Monday, February 8, 2016

Picture book Monday with a review of Here comes Valentine Cat AND The Valentine


Today I am doing something that I have never done before. I am offering you two reviews! The reason for this is that I could not make up my mind which Valentine's Day book I wanted to tell you about. They are both wonderful. So, you are getting two picture book reviews instead of one


Here comes Valentine Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2016, 978-0-525-42915-9
Cat does not like Valentine’s Day and has declared his territory a “No-Valentine’s Zone.” The reason for this is that Cat thinks Valentine’s Day is “all mushy.” Cat’s friend – who happens to be the person narrating the speaking part of this story – suggests that Cat should make a valentine for a friend. Cat suggests that he could make a valentine for Squiddy, his stuffed toy squid, but the narrator gently suggests that Cat should give a valentine to someone who “isn’t a stuffed animal.”
   There is a problem with this suggestion though. Cat cannot think of a single person he would give a valentine to, which is rather sad when you think about it. The narrator then suggests that Cat should give Dog, who is new to the neighborhood, a valentine. Cat then gets grumpy because Dog throws a bone over the fence, which hits cat on the head. Apparently Dog has does this many times. Dog then throws a ball over the fence, which also hits Cat on the head. Cat then gets an idea, and the narrator starts to worry. Cat is cranky, and when Cat gets cranky he does things that could backfire in a big way.
    This laugh-out-loud funny picture book brings back Cat, the sometimes cantankerous feline who does not really always understand how to get along with others. The good news is that Cat does have a companion, the narrator, who helps Cat figure out how to navigate the tricky world of friendship and how to make the right choices in life.
Cat does not like Valentine’s Day and has declared his territory a “No-Valentine’s Zone.” The reason for this is that Cat thinks Valentine’s Day is “all mushy.” Cat’s friend – who happens to be the person narrating the speaking part of this story – suggests that Cat should make a valentine for a friend. Cat suggests that he could make a valentine for Squiddy, his stuffed toy squid, but the narrator gently suggests that Cat should give a valentine to someone who “isn’t a stuffed animal.”
   There is a problem with this suggestion though. Cat cannot think of a single person he would give a valentine to, which is rather sad when you think about it. The narrator then suggests that Cat should give Dog, who is new to the neighborhood, a valentine. Cat then gets grumpy because Dog throws a bone over the fence, which hits cat on the head. Apparently Dog has does this many times. Dog then throws a ball over the fence, which also hits Cat on the head. Cat then gets an idea, and the narrator starts to worry. Cat is cranky, and when Cat gets cranky he does things that could backfire in a big way.
    This laugh-out-loud funny picture book brings back Cat, the sometimes cantankerous feline who does not really always understand how to get along with others. The good news is that Cat does have a companion, the narrator, who helps Cat figure out how to navigate the tricky world of friendship and how to make the right choices in life.


Mouse Book: The ValentineThe Valentine
Monique Felix
Wordless picture Book
For ages 4 and up
Creative Editions, 2013, 978-1-56846-247-9
A mouse is sitting, by itself, feeling lonely and bored. He starts picking at the paper he is sitting on and when the tear in the paper gets big enough, he peers through the hole it has created. There is something wonderful and amazing on the other side of the paper and the mouse jumps for joy.
   Quickly the mouse starts chewing at the tear and until he has created a little paper heart. Then he squeezes through the hole he has made and goes to the other side. Soon he is back and he stars chewing the paper again. Diligently he chews a big square and then smaller squares. Then he starts to fold and fold  until…
   In this delightful wordless book, one of Monique Felix’s little mice finds a wonderful surprise behind a piece of paper, a surprise that inspires the lovelorn mouse to get creative. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Buddy and Earl

We all tend to label people, even when we try not to, and often the labels come with a certain amount of judgement. All too often our preconceptions of people are way off the mark, and sometimes they are unkind and hurtful as well.

In today's picture book we see how the labels we like to put on people are a waste of time and counterproductive. All that really matters are the relationships that we build together.

Buddy and Earl
Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2015, 978-1-55498-712-2
One rainy day Buddy is feeling “bored and a little lonely.”  Thankfully, his person, Meredith, comes into the room where Buddy is sitting and life gets interesting again. Meredith is carrying a box, which she puts on the floor. She tells Buddy to “stay,” but the dog, after scratching an itch, forgets all about the command he was given and he goes over to the box to investigate. Inside the box there is a strange prickly thing, which Buddy sniffs and sniffs. He considers licking the thing but decides that this might not be such a good thing to do. Then the thing begins to snuffle and hiss. Buddy is thrilled. The brown, prickly thing is alive!
   Buddy introduces himself and the thing says that he is called Earl. Earl then proceeds to tell Buddy that he is a racecar, a giraffe, a sea urchin, and a talking hairbrush. Buddy knows full that that Earl isn’t any of these things and he points out why Earl cannot be a car, a giraffe or a sea urchin.
   After this rather peculiar discussion, Earl then decides to try and guess what Buddy is. He is convinced that Buddy is a pirate, and before logical Buddy can explain that he is a dog and not a pirate at all, he and Earl are having a wonderful adventure on the high seas.
   This wonderful book explores the nature of friendship, and it also looks at how important it is to connect with others in a meaningful way that sets asides labels. Children and adults alike will be touched when they see that Buddy eventually figures out who Earl is. It turns out that what really matters is not what you are, but who you are.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Feeding the Flying Fanellis and other poems from the circus chef

I love cooking for others. There is something so satisfying about creating meals that nourish and succor the people I love and care about. In today's poetry title you will meet a cook who has to come up with meals for some very eclectic people, and whose dishes feed not just the body of these folk; they also comfort their hearts and sooth their minds.

Feeding the Flying Fanellis: And Other Poems from a Circus Chef (Carolrhoda PictFeeding the Flying Fanellis and other poems from thecircus chef 
Kate Hosford
Illustrated by Cosei Kawa
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 2015, 978-1-4677-3905-4
When the circus comes to town everyone comes flocking to the big top to see the trapeze artists, the clowns, the strongman, the performing animals, the human cannonball and other spectacular spectacles. What you might not know is that there is someone, someone in the background, whom all these colorful characters depend on. The chef cannot do a cartwheel, and high places make him “dizzy.” He could never be a clown because he doesn’t “make funny faces,” but without his culinary creations the performers would be in big trouble.
   The chef often has to create very specialized meals. For example, the ringmaster is on the go all the time, and so the chef has created a picnic for the man which can fit in the ringmaster’s top hat. No matter how busy the ringmaster gets, he always knows that under his hat he will find a little something to quench his thirst and fill his belly.
   Sometimes the chef has to literally come to the rescue with his delectable concoctions. When the strongman joined the circus he was homesick for his homeland, so the chef made him Russian treats and tea to comfort the big fellow. Then there was the time when the contortionist twins got themselves in a terrible knot. It was the chef who made them a tarte flambĂ©, and when they smelled the tarte the girls were so delighted that their knot came undone.
   Some of the performers have been specific requirements. For example, Little Blue, the dog who jumps through hoops, will only eat soup, and if he is not given any “His perky ears will start to droop” and he will refuse to perform.
   The tightrope walker also demands a special diet. It needs to be balanced and she will not consume any caffeine or sugar. Food that isn’t wholesome and made from scratch is verboten as far as she is concerned. Though he thinks that she is rather “uptight,” the chef does not blame the tightrope walker for her attitude. After all, he says, “Who wouldn’t be, from such a height?”
   This wonderful poetry picture book takes us into the world of circus performers, and gives us a taste of the challenges that they face as they practice and perform. Holding them all together, catering to all their needs (some of which are downright peculiar) is the chef, who slaves away day and night to take care of the people and animals who are his friends.
  

  


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lets get the winners of the children's literature awards on the Ellen Show!

Not long ago the American Library Association announced the winners of America's most prestigious children's book awards, which includes the Caldecott Award and the Newbery Award. Many of us in the children's literature world would love to see the winners of these awards on the Ellen Show. The staff at KidLitTV have created a short movie about their campaign that I would like to share with you.



Monday, January 25, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of This is Not my Hat

This Is Not My Hat
When I was growing up, I was naturally drawn to stories that featured children who broke the rules. Eloise, and many of the 'naughty' characters from Roald Dahl's books were my heroes because they prevailed in spite of everything. In today's picture book you will meet a fish who does something bad. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he does it anyway. The ending is rather surprising, and perfectly perfect, under the circumstances.

This is not my hat
Jon Klassen
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-5599-0
One day a very small fish steals a hat from a very large sleeping fish. The small fish thinks that the large fish “probably won’t wake up for a long time,” and even when he does wake up the fish won’t notice that the hat is gone. After all, the hat is very small and the big fish probably barely felt it.
   Just in case, the little fish decides to hide in a place where the plants are “tall and close together.” A crab sees where the little fish is going but it promises not to tell anyone where the little fish is hiding. The little fish justifies the theft of the hat, which he knows was a bad thing to do, because the hat was too small for the big fish.
   The little fish makes it to his hiding place and swims in amongst the plants. He is so sure that “Nobody will ever find me,” but it turns out that many of the assumptions that he made were completely wrong.
   This beautifully crafted book, with its simple tale and cocky main character, will delight young readers. Children will be able to see how wrong the little fish is as he talks about what he has done and how to plans to get away with the theft of the hat. They will see that the little fish’s confidence and optimism is, alas, misplaced.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of The Way the Door Closes


The Way a Door ClosesLife is full of unknowns. Sometimes even the things that you feel sure about are not as secure as you thought they were. One of the hardest things for children to cope with is when something happens to a parent. When there is a divorce, when a parent dies, or when a parent walks out, the ramifications for the children in the family can be considerable. Today's poetry title takes readers into the heart and mind of a young man whose father leaves suddenly. The narrative is moving and powerful, and it shows readers what it is like to be a child who is trying to cope with this kind of devastating event.

The way a door closes
Hope Anita Smith
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Poetry
For ages 10 to 13
Henry Holt, 2011, 978-0312661694
C.J. lives with his Momma, Daddy, Grandmomma, and his younger brother and sister. On the whole they have a happy life together, and C.J. admires his strong grandmother, his beautiful mother, and his dependable father who reminds C.J. to be proud of who he is. He loves Sunday afternoons, when he and his father and brother go out and do something together, just the three of them.
   Then Daddy loses his job and things start to change. Daddy tries not to show his pain and worry, but C.J. still sees it and every day he prays that his father will finally get a job. Every day Daddy comes home without a job. Then, one night, Daddy tells his family that he is going out. Somehow, the way he closes the door makes C.J. feel as if they are “vacuum-sealed inside” the room. Something about the way that Daddy closed that door feels wrong.
   Sure enough, that night and the next day Daddy does not come home and C.J. offers to get a job, to even leave school “until we get things squared away,” but Momma won’t hear of it. In fact she gets angry and slaps her son, only to hold him close and cry. As far as she is concerned C.J is too young “to be a man.”
   As the days go by, the gloom of Daddy’s absence spreads, and it touches everyone in C.J’s household. People start to think that Daddy is just another dead-beat dad who will never come back.
   Written using a series of blank verse poems, this touching book explores how a teenage boy feels when his father abandons his family. Feelings of disbelief, anger and fear swirl through C.J. as he tries to come to terms with the fact that nothing stays the same, and that even strong and loving fathers can get afraid when life deals them a blow.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Red Apple

Learning how to work with others and cooperate is a lesson many children struggle with. They often prefer to do things their way. If there is a prize to be earned, they don't want to share it. They would rather struggle on their own than cooperate with others if it means that they have to share the prize. In this gorgeous picture book we see how a group of animals work together to try to get something and how, in the end, their cooperation gives them a gift that none of them expected.

The red Apple
Feridun Oral
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Minedition, 2015, 978-988-8240-00-5
One snowy, bitterly cold winter’s day a rabbit leaves his burrow to try to find some food. Unfortunately, the snow is so deep that everything edible is buried. Then Rabbit sees a bright red apple hanging on a bare tree. Rabbit is delighted with his find and he quickly goes over to the tree. Only to discover that the apple is too far above his head. There is no way that Rabbit can reach the precious fruit.
   Rabbit decides to ask Mouse for his help, and Mouse is willing to do what he can, but it turns out that the tree is too big for such a small mouse to handle. Even when Mouse stands on Rabbit’s head the apple is still too high for them to reach it.
   Then Fox, who is feeling “a bit under the weather,” arrives on the scene.  He tries to knock the apple off the tree with his tail, but his efforts are no more successful than the earlier ones were, and the apple, very stubbornly so it seems, stays firmly attached to the tree.
   In this beautifully written and visually stunning picture book, Feridun Oral shows his readers how cooperation sweetens life in more ways than one. The ending will warm the hearts of readers of all ages. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of A Spectacular Selections of Sea Critters

A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters: Concrete Poems
Concrete poems give poets a means to entertain readers with word magic and graphic art magic. I encountered this form of poetry relatively recently and have seen first hand how excited young children become when they see how the words in a poem can be used to create a picture. This wonderful book is packed to the gills with lots wonderful concrete poems that tickle the mind and delight the eye.

A spectacular Selection of Sea Critters
Betsy Franco
Illustrated by Michael Wertz
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 2015, 978-1-4677-2152-3
Many people love spending time at the seaside, paddling in the waves, and exploring ocean worlds. They are fascinated by the creatures that live underwater; the fish, turtles, jellyfish, stingrays, eels and other animals.
   In this delightful book Betsy Franco’s clever concrete poems are paired with wonderful artwork to give readers a memorable journey into the world of sun, sea, sand, and “sea critters.” The words on the pages are arranged to create shapes and patterns that reflect what is being said in the poems, and these arrangements of words perfectly complement the illustrations to give readers a singular reading experience.
   We begin with a piece of poetry called Sun Mail. The warmth of the sun is sending us an invitation to go “Snorkling today!” and when we dip our heads beneath the ways we see schools of fish where all the fish move in perfect unison to the right, the left, up and down. The fish “shift together in a flash” and as one “they swim together to survive.”
   In the water we encounter box jellyfish, “fascinating” creatures that move around by “undulating” and “pulsating.” We see a sea turtle “row by” with “flippered wings,” and a king angelfish, which is territorial about her space. Among the coral, butterfly fish spend their days “floating, flitting, flickering, fluctuating feeding.” The peaceful harmony of their world is rudely interrupted when they have to flee from a hungry eel.
   Puffer fish, cleaner fish, needlefish, sea horses, Moorish idols, trumpet fish and others cover the pages of this special book. There are poems in rhyming verse, blank verse, a haiku, an acrostic poem, a tercet, a limerick, a riddle and more. Throughout the book Betsy Franco dazzles us with her remarkable word pictures and delights us with her creativity.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sanctuary

Some picture books were clearly written just for children. Others will appeal to adults who love to look at beautiful art, or who like to give their imagination an airing. And then there are picture books that can be enjoined equally by children and adults because the message is so universal. Today's picture book is just such a title. Children will be drawn into the simple narrative and perhaps they will think about what makes them feel safe and secure. Adults may find themselves wondering what their sanctuary is too. Is it a place, a person, or something else altogether?

SanctuarySanctuary
Wendy Marloe
Illustrated by Joanna Chen
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Marloe Press, 2015, 978-0-9823495-3-3
When a group of people are asked what they think of when they hear the word “sanctuary,” each person will probably come up with a unique answer. For some, a cozy nook in a window seat might be a sanctuary, while for others their sanctuaries might be out in the fresh air, perhaps amongst trees in the woods or on top of a high hill.
   In this memorable book a minimal text is paired with beautiful illustrations to explore what sanctuaries are. They can be places where we share a part of ourselves, places like a stage. Or they can be places where we can be alone, such as a chair in a library. A sanctuary can be a structure “made out of stone, or cloth, or cardboard or wood,” or alternately it can be “the space between here and the horizon.”
   A sanctuary can be a solitary place under the covers where we hold onto a beloved stuffed animal so that we can have a quiet cry, or it can be picnic place in the woods where we go to play and laugh with others.
   This is the kind of book that children and grownups alike will enjoy sharing. It is a book that will give readers something to think about, and they will enjoy sharing the artwork, and the imagery in the words, with others. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of We troubled the waters


Until relatively recently, I had never encountered poetry that told uncomfortable stories from real life, stories that captured painful events from history. Then I started reviewing poetry books and I came across a few such titles, books in which the raw truth from the past is shared and explored. Today's poetry title is an example of this kind of book, and the poems it contains are powerful and honest.

We troubled the waters
We Troubled the WatersNtozake Shange
Illustrated by Rod Brown
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 to 10
HarperCollins, 2009, 978-0-06-133735-2
The history of the African American people is peppered with stories of struggle, loss, landmark moments and people of great courage. We know some of these stories well and think about them as the year rolls around, remembering how Rosa Parks took a stand on a bus, and how Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech on a hot summer’s day in Washington D.C. However, there are many stories that we do not know, and in this book big stories and small ones are told to help us get a truthful picture of what it was like to be an African American in the days when people of color were discriminated against.
   The first story we encounter is about the schools Booker T. Washington founded, schools that gave black children the tools, it was hoped, that would allow them to succeed in the world. Not many years before, the children who attended the schools would have been horribly punished for trying to get an education, but now the door to the world of books, words and numbers was open to them.
   Soon after we read this story of hope we meet a woman sitting in the middle of a floor. She is a “Cleaning Gal” and she knows that she could get into terrible trouble for resting when she should be working. She knows that many tasks await her in the hours and days ahead, and that she has to work, and work hard, to provide for her family. She knows that while she labors away, her employers will live a life of leisure, a life she can only dream about.
   Though this is painful and sad picture, it is nothing compared to the one we come across later in the book when we read about how a group of boys are lynched, left hanging in trees for the their family members to find. Often these acts of barbarism were the work of the Ku Klux Klan, a group who “terrorized” African Americans for generations. Wearing their white robes and head coverings “they took no responsibility for the heinous reign of death they dealt.”
   We read too about how many brave souls refused to accept the “WHITES ONLY” signs. They protested peacefully against segregation in five and dime stores and other places where they were not welcome, and were attacked and imprisoned for their pains.
   This powerful collection of poems will give readers a sense of what African Americans went through, and how they suffered over the years, oppressed by violence and Jim Crow laws. They were not beaten though, and rose up to march and sing, to speak and to shout out for justice.