Monday, January 23, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Friend Ship

Finding friends isn't always easy, and the search for people to connect with can be a lonely one. In today's picture book you are going to meet an incredibly sweet little hedgehog who learns that she needs to find friendship, and who goes on an incredible journey to find it.

The Friend ShipThe Friend Ship
Kat Yeh
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Disney Hyperion, 2016, 978-148470726-5
One day Hedgehog is lying curled up in a ball in “the lonely little nook of a lonely little tree” when she hears two animals taking about her. One animal tells the other that Hedgehog seems lonely, and then the other animal says that things will be better when Hedgehog finds friendship. All she has to do is to go and look for it.
   Hedgehog is inspired by this overheard conversation. The “Friend Ship” is out there waiting for her and now she has to find it. Hedgehog quickly gets to work and builds a boat. A beaver comes a long and asks her what she is doing. Hedgehog explains that she will soon be setting off to find The Friend Ship. The beaver, who wants a friend, asks if he can join Hedgehog in her quest, and she happily agrees.
   The two travelers don’t travel far in their boat when they come across four deer. Hedgehog asks the deer if they have seen The Friend Ship. The deer like the idea of being on such a vessel; they would like to have friends too, and so they ask if they can join Hedgehog and the beaver, who are happy to welcome the deer on board.
   Hedgehog and her companions sail north and south. The head east as well, and every time they ask someone if they have seen The Friend Ship the answer is no. Every time Hedgehog is asked if an animal can join her quest she (and everyone else) always says yes.
   After a few days of searching and asking, Hedgehog begins to lose hope, but the animals on the ship with her don’t let her give up. They support and comfort her, telling her that they will “stick with you till the end.”
   This wonderful picture book shows readers, in a sweet and gentle way, how sometimes the one thing that we want the most in life can sometimes be found right under our noses. In company with Hedgehog and her fellow travelers, we go on a wonderful voyage of discovery and hope.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of The Geography of Girlhood

Growing up can be tough, and for some the teenage years are a time full of confusion and trouble. This was certainly true for me and I therefore tend to stay away from books about teens who are in crisis. I don't particularly want to relive that time of my life, thank you very much! However, today's novel in verse caught my attention, and though it is a painful story at times, I am so glad that I read it. It is so beautifully written and so wonderfully honest.

The Geography of GirlhoodThe Geography of Girlhood
Kirsten Smith
Poetry
For ages 12 to 14
Little Brown, 2006, 978-0316017350
As far as Penny is concerned, being a fourteen-year-old is all about being stuck in a world where she stands on the sidelines waiting for things to get better. Penny enviously watches Tara, her beautiful older sister, sashay through life, with a boyfriend following in her wake. Penny wishes that she could be like Tara instead of being a girl who looks like her father, a man who is not “pretty” at all. Penny wishes she could wake up one day with “a new life / that doesn’t look anything / like this one.”
   When she was just six, Penny’s mother left, and since then her father has done his best to be a father and a mother to his daughters, which is not easy. Tara in particular likes to live life to the fullest, which can lead to problems. Sometimes Tara plays one teenage girl card too many. One night Penny comes home and finds out that Tara came home with hickeys all over her neck and their father is furious. So furious in fact that he tried to put a new lock on Tara’s bedroom door.
   After this piece of drama, more and more things start to happen in Penny’s life. She gets detention for the first time, a boy blows a kiss at her, and when the star of the school play gets bronchitis, Penny has to step out of her in-the-background understudy role and onto the stage to play the lead part. This could be the opportunity of a lifetime. It really could. Except Penny does not know her lines and the first night is a bust. A second understudy takes on the lead role for the remaining performances of the play.
   When she leaves the theater that night, walking in the rain, Randall Faber gives Penny a bunch of flowers. He does not seem to mind that she made a complete mess of the play and suddenly she isn’t just Penny Morrow, the “Screw-up In the School Play.” Now she is “The Girl Randall Faber Likes,” who then becomes the girl who fainted when Randal Faber kissed her. To say that Penny feels humiliated is an understatement.  The surprising thing is that Randall still wants to be her official boyfriend and so Penny finds herself holding hands with him, dancing with him, and trying to have conversations with him. She should be happy with her new status in life, but the truth of the matter is that she really does not like him that much. How did that happen?
   Penny is not the only one in a relationship either. Her dad starts seeing a biologist, and Penny cannot believe how changed he is. He tries new things, steps into the unknown, and stops hiding from the world. By the time summer is rich and ripe with sunny days, Penny’s dad has married Susan and Penny and Tara have a new stepmother and a stepbrother.
   Change happens so fast during the summer months and Penny is barely about to keep up. Her friend Denise really falls apart and has to take medication; Tara breaks every rule she can; and in September Penny gets sucked into the world of high school. The thing is that Penny has no idea what she is doing half the time and so on she stumbles, trying desperately to keep her head above water and survive.
   This sometimes gritty, poignant, and often painful novel in verse takes us into the world of a teenage girl who, like so many teenagers, has no clue how to navigate the world she finds herself in. As her sister and best friend slip into deeper and deeper waters of recklessness (Tara) and illness (Denise), Penny tries to figure out where she belongs and who she is. Change and loss make her last years in school complicated, and readers will find themselves wishing that they could hold this girl who misses her long-lost mother, longs for a life somewhere else, and struggles to understand her world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Books of Hope - Winnie the Pooh

When the world without gets dark and stormy, when illness strikes,  or when I am just worn down by life, I turn to a number of books for solace and comfort. One of the books I turn to is today's Book of Hope title. It may seem strange that I would consider Winnie the Pooh to be a book of hope, but I think it is just that. The Winnie the Pooh stories remind us of the simple joys, the little adventures, the funny situations, that make life rich and wonderful. Feeling rich in stories that are packed with humor and sweet affection most certainly gives the spirit a lift.

Winnie the PoohWinnie the Pooh
A. A. Milne
Illustrator:  Ernest H. Shepard
Fiction
For ages 5 and up
Penguin, 2005, 978-0142404676
Lets us hear a story. Christopher Robin has decided that the story he would like to hear should be one about his bear, "Winnie-ther-Pooh." Christopher thinks that Winnie would very much like to hear a story about himself, and so off we go, to the forest, where Winnie-the-Pooh lives.
   In the first story we are told, Pooh, who is very partial to food in general, and honey in particular, decides that he wants to climb a tree because there is a large bee hive at the top. Of course where there are bees there is honey, and where there is honey there are Poohs. At first Pooh tries climbing up the tree in the old fashioned way, but that turns out to be a painful exercise. So he heads off to find Christopher Robin, whom he hopes might have a solution to his problem. Sure enough, before long, Pooh is floating up next to the honey bee tree hanging from a large blue balloon. There still is a problem however, and the problem is that the bees, which are not unintelligent creatures, are beginning to get "suspicious."
   Poor Pooh. This is only the first of several rather uncomfortable adventures that he has. In the next tale we are told, the bear, who as I have said enjoys food, gets stuck in Rabbit's doorway. Pooh blames the size of the doorway, and Rabbit blames the size of Pooh. There is nothing to be done however, for Pooh is stuck tight. All Pooh can do is listen to a "Sustaining Book such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness" and wait to get thinner.
   A. A. Milne's deliciously funny stories about this lovable bear, with their wonderful use of language,  will never lose their charm. Pooh and his friends speak a language all children understand, and they make the kinds of mistakes that they understand too. At the same time, there can be no doubt that Pooh's tales delight adults as well. There is something about the bear's simple needs, his obvious devotion to his friends, and his delightful way of expressing himself that makes Pooh a panacea for a tired mind, an aching heart, or a weary spirit.
   Ernest Shepard's delightful illustrations perfectly capture the personalities of Pooh, Piglet, and their friends.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Wet Cement: A mix of Concrete Poems

Concrete poems, or poems that are laid out on a page to create pictures, are such fun to explore; and to write. Poets who like to write such poems are wonderfully creative and they often inject their writings with a sense of fun as well. Today's title is full of these poems, and readers of all age will enjoy reading and looking at them.

Wet Cement: A mix of Concrete poems
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete PoemsBob Raczka
Poetry Book
For ages 7 to 10
Roaring Brook Press, 2016, 978-1-62672-236-1
For Bob Raczka, poems are “word paintings” because the words on the page “paint pictures inside your head.” The wonderful thing about concrete poems, or shape poems, is that the words also “paint pictures on the page.” The words are arranged in such a way that they create an image of something that represents what the poem is about. For example, for a poem about a candle, the words might we arranged on the page to look like a flame.
   In this collection of poems Bob Raczka has decided to take the picture-making aspect of his creations to another level. The words of the poems create a picture, and in addition the letters in the titles of the poems also create a picture.
   For example, in the poem Crossword, the letters in the title of the poem are arranged in such a way to create a cross. Then the words of the poem are placed on the page in such a way that they create what looks like a crossword.
   In the Poem Dominoes, the title letters are tipped to one side, and the words of the poem look like a row of dominoes that have also been tipped over. The text in the poem is written from the point of view of the dominoes themselves. They talk about the need to “brace yourself,” “forward march” and “do your part,” as they fall over and lean against each other.
  The poem Icicles is beautifully picture rich. Both the letters in the title and the words in the poem hang down like icicles from the eves of a building. The title is upside down and the lines of the poem hang sideways so that we have to turn the page to read them. They tell us how icicles form and how you can “Break one off and take a lick” when the icicles are “long and clear and ripe.”
   Children are going to be delighted when they see how the poems in this book loop and hop, circle, crisscross, and hang on the pages to create pictures. They may even be inspired to try creating concrete poems of their own.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Books of Hope - Miss Rumphius

This is one of my favorite picture books. The story reminds me that even the simple act of planting flowers can make the world a better place. What Miss Rumphius does is to give everyone who sees her flowers a gift of beauty, and imagine what that does for them. Maybe it makes them happy and lifts them up. Maybe it reminds them that the world is a beautiful place. Maybe seeing the flowers allows them to move forward with hope in their hearts.

Miss RumphiusMiss Rumphius
Barbara Cooney
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Penguin, 1985, 978-0140505399
When Alice was a small girl she used to talk to her grandfather about how, when she grew up, she would "go to faraway places," and when she grew old she would "live beside the sea." Alice's grandfather told her that in addition to these two things, there was a third thing that she must do, and that was to do something that would "make the world more beautiful."
   When Alice grew up to become Miss Rumphius she did indeed travel to far off lands, and she had all sorts of adventures. Then, when she began to get tired, she found a little house by the sea to live in. The question she now had was what she should do to make the world a more beautiful place.
   One day when she was out walking she found some beautiful lupines growing on a hillside. The lupines were the offspring of the flowers that she had planted in her own little garden the previous spring. Now Miss Rumphius knew what she would have to do. Back at home she sent away for bags and bags of lupine seeds and then she got to work sowing the seeds all over the countryside, making the hills and valleys around her home beautiful.
   This delightful story about dreams and the need to give something back to the world is both powerful and thought provoking. What the elderly Miss Rumphius does is not earth shaking, and yet it does make the world a more beautiful place, and her labours give lots of people great pleasure as they look at the fields of lupines that she sowed. The reader cannot help wondering what he or she can do to make the world a more beautiful place. Whatever one chooses to do, whether it is planting trees or joining a group to clean up the countryside, each effort to make the world more beautiful makes a difference.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Books of Hope, 2017: Reviews of books that empower, uplift, and give the reader hope.

Dear bookish friends:

2016 was a very strange year. It was a year during which we were subjected to so much discord and anger in the media and in our communities, and so much bad news. The year left many people, including myself, feeling shaken and worried for the future. I was thinking about this a week or so ago and trying to figure out what I could do to make my world a little brighter and more hopeful. Naturally my thoughts turned to books.

I have decided that I will review at least one book each week that offers up a message that is warming, thoughtful, and hopeful. I will choose books that remind us that the world is not always a terrible place. Perhaps the book will explore compassion. Perhaps it will tell the story of a person who has found a way to make the world a better place. Perhaps readers will see how differences can be overcome, and how bridges between conflicting groups can be built.

Though all of the books I review were written for young readers, I want you to know that the Books of Hope that I am going to share with you during this year will suit readers of all ages. Adults can get a lot out of reading children's literature, so don't be afraid to read one of these titles for yourself. See what you discover and learn. You may be surprised!

My hope is that these books will give you hope, and that that hope will help you to make our world a kinder, gentler, more compassionate place.


Picture Book Monday with a review of Gary

Twenty years ago I got a chronic illness that changed my life. I had to adjust my expectations, learn to live within my limits, and most importantly learn to enjoy and love the new life that I had built for myself. It was not easy. At all. It still isn't.

What I loved about today's picture book was the fact that it is about a character, Gary, who cannot do what his friends and relatives do, but he still manages to have a full life, one that offers him a unique perspective. In fact he is able to share what he learns with others, which is wonderful.

Gary
GaryLeila Rudge
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-8954-4
Most of the time Gary is just like the other racing pigeons that he lives with. He eats what they eat, lives in a loft, and dreams of going on adventures. However, when the other pigeons leave in the travel basket to attend races, Gary stays home and works on his scrapbook. Gary cannot fly, and so he cannot join the other racing pigeons on race days. Instead, he lives vicariously through his friends, recording their race experiences in his scrapbook.
   One night Gary leans over from his perch so far that he loses his balance. Gary and his scrapbook fall into the travel basket, and the next day he, still in the basket, is taken far from home. When he arrives at his destination the basket is opened and the sky is “full of feathers and flapping wings.” The racing pigeons are off, but Gary, who cannot fly back home like the other pigeons, is stuck, lost in a city that he does not know at all.
   Needing cheering up, Gary looks at his scrapbook, and little by little the cityscape around him starts to look “a little more familiar.”
   This wonderful picture book tells the story of a bird who cannot fly and who therefore cannot see the world. Except through the pages of his scrapbook. Then life presents Gary with a situation that could turn out to be a disaster and he has to figure out a solution.
   What is perhaps the best part of this delightful story is the way in which it ends. It turns out that Gary, the pigeon who cannot fly, has something to offer the pigeons who can fly.

   

Friday, January 6, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Before Morning

I know that children are the ones who are supposed to hope and wish for a snow day, but I have to confess that I hope and wish for them too. There is nothing like taking a day off work to play in the snow with dogs and family members; and to sit toasting toes in front of the fire afterwards. In today's poetry book  we meet a little girl who desperately wants a snow day, and her reason for wanting such a day is even more important that having a day off from school.

Before MorningBefore Morning
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 978-0-547-97917-5
A little girl and her mother arrive home on a cold winter night. Dinner is on the table and all should be well, but the little girl is sad. Soon her mother is going to be leaving for the airport where her plane and crew await her. She is a pilot and her job means that she has to leave home for days at a time.
   The little girl hides her mother’s pilot hat, but has to give it back. Her mother has to go to work and there is nothing that can be done about it. While the little girl sleeps “In the deep woolen dark” that is now freckled with snowflakes, the pilot packs her bags and leaves the house. What the mother does not know is that her daughter has sent a wish up into the night, a wish asking for the snow to come and “Let the air turn to feathers, / the earth turn to sugar.” The little girl wants everything to be “swaddled” in a blanket of snow.
  The hope is that the snow will be heavy enough that “urgent plans founder,” and planes will be grounded so that her mother will be able to come home to her.
   With gorgeous scratchboard art what is rich in textures, and a magical rhyming text that is beautiful in its minimalism, this unique picture book celebrates the power of a child’s wish.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of First Snow

There is something wonderful about waking up in the early hours of the morning to discover that snow has fallen in the night. Everything is quiet, muffled by the snowfall, and there is a feeling of excitement that is intoxicating to the spirit. In today's picture book a little child ventures out into the night after the first snowfall and she has a magical adventure in the woods.

First SnowFirst Snow
Bomi Park
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Chronicle Books, 2016, 978-1-4521-5472-5
It is nighttime and a little child, snuggled up in bed with her teddy bear, hears a noise. Something is gently tapping on her bedroom window. She crawls out from under the covers to take a look and sees that it is snowing. Quickly she puts on her snow clothes and goes outside. One of the puppies is awake too and it leaves the warmth of the dog house to see the little girl. It watches as the little girl creates a ball of snow and then it follows as she rolls it across the ground, out of the garden, past the houses, and “Beneath the lights.”
   Across the fields the companions go, along the railroad tracks, and into the woods, where animals watch their progress. The little girl’s ball of snow is quite big now and rolling it along is hard work. Then, there in the dark woods, the little girl sees a glowing gateway to somewhere else, and through it she goes rolling her ball of snow.
   In this wonderful book a simple nocturnal adventure unfolds to become something altogether bigger; something magical happens and we are transported to a wonderful place to celebrate the joy of a first snowfall. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Switching on the Moon: A very first book of Bedtime Poems

When my daughter was little she and I used to sing a little lullaby every night. The overhead light would be out, the unicorn nightlight would be glowing, and for those few precious moments she and I would sing the comforting rhyming lines. There is nothing quite like sharing poetry (sung or spoken) with a child last thing at night, and today I have a book for you that is packed with poems that are perfect for bedtime.

Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime PoemsSwitching on the Moon: A very first book of Bedtime Poems
Collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 3 to 5
Candlewick Press, 2010, 978-0-7636-4249-5
For many children around the world bedtime is synonymous with little songs and poems. The soft lilting cadence of rhymes is so well suited to helping children to settle down and prepare for sleep, and they also help children to connect with the grownups who share these songs and poems with them.
   In this wonderful book a variety of poems about bedtime are brought together so that children can enjoy the gift of beautiful language just before they go to sleep. The poems are divided into three sections. There are verses that describe those pre-bedtime moments, lullabies, and finally there are poems that capture nighttime sounds, moments, and experiences.
   The poems found in the collection are all very different, but one thing they all have in common is how soothing they are. Musings, words of love and comfort, and descriptions - all written by poets from around the world - offer children and their grownups a delightful journey into the world of beautiful language.
   Some of the poems found on these pages may be familiar, like Rock-a-bye Baby and The Man in the Moon. Many others will be new to readers, who will enjoy exploring the writings of Langston Hughes, Jane Yolen, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Lord Tennyson, Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Singer, and others.
   Throughout this wonderful volume, beautiful artwork accompanies the poems and makes this book a work of art that would make a wonderful gift for a family who has a new baby to love care for.