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.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Books of Hope - Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging

On Monday of this week, everything seemed to go wrong, and by the time the day started to draw to a close I was feeling stressed, grumpy, and convinced that the world was out to get me. I was, in short, a mess. I could not see all the good things in my life because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. And annoyed.

Luckily an episode of The Big Band Theory saved me. I laughed so much that I was brought to my senses. I saw that my attitude needed an adjustment, and I was able to make that change. Thank goodness for the things in life that make us laugh. They give our mood a lift, give us a break from our woes, and ultimately give us hope that all is not lost.

Today I bring you a book that made we howl with laughter when I first read it. If you are having a hard time and need a pick-me-up, I suggest you give this book a try.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal SnoggingAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging
Louise Rennison
Fiction  Series
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2000, 978-0060288143
Georgia Nicolson has a pretty normal life. She goes to school, she has a best friend, her parents are an embarrassment, and she thinks her teachers are on the planet to make her life a misery. Pretty normal teenage stuff. Of course, Georgia has her own quirky personal crises going on. She thinks she is ugly and that her nose is too big. Her little sister sometimes pees in Georgia’s bed, and Georgia has humiliated herself by dressing up as a stuffed olive for a costume party. In addition there is Angus, Georgia’s wildcat, who terrorizes the neighbor’s poodle. No one really knows what to do with him.
   Georgia stumbles along worrying about the first day of school, her looks, and other teenage preoccupations. Then everything gets a lot more complicated. It begins when Georgia’s friend Jas falls for Tom, a boy who works at a local shop. Georgia goes to the shop with Jas one day – so that Jas can ‘accidentally’ run into Tom - and she meets Tom’s brother, a “Sex God” who makes Georgia feel weak at the knees. Suddenly Georgia’s deficiencies in the looks department and her lack of experience with boys become a huge problem. Trying to win the Sex God is now one of the most important things in Georgia’s life.
   Georgia starts taking kissing lessons, and she tries to find ways to make herself more alluring. She spies on the girl the Sex God is going out with, and she dreams about what it would be like to be the Sex God’s girlfriend. Will Georgia’s dreams come true, or will she have to settle for being a nun?
   In this hilarious book, we get to meet an English teenager who is, like most teenagers, utterly wrapped up in her own world. To Georgia, her problems with the Sex God are the most important thing ever. The whole world should be aware of the trials and tribulations that she has to deal with.
   Louise Rennison has written Georgia’s story in the form of diary entries, and readers will have a hard time keeping a straight face as they follow Georgia’s triumphs and misadventures. Anyone who wonders what goes on in a teenager's head will get the shock of their life when they read about this irreverent, droll, and utterly lovable girl.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Away

Leaving your family for the first time to have a sleepover, or to go to summer camp, can be a little frightening for a child. Even though you are told what to expect, you still cannot be sure what awaits you. In today's picture book you will meet a mother and child who have a unique, and often amusing, way of coping with an upcoming separation.

Emil Sher
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2017, 978-1-55498-483-1
Summer vacation is just around the corner and soon a little girl will be heading off to summer camp for the first time. She does not want to go. At all. She and her mother are both busy people, and so they leave sticky notes for each other around the house. In her notes the little girl makes it clear that she is not going to camp, “Not EVER!”
   Back and forth the notes between the two go. Mom tells her daughter that she has got her bug spray, which everyone knows is a necessity at camp. Her daughter, in response, tells her mother that she cannot leave Lester, the family cat, because he needs her too much. On the family calendar Mom adds a sticky note indicating that she and Lester will have a “movie night” while the little girl is gone.
   Then Mimsy, Mom’s mother, comes to visit, and the little girl finds out that when Mom left for camp she cried. Mom explains that her tears “didn’t last” and her memories of sleepover camp are still “as warm as biscuits.”
   Going away from home to attend summer camp for the first time can be hard at first. This wonderful story shows us how a mother reassures her little girl about the upcoming adventure. We also see how the two of them have a warm and loving relationship that is full of humor, patience, and good times. Children will enjoy seeing how Lester the cat manages to get himself included in most of the scenes in the story. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of W is for Woof: A dog alphabet

For many people their dogs are much loved and valued members of the family. We humans spend a great deal of time caring for our dogs, and we often take them with us wherever we go. There is a very good reason for all this: dogs are marvelous companions. They freely give us their loyalty and devotion; they forgive us for our failings and love us unconditionally. I have wonderful dogs in my life, so I am delighted to bring you a book today that is a bookish celebration of all things canine.

W Is for Woof: A Dog Alphabet W Is for Woof: A Dog Alphabet
Ruth Strother
Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Nonfiction and Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008, 978-1585363438
Though dogs come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, they all belong to the same species, Canis familiaris. Over the centuries, humans have bred dogs for certain characteristics, which is why there are so many different kinds today.
   These facts are just a few of the things you will learn about dogs when you read this book. Presented in the form of an alphabet book, this title looks at a wide variety of topics that relate to dogs. For each letter of the alphabet, the author has chosen a topic that is explored using a short four line rhyming poem, an illustration, and a section of text.
   For example the letter D is for “domestication.” A short poem explains what domestication is, and the text expands on this concept by explaining that some scientists think that dogs were domesticated by humans 40,000 to 135,000 years ago. Our pet’s ancestors were probably wolves who were drawn to the settlements of humans, and who were tamed and bred to guard and hunt.
   The letter L is for “love.” Anyone who has had a dog in their lives will know that one thing that you can always count on when it comes to dogs is that they will be your companion and they will love you. As the poem on the L page says: “You can count on this love to always be true.” The love and devotion of dogs is one of the biggest reasons why so many humans choose to share their lives with these wonderful animals.
   Packed with fascinating information, this picture book can be enjoyed on several levels. Young readers will enjoy the poems and the artwork, while older readers will find the longer sections of informative text interesting. This is just one of many alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press, and like all the other titles, it is a book that children can grow up with.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Seashore Book

For me, summer is synonymous with beach time. I grew up on an island in the Mediterranean, and from June until September I went to the beach most weeks. There is nothing like the smell of the sea, the feel of sand between your toes, the sun-touched tiredness that you experience at the end of a day spent at the beach. Today I bring you a picture book that beautifully captures that beach experience in lyrical prose and evocative artwork.

The Seashore Book
The Seashore BookCharlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2017, 978-1-58089-787-7
One day a little boy who lives in the mountains, and who has never seen the sea, asks his mother what the seashore is like. With a smile the little boy’s mother takes her son to the seashore with her words.
   It is early morning at the beach and at this time of day “it’s hard to tell where the sea stops and the sky begins.” At first the sea and the sky are a “smoky gray,” and then the mist starts to change color until the sun breaks through. The little boy runs across the sand, and where the land and the water meets he finds a polished stone and shells, one of which is still occupied by a small animal. Together the mother and son build a sand castle, which the waves then wash away.
   Feeling tired the little boy lies in the warm sun and dozes off. When he wakes up he looks out at the ocean, and watches a little sailboat disappear over the horizon. Then the mother and son have their lunch, and as they eat they watch “small brown sand crabs squiggling at our toes.”
   When the wind starts to cool and clouds start to form in the sky, the mother and son head for home.
   With its emotive text and gorgeous illustrations, this picture book will take readers from their homes and transport them to a beach where seagulls mew, where waves lap at their feet, and where little crabs scuttle into holes in the sand. Just like the little boy who has never been to the seashore, we are taken to a magical place that is peaceful and beautiful.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of I, too, sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry

Many of us take education for granted. It does not occur to us that being able to go to school and university is a privilege. Not that long ago, African Americans were not allowed to learn how to read and write, and even when the doors of schools were finally open to them, the education that they received was mediocre at best.

Luckily for us many African Americans found their voices in spite of racism, segregation, and inequality. They learned how to read and write, they went to school, they put up with all kinds of privations, and they created marvelous stories and poetry. Today's poetry title is a celebration of African American poetry, and the book is packed with poems that delight the ear and excite the mind.

I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American PoetryI, too, sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry
Catherine Clinton
Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
For ages 9 and up
Houghton Mifflin, 2017, 978-0544582569
The slaves who were brought to America were subjected to unspeakable cruelties. Deprived of their family members, their community, their history, their culture, and their language, they were cut off from everything that was familiar. After being sold, they (and many of their descendants) were denied the right to learn how to read and write, but countless creative African Americans found ways to bring glorious language into their lives through song. Then there were those who learned how to read and write in secret; others were lucky enough to be working for enlightened people who allowed them to become educated.  
   In this wonderful book, readers will encounter the stories and the writings of African American poets, beginning with those who were brought to the United States as slaves, and ending with poets who are creating poems for present day readers.
   The collection begins with the story of, and a poem written by, Lucy Terry. Lucy was born in Africa, sold into slavery, and then she went to live in a community in Massachusetts that was greatly affected by an Indian raid which took place on the twenty-fifth of August in 1746. Lucy wrote about the raid in her poem Bars Fight, in which she memorializes the people who died in the attack. The poem was passed down orally from person to person for generations until it was published in 1855.
   Phyllis Wheatley, who was born in the Gambia, was special in that she was greatly supported in her writing journey by the people who bought her. She learned to read and write English, and was only fourteen when her first verse was published. She went on to learn Latin, and a patron helped her find a London publisher for her collection of verse. Phyllis even made the journey across the Atlantic so that she could meet some of her admirers in England. Her poem Liberty and Peace captures her belief in “the principals that fuels the American Revolution and the antislavery movement…”
   We go on to meet George Moses Horton, who, unlike Phyllis, was denied an education and so he wrote his poems in his head. He shared his writings with students who were studying at the nearby University of North Carolina. George’s patrons wanted to buy his freedom but his master refused to allow this. George did find a way to learn how to write, and in all he wrote three volumes of poetry. In his poems George often openly spoke about the “agony of bondage and the desire for liberty” which we can see for ourselves when we read his poem On liberty and slavery. The poem is an appeal that is heartfelt and powerful.
   Other poets whose stories and poems appear in this collection include W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni.
   Readers of all ages will be captivated by this extraordinary collection. We get to know each poet a little by reading their biographies, and then get to experience their writing through their poems. It is interesting to see how the styles and subject matters in the poems changed as the years went by, and to see how the poems were influenced by what was happening in the world at the time when they were written.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Books of Hope: She persisted: 13 Women who changed the world

Sometimes, when our dreams seem hopelessly out of reach, the best thing to do is to listen to stories about people who have kept on trying, kept on dreaming. Hearing about their triumphs over adversity helps us to keep the faith.

Over the centuries many groups of people have found it particularly hard to pursue their dreams because people have stood in their way and have prevented them from moving forward towards their goals. One of these groups has been women, who have been told that they are lesser people because of their gender. Thankfully, some women refused to give in or give up. They persisted!

Today's Book of Hope offers us inspiring stories about women who would not accept the words of doubters and naysayers.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the WorldShe persisted: 13 Women who changed the world
Chelsea Clinton
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2017, 978-1-5247-4172-3
For centuries society has told women that they could not get an education, could not work outside the home, could not own property, could not drive a car, could not do the same jobs as men, could not vote. They have faced a wall of could nots and should nots. And yet they have persisted and did those things that mattered to them most, in spite of it all.
   In this book readers will meet thirteen women who refused to toe the line; who refused to accept that they were lesser people because they were born female. The first woman we meet is Harriet Tubman, who escaped from a life of slavery and who then chose to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Every time she helped someone escape to freedom Harriet risked her own freedom, and every person she assisted “arrived safely.”
   Nellie Bly was a reporter, and in part she took on the challenge of reporting the news because a male writer said that working women were “a monstrosity.” These words made Nellie want to prove that women could do anything that they wanted to. She set about exposing shocking stories to help others. For one story she pretended to be a patient in a mental hospital so that she could tell the world about the horrific way the patients were treated.
   Oprah Winfrey’s grandmother expected that her granddaughter would follow in her footsteps and become a maid. Being both female and African American meant that very few doors were open for Oprah to step through. Oprah refused to be locked into a life that she did not want, and through hard work and determination she became “a media superstar.”
   For each of the thirteen women featured in this book readers will read a little about their life, and they will find a quote that beautifully captures each woman’s fighting spirit. Throughout the book evocative pieces of artwork accompany the text to give readers an altogether memorable reading experience.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The mermaid's Purse

One of my favorite things in this world is a room full of wonderful books. My office has shelves from floor to ceiling on most of the walls for my work books, and one day soon (I hope) I will have a family library as well for all my non-work books. The books we have cover a wide range of topics. Of course there are novels in abundance, but there are also nonfiction titles about gardening, oriental rugs, Siamese cats, biographies, histories, and atlases. There are books about trees, birds and flowers, and titles about trains, wine, food, and so much more. My books make me feel rich and I love them.

Today's picture book title is about a girl's love of books, which she shares with the people around her. The interesting thing to see is how her love of books spreads as people learn to appreciate what books can do for them.

The Mermaid's PurseThe mermaid’s purse
Patricia Polacco
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2016, 978-0-399-16692-1
In 1883, during a fierce storm, a baby girl was born just as a clap of thunder shook the air. The baby was still in the birth membrane when she came into the world, which many people considered to be a sign that the baby was blessed. The baby was named Estella and it soon became clear that she was indeed a blessed child. She walked and talked sooner than most children did, and she taught herself to read at a very young age.
   Estella’s love for the written word was a powerful thing. Every penny she earned she used to buy books. Often she traded paintings she created for books as well. Soon Estella’s book collection filled the upper floor of the farmhouse that she lived in. Her father thought he would soon have to “build you your own library for all these books!” and one day this is exactly what he did. With the help of friends, Estella’s father built his daughter a little building where she could house her book collection.
   Some of the men who helped build the library “scoffed” at Estella’s books, which troubled her a great deal. How could anyone not like books? Estella’s father explained that many of the men who had helped with the library project had probably never even read a book. Being a very determined young girl, Estella decided that she would take books to the neighboring farms, and so she loaded up some of her books into her goat cart and went from farm to farm. Though the local children seemed eager to enjoy her books and her storytelling times, the farmers simply did not accept that Estella’s books were relevant to them. Until she proved how wrong they were.
   This delightful and powerful tale is based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, Estella Barber, who built a library, shared her love of books with others, and taught hundreds of children. Readers will discover, through the story, how valuable book knowledge can be both in good times, and during emergencies.