Monday, September 18, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Professional Crocodile

I have a special place in my heart for wordless books. I am attracted to them in part because they are such a pure form of storytelling through art. I am also love the fact that anyone can enjoy 'reading' them. Readers of all ages and all nationalities can follow the narrative and interprate it in their own way.

Today I bring you a wordless picture book that has such a beautifully paced narrative, and such a clever ending, that I smile every time I think about it. I also happen to really like the main character. There is a sweetness about him that is irresistible.

Professional CrocodileProfessional Crocodile
Giovanna Zoboli
Illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Wordless Picture Book
For ages for ages 4 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2017, 978-1-4521-6506-6
Crocodile is woken up when his alarm goes off. Bleary eyed he gets out of bed, opens the curtains, gets dressed, has breakfast, and then heads out to work. Through the busy streets he walks, stopping to look in a shop window or two. He buys a newspaper before he heads down to the subway.
   Crocodile patiently waits for his train, and then he gets on board. For a while he reads his newspaper, but then more people get on board and he is wedged in so tight that reading the paper is just not possible.
   Finally crocodile gets to his destination. He quickly trots up the steps to the street, buys some flowers, buys a roasted chicken, greets a shopkeeper, and then delivers the flowers to a friend. It is time for crocodile to go to work.
   In this intriguing book readers will thoroughly enjoy sharing Crocodile’s commute, during which they get to see the interesting people that he encounters along the way. Many of the people are quite ordinary looking —though of course who can never tell what a person is like from their outward appearance— but some of them are decidedly different. Best of all, young readers will be quite surprised when they find out what line of work Crocodile is in. Perhaps he is a dentist? Maybe he is a roast chicken connoisseur?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Bravo! Poems about amazing Hispanics

I have a confession to make. I do not know much about the Hispanic community here in the U.S. I really have never had the opportunity to learn much about Hispanics, and I know that this is a shame. I therefore was delighted when I came across today's poetry book. On its pages I got to 'meet' some extraordinary Hispanic men and women who have made the world a better place.

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing HispanicsBravo! Poems about amazing Hispanics
Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Poetry nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Henry Holt, 2017, 978-0-8050-9876-1
The United States has been, and is, home to some remarkable Hispanic men and women. Some of them came to the U.S. as refugees or immigrants, while others were born here. Many of these people speak multiple languages, and they stay connected to their native or ancestral land through the meals that they cook, and the festivals that they celebrate.
   For this book Margarita Engle has written poems about Hispanic men and women who achieved great and meaningful things. Some of them are famous, while others are not. All of them are “amazing people.”
   The first person we ‘meet’ is Juan de Miralles. Juan grew up in Cuba, and when he was a grown and successful businessman he visited the United States to help the Americans gain their independence from England. Juan was friends with George Washington, and was with him at Valley Forge when George Washington’s soldiers were suffering due to a lack of warm clothing and other supplies. One of the illnesses that they suffered from was scurvy, and so Juan sent some of his ships to Cuba to bring home limes and guavas, which serve as an excellent cure for scurvy.
   Felix Varela also came from Cuba, and he chose to become a priest. He was outspoken, and preached “against cruelty, speaking out in favor / of freedom for slaves, and freedom / for the colonies of Spain.” Felix’s words made him so unpopular in Cuba that he had to flee, and he took refuge in the United States, where he took up the cause of the Irish immigrants who had fled Ireland because of the potato famine. The Irish immigrants had so little and needed help, and they also needed someone to protect them against prejudice. Felix helped the Irish build schools, he took care of their sick, and protected their children from bullies.
   Louis Agassiz Fuentes was the son of a Puerto Rican father and an American mother and he was born in New York. Though Louis’ father wanted him to become an engineer, Louis loved birds and he wanted to paint them. Unlike many bird artists, Louis refused to kill and pose his beautiful subjects. Instead he learned “to paint quickly” while the birds flew “in the wide / wondrous / sky.”
   In all we meet eighteen Hispanic men and women in this book who are writers, activists, artists, scientists, teachers, musicians, and more. At the back of the book the author provides her readers with further information about the people she writes about in her poems.
   This is the kind of the book that people who are not familiar with Hispanic history will find fascinating. They will discover many truly special people on the pages, people who have made the world a richer and better place. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Books do not have wings

I freely admit that I enjoy watching films and programs on the television and on my ipad. I have a Kindle, and I use it all the time. However, I am still a devotee of books. I buy them regularly, and there are books in practically every room in my home. I know that books can offer me things that I cannot get from a screen, and I relish my reading time. Books educate, they comfort, and they entertain. They open doors to different worlds, and show us that there are so many possible paths to take in life.

Today I bring you a  picture book that celebrates all the things books give us.

Books Do Not Have WingsBooks do not have wings
Brynne Barnes
Illustrated by Rogerio Coelho
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2017, 978-1-58536-964-5
When you pick up a book what do you see? You see something that has a cover, a spine, and pages. You know that the book has a writer and perhaps an illustrator as well, and that it has readers “like you.” Perhaps you think that this is ‘just’ a book, but you would be wrong. There is nothing ‘just’ about a book, because a book “can do anything / that you want it to do.” 
   Though a book technically does not have wings and does not have an engine or other remarkable moving parts, it still is a marvelous “work of art” that “plumps up your thinker / and fills up your heart.” It is more than a cover, a spine, and pages. It is “more than a book.”
   Through its words a book can become a ship that takes you on a grand adventure with pirates. It can dip under the ocean waves and we can take a journey in a submarine, exploring fascinating undersea worlds that are full of extraordinary sea creatures.
   With a book for company we can watch a witch stirring her brew, and gaze upon a dragon that is resting on a cloud deep in slumber. We can marvel as flocks of fairies dance around the leaves of trees in a forest.
   Perhaps the most amazing thing of all about a book is the fact that if you have the wish to explore the book with an open heart and mind, and have eyes that are eager to discover what comes next, a book can be just about anything,
   In the glorious picture book a lyrical rhyming text is paired with rich and magical illustrations to take readers on a journey that shows them that books are extraordinary things. They should not be taken for granted, nor should we ever think that they are ‘just’ a book. Once we open them up and start to read, the stories and narratives in books can take us into marvelous worlds that are ruled by the imagination, or knowledge, or both.



Friday, September 8, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of You can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen

First and second person narratives in historical fiction can give readers a very powerful reading experience. These types of stories can bring history alive so that we can get a sense of what it was like to live in the past. Today I bring you a piece of historical fiction that is presented to the reader in the form of blank verse. It is a remarkable story that everyone, even people who don't care for history, will find interesting.

You can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen
Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Poetry
For ages 9 to 12
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1481449380
Becoming a pilot is not easy, and if you are a person of color it is particularly hard. There are only 130 black pilots in the nation after all, and thousands of people who think that you “not fit to fly” because of the color of your skin. You cannot give up on your dream though. “The engine of your ambition will not brake / for walls of injustice – no matter how high.”
   So off you go to the Tuskegee institute with a Bible and a “box lunch from your mama,” and there you spend your days being told what to do by Chief Anderson. Chief Anderson knows how to fly and how to train pilots, and it turns out he also knows how to win the favor of the First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt goes up in his plane and she sees first hand that black pilots can fly. Eleanor tells her husband the president about her experience and he insists that black pilots should be given “a shot.”
   Thus it is that the Tuskegee Experiment begins and it is up to you and the rest of the cadets to prove to the world what you can do. There are only thirteen of you, and your officers are all white; they are all eager not for the medals of a general, but for the opportunity to make history. They have a lot to prove and they are counting on you to prove that they were right to put their faith in you. They are not the only ones who are watching. Indeed, “The eyes of your country are on you,” and the “hopes of your people / rest on your shoulders.” It is a fearsome burden.   
   Days, weeks, and months of classwork and training go by and then you hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor and suddenly more is at stake. A lot more. You are eager to do your part and you follow the war news, and yet nothing happens. You wait and then, at last, the words that you have been waiting for, “Move Out,” are finally heard. You join four hundred of your fellow pilots from the 99th Fighter Squadron and get on a train bound for New York.
   Written in the second person using a series of poems, this truly special book shows readers what it was like to be a Tuskegee airman before, during, and after WWII. Readers will come to appreciate the challenges that faced African-Americans who wanted to be licensed pilots. They will read about the obstacles that were put in their way even when they wanted to serve their country during wartime. It is sobering to realize that these pilots, who did not lose a bomber in 200 of their 205 missions, and whose military records were exemplary, came home only to face racism and segregation.



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Books of Hope: My Beautiful Birds

For the last few weeks I have felt as if the world really is struggling to stay 'upright.' Everywhere I look I see news about hurricanes and wildfires. My own beautiful valley has been shrouded by a fog of heavy, eye-burning, wildfire smoke that leaves me wheezing and exhausted. Then there are all the political conflicts that are disrupting people's lives all over the planet. In a way these are even worse than the challenges that Mother Nature tests us with because they are preventable, and the long-term effects of these kinds of events can last for decades.

What is happening in Syria is a perfect example of these man-made disasters. Today I bring you a book about a little boy who loses everything he holds dear when his home is destroyed and he becomes a refugee.

My Beautiful BirdsMy Beautiful Birds
Suzanne Del Rizzo
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Pajama Press, 2017, 978-1-77278-010-9
When their town is bombed and starts to burn, Sami and his family have no choice but to leave. War has destroyed their home and now they are refugees carrying all that they own on their backs and in their arms. Sami is brokenhearted not just because he has lost his home, but also because he has lost the pet pigeons he loved and cared for. Sami’s father reassures his son that the pigeons “escaped too.” His words gives Sami a little comfort.
   Sami and his family members walk for several days until they finally come to a refugee camp. Here at last they will be safe. They are given a tent to live in, and it is not long before Father plants a garden, Mother starts cooking meals, and the camp’s children start attending a school that is set up for them. Just like before, the children sing songs, they do math, they play soccer, and they paint pictures, but Sami cannot enjoy doing any of these things. He is too broken-hearted about the loss of his home and his birds.
   One day Sami is lying on the roof of a building looking up at the sky and daydreaming when four birds arrive. They are refugees in the desert, just like Sami.
   When you live in a peaceful place where there is no war or conflict, it is hard to imagine what it is like to lose everything. It is hard to imagine what it is like to be a refugee. Unfortunately, today more people have been displaced by conflict and natural disasters than ever before.
   One of the places where these displacements are taking place is Syria, a country that has been ripped apart by war. In this story we meet a Syrian child whose whole life is turned upside down when his hometown is destroyed. We watch as he struggles to adjust to his new existence in a refugee camp, and as he longs for what he used to have.
   Beautifully written, and illustrated using polymer clay and acrylic, this picture book serves as a tribute to all those families who have had to venture out into the unknown when their homes have been taken from them.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes Teacher Cat

In many places the new school year has started. Lazy summer days are over and it is time to begin a new chapter. Today I bring you a book about Cat, a character who is funny and sometimes rather opinionated. In the story Cat is asked to stand in for a teacher who has to go to a doctor's office, and he discovers that being a teacher is both challenging and rewarding.

Here comes Teacher Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-399-53905-3
Cat is fast asleep and when the narrator wakes him up Cat is not pleased. The narrator insists that “this is an emergency,” which it surely is. Ms. Melba, the teacher at Kitty School, had to go to the doctor and Cat is going to have to step up and help out. Cat is not keen on the idea at all. In fact, he tries to sneak away, but then the narrator reminds Cat about all the nice things Ms. Melba has done for him.
   Very reluctantly Cat goes to Kitty Elementary. He actually tries to hide under the teacher’s desk, but the narrator finds him out. Cat is going to have to do something to engage his eager little students and he decides to start with a music lesson. He gives his students drums, a horn, a sax, an electric guitar, a bass, and a keyboard to play. The music is great and they are all having fun but - there always is a but - it is too loud. Cat is going to have to find something else to do.
   Next Cat and his little charges build something, and then they create some art. Both activities are a great success except for the fact that Cat gets a little carried away. Actually, he gets very carried away and the result is a terrible mess in Ms. Melba’s classroom. What is she going to think when she gets back from the doctor’s office?
   Cat is never one to do things in moderation. When he gets involved in a project he jumps in with all four paws. Children are going to love seeing how he copes with being a temporary teacher, and how his day actually turns out to be quite enjoyable, all in all.
   This is the fifth Cat adventure, and once again Cat and the narrator have a wonderful relationship that readers will find amusing and entertaining. You can always trust that Cat will get up to something when you meet him. That’s just how he is, and we love him for it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis

Many years ago I was sent a manuscript of a novel that was written in blank verse. I will honestly say that I was dreading reading it, but as soon as I began I was hooked. It was so beautifully written, and at times I was in tears as I turned the pages (I was still getting printed manuscripts in the mail at this time.) Since then I have sought out novels written in verse and have spent many hours exploring this wonderful form of writing.

Today I bring you an extraordinary example of this poetry genre. The narrative tells the story of a young woman who had to overcome a great deal in her life. We know very little about her, but thankfully we can still look at some of the beautiful sculptures that she created (see an example of her work below the review).

Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia LewisStone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis
Jeannie Atkins
Poetry
For ages 13 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1-4814-5905-1
The American Civil War is raging and there is a lot of uncertainty and change in the air. Thanks to all the discussion about race, and through the efforts of abolitionists, a few people of color are now being offered the opportunity to get a higher education. One of these people is Edmonia, a half African-America half Ojibwe girl. She is a student at Oberlin College in Ohio where both people of color and women are being accepted as students.
   The theory is that Edmonia is supposed to be just another student, but this is not really how it is. In reality she has to very careful to behave in an exemplary manner and not do anything to draw attention to herself. Edmonia’s roommate Ruth is very hard working and conscientious and warns Edmonia not to associate with some white girls that Edmonia thinks are her friends.
   It turns out that Ruth’s warnings are justified. One night the girls add a little something to their mulled cider and get very sick. Edmonia, because she was there and served the girls their drinks, is blamed for what happened, and is even accused of trying to poison the girls. Before she can really grasp what is happening to her, Edmonia is told she cannot leave her dorm and cannot attend classes until her case comes up before the judge.
   Though she is not supposed to go outside, Edmonia does so any way, needing the solace of nature to help her feel grounded and connected to who she is. While she is out she is assaulted by a group of men and comes back to the room she shares with Ruth bleeding and shocked. The girls decide not to tell anyone about what happened. It would not do to give the people who are out to get Edmonia more ammunition to use against her.
   In the end the case against Edmonia is dismissed due to insufficient evidence. That should be the end of the whole business but it isn’t. The clouds that hung over Edmonia in the days leading up to the trial still seem to be there. Then Edmonia is accused of stealing some paints and though she is told “Not a single trustee believes you are a thief,” she is also told that it would be better if she didn’t come back next semester.
   There is no doubt that losing her place at Oberlin college is a huge blow to Edmonia, but it turns out that her change in fortune ends up being a good thing in the long run because it gives her the opportunity to work with an artist, which then leads to her becoming a sculptor.
   We know very little about Edmonia Lewis’ life story and so the author of this book chose to create a novel in verse so that she could fill the gaps in history with scenes and people born in her imagination. The format suits her purpose beautifully, and she captures Edmonia’s personality, and her reactions to the events that impact her, in a powerful and memorable way.     

Image result for edmonia lewis
Hiawatha's Marriage by Edmonia Lewis 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of The adventures of Piratess Tilly

Today's poetry title is a real treat. I have never encountered a tale quite like it, and am delighted to share it with you. The narrative is told using a series of haiku, which just happens to be a poetry form that I really love. In the tale we meet a young girl who goes on a voyage of zoological discovery with some friends. Together they see and experience all kinds of wonderful things.

The Adventures of Piratess TillyThe Adventures of Piratess Tilly
Elizabeth Lorayne
Illustrated by Karen Watson
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
White Wave Press. 2017, 978-0-9979098-4-5
Piratess Tilly has formed a family of sorts, and together they sail “the high seas” seeking out knowledge about the natural world. With her are seven boys who hail from seven countries, and then there is Yuki, a koala that she rescued from Australia. Inspired by the work of Charles Darwin and Beatrix Potter, the young naturalists set out on a voyage of discovery using an heirloom compass and nautical charts.
   Up goes the mainsail and with Tilly at the helm and Yuki and his map beside her, the crew of the Foster set sail for the Galapagos Islands. Many days travel lie ahead of them and Tilly takes the time to do research and create sketches.
  Finally land is sighted! Humpback whales breach in the ocean and Blue-footed boobies fly overhead, their “beaks full of fish.” The adventurers see marine iguanas and sea lions, and happily study sea life in the blue waters of the ocean. Then Yuki sees something that upsets them all. Pirates are stealing baby giant tortoises! The friends decide that they have to rescue the little reptiles before it is too late.
   In this delightful picture book, gorgeous illustrations are paired with carefully crafted haiku to take young readers on an adventure during which they meet avid young naturalists who travel the world. At the back of the book young readers are provided with biographies of Charles Darwin and Beatrix Potter, naturalists who celebrated the natural world through their writings and artwork.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Books of Hope - Next Year: Hope in the Dust

Every year Americans experience natural disasters. There are floods, wild fires, earthquakes, storms, hurricanes, and landslides. Homes, business, and lives are lost, and sometimes it takes the affected areas years to recover. In the 1930's a natural disaster of epic proportions struck the United States. The Dust Bowl brought misery and loss to hundreds of thousands of people, and millions of acres of land became infertile due to drought and huge dust storms. Millions of people moved to other parts of the country to get away from the devastated areas.

There is no doubt that, for the people who lived through the Dust Bowl, it was a heartbreaking time. And yet some of them did not give up. They held onto their land hoping that good times would return.

Today's Book of Hope takes us into the life of a young man whose whole world is turned upside down by the Dust Bowl. It is remarkable to read about his experiences, and see how, in spite of it all, he finds the strength to keep going.

Next YearNext Year: Hope in the dust 
Ruth Vander Zee
Illustrated by Gary Kelley
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Creative Editions, 2017, 978-1-58646-282-0
On April 14th, 1935, the sun comes up and a beautiful, cool, and clear morning is born. Calvin runs over to his cousin’s house and the children play together, delighting in the “hopeful day.” Alas, in the late afternoon a dust cloud blows in, a wall of blackness that blots out the sky and the sun. Calvin cannot see where he is going as he heads home, his hand on a fence so that he does not get lost.
   When he walks in the door of his home he is met by another cloud, a deep feeling of despair. His mother stands ankle deep in sand, and his father sits at the table looking like “a beaten-up kid.”
   Not that long ago Calvin got to enjoy clear skies, rain, and the sight of golden wheat ripening in the fields. He got to enjoy seeing his mother’s pretty smiling face, to drink milk that wasn’t gritty, and to sleep on a clean pillow every night. Then, four years ago everything changed when the rain stopped and dust storms scoured the land. Crops withered or were eaten by hungry rabbits, cattle had to be sold before they perished, and children started dying of dust pneumonia. Year after year Calvin’s dad said ‘“Next year it’s gonna get better,”’ but it hasn’t got better.
   Worn out by disappointment and heartache, Calvin’s dad is desperate, and so Calvin sets about learning everything he can about better methods of farming. Perhaps if they change their practices the land will heal and the rain will come back. Perhaps he can save the farm in spite of everything.
   This powerful picture book brings to life what it was like to live through the dust bowl years on a farm that was affected by this appalling natural disaster.  We are witnesses to the suffering that Calvin and his family are subjected to, but we also witness the way in which Calvin does his best to bring about change. Somehow he clings to hope, even when everything feels hopeless.
   Throughout the book a lyrical text is paired with beautiful artwork to give readers a reading experience that is both deeply moving and memorable. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Also An Octopus

I love to review books that contain stories that celebrate books and storytelling. Today I bring you a picture book that appealed to me on so many levels. It is about how stories are crafted, it features a ukulele playing octopus ( I play the ukulele so I am drawn to stories that feature ukuleles), and it also looks at how dreams can come true. What more could one ask for.

Also an OctopusAlso an Octopus
Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2017, 978-0-7636-7084-9
You may imagine that stories come into this world half or even fully formed, but this is not the case. All stories start the same way, with a blank page that has nothing on it. So, you have a whole load of nothing to begin with.
   You begin building a story by finding a character; one that will excite you, and one that will encourage you to develop your story. You could chose to write about a little girl or a cute little white rabbit, but an octopus who plays the ukulele would be even better.
   Now, the next thing that you will need to do is to figure out what your main character wants. The octopus could want a sandwich or a friend; these are perfectly reasonable things to want. Or it could want a “shining purple spaceship capable of intergalactic travel.” That would be a great thing to want, because a spaceship isn’t the kind of thing that you can just pick up in a local shop. The octopus is going to have to build the spaceship. The problem is that this particular octopus, though it is can play the ukulele, is not skilled when it comes to building a spaceship. Perhaps what the octopus need is the help of a friend. Let’s bring that cute little white rabbit into the tale to see what he can do.
   It turns out that whereas sweet white bunnies do indeed make excellent friends, it does not follow that they are rocket scientists.
   Not surprisingly the ukulele playing octopus is now feeling very down and one could even say it is “despondent.” At this rate it is never going to be able to travel to distant galaxies in a shiny, purple spaceship.
   The wonderful tale in this book is a joy to read. At first it seems to be about how stories are created from nothing, but then you realize that it is also about how dreams can come true, even when ones dream seems to be hopelessly unattainable. In the story there are delightful touches of humor, a narrative that is full of surprises, and a loveable main character - an octopus who plays the ukulele is irresistible.
   This book celebrates the creative process and the hopes that make dreams come true.