Monday, July 21, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Chickadees at Night

When I moved into my first apartment in Washington D.C. there was a tiny garden in the back. The patch of glass was minuscule, but my roommate and I enjoyed spending time out there, and soon after I moved in I got my first bird feeder. I was soon able to recognize several bird species, birds that I had only seen in books heretofore. My favorite was the little chickadee, a very small bird with a distinct song and a huge personality.

Today's picture book will delight readers who like birds, and they will enjoy finding out what chickadees do at night when we are all asleep in out beds.

Chickadees at Night
Chickadees At NightBill O. Smith
Charles E. Murphy
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleepytime Press, 2013, 978-0-615-56972-7
We all know what chickadees do during the day. They sing their chick-a-dee-dee-dee song, “dip and dart through the tangle of trees,” and visit our birdfeeders. What do they do at night? They disappear and we have no idea what they are up to. Do they perhaps bathe in the rain and rest “on hidden perches?”
   Actually the answer is a simple one. Those cunning little birds spend their nights playing and having fun. They bounce on spider web trampolines, play hide and seek, and take rides on the backs of flying squirrels. They enjoy the simple pleasures that can be found as the moon rises and the stars twinkle overhead.
   In this delightful, lyrical, magical picture book the author answers some delightful questions about the doings of a cunning little bird. Chickadees may be small, but that have oodles of charm, and thanks to Bill O. Smith we now know just a few of their secrets.
   Throughout the book the uplifting and sometimes funny rhyming text is paired with stunning illustrations that capture the beauty and sweetness of one of North America’s most beloved wild birds.
   At the back of the book the author provides readers with some “Chickadee Nuggets.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Cat Talk

For almost my whole life, I have shared my home with a cat or two (or three or four), and I cannot image being catless. Every single one of my cats has had a distinct personality. Alex was grumpy and did not know how to be a pet at first. Sophie was sweet and incredibly patient. Mini Katie was brave and she always had something to say. Tinka the Tonkinese was a minx who could not be trusted to stay out of trouble. Now I have Sara, who seems standoffish but who actually loves attention, and her incredibly naughty sister, Suma, who has broken more things than all my other cats put together.

Today's poetry title pairs beautiful paintings with poems about cats, who, like humans, are all one-of-a-kind characters.

Cat TalkCat Talk
Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
Illustrated by Barry Moser
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
HarperCollins, 2013, 978-0-06-027978-3
Some people are under the impression that cats are all alike, that they don’t have distinctive personalities. They could not be more wrong. Cats, like people, come is all shapes and sizes both in their looks and in their inner selves.
   In this beautiful book we are going to meet some cats, each one of which is very different. Tough Tom, with his torn up ears, has been living out in the world on his own. He is independent and knows how to take care of himself, but when someone opens a window and when Tough Tom finds out that the person in the house has food and a blanket, Tough Tom has to make a choice. He is scared because he is used to the outdoor life and “fighting with other cats,” but a life of comfort and ease is attractive to that cat.
   Lily is a barn cat who shares her life with cows, horses, and a gray donkey called Rose. It is a good life and she likes the “sweet-smelling hay, / And the breathing of cows / And horse snorts.” Lily has a secret though. She has a best friend and she asks us not to tell anyone about this friend because…she thinks he is “a mouse.”
   Some of the cats we meet on the pages are house cats who get to share their human’s bed, and who rule those humans with a firm paw. Then there is Eddie, who has a job which he takes very seriously. Eddie is an office cat and he goes to “greet people at the office door.” He uses “many voices” to say hello, to ask for snacks, and to comment on and react to things that happens around him.
   Some cats like Sylvie are aloof and make sure that everyone knows that they are “the boss cat.” Others are more like Romeo, loving everyone, asking for attention, and playing with anyone who happens to be available.
   Throughout this book the wonderful poems are paired with Barry Moser’s beautiful and evocative paintings to give readers a delightful cat-centric poetry experience.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Crayon: A Colorful Tale about Friendship

Crayons play a big role in the lives of little children. They are used to draw pictures of course, but they are also eaten, they are forgotten in cars and handbags where they melt on hot days, and they are often used to make crafts, sometimes in surprising ways. In today's picture book you are going to meet some crayons who are alive and who, like children, don't always know how to be a good friend.

The Crayon: A Colorful Tale about Friendship
The Crayon: A Colorful Tale About FriendshipSimon Rickerty
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4814-0475-4
There are two little creatures, one of which is red and one which is blue. Red gets a blue crayon and he scribbles a blue design and asks Blue to look at what he has done. Blue then gets a red crayon and he scribbles a red design saying, “Look Red!” While Blue is busy creating his red artwork, Red scribbles on Blue’s page, on his “side,” and this infuriates Blue. What does Red think he is doing? Red is not supposed to cross over the page to poach on Blue’s territory.
   A dreadful argument breaks out and then something terrible happens, Red’s blue crayon breaks. Blue, seeing how upset Red is, gives him his red crayon. There are smiles all around, but Red is not quite finished with his mischief making.
   Figuring out how to get along with others is not always easy. Learning how to share and to include others is even harder. In this delightfully clever, minimal picture book the author shows his readers how two colorful creatures struggle to get along, and how they learn what it means to be a real friend.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Another Day as Emily

When I was first presented with a novel written in blank verse, I was rather surprised. I had never encountered a novel with such a format before. When I began to read the book I was immediately hooked. Since then I have read several novels written in blank verse and my favorites are those written by Eileen Spinelli. I was therefore thrilled when I got her latest creation in the mail and I read the entire book one afternoon in one sitting. It is a delightful story, one that I think readers of all ages will enjoy reading.

Another Day as EmilyAnother Day as Emily
Eileen Spinelli
Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Poetry
For ages 9 to 12
Random House, 2014, 978-0-449-80987-7
The summer vacation has begun and Suzy has so much to look forward to. Among other things there is the Fourth of July, her twelfth birthday (when she is going to go to a ball game), bike rides, and Tween Time at the library. Not to mention time spent with her friends Alison, Mrs. Harden, and Gilbert.
   One morning Suzy’s little brother Parker decides to ride his trike to Mrs. Harden’s house, which he is not allowed to do unless he tells someone first. Which he forgets to do. Normally Parker would get into trouble for doing this, but on this occasion he doesn’t. When he gets to Mrs. Harden’s house he sees that she is lying on the floor and that she is in trouble. Remembering what he learned in safety class, Parker dials 911. Suzy arrives just as Parker is saying “Emergency! Emergency!” into the phone. Suzy holds Mrs. Harden hand until the ambulance arrives and worries about the old lady, who is her “honorary grandmother.”
   Thankfully Mrs. Harden is all right, and Parker becomes a local “little hero.” He is interviewed for the local newspaper, is sent all kinds of gifts, and the mayor invites Parker to be in the mayoral car during the Fourth of July parade. Not surprisingly all this attention goes to Parker’s head. He decides that he is a “big hero” and he becomes rather insufferable.
   Suzy’s summer does not improve after this incident. Instead it gets worse. People, including Suzy’s mother, keep making a fuss over Parker. Gilbert is accused of being a thief even though there is no proof that he stole anything, and when Suzy and Alison audition for parts in a play, Alison gets a part but Suzy doesn’t. On Suzy’s birthday Parker disappears and Suzy’s dad has to cancel their baseball game trip because they have to look for Parker.
   Suzy decides that there is only one thing to do. She is going to stop being Suzy and she is going to start being Emily Dickenson. Suzy has been learning about Emily for her Tween Time people-from-the-1800’s project and she knows enough about the poet that she decides that being a recluse is just what she needs. Suzy gets some white dresses, she refuses to go out or use the phone, and she tries to spend her days doing what Emily Dickenson did. At first the novelty is enjoyable, but then Suzy starts to get lonely.
   Written using a series of blank verse poems, this delightfully sweet, poignant, and gently funny story will give readers a peek into the heart of a twelve-year-old girl. Suzy is starting to grow up and she is struggling to figure out who she is and what she wants. Her quirky personality and kind heart make her easy to identify with, and readers will find themselves hoping that Suzy finds her way.
  

   

Monday, July 7, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Hank Finds an Egg

When I came across today's picture book for the first time I was completely captivated by the photos that fill the pages. There are no words in the book at all, and yet the story is rich and delightful. Readers of all ages will enjoy seeing what Hank does when he finds an egg.

Hank Finds an EggHank Finds an Egg
Rebecca Dudley
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Peter Pauper Press, 2013, 978-1-4413-1158-0
One day Hank is walking in the forest when he finds an egg lying on the ground. He picks up the egg and soon figures out that it must have fallen out of a nest that is resting on a branch in a nearby tree. Hank is determined to do what he can to put the egg back in its nest, but there is a problem; Hank is very small and the nest is high up in the tree.
   Hank rolls a log over to the tree to stand on, but he still cannot reach the nest. Next, he builds a little ladder, but the nest is still too high up. The moon starts to rise and so Hank makes himself a little bed out of leaves and lights a fire. When it is time to sleep, he tucks the egg under the leaves next to him so that is stays warm. Maybe, in the morning, he will figure out how to get the egg back into its nest.
   In this remarkable wordless picture book we meet a little woodland creature whose compassion and determination to do the right thing warms the heart. To tell Hank’s story the author made Hank out of fabric and then photographed him in his woodland world. The photographs are beautiful, and Hank’s loving and generous character shines through.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Mammalabilia

Douglas Florian is a master when it comes to writing short, often amusing poems about animals. I have reviewed several of his animal centric poetry books, and so far we have met animals that live in water, dinosaurs, reptiles and amphibians, and in his book Beast Feast we meet a collection of especially bizarre creatures. In today's poetry title he takes us into the lives of mammals.

mammalabiliaMammalabilia
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004, 978-0152050245
Many of us are able to identify with mammals, perhaps because our pets are usually mammals. They are furry, have four legs, and give birth to live babies. Some of them even look a little like us, and we love to read stories about them.
   In this poetry collection poet and artist, Douglas Florian, introduces us to a wide variety of mammals, pairing clever little poems with his unique artwork. The poems come in many forms. There are rhyming poems, blank verse poems, concrete poems, and some of the poems contain word play elements that readers will find amusing.
   Our mammalian visit begins with the aardvark, which is without a doubt, a very odd animal. They are so odd that the poet believes that “Aardvarks look better / By far in the daark.” He is more complimentary about the ibex which “risk their necks / On scary, airy mountain treks,” and he thinks otters are “quite charismatic.”
   As they explore this book readers will enjoy ‘listening in’ when the poet asks a Bactrian camel a very important question, and they will find out what he thinks of gorillas, porcupines, the elephant, lemurs, and other mammals from around the world.
   This is one in a series of poetry books about animals that Douglas Florian has created.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Puddle Pug

Everyday I read articles online about people who refuse to share what they have, or who refuse to accept someone (or a group of people) who are different. These stories sadden me deeply. Thankfully, there are occasions when these exclusionary situations end and doors are opened. Today's picture book tells the story of a pug who loves mud puddles, and a pig who does not like to share her mud puddle.

Puddle PugPuddle Pug
Kim Norman
Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Sterling, 2014, 978-1-4549-0436-6
Percy was a pug who loved puddles of all kinds. Any kind of puddle would do, and he loved the puddles he frequented so much that he even went so far as to put them on a map so that he would always be able to find them. Though Percy enjoyed the puddles he visited and though they were nearly perfect, none of them had all the qualities he was looking for. For some reason “something was always missing.”
   Then one day Percy saw a puddle that really was perfect. It was big and brown and deliciously muddy, and when he jumped in he was in pug heaven. Percy had found his “puddle paradise,” but there was a problem. A very large mama pig and her piglets were using the puddle, and the mama pig made it clear that Percy was not welcome. Nothing Percy did made the large pig willing to let the pug join her family in the muddy wallow.
   In this charming picture book children will meet a pug who finds the perfect puddle, only to discover that it is taken by a very unfriendly pig who will not share. Readers will find Percy and his love of puddles hard to resist, and they will be delighted to see what happens as the story unfolds.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of A pond full of ink

There are quite a few story poems out there that are delightful, though they tend to be rather long. Not that this is a bad thing, but young children often have relatively short attention spans. In today's poetry title readers will find some story poems that a quite short, many of which are deliciously funny.

A Pond Full of InkA pond full of ink
Annie M. G. Schmidt
Illustrated by Sieb Posthuma
Translated by David Colmer
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Eerdmans, 2014, 978-0-8028-5433-9
Many poems capture a ‘snapshot’ of a moment in time, or describe a place, an emotion, or a person or thing. Then there are poems that tell a story. Annie M. G. Schmidt is the kind of poet who excels at telling stories through poetry, and this collection will introduce readers to a few of her delightful creations.
   The first story poem we encounter is about a writer who writes stories from the moment when the “roosters crow” to the time when the “dinner bell rings.” He is such a prolific writer that he has a pond of ink at the bottom of his garden. A little inkwell simply won’t do for a man who has “made up ten thousand stories already.”
   Then there is the poem called Three Elderly Otters. These venerable gentlemanly creatures have always wanted to go boating, but, alas, they discover that all the boat rental places have signs in their boats that say “FORBIDDEN FOR OTTERS.” Perhaps a train ride would be pleasant, but the same sign is stuck to every window in the train. The otters, not surprisingly, are very discouraged, but there is one form of active entertainment that might work for them.
   Another amusing poem is about some furniture. A table and chair decide to go out for a walk, and since they have legs, this is something that they can do. A sideboard and a bookcase, in spite of all the things they have on their shelves and in drawers, decide to go along with them. However there are some pieces of furniture that cannot make the journey into the great outdoors.
   Throughout this charming volume delightful poems that are threaded through with fun are paired with charmingly original illustrations.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Pig and Small

On very rare occasions we make friends with a person who is just like us. Most of the time our friends have different interests, and different approaches to life, and we have to adapt or compromise if we want the friendship to flourish.

In today's picture book you will meet two animals who are very different and who have unique challenges to overcome.

Pig and SmallPig and Small
Alex Latimer
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House UK, 2013, 978-0-552-56543-1
One morning Pig notices that his nose is squeaking. His nose has never squeaked before and though it appears to be working properly, it never stops squeaking. Pig doesn’t find any information about Squeaky Nose Syndrome so he takes a good look at his snout and there, on the end of it, is a bug, and the bug is squeaking. In fact the bug is “waving and squeaking like mad,” which Pig realizes is Bug’s way of asking if Pig will be his friend.
   Pig gets out his tandem bike and the two new friends head for the park. Of course bug’s legs are too short to reach the pedals so Pig ends up doing all the work. When they get to the park Bug decides to thank Pig for the bike ride by giving Pig a cake that he made. Unfortunately, the cake is so small that Pig doesn’t notice or comment on the lovely decorations that Bug put on the cake. Pig just eats it whole in one gulp.
   Pig and Bug try to play chess, but the pieces are too heavy for Bug to move. Bug knits a pair of sweaters, one for himself and one for Pig, but Pig’s sweater is too small for him. Sadly, Pig and Bug realize that they just cannot be friends. They are just too different.
   Sometimes we make friends with people who are a lot like us and our friends almost become an extension of ourselves.  At other times we befriend people with whom we have some things in common, but who are also different from us in big ways.
   This often funny and very sweet picture book explores how two very different animals try to find common ground so that they can be friends. It is not easy, but it can be done.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Everything is a poem: The best of J. Patrick Lewis

J. Patrick Lewis is one of my favorite poets. Somehow he is able to create a wide variety of voices in his poems so that each one has a unique tone and flavor. How he is able to do this to such great effect confounds me. Today's review title contains a diverse selection of his poems, and I think anyone who likes poetry will enjoy exploring this book.

Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick LewisEverything is a poem: The best of J. Patrick Lewis
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Maria Christina Pritelli
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Creative Editions, 2014, 978-1-56846-240-0
J. Patrick Lewis discovered what he calls “word magic” relatively late. He had been teaching college economics for thirty years before he realized that he was in the wrong line of work and he made a radical change, trading in figures for words. After years of struggle, J. Patrick Lewis finally got an acceptance and since then he has written eighty-five picture books and hundreds of poems.
   J. Patrick Lewis wanted to “write poems in a hundred voices” and to “explore everything under and over the sun in as many different ways as it’s possible to write poetry.” He has done both of these things many times over, and this collection of his poetry will give readers a feeling for his skill and his passion for poetry. The collection certainly demonstrates that he has the ability to “help unlock imaginations,” which is another of his goals.
   The poems are divided up into eight categories. These include poems about animals, people, reading, Mother Nature, and places. They come in many forms and do indeed have many different voice and tones. Some will make the reader laugh out loud, while others are more contemplative and will give the reader food for thought. Some tell fictional stories, while others serve as a tribute to a real person who contributed to the world in some way.
   For example in Baby Contralto we read about Marian Anderson who “brushed / Her voice / Across the air / In colors / Not seen / Anywhere.”  We can also read about Miles Davies, Roger Bannister (who broke the four-minute mile), Jesse Owens, and Rosa Parks.
   In the Mother Nature section we can read about a redwood that is six thousand years old. It “waved its arms about the sky / And sang a sea breeze lullaby,” until in 1977, the great tree “bid farewell,” and fell to the forest floor. We also meet a “her-i-cane” called Lorelie, who “twisted around the ocean” but who “never grew / into a proper her-i-cane.”
   Though these poems were written for children, readers of all ages will enjoy dipping into this collection. There is something on these pages for everyone. It would make a perfect gift for anyone who loves the magic that lies in words.