Jon J Muth's Zen books. Kids won't be aware they have learned it, as it does not, in any way, feel meant to teach. The toy characters are filled with a zest for the task at hand, and with a winning warmth. Kids will like them immediately. Mama Lion is in charge from the get-go, knowing that she wants what is best for all involved. Little ones will love the joy in the race, and the chance to be a winner. In the end, isn't kindness what it is all about? And, wasn't that adventure a great deal of fun for all?

“Here is our chance to do something really amazing."

Please do take the time for a long and leisurely look at the lively gouache, pencil and ink, and watercolor images. They are filled with the full action of the race, cameo appearances by a few beloved characters from a child's favorite stories, strong colors, lush backgrounds, and oft-changing perspectives.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Middle Bear, written by Susanna Isern and illustrated by Manon Gauthier. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.99 ages 4 and up

"In the afternoons, his father would often go out with his older brother to gather walnuts and almonds, while his mother would nap with his younger brother. That's when he would read himself a story. A middle-sized story, like this one."

Poor middle children! They are too young to do what their older sibling can do, and too old to do what their younger sibling is allowed. They can't stay up as late as the older one, and can't go to bed as early as the little one. They are not big, nor small ... you will know all of this if you are that middle child.

Middle bear feels for you. He is all of those things, and more. Always the middle one! His clothes, his umbrella, his meals are all meant for the 'middle-sized'. It is his lot in life. Because of these many things, he is often sad. He doesn't want to be in the middle. Until one day ...

A quest to find the willow bark his parents need to cure their colds leads the brothers to the riverbank. The river is only partially frozen; it is too dangerous for both the older and the younger brother to try to cross. Not so for the middle one. He is the right weight, has the right stride, and is successful in accomplishing the task given. Off he goes to get the willow bark. Only when the task is completed does he realize that middle might be OK at times.

"At that moment, he was overcome with pride. He cut a
middle-sized piece of bark, put it in his middle-sized
backpack and, with one middle-sized step after the other,
made his way back down the mountain."

The text is bland and repetitive, in keeping with the middle bear's sense of ennui concerning his place in the family dynamic. It is perfectly written for describing how Middle Bear sees his circumstance. With the use of repetition to describe him as middle (spell mediocre), readers are painfully aware of how his life is affected.

Using collage, muted colors in black, grey and tan, and unsophisticated images that make each brother look exactly the same but for their size, Ms. Gauthier creates artwork that perfectly emphasizes the plight of the middle bear.

Middle children, rejoice! You do have your own special place in the world.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Snappsy The Alligator and His Best Friend Forever! (probably). Words by Julie Falatko and pictures by Tim Miller. Viking, Penguin. 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"I did not agree to
any of this.
Sure you did!
I'm your BFF!
You can tell we're
BFFs because we
have these shirts.
Who's Bert?
Me, I am.
You never told me
you had a name."

Snappsy is back; so is his chicken friend. Neither personality has changed much since the last time we met. Snappsy continues to be reticent about being made the center of attention. The chicken continues its constant over-stating of Snappy's attributes, and persistently focuses on their many adventures together. Inherently false, Snappsy is embarrassed by the chicken's presence and adoration. The chicken insists that being the alligator's BFF is paramount and evident.

Snappsy finally succumbs to anger, resulting in Bert's departure. Will Snappsy miss Bert's constant conversation and ebullient spirit? Of course he will. The humor will have kids and adults chuckling as they share this second tale of enthusiasm and avoidance. The illustrations 'made with brush and ink and computer hocus-pocus' add appeal and context. The two are so different; the speech bubbles and comical art assure understanding of each distinct personality as they go about their days.

Mayhem is at the heart of the tale, right up until the final spread.

"And Snappsy the alligator and his BFF had a lovely evening
doing the things that best friends do.
They had such a wonderful time that they decided Bert should
move in.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Shelter, written by Celine Claire and illustrated by Qin Leng. Kids Can Press, 2017. $18.99 ages 4 and up


There's no time for panic.
Together, the animals all
set to work gathering wood ...

... squirreling away food and
quieting their fears.

They must be prepared.
At last, everything is ready ... "

A STORM IS COMING! no longer frightens me at all. That is what happens with retirement - on most days. Of course, I will have to deal with its aftermath; when it arrives, I call SNOW DAY and stay put.

When the forest animals hear the news of an impending storm from worried birds, there is no panic. Instead, they all get at it. They gather wood, food and other necessities that will help them weather any inconvenience it might bring. As the wind picks up and the storm rages, the fox family enjoys the warmth of their den and the meal prepared for them. Little Fox has a worry.

"What if others are still outside?"

A turn of the page shows two indistinct figures emerging from the windswept landscape. The animal families are aware of their presence and have questions. When they hear a knock on their doors, they are quick to refuse entrance and hustle them off to the next home. Each family has a lie to tell concerning the help they can give the two bears.

"Our bellies are empty. In exchange
for some tea, could we have a few cookies 
for dipping?"
"We have no food. Try next door."

Readers see the giant pile of acorns stored in the squirrel's tree. Poor bears! The story is the same at every turn ... no one is willing to help. Don't forget Little Fox. His kindness shines through. The brothers determine to make the most of a nearby hill, knowing they will be fine as the snow falls around them. They have their tea to keep them warm.

Will they repay the kindness shown when the Fox family finds itself in peril?

At a time when we are in need of kind gestures and warmth, this gentle story is perfect for reading aloud with our children. The watercolor and ink artwork adds compassion and depth to this tale of finding refuge when it is needed.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Snow Scene, written by Richard Jackson and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $24.99 ages 2 and up

" Red ear.

And there?

Frosty hair.

What then?


November has been a bit of a weird start to winter for us: lots of snow, and freezing temperatures have made it feel a bit January. It has certainly got people in the mood for Christmas buying, and thinking about the gifts they will give. It reminds me that I have a bunch of books about snow and winter I want to share.

I will begin with Richard Jackson. This long time editor of books for children has recently turned to writing for them as well. In this newest book, he uses spare text as a invitation to little ones to find joy in the snowy scenes that unfold. As he teaches his readers about snow and its many wonders, Ms. Seeger uses stunning acrylic artwork to help them follow the verbal clues on full page spreads. One spread meaningfully connects to the next through a series of questions and visual clues.

With each page turn, readers' attention is drawn to a more detailed panorama. The gorgeous scenes move from day to night and from winter to spring, offering an invitation to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer.

Engaging at every turn!

Be sure to check for Mr. Jackson's other books: Have a Look, Says Book (2016), In Plain Sight (2016), All Ears, All Eyes (2017), This Beautiful Day (2017).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Classic Storybook Fables, retold and illustrated by Scott Gustafson. Artisan, Thomas Allen & Son. 2017. $29.95 all ages AND Favorite Nursery Rhymes From Mother Goose, illustrated by Scott Gustafson. Artisan, Thomas Allen & Son. 2016. $29.95 all ages

"At lunchtime, Beauty found a lavish meal laid out for her in the dining room. Even though she was alone, she enjoyed a lovely concert played by invisible musicians. That evening at dinner, her host finally made an appearance. As she was about to seat herself at the table, Beauty was startled to see the Beast standing in the shadows ... "

Two enchanting new picture books for today's post, in celebration of Picture Book Month! I have long loved Scott Gustafson's books and art. They are perpetual favorites for bedtime reading at my house.

There are eight tales here. As he has done in previous works, Mr. Gustafson uses his formidable talent for elegance and detail in creating the artwork for these familiar stories.

Expressive and emotional, they invite careful observation and are sure to result in discussions that will enhance the tales told. Backgrounds change, as does image placement in the way various spreads are designed. From the sly look in the crow's eye when solving the problem of unquenchable thirst, to a smug pug emperor who is bamboozled by duplicitous foxes, to the lazy farmyard animals who will have no part in helping The Little Red Hen until they hope to reap the rewards of her labor, there is something here for everyone. I was not familiar with The Boy Who Went to the North Wind. Who knew the wind that plagues many of our days in winter could be such a friend and provider?

Lessons taught and learned, memorable characters to be admired or not, this is a book that will be enjoyed time and again.

"Little Tommy Tucker
Sings for his supper.
What shall we give him?
White bread and butter.

How shall he cut it
Without a knife?
How will he marry
Without a wife?"

I have always loved nursery rhymes. As a child, they were definitely my first poetry. We shared them in the car, on walks and in the bathtub when our kids were little. It makes me sad to think so few kids know them today. They have such an effect on language and  future success in reading ... kids need the ability to rhyme to help them when they are learning to read.

Full of fun, and with lessons to teach, this selection of 45 rhymes provides a wonderful opportunity for parents and teachers to familiarize their children with characters and situations that have long been popular. Many of the images are elegant and refined, while others hold surprise and humor. Jack and Jill are adventurous, if clumsy, pigs. Tommy Tucker is a feline one-person band who obviously delights the little girl sitting on the stoop with his supper beside her. Humpty Dumpty is a smug scholar, unimpressed by the young king and his entourage as they march past his wall. Jack Sprat is a pencil-thin aristocratic frog munching on a stick of celery while his equally aristocratic and much larger wife nibbles a chocolate doughnut. Can't you just imagine the conversation that will arise. (Kids are sure to note the perplexed, and hungry, ants as they peruse a crumbless plate.)

Love, love, love it!


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Happy Birthday!

It's been eight years, 3500 books and more than 750,000 visits since I started on this journey to share the books I love with you! It has been a wonderful experience, and I am proud to say that I have missed only a few days along the way. When I look back and see that in the first month I posted more than 80 books, I can't believe it! Now, I do my best to get one book a day done; occasionally it might be a few more. It is a labor of love for books, for readers, and for those who find something worthwhile here. Thank you for your support, your comments, and for continuing to visit.

I will do my best to keep sharing books with you!

Innocent Heroes: Stories of Animals in the First World War, by Sigmund Brouwer. Tundra, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 12 and up

"Missing in action. Lance groaned. His sorrow was for the family he'd leave behind. And for Coal Dust. Such a noble animal had not deserved to die. Then he wondered. What if ... No. He told himself he shouldn't fool himself with hope. Even if Coal Dust had survived, the shell would have sent him running in panic. He would have stayed with the herd and galloped away with any surviving cavalry. Yet ... "

Three fictional soldiers, eight animals braving terrible and terrifying conditions, and brief sections of informational text to add understanding for the stories shared will find favor with eager middle school readers who are keen to know more than they already do about the Great War - WWI.

The French battlefield at Vimy Ridge is the setting for the eight accounts shared. A different animal is showcased in each one. They were used in battle to get messages from one place to another, to carry ammunition and supplies, to carry soldiers into battles and hopefully be there to bring them out.

Nonfiction sections follow the story to help explain how each participated and their importance to the fighting.

     "When Cher Ami was released, enemy gunners were waiting and fired such a volley that three bullets struck the bird. One bullet blinded Cher Ami. A second bullet tore through his chest. And a third bullet shattered his leg.
        Cher Ami fluttered to the ground. Then, to the soldiers' disbelief and joy, Cher Ami struggled back into the air and flew forty kilometers (25 mi.) to deliver the message, saving the trapped soldiers."

Further explanations discuss the use of the carrier pigeon in war, communication difficulties in World War One, and enhance understanding for how carrier pigeons deliver messages.

Kids love to know these stories of heroes in the animal world. They have such admiration for the work they do, as did the soldiers they helped. Jake, Charlie and Thomas are three soldiers from very different backgrounds and we learn about them as we read. Included in the text is a discussion concerning the treatment levelled at indigenous soldiers while they were fighting and following their discharge, offering a chance for readers to learn more about aboriginal history.

Action-filled and detailed, this book brings bravery to the forefront - brave soldiers and brave animals. I like the short sections that follow each account as they provide information that make the stories even more memorable. They could be read aloud chapter by chapter in middle grade classrooms to give listeners a sense of the sacrifices made by so many.

Today, we need to honor those who fought, and who still fight, to assure our freedom.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Victo Ngai. Millbrook Press, Lerner. Thomas Allen & Son, 2017. $28.99 ages 9 and up

"The sinking of ships - especially non-fighting ships - without any warning was new too. In the early years of the war, Germany limited which ships its U-boats attacked. But in early 1917, it saw a chance to win the war by starving Britain, its strongest opponent. Britain tried different ways to stop the submarine attacks."

I had never heard about dazzle ships. So, I found this book to be both fascinating and beautiful, as you can see from the accompanying artwork.

Submarine attacks by German U-boats were increasing during World War I. Never before had ships been attacked so relentlessly. When Germany saw a chance to starve Britain by sinking supply ships, the British knew something had to be done. Many suggestions were made and discarded.

"And a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander named Norman Wilkinson had another suggestion. It was unlikely. It was improbable. It may have even seemed bonkers. His idea was to camouflage the ships."

Fooling the enemy was what they were looking to do. Others had suggested camouflage. Perhaps its time had  come. Desperate, the government agreed. Hoping to cause confusion for the enemy, the ships were painted. Could it work?

Artist Victo Ngai uses mixed media to create beautifully designed pages to explore color and 'dazzle' in full page spreads. They are striking and worthy of attention. More than 4,000 ships were painted; in the end, there was no real proof that they had done what they were meant to do. This nonfiction book does provide a engaging look at an unusual and relatively unknown side of the war effort.

"Times change. Technology changes. Torpedoes get faster, submarine targeting systems get computerized, challenges of all kinds get replaced by new ones. But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed."

Fascinating stuff, indeed.

Notes from both author and illustrator are included in back matter, as well as a timeline with archival photos, and a list for further reading.

Friday, November 10, 2017

me and you and the red canoe, written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Phil. Groundwood. 2017. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"We sat on a log
by the shore,
sipping hot chocolate
from warm mugs,
listening to the laughter
of a loon
calling out from the mist.
I carried our rods.
You carried the tackle
and bait."

What a lovely memory of a season just ended! Time at the lake is, for many, the ultimate getaway. Sharing this book will remind readers of the joys to be found in the natural world, and of an early morning spent on the lake fishing. There are wonders there: loons, a moose, a beaver, a squirrel, an eagle. This early morning paddle and leisurely wait for a fish to bite allows exploration of each memorable sight and sound.

Jean Pendziwol describes each tiny moment in poetry that will resonate with all readers. This book is a feast for the senses, meant to be quietly inspiring and am homage to the awesome beauty of its setting.

"You pointed out a nest
high atop a leafless birch,
and not far away
the white head
and dark body
and piercing yellow eyes
of the eagle.

We wondered how
all those twigs and sticks
and other bits
survived the wind and rain."

The many remarkable moments are captured with acrylic paint on panel boards. The full page spreads feature eloquent text facing textured, detailed images of the quiet Canadian lake environment. The red canoe captures attention and keeps all readers focused on its journey. Though we never see the faces of the two canoeists, we share their powerful connection to and their wonder at the morning's beauty.

"I sat in the bow,
my paddle dipping
in and out,
in and out,
in and out.

You sat in the stern,
your paddle keeping time,
the sunlight sparkling in our wake."

Absolutely wonderful!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

when's my birthday? Written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"will my birthday be in spring?
will my birthday have some singing?
will we sing so happy happy?
will we dance around and round?
will we jump and jump and jump?

when's my birthday?
where's my birthday?
how many days until
my birthday?"

I have said it in previous posts - besides Christmas, the most important day for little ones is their birthday! Such a celebration it is for everyone. When Sicily recently celebrated hers, I asked how it felt to be THREE! She was quick to point out that, in fact, she was not THREE, she was three and a half. Yesterday she was two and a half. Today, older than that. Perfectly logical!

Julie Fogliano gets it! In her celebration of birthdays, she manages to capture the excitement in spare, repetitive text that will strike a chord with all who read it. I read it first to myself;  then aloud which upped the pleasure and sounded much better - filled with the anticipation, the joy, the plans, the slow wait, and the bubbly excitement for the day itself. I love that repeated phrase:

"when's my birthday?
where's my birthday?
how many days until
my birthday?"

So full of rhythm and absolutely in tune with a child's feelings as that special day gets ever closer.

As he has done in each of his previous books, Christian Robinson captures the essence of the text, using colorful, often surprising collage artwork. He fills the pages with all things birthday for little ones - balloons, cake, food, party hats, guests, gifts, candles and joy.

 Breathless and wondrous, spirited and energetic, it is the ideal birthday gift!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Pattern for Pepper, written and illustrated by Julie Kraulis. Tundra Books, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"It's Pepper's first time at
Mr. Taylor's, her family's
favorite tailor shop and the
oldest and busiest in town.
A bell tinkles as Pepper and
her mother step into the warm
and cozy store.

"Hello, I'm Pepper, and I need
a dress for a very special
occasion," she says."

Where might Pepper find the perfect dress?  She needs it for a very special occasion.

Her mother suggests Mr. Taylor's shop. Her family loves Mr.Taylor's work, as do many others in town. It is Pepper's first visit. She is warmly welcomed by the very kind tailor. And, she learns a lot from this very special teacher. He makes suggestion after suggestion for patterns that might appeal, all the while explaining the origin of each one.

"What pattern is your suit?"
Pepper asks.

"Ah! This is tartan. It comes from
Scotland and is woven with wool
in checked patterns. Tartan is
used for clothing, hats and even

"Oh, no. Bagpipes are just
TOO LOUD! No thank you,"
says Pepper.

As we read on, we learn the origins of a variety of patterns from around the world. All are described clearly as they wander through Mr. Taylor's inventory. Pepper politely, and with a sure voice, rejects many of the suggestions for personal reasons. Mr. Taylor is ever patient and always hopeful that the two will find exactly what Pepper wants for her special dress. When a decision is made, the two get to work to design, pin and cut the pieces needed to put it together. Once sewn, it's time to try it on. Only then does the audience see what has so attracted the little girl. When her special day arrives, she is proud to wear it for 'tea and croquet' with her grandmother.

Julie Kraulis fills the book's pages with gorgeous artwork done in oils and graphite on board. The textures and design are remarkable. I love that the fabrics provide background for the storytelling and for our learning. The more I pore over the pages, the more impressed I am with the concept for the book and the artist's ability to bring this charming story so successfully to her readers.

This lively, often humorous story is a gem!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Bad Mood and the Stick, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. Tundra, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"Curly picked  up the stick
and used it to poke her
"That's not nice,"
said her mother. "Apologize
to Napoleon, and throw the
stick in the bushes." Curly
had really enjoyed poking
her brother Napoleon - so
much that her bad mood
was gone."

I know you've been there. You start the day with joy in your heart, go about your day - then, BAM! Something or someone can turn your mood around, and send you into a tailspin. You will also know, having been there, that your response to whatever offends you can turn the tide for everyone else you meet that day. Your mood can affect others, and the rest of your own day. Bah, humbug!

When the stick on the ground and Curly with the bad mood meet, things begin to go from bad to worse. Curly is mad that her mother did not stop for ice cream. The stick is innocently lying there, having fallen from its parent tree before Curly walks past. Curly likes the look of it, and picks it up.

It is what she does with it that begins a chain reaction, punctuated by grumpiness for others. Too soon, her mother is carrying the bad mood and a very crabby countenance. The stick, totally innocent, is  picked up from the bushes by a raccoon. Using it, the raccoon scares Lou into falling into a mud puddle. That makes Curly's mom laugh - bad mood gone! Lou is the recipient. Covered in mud, and needing to be clean, he heads to the dry cleaner's and Mrs. Durham.

"Take that pencil outta your ear," said Lou.
"You gotta wash these pants and wash
them quick. I'll stand around here in
my underwear until you're done."

Lou is not going to be put off. There he stands. You might think that Lou is quick to pass his bad mood to Mrs. Durham. You would be wrong! I wonder what happens to it? And what about the stick?

 The twists and turns are not expected, and the humor and charm are sure to delight. Matthew Forsythe's artwork is done with gouache, colored ink and pencil. He uses a bright palette, lots of expression, and significant detail to enhance the telling and make it even funnier.

I promise ... you are going to love the surprise ending!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Read! Read! Read! Poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and illustrations by Ryan O'Rourke. Wordsong, Highlights. 2017. $23.50 ages 5 and up

"The alphabet
surrounded me
marching in a line
like a secret code
for grown-ups
on every sign.
I still stare
out my window
when we're driving
down the street ... "

For those who read, there are words everywhere! It might be a road sign, a McDonald's arch, a grocery or errand list, the words on a cereal box at the breakfast table. Children and adults who are programmed for reading will find something at every turn. Think of your day, when and what you read as you went about it. It might surprise you to see how much time you spent reading.

While reading plays a role in our days, how often do we choose a book to read? That is absolutely the best place to find what is truly worthy of capturing attention and providing a very special experience. In her new book of poetry, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater extols the pleasures of reading wherever you find words, and the places that reading will take yo.

"Sports Page

Scanning scores
studying stats
I'm checking on my team.

When they lose
I sigh.
When they win
I scream.

Who made the playoffs?
I've got to know.
Which players will stay?
Who has to go?

No need to wonder
if I'm a true fan.
I wake up and read.
That's my game plan."

A celebration of the variety found in the things we read, children will find poems here that speak to them, that can be read together or alone, and that celebrate the joy to be found between the pages of a book. Kids who read and share these poems will know the magic of finding what to read at just the right time. They might even find themselves within the book's pages.

"I Explore

I have lived in twenty countries.
I have walked in King Tut's tomb.
I have scuba dived through shipwrecks
as I sat here in this room.

I have stood upon a moonscape.
I have witnessed peace and war.
I have ridden a wild horse.
I'm a reader.
I explore."

If you want to  know more about poetry and writing, go here:

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow, written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Sydney Smith. Tundra, 2017. $22.99 ages 5 and up

"This is my chance! thought Smoot. He packed a few things - some shade, some moonlight, a change of underpants - and hit the road. Other shadows watched Smoot. The sight made them brave. "If he can follow his dreams, we can too." First, a dandelion's shadow flew away."

Smoot's life hasn't changed much in the seven plus years he has been attached to his boy. While the boy lives a measured life, Smoot longs for action. But, they are attached and life goes on.

Luckily, a shadow can dream. In his dreams, Smoot abandons the drab landscape that is his and dreams of all things colorful. These dreams augur well for him when Smoot and his boy lose their attachment by unknown means. Finally, he has the freedom to be what he wants to be, and do what he longs to do.

Watching Smoot enjoy life in wondrous wordless spreads will have young readers wanting to join in the fun. Observant children will see that his boy is also watching. Smoot skips rope while others go about their day in the park. Then, he moves on to ride a carousel, climb a tree, and race through a flower-filled landscape. Other shadows are out there, watching closely as he cavorts from one activity to the next. They, too, want to follow their own dreams.

A dandelion shadow breaks away. The people on the ground make guesses as to what they are seeing.

"It's a baby storm cloud."
"It's smoke from a dollhouse chimney."
"It's a butterfly made of mist."

With each turn of the page, more shadows seek their freedom and do what they have been longing to do. Smoot sees what is happening, and worries that the shadows could become wild and dangerous. He hatches a plan to find a suitable place for those shadows already free. Satisfied that they have lived their dreams, the shadows decide return to their original state.

What about Smoot? You will have to find the book, then check to see for yourself.

The plotline is so unique and engaging. Kids will watch in wonder as the story progresses. Sydney Smith creates his images in 'ink, brush, and watercolor, with a bit of Conte'. The contrast between black and color is effective in establishing mood. Smoot's outside-the-lines existence is full of joy, and enlightening for his boy.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Draw the Line, by Kathryn Otoshi. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"When two boys
draw their own
lines and realize
they can connect
them - magic happens!
But then a misstep
causes their lines to ... "

When two young boys draw lines on the ground where each is playing there is no telling what might happen. Kathryn Otoshi has an idea. In this wordless book she provides a setting for her 'readers' to discover one scenario that might come to pass.

They are having such fun, without realizing that the other is there. When they bump butts, both wear a look of uneasy astonishment, and then surprise. It takes no time at all to see the joy to be found in linking their lines. One runs off, line in hand. Elated until he comes to a full stop; the line is coiled around the other. One is pleased, the other not so.

That is how the misunderstanding begins. A stormy tug-of-war results in the contested lines creating a chasm between the two. Both angrily blame the other, widening the gap between them. There appears to be no common ground. As one walks away, the other lags behind. The first finds a place where the lines are no so far apart, and fashions a bridge with his fingers, from one side to the other. A smile erupts as the second boy approaches. Can they erase the gap that lies between them?

I love the full page spreads, the use of color, line and emotion. Using the gutter to stunning effect, the book's design is impressive. That it is done wordlessly while communicating so much is testament to Ms. Otoshi's talent.

Kids, when left to their own devices, can resolve conflict in wondrous ways!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Don't Blink, written and illustrated by Tom Booth. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"Excuse me, what
are you doing?

We're having a
staring contest.

May I join?
Just don't blink!"

Do you remember having staring contests? Didn't take much organizing, or equipment. But you did have to have some stamina. I'm afraid I was not very good at it ... not competitive enough, I would guess. Also, it took up time that I could use for reading.

The little girl in this book is really into it. Before the title page, we surmise her to be determined and adventurous. When she issues her invitation, she is sitting cross-legged on grass, with boulders in the background - those same boulders that provided her path to this space and time.

"Are you ready?
On your mark ...
Get set ...     

A bird interrupts, but does not deter her from the contest. She explains she is having a contest with an unknown reader. Me? The bird wants to be part of the fun, and is issued the titular warning: DON'T BLINK! Astute watchers will see a turtle's head emerging at the edge of the recto. Turn the page for the fox's entry on the verso. The girl? She's still staring.

The animals just keep coming, and all are welcome to join.

"The more
the merrier!

Just don't blink!"

As they all stare out at the reader, the turtle continues its plodding course toward the ever-enlarging group. It isn't long before all bright and fully open eyes begin to tire, and a complaint goes up from everyone involved. Not the turtle, he is still on his way over. Oh, my! Hold on everyone!!! Too late ...

A winner is not proclaimed. The lot wanders off to other ventures, leaving the turtle to finally make his way to the little girl. The game can begin once more! Lots of voices make this a perfect book for performance. Kids would have a grand time interpreting the various animals and showing the audience just how tiring staring can be. It might even be a new game for your repertoire.

Cannot wait to share it with Sicily. She will love it! Full of expression, with an inspired design, it is a book to be savored, and read again and again. You definitely want to be part of the fun! 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, written by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $27.99 ages 12 and up

"It wasn't easy. As the New York Sun reported, the moment the Carlisle men jogged onto the field, "the crowd at once began to indulge in war whoops." The Indian players didn't respond. They'd already learned to expect this obnoxious sort of reception. Yale came out in dark blue, with big white Ys on the fronts of their jerseys. The Yale players averaged about six feet ... "

What am I doing reading a book about football, I asked myself.
It is written by Steve Sheinkin I told myself. You LOVE his books!
I was right! I do love this book, and I found myself in awe of the story he tells about the great Jim Thorpe.

It is a book about much more than football. As I found in the other books by this remarkable writer, it reads like an adventure novel while also imparting a historical perspective. It taught me a lot about some very powerful stuff concerning the Carlisle Indian Industrial School,  Coach 'Pop' Warner, football, and especially Jim Thorpe: his life, his family, his struggles and triumphs, and his legacy.

Written in two sections, the first half discusses discrimination, both political and social, as it affected Jim Thorpe and others who attended the Carlisle School. Readers learn much about the Indian Removal Act, the two main characters, 'Pop' Warner and Jim Thorpe, and what their lives were like prior to 1907 when Jim became a member of the football team coached by Pop. The second half follows the football team and football itself: its beginnings, the many changes happening as football evolved in the early 20th century, and the part played by Carlisle School team members, their coach and the school's administration. Through play-by-play action I learned a great deal about the game, the racist treatment, the dangers, and the heart of those men who played alongside Jim Thorpe. So many differences in the game were, and have been, implemented since their legendary seasons between 1907 and 1912.

Mr. Sheinkin includes Jim Thorpe's performance at the 1912 Olympics, when he won both the pentathlon and decathlon, and the scandal that followed it. Remember - he had never trained for either event. Familiar people, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Geronimo, are also included as they had a part to play in his story.

As he did in Bomb and Most Dangerous, Mr. Sheinkin leaves enthralled readers hanging at various points in his story, assuring they will want to keep reading. He asks us to think seriously about some of the issues that underscore his story, and wants us to question some common practices, even today.

Is Jim Thorpe the greatest athlete of all time, as he can been repeatedly called? It's up to you to decide for yourself after reading his unforgettable story. Steve Sheinkin has found another unexpected story to tell, done sweeping and thorough research, and then penning an inspiring story to inform and reward. Ambitious and well-told, this perfectly epitomizes why we call it history.

There are extensive source notes, a list of works used, archival photographs, and an index. A table of contents is useful as well.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

After The Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again. Written and illustrated by Dan Santat. Raoring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 5 and up

"Making planes was
harder than I thought.
It was easy to get cuts
and scratches.
But, day after day,
I kept trying ...
... and trying ...
until I got it just
My plane was perfect,
and it flew ... "

Poor Humpty Dumpty! What is an egg to do after falling off the wall? The king's men are able to put him back together, but they cannot fix all of his parts. They can do nothing about the miserable change in his perspective.

We learn that his favorite pastime prior to his terrifying fall was bird watching. He loved being close to them, and watching their every move. Following the fall, he must face his new fear of heights. So many things have changed for him as he tries to deal with the sadness and the terror. He sleeps on the floor, rather than on his bunk bed. He can no longer reach his most favorite cereal from the top shelf. He wants to see himself returning to the top of the wall. He can't do it.

He turns to making paper airplanes, finding solace in the heights they can reach. One is perfect, and he loves it. So, when it flies onto the wall by mistake, he must make a brave decision. He has taken so long to design and perfect it. He has missed out on a lot while he did that work. Is he willing to let it go?

"I decided I was going to climb that wall.
But the higher I got,
the more nervous I felt.
I didn't want to admit it:
I was terrified.
I didn't look up.
I didn't look down."

 Using cool and warm colors, Dan Santat manipulates our emotions to understand what a tough time Humpty is having in returning to his old self. His story moves from season to season, allowing growth. When he is feeling good about himself, color tones change to reflect his happiness and wonder. Having begun in the darkness of winter watching his beloved birds from afar, then moving toward warmth of spring and kite flying, he gains confidence. The wall perspectives have readers feeling as if they are beside and behind him while he climbs higher and higher. Achieving success is meaningful and teaches Humpty that when we no longer give power to our fears, everything changes.

Sensitive, inspiring and filled with strong emotion, this book will find favor with everyone who shares it. At times humorous and uplifting, it is also a mirror for many children as they deal with their own fears.