Friday, November 17, 2017

Logophiles, UNITE! Mouseling's WORDS by Shutta Crum

Every evening I woke up surrounded by words. Aunt Tillie collected them from the Swashbuckler Restaurant, where words were SPECIALS OF THE DAY. Then she brought them to my family's nest--along with bits of food.

"Noodles," I said, puckering up my mouth, as I pulled a scrap if paper from the nest. Aunt Tillie had taught all of us mouselings to read.

It's a cozy nest beneath the restaurant, with tasty tidbits and new words to learn from the menu. Mouseling is happy to snuggle down with his word scraps with his family each night.

When one by one, his mouseling siblings begin to leave the nest to find adventure, Mouseling remains, happy with his family nest and his favorite words. But his parents have other ideas.

"You need to get a job," Father said. "You need to find your path in the world," Mother said, pointing to the passageway through the walls.

Then Aunt Tillie promises that there are many new words out there in the big world. Mouseling pulls out a word--if--out of his word pile. What if? He is intrigued. Then Aunt Tillie draws him a map, with a big X marking where home is, some of the new things he will see, and a scary critter labeled "The Beast!" A CAT! She says she put it there so he will know to beware out in the world.

At last Mouseling decides to venture out, with the map, through the passageway to outdoors. The first thing he sees on the outside is a word, blowing by in the wind. SING! Mouseling figures it out all on his own.

Then and there I decided that discovering words would be my job.

And Mouseling hits the jackpot. He wanders into a big brick building. It's nice and quiet, and there are rows of blocky things on shelves and signs with words in big letters:



But there is also something else in the quiet building. He recognizes it right away from Aunt Tillie's map. It's a cat! Mouseling knows he has to beware. But one day when he's tiptoeing past the napping cat with a new word, the cat wakes up and stares at him, twitching his tail.

Quickly I mashed that word into a ball and threw it at him. The cat pounced and batted it with his paw.

Maybe the library cat is not such a beast after all. And one night he jumps up on one of the shelves and knocks one of the blocky things out of its place. He swipes it open with his paw.

What was this? Words--so many, many words--words inside all these things?

Mouseling realizes that the cat wants to hear this story about a mouse and a lion, and the little pilgrim has found his path in the world after all, in Shutta Crum's new Mouseling's Words (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books, 2017), a charming story about the power of words to charm any beast, or at least a bibliophilic cat, illustrated appealingly by Ryan O'Rouke, who sets up cozy scenes and humorously matches the words Mouseling finds to the action on the pages, fittingly adding illustrations from Aesop's fable of the Lion and the Mouse to the final pages as cat and mouse settle down to share the story together. A dandy story which hits the marks for preschool and primary picture books--homey, funny, sweet--and educational!

Share this one with Bonnie Becker's Mouse and Bear story, A Library Book for Bear.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Windfall! Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf by Ross Buroch

Boof the Bear has a tendency to fixate on found objects.

Sometimes Boof the Bear finds treasures left by campers.

But his favorite find was...

... his lucky red leaf. They did everything together.

But fall is an unsettling time for a bear...

and one windy day. . . .

Well, you know the ways of wind and fallen leaves. But Boof the Bear is devastated by his loss.

Enter Pine the Porcupine.

There are two things you should know about Pine. He is always looking for adventure.

He is not always looking where he is going.

OOF! Pine runs smack into Boof, following his wayward leaf. Pine wants to help Boof with his search, but while his ideas are proactive, they are not always productive. He spots the leaf resting on the snout of a sleeping boar and brags that he's an expert is sneaking up on scary critters. But it turns out... he's not! With the boar right behind them, he advises Boof to speed up the chase by swinging across the river on a vine, not noticing that the vine is no vine. It's a snake!


Gee! That didn't go so well, either, in Ross Buroch's new tale of a pair of unlikely pals who forge a bond in mutual pursuit of a red leaf, a hopelessly ephemeral talisman at best, in Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf (Harper, 2017) Boof is a bit of a goof, and Pine is bit of a provocateur who is only too glad to butt in with an impromptu plan for every occasion, but together they are an unlikely couple of friends who bond in the pursuit, another odd couple of friends like Milne's Pooh and Piglet, Lobel's Frog and Toad or Becker's Bear and Mouse. Buroch's clever illustrations keep the zany pair front and center with just enough slapstick fun to keep kids turning the pages. Says Kirkus Reviews, "A predictable yet humorous origin story for an endearing pair."

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Let Us Probe the Silent Spaces..." Lily's Mountain by Hannah Moderow

"Please tell me you're kidding," Sophie says. A mosquito lands on her forehead and she doesn't bother swatting it away. "It'll take days to get to the mountain."

"No way. It's only twenty miles," I say.

"Twenty miles of danger," Sophie says. "We promised Mom we'd stay in the campground."

"But I have Dad's expert map," I say, "so we can follow his route."

"...To where?" Sophie asks. "To find his grave?"

Their dad had fallen into a sudden crevice in a glacier near the peak of Mount Denali, but Lily persists in her belief that his mountaineering knowledge and skills would have enabled him to survive, sure that if she and her sister Sophie can get to the slope of Denali, they will be able to rescue their father. Convincing her reluctant mother that a camping trip with her sister is the best way to honor their father, Lily uses what she has learned from her dad to prepare for a climb to the glacier where he disappeared.

But nothing could prepare Lily for what she and Sophie encounter. They are attacked by mosquitoes and a grizzly, but the pepper spray her dad always carried saves them this time. But Lily stumbles in crossing an icy river, losing her backpack, her food, and all her gear. Wet and cold, she and Sophie fight off hypothermia as they ascend above the tree line, and even with a broken rib from a fall down a scree-covered slope, Lily resolves to continues toward the glacier, determined to try to find her father alive.

"Soph!" I say. No answer. She's either asleep or just plain ignoring me. She doesn't know I just ate all our food.

I was sure Dad would be here at the base of the glacier.

Now I'm going to have to walk up the glacier alone to find him.

But what Lily finds on Muldrow Glacier is the edge of a new crevasse, hundreds of feet deep. And just before it is a strip of red tape held up by bamboo stakes, with three words written in black marker.

DANGER! Crevasse ahead.

The hole is massive and bottomless, sheet ice on all sides. "Dad," I whisper, one last time. I don't expect an answer.

I know that the silence will be long.

There's a certain peace in knowing the truth for Lily, in Hannah Moderow's, Lily's Mountain (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Moderow's story-telling is fast-paced, with short chapters and plenty of outdoor action to keep middle school and young adult readers involved to the end, but in this riveting coming-of-age debut novel, the mountain is both metaphor and an all-too-real challenge to find a way to deal with the death of a beloved parent. Learning emotional courage as well as physical courage is an significant journey for Lilly, and although Sophie's journey is different, both sisters find a closeness and a solace in knowing that their father is with them yet.

"It's a miracle we made it," says Sophie.

"No, it's not," I say. "Dad taught us exactly what we needed to know."

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Terra Incognita: Life on Surtsey: Iceland's Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns

Surtsey began with a big bang.

On November 14, 1963, the newest earth on Earth arrived with no warning. When ash and rock and cinder began to spew violently up from the sea, creating a plume of smoke eight times taller than the Empire State Building, all Iceland watched in mild surprise. By the morning of November 15, pilots flying over the area could see land where none had existed before.

Icelanders are no strangers to volcanic action. They know their own homeland and its small offshore islands are volcanic, and volcanic vents inland actually provide a source of thermal energy to their electric grid. A recent volcanic eruption created a spume of ash that grounded airline flights all over Europe in 2010. Still, a new and visibly growing island within sight was quite a dramatic event for the average Icelander, but for scientists around the world it was something else, a chance to observe how life takes root on the sort of volcanic land that Earth was in its early days, made especially observable because Surtsey's location on the Arctic Circle makes the acquisition of plant and animal life a relatively slow process, an accessible wrinkle in time--a wormhole--to Earth's distant past.

Enter Erling Olafsson and his fellow scientists, doing what science does--observe. By 1967 scientists were on Surtsey, their boot soles sometimes melting on the still-warm surface. They named the island after Surt, the Norse god of fire, and even in those early days saw would-be animal colonists.

"The first visitation of life on Surtsey occurred only two weeks after the island had pushed up through the waves," reads a 1965 newspaper article. "It was a seagull."

The first gulls surely found it too hot to trot on Surtsey, but as the land cooled, seabirds slowly flocked to a place with no predators as the perfect incubators for their eggs, and soon Olafsson, then a college student, delivered proof of animals reproducing on Surtsey:

"I saw one of the guillemots flying toward the cliff with a fish in its bill and disappearing somewhere in the cliffs."

There was only one way to find out. Erling had to investigate the cliff face forty feet above the North Atlantic Ocean. "I fetched my two fellow botanists--the cook was sunbathing--and two ropes. So down I went."

In one narrow crevice, about twenty feet above the ocean, Erling found more than eggs. He found two half-grown guillemot chicks!

It was indeed the seabirds, who find their food at sea, who were first seen raising chicks on Surtsey's barren rocks. And successive seabird colonies fertilized the island. Plants and their seeds washed up on the shores and hitchhiked on the birds and flotsam that drifted ashore, and in the following decades whole areas became green with grass and even wildflowers. And arriving on the ocean's debris and animals came small lifeforms, worms, insects, spiders and mites. And the study of those ever-widening circles of life became the lifework of Erling Olafsson and his colleagues over the decades as Surtsey, created in fire and ice, became a living island with its own cycle of life.

Earth's newest land is documented in Loree Griffin Burns' Life on Surtsey: Iceland's Upstart Island (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), an unique account of scientists in a one-of-a-kind field, the first ever to see what they have observed, illustrated amply with color photographs and boasting appendices on the Icelandic language, a glossary, a mediography of books, films, and websites, footnotes, and an index.

As an old dairy farmer friend once said about the value of land, "They aren't makin' any more of it." And for the most part that's true. But this old planet still has some volcanic life in it, and in this book readers get to be current witnesses to how new land is created by volcanic action, and more importantly, how life comes to transform a dead island, a chunk of lava in an icy sea, into a living ecology in which that new life nurtures and enables successive waves of newcomers to flourish. Life is tenacious and life is grand. A unique source for young vulcanologists and biologists, and an essential purchase for middle and high school libraries.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

What a Difference a Dot Makes! Little i by Michael Hall




The rest of the alphabet is discombobulated. Little i didn't look like one of them anymore! He looked like a ... number! Weird!

"no way" said n and o and w, a, and y.

There is nothing for Little i to do but follow his missing dot as it is tossed away upon the waves. He finally made landfall and followed the beach all the way around the island, but everywhere he looked, his dot was NOT.

But there were exciting things to see as he searched. He saw a cascade of exclamation points, a garden of green sprouting commas, and a dazzling grotto of bright, gemlike asterisks. And beyond a scary bridge, what did he spot? His DOT.




Something had changed about Little i. Now he was...



Even little letters can can grow up and find themselves, in Michael Hall's latest, Little i (Greenwillow Books, 2017). Author-illustrator Michael Hall's trademark tissue collaged art is gorgeously colored, and his text takes on both typology and growing up, no small feat, sending his little letter out on an allegorical quest literally to find himself, while along the way introducing young readers to quite a few new punctuation marks--hyphens, exclamation points, and question marks, to name a few, with even his outgrown dot re-purposed as the absolutely essential period (which I will now put to use).

"Little i may be a mere cutout letter, but his humanity shines through,” says the New York Times Review."

Other books by Michael Hall which teach and delight are his Red: A Crayon's Story, Wonderfall, Perfect Square. and My Heart Is Like a Zoo. (see reviews here).

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Single Step: Come With Me by Holly McGhee

All over the world, the news is told and told and retold of anger and hatred.

The little girl was frightened.

Kids can't be kept from hearing about bad things. Sometimes it's hard not to be frightened. What can this little girl do to make it better?

Her Papa said, "Come with me."

Her father takes her by the hand, out on the street and down into the subway. The girl is confused. They ride through the long tunnels, and everyone looks sad and shut up inside themselves. But then her papa tips his hat, and some of the people smile back.

They won a tiny battle over fear.

Still the people-against-people news is bad, and the little girl asks again what she can do about it. Her mother takes her hand and takes her out to get things for dinner.

The grocery store is full of foods and people from all over the world, and her mother tells her,

"One person doesn't represent a family, or a race or the people of one land."

But what can she do to make the world better? The child ponders as she sets the table and eats with her parents, while her little dog lies under the table. Maybe she can take him out for a walk all by herself.

Her parents look like they are not sure about that. But maybe the boy across the hall can go with her.

He opens his door.

Two together are better than one.

The longest journey begins with a single step, in Holly McGhee's hopeful Come With Me (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2017). Perhaps making the world better really is one step at a time, one day at a time, and McGhee's simple story with its simple message for youngsters is that everyone and everything they do matters in this world, and that may be the best that can be said. At least, it's a good start. It's an old message, but Pascal Lamaitre's retro-styled illustrations (a little reminiscent of Syd Hoff) are so quintessentially childlike and unprepossessing that they persuasively carry the premise that a little caring and courage are sometimes all anyone has to offer the world and its ills. Says The New York Times Book Review, “Together, the words and pictures work seamlessly to deliver a powerful message: What we do matters.”

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Emblem of the Land I Love: Blue Sky, White Stars Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson



Much has been written and photographed and portrayed about the Stars and Stripes, and yet author Sarvinder Naberhaus sums up its appearance in eight short words.

But our flag is much more than a graphic combination of stripes and stars on a blue field, interestingly called the "union." Yes, the colors, red, white, and blue, have a meaning in the traditional language of symbolism; the stars represent the fifty states; and the stripes represents the original colonies that came together to gain our liberty.

And that is where award-winning artist Kadir Nelson comes in, with his realistically crafted images of what gives the flag its many meanings--the Statue of Liberty, our brilliant autumn trees, snowy mountains, and ocean waves, but also the face of Abraham Lincoln, a Mars moon rover, a crowd upholding signs and freedom of speech, the flag proudly planted on the moon, and a baseball field, a rocket launch, Betsy Ross sewing a brand-new flag, a soldier standing with pride at his post, a girl in a graduation gown standing with pride at a podium, and most of all, our faces as we watch the flag going up before us.

The flag is a symbol, and more than that--it is one of those things that unite our experience as citizens, in Naberhaus' Blue Sky White Stars (Dial Books, 2017).  This is a book for any national holiday, with some of the iconic experiences of our history portrayed to make us think about the values shown in the background illustrations, conceived and executed in striking artwork that inspires close examination.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Mess Up! JoJo and the Big Mess by Jane O.Connor

Hi! I am JoJo. I make messes. I can't help it.

Nancy Clancy's little sister is a mess--a walking, talking mess, who leaves a trail of disorder behind her.

Nancy tries to teach JoJo how to make things. Making pasta sounds like fun, but JoJo seems to have a talent for sloshing the sauce and spilling the spaghetti. JoJo becomes er, SAUCY! OOPS!

Dad is mad.

Time to hit the tub! Heavy on the shampoo!

Okay, maybe if JoJo does something outside, it won't be such a fiasco! She puts on her fireman's hat and offers to wield the hose to water the flowers. Oops! Water and dirt = MUD!

Dad is mad.

He plops JoJo and Frenchie the dog into the plastic pool to get the worst of it off, and then it's inside for a proper bath for JoJo.

Can't this kid do something that doesn't require a trip to the tub?

Bree's little brother Freddy comes over to play, and Dad tells them to play someplace where it's dry. and please, no more messes! They head inside to JoJo's room, where a nice, dry pillow fight follows.

"Look!! Feathers are flying!"

Guess what? Dad is..., well, you know!


It's back outdoors, where JoJo and Freddy decide on some finger painting on the picnic table. It's guaranteed to be messy, but at least it's easy to clean up, and when JoJo hands Dad her painting of a great big red heart, he's .... NOT MAD a bit, in Jane O'Connor's first I-Can-Read book about Fancy Nancy's younger sister, Fancy Nancy: JoJo and the Big Mess (My First I Can Read) (Harper, 2017). In this My-First-Reading book starring JoJo, the typeface is large and the words are few, and with Rick Whipple's comic illustrations filled with reading cues, the text is easy to sound out for emergent readers. For the youngest Fancy Nancy fans, this one is just what the reading specialist ordered, with most of the usual characters getting in on the action. Share this one with Fancy Nancy: JoJo and the Magic Trick (My First I Can Read) and to be fair to younger sisters, perhaps return to that first book about Nancy herself, Fancy Nancy, in which a trip to the ice cream shoppe turns into fancy fiasco for a fun look back at Clancy family history.

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Leading the Way: This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub

Ada Lovelace.This little trailblazer helped think of a way to do math with machines, called computers today.

Ada Lovelace wrote one of the first computer programs, named ADA in her honor by the United States Government.

Ada, Countess Lovelace, the aristocratic daughter of English poet, Lord Byron, is an unlikely modern heroine, but her early love of mathematics, unheard of in the early 1800s, led her to her work with  a Cambridge mathematician, in which she wrote the world's first computer program for his "Difference Machine."

The formerly little-known Ada Lovelace joins more famous young women who were trailblazers in their careers or in public life. She joins women like Rosa Parks, who stood up for her rights by sitting down on a bus, Coco Chanel, who became one of the first women fashion designers by popularizing simple, comfortable, but stylish couture for twentieth-century women, Maya Lin, the youthful architect who was selected to design The Vietnam War Memorial which draws millions of viewers each year, and Ruby Bridges, the first-grader who all alone integrated a school and ultimately her hometown.

There are a disparate group of women pioneers in veteran author Joan Holub's This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer (Little Simon, 2017). Included among these women firsts are Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina woman justice of the Supreme Court and Florence Nightingale, the nineteen-century founder of modern nursing, Maria Tallchief, first Native American prima ballerina, Wilma Rudolph, first African American Olypic gold medalist, and Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. A brief appendix lists other famous women--Abolitionist and Women's Suffrage leaders Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Bessie Coleman, first licensed African American woman aviator, and Indira Ghandi, prime minister of India. More than a history lesson, this little board book informs and challenges all girls everywhere to be trailblazers themselves.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Take Me Wit'cha When You Go! Bruce's Big Move (Mother Bruce) by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce was a bear who lived with four geese because he was their mother.

And three mice, because they would not leave.

It all started in two earlier books when Bruce, the curmudgeonly bachelor bear whose only hobby is as an epicure of fresh eggs, swipes four goose eggs from Mother Goose, all of which hatch as soon as he gets them home and imprint instantly on him. Impromptu Mother Goose Bruce grumpily attempts to be a good goose parent, even taking the goslings south for the winter. But when Mother Bruce and his brood return to his den, he finds it manned by way too many mice who have appropriated it as a popular backwoods inn which is literally a zoo!

Now Bruce has had it with his messy menage, littered with goose toys and assorted wildlife, and he concludes that the only way out is to lose the lot of them and move. Bruce mails his resident mice off to Tasmania, the Mojave Desert, and the Yukon, packs his confused goslings into the sidecar of his motorcycle, and roars off in search of suitable housing sans mice!

Bruce buys a roomy cabin in the deep woods, hoping for solitude and hopefully a bit of hibernation this year, only to discover he has a friendly neighbor, Miz Beaver, eager to offer her thirteen little sisters as perfect playmates for his little geese.

And if that isn't enough, when the mice drive up with all their worldly goods in a truck labeled MUSCULUS MOVERS, Bruce knows that his goose is cooked (and his sorely needed hibernation cancelled), in Ryan T. Higgins' third book in series, Bruce's Big Move (Mother Bruce) (Hyperion Books, 2017). Like it or not, Bruce Bear is stuck with being head of an unruly household, with a lawn party constantly in progress. Higgin's illustrations are hilarious, with the beetled-browed Mother Bruce steadfastly attempting to parent his clueless goslings while trying to rid himself of the manipulative mice he simply can't lose. Mother Goose Bruce is back and primary-graders will welcome the return of his merry menagerie.

Earlier books in this hit series are Mother Bruce, Hotel Bruce (Mother Bruce), and Higgins' companion backstory of the squatter mice, BE QUIET! (See reviews here).

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Still Endure: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef

"The city was all mob, thronging, gaping at everything," a man wrote in his diary. It was June 28, 1838. Four hundred thousand people poured into London to celebrate the crowning of Queen Victoria.

The young queen herself had gone to bed the night before with a sense of foreboding, "a feeling that something awful was going to happen." Cannons firing yanked her from sleep at four that morning. At ten o'clock trumpets blared. Bands played and the crowd hurrahed. Then the spectators caught sight of the queen.

They saw a tiny girl just nineteen years old. She wore a robe of white satin and red velvet, a circlet of diamonds atop her brown hair. The crowd roared. "Long live Queen Victoria!"

That storybook coronation did not reflect Victoria's state of mind. A sheltered and uncertain teenager, product of a overprotective mother and an unfaithful and disinterested father, the young queen was hardly prepared for what lay ahead. Her education was perhaps better than that of an average noblewoman of her time but her inexperience made her a potential tool of the warring Tory and Whig politicians and her jealous and grasping relatives. And Britain under her rule was riven with income inequalities, made more difficult by frequent wars to hold onto the empire.

A far-cry from the late-life photographs of the stout and dour black-clad queen, the young Victoria was naive, fond of beautiful clothes, dancing and jewels, pretty and yet possessed of a strong-willed sense of duty and wariness of sycophants that led her to form an early alliance with the current Whig prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who was loyal and schooled her in statecraft despite the whispers by opponents that he was for a time the de facto King of England. There was great pressure for Victoria to marry immediately, but her stubbornness stood her in good stead and enabled her to marry for love. Despite objection to yet another impoverished "German" in the British line, she chose her first cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg, and the marriage was sometimes passionate, sometimes contentious, but always a source of strength to the young monarch. When her beloved consort died at age 42, Victoria chose to wear black in continuous mourning until her own death at age 82. Of the many deaths that go with a long life, Victoria wrote:

"Oh! how I miss all, all!" she cried in a letter to her daughter Vicky. Victoria thought about killing herself, but, as she confided to her oldest daughter, she decided against it: "'A Voice told me for His sake--no! Still Endure.'"

And endure she did. In many ways Victoria was one of the earliest of modern women. She deeply loved Albert, but would not make him king, asserting that she herself was the sole monarch. A strict mother and an indulgent grandmother, she was a working woman on the job every day until she reluctantly took to her death bed. That Victoria became the longest-reigning queen of Britain (until her descendant Queen Elizabeth II recently entered her sixty-fourth year on the throne) and that her reign was so seminal in modern history could not have been predicted on her coronation. The granddaughter of George III (that George III, whose purported mad misrule brought on the American Revolution), Victoria was the niece of King William IV, herself the product of the loveless political marriage of George III's last son, Edward, and at birth only fifth in the line of succession. Born in 1819 in the final year of the life of George III, the robust Victoria handily bore nine children between 1840 and 1857 and survived an assassination attempt from a lone shooter and other near-miss attempts. Victoria's against-all-odds reign began by candlelight and ended lighted by electricity in a world with telephones, telegraph, and automobiles, in the apex of the British Empire, and through it all she carried off the responsibilities of the sovereign faithfully through many decades of enormous change, joining the two Elizabeths in presiding over long, historic reigns, keeping the ship of state afloat and delivering it intact into the twentieth century. Of Victoria Regina, all that can be said is What a woman she was!

Victoria is now enjoying somewhat of a revival as a media darling. With the BBC Masterpiece series, Victoria, second only to Downton Abbey in viewers, a new movie of her later years currently in wide distribution, Daisy Goodwin's Victoria: A Novel, and the forthcoming Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair, the queen who gave her name to an age is a hot property, and Catherine Reef's forthcoming Victoria: Portrait of a Queen (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017) is sure to be a definitive new biography of that queen. Filled with fascinating facts and deep insights, this biography is lively and highly readable for young adults and just plain adults, one which vividly puts the reader right into both the personal lives and the zeitgeist of the turbulent times Victoria lived.

As historical nonfiction, it is bounteously filled with glorious period paintings and portraits, drawings by the queen and her children, and sumptuous illustrations, offering an intimate look at a life (right down to the surprising objects Victoria took to the grave with her) that also shaped our own times. As scholarly nonfiction, it boasts an appendix with a list of Britain's monarchs beginning with Egbert in 802, Queen Victoria's family tree, ample footnotes, picture credits and additional captions, an extensive bibliography, and a detailed index. A first choice for libraries and fans of royalty.

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Monday, November 06, 2017

The Power of the Book: Red Again by Barbara Lehman

On a snowy street beside an icy ocean a bespectacled boy peddling his bike spots a small, square, red book dropped on the gray paving stones of the street. He picks it up and peddles to his row house overlooking the sea and climbs to the top floor, a glassed-in observation tower complete with telescope. There, succeeding pages in the red book zoom in on an green island where a girl is fishing from her rowboat. Floating up to her is ... a red book.

The girl opens the book to see... a row of city houses, one with a tall glass tower. Successive page turns and panels focus closer as she sees a figure seated in the tower and then, in a closeup, the boy with his red book, open to a page picturing her, looking at a picture of him... looking at her, with the suggestion of consecutively smaller pictures of themselves, ad infinitum.

The girl's book shows the boy looking back at her with his book open to a picture of himself, looking at her looking at him.... Using a baguette in her basket as bait, she hitches a ride with a pelican which tows her toward the boy, in her haste dropping her book into the sea.

From his tower, the boy sees her boat approaching through his telescope and waves to greet her, accidentally dropping the red book from his balcony to land on the roof of a delivery van passing below. As the girl moors her boat on the seawall and the boy helps her up to land, the van turns the corner, the book flies off, landing in a snow bank to be spotted by another girl who tucks it under her arm and with it runs for home to see what's inside....

Where do stories come from, and where do they go?

Readers familiar with the 2009 Caldecott Honor Book, The Red Book (Caldecott Honor Book) will recognize the boy on the bike as the one who found the red book on the last page of the first book, and Barbara Lehman's sequel, Red Again (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) picks right up with the visual joke as the magical book is left to be found by the original finder in the first book in a circular story that will delight and bemuse young readers. Even the title is a wordplay with the homophones "read" and "red," a little literary jest that will amuse older "readers," and to add to the fun of this wordless fantasy, author illustrator Lehman also makes use of the trompe l'oeil device of the infinite repeating picture of the boy looking at the picture of the girl looking at the picture of him looking at her. Together these two books bring disparate people together, and inevitably and  inadvertently they pass them on to be discovered yet again.

For another mind-expanding wordless picture book, share this one with the similarly themed amazing and amusing 2007 Caldecott-winning book, Flotsam, by David Wiesner. (Houghton Mifflin Clarion).

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

Eye Spy! Who Am I? An Animal Guessing Game by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

I have...

two touchy antennae,

six wiggly legs,

two delicate wings,

nine black spots....

What do you spy with your little eye? Who could it be?

Hmmmm. Six legs... thin wings... two antennae...? That could be a lot of crawly critters. But NINE black spots? Which big-time bug boasts black spots?

AH HA! That would be the beneficial and beloved LADY BUG!

Steve Jenkins' and Robin Page's forthcoming nonfiction nature book, Who Am I? An Animal Guessing Game (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) boasts an animal identification game with five or six salient creature features by which to focus in on the correct critter, from frog to flamingo, crab to rabbit, be it amphibian, bird, crustacean, insect, or mammal.

Realistically but whimsically illustrated by Steve Jenkins'inimitable paper collages and narrated by Robin Page's simple read-alone text for each mystery creature, the book provides two pages of illustrated clues, followed by a page turn to a double-page spread of the complete animal in motion, from a crab grabbing for a minnow to a bunny rabbit, bouncing off-page with a crunchy carrot on board.

Fun to read to one kid or a class, as an initial introduction or a quicky quiz for savvy students, this book is perfect for young preschool or primary-grade nature science students, equipped as it is with am appendix of additional fun facts about each animal and a brief bibliography for older students looking for the requisite "several sources" for their research reports. And with its two die-cut eye holes in the cover, everyone can get ready to spy out the next "undercover" animal.

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Saturday, November 04, 2017

Buzz Cut! Paddington at the Barber Shop by Michael Bond

One day Paddington went to visit his good friend Mr. Grubar at his shop. They shared cocoa and caught up on the news.

Mr. Grubar showed Paddington a vase. A piece had broken off.

Paddington is a helpful bear and offers to get some glue and fix the vase. He carefully stows the vase in his basket with wheels. But on the way back, he notices a sign in the window of the barber shop.


Paddington goes into inquire and takes a job sweeping up cut hair and generally helping out with the customers.

"Bears are good at sweeping," says Paddington.

"If you do well, you can try the clippers," Mr. Sloop said.

Leaving Paddington to his broom and dustpan, Mr. Sloop ducks out for a quick cup of coffee.

The barber shop is full of neat things--mirrors and chairs that go up and down, posters of many types of haircuts, fragrant shampoos and hair-grow tonics There is a white barber's coat hanging on the wall and Paddington just has to try it on. He is just trying out the barber's scissors, when a customer comes declaring that he's tired and in a big hurry.

The man sat down in the barber's chair, and before Paddington could speak, he had fallen asleep!

Paddington looks at the sleeping customer and then at the barber's clippers, plugged in and ready to go. How hard could it be to give the man a quick trim?

What's worse than a bull in a china shop? Paddington Bear in a barber shop!

Paddington decides to give the clippers a try. But they work a little faster than he thinks and his sleeping customer winds up half bald. Now what should Paddington do? He tries a liberal application of hair tonic to the customer's bare pate, but he remains bald. Paddington looks around and sees the hair that he is supposed to be sweeping up around all the barber chairs, and he remembers the glue in his basket-on-wheels. And he has an idea that just might work....

It's hair today and gone tomorrow, in Michael Bond's new I-Can-Read book, Paddington at the Barber Shop (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2017), and you can bet that this bear finds a way to save the day for all concerned. R.W. Alley does the illustrating honors for Bond's famous bear-with-a-suitcase as he has done since the 1990s, with Paddington Bear as lovable and well-meaning as ever. Paddington is a bear with the best of intentions, but perhaps it might be good to give him some time off, so for primary students, pairing this one with Bond's earlier Paddington's Day Off (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper I-Can-Read, 2017). And for a terrific read-aloud bedtime book, introduce this quaint fiction series with the classic, A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond.

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Friday, November 03, 2017

Home Alone? Monster Nanny by Tuutikki Tolonen

The children looked at one another. Strange things were happening.

Mom, who never went anywhere, was going away. Dad, who was almost never at home, was coming.

The children, who had never been left alone, were about to spend the night on their own. And in the hall closet slept a trained monster, though everybody had always been told that monsters didn't exist.

It is the beginning of school vacation when Mom gets a letter telling her she has won two weeks at a spa in Lapland, and since her husband is working abroad, the prize includes a trained nanny for her three children. The Hellman kids, Halley, eleven, Koby, nine, and Mimi, six, are secretly delighted at being on their own when Dad (whom the kids have named The Invisible Voice because he's always away) phones to say that his plane has been grounded because of a freak snowstorm, and the kids are confident that they can carry on just fine until he arrives.

And then the doorbell rings.

At the door stood a brown-black creature. It was big and wide. It had two enormous feet and two enormous hands. In one hand the creature had a crumpled scrap of paper.

"This must be the instructions," Halley said.

The instructions describe their nanny as a "half-human, commonly known as a monster." Their monster, named Grah, has a faint woodsy smell and appears quite dusty. However, she washes her hands diligently while she prepares very large and peculiar sandwiches, watches television between meals, and sleeps quietly, standing in the hall closet. Otherwise, the children seem to be free to do as they please, and it looks like this is going to be the best holiday ever.

When they discover that some of their friends' mothers are also away at the spa, also leaving them in the care of monsters, Koby has a brilliant idea. All the kids with monster nannies can set up an open-air camp beside the lake. They put up their tents, pool their boats and water toys, and, with their monsters providing elaborate picnics, they soon have the best summer camp imaginable in full swing.

But there is trouble in paradise when some townspeople spot the monsters foraging for their diet of rotted leaves in the forest, and soon the local citizens seem to be mounting a monster hunt straight out of Frankenstein. The Hellman children and friends realize that to save their kindly monsters, they must find a way to help them find their way back to their underground home.

And Koby just happens to have a book, the only monster book in the town library, to show them the way, in Tuutikki Tolonen's forthcoming Monster Nanny (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Author Tolonen's tale takes place in the modern scene, but has an old-fashioned tone, straight out of the world of Pippi Longstocking,with overtones of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryand the more recent Lemony Snicket's Baudelaire kids' The Bad Beginning: Or, Orphans! (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) and Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy.

The unflappable Halley, the resourceful Koby, and the self-possessed Mimi, inspired by her talking blue bathrobe, have the right stuff to be perfect fictional friends for a home-alone school holiday. The Hellman children's monster, Grah, is far from a Mary Poppins, but in that honored tradition of children who find fantastic adventures just beyond the purview of parents, this one is right on target to enchant middle readers who dream of summer fun during these long winter nights.

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