Friday, November 28, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of What the Heart Knows

Using words to connect with our world is something we humans do all the time. Sometimes these words are directed at people or animals, and sometimes they are sent out into the universe with the hope that someone or something can hear what we are saying. In today's poetry title you will encounter some poems that will resonate with anyone who has, among other things, asked for courage, who has lost something, who has lost someone, and who has felt regretful.

What the heart knows: Chants, Charms and BlessingsWhat the heart knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Poetry
For ages 12 and up
Houghton Mifflin, 2013, 978-0-544-10616-1
We humans have been using words “to try to influence the world around us” for centuries. We have offered up prayers and chants to ask for kinder weather, to secure safe passage on journeys, and to be victorious in battle. We have sung songs to get the attention of our one true love, and to bless our sleepy children before they slumber.
   We now know that songs and chants cannot save us from tornadoes, make our crops grow and protect us from the newest wave of the flu, and yet we still write down words that are essentially chants, charms or blessings, some of which are offered up in prayer or song. The creation of these offerings helps us to celebrate, to grieve and to process our anger. They allow us to communicate our feelings to the universe, and to even gain an understanding about ourselves in the process.
   In this remarkable book Joyce Sidman offers us poems that will give readers much to think about. She begins with Chants and Charms: to bolster courage and guard against evil. Here readers will find a chant to help repair a friendship, one in which the writer asks the reader to “forgive the past” and to give love, which “is vast,” a chance. The form of the chant is beautifully lyrical.
   For those days when courage is in small supply or when doubt fills the heart there is Song of Bravery, a poem that will help anyone facing a day that is full of grey clouds and possible pitfalls. Here readers will find the words of one who is unsure and perhaps even afraid, and yet who is going to step “into the glare of the arena / to face the lions.”
   Occasionally we wish we could, with our words, “cause something to happen.” This is when the Spells and Invocations section in this book will come in handy, and Joyce Sidman gives us several poems that will surely be useful. The first in particular will come in handy almost every day as it is an Invitation to Lost Things. Here at last are the words we need to call out to those objects that are always going missing; those cell phones that seem to grow feet and walk away, and those pairs of things – such as earring and socks – that are constantly losing their mate. In her poem Joyce Sidman’s words are gentle and placating as she asks these wayward things to come back because without them “we are lost / in this big world of ours.”
   Following the spells we come to the Laments and Remembrances. Here we find poems that remember things, that regret those things that are no more, and that grieve for those who have left us. These poems are followed, very aptly, by Praise, Songs and Blessings, which are poems that “celebrate, thank, or express love.”
   This is a remarkable book full of poems that are rich with beauty and wisdom, and readers will want to read than again and again.
  

   

Monday, November 24, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Any Questions?


Many children's book authors and illustrators visit schools, and when they do the eager students often ask a lot of questions. One of the most commonly asked questions is some version of "Where do your stories come from?" In today's picture book this question is answered in a clever and often amusing way.

Any Questions?
Any Questions?Marie-Louise Gay
Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1554983827
Marie-Louise Gay is a much loved author whose books have delighted children (and adults) for many years. When Marie-Louise goes to talk to children in schools and libraries, they do what all children do. They ask questions. A lot of questions. Often the children want to know about Marie-Louise and her life, and then there are the questions that pertain to her stories and how she creates them. One of those questions that is often asked is, “Where does a story start?”
   A story always starts with a blank page. If you stare at the page long enough, “anything can happen.” You might think that a blank piece of white paper cannot possibly inspire anything, but this is not true. For example, it can give birth to a scene that is full of a snowstorm. If you start with a piece of paper that is old looking and has a yellow tinge to it then you might end up telling a story about a time when dinosaurs walked the earth. Blue paper can lead to an underwater adventure and green paper can be the backdrop for a story about a jungle.
   Sometimes stories don’t start with a color at all. Instead, “words or ideas” come “floating out of nowhere.” Bit by bit pieces of paper with words and thoughts written on them are collected and sorted, and then they are joined by “little scribbles and doodles,” which is when the kernel of a story starts to grow. Of course, sometimes an idea pops up on the page that simply does not work at all. When this happens an author has to search around for something that does work, which can take a little (or even a lot) of time to happen. These things cannot be rushed though, and eventually the right piece of story comes along and the author is off and running.
   In this wonderful picture book, Marie-Louise Gay explores the writing process, answering questions that children have asked her over the years. She shows us how a story is built, how it unfolds, and we see, right there on the pages, how she creates a magical story out of doddles, scraps of ideas, and tidbits of inspiration. The little children and animals characters who appear on the pages interact with the story, questioning, advising, and offering up ideas.
   This is a book that writers of all ages will love. It is funny, cleverly presented, and it gives writers encouragement and support.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Hand in Hand: An American History Through Poetry


Telling stories using poetry is something that poets have been doing for a long time. Often the stories are made up, but sometimes that are based on real events that took place in the past. In today's poetry title readers will find a collection of poems that are used to tell the story of the United States.

Hand in Hand: An American History Through Poetry
Hand in Hand: An American History Through PoetryCollected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Peter M. Fiore
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 1994, 978-0671733155
Poems come in many forms. They can describe a moment in time or describe a place. They can capture an emotion, and they can also tell a story. Sometimes the stories they tell are made up, but at other times these stories are based on real events that happened in the past. Many poets really enjoy telling the stories of important historical events. For this book Lee Bennett Hopkins has put together a collection of poems that will give readers a picture of the history of the United States.
   The poems are presented in chronological order, beginning with those that tell the story of the early European settlers who came to America; the pilgrims who traveled to New England to build new lives for themselves. We read of their landing, which was witnessed by the ocean-eagle which “soared / from his nest the white wave’s foam,” where the “rocking pines of the forest roared.”
   Then we move on to poems that tell the story of the American Revolution.  Here readers will find Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride, and they can also read about Molly Pitcher, a woman who manned a cannon in a battle during the war and who, “since she had played a man’s full part,” had earned “A man’s reward for her loyal heart.”
   The section that follows offers us poems that tell the story of America during the years when countless people began the journey west to settle the frontier lands. For the brave people who made the journey, the west offered new opportunities. For the native people who already lived in these lands, the arrival of the pioneers was a time of loss and bloodshed. The story of one young Native American is told in the poem Battle Won is Lost. The thoughts and feelings of the young man come through with painful clarity as he goes to war only to discover that those who said “To die is glorious,” had lied.
   The story of the United States continues until we come to the section that is about “1900 and Beyond.” Here we read about the way in which Americans continued to voyage long after they had reached the Pacific Ocean. They went up into space to travel “from planet to planet and from moon to moon.”
   On the pages of this remarkable collection readers will find the poems of Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Charlotte Zolotow and many other remarkable poets.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Where's Mommy?

Children love to have secrets and in the book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary  we meet a little girl and a little mouse who have a secret. They become friends and knowing full well that their families would not approve of their friendship, they keep their times together a secret. In today's book you will meet Mouse Mouse and Mary again, and this time you will see that they are not the only ones in their house who have secrets.

Where's Mommy?Where’s Mommy?
Beverly Donofrio
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2014, 9780-375-84423-2
Mary is a little girl who lives in a lovely house, and Mouse Mouse is little mouse girl who lives beneath the floorboards of this house. Mary knows all about Mouse Mouse because she and the little mouse are friends. The girls know better than to tell their families about their friendship. The human parents would get a cat, and the mouse parents would “flee to a hole in the ground.” The two girls therefore keep their relationship a secret.
   One night Mary gets ready for bed by putting on her jammies, brushing her teeth and hair, and getting into bed. In her home under the boards Mouse Mouse is doing the same thing. Both girls call out for their mothers. Nothing happens. The mothers don’t make an appearance, so the two girls go looking for them, calling out “Mom” and “Mommy” as they go.
   Mary searches the house and asks her father and brother if they know where Mom is. Mouse Mouse searches her home and asks her father and little sister if they know where Mommy is. The girls are starting to get worried.
   In this delightful story, which began in the book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, we get to go on a simple and yet very surprising adventure with Mary and her friend, Mouse Mouse. Barbara McClintock’s lovely illustrations capture the worlds that the friends live in in great detail, and children will particularly enjoy seeing the illustrations where the human house and the hidden mouse house are shown on the same spread. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of The Arrow Finds its Mark

I am a big believer in recycling, but I have never thought about recycling words, reusing words that someone else has written and re-purposing them so that they become something new and different. This is exactly what the poems in today's book are; they are poems that were created using words that the poets found. It is fascinating to see the ways in which they created poetry out of slogans, advertisements, crossword clues and other pieces of found text.

The Arrow Finds its Mark: A book of Found Poems
The Arrow Finds its Mark: A book of Found PoemsEdited by Georgia Heard
Illustrated by Antoine Guiloppe
Poetry
For ages 8 to 11
Roaring Brook Press, 2012, 978-1-59643-665-7
For centuries poets have been inspired by nature’s beauty. They have been inspired by animals and plants. They have told stories and described people. The inspiration for the poems in this book came from an unusual source; they were found. The poets were invited to find their poems within a piece of writing or spoken piece. They saw what they were looking for written on a subway wall, in a book, on a receipt, on websites, advertisements and other sources. They then “refashioned” the words they found (without changing, adding, or rearranging them) to create something completely new.
   Lee Bennett Hopkins, Kai Dotlich, Jane Yolen and many others took on this challenge and created poems that are quite fascinating. In a poem called Pep Talk, Janet Wong seems to be encouraging us to keep going, to keep trying, telling us to “Keep Cool” and “See a brighter solution.” Readers will be surprised to learn that the poet found these words on the box of a detergent cleaner. Similarly, in his poem First, Lee Bennett Hopkins turned a Sprint newspaper advertisement into a poem about winning. In the poem we are told what it means to be first. The one who is first, “leads” and he or she “First takes us places / we have never / been before.”
   Jane Yolen found the words for her poem, Cross Words, within the clues for a newspaper crossword puzzle. What is interesting is that she has actually found phrases that sound angry or cross, phrases like “Do something!” “Shame!” and “Don’t ask me!”
   Joyce Sidman found the words for her poem in a Greenpeace calendar. She took the text in the calendar, changed the layout of the sentences and created Song of the Earth, a beautiful poem about our precious natural world.
   Readers will be surprised when they see what the sources for these poems were. Who knew that catalogs, photo captions, book titles and other everyday pieces of writing could create such splendid poems. Readers might even be tempted to try writing their own found poems.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of I wish I had a pet

Many of us wish we could have a pet. We image how wonderful it would be to have a cat or a dog who would always be happy to see us and who would eagerly greet us when we came home from school or work. We forget that having a pet is a lot of work. In today's picture book you will meet a delightful little mouse who shows us what it means to be a pet owner.

I Wish I Had a PetI wish I had a pet
Maggie Rudy
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-5332-6
Many people, children and adults alike, sometimes wish that they had a pet. They see someone walking along the street with a sweet dog at their heels, and think how nice it would be to have a dog to walk.  Perhaps they see someone sitting on their front porch with a happily purring cat in their lap. How soothing it would be to have a cat like that, a furry purry presence who makes you feel special.
   In this book a charming little mouse person asks you if you “wish sometimes…that you had a pet?” She then goes on to talk about how important it is that you think about what it means to have a pet. For one thing you have to choose the right one, a pet that won’t be too big to handle, or one that won’t make you have an allergic reaction.
   Once you have found the right pet, the pet that suits your lifestyle and personality, you have to make sure that you take care of it properly. A pet, even a fish or a roly-poly, takes a lot of work. You need to keep it clean, fed, exercised, and happy. You also have to clean up after your pet’s messes (no matter how nasty they are), and be willing to accept that sometimes pets are “very naughty,” especially if they are bored.
   In this delightfully sweet and often funny picture book, Maggie Rudy shows people the joys and woes of pet ownership using her cunning little felt mice characters. On every spread we see a mouse character or two with bees, fish, beetles, lizards, frogs, and other mouse-sized pets. Backdrops that are mouse perfect present readers with so much to look at, and one almost wishes one could hop into the page and visit the characters in their world.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of In the Sea by David Elliott

When I was young I spent hours face down (wearing a mask and snorkel) in the Mediterranean  Sea watching fish and other creatures go about their business. I also snorkeled in the Indian Ocean, and more recently off the shores of Kauai. There is something magical about watching these beautiful and fascinating animals from the surface, a part of their world and yet apart at the same time. Today's poetry picture book will take readers into that world.

In the SeaIn the Sea
David Elliott
Illustrated by Holly Meade
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-4498-7
The world’s oceans and seas are full of wonderful, beautiful, and sometimes downright bizarre creatures. Some can dive to the deep dark depths, going places that we humans cannot get to unless we are protected by the thick shell of a submarine. Others make their homes in the shallow, warmers waters where the sun dapples the sand and reef.
   In this gorgeous picture book Holly Meade’s visually arresting woodcuts are paired with David Elliot’s poems to give young readers a colorful and every changing picture of some of the creatures that live in marine environments. We begin with a small and delicate seahorse, “dainty as a wish,” that does indeed look a little like a horse and yet it is “a fish.”
   On the next spread we encounter a very different animal. With its strong tail propelling it through the water it seems to swim straight at us, its mouth agape showing off its many sharp teeth. This is the shark, the creature that inhabits some people’s nightmares “The terror… / of the dark within.”
   We then turn the page to encounter the long arms of an octopus. Though it is rather funny looking, this animal should not be underestimated. It may seem like the clown of the sea, the oddity, but in fact it is the magician that can, without any warning, “vanish in a cloud of ink.”
   Our next creature is a gentle, slow-moving beast, a starfish that crawls along making the world it lives in all the more beautiful by its five-fingered presence.
   With beautiful word images and touches of humor, David Elliott shares his obvious love for the natural world with his readers, offering up a celebration of marine animals that is unique and beautiful. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Geese March in Step

When I was in elementary school on the island of Cyprus, we kids had to line up in the playground when break (recess) was over and then we had to quietly walk to our classrooms. The teachers walked at the head of the lines, and I remember thinking many times over that I felt as if I was a baby duck following its mother, or a soldier in formation. How I longed to just run or skip or hop instead of having to walk "quietly."

In today's picture book you will meet a goose who cannot seem to walk in step. She, unlike me, wants to be like everyone else, but for some reason she has a hard time fitting in.


The Geese March in StepThe Geese March in Step
Jean-Francois Dumont
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2014, 978-0-8028-5443-8
Igor is a goose who leads his flock to the pond every morning. He insists that all the geese should march in step so that their webbed feet hit the ground “perfectly in synch,” and their rumps waddle “together in time.” No one can remember why the geese do this. All Igor cares about is that their orderly march is “tradition” and tradition matters.
   Then one day, during the march to the pond, Igor notices that something is amiss. One of the geese is not properly in synch. It turns out that Zita, who recently joined the flock, is having trouble marching in step. Igor tells her that she cannot go to the pond with the flock. She will have to join them later.
   Sadly Zita goes back to the farm, and then after waiting for a while, she sets off down the road to the pond once more. She cannot understand why she can’t march in step. It isn’t hard to do, and yet Zita cannot seem to manage it. As she walks, crying and sniffing, Zita starts to create a rhythmic pattern tune with her feet, tears, and sniffs, a “Splash, sniff splash and splash again sniff splash” sound. The tune is so catchy that a woodpecker joins in without even realizing it, adding a knocking noise to her song.
   Raymond the rooster is similarly attracted to Zita’s tune, which he thinks “makes you want to shake your tail feathers!” He too, without making a conscious effort to do so, joins the little goose’s tune with pecks.
   All too often the world expects us to toe the line and march to a certain drumbeat. Some people are able to do this, but others do not find it easy to do what everyone else is doing. They have their own style and have to go their own way.
   This wonderful picture book celebrates those who have an independent spirit and who dare to embrace their individuality.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of If it rains pancakes: Haiku and Lantern poems

What I like about today's book, which is one title in a series of books about poems, is that in addition to giving us a splendid collection of poems to read, the author also tells us how haiku and lantern poems are constructed. Children can use this book to learn how to write their own short and sweet Japanese-style poems.

If it rains pancakes: Haiku and Lantern poemsIf it rains pancakes: Haiku and Lantern poems
Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Andy Rowland
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
Millbrook, 2014, 978-1-4677-4412-6
Haiku poems have been around for more than four hundred years. For many of those years westerners had no idea that these gem-like short poems existed. Haiku were not really appreciated and created by westerners until the early 1900’s. These days haiku are popular with children and adults alike. Every haiku has three lines, with the first line having five syllables. The second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five. Traditionally haiku poems focus on something that exists in nature, but in this book the author also give young readers poems about animals, food, school days and much more.
   After reading twenty haiku poems, readers get to learn about lantern poems, which is another short poetry form that originated in Japan. The first line in these poems has just one word, which is always a noun and must have one syllable. The next four lines describe that noun with 2 syllables on the second line, three on the third, four on the fourth, and one syllable on the last line. After reading a description of what a lantern poem is, children can go on to read fifteen of these spare poems which look at bees, a cat, a hug, stars, a bed, dawn, and much more. Some of the poems are lyrical in nature, while others are amusing.
   What is wonderful about this collection is that the author describes in detail what haiku and lantern poems are and then he gives us many examples of each poetry form. We are able to see how such poems are written, and some young readers may even be inspired to write some haiku and lantern poems of their own. As the author says, “Poetry’s not just a spectator sport.” Anyone can write poems that explore or describe things that they care about.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Scaredy Squirrel prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies

Where I grew up, on the island of Cyprus, Halloween wasn't something that people celebrated. I had to wait until I moved to the States before I was finally able to enjoy Halloween. Mind you, it wasn't until we moved to Oregon that I really got into the spirit of things and started dressing up. Unlike poor Scaredy Squirrel, I love Halloween, though some of the costumes people around here wear are definitely scary.

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for ScarediesScaredy Squirrel prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies
Melanie Watt
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 8
Kids Can Press, 2013, 978-1-894786-87-4
Scaredy Squirrel is the kind of creature who likes to be ready for every possible event. Really ready.  He loves “lists, plans and safety equipment,” and hates “danger and unpredictability.” Because of these loves and hates, Scaredy Squirrel has put together this guide to help people who are like him. As far as Scaredy is concerned Halloween decorations are “nerve-wracking” and Halloween itself makes him “pass out.” If you have a similar reaction to Halloween then this guide was written for you.  The guide is divided into eight chapters, and it is “designed to help you prepare for and survive Halloween, all in one piece!”
   In the first chapter Scaredy shows his readers how to get their living area ready for Halloween. Scaredy provides us with an illustration that shows us how to use garlic, a scarecrow, a blender, bug repellent, caution tape and a doghouse to make our home safe from werewolves, creepy crawlies, ghosts and goblins, black cats and witches, and vampires. Who knew that such everyday items could be so useful!
   Next, Scaredy tackles the subject of Halloween decorations. Scaredy appreciates that Halloween jitters might cause you to experience decorating problems, so he shows you how to carve a pumpkin safely, how to decorate your front door so that it is “inviting,” and how to make your living room “ghoulish” but “not too ghoulish.”
   Choosing a Halloween costume is not easy, but Scaredy’s ingenious ideas you are sure to help you to find something that suits your personality. He looks at costumes that are classics, some that are fun, and a few that will appeal to people of action. There are also hero and villain costumes, fairy tale and science fiction costumes. He considers the advantages of makeup versus masks, and he shows us how to make three do-it-yourself costumes.
   The next four chapters look at “Halloween trick-or-treating,” “Halloween candy,” “Halloween Notes,” and “Halloween Fun.” Then Scaredy wraps up with a chapter titled “If all else fails …” which does not need to be described as the title says it all.
   For readers who know Scaredy Squirrel already, this new title is sure to reinforce the connection that they have with this delightful little animal. For readers who have never met Scaredy before, this title will show them what they have been missing!