Monday, March 27, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Tree: A Fable

Many of us go through life not properly thinking about how our actions affect nature. We pave over a wild meadow, cut down trees, and throw trash out of car windows without considering that doing these things will change the lives of countless animals and plants.

Today's picture book in very minimal and yet it shows to great effect how two people learn that sometimes we need to change our plans to accommodate the needs of others.

The Tree: A FableThe Tree: A Fable
Neal Layton
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-8952-0
On the side of a mountain there is a tall tree, standing on its own. The tree provides many different kinds of animals with a home. A bird’s nest sits high up near the top of the tree. Lower down there is a squirrel’s nest, and in the trunk of the tree a family of owls lives in a hollow. Deep beneath the tree a family of rabbits lives in a series of burrows.
   What these animals don’t know is that the tree is standing on a piece of land that is for sale. One day a young couple drives up in a pickup truck that is loaded down with building supplies and tools. They have bought the land and they plan on building their dream house right where the tree is standing. The first thing that they are going to have to do is to get rid of the tree, and so they start sawing away at the trunk.
   As they saw through the wood, their cuts makes the tree’s trunk vibrate. The parent owl flees from its hollow, the bird nest falls to the earth, and the rabbits rush out from their burrow and run away. The couple looks down and they see the nest full of baby birds lying on the ground. They are expecting a baby of their own and seeing the little babies in such dire straits breaks their hearts. What have they done?
   All too often we humans do not see that our actions have a negative impact on the environment. We do not see the homeless animals and the scarred landscape. This incredibly simple yet powerful story shows to great effect how important it is to have compassion for all living things, and how, with a little creativity, we can cohabit with our wild animal neighbors.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of One minute to Bedtime: 60 Second poems to send you off to sleep

When by daughter was little, every night we would go through a series of rituals. She would have her bath and put on her jim jams, and then she brush her teeth and her hair. Then, up in her bedroom, she would choose the stuffed animals she was going to sleep with, and the book she wanted me to read to her. After story time we would turn out the main light and she and I would sing our goodnight song together. Of course, Elise would try to find ways to prolong her bedtime. She would ask for another story, another round of our song, a different stuffed animal...and so on.

Today's poetry title was written for children of course, but it was also written for all those wonderful, patient grownups who have to put procrastinating little ones to bed every night. The book is packed with short little poems that are perfect for those "just one more" moments. They give little children a little something extra before they finally close their eyes and go to sleep.

One Minute till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You off to SleepOne minute to Bedtime: 60 Second poems to send you off tosleep
Selected by Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrated by Christoph Niemann
Poetry Book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2016, 978-0316341219
Many grownups hear, on a regular basis, the words “just one more!” at bedtime; one more story is required before the light can be switched off. The child in their life is sleepy, warm, and cozy in bed, and yet he or she is not quite ready to fall asleep. Almost, but not quite.
  This book of poems is just the thing to pull off the shelf when those words are uttered. The collection is packed with short poems that “feed the imagination, fuel the love of reading,” and send the child “off to sleep in a snap.”
   We begin with a poem called Whew! which takes us through the evening and bedtime rituals of a young child. Dinner is eaten, the trash is taken out, the child gets clean, and teeth are brushed. Pajamas are slipped on, pillows are fluffed, and Ted is picked up and carried off to bed. It is only after all these things are done that the child is at last free “to read.”
   Then there is a poem about how every book we read “makes a home inside your head.” In another a child tells us how much he or she likes “old stories” that are full “inky drawings of  / enchanted castles, clanking chains, / pirate treasure” and many other marvelous things. The child does not mind that the storybooks that contain these tales are dusty, and that they have tattered pages. After all, the stories that lie between the covers might be old, but once, perhaps many years ago, they “were new.”
   In addition to books and stories, bedtime would not be complete without stuffed animals. In the poem Stuffed Animal Collection by Eileen Spinelli, we encounter a child who has so many stuffed animals that the mother calls her child’s bedroom a zoo.
   In this book there are poems of every flavor, color, shape, and size. In short, there is something here for every mood and inclination, and each one is a perfect gem that is just right for that, almost-asleep-but-not-quite interlude.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Books of Hope - Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse

Throughout my life I have turned to books when the real world has been grim and dark. When things look hopeless, and when it feels as if nothing is going right, I have turned to stories where characters do remarkable things, where dreams come true, and where darkness is vanquished by light. Sometimes when we are down, reading about other people's successes lifts us up. I certainly felt this way when I read today's Book of Hope. In this tale a little mouse does something that really should be impossible. He finds a way to fulfill a dream that is dear to his heart by using his brains and by drawing on his courage.

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse
Torben Kuhlmann
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
NorthSouth, 2014, 978-0735841673
There once was German mouse who was curious about the world. In fact he was so curious that he read all kinds of books that the humans wrote about history, inventors, science and other topics. Unfortunately, there came a day when the little mouse made his way home only to realize that the humans had waged war on his kind by using mouse traps. For weeks the mouse could not find any other mice and then he realized what had happened: the mice in his city had all left. After seeing some newspaper articles, the mouse decided that his fellow mice must have boarded ships and gone to America. America, after all, was a land full of promise for humans and mice alike.
   The mouse tried to board a ship bound for America but was prevented from doing so because “hungry cats guarded the ships like fortresses.” If he wanted to get to America, the mouse was going to have to find another way. Then the mouse saw some bats while he was moving through the sewers. He was intrigued by the creatures that looked so much like mice, but that had wings. Inspired by the abilities of his “strange flying relatives,” the mouse decided that what he needed to do was to build a flying machine. He would fly to America!
   In this remarkable picture book we meet a mouse who, despite his diminutive size and the many enemies who would like to kill or make a meal out of him, is determined to fly to a America. Readers will be charmed to see how the mouse deals with the many setbacks that inventors and innovators face, and they will read on, with hope in their hearts.
    With its gorgeous illustrations and its remarkable main character, this is a book that readers of all ages with enjoy and appreciate.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Fox Wish

Having our wishes come true is a wonderful thing, especially since our wishes are not granted that often. What many people don't realize is that making other people's wishes come true is pretty wonderful too.

In this incredibly charming picture book, we see how a little girl is able to do something for someone else, and how her act of kindness ends up enriching her life in a very special way.


The Fox WishThe Fox Wish
Kimiko Aman
Illustrated by Komako Sakai
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Chronicle Books, 2017, 978-1-4521-5188-5
One day Roxie is having her snack at home when she realizes that she left her jump rope in the park earlier that day. Roxie and her little brother Lukie go back to the park to retrieve the jump rope only to find that it is no longer hanging from the tree branch where Roxie left it.
   They hear the sound of children playing and go to investigate. Instead of finding Thomas and Samantha, who they expect to find, they discover that the children’s voices they heard belong to a group of little foxes who are playing jump rope.
   It is soon clear that the foxes are not very good at jumping rope. They keep tripping on their tails and falling to the ground in a heap. Though the two watching children try not to laugh (it would be impolite to do so), Lukie cannot help himself, and a little laugh escapes from his lips. The children come out from behind the tree where they were hiding and to Roxie’s surprise the foxes are not frightened of them. In fact, one of them asks the little girl if she can teach them “how to jump rope without tripping.”
   What follows is a delightful interaction between the fox children and human children, and out of the blue Roxie has the opportunity to see “wishes come true.”
   Sometimes the best gifts aren’t the ones that we receive. Sometimes giving to others is so rewarding and heart-filling that we feel rich and lucky. This delightful picture book contains a story that will warm hearts and remind readers of how wonderful  it is to grant other people’s wishes.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Duck! Rabbit! in honor of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

The world has lost a wonderful writer and a very special human being. This morning Amy Krouse Rosenthal passed away after a valiant battle against ovarian cancer. I have read, reviewed, and loved Amy's books for years now, and am deeply grieved that we have lost a writer who had a such unique sense of humor and thoughtfulness. Thank you, Amy for your wit, your warmth, and your big heart. You will be greatly missed.

 In her honor I bring you a review of one of Amy's most beloved children's books.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrations by Tom Litchtenheld
Picture Book
Ages 4 to 8
Chronicle Books, 2009, 978-08118-6865-5
Have you ever looked up at the clouds and seen a cloud that looked like a cat? And did your best friend tell you that the very same cloud looked like a car and not a cat?
   If this scenario sounds familiar to you, then you are in the right place. On the pages of this book you are going to meet – in a manner of speaking – two people who look at the same object and who see two very different things. When one person looks at the illustration on the page, they see a duck, and when the other person looks at the same illustration, they see a rabbit. Who is right?
   With splendid humor and creativity Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who brought us Little Oink. Little Pea, and Little Hoot, explores the idea that there are times when there is no right answer. Sometimes we just have to accept that someone else sees things in a different way, and that is perfectly all right.
   With wonderful artwork and a memorable text, this is a picture book that readers of all ages will enjoy.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Leave your sleep

I came across today's poetry book when I was visiting the library not long ago, and I fell in love with it. The art was the first thing that caught my eye. I am a huge fan of Barbara McClintock's work and always pick up a book when I see her gorgeous creations on the cover. Then I started to read the poetry and the preface to the book. Natalie Merchant put her heart and soul into this title, and let me tell you, it shows!

Leave Your SleepLeave your sleep
Natalie Merchant
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Poetry Picture book (with an audio CD of songs)
For ages 5 to 7
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2012, 978-0374343682
In 2010 singer and songwriter Natalie Merchant released a two-disc album. For the album she adapted 19th and 20th century American and British poetry for children and turned them into new songs. The project took five years to complete, and was a true labor of love that Natalie Merchant immersed herself into, heart and soul. Natalie chose poems that were “parables with lessons on human nature and bits of nonsense to challenge the natural order of things...”
   After the release of her album, Natalie was contacted by Frances Foster, an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who wanted to take her songs and turn them into a picture book for children. Thus it was that Natalie’s songs, which are a celebration of the written word, were paired with Barbara McClintock’s lush, colorful, and wonderfully detailed artwork.
   On the pages of the book readers will travel with a little girl to the land of Nod, as described by Robert Louis Stevenson. The little girl wanders beside streams and “up the mountain-sides of dreams,” and sees all manner of strange and sometimes “frightening sights.” The sad thing is that try as she might, the little girl can never get to the land of Nod “by day.” Nor can she “remember plain and clear / The curious music that I hear.”
   Then there is the tale of Isabel, who met an enormous bear, an old witch, a “hideous giant,”
and a “troublesome” doctor. All of these encounters could have ended very badly for Isabel, but thankfully the little girl was not the kind of child to worry or “scream or scurry.” In every instance, Isabel very firmly, yet calmly, dealt with the threat.
   This book is, without a doubt, a real treasure. It is a joy to read and a delight to look at, and would make a wonderful addition to a child’s library of ‘treasured books’.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Books of Hope - The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.

It is very easy, when things do not go the way we hoped they would, to give up on our dreams and to settle for what is an acceptable 'second best.' Seeking out those dreams, heading out into the unknown, takes courage and perseverance. It is a scary proposition and we have no idea if will will find what we are seeking. Indeed, the whole journey might be a complete waste of time.

In today's book of hope you will meet a little fellow called Beekle who does not give on his dream. He dares to hope that the one thing he wants more than anything else in the whole world is out there somewhere. He is an inspiration.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary FriendThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Dan Santat
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014, 978-0316199988
Beekle was born on an island where all the world’s imaginary friends come into being. The imaginary friends wait and look forward to the day when a child somewhere will imagine them, and then pick them to be their own. Beekle waits and waits, but no one imagines him and “his turn” never comes.
   Eventually, Beekle feels that he has waited long enough, and so he decides to seek out his friend rather than waiting to be imagined.
   The journey is a long one and it is full of “many scary things,” but the hope of finding his friend gives Beekle courage and finally he comes to the real world, which is a very strange place. Then, while he is standing on a sidewalk in a big city, surrounded by the legs of big people, Beekle sees an imaginary friend go by whom he follows. Soon he is in a playground full of children and their imaginary friends, a wonderful place where surely he will find his friend. Or maybe not.
   It is hard not to fall in love with the main character in this story. His persistence and courage is inspiring, and one cannot help feeling a deep connection with the little, white imaginary friend who dares to do “the unimaginable.”

Friday, March 3, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Guess Who, Haiku

When is a haiku more than a haiku? When the haiku is a puzzle that we need to solve. In this clever little book we are presented with ten haikum and in each case we need to guess what the haiku is describing. I love how playful and accessible this book is, and I imagine it will delight and charm little children with its clever imagery, its artwork, and its puzzles.

Guess Who, Haiku Guess Who, Haiku
Deanna Caswell
Illustrations by Bob Shea
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Abrams, 2016, 978-1-4197-1889-2
These days we see words everywhere. They are on signs, on our television and phone screens, on food packages, and, of course, in books. Sometimes we take words for granted and forget that they are a gift. They give us information, help us to connect with others, and in the case of stories and poems, they enrich our lives with language that amuses, transports, and delights us.
   For this charming little collection of poems, Deanna Caswell puts together words to give us haiku that offer readers a puzzle to solve. Each haiku describes an animal of some kind, and we have to guess what the animal is from the clues we are given.
   The poet begins by saying “Here’s a haiku just for you,” and on the facing page is her gift; a little three-line poem that describes an animal that lives “on a farm,” that moos, and that produces “a fresh pail of milk.” She then asks “Can you guess who from this haiku?” When we turn the page we find the answer to this question; the animal we just read about is a cow.
   The poet then goes on to give us nine more haiku puzzles to solve, the animals we meet serving as our hosts as we go from page to page. At the end of the book the author tells us a little about haiku and how they are written.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Books of Hope - Waiting for Magic

When life throws us a curve ball, many of us have no idea what to do. We hold in our pain and anger, we don't talk about what is going on, and we go around feeling confused and lost. Often, at times like this, the only ones around who make us feel better are our pets. They understand that we are upset, and they offer up their unconditional love and acceptance. Even when we are being foolish.

In today's Book of Hope you will meet some animals who give their humans this kind of support, and they also teach them a thing or two about communication, forgiveness, and magic. I have to say that this book warmed me with its sweetness and gentle humor. It reminded me that hard times pass, especially when we have the courage to face our fears.

Waiting for the Magic
Patricia MacLachlan
Fiction
For ages 7 to 9
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4169-2745-7
Early on a summer morning Will’s parents have an argument which ends with Papa leaving the house. He leaves Will and his sister Elinor notes telling them that he is going “off to do some writing,” and that is it.
   Soon after William and Elinor find their notes, Mama tells them that they are going out. The three of them get in the car and Mama announces that they are going to get a dog. Papa never wanted a dog and so now that he has walked out (no one knows for how long) Mama is going to get a dog.
   This is a pretty dramatic turn of events, which gets even more dramatic when Mama adopts not one dog but four. And a cat. The family comes home with Bryn, Bitty, Grace, Neo and Lula the cat, and in no time they all settle in. Neo takes it upon his big puppy self to look after Lula the cat. Grace is Elinor’s shadow, and Bryn is completely devoted to Mama. Mama mentions that she wishes Bryn could do some of her chores for her and Elinor comments on how it would be magic if Bryn could do such things. William firmly believes that “There is no such thing as magic,” but Elinor, who is only four, is wise enough to know better. Elinor has not lost her ability to tap into magic yet, and she knows that magic is real because she can understand what the animals say.
   One morning, at the breakfast table, Mama tries to talk about Papa’s behavior but it is hard for her. Elinor has no problem asking questions, but Will cannot seem to say anything because the situation is so confusing and quite frankly it scares him. The dogs understand that the boy is struggling, that he is afraid that if he speaks freely he will make his mother cry. Will is trying to protect his mother and sister as best he can by saying nothing.
   When Gran and Grandfather come for lunch one day, Elinor finds out that they too can hear the animals. They even talk about it. Will thinks that they are making the whole thing up, but Gran explains that Will is simple not young, not old, or “not brave enough” to be able to access the magic around him. Will has no idea how to respond to this.
   On another morning Mama once again gathers the family around the breakfast table and, with great difficulty, she tells her children that she is going to have a baby. Will is surprised that Mama has not told Papa the news yet. In fact he is upset that she hasn’t, and he tells her that it is not fair to keep the news from Papa. He finally speaks up, even though he knows his words might upset Mama.
   Will tries to explain how he feels, which is when he hears words in his head, the perfect words that he wants to share with Mama. Will looks at Neo and he knows that the dog is the one who gave him those words. Will has heard Neo because he is speaking up and being brave. The magic is now there for him too.
   The next morning Papa comes to visit. Mama told him the news about the baby and he has come home. Will does not know what to think and he wonders if Papa will stay. He does, though he sleeps on the sofa at night. The dogs watch over Mama, and Papa seems to understand that this is the way things are going to be. He accepts the new order in the house quietly. After all, he was the one who walked out.
   Will wants to understand why Papa left and Papa tries to explain, but he is not very good at it. He wanted to have some space so that he could write a book, and he thought he needed to leave home to find that space, to find the “magic” to create something. Some time ago Neo, who once lived with a writer, told Will that writers need to work hard to write a book. Magic has nothing to do with the process. Will shares these words of wisdom with Papa, who agrees that Will is probably right.
   It turns out that Papa does, in fact, ending up finding magic, but not in the way he expects. Just like Will, when Papa finds the courage to do something hard, the magic finds him.
   This truly magical book explores how a family copes when one of their number loses his way. Thankfully, help is at hand. Four dogs and one cat set about helping the family members to come back together, and to find the inner courage that they need to share their feelings, to be true to themselves and others, and most importantly of all, to freely give their love.
  


Monday, February 27, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of: The Bear and the Piano

Many of us, when we juggle bills, contemplate a car that needs replacing, work in a job that is often tedious or boring, imagine what it would be like if we could turn what we love doing into a career that would bring us fame and fortune. How grand it would be to be a master gardener who wins huge prizes, or a virtuoso musician who plays in concert halls all over the world. We assume that 'success' will bring us happiness, but what if success and happiness do not necessarily go together?

The Bear and the PianoThe bear and the piano
David Litchfield
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Clarion Books, 2016, 978-0-544-67454-7
One day a young bear cub finds a strange object standing in a clearing in the forest. It is made of wood and there are black and white keys running down the length of it. The cub touches the keys with his paws and makes a dreadful sound. The little bear leaves, but he comes back the next day, and the next.
   For weeks, months, and years the bear comes to tap the black and white keys every day. By the time he is a grown up grizzly, the bear can make beautiful music when he plays the piano, for that is what the object in the forest is.
   The bear’s playing attracts the attention of the other bears in the forest, who all come to the clearing every night to listen to him play. Then a father and daughter hear the bear play and they invite him to go to the city with them where he will be able to play pianos for “hundreds of people and hear sounds so beautiful they will make your fur stand on end.”
   The bear goes to the city and it isn’t long before he is the toast of the town. Everyone wants to hear him play, and his concerts are sold out. He records albums, wins awards, and is feted by everyone he meets.
   Though he is a great success in the city, the bear could not help feeling, deep inside, that something is missing in his life.
  This beautiful book, with its gorgeous atmospheric artwork, takes a look at what can happen when you seek out fame and fortune. If you are a successful celebrity does this mean that you have everything you need to be happy? Or is there is something more precious than wealth, recognition, and success?