Monday, October 20, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Any Questions?

Children are often eager to find out how writers go about creating their stories, so Marie-Louise Gay decided to create a picture book that would help children to appreciate how the writing process works. In the book she answers the kinds of questions she is asked when she visits schools, and she also gives readers some insights that will amuse and entertain them.

Any Questions?Any Questions?
Marie-Louise Gay
Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1-55498-382-7
Marie-Louise Gay is a much loved author whose books have delighted children (and adults) for many years. When Marie-Louise goes to talk to children in schools and libraries, they do what all children do. They ask questions. A lot of questions. Often the children want to know about Marie-Louise and her life, and then there are the questions that pertain to her stories and how she creates them. One of those questions that is often asked is, “Where does a story start?”
   A story always starts with a blank page. If you stare at the page long enough, “anything can happen.” You might think that a blank piece of white paper cannot possibly inspire anything, but this is not true. For example, it can give birth to a scene that is full of a snowstorm. If you start with a piece of paper that is old looking and has a yellow tinge to it then you might end up telling a story about a time when dinosaurs walked the earth. Blue paper can lead to an underwater adventure and green paper can be the backdrop for a story about a jungle.
   Sometimes stories don’t start with a color at all. Instead, “words or ideas” come “floating out of nowhere.” Bit by bit pieces of paper with words and thoughts written on them are collected and sorted, and then they are joined by “little scribbles and doodles,” which is when the kernel of a story starts to grow. Of course, sometimes an idea pops up on the page that simply does not work at all. When this happens an author has to search around for something that does work, which can take a little (or even a lot) of time to happen. These things cannot be rushed though, and eventually the right piece of story comes along and the author is off and running.
   In this wonderful picture book, Marie-Louise Gay explores the writing process, answering questions that children have asked her over the years. She shows us how a story is built, how it unfolds, and we see, right there on the pages, how she creates a magical story out of doddles, scraps of ideas, and tidbits of inspiration. The little children and animals characters who appear on the pages interact with the story, questioning, advising, and offering up ideas.
   This is a book that writers of all ages will love. It is funny, cleverly presented, and it gives writers encouragement and support.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of A Little Bitty Man and other poems for the very young

Not that many poetry titles for young readers are published every year and so I went to the library looking for some older titles to review when I came across today's book. The artwork and the poems have a nostalgic feel that is charming.

A Little Bitty Man and other poems for the very youngA Little Bitty Man and other poems for the very young
Halfdan Rasmussen
Translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2011, 978-0-7636-2379-1
Children live in a world where simple things can be magical, and magical things can be commonplace. It is a rather wonderful place where the imagination can make anything possible, and where the little things that adults don’t appreciate anymore still seem wondrous.
   In this beautifully presented poetry picture book the innocence, silliness and curiosity that children have comes alive in thirteen poems. Some tell a little story, while others explore everyday things that happen in children’s lives.
   In A Little Bitty Man we meet a very small man who rides around on a snail and who finds himself in a place, “Littlebittyland,” where he builds a life for himself. There is also a poem about a little cloud which goes out for a walk. As if drifts across the sky it looks down on the world below and all is well, until it realizes that it needs ‘to go’ and it doesn’t have “a potty.” Just like a little child, the cloud has an accident and when it gets home it gets “a scolding from its mom.”
   Some of the poems contain the kind of common sense wisdom that children come up with, much to the embarrassment of their grownups. For example in Those Fierce Grown-up Soldiers a child tells adult soldiers “who shoot guns and fight” that they should do what children do. They should battle with toys and then “if your war won’t end,” they should tickle their enemy until he or she becomes a friend.
   Poems like these are little gems, gifts that should be shared with children who will appreciate the tone and flavor that infuses every line. To accompany the poems Kevin Hawkes has created wonderful illustrations that are rich with detail and full of expressive characters.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

When I was a child for some reason illustrators did not create wordless picture books. These days I encounter books of this type several times each year and some of them are truly amazing. Today's picture book is a wordless title and it was created by the illustrator who brought us Flora and the Flamingo, which was a Caldecott Honor title this year. Just like Flora and the Flamingo this story features a little girl and a very personable bird, and the way in which the story is told is quite magical.

Flora and the PenguinFlora and the Penguin
Molly Idle
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle, 2014, 978-1-4521-2891-7
The ice is frozen and Flora is going skating. Bundled up in warm clothing, she sits on the ice to tie the laces of her skates. Not far away there is a hole in the ice and the tip of something orange is poking through the hole. When Flora goes to investigate she sees that a penguin is coming through the hole in the ice, and in no time she and the very elegant bird are greeting one another.
Soon the new friends are skating across the ice. Perfectly synchronized they glide and twirl, jump and spin. Their beautifully coordinated performance is joyous until something beneath the ice captures the penguin's attention and with a dive and small splash the bird is gone. Flora is left all alone until the penguin pops up through the hole in the ice again. It has a fish in its beak, which it offers to Flora as a gift. Not surprisingly the girl does not appreciate her present. In fact she throws it back into the hole in the ice, shocking the penguin who then makes it very clear that Flora is in the penguin equivalent of the dog house.
   Sometimes we do things that hurt our friend's feelings and have to make amends as best we can to show them that we are sorry and that we appreciate them. In this wordless picture book Molly Idle tell a story that captures the ebb and flow of a new friendship. As the story unfolds we see how hurt feelings can be repaired if one is little creative. Readers will be delighted to explore the compelling art work and, on some pages, they will find flaps to lift. The story ends with a grand fold out page that carries us forward to a perfect ending.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Shiver me Timbers by Douglas Florian

Many young readers go through phases when they read every book that they can find that explores a topic that interests them. Dinosaurs are one of the topics that kids get passionate about, and pirates are another. Not long ago I was working with a little boy in a reading program and we read nothing but pirate books for three months! He eventually moved on to books about dogs, but he would have loved today's poetry title.

Shiver me Timbers!Shiver me Timbers!
Douglas Florian
Illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2012, 978-1-4424-1321-4
In real life pirates were (and still are) rather dangerous and certainly frightening people, but we don’t tend to think about that much. No, we think about the ‘cool’ pirate stuff, like eye patches, pet parrots, pirate slang, treasure hunts, sword fights, and robbing ships at sea.
   In this splendidly piratical poetry picture book, we get the opportunity to celebrate the things that attract children and adults alike to pirates and pirate stories. We begin with a poem called Pirates wear Patches, which is about pirate accessories and pirate attitudes, and what a great place to start it is. After all, anyone who dresses up as a pirate makes sure he or she has an eye patch. It is one of those piratish things that we all know about. As we read the poem we find out that there other items of clothing and accessories that pirates would not be seen dead without; things such as white shirts with “big puffy sleeves,” tricorn hats, “scraggly” beards, and hooks. Once you have these things all you have to do to be the perfect pirate is to give “dirty looks,” “wear smirks” and “evil grins,” and be ready to “shoot first / And ask questions later.”
   Of course, you also have to make sure that you know your “Pirate Patter.” Thankfully the second poem in this book covers this topic so that you know how to talk like a pirate. You will learn that you have to greet people by saying “Ahoy, matey,” and that “grog” is what pirates drink. If you want to insult someone you can call him a “scurvy dog.” It is also important that you know pirate terms so that you can stay out of trouble when you are around pirates. For example, if a pirate threatens to send you to “Davy Jones’s locker,” you should get out of town.
   You may not know this but pirates lived by the code of conduct when they were at sea, a code which were surprisingly fair and democratic. The code of conduct that you will find in this book is quite different. It is delightfully silly and children may even try to force their parents to adopt it. The code includes things like “Don’t take a bath,” “Tell lots of lies,” “Act rash and rude,” and “Yell, “Thar she blows!””
   Other things that you will learn about as you read these poems are (among other things) pirate names, how pirates were hired, what they ate, and pirate flags.
   In this poetry book Douglas Florian’s delightfully funny poems are paired with often amusing illustrations to give readers a light-hearted piratical experience that will no doubt cause young readers to decide that the pirate life is, for certainly, for them.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Winter is Coming

Though fall is only just starting to make itself here in southern Oregon, the wild animals in the woods and fields are already getting ready for the winter months. In this gorgeous picture book we see, through the eyes of a young girl, scenes that capture animals in their natural habitats as they prepare for the cold months of the year.

Winter is ComingWinter is Coming
Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-9900-3
It is a cold fall day and a young girl senses that winter is coming because she can feel that “ice is in the air.” The girl climbs up to her tree platform with a pad of paper, some pencils and a pair of binoculars. From there she sees a red fox and becasue she manages to stay very quiet, the fox goes about its business below her
   Next a mother bear and her cub arrive on the scene, walking through the trees on the fallen red and gold leaves. The two animals snuffle around looking for food. Winter is coming and they need to eat as much as they can now.
   In October the girl is lying on her platform when a family of skunks waddles around the base of her tree. Lying on her stomach she watches as the mother skunk and her three babies look for food.
   One morning the girl gets up at dawn and she is lucky enough to see a pair of woodpeckers drilling holes in a tree. Diligently the two birds fill the holes they made with acorns that they have collected. They know full well that winter is coming and they are going to need those acorns in the months to come.

   In this remarkable book a lyrical, image-rich text is paired with beautiful illustrations to give us a wonderful journey through the months of fall. From her perch in the tree the girl sees all kinds of animals preparing for winter, and she shares with us the wisdom she has learned from her family members about animals and their ways. She knows that there is a lot that she can learn from animals “About patience. About Truth. About quiet. About taking only what you need from the land because we are its keepers.” 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Pug and other Animal Poems

Poets have been writing poems about animals for centuries and though they have written about cats. dogs, tigers, dinosaurs and countless other animals in hundreds of different ways, poets still find ways to write poems about creatures (wild and domestic) that are fresh, amusing, insightful, and memorable. In today's poetry collection you will meet an interesting variety of animals in a series of poems that are presented alongside Steve Jenkins' extraordinary artwork.

Pug and other animal poemsPug and other animal poems
Valerie Worth
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013, 978-0-374-35024-6
The world is full of beautiful and amazing animals, all of which perceive and interact with their environments in distinct and fascinating ways. When they encounter humans many of them run away, preferring not to get too close to us. Others are more curious, and they observe us from a safe place to see what we are going to do next. Then there are the animals that like to connect with us, like our pet dogs and cats.
   In this special poetry picture book Valerie Worth takes us into the lives of eighteen animals, most of which are wild creatures, and some of which share our homes with us. Some of the wild animals that we meet on the pages are creatures that we see in our yards and parks, or we catch a glimpse of them flying above our heads.
   The first animal we meet is a fox, a creature that we see only brief glimpses of, if we are lucky. It is such a reclusive animal that it is “Nearly a / Myth.” We may see its “Fiery tail” streaking by and perhaps hear the rustle of its “flickering / Feet.”
  Rabbits, though cautious, are less retiring and if we are quiet and still we can see them in the evening in the garden feeding on tasty nibbles of weeds and grass. They are pensive animals and seem to spend their time “in / Peaceful thought.”
   Quite different to these wild animals are pugs and dachshunds, dogs whose very appearance makes us smile whether we want to or not. Pugs have “googling / Eyes,” and “wrinkled / Brows” that give them a somewhat worried expression. They are solid, tough looking little dogs. Dachshunds are quite different, being long with little legs “Front and Back,” but “nothing / Propping up / The middle.”
   Throughout this book Valerie Worth’s expressive and image-rich poems are paired with Steve Jenkins’ extraordinary cut paper artwork.  The striking language and gorgeous images give readers a picture of animals that they will remember long after the book has been read and put away on a shelf.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of This Orq (he cave boy)


I have read hundreds of picture books, many of which feature unusual characters, The main characters in today's picture really captured my attention. I don't believe I have ever read a picture book whose main character is a cave boy, and I am sure that I have not reviewed one that features a cave boy AND a mammoth.

This Orq (he cave boy)
David Elliot
Illustrated by Lori Nichols
This Orq (he cave boy)Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Boyds Mills Press, 2014, 978-1-62091-521-9
Orq is a cave boy and like all cave boys he carries a club and lives in...well... a cave. Of course. Orq has a pet baby woolly mammoth called Woma and he loves him dearly. Just like all baby pets, which grow into grownup pets, Woma gets bigger and bigger. Unfortunately, the fact that Orq loves Woma does not mean that Orq's morther loves the mammoth. She thinks Woma sheds and smells and the fact that Woma is not house-broken only makes the situation worse. Orq's mother insists that Woma ahs to leave the family cave.
   Orq does not want to have to give up his pet, so he decides that the best thing to do is to convince his mother that Woma is “smart” and “cute.” Maybe if Woma learns some tricks Mother will see how special and loveable Woma is. Or maybe not.
   Written in cave person pidgin, this delightful story will appeal to anyone who has (or has had at some point) a much-loved pet. Even when they are having accidents in the house they are still loved and wanted by their people. Young readers and their grownups are going to thoroughly enjoy seeing how Orq and Woma save their friendship despite fierce opposition from Orq's determined mother. It turns out that shedding and smelly mammoths that are not house-broken can be rather useful at times.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Poems I wrote when no one was looking


Just like writers of prose, poets like to find ways to keep their readers interested and engaged. Sometimes they do this by using unusual formats, and sometimes they play with language in creative ways. Sometimes the poems in a collection are so varied and clever that the reader never knows what is going to come next, which is what you will find if you read today's poetry title.

Poems I wrote when no one was looking 
Poems I wrote when no one was lookingAlan Katz
Illustrated by Edward Koren
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4169-3518-6
Things that make us laugh fit into two general categories. There are things that are created like jokes, funny stories, and funny shows. And then there are those everyday kind of funny situations that just seem to happen. If you just pay attention to what is going on around you, you will see that there are lots of people who do amusing things or say amusing things without even meaning to. Sometimes these kinds of amusing things are very simple, commonplace things that tickle our funny bones and make the world a brighter, happier place. Poems can be like this too. They can tell us about something goofy or silly, or they can tell us about something that is very ordinary, but which is, for some reason, funny.
   For example, the first poem in this book, Brushing Up, presents us with an everyday situation that is comical. We are told that a little baby and her grandpa “are the best of chums.” They also have something in common. When they smile, they present the world with toothless gums. The difference between them is that the baby will grow some teeth soon enough, but Grandpa’s teeth are “upstairs in a glass.”
   Anyone who has gone to a coffee shop will appreciate the second poem. In the poem we meet a mother who orders a very specialized coffee. Somewhere in the name of her order are the words “mocha,” “decaf,” and “skim.” The order goes on and on and by the time the mother has finished adding her toppings and her other coffee personalizations, the barista says “Sorry, closed.” Is the coffee shop closed because her order took too long and the coffee place really is closing, or it is closed because the poor man cannot remember what she said?
   Later on in the book we encounter another familiar scenario. A mother is telling her child to turn off the T.V. He replies that he will watch “Just till commercial.” This sounds reasonable so Mom agrees. The thing is that the child has pulled a fast one on his mother. He is watching a program on a commercial-free public T.V. station, which means that he can watch for as long as he likes. Sneaky fellow.
   Mixed in with these funny everyday kind of happenings poems, there are nonsense poems and story poems. Together the different kinds of poems keep our funny bones giggling away, and keep our interest going because we never know what is going to pop up next.

   

Monday, September 22, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie

For as long as there have been books, there have been bookworms, people who love books and who are happy to spend hours reading them. Sometimes bookworms get so wrapped up in the books that they read that they have trouble connecting with the real world. In today's picture book you are going to meet a big who is just such a bookworm.

Calvin Can't Fly: The Story of a Bookworm BirdieCalvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie
Jennifer Berne
Illustrated by Keith Bendis
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sterling, 2010, 978-1-4027-7323-5
Calvin is a young starling and he lives under the eaves of an old barn with his siblings and all his cousins. When the young starlings explore the ground for the first time, Calvin’s siblings discover worms, grass, dirt, and water. Calvin discovers a book, and from that moment he is hooked on the written word. While Calvin’s brothers and sisters are chasing insects, Calvin is learning to read, and when they are taking flying lessons, Calvin is at the library reading books. Though Calvin does not know how to fly, “his mind soared” when he reads books. Books can take “him to places wings never could.”
   Though Calvin’s cousins tease him and called him names, Calvin does not give up his love of books. Instead he sadly goes to the library, the one place where he feels happy. He spends his summer reading and learning, soaking up information about everything and anything.
   Then summer turns into fall and the starlings prepare to fly south. There is just one problem. Calvin cannot fly, which means that he will have to stay in the barn for the fall and winter. All alone.

   In this wonderful picture book we see how important it is to follow your heart, even if it means that you don’t always fit in with your peers. Readers will be delighted to see that in the end, Calvin’s love of books turns out to be an asset for him and his extremely large family. Being a bookworm might not, in some people’s opinion, be ‘cool,’ but the rest of know better.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Insectlopedia

I have no idea why so many people dislike insects and spiders. It is true that some of them bite or sting, but most of them don't and many insects and spiders are fascinating and even beautiful animals. In today's poetry title Douglas Florian celebrates insects and spiders by allowing us to get to know a few of them.

InsectlopediaInsectlopedia
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 1998, 978-0-15-201306-6
Most people have a definite aversion to insects and spiders. They are put off by all those legs, the wiggling antennae, and the way in which insects can fly into homes and make a nuisance of themselves. There is also the fact that some insects and spiders can bite or sting.
   In this clever poetry book Douglas Florian pairs his multimedia paintings with twenty-one poems that introduce us to a very varied collection of insects and spiders. As we read, we come to appreciate that insects and spiders are interesting creatures, even if they scare us a little. What probably helps is that Douglas’ poems are often funny, and some are written in the first person from the insect’s point of view.
   For example, in The Dragonfly, we hear from the creature that sees itself as “the dragon / The demon of skies.” It is a voracious predator that “For lunch I munch / On flies and bees,” and it also dines on mosquitoes. We also meet whirligig beetles, who tell us how they “whirl,” “twirl,” “skate,” and “glide” on water. They swim like little toys, but unlike toys they don’t needs “windup keys,” and they make no noise. What makes this poem special is that the text is presented in a circle, giving us a sense of movement, the movement that these cunning little insects make as they spin on the surface of water.
   The inchworm’s narrative is another poem that visually captures one of the insect’s characteristics. Not surprisingly, this poem is shaped like an inchworm inching its way across a surface. We are told how it arches its body and marches along, but it does so so slowly that it never gets “speeding tickets.”
   All the poems in the book are short, full of imagery, and beautifully crafted. Children and adults alike will appreciate the way in which Douglas Florian presents his insect characters. Readers will, at the very least, have to admit that the insects and spiders are certainly remarkable, though we might not consider them to be cute.