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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 Little Robot

Graphic novels have been around for a long time, but English language titles in this genre that are suitable for younger readers are a more recent phenomenon. Thankfully First Second books and other publishers are now creating many wonderful graphic novels for children and young adults. There are books that are suited to readers who are just starting their reading journey, and there are also books for readers who are comfortable with complex and rich stories.

Today's picture book title is a mostly wordless graphic novel that young children will find captivating. In the story there are robots, a strong-willed, tool-wielding little girl, and plenty of action-filled adventure. What more can one ask for.


Little RobotLittle Robot
Ben Hatke
Graphic Novel
For ages 6 to 8
First Second, 2015, 978-1-62672-080-0
One day a little girl sneaks out of her trailer home and she sets off to explore. She sees the other kids going to school, she plays on the swing set in an old man’s yard, and then she goes to a place where lots of old cars are piled up. She finds an old set of tools in a belt, which she takes and slings across her shoulder. Then she sees a box floating in a stream. She pulls the box out of the water, opens it, and finds out that it contains a strange metal canister. When she presses a button on the top of the canister it starts to open up.
   The little girl runs away to hide in an old car and watches as the canister opens up some more and then turns into a robot; a not very coordinated robot that tips over on its back when it tries to walk. It lies there with its legs flailing until the little girl takes pity on it and helps it get back on its feet. When the robot tries to walk again it falls flat on its face. Clearly the little machine needs help figuring out how to walk, and the little girl is the one who gives it that help. She also teaches the robot that a cat is not something to be afraid of, and that flowers are alive.
   What the robot and the little girl don’t know is that a machine in the factory knows that one of the robots is missing and a large and rather terrifying retrieval robot has been sent to find it.
   The next day the little girl and her new friend explore together again. The robot turns out to be very good at skipping stones and the two of them have a wonderful time.
   On the third day the little girl and the little robot have a falling out when the little robot seems to prefer hanging out with a broken down car than with her. The girl walks away in a huff. Luckily for the little robot the little girl sees something that makes her think that perhaps something is amiss. She runs back to her mechanical friend just in time to rescue him from being captured by the enormous retrieval robot. They manage to get away from the terrible machine, but their troubles are far from over. The machine is not going to give up without a fight.
   This delightful mostly wordless graphic novel tells the story of a special friendship We meet a courageous little girl whose skills with a wrench and screwdriver helps her to do something special. She is the quintessential heroine, and when they get to the end of the story readers will most certainly be left with a warm, fuzzy feeling in their hearts.

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2. Poetry Friday with a review of Early Moon

When I was growing up, not many writers were creating poetry for young readers. We are very lucky that there are so many marvelous poets today who are busy scribbling away so that our children have many volumes of poetry to choose from when them go to a library or a bookshop. I love seeing the new books appear on the shelves, but every so often I like to turn back the clock and go back to collections of poems that were written long ago. Today's poetry book is just such a title.

Early MoonEarly Moon
Carl Sandburg
Illustrated by James Daugherty
Poetry
For ages 11 and up
Mariner Books, 1978, 978-0156273268
Over the centuries, many people have tried to explain what poetry is, and more often than not they end up posing new questions instead of answering the original one. Carl Sandburg, who was a marvelous poet, felt that “If poems could be explained, then poets would have to leave out roses, sunsets, faces from their poems,” which would be a terrible shame. These things and many others “have mystery, significance, and a heavy or light beauty, an appeal, a lesson and a symbolism that stays with us long as we live.” Perhaps it is better that poetry cannot be explained. Perhaps we should just enjoy it and leave it at that.
   The poems in this collection will certainly give the reader joy. They are divided into categories, which are: Pictures of today, Children, Wind and Sea, Portraits, Birds and Bugs, Night, and End Thoughts.
   On these pages we will meet a worker who “painted on the roof of a skyscraper,” and for him the people below “were the same as bugs.” We meet Dan, an Irish setter puppy who finds a sheltered corner where there is “all / sun and no wind.” Here Dan lies “dozing in a half sleep.” We hear about the people “who go forth before daylight,” the policeman, the teamster, and the milkman, who work while others are still asleep in their beds.
   Then there are the poems that capture special moments in time, each of which is significant in a unique way. In the poem Soup the narrator tells us about how he saw a man who was eating soup. The man was famous and was mentioned in the papers that day. Thousands of people talked about him, but to the narrator he was just a man “Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.” In Splinter we capture that moment when “The voice of the last cricket” is heard when the first frost touches the land. The insect’s song is like a goodbye, a “splinter of singing” in the cold air.
   This is a wonderful collection that will appeal to both children and adults. There is something here for everyone. On the pages readers will find little touches of childhood, descriptions, stories, odes to things lost, and so much more.

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3. Picture Book Monday with a review of Buddy and Earl go exploring

Sometimes the people we love the most, our friends and family members, like to do odd things. Sometimes they have strange hobbies or habits that don't really make sense to us, but we go along for the ride because we care about them and want to be with them. In this picture book a dog goes on a very strange journey with his hedgehog friend. He does not quite understand what the hedgehog is doing or why he is doing it, but he goes on the trip all the same.

Buddy and Earl Go ExploringBuddy and Earl go exploring
Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2016, 978-1-55498-714-6
Buddy has had a long day and he is looking forward to snuggling down on his bed for a good night’s sleep. Buddy’s people put Earl the hedgehog in his nice new cage, and then they turn off the light and go to bed. Buddy closes his eyes and is just nodding off when Earl tells him that he is going on a trip.
   Buddy is very fond of Earl and does not really like the idea of his friend going off for an indefinite period of time, but Buddy does his best to be brave and he says goodbye to Earl and wishes him “Good luck!” Earl then climbs into his exercise wheel and starts running. He runs and runs and when he stops he sees that the place he has come to “looks eerily similar to the place I just left.” Which is not surprising.
   Earl is thrilled when he sees that Buddy is with him in the ‘new’ place. After all, “Exploring is always more fun if you do it with a friend.” Together they set off to explore, with Earl’s very fertile imagination leading the way. Somehow, in the kitchen, they encounter a silvery lake, they eat a feast, Buddy saves a “lovely lady hedgehog trapped in the jaws of a monster,” and in turn Earl saves Buddy from another monster.
   In this second Buddy and Earl book, Earl once again let’s his imagination run wild, and though Buddy is a rather literal dog, he goes along for the ride. Children will find it not to laugh out loud when they see how Earl takes the most ordinary of things and turns them into something wonderful. Best of all they will love seeing how the two very different friends stay true to each other no matter what.

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4. Poetry Friday with a review of The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders

There is something incredibly soothing about reading poetry. As it is not prose, the form of writing we are most used to, we tend to take our time with poetry, slowing down our reading so that we can take in the words. Of late the news has been full of awfulness of the worst kind and I have found myself taking refuge from the headlines by reading novels that are written in verse. For a while at least I get a break from violence, anger, frustration, and loss. For children, perhaps today's poetry book will offer a similar little break from the tension that is rippling through our world.

The Frogs Wore Red SuspendersThe Frogs Wore Red Suspenders 
Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
HarperCollins, 2005, 978-0060737764
One of the best ways to help children engage with poetry is to create poems that make them laugh, or poems that engage the imagination. Jack Prelutsky is a master when it comes to writing poems that contain just the right amount of delightfully silly fun to keep children coming back for more. He also paints pictures with his words to such great effect that children are also drawn to his gentler, more lyrical poems as well.
   In this poetry collection, animal and human characters do all kinds of delightful things, the kinds of things that children will enjoy reading about. We begin with a quintet of frogs (wearing red shorts with red suspenders) and a quartet of pigs (in purple vests) who are on a stage. They are singing to an audience of chickens and ducks, all of whom are sitting “upon their nests.” One would think that the noise would scare the birds away, but they are delighted by the croaky and oinky “serenade.” So much so in fact that they “laid enormous spangled eggs / and quacked and clucked with pride.”
   In I went to a store we meet a fellow who goes to a store where the storekeepers don’t have any of the things he wants. Instead, they sell him things that he really does not need at all. For example, instead of selling him a pear and a plum they sell him a drum, and instead of some cheese he ends up with a lamp. Clearly this is the kind of store that he should avoid in future!
   Then there is Sarah Small who grows all kinds of clothing in her garden. There are galoshes “short and tall,” as well as “Shirts of yellow, hats of red.” If you need pajamas, sweaters, ties, or mittens, shoes or stockings, this is the place to come, for Sarah Small has them all.
   This is a book where there is something for everyone, and for every mood. Readers will enjoy dipping into to this poetry collection, and they will come back to it again and again.

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5. Picture Book Monday with a review of Good Night, Baddies

When I was young I read a lot of fairy tales. I was given a collection of books written by Ruth Manning Sanders that were full of stories about giants, witches, fairies, ogres and other baddies. I loved those books and I was particularly fond of the tales where the baddies turned out not to be so bad after all. In today's picture book you will encounter the softer side of some baddies, the side that emerges at the end of the day when they are tired and in need of comfort and friendship.

Good Night, BaddiesGood Night, Baddies
Doborah Underwood
Illustrated by Juli Kangas
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-0984-1
The sun is setting and the baddies in the kingdom, worn out by all the bad things that they have done that day, head for the castle that they call home. In ones and twos a giant, an evil queen, a dragon, wolves, witches, a troll, a gnome and others arrive on foot, and through the air. As they enter the castle, they share their news. Did the giant catch Jack the giant killer? Was a treasure that was stolen found?
   After a meal is eaten together in fellowship and harmony, the various baddies head off to prepare for bed. The queen takes off her crown and puts on her pajamas. She puts away her poisoned apple, which she will give to Snow White on “another day.” The troll, who has spent so much time waiting for the three goats gruff under his bridge, is having a long bubble bath.
   Dressed in their pajamas, Rumpelstiltskin and a wolf settle in front of a crackling fire to read a story, “one that’s sweet, not grim or gory.” One of the other baddies gives the dragon a drink.
   When it is time for bed, the witches check under the giant’s bed to make sure that there are no princesses there. After all, they don’t want their large friend to be scared and therefore sleepless. 
   Most of us are used to booing and hissing at the baddies that we encounter in fairy tales. We route for Little Red Riding Hood, and are pleased when the wicked queen fails to kill Snow White. In this picture book these same baddies that we love to hate are presented to us in a different light. They are tired and weary baddies who, now that their daily baddie work is complete, want the same comforts of home that the rest of us like to enjoy. Children will be tickled to see wolves behaving politely at the dinner table, and a gnome waiting to have a bath, a rubber ducky under his arm. They will find themselves feeling sorry for the giant who is afraid of princesses under his bed, and be comforted by the ways in which the baddies look after one another. It would appear that even baddies have a side that is not-so-bad.


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6. Poetry Friday with a review of Butterfly Eyes and other secrets of the meadow

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow
Nature is full of beauty. It is also full of fascinating stories that describe the ways in which plants and animals have adapted over time to perfectly fit into their environment. These stories have always captivated me, which is why I was drawn to today's poetry title. In this book readers will find poems and real-life stories about the plants and animals that make their homes in meadows.

Butterfly Eyes and other secrets of the meadow
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, 978-0618-56313-5
The first touches of dawn’s light touches the plants and the trees in the meadow. In this time of “almost-light,” something lies on leaves, grass blades, spider webs, and on the wings of insects. When the sun’s warmth touches these things, the drops start to disappear. What are these “jewels of the dawn?”
  At this same time of day a creature waits to be warmed by the sun, for only with that warmth can it start to move, to “flex” and loosen, and to prepare for that first leap of the day. What is this creature?
   When they read the text that follows these two poems, readers soon find out that the “jewels of the dawn” are drops of dew, and the creature who so needs the warmth of the sun is a grasshopper. We learn what dew is, and why the grasshopper is sluggish until it is warmed up. 
   In the next poem we encounter some small sleeping creatures that are furry and that have long ears. As they sleep they have their “Paws folded close beneath whisker and chin.” Not far away is another creature that is already up and about. He trots through the meadow, on a mission. What are these animals?
   On the next page we learn that the mysterious “He” we met a moment ago is a fox, and the sleeping bundles of fur are baby rabbits that are safe from foxes and other predators in their nest of grasses and fur. 
   In this wonderful poetry picture book the poet offers readers two poems in which she describes something, and then she poses the question “What am I?” or some version of that question. She then answers the questions on the next spread, and thus we learn about all kinds of wonderful things that can be found in a meadow in summer. Among other things, we learn that spittlebugs create nests of spit that look like little patches of foamy bubbles, and that monarch butterflies are immune to the toxins in milkweed plants. In fact, their caterpillars are even able to safely eat the leaves. 
   Some of the poems in this beautifully illustrated collection rhyme and some do not. There are concrete poems and poems that seem to hop and skip back and forth across the page. In fact the poems come in so many wonderful forms that readers never know what is going to come next. 
   This rich and powerful gathering of poems and prose will give readers a sense of the wonder that the author clearly feels for nature. 

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7. Poetry Friday with a review of Amber was Brave, Essie was Smart

When I was a child I lived in a country that was being torn apart by a civil war. Often my parents were busy trying to work, trying to find supplies, trying to figure out what to do next, and I had to spend a lot of time alone. I think those times would have been easier to bear if there had been another child around to share my fears with.

In today's poetry title we see how two sisters lean on each other during hard times. They squabble of course, but mostly they help and support one another. Together they are better able to face an uncertain future and loneliness.

Amber was Brave, Essie was SmartAmber was Brave, Essie was Smart
Vera B. Williams
Poetry
For ages 8 to 10
HarperCollins, 2004, 978-0060294601
Amber and Essie are sisters, and though they have their differences they are very close. Their mother works long hours, and so they only really spend time with her on Sundays, which is her full day off each week. On the other days, after school, they go to a neighbor’s house for two days and a cousin’s house for two days. On Saturdays they are mostly take care of each other, which they are pretty good at doing.
   Some time ago Amber and Essie’s father was arrested for forging a check and now he is in prison. Times have been hard ever since. Sometimes the phone bill doesn’t get paid, and often there really isn’t a lot to eat in the apartment. The girls do the best they can, taking refuge in their bed when it is cold or when they are sad, curled up against each other so that they are like a “Best sandwich” with Wilson their teddy bear between them.
   Using a series of poems, Vera B. Williams take us into the lives of two little girls. We see the good times and the painful ones, and it isn’t long before we start hoping that Amber, who isn’t afraid of the rat that lives behind the wall, and Essie, who can cook toasted cheese sandwiches, will get the happiness and security that they deserve. This special book serves as a powerful celebration of siblinghood.

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8. Picture Book Monday with a review of Bob the artist

Most of us have something about our bodies that we don't like, that we wish we could change. Our hair is too straight/curly. Our legs are too fat/skinny. Our lips are too plump/thin. In this book you will meet a bird who, thanks to the remarks of others, thinks his legs are too thin. You will also see how, thanks to a fortuitous visit to an art gallery, the bird finds a very unique solution to his problem.

Bob the ArtistBob the artist
Marion Denchars
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Laurence King, 2016, 978-1-78067-767-5
One day Bob the bird decides to go for a walk. It is a beautiful day and he sets off in good humor on his “fine legs.” Unfortunately, Bob seems to be the only animal who thinks his legs are fine. Cat thinks that they are skinny, and Owl thinks that Bob has a “funny stick walk.” Worse still the other birds all make comments about how “puny” Bob’s legs are. Not surprisingly, all this teasing makes Bob feel rather blue. He decides that what he needs to do is to do lots of exercise to make his legs bigger.
   Bob goes to the gym and he diligently lifts weights, runs, and does yoga poses. When that does not work, he tries eating a lot to gain weight, but, as so often happens, the weight ends up all around his middle and none of it goes into his thin legs.
   Bob finally determines that the only thing to do is to hide his legs under clothes, but the leg warmers, skirts, and coats just make him feel “ridiculous.”
   Bob then visits an art gallery. The colors and designs that he sees on the canvasses inspire him to do something unique and creative about his leg problem.
   Children are going to love seeing how Bob finds a wonderful, and colorful, solution to a problem that makes him very unhappy. Art therapy comes in many forms and this one is truly unique.

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9. Poetry Friday with a review of E. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life

All too often, when we read a story or a piece of poetry, we have no idea who the author is or what kind of life he or she lived or is living. I chose to review today's poetry book because it gives readers some poems to read, of course, but it also gives readers a picture of what the poet who wrote those poems was like. I found that this format helped me appreciate the poems all the more.

E. E. Cummings: A Poet's LifeE. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life
Catherine Reef
Nonfiction
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 2006, 978-0618568499
Many of us imagine that poets are gentle souls who are quiet, bookish people living safe and secluded lives. Edward Estlin Cummings was not such a person at all . It is true that he began to write poetry from a very early age, and he did read a great deal, but he also believed that it was essential for a person to experience life to the fullest. He therefore traveled a great deal, he was a red-cross driver during World War I, and he insisted that he should do his duty when he was called up to be a soldier during that same war, even though he was a pacifist. Summings also left the comfort of his home in New England to live in Greenwich Village in New York City, where he could share in the lives of fellow writers, painters, poets, and thinkers. He did not want a life of safety and sameness. He wanted to feel and discover, he wanted to stretch himself.
   And this is just what he did. He also stretched the boundaries of poetry in ways that no one had seen before. Estlin changed all the rules, removing punctuation, capitalizations, the form of the words on the page, and so much more. He challenged his readers to look at the words in a whole new way and he made them think about his ideas. Some people loved what he created. Others could not stand his radically different concepts. Why, they asked, did he make his words slide across the page in that messy way? Why did he use the lower case i all the time? Estlin had his reasons, and he was part of a movement that was challenging people to look at poetry, writing, and art in a new way.
   This wonderfully written title gives readers a thorough and often startling picture of the life of E.E. Cummings, and it also give readers a picture of an era; of a time of great change when people of all kinds were looking for new ways to express themselves. The author makes great use of Cummings' poems to demonstrate what he trying to do with his writing, and thus she gives her readers a taste of the poet's work at different points in his life.
   Well written, and very carefully researched, this book is an excellent example of how a biography for older children should be crafted and presented.

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10. Picture Book Monday with a review of Mr. Hulot at the beach

When I was growing up on the island of Cyprus, summer was all about going to the beach. Here in Oregon we have lots of beaches, but only nutters venture into the water because it is so cold. Sunbathing isn't really an option either much of the time because it is too chilly. Still, the beaches are beautiful and we all enjoy walking and tide pooling, and my husband spends hours looking for rocks.

Since summer is now officially here, I thought I would kick things off with a beach book. Enjoy!

Mr. Hulot at the BeachMr. Hulot at the beach
David Merveille
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
NorthSouth, 2016, 978-0-7358-4254-0
It is a sunny day at the seaside and Mr. Hulot is going to spend some time on the beach. He has a deck chair, an umbrella, a tennis racket and everything else a gentleman might need for such an expedition. He buys a newspaper and then heads for the sands, where he fights with the deck chair for a while trying to get it to cooperate. Which it does. Sort of.
   As he reads his newspaper, an inflated beach ball lands on Mr. Hulot. Some people might get upset by a disturbance of this sort, but Mr. Hulot does not mind. He kicks the ball to the little boy it belongs to and, in the process, Mr. Hulot’s shoe comes flying off and lands in the water. He manages to rescue the shoe (using his shrimping net) and then puts it on top of his umbrella to dry.
   A passing seagull sees the shoe and decides that it is just what it needs. It swoops down and carries off the shoe, with Mr. Hulot in hot pursuit. Causing a great disruption at the hotel, Mr. Hulot climbs up onto the roof of the building to retrieve the shoe, only to find that the seagull has laid some eggs in it. There is nothing for it. Mr. Hulot returns to the ground shoe-less.
   One would think that this escaped would be more than enough of an adventure for one man to have during a sojourn at the seaside, but Mr. Hulot is not your average man and so more misadventures lie in wait for him after he returns to the beach.
   Inspired by the work of the French comic actor and filmmaker, Jacques Tati, David Merveille brings Tati’s wonderful Mr. Hulot character to life in this, his second, Mr. Hulot book. The story is wordless and takes readers on a wonderful series of mishaps that are sweetly funny.

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11. Poetry Friday with a review of Nibble Nibble

I really enjoy reading and reviewing poetry collections that focus on one subject or theme. Today's poetry title offers readers five poems that feature rabbits. Each of the poems conveys a different mood and sentiment to the reader. The book is wonderfully illustrated throughout by Wendell Minor, a skilled illustrator whose love of nature comes through in his artwork.

Nibble NibbleNibble Nibble
Margaret Wise Brown
Wendell Minor
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
HarperCollins, 2007, 978-0060592080
In 1959 five poems written by Margaret Wise Brown where published and shared with the world.
In this wonderful poetry picture book those five poems are paired with Wendell Minor’s beautiful art. Wendell’s deep and abiding love of nature comes through in the illustrations, and children will almost be able to hear the soft hopping sound of bunny feet and the hum of a summer evening as they turn the pages.
   The poems capture moments in the lives of some rabbits. In two we see the ways in which they move about their world. Another is a kind of song, complete with repetitive, lilting sound words, about the love that one person feels for another. There is also a poem that takes us through the year from April until September, capturing the essence of those warm weather months when young bunnies and robins leaves their nests, when fireflies float above the grass, and when caterpillars, “creep / Out of summer / And into sleep.”
   The collection wraps us with a poem called Cadence, which describes a music that the poet has heard “In the cadence of the word / Not spoken yet / And not yet heard.” This poem is a beautiful conclusion to a poetry journey that children will want to revisit again and again.

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12. Picture Book Monday with a review of Tupelo Rides the Rails

Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy looking for a place that we can call home. Often what we are really looking for are the right people, the people who can make anyplace a home for us because they are there. Today's picture book tells the story of a dog who is looking for a place to call her own. It is a sweet and life affirming story that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Tupelo Rides the RailsTupelo Rides the Rails
Melissa Sweet
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008, 978-0-618-71714-9
One day Tupelo’s humans dump her, and her sock toy, on the side of the road. Tupelo cannot understand why they would do such a thing, and does not know where she should go next. Not being the kind of dog who gives up, and believing that “Everyone belongs somewhere,” Tupelo picks up her toy, Mr. Bones, and she sets off to find her place.
   At first none of the animals she encounters is interested in having her join “their tribe,” but then Tupelo picks up the whiff of something wonderful. She follows the scent and comes across a pack of dogs that are taking part in a bone-burying ritual. They all make a wish to Sirius, the Dog Star, and then bury a bone as an offering to him. The dogs believe that the ritual will bring them “good luck and fortune.”
   Under the glimmer of Sirius the dogs all make their wishes and then bury their bones. All of them except Tupelo. She has no bone to bury and she cannot bear to bury Mr. Bones. Instead of wishing, Tupelo decides to follow the dog pack. The dogs are fed by a hobo called Garbage Pail Tex and then the man and all the dogs hop on a train. The hobo tells the dogs about famous dogs from history, dogs like Lassie and Toto. He sings them a bedtime song too, and Tupelo wishes that the ride will “last forever.”
  When they arrived in Hoboken, Garbage Pail Tex and some of his hobo friends set about reuniting the lost dogs with their families, and finding homes for the others. One by one the dogs go off to be with people who will love and cherish them. Finally, Tupelo is the only one left and she is alone once more with no one for company except Mr. Bones.
   In this lovely story about a dog who is looking for a home, Melissa Sweet combines her charming multimedia artwork with a narrative that readers of all ages will love. Anyone who has felt lost and alone at some point will appreciate how Tupelo feels as she tries to find her place.

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13. Poetry Friday with a review of Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes

I am sorry to say that I was in my thirties before I encountered the poetry of Langston Hughes. For some reason my education in a school on the island of Cyprus did not include studying his powerful words. Still, better late than never as they say. I have had, and will continue to have, a wonderful time getting to know Langston Hughes' writings, and I am delighted to be able to bring you this splendid book on this poetry Friday.

Poetry for Young People: Langston HughesPoetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
Edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad
Illustrated by Benny Andrews
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2013, 978-1454903284
When Langston Hughes started writing poetry, he chose to do so using a voice that used “the speech of ordinary Americans,” and he “sought his material in the world around him.” The people and places that he wrote about were familiar to him on a personal level. He also chose to allow his own concerns and beliefs to filter into his writing. For example, he wrote about “the dignity and beauty of African American identity” because he felt that his people, and all people, needed to see and recognize this beauty. In addition, he used his poems to address the social injustices that he saw around him, the injustices that African Americans had lived with for so long.
   In this wonderful collection of poems ,the editors offer young readers some of Langston Hughes’ wonderful poems. Some of them, like the poem called Aunt Sue’s Stories were inspired by Hughes’ own life experiences. When he was a child Hughes was raised in large part by his grandmother. She would place her little grandson on her lap and tell him stories that were rooted in real life, narratives that spoke about “people who wanted to make the Negroes free.” Aunt Sue’s Stories is an homage to that grandmother and her tales, and we hear about how Aunt Sue would sit on the front porch and tell the “brown-faced child” on her lap about black slaves and their lives. The child knew that the stories he was hearing were “real stories,” that “Aunt Sue never got her stories / Out of any book at all.”
   In My People, Hughes explores the beauty that is found in African Americans. To him “the faces of my people” are as beautiful as the night, and their eyes are as beautiful as the stars. Just like the sun, “the souls of my people are beautiful.” Such words were particularly powerful when they were shared with a world that could not, did not, or would not see the beauty found in African American people.
   Langston Hughes sought to combine poetry and the blues in his writing, and several of his ‘musical’ poems appear in this book. In both The Weary Blues and Homesick Blues there is a rhythm that suggests the sway and lilt of a musical style that he most identified with. In other poems formats used in the blues can be found.
   This is a wonderful collection of poems for readers who are familiar with Langston Hughes’ writings, and for those who are coming to them with fresh eyes. Each poem is accompanied by an editorial note, which provides the reader with further information about the poem and about what inspired Hughes to write that poem. Notes are also offered beneath some of the poems that further clarify words and phrases that were used.
  



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14. Picture Book Monday with a review of A family is a family is a family

I grew up in a rather conservative place where families typically consisted of a mother, a father, and two children. Because many mothers had to work (so that their children could go to university) grandmothers were often a part of the family. They helped raise the children and did some, or all, of the housework. It was only when I moved to the U.K that I saw other family formats, and now I live in a town where their are all kinds of family units. Today's picture book celebrates the family, in all its forms, and the narrative shows how love is the common denominator that connects them all.

A Family Is a Family Is a FamilyA family is a family is a family
Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Groundwood, 2016, 978-1-55498-794-8
Today the children in a class are talking about families, and the teacher asks her students what they think makes their families “special.” One little girl wants to go last because her family is not like anyone else’s and she has no idea what she is going to say. What she does not know is that each of the twelve families she is going to hear about is unique, just like hers.
   The first little girl tells her classmates that her parents have been best friends since first grade and that they are really fond of one another. They even kiss in public, which is “kind of gross.” The little girl who goes next has lots of brothers and sisters. A little boy then tells the class that he has two mothers, both of whom are terrible singers. However, this does not stop them from singing very loudly. Another little boy has two dads, one of whom is very short and the other who is tall. They both “give good hugs.”
   Then there is the little girl who is being raised by her grandmother, and a little girl whose parents are separated. She spends one week with her mother, and one week with her father, which she things is right because “Fair’s fair.”
   When it is finally the little girl’s turn to tell her classmates and teacher about her family, she is able, with a smile on her face, to tell them about a special moment that she shared with her family.

   This wonderful book celebrates the many kinds of families that there are out there. Alongside the little girl we come to appreciate that families come in so many sizes, forms, and formats, and every single one of them can provide a child with a loving environment in which to grow.

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15. Poetry Friday with a review of Runny Babbit

I don't know about you, but I definitely have days when I am not in the mood for reading something deep and meaningful. My brain is tired and too full of 'stuff', and I just need to relax and enjoy a book. This is true of all kinds of books, including poetry. Some days I am happy to delve into the words written by Maya Angelou or Emily Dickinson, but on others I need something lighter, and today's poetry book fits this bill perfectly. The poems in the book are deliciously amusing and Shel Silverstein's clever way of writing makes it unique and great fun to read.

Runny Babbit: A Billy SookRunny Babbit: A Billy Sook
Shel Silverstein
Poetry
For ages 7 to 9
HarperCollins, 2015, 978-0060256531
Down in the green woods, for some reason that no one can really explain, the animals “do things and they say things / In a different way.” The animals choose to invert the letters in certain words when they speak, and so “purple hat” becomes “hurple pat.” Similarly, instead of saying read a book they say “bead a rook.” To understand it you just have to remember to switch a letter here and there. At first, it can be a little difficult to get the hang of it, but in time one gets used to it, and translation becomes automatic.
   In this book Shel Silverstin takes us into the green woods and introduces us to some of the animals there. The poet brings their stories to life and, wanting to be true to the ways of his subjects, uses their singular way of speaking in his writing.
   One of the families who lives in the green woods is Bunny’s family. He has “A sother and two bristers, / A dummy and a mad.” Bunny’s mamma feeds her family “marrot cilk” and “parrot cie,” and they are very happy living in their “cozy hunny butch.”
   Bunny, like any other child, has all sorts of adventures. For example, one day he “mets guddy” and is then washed and hung out to dry, just as if he were a piece of clothing. Not surprisingly, Joe Turtle is rather surprised to see his friend hanging from a washing line by his ears, and he asks Bunny what he is doing. Bunny, not being one to let the opportunity for a little pun to pass him by, says that he is “just rangin’ hound.”
   We go one to read about how Bunny cuts his own hair, how he takes up knitting, and what happens when he jumps over a “jandlestick.” We hear about what happens when Bunny decides to pretend to be a cowboy, and what he gets up to when he visits Mount Rushmore.
   In all there are forty-one poems in this book featuring Bunny and his friends, and children are going to laugh out loud as they try to figure out the green wood way of speaking. It should be noted that this way of speaking often leads to readers saying rather amusing things without even meaning to.

  


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16. Poetry Friday with a review of Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy riddles in verse

Authors of books for young readers find so many ways to incorporate educational, things-you-need-to-know pieces of information into their writings. The author of today's poetry title has combined poetry, riddles, and nonfiction text in a unique and amusing way to explore the parts of the body. I was truly impressed with the creativity that was tapped to create this very special book.

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in VerseRandom Body Parts: Gross Anatomy riddles in verse
Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Poetry Book
For ages 7 to 9
Peachtree Publishers, 2015, 978-1-56145-737-3
From an early age children start learning the names of parts of the body. People have even written little songs to help them learn where their forehead, nose, elbows, and toes are. When they get older they find out a little more about their stomach, their teeth, their eyes, their hair and other parts of their bodies, but do they really know as much as they think they know?
   In this wonderful book the author offers young readers clever riddles written in verse to challenge their knowledge of anatomy. Each riddle is accompanied by a nonfiction section of text, which provides the solution to the riddle and offers up interesting pieces of information about the body part being described.
   In a poem called Lunchtime we encounter a “cauldron” in which “Choice ingredients” are mixed. Here “Flesh of fowl,” “Wheat paste,” and “Plant parts” are combined with a “pulverizing rumble.” What on earth could this body part be? It turns out that this rather stomach churning riddle is describing…the stomach, which, we are told, “churns food into a thick, liquidy shake called chyme.”
   Further along in the book we encounter a sonnet that describes something that is cone-shaped and that is protected by a “cage of bone.” Apparently this body part is important, for in some way “the very stuff of life depends” on the way it works. The note that goes with this puzzle tells us that the riddle is describing the heart. This muscular vital vessel has four chambers and it pumps blood throughout the body.
   In this incredibly clever title we see how a riddle can be a work of word art and a puzzle at the same time. Children will enjoy trying to figure out the solutions to the riddles, and they will be astonished to learn how the various body parts work.

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17. Picture Book Monday with a review of Toot and Puddle

I am lucky to have to some wonderful friends who are there for me in good times and bad, who make me laugh, and who understand where I am coming from. I miss them when I don't see them, and feel rich after I have spent time with them. Today's picture book is about a friendship that is similarly enriching and wonderful. As the pages turn, two little pigs who are very different, but who are also best friends, come to learn something about the relationship that they share.

Toot and Puddle
Holly Hobbie
Picture Book  Series
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2007, 978-0316365529
Toot and Puddle are a pair of pigs who live together, and they are the best of friends. One would think that they would have to be alike to be able to share a home, and yet they are actually very different. Toot loves to go off on adventures to all sorts of exotic places, while his friend prefers to stay home in comfy and homey Woodcock Pocket.
   One day Toot decides to go on a trip around the world. While he is gone, Puddle has a wonderful time at home doing all his favorite things. At the same time he gets to share in Toot's adventures by reading the postcards that Toot sends him from Egypt, Africa, the Solomon Islands, India, and many other places.
   However, even though he is having a good time at home, Puddle begins to miss his friend. He thinks about Toot as he goes about his daily activities. What he doesn't know is that Toot is having similar feelings.
   In this book the author has created a tale with unforgettable characters, illustrations to pore over, and a simple yet powerful text that is a tribute to friendships of all kinds.

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18. Picture Book Monday with a review of Bear in love

Sometimes we think that the perfect expressions of love or affection are the ones that are grand and extravagant. It turns out that often the best way to show someone that you care for them is by doing something for them that is simple, and yet powerful. In this picture book you will meet a bear who finds out that someone cares for him very much, someone who is shy, and kind, and thoughtful; someone who does little things for the bear that say an awful lot.

Bear in love
Bear in LoveDaniel Pinkwater
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-4569-4
One morning, as per usual, a bear crawls out of his cave, he rubs his eyes, stretches, feels the morning sun touch his fur, and then looks around for his breakfast.  On this particular morning he discovers that someone has left an orange “long and pointy” thing on a rock. The bear has never encountered such a thing before, and when he sniffs it he decides that is smells “nice,” and so he nibbles it. The thing turns out to taste very good indeed.
   The next morning someone has left two of the orange, nice tasting things on the rock. The bear cannot help wondering who left them there. The morning after that three orange tasty things appear, and the morning after that there is a whole bunch of them sitting on the rock. The bear decides that someone must like him very much to leave him so many “good things.”
   That day the bear discovers a bee nest in a tree, which he then proceeds to raid. The bear happily feasts off the honey comb and the honey. He could eat the whole lot, but he decides that he will save some for “the nice friend” who gave him all the orange treats.
   The bear leaves the honeycomb on the flat rock and he tries to stay awake to see who his new friend is, watching from his cave. Unfortunately, the bear is not very good at staying up, and he falls asleep. In the morning his friend has left him a little gift. A pretty flower is lying on the rock where the honeycomb was. Once again the bear wonders and wonders who the mystery person could be.
   This sweet story explores how a special friendship is built. With each gift, each act of kindness, the connection between the bear and his secret friend gets closer. Children will be delighted when they see how the story turns out, and when they discover what the bear, and his new friend, feel for each other.

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19. Poetry Friday with a review of Heartbeat


I didn't really know anything about this book before I read it, though I knew from past experience than anything Sharon Creech writes is going to be marvelous. This book is indeed marvelous, on so many levels. It explores the discoveries that a young girl makes as the world around her shifts and changes and I, at least, grew very fond of her very quickly. Her voice is true and strong and it is delightful to see how she matures as the story unfolds.

Heartbeat
Sharon Creech
HeartbeatPoetry
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2012, 978-0060540241
Change is a-coming in Annie’s life. Grandpa is now living with her family because he is becoming forgetful and frail and he needs to be cared for. Annie’s mother is pregnant, and Annie is both a little scared and excited at the prospect of having a sibling. There is something so awesome, and yet a little “creepy,” about the whole baby-growing-inside-her-mother thing.
   The one thing that stays the same for Annie is her running. Whenever she can, Annie runs barefoot, just for the sake of running. For her, running is a joyous thing that she loves to do alone. Or mostly alone. Often Annie’s friend Max runs with her. They barely speak, and that is the way they like it. Lately though Max has become more withdrawn and angry. His father left the family and then his grandfather died. For Max, running is now more than just a hobby. It has become what he hopes will be a means to an end. He hopes to escape his hometown and his life through his running, and so now, during every run, there is the goal of going faster and being better. There is a drive that Annie appreciates and understands but that she wants nothing to do with. Max tries to get Annie to join the school track team but she refuses. She refuses even when the coach at school puts pressure on her.
   Annie’s grandfather used to be a runner, and he has trophies in his room that show how he good he was. For some reason one day he stopped running and now here he is, a little old man, and parts of his memories are “vanishing every day.” At the same time his newest grandchild is growing, getting bigger and preparing for his or her arrival into the world. How strange it is to be losing something and gaining something at the same time. The world is sometimes a very confusing place.
   As the days go by, Max gets more and more aggressive about his running. He needs to get a pair of proper running shoes because he is not allowed to compete running barefoot. Coming from a family where money is tight means that he cannot just go out and buy a pair of shoes whenever he wants to, and Annie worries about this. She wants Max to be able to race because he wants to do it so badly. She wants this for him even though his compulsion is creating a rift between them, and their friendship is suffering.
   As the day of the birth approaches, Annie gets more nervous. She and her father are going to be present at the birth and they are going to need to help Annie’s mother through the process. Annie is not sure she is up for the challenge, but she does her best. She watches the birth movie (which makes her feel queasy) and studies the coaching manuals so that she will know what to do when the time comes.
   As all these changes swirl around her, Annie dives into an art assignment that she has been given. She needs to draw an apple for one hundred days. She needs to create one hundred drawings of an apple, and at first she cannot imagine how she will manage it. Over time though she begins to see the apple in a deeper way, to appreciate the nuances of its shape and colors and she begins to understand why she was given the assignment in the first place. Learning how to see things, really see them, is an important skill to have if you are an artist. It also a valuable skill to have when you are a person who needs to find their place in the world.
   This extraordinary book explores the way a twelve-year-old girl learns about the people in her world, and we see her trying to negotiate the trials that life throws her way. In the process, she starts to figure out what she wants and who she is, and she discovers that most people, and most challenges, are a lot more complicated than they at first seem.



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20. Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the peacocks

In 2014, a wonderful wordless picture book called Flora and the Flamingo won a Caldecott Honor. It is a delightful book that has charmed people all over the world with its wonderful artwork and its clever story. Since then Flora has gone on to meet a penguin, and now she is back strutting her stuff with a pair of peacocks. Flora has faced challenges before when she befriended the flamingo and the penguin, but these two peacocks present her with problems that are both new and difficult.

Flora and the Peacocks
Flora and the Peacocks
Molly Idle
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2016, 978-1-4521-3816-9
Flora loves to dance, and somehow she tends to attract very lovely, very gifted characters who end up dancing with her, all of whom are birds. So far she has danced with an elegant flamingo and a charming penguin. This time Flora comes across a pair of peacocks.
   Wearing a pretty teal, blue, and green outfit, and with a yellow fan in her hand, she bows to the two peacocks. One immediately starts to approach her, and it is clearly rather interested in sharing a dance with the little girl. The other peacock, with its beak in the air, and later with its face completely hidden, makes it clear that it is not interested in joining in at all.
   Flora tries to reach out to the uppity, aloof peacock and she even starts to make friends with it, but then the first peacock takes umbrage and the next thing you know a very unfortunate situation is created.
   Three can be an uncomfortable number when it comes to making friends. Flora and the peacocks certainly discover that there is no knowing what might happen when jealousy and an unwillingness to share surfaces. Children will appreciate why things go awry, and they will be delighted when they see how Flora and the peacocks resolve their problem.
   This wordless book, with its flaps that open and lift ,and its pages that unfold, is a delight to the eye and the heart.

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21. Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day!


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22. Picture Book Monday with a review of Why?

When I was five years old, a civil war broke out in the country that I was living in. Suddenly, and for reasons that I did not understand, people who had lived side-by-side were now killing each other. It was village against village, and neighborhood against neighborhood. To say that my experiences had a profound effect on me is an understatement. To this day I loath violence and hate-filled words.

Today's picture book shows, to great effect, how conflicts can grow out of petty disagreements. It is a book that children and adults alike can connect with.

Why? Why
Nikolai Popov
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Minedition, 2016, 978-988-8341-05-4
One day a frog is sitting in a meadow and it picks a beautiful flower. Having the flower makes the frog very happy, but someone else is not happy at all. Mouse wants the flower that Frog has picked, and so Mouse forcibly takes the flower from Frog.
   Mouse does not get to enjoy ownership of the flower for long because soon Frog’s friends arrive on the scene and they chase off Mouse. The frogs celebrate their “victory” by gathering up all the flowers in the meadow and they dance around with joy. Their conquest is short-lived because soon Mouse returns with his friends. They roll up in an armed boot and chase the Frogs across a bridge, firing on them.
   The mice think that they have won and that the frogs have been routed, but their victory is also short-lived because the frogs have a plan in place to give the mice a taste of their own medicine.
   Children often ask grownups why wars start, and all too often the answer they get is long-winded and complicated. In this picture book the author shows readers of all ages that often the reason why people go to war is very simple, and very foolish. One act of violence begets a violent response, and the conflict escalates. Eventually both sides look across a scene of desolation and unspeakable loss and they cannot, for the life of them, understand how things got so bad.
  There is a message in this tale, a powerful message, that readers of all ages will appreciate and hopefully carry with them. They will see that responding to a problem with violence is never the answer.

   

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23. Poetry Friday with a review of Snuggle up with Mother Goose

I wonder how many people have read or sung the Mother Goose rhymes to their children. Many thousands I am sure. The interesting thing is that though the world has changed so much since they were written, there is something timeless about the wonderful little rhymes. Today's poetry title is a board book which contains sixteen nursery rhymes that have been lovingly illustrated by Rosemary Wells.

Snuggle Up with Mother Goose Snuggle up with Mother Goose
Edited By Iona Opie
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Poetry Board Book
For ages 1 to 4
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-7867-8
The sun is up and it is time to wake up and get going for there are “Peas in the pot and a hoe-cake baking,” and soon we will start our day.
   We need to brush our hair and warm our hands by the fire. Some of the men “are gone to plow” while others have gone to sea in a boat and maybe, in the evening, children will have “a fish / In a little dishy / When the boat comes in.” For those who stay at home there are dishes to wash and wipe, and tea that has to be made.
   In this wonderful board book, Iona Opie has brought together sixteen nursery rhymes that carry us through a day from sun up to sunset. Some of them gentle and soothing, others are funny and sweet. The lines of verse celebrate the beauty of the written word, and introduce babies and little children to some of the gems in the English language that were written just for them.

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24. Poetry Friday with a review of Jumping off the library shelves: A book of Poems

Jumping Off Library Shelves
I love libraries! When I was a child I would go to the local British Council library to spend an hour or so browsing the shelves. I would leave weighted down with a huge stack of books. I read about everything and anything. Except subjects that required me to do any kind of maths!

Today's picture book celebrates libraries and the joy of reading, and it is a delight.

Jumping off the library shelves: A book of Poems
Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Jane Manning
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Boyds Mills Press, 2015, 978-1-59078-924-7
A library is a special place. Some people think it is ‘just’ a repository for books, a storage place perhaps, but they are wrong. Thanks to the books in a library, people can find information, they can travel to distant lands, and have grand adventures. They can take a break from the world, and spend some quiet time immersed in wonderful words.
   For this marvelous salute to libraries, Lee Bennet Hopkins has brought together poems written by a wonderful selection of poets. On the pages of this book we will meet children for whom their library is a special place. With their library cards in hand - the card that is “more powerful” than a cell phone, a TV remote, or a hundred apps - children find treasures that invite them “to explore” and “to dream.”
   To help young readers in their search for a good read, there is the librarian who, by some magical ability, is always able to help a child find “the perfect book.” Somehow the librarian is able to read a child, like words on a page, and know what he or she needs.
   The library is also a place where you will find storytellers who are able to make “words / leap from pages,” as they read out loud. With the storyteller for company, children make friends with frog and toad and they “walk / down a / yellow brick road.” During their storytimes they are able to believe in “once-upon-a-time” and “happily ever after.”
   There is something for everyone in a library. On the shelves there are dictionaries, books of poetry, fairy tales and so much more. And when night falls and all the people have left the library, other little beings come out to partake of the library’s treasures.
   This wonderful collection of poems take us into the world of libraries. We enter the library as “Morning pours spoons of sun” onto the shelves, and then leave when “night falls / outside / a / window.” As we close the book we are left with a comfortable feeling, and a yearning to visit our local library where book wonders await us.


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25. Picture Book Monday with a review of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend


Many children have imaginary friends, and sometimes we encounter such children in stories or films. We smile as they communicate with their invisible companions, who are often blamed when something untoward happens. In today's picture book story the focus, for a change, is on the imaginary friend instead of the child. On the pages meet an imaginary friend who needs one thing to make his life complete.

Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Dan Santat
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2014, 978-0-316-19998-8
Beekle was born on an island where all the world’s imaginary friends come into being. The imaginary friends wait and look forward to the day when a child somewhere will imagine them, and then pick them to be their own. Beekle waits and waits, but no one imagines him and “his turn” never comes.
Eventually, Beekle feels that he has waited long enough, and so he decides to seek out his friend rather than waiting to be imagined.
   The journey is a long one and it is full of “many scary things,” but the hope of finding his friend gives Beekle courage and finally he comes to the real world, which is a very strange place. Then, while he is standing on a sidewalk in a big city, surrounded by the legs of big people, Beekle sees an imaginary friend go by whom he follows. Soon he is a playground full of children and their imaginary friends, a wonderful place where surely he will find his friend. Or maybe not.
   It is hard not to fall in love with the main character in this story. His persistence and courage is inspiring, and one cannot help feeling a deep connection with the little, white imaginary friend who dares to do “the unimaginable.”

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