Friday, December 19, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole

Christmas is less than a week away and today I have a poetry title that will take you far away to the North Pole. You may not know this, but Santa likes to write poetry, haiku poetry, and in this title you will find twenty-five of these wonderful short poems that describe special moments in Santa's life. 

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North PoleSanta Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole
Bob Raczka                  
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lerner, 2014, 978-1-4677-1805-9
Everyone knows that Santa Claus (or Father Christmas as some people call him) is an amazing man. He makes wonderful toys, has flying reindeer that he trains, and he is able to crisscross the globe in a flying sleigh to make millions of toy deliveries all in one night. Here is one thing that you probably don’t know about Santa; he is a poet. Years ago his beloved wife gave him a book filled with Japanese haiku poems, and he loved this minimalist poetry form so much that he wrote some haiku of his own. Twenty-five of these haiku appear in this book, one for each day from December 1st to December 25th. Together the poems will give young Santa fans a wonderful picture of what Santa’s life is like.
   We begin on December 1st with a poem about the mail that comes into Santa’s “overfilled mailbox.” In fact, there are so many letters that it is as if “December’s first storm” has come blasting into Santa’s mailbox.
   On December 3rd we find out that in spite of her age Mrs. Claus sometimes like to behave like “a little girl,” She has a grand time making snow angels in front of her house in the snow. On December 11th she gives her husband kisses under a bunch of mistletoe and they “tickle like snowflakes.”
   As the days count down we read, among other things, about the working elves, the beauty of the Northern Lights, and how Santa and Mrs. Santa string popcorn on thread to hang on the Christmas tree. The poems describe these and so many other precious moments that make December at the North Pole such a joy for Santa, his wife, the elves, and the reindeer. We see how beautiful their world is, and how much they enjoy their lives.

   With lovely illustrations and gem-like poems on every page, this is a book that children and their grownups will enjoy sharing on the days leading up to Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of What Forest Knows


Today's picture book is one of the most memorable and lovely books that I have read in a long time. It perfectly captures the beauty that can be found in a forest, it gives a forest a voice, and it explores the connection that all of us should have with places in nature.

What forest Knows
George Ella Lyon
What forest KnowsIllustrated by August Hall
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-6775-0
Forest is wise and knows the ways of the seasons. It also knows the animals that live amongst its trees. In winter it “knows snow,” and knows that squirrels are sleeping in hollows and moles are “resting among roots.” Forest knows about waiting…waiting for that moment when life starts to flow through the trees once more and buds swell and open. It knows the voices of the birds as they build their nests in the trees.
   Forest knows the changes that come as spring spills into summer, and as summer drifts like falling leaves into fall. It sees the animals raise their young and then prepare for the winter that is coming.
   Forest is not the only one who knows of these things. There are others, a dog with a sniffing nose, and a boy. The boy and his furry companion have eyes that see, ears that hear, and noses that smell. They know Forest well.
   In this beautiful picture book we visit a wild place, getting to know the plants and animals that call it home. We witness the changes that take place as the seasons unfold, and we discover that Forest’s world, and other worlds in nature, are out there waiting for us. We are a part of them, and if we are lucky, they are a part of us.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of I and I: Bob Marley

When I was in Jamaica some years ago I heard a lot of Bob Marley's music. The Jamaicans are proud of their famous countryman, and with good reason. Back then I had no idea what Bob Marley had been like as a person, what his life had been like. I was therefore delighted to receive today's poetry title, which uses poems to tell the story of this special musician.

I and I: Bob MarleyI and I: Bob Marley
Tony Medina
Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee and Low Books, 2009, 978-1-60060-257-3
Several generations of people have grown up hearing the songs of Bob Marley, and even today’s young children know the tune that goes with the words “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright!” There is something about the words from his songs that have touched the hearts of many, a universality that spreads far from the shores of Bob’s Marley homeland in Jamaica. In this book the story of this remarkable man is told using poems that are constructed in such a way that we can almost hear the beat of music in the background. Throughout the book the author uses some of the elements found in Jamaica’s patois to give his poems a genuine authenticity. He also tells Bob Marley’s story using the first person so that we feel that we are hearing the musician speaking, or perhaps singin, to us.
   We hear about how Bob Marley is born in a small village, the son of a “country girl shy as can be” and a white man who “Rode off on a horse the color of a pearl” when Bob is still a very small boy. For a time Bob lives quietly in the country with his mother until his father “sends for me.” Dressed in his “church clothes” the boy travels to Kingston in a bus so that he can live with his father and go to school.
   He soon learns that his father has no intention of being his parent. The man leaves, and Bob’s elderly caregiver is so unwell that Bob is the one who takes care of the house and does the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Eventually, a year after his father left, Bob’s mother finds him and she takes him back to the family home in the village of Nine Miles.
   Several years later Bob, his mother, and her new husband come back to Kingston and live in a squalid ghetto called Trenchtown. Bob’s mother worries that her son will get into trouble if he hangs out with the “rude boys,” but he reassures her that he will “follow my own beat” and he is sure that “Music will get me out of the rubble.”
   With their evocative words and rhythm, the poems in this book tell a story of a man and capture a moment in time. At the back of the book readers will find notes that provide additional information about the poems and the story that they are telling.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Sheep go on Strike

Many of us tend to think that sheep are not very bright animals. They are followers rather than thinkers. In today's picture book you will meet some sheep who are intelligent and opinionated. In fact, they take a stand on an issue that is dear to them.

The Sheep Go on StrikeJean-Francois Dumont
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2014, 978-0-8028-5470-4
Every year the sheep are sheared and every fall they feel pretty chilly without their woolly fleeces. Some of them even get colds, and then they have to be seen by the vet, and we all know what happens when the vet comes; the sheep have to “swallow disgusting medicine and get shots.” After years of putting up with this state of affairs, the sheep have decided that they have had enough. None of the other farm animals get sheared for their fur, so why should the sheep put up with this treatment? There is only one thing to do: the sheep go on strike. 
   The sheepdog, Ralph, tries to round up the sheep and ends up having to run for it. The sheep are in no mood to be pushed around. On the farm some of the animals sympathize with the sheep, while others think that the sheep should stick to “tradition” because “that was how it was supposed to be.”
   The next day the sheep get ready to march on the road that runs from the end of the meadow to the goose pond. The farm animals watch as the sheepdogs from the neighboring farms gather for a meeting at Ralph’s doghouse. Afraid that they will lose their jobs, the dogs are determined to do what they can to stop the strike. No one imagines that the march and the kerfuffle that follows will cause a terrible schism to develop between the farm animals.
   We live in a world where people are often all too willing to resort to violence when things are not going their way. In this picture book we see how animals on a farm find themselves following this all too familiar human pattern until good sense prevails and they discover that there is always another way to solve a problem. A compromise offers them a solution that is clever, and for us readers, deliciously funny.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Dear Wandering Wildebeest and other poems from the water hole


The first time I visited Africa I was bowled over by the beauty of the place and loved watching the wild animals. I saw a giraffe as my plane touched down in Nairobi, and there were bush babies in the backyard of the house that I was staying in. For a zoologist, which I was, this was sheer heaven. Today's poetry title will take readers to Africa, and they will get to spend a little time hanging out at a water hole where they will meet all kinds of wonderful creatures.

Dear Wandering Wildebeest and other poems from the water hole 
Dear Wandering Wildebeest and other poems from the water holeIrene Latham
Illustrated by Anna Wadham
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 2014, 978-1-4677-1232-3
If you visit an African savanna and want to see some of the grassland animals, the best place to go is to a water hole. All the animals need water at some point, and they often travel long distances to get to a water hole, where they gather during the day or night. Bush willow trees are often found growing near or around the water hole and they provide animals with shade, a place to rest, and even a source of food.
   The voice of the bush willow is heard in one of the poems in this book. It tells us how its “buffet never closes” for animals like giraffes, which feed on its leaves. We hear about how rhinos doze in its shade, and baboons “scramble up and down my trunk.” On its branches and truck animals such as owls, skinks, and ants make their homes and go about their business.
   We also read poems about some of the creatures that come to the water hole. There are several deadly snake species that may pay a visit, including the deadly and fast moving black mamba, the tree-living boomslang, the cape cobra, the saw-scaled viper, and the puff adder, which “rarely misses.”
   Here we see the fast and elegant impala, a deer that can leap great distances and whose “flawless flight” is a “dancer’s delight.” Elegance is not the way of the elephants who come to the water hole. They bathe and drink and then they have a wonderful “red-grit shower” rolling in the dust. The dust coats their skin and it protects them from the sun and biting insects. The rhino, another large animal, also comes to the water hole, though it only comes when the stars are high in the sky and when “moonshine” touches the land. The rhino, a solitary creature, “charges like a bull / at the rodeo” if it hears or smells danger.
   On the pages of this memorable poetry book readers will find poems that beautifully capture the sounds, sights, and smells of Africa. Readers will meet some of the animal characters who live in this captivating place. Accompanying every poem there is a section of text that gives readers further information about the animals (or plants) mentioned in the poem. The poems come in many forms and use different ‘voices’ so that readers are kept guessing. Who will come next? Will we get to read about a meerkat or a giraffe? What about lions? Will we get to meet them too?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Off We Go! A Bear and Mole Story

When I was little I was terrified of learning how to swim. I would not let go of the side of the pool, even if I was wearing my water wings, and even though I knew my water wings would allow me to float. Then a friend took the time to encourage me to swim freely. She made me feel that I would be fine and safe, and so I took that terrifying step and let go. I have loved swimming ever since. Today's picture book is about a little mole who take a similar step when he decides that he no longer needs training wheels on his bicycle.

Off We Go!: A Bear and Mole StoryOff We Go! A Bear and Mole Story
Will Hillenbrand
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Holiday House, 2013, 978-0-8234-2520-4
One day Mole decides that he no longer needs the training wheels on his bicycle. He asks his friend Bear to help him remove the wheels. Bear helps Mole take the wheels off, they make sure there is enough pressure in the tires, Mole pulls on his boots, and they attach a flag to the bike. Then Mole puts his library books in his bike pack and puts on his helmet. Finally Mole is ready.
   Mole kicks off and Bear pushes him and after a series of wobbles poor Mole crashes. Miserable Mole, tears streaming down his velvety face, announces that he is going to “quit,” but Bear tells him that he thinks Mole can do it. Encouraged by Bear, Mole decides to give it another go, never expecting that his bike ride is going to be quite sensational.
   In this delightfully sweet and funny book we see how a little encouragement and a dash of courage can go a long way when one is confronted with a daunting task. Little children who are facing their own challenges will find Mole and Bear’s story inspirational and supportive.

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.