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A blog written by the editor of Through the Looking Glass Book Review, a monthly online children's book review journal.
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1. Picture Book Monday with a review of Buddy and Earl

We all tend to label people, even when we try not to, and often the labels come with a certain amount of judgement. All too often our preconceptions of people are way off the mark, and sometimes they are unkind and hurtful as well.

In today's picture book we see how the labels we like to put on people are a waste of time and counterproductive. All that really matters are the relationships that we build together.

Buddy and Earl
Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2015, 978-1-55498-712-2
One rainy day Buddy is feeling “bored and a little lonely.”  Thankfully, his person, Meredith, comes into the room where Buddy is sitting and life gets interesting again. Meredith is carrying a box, which she puts on the floor. She tells Buddy to “stay,” but the dog, after scratching an itch, forgets all about the command he was given and he goes over to the box to investigate. Inside the box there is a strange prickly thing, which Buddy sniffs and sniffs. He considers licking the thing but decides that this might not be such a good thing to do. Then the thing begins to snuffle and hiss. Buddy is thrilled. The brown, prickly thing is alive!
   Buddy introduces himself and the thing says that he is called Earl. Earl then proceeds to tell Buddy that he is a racecar, a giraffe, a sea urchin, and a talking hairbrush. Buddy knows full that that Earl isn’t any of these things and he points out why Earl cannot be a car, a giraffe or a sea urchin.
   After this rather peculiar discussion, Earl then decides to try and guess what Buddy is. He is convinced that Buddy is a pirate, and before logical Buddy can explain that he is a dog and not a pirate at all, he and Earl are having a wonderful adventure on the high seas.
   This wonderful book explores the nature of friendship, and it also looks at how important it is to connect with others in a meaningful way that sets asides labels. Children and adults alike will be touched when they see that Buddy eventually figures out who Earl is. It turns out that what really matters is not what you are, but who you are.

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2. Lets get the winners of the children's literature awards on the Ellen Show!

Not long ago the American Library Association announced the winners of America's most prestigious children's book awards, which includes the Caldecott Award and the Newbery Award. Many of us in the children's literature world would love to see the winners of these awards on the Ellen Show. The staff at KidLitTV have created a short movie about their campaign that I would like to share with you.

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3. Picture Book Monday with a review of This is Not my Hat

This Is Not My Hat
When I was growing up, I was naturally drawn to stories that featured children who broke the rules. Eloise, and many of the 'naughty' characters from Roald Dahl's books were my heroes because they prevailed in spite of everything. In today's picture book you will meet a fish who does something bad. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he does it anyway. The ending is rather surprising, and perfectly perfect, under the circumstances.

This is not my hat
Jon Klassen
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-5599-0
One day a very small fish steals a hat from a very large sleeping fish. The small fish thinks that the large fish “probably won’t wake up for a long time,” and even when he does wake up the fish won’t notice that the hat is gone. After all, the hat is very small and the big fish probably barely felt it.
   Just in case, the little fish decides to hide in a place where the plants are “tall and close together.” A crab sees where the little fish is going but it promises not to tell anyone where the little fish is hiding. The little fish justifies the theft of the hat, which he knows was a bad thing to do, because the hat was too small for the big fish.
   The little fish makes it to his hiding place and swims in amongst the plants. He is so sure that “Nobody will ever find me,” but it turns out that many of the assumptions that he made were completely wrong.
   This beautifully crafted book, with its simple tale and cocky main character, will delight young readers. Children will be able to see how wrong the little fish is as he talks about what he has done and how to plans to get away with the theft of the hat. They will see that the little fish’s confidence and optimism is, alas, misplaced.

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4. Poetry Friday with a review of The Way the Door Closes

The Way a Door ClosesLife is full of unknowns. Sometimes even the things that you feel sure about are not as secure as you thought they were. One of the hardest things for children to cope with is when something happens to a parent. When there is a divorce, when a parent dies, or when a parent walks out, the ramifications for the children in the family can be considerable. Today's poetry title takes readers into the heart and mind of a young man whose father leaves suddenly. The narrative is moving and powerful, and it shows readers what it is like to be a child who is trying to cope with this kind of devastating event.

The way a door closes
Hope Anita Smith
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
For ages 10 to 13
Henry Holt, 2011, 978-0312661694
C.J. lives with his Momma, Daddy, Grandmomma, and his younger brother and sister. On the whole they have a happy life together, and C.J. admires his strong grandmother, his beautiful mother, and his dependable father who reminds C.J. to be proud of who he is. He loves Sunday afternoons, when he and his father and brother go out and do something together, just the three of them.
   Then Daddy loses his job and things start to change. Daddy tries not to show his pain and worry, but C.J. still sees it and every day he prays that his father will finally get a job. Every day Daddy comes home without a job. Then, one night, Daddy tells his family that he is going out. Somehow, the way he closes the door makes C.J. feel as if they are “vacuum-sealed inside” the room. Something about the way that Daddy closed that door feels wrong.
   Sure enough, that night and the next day Daddy does not come home and C.J. offers to get a job, to even leave school “until we get things squared away,” but Momma won’t hear of it. In fact she gets angry and slaps her son, only to hold him close and cry. As far as she is concerned C.J is too young “to be a man.”
   As the days go by, the gloom of Daddy’s absence spreads, and it touches everyone in C.J’s household. People start to think that Daddy is just another dead-beat dad who will never come back.
   Written using a series of blank verse poems, this touching book explores how a teenage boy feels when his father abandons his family. Feelings of disbelief, anger and fear swirl through C.J. as he tries to come to terms with the fact that nothing stays the same, and that even strong and loving fathers can get afraid when life deals them a blow.

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5. Picture Book Monday with a review of The Red Apple

Learning how to work with others and cooperate is a lesson many children struggle with. They often prefer to do things their way. If there is a prize to be earned, they don't want to share it. They would rather struggle on their own than cooperate with others if it means that they have to share the prize. In this gorgeous picture book we see how a group of animals work together to try to get something and how, in the end, their cooperation gives them a gift that none of them expected.

The red Apple
Feridun Oral
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Minedition, 2015, 978-988-8240-00-5
One snowy, bitterly cold winter’s day a rabbit leaves his burrow to try to find some food. Unfortunately, the snow is so deep that everything edible is buried. Then Rabbit sees a bright red apple hanging on a bare tree. Rabbit is delighted with his find and he quickly goes over to the tree. Only to discover that the apple is too far above his head. There is no way that Rabbit can reach the precious fruit.
   Rabbit decides to ask Mouse for his help, and Mouse is willing to do what he can, but it turns out that the tree is too big for such a small mouse to handle. Even when Mouse stands on Rabbit’s head the apple is still too high for them to reach it.
   Then Fox, who is feeling “a bit under the weather,” arrives on the scene.  He tries to knock the apple off the tree with his tail, but his efforts are no more successful than the earlier ones were, and the apple, very stubbornly so it seems, stays firmly attached to the tree.
   In this beautifully written and visually stunning picture book, Feridun Oral shows his readers how cooperation sweetens life in more ways than one. The ending will warm the hearts of readers of all ages. 

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6. Poetry Friday with a review of A Spectacular Selections of Sea Critters

A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters: Concrete Poems
Concrete poems give poets a means to entertain readers with word magic and graphic art magic. I encountered this form of poetry relatively recently and have seen first hand how excited young children become when they see how the words in a poem can be used to create a picture. This wonderful book is packed to the gills with lots wonderful concrete poems that tickle the mind and delight the eye.

A spectacular Selection of Sea Critters
Betsy Franco
Illustrated by Michael Wertz
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 2015, 978-1-4677-2152-3
Many people love spending time at the seaside, paddling in the waves, and exploring ocean worlds. They are fascinated by the creatures that live underwater; the fish, turtles, jellyfish, stingrays, eels and other animals.
   In this delightful book Betsy Franco’s clever concrete poems are paired with wonderful artwork to give readers a memorable journey into the world of sun, sea, sand, and “sea critters.” The words on the pages are arranged to create shapes and patterns that reflect what is being said in the poems, and these arrangements of words perfectly complement the illustrations to give readers a singular reading experience.
   We begin with a piece of poetry called Sun Mail. The warmth of the sun is sending us an invitation to go “Snorkling today!” and when we dip our heads beneath the ways we see schools of fish where all the fish move in perfect unison to the right, the left, up and down. The fish “shift together in a flash” and as one “they swim together to survive.”
   In the water we encounter box jellyfish, “fascinating” creatures that move around by “undulating” and “pulsating.” We see a sea turtle “row by” with “flippered wings,” and a king angelfish, which is territorial about her space. Among the coral, butterfly fish spend their days “floating, flitting, flickering, fluctuating feeding.” The peaceful harmony of their world is rudely interrupted when they have to flee from a hungry eel.
   Puffer fish, cleaner fish, needlefish, sea horses, Moorish idols, trumpet fish and others cover the pages of this special book. There are poems in rhyming verse, blank verse, a haiku, an acrostic poem, a tercet, a limerick, a riddle and more. Throughout the book Betsy Franco dazzles us with her remarkable word pictures and delights us with her creativity.

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7. Picture Book Monday with a review of Sanctuary

Some picture books were clearly written just for children. Others will appeal to adults who love to look at beautiful art, or who like to give their imagination an airing. And then there are picture books that can be enjoined equally by children and adults because the message is so universal. Today's picture book is just such a title. Children will be drawn into the simple narrative and perhaps they will think about what makes them feel safe and secure. Adults may find themselves wondering what their sanctuary is too. Is it a place, a person, or something else altogether?

Wendy Marloe
Illustrated by Joanna Chen
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Marloe Press, 2015, 978-0-9823495-3-3
When a group of people are asked what they think of when they hear the word “sanctuary,” each person will probably come up with a unique answer. For some, a cozy nook in a window seat might be a sanctuary, while for others their sanctuaries might be out in the fresh air, perhaps amongst trees in the woods or on top of a high hill.
   In this memorable book a minimal text is paired with beautiful illustrations to explore what sanctuaries are. They can be places where we share a part of ourselves, places like a stage. Or they can be places where we can be alone, such as a chair in a library. A sanctuary can be a structure “made out of stone, or cloth, or cardboard or wood,” or alternately it can be “the space between here and the horizon.”
   A sanctuary can be a solitary place under the covers where we hold onto a beloved stuffed animal so that we can have a quiet cry, or it can be picnic place in the woods where we go to play and laugh with others.
   This is the kind of book that children and grownups alike will enjoy sharing. It is a book that will give readers something to think about, and they will enjoy sharing the artwork, and the imagery in the words, with others. 

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8. Poetry Friday with a review of We troubled the waters

Until relatively recently, I had never encountered poetry that told uncomfortable stories from real life, stories that captured painful events from history. Then I started reviewing poetry books and I came across a few such titles, books in which the raw truth from the past is shared and explored. Today's poetry title is an example of this kind of book, and the poems it contains are powerful and honest.

We troubled the waters
We Troubled the WatersNtozake Shange
Illustrated by Rod Brown
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 to 10
HarperCollins, 2009, 978-0-06-133735-2
The history of the African American people is peppered with stories of struggle, loss, landmark moments and people of great courage. We know some of these stories well and think about them as the year rolls around, remembering how Rosa Parks took a stand on a bus, and how Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech on a hot summer’s day in Washington D.C. However, there are many stories that we do not know, and in this book big stories and small ones are told to help us get a truthful picture of what it was like to be an African American in the days when people of color were discriminated against.
   The first story we encounter is about the schools Booker T. Washington founded, schools that gave black children the tools, it was hoped, that would allow them to succeed in the world. Not many years before, the children who attended the schools would have been horribly punished for trying to get an education, but now the door to the world of books, words and numbers was open to them.
   Soon after we read this story of hope we meet a woman sitting in the middle of a floor. She is a “Cleaning Gal” and she knows that she could get into terrible trouble for resting when she should be working. She knows that many tasks await her in the hours and days ahead, and that she has to work, and work hard, to provide for her family. She knows that while she labors away, her employers will live a life of leisure, a life she can only dream about.
   Though this is painful and sad picture, it is nothing compared to the one we come across later in the book when we read about how a group of boys are lynched, left hanging in trees for the their family members to find. Often these acts of barbarism were the work of the Ku Klux Klan, a group who “terrorized” African Americans for generations. Wearing their white robes and head coverings “they took no responsibility for the heinous reign of death they dealt.”
   We read too about how many brave souls refused to accept the “WHITES ONLY” signs. They protested peacefully against segregation in five and dime stores and other places where they were not welcome, and were attacked and imprisoned for their pains.
   This powerful collection of poems will give readers a sense of what African Americans went through, and how they suffered over the years, oppressed by violence and Jim Crow laws. They were not beaten though, and rose up to march and sing, to speak and to shout out for justice.

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9. Picture Book Monday with a review of Tree: A little story about big things

Tree: A Little Story About Big Things
Many people have a hard time understanding why some adults love children's literature. Why would a grownup like to look at picture books, which are childish and surely too simple for an adult reader?

It is true that some picture books have a simple story line, one that caters just for children, but there are others that present readers with a bigpicture concept, a story that explores a universal principal that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Today's picture book is just such a title, and it is one that I have put on my to-look-at-again-and-again shelf. It is book that is beautiful on many levels.

Tree: A little story about big things
Danny Parker
Illustrated by Matt Ottley
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Little Hare, 2012, 9781742978604
A little seed lands in the shelter of a big tree’s curved roots, and there it germinates and sprouts. Though it is “delicate and frail” the little tree begins to grow. Sheltered by its large and strong neighbor from the baking sun, heavy rains and snow, the little tree flourishes. And then, one night, a terrible storm blows through, and though it has withstood many a storm before, this time the older tree, the little tree’s protector, is not able to withstand the ferocity of the wind, rain and lightning.
   When the “uproar and confusion” passes, and the quiet returns, something is different in the little tree’s world. Its protector is gone. Big machines rumble and roar around the little tree and it is left to struggle in a wasteland without any other tree around or near it.
   Loss and change can be devastating, whether you are a tree or an animal or a person. With minimal text and incredibly beautiful illustrations the author and illustrator of this remarkable picture book helps readers to see the cycle of life, death and renewal in a powerful and life-affirming way. We see how the older generation protects the younger until the younger has to stand on its own and face what life sends its way.

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10. Poetry Friday with a review of Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems

Bow-tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems
I had never seen an acrostic poem until my daughter wrote one at school and proudly showed me her creation. She went on to write many more such poems, and still occasionally writes acrostics, which she illustrates with her own drawings. This wonderful title shows young readers how these poems are written, and provides them with examples to read and enjoy.

Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems
Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Andy Rowland
For ages 6 to 8
Millbrook, 2015, 978-1-4677-8107-7
For many children, an acrostic poem is the first poem that they write. To create these poems poets use a word, written down the page instead of across it, to form the building blocks of their word creation. They then begin to write phrases that begin with the letters of that word that explore, in some way, what that chosen word means. For example, the first poem in this is book is built off the word “Acrostic.” The first letter of the first line is an A, the second a C, the third an R, and so on. The poem begins thus: “All kinds of poems are / Cool, but this type is / Really interesting…” Since rhyme and meter patterns are not required in poems of this type - though some of them do rhyme - acrostic poems are wonderfully simple to create. 
   The author of this book begins by explaining what acrostic poems are and then he gives us some wonderful examples to read and explore. Some of the poems use only one word, words like piano, Halloween, and library. Other poems use several words. For example, the author creates a poem called Bow Tie Pasta and the poem explores what it is like to eat pasta that is made out of bow ties of all colors. Not surprising, the meal is “Awful tasting.”
   Many of the poems are written without any kind of rhyme or pattern, but there is one that has rhyme and a balanced meter. The poem is called Rainy Day, and as the verse unfolds we read about a child who makes “cookies by the sheet / Next they cool. I dunk and eat.” Thanks to books, treats, and games, this is a boy or girl who loves “the great indoors!”

   Children who have been afraid to try writing poems of their own are going to be inspired when they look through this book. They will see how easy it is to write acrostic poems, which can be funny, tell a story, or be contemplative, depending on the writer’s mood.

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11. Picture Book Monday with a review of Grant and Tillie Go Walking

I must confess that other than being able to recognize American Gothic, until recently I did not know much about Grant Wood's art. I did not know his story either. I was therefore very keen to read and review today's picture book title, which provides readers with a very unique, partially true, tale about Grant Wood's life. The story is touching and sweet, and it piqued my interest so much that I then went online and read about Grant Wood some more.

Grant and Tillie Go Walking
Grant and Tillie Go WalkingMonica Kulling
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-446-6
Grant Wood lives on a farm, and many days he goes walking with Tillie the cow. Tillie is happy with her lot in her life. She has a comfortable home, plenty to eat, and she has Grant. Unfortunately, her human friend is not happy. Grant is an artist at heart and he feels that he belongs somewhere where he will find “more excitement,” a place like Paris where French artists create their works of art.
   And so Grant leaves his farm life and travels to Paris with his friend Marvin. One evening the two artists climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower and see the city lying below them, “lit up like fireworks.” Grant no longer wears his farm overalls. Instead, he dons city clothes and a beret. He grows a beard and spends many hours talking to other artists in cafes.
   Grant and Marvin paint outdoors, creating paintings in a style that is new and exciting. Marvin’s creations sell quickly, but Grant’s do not. For some reason he is not able to connect with Paris in a meaningful way, and when he tries to paint a cow – something that is familiar to him - that does not work either.
   Back at home, on the farm, Tillie is missing Grant terribly. She loses interest in her food, and she does not go for walks anymore because she does not have Grant to show her the way. Tillie grows sad and thin, and Grant’s family members do not know what to do to help her.
   In this delightful picture book Monica Kulling weaves together fact and fiction to give readers a heartwarming story about an artist who has to leave home to find out what kind of an artist he is. Children will be delighted to see how Grant and Tillie both get something priceless from their relationship.
   In an author’s note at the back of the book readers will find further information about Grant Wood and his art.

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12. Merry Christmas!

A Very Merry Christmas!

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13. Poetry Friday with a review of Little poems for tiny ears

It is so wonderful to share poetry with little children. The rhyme and rhythm feels natural to them, and they are happy to enjoy poems without need to understand the exact meaning of every word. Theirs is an organic appreciation which anyone who loves the written word can appreciate.

Today's poetry title was written just for little children and it is delight to share.

Little Poems for Tiny EarsLittle poems for tiny ears
Lin Oliver
Illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Poetry Picture Book
For babies and toddlers
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-399-16605-1
Sharing poetry with babies, crawlers and toddlers can be so much fun as children who are this young have a natural affinity for the sing-song cadences of verse. Even if they are too young to fully understand the words, there is something about the sounds in poetry - which are similar to the ebb and flow found in music - that little children love.
   In this book Lin Oliver gives his readers a delightful collection of poems that were written with very young children in mind. On these pages we will meet a little girl who sees a baby in the mirror and who marvels at the way in which the mirror baby copies everything she does. Another little one tries walking and he is not discouraged when he falls down. After all, if he does fall down all that happens is that he lands “on my behind.”
   Further along in the book we encounter a little baby who is going out for a walk in his stroller. From his vantage position, being pushed by a grownup, the baby sees two cats and a dog. He sees a girl jogging and waves to her.
   Other poems talk about noses, toes and tongues. We hear about dogs, who “give me love that never ends,” and cats, who are “silky, soft and furry.” There are poems about bath time and diaper time, a poem about a blankie and a poem about “daddy’s beard.” In short, on these pages readers will find poems that perfectly capture a little child’s world.
   Throughout the book Tomie dePaola’s warm and cozy illustrations perfectly complement Lin Oliver’s poems.

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14. Picture Book Monday with a review of When it Snows

When I first looked at today's book I had no idea that the story within was remarkable. I was naturally drawn to the art, which is gorgeous, and I certainly expected the story to be a beautiful winter tale. In actual fact it is a lot more than that. The minimal story is also very powerful, and it reminded me of why I do what I do.

When it snows 
Richard Collingridge
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House UK, 2012, 978-1-849-92140-4
It has snowed and now the cars are stuck and the train has “disappeared” under a mantel of soft whiteness. A little boy is outdoors and with his teddy bear in hand he follows the footprints in the snow. Then he gets a ride on the back of a white bear for a while. Eventually he comes to the place “where the snowmen live.” There are dozens of snowmen standing under the snow-filled clouds, many of which are being built by other children.
   When the sun sinks the little boy leaves the snowmen behind as he follows a bright light that leads him to a forest. There the Queen of Poles takes the boy to a secret place where he sees all kinds of wondrous things.
   Throughout this book a spare text is paired with luminous illustrations to take children on a remarkable journey. The journey itself is magical, but the way in which it ends is, if possible, is even better because we discover that the boy can go to the places we saw in the story “every day” if he wishes because he has something that makes this possible.
   Though this book certainly has a wintry, festive feel to it, readers will be drawn to it again and again, even when the days are long and warm.

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15. Poetry Friday with a review of Winter Eyes.

In just a few days it will be the winter solstice, the longest day of the year. I love celebrating the solstice as I feel the day connects me to my ancestors, for whom the solstice was a time of reflection and celebration. It was also the beginning of a season that was often hard and taxing.

Today I bring you a review of a winter poems book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I hope you will enjoy the book too.

Winter Eyes 
Douglas Florian
Poetry Collection
Ages 5 to 8
HarperCollins, 1999, 0-688-16458-7
   There are so many wonderful things to look forward to in the winter time. There are frozen lakes to skate on, holidays to celebrate, hot cocoa to sip, and nights to spend sitting in front of the fireplace. There are also certain things about winter which we are less keen on like having frozen toes, getting colds, shoveling snow for hours, and having less time to play outdoors because of the shorter days.
   In this collection of twenty-eight poems the author perfectly captures the atmosphere, the joys, the woes, and the celebrations of this season. He describes time spent toasting toes in front of a fire; he ‘paints’ pictures in words of animal tracks in the snow and icicles hanging from the eves. He has created poems that rhyme and poems that do not. He has also created poems which tell a story not only through the words themselves but also by the way those words are arranged on the page. The poems are funny, poignant, descriptive, and expressive and together they present the reader with a charming portrait of wintertime.

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16. Happy Holidays

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17. Picture Book Monday with a review of Mother Bruce

Motherhood is full of surprises. I know that there were many experience that I was not expecting when I became a mother, some of which were hard, and some of which were delightful. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience these things if one is not expecting to be a mother at all. In this picture book you will meet a very grumpy male bear who ends up becoming a mother. A reluctant mother it is true, but a mother nonetheless.

Mother BruceMother Bruce
Ryan T. Higgins
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Hyperion, 2015, 978-148473088-1
Bruce is a grumpy bear who lives by himself.  He does not like sunny days, or rainy days, or cute little animals because he is such a big grump about just about everything. The only think Bruce does like is eggs. He goes out and collects them and then cooks them, using “fancy” recipes that he finds on the Internet.
   One day Bruce decides to make boiled goose eggs drizzled with honey-salmon sauce. He gets some salmon and honey and then steals four of Mrs. Goose’s eggs. Bruce starts to prepare his boiled eggs when the fire in his stove goes out. By the time he gets wood to stoke up the stove the four eggs have hatched and the little goslings think that Bruce is their “MAMA!”
   Bruce is very disgruntled by this unexpected turn of events. He prepares goslings on toast but for some reason cannot seem to eat the goslings, who look at him questioningly. Bruce then tries to take the goslings back to their mother, but she has headed south early and her nest is empty. Bruce leaves the goslings in the nest and heads for home, and the goslings follow him. Bruce tells them that he is not their mother. He runs away. He climbs a tree. Nothing he does makes the slightest bit of difference. As far as the goslings are concerned, Bruce is their mother, even if he “is a HE and HE is a bear.”
   This hilarious picture book explores how one very grumpy bear ends up becoming the mother of four very demanding goslings. Bruce dearly regrets the day when his meal hatched, but there is nothing that he can do except to make the best of things. Which is what he does, bless his grumpy bearish heart.

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18. Picture Book Monday with a review of Quest by Aaron Becker

In 2013 a wordless book called Journey was published, and it has brightened the lives of readers all over the world ever since. Journey is a timeless, ageless book that excites the imagination. The creator of Journey then went on to write a sequel, which carries on where the tale in Journey leaves off. I am thrilled to be able to bring you a review of that sequel today.

Aaron Becker
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Candlewick Press, 2014, 978-0-7636-6595-1
Two children are out riding a tandem bike together when it starts to rain. They, and their purple pet bird, take refuge under a bridge and they are standing there looking out when the girl notices that there is a door under the bridge. The door opens and an elderly king comes out. He gives the children a map, and a yellow crayon. Then some soldiers come out of the door and they drag the king away and slam the door behind them.
   Wanting to follow the old king, the children draw a set of keys using their own red and purple crayons. They open the door and enter the world that lies beyond. They arrive just in time to see the king being taken away on a boat that is traveling away from a walled and fortified city. Parts of the city are on fire and there are soldiers everywhere. Clearly some kind of conflict has occurred and the king has been taken prisoner.
  The children are spotted by soldiers, so they quickly draw pictures of a purple octopus and some diving gear. The children put on their helmet, air tanks, and swimming fins and then the octopus takes them deep under water to an ancient city, where they find another crayon, a yellow one this time. The children then swim away as quickly as they can and head for land once more.
   Using the map, the children travel long distances to collect all the crayons that are shown on the old king’s map. All the while the king’s enemies pursue them relentlessly.
   This magical wordless tale carries on where Aaron Becker’s first book, Journey, left of. The story can be enjoyed as a stand-alone tale or as part of a bigger narrative. Readers of all ages will delight in sharing the adventure that the two children have. Children who cannot yet read can follow the story without needing any help; and readers who are already excellent readers will love the way this book gives them the freedom to craft their own story for a change.

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19. Picture Book Monday with a review of Sidewalk Flowers

Many of us are so busy, so wrapped up our lives, that we don't see the little gifts that life has to offer. We are so focused on ourselves and what we are doing that we don't take the time to connect with people we don't know. Why should we bother?

In today's picture book, which has won several awards over the last few weeks, we see how precious the little gifts are, and how vital it is to be aware of the people, and the animals, around us. The connections that we make with these individuals is important. This book is beautiful to look at, and its message will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sidewalk FlowersSidewalk Flowers
Jon Arno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-431-2
One day a father and his little daughter are walking home after doing the shopping. As they walk down the busy sidewalks in the city, the little girl sees a small flowering plant that is growing at the base of a pole. She picks one of the plant’s yellow flowers and then on she and her father walk.
   Further along she sees another flower, a purple one this time, growing out of a wall and she picks that. Near a bus stop there is a second yellow flower, which the little girl gathers up as her father talks on his cell phone. A little later the girl sees a flower that is growing near a stone lion and another pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk.
   The father and his daughter, who is now holding a bouquet of flowers, then walk into the park. The girl sees the body of a little bird lying in the path and she carefully places some of her precious flowers on the bird, her tribute to the life that was lost. She tucks flowers into the shoes of a homeless man who is sleeping on a bench, and places some under the collar of a dog who wants to be friends. With care the little girl leaves little gifts of flowers in her wake as she and her father make their way home.
  This incredibly special wordless picture book explores the way in which accidental flowers, flowers some people even consider weeds, can bring color and brightness to a city world. What is perhaps even more powerful is the way in which the little girl gives the flowers she picks to others. Some of the recipients of these gifts may not even notice the flowers, but their lives are brightened by them all the same. The world we see in the story is made better because the kind little girl choses to give things she loves to others.

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20. Poetry Friday with a review of Amazing Places

Most of the poems I read when I was young were story poems of some kind, or they described animals. Not many of the poems I encountered described places. Thankfully, these days poets for young people are exploring all kinds of topics in their writings, and today I bring you a collection of poems that take us to some of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States.

Amazing PlacesAmazing Places
Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Chris Soentpiet and Christy Hale
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee and Low, 2015, 978-1-60060-653-3
The United States is a huge country, a country where there are enormous mountain ranges, deep lakes, hot and dry deserts, muggy swamps, bustling cities, and huge forests. It is a place where people can visit museums full of works of art, and where stories from the past are told. It is a land where children and adults alike can visit places where they can play together and watch spectacles that dazzle them. It is a place where the beauty of nature is magnificent and awe inspiring.
   In this wonderful poetry picture book, readers will encounter an array of poems, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, that give us a picture of just a few of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States. Some of the places are man-made while others a gift from nature.
   We begin in Denali National Park in Alaska, where a mother and daughter are sitting by a campfire next to a lake. The reflection of mountains lies across the water as the mother, who when she was little “could build a fire / with sparks from rocks,” tells her daughter to bring her a stick. Then the mother reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a treat. It is time to toast some marshmallows.
   Later on in the book we visit the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas, and see a display that tells visitors about a man called Langston Hughes. Langston once was just a boy delivering newspapers in a small town, but he grew up to become a poet whose poems about “rainy sidewalks and “his dust of dreams,” would one day touch the minds and hearts of thousands of readers.
   Still further in the book we find ourselves sitting in seats at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. This is one of the most famous baseball parks in the world and the oldest in the Major League. Here a child and her grandfather “sip clam chowder / on a crisp fall night,” and then “cheer as a ball / takes off in flight.”
   In all, children who look at this book will visit fourteen places in the United States, all of which are unique and interesting in their own way. Poems written in a variety of styles by Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Linda Sue Park and others are accompanied by marvelous illustrations, and in the back of the book readers will find further information about the Amazing Places featured in the book.

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21. Picture Book Monday with a review of Moletown

Every so often I come across a picture book that will appeal to both children and adults. Today's picture book is just such a title. It is mostly wordless, and the artwork is incredibly rich and detailed. Adults will see that the story is similar to our own human story, and they will appreciate how the moles in the tale come to understand that they need to take responsibility for their own environment. There is a cautionary note to the tale that children and adults will recognize and hopefully learn from.

Torben Kuhlmann
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
North South, 2015, 978-0-7358-4208-3
One day a mole set up house, underground of course, in the middle of a beautiful green meadow. At first he was alone but soon other moles arrived and they began digging homes for themselves as well. As the mole community grew, so did the mole’s technological advances. They invented machines that could convey loads of earth to the surface, and they built a digging device that could dig tunnels for the moles so that they did not have to do the hard manual labor themselves any longer. Soon several little mounds of earth were scattered across the meadow.
   It wasn’t long before the moles had created a whole world for themselves underground, complete with trains to convey moles around the town (that moved horizontally and vertically) and huge digging machines. The moles now had TVs, sound and gaming systems, telephones, and all kinds of other devices. The also had congested streets and overcrowding. Above ground the meadow was gone. In its place was a wasteland dotted with mounds, derricks, and clouds of filthy smoke. Only one small patch of grass remained.
   In this mostly wordless book Torben Kuhlmann explores how a society changes as it becomes more and more industrialized. For a while the quality of life in the town improves, but over time it degrades until the moles come to a point when something needs to be done.
   Children will love the cunning details in the artwork, and older readers will appreciate the meaningful environmental message that is conveyed in such a fresh way.

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22. Poetry Friday with a review of Over the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and in my household preparations have already begun for the big day. Shopping lists have been made, a menu has been planned, and firewood has been chopped. We plan on doing our shopping tomorrow and then all we have to do is wait for our  out of town guest to arrive and cook the meal.

Being able to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family is what makes the day special for me, which is why I chose to share today's poetry title with you. The poem is more than a hundred years old and yet it still resonates with readers of all ages. It is a wonderful celebration of the times that we spend with the people we love, and the little life adventures that we share with them.

Over the River and Through the WoodOver the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem
Lydia Maria Child
Illustrated by Christopher Manson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
NorthSouth, 2014, 978-0735841918
A little boy and his parents are setting out for his grandparent’s house on a cold snowy day riding in a sleigh pulled by a "dapple-grey" horse. Bells jingle and as they drive on the well-known road, and the boy sees children playing on the ice, a boy fishing on the ice, a man pulling a load of firewood up a hill, and the blacksmith working in his forge.
   Best of all, the boy soon sees "Grandmother’s cap" and it isn’t long before the family is sitting down together for a delicious Thanksgiving feast.
   Lydia Maria Child wrote this poem in the mid 1800’s and it has remained a firm Thanksgiving favorite since that time. This beautifully illustrated version of the first six verses of the poem brings to life the special celebratory feel that we all enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. The illustrator also gives the reader an intimate look at what life was like in the country on a cold winter’s day in nineteenth century America. The richly colored and textured woodcuts beautifully complement the lyrical rhyming text.

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23. Picture Book Monday with a review of Strictly no Elephants

When I was in elementary school, a group of boys who I played with decided to form a boy's only 'club.' I was told very firmly that I could not be a member and that I should "buzz off!" Needless to say, my feelings were very hurt by this rejection.

When I read today's picture book I was reminded of that time when being excluded made me feel so alone. This book explores what it is like to be left out, and we see how some children deal with the problem.

Strictly No ElephantsStrictly No Elephants
Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4814-1647-4
Having a little pet elephant in your life is wonderful, but an elephant is such an unusual pet that sometimes it can cause a problem because you “never quite fit in.” The truth of the matter is that no one else has a pet elephant. All the neighbors have dogs, cats, fish and birds. In other words, they have traditional pets.
   Not fitting in exactly what happens to one little boy and his pet elephant. Every day the little boy takes his pet for a walk, and when the elephant refuses to cross the cracks in the pavement because he is afraid of them, the little boy picks up the elephant and carries him across the cracks because that is what friends do for each other; they help each other out.
   One day the little boy dresses himself and his elephant in red scarves and they head out for Number 17 because it is Pet Club Day. When they get to the little green house they see that there is a notice on the door and it reads: “Strictly no elephants.” The boy and his pet are truly upset by this and they walk off in the rain, sadness resting on their shoulders. Then they see a girl who is sitting on a bench. The girl has a skunk in her lap and the boy learns that the other children don’t want her to join their games either. The boy then suggests that they should start their own pet club, one that will be all inclusive.
   With sweetness and gentle humor this picture shows children how painful it is to be left out when you are different in some way. Thankfully, the little boy in this story is not as alone as he thinks he is, and he and his new friend find a solution to their problem.
   Children will love the charming illustrations and cunning animal characters in this book, and grownups may find that odd questions start popping up around the dinner table. Questions like, “Can I get a pet elephant?” and “Where can you buy a pet skunk?”

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24. Happy Thanksgiving!

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25. Poetry Friday with a review of D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet

Since I started reviewing books I have noticed that publishers, authors and illustrators have been finding ways to create interesting alphabet books that can appeal to readers of various ages. We still see simple "A is for Apple" type alphabet books, but we also find more sophisticated books in this genre on the shelves as well. Today's poetry book is actually a combination of poems and nonfiction text, and it looks at many aspects of African American history and culture.

D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American AlphabetD Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet
Nancy I. Sanders
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Poetry and nonfiction picture book
For ages 6 to 9
Sleeping Bear Press, 2007,978-1585362936
Often it is hard to get a real feel for the story of the African American people. We get bits and pieces of stories from biographies and histories, but the picture is a fragmented one. Now, thanks to this book, readers can start to fill in some of the gaps. They will read about the Buffalo Soldiers and African American cowboys. They will read about the African Americans who fought in the American Revolutionary War. They will discover that America's music, literary, and art scene was greatly influenced by the Harlem Renaissance – a time in the 1920s when African American poets, writers, musicians, and artists came together in New York City to create music, art, and books.
   For each letter of the alphabet the author of this special alphabet book describes some aspect of African American culture or history. Some of the entries cover topics that will be familiar, such as "A is for abolitionists" and "L is for Little Rock Nine." Other entries will allow readers to see that there is so much more to the African American story. There are scientists, musicians, artists, leaders, athletes, and so many other people who have left their mark on our world. African Americans have been an important part of our society and we need to remember and be thankful for all that they have done and achieved.
   For each entry in this celebratory book, readers will find an illustration, a short poem, and a longer piece of descriptive prose. The book can therefore be enjoyed on several levels ; the poems and artwork suiting younger readers, and the longer more involved sections of text being suitable for older readers.
  This is one in a growing collection of alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press. Other subjects covered include space, China, cats, dogs, Canada, and Ireland.

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