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Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Book of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin,. 2017. $24.99 all ages

"The elbow and the extra
long neck?
Mistakes.

But the collar -

ruffled with patterns
of lace
and stripes -

that was a good idea.

What a concept! In her first book, Corinna Luyken inspires her readers to look beyond what they might call mistakes and fire up the imagination to change perception. It is an observation of what happens when an illustration does not portray what was intended, and provides encouragement for the
artist to let creativity flow in search of a different image. This can be very inspiring. A 'mistake' can become something completely different with a shift in how it is discerned.

Parents and teachers will use this book to encourage aspiring artists to take chances and be bold when creating their art. Very impressive in the way it is presented to readers, it is sure to attract their attention from the start - the happy cover showing a group of children hanging tightly to the strings of a mass of brilliant yellow balloons - to the finish - when a yellow balloon (or many) lift a basket filled with familiar faces high into the sky.

Two black splots on the opening endpapers carry through to the title page and the word 'mistakes'. Kids know where this is going - or do they? The questions never end as the tension builds for what to do following a new 'mistake'. With each turn of the page, the reader is aware of recurring images, people, inventions. A constant invitation to carefully observe each resulting change is all they need to move forward, all the while preparing themselves for what happens next.

Patience and joy are in store for everyone who shares this book! Kids will not be able to contain their responses to all that happens in the increasingly detailed and brilliantly designed images.
                                                                         

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath. Puffin Canada, Penguin Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 9 and up

" ... everything is now changed. But that is the whole of what life is. See the sun sinking over the edge of the sea? This day is done. This day will never come again. Everything has changed. Remind yourself of that every morning and every night, and then you won't expect anything but what is. It's expecting anything but what is that makes people unhappy."

Franny is one lucky girl! When her meant-to-be adoptive family dies in a fire on the day she is to join them, their neighbors, Old Tom and Sina
open their door to a caseworker, not sure what to do with the baby. That caseworker dies from a heart attack at the front door, leaving Franny on a Vancouver Island farm near Sooke, BC under the care of Sina, a sculptor, and her husband Tom, a gardener. It is an unusual, yet auspicious, beginning.

Franny's story is personal and full of candor. Her voice is strong, humorous and inspired. She is the writer in the family. The life they live together is mostly comfortable, honest, and endearing. Then comes the day when she is 12, and WWII is a backdrop to some of the happenings near their home.  A big change is occasioned at the request of a neighbor, the weepy Crying Alice. She comes to the door asking for help in caring for her three children, as her husband is threatening to do 'something stupid'. He works on a nearby military base and she needs to be with him.

Franny has no need of family beyond the one she has. She is not pleased when Sina accepts responsibility for Crying Alice's three children, Winifred, Wilfred, and Zebediah. They are noisy, opinionated, and rambunctious. Their energetic presence upsets the equilibrium of the life the three have lived until their arrival.  Franny soon discovers that she quite likes having other children in the house, despite the complications that come with their presence. They have all been warned sternly by Tom, as has Franny throughout her lifetime, that only one garden of all those he nurtures is off-limits. They are NEVER to go into the Night Garden. Only Tom and the Hermit are allowed inside.

Of course, you know that is the exact motivation some children need to make that particular garden the most impressive and appealing of all. Zebediah is the youngest and he is communicating with his father in a series of mysterious letters. Once the children discover the garden will grant a wish to anyone, one that cannot be reversed, he is determined to test its power. Will he use it to help his father in his effort to steal the plane he loves so much? Will anyone else test the magic of the Night Garden?

Filled with memorable characters, an absorbing  plot, an air of mystery, and a pleasing conclusion, this story will find favor and fans in any middle years classrooms, and is a winning book to read aloud.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Feather, by Remi Courgeon. Translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2017. $25.95 ages 7 and up

"In the weeks that followed,
Feather won more fights
against her brothers.
Which meant fewer chores.
And fewer chores meant
more time to train.
And the more she trained,
the more she beat her brothers.
Which meant even fewer chores.
Feather's killer left gave her
confidence."

Paulina loves nothing more than playing the piano. Her love for music gets her little status in a houseful of men. Once a Russian miner, her father now drives a taxi . Her brothers, Oleg, Vlad, and Ivan, love eating, computers and soccer. There is no mother. Paulina is known to all as Feather. The reasoning being that she is the youngest; thus, the smallest. Feather seems an appropriate nickname. Paulina thinks not.

Every challenge from her brothers is meant to bring defeat for their young sister. Always trying to get out of their household chores, they challenge their younger, weaker sister to best them in order to dictate who will do those tasks. How will Paulina ever beat them at arm wrestling, or any other battle? If she loses, she works for hours at cleaning and cooking, getting groceries doing laundry. All those jobs mean time away from the music she loves to play. Taking up boxing seems an honorable pursuit for the young girl, and might be just what she needs to do to get the best of them.

It is so important that she is willing to give up the piano in order to begin boxing lessons. She is willing to work hard to accomplish her goal. Her coach is tough, and Paulina is up to the challenges presented. The fact that she is left-handed provides an edge. As tough as the training is on her physically, she remains resolute in her quest for proving herself. Her bothers and father are very supportive as she prepares for her first match. Victory is sweet, and offers a new understanding for her place in the family. Things at home change. Will that one fight be enough? Will she return to the piano, having proved she could do it?

This is an admirable story, in praise of a feisty girl who believes in herself and what she CAN do. She's got gumption; and everyone knows it. Those things left unsaid are some of the most memorable and artistic moments in this fine book. Illustrated with beauty in expressive and astute scenes, readers are fully aware of the many intimate moments shared with family strength and love.  The details in the design are meaningful and quite stunning.   
                                                                        

Thursday, December 28, 2017

It's Shoe Time, by Mo Willems and Bryan Collier. Hyperion Books for Children, Hachette. 2017. $10.99 ages 3 and up

"Excuse me ... "

"Have you seen
two shoes?"

ZZZZ

Maybe ....
what do they look like?

"US!"


Piggie and Gerald are as happy as I am to see another stellar addition to their Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series. I know many kids who will be just as happy.

"Gerald! It's BOOK TIME!"
"It's BOOK TIME?"

"It's SHOE TIME!"
"It's SHOE TIME ... ?

First, you said, "It's book time."
Then, you said, "It's shoe time."
Which time is it?"

"IT'S BOTH!"

 And so it is! What a wonderful job Bryan Collier does in creating a very funny story about shoes, and adventure. When the little girl comes looking for a pair of shoes to go on an outing with her dad, every pair is filled with excitement. Each is ready to fulfill her need for a pair of shoes. She is not sure what she wants ... until she chooses one shoe from one pair, and one shoe from another.

All shoes are aghast! They do their very best to dissuade her. They advise against choosing one from two different pairs ... they will not be the same! Off she goes, much to the consternation of the shoes left behind. Gerald and Piggie are also stunned. They are confused and need to know what might happen. The leftover shoes from the two pairs chosen are on a quest to find their other halves, asking a pair of slippers for help. No help there!

Hoping that when she meets up with Dad, he will help her sort it out, the two wait. What a surprise is in store for them ... and a laugh riot for readers, and for Piggie and Elephant!

Full of punny, unpredictable language and certain to make early readers hoot with delight, this book does just what it is meant to do - help little ones find joy in reading.

Mr. Collier's collage artwork is absolutely full of personality and wit. Bright and colorful, the shoes have character and charm. I love the dark of the closet and the expansive humor. Great for paired reading as the speech balloons are coded by color, making it easy for children to determine who says what. The bonus lies in learning about left, right, pairs and matching one to another.                                                                    









Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pocket Change: Pitchiing in For a Better World, written by Michelle Mulder. Orca, 2016. $19.95 ages 10 and up

" ... until the department store opened. When the doors unlocked, we raced up the escalators to the toy section. I grabbed a doll and bolted toward the cashier. Halfway along, a woman snatched the doll from my arms and kept running. My dad ran faster, though, and snatched the doll back. Boy, was that woman embarrassed!"

This is part of one of the text boxes, tagged My Two Cents' Worth. They include observances from the author of stories in her life when money and consumerism had an impact. As we recover from the hoopla we too often call Christmas, many of us turn our thoughts to how much money was spent, and how to make the season focus more on the important things: being together, enjoying the real beauty of the season, and the joy to be found in helping others.

What is consumerism? How did we get to where we are now? Too many of us spend too much, and why should that bother us? What can we do to change how we use our money? These are all important questions for everyone, and it is important to our kids to start thinking about such things when they are young enough to see the big picture and make meaningful change.

Michelle Mulder, as she has done in other books in the "Orca Footprints" series, is terrific at explaining pretty complex ideas to her young readers. Changes through the years have people earning more, and spending more. Advertisers make it clear to consumers what their focus should be on; be it color, style, anything new. In order to earn more, they spend less time with family and friends and buy 'stuff' to make up for it.

Does that make us happier? How does it impact the planet we call home? These are important and interesting questions to ask, and to try to answer. Ms. Mulder helps with that. Do we throw all those items we purchased into our landfills, instead of passing them on? Do we need all that we purchase? It is important to take a critical look at how we can make our world a better place to live. We have so much money to spend that we forget to think of the impact that spending is having. Many alternatives to what many of us are doing now are presented, and are coming into vogue as we take a careful look. I love the examples she shares in terms of trade, sharing cars, making things we need, even lending small amounts of money to start a business.

"For example, Fatuma joined a borrowers group and used the twenty-dollar loan to buy chickens. She sold their eggs, paid back her loan and kept a profit. Then the next person could use the loan money to start another business, pay back the loan, keep a profit and so on ... These days, Fatuma makes enough of a profit to put her three kids through school."

What an education this book is for kids and their parents! Yes, it asks that we all make changes to try to move away from our consumer lifestyle; imagine how even small changes can help. Check out the 'Repair Cafe', the 'Kitchen Library', and a 'Buy Nothing Day'. Thoughtful and informative, I learned a lot.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Dam Keeper: Book One, by Robert Kondo and Diasuke "Dice" Tsutsumi. First Second Books, Macmillan, Raincoast. 2017. $27.99 ages 10 and up

"Oh, hey. What are you saying
about the fog acting weird? "

"Oh ... right. Well, you arrived
just in time to see the fog come
back. It's been acting strange and
hasn't rolled in for three days.
It's due back any moment now.

Maaan. Look at all those dead
trees."

This is the first in a series of graphic novels based on an Oscar-nominated short film from 2015. Kids who love powerful stories and graphic presentation will lap it up, and eagerly await the sequel. It is dramatic and compelling ... the story of what has happened in the five years after the film's events.

His mother and father are no longer present, leaving Young Pig to man the dam and protect his valley from a mysterious fog that continually threatens it. Pig has always been ignored by the villagers and he is angry. Despite that anger, he has operated the dam built by his father to keep everyone safe. So, when his friend Fox brings Hippo to see the dam, Pig is even angrier. Fox makes Pig's life worth living, Hippo makes it miserable with his bullying. Fox is trying to bring her two friends to friendship and understanding.

While they are visiting, the fog blows in and the three are carried out beyond the dam. It is a dangerous and awful place. The three must work together to find their way home; it is a risky and hazardous undertaking. They must get back before the fog rolls in again. Full of terrifying moments and fast paced, it will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they barrel toward a satisfying ending.

The illustrations are impressive and filled with contrasts: light and dark, hope and sorrow, living and dying. There are lovely moments, a terrific setting, and many questions left to be answered when we say goodbye to Pig and eagerly await the next part of his story. Did he see his father, or was he imagining it? Can Van be trusted to take them home? Will their journey be safe? And what about this new city they are going to visit?

You do NOT want to miss this brilliant novel!

https://youtu.be/HvO5XL8hPw8

Monday, December 25, 2017

The War I Finally Won, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Dial Books for Young Readers, Random House. 2017. $22.99 ages 12 and up

"On Christmas Eve, at night, we went to church, the way we'd planned the year before. I didn't have a fancy dress. Susan couldn't make me one this year, not without a sewing machine, and the dresses she'd bought me while I was in hospital were ordinary. So that was good. Susan insisted on tying a ribbon in my hair. When she wasn't looking I pulled it out."

If you have not yet had the pleasure of reading The War That Saved My Life (2015), please find a copy and read it before you settle in to read this sequel. It makes for time well spent, and will encourage you to share these remarkable stories with your family, or in any middle grade classroom.


The events of that first story will be fresh in your mind when you begin this second book. Ada is awaiting surgery to fix her foot. Its success allows the enjoyment of many new adventures. For the first time since her birth, Ada can walk, even run, and experiences little pain. That joy is dashed with news that her mother has been killed in London during an air raid. Susan, who has been caring for Ada and her brother, Jamie, since the children were sent to a safe place away from the constant bombing, is made their legal guardian.

Ada's life, at the hands of an abusive mother, has caused indescribable pain and a strong sense of distrust. She is never sure that she will be safe again. The continuing war and the difficulties it generates do nothing to allay her many fears. The worry for all involved is apparent.

Ada loves her horse, her new family, and her friendship with Maggie. She tolerates Maggie's rigid and opinionated mother. She is appalled when Ruth, a Jewish German refugee, comes to live with them so that she might study mathematics with Susan. It takes a long while before she realizes that Ruth is not a threat to anyone living in their house, and eventually they become supportive friends. Life is a struggle for Ada, but we watch as she heals and grows into a considerate, brave and fine young woman.

Ada's voice is extraordinary. She ably describes the setting, the people, the fears; all with frankness and humor. There is so much she didn't learn while never being allowed out of the apartment she shared with her mother and brother. She knows little about real love, the idea that not all people are equal or believe the same things, what the world is like beyond their neighborhood. It is quite the learning curve for her. Every character in this fine book experiences their own moments of grief and misunderstanding. While there is always sorrow for the lives lost and the circumstance of war, there is also a sense of hope for better times ahead.  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Someone Like Me, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Chris Sheban. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $ 23.99 ages 4 and up

"A girl who hid under the
flowered tablecloth of the
dinner table,
watching the shoes
of the grown-ups who
told secrets

and never knew
she was there,
who tried to teach her dog
to talk by moving his lips ... "

Leave it to the superb Patricia MacLachlan to help children and their parents understand how readers and writers are made. How do they learn to tell stories and write them down? What occasions the development of a writing talent such as the one we enjoy every time we pick up a MacLachlan picture book or novel?

Speaking directly to her readers and thinking back on her own life, Ms. MacLachlan draws on memories and imagination to help them see that they, too, could be on a path to doing some writing of their own. Her words are a constant invitation to think about times in their lives when they might be living the exceptional moments that should be written down.

Her insights come from many moments in her life, the people from past days, the place she calls home, and the dreams she remembers so vividly.

"If you were a girl whose great-grandmother loved
the smell and feel of prairie earth,
and ran through the grasses
sending the geese on the slough to
fly up
around
and back again
Then maybe you would grow up to be
someone who carries small bags of sweet prairie earth ... "

Chris Sheban uses watercolor, colored pencils and graphite, and a deft touch to create warm, reflective moments. Gently drawn, they are an invitation to look deeper, to be inspired, and to carefully focus on the world around us.

Charming, and insightful, kids will never tire of hearing it.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Flowers for Sarajevo, written by John McCutcheon and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell. Peachtree, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2017. $19.95 ages 9 and up

"The following day,
at exactly ten o'clock,
the cellist plays again.
The day after that is
the same.
And the next.
For twenty-two days
he plays.
One day for each person ... "

I read Stephen Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo (Vintage, 2009) a number of years ago with admiration for his poignant writing and the story he told. Little did I know, or guess, that one day a children's picture book would tell the story of that dreadful day and the days that followed. Thanks to John McCutcheon and Kristy Caldwell, we have a version to be shared with a younger audience.

Drasko and his father make a living selling flowers at a street market in Sarajevo. When his father
goes to war, it is left to the young boy to carry on the work in his father's place. He is pushed to a far corner of the market. Drasko does not complain; from his new stall, he can hear the orchestra practice every day. It's lovely! He's luckier than he even imagines.

"A mortar has hit the bakery where people were
lined up for bread. I can hear the shouting, the cries.
The door beside me flies open. Orchestra
musicians burst from the rehearsal hall and race
toward the bakery."

It is 1992 in Sarajevo, and 22 people are killed that day. The cellist helps to brighten spirits following such a devastating loss.

"He sits and places his bow to the strings.
The people who have gathered look on
in silence. He plays the most beautiful and
heartbreaking music anyone could ever
imagine. All of us - Serb and Croat, Muslim
and Christian - stand side by side, listening
to a language we all understand."

Life goes on. Drasko continues to bring beauty to his beloved market and the people there.

Kristy Caldwell does a superb job of illustrating this very special story. Using ink, charcoal, graphite pencil and Adobe Photoshop, she ensures awareness of the story's action by using bold color to show it, and muted colors for the backgrounds. Her setting is authentic and adds context for readers.

The author provides, in back matter, a look at how war has changed in the Balkans since 1913, an author's note describing the day of the attack and the musician who provided the memorial music in honor of those who lost their lives. The lyrics and music for a song Mr. McCutcheon wrote about Sarajevo, the author's own narration of the book, and the cellist's recording of the music he played are included on a CD insert.

There is so much violence in the news every today. How do we talk with our children about such events happening around the world? One thing we can do is to share books with them; books that inspire them to respond in ways that are admirable and uplifting. Books can be a catalyst for understanding and discussion of relevant topics. In his book, John McCutcheon combines an historical event, music, and compassion to pen a memorable and poignant narrative.


   

Friday, December 22, 2017

Good Night, Planet. A TOON book by Liniers. TOON Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2017. $15.99 ages 5 and up


"Wait here."
"You call those
COOKIES?

UMF!

Want to see the
biggest cookie ever?

I'll show you."

A little girl and her stuffed animal head off for a day of fun, enjoying the many pleasures of a leafy autumn world. Her pup, left behind, sleeps. At the end of a day spent outdoors, and followed by a quiet read, a warm bath, a nourishing supper, she is exhausted. It's time for bed!

A quick good night to her pet, Planet, and she is asleep. Planet is not. A quick kiss and he is off to do some exploring of his own. Falling to the bottom of the stairs, Planet is terrified by a sniffing sound and faints. Elliott, the sniffing dog, manages to awaken the fallen toy. A night filled with grand adventure begins.

Unimpressed by the cookies that have their attention, an instructive mouse offers a chance to see 'the biggest cookie ever'. The next part of their journey returns Planet to the outdoors where, through ingenious assistance from Elliott, he finds himself in the branches of a tree and face-to-face with the moon - 'the BIGGEST cookie ever'.

"I have never been able
to reach it. But
maybe you can ...
You have such long arms.
You just need to believe ...
and run ...
and run ...
... and JUMP!"

Epic fail! Or should I have said fall ...
Time to call it a day.

I love the changes in the graphic panels for the telling of this new work from the fabulous Liniers.
The story moves quickly, and never loses its impact despite multiple readings. Much of the book is wordless, offering readers a chance to 'read' and interpret much of the action on their own.
                                                                   

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Solo, by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess. Blink, 2017. $21.99 ages 14 and up

"Crying

Ever heard
the sound
of goodbye?
The way a door closes.
The way a deer looks.
The way a busted bird sings.
The ending of the world.
The wailing of
a hollowed heart."

I read this beautiful book a while ago, and wanted time to digest its story and reread some parts. I have now done that and am ready to tell you about it. It's Kwame Alexander, and it only makes me admire him more for his poetry and his storytelling prowess. He is joined in this venture by Mary Rand Hess, his collaborator on Animal Ark (National Geographic for Kids, 2017). To say it is impressive work is an understatement, to be sure.

Blade wants his own life, away from his dysfunctional family. His mother has been dead for ten years, his sister is leading a life that makes him uncomfortable, and his father is an aging rock star, fueled by adoration, drugs and alcohol. Blade's life has been fueled by some of the same things, in an effort to impress his father and make he and his band mates laugh:

"Rutherford was too busy
kissing his ego
to notice.
I tasted it once,
twice, and
a few more times,
trying to find
that sugar sweet.

But, it wasn't sweet.
It was salty
bitter
and it coated
my mouth
in numbness.

I woke up
in the ICU
frightened
and embarrassed
by my father,
who sat by
my bedside
crying
in handcuffs."

Blade has a strong musical predilection, but does not appreciate the lifestyle his father's notoriety generates. It spawns bitter arguments within the family. In one such battle with his sister, she reveals a stunning and heartbreaking secret.

"You ungrateful little -
You're right, you aren't like any of us, Storm yells.

AGREED!
You ever wonder why
you're a shade darker
than everybody in this family?
Why your hair is curly and ours isn't.
Why you play that soft stuff,
And we're Hard Rockers?

STORM! Rutherford screams. Don't listen to her, Blade.
You don't want to be a Morrison,, little brother? Well, here's
the kicker, you're not. You were never one of us, and you
never will be ... You're adopted!"

The first 124 pages! 320 to go ... and go you will, plunging forward to learn all you can about this family, the repercussions of the revelation, and the search that challenges, uplifts, and leads to purpose in Blade's life.

Filled with music and lyrical language, Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess create an ode to music and life, family and finding oneself within it, and journeying to a new and better understanding of what it means to be Blade Morrison.  It is such a wondrous development of character in first person poetic verse, replete with variety in musical genres and an aching knowledge that music is, and will always be, his first love.

"At the top
of a mountain
across a rainforest
in the middle
of the bush
it seems
I have figured out
the dream
and discovered
that what I've been
searching for
has been inside
of me
this whole time."

Get out your pencil, make a playlist for the music cited, and listen to that list as you take the book up a second time to see all you missed when you read it first.

Of writing Solo, Kwame says:

https://youtu.be/hzJX7c2VwlQ

and here's a song written by Kwame for Solo, and performed by Randy Preston:

https://youtu.be/qekgoGHkoHg

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade, by Jordan Sonnenblick. Scholastic, 2017. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"The Bee sent me out into the main office to wait, which was a good thing, because I hadn't actually called my mother. Once, Aunt Cat had made me memorize her number in case of an emergency. But ever since the time my mom flipped out on her, I had never called my aunt in a crisis. Today, though, I had given in. It was a pretty big risk, because Cat was as wild as her name ...

Lucky we are that Maverick has a sense of humor to keep his story from taking the reader down. His life is filled with those things we all fear ... bullies, middle school, physical abuse, his mother's alcoholism and ever-changing workplace, lack of friends, school administration - and even the school nurse. Reading it made me sad, while giving me great empathy for a young man wanting to do his best to make things better during his sixth grade year. So, there were times when I cringed and times when I laughed out loud. That is what makes it such a great read aloud for any middle grade classroom.

Maverick begins the year thinking he is going to change things. He is going to be a hero. He will keep the plastic sheriff's badge his father gave him on his person at all times, and step in when someone smaller needs help. He wants to emulate his father, who died while helping others in Afghanistan. There are few people smaller than he is! Each time he tries to help, he ends up getting in trouble with The Bee, the rules-oriented, commander-in-chief, terrifying (or is he?) vice principal. His visits to The Bee's office begin on Day One, and things slowly go from bad to worse for him.

The secondary characters are well-drawn and add depth to Maverick's heroism. Jamie and Bowen, who have been bullying him for as long as he can remember don't see the error of their ways until late in the book. He tries to make friends with the even smaller Nate, and only causes further ostracism. His mother is unable to take care of him because she can't take care of herself. Her drinking touches every part of Maverick's life, and he doesn't know how to help her. The school nurse is no help ever - offering Lysol spray for any cut or bruise while providing some comic relief in a dark, yet humorous, story. Thanks to his hamster and his very supportive Aunt Cat, there is goodness in his life.

This is a book that looks at many issues seriously; Maverick manages to make us see them through his own satiric lens. His first person voice is authentic, courageous, funny, and endearing. You will not soon forget him, or his story.  If you are wanting to up empathy and kindness in your classroom, it's a must read.

"So you see, schools are really good at sorting us out. By the time you get to sixth grade, everybody knows who's smart, who's athletic, who's good at music, who's good at art, who's rich, who's poor ... and on and on. There's no hiding anything for long. If the teachers don't expose you, the kids will."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Chirri & Chirra: The Snowy Day, by Kaya Doi. Translated freom the Japanese by Yuki Kaneko. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada, 2017. $22.95 ages 4 and up

"Chirri and Chirra
discover a door made
of ice and go inside.
There are all sorts of
cups on the wall.
Chirri and Chirra are
served hot fruit punch
with apples and cinnamon."

Chirri and Chirra are back, and I am pleased to see them again. In this third book about the young Japanese girls, they are overjoyed to spend their day on a journey through the white world of winter. As with the first two, the story is told with charm and quiet assurance. Indeed, it is a magical day!

Setting out of their bikes, they explore their new world. There are many animals to meet, and much to see as they happily visit with all. As they peddle along, the snow covers their environs. They make many discoveries, each of which is described clearly and in relevant detail. Through her writing, Ms. Doi provides references for the senses, allowing the girls to experience this world with warmth and great pleasure.

It makes the book a most enjoyable experience. Its size and light, sensitive illustrations make it most appropriate for close reading one-on-one, and a chance to take time to enjoy every drawing and nuance of the story told.

"They come to a great hall.
Everyone is doing all kinds of things."

Sit back and check out each fine detail for young listeners. There is much to see and to discuss. It makes for a warm, homey, comfortable feeling all the way through to the end. They will love the igloo, the caring for the animals in the cold, and the feelings of safety that are explored.

Perfect at bedtime on these cold, snowy days.

                                                                     
                                                              

Monday, December 18, 2017

Pup and Bear, written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Naoko Stoop. Schwartz and Wade, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"The pup slid into the water.
He swam and he swam.
When he reached land,
he burrowed into a
snowbank.

He was tired and he
wanted his mother."

Kate Banks has written some of my favorite books. She knows what children love to hear. Young readers will immediately feel empathy toward the pup , alone in a freezing cold, white world. The wolves know the cold is coming and take shelter. But, when warm weather thaws their world, one tiny pup is left behind floating on a piece of ice. Luckily he finds landfall, but he is alone. No mother, no pack, no one to care for him.

When a polar comes along, the pup knows he is in danger. The bear makes him a promise:

"I am not your mother," said the polar bear,
"but I can cuddle you and keep you safe."

The pup is reassured despite misgivings, and accepts the help he needs. The mother bear does all she can to comfort and keep the pup healthy. She shows him all he needs to know throughout spring and summer. They are a fine pair.

With the passing of winter and the arrival of another spring, the bear knows it is time to send the grown wolf off to find a life of his own. He does that, with his own pack ... until the day he finds a lost polar bear cub during a snowstorm. He follows suit and cares for the cub. So, life goes. It is a 'wondrous' thing.

It is a heartfelt tale of adoption, family, and kindness. The text is not wordy, yet perfectly tells a tale that will resonate with those who share it. Sure to garner feelings of warmth and wonder, it is perfect for reading in early years classrooms.

Naoko Stoop uses acrylic paint, ink, pencil and pastels on plywood, then finishes the art digitally to create the windswept cold of the arctic landscape. Other animals of the tundra are included in her horizontal spreads. They are a perfect match for this quiet and telling tale.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Love, Santa. Written by Martha Brokenbrough and illustrated by Lee White. Scholastic. 2017. $22.99 ages 8 and up

"When Lucy was eight,
she wrote one last letter.
But she did not put it in
the mailbox or by the
cookies.

She laid in on her mom's
pillow instead.

Dear Mom,
Are you Santa?"

Lucy begins writing and posting a note to Santa when she is five. The first one asks him how he stays warm when it is so cold at the North Pole. Santa's gift that year is a bright red coat, with an explanatory note that he and Mrs. Claus have matching red coats to keep them warm on the many cold days and nights they share.

She writes letters when she is 6, then 7, and finally when she is 8. At 7, she is beginning to ask pertinent, probing questions.

"Dear Santa,

How do you get down all of the
chimneys? What happens when
people live in homes without
fireplaces? Why does your
handwriting look like my mom's?
Why do some of my friends say
you are ... "

She couldn't leave her questioning note that year. She wrote another one instead.

By the time she is 8, she sets the wonder aside and asks her mom. Her mother's reply is heartfelt and very special.

Lee White's watercolor and mixed media illustrations and accompanying notes add context and detail to the story. Children will very much enjoy reading Lucy's letters and Santa's responses. Parents will appreciate the honest and sincere explanation from the author to her daughter.

You might want to save this book until your children have asked the questions that Lucy asks. I put the age at 8 and up, because I think most children have figured it out by then. But, it is up to you if and when you will choose to read it to your children.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

How Does My Home Work? Written by Chris Butterworth and illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti. Candlewick Press, 2017. $16.99 ages 5 and up

"Under the floors and behind
the walls of your home are
pipes that bring in water and
natural gas and wires that bring
in electricity, day and night.

This means you can turn on
the lights and the faucets,
watch TV, and keep your
food cool in the refrigerator."

I am ever fascinated by the subjects that intrigue authors and illustrators. They certainly know how to capture attention and provide learning for their young fans. In two previous books, Chris Butterworth has asked clarifying questions about food and clothing. Those two books were also illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti. To the first two in this series, How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of  Food. (2011, Candlewick) and Where Did My Clothes Come From? (Candlewick, 2015), we can now add this book about the workings of a home.

We can see the family home from basement to attic as they spend their days working, playing, enjoying each other's company. A look at the pipes and wires that bring water, natural gas and electricity in, then take dirty water out is displayed in a cross-section of the entire house top to bottom. It provides plenty of relevant information concerning the engineering complexities for this house. A full color spread of those machines using electricity is followed by informative spreads explaining where electricity comes from and how it affects the family using it, where water comes from and how it is made safe for family consumption and use, and finally, where natural gas is found and how it gets into a home.

The text is simple, while also explanatory. Finally, readers are encouraged to think clearly and carefully about consumption. Conservation is an important and ongoing topic, and should be considered by all who depend on electricity, water and natural gas to make their lives comfortable. It is a book that will be appreciated by those who have an abiding interest in such things and appreciated by those who didn't know much about the way a house works.

The information provided is accurate and accessible, the art enhances the text with clear, colorful images that connect text to learning. It is a great introduction to a subject many children may not have yet considered.
                                                                          

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Christmas for Bear, written by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Bear had never had a real
Christmas. He'd never had a
tree with a sparkling star, or
candy canes, or even
gingerbread bears. But he'd
read all about it.
Clearly,
the most important thing
was pickles."

Can you believe this is the sixth time we have had the pleasure of visiting with Bear and Mouse. Beginning with their first encounter in A Visitor for Bear in 2008, we have since shared a birthday, bedtime, the sniffles, and even a library visit. It's quite the charming collection of stories to read together.

In this sixth story, the two best friends have much to experience ... pickles, a poem and perhaps a present or two. It's the first time Bear has celebrated Christmas and he wants Mouse to be there. Bear knows little more than what he has read. He is convinced that pickles and poetry are all they need. Mouse, on the other hand, has presents high on his list of necessities.

Bear is nothing, if not cranky and crabby. He does not agree in any way with Mouse's perception of what constitutes a happy Christmas. Mouse is nothing, if not determined and single-minded. He manages to escape Bear's presence on a number of occasions, bent on finding the present he is sure must be hidden somewhere. Will he be successful?

"There was Mouse. Small and gray and guilty-eyed.
"Not even one tiny present!" squeaked Mouse.
"The pickles from France!" declared Bear.
"But surely - " said Mouse.
"And furthermore," continued Bear, "I shall be
reading a long and difficult poem."

Not enough for Mouse. Bear wouldn't forget his best friend, would he? And what about Mouse? Will there be a present for his best friend, too?

Kady MacDonald Denton continues to match her soft watercolor, ink and gouache artwork to the expressive and most enjoyable text. The stances and expressions of both Bear and Mouse are perfectly drawn, engaging those who share this tale fully from start to finish. Their personalities shine through at every turn, on every new page. The setting is familiar, the contrast between the two handled with aplomb and a generous dose of humor.

What a collection! Another to add to my 'keepers' shelf and to share with my granddaughters. 
                                                                  
         

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Hidden Life of a Toad, by Doug Wechsler. Charlesbridge, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Day 20

Tiny tadpoles school
at the edge of the pond.

The water is warm here,
and too shallow for big,
hungry fish.

Tadpoles grow fast in
warm water."

This is exactly the type of book I was looking for when I was teaching science in the early years. It is a book filled with information. It is a day-by-day careful account of the development of the American Toad. Its excellent, full-color photographs are clear and captivating. Every question that might be asked is clearly answered in a format sure to keep readers engaged from start to finish. Even those not particularly interested in the life cycle of a toad will find themselves intrigued by its unwavering design and minimal text.

Each double page spread uses three quarters of its space for the photo. Facing that is text that recounts one day out of 1099 in the life of this particular female. It is a perfect model to use as a mentor text for the presentation of information learned. Science fair project coming up? Kids would do well using this book as a model for gathering data on an appealing subject, or for showing them how to assess and use what they are learning about a chosen interest. It is so important for young scientists to see the positive value that comes from careful observation. The more we know about a subject the more likely we are to care about protecting all creatures.

After all that, Mr. Wechsler uses that same conversational voice for his back matter. A glossary provides pronunciation and direct explanations for the most important words from his text. He explains the difference between frogs and toads, followed by a page of toad facts and another for helping to save toads. He also shares with his readers how he managed to capture his astounding photos.

""Getting wet was part of the job. Toads move in wet weather.
They also pee on you when you pick them up."

and

"Best of all, the toads are too busy calling, grabbing each other,
and laying eggs to notice my flashlight beam. It's a wonderful
way to enter their hidden world."

Further, there is a list of books to read, and websites to check.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Christmas Wind, written by Stephanie Simpson McLellan and illustrtated by Brooke Kerrigan. Red Deer Press, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2017. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"I'll get Christopher to the barn and come back for you. I'll be fast." The barn was farther away than it looked. The more the wind pushed, the more Jo stumbled. She said words she knew she wasn't allowed to say. Reaching the yard, she hid behind a tree. Noting the single light in the simple house, she darted to the barn, faster than the wind itself.

It's Christmas Eve. Jo, her mother and her newborn brother are on a journey away from a bad situation. It is cold, and she is seeking shelter for her ailing mother when the wild and vicious wind blows them across the fields and into a neighbor's farmyard. There, they find a barn sure to protect them from the weather and keep them safe. Jo takes Christopher into the barn, lays him in a bed of straw, and goes back to help her mother cross the yard.

Returning to the barn, she cannot find the baby. Sure that the farmer, Franklin Murdock, is to blame, she pounds on his door, shovel in hand. He admits he has the baby. Jo knows his grumpy reputation, and is not sure she should trust him. But, what else can she do? She needs help for her family. Mr. Murdock carries her ailing mother inside. Together, the two provide care and comfort for the mother and baby throughout the long night. When Jo is too tired to keep her eyes open, Mr. Murdock promises to keep watch.

Jo opens her eyes in the morning to a Christmas bright with promise.

Brooke Kerrigan's images evoke the power of the wind, the warmth of the simple house, and the strength of a young girl bent on caring for her family. A prairie blizzard is a perfect setting for finding help when is most needed.

Elements of the Christmas story are evident throughout, in the choice of names, the setting, and the circumstances; it is not a retelling. Rather, it is a story of misunderstanding, compassion and hope for the future.

This book reminds me of another book that has been a perennial favorite for more than twenty years ... The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. I hope you can find a copy to share. It, too, is a very special book for this holiday season. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Sants's Tasty Trip Around the World. Written by M. E. Furman and illustrated by Susan Gal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $ $23.99 ages 5 and up

"Santa Claus uses his magic
key to open the front door
when he visits children in
Australia. He leaves small
gifts in a sack or stocking by
their bedrooms, and their
bigger gifts under the tree.
Their gift to him is crispy,
fruit-filled "White Christmas"
treats and, because it's summer,
a cool glass of milk or beer."

Oh, my! What a lovely book this is! You can tell by looking at those beautiful, happy faces on the cover, can't you? Santa and his reindeer in the background and delicious, varied treats meant to tempt readers are a perfect invitation to turn the cover and look inside ...

A world map graces the endpapers, allowing readers to take note of where this journey will lead. It begins on Christmas Island and follows a dotted path to every continent and makes 34 stops. A short paragraph describes the variety in the traditions that are special to the country visited. Interested children will find much to learn as they make their way around the world.

"Ireland

Santa must be very quiet as he slips in to fill the stockings hung at the
foot of the bed in Irish homes. Like Great Britain, he'll find mince pie
and a glass of milk (and sometimes Guinness) on the table, along with a
candle that will burn all night."

I would have loved having this informative book when I was teaching. Often we talked about Christmas celebrations around the world, but not with such detail and range. The text is clear, and includes cultural language. We learn about a bit about each stop on the trip, what Santa is called and how the children treat his visit in their country. Nine recipes are included. The author also adds a note explaining that there are other traditions children might want to know. A website address is provided if individual readers, or your class, want to learn more. Go to www.worldofcookiesforsanta.com.

Susan Gal uses charcoal on paper and digital collage to create her stunning illustrations. The beauty of the various settings and the children who live there had me pausing at every turn. They say so much about the traditions being shared and are rich with texture, color and detail. The back endpapers repeat the world map, surrounded by cookies numbered to match the place where they are set out as an enticement for the special visitor.

                                                                       

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hoot and Peep: A Song for Snow, written and illustrated by Lita Judge. Dial Books for Young Readers, Random House. 2017. $23.99 ages 3 and up

"Does it scrrinkle scrattle
like falling leaves?"

"Hooo," answered Hoot. He
kept his answer vague
because he couldn't remember
snow's song. He was only
Peep's age when he saw
winter before.
"Snow is cold, Peeps."

We, in Manitoba, are still waiting for significant snow. Sure, there is a bit on the ground, but not much to speak about when discussing the weather. We do have ice, winds and constantly changing temperatures. A snowfall is not in our forecast at the moment. Oh well, we can be as patient as Hoot is in this second book about sibling owls who look out for each other.

Hoot is older, and watches over his little sister. Peep is very young, inquisitive, and wanting to know as much as she can about their world. She turns to her brother for information and to answer all questions she might have. Peep has never seen snow; because she thinks of the world in melodic terms, she asks her brother what snow's song is. Hoot, who has experienced snow only one time, has no recollection of a song. But, he knows the best place to wait for snow. Together, they do just that. All the while Peep is trying to guess what snow's song might be.

When snow finally arrives, Peep is delighted. It is then she realizes how truly bright her brother is:
snow's song is silence ... and it is worthy of awed whispers. Together, they make up their own songs for snow.

Heartwarming and full of delight (as was our first meeting with them), Lita Judge fills her spreads with gentle watercolor images sure to delight young listeners, with cheery, delightful dialogue between siblings, and with real wonder in the changing season as a blanket of soft white falls. The setting is gorgeous, inviting boisterous play. Their mouse friend is happy to join in, as he has done all along.

Might we see them again come spring?  I do hope so!  
                                                                      

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $20.99 ages 8 and up

"Are ...
Are you - ?
F-fell out the pipes.
Crawl'd here t' hide.
You - You gotta carry
me back t' th' pipes.
I cain't survive here.
Look I -
want to help you but
my sister, she -
COUGH, COUGH!"

I hold out hope that you read Mighty Jack last year. If you did, you will be charmed to find Jack and Lilly setting out in a brand new adventure to save Jack's sister, Maddy. You will also know that their first adventure ended with a cliffhanger, meant to keep fans longing for the action in this next story.

It begins as they plunge downward into unfamiliar territory. Jack is anxious to move forward, while Lilly advises caution. Jack has no time for that:

"Jack, slow down!"

"Slow down? Lilly, that ogre thing has Maddy!
And it already has a head start on us!"

"I just -
we don't know what's out there.
We should have a plan."

"I have a plan.
I'm going to catch up to that ogre,
smash its head,
and bring my sister home."

Of they go, on an adventure sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. They climb a not-too-sturdy beanstalk, battle rats, goblins and giants. They launch off in different directions, each dealing with monsters of their own. Clever and courageous in their singular quests, it is finally up to Lilly and her minions to save Jack from his attempt to protect and keep Maddy from harm at the hands of the giants who want to use her as a destructive force.

Kids who know the Jack and the Beanstalk folktale will surely recognize elements in this one, and will very much enjoy the graphic format. The spectacular art is colored by Alex Campbell and Hillary Sycamore in grand style, and with attention to every detail. The action is non-stop, the danger palpable, and the heroics worthy of praise. The final scene is the stuff that keeps eager fans waiting and watching for the next installment. What a sequel! Go find Mighty Jack before you read this one. It will add to your enjoyment, no doubt.

Thankfully, 2018 is just around the corner and we can hope for another installment.

Love those goblins!
                                                                   

Saturday, December 9, 2017

All's Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson. Dial, Penguin Random House. 2017. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"Once I was in the right wing, I found my locker and opened it with no problem ... on the fifth try. I found my first-period classroom and made it on time. I picked my seat. Not far enough back to be a "bad" kid. Not close enough to the front to be a teacher's pet. I sort of felt like a ghost all morning as I floated from class to class. All the other kids seemed to know each other already."

Middle graders are going to love this new graphic novel from Victoria Jamieson, who won a Newbery Honor for Roller Girl (Dial, 2015). I think I like this one better, and that is saying a lot. I loved Roller Girl.

Imogene and her family perform at an annual Renaissance Faire in Florida. They are immersed in the language, events, and world that surrounds them. Her dad is a knight, her mom runs a gift shop, and Imogene is finally a squire in training. She knows her place in the faire family, and works hard along with the others to make it a worthwhile experience for those who come to be entertained and to learn more about Renaissance life.

Up until now, Imogene has been schooled at home. Her sixth grade year will be her first in a public school. It is scary and disconcerting. Her first weeks play out as one might expect if you know how middle school works. It is a difficult time, to say the least. She makes friends with a mean girl and her crew, until she can't keep up with the shifting trends and they decide she isn't worthy of their attention or friendship. She hurts another girl who might have been a friend. She even treats her younger brother badly. Imogene's reaction to the changes in her life make her miserable and cause tension with those who love her.

"All along I thought I was the knight in the story, doing good and fighting evil. But really, I was the dragon.”

She finds it better to be by herself than with others for a period of time. With needed support from friends and family, Imogene is able to carve a new path for herself. Those interested in graphic novels will find appealing characters, witty conversation and a story that resonates with action-filled scenes. It is a tale that includes wise counsel, friendship, bullying, school, and love of family. The art is wonderful, and will have readers poring over its expressive, often humorous panels.

Watch for it to be on the Newbery list this year! 
 
 
 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hamster Princess: Giant Trouble, by Ursula Vernon. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2017. $17.99 ages 8 and up

"Dear Mom and Dad,
I am sorry I will not be
home for dinner. There
was an inconvenient
beanstalk. It is not too
large, only a mile or so
high. Also, there is a giant.
He is much smaller than
the beanstalk, but wicked.
The beanstalk is not wicked,
so far as I know."

Here's another illustrated novel for younger readers. Perfect for fans of the previous Hamster Princess books. This is the fourth and follows Harriet the Invincible, Of Mice and Magic and Rapunzel. Full of comic adventure and familiar characters, this tale is a retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk folktale.

As in the original, magic beans are an enticement. The chipmunk seller is long-winded. Mumfrey, Harriet's loyal steed, is short on patience. Eating one of the beans while waiting for the talk to stop results in a severe case of gas which keeps the two from returning to the castle. In the morning they find a towering beanstalk has grown nearby. The soothing tones of a harp entice them upward where they find a castle, and an enslaved harpist who wants to be free to follow her musical dreams. Harriet can relate and considers drumming for Strings, the harpist.

The adventure continues. Freeing Strings is the first order of business, dealing with the Giant, and cliff diving are all part of the rescue operation. As in previous books, there is lots of humor in the encounters. The wordplay is smart and handled skillfully. The zany cartoon-like images add context and interest. Fans are sure to love it, and will encourage their friends to give Harriet and Mumfrey a try. It won't be long before all four books are in constant circulation.

"Oh, bother. I've already tried to sell beans
to you, haven't I?"
"You have!" said Harriet indignantly. "And now
there's a ginormous beanstalk sitting over there
that somebody's going to have to clean up! You
should warn people about those beans!"
"Oh, you got the grows-into-a-giant-beanstalk one ...
Yeah, that one's a problem."
 He waved his remaining two beans
in front of Harriet. "But I've got these others!
Guaranteed magic! Less likely to pose a
threat to air traffic!"

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fergus and Zeke, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Heather Ross. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.00 ages 6 and up

"Oh, no! thought Fergus.
He did not want to stay with
the coats.
He wanted to explore.
He wanted to see rocks
and minerals. He wanted to see
dinosaurs and butterflies. He
wanted to wish on a shooting
star.
Fergus watched the students
leave."

Young readers love to read books about animal characters that display human characteristics and emotions. Fergus is one terrific class pet. Everyone loves him. He does all that he is asked: keeping his cage clean, listening when others speak, solving class problems, and being a rule follower. So, when the class is preparing for their next field trip, Fergus wants to join them. He thinks it is his right after being such an integral part of all class doings.

Emma is his transport, although she doesn't know it. Once there, Fergus quickly finds another mouse friend to show him around the museum. Zeke is happy to be the docent. What a buddy to have! Without following any 'human' rules, they roam the rooms and hallways of the museum. Wouldn't all children who visit such a place want to have equal access?

The story moves quickly in short chapters meant to keep readers interested. The two mice, as different as day and night, provide humorous dialogue and exciting adventure. Heather Ross matches the story arc perfectly with her spirited digital artwork.

What a surprise is in store when the class settles down after the bus ride back! A new friend for Fergus, a new pet for the classroom ... what could be better than that? This is the first book in a new series - the science fair is next!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hooray for Books! Words and pictures by Brian Won. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"But Zebra did not have
Turtle's book anymore.
"Why don't you read these
two favorites of mine?"
said Zebra.
"They are about unicorns!"
But Turtle said,
"I LIKE MY BOOK!
Maybe you shared it
with ... "

When Sicily was here last, we read Hooray for Today (HMH, 2016) every night before bed. It gave us a chance to talk about friends, about bedtime, and just for pure enjoyment and love of familiar characters.

Receiving a copy of this new book brought a smile to my face. The six good friends are back; this time, they are on a mission to help Turtle find his favorite book. After looking high and low at home, he heads out thinking he must have shared it with Zebra. He is so excited, he shouts 'HOORAY FOR BOOKS!' and is off to get it back from his striped friend. No luck. Zebra does not have it. But, as any good friend would, offers two books about unicorns for Turtle to read. Turtle will not be deterred.

Off he goes, hoping that Owl will have it. The same scene plays out in the same way with Owl. Then again with Giraffe. Each time, Turtle is sure he has solved the mystery of the missing book. Each time, he is stymied in his search. With his friends and their growing collection of books to be read following closely behind, Turtle arrives at Elephant's house. Nope! Lion is his last resort .... luckily!!

It's at the bottom of Lion's pile. Tugging it free, Turtle is off to a peaceful place for quiet enjoyment. As he reads, so do his friends. Turtle is drawn back to their circle, now willing to share his book once again.

"Then Turtle heard Elephant say,
"My book is so funny!"
Zebra said, "This book is so sad."
Owl said, "Giraffe, you should read this story!"
Lion added, "I bet Turtle would love this one."

The repetitive nature of the story and the detailed digital artwork are cause for a close look. The endpapers and final vertical spread will delight.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

42 Is Not Just a Number, written by Doreen Rappaport. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"As they talked, Jackie grew vaguely aware that the crowd at the station had not thinned. Black and white people were milling about, trying to get a closer look at him. Then it dawned on him: these people were hanging around to see the man who was taking on the challenge of breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. That settled it - he wouldn't quit the team. He couldn't quit the team."

When Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball, reactions ran the gamut from outrage to great respect. Racism had raised its ugly head for much of Jackie's life and this turning point did not change that.

Thanks to Doreen Rappaport's careful research, readers are privy to the events that shaped Jackie's character, beginning in 1927, at age eight. She carefully and chronologically shares the events of a life spent in the Army, in the Negro Leagues, and through his rise to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Through it all, Jackie struggled to control his feelings, to show patience and perseverance, and to take the high road with courage and support from others.

There are 21 chapters, each chronicling the years from 1927 until 1997, years after his 1972 death. On April 15, 1997, exactly fifty years after he played his first Major League baseball game, President Bill Clinton told the crowd at a Mets-Dodgers game:

"... Jackie Robinson scored the go-ahead run that day;
we've all been trying to catch up ever since ... If Jackie
Robinson were here today, he would say we have done a lot
of good in the last fifty years,, but we could do a lot better."

We can all say Amen to that! It seems there is still a way to go. Sharing this book in a middle years classroom affords students a chance to think seriously about this courageous athlete who stood strong when others would have given up, who spoke out about injustice when few were willing to do the same, and who led by example by being the best person he could be.  Hopefully, sharing it will encourage some students to want to know even more about Jackie and his career.

Vividly portrayed, the author shows us that Jackie Robinson was a man worthy of our admiration for much more than his baseball career. An author’s note, timeline, extensive source notes, bibliography, and index are included.

If this book piqued interest, be sure to find a copy of Jackie's daughter Sharon's Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America (Scholastic, 2004).

Monday, December 4, 2017

Windows, written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E>B> Goodale. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"One window might be tall,
with the curtains drawn,

or small,
with a party inside.

Between two windows,
there could be a phone,
used for good ideas."

It is almost sunset. Roofers are finishing up their work, and lights are being turned on against the coming darkness. A young boy and his dog are at their window, looking out. The outdoors is just too enticing for them to remain inside despite the gathering darkness.

It's just before everything in town goes to sleep - the perfect time to journey out together to see the sights. You have been there, haven't you? As he watches, he sees neighbors arriving home for supper, others lowering blinds on lighted windows, and a couple finishing yard work before turning in for the evening and coming night. The shared walk begins, with mom's approval and her glance to ensure everything is fine.

There are so many things to see as the darkness deepens. It might be a cat, a raccoon, a friend, or a neighbor. Look closer at the windows where light is now shining. There is much going on, sure to capture thoughtful attention. Some windows are still dark. The majority have a story to tell. Then, there is the seemingly abandoned one near the end of the walk. What is its story?

The warmth of the child's own windows and a welcoming wave from his mother offer comfort and a cuddle after a most enjoyable evening excursion.

Quietly told, with much to think about as we follow the boy and his companion. Each window holds interest for the reader and the walkers. Ink, watercolor, letterpress and digital collage provide a natural and inviting setting. Shades of blue, yellow and gold take readers from early evening to full night skies. Absolutely charming, and full of wonder. Young readers will have many stories to tell as they share this book. Then, go back and see what they missed the first time.

Makes me want to get outside in search of the super moon set to grace our skies this evening.
                                                                       

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Losers Club, by Andrew Clements. Random House, 2017. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Alec started to read, and just as his dad had promised, Bradbury's writing grabbed him and didn't let go. The story took place at a school on the planet Venus. All the kids were excited because, for the first time in their lives, the sun was going to shine in the sky for a whole day. There was a girl named Margot who had been born on Earth and could still remember what sunshine was like ... "

I read a lot of books. One of the ways I know how much I liked a novel is in how much I remember about it. I read this one a while ago. I know that Andrew Clements is a popular writer for many middle years kids. I have read a number of his awesome books for this age group, and I happy to tell you about his latest one. I remember every scene.

Alec loves books; he is often reading when he should be listening in class. This causes trouble at home and at school. It is a perennial complaint from his teachers. His reading has led to an insular life where nothing is more important than the books he loves. His principal warns that if his behavior doesn't improve, he is destined for a summer course following his sixth grade year. Now that his parents have to commute to work, he and his younger brother are enrolled in an after school program where silent reading is not an option. Or could it be? In hopes of forming a club that no one else will join, yet will allow Alec time to read, he suggests The Losers Club to the supervising teachers. What surprises him is that others DO want to join!

As more and more students join his club, Alec finds himself spending after school time with new friends and even some old ones. He likes meeting others who also love to read. No longer content to hide behind the pages of a book, his life changes for the better. There is a bully, there is a touch of romance, and there are characters to be admired and remembered.

Funny and thoughtful, this would be a great read aloud book for a middle years classroom. Added bonus is a list of all the mentioned books that Alec and the 'losers' are reading. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

lines, by Suzy Lee. Chronicle, Raincoast. 2017. $24.99 ages 3 and up


"It
starts
with a
line.

Where
will it
go?"

I am a huge admirer of Suzy Lee's work. If you haven't seen Wave (Chronicle, 2008), the story of a little girl's day at the beach given such beauty and simplicity, or Shadow (Chronicle, 2010), the adventure inherent in creative play and imagination that begins and ends with light, you should seek them out. Follow those two brilliant wordless books by finding her other work, including Ask Me (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) and This Beautiful Day (Atheneum, 2017), to name a few. All are worthy of your attention.

This fall she has a new wordless book, lines. It is a picture book about artists - one who creates a wintry world with pencil, the other creates magic on an ice surface in skates. The front endpaper shows a fresh piece of art paper, a pencil and an eraser. As we page forward, we meet a young skater, with a red toque and red mittens, and watch her glide effortlessly across the spread. Her joy and skill are evident as, page turn after page turn, she moves in ever more complicated maneuvers - until she falls, losing her toque and her dignity.

Next, a crumpled ball of paper and discarded drawing tools. The artist is as discouraged as the fallen skater. Wait! Another page turn shows the young girl on the ice (on crumpled paper), aware of yet another skater taking a tumble. Then more slipping, sliding, and relaxed enjoyment of the predicament that each is in - and everyone making the best of it. The final two spreads show the joy to be found in winter, out on the ice, with a community of skaters.

Don't miss the final landscape!

Energetic, emotional and surprising, it is one of my favorite picture books this year.