Friday, November 30, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Mother Goose

When I was a little girl I had a large format hardback book that was full of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. I don't remember what it looked like, and unfortunately it was not one of the books that was saved. I do remember many of the rhymes though, and I was pleased to encounter many of my favorites in the book that I reviewed for today's poetry title.

Illustrated by sixteen Illustrators
Poetry Board Book
For ages 2 to 5
Groundwood Books, 2009, 978-0-88899-933-7
The Mother Goose rhymes are truly timeless. Countless children have listened to and enjoyed the nursery rhymes since the first collection – called Mother Goose’s Melody - was published in England in 1791 by John Newbery.
   Often Mother Goose books include a large number of rhymes that are accompanied by illustrations that were created by one artist. In this Mother Goose, there are fifteen of the popular rhymes, and each rhyme is complimented by artwork that was created by a different illustrator.  Each illustrator was free to choose how he or she wanted to interpret the rhymes.
  For the poem Round and Round the Garden, Debi Perna has created some delightful art where the text is punctuated by cunning little vignette illustrations. The poem Father and Mother and Uncle John comes next, and for this poem Barbara Reid has created a piece of clay art that is textured and that shows a deliciously funny scene.
   Later on in the book, Marie Louise Gay’s distinctive art is paired with the poem Hoddley, poddley, puddle and fogs. We see a picture of mice and rats playing musical instruments, and they are following a cat and poodle who are on their way to the alter. The scene is lit by moonlight and it is wonderfully festive.
   With its heavy duty board pages, its wonderful rhymes, and its splendid artwork, this is a book that children will enjoy exploring again and again.
   The artwork for this book was donated by the artists, and royalties from the title benefit the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Jamie and Angus Stories

Many children form very close relationships with their stuffed animals. Often there is one particular stuffed animal who is extra special, and you can always tell which animal this is because it is the one that has that well worn look.

In today's fiction title you will meet Angus,  the stuffed highland bull, and his little boy, Jamie. The stories in this title perfectly capture the unique relationship that a child can have with that special stuffed animal.

Anne Fine
Illustrated by Penny Dale
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2002, 978-0-7636-3312-7
When Jamie sees a small toy Highland bull in a shop window, it is love at first sight. Jamie’s mother agrees to buy the toy, but she won’t let Jamie have it until Christmas. Jamie agrees to this readily, and while he waits for Christmas to arrive, he makes Angus (for that is the little bull’s name) a farm to live on. He also tells Angus, who is on a high shelf in a cupboard, what is going on. After all, it would not do to ignore the toy.
   At long last it is Christmas Day, and Jamie finally gets to hold, cuddle, and play with Angus. The two are inseparable, and they have many grand adventures together. Not surprisingly, Angus’s silky white coat soon starts to look rather “scruffy.” Early on in their relationship Jamie removed a tag that was attached to Angus, one that said “DRY-CLEAN ONLY.” One day, when Jamie is at school, Granny decides that Angus needs to be cleaned, and not knowing about the now absent tag, she puts Angus into the washing machine. Angus comes out looking dreadful and poor Jamie is heartbroken. Granny, feeling sorry for her grandson, gets Jamie another toy highland bull that looks exactly like Angus. As he looks at the two toys, Angus comes to realize that looks are not all that important in the big scheme of things.
   Any child who shares his or her life with a beloved toy will immediately identify with Jamie. There is nothing quite like the relationship a child has with a best toy friend. The six stories in this splendid award-winning book are deliciously warm and gently humorous. Anne Fine perfectly captures Jamie’s little boy world, and readers will find it easy to share in his everyday adventures.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of Zephyr takes Flight

I imagine that most children, at some point, dream about flying. Often children pretend that they are flying a plane high in the sky, or they pretend that they have wings that allow them to fly like a bird, bat, or dragon.  Such dreams and games are so wonderful, and it is always disappointing when they are over.

In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who is crazy about planes, and who wants to fly in a plane of her own more than anything else in the world.

Steve Light
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-5695-9
   Zephyr loves airplanes. In fact she spends a great deal of time making planes out of various materials and then playing with them. Her dream is that one day she will be able to fly in one of her own planes.
   One day Zephyr does a triple loop-de-loop in the sitting room (bouncing on the couch in the process) and she crashes into a piece of furniture. Plates, glasses and other items are broken, and Zephyr’s parents are furious with her. They send Zephyr to her room where she sadly makes a paper plane. The plane lands behind a dresser, and when Zephyr pushes the dresser away from the wall so that she can retrieve the plane, she finds a little hidden door in the wall. On the other side of the door is a room that is full of planes, plane parts, plane plans, books about planes and travel, and the tools one needs to build and design planes. For Zephyr, the room is a kind of heaven. Then she gets an idea and her life gets even better.
   There are times when our hobbies, or passions, get us into trouble. This is exactly what happens to Zephyr in this book. Thankfully for Zephyr, and for us, Steve Light decides that his little girl character deserves to go on a splendid adventure, and this is exactly what she does.
   With a delicious and magical story that is paired with wonderful illustrations, this is a picture book that dreamers of all kinds will enjoy.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Poetry for Young People: Rudyard Kipling

Sometimes, when you read poetry that was written by someone who lived long ago, it is hard to understand the world that they are describing. The language used is strange to our ears, and the poet alludes to things that are not familiar. Rudyard Kipling was the kind of person who wanted to make his poetry accessible to all, and even today we can read and appreciate his poems.

Poetry For Young People: Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling and Edited by Eileen Gillooly
Poetry for Young People: Rudyard KiplingIllustrated by Jim Sharpe
For ages 10 and up
Sterling, 2000, 978-0-8069-4484-5
Many poets develop their own unique form for their poems, creating patterns of rhyme and rhythm that best encapsulate what they want to say. Rudyard Kipling had a different goal. Rather than developing his own style of poetry, he drew on the styles of others, using forms that were familiar and accessible because he wanted to touch the hearts and minds of as many people as possible. He wanted his readers to see the connections we all share, to appreciate that though we speak in different ways and have different backgrounds, we share many of the same experiences and emotions. He wanted to “think in another man’s skin,” so that he could see the world through someone else’s eyes.
   In this book we see examples of this in several of the poems. In “The White Seal” we hear the voice of a seal mother singing a lullaby to her baby, and in another section of verse from his Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling describes what it is like for a child (from the child’s point of view) to be traveling on a ship where all the adults are seasick and the child is temporarily free to do as he or she wishes.
   Kipling also used his poems to share his opinions and to explore ideas. In “The beginning of the Armadilloes” we catch the excitement that he feels when he considers travel. How grand it would be to see a jaguar or an armadillo “dilloing in his armour.” How splendid it would be to go to Rio “Some day before I’m old.”
   In “The Ballad of East and West” he presents us with the idea that East and West “never the twain shall meet.” Then he goes on to say that that in real life strong men from the east and west can stand “face to face, though they come from the end of the earth!”
  What makes this collection of poems so special is that the editor gives us a short biography of Kipling’s life at the beginning of the book and she introduces each of the poems. We therefore can read the poems while being aware of their context. This helps us to understand what kind of a man Kipling was, and what motivated him to write the poems he wrote. As they read, readers will come to appreciate that he was a complex man. He believed strongly in the superiority of the British Empire on the one hand, but he also believed that people from opposite sides of the earth could meet and respect one another. He praised men who went to war for their courage, but wrote a poem about the weapons of war, clearly showing that he is all too aware that such weapons can inflict great suffering, and that their development over the ages has been a singular folly. How interesting it is to explore a poet’s words and his story at the same time. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Daisy's Perfect Word

Every so often, when I am reading a book, I encounter the perfect sentence or collection of words. Perhaps a description of a place, thing, or person is so vivid that I can see in my mind's eye what the author is talking about, or perhaps an emotion comes through so clearly that I almost resonate with it.

Today's picture book is about a little girl who loves and collects words. She is a the kind of person I would enjoy spending some time with.

Daisy's Perfect Word
Sandra V. Feder
Illustrated by Susan Mitchell
For ages 6 to 8
Kids Can Press, 2012, 978-1-55453-645-0
Daisy enjoys doing lots of different things. In the summer, she makes dandelion chains and plays kickball, and in winter she has fun “stomping in puddles.” Daisy also likes spending time with Emma, who is her best friend. Though Daisy loves doing these things, sitting quietly and reading a book is Daisy’s favorite occupation. The little girl with the curly hair loves words, collecting her favorite ones and keeping them in lists in a special notebook. Not only does she collect existing words, but she also has a collection of made-up words.
   One day Daisy’s teacher, Miss Goldner, tells her students that she has a special announcement to make. Daisy and Emma have a hard time waiting to hear what she has to say, and they are thrilled when they hear the news. Miss Goldner is getting married. Daisy is happy for Miss Goldner, but she is also sad that her wonderful teacher will be moving away.
   Daisy decides that she needs to get her teacher a special engagement gift. She does not want to give her teacher “boring” gifts like vases or candlesticks. No, Daisy thinks Miss Goldner is special, and a special person needs a special “one-of-a-kind” gift. The problem is that Daisy has no idea what the gift should be. What does Daisy have to offer her teacher that is unique?
   This delightful book not only takes us into the everyday adventures of a wonderful character, but it also explores the ways in which words affect us, and sometimes seem to take on a life of their own. Through Daisy, young readers will discover that words are not just inanimate things sitting on a page, they have the power to make people happy or sad. They can inspire and excite people, and they are full of possibilities. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of Bear Says Thanks

In just a few days, Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Though the holiday is tied to an event in America's history, I think the essence of the celebration is universal in nature. We all need to take the time to give thanks for the good things and the wonderful people that we have in our lives.

In today's picture book a sweet and lovable bear finds out that he has so much to be thankful for.

Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
Picture Book
For ages 3 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2012, 978-1-4169-5856-7
It is a cold and windy day, and Bear is bored and missing his friends. Then Bear comes up with an idea; he will put together a feast that he can share with his friends. This is a splendid plan, but there is a rather big problem; Bear’s food cupboard is empty. How can Bear host a feast if he has no food?
   Thankfully for Bear, his friends are generous creatures and they come to Bear’s lair in ones, twos, and threes bringing all kinds of delicious things to eat. Bear thanks Mouse for his pie, Hare for his muffins, and Badger for the fish he has brought. He also thanks Gopher, Mole, Owl, Raven, and Wren for their contributions. Poor Bear is grateful for the things his friends have brought to his home, and he feels terrible because he has nothing to share with them.
   The story in this wonderful picture book explores the idea that friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. Children will see that true friends, and the times we share with them, are precious.
   This is one of the titles in a collection of books featuring Bear and his friends.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Poetry Friday - A Review of Eureka!

I have always enjoyed reading biographies about inventors. So many of them had such interesting lives, and often they had to overcome great obstacles to do the work that they loved to do. Today's poetry title explores the lives and inventions of some of the world's most famous inventors.

Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by K. Bennett Chavez
For ages 8 and up
Lerner, 2002, 0-7613-1665-5
It is hard to imagine what life in our world would be like if we humans had not invented the wheel, the printing press, paper, or the telephone. We depend on inventions every day, some of which are necessary, for example the light bulb, and some of which entertain us, like the television.
   In this book, poet Joyce Sidman introduces us to some of the inventions that have shaped human society. She begins by going far back in time, imagining how a young woman might have come up with the idea of using river clay to make a bowl.  Having no means to transport the berries that she has found, the young woman is frustrated until an idea comes to her and she realizes that perhaps there is a solution to her problem, one that can be made out of clay.
   Next we hear the words of Ts’ai, a young man who worked for sixteen years to make something to write on that was not “costly.” What he came up with is now called paper. Johannes Gutenberg also worked for many hours to create a printing press that would make the creation of books less expensive. If books could be mass produced, then more people would have access to them.
   In the next section of the book, “The Age of Invention,” we meet the French brothers who built the first hot air balloon that carried passengers up into the air. The passengers were a duck, a sheep, and a rooster. Then there is the man, Francois-Louis Cailler, who figured out how to turn cacao beans into the first chocolate bar, “a wafer of heaven.” We also find out about the woman who invented the washing machine, the woman who found a way to save babies in poor families from going blind, and the man who found out how to keep a train’s moving parts well greased.
   The collection of poems wraps up by looking at some of inventions of the “Modern Age.” Here we read about Marie Curie, who discovered radium, and we find out about the invention of the bra, an item of clothing that freed women from their “corsets of whalebone and steel” that were like “a cage.” In this section we also read about Velcro, the Frisbee, the work of a Nobel prize-winning scientist, and the World Wide Web.
   Each of the four sections in this book is followed by sections of text that provide us with further information about the inventors and inventions that are mentioned in the poems.
   As they read through this collection, readers will come to understand how the genius of a few has made the lives of many better, safer, and healthier. The poems serve as a tribute to the ingenuity of the men and women who dared to think outside of the box.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Case of the Missing Marquess

Relaxing with a good mystery to read is one of my favorite things to do. When I was growing up there weren't that many mystery titles available for young readers, and I read the Nancy Drew books, the Hardy Boys books, and Emil and the Detectives over and over again. Now there are some wonderful mystery books for young readers, including ones starring the siblings of the great detective Sherlock Holmes.

Today's title tells the story of Sherlock's younger sister Enola, who is prone to running into trouble and who is very good at solving puzzles.

Nancy Stringer
Ages 10 and up
Penguin, 2007, 978-0142409336
   When Enola’s mother disappears on Enola’s fourteen birthday, Enola doesn’t know what to think. Why would her mother do such a thing? What is Enola supposed to do now? After the initial shock wears off, Enola contacts her brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. After they arrive, Enola discovers why the brothers stayed away from the family home and she begins to wish that she hadn’t called for them at all. Mycroft announces that Enola is to be sent to a girl’s finishing school and that she will have to start wearing clothes befitting a young lady of her class. The idea of having to live in a corseted world where she will have to learn how to be an ornament rather than a thinking and reasoning individual horrifies Enola. There is no way that she is going to accept this.
  So, like her mother before her, and for very much the same reason, Enola runs away from home. Thankfully, before she leaves, Enola discovers that her mother did in fact leave messages and money for Enola. Enola realizes that her mother knew exactly what she was doing and that she gave Enola all the tools that the girl would need to make it in the world by herself if she had to.
   Enola has barely started her adventure when she stumbles across what everyone is calling a kidnapping. Having many of the skills of her famous detective brother, Enola soon discovers that this is no kidnapping and that the child, a Marquess, has in fact run away from home. Little does Enola know that she and the young Marquess are going to cross paths in London and that they are both going to be running for their lives in the not too distant future.
    Nancy Springer presents a very compelling picture of Victorian England, helping her readers to see that it was not always the warm comforting world that one sees on the covers of Christmas cards. It had a dark side too. It was a world where the poor had little hope, where women and children died in the streets by the hundreds. It was also a world where women could not own property and where they were expected to live in a narrow confined world without many of the freedoms that men took for granted. It was a world where, of you were female and wanted to be yourself, you had to find a way around the system through subterfuge and careful planning. The author presents this world in its true and stark colors and yet she leaves us with the hope that Enola will indeed find what she is looking for.
   This is the first book in what promises to be a gripping and superbly written series about a girl sleuth who tries to make her way in a man’s world.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of Me and my Dragon

I love dragons. I always have, so I make a point of looking for good dragon books to add to my collection and to share with my readers. Today's dragon book is wonderfully sweet and funny, and it made me wish all over again that I had a dragon in my life.

David Biedrzycki
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2011, 978-1-58089-279-7
Many children want to have a pet. They beg their parents for a puppy, a kitten, a hamster, or a snake. There once was a boy who was not interested in any of these conventional pets. More than anything he wanted a pet dragon. He didn’t want a huge dragon or a three-headed dragon. No, those kinds of dragons would be far too difficult to care for. He wanted a moderate sized, fire-breathing dragon.
   Once he got his new pet he made sure that his dragon had a complete checkup at the vet, and when he got home he did all the things that a responsible pet owner does. He named his dragon, fed and bathed him, took him for walks, and he even taught him to fly, which is not something most pet owners have to deal with. Though having a pet dragon can be problematical at times, there are also a lot of wonderful things that happen in your life when you have a dragon for a pet.
   Dragon fans of all ages are going to love this clever and wonderfully funny book. Readers will, without a doubt, want a dragon of their own after they have read the story. Amusing and expressive illustrations are paired with a clever text so that readers will see that a dragon is definitely the best kind of pet in the world.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Poetry Friday - A review of Julie Andrews' Treasury for all seasons

Some of the best days in the year are the ones where we celebrate a season or a holiday with friends and family members. Not long ago I took my daughter to choose our fall pumpkins. Ever since she was little, we have bought little pumpkins and gourds to arrange in a basket. She spends ages trying to figure out how to make the arrangement look "just perfect."

Today's poetry title is a collection of poetry that takes readers through the year with poems that capture the joys of many of our most beloved special days.

Selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
For ages 6 and up
Little Brown, 2012, 978-0-316-04051-8
The year is full of special days. Some are personal, like the arrival of a new baby, a wedding, or a birthday, while others are holidays that millions of people enjoy. Then there are those days when the joys of the season seem to be especially noticeable. It might be a summer day when a child builds a sandcastle on a beach, which when the tide comes in, is “tumbled down / like dominoes.” At the other end of the year it might be a winter night when Jack Frost comes and leaves chilly “Willow trees with trailing boughs / And flowers – frosty white” on the window.
   For this book, Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton have collected poems and songs that take readers through the year, and that celebrate the holidays, special days, and special moments that we enjoy. The collection is divided into seasons, and then subdivided into months. In each month, all the major holidays that occur during that month are featured, and additional poems and songs give readers the flavor of the season. For example for October there is a poem by Ogden Nash about Christopher Columbus for Columbus Day, there is a poem about Halloween, and then there are poems that give readers a taste of autumn. These include a poem about apples, which are such a joy to eat “In the firelight” when “they’ll be / The clear sweet taste / Of a summer tree.”
   Each seasonal section is prefaced by a section of text where Julie Andrews and her daughter share their thoughts and memories, giving us a very personal look into their lives, and showing us how words, songs, and traditions are an integral part of their year.
   This is a perfect book to dip into as the year unfolds, offering readers of all ages poems and songs that are beautiful, whimsical, amusing, and thought-provoking.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Something Wickedly Weird

Today's book reminded me of some of the titles that I read when I was a child. The author perfectly mixes together magical doings, villains, a mystery, clever touches of humor, and colorful characters. There is also a soupcon of creepiness, just to keep you on your toes.
The Wooden Mile: Something Wickedly Weird

Chris Mould
For ages 9 to 12
Roaring Brook, 2007, 978-159643-383-0
Stanley Buggles is a very ordinary eleven-year-old boy who has had, for the most part, an ordinary and unexciting life. Then one day Stanley gets a letter and he learns that his great-uncle has died and that he, Stanley, has inherited his great-uncle’s house and possessions. Not long after getting the letter, Stanley travels to Crampton Rock to see his inheritance.
   When Stanley gets to Crompton Rock he is amazed to discover that the little fishing village is on an island, and that the only way to get to and from the island is by walking on a long wooden bridge (only at low tide) or by boat. 
   Stanley is fascinated by his great-uncle’s house, Candlestick Hall. It is an enormous place full of interesting objects. There is something wrong though, for the housekeeper, Mrs. Carelli insists that Stanley be indoors before it gets dark. Stanley sees with his own eyes how the streets in the little village empty at dusk after the sounding of a bell, and how several people climb into watch towers. What are they looking out for?
   Things only get more mysterious the next day. A stuffed and very dead pike displayed in the house speaks and tells Stanley to “Stay away from William Cake, and beware of the lady who lives in the water.” Stanley has no idea what this mean. Sometime later he learns how his great uncle died. Apparently the poor man was attacked by some creature and the people in the village had a hard time identifying him because his head was missing.
   Stanley then finds out that the owner of the sweet shop in the town is called William Cake, and an ex-pirate tells the boy that William Cake is a werewolf who turns into a dangerous beast at night. Stanley has no idea if the pirate is telling the truth about William Cake, or if he is lying through his teeth. How on earth did he end up in the middle of such a bizarre and frightening situation?  
   Young readers are sure to find this story thoroughly captivating. Full of adventure, secrets, and touched with dark humor, this is the first in what promises to be a popular new series.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Picture Book Monday - A review of Babymouse for President

Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. Finally, after months of speeches and debates, Americans are going to choose their next president. Many American children have been watching the campaign process,   and some of them have even staged elections of their own in their classrooms.

In today's title we see what happens when Babymouse decides to run for the school presidency. Being Babymouse, the election does not quite work out the way she hoped it would.

Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Graphic Novel
Ages 7 to 10
Random House, 2012, 978-0-375-86780-4
It is election time at Babymouse’s school, and she has decided (after eating a terrible school lunch) that she is going to run president of the school council. The narrator tells her to “be part of the solution,” which is when Babymouse begins to fantasize about what it would be like to be the president. Then she is brought firmly to earth when she is asked what her platform is going to be. Platform?
   At school the next day, Babymouse realizes that several of the other kids in school are running for the presidency, including Babymouse’s arch enemy, Felicia, and her friend Georgie. Then one of Babymouse’s friends offers to help. He takes her in er…wing, and helps Babymouse see that running for president is hard work. In fact, it requires that Babymouse do a lot of things that she would rather not do. Then there is that far bigger problem; that Babymouse has no idea what she believes in. Is she running just for fame and glory, or does Babymouse see that there is something bigger going on around her?
   In this deliciously funny tale, Babymouse once again manages to get the wrong end of the stick. She thinks only of what the school council presidency might do for her, and never stops to think that she might have something to offer, that she might be able to do something for the school to make it a better place.
   With delicious touches of humor and a clever story, Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm poke a little fun at political campaigns, and they also remind us that political office is more than just an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Poetry Friday: A review of ABC Animal Jamboree

Over the years I have reviewed several books written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by David Wojtowycz. Together these two people have produced several books of poetry that are perfect for younger children. The poems are short and often amusing, and the art is bright and colorful. Today am delighted to bring you their newest title. Their other poetry books are Rumble in the Jungle, Commotion in the Ocean, and Dinosaurs Galore.

Giles Andreae
Illustrated by David Wojtowycz
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tiger Tales, 2012, 978-1-58925-436-7
Animals come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Some, like the angelfish, are “gorgeous and lovely,” while others have a more homely appearance. The elephant, for example, is “big and fat and round” and the giraffe is “gangly.” Both of these animals are quite happy with their lives though, content to be as they are.
   They are not the only ones to feel this way. Frogs “may be green and slimy” but they are superlative jumpers and they are proud of their ability. Then there is a jellyfish who loves to “jiggle.” The other sea creatures think that this behavior is “quite dumb” but the jellyfish does not care. Jiggling might not be a very useful thing to be able to do, but it is “lots of good fun.”
   In this delightful collection of short poems, we meet twenty-six animals, one for every letter of the alphabet. Some of the animals, like the monkey and the rhinoceros, will be familiar to young readers, while others, like the narwhal and umbrella bird, are more exotic. Some of the poems are informative, and many are funny. Paired with David Wojtowycz’s bold and colorful paintings, the poems are a splendid alphabetical treat.