Monday, August 18, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Maple

In my family we like to plant trees on special occasions. Sometimes the trees serve as a memorial to someone we love. These trees almost become members of the family, but not quite. In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who has a tree for a friend who really is a member of her family.

Lori Nichols
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-399-16085-1
Before she was born, when Maple was “still a whisper,” her parents planted a little maple tree in their garden for her and when she came into the world they named her Maple. As she grew, the little maple tree grew, and when she needed to be noisy, or sing, or pretend to be a tree, Maple went to be with her tree.
   One fall Maple saw that her tree was losing its leaves, so she gave it her jacket so that it would “stay warm.” No matter what else was happening, Maple always knew that she had her tree, and the tree had her.
   Then one spring something changed. A new little tree appeared in the garden and Maple’s mother had another little whisper growing inside her. Not long after, Maple became a big sister and she learned that life rarely stays the same. Change is inevitable and Maple had to figure out how to be a good big sister, which isn’t easy.
   In this heartwarming picture book we meet a little girl who develops a special connection with a tree. This may seem strange, but the tree and the little girl grew up together and shared many grand times. Young readers are sure to enjoy seeing how Maple deals with a very big change in her life. Thankfully, she has a friend who helps her sort out her problems.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Knock at a star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry

Over the years I have looked at a lot of poetry collections. Some focus on one kind of poetry, or one topic, while others are collections of all kinds of poetry. Today's title belongs to the latter category, and I have to say that it is one of the best collections of this type that I have ever looked through. Poetry as a form of writing is explored in an interesting way, and readers of all ages will enjoy reading the poems and the sections of text that accompany many of them.

Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to PoetryKnock at a star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry
X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy
Illustrated by Karen Lee Baker
Ages 7 and up
Little Brown, 1999, 978-0316488006
Many people have created poetry anthologies for children, and such collections give children the opportunity to experience and explore a wide variety of poems. Readers can open such books on any page and start reading.
   This poetry collection is a little different in that the poems are categorized into chapters. The authors use poems to show readers what poems do, what is inside a poem, the special kinds of poems there are, and they wrap up by showing us how to write our own poems. Throughout the book readers will find notes that help them better understand the poems and the people who wrote them.
   The purpose of poems may seem obvious, but in fact poems, like stories, can serve a variety of purposes. They can make readers smile either because they describe something funny, or because the poet uses words in a funny way, or both of these things. In Spring is Sprung, a poet deliberately used words incorrectly to give us a poem that is short and amusing. Ogden Nash’s The Termite tells us a short tale about how a termite tasted wood “and found it good.” We learn that the termite’s fondness for wood explains why “Cousin May / Fell through the parlor floor today.”
   Telling stories using poetry is something many poets enjoy doing. These stories can be humorous or serious, and they help readers see that story poems can be just as colorful and exciting as stories that are told in prose.
   Some poets like to use their poems to convey a message to their readers, presenting an idea or point of view that matters to them. Then there are the poems that allow their writers to share their feelings with the reader. Often these poems are very powerful because they are personal and heart felt. In Janet S. Wong’s poem Losing Face we read about a guilt-ridden girl who won an art contest using a picture that she traced. She so much wants to tell everyone what she did, but she doesn’t “want to lose / Mother’s glowing / proud face.”
   People can often be confusing. We don’t understand why they say and do the things they do. Some poets use their writings to help us understand people and their ways. Through them we learn that people come in so many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. For example, in her poem My Mother we learn about a mother who is not “like / Some others.” Instead of being the kind of mother who bakes and cooks, this mother stays up late into the night “Reading poetry.”
   This is the kind of poetry collection that readers of all ages will enjoy exploring. Even adults who know a great deal about poetry will soon appreciate that this collection is truly a gift.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Mister Bud wears a cone

Not long ago one of my dogs had surgery and he had to wear a "cone of shame" for a while to make sure that he did not try to pull out his stitches. Poor Pippin hated the cone, and I had to work very hard not to laugh as he went around the house bumping into walls and furniture. It was funny, and it also was pitiful.

In today's picture book you will meet Mister Bud, who has to wear a cone and whose doggy housemate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of his friend's situation.

Mister Bud Wears the ConeMister Bud wears the cone
Carter Goodrich
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8088-9
One night Mr. Bud’s itchy hotspot starts itching like crazy. Poor Mister Bud chews and licks it, and in the morning his person sees that the hotspot is much worse. She puts some medicine on it which she hopes will make the hotspot go away. She is comforting and tells Mister Bud that she knows that “It’s no fun,” having such a nasty hotspot. Zorro resents the fact that Mister Bud is getting all the attention. Even worse the dogs’ schedule is “all messed up” because of Mister Bud’s hotspot.
   Before she leaves the house for the day Mister Bud’s person puts a cone on his head so that he won’t lick or itch his hotspot. Not surprisingly, Mister Bud hates the cone. He cannot see properly when he wears it, he walks into furniture, he cannot eat or drink properly, and he cannot stop Zorro from stealing his favorite toy. Wearing the cone is the worst thing ever and when Mister Bud accidentally breaks a lamp, he is convinced that he is going to be in big trouble. Zorro is thrilled and he is eager to see what their person says when she sees what Mister Bud has done.
   In this deliciously funny and sweet book we meet a dog who has to wear a cone and whose life is severely disrupted by the horrible thing. It does not help that his house mate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of the situation. Readers of all ages are going to laugh out loud when they see what happens in this memorable picture book story.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of It's Raining Pigs and Noodles

Jack Prelutsky loves finding ways to hook children on poetry, and he has been creating poems that serve this purpose for years now. In today's poetry title you will see how he helps children to see for themselves that poetry can be great fun.

It's Raining Pigs & NoodlesIt’s Raining Pigs and Noodles
Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by James Stevenson
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2000, 978-0060291945
Life is too short for us to spend our days doing serious things and having serious thoughts all the time. A dose of silliness and goofiness is required every day at least once. Some of us find it hard to make the switch from being sensible to silly, which can be very trying. Where is that funny bone hiding and how do we get it to do what it is supposed to do?
   Thankfully for everyone who needs help finding their inner silly self, Jack Prelutsky has put together a collection of poems that are guaranteed to tickle the funny bone, thus bringing the silliness that lies within us all to the surface. Every single poem in this book is one hundred percent amusing, and readers can be sure that after a few pages they will be feeling a lot less serious.
   The poems begin with poem called It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles. If you like the idea of it raining pigs and noodles you should read the rest of the poem where the poet describes how “Assorted prunes and parrots / are dropping from the sky,” and these are followed by “a bunch of carrots, / some hippopotami.” The poem wraps up with the words, “I like this so much better / than when it’s raining rain.”
   A couple of pages later in The Chicken Club, we meet some people who are afraid of everything and anything, which is why they are members of this special club. The club members are afraid of thunder and shadows, creepy crawlies, and even their own reflections. In fact they are afraid of so many things that “we’ve even started clucking / and we’re sprouting chicken wings.”
   Children and their grownups are going to have a grand time dipping into this book and sampling a helping of poetry that will make them smile or chuckle.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Imagine a Day

The great thing about having an imagination is that it allows us to make things up, and sometimes the things we make up are weird, magical, wonderful, or some combination of all of these elements. In today's picture book the author takes us on a fanciful journey into the imagination, and the places she takes us really are special.

Imagine a DayImagine a Day
Sarah L. Thomson
Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Picture Book
Ages 5 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2005, 0-689-85219-3
   The imagination can take anything from the everyday world and turn it in to something wonderful, something exciting. On a cloudy grey day the imagination can imagine a way to bring back a blue sky by filling the heavens with thousands of blue balloons. With the imagination a walk on the fence can turn into a daring walk between high rise buildings. Our imagination can make it possible for us to lay water down in slabs, much in the same way that one would tile a floor; and the coppery leaves of fall can be turned into a road that can be ridden on, high above the ground.
   In this wonderful book Sarah Thomson takes our imaginations on a journey. As we explore the pages we celebrate the imagination and all the wonderful things that it can do. It can make the dreary interesting, the commonplace remarkable, it can add spice to one’s life, and it can give one peace.  Rob Gonsalves has taken the simple text and has created paintings which make the mind stretch and wonder. The art is beautiful and intriguing, and it challenges one to look at the world though eyes that can see not just what is really there but what could be there. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Give me Wings

When I was a child I dreamed about flying all the time. I never needed wings and the dreams were so wonderful that I was sorry when I woke up. Today's poetry picture book celebrates those dreams (or daydreams), allowing us to take to the air once more.

Give Me WingsGive me Wings
Poems Selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Illustrated by Ponder Goembel
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Holiday House, 2010, 978-0-8234-2023-0
For many people their favorite dreams are the ones in which they are flying. In these dreams they can soar in the air without needing any kind of mechanical aid to help them do so. With arms held wide, or with wings attached to their arms, they are able to fly high above the ground and feel the freedom of not being tied to the earth.
   In this delightful book, poet Lee Bennett Hopkins brings us a selection of poems that take us, at least for a little time, up into the air. He encourages us to imagine what it would be like if we were to wake up one morning to find that we had wings attached to our arms. He tells us the story of a boy who, at one time, was able to fly. Every night the boy lay on his bed and “willed myself to fly.” It was hard work, and sometimes an hour would go by before he finally felt himself float up above his bed. By using a “swimming motion” the boy would make his way over to the window and then he would go out into the night sky.
   Humans are not the only ones who dream of flying. In one of the poems we meet a cat who is just a “scruffy house cat,” but she “dreams all day / of wings and sky.” At night the cat climbs a ladder and swings back and forth on a trapeze until it is time to finish with “somersaults / to wild applause.”
   The wonderful collection wraps us with a poem by Lee Bennett Hopkins that describe how we should put our wings away into a wing box where they will lie, safe and sound, until we need them “for / tomorrow’s / flight.”
   This is a book for anyone who has dreamed (or daydreamed) about flying. Readers will enjoy a brief time when they can take flight through these poems and explore hopes and dreams that float as soft as downy feathers on the wind.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Boris and the Wrong Shadow

We tend to take shadows for granted, until there is a hot day and we can't find a single shadow where we can get some respite from the heat. Shadows are important, which is what Boris the Siamese cat learns in today's picture book. They should not be taken for granted, and one should never, ever, lose them or let them wander off.

Boris and the Wrong ShadowBoris and the wrong shadow
Leigh Hodgkinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tiger Tales, 2009, 978-1-58925-082-6
One day Boris the Siamese cat wakes up after having a delightful dream. The delicious aftereffects of his dream are soon replaced by a distinct feeling that something is amiss. When Boris gets up he soon sees what is wrong. Instead of having a cat-shaped shadow, he now has a mouse-shaped shadow. Now, some cats would freak out if they saw their shadow acting up, but Boris decides not to let such a “silly thing,” bother him. Instead, he goes outside to enjoy the day.
   Unfortunately, the animals in the garden don’t have such a sanguine attitude to cats with mouse shadows, and Boris is laughed at, squeaked at, and ignored. Try as he might, Boris cannot help feeling rather depressed about his situation, and then he sees something that pulls him out of his unhappy state. Boris sees his shadow going by and he sets off in hot pursuit.
   In this delightful picture book we meet Boris, a cat whose shadow has been shadow-napped. Or so it would seem. Though Boris is understandably upset about his shadow problem, the experience teaches him something about what it is like to be a small, defenseless creature that other animals don’t take seriously. Maybe it was a good thing that this whole shadow conundrum took place.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Pocket Poems

When I was growing up the only short poems I encountered in poetry books were limericks and rhyming riddles. I didn't learn about haiku until I was in high school, and certainly did not encounter the kinds of poems that you will find in today's poetry title. These short "pocket poems" are perfect for children. Many of them are amusing, but some are more serious and offer children images and ideas that they will enjoy thinking and talking about.

Pocket PoemsPocket Poems
Selected by Bobbi Katz
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2013, 978-0147508591
Though we live in a “bigger is better” world, we don’t always have to buy into this way of thinking. There are many instances when smaller is better, or when less is better. There are times when a tiny and perfect little violet has more impact than a big bunch of roses, or when a little basket of perfectly ripe strawberries is better than a whole bowl full of strawberry shortcake.
   In this poetry book we are going to encounter a wonderful selection of pocket poems, poems that are short and sweet and that we can write down on a small piece of paper and tuck in a pocket. Such poems can go “wherever you go” and since nothing can “take it” or “break it,” that poem “becomes / part of… / YOU!”
   There are a wide variety of pocket poems included in this collection. Some are amusing like Toothpaste. In this poem we hear about how toothpaste ends up “on my nose” and how it “sprays north and west and south.” The only place the pesky stuff doesn’t end up is in the one place where it belongs, which is “inside my mouth.”
   Other poems, like the excerpt from William Blake’s Night, are more contemplative, creating an atmosphere and capturing a precious memory or moment in time. In this poem we read about the moon which is “like a flower / In heaven’s high bower.” Another simple get meaningful poem is called Home and in it we read a few short lines that capture the essence of home with its “quiet” and “peace.”
   As we move from page to page we enjoy moments from school days and everyday life, old fashioned Mother Goose rhymes, and more. The poets whose creations appear on these pages include J. Patrick Lewis, Carl Sandburg, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, and Nikki Giovanni.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Chickadees at Night

When I moved into my first apartment in Washington D.C. there was a tiny garden in the back. The patch of glass was minuscule, but my roommate and I enjoyed spending time out there, and soon after I moved in I got my first bird feeder. I was soon able to recognize several bird species, birds that I had only seen in books heretofore. My favorite was the little chickadee, a very small bird with a distinct song and a huge personality.

Today's picture book will delight readers who like birds, and they will enjoy finding out what chickadees do at night when we are all asleep in out beds.

Chickadees at Night
Chickadees At NightBill O. Smith
Charles E. Murphy
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleepytime Press, 2013, 978-0-615-56972-7
We all know what chickadees do during the day. They sing their chick-a-dee-dee-dee song, “dip and dart through the tangle of trees,” and visit our birdfeeders. What do they do at night? They disappear and we have no idea what they are up to. Do they perhaps bathe in the rain and rest “on hidden perches?”
   Actually the answer is a simple one. Those cunning little birds spend their nights playing and having fun. They bounce on spider web trampolines, play hide and seek, and take rides on the backs of flying squirrels. They enjoy the simple pleasures that can be found as the moon rises and the stars twinkle overhead.
   In this delightful, lyrical, magical picture book the author answers some delightful questions about the doings of a cunning little bird. Chickadees may be small, but that have oodles of charm, and thanks to Bill O. Smith we now know just a few of their secrets.
   Throughout the book the uplifting and sometimes funny rhyming text is paired with stunning illustrations that capture the beauty and sweetness of one of North America’s most beloved wild birds.
   At the back of the book the author provides readers with some “Chickadee Nuggets.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Cat Talk

For almost my whole life, I have shared my home with a cat or two (or three or four), and I cannot image being catless. Every single one of my cats has had a distinct personality. Alex was grumpy and did not know how to be a pet at first. Sophie was sweet and incredibly patient. Mini Katie was brave and she always had something to say. Tinka the Tonkinese was a minx who could not be trusted to stay out of trouble. Now I have Sara, who seems standoffish but who actually loves attention, and her incredibly naughty sister, Suma, who has broken more things than all my other cats put together.

Today's poetry title pairs beautiful paintings with poems about cats, who, like humans, are all one-of-a-kind characters.

Cat TalkCat Talk
Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
Illustrated by Barry Moser
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
HarperCollins, 2013, 978-0-06-027978-3
Some people are under the impression that cats are all alike, that they don’t have distinctive personalities. They could not be more wrong. Cats, like people, come is all shapes and sizes both in their looks and in their inner selves.
   In this beautiful book we are going to meet some cats, each one of which is very different. Tough Tom, with his torn up ears, has been living out in the world on his own. He is independent and knows how to take care of himself, but when someone opens a window and when Tough Tom finds out that the person in the house has food and a blanket, Tough Tom has to make a choice. He is scared because he is used to the outdoor life and “fighting with other cats,” but a life of comfort and ease is attractive to that cat.
   Lily is a barn cat who shares her life with cows, horses, and a gray donkey called Rose. It is a good life and she likes the “sweet-smelling hay, / And the breathing of cows / And horse snorts.” Lily has a secret though. She has a best friend and she asks us not to tell anyone about this friend because…she thinks he is “a mouse.”
   Some of the cats we meet on the pages are house cats who get to share their human’s bed, and who rule those humans with a firm paw. Then there is Eddie, who has a job which he takes very seriously. Eddie is an office cat and he goes to “greet people at the office door.” He uses “many voices” to say hello, to ask for snacks, and to comment on and react to things that happens around him.
   Some cats like Sylvie are aloof and make sure that everyone knows that they are “the boss cat.” Others are more like Romeo, loving everyone, asking for attention, and playing with anyone who happens to be available.
   Throughout this book the wonderful poems are paired with Barry Moser’s beautiful and evocative paintings to give readers a delightful cat-centric poetry experience.