Friday, September 16, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Beastly Verses

Animal characters play important roles in many children's books, allowing authors to connect with their young readers on many levels. Children begin with Babar the elephant in picture books and work their way up to to the gripping animal-rich adventures in the Redwall novels. Poets also love to write about animals, and in today's poetry title animals of all kinds can be found on the pages to offer children a wonderful poetry-filled book experience.

Beastly VerseBeastly Verse
Poems selected and illustrated by Joohee Yoon
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Enchanted Lion, 2015, 978-1-59270-166-7
Children love poems about animals, especially ones that are about creatures that a big and scary. Over the years poets have chosen to write poems about animals of all kinds, including those that we love to be afraid of. In this collection Joohee Yoon has brought together some of these poems and paired them with her colorful print illustrations.
  We begin with Lewis Carroll’s poem about the “little crocodile” who seems to grin so “cheerfully” and who “neatly spreads his claws.” So friendly does the crocodile seem that it is as if he is welcoming fish to swim into his “gently smiling jaws.”
   Another creature with claws and teeth is a tiger and William Blake’s famous poem about a tiger perfectly captures the awe that the poet feels for the animal that has fire in its eyes. He wonders what “immortal hand” created the tiger’s “fearful symmetry.”
   The mood is lightened in the poem that follows, where we meet a happy hyena. This animal can play the concertina and is very particular about his appearance. A master of sartorial elegance, the hyena even has a flower stuck into his lapel.
   A few pages later we encounter someone who is trying to tell us about an elephant who “tried to use the telephone.” It turns out that a trunk is not the best of appendages to use when one is trying to make a telephone call. It also turns out that the narrator of this poem cannot help getting his or her words frightfully, and hilariously, mixed up.
   For children who fancy having an unusual animal for a pet there is the poem The Yak. In it we hear about how a yak is a perfect pet for young people. After all it “will carry and fetch, you can ride on its back, / Or lead it about with a string.” The Tartars who live in Tibet have been keeping yaks as nursery pets for centuries, so if they can do it why can’t you?
   Animal loving children are sure to love this clever collection of poems. On the pages they will find verses that are often humorous, that offer up wonderful descriptions, and that sometimes give readers cause to pause.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Fuddles and Puddles

Not long ago we brought a new kitten into the household. Our two dogs were thrilled to bits to have a new playmate, but the two cats were appalled and disgusted. They behaved as if a fate worse than death had been placed upon them, and were rude and anti-social for days. Thankfully, the kitten's charms have started to wear down the older cats' standoffish behavior. There is only so much you can do when a little furry person snuggles up against you.

In today's picture book you will see what happens when a large and indulged cat called Fuddles gets a new housemate who is.....prepare yourself.....a puppy!


Fuddles and PuddlesFuddles and Puddles
Frans Vischer
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-3839-1
Fuddles is a fat, lazy, and utterly content cat. His people spoil him rotten and that is exactly how things should be. According to Fuddles. Then one day Fuddles wakes up from a nap, he goes into the kitchen, and he sees that there is a puddle on the floor. Worse still there is a little dog that goes with the puddle. A dog that barks and drools, and makes puddles. Fuddles is “disgusted” and he wants nothing to do with the dog.
   Unfortunately, Puddles does not seem to understand how much Fuddles dislikes him. The little dog follows Fuddles everywhere, even to the litterbox. Fuddles hardly gets a break from the little pest and one day, when Fuddles catches Puddles eating his food, the cat loses his temper. He has had enough, and so he yowls and is so frightening that the dog runs away and he stays away. Fuddles is “delighted.” He has got rid of the dog pest and now life can settle down and go back to the way it was.
   All is well until Fuddles gets himself into a dreadful situation; a situation that means that he needs help and he needs it quickly.
   Many of us hate it when change comes into our lives, especially when that change brings inconveniences and perhaps a little chaos with it. What we often don’t realize is that change can actually be a good thing; it can bring unexpected gifts with it that we did not even know about.  
   With wonderful touches of humor and an appreciation for human (and cat) nature, Frans Vischer brings us a third Fuddles story that will delight readers of all ages.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Somewhere Among

Many adults and children in the Unites States can remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked targets in the United States using commercial airplanes. What we sometimes don't realize is that the ripple effects of the tragedy spread far from our shores to people all over the world, many of whom were profoundly effected by what happened.

Today's title is a novel in blank verse that takes us to Japan where a young girl, a half Japanese and half American girl, is facing a lot of personal problems of her own in the months leading up to the September 11th attacks. The appalling events of that day add to what is already a painful situation, and we see, through her eyes, how violence damages people's ability to hope, and takes away their ability to feel safe.

Somewhere AmongSomewhere Among
Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Poetry
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-3786-8
Ema lives “between two worlds.” Her father is Japanese and her mother is American, and sometimes being “half this / half that” is not easy to manage.  Though her mixed heritage makes her life interesting at times, the fact that she is different also means that at times she feels “alone / on an island / surrounded by multitudes / of people.”
   Every August Ema and her mother go to California for a month to spend time with Ema’s maternal grandparents. This year is going to be different. Ema’s mother is pregnant and it has been a very hard pregnancy with scares and all-day-long morning sickness. Her mother has lost babies in the past and so this time they are going to be very careful, which means that the family is going to go and stay with Ema’s paternal grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan, until the baby is born. Thanks to these new arrangements Ema will miss six months of fifth grade in her school, she and her Papa will not be having a vacation by the sea, and she and her Mom will not being to California.
   Ema and her parents travel to western Tokyo to Obaachan’s house, and it isn’t long before Obaachan stars fussing, criticizing, and complaining. She likes everything to be just so and she has very strong opinions about how things should be done. Often she does not understand that Ema’s mother, being an American, does things differently. For example, Mom does not like to use bath water that other people have used, and she prefers western cakes to Japanese desserts. The differences between the two women creates tension and this tension only becomes worse when Ema’s father goes back to the city. Commuting to and from his parent’s home simply isn’t going to work and so Ema and her mother are going to have cope being in Obaachan’s world as best they can. Ema often wishes that she and her mom could be back at home, even though home is only a small one-room apartment. At least the TV is not on all day long, and at least there they don’t have to deal with Obaachan and her persnickety, old-fashioned ways.
   The summer is hot and hard on everyone but when school starts things get even harder for Ema. There is a boy at school, Masa, who goes out of his way to make Ema miserable. He hits her, steals the NASA space pen that Grandpa Bob gave her, trips her, and is generally disagreeable as much as possible. Ema is not sure how she is going to cope with this and then something happens that makes everyone forget about the little things. Terrorists attack the Twin Towers in New York City and in two other places. Mom is distraught, Ema is upset, and everyone is in shock over what has happened. Ema, Papa and the grandparents all worry that the anxiety and distress that Ema’s mother is experiencing will hurt the baby. How can all the hurt, both in their home, and in the wider world, not affect them? Ema wants to protect her mother but it would seem that there are some things that she cannot prevent. Sometimes Ema wishes she could escape the world and go out into space where she won’t have to “see or hear or feel / any more sadness.”  

   This remarkable book takes us into the life of a Japanese child whose world is in a state of flux. The things that make her feel safe and secure are taken away from her and then, just to add to her distress, the attacks on 9/11 take place. Written in blank verse, this extraordinary narrative is touching and often painful, but ultimately Ema comes to learn something very valuable that she is able to pass on to the grownups in her life.  Anyone who has had their life disrupted by change and loss will appreciate what Ema goes through.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Return

In 2013 a wordless picture book called Journey came out and it caused quite sensation in the children's book world. In this debut book Aaron Becker tells the story about a little girl who uses magic crayons to go on an adventure. In his next book, Quest, the little girl goes on another journey, one that is packed with even grander adventures, and this time she has a companion with her. Today's picture book is the final title in the trilogy, and just like the first two books in the series, it is wonderfully rich and suitable for anyone who loves beautiful art and storytelling.

ReturnReturn
Aaron Becker
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-7730-5
One day a little girl tries to get her father to spend some time with her, but he is so busy working at his drafting table that she finally gives up, goes downstairs, and uses her magic red crayon to draw a doorway on her bedroom wall. Her father finally realizes that she has gone and so he goes downstairs to investigate, which is when he sees the red door in her bedroom.
   The father goes through the door and finds himself in a beautiful forest where lamps hang from the trees. His daughter’s red ball is sitting at the end of a wooden dock. The father picks up the ball, which is when a self-propelled boat sails up the river. The man gets on board and by the light of the moon he travels to a fantastic city. He can see his daughter, who is sitting in a little red rowboat, on the river ahead of him.
   When the father finally catches up with his daughter she is with a boy, the king of the land, and a beautiful purple bird. The girl is clearly upset with her father for his neglect earlier and she has no interest in trying to make up with him. Just then the boat the father arrived in opens up and soldiers come out of it. They threaten the king, who responds by using a yellow crayon to draw a sword. The king tries to defend himself, but one of the soldiers uses a special device to suck up the sword, the yellow crayon, and the other crayons the king has. The king and the magical box are then whisked away by the enemy.
   The boy quickly draws a large purple gryphon with his crayon and then he and the girl and her father climb on the animal’s back. They fly in pursuit of the kidnappers. They are close to the enemy when one of the soldiers opens the device to suck up the gryphon. The boy is captured by the enemy, but the purple bird, father and daughter fall through the air and land in the water far below. How are they going to save the king and the boy now?
   This is the third book in a trilogy that tells the story of a pair of children who use magic crayons to travel to a world that is full of marvels and adventures. Once again the children are called upon to save the day, but this time the girl’s father also has to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter, who is clearly sorely disappointed in her parent.
   Readers of all ages are going to thoroughly enjoy this rich and exciting wordless picture book.
 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of What a day it was at school!

For many children a new school year has started and they are getting used to new schedules and teachers, and making new friends. When they get home many children chatter away busily, telling their grownups about the things that they did during the day.

In today's poetry picture book you will meet a little cat who has some wonderful school stories to share with his mother when he gets home.

What a day it was at school!
What a Day It Was at School!Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Doug Cushman
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
HarperCollins, 2009, 978-0060823375
The school day is over and the little cat heads home. When he gets there, he and his mother sit at the table and the little cat has some milk and cookies. As he sips and snacks, the little cat tells his mother about his day, the details of which are all noted down in his journal. Now the journal is full of stories and commentaries that we get to read.
   In the first one we get to hear about how put upon the young cat feels because his “backpack weighs a thousand pounds.” Sometimes it is so heavy that he tips backwards and has to stop and rest by leaning against a wall. No matter how much he pleads, his teacher refuses to let him “lighten” his load.
   In another entry we hear about how the cat and his friends had a loud and rambunctious time making music together. They shook maracas, beat drums, tooted on kazoos, and played every noisy percussive instrument that they could get their paws on. They had a wonderful time, and to them the sounds they made were “so sweet.”
   The cat also tells us about a field trip that he went on the day before. This year the field trip was “really special” because they visited a factory “To watch candy being made / And saw a million lollipops / On colorful parade.” They saw so many fabulous things, and got lots of samples to try. One can only imagine what the experience was like for their teacher and for the people who worked at the factory.
  During library time the little cat read a book about knights. Having a powerful imagination he began to imagine that he was the one who was a “knight / On a powerful steed.” He would be the kind of fellow who would “conquer a dragon” and “vanquish a troll.”
   Children are going to thoroughly enjoy this collection of poems. Each poem is accompanied by amusing illustrations, and together they capture moments in a little cat’s school day, some of which are everyday sort of events, and some of which are deliciously outrageous.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of What do you do with a problem?

Learning how to deal with problems is a vital skill to have. The funny thing is that many of us have no clue what to do when things go wrong. We wring our hands, have a panic attack, moan and groan, or burst into tears. We try to run away from our problems, or pretend that they are not there. Needless to say, none of these strategies improve our situation in the slightest.

Today's picture book will help readers of all ages to better understand how to deal with a problem. The narrative is beautifully presented without being preachy or pedantic. The story is supportive and it helps readers to think about their problems in a new way.

What Do You Do With a Problem?What do you do with a Problem?
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Mae Besom
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Compendium Inc, 2016, 978-1-943200-00-9
One day a little boy finds out that he is saddled with a problem, a problem that he does not like, did not ask for, and does not want. He has no idea what he is supposed to do with the problem or what it wants, and not surprisingly he would like it to go away. He tries shooing it, scowling at it, and even ignoring it but nothing works.
   The thing about problems is that they can cause a lot of new problems. People worry about them, and get anxious that their problem will do something to them or change their life in some dreadful way. The worry builds on itself and unfortunately this only makes the problem bigger.
   No matter what the little boy does his problem can always find him, and the more he tries to avoid it “the more I saw it everywhere.” The problem is taking over his life!
   No matter how old you are problems can get the better of you. They worry at you and make you so miserable that you start to feel as if your life is just one big, uncontrollable problem. Thankfully the author and the illustrator of this remarkable book understand exactly what this feels like, and they offer readers support that is simple and yet profound. It turns out that problems contain something special and surprising.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of What’s for dinner: Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World

For most of us humans, the process of getting our food is relatively simple. We go to a shop or a market and buy what we need. For animals, this process is more complicated. Food has to look for , which can take hours or days. If the animal eats meat, a prey animal needs to be caught and killed.

In this poetry title children will find unique poems that explore what animals eat. The sometimes 'ick' worthy poems combine humor and facts to give children an entertaining and educational experience.

What's for Dinner?: Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World What’s for dinner:Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World
Katherine B. Hauth
Illustrated by David Clark
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
Charlesbridge, 2011, 978-1-57091-472-0
Animals spend a lot of their time looking for food. After all, if they don’t forage or hunt for their meals they will “croak,” and therefore “finding food / is no joke.” Some of the things animals eat might not seem at all palatable to us, but to them they are vital, and no doubt delicious as well.
   In this book young readers will see how animals of different species are connected through their need to eat. One of things that we humans forget sometimes is that all animals are part of a food chain. Perhaps we forget because we are at the top of our chain most of the time. In the poem Food Chain, we see how a butterfly gets eaten by a lizard, which gets eaten by a garter snake, which then gets eaten by a roadrunner. Every animal has a place in a chain, and every food item that they eat has its place as well.
   We may think that animals that eat dead things are disgusting, but in fact their dining choices serve a very useful purpose for the rest of us. The vulture for example, who is “No dainty vegetarian,” loves carrion, and this is a good thing too because if they didn’t disease-ridden dead bodies would be lying all over the place.
   Nighthawks and little brown bats both love to eat insects, and they have different strategies to catch their preferred dinners. Both animals hunt at night or in the early evening and they catch their meals on the wing, swooping, and in the case of the bat scooping, the insects out of the air.
   Some animals have come up with quite complicated strategies to get their food. When it is hungry the wood turtle goes around “Stompin’ its feet / and slammin’ its shell.” All the commotion causes worms to “pop up / to see who’s jamming,’” which is when the turtle eats the worms.
   Children who have a fondness for things that some would consider unsavory are going to love this book. The interesting thing is that a great deal of information is wrapped up in these poems. For readers who would like to know more about the animals mentioned in the book, the author provides notes at the back of the book that are packed with more facts. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of the day everything went wrong

Not long ago I had a day when everything seemed to go wrong. The hose attacked my ankles and I fell over. The dishwasher dumped water all over my feet. A stack of books fell over onto my toes, which hurt a lot. On and on it went until I began to seriously consider climbing into bed and staying there for the rest of the day. At least in bed I would be safe!

Today's picture book is about a charming little badger character who has a bad day, a day full of little calamities.

The Day Everything Went WrongThe day everything went wrong
Moritz Petz
Illustrated by Amelie Jackowski
Translated by David Henry Wilson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
North South, 2015, 978-0-7358-4209-0
One morning Badger wakes up and he decides that today he will only do “things I enjoy doing.” It is going to be his special day. As soon as he gets out of bed he knocks over his bedside lamp, but thankfully it does not break.
   In the best of moods Badger sits down to have his breakfast, which is when he knocks over his cup and it falls to the floor and shatters. Badger is very upset because the cup was his favorite one. Badger then decides that he wants to draw a picture, but he can’t find his colored pencils anywhere. He cannot help feeling rather upset that his day, which was going to be “such a treat” is going so wrong. Perhaps he will be better off in his yard where he always has fun.
   While Badger is playing outside he trips and knocks over the wheelbarrow, cutting his knee in the process. Dear me! Badger needs to do something to turn his rotten day into one that is not so full of accidents, and so he heads off to find his friends. Maybe if he leaves home his day will improve.
   It turns out that Badger is not the only one having a bad day. Raccoon’s clothesline has broken, Stag has lost his ball, Squirrel has a scratch, Rabbit’s fishing line is tangled, Fox’s front door is blocked, and Mouse cannot figure out how to bake a cake. The bad day seems to be touching everyone in the forest.
   Everyone has bad days sometimes, days when nothing seems to go right and when one wishes one could go back to bed. In this charming picture book we meet a badger who is having just such a day and who does his best to turn a bad day into a good one. Children who are having (or have had) a bad day of their own will really appreciate why the animals in the story are so upset.  




Friday, August 12, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Garvey's Choice

I used to consider the idea of a novel written in verse rather intimidating. How could such a thing work? Wouldn't it be hard to read? Then, some years ago I read a wonderful mid-grade novel in verse and I became a staunch fan of this storytelling form. In fact, much gleeful rubbing of hands takes place when a new novel in verse arrives at my house.

Today's poetry title is a novel in verse that moved me so much that I felt compelled to read it twice in one day. There is so much to be found in the words, and so much to consider as one comes to understand what Garvey's life has been like.

Garvey's ChoiceGarvey’s Choice
Nikki Grimes
Poetry
For ages 9 and up
Boyds Mills Press, 2016, 978-1-62979-740-3
One of Garvey’s favorite things in life is books, in particular ones that are full of science fiction stories that transport him to distant galaxies. Unfortunately, Garvey’s dad does not appreciate Garvey’s love of books. In fact he is scornful of his son’s interest in books and constantly comments that Garvey should play sports, and that he should roughhouse the way he did with his dad. Being active in this way is the “normal” thing for a boy to do. He constantly tries to turn Garvey into “someone I’m not.”
   Garvey’s father’s disdain and lack of understanding makes Garvey seek refuge in food and sweet drinks, and so he has gained weight. His father’s words cut into Harvey, and were it not for his mother, his big sister, and his best friend, Jo, Garvey would be completely alone.
   Garvey’s already difficult life gets a lot worse when he goes back to school in the fall. He is teased and bullied about his size and he takes refuge in hummed songs so that he can drown out the cutting words of his persecutors. For Garvey, his own music, or the music he hears around him, soothes and makes his inner pain less acute.
   One day Garvey asks his father about his grandfather and learns that his grandfather was a strong silent type too. It is no surprise then that Garvey’s father is not exactly chatty. He also learns that his father and grandfather connected by talking about football, and Garvey realizes that maybe this is why his father so much wants Garvey to be interested in football too.
   One day at school Jo encourages Garvey to join the chorus club. Garvey goes around humming all the time anyway so why not. In Jo’s opinion Garvey’s voice is “choice,” and he should “let others hear it.” Garvey is afraid to try chorus for a while, but finally he gets up the courage to go to a club meeting. Afraid to the bone he still manages to show the people in the club what he can do and he is accepted promptly. Suddenly Garvey’s life opens up and there is joy in it. The singing is wonderful, and he even makes a new friend, a boy called Manny who, like Garvey, has a father who disapproves of him.
   Though Garvey’s new hobby makes him happy, he refuses to tell his parents about it. What if his father disapproves? Surely it is safer not to give his father more ammunition to use against him.
   Written using a series of tankas, a Japanese poetry form, this incredible novel in verse takes us into the life of a unhappy boy who, as we ‘watch,’ finds a new interest that has a profound effect on his life. Nikki Grimes captures to perfection the way in which music can transform a person, and how it can open doors that have always been firmly closed before.
   At the back of the book the author tells us a little about tankas and how they are written.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of This is not a picture Book

Many children are put off when they see a book that is full of words. They want pictures to look at, not words! After all, how can words possibly take the place of pictures. In today's picture book we meet a young duck who has this reaction when he finds a book that has no artwork in it. As the story unfolds, the duck discovers something rather remarkable about words, something that opens up a whole new world to him.

This Is Not a Picture Book!This is not a picture Book
Sergio Ruzzier
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Chronicle, 2016, 978-1-4521-2907-5
One day a duckling finds a book and, full of expectation, he picks it up. When he opens the book he discovers that the book has no pictures in it, only words. What is the point of a book that has no pictures in it! The duckling then gives the book a hefty kick, but he does not stay angry for long. After all, it’s not the book’s fault that it is picture-less. Feeling a little bad about his behavior, the duckling picks the book up and apologizes for his outburst.
   Then a little caterpillar comes along and asks the duckling what the book is. The duckling explains that it is a book “with no pictures,” and the insect then asks if the bird can read what the words say. The duckling is not sure if he can, but he starts trying to figure the words out even though it is not easy for him to do so. He finds words that are funny, and words that are sad. There are even words that “carry you away...”
   In this marvelous picture book a little duckling discovers that a book that does not have pictures is actually quite a miraculous thing. Words take more work to figure out than pictures, but in the end the work is worth it. Children are going to love the way this narrative ends, and they may even begin to think about what it is going to be like for them when they can read books, word-filled books, for themselves.