Friday, December 8, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote

I have been lucky enough to read and review a wide variety of children's books over the last fifteen years or so. During that time I have really enjoyed seeing how authors and illustrators take on new challenges, and present stories and information in fresh and creative ways. Poetry books in particular have come a long way, and I really look forward to seeing the new titles that come out. In today's poetry title the author uses a series of poems to tell us the story of Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. The poems are beautifully written and are accompanied by lovely illustrations.

Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don QuixoteMiguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote 
Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Raul Colon
Historical Fiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Peachtree Publishers, 2017, 978-1-56145-856-1
Miguel’s father is a barber surgeon who has a nasty gambling habit, and he is constantly having money problems. Eventually his debts are so big that he is thrown into a debtor’s prison. Miguel’s poor mother loses everything, including hope. She and her children have nothing, and they have no idea where their next meal will come from. In his empty home, Miguel takes refuge in his imagination, where a brave knight lives. The knight rides out on his horse to “right / all the wrongs / of this confusing/ world.”
   Mama finds work and she manages to take care of her family until her husband is released from prison. Then family then travels from place to place, and sometimes Miguel is able to attend school. The teacher reads to the children and Miguel wishes that he too could have a book to read, but books are few and far between, and only the teachers “are allowed to hold the books.”
   Knowing how precious books are Miguel is horrified when he witnesses a book burning. The books are being destroyed because they contain imagined stories. Miguel knows that his knight, the one that is hidden away in is imagination, would “rescue the flaming pages” if he were real.
   Papa gets work cutting hair and trimming beards, pulling teeth and treating wounds, but he also continues to gamble and so the family has to move again and again to run away from debt collectors. During the hard times, when they have to move, and when the plague comes to the land, Miguel turns to his knight for comfort. The knight rescues those in dire straits, and dashes to the rescue with his “chubby friend riding beside him / on a clumsy donkey.”
   Despite of his father’s ways, Miguel manages to learn to read and write in one of the schools he attends. The boy learns to write his own plays and poems, and when he is older one of his teachers includes four of Miguel’s poems in a book that is published.
   In this beautifully illustrated book a series of image-rich poems tells the story of Miguel Cervantes, and it is easy to see how the idea of Don Quixote might have grown in Miguel’s imagination when he was a child. He needed to believe in something good when his own life was so hard and so full of uncertainty.
   At the back of the book readers will further information about Miguel Cervantes and his famous knight character.

  


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Books of Hope - Adventures in Brambly Hedge

When times get hard, people often take a break from their lives so that they can rest and refresh. They go on a trip, go for a run or a hike, get out into nature, and spend time with the people that they love best. They knit or make music, work with wood or sew a quilt. Many of us dive into the pages of a book so that we can take a breather.

One of my favorite series of books that I turn to when I need a pick-me-up are the Brambly Hedge stories. The characters in these tales are mice and voles, and they live in a beautiful countryside world working, playing, and celebrating together. When you enter the world of Brambly Hedge you are immediately wrapped in a cozy blanket of friendship and good cheer. Here problems are solved through hard work, creativity, and cooperation. Life is simple and rich. When your visit is over you will return to the 'real' world warmed through, hopeful, and ready to face what comes next.

In the last few years two collections of these little books have been republished. One box set contains four adventure story picture books, and the other contains four seasonal story picture books. I am lucky enough to have one of these sets and today I bring you a review of one of the stories in the collection. All four of the stories in the set are a joy to read and share.

Jill Barklem
Picture Book
Ages 5 and up
HarperCollins, 2014, 978-0-00-746145-5
   In just a few short hours the Midwinter celebration is going to take place. All the Brambley Hedge mice are busy preparing for this big event. In the Old Oak Palace, Primrose and her friend Wilfred are trying to find a quiet place where they can practice the recitation that they are going to give in the evening. They also need to find something to wear for their performance; something special.
   Luckily Primrose’s mother is very knowledgeable and she advises the little mice to go up into the attics. There they will be able to practice in peace, and it is very likely that they will find some good costumes to wear as well.
   While they are exploring the attics, Primrose and Wilfred discover a hidden door, and behind it there is a long winding staircase. At the top of the staircase the mice children find the most beautiful and elaborate room. In fact, there are a whole set of rooms up there that are packed with fascinating things to look at. Wilfred and Primrose have their very own secret house to play in and to explore.
   Young readers will be hard put not to feel very envious of  the young mice friends in this Brambly Hedge tale; what a delightful adventure they have. With a wonderful story and beautiful illustrations that are packed with cunning little details, this is a book that young readers and their families will treasure. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Letters to a Prisoner

We like to think that we live in a world where people can speak out and say what is on their mind whenever they want to. Sometimes, and in some places, this is the case. However, in many countries around the world, too many of them in fact, people are either imprisoned or permanently silenced when they express opinions that governments, regimes, or dictators do not agree with.

Today I bring you a book that is a tribute to the people who dare to speak out against the powers that be. These are people who risk losing their freedom or their lives when they express their opinions. The story is also a tribute to the people and organizations who support the prisoners, who write to them, and who refuse to forget them.

Letters to a PrisonerLetters to a prisoner
Jacques Goldstyn
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Owlkids, 2017, 978-1-77147-251-7
One day a father and his little girl attend a peaceful demonstration. Or at least that is what it is supposed to be. The protestors are peaceful, but the soldiers who confront them are not. They attack and the father is struck on the head and thrown into a van that drives away. His poor little daughter witnesses the whole horrific event.
   The father is cast into a prison and there he languishes day after day. He feeds a bird who comes to his window, and a mouse who visits his cell. He draws a picture of himself and his daughter on the wall and remembers the good times.
   Then the bird he fed brings him a letter, a letter which makes him weep. Unfortunately, the guard sees the father reading the letter and he takes it away. He takes away all the other letters that the bird delivers. The guard burns the letters, sending smoke and fragments of paper up into the air. Perhaps he imagines that he has won this battle. But he has not.
   This extraordinary book was inspired by Amnesty International’s Writes for Rights letter-writing campaign. The human rights organization encouraged people from around the world to write to people who had “been unjustly imprisoned for his or her ideas.” The author wrote to prisoners, and being a part of such a meaningful effort made him want to tell a story; this story.
   Children who follow the story in this book will see how many voices can indeed bring about change. They will come to appreciate that everyone, anyone, can make the world a better place if they try.

Thank you

Image result for vintage children's illustrations public domain

Dear Friends:
I apologize for being silent for so long. I have a chronic illness which, for some reason that I do not understand, has been creating havoc with my health for a while now. The last few weeks have been particularly trying. I coped very well for years, but now the careful balance of work and rest that I have developed for myself no longer seems to be working. Hopefully I will figure out what the new balance is soon and I will be able to bring you posts of reviews consistently and on time. Thank you all for your patience and for your friendship.

With all my love,


Monday, November 6, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Book Of Gold

On Friday I brought you a poetry book that celebrates books and the written word. Today we have a picture book that also focuses on how marvelous and special books are. Bob Staake tells the story of a boy who, when we first meet him, hates books. In fact, this boy does not like much of anything. He has no interest in the world, and no curiosity. Then someone tells him about a very special book, and something rather magical starts to happen.

The Book of GoldThe Book of Gold
Bob Staake
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Random House, 2017, 978-0-553-51077-5
Isaac’s parents love books. They love the way books smell and how books feel when they are in their hands, and they love all the fascinating information that books contained. Books are so full of possibilities.
   Unfortunately, Isaac does not care for books at all. In fact, he is not much interested in anything and it would not be unfair to say that he is a rather dull child.
   One day Isaac’s parents take him to visit the New York Public Library. The idea of going into a building full of books thrills them, but Isaac does not feel the same way at all. He has no interest in books and so it isn’t long before the family heads for home. On the way they stop to look in a shop that contains all kinds of curios. Isaac’s parents are hoping that they will find something that will make a suitable birthday gift for Aunt Sadie. Isaac sits on the cold floor to wait. Nothing in the fascinating store attracts his almost non-existent curiosity. 
   The shopkeeper tries to find something that will interest Isaac and when she fails she tells Isaac about a book called the Book of Gold. She explains that the book contains “all the answers to every question ever asked, and when it is opened, it turns to solid gold.”
   The idea of having a book made of gold really appeals to Isaac and he decides to look for it. He goes to a bookstore. He picks up a book left in a diner. He picks up a book that a woman drops, and finds another that is left on a trolley seat. None of the books he finds turn to gold when it opens them.
   For months Isaac searches and searches. Then, one day, as he is looking at a book that is called The Seven Wonders of the World, a question pops into his head. It is the first of many questions that come to him as he opens books looking for the Book of Gold. Without even meaning to Isaac begins to discover that books bring forth questions, and they also answer them.
   This marvelous book shows readers that books are more than paper and board covers. They excite our curiosity in the world, open up our horizons, and they can even lead us on a voyage of discovery that can last a lifetime. This is a book that will delight adults and children alike. It is a magical tale that is timeless and ageless.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Read! Read! Read!

Here in southern Oregon it is a grey, wet day and I love it. We had a long Indian summer in October and I was feeling thoroughly sick and tired of warm, sunshiny days. Though sunny days can get wearisome, I never, ever get tired of reading books; it is always always a wonderful thing to do. Today I bring you a poetry book that celebrates the written word. It is a delightful title that will appeal to anyone who has a love for reading.

Read, Read, Read!Read! Read! Read!
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Wordsong, 2017, 978-1-59078-975-9
Reading is something we do all the time and yet we often forget what a gift words are. When words are strung together to give us a story, they “sing / into your soul / like soothing / summer rain.”
   Many children are eager to learn how to read for themselves and they “pretend” to read at first. They don’t realize that by tracing the letters with their fingers in their pretend reading, they are actually starting the process of learning. Then comes that wonderful day when reading is no longer something that other children do. Finally they too can claim the words that not so long ago were “confusing.”
   Though books are quite the best vehicle for words, they are also wonderful when they appear on cereal boxes, on the sports page, on maps, on road signs, cards, magazines, and other places. In a birthday card one child finds a poem penned by his grandfather; it is a poem that captures, in just a few words, how loved the child is. The child treasures the card and puts it, as always, in a box where “fall leaves / letters / and love” are kept.
   Books of course are the crème de la crème of written materials. They can turn us into explorers, and take us to marvelous places where we witness extraordinary things. They can teach us things, and perhaps best of all they help us to have “an open heart / an open mind;” after all, an “open book / will make you kind” if you are willing to allow its words to work their magic.
   This wonderful poetry title beautifully captures the joys that reading can bring us in our everyday lives. Through the eyes of the child characters that we see on the pages, we are reminded of the fact that books and other written materials really do enrich our lives.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Duck and Goose Honk! Quack! Boo!

As I write this post my seventeen year old daughter is making a witch's broom to go with her Halloween costume. She is going to be Kiki, the character from the film, Kiki's Delivery Service. Halloween was not  celebrated in the country that I grew up in, so I did not get to dress up when I was a child. After I moved to the U.S. when I was twenty-one I started participating in Halloween festivities and it has been so much fun.

Since Halloween is tomorrow, today I am offering you a festive picture book title to read. In the story  two little birds have an adventure that is funny, with just a little touch of Halloween spookiness to keep young readers guessing and wondering. 

Duck and Goose Honk! Quack! Boo!Duck and Goose Honk! Quack! Boo!
Tad Hills
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2017, 978-1-5247-0175-8
Tomorrow is Halloween and Duck is curious to know what Goose is going “to be” on the festive day. Goose explains that he is going to be himself as usual, which is when Duck explains that Halloween is the one day when you should not be yourself.
   Thistle then appears on the scene and she tells her friends that her Halloween costume is a secret. They will have to wait until the next day to see what she is going to dress up as. As she leaves, Thistle tells Duck and Goose to “beware the swamp monster,” a comment which puzzles them greatly. It also makes both Duck and Goose feel decidedly worried. Neither of them likes monsters.
   The next day Duck, dressed up as a ghost, and Goose, dressed up as a super hero, go trick-or-treating together in the forest. They both hope that they are not going to see a swamp monster on this special night and are very relieved when all they see are other young animals trick-or-treating.
   All goes well until the moment when an owl dressed up as a daisy says that a swamp monster is looking for Duck and Goose. The friends are horrified. What are they going to do?
   Children are going to love this charming little Halloween tale, which features Tad Hills’ wonderful little bird characters.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet

Soon after I started reviewing children's books, I encountered an alphabet book that was created by a small publishing house in Michigan. The book was unique in that in it poetry, artwork, and sections of nonfiction text were brought together and presented in an alphabet book format. When the publishing house, Sleeping Bear Press, brought out more alphabet books using the same format I was delighted. What a wonderful way to engage young readers. Today I bring you one of these alphabet book titles. Readers can read the poems first, and then they can go back to the beginning of the book and read the nonfiction text.

A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet
Richard Michelson
Illustrator:  Ron Mazellan
Nonfiction and Poetry Picture Book  Series
For ages 6 to 12
Sleeping Bear Press, 2013, 978-1585363223
Trying to understand the rules, traditions, and history of a faith is never easy, even if you are of that faith. For people outside the faith, the stories and customs can be confusing, and the nuances of meaning can be lost. In this splendid picture book, Richard Michelson explores the Jewish faith in a new way. Using the format of an alphabet book the author tells his readers about some of the things that make the Jewish faith unique and interesting.
   For every letter of the alphabet Richard Michelson focuses on some aspect of Jewish life. For the letter B he tells us about Bar and Bat Mitvahs, the coming of age ceremonies that signify that a young person is no longer a child. For the letter C he tells us about challah, a special bread that Jews eat on the Jewish Sabbath. This braided bread is a just one of the many special foods that Jews make.
   This book can be enjoyed on several levels because each topic includes a poem, an illustration, and then a longer section of text. Young children can look at the pictures, and they can either have the poems read to them, or they can read them themselves. Older children will enjoy reading the more involved sidebar text. It is here that they will find out further details about Jewish religious practices, history, and customs.
   This is just one in a splendid collection of alphabet book published by Sleeping Bear Press. Other topics covered include cats, poetry, and music.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Books of Hope - Ruby's Imagine

When I first started reading today's book, I was sure that it was going to be depressing. A story about a young person who is cared for by an unkind family member, and who has to live through a hurricane does not promise to be cheerful. I did not take me long to realize that the main character of the story, Ruby, is not the kind of person who allows life's hardships to put her down. As I read, Ruby's attitude, her voice, and her magic made me feel empowered and hopeful. This was an amazing, amazing book and everyone, teens and adults alike, should read it. 

Ruby's ImagineKim Antieau
Fiction
For ages 13 and up
Createspace, 2012, 978-1478238379
When Ruby is only five years old her parents are killed in a car crash and she goes to live with Mamaloose, her maternal grandmother. Mamaloose is a cold and angry woman, and when Ruby does or says things that she does not like, Mamaloose beats the child with a leather belt. At first Ruby does not know what will set Mamaloose off. She talks about remembering her parents. She speaks of a house in the swamp where she lived with Daddy and Momma and her two sisters, Opal and Pearl. Mamaloose says that these are just “Ruby’s imagine,” and that they are not true memories.
   After a while Ruby learns to keep silent about these images that she is sure are from her past. It is better that way. She also learns to kept silent about the connections that she has with the creatures and plants around her. On some deep level Ruby can communicate with butterflies and trees, hummingbirds and other life forms. The only person who really knows about her gift is her friend JayEl.
   The amazing thing about Ruby is that she has managed to resist Mamaloose’ efforts to turn her, Ruby, into another angry and cruel person. Ruby isn’t even angry with Mamaloose. Instead, she feels sorry for her, and steadfastly refuses to take on the old man’s unhappiness. Instead, she is a warm and loving person who is close to her neighbors and the people she works with at the bakery. Soon Ruby will be going to college and then she will be free of Mamaloose for good.
   One day a butterfly conveys a message to Ruby, one that the Big Oaks shared with the insect. Apparently a Big Spin is on its way and it will soon be time to hunker down if you are foolish, or to get out of its way if you are sensible. Ruby shares this message – in an oblique way not mentioning where it came from – with Mamaloose. The old woman isn’t worried. She has survived countless storms and hurricanes. Ruby also tells JayEl about the butterfly’s message. JayEl asks Ruby if she thinks that this is going to be “the one,” the storm that will “bury us in water.” Ruby says that she gets the sense that this hurricane is going to rip off “the veil” that lies over the city.
      It isn’t long before it becomes clear that the coming hurricane is indeed going to be a big one. People start boarding up their homes and businesses, and on the radio the mayor says that “we strongly advise people to leave at this time.” Some people do pack up and leave, but others decide to stay. Many of the folks in Ruby’s neighborhood, including Mamaloose, have no place to go and very little money to spare. They certainly cannot pay for motel rooms. Ruby tries very hard to convince Mamaloose that they need to get to higher ground because where they live is below sea level, but the old lady pays her no heed.
   In the end Ruby and Mamaloose stay put. When they go to bed it is raining and windy. When Ruby wakes up she goes to check on her grandmother downstairs only to find out that water has come into the house and it is rising. Ruby and Mamaloose take refuge upstairs and then they go up into the attic. Part of the roof is ripped away, and as they huddle together in a corner, not knowing if the next gust of wind is going to cause the house to collapse, Mamaloose finally tells Ruby the true story of her family. To say that Ruby is shocked is an understatement. She has always known that Mamaloose was a hard person, but it turns out that she did things that were, in Ruby’s eyes, downright cruel. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Out of the Blue

Many of us, when we see someone in trouble, tell ourselves that is not our problem, not our business. We don't want to be inconvenienced; we don't want to have to deal with drama or difficulties that are not our own. This is a very unfortunate state of affairs, to say the least. If we were the one struggling, would we want everyone to turn their heads as they walk by us so that we are left to cope alone? No, probably not.

In this wonderful wordless book we see how the actions of a few good people saves an animal that is in dire need of assistance. We also discover how rich and powerful stories can be when the narrative is presented to the reader through art alone.

Out of the Blue
Out of the BlueAlison Jay
Wordless picture book
For ages 4 to 7
Barefoot books, 2014, 978-1-78285-042-7
On the coast right next to a sandy shore there is an island, and on that island there is a lighthouse. A little boy lives in the lighthouse with his father, a dog, and a cat.
   One beautiful sunny morning the little boy heads out carrying his bucket and spade and soon he is on the beach. He finds a pretty shell and a little girl comes to look at his find. Then the two children go off together. They find a fish in a tide pool, and using the little girl’s net they catch the fish, carry over to the sea, and let it go. By this time the wind has picked up and so the children, along with everyone else on the beach and in the sea, head for home. A storm is on the way.
   That night the rain pours down, lightening forks across the sky, waves crash against the island, and the little boy and his father are safe and warm in their cozy lighthouse.
   In the morning they find a very large surprise waiting for them outside. The storm has beached an enormous squid on the sand. The poor creature is all trussed up with a fishing net and it is still very much alive. The boy and his friends have to do something to help the poor creature.
   This delightful wordless picture book has a main story that is engaging, and it explores the idea that we all need to do our part to help others. In addition, there are several little stories in the artwork to follow, many of which are amusing.