Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of A tale of Two Beasts


We often like to think that there is only one side to a story, the side we know and believe in. This is rarely true, and into today's picture book we see how the same story can be very different depending on who is telling that story. Children will be amused by this tale, and hopefully they will also take something away with them after they have read it.

A tale of two beasts
Fiona Roberton
A tale of two beasts
Picture Book
For ages
Kane Miller, 2015, 978-1-61067-361-7
One day a little girl is walking home through the woods when she sees a peculiar little beast hanging from a tree. The little beast is “whining sadly,” so the little girl decides to “rescue” the little animal. She takes him home wrapped in her scarf, washes him, dresses him in a sweater and hat, and gives him a bowl of nuts to eat. She takes him for walks and shows him off to her friends.  Then the little girl realizes that the little beast is not happy and soon after he runs away, returning to his home in the woods.
   One day, a little beast is happily hanging from a tree singing when he is “AMBUSHED by a terrible beast!” The beast ties it up, takes it to her “secret lair” and then proceeds to do unspeakable things to the little beast, things like bathing it, dressing it, and giving is stupid squirrel food to eat. Eventually the little beast comes up with a “cunning plan” and it escapes into the woods before its cruel captor can get her hands on him again.
   In this clever book the author tells us the same story from two points of view. First the little girl tells the story, and then the little beast tells the story. They both think the other is a “beast,” and they don’t think very highly of each other either. It is interesting to see how the little girl thinks she is saving the beast, whereas he thinks she is kidnapping, or rather beastnapping, him.
   Both the stories are funny, and together they will help children to see that there are always at least two sides to every story.  The wonderful thing about both stories is that in the end the two beasts come to an understanding. They see things from slightly different perspectives to be sure, but the end result is a good one for both of them.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Favorite Poems Old and New

Some children's poetry collections only really appeal, long term, to children. Some however, contain collections that adults also enjoy; they are books that can be shared and passed down from generation to generation. Today's poetry book is just such a title, and it would make a wonderful gift to a family.

Favorite Poems Old and NewFavorite Poems Old and New
Selected by Helen Ferris 
Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard 
Poetry Book
For ages 5 and up
Random House, 1957, 978-0-385-07696-8
Many years ago, when Helen Ferris and her brother Fred were little, their parents made poetry “as much a part of their children’s every day as getting up in the morning.” Helen and Fred absorbed poetry, learning many of the poems they heard by heart. Their poetry journey began with Mother Goose rhymes, and went on to include the poems of Alfred Tennyson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Shakespeare. Helen’s mother felt very strongly that even if her children “could not understand all the words,” they could still “enjoy the beautiful sound of them.” Helen and Fred and their parents moved several times, and their lives changed in many ways, but they never stopped enjoying poetry and sharing it with others.
   Out of her love of poetry grew Helen’s wish to create a book that celebrated this form of writing, that brought together the writings of many, and the favorite poems of many more. In all there are over seven hundred poems in this collection, both classic and modern. The poems are divided up into eighteen categories, making it easy for young readers to find poems that suit their interests. The topics include “My Family and I,” “It’s fun to play,” “Animals, Pets and Otherwise,” and “Almost any time is laughing time.”
   Many children will naturally gravitate to this latter section, for here they will find old favorites like The Walrus and the Carpenter and The Owl and the Pussycat. Here too is The Song of Mr. Toad, which is the song that Mr. Toad sings in The Wind in the Willows when he is feeling rather pleased with himself. Edward Lear and Ogden Nash’s nonsense poems are also here.
   Poems with a patriotic feel appear in the “Sign of my nation, great and strong,” section. Here children will find Paul Revere’s Ride, and The Gettysburg Address, along with The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful.
   This is the kind of collection that has something for everyone, no matter what the age of the reader. It is a book to grow old with, and a book to pass on to the next generation so that they too might grow up with a love of poetry, just as Helen Ferris did.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Such a Little Mouse

Some picture books have wonderful rich stories that catapult you into a different world and take you on a grand adventure. Other picture books are quieter, more contemplative, in nature. Today's picture book review title is just such a book. The story is a very simple one, and yet it is still meaningful and incredibly enriching.

Such a little mouseSuch a little mouse
Alice Schertle
Illustrated by Stephanie Yue
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-64929-2
It is spring and a little mouse, who lives in a burrow in the middle of a meadow under a clump of dandelions, pops his head out of his hole and takes in the world around him. He explores, watching a snail and bees go about their business. He listens to the sound of a woodpecker hammering away at a tree. Next the little mouse looks at his reflection in a puddle and then he heads off home, a little seed in his mouth. He goes down a tunnel into his kitchen, down another tunnel to his bedroom, and then down yet another tunnel to his storeroom, where the shelves are mostly bare.
   On a summer morning the little mouse “pops out of his hole” and heads out to check on his neighbors. He watches the beavers, who are busy working on their lodge in the pond, and then pops in to visit a toad who has set up house under an upside down flower pot. At the end of the day the mouse carries a sprig of watercress home and he puts it in his store room, which is starting to fill up.
   When fall comes around, leaves lie on the ground and the mouse has a grand time tunneling through them. Everywhere he turns he sees and hears signs that winter is coming. Animals are on the move and there is a lot of work to be done. At the end of the day the mouse carries a big acorn back to his storeroom.
   In this delightful and gently sweet picture book we go through the seasons with an industrious little mouse, whose days are full of visits, explorations, and food collecting work.
   Throughout the book beautiful illustrations capture little mouse’s world to perfection. The pictures take us into his world, even down into his cunning little home, and we cannot help growing fond of our new little friend. We watch the seasons unfold in gorgeous color, and can appreciate how much joy is to be had from life’s little pleasures.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Spring!

Poetry Friday with a review of The Popcorn Astronauts and other Biteable Rhymes

We humans invest a great deal in the food that we eat. We enjoy trying cuisines from around the world, spend hours cooking meals, and love going out to eat in restaurants and diners. Food is often at the center of our holidays and celebrations. In today's poetry title you will find poems that are deliciously "Biteable," and that celebrate food in many creative ways.

The Popcorn Astronauts and other Biteable Rhymes
Deborah Ruddell
The Popcorn Astronauts and other Biteable RhymesIllustrated By Joan Rankin
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4424-6555-8
As spring shifts into summer, summer into fall and so on, we do, of course notice the changes in temperature and weather. We notice the changes in the flora and fauna around us, and enjoy the celebrations that come around as the year progresses. There is another thing that changes with the seasons, if we are lucky: our food. There are certain fruits, vegetables, and dishes that we look forward to all year because they taste best when they are enjoyed at a certain time of year.
   In this rip-roaring poetical celebration of food, the author takes us through the seasons, and throughout the book we encounter wonderfully delicious foodie poems. For example, in spring we meet the strawberry queen in a poem of that name. We are told that we will “know her the minute she enters the room / by the first little whiff of her springtime perfume.”
   Summer is when, if we are ants and we are lucky, we encounter a “Watermelon Lake!” We are invited to “jump right in” to enjoy this seasonal treat. The cool, sweet, pinkness is fantastic of course, but there are also “small black boats for summer fun” all over the watermelon lake to play on. Summer is also the time when, should you feel so inclined, you can make raisins. Fear not, for the recipe for making raisins can be found in this book. All you have to do is to hang grapes out to dry and leave them there until they look like “wrinkled rubber rocks” and have the taste of “well-worn pirate socks.”
   Some of the poems talk about food items, such as brownies, apples, toast, and peaches. Others tell funny food-centric stories that will delight and amuse young readers. All the poems are accompanied by Joan Rankin’s amusing and expressive illustrations, which perfectly capture the delightful goofiness of Deborah Ruddell’s poetry creations.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Spring Blossoms

Spring begins in just a few days time. Here in Ashland we have already had a grand display of spring blossoms that began when the almond trees starting blooming a few weeks ago. Now the cherries are displaying their pretty pink blooms, and soon the crab apples will be starting. Today's picture book takes readers into the beautiful world of blossoming trees in spring.

Spring Blossoms
Spring Blossoms
Carole Gerber
Illustrated by Leslie Evans
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2013, 978-1-58089-412-8
Spring is here and the trees are “dressed up for their yearly show.” Blossoms cover branches that not long ago were bare. Here is the dogwood wearing its “frosty crown” of white blossoms. The crab apple has white blossoms that are white too, but they are smaller and smell sweet. Magnolia trees produce flowers that are large and tulip shaped, which are quite different from those that you find on cherry trees that  are small and “grow in bundles” so that they look like “small bouquets.”
   Some trees are less showy and yet they too are beautiful in their own understated way. These include the white oak with its green male flowers and its small red female flowers. White pines have small yellow male flowers. Later in the year the female flowers, “tinged with red, like slender lips” appear.
   Throughout this special book, beautiful illustrations are paired with rhyming verse to take young readers into a spring day that is full of beautiful blossoming trees. They will ‘meet’ ten different tree species, and at the back of the book there is further information about spring and the changes that come about in this lovely season.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Animal Crackers: A Delectable Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Lullabies for the Very Young


Finding ways to present old material in a fresh new way is something that some children's book authors and illustrators do very well. Jane Dyer is just such a person. In today's poetry title she brings together wonderful nursery rhymes and other poems for little children and pairs them with her own lovely artwork to give us a book that will delight the young and old alike.

Animal Crackers: A Delectable Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Lullabies for the Very Young 
Jane Dyer
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 3 to 5
Little Brown, 1996, 978-0316197663
Animal Crackers: A Delectable Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Lullabies for tMany little children are captivated by the rhythms and rhymes in poetry, which is why so many nursery rhymes and other little sing-song poems have been written for them. Often they learn their letters using a poem, and their numbers and colors as well. They learn little stories for the first time, and connect with characters such as Humpty Dumpty, Peter Piper and Little Jack Horner. They learn to empathize with the characters who have a hard time, and laugh at the silly situations that they get into.
   In this charming picture book Jane Dyer pairs her warm, beautiful and often cozy paintings with some of the world’s most popular poetry for little children. There are poems for the nursery and the playroom, for bedtime and naptime, and for sick days and rainy days. The poems are divided into seven sections, and we begin with learning poems, such as One, Two Buckle my Shoe and A Apple Pie.
  Then we move onto poems about the seasons. The poem The Months of the Year takes us through the year with a series of rhyming stanzas, each one of which is paired with delightful little illustrations that capture the essence of that month. For example, we read about June, which “bring tulips, lilies and roses / Fills the children’s hands with posies,” and there, next to these two lines, is an illustration of three children, whose arms are overflowing with bouquets of flowers.
   The third section looks at food and drink, and here we find old favorites such as Hot Cross Buns, Pease Porrige Hot, and Polly Put the Kettle On, which many children like to sing together accompanied by the clapping of hands.
   We then go on to poems about animals, nursery rhymes, playtime, and finally wrap up with “Lullaby and Good Night” poems, all of which are perfect to share with a small tired child at the end of a day.

  


Monday, March 9, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Norman, Speak!

When I was sixteen I found a little poodle mix on the streets of the town where I lived. He followed me home, and soon after he became a member of the family. At first I talked to the dog in Greek because we were living in a Greek speaking country. He did not respond to me at all and I thought that he wasn't very bright. Then we spoke to him in English and it became clear that he came from an English speaking household. He knew how to sit and stay and he was a proper little gentleman. In today's book you will meet a dog whom people make assumptions about, and it turns out that they are as wrong about their dog as I was about mine.

Norman, Speak!Norman, Speak!
Caroline Adderson
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood Books, 2014, 978-1-55498-322-3
One day a boy and his parents go to the animal shelter so that they can adopt a dog. When they get there they realize that choosing a dog is not going to be easy; there are so many dogs that desperately need homes. The boy decides that they should adopt the dog who has been at the shelter the longest, and so they end up taking home a brown-and-white dog with a little stumpy tail. The dog was a stray and his name is Norman. Norman is thrilled to be out of his cage. He is thrilled when they leave the shelter. In fact he is so happy that “his whole rump swung from side to side.”
   When they get home the boy tries to teach Norman to sit, to come and to speak. He tries to teach Norman his own name, but the dog does not seem to understand a single thing the boy says and the boy starts to thing that Norman is a rather unintelligent animal. It does not really matter though, because the boy and his parents love Norman anyway.
   Then one day Norman and his master go to the dog park where they meet a friendly black dog. The black dog’s owner calls out and both Norman and the black dog go to him. When the man speaks to the two dogs they do exactly what he tells them to. The boy can hardly believe his eyes. He goes over to the man and realizes that he is not speaking English. The man explains that Norman understands Chinese! It turns out that Norman is smarter than anyone thought.
   In this charming picture book we meet a family that adopts a dog only to discover that their initial assessment of him was woefully incorrect. Their dog knows how to do all kind s of things and now they have to find a way to communicate with him. It is wonderful to see how hard they work to solve this problem and how things work out in the end. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Noisy Poems

Children love noise words and noise sounds because they are funny. For today's poetry title I have a book that is jam packed with noise words. It is the kind of book that children find amusing, and they will love having the poems read to them again and again.

Noisy Poems for a busy Day
Noisy Poems for a busy DayRobert Heidbreder
Illustrated by Lori Joy Smith
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Kids Can Press, 2012, 978-1-55453-706-8
   The sun is rising and it is time to get up. With a “Riffle-rustle” a little boy jumps out of bed, his feet making a “down-pound” sound as they hit the wooden floor. Another day has “rolled around” and there are so many things to do.
  In this sounds-filled book of poetry we join some children as they make their way through the day from sunrise to sunset. Every page gives young readers little poems that are full of sounds and onomatopoeic words, many of which children will love. For example, in the second poem, Off to Breakfast, we encounter “sloppy slurp” and “Big Belch – BURP!” Later in the morning it is time to get dressed and we see a little boy “Twisty-Twiggle / Jump-up jiggle” as he gets his clothes on.
   After getting dressed we venture outside where we play in the grass, get kissed by a dog, do somersaults, look at the clouds, and enjoy doing the kinds of things that children love to do. By the time we are ready to go back indoors we are filthy and need to “Twisty-twiggle” into clean clothes again.
   Throughout this book the poems are accompanied by amusing illustrations that perfectly capture the ebullience of children as they make their way through the day having fun, playing, quarreling, and finally, resting.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Brave Beast

When I was young I did not fully appreciate what true bravery meant. Then I saw a friend do something that terrified him. He was afraid of heights and yet he climbed a tree to retrieve a wayward kite for someone else. I never forgot his courage and compassion.

Today's book is about a beast who, though preferring a quiet life, goes into the frightening unknown to help others. This is a beast I would be happy to have as a friend.

The Brave BeastThe Brave Beast
Chris Judge
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Andersen Press USA, 2013, 978-1849395618
One day the Beast is having a relaxing bath in his lovely garden when he is interrupted by the arrival of a plane, which lands nearby. The pilot comes running up to the Beast and tells him that the people on his island need the Beast’s help. Apparently a loud and terrifying noise is coming from the middle of their island, and the residents are so frightened that they have left the island altogether. There must be “a truly ferocious monster” somewhere on the island and they want the Beast to help them get rid of it.
   The Beast is very large and rather frightening looking himself, but he is actually a very gentle soul and the idea of facing a dangerous monster frankly scares him, but he is kind and wants to help out, so he goes with the pilot. They fly over the island, the Beast jumps out over the sea, and then he swims to land. Bravely he walks through the empty village to the middle of the island where there is a mountain. He makes his way through a twisty tunnel until he comes to the other side of the island. Then the Beast walks through a “spooky” forest, which in when he hears the noise, a noise that makes him run “round and round the forest in fright.”
   Often we fear things that we don’t really understand because they seem overwhelmingly terrifying; but when we face them, we realize that they are not as bad as we thought. In this wonderfully amusing picture book, we see how the Beast, who is scared just like everyone else, finds the courage to face what frightens him, which is when he makes a rather surprising discovery.
   This is the second book about the Beast, and just like the first, it will delight young children and their grownups.