Friday, July 22, 2016

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.

Monday, July 18, 2016

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.

Friday, July 15, 2016

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.

Monday, July 11, 2016

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.


Friday, July 8, 2016

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. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

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.

Monday, June 27, 2016

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.

Friday, June 24, 2016

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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

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.

Friday, June 17, 2016

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.