Friday, May 22, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to love with your baby


There aren't many poetry board books out there, so I am delighted to be able to bring one of these titles to you today. Sharing poetry with very young children can be a wonderful experience for grownups, and their audience will enjoy experiencing language that has rhythm and rhyme.

Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to love with your baby
Selected By Lee Bennett Hopkins
Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to love with your baby Illustrated by Alyssa Nasser
Poetry Board Book
For infants to age 3
Abrams, 2015, 978-1-4197-1037-7
Sharing poems with very young children can be such a joyous thing for an adult to do. Babies and toddlers have a natural affinity for poetry because they are attracted to the cadences of the rhythm and rhyme.
   In this wonderful board book readers will find thirty original rhymes that Lee Bennett Hopkins has carefully selected. They are arranged in five ‘chapters’ which are: family, food, firsts, play and bedtime. The topics chosen for the poems perfectly suit the interests and concerns of very young children, and are they are paired with illustrations showing animal children and their families doing everyday things.
   In the first section, family, there are poems about parents, grandparents and siblings. In addition there is a poem called “My Name” by Madeline Kuderick. In this poem a little cat child talks about how his name is “everywhere” on “wooden blocks, / on my slippers, on my socks.” It is wonderful to see how the poem shows that the little cat child is a vital part of the family world that he belongs to.
   In the next section, which is about food, there is a poem about how a child feels to be in a high chair. The toddler is “the king of the upper air,” with “All below me in my power.” There are also poems about breakfast cereal, milk, snack time, spaghetti, and watermelon.

   Wonderful poets including Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, and Marilyn Singer wrote poems for this collection. There is warmth, humor, and softness on the pages, and little children will connect with the images and feelings that the poems and illustrations evoke.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Roger is reading a book

Sometimes I come across a book that is so well written that I can hardly bear to set it down. I just want to spend a quiet time, curled up in a corner, reading on and on. Of course, all too often, life does not allow me to have that quiet time. A dog wants to go out, a cat wants some attention, dinner needs to be cooked, a manuscript needs to be edited, a book needs to be reviewed and so on. It is so frustrating!

Today's picture book is about Roger, who really, really, wants some peace and quiet so that he can read his book. Unfortunately Emily has other ideas.

Roger is reading a book
Roger is reading a book Koen Van Biesen
Translated by Laura Watkinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Eerdmans, 2015, 978-0-8028-5442-1
Roger is reading a book and he needs some peace and quiet. He sits on a stool, the glow from a reading lamp lighting up the pages of his book, and reads. His dog lies at his feet snoozing. Then, on the other side of the wall, Emily starts playing with a basketball. She bounces it and makes a lot of noise, which means that Roger has to get up to knock on the wall. He needs peace and quiet so that he can continue reading his book.
   For a short while all is well until Emily starts singing. Roger knocks on the wall. Emily starts playing the drums, Roger pounds on the wall. Emily juggles, she dances, and she hits a boxing bag. Emily makes so much noise that Roger is in despair. Something has to be done about this situation.
    This wonderfully clever book will delight young readers and will certainly resonate with their grownups who are probably very familiar with Roger’s predicament. The author finds a perfect way to solve Roger’s problem, and then presents us with another one that brings the story to a perfect close.
   With a minimal text and lots of sound words, this is the kind of book young children will enjoy looking through on their own. They will love seeing what the dog does as the story unfolds, for the dog, in the end, steals the whole show.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Peaceful Pieces

Trying to explain what peace is to children can be problematical. You can't see, hear, smell, or taste it, and therefore children have a hard time understanding what this elusive thing that everyone seems to want is. In today's poetry title the author uses wonderful poems and beautiful photos of quilts (which she made) to help children appreciate what peace is and how precious it is.

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about PeacePeaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace 
Anne Grossnickle Hines
Poetry Picture Book
For ages for ages 6 and up
Henry Holt, 2011, 978-0-8050-8996-7
Peace is an elusive thing. Throughout humanity’s history, many great people have tried to bring peace to human societies. Occasionally they have succeeded in a meaningful way, but all too often their efforts have not been long lasting. All too often this is because humans just cannot overcome their differences to find the road to peace. What most people do agree on is that world peace will not come about if we cannot have peace in our own homes and communities first. We need to start small and then hope that the peace, like a plant, will grow and spread.
   In this remarkable book the author pairs her beautiful quilted creations with poems that explore peace in its many forms. She begins by wondering how peace will arrive. Will there be a fanfare of trumpets, “gold banners” and a “great noisy show,” or will peace “slip in quietly” and slowly fill us until we say, “Ahh … this is peace.”
   Next we meet someone who endeavors so hard to bring peace into his or her home. The person wonders why peace is “such / an infrequent guest.” Anger is banished, fear is pushed away and selfishness is kept busy and yet peace does not stay.
   Later on the book, for people who struggle to find that coveted prize, we find a recipe for peace. It is simple, and yet incredibly powerful. The ingredients are: at least two open minds, willing hearts, compassion, trust, forgiveness, respect, “A dash of humor” and, of course, hope.
   Peace can also be found in nature. It is there as we paddle along in a river listening to “Awakening birdsong” in a space that is “serene” and away from “chaos.” Then there is the peace that lies inside us, the peace that is often hidden. With sensitivity and grace the author talks about the angry thoughts and words, the busy brain, and the inflexibility that often makes that inner peace impossible to find.
   She also talks about the peacekeepers whose “tall and resolute” stance we should all try to emulate as best we can. They are the people who have dared to speak up and say that violence is not the answer, that peace is the only way forward.
   This powerful and meaningful poetry title has something to offer everyone, words of wisdom that we would all do well to listen to and think about.



Monday, May 11, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Rainstorm


RainstormWe live in a more-is-better world, a world where people often forget that sometimes less is more. In today's wordless picture book a magical story unfolds that readers of all ages will be able to appreciate. The artwork is simple without any frills or embellishments, and it is perfect.

Rainstorm
Barbara Lehman
Picture Book
For ages 3 to 5
Houghton Mifflin, 2007, 978-0618756391
It is a rainy grey day and a lonely little boy looks out of the window. He then kicks a red and white ball across the floor and its rolls away and down the stairs. The boy goes after the ball, and when he reaches under a chair to retrieve the ball his hand touches a key. Now the boy tries to find the key hole which matches the key.
   After many tries, the boy discovers that the key unlocks a trunk. When he opens the lid of the trunk he sees a ladder, and being a normally curious sort of boy, he climbs down the ladder. At the bottom of the ladder the boy sees a tunnel which he proceeds to follow. Where does the tunnel go and what lies at the end of it?
   Any child who has found him or herself wishing something, anything, would happen on a dull and lonely rainy day will be able to identify with the main character in this story. Indeed, most children will be intrigued as they watch the events unfold in the wordless book. They will be delighted to see that the magic which occurs on that first rainy day can be repeated, and therefore there is a strong message of hope on the pages.
   Beautifully illustrated in bold and bright colors, this picture book is a celebration of magical places, the imagination, and much more.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders


The history of humankind is peppered with the stories of men and women who have done their best to take away the rights of certain groups of people. Thankfully, the exploits of such individuals have been balanced, at least a little bit, by the actions of brave and selfless men and women who have fought hard to obtain equal rights for all people.

In today's poetry title the stories of some of these civil rights leaders are told.

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by five notable illustrators
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Chronicle Books, 2013, 978-1-4521-0119-4
For centuries human societies have been rife with injustices and inequalities. Often change only happened when “The poor and dispossessed take up the drums / for civil rights – freedoms to think and speak, / Petition, pray and vote.” Often these uprisings, when the meek voices of the many became a roll of thunder, where led by one person, a person who dared to step forward and risk everything to speak out against injustice.
   In this remarkable book J. Patrick Lewis presents readers with poems about seventeen people who fought “for the equal rights of mankind.” Many suffered deeply for daring to stand against the status quo, and some even died for their convictions.
   On these pages we meet Aung San Suu Kyi who has fought for the rights of the Burmese people for decades. Often she was under house arrest, not allowed to see her friends and family members. For her courage she was awarded many prizes, included the Nobel Peace Prize “for defending / the rights of my people” against the generals who would oppress them. When she “refused food to protest my detention,” the general, her enemy “stuffed himself on mangoes / and banana pudding.”
   Like Aung San Suu Kyi, Mitsuye Endo was held captive by her own government. A simple typist “nothing more,” she was taken to a Japanese internment camp after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. She had committed no crime and yet she was treated like a criminal. Many of the internees accepted their captivity without a murmur, but Endo did not. She spoke out and challenged the government’s right to imprison her and other patriotic citizens based on their ancestry.
    Another person who spoke out against injustice was Harvey Milk, who dared to say that people who were gay should not have to hide who and what they are. He even became a “city father” so that he could contest the laws that “kept / boys and girls from living lives / that Life would not accept.” He felt that he had to do his part to fight against the “small-mindedness” that causes so much suffering.
   Readers will be greatly moved by J. Patrick Lewis’s poems, some of which are written in the first person. Each one is a gem, a reminder that our rights should never be taken for granted. Somewhere someone had to fight for them.

   At the back of the book readers will find further information about the seventeen activists who are featured in the book. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of By Mouse and Frog

When I was a little child my best friend, Raff, and I used to make up games to play together. All too often one of us would come up with an idea, which the other would then try to take over. An argument would ensue. I saw this happen many times with my own child and her friends, and it was always interesting to see how they settled their differences.

Today's picture book is about a mouse who wants to write a story, and a frog who wants to be a part of the story writing process. The frog, alas, does not know how to respect his friend's creative process, and a situation arises that is rather uncomfortable for both the mouse and the frog.

By Mouse and Frog
By Mouse and Frog
Deborah Freedman
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-670-78490-5
One morning Mouse wakes up and he starts writing “a brand-new story.” Carefully he tells his story in which a mouse wakes up early and sets a table. He then draws what he describes, a table with tea things on it. The next minute Frog jumps into the story. Frog contributes a cake to the story, which Mouse reluctantly agrees can be added to the tea table. Frog then rapidly goes on to add a king, and ice cream, and the next thing you know a dragon and fairy appear and poor Mouse’s story has been completely taken over. Mouse yells “STOP!” His poor story “is a mess!”
   Frog is rather upset that Mouse says this, but Mouse is even more upset because Frog took over his story without so much as a how do you do! Frog explains that he was just trying to help and the two animals start over. The problem is that Frog, who is a very excitable fellow, isn’t very good at letting Mouse have a say in how the story is going to go.
   In this deliciously clever and frequently funny book we see how friends often have to work hard if they want to collaborate on a project. They have to make compromises and be sensitive to each other’s wishes. Children are going to love seeing how Mouse and Frog draw their story and how, in the end, they create something that is uniquely theirs. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Happy May Day!


Poetry Friday with a review of Lend a Hand

In 1976 my family left our home in war-torn Lebanon and we traveled, on a freight ship, to the island of Cyprus. Like so many refugees, we had very little when we got to our destination. When you are fleeing a country you don't have time to pack up much. The first few months were hard, but what made them easier was the fact that people who barely knew us reached out to us. The people we met in Cyprus knew what it was like to be refugees, and they helped us as much as they could. Their kindness and compassion made a great deal of difference to us.

Today's poetry title explores the many ways in which people help one another. Even the smallest acts of kindness can have a huge impact.

Lend a HandLend a Hand
John Frank
Illustrated by London Ladd
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lee and Low Books, 2014, 978-1-60060-970-1
Many people are eager to do something big with their lives, to make a noticeable difference in the world. What they sometimes forget is that they can have a meaningful impact by doing small acts of kindness every day. Doing these kinds of things are the “first steps to changing the world.”
   In this book we see the kinds of compassionate things people do for one another as they go about their day. Beautifully written poems capture these moments, showing readers how powerful such actions can be, both for the person who receives the gift of kindness and the person who gives it.
   We see how a child shares her sandwich with a new girl at school, who is sitting alone and lunch-less nearby. We meet a little boy whose is caring for a little puppy, a puppy whom he adores. In the not too distant future the boy will have to give the puppy away because the dog is going to be “someone’s eyes / one day.”
   Then there is the girl who has her long beautiful hair cut off so that it can be sent away “to be part of a wavy wig / worn by someone / whose hair / sickness stole.” Another young person reaches out to a stranger by writing to a soldier who is serving his country many miles away. The boy reassures the soldier that no matter what happens he will not forget the soldier or his service.
   Sometimes an act of kindness can be as simple as helping a boy make his bike work “as good as new” without charging him for the time it took to test the wheels and tighten a bolt here and there. It can be as simple as that same boy helping a woman load her grocery bags into her car and refusing to take any money for his time. It can be as simple as a kindness being handed on from person to person, on and on.
   In this empowering and meaningful poetry collection we see how simple it is to reach out and connect with others. It does not matter if we know them or not. It does not matter if we never even meet them. Our acts make the world a better place, one simple kindness at a time.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Knit Together


My daughter and I have lots of things in common. For example, we both enjoy making music, but we have our own tastes and styles. Therefore, when we make music together, we have to find a way to do so, as a duo, in a way that works for both of us. Today's picture book is about a mother and daughter who are both creative and who similarly have to find a way to allow their respective gifts to blend in a way that makes them both happy.

Knit Together
Knit TogetherAngela Dominguez
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-4099-0
A little girl loves to draw. It is her way of being creative and expressing herself. Her mother is not an artist, but she is a knitter. The little girl cannot help thinking that knitting is better than drawing because you can wear what you knit. She would love to learn how to knit so that she can make “the most amazing things,” things like finger puppets and gloves.
   Mom shows her daughter how to knit, but it turns out that knitting is “not as easy as it looks.” Soon the little girl has nothing to show for her efforts, other than a snarl of yarn and a grumpy face. Mom, who knows how hard it can be to learn a new skill, reassures her daughter, telling her that there is no need to be discouraged. Mom explains that the little girl’s artwork inspires her, and sure enough, when you look at the little girl’s drawings and her mother’s knitted projects, you can see how the artwork is indeed reflected in the knitted hats and other yarn creations. Then the mother and daughter come up with a plan, one that will combine both of their gifts.
   This wonderful picture book celebrates creativity in all its forms. Being able to draw and being able to knit are both gifts, and both gifts are precious.  Children will be delighted to see how the mother and daughter in this book find that there is a way to share and combine their skills to create something special and unique.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of After the bell Rings: Poems about After-School Time

When I was in elementary school I can remember feeling that time seemed to slow down during the last lesson of the day. That last bell seemed to take forever to ring. When it rang I knew I was free, until the next school day began.

Today's poetry title explores those almost-out-of-school and free-of-school times.

After the bell Rings: Poems about After-School Time
After the bell Rings: Poems about After-School TimeCarol Diggory Shields
Illustrations by Paul Meisel
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-3805-8
For children, the moment when the last bell rings at the end of a school day is a special time. After that bell rings they will be free at last, and all kinds of activities await them. Before the bell rings they are “Like horses at the starting gate,” watching the minute hand tick, ticks around the clock face. It feels as if “the clock on the wall has stopped.” They are not the only ones who are happy when the bell rings. Their teacher is also glad that her work day is coming to a close, and for her too the last two minutes before the bell rings “are the slowest of all.”
   Once they are free, children head off for home to play video games, practice their musical instruments, and battle with homework assignments. They have a snack, read a book, send text messages and hang out with friends.
   There are so many things to do, but kids can become bored all the same. If this happens, children must never, ever mention that they are bored because if they do they will end up mowing the law for Dad or sweeping for Mom.  If children do get bored the trick is to “look busy and don’t show it” and make sure that they “Don’t let your parents know it!”
   This amusing poetry picture book takes readers into the lives of children after they are released from school. The poems come in many forms, including one that is made up of a series of text messages that fly between two children. We hear from a boy whose sister’s violin playing is making his life a misery, and another whose mother catches him playing a video game when he should be doing his homework. Then there is the girl whose afternoons and Saturdays are so booked up that all she wants to do on Sunday is to “just take a nap.”
   Children and their grownups will surely enjoy this clever trip into those wonderful after-school hours when children, if they are lucky, get to do at least some of the things that they dreamed of doing when they were sitting in class.