Yolanda Ridge

Children's Author

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth

Title: Compost Stew5224072

Author: Mary McKenna Siddals

Illustrator: Ashley Wolff

Publisher: Tricycle (2010)

I just featured this title on the Authors for Earth Day Facebook page as the Eco-Book of the Month. It is scheduled for release in paperback in October. Here’s my blurb:

This rhythmic, rhyming picture book starts with a call out to environmental chefs to mix up a batch of compost stew from scratch. And alphabetical list of ingredients follows with creative entries for some of the more challenging letters. Beautifully complimenting the text, Ashley Wolff’s collage-style illustrations (made from newspaper, tea bags, grass clippings and other recycled materials) show the wild, red-haired heroine cooking up the recipe till she is left with rich, crumbly compost stew. The result is a light, fun delivery of an important earth-friendly message that begs to be applied to home and extended in the classroom. Additional acitivites, teaching resources and lesson plans are available through the author’s website. Dig in – you will not be disappointed!



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Minne & Moo: Hooves of Fire

Title: Minnie & Moo: Hooves of Fire

Author and Illustrator: Denys Cazet

Publisher: Creston Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 987-1-939547-08-8

Minnie & Moo, the bovine stars of numerous picture books, finally return to the 9 to 11 year-old market;  over ten years after their first chapter book, Seven Wonders of the World, was published by Atheneum.

In Hooves of Fire, Minnie and Moo organize and judge the First Annual Hoot, Holler, and Moo Talent Festival on the farm. The book starts with a letter to the reader from Minnie, which introduces the important characters, sets up the story, and delivers one of the funniest lines in the book; “That idea is dumber than licking and electrical socket”.

While I would agree with the starred Kirkus review that describes Minnie and Moo as the funniest cows on the early – reading circuit, I felt that some of the humour missed the mark. A lot of it was too mature (wordplay on popular culture references that are no longer popular) and inappropriate for the target audience (sexual chicken references for example). But there was a lot of base humour as well, including the inclusion of port-a-potty races, manure being mistaken for “Ma knew her” and an abundance of  words that rhyme with butt.

The poems, songs, and jokes performed by the animals are quite clever and kept me reading through sixteen chapters of barnyard banter and minor disasters. Despite layers of foreshadowing, it isn’t until three quarters of the way through the book that the money box finally goes missing. This is followed by two chapters of high energy chase which includes a satisfying turn of events when Elvis, the obnoxious rooster, helps Minnie, Moo, and the Boarzinni brothers capture the guilty fox. (No need for a spoiler alert as there really isn’t much mystery here).

The book itself is beautifully designed- the kind that gives you faith in the perseverance of print books in a world of digital – with wonderful, detailed pencil sketches. There is a curriculum guide designed for ages 9-11 which will appeal greatly to teachers looking to bring Minnie & Moo’s antics into the classroom.

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Plastic, Ahoy!




My friend, Patricia Newman, has a new book out that is perfect for Earth Day!

Check out my review on the Authors for Earth Day facebook page.

Plastic, Ahoy! is aimed at students in grades 4-8. But it’s also an interesting and important read for anyone who uses plastic – in other words, everyone!


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Don’t Turn the Page!

dontTitle: Don’t Turn the Page!

Author: Rachelle Burk

Illustrator: Julie Downing

Publisher: Creston Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 987-1-939547-06-4

I have to admit, when I first saw the title of this book, I expected a funny adaptation of:

Mo Willems’ “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” or

Mélanie Watt’s “Have I Got a Book for You!” or

Michaela Muntean’s Do Not Open This Book!

But the similarity to these titles ends with the exclamation mark.

Instead, Don’t Turn the Page! is a cozy book within a book that belongs on the bedside of every toddler. Starting with the beautiful cover, this book encourages parents and kids to snuggle up together and get ready for bed. But like most toddlers, Sami the porcupine doesn’t want to go to bed because she is not tired. Gently and patiently, Mama plays along – getting Sami to read a book about a sleepy cub as he goes through his own bedtime routine. And before Mama can turn the page, Sami’s putting on her pyjamas, brushing her teeth, and cuddled into bed.

With beautiful illustrations and a rhythmic narrative that gradually slows as the story progresses, Don’t Turn the Page! will not get kids excited like the pigeon- but it will put them to sleep. Exactly the outcome every parent wants at the end of a busy day.

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Fox Talk

Title: Fox TalkFox-Talk-cover-231x300

Author: L. E. Carmichael

Photographer: Jody Bronson

Publisher: Ashby-BP Publishing (August, 2013)

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9780988163874

Interest: Ages 7 and up

In the interest of self-disclosure, the author of this wonderful non-fiction book for kids is a friend of mine. But when I picked up the book at our local library, I did not expect to love it so much.  And my 8-year-old son found it just as fascinating.  An interesting topic, laid out in an easy to understand format, I highly recommend Fox Talk for children of all ages (and adults)! Although I won’t be getting a pet fox anytime soon, it helped me understand – and appreciate – animal communication.nI’ll be listening closer next time my cat meows or dog barks.

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Last-But-Not-Least Lola Going Green

9781590789353_p0_v1_s260x420Title: Last-But-Not-Least Lola Going Green

Author: Christine Pakkala

Illustrator: Paul Hoppe

Publisher: Boyds Mills (September, 2013)

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-59078-935-3

Interest: Ages 7-10

Move over Junie B. Jones, there’s a new (slightly older) girl in town.  Lola Zuckerman is in Mrs. D’s second grade class, which is a bit of a problem since Mrs. D loves doing things in alphabetical order and Lola hates going last.  Lola also hates change – producing another set of problems when her best friend and classmate (Amanda Anderson) moves to another neighbourhood, her grammy and grampy return to Texas, and her mother starts a new dress making business.

But Lola, who is as feisty and loveable as Junie B. (but not as annoying) finds a way to get through it, starting with a victory in the class “Going Green” project.  Making compost is not as easy as it sounds, of course, especially in a class full of garbage hating girls, lead by a teacher with a phobia of worms.

Lola Going Green is laid out nicely, with several black and white sketches and a delicate, shadowed leaf pattern stamped on the corner of some pages.  The writing is smooth, the characters are all likeable and realistic, and the pace is perfect.  The ending was a little too neat and tidy, wrapping up all the loose ends in the final chapters, something that will appeal to the target audience (but maybe not more cynical adult readers).

Last-But-Not-Least lends itself perfectly to a series, and everyone in my family is looking forward to book two, Lola and the Wild Chicken.  In the meantime, my seven year-old wants to read Lola Going Greenagain.

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Cozy Light, Cozy Night

9781939547026-1Title: Cozy Light, Cozy Night

Author & Illustrator: Elisa Kleven

Publisher: Creston Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-193954-7206

This beautiful rhyming picture book takes readers on a ride through the seasons, starting and ending with the world peacefully turning and stars reliably twinkling, while we are tucked in bed safe and cozy for the night.  At every time of year, readers are treated to a feast of seasonal food, comfortable places, and everyday wonders.

Cozy Light, Cozy Night is not a book that is meant to be read by children themselves.  It is a book that is meant to be shared and through such sharing emotional bonds can be built and reading comprehension can be improved.  There are definitions to be discussed, such as bowers (one of a few words clearly chosen for their rhyme) and feelings to be explored such as what cozy means at different times and places.

Initially, some of the rhythm and rhyme are a bit awkward.  Try saying “softly falling snow crochets a coverlet of lace” five times fast (or even once, slowly, without tripping over the line.) But the words do fold themselves into a smooth pattern once they are read aloud several times – which they are bound to be.  This is a book that children will demand over and over again for the warm, cuddling feeling it provokes through vibrant imagery.

It is really the detailed, bold color illustrations that make Cozy Light, Cozy Night special.  The cover shows a family of five cuddling on the bed, warmly inviting the reader to get cozy, snuggle up, and crack open the book.  From there we are transported from one comfortable, beautiful scene to another, all rich in emotion and sensory detail.  One of my favorites is the picture of a dad sewing at an old fashioned machine, scissors and fabric littering the ground, while kids lick ice cream cones and swing in the background.  It’s an image that perfectly compliments the accompanying line “cozy sunhats, stitched and sewn, ice cream’s cozy in a cone.”

This book is the place to go when kids need comfort – whether it’s a bedtime story or a tool you turn  to in times of trouble and stress.  A welcome addition to the book shelf.

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Before the World Was Ready

Title: Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius in Science

1373761940Author: Claire Eamer

Illustrator: Sa Boothroyd

Publisher: Annick Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-55451-535-6

Interest: age 9-12

This new offering from science writer Claire Eamer is truly revolutionary – and I don’t use the term lightly! Delving into the science of eight different subjects, Before the World was Ready  focuses on the people and thought process behind discovery and invention, encouraging middle grade readers to become the next generation of trail breakers.

The scientists featured in the book were all ahead of their time – thinking outside the box before such cliche terms even existed.  In some cases, the world wasn’t ready for their ideas because they challenged the status quo and beliefs of the time.  There’s Copernicus, who’s ideas about the world not being the centre of the universe went against the teachings of the Church.  There’s Semmelweis, who inconvenienced doctors by suggesting they wash their hands to avoid the spread of germs.  And there’s Rachel Carson who spoke out against DDT and started the modern environmental movement.

In other cases, the world wasn’t ready because the knowledge or resources necessary to make an invention work did not yet exist.  This is true of the first airplanes, built by Sir George Cayley before the combustion engine had been developed.  It is also true of the earliest computers, first imagined by Babbage, using machinery because electricity was not yet available.

The information in this book is well written and nicely presented.   Water colour pictures infuse humour.  Colourful backdrops, headings, and borders make is visually appealing.  Sidebars providing extra information allow readers to go into more depth (or not) while at the same time allowing the author to complete the picture – it is very rare that one, single person was the first to come up with an idea. Eamer also uses this opportunity to feature women such as Ada Lovelace – daughter of the poet Lord Byron – a mathematician who helped develop the analytical engine in the 1820s, an early form of the computer. A welcome addition to a history dominated by men.

Eamer’s conclusion encourages readers to think about trail breakers and trail blockers, using the example of climate change.  It is the perfect ending to a book that combines science, history, anthropology, and psychology.  A must have for every library, classroom, and personal collection.

Find out more about this book and others in my interview with Claire Eamer at the Mixed-up Files.

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In The Treehouse

2142_cv3Title: In The Tree House

Author: Andrew Larsen

Illustrator: Dušan Petričić

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-55453-635-1

Lexile Score: 60 (ages 3-7)

In the Tree House is a wonderful, engaging picture book that totally succeeds at taking the reader out of their own world and transporting them into the world of an un-named narrator; a boy who loves summer, his tree house, and his older brother.

Right from the beginning, we are welcomed into his tree house on a really hot day – hot enough to crunch ice cubes – and treated to view of his neighborhood.  From here we are told the story of how the tree house had been built the year before.  Like many tree houses, it grew through the collaboration of a father and his sons.  In this case, it was inspired by the narrator who started making tree house plans to help him adjust to a move and a new house where he no longer shared a room with his brother.

From the tree house, Dad and his sons watched the twinkling lights of their sleepy neighborhood because the city sky is too bright for them to see the stars to shine.  It was the best summer ever – full of comics, cards, flashlights, and endless hours shared between brothers in the tree house.

But this summer is different because the narrator’s brother is growing up and no longer has time for the tree house.  His brother is busy with friends and he is alone – the King of the Castle with no one to share it with – until one night when everything goes dark and a black out brings everyone together.

In the Tree House is a simple story about growing pains and the bond between brothers.  The text is plain and straightforward, relying on illustration to portray much of the emotion behind the words.  The pictures are purposefully stark, leaving lots of room for readers of all ages to fill in the blanks.  Together, the illustrator and author have succeeded in making this book both poignant and timeless.

Everyone will want to spend their summer in a tree house after having this book read aloud to the class.  Some readers will want to savor the book privately and then make plans to build their own tree house.  Older readers will be forced to reflect upon changes in their own relationships with siblings and other family members.  Still others will be touched by the notion that turning off the lights for a while can put everything into perspective.

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Call of the Klondike

9781590788233_p0_v1_s260x420Title: Call of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure 

Author: Davi Meissner and Kim Richardson

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press (October, 2013)

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-59078-823-3

Interest: age 9-14

Living in a BC mining town, this book was of immediate interest to me and my kids.  Even better – it kept our interest as we sat on the edge of our seats, frantically flipping pages, through the entire adventure.

Call of the Klondike is the true story of Marshall Bond and Stanley Pearce’s trip from Seattle, WA to Dawson City, NWT in search of gold.  It is told through a combination of straight narrative, letters home, diary entries, newspaper articles, and photos.  The authors have obviously done their homework and the addition of Bond and Pearce’s voice provides authenticity, although some of the language is cumbersome. These devices also break up the narrative, making for a difficult read a loud and decreasing some of the tension.

Details such as the list of supplies in the typical “Yukon Outfit” (with enough food to last a year!) give a real feel for the hardship of life during the gold rush without slowing down the story.  And the hardships they endured were tremendous!  After the arduous trip over sea, across mountain passes, and the down the Yukon RIver, Bond, Pearce and their companions (including several dogs, a few horses that survived the journey – many more did not – and the neighbour who tented next to their cabin who was none other than  Jack London!) had to survive a winter in Dawson City before their search for gold could really begin.  The challenges they faced in finding their fortune were numerous; cold, poverty, loneliness, and being one year late to stake claim on the best land.

Call of the Klondike is a great book for middle grade boys.  By the time they are done reading the adventure, they will have a new appreciation for the comforts of everyday life.  They will have also been educated on mining, mineral extraction, geography, and history without even knowing it.  A great addition to the classroom bookshelf.

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