Monday, November 23, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Strictly no Elephants

When I was in elementary school, a group of boys who I played with decided to form a boy's only 'club.' I was told very firmly that I could not be a member and that I should "buzz off!" Needless to say, my feelings were very hurt by this rejection.

When I read today's picture book I was reminded of that time when being excluded made me feel so alone. This book explores what it is like to be left out, and we see how some children deal with the problem.

Strictly No ElephantsStrictly No Elephants
Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4814-1647-4
Having a little pet elephant in your life is wonderful, but an elephant is such an unusual pet that sometimes it can cause a problem because you “never quite fit in.” The truth of the matter is that no one else has a pet elephant. All the neighbors have dogs, cats, fish and birds. In other words, they have traditional pets.
   Not fitting in exactly what happens to one little boy and his pet elephant. Every day the little boy takes his pet for a walk, and when the elephant refuses to cross the cracks in the pavement because he is afraid of them, the little boy picks up the elephant and carries him across the cracks because that is what friends do for each other; they help each other out.
   One day the little boy dresses himself and his elephant in red scarves and they head out for Number 17 because it is Pet Club Day. When they get to the little green house they see that there is a notice on the door and it reads: “Strictly no elephants.” The boy and his pet are truly upset by this and they walk off in the rain, sadness resting on their shoulders. Then they see a girl who is sitting on a bench. The girl has a skunk in her lap and the boy learns that the other children don’t want her to join their games either. The boy then suggests that they should start their own pet club, one that will be all inclusive.
   With sweetness and gentle humor this picture shows children how painful it is to be left out when you are different in some way. Thankfully, the little boy in this story is not as alone as he thinks he is, and he and his new friend find a solution to their problem.
   Children will love the charming illustrations and cunning animal characters in this book, and grownups may find that odd questions start popping up around the dinner table. Questions like, “Can I get a pet elephant?” and “Where can you buy a pet skunk?”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Over the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and in my household preparations have already begun for the big day. Shopping lists have been made, a menu has been planned, and firewood has been chopped. We plan on doing our shopping tomorrow and then all we have to do is wait for our  out of town guest to arrive and cook the meal.

Being able to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family is what makes the day special for me, which is why I chose to share today's poetry title with you. The poem is more than a hundred years old and yet it still resonates with readers of all ages. It is a wonderful celebration of the times that we spend with the people we love, and the little life adventures that we share with them.

Over the River and Through the WoodOver the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem
Lydia Maria Child
Illustrated by Christopher Manson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
NorthSouth, 2014, 978-0735841918
A little boy and his parents are setting out for his grandparent’s house on a cold snowy day riding in a sleigh pulled by a "dapple-grey" horse. Bells jingle and as they drive on the well-known road, and the boy sees children playing on the ice, a boy fishing on the ice, a man pulling a load of firewood up a hill, and the blacksmith working in his forge.
   Best of all, the boy soon sees "Grandmother’s cap" and it isn’t long before the family is sitting down together for a delicious Thanksgiving feast.
   Lydia Maria Child wrote this poem in the mid 1800’s and it has remained a firm Thanksgiving favorite since that time. This beautifully illustrated version of the first six verses of the poem brings to life the special celebratory feel that we all enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. The illustrator also gives the reader an intimate look at what life was like in the country on a cold winter’s day in nineteenth century America. The richly colored and textured woodcuts beautifully complement the lyrical rhyming text.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Moletown

Every so often I come across a picture book that will appeal to both children and adults. Today's picture book is just such a title. It is mostly wordless, and the artwork is incredibly rich and detailed. Adults will see that the story is similar to our own human story, and they will appreciate how the moles in the tale come to understand that they need to take responsibility for their own environment. There is a cautionary note to the tale that children and adults will recognize and hopefully learn from.

Torben Kuhlmann
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
North South, 2015, 978-0-7358-4208-3
One day a mole set up house, underground of course, in the middle of a beautiful green meadow. At first he was alone but soon other moles arrived and they began digging homes for themselves as well. As the mole community grew, so did the mole’s technological advances. They invented machines that could convey loads of earth to the surface, and they built a digging device that could dig tunnels for the moles so that they did not have to do the hard manual labor themselves any longer. Soon several little mounds of earth were scattered across the meadow.
   It wasn’t long before the moles had created a whole world for themselves underground, complete with trains to convey moles around the town (that moved horizontally and vertically) and huge digging machines. The moles now had TVs, sound and gaming systems, telephones, and all kinds of other devices. The also had congested streets and overcrowding. Above ground the meadow was gone. In its place was a wasteland dotted with mounds, derricks, and clouds of filthy smoke. Only one small patch of grass remained.
   In this mostly wordless book Torben Kuhlmann explores how a society changes as it becomes more and more industrialized. For a while the quality of life in the town improves, but over time it degrades until the moles come to a point when something needs to be done.
   Children will love the cunning details in the artwork, and older readers will appreciate the meaningful environmental message that is conveyed in such a fresh way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Amazing Places

Most of the poems I read when I was young were story poems of some kind, or they described animals. Not many of the poems I encountered described places. Thankfully, these days poets for young people are exploring all kinds of topics in their writings, and today I bring you a collection of poems that take us to some of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States.

Amazing PlacesAmazing Places
Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Chris Soentpiet and Christy Hale
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee and Low, 2015, 978-1-60060-653-3
The United States is a huge country, a country where there are enormous mountain ranges, deep lakes, hot and dry deserts, muggy swamps, bustling cities, and huge forests. It is a place where people can visit museums full of works of art, and where stories from the past are told. It is a land where children and adults alike can visit places where they can play together and watch spectacles that dazzle them. It is a place where the beauty of nature is magnificent and awe inspiring.
   In this wonderful poetry picture book, readers will encounter an array of poems, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, that give us a picture of just a few of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States. Some of the places are man-made while others a gift from nature.
   We begin in Denali National Park in Alaska, where a mother and daughter are sitting by a campfire next to a lake. The reflection of mountains lies across the water as the mother, who when she was little “could build a fire / with sparks from rocks,” tells her daughter to bring her a stick. Then the mother reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a treat. It is time to toast some marshmallows.
   Later on in the book we visit the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas, and see a display that tells visitors about a man called Langston Hughes. Langston once was just a boy delivering newspapers in a small town, but he grew up to become a poet whose poems about “rainy sidewalks and “his dust of dreams,” would one day touch the minds and hearts of thousands of readers.
   Still further in the book we find ourselves sitting in seats at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. This is one of the most famous baseball parks in the world and the oldest in the Major League. Here a child and her grandfather “sip clam chowder / on a crisp fall night,” and then “cheer as a ball / takes off in flight.”
   In all, children who look at this book will visit fourteen places in the United States, all of which are unique and interesting in their own way. Poems written in a variety of styles by Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Linda Sue Park and others are accompanied by marvelous illustrations, and in the back of the book readers will find further information about the Amazing Places featured in the book.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sidewalk Flowers

Many of us are so busy, so wrapped up our lives, that we don't see the little gifts that life has to offer. We are so focused on ourselves and what we are doing that we don't take the time to connect with people we don't know. Why should we bother?

In today's picture book, which has won several awards over the last few weeks, we see how precious the little gifts are, and how vital it is to be aware of the people, and the animals, around us. The connections that we make with these individuals is important. This book is beautiful to look at, and its message will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sidewalk FlowersSidewalk Flowers
Jon Arno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-431-2
One day a father and his little daughter are walking home after doing the shopping. As they walk down the busy sidewalks in the city, the little girl sees a small flowering plant that is growing at the base of a pole. She picks one of the plant’s yellow flowers and then on she and her father walk.
   Further along she sees another flower, a purple one this time, growing out of a wall and she picks that. Near a bus stop there is a second yellow flower, which the little girl gathers up as her father talks on his cell phone. A little later the girl sees a flower that is growing near a stone lion and another pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk.
   The father and his daughter, who is now holding a bouquet of flowers, then walk into the park. The girl sees the body of a little bird lying in the path and she carefully places some of her precious flowers on the bird, her tribute to the life that was lost. She tucks flowers into the shoes of a homeless man who is sleeping on a bench, and places some under the collar of a dog who wants to be friends. With care the little girl leaves little gifts of flowers in her wake as she and her father make their way home.
  This incredibly special wordless picture book explores the way in which accidental flowers, flowers some people even consider weeds, can bring color and brightness to a city world. What is perhaps even more powerful is the way in which the little girl gives the flowers she picks to others. Some of the recipients of these gifts may not even notice the flowers, but their lives are brightened by them all the same. The world we see in the story is made better because the kind little girl choses to give things she loves to others.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Here’s what you do when you can’t find your shoe

Creating inventions that solve problems or meet a need is something we humans are good at doing. We have invented machines that transport us over long distances, that allow us to communicate over long distances, that heal our bodies when they are sick or damaged, and so much more. But what about those small problems that drive us crazy almost on a daily basis? Often we do not address these issues, and year after tear people still spend time trying to find missing shoes, and still spend hours trying to keep their gardens free of leaves.

In today's poetry title you will see how some people have chosen to take on these challenging problems, with excellent results.

Here’s what you do when you can’t find your shoe
Andrea Perry
Illustrated by Alan Snow
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2003, 978-0689830679
Every day we are confronted with problems that are infuriating and that take time to resolve. For example, many people lose one of their shoes when they are in a rush to get out of the house, which just happens to be the most inconvenient time to lose a shoe. They spend ages searching the house for that one, irritating, maddening shoe. Then there is the problem that afflicts children all over the world: Their parents insist on buying vegetables at the grocery store. Can nothing be done to stop this horrible behavior?
   Other people have problems that are associated with the work that they do. For example, zoo keepers have a unique problem. They love the animals in their care but no matter what they do the animals tend to create a stink. People won’t come and visit the zoo if “the caribou cage has a stench.”
   Luckily for people with lost shoes, too many veggies, and smelly zoo enclosures there are inventors out there who create devices (or provide services) that take care of these and many other problems. If you are afflicted with lostshoeitis, then all you need is a Sure-footed Shoe Finder and all your problems go away. All you have to do it to place “the shoe that is missing its mate” in the device and it will set off “on its shoe-finding search” on your behalf. Using its Foot-Odor-Sensitive Vent it seeks out the missing shoe.
   To get rid of unwanted veggies in your family grocery cart all you need to do is to spray it with Veggie Be Gone, a “produce repellent you simply spray on.” What could be easier! Once a cart is sprayed with this ingenious stuff any vegetable that is dropped into the cart will “bounce right back out.”
   Zookeepers need not despair about the niff, pong, or stench that comes from their animal’s enclosures. All they need to do is to ring the Stink Stoppers, a tireless team of specialists who will fight all bad smells “until all are ex-stinked.” Armed with cleaning equipment galore they get to work. They “wipe down each walrus again and again,” and will “brush tiger teeth” and “trim hippo nails.” These fearless cleaners will have any zoo smelling sweet and clean in no time at all.
   Children and adults alike are going to laugh out loud as they read the poems in this delightful book. Comical inventions solve twelve problems that readers will immediately identify with. Yes, wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Crumbunny to eat the crumbs that we leave in, around, and under our beds. And yes, of course we would love to have a machine that could really suck up all the fallen leaves in our yard every autumn.
   With wonderfully funny rhyming verse and amusing illustrations, this is a book that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Poetry Friday with M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet

Happy almost Halloween everyone. In honor of tomorrow I decided to review a poetry picture book that celebrates monsters of all kinds. Halloween and monsters seem to go together!What is interesting about this title, and the others in this book series, is that all the poems in the book are accompanied by sections of text which gives readers further information about the topics explored in the book. If you have fondness for monsters then this is definitely a book for you.

M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures AlphabetM is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Gerald Kelly
Picture Book and Poetry Book
For ages 7 to 12
Sleeping Bear Press, 2014, 978-1-58536-818-1
All around the world there are stories about creatures that are beautiful, magical, monstrous, terrifying, or that are some combination of all of these things. Russia’s Baba Yaga is a horrific witch who flies around in a mortar using the pestle as a “steering wheel.” She seeks out children when she eats, and she lives in a horrible house that sits on chicken legs. In Scotland, a plesiosaur-type creature is said to inhabit Loch Ness, and though many people think that Nessie is a not real, many others love to believe that she really lives in the cold, dark depths of the lake.
    These are just two of the “Fantastic Creatures” who live on the pages of this splendid alphabet book. The author takes us through the alphabet, pairing a monster, creature or being with every letter of the alphabet. For each topic, readers are given an illustration, a poem, and a section of text describing the creature featured on that page.
   Some of the creatures we meet are found only in one place. Nessie is only found in Scotland, though sea serpents are said to live in other places as well. The Inuit people tell of Amarok, which is a fearsome wolf that will prey on any animal that is foolish enough to venture into the forest at night. The state of New Jersey even has its own monster, known as the Jersey Devil. The creature is said to have “batlike wings, a forked tail, and a piercing scream.”
   Other creatures are found all over the world, creatures like vampires, dragons, zombies and werewolves.
   Most of the beings and monsters that we meet in this book are, without a doubt, quite terrifying and are often dangerous to humans, but there are a few that are peaceable and maybe even friendly. Unicorns are usually portrayed as being beautiful ethereal animals that have “magical powers to cleanse poisoned water and heal sickness.” Elves can be friendly, but in some cultures they are often mischievous and when roused to anger they can be unpleasant. The phoenix is also a benign creature that lives out its bizarre life cycle quietly. It is often considered to be a “sign of renewal, / symbol courageous.”
   This splendid book, one in a series of alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press, can be enjoyed on many levels. Little children will enjoy looking at the beautiful artwork as the poems are read to them, while older children will be intrigued by the sections of text that are full of lore and stories about the creatures that are featured in the book.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of What do you do with an Idea?

A few months ago a friend of mine and I came up with an idea. It is a wonderful, scary, not-sure-of-we-can-do-it kind of an idea, but we have decided to pursue it anyway. Today's picture book explores how ideas grow from nothing, and how we sometimes don't really know what to do with the new ideas that we have. We see, by watching the little boy character in the story, how one can grow to love an idea, even when we are intimidated by it.

This is a book for everyone, on that is full of wisdom, humor, and truth.

What Do You Do With an Idea?What do you do with an Idea?
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Mae Besom
Picture Book
For all ages
Compendium Inc, 2014, 978-1-938298-07-3
One day a child has an idea, and out of nowhere there the idea is. The child does not know where the idea came from, why it is here, and what he is supposed to do with it, so he walks away from the idea, and acts like the idea has nothing to do with him.
   The idea, which looks like an egg on legs wearing a crown, is a determined little thing. It may be “strange and fragile,” but it does not give up on the child. The idea follows the little boy who, worried about people might say about the idea, tries to hide it away. The boy tries to pretend that the idea never came into his life in the first place.
   The thing is that the idea has come into his life, and soon he realizes that his life is “better and happier” because the idea is there. In spite of himself, the boy begins to care about his idea and he starts to protect and nurture it. All this attention makes the idea grow and thrive, and the little boy’s life grows richer as well.
   In this remarkable book a powerful text is paired with gorgeous illustrations to give readers of all ages a picture of what happens after an idea comes into the world. You cannot undo an idea once it is there so you have to learn how to live with it, love it and embrace it, even if it is strange and even if it scares you a little.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of 28 Days: Moments in Black History that changed the world

When I was growing up my parents bought me a book that was called something like "On this day in history." I loved the book because I could open it on any day of the year and find out what interesting event happened on that day through history. Today's poetry title reminded me a little of that book, though I think this title is more meaningful in many ways. I say this because it carefully explores events that took place on only twenty-eight days, and the information that we are given about those days is, in effect, focused. The narrative also describes events in history that many people might know about, and it gives voice to the accomplishments of African Americans, accomplishments that are still not getting their due in many history books.

28 Days: Moments in Black History that changed the world
Charles R. Smith Jr
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Poetry and Nonfiction Picture Book
Roaring Brook Press, 2015, 978-1-59643-820-0
Throughout history there have been moments that have had an enormous impact on what came after.  Often the moments we learn about feature white people, the stories of black people all too often being forgotten or removed from the record. In this very special title the author tells us about twenty-eight days when black people did things that left a lasting impression on the world long after that moment was over.
   The first day described in the book is the day when a free African-American man called Crispus Attucks was shot by British soldiers on March 5, 1770.  Crispus was a patriot who “struck / the first blow for liberty” on that day, standing up to the redcoats and getting shot for his audacity. He was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War.
   By day nine we have moved forward in time to the First World War. Here a poem tells the story of Henry Johnson, who fought off a platoon of Germans single-handedly to protect a friend. Henry was one of the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black regiment that served with courage with the French military. Though he was shot and injured, Henry kept on fighting until the enemy finally withdrew.
   For day ten we are presented with a eulogy which tells the story of Madame C.J. Walker. Madame Walker was the first free child to be born in her family, but for many years her life was incredibly difficult and full of hardship. Due to the stress of her life, Madame Walker started to lose her hair when she was only in her mid-twenties. Wanting to look her best, Madame Walker looked for a beauty product that would help her, and she then went on to found a company that made and sold beauty products that were created just for African-American women. Madame Walker worked very hard and her company became so successful that she became the richest black woman in America.
   Day 16 brings us to December 1, 1955, the day when Rosa Park decided enough was enough. When ordered to “move to the back” of a bus, Rosa refused, and her act of defiance inspired others to peacefully demonstrate against the Jim Crow laws that made life so hard for African- Americans.
   Poems, quotations, and sections of nonfiction text are brought together in this book to give readers of all ages a sense of how black people, even though they have been marginalized, have had a big impact on world history. To supplement the poems and quotations, additional material has been added to the pages for every day, providing readers with background information about the event or person being featured.  Some of the people mentioned in the book will be known to readers, people such as Martha Luther King Jr., Barak Obama, and Malcom X. Others will be new to readers and they will get to “meet” all kinds of people from history who were athletes, astronauts, scientists, politicians and more.