Monday, January 8, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Dam Keeper

I have a big soft spot in my bookish heart for graphic novels. I grew up reading the Tintin stories and The Adventures of Asterix the Gaul over and over again, so perhaps this is not surprising. These days quite a few publishing houses are creating beautiful graphic novels, and one of my favorite houses is First Second. Today I bring you a review of one of their titles, which delighted me when I read it. It is the first book in a series and I can't wait to see what happens next.

The Dam KeeperThe Dam Keeper
Robert Kondo
Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi
Graphic Novel
For ages 8 and up
First Second, 2017, 978-1-62672-426-6
Sunrise Valley is a pretty place, and the residents lead peaceful, normal lives. Most of them don’t think about the fact that the only reason that they are able live as they do is because of the dam. Long ago Pig’s father invented the dam to keep out the fog. The fog is a deadly phenomenon that killed Pig’s mother and countless others. Beyond the dam the fog has laid waste to the world.
   For some reason that no one can understand, after teaching Pig how to maintain the dam, his father walked out into the fog and is presumed dead.
   Now Pig manages the dam alone, making sure that it does what it is supposed to do to blow back the fog every time the black cloud rolls in and bares down on the village. Being the dam keeper means that Pig is not quite like everyone else. He knows the danger that lurks beyond the wall of the dam, and lives with the responsibility that his father left him to shoulder on his own.
   Fox is the only young animal in the village who seems to like Pig, and her friendship makes all the difference in his life. Unfortunately, Fox is friends with Hippo, and Hippo loves to bully Pig. Fox insists that Pig just needs to spend time with Hippo to see that the big guy isn’t all that bad; which is why she brings Hippo to the dam on day to see Pig.
   Pig is not best pleased to see Hippo, but he tries to be accommodating for Fox’s sake. Which is when the fog rolls in, and this time the wave is enormous. So enormous is it that the dam does not hold. Pig, Fox, and Hippo are dragged out into the wasteland beyond the dam when the fog pulls back. For the first time ever, Pig’s father’s invention does not hold back the darkness.
   This remarkable graphic novel takes readers into a world where danger is never that far, though most of the animals in Sunrise Valley don’t realize it. We see how Pig has been shaped by the loss in his life, and how he tries to come to terms with the fact that all is not what it seems. It turns out that there is something beyond the dam after all.
   This is the first title in what promises to be a wonderful series. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of Out of wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

I always enjoy reading books that writers have written about other writers. Often the stories we encounter in such books are incredibly perceptive, and it is interesting to see how the authors get into the minds of their subjects. Today we will encounter a book written by poets in which they explore the writing styles and the lives of twenty-five wonderful poets. It is a beautiful book and the respect that the authors have for the people that they write about is tangible and warming.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating PoetsOut of wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Candlewick Press, 2017, 978-0-7636-8094-7
Kwame Alexander had the privilege of growing up in a house where books were treasures and “words came alive.” He grew up loving poems in particular because a poem is “a small but powerful thing.” Poems allow us to connect with the people who wrote them on a very deep level; they inspire us, and in our minds they evolve as we grow and change.
   For this collection Kwame and his co-authors, Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth, have chosen to focus on the lives and works of twenty-five poets who are “ interesting people” and who were, or still are, “passionately in love with their poetry.” They have written poems of celebration that reflect the styles of these poets, and they hope that we will use their creations “as stepping-stones to wonder.”
   The book is divided into three parts. The first section looks at poets who developed singular styles in their writing that poetry lovers have grown to recognize. For example, in the poem In Every Season, Marjory Wentworth beautifully captures the free verse style favored by Robert Frost. She takes us to a farm where we walk with the narrator “through fields and woods.”  We crunch on ice “through starless winter nights” and shake snow from the branches of trees.
   The second section celebrates poets who beautifully capture everyday moments. Here there is a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, a poem about a boy who dreams of becoming a basketball player who will “grab the world in my hands and /twirl a big ball of hope / from corner to corner.”
   The final section serves as a tribute to the poets who have written poems that delight Kwame, Chris, and Marjorie in a special and very personal way. The poets that they feature in this section make the authors feel that “the poet is speaking directly to us, as if we are in the middle of a private conversation.” On these pages we find poems like No Idle Days, which celebrates William Carlos Williams. We read of the man who had “two lives / crammed / into one.” William Carlos Williams worked as a doctor, and in his spare moments, the few that he had, he scribbled away on his prescription pads. He was a man who crafted “a new American voice,” for ordinary people.
   Throughout this title the extraordinary poems are paired with beautiful multimedia artwork to give readers a special book experience.
   At the back of this remarkable collection readers will find biographies of the twenty-five poets who lives and works are celebrated in the book. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of What do you do with a chance?

I used to be very fearful of trying to do something new. I did not like taking on anything when I couldn't be sure of what the outcome would be. Thankfully I learned that going through life without taking chances was not a good option; my life is richer because I have dared to embrace the unknown.

Today I bring you a book that explores what it feels like to be afraid of taking chances, and what it feels like to turn away from chances with they present themselves. It is a beautiful book that will resonate with readers of all ages.


What Do You Do With a Chance?What do you do with a Chance?
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Mae Besom
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Compendium Inc, 2017, 978-1-943200-73-3
One day a chance came flying up to a little boy, fluttering like a golden butterfly by his side. He had no idea why it was there, nor did he know what he was supposed to do with it. The chance seemed to want the boy to touch it, but he was “unsure and pulled back,” and in response the chance flew away.
   Later the boy thought about the chance that had got away, and he began to wish that he had taken it. Then another chance flew up and the boy, though he was still unsure and perhaps a little afraid, decided to try. He reached for the chance…and fell flat on his face. The boy felt so embarrassed and ashamed that he decided that he would have nothing more to do with chances. Whenever a new chance came his way he ignored it.
   Over time fewer and fewer chances flew near the boy until a day came when the boy realized that he hadn’t seen a chance “in quite a while.” Had he missed an opportunity that would never present itself again? Perhaps he should have overcome his fear the first time he encountered a chance. Well, now he had to decide if he was going to be brave just long enough to grab a chance, if one ever appeared again, or if he was going to give into his fear.
   This is the third inspirational book that Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom have created together. Just like the first two titles, What do you do with an idea and What do you do with a problem, this story will encourage readers of all ages to find that inner strength that will help them bring about positive changes in their lives. The story does not diminish the wariness and fear that we feel when chances come our way. Instead it acknowledges how strong these emotions can be and it encourages us to face our fears head on.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

Wishing you a Happy New Year


Friday, December 29, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of That is my dream

Now that the year is coming to a close, many of us start to think about the year that has been and the year that is in the offing. Will the coming year be 'better' than the last one was? Today I offer you a poetry book that is all about hoping for what could be. Imagine what our world would be like if people could set aside their differences. Imagine the lives our children could lead.

That Is My Dream!That is my dream
Langston Hughes
Illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2017, 978-0-399-55017-1
One day a little African American boy sets off for town on a bus with his mother and sister. They have to sit in the back of the bus, because this is how it is in the segregated world that he lives in. In town he watches as a white boy drinks from the “whites only” water fountain. He has to drinks from the fountain that is labeled “colored only.” Then, as the day fades, they greet the father of the family whose work day has come to an end. The family have a picnic “Beneath a tall tree” as the “night comes on gently.”
   As he watches the dark seep across the sky, the little boy dares to dream of the world he wished he lived in, a world where he and the little white boy he saw in town could play together and ride on the backs of birds. Together, the little white boy and his sister, and the little black boy and his sister, would celebrate as the night appears, “coming tenderly.”
   This is a powerful interpretation of the poem Dream Variation by Langston Hughes. The illustrator beautifully combines a gorgeously illustrated pictorial narrative with the poet’s words, to give young readers a picture book that is timeless. The book celebrates what could be, and dares to hope of a time when all children can play in a world free of divisions.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas

Wishing you a 

Merry Christmas



Picture Book Monday with a review of The Call of Swamp

For many people, today is a day to spend with loved ones. It is a day to look around at the people we love best and give thanks for them. In today's picture book you will meet a charming little creature who is not really sure where he belongs and who he belongs to. He ends up taking a journey, and in the process he figures out something very important about what home is.

The Call of the SwampThe Call of the Swamp
Davide Cali
Illustrated by Marco Soma
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2017, 978-0-8028-5486-5
Before they found him, Boris’ parents tried to have a baby of their own, but doctors told them that they would not be able to have a child. They had given up hope that they would be able to become parents, so when they found Boris on the edge of the swamp they were delighted. They could not care less that the baby had gills. They did not care where he came from even. All that mattered was that he was now theirs.
   Boris grew up to be a perfectly normal boy except that he had gills, and eyes that were a little bigger than usual. His life was happy, or so he thought.
   Then one day Boris picked up the scent of the swamp on the air. The aroma tugged at him and questions rattled around in his head. Was he really living the life that he was supposed to be living?
   One morning Boris left home and began to walk, pulled along by the smell that was haunting him. Finally Boris came to the swamp, and at last he felt complete and at home. In the swamp he belonged, and he fitted in with the other creatures who were like him.
   Boris was happy for a while until he began to realize that he was not exactly like his neighbors in the swamp. He began to feel homesick, and he wondered if he really was in the right place after all. Should he go home or should he stay in the swamp?
   This wonderful, magical picture book explores the idea of what a home is. The unique artwork offers a stunning backdrop for a text that is powerful and memorable. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of B is for Blue Planet: An Earth Science Alphabet

For me, the holiday season is a time to give thanks for all the wonderful things that I have in my life. One of these things is my home, my planet, which is such a beautiful, remarkable, and precious place. I have been lucky enough to see some incredible wild places in my life. I have seen the Himalayas, the Great Rift Valley, the Alps, and the Grand Canyon. I have seen a desert in Jordan, a rain forest in India, and a pristine coral reef in the Indian Ocean. What a diverse and rich planet we live on. In honor of our home, today's poetry book celebrates the Earth, the blue planet.

B is for Blue Planet: An Earth Science AlphabetB is for Blue Planet: An Earth Science Alphabet
Ruth Strother
Illustrated by Bob Marstall
Poetry and Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2011, 978-1-58536-454-1
We live on a remarkable planet, a place where there are oceans and mountains, where precious gems can be found underground, where earthquakes shake the earth, and where glaciers creep down valleys. There are wonders everywhere we look, if we look hard enough. It is a place that is changing all the time, sometimes in small ways that we don’t even notice, and sometimes in terrifying ways that turn our lives upside down.
   In this wonderful alphabet book we get to explore some of the features of our planet. For each letter of the alphabet we explore a topic in verse and in prose, and these sections of text are presented alongside a wonderful piece of art.
   For the letter C, for example, we visit a coral reef, a place where “Color, shape and size astounds.” We look at an illustration that captures the diversity of life, and the rich colors and textures, found on a coral reef. A poem tells us a little about these marvelous ecosystems; a sidebar full of text gives us a lot more information about these fragile, and precious places that “provide a rich habitat for around 25 percent of all ocean life that we know of.”
   For the letter H we find out about hurricanes, those powerful storms that build over warm ocean water and then, sometimes, come “straight for land – oh what a scare!” The informational text that accompanies the poem tells us how big hurricanes are, how they form, and what happens when hurricanes make landfall.
   Other topics that are explored in this book include “A is for Amber,” “D is for Deserts,” “O is for Oil,” and “T is for Tides.”
   This is the kind of book that a child can grow with. Young readers will enjoy looking at the pictures and having the poems read to them. An older reader will get a lot out of the informational text that builds on what the poem tells us.
   Alphabet books’ sole purpose used to be to help children learn their ABC’s. Now such titles help children learn about so many topics that are relevant to their lives. By combining artwork, nonfiction information, and poetry, the creators of this book give children a singular reading experience.



Monday, December 18, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Santa Calls

In a week it will be Christmas Day. At this time next Monday we will be putting our meal in the oven, and then perhaps we will take the dogs for a walk to build up an appetite for the feast to come. It seems very fitting therefore that today's picture book should be a book about Father Christmas or Santa Claus. It is a wonderful story that I think truly captures the spirit of the season. Plus I cannot resist books by William Joyce. How I love his retro style art.

Santa CallsSanta Calls
William Joyce
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1-4814-8959-1
It was just before Christmas Day when a most mysterious looking box appeared outside the home belonging to Art Atchinson Aimesworth’s aunt and uncle. Art and his little sister Esther had been orphaned, and they now lived with their aunt and uncle on their farm in Abilene, Texas. Art and his best friend Spaulding examined the box with great interest, and when they poked it the words, “Open the box. Assemble the contents. Come NORTH. Yours, S.C.” appeared on it.
    Santa Claus himself had summoned them! No one in their right mind would consider ignoring an invitation from the great man, and so the boys set about assembling the machine that they found inside the box. It was not long before the flying machine that was going to carry them to the North Pole was ready – with one big modification. At first Art was determined that Esther would not go on the trip, but in the end he allowed her to join the adventure.
   Soon enough the children arrived at the North Pole, and they were welcomed by the captain of the Santarian Guard, who came to collect them in a dogless sled. They did not get far before they were attacked by an army of Dark Elves. The Queen tried to kidnap the children but all three of them were very handy their sling shots and snow balls, and Esther even managed to hit the Queen herself.
   When they reached Toyland, and what a wondrous place that was, they met Mrs. Claus and then Santa. Art was eager to know why Santa had summoned them, but the wonderful man only said, “Some mysteries are best left unsolved.” He then invited the children to go on his famous Christmas Eve ride, which they were happy to do. Unfortunately, they did not get far before the Dark Elves kidnapped Esther and carried her off.

   William Joyce has a gift for creating delightful stories that have a delicious retro feel. Children will be thrilled when they see the rich worlds that cover the pages of this book; worlds that take us back in time, and that also take us to the fantastical place that Santa calls home. The purpose of Art’s visit to Toyland is kept from us until the very last moment, when all is revealed. Then we can smile, knowing that Santa always listens to the hopes of dreams of little children.    

Friday, December 15, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Daytime Nighttime: All through the Year

On our farm we get animal visitors all day and all night long. Owls live in our barn and soon after it gets dark they come out to look for food. Skunks also come out at night, and we have to be careful not to get too close to them when they are waddling around. During the day the scrub jays rule the roost, yelling at anyone who wanders into their territory. In today's beautiful poetry picture book we get to explore what are animals are doing during the day and at night. We also get to take a journey, month by month, through the year to see how the lives of animals are impacted by the changing seasons.

Daytime Nighttime, All Through the YearDaytime Nighttime: All through the Year 
Diane Lang
Illustrated by Andrea Gabriel
Nonfiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Dawn Publications, 2017, 978-1-58469-607-0
When you have a very full life it is so easy to forget that you are not the only one who is busy. There are little (and sometimes big) creatures around you who have full days too. Many species of animals have busy nights instead because they are nocturnal. While we are fast asleep in our beds, they are out and about looking for food, taking care of their young, and building their homes. All year long animals are active, day and night.
   In this beautiful book the author takes us through the year, month by month, and she shows us what animals are up to. We begin in January and we see a bald eagle “On a clear Winter’s day,” that is diving through the air down towards a snow-covered landscape. The powerful bird is just about to scoop a fish out of a river with its talons. In the evening a pack of coyotes make their way to the top of a ridge, and there they raise their noses into the air to howl into the sky.
   By the time March comes around the snow is gone, the trees have new leaves, and on a bright morning we can see the “silken design” that a spider spun. When the sun sets, a pair of skunks comes out to “Dig for plump worms” in the soft soil.
   In July quail parents, with their small, fluffy babies following them in a line, spend the daylight hours “searching for grass seeds / On which they will dine.” When the moon comes up the quail are resting, but the crickets climb up blades of grass to sing by the light of the full moon.
   Throughout this singular book, beautiful lines of poetry are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. Together they take us into the lives of all kinds of creatures. We marvel at the rich scenes that we are offered, and perhaps seeing these moments in time will encourage us to look for similar ones in our own wild places.