Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of E. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life

All too often, when we read a story or a piece of poetry, we have no idea who the author is or what kind of life he or she lived or is living. I chose to review today's poetry book because it gives readers some poems to read, of course, but it also gives readers a picture of what the poet who wrote those poems was like. I found that this format helped me appreciate the poems all the more.

E. E. Cummings: A Poet's LifeE. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life
Catherine Reef
Nonfiction
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 2006, 978-0618568499
Many of us imagine that poets are gentle souls who are quiet, bookish people living safe and secluded lives. Edward Estlin Cummings was not such a person at all . It is true that he began to write poetry from a very early age, and he did read a great deal, but he also believed that it was essential for a person to experience life to the fullest. He therefore traveled a great deal, he was a red-cross driver during World War I, and he insisted that he should do his duty when he was called up to be a soldier during that same war, even though he was a pacifist. Summings also left the comfort of his home in New England to live in Greenwich Village in New York City, where he could share in the lives of fellow writers, painters, poets, and thinkers. He did not want a life of safety and sameness. He wanted to feel and discover, he wanted to stretch himself.
   And this is just what he did. He also stretched the boundaries of poetry in ways that no one had seen before. Estlin changed all the rules, removing punctuation, capitalizations, the form of the words on the page, and so much more. He challenged his readers to look at the words in a whole new way and he made them think about his ideas. Some people loved what he created. Others could not stand his radically different concepts. Why, they asked, did he make his words slide across the page in that messy way? Why did he use the lower case i all the time? Estlin had his reasons, and he was part of a movement that was challenging people to look at poetry, writing, and art in a new way.
   This wonderfully written title gives readers a thorough and often startling picture of the life of E.E. Cummings, and it also give readers a picture of an era; of a time of great change when people of all kinds were looking for new ways to express themselves. The author makes great use of Cummings' poems to demonstrate what he trying to do with his writing, and thus she gives her readers a taste of the poet's work at different points in his life.
   Well written, and very carefully researched, this book is an excellent example of how a biography for older children should be crafted and presented.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Mr. Hulot at the beach

When I was growing up on the island of Cyprus, summer was all about going to the beach. Here in Oregon we have lots of beaches, but only nutters venture into the water because it is so cold. Sunbathing isn't really an option either much of the time because it is too chilly. Still, the beaches are beautiful and we all enjoy walking and tide pooling, and my husband spends hours looking for rocks.

Since summer is now officially here, I thought I would kick things off with a beach book. Enjoy!

Mr. Hulot at the BeachMr. Hulot at the beach
David Merveille
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
NorthSouth, 2016, 978-0-7358-4254-0
It is a sunny day at the seaside and Mr. Hulot is going to spend some time on the beach. He has a deck chair, an umbrella, a tennis racket and everything else a gentleman might need for such an expedition. He buys a newspaper and then heads for the sands, where he fights with the deck chair for a while trying to get it to cooperate. Which it does. Sort of.
   As he reads his newspaper, an inflated beach ball lands on Mr. Hulot. Some people might get upset by a disturbance of this sort, but Mr. Hulot does not mind. He kicks the ball to the little boy it belongs to and, in the process, Mr. Hulot’s shoe comes flying off and lands in the water. He manages to rescue the shoe (using his shrimping net) and then puts it on top of his umbrella to dry.
   A passing seagull sees the shoe and decides that it is just what it needs. It swoops down and carries off the shoe, with Mr. Hulot in hot pursuit. Causing a great disruption at the hotel, Mr. Hulot climbs up onto the roof of the building to retrieve the shoe, only to find that the seagull has laid some eggs in it. There is nothing for it. Mr. Hulot returns to the ground shoe-less.
   One would think that this escaped would be more than enough of an adventure for one man to have during a sojourn at the seaside, but Mr. Hulot is not your average man and so more misadventures lie in wait for him after he returns to the beach.
   Inspired by the work of the French comic actor and filmmaker, Jacques Tati, David Merveille brings Tati’s wonderful Mr. Hulot character to life in this, his second, Mr. Hulot book. The story is wordless and takes readers on a wonderful series of mishaps that are sweetly funny.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Nibble Nibble

I really enjoy reading and reviewing poetry collections that focus on one subject or theme. Today's poetry title offers readers five poems that feature rabbits. Each of the poems conveys a different mood and sentiment to the reader. The book is wonderfully illustrated throughout by Wendell Minor, a skilled illustrator whose love of nature comes through in his artwork.

Nibble NibbleNibble Nibble
Margaret Wise Brown
Wendell Minor
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
HarperCollins, 2007, 978-0060592080
In 1959 five poems written by Margaret Wise Brown where published and shared with the world.
In this wonderful poetry picture book those five poems are paired with Wendell Minor’s beautiful art. Wendell’s deep and abiding love of nature comes through in the illustrations, and children will almost be able to hear the soft hopping sound of bunny feet and the hum of a summer evening as they turn the pages.
   The poems capture moments in the lives of some rabbits. In two we see the ways in which they move about their world. Another is a kind of song, complete with repetitive, lilting sound words, about the love that one person feels for another. There is also a poem that takes us through the year from April until September, capturing the essence of those warm weather months when young bunnies and robins leaves their nests, when fireflies float above the grass, and when caterpillars, “creep / Out of summer / And into sleep.”
   The collection wraps us with a poem called Cadence, which describes a music that the poet has heard “In the cadence of the word / Not spoken yet / And not yet heard.” This poem is a beautiful conclusion to a poetry journey that children will want to revisit again and again.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Tupelo Rides the Rails

Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy looking for a place that we can call home. Often what we are really looking for are the right people, the people who can make anyplace a home for us because they are there. Today's picture book tells the story of a dog who is looking for a place to call her own. It is a sweet and life affirming story that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Tupelo Rides the RailsTupelo Rides the Rails
Melissa Sweet
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008, 978-0-618-71714-9
One day Tupelo’s humans dump her, and her sock toy, on the side of the road. Tupelo cannot understand why they would do such a thing, and does not know where she should go next. Not being the kind of dog who gives up, and believing that “Everyone belongs somewhere,” Tupelo picks up her toy, Mr. Bones, and she sets off to find her place.
   At first none of the animals she encounters is interested in having her join “their tribe,” but then Tupelo picks up the whiff of something wonderful. She follows the scent and comes across a pack of dogs that are taking part in a bone-burying ritual. They all make a wish to Sirius, the Dog Star, and then bury a bone as an offering to him. The dogs believe that the ritual will bring them “good luck and fortune.”
   Under the glimmer of Sirius the dogs all make their wishes and then bury their bones. All of them except Tupelo. She has no bone to bury and she cannot bear to bury Mr. Bones. Instead of wishing, Tupelo decides to follow the dog pack. The dogs are fed by a hobo called Garbage Pail Tex and then the man and all the dogs hop on a train. The hobo tells the dogs about famous dogs from history, dogs like Lassie and Toto. He sings them a bedtime song too, and Tupelo wishes that the ride will “last forever.”
  When they arrived in Hoboken, Garbage Pail Tex and some of his hobo friends set about reuniting the lost dogs with their families, and finding homes for the others. One by one the dogs go off to be with people who will love and cherish them. Finally, Tupelo is the only one left and she is alone once more with no one for company except Mr. Bones.
   In this lovely story about a dog who is looking for a home, Melissa Sweet combines her charming multimedia artwork with a narrative that readers of all ages will love. Anyone who has felt lost and alone at some point will appreciate how Tupelo feels as she tries to find her place.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes

I am sorry to say that I was in my thirties before I encountered the poetry of Langston Hughes. For some reason my education in a school on the island of Cyprus did not include studying his powerful words. Still, better late than never as they say. I have had, and will continue to have, a wonderful time getting to know Langston Hughes' writings, and I am delighted to be able to bring you this splendid book on this poetry Friday.

Poetry for Young People: Langston HughesPoetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
Edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad
Illustrated by Benny Andrews
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2013, 978-1454903284
When Langston Hughes started writing poetry, he chose to do so using a voice that used “the speech of ordinary Americans,” and he “sought his material in the world around him.” The people and places that he wrote about were familiar to him on a personal level. He also chose to allow his own concerns and beliefs to filter into his writing. For example, he wrote about “the dignity and beauty of African American identity” because he felt that his people, and all people, needed to see and recognize this beauty. In addition, he used his poems to address the social injustices that he saw around him, the injustices that African Americans had lived with for so long.
   In this wonderful collection of poems ,the editors offer young readers some of Langston Hughes’ wonderful poems. Some of them, like the poem called Aunt Sue’s Stories were inspired by Hughes’ own life experiences. When he was a child Hughes was raised in large part by his grandmother. She would place her little grandson on her lap and tell him stories that were rooted in real life, narratives that spoke about “people who wanted to make the Negroes free.” Aunt Sue’s Stories is an homage to that grandmother and her tales, and we hear about how Aunt Sue would sit on the front porch and tell the “brown-faced child” on her lap about black slaves and their lives. The child knew that the stories he was hearing were “real stories,” that “Aunt Sue never got her stories / Out of any book at all.”
   In My People, Hughes explores the beauty that is found in African Americans. To him “the faces of my people” are as beautiful as the night, and their eyes are as beautiful as the stars. Just like the sun, “the souls of my people are beautiful.” Such words were particularly powerful when they were shared with a world that could not, did not, or would not see the beauty found in African American people.
   Langston Hughes sought to combine poetry and the blues in his writing, and several of his ‘musical’ poems appear in this book. In both The Weary Blues and Homesick Blues there is a rhythm that suggests the sway and lilt of a musical style that he most identified with. In other poems formats used in the blues can be found.
   This is a wonderful collection of poems for readers who are familiar with Langston Hughes’ writings, and for those who are coming to them with fresh eyes. Each poem is accompanied by an editorial note, which provides the reader with further information about the poem and about what inspired Hughes to write that poem. Notes are also offered beneath some of the poems that further clarify words and phrases that were used.
  



Monday, June 6, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of A family is a family is a family

I grew up in a rather conservative place where families typically consisted of a mother, a father, and two children. Because many mothers had to work (so that their children could go to university) grandmothers were often a part of the family. They helped raise the children and did some, or all, of the housework. It was only when I moved to the U.K that I saw other family formats, and now I live in a town where their are all kinds of family units. Today's picture book celebrates the family, in all its forms, and the narrative shows how love is the common denominator that connects them all.

A Family Is a Family Is a FamilyA family is a family is a family
Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Groundwood, 2016, 978-1-55498-794-8
Today the children in a class are talking about families, and the teacher asks her students what they think makes their families “special.” One little girl wants to go last because her family is not like anyone else’s and she has no idea what she is going to say. What she does not know is that each of the twelve families she is going to hear about is unique, just like hers.
   The first little girl tells her classmates that her parents have been best friends since first grade and that they are really fond of one another. They even kiss in public, which is “kind of gross.” The little girl who goes next has lots of brothers and sisters. A little boy then tells the class that he has two mothers, both of whom are terrible singers. However, this does not stop them from singing very loudly. Another little boy has two dads, one of whom is very short and the other who is tall. They both “give good hugs.”
   Then there is the little girl who is being raised by her grandmother, and a little girl whose parents are separated. She spends one week with her mother, and one week with her father, which she things is right because “Fair’s fair.”
   When it is finally the little girl’s turn to tell her classmates and teacher about her family, she is able, with a smile on her face, to tell them about a special moment that she shared with her family.

   This wonderful book celebrates the many kinds of families that there are out there. Alongside the little girl we come to appreciate that families come in so many sizes, forms, and formats, and every single one of them can provide a child with a loving environment in which to grow.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Runny Babbit

I don't know about you, but I definitely have days when I am not in the mood for reading something deep and meaningful. My brain is tired and too full of 'stuff', and I just need to relax and enjoy a book. This is true of all kinds of books, including poetry. Some days I am happy to delve into the words written by Maya Angelou or Emily Dickinson, but on others I need something lighter, and today's poetry book fits this bill perfectly. The poems in the book are deliciously amusing and Shel Silverstein's clever way of writing makes it unique and great fun to read.

Runny Babbit: A Billy SookRunny Babbit: A Billy Sook
Shel Silverstein
Poetry
For ages 7 to 9
HarperCollins, 2015, 978-0060256531
Down in the green woods, for some reason that no one can really explain, the animals “do things and they say things / In a different way.” The animals choose to invert the letters in certain words when they speak, and so “purple hat” becomes “hurple pat.” Similarly, instead of saying read a book they say “bead a rook.” To understand it you just have to remember to switch a letter here and there. At first, it can be a little difficult to get the hang of it, but in time one gets used to it, and translation becomes automatic.
   In this book Shel Silverstin takes us into the green woods and introduces us to some of the animals there. The poet brings their stories to life and, wanting to be true to the ways of his subjects, uses their singular way of speaking in his writing.
   One of the families who lives in the green woods is Bunny’s family. He has “A sother and two bristers, / A dummy and a mad.” Bunny’s mamma feeds her family “marrot cilk” and “parrot cie,” and they are very happy living in their “cozy hunny butch.”
   Bunny, like any other child, has all sorts of adventures. For example, one day he “mets guddy” and is then washed and hung out to dry, just as if he were a piece of clothing. Not surprisingly, Joe Turtle is rather surprised to see his friend hanging from a washing line by his ears, and he asks Bunny what he is doing. Bunny, not being one to let the opportunity for a little pun to pass him by, says that he is “just rangin’ hound.”
   We go one to read about how Bunny cuts his own hair, how he takes up knitting, and what happens when he jumps over a “jandlestick.” We hear about what happens when Bunny decides to pretend to be a cowboy, and what he gets up to when he visits Mount Rushmore.
   In all there are forty-one poems in this book featuring Bunny and his friends, and children are going to laugh out loud as they try to figure out the green wood way of speaking. It should be noted that this way of speaking often leads to readers saying rather amusing things without even meaning to.

  


Friday, May 27, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy riddles in verse

Authors of books for young readers find so many ways to incorporate educational, things-you-need-to-know pieces of information into their writings. The author of today's poetry title has combined poetry, riddles, and nonfiction text in a unique and amusing way to explore the parts of the body. I was truly impressed with the creativity that was tapped to create this very special book.

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in VerseRandom Body Parts: Gross Anatomy riddles in verse
Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Poetry Book
For ages 7 to 9
Peachtree Publishers, 2015, 978-1-56145-737-3
From an early age children start learning the names of parts of the body. People have even written little songs to help them learn where their forehead, nose, elbows, and toes are. When they get older they find out a little more about their stomach, their teeth, their eyes, their hair and other parts of their bodies, but do they really know as much as they think they know?
   In this wonderful book the author offers young readers clever riddles written in verse to challenge their knowledge of anatomy. Each riddle is accompanied by a nonfiction section of text, which provides the solution to the riddle and offers up interesting pieces of information about the body part being described.
   In a poem called Lunchtime we encounter a “cauldron” in which “Choice ingredients” are mixed. Here “Flesh of fowl,” “Wheat paste,” and “Plant parts” are combined with a “pulverizing rumble.” What on earth could this body part be? It turns out that this rather stomach churning riddle is describing…the stomach, which, we are told, “churns food into a thick, liquidy shake called chyme.”
   Further along in the book we encounter a sonnet that describes something that is cone-shaped and that is protected by a “cage of bone.” Apparently this body part is important, for in some way “the very stuff of life depends” on the way it works. The note that goes with this puzzle tells us that the riddle is describing the heart. This muscular vital vessel has four chambers and it pumps blood throughout the body.
   In this incredibly clever title we see how a riddle can be a work of word art and a puzzle at the same time. Children will enjoy trying to figure out the solutions to the riddles, and they will be astonished to learn how the various body parts work.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Toot and Puddle

I am lucky to have to some wonderful friends who are there for me in good times and bad, who make me laugh, and who understand where I am coming from. I miss them when I don't see them, and feel rich after I have spent time with them. Today's picture book is about a friendship that is similarly enriching and wonderful. As the pages turn, two little pigs who are very different, but who are also best friends, come to learn something about the relationship that they share.

Toot and Puddle
Holly Hobbie
Picture Book  Series
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2007, 978-0316365529
Toot and Puddle are a pair of pigs who live together, and they are the best of friends. One would think that they would have to be alike to be able to share a home, and yet they are actually very different. Toot loves to go off on adventures to all sorts of exotic places, while his friend prefers to stay home in comfy and homey Woodcock Pocket.
   One day Toot decides to go on a trip around the world. While he is gone, Puddle has a wonderful time at home doing all his favorite things. At the same time he gets to share in Toot's adventures by reading the postcards that Toot sends him from Egypt, Africa, the Solomon Islands, India, and many other places.
   However, even though he is having a good time at home, Puddle begins to miss his friend. He thinks about Toot as he goes about his daily activities. What he doesn't know is that Toot is having similar feelings.
   In this book the author has created a tale with unforgettable characters, illustrations to pore over, and a simple yet powerful text that is a tribute to friendships of all kinds.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Bear in love

Sometimes we think that the perfect expressions of love or affection are the ones that are grand and extravagant. It turns out that often the best way to show someone that you care for them is by doing something for them that is simple, and yet powerful. In this picture book you will meet a bear who finds out that someone cares for him very much, someone who is shy, and kind, and thoughtful; someone who does little things for the bear that say an awful lot.

Bear in love
Bear in LoveDaniel Pinkwater
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-4569-4
One morning, as per usual, a bear crawls out of his cave, he rubs his eyes, stretches, feels the morning sun touch his fur, and then looks around for his breakfast.  On this particular morning he discovers that someone has left an orange “long and pointy” thing on a rock. The bear has never encountered such a thing before, and when he sniffs it he decides that is smells “nice,” and so he nibbles it. The thing turns out to taste very good indeed.
   The next morning someone has left two of the orange, nice tasting things on the rock. The bear cannot help wondering who left them there. The morning after that three orange tasty things appear, and the morning after that there is a whole bunch of them sitting on the rock. The bear decides that someone must like him very much to leave him so many “good things.”
   That day the bear discovers a bee nest in a tree, which he then proceeds to raid. The bear happily feasts off the honey comb and the honey. He could eat the whole lot, but he decides that he will save some for “the nice friend” who gave him all the orange treats.
   The bear leaves the honeycomb on the flat rock and he tries to stay awake to see who his new friend is, watching from his cave. Unfortunately, the bear is not very good at staying up, and he falls asleep. In the morning his friend has left him a little gift. A pretty flower is lying on the rock where the honeycomb was. Once again the bear wonders and wonders who the mystery person could be.
   This sweet story explores how a special friendship is built. With each gift, each act of kindness, the connection between the bear and his secret friend gets closer. Children will be delighted when they see how the story turns out, and when they discover what the bear, and his new friend, feel for each other.