Monday, April 14, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes the Easter Cat

I love picture books that feature strong, sassy, and determined characters. Cat, who appears in today's picture book, is just such a character. He knows what he wants, and he sets out to get it, in his own funny and distinctive way.

Here Comes the Easter CatHere comes the Easter Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-3939-0
Cat is in a bad mood. When he has asked why, he holds up a sign and on it there is a picture of the Easter Bunny. Cat is not pleased at all that everyone loves the Easter Bunny and does not understand why a rabbit is so beloved. Cat is told that the Easter Bunny is “nice” and he “delivers chocolate eggs to millions of kids.”
   Unfortunately, Cat starts to feel jealous. It is suggested that he should set aside his negative feelings. Instead, he should become the Easter Cat. Why not? A cat can be nice to children too, surely.
   Cat suggests bringing children hairballs, but that idea is shot down pretty swiftly. Cat then has to consider how he is going to get around. He cannot hop like the Easter Bunny. Being a hip feline, Cat decides that he will ride a motorcycle. He also chooses a rather snazzy outfit to wear. Then Cat learns something that horrifies him. The Easter Bunny doesn’t get to have naps! How can anyone survive if they don’t have several naps every day? Perhaps Cat isn’t cut out to be the Easter Cat after all.
   With wonderfully expressive artwork and amusing interactions between Cat and an unseen person who is talking to Cat, this picture book gives readers a book experience that will make them laugh and that will also charm them with its understated sweetness.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Blackbeard: The Pirate King

I went through a period when I was pirate mad. I read dozens of books about pirates and their doings, and would have loved to look through the book reviewed below. Blackbeard is probably the most famous pirate of them all, and in this book poetry and prose is paired with artwork to give readers a wonderful picture of Blackbeard's life.

Blackbeard: The Pirate KingBlackbeard: The Pirate King
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Michael Ed. Lewis
For ages 7 to 10
National Geographic, 2006, 978-0792255857
Blackbeard was a man whostruck terror into the hearts of those who encountered him. Though we cannot be sure what his real name was, and though there are few descriptions of him, there can be no doubt that he was one of the most feared pirates of all time, and his adventures have been the subject of tales and stories for hundreds of years.
   In this wonderfully written collection of poems, J. Patrick Lewis tells a series of  "yarns detailing the legends, myths, and real-life adventures of history's most notorious seaman." Among other things, we hear about why Teach - one of the names that Blackbeard was given - may have become a pirate, and how he captured a French ship and made it his own. Accompanying the poems is collection of illustrations which portray Blackbeard and which were created by such people as N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. In addition to the poems, the author has written notes to annotate the artwork and to provide background information on Blackbeard and piracy in the 1700's. At the back of the book there is an author's note which includes a map showing the areas where Blackbeard sailed his ships. There is also an excellent "Blackbeard's Time Line," which will give the reader a real sense of what the man's life was like.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of If I were a book

I love books (obviously), so I was thrilled when today's picture book arrived in the mail. It is a book everyone should read. It will confirm what book lovers already know, and it might encourage people who don't care for books to reconsider their opinion.

If I Were a BookIf I were a book
Jose Jorge Letria
Illustrated by Andre Letria
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2014, 978-1-4521-2144-4
A lot of people like to imagine what it would be like to be someone or something else. What would it be like to be a much loved pet cat who gets to sleep all day long? What would it be like to be a celebrity who has thousands of fans? Imagine now what it might be like to a book, a book that has been left on a park bench all alone. Perhaps you would “ask someone in the street to take me home,” and then you would be that person’s best friend.
   What would you were like if were a book? You could be “full of useful knowledge,” or capture your reader’s attention with your “captivating tales.” You would not want to know how your story ends and not be in a hurry to get to those very final of words: “The End.” You could “help someone soar” or “sweep away ignorance.” There would be so much you could do if you were a book, and so many wonderful things you could share with your readers.
   This powerfully simple picture book will help readers to see that books are so much more than paper pages and a cover. They are tools for learning, they make our world bigger, and they offer us hours of entertainment with grand adventures, poetry, and more.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Song of the Water Boatman and other Poems

Watching the changes that take place in an pond ecosystem during a year can be fascinating. Plants leaf and bloom at different times, birds build their nests and have chicks, and migratory birds come to visit during the winter months. Muskrats dig their burrows, tadpoles appear and change into frogs or toads, and when it gets colder, turtles find a place where they can nap in piece.

In today's picture book you can experience these seasonal events through a series of poems.

Song of the Water Boatman and Other PoemsSong of the Water Boatman and Other Poems
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beckie Prange
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Houghton Mifflin, 2005, 978-0618135479
We are going to visit a pond, to spend time with the creatures that live there, and to see this very special place in the spring, summer, fall and winter. In the spring the song of the peeper frogs is an indication that spring is finally here and you can listen in the night as the little frogs "sing you to sleep." This is also the time of year when the mother wood duck takes her little ducklings for their first swim after hatching.
   In the summer little creatures fill the pond swimming to and fro, eating and being eaten. This food chain begins with the algae "green and small" and ends with the heron "queen of the pond." This is also the time of year when the caddis fly larvae build themselves a portable camouflaged home, each one of which is unique and carefully decorated.
   In the fall. the painted turtle digs itself a burrow into the mud, and in a snug little cave it goes to sleep, slowing down "to its winter rhythm."
   Exquisitely illustrated, this picture book beautifully captures the rhythms of pond life. Each of the eleven poems in the book is accompanied by a hand-colored woodblock print and an interesting section of text which further explores the themes of the poem. The poems take many forms, each one giving readers a colorful and lively picture of life in a pond.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Busy Bunny Days

I love picture book that have pages full of  detail-rich scenes. Richard Scarry's books, which I looked at over and over again when I was little, are like this. Now many other illustrators are creating wonderful books full of artwork that readers can explore. What is wonderful about these books is that one does not need to be able to read to see and follow the stories in the artwork. Today's picture book is a wonderful example of just such a book.

Busy Bunny Days: In the Town, On the Farm & At the PortBusy Bunny Days: In the town, On the Farm and At the Port
Britta Teckentrup
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2014, 978-1-4521-1700-3
The Bunny family members have busy lives and we are going to spend a little time with them, getting to know them and getting to know their world. We are going to begin by visiting them in their hometown.
   Here we are and it is six o’clock in the morning. The day is just beginning, and yet there are a few folks out and about. One gentleman is walking his dog and we see that the garbage collectors are hard at work. Unfortunately, they have dropped a banana peel and someone has stepped on it and slipped. In their house the Bunny family members are beginning their day. Bethany Bunny is eating her breakfast and Baxter Bunny is just getting out of bed. Dr. Bunny is shaving in the bathroom.
   By nine o’clock the streets are full and busy. An ambulance is picking up the animal who slipped on that pesky banana peel, and the children from the neighborhood are walking to school or getting on the school bus.
   At midday rain starts to fall on the town. Dr. Bunny is busy taking care of his patients and Bethany and her kindergarten classmates are getting ready to go for a walk. Grandma Bunny has done some shopping and she is on her way to the Bunny home. She will be there to give Bethany her snack when the little girl gets home from kindergarten.
   Later on in the afternoon there is a little drama when a small fire breaks out in the attic apartment in the Bunny’s building. Benny Badger gets up to his old tricks when everyone is distracted by the fire.
   After visiting the Bunny’s hometown we go to a farm with them and then we visit a port. In each case we share a whole day in their company, seeing the little events that make daily life interesting. We also get to watch the little adventures that the characters in the book have.
   Children are going to love exploring the artwork in this wonderful picture book. They will see days unfold before their eyes, and watch as the small joys and woes of everyday life are played out on the pages. They will have fun looking for Benny Badger, who is always getting into trouble, and will enjoy answering the questions that appear on every spread.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Poem Runs: Baseball poems and paintings.

The grass is green and mowed, the sky is blue, there is a softness in the air, and it is time to play ball. Well, perhaps not for me, but on March 30th the American baseball season begins and many people will be pitching balls, swinging bats, running, sliding, and catching. I did not grow up watching or playing baseball, but have grown fond of the game since I moved to the United States. Today's poetry book perfectly captures the joys of the game and the excitement that players experience on that first game of the season.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 2012, 978-0-547-68838-1
Winter is finally over and spring has arrived bringing with it the beginning of baseball season. It is time to celebrate the joys of baseball, and thanks to Douglas Florian we are able to do this vicariously through his poems.
   Our baseball experience begins with some exercises. The eager team members get out on the field and they start warming up. First they “Bend to the right,” and then they stretch out their muscles that are “too tense and too tight.” 
   When the players are all loose and warmed up, the pitcher goes out on the mound. He tells us that he is the “great devastator” who creates curve balls, fastballs, sinkers, risers, and slumps. He is the “strikeout collector” and we better “Beware! Beware!”
   Next we meet the catcher who, like the pitcher, tells us about his skills. He too is full of confidence that he will be able to meet any challenge that he is presented with. No matter what kind of ball comes his way, he will be able to “catch ‘em.”
   We go on to meet other players and the umpire, and since it plays such an important role, we also get to share a moment with a baseball. This ball goes through so much that it ends up splitting. Though this is a little sad, there is a feeling of satisfaction in the poem because the ball has “Been there” and it “Did it.”

   Anyone who has a fondness for baseball is going to enjoy this collection of poetry. Douglas Florian manages to capture the essence of the game, infusing the pages with the joy that baseball brings to those who play it. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Lost for Words

I have a full life, which means that don't always have much free time and my hobbies are neglected. One my favorite things to do is to paint, but I don't get to do it very often. Just the other day I did manage to squirrel away a little time to spend with my paints. I have everything laid out and ready to go and then I realized that I had no idea what I wanted to paint. The blank paper stayed blank for a long time before I finally decided what I wanted to do.

In today's picture book you will meet a character who has a similar problem. He loves to write, he has a book to write in, and yet he has no idea what he wants to write about.

Lost for WordsLost for words
Natalie Russell
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Peachtree Publishers, 2014, 978-1-56145-739-7
Tapir has a brand new notebook and some colored pencils and he wants to write something, but he has no idea what to write. For some reason his head is empty of ideas and inspiration, and what makes his situation more frustrating is that his friends’ heads are full of writing ideas.
   Giraffe has no problem writing down a poem about a tree, and hippo easily crafts a story as he lies in his muddy pool. Flamingo uses her skill with words to compose a song, a song that is “so perfect it brought a tear to Tapir’s eye.”
   Tapir tries humming like flamingo, wallowing like hippo, and munching leaves like giraffe but no words come to him and he gets very grumpy. Surely there must be something he can write about?
   All too often, when we are determined to create something, our creativity abandons us and we are left staring at a blank piece of paper. This is what happens to poor Tapir, who wants so badly to write something in his notebook. What he does not realize is that he is full of creativity, it just isn’t in a form that he is expecting.
   This charming picture book explores the idea that creativity will not be forced and sometimes the creative process can be full of surprises.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Ode to Childhood

When one is a child the years that precede teenagedom seem to last forever. Then, quite suddenly, childhood is over and a new kind of life begins, one filled with new responsibilities, choices that need to be made, and so much more. It is not unusual for a teenager of thirteen or fourteen to look back on childhood with regret. If only it had lasted a little longer.

Today's poetry title explores the joys and woes of the childhood years. Teenagers and adults alike will greatly enjoy taking a little trip into the past as they read the poems.

Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the ChildOde to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the child
Edited by Lucy Gray
Poetry Book
For ages 12 and up
Anova Books, 2014, 978-1-84994-133-4
Childhood lasts such a short time and all too often we forget to enjoy the precious years when a child’s imagination is at its strongest, and when life is so full of adventures. In this anthology of poetry, children of all ages are celebrated. The journey begins with poems about babies and wraps up with poems that look at the lives of young people who are about to leave their childhood behind.
   One of the first poems in the book describes a mother’s struggles as she carries her baby “here and there,” and talks “nonsense endlessly” in a fruitless attempt to try to sooth her crying child. She does her best to “gauge what each cry says” and sometimes she succeeds. At other times “All falls flat” when she guesses wrong and does not provide what the child wants.
   Later on we encounter a four-year-old called John who is forever getting into things that he shouldn’t. He spends his time “poking at the roses” or climbing on the furniture. Thankfully, John also likes to play, doing things that are mostly acceptable, such as rolling on the grass, bowling, and losing balls “o’er fences” that the narrator has to replace.
   Then there are the special trips that lodge in the memory, trips to the sea-side when a child digs holes in the sand using a wooden spade. Robert Louis Stevenson tells us about how the holes, which “were empty like a cup,” get filled in with seawater as the tide rises. Or perhaps it is a trip to the zoo where the child sees a wide variety of animals including the monkeys “mercy, how unpleasantly they smelt!”  
   There are also those once frustrating everyday moments that are precious when the child is no longer small. For example there is the child who asks “What is the grass?” How is the adult supposed to answer when he or she doesn’t know “what it is any more than he.”
   As one turns the pages of this book, special moments in the lives of children and their grownups unfold. They wrap up us in beautiful images and memories that seem to leap off the pages. Readers will find poems by William Blake, Walt Whitman, W. H. Auden and others in this collection, and they will savor their words over and over again.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Tweedles Go Electric

It must have been exciting to live in Europe and North America in the early 1900's. So many things were happening and so much was changing. Electric lights, automobiles, and other inventions were changing the lives of millions of people. In today's picture book you will meet a family whose memebers decide to get their first car, and who end up having an unexpected adventure because of that car.

The Tweedles Go ElectricThe Tweedles Go Electric
Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1-55498-167-0
It is 1903 and cars, which are powered by steam or gas, are all the rage. The Tweedles don’t care that cars are the in thing. They are content to get around on their cycles or by using their horse and cart.
   Then one day Papa announces that they are going to get a car. Mama is thrilled, as is car-crazy Frankie. Bookish Franny is not particularly excited about having a car. After all, cars at this time are noisy, smelly, and dangerous. Then Papa tells his wife and children that they are not going to have a car powered by steam or gas. They are going to have an electric car.
   Mama is rather concerned that the car might not be safe. After all, electricity is such a new thing and people don’t really understand how it works. In fact, they find it “more frightening than a basket of boas.”
   In spite of this fear, the Tweedles go to the car dealership and they buy a bright green electric car. Papa drives their new purchase home, which is when he discovers that driving requires that one has a fair bit of nerve. There are so many things that one has to watch out for, and when one is zooming along at ten miles an hour, one has to have lightning fast reflexes. He and his family members never imagine that their new purchase is going to lead to an adventure, new friends, and new prospects.
   These days cars are considered a necessity by most people and it is hard to imagine what life would be like if we did not have our cars. It is therefore very interesting to see what it was like to live in America when cars were still a relatively new innovation. It is also amusing to see how the Tweedles cope with their new acquisition.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

Noticing the beauty in simple things and in everyday moments is something that many of  us forget to do. We are too busy doing things and rushing from place to place. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is important to stop so that we can look at, listen to, and appreciate the world around us. In today's poetry book the author beautifully captures special moments, season by season, combining lovely art with gem-like haiku poems. The book shows us that the little things can make our lives richer and happier. If we remember to look for them.

Hi, Koo!: A Year of SeasonsHi, Koo! A Year of Seasons
Jon J. Muth
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2014, 978-0-545-16668-3
In the past haiku was a form of poetry that was only used by Japanese poets, but it now used to write poems in many languages. Though the original form often has to be modified a little to allow for linguistic differences, the essence of haiku is always the same. The form captures “a moment of emotion that reminds us that our own human nature is not separate from nature.” In just three short lines the poet freezes a moment in time and allows us to savor it. Often the poem explores an aspect of nature or it refers to some element in nature.
   In his poems in this book Jon J. Muth takes us through the year, and our guide is a small panda bear called Koo. Koo has a natural curiosity about the world around him and he appreciates the small pleasures in life. In fall he savors a dance in the cold rain, which is followed by a bowl of hot soup at home. This is also a time of year when “Eating warm cookies / on a cold day / is easy.”
   As far as Koo is concerned, winter is for playing outdoors with his friends. Koo does a “powdery stomp” in the snow, and he wonders if the icicles hanging from the eves “will touch the ground.” He watches as the cat “vanishes / Just ears…and twitching tail” when she goes out into the snow.
   Then, when “winter is old now / and closes her doors,” spring arrives with crocuses and “New leaves / new grass new sky.” After too many days spent watching the television Koo and his two friends go out to explore the awakening world.

   This is a book that children and adults alike will enjoy. The artwork is simple yet beautifully expressive, and the haiku perfectly captures those moments during a year that are precious gifts.