The Loch Mess Monster

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18118587The Loch Mess Monster written by Helen Lester and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (2014)

The tales of a Loch Ness Monster in Scotland are not true… there is not one monster, but three! Nessie, Fergus, and the youngest Angus. Nessie and Fergus were very responsible parents teaching little Angus the five basic monster rules, the most important was to Nevereverever go up to the surface of the loch. Angus learned all the rules, and followed them well. Well, except for the rule about cleaning up after yourself. Angus was a bit of a slob. So Nessie and Fergus banned Angus to his room until he learned to pick up his things and be tidy. Angus didn’t seem to mind though, he threw his toys everywhere and eventually made a mountain of toys and trash on top of his bed so that he had to climb up to the top to sleep. The problem didn’t come until Angus found himself on top of his mountain raising above the surface of the loch. Meanwhile, three friends – a duck, a goat, and a Heeland coo (Highland cow) focused their camera, binoculars, and telescope on Angus. ‘What a mess!’ they exclaimed. ‘It’s nae the Loch Ness Monster. ‘Tis the Loch MESS Monster.’  And on seeing the three land monsters, Angus hurried down his mountain of toys and trash and cleaned up his room.

Helen Lester has written another winner in The Loch Mess Monster. Readers will enjoy the authentic Scottish words scattered throughout the story. And if you ever get stuck, there is a glossary at the front of the book. Imagining that the loch ness monster might be a naughty child is very intriguing indeed.

Lynn Munsinger has teamed up with Helen Lester again and has produced another character readers can identify with. Her style is innocent and whimsical. And the details in the illustrations give the reader more to search for while reading the story.

I can identify with the monster who has a mountain of unorganized (but very necessary) items. It gives me hope that I will someday have my mountain under control as well. But what I really like is that even though Angus learns to pick up after himself, he still leaves a very wee mess now and then so that his parents don’t think he’s perfect. Smart, very smart… no one needs those high expectations!

Two Speckled Eggs

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18209401Two Speckled Eggs written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann (2014)

Ginger is having a birthday party. Her mother tells her that she either has to invite all the girls in her class or none. That means Ginger has to invite weird, smelly, spider-loving Lyla Browning. On the day of the party all the girls arrive wearing pretty dresses and bringing beautifully wrapped gifts, all except Lyla Browning… she wore a plain brown shirt and pants and her gift was in an old taped-up brown cardboard box. When the party started, Lyla Browning didn’t participate… she was watching a ladybug with her magnifying glass. However the other girls weren’t playing very nicely either and Ginger was starting to feel sorry she had invited them at all. No one seemed to like Ginger’s favorite silver-and-gold birthday cake, except Lyla Browning. And they all fought over Ginger’s new birthday presents, except Lyla Browning. Then Ginger opened the old brown cardboard box. Inside was a nest made of paper, tinsel, ribbon, and string. And in the nest were two speckled malted milk chocolate eggs. After all the other girls left the house, Ginger gave Lyla one of the eggs and they pretended to be birds eating the rest of the silver-and-gold cake until Lyla had to go home.

This is the first book that Jennifer K. Mann has both written and illustrated. And when you see it you’ll agree, it should not be her last! The story is heartfelt and sweet. And the illustrations are pure and simple. It’s a completely honest look at the dynamics of childhood friendships and relationships.

I loved sharing in Ginger’s transformation as a character. As a reader, you can feel Ginger’s emotional journey from embarrassed & annoyed, to angry & sad, and finally pleased & appreciative. But I think the magic in this story is in also feeling Lyla’s sense of being different, akward, and alone until she finally has a friend who likes her just the way she is.

Nugget and Fang

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Nugget and Fang written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Michael Slack (2013)

Fang the shark and Nugget the minnow were best friends until Nugget went to school. That’s where he learned that sharks and minnows can’t be friends. Nugget showed Fang his science Food Chain test. Fang felt awful. He couldn’t help being toothy and he had to prove he wasn’t scary. He tried dressing up like a mermaid, that didn’t work. He tried inviting Nugget to dinner, that didn’t work either. He tried and tried until he was all out of ideas. Then one day the school of minnows got caught in a net, Fang used his scary sharp teeth to cut the net and free the minnows. The minnows finally accepted Fang, sharp scary teeth and all.

Tammi Sauer takes a funny look at an unlikely friendship. The friendship is contradictory to the laws of nature and the timing impeccable. Her use of language will delight readers young and old.

Michael Slack’s simple and bright illustrations bring life to the pages. The expressions on the faces of the shark and the minnows are priceless.

I love the conversational text between Fang and the minnows. These little asides amp up the humor. I especially love the ending, ‘And everyone was all smiles. Especially you-know-who.’

Ninja Red Riding Hood

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18012467Ninja Red Riding Hood written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat (2014)

Hot off the presses! If you’ve read The Three Ninja Pigs (Rosen & Santat, 2012) you’ll remember what happened to that big bad wolf when the pigs took martial arts lessons. If you haven’t, shame on you! See my review here then run out and pick up a copy.

A brand new twist on an old favorite… Now that beat-up, licked, and ticked-off wolf from the pig story, decides to take classes himself. He becomes a confident fighting machine and sets off to get a good meal. Following the traditional storyline, the wolf meets Red in the woods and  sends her off to pick flowers, while he hurries to Granny’s house and disguises himself in her robe. When Red arrives, they have the familiar eyes, ears, and teeth conversation. But surprise… when he jumps out of bed to devour Red, the wolf finds out that she too has been to Ninja school! A mighty battle ensues and the two appear to be evenly matched. Then Gran returns home from her tai chi class distracting the wolf just enough for Red to get the upper hand. Wolf is beaten and promises to give up red meat. Wolf and Red bow to each other and Gran offers them a peach pie. The defeated wolf decides to take up yoga instead.

Corey Rosen Schwartz takes the ninja theme up a notch. She artfully weaves the ninja message and eastern culture into the popular children’s fairy tale.

Dan Santat does it again! He’s a ninja-artist of the highest degree. Every scene is packed with legendary ninja action and hair-raising details.

This book is perfect for little ninjas. And I love that Schwartz and Santat have teamed up again to bring us this masterpiece of ancient storytelling and modern style.

The Monstore

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15945853The Monstore written by Tara Lazar and illustrated by James Burks (2013)

The Monstore is a secret place where you can buy a monster to do almost anything you want… Zack only wanted one monster to do one thing – to frighten his pesky little sister away. So Zack bought Manfred the monster. But Manfred didn’t do his job. In fact he taught Zack’s little sister, Gracie, where the best hiding places were and together Manfred and Gracie scared Zack. Now Zack had a bigger problem, a pesky little sister, a monster who isn’t doing his job, and a strict ‘no returns’ policy at The Monstore. So Zack bought Mookie, who didn’t do the job either. Neither did Mojo. As a matter of fact, none of the monsters Zack bought could frighten his little sister away.  The monsters all became Gracie’s friends and The Monstore refused returns or exchanges. Finally Zack gave up and went to the basement to sleep. But there was one thing Zach didn’t count on… Gracie needed him! Only Zach could help Gracie sleep at night when she (and all the monsters) were afraid of a dark shadow in the middle of the night. It was a sparkly glittery tiara, and Zack was the only one brave enough to remove it from the room.  In appreciation of Zack’s heroism, Gracie and the monsters cleaned up Zack’s bedroom and moved out. Then Gracie opened her own Monstore in the shed behind the house!

Tara Lazar has created a place like no other, a Monstore! She expertly takes the reader into a world of goofy, crazy, monsters and has you believing such a place actually exists. (And who’s to say it doesn’t?) In this kooky, wacky world, two siblings learn to love and appreciate each other.

James Burks has the ability to bring this place to life, one monster at a time. In the dark foreboding rooms, he gives the reader silly, quirky monsters to brighten up the night. Who could possibly be afraid of the dark with these colorful characters for friends?

This story is sure to turn any monster-loving fiend into a monsterly mass of giggles. I love the antics and individuality of each of the monsters, but what I really love is the bond that Zack and Gracie finally form when they see each other in a new light. Readers with siblings will surely love this story.  But whether or not you have a sibling – or two – or three – or more, you will be swept up in the fun-filled possibility of The Monstore.  Just remember, No Refunds, No Returns, No Exchanges!

Ten Things I Love about You

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Ten Things I Love About You written and illustrated by Daniel Kirk (2013)

Rabbit interrupts Pig’s work to tell him that he is making a list called Ten Things I Love About Pig. However, Rabbit only has one thing on the list… I love pig because he is very pink. He suggests that Pig make a list too. It’s obvious that Rabbit is bothering Pig. As Pig becomes more and more upset, Rabbit adds more and more things to his list. He turns all of Pig’s brush-offs into positives. So he ends up with a list that reads, I love Pig because he knows how to keep busy, he believes in me, he gives good compliments, etc. When he has almost finished his list, he finds out that Pig has been working on a list of his own. Pig’s list turns all of Rabbit’s interruptions into something positive as well. His list reads, I love Rabbit because he always drops by, he smiles so much, he gets so excited about things, etc. They each finish their lists with the same sentence, I love Pig/Rabbit because he’s my friend.

Daniel Kirk ‘s simple text and pictures, show readers what friendship is really all about. He turns minor, bothersome quirks into positive characteristics. His child-like characters are basically kind.

I love that the characters Pig and Rabbit, find the best in each other and aren’t afraid to express their feelings for each other. This is a valuable message for children and adults alike. Daniel Kirk’s book has moved into my top ten books about friendship!

Hooray For Hat!

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18222766Hooray For Hat! written and illustrated by Brian Won (2014)

Elephant woke up grumpy. He stomped down the stairs yelling “Go Away! I’m Grumpy!” To his surprise there was a huge box on the doorstep. Inside the box, Elephant found a wide assortment of hats. There’s no way he could be grumpy with all these hats. Elephant cheered, “Hooray for Hat!” and stacked all the hats on his head and went to see his friend Zebra. But Zebra woke up grumpy too, and yelled “Go Away! I’m Grumpy!” So Elephant shared one of his hats with Zebra. Now Zebra wasn’t grumpy any more and they both shouted “Hooray for Hat!” And they went off to show their friend Turtle, and guess what… he was grumpy too, until he got a hat. And so was Owl, until he got a hat as well. By the time the friends reached Lion’s house they were all out of hats, which was really too bad because Lion was grumpy too. He was grumpy because his friend Giraffe was not feeling well. Everyone got together and decided that they should put all the hats back in the box and surprise Giraffe. Now Giraffe had all the hats, he did feel better, and everyone was happy!  “Hooray for Friends!”

This is Brian Won’s first picture book. He wrote a happy tale about being grumpy, and what preschooler has never been grumpy before? The illustrations are clean and simple. And the text is sincere and easy to understand.

I read this book to my toddler granddaughter who squealed with delight at each turn of the page. After reading it twice, we had a parade through the house wearing hats and giving them to our stuffed animal friends. This is a great feel-good story. I love any book which can bring so much joy seemingly effortlessly. HOORAY FOR HAT!

Ninja!

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18490605Ninja! written and illustrated by Arree Chung (2014)

Maxwell is a ninja! He ties one of his father’s neckties around his head and gets silent ninja footwear, a ninja stick (pool stick), sticky ninja gloves (rubber dishpan gloves), a ninja rope (jumprope) and a ninja paddle (toy paddleball). Properly dressed, Maxwell sneaks out find his target (napping father) and executes a perfect ninja surprise! His next mission is to capture cookies and milk from his little sister. But he is dishonored when his little sister tries leaping from the chair to the countertop and falls on her bottom releasing a blood curdling scream that only little sister can manage. His only recourse is to teach his baby sister the way of the ninja!

Arree Chung delivers a ninja perfect picture book. There is action, comedy, and suspense in the antics of Maxwell the ninja. His illustrations draw the reader directly into the story with detailed sub-blocks of ninja activity.

I can totally see any ninja-wannabe falling head over heels for this book. Its fast-paced imaginative play makes the reader feel like they are right there with Maxwell, sharing in his triumphs, defeat, and ultimate resurgence.

Here is a little book trailer for your enjoyment… tell me you can watch this and not want to rush right out and get the book!

Shark Kiss, Octopus Hug

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15924010Shark Kiss, Octopus Hug written by Lynn Rowe Reed and illustrated by Kevin Cornell (2014)

Charlie and Olivia were best friends. And the one thing they both loved was watching families on the beach. More than anything Charlie the Shark wanted a hug, and Olivia the Octopus wanted a kiss. They tried all the obvious ways to get hugs and kisses, including signs, shows, and rides. But there were no takers. Everyone ran away from Charlie and Olivia no matter what they offered in exchange for hugs and kisses. In a final attempt, they decide to offer free food, but no one wanted their algae soufflé. Charlie was heartbroken, so Olivia wrapped her eight arms around him and gave him a huge hug, and Charlie puckered up and gave her a huge kiss.

Lynn Rowe Reed’s simple text is easy to read and fun for the kids. There are no real surprises, but lots of imaginative word play.

Kevin Cornell’s illustrations really draw the reader into the story. His facial expressions are priceless. You’ve just got to love Charlie and Olivia and their need for hugs and kisses.

I like this odd take on a beach story for preschoolers. The idea of kissing a shark or hugging an octopus is countered by the lovable characters. It’s nice to see them finally realize that they can give each other hugs and kisses. And it’s even nicer to see in the last illustration, that one little girl and her dog are willing to take the chance on two such odd friends.

Planet Kindergarten

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18228483Planet Kindergarten written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and illustrated by Shane Prigmore (2014)

The main character tells the story of his first day of kindergarten. It’s a strange and unusual place. He is prepared with his medical check-up and supplies. Then the day arrives, his father takes him in his rocket booster. The boy is afraid they might crash into a comet or get sucked into a black hole. When he arrives, he is assigned to his commander, capsule, and crew mates. There are many aliens from many different galaxies on Planet Kindergarten. Mission Control calls on the intercom welcoming them all on their journey. The boy notices that everyone has to get used to the new atmosphere where gravity works differently. At recess, he leaves the capsule with his crew mates to explore and test the situation. After a disagreement over the equipment he and another crew mate have to sit in isolation. Back in the capsule, they run experiments and write in their logs. At lunchtime, he learns that he loves space food! Afterwards, he has trouble with rest time and worries that he’s running out of oxygen. Then he remembers the NASA motto: Failure is not an option. He takes a deep breath and gets back to work. Before he knows it, his mission is complete and his parents rush to greet him. Back home on his own planet, it’s splashdown then time for bed. This time he’s ready and thinking about returning the next day.

Sue Ganz-Schmitt writes this story with imagination and just enough space jargon to keep little explorers involved and interested in the boy’s adventure in kindergarten.

Shane Prigmore’s illustrations are quirky and action packed. Readers will enjoy exploring each page for unusual details.

I think this book will be a great help in preparing little ones for kindergarten. Knowing ahead of time that the rules of gravity involve sitting in your seat and raising your hand or that time-out may be employed for misconduct on the playground, help astronauts-in-training understand what to expect in school. In a place where everything is new, readers will enjoy exploring each page.

I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!

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18667815I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! written by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Gus Gordon (2014)

Nadine is a cow who is not afraid of anything, at least not until her friends take her up on her brag. Starla and  Annette nudge her into the woods to prove her bravery. Nadine finds out that she isn’t afraid of the woods, as a matter of fact she kind of likes the baby birds, the blackberries, and the pinecones. Climbing the highest tree, Nadine bellows “I am cow, hear me mooooooo!” over the valley below. Pretty soon it starts getting dark. Starla and Annette are ready to go home, but Nadine is having too much fun. She leaves her friends behind to explore a cave. However, the cave is dark… and there’s a pile of bones in there! Nadine hurries out, only to find her friends have gone on without her. And now she is lost in the dark woods alone. When something tickles her rump (her tail), she is so frightened she shoots like a rocket through the brambles and bumps and gallops right off a cliff, landing in a creek below. And guess who’s there? Starla and Annette have been lost in the woods too. They think that Nadine has found them. Nadine knows she’s not a hero, but how can she tell her friends that she was lost and afraid too? So Nadine lets them believe that she has rescued them. Starla and Annette have a big hero’s party for Nadine with balloons and cake and huge sign they made themselves. They also tell everyone their story and sell tickets to nightly excursions in the woods with Nadine as their guide.

Jill Esbaum’s story is written in an easy to read rhyme. And the humor is naturally integrated in the rhymes. She make Nadine a character readers will love despite her flaws.

Gus Gordon’s illustrations are happy and silly. Nadine and her friends each have their own personalities. Another thing I enjoyed looking for on each spread, were the scraps of newsprint-type text scattered in the pictures.

I realize that Nadine suffered from false-pride, but I like her spunk! I like how she faces her fears, (sort of) and comes out better for it at the end. I think even young readers will see right away that what she was most afraid of in the woods was her own tail, and will enjoy the humor of Nadine’s misguided adventures. I wonder if she will ever admit to her fears, or if she will learn to overcome them by returning to the woods?

Going Places

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17684972Going Places written and illustrated by Peter and Paul Reynolds (2014)

It’s time for the annual Going Places contest and Rafael was determined to win. Each student was given a kit to build a go-cart with instructions inside. But Rafael’s friend Maya was not one to follow directions like everyone else. Maya had her own ideas. And together Rafael and Maya build much more than a go-cart, they build a go-cart with wings! Despite a little teasing from the other kids who have all built the exact same replica of the go-cart on the box, Rafael and Maya take off and soon zoom over their friends’ heads, landing far in front of them and roll past the finish line in first place. The crowd cheers, but instead of waiting for their prize Rafael and Maya are already thinking of modifications to their go-cart to make a frog-jumping under-water swimming machine.

Peter and Paul Reynolds are twin brothers who credit their 10th grade social studies teacher who dared them to have original ideas. Together, like Rafael and Maya, they dared to be different and wrote a story about friendship and original thinking.

Paul Reynolds illustrated the book with precision to detail and with creativity, the perfect blend for the story.

I enjoyed reading the story and watching the transformation of thought from being identical to being unique. It makes me wonder how much the authors are identical and unique at the same time. But what I really liked about the story is the journey from the desire to win the race to the desire to be creative. I liked that the book did not end with prizes and ribbons, balloons and streamers, high-fives and fist-bumps. I like that it ended with the prospect of another project. The reward is actually the process and the dream. Way to go!

Freedom Summer

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18950429Freedom Summer written by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue (2014)

Freedom Summer is a historical fictionalized story of two best friends, one white, one black, who experience the 1964 summer of freedom in Mississippi first hand. John Henry Waddell is the son of a housekeeper. Joe is his best friend and the narrator of the story. Joe waits on the fence rail for John Henry and his mama to step off the county bus and walk up the long hill to his house. Sometimes they help out by shelling butter beans or sweeping the front porch, but when John Henry’s mama has had enough of them she shoos them out to play. The boys spend the hot days playing marbles or swimming in Fiddler’s Creek. They swim in only their skin, and Joe compares their skin to the color of browned butter and the color of a pale moth that dances around the porch light. Both boys dream of becoming firemen when they grow up. But when Joe goes into Mr. Mason’s General Store to buy ice pops, John Henry doesn’t go in… he’s not allowed. Then one night over dinner, Joe hears that the town pool will open the next day to ‘everybody under the sun, no matter what color’. His mama tells him that’s the new law, ‘everybody together’ at lunch counters, rest rooms, drinking fountains, everywhere. Joe is so excited, he leaves the table and rushes to find John Henry to share the good news. The next day the boys hurry to the pool to be the first ones there. But what they find is more disturbing than anything they could have imagined. The pool had been emptied of water and was being filled with tar instead. They boys stare at the tar-filled pool and wonder why someone would want to do this. John Henry’s voice shakes as he says, “White folks don’t want colored folks in their pool.” Joe says he’s wrong, but in his heart he knows he’s right. Joe wants to be able to do everything with his best friend, John Henry. He wants to go to the Dairy Dip, the picture shows, and see the town through John Henry’s eyes. On their way home, the boys stop again at Mr. Mason’s store for ice pops. But this time, John Henry wants to pick one out for himself. So they ‘walk through the front door together’.

Deborah Wiles first wrote and published this story in 2001. The copy I read was published in 2014, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer of 1964. It is a powerful story written so that even young children can understand the gravity of the situation. The text is authentic to the time period and the emotions of the people living it are clearly understood.

Jerome Lagarrigue illustrated the story with honest realism. The colors are muted and the lines indistinct, giving the overall appearance of looking back through time and memories.

I absolutely love this story and highly recommend it. Because it is fiction, the reader can put him/herself in the story. These are events that did happen and might have happened to anyone living in the 1960′s. At the end of the story the boys go arm in arm into the general store. We don’t know if John Henry was allowed to buy his own ice pop or if the boys were turned away, but we are left with hope. The pool had been filled to keep from being integrated, but did the boys experience smaller acts of acceptance? The author and illustrator leave us with that possibility. It’s easy to believe that Joe and John Henry were able to go to more public places together that summer and that the innocence of friendship could lead to a stronger bond of brotherhood.

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too

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18554220Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney (2014)

Nelly loves Daddy Gnu. He can make a house out of an old cardboard box, some string, and some tape. They measure and draw, and tape and saw. But Nelly thinks it needs more. So off they go to the store. Nelly finds the perfect shade of blue and Daddy gets some brushes. And when Nelly drops her stuffed doll in the busy aisle, she gets separated from her Daddy… for just one scary minute. Daddy swoops her up and zooms her through the air. They pay for all their painting supplies, and go home to decorate her house. That night, Daddy Gnu cooks dinner and reads Nelly her favorite books, then they go to bed… inside her new cardboard box house.

Anna Dewdney, author of the acclaimed Llama Llama series, has done it again. This little story is the natural blend of rhyme and tenderness. Anna Dewdney speaks to the heart of a three to five year old. She tells the story of a father/daughter relationship that is simple and warm. And her illustrations bring the reader right inside Nelly’s little world.

A perfect anytime story. Nelly and her Daddy have a special bond. It’s a perfect compliment to Llama Llama’s relationship with his mother.  This is a book I would recommend for any preschooler, and the fact that it’s available now for Father’s Day is even better. Share a copy with your special Daddy’s girl or boy.

Granddad’s Fishing Buddy

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1538575Granddad’s Fishing Buddy written by Mary Quigley and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch (2007)

Sara wakes up early and goes fishing with her granddad on the lake. She’s excited to meet his fishing buddy. Granddad seems to know all the fishermen on the lake. They greet each other quietly and continue fishing.  Sara starts to wonder who Granddad’s fishing buddy is since they don’t join any one of the fishermen they meet on the lake. Then Sara noticed ‘a shadow skimmed over the lake’. It was a beautiful heron who landed near the lily pads. The heron fished for his dinner and Granddad tells Sara to row toward the heron. They fish in the same area as the heron. When the heron moves to another part of the lake and catches more fish, Granddad tells Sara to follow him. Granddad, Sara, and the heron catch lots of fish that morning. When Sara and Graddad return to the pier, Sara asks when he will be going out with his fishing buddy again. Granddad winks and asks, “When are you coming back to the lake?”

Mary Quigley writes with the experience of a real fisherman. She tells the story quietly and with love. Her use of language transports the reader to the fishing boat on the lake. Even without the gorgeous illustrations, the reader can see ‘the sky was still blue-black and the stars shone like night-lights’ and feel ‘We pushed off the dock with a splash, sending ripples across the glassy lake. Steam lifted from the water like clouds.’ And if you’ve ever been fishing you’ll identify with this line,’Granddad reached into a bucket of dirt and pulled out a worm that coiled around as it swayed from his fingertips.’

Sephane Jorish paints the lake as if it’s a living thing. You can feel the water ripple and hear the splash of the paddle as it slices through the lake. But, more than that you can feel the love between a grandfather and his granddaughter. And that is the most precious emotion of the story.

I recommend this book whether you enjoy fishing or not. I’m sure you will identify with the quiet activity and the peaceful surroundings. And the loving relationship transcends the fishing experience.

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