Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Books of Hope - The Sandwich Swap

The events in Charlottesville last weekend left many people feeling very angry, upset, and discouraged. How, they ask, is it possible that there are still such enormous divisions in our country? Why are so many people fueled by hate instead of compassion?

Today's book shows to get effect how two school girls discover first hand how prejudice can change the way they see a person. They discover how important it is to think about your feelings instead of blindly reacting to them.

The Sandwich Swap
Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator:  Tricia Tusa
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Hyperion , 2010, 978-1423124849
Lily and Salma are the best of friends. At school, they draw together, play together, and eat lunch together. The girls are so much alike, except that they eat very different foods for lunch. Salma has a hummus and pita sandwich, and Lily has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Salma thinks Lily’s lunch looks “strange and gross,” and Lily thinks Salma’s lunch looks “weird and yucky,” but both girls keep their feelings to themselves.
   Then one day Lily can no longer keep her opinion to herself, and she tells Salma what that she thinks Salma’s food looks “yucky.” Not surprisingly, Salma’s feelings are hurt and she gets angry, and she responds by saying that Lily’s food “looks gross, and it smells bad too!”
   That afternoon the girls avoid one another, and the next day they don’t have lunch together. Worse still, some of the kids in school are supporting Lily, while others are supporting Salma, and a state of war reigns in the lunchroom. Then, to Lily and Salma’s horror, a food fight breaks out. How did their silly disagreement create such an unfortunate situation?
   It is all too easy to negatively judge people who are different simply because they are different. With their wonderful story, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan and Kelly DiPucchio explore the idea that the first step towards tolerance and understanding is to have an open mind and to be willing try new things. All too often, people decide that something is “yucky” without even trying it. They decide that a person is “weird” because they look and sound different.
   One hopes that many children and their families will read this picture book, and take in the important message it contains.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of There, There

I am very lucky because I have wonderful friends and family members who are kind and patient, and who support me when I am feeling sorry for myself because of my health issues. I mostly manage to stay cheerful, but sometimes I get crabby and fussy and that's the truth. In today's book you are going to meet a hare who is being whiny. There really is not other way to describe his behavior. Luckily, the hare has a wonderful friend who puts up with his annoying behavior. Up to a point.

There, ThereThere, There
Tim Beiser
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra, 2017, 978-1-77049-752-8
It is a summer, the season for outdoor games, frolics, and picnics, and yet on this summer day it is pouring with rain and the hare is very upset that he is forced to bide indoors. “Rain is boring” he says to his friend and den mate, the bear. The bear, being a good friend, comforts the hare by saying “Poor thing! There, there!”
   The hare, unlike his friend who is doing his best to keep busy by baking some muffins, goes on to whine and fuss about the rain. He even goes so far as to kick a chair in a fit of pique, which of course hurts his toe and makes him cry. Then the hare goes too far. He accuses his friend of not caring, which is clearly not the case. The bear has been very sympathetic and patient, but now his patience has reached a breaking point. Soon the hare finds himself out in the rain where he is introduced to a creature whose life is considerably less pleasant than his own.
   It is all too easy, when things are not going our way, to become ungrateful and grumpy. In this book readers will meet a hare who takes his rainy day frustration a little too far. Children will laugh as the narrative in verse unfolds, and they will appreciate the comical ending.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book of Hope - Someday a Tree

Losing someone or something that you love is never easy. In today's Book of Hope you will meet a little girl whose favorite tree gets sick. She has to go through the painful process of letting it go, but then she finds something that offers her hope that perhaps all is not lost after all.

Someday a Tree
Eve Bunting
Illustrator:  Ronald Himler
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Clarion, 1996, 978-0395764787
Alice and her family love the big oak tree that stands across Far Meadow. They can see it from their house, and it has been there for as long as Alice can remember. Alice has had countless picnics beneath the tree, heard lots of stories under its leaves, and she has napped with her dog Cinco on the cool grass in its shadows many a time. Now something is wrong with the oak tree. Someone has poisoned it and the tree is very sick indeed.
   The whole community pitches in to try to save the tree. The poisoned soil is taken away and is replaced with clean soil. The tree is shaded with sunscreens and the leaves are washed. Get well gifts are sent. There comes a time though when Alice has to accept that her beloved tree is not going win this fight and she feels as if her heart is going to break. Then she remembers that she has a treasure sitting on her dresser in her bedroom. Perhaps there is some hope after all.
   In this picture book Eve Bunting shows her readers that a tree is not just a piece of wood with some leaves stuck to it. It is a beautiful living breathing thing that provides all kinds of creatures with a home. Trees also provide people with a place to meet and play, they give families memories and stories, and when something happens to them, their loss is often keenly felt.
   The strong environmental message in this evocative picture book will help young readers understand that what we put into the earth greatly affects plants and animals. She tempers her message by giving her readers hope. Though Alice cannot save the tree, she can do something to honor its memory in a special way.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Family Reunion


I don't come from a big family, and the family members I do have are spread out all over the world so I don't see them very often. I often wish my cousins, uncle, and mother lived closer so that we could get together every so often. Thankfully I had a growing adopted family in my town and so we get together on a regular basis to spend time together. There is nothing quite like these times, when I look around my dinner table and see the faces of the people who are near and dear to me.

Today I bring you a poetry book that tells the story of a family reunion. We meet the family members and share in their special day from start to finish, and the experience is a delightful one.


Family Reunion
Marilyn Singer
Family ReunionIllustrated by R. W. Alley
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 1994, 978-0027828832
It is August, and sixty-two members of a family are going to be gathering for a family reunion. The night before the big day a little girl and her parents anxiously look at the television to find out what the weather will be like. Will their grand and much anticipated reunion be washed out or will the sun shine?
   The next morning the sun is out and everyone heads for Small Park, which is not small at all. They come laden down with toys, babies, food, chairs, and grills. Pulling wagons and holding onto the hands of toddlers they come. The family members have come to the park by bus, airplane, car, train, wheelchair, and every other conveyance that you can think of.
   Tables are covered with tablecloths and the food is brought out. The little girl notices that everyone eats corn in a different way. Aunt Alicia, who is always so prim and proper, cuts the kernels off using a knife and fork. Baby Ben takes one bite out of five cobs, and Uncle Henry talks while he chomps away, “spraying pith and corn juice / on everyone nearby.”
   Bobby goes under the table where the five grandmas are sitting and yells “Yo, Grandma.” Naturally all five grandmas look up and try to find the source of the call. This is the fourth time that Bobby has played with particular trick on the grandmas and every time he laughs.
   Cousin George is an altogether different kind of person. He is not a trickster or a joker, he is an arguer. He will argue about anything and everything just for the sake of it. He insists that a dandelion is a daisy, and that a Pekingese is a poodle. When he insists that an insect is cicada and not a centipede he gets Max so angry that Max puts the insect down Cousin George’s back. Now Cousin George is too busy wriggling and jumping around to argue with anyone.
   This wonderful collection of poems allows us to share a special summer day with a very large, colorful, exuberant, and interesting collection of people. A meal is eaten, games are played, and in the end the family members are left with a glorious memory, and a family photo, that they will cherish for years to come.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Books of Hope - The Midwife's apprentice

The Midwife’s Apprentice
In today's Books of Hope title you will meet a character whose life is quite miserable and hopeless. In her world people like her are rejected by society and their prospects for a happy life are few. Then something unbelievable happens and she is given the opportunity to change her path; if she can learn to adapt and grow.

The Midwife’s Apprentice
Karen Cushman
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
HarperCollins, 1996, 978-0064406307
When we first meet her the girl is a cowed, filthy little person who is taking refuge in a dung heap where there is warmth. Homeless, unwanted, and unloved, she wanders from village to village, often persecuted by the village boys, frequently hungry, and always aware that she is a nothing and a nobody.
   By chance the girl asks the village midwife for a piece of bread which the midwife, Jane Sharp, agrees to give her if the girl will do some work for her. The arrangement becomes a permanent one. The girl - whom everyone calls Beetle or Dung Beetle - cleans, cooks, collects and prepares herbs, and works hard for the midwife. In exchange she has shelter and adequate, though never quite enough, food.
   Over time Beetle gains confidence. She discovers that under all the dirt she is not an unattractive girl, and that she has curly hair and pretty dark eyes. She decides that she will no longer be called Beetle and names herself Alice. Quite by chance Alice is the only person available when one of the village women needs helps delivering her baby, and though the ordeal is a long and hard one, in the end Alice brings a healthy baby girl into the world. Alice is now ready to think that she can do anything. Perhaps she too can be a respected and valued midwife one day. Then alas, Alice has a setback and because of this event Alice begins to think once again that she is a nobody who has nothing to offer. She has yet to learn that life is full of setbacks and that her only hope is to keep on trying no matter how many times she is challenged.
   In this powerful, often touching, sometimes humorous book, Karen Cushman once again takes her reader back in time. In this instance we visit to a medieval English village where life is hard, and where a homeless orphaned child has a very hard time finding a place she can call home. Alice has to earn the respect of those around her, and she also has to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Is she Alice, the Midwife’s apprentice, or is she Beetle, a lonely little waif who takes what life throws at her?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Dance is for Everyone

A few years ago I joined a hula dance school and I love being a part of this unique community. One of the many wonderful things about this school is that everyone is welcome. We are young and not so young, tall and small, slender and curvy. Some of us have health issues, but we dance anyway. We help each other out, and accept everyone into our ohana, our family.

Today I bring your the story of another dance school where all are welcome. In this particular case the newest student is rather unusual, and she also presents the teacher with some unexpected problems to solve.
 

Dance Is for EveryoneDance is for Everyone
Andrea Zuill
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Sterling, 2017, 978-1-4549-2114-1
One day a rather unusual new student comes to Mrs. Iraina’s ballet class. The student is a very large and very green 450-pound alligator. Not surprisingly no one makes a fuss when the alligator starts working at the barre with the other students. Although the alligator does not understand human speech, she is very good at following along and so that is what she does.
   The students get used to having the alligator in the class and they even decide to give her a name. They call her Tanya because she looks rather like a famous prima ballerina called Tanya Prefontaine. The problem with Tanya is that she is too strong, and her tail has a habit of getting in the way. She really is too big for Mrs. Iraina’s human-sized dance studio.
     In short, Mrs. Iraina and her students have a problem and they have no idea what to do about it. They don’t want to hurt Tanya’s feelings because this might make her “grumpy or bitey.” And even if they did try to talk to Tanya about her wayward tail and supersized strength, there is no way to convey what they want to say because none of them speak alligator.
   Mrs. Iraina and her students are going to have to come up come up with a solution that will work for everyone.
   Sometimes someone joins a group who is a little different and who perhaps does not quite fit in. All too often this person is made to feel that they don’t belong and cannot be a part of the group. In this delightful picture book a ballet teacher and her students find a creative way to make an alligator feel welcome in their dance class. They choose the path of inclusion rather than exclusion. Of course, they also show very good sense because we are, after all, talking about an alligator, and upsetting an alligator is probably not a good idea!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of When Green becomes tomatoes: Poems for all seasons

I love living in a place where there are four seasons. I look forward to the crisp air of the fall, the cozy days by the fire in winter, the first signs of life in spring, and the bright skies and warm sun of summer. Each season is packed with gifts that I can anticipate and then enjoy. Today's poetry title celebrates some of these gifts using beautiful language and charming illustrations.


When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All SeasonsWhen Green becomes tomatoes: Poems for all seasons
Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
Roaring Brook Press, 2016, 978-1-59643-852-1
We live in a world where we are constantly being told that we need this thing or that thing to be happy and to feel fulfilled. The truth of the matter is that often the things that truly make us happy are the simple ones, the ones that are all around us and often free for the taking: seeing the first daffodil in spring, tasting the first bite of summer watermelon, jumping in a pile of leaves in the fall, and watching the snow fall in winter. These are seasonal gifts that are both priceless and precious.
   In this wonderful poetry collection Julie Fogliano brings us delightful little poems that are paired with expressive illustrations to take us through the year a season at a time. We begin in spring when a bird perching on a snow-covered tree branch starts to sing, “each tweet poking / a tiny hole / through the edge of winter.” Another messenger of spring is a little crocus “a tiny, blue hello” that sends its little blossoms up through the snow.
   In summer we have “a day that drips / hot and thick like honey,” and on that day the narrator will find respite from the heat by swimming in the river. Summer is the season of fireflies, ripening tomatoes, and picnics on the beach, where plums and peanut butter sandwiches are “a little bit salty / and warm from the sun.”
   No matter how much we love “sunshine and swimming and sea / and strawberries,” when September arrives many of us are eager to “move on / to something that’s new.” This is the time when we wait for sweater weather, “when notebooks are new” and when leaf jumping is around the corner.
   Then in December, we wake up one morning to see that the first snow has fallen; “just like magic” it has arrived “on tiptoes / overnight.” Under a canopy of snow, pretty trees become stunning and things that we would consider unattractive are “suddenly beautiful / with snow on top.”
   Though minimalist in nature, the poems in this collection are rich with emotion and imagery.  


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books of Hope - Next Year

When I began to read today's Book of Hope I was appalled by the suffering that the main character, a child, was subjected to. He was living on a farm that was located in the dust bow,l and almost everything that he held dear, the things that made life worth living, were gone. I asked myself how I would have coped if I had been in his shoes. Then, as the story unfolded further I began to see glimmers of hope. The boy who should have been ground down by years of suffering was instead held up by something powerful and unstoppable.

Next YearNext Year
Ruth Vander Zee
Illustrator:  Gary Kelley
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Creative Editions, 2017   ISBN: 978-1568462820
On April 14th, 1935, the sun comes up and a beautiful, cool, and clear morning is born. Calvin runs over to his cousin’s house and the children play together, delighting in the “hopeful day.” Alas, in the late afternoon a dust cloud blows in, a wall of blackness that blots out the sky and the sun. Calvin cannot see where he is going as he heads home, his hand on a fence so that he does not get lost.
   When he walks in the door of his home he is met by another cloud, a deep feeling of despair. His mother stands ankle deep in sand, and his father sits at the table looking like “a beaten-up kid.”
   Not that long ago Calvin got to enjoy clear skies, rain, and the sight of golden wheat ripening in the fields. He got to enjoy seeing his mother’s pretty smiling face, to drink milk that wasn’t gritty, and to sleep on a clean pillow every night. Then, four years ago everything changed when the rain stopped and dust storms scoured the land. Crops withered or were eaten by hungry rabbits, cattle had to be sold before they perished, and children started dying of dust pneumonia. Year after year Calvin’s dad said ‘“Next year it’s gonna get better,”’ but it hasn’t got better.
   Worn out by disappointment and heartache, Calvin’s dad is desperate, and so Calvin sets about learning everything he can about better methods of farming. Perhaps if they change their practices the land will heal and the rain will come back. Perhaps he can save the farm in spite of everything.
   This powerful picture book brings to life what it was like to live through the dust bowl years on a farm that was affected by this appalling natural disaster.  We are witnesses to the suffering that Calvin and his family are subjected to, but we also witness the way in which Calvin does his best to bring about change. Somehow he clings to hope, even when everything feels hopeless.
   Throughout the book a lyrical text is paired with beautiful artwork to give readers a reading experience that is both deeply moving and memorable.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Around the World Right Now

When I was little calling up someone who lived on the other side of the world was a big deal. I remember how we carefully kept track of how long we stayed on the line because international calls were so expensive. These days we think nothing of connecting with someone who lives far away because there are new technologies at our disposal that make communication so easy. The world has grown smaller, and yet it is still a big place. A place so big that there are twelve time zones spanning our planet.

Today's picture book takes children on a journey through these time zones, and we see how alike, and also how different the people in distant parts of the world are. We get a sense of how big and varied our world is; and how marvelous and beautiful it is.

Around the World Right NowAround the world right now
Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard
Illustrated by Olivia Beckman
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2017, 978-1-58536-976-8
Many of us have family members and friends who live in other states and countries, and we understand that this means that we do not share the same time zone. What we frequently don’t fully understand is that there are twenty-four times zones around the world, and “each and every one of them is happening right now.” What an extraordinary idea!
   In this clever picture book the author takes us on a trip around the world, one time zone at a time, beginning in San Francisco and going west from there. It is six o’clock in the morning when we begin in California. The cable car is going by with a “clickety-clack” as it makes its way to Fisherman’s Wharf.
   When we travel west we come to Santa Fe where it is seven o’clock in the morning. Here the sun is higher in the sky, shining down on an artist who is painting in the Plaza.
   While he is painting his masterpiece, it is eight o’clock in New Orleans, and people are sitting in the CafĂ© Du Monde sipping coffee and eating beignets. Jazz musicians are playing nearby. At exactly the same time, in New York City, people are busily crossing the streets in throngs, heading to work.
   On we go around the world, visiting people in Canada and Brazil. We land on an island in the Atlantic, stop in Greenland, and then go on to London, Rome, and Cape Town. We see people playing, working, eating, and exploring their worlds.
   With every step west that we go, we encounter a new culture in a new time zone, and we get to see how varied these places are. We also get to appreciate that a thread of commonality connects us all, no matter where we live. We may be getting up in the morning while someone in India is going to sleep, but we all have hopes and dreams, and we all love our friends and family members.
   The authors and illustrator of this book have found a creative way to explore time zones, while at the same time celebrating the beauty and diversity of our world.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Out and About: A First book of Poems

There are some children's book authors and illustrators out there who have a gift for capturing golden childhood moments; moments like the joy of playing in puddles, and the happiness that children experience when they spray each other with a garden hose. These are everyday experiences, and yet they are precious all the same. Shirley Hughes is one of these author illustrators, and today I bring a poetry picture book that she created. The title is packed with those glorious moments that make life rich and worthwhile.


Out and About: A First Book of PoemsOut and About: A first book of poems
Shirley Hughes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0763676445
It is spring and a little girl, wearing a pair of shiny, new wellington boots, runs down the front path, a stick in hand, eager to “scamper and shout.” There is so much to do and see at this time of year, and the little girl is delighted when she finds some wonderful mud puddles. There is nothing like playing in mud that is “slippy, sloppy, squelchy.”
   Of course, mud only comes about when there is rain. All too often spring is a rainy time of year. It is a time of “Wet umbrellas” and, alas, the “Running noses, / Damp feet” that often go with wet weather.
   Soon enough, overcast skies fade away and the sun comes out. Summer arrives, the days get warm, and the little girl can indulge her love of water, this time by going to the swimming pool, by sloshing it out of buckets and spraying it out of a hose. A baby pool full of water in a garden offers hours of entertainment for the little girl, her little brother and their friends. Spraying hoses produce lots of “shrieks,” laughter, and wonderful “Squirting rainbows.”
   Fall is a time for “feasts” for people and animals alike. The little girl goes to the farmer’s market with her mother and brother to get “juicy plums and stripy marrows” and pumpkins for Hallowe’en. Mice gather grains of barley, birds eat berries, and squirrels “hoard nuts.”
  Winter brings misty mornings and sometimes sick days, which are hard to bear. All the little girl can think about as she lies in bed, fretting, is “When will I be better? / When can I get up?” Thankfully this is also the time of year when Christmas comes, bringing with it “Decorations / On a tree,” “hot mince pies” and “A Christmas surprise!”
   This lovely collection of little poems beautifully captures the joys and woes of a little child’s life as the seasons unfold. Delightful, heart-warming illustrations take us in to the little girl’s world and they remind us that so many gifts wait for us when we are out and about.