Monday, October 12, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sloth Slept On

All too often, when we don't know what something is, we simply walk away. We can't be bothered to find out. We are too busy doing more 'important' things. In today's picture book readers meet some children who encounter an animal that they cannot identify. They could walk away from, it but they don't. Instead they try to find out what it is and then they do their best to help the animal.

Sloth Slept OnSloth Slept On
Frann Preston-Gannon
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sterling, 2015, 978-1-4549-1611-6
One day a group of children discover that there is a strange looking animal in a tree in the backyard. The children ask the animal its name, and they ask it what it is doing in their tree, but the animal does not respond at all because it is fast asleep on its branch.
   Wanting to know what the animal is, the children put in in their little red wagon and they “set off to find some answers.” They ask Dad about the animal but he is too busy to answer their questions. They look in books to try to find out what their new friend is, but find nothing. They know what is isn’t, but what it is remains a mystery. The children even imagine that he might be an astronaut, a pirate or a knight. Then one of the children makes a discovery, and they learn that that their new animal friend is very special indeed.
   With touches of pictorial humor throughout her story, the author of this book gives her readers a mystery that they will enjoy sharing. In the artwork we are given clues to the animal’s identity, so that, if we are looking hard enough, we know what the animal is before the children do. This memorable book comes to a close with an ending that is sure to delight readers young and old.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems

Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems
When I was six my parents and I moved to an island where families were big. When our neighbors had a family gathering so many people turned up that the party would spill out of the house and into the garden. My immediate family was small, but it was not long before we were 'adopted' by other families, and we too started having big gatherings that were wonderful affairs.

Today's poetry title celebrates families, and it is full of poems that are tender and amusing.

Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems
Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
Poetry Picture book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2001, 978-0316362511
Families come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as small as “One and another,” and they can be big enough to include dear friends who are so close that they too are family. Humans are not the only ones who have families either. “A pair like a kanga and roo is a family,” as are “A calf and a cow that go moo.”
   In this heartwarming picture poetry book Mary Ann Hoberman celebrates families, bringing readers a collection of poems that explore relationships and connections. She begins with a little boy who tells us about his baby brother. We can hear the love in this child’s voice as he tells us that his brother is “beautiful” and how “when he laughs, his dimple shows.” Another child tells us about the walks that he takes with his father. Often his father talks about “how it was when he was small” when he used to take walks with his dad, and how his dad took walks with his dad. Four generations of children in this family have gone down to the beach to watch the ships go by.
   In another poem a little boy introduces us to all his grandparents. We hear how one grandma bakes him birthday cakes and “rubs my tummy when it aches.” His other grandma knits clothes for him, and when he got the chicken pox “She let me have her button box.” One of his grandfathers, the stout one, is teaching him how to yodel; and his tall and thin grandfather is good at basketball.
   In a wonderful poem called Relatives we get to meet one little boy’s colorful family when they are all gathered together in his home. Each one has a comment to make about the boy, and they all talk “as if I couldn’t hear.” He hears about how he has got “Uncle Perry’s nose,” “He looks a tiny bit too thin,” and “has his mother’s knobbly knees.” By the end of the discussion the poor little boy wonders “who I really am.”
  As the pages are turned we hear about special moments in children’s lives that are touched by the actions of their relatives. There is the little girl whose mother cares for her lovingly when the little girl is sick, and then there is the child whose father now lives in a different house and has “another family.” Every time the child and the father get together they have a visit full of happiness, but when the father drives away the child always feels the loss.
   Throughout this book wonderful verse is paired with artwork to give us a taste of moments in children’s lives that are sometimes sweet and sometimes funny.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Lizard from the park

When one is something of a loner, making a friend can be a very big deal indeed. That friend can become the center of one's life, and a much needed presence. In today's picture you will meet a little boy who makes a very special friend indeed, and who then discovers that this friend creates some rather challenging problems.

Lizard from the ParkLizard from the park
Mark Pett
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4424-8321-7
Every week day Leonard walks home from school by himself, so it is not surprising that on that particular spring afternoon Leonard is walking home through the park on his own. In the deepest and darkest part of the park Leonard finds a very large egg, which he puts into his backpack and takes to his apartment home.
   For the rest of the afternoon Leonard plays with the egg and that night he even sleeps with it. The following morning the egg starts to “jiggle” and “crack” and then a little green lizard emerges. Leonard decides to call the lizard Buster and from that day on the two are inseparable. Leonard shows Buster all his favorite places in the city and they have a wonderful time together.
   Not surprisingly little Buster grows, but what Leonard does not expect that Buster keeps on growing until he is so huge that even a disguise doesn’t cover up the fact that he is very large and very green. Buster is going to have to stay in Leonard’s bedroom and this makes the lizard unhappy.  When Buster outgrows Leonard’s bedroom, Leonard has to reassess. Something has to be done about Buster.
    In this clever and charming picture book we see how a little boy develops a very special relationship with an animal, but in the end he realizes that his new friend cannot go on living with him. What makes this book especially clever is that we are given clues throughout the book that Leonard is not alone and that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who knows exactly how he is feeling.
   In this book beautifully atmospheric illustrations and a powerfully simple story are brought together to give readers a memorable story experience.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

It isn't often that I come across biographies that are written using poems. I am sure such books present the writer with a unique set of challenges. The author of today's poetry title rose to the challenge beautifully and created a book that is powerful and memorable.

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-6531-9
Fannie was born in 1917, the daughter of sharecroppers who lived and labored in Sunflower Country in Mississippi. Though the sharecroppers were technically free, their lives were terribly hard, for “Sharecropping was just slavery by a gentler name.” Fannie was only six when she started working in the cotton fields with her family members. Though they picked fifteen tons of cotton each season, they could never “get ahead” because “the scale was always tipped / in the owner’s favor.”
   Even as a young child, Fannie could see that there was no equality in her world. Whites had food, clothes and everything they needed, while blacks worked hard every day and still went hungry. Fannie’s mother taught her daughter that even if they had less than the whites, they were not lesser people. She wanted her youngest child to “respect yourself as a Black child.”
   Worn out by hard work, Fannie’s father died before she twenty-two and many of her brothers and sisters moved north where they hoped to find better paying work. Fannie would have joined them but her mother needed to be taken care of, so she stayed in the land of Jim Crow. Fannie got married and she and her husband did their best to get by, picking cotton in the fields, and selling homemade bootleg liquor.
   In 1962 one of Fannie’s friends told her that some young men were coming to their local church to talk to the congregation about voter registration. Not a single person in the congregation had ever cast a ballot but that did not stop eighteen of them, including Fannie, from volunteering to go to sign up and register. Fannie never imagined that the simple act of going to register to vote would have a huge impact on her life, but it did. The white establishment would not tolerate such behavior, and blacks who tried to sign up were punished over and over again. Fannie lost her job and her home; she was shot at; she had to move from place to place, and then, finally, she decided that enough was enough. Fannie was going to speak out and do her part to bring about change.

   In this memorable picture book biography, powerful poems bring Fannie Lou Hamer’s story to life. We see how she struggled, and how she stood up for what she believed in, even when it was dangerous to do so. The poems contain direct quotes from Fannie Lou Hamer, and at the back of the book an author’s note contains more information about this incredible woman’s life. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of A Lucky Author has a Dog

I am very lucky to have not one but two dogs in my life, and since I work at home they are my constant companions. They don't mind when I read reviews and stories out loud. In fact they are wonderful listeners! They don't mind when I mutter and fuss when things are not going well, and will press their noses into my hand when they feel that I need a little attention. They are wonderful work mates, which is why I was immediately drawn to today's picture book. Anyone who has a dog in their life is lucky, but I think we authors really need our dogs.

A Lucky Author Has a DogA Lucky Author has a dog
Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Steven Henry
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-51876-5
Every morning a dog up wakes its person with a kiss. The dog’s person is a little different from other people because she is an author, and authors tend to stay at home to work, which means that the dog has a companion all day long. The dog is therefore very lucky indeed.
   The interesting thing is that the dog is not the only one who is lucky. The author is lucky too because she has the dog. Dogs are wonderful partners who understand that what the author is doing is important even if the dog really “isn’t exactly sure what an author does.” The dog is an “encouraging friend” who is always there, and the dog knows when it is time for the author to take a break. Walks are good for the dog, but they are also good for the author as well because new sights, smells and sounds help feed a mind that is stuck and frustrated. In fact, a dog can really show an author “how to look and listen the way a dog does,” which can make all the difference in the world when you are a wordsmith and storyteller.
   In this unique picture book we find out what the life of an author is like, and we also come to appreciate that being an author’s dog is not a job to be taken lightly. As the narrative carries us through the day we see that the relationship between the author and her friend is special because both partners know that they are lucky to have each other.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Double Happiness

Moving to a new home can be hard for children. They often have to leave friends and family members behind and it can be scary not knowing what your new life is going to be like.

In this delightful poetry title the author uses a series of poems to tell the story of two children who are moving away from their home in San Francisco and going to a new house many miles away in a different state.

Double Happiness
Nancy Tupper Ling
Illustrated by Alina Chau
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle, 2015, 978-1-4521-2918-1
Gracie and her brother Jake are leaving their home in San Francisco and they are going to live in a new place far away from family members, and far from their “city house / by the trolley tracks.” Gracie is not happy about this change but her brother is excited about the prospect of having a new room with all kinds of ‘cool’ things in it.
   Before they leave, the children’s grandmother, Nai Nai, gives each of the children a box in which to put four items, treasures that will lead them “from this home / to your new.” The first item to go into Gracie’s box is her Nai Nai’s panda toy, which Nai Nai gives her. On the bus to the airport Jake finds a lucky penny, which goes into his box. As Gracie gets off the bus at the airport a eucalyptus leaf drifts down in front of her. The leaf is “the perfect treasure to remind me of home” so it is placed carefully into her box.
   As the journey to their new home unfolds, we join Gracie and Jake in their adventures as they visit the plane’s cockpit, try not to fall asleep, and then see their new home “from the sky.”  With their happiness boxes by their sides, the children experience change that is both painful and exciting.
   In this unique book the journey two children take is told in a series of poems. Some of the poems are from Gracie’s point of view, and some are from her exuberant brother’s. Some of them are told using both ‘voices,’ which beautifully capture how different the children are.
   Throughout the book the poems are accompanied by beautiful and emotive illustrations that capture the connection that the children have with their former home, and that also explore the hopes and fears that they have about their new one.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Welcome Autumn!

Autumn is finally here and I am really looking forward to cooler temperatures, colorful trees, sitting by the fire on Sundays, and getting out my knitting needles and yarn. Mind you, yesterday it was eighty degrees here in southern Oregon, which made the day feel more like summer than autumn, but one can hope that this situation will change soon.

Over the years I have reviewed many books about autumn. Some are stories, while others are nonfiction titles about this wonderful season. Do visit the Through the Looking Glass Autumn Days Book Collection page to find books that have a delightful autumn flavor.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Rufus the Writer

The amazing thing about writing stories is that the writing process ends up being a gift to the person who creates the story, and the story itself is a gift to those who read it. In today's picture book you will meet a boy who loves to write stories, and who happily gives his stories away to the people he cares about.

Rufus the WriterRufus the Writer
Elizabeth Bram
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2015, 978-0-385-37853-6
One day Rufus is lying in the grass looking up at the summer sky when he gets an idea. Instead of having the usual summer lemonade stand he will have a story stand. Rufus runs indoors to gather up what he needs, and he sets up a table outdoors, which he covers with a cloth. He makes a sign for his story stand and lays out paper, pencils, and colors. Rufus then goes and changes his clothes. After all, a writer has to look the part!
   Millie and Walter come by and they invite Rufus to go swimming with them. He explains that he has to take care of his story stand. Walter asks to buy a story and when he asks what the fee will be Rufus tells the little boy to bring him “a special shell from the beach.” After his friends leave, Rufus writes his fist story stand tale, one that will be perfect just for Walter.
   Rufus is working on illustrating his first story when his friend Sandy comes up with some wonderful news. His cat Rainbow has had kittens. Rufus offers to write a story for Sandy so that he can buy one of the kittens. Sandy says that Rufus can have the kitten for free, but Rufus still insists on writing a story in payment, and this is what he does. He writes a story all about a man who discovers that cats are far more important that things.
   The next story Rufus works on is for his sister Annie, who is going to be having her birthday the next day. A story will be a perfect gift; a personal gift unlike any other.
   In this charming picture book we meet a boy who understands how precious stories are. We watch as he carefully crafts tales that will suit the people he is writing them for. Children will enjoy seeing how Rufus’ stories are unique, and how each one has its own flavor, voice and illustrative style.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems

Getting used to a new school can be very unnerving. I remember how I felt when I moved from my familiar elementary school to the big high school. I was suddenly in school with much older youngsters (the seventeen and eighteen year olds were huge). I had to figure out how to get to many different classrooms, I had more homework, and I had to get used to being with children I did not know at all.

Today's poetry title explores what just such a transition is like for a girl who is going to middle school for the first time. The poems take us through her first middle school year and we share the may low and high points that she experiences.

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems
Swimming Upstream: Middle School PoemsKristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Debbie Tilley
For ages 9 to 12
Clarion, 2002, 978-0618152506
It is September again and a new school year at a new school has begun. For some it is time full of dread, and for others it is a time that they have been looking forward to. Before the first bell rings, a girl sees friends whom she knew when she was in elementary school. Some look the same, and some have changed over the summer. Then the bell rings and “everyone scatters, / each of us going / our separate ways.”
    Now the confusion begins. A locker won’t open, she gets lost, she is late because she is lost, and by the time she finds her homeroom all she wants to do is to hide in “the last row.” Then, when the bell rings again, the confusion starts all over as she swims “upstream” against the flow of students to get to her next class. As the crazy day unfolds, even the inside of the girl’s locker start to look comfortingly cozy. At least the locker is “a space all my own.”
   At lunchtime she has no idea where to sit. Her friends from last year have changed and now there all these new people that she has to deal with, people she doesn’t know at all. She sees Margo, but Margo doesn’t see her and soon is gone. Then she sees Kori, the friend from second grade who moved away but who is now back. A familiar face at last!
   Middle school is different from elementary school on so many levels. Not only is it bigger, louder, and very confusing, but she is soon loaded down with homework, textbooks, and a musical instrument.
   As the days go by, some things, like math, friends, and books from the library, make her days brighter and better. Other things, like the flute that refuses to play properly, the gossips, and the snobs, make the days worse. Middle school is a very yes and no, good and bad, sort of place.

   Using a series of wonderful, relatively short, poems, the author of this book takes us into the world of a new middle school student. We follow as she falls for a boy, takes and aces tests, learns phrases in French and Spanish from her friends, and learns how to find her way around what, at first, is a very alien environment. With humor, candor and sensitivity, the author gives us slices of a year in the girl’s life, and we are left knowing that though there were hard times, she comes out of it stronger and happier than she went in. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Boom Snot Twitty: This way that way

When a group of friends get together to plan an outing of some kind it can, sometimes, be very hard to get those friends to agree on what they are going to do. One person wants to go shopping, another wants to go to a museum, yet another thinks that they should go for a hike. Today's picture book shows us what happens when two friends cannot agree about how to spend their day. Readers will be delighted when they see how this story works out.

Boom Snot Twitty: This way that way
Boom Snot Twitty This Way That WayDoreen Cronin
Illustrated by Renata Liwska
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin Random House, 2015, 978-0-670-78577-3
Boom the bear, Twitty the robin, and Snot the snail are all ready “to find the perfect spot to spend the day.” Boom is ready to set off “this way,” Twitty wants to go “that way,” and Snot, well Snot doesn’t say anything other than “Hmmm.”
   Boom says that he has got everything he needs to spend the day playing on the sand and in the water at the beach. Twitty has brought her hiking boots, binoculars, camera and rope so that she can go hiking in the mountains. Snot has brought snacks.
   Snot asks her friends what they want to do when they get to their perfect places and Boom and Twitty tell her. Then Boom and Twitty start to argue until Boom is hungry and Twitty is tired. It is only then that the friends, for friends they are even when they are not agreeing with each other, realize that Snot is missing.
   This sweetly funny book reminds children that even if your friends are not exactly like you, you can, if you make the effort, find common ground so that everyone is happy. After all, what you do when you are together does not really matter that much. What matters is that you are together, in each other’s company. Children will love the way in which Snot, the quiet one, is the friend who makes the right choice about where the perfect place is.