Friday, July 13, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of My People

When you are a child you often think that more is better. I have learned over the years that sometimes less is more. Today's poetry book is a perfect example of this. This is not a weighty tome. It is not packed with artwork and text. Instead it is spare, and simple, and incredibly beautiful. In the book gorgeous photos are paired with lines of verse written by Langston Hughes, and the words celebrate people of all kinds.

My peopleMy people
Langston Hughes
Photographer: Charles R. Smith Jr.
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2009   ISBN: 1416935401
In 1923, Langston Hughes, the African-American poet, wrote a poem that later came to be called “My People.” The poem is only thirty-three words long, and in it Langston Hughes invites his readers to see “his people” through fresh eyes. He invites them to see how beautiful they are, comparing them to the night, the stars, and the sun. Not only are their faces and eyes beautiful, but their souls are too.
   Using stunning full page sepia photographs, Charles R. Smith Jr. captures the essence of Langston Hughes’ poem. His photos show people of all ages smiling, laughing, and being themselves. The photos are indeed beautiful, and they give Langston Hughes' poetry a new dimension that readers of all ages with admire.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of Bob's Blue Period

When I was a child I went through a period when everything I drew had flowers on it. Then I drew peace doves and nothing but peace doves. Then I was 'into' doodling with gold, white, and silver pens. Every artistic fad was inspired by something that was going on in my life at the time. Today you will meet an artistic bird who, because he is sad, finds himself going through a blue period.

Marion Deuchars
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Laurence King, 2018, 978-1-78627-070-2
Bob the bird’s best friend is Bat, and the two animals are inseparable. They play games together, dance together, have tea parties, and best of all they paint together. Then one day Bat disappears and he leaves a note for Bird saying that he has to “go away for a while.” Bird is bereft without his friend. He mopes around until he decides to paint. Everything he paints is blue. He paints a blue banana, a blue orange, and a blue tree. For Bird there is “a big blue hole where Bat used to be.”
   When Cat and Owl come to Bird to have their portraits done they are rather disappointed to see that Bird has painted them blue too. Bird’s friends decide that something has to be done to pull Bird out of his state of blueness.
   When a friend goes away our lives can really be turned upside down. Suddenly nothing feels quite right, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves when our bestie isn’t around to share everything. In this sweet picture book Marion Deuchars explores, with sensitivity and touches of humor, what it feels like to miss a friend. As the story unfolds we see how important it is to try to hold onto the good things even when we are feeling sad.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of Old Elm Speaks

I love trees. Whenever life gets too hard or when my heart is aching, I head up into the hills to spend some time amongst the tress. Something about their quiet presence comforts and grounds me. I was therefore delighted to come across this wonderful book of poems. What could be better than a book that celebrates trees!

Old Elm Speaks: Tree PoemsOld Elm Speaks: Tree Poems 
Kristine O'Connell George
Illustrated by Kate Kiesler
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Clarion Books, 2007, 978-0618752423
All too often we take trees for granted. We walk pass them without noticing their beauty, forgetting that they witness the many mini adventures that fill our lives. In this very special book we hear their voices, we see things from their point of view. We slow down and notice the small things, the little details in their lives. We come to appreciate them anew and to realize that they are there watching over us as we play, as we work, and as we explore our world.
   For example we come to realize that there is a special magic in the way in which a tiny leaf is "rolled and folded / neatly packed" in a bud. We laugh as we read about the "major tree traffic" that is running along a tree's branches as squirrels carry out their daily chores. We smile as two plump horses find a way to share the shade that one tree gives. We watch as two children plant a baby blue spruce in their garden, a tiny tree that one day will "scratch the sky" with its branches.
   Using a variety of poetry forms including free verse, rhyme and haiku, the author of this wonderful celebratory collection infuses her poems with every possible mood and emotion. She has an obvious appreciation for the way in which language can be used to give a poem rhythm, complexity and imagery.
   This is the perfect book for all those wonderful people out there who love and appreciate trees.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of World Make Way

When I was growing up one of my favorite pieces of music was Pictures at an Exhibition. The composer uses music to describe what he saw when he visited an art exhibition at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg in 1874. I was therefore very interested when I heard that a group of poets had written poems that were inspired by works of art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is fascinating to 'see,' through their words, what the poets saw on the walls of the museum.
Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Abrams, 2018, 978-1-4197-2845-7
Every person sees a work of art differently. Some may notice the forms in the artwork, while others may be captivated by the colors. Some may only see the story that the artwork seems to be telling, and others may be drawn to examine how the artwork was created in the first place. Everyone’s reaction to the work is therefore different and unique.
   In this splendid book nineteen poets have created poems that were inspired by works of art that are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first of these is a portrait by Gustav Klimt. In it we see a girl in a white dress looking at us. Her hands are behind her back and there is an air of impatience about her. Certainly this emotion conveyed itself to Marilyn Singer. In her poem Paint Me we hear the voice of the girl who wants Klimt to “Hurry up and / paint me.” She has things to do and, furthermore, she is tired of the dress with its flowers. She is ready to be on the move; it is time for the world to “make way,” for her and her restless energy.
   For the painting Dancing in Columbia, Alma Flor Ada has written the poem Dancing. The narrators are the musicians in the painting, seven of them in all, who take up so much space that there is room for only two dancers. The man and women are “absorbed in our music” and their attention is such that “everything else is forgotten.”
   In Cat Watching a Spider we see an image of a cat watching a little spider scuttle across the floor. The cat is hunched, its attention fixed on the little animal. The poem that Julie Fogliano has written about this wonderful artwork perfectly captures, in just a few words, the moment that we are witnessing. We feel the pause that brings the cat to a place of stillness that is unusual in one who is often a creature of “prowl and prance / and teeth and claws.”
   Winslow Homer’s painting Boys in a Dory made the poet Charles Ghigna think of early evening when movement is slow and where the boys in the boat “float as in a dream, / soft and serene.”
   It is fascinating to see how the poets featured in this collection reacted to the artwork. Sometimes readers will see what they saw and perhaps feel what they felt, and sometimes the poet’s ‘take’ on the artwork will be a surprise. We will pause and take in their perspective and marvel at the way in which perception can be so different from person to person, and so interesting. At the back of the book the editor includes information about the poets who contributed to the book. He also tells us about the artists, whose work is featured on the pages.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Koala who could

Stepping out of our comfort zone is something that many of us are very reluctant to do. We like to stick with things that are familiar and that feel safe. The problem with doing this is that a life without adventures can be rather dull. You also learn less about yourself and the world when you restrict yourself. In today's picture book you will meet a koala who is too scared to venture down from the tree that he calls home, and as a result his life is both lonely and predictable.

The Koala Who CouldThe Koala who could
Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Jim Field
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Scholastic, 2017, 978-1-338-13908-2
Kevin the koala has simple needs. He likes to have a tree to sit and nap in, and leaves to eat. He likes a quiet life, which is why he likes to stay in his tree and avoid change. From his vantage point the ground beneath him seems “a frightening place,” and so he stays well away from it. Trying new things just isn’t something he is interested in doing.
   One day Wombat invites Kevin to “come down here and play,” but Kevin stays put. Even after the roos tell him that there is nothing to be afraid of on the ground, Kevin declines to join them; he firmly clings to his tree.
   Day after day Kevin sits in his tree, living his life the way he has always done. Then one morning Kevin wakes up and something is very wrong. A bird is pecking on his tree. In fact the birds is pecking the tree so vigorously that the tree starts to list and lean. Closer and closer to the ground it gets, with Kevin holding on for dear life. The other animals gather below, offering to catch him if he will just jump, but Kevin is too scared to do something so dangerous.
   All too often we are prone to holding on to things that are familiar and safe. We avoid trying new things because they are unfamiliar and scary; we cannot be sure how things will work out if we try these new things. In this amusing picture book, we meet a koala who resists change at every turn, until something happens that turns his life upside down. Children will be fascinated to see how things work out for Kevin. and they will delighted to discover that his story has a surprising ending.
  


Friday, June 1, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of Emma's Poem

When I was ten years old I was lucky enough to cross the Atlantic in an ocean liner. Soon after dawn one summer morning we sailed past the Statue of Liberty and I have never forgotten that moment. Many years later I was able to see the Statue of Liberty up close, and I also visited Ellis Island. I have read the poem that is inscribed on the statue and that is now part of this country's history, and I feel great pride to live in a place that has provided sanctuary to so many refugees over the years. Today I bring you the story of the poem and I hope the narrative lifts you up and inspires you. 

Emma’s Poem: The voice of the Statue of Liberty
Linda Glaser
Illustrator:  Clair A. Nivola
Nonfiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 978-0544105089
When Emma was little she had a very comfortable life living in a lovely, large home with her mother, father, and siblings. She lacked for nothing, and was able to indulge in her love of books. She had the time to read, and spent many hours writing stories and poems. The people she spent time with came from similarly comfortable backgrounds, and the world of New York’s well-to- do people was the only one she knew.
   Then one day Emma visited Ward’s Island in New York Harbor and there she met immigrants who had traveled across the Atlantic as steerage passengers. They were poor and hungry, and many of them were sick. They had so little and had suffered so much. Like Emma, they were Jews, but unlike her they had been persecuted and driven from their homes. Friends and family members had died, and now here they were in a strange land with no one to assist them.
   Emma was so moved by the plight of the immigrants that she did her best to help them. She taught them English, helped them to get training so that they could get jobs, and she wrote about the problems that such immigrants faced. Women from her background did not spend time with the poor and they certainly did not write about them in newspapers, but Emma did.
   Then Emma was invited to write a poem that would be part of a poetry collection. The hope was that the sale of the collection would pay for the pedestal that would one day serve as the base for a new statue that France was giving to America as a gift. The statue was going to be placed in New York Harbor and Emma knew that immigrants, thousands of them, would see the statue of the lady when their ships sailed into the horbor. What would the statue say to the immigrants if she was a real woman? What would she feel if she could see them “arriving hungry and in rags?” In her poem, Emma gave the statue a voice, a voice that welcomed all immigrants to America’s shores.
   In this wonderfully written nonfiction picture book the author uses free verse to tell the story of Emma Lazarus and the poem that she wrote. The poem was inscribed on a bronze plaque that is on the wall in the entryway to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. It has been memorized by thousands of people over the years, and has come to represent something that many Americans hold dear.
   At the back of the book readers will find further information about Emma Lazarus and her work. A copy of her famous poem can also be found there.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of Elmore

Soon after I started reviewing books I read the Poppy and Rye series written by Avi. In some of the books we meet Ereth, a foulmouthed, grumpy, and incredibly lovable porcupine. I adored Ereth and think of him every time I see a picture or a video of a porcupine. I was therefore naturally drawn to today's picture book. In the story we meet Elmore, a porcupine who has a very big and troubling problem.


Elmore
Holly Hobbie
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2018, 978-1-5247-1863-3
Elmore is a porcupine and he lives in a big, old maple tree. He lives in the tree by himself, which is what porcupines do. One would think that he would be used to the solitary life by now, but the truth of the matter is that Elmore cannot help feeling a little lonely. 
   One day Elmore decides that he will try to get some friends. He puts up a sign that reads: “Friends Wanted.” He soon discovers that the other animals in the forest are reluctant to become his friends because he is just “too prickly.” If they come to close they are likely to get “needled, nettled, prickled,” which, not surprisingly, they are not too keen on.
   Elmore’s quills are proving to be a problem but they are there for a reason. They protect him, and his uncle reminds him that Elmore “wouldn’t be a porcupine without quills.” His quills are beautiful and he should value them.
   Elmore’s uncle’s kind words warm him, and they also give him an idea.
   So many people find it hard to fit in because they are different in some way. How do you get people to accept you when they won’t even give you a chance? What do you do when they write you off from the get go? This wonderful book explores how one determined porcupine finds a way to show the animals in his world what he is like on the inside. After all, that is the part of an animal, or a person, that really matters. Being prickly on the outside does not mean you are prickly all the way through.
   Readers who enjoyed the Puddle and Toot books are going to love this beautiful new title from Holly Hobbie.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of The Adventures of Piratess Tilly: Easter Island

When I first started reviewing poetry titles I was sent a book full of haiku poems. I fell in love with this poetry form and have made a point of seeking out haiku poetry books ever since. Today I bring you a review of a book that tells a delightful story using a series of haiku poems. The story describes an adventure that a girl and her friends take, and there are also natural history and environmental themes woven into the narrative.

The Adventures of Piratess Tilly: Easter Island
The Adventures of Piratess Tilly: Easter IslandElizabeth Lorayne
Illustrated by Karen Watson
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
White Wave Press, 2017, 978-0-997-90980-7
Piratess Tilly and her friends are setting sail on their beautiful ship, the Foster. This time they are going to Easter Island, and Tilly is hoping to continue to study nature so that she can become a “True Naturalist.”
   As they sail, Tilly and her koala friend Yuki make use of the books that line the walls of Tilly’s stateroom. They read, study, and sketch, following in the footsteps of Katherine Routledge, who also sailed to Easter Island in 1913.
   Eventually they arrive at their destination; Easter Island is in front of them with its majestic rocky shore and its stone statues. The travelers go ashore where they start to explore. Donning diving gear Tilly and Yuki enter an ocean wonderland where fish, sea turtles, and other creatures live.
   Next Tilly and her friends visit some ruins where horses “roam freely.” They have a picnic, enjoying being in such a beautiful place. Then they look out to sea from the highest place on the island and they discover that a pirate ship is headed their way. Tilly knows all too well that pirates cannot be trusted, and sure enough when the pirates come on land they steal the eggs that the sooty terns have laid on the ground. The birds can do nothing to rescue their precious eggs from the greedy poachers, but Tilly can.
   This delightful book takes young readers of a wonderful journey of exploration across the ocean to Easter Island. The tale is told using haiku poems, and it is accompanied by lovely artwork. At the back of the book readers will find further information about Tilly’s heroes: Charles Darwin, and Katherine Routledge.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mother's Day

Wishing all the mothers who love and care for their children and their  animal companions a wonderful Mother's Day.

Image result for Mother's Day vintage

Monday, May 7, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Word Collector

There are certain authors and illustrators whom I follow with great interest. I review all their books, and I keep my copies close at hand so that I can look at them again and again. One of these author illustrators is Peter R. Reynolds. He creates books that explore big issues and that celebrate things like creativity, compassion, diversity, and now the power of words. Not surprisingly, considering what I do for a living, this book delighted me. Is explores the idea that words are powerful, beautiful things when used in the right way.

The word collector
Peter R. Reynolds
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Scholastic, 2018, 978-0-545-86502-9
All over the world there are people who collect things. They collect stamps, art, rocks, coins, baseball cards, and all kinds of objects. Jerome like to collects things too; he collects words. Every time he hears or reads a word that intrigues or delights him he writes it down on a piece of yellow paper. He collects words that are “Short and sweet,” and he also collects words that are longer. Some have so many syllables that they sound “like little songs.”
   Happily Jerome glues all the words he has collected into scrapbooks, and over time his collection grows so large that he starts to categorize the words.
   One day Jerome is carrying a huge pile of his scrapbooks when he slips and the books tumble to the floor. Pieces of paper covered with words go flying. Jerome begins to pick up the words, which are now all “jumbled” up. Big words are next to little words, and words that one would normally never put next to each other are side by side. Jerome begins to explore his words in a new way, stringing them together to create poems and songs, and to create sentences that are strong and “powerful.” One might think that doing this would be enough for any collector, but Jerome has a word idea that he wants to share with the world.
   Peter H. Reynolds has a gift for creating books that make you think. The ideas he shares with his readers are so meaningful that they persist in our minds and hearts long after the book has been closed.
   Like his stories Ish and Dot, The Word Collector, makes us pause in our busy day to consider the world around us. We are reminded of the fact that words have power; that they can make our world a richer and better place when they are used thoughtfully. Both children and adults alike will love this title, and they will appreciate the message that the author is sharing with us: love words and use them to make your life and the lives of others richer.