Monday, July 29, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of It's a Firefly Night and a BOOK GIVEAWAY!

I did not grow up in a part of the world where there are fireflies. I was twenty-two before I saw my first firefly in a park in Washington D.C, and I have to tell you that the moment when I saw the little insects blinking and flying across the grass is one that I will never forget. Today's picture book celebrates one little girl's firefly night, showing to great effect how magical it is.

As a special treat, the author of this charming book, Dianne Ochiltree, has sent me two signed copies of this book to give to two lucky readers. If you want to be entered in the drawing for the books please email me at editor (at) lookingglassreview (dot) com. 

Dianne Ochiltree
Illustrated by Betsy Snyder
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Blue Apple Books, 2013, 978-1-60905-291-1
It is a warm summer night. The moon is glowing high in a sky that is dotted with bright stars. Daddy tells his little daughter that “It’s a firefly night.” Clad in her nightie the little girl, with her dog, runs out into the front yard. Fireflies blink all around her. There are even fireflies sitting on the dog’s fur!
   Together the dog and girl chase the fireflies and soon she has five fireflies in a jar. She races across the grass to show her father the fireflies’ “dancing-light show.” Though she loves to catch fireflies, the little girl knows that they are not hers to keep and she lets them go.

   In this beautifully written magical book the author’s rhyming words are paired with lovely multimedia art to give readers a picture of a special summer evening that is alight with the sparkle and glow of fireflies. At the back of the book the author provides readers with interesting facts about fireflies. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Wee Rhymes: Baby's First Poetry Book

Introducing very little children to the beauty of language is something many of my writing friends and colleagues love to do. Jane Yolen, a wonderful writer and poet who has charmed children with her rhyming How do dinosaur books, now brings us a new poetry collection that was written for babies and toddlers. Throughout the book wonderful rhymes are paired with Jane Dyer's delightful illustrations.

Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Jane Dyer
Poetry Picture Book
For infants to children age 5
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-1-4169-4898-8
Between them author and poet Jane Yolen and illustrator Jane Dyer have nine grandchildren, and they have both spent countless hours playing and spending time with these precious children. Not surprisingly, they believe that “literature begins in the cradle” and that “rhymes are our earliest cultural artifacts.” Mother Goose rhymes and simple pieces of verse that have a singsong element should be a vital part of every little child’s life. In this book such poems are paired with Jane Dyer’s deliciously sweet and lovely artwork to give little children and their grownups a gift that they can share for hours and hours.
   Many of the poems in this book will be familiar, including the first poem, The Rose is Red. Later on Pat-A-Cake, Girls and Boys Come out to Play and This Little Pig appear. These Mother Goose rhymes have been charming little children for generations.
  In addition to these old favorites, there are new poems that Jane Yolen has written, many of which explore everyday moments in a child’s day. There is the poem Oops, Whoops, which tells the story of what happens when a cup full of milk falls to the floor. The child is comforted and told not to “yowl” for Daddy is coming “With a great big towel.” There is also a poem about piggyback rides and one about going to the supermarket to “Ride down every aisle.” In other poems we share a ride in a swing, slip down a slide, and play in a sandbox. In Nap Time we encounter a child who is not sleepy and who wants to go to the park. After all, how can one sleep when “it’s not dark.” The poem comes to a close with the child asking for a blankie, a hankie and a story, but before the story can be told we hear a “Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.”
   This collection of poems is a perfect title to give new parents or grandparents as a gift.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of Big City Otto

Losing a friend can be a very painful experience, and sometimes the pain is so deep that we never forget what that friend was like and how special he or she was. In today's book you will meet Otto, an elephant whose best friend Georgie is kidnapped. Otto never forgets Georgie, and encouraged by a parrot chum, he sets off to find him. Be prepared to laugh a great deal when you read this graphic novel story. It is deliciously funny and full of truly outrageous adventures.

Big City Otto: Elephants Never Forget
Big City Otto: Elephants never forgetBill Slavin and Esperanca Melo
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Graphic Novel
For ages 8 to 12
Kids Can Press, 2011, 978-1-55453-476-0
Otto is an elephant who has never quite got over the loss of his best friend, Georgie the chimp. Otto was orphaned when he was still very little, and Georgie’s family took him in and raised him as one of their own. Naturally, the elephant and the chimp grew very close.
   Some time ago Georgie was kidnapped, or rather chimpnapped, by the Man with the Wooden Nose, and Otto is still grieving. Otto’s friend Crackers the parrot discusses the chimpnapping with Otto again, and he figures out that Georgie was taken in a ship to America. Being a very brainy bird, and a friend who dearly wants to reunite Georgie and Otto, Crackers finds a way to get Otto onto a plane that is flying to New York City. This is no mean feat since Otto is rather large and is therefore very difficult to hide or disguise.
   When they get to America the two friends start getting into trouble from the very beginning. They have to break out of the airport in the middle of the night, and when they get to the city they realize that finding Georgie is not going to be easy because the city is huge.
   After a number of false starts, Crackers and Otto meet a performing monkey who suggests they go to the zoo where there are wild animals. Perhaps one of them will know about Georgie or the Man with the Wooden Nose. Crackers and Otto dare to hope that they are finally going to make some progress, never imagining that a great deal of danger awaits them at the zoo.
   In this deliciously funny, sweet, and entertaining graphic novel we meet a not-too-bright elephant and a canny and loyal parrot who cannot seem to stay out of trouble. Wonderful adventures and colorful characters make this a winning graphic novel that fans of this genre are going to love.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Poetry Friday: A Review of Poetry for Young People: Animal Poems

When I first started to read and enjoy poetry, many of the poems that attracted me were about animals. I learned The Owl and the Pussycat by heart and had a grand time reading The Tyger out loud with my father, trying to make the poem sound as dramatic as possible. Today's book of poetry brings these two poems and many others to readers who enjoy whiling away some time with some wonderful poetry animals.

Poetry for Young People: Animal Poems
Edited by John Hollander
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2004, 978-1-4027-0926-5
Animals and humans have been interacting in all kinds of ways for thousands of years, and for this reason humans have been writing about animals ever since they acquired the ability to write. Some writers and poets have told stories about animals or described them, while others have tried to imagine what it would be like to be an animal, seeing the world through an animal’s eyes.
   For this collection of poems John Hollander has brought together poems about animals that people in North America, Europe, and East Asia have written in the last four centuries. Some of the poems tell the story of talking animals. For example, in The Owl and the Pussycat we hear about an unlikely pair of lovers who sail away “in a pea-green boat” and are married by a “piggy-wig” that has “a ring at the end of his nose.”
   In Fable by Ralph Waldo Emerson we meeting a talking squirrel who gets into a quarrel with a mountain. The squirrel admits that the mountain is “doubtless very big,” but that does not mean that the squirrel is not important too. After all, a squirrel is “spry” and can “crack a nut,” which a mountain most certainly cannot do.
   Other poems provide readers with a description of an animal, helping us to understand what the animal is like. In The Eagle by Lord Alfred Tennyson, we hear about the bird that lives “Close to the sun in lonely lands,” and that “watches from his mountain walls. / And like a thunderbolt he falls.”  Though it is not grand and regal, the jelly fish that Marianne Moore describes in her poem, A Jelly-Fish is still an extraordinary creature. In her opinion the jelly fish is “a fluctuating charm” that is both visible and invisible.
   Throughout this excellent book all the poems are prefaced by a note from the editor. These notes provide readers with further information about the poet and the poet’s intentions, and some of the notes also tell us a little about the poem and its history.

   This title is one in an excellent series of books of poetry published by Sterling Publishing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of How to Heal a Broken Wing

For as long as I can remember I have been an animal lover. My parents, and then my husband, have had to put up with the injured birds, mice, voles, squirrels, dogs and cats that I have brought home. Many of my 'patients' didn't make it, but a few have. I will never forget how I felt when my bluebird chicks flew up to where their parents were waiting for them, and how thrilled I was when my one-eyed starling flew off to start a new life. In today's picture book we will meet some people who open their hearts to an injured bird and whose hearts, I am sure, are enriched because they did.

Bob Graham
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-3903-7
One day high up above the city streets, a pigeon flew into a glass window and then fell to the ground below. No one saw the accident or the fall, and no one saw the pigeon lying on the cement with its eyes closed, a single feather lying beside it. People walked by the fallen bird, never looking down, until Will came along.
   The little boy saw the pigeon and realized that it was alive and injured. He picked the bird up and showed his find to mother, who was, at first, unsure of what to do. Then she took off her scarf and wrapped it around the bird and together they took the animal home.
   Will’s father did not know what to do either when he saw the bird, but when he saw his son’s concern and hope, he too took on the cause of the bird. Together Will, his mother and his father did everything they could to make their injured guest comfortable. Though they could not put the feather the bird had lost back where it belonged, they could hope that the broken wing would heal.
   This beautifully illustrated book, with its spare and meaningful text shows to great effect how powerful hope can be. We see how the little boy and his parents have the same willingness to do what they can to help another living thing that is in trouble, and how they invest time and effort on its behalf.
   This is a book that readers of all ages will appreciate.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Here in Harlem

I took a very long time to read today's poetry title, not because it was hard to read or very long, but because I read several of the poems more than once. They were so beautifully crafted that I had to go back to get a second look. If you are interested in poems that tell stories then this is the book for you. The voices that speak to us from the pages are true and honest, and they give us pictures of a wide variety of people.

Walter Dean Myers
Poetry
For ages 9 and up
Holiday House, 2004, 978-0-8234-2212-8
Author and poet Walter Dean Myers grew up in Harlem, and after he read Edgar Lee Master’s book Spoon River Anthology, he was inspired to create a collection of poems that celebrate people from Harlem whom the author knew or “whose lives have touched” his own. Many of the people whom he admires greatly appear in these poems. Following the advice of poet E.B Yeats, Walter Dean Myers wrote about a community that he loved dearly, “whose people would gladden his heart.”
   The first ‘voice’ we hear belongs to Mali Evans, a twelve-year-old girl. Mali hopes that when she is old she will be like Mrs. Purvis who walks like a monarch “Down the avenue, as if the streets / Were her queendom” and who is “an ancient lady / Tree-tough and deep-rooted.”
   Later in the book we meet Milton Brooks, an undertaker who does his best to comfort those left behind. He tries to “ease the pain” of these people by telling them that the dearly departed will “wake up home.” The only time Mr. Brooks cannot help weeping is when a child dies, and he prays to the Lord that he will not have to watch more “old men shuffling children to / the grave.”
   Later still we find ourselves keeping company with Delia Pierce, who is a hairdresser. Like hairdressers and barbers all over the world, Delia hears all the news in the community and she is not shy to share what she has heard. She tells us about Carla who is getting married for the third time and who “uses men like a Christmas tree uses tinsel.” She tells us about Darlene who is going south, Sister Smith whose husband chases women, Cindy Lou who sneaks out at night, Betty Mae who tells tales about her former glory, and Deacon Grier who would “sit home all day and sip champagne” with a “light-skinned” girl called Baby Jane. Of course, Delia tells us that she “ain’t the kind to talk behind / nobody’s back.”
   Every poem in this collection gives readers a beautiful portrait of a person, and together they capture the flavor of a unique community. Paired with beautiful black and white period photos, the poems are like gems that we can savor and delight in.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of What Goes Up

Every so often I decide to start a new project, to take a new direction with my work. Often, in the beginning, I cannot seem to get things to work the way I want them to work. Figuratively speaking, I fall on my face a lot. It is awfully easy to get discouraged at these times and I feel like giving up. From now on, when I have those 'I want to give up' moments, I will pull today's picture book off my shelf. It is the best pick-me-up in book form that I have found, and it always, always puts a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I think this book should be compulsory reading for everyone.

Paula Bowles
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Tiger Tales, 2013, 978-1-58925-119-9
Martin the dragon is sad, and the children in the village, who love Martin, are worried about their scaly friend. When they ask him what is wrong, Martin explains that he wishes he could fly. Unfortunately, his wings are just too small to support his body, and inevitably “What goes up, must come down.”
   Then Martin sees a bumblebee buzz by and he gets a splendid idea. “Stripes must be the key to flying,” he says and he quickly paints some stripes on his body. Alas, stripes are not what Martin needs.
   After Martin sees autumn leaves drift by on the breeze he decides that what he needs to do to fly is to be in a tree. Then he, like the leaves, will be carried off by the wind. After sitting in the tree for quite some time, Martin determines that dragons and leaves do not behave in the same way.
   Martin tries to be fluffy like a cloud, but when he - wrapped in dandelion fluff - leaps into the air, he and his fluff crashes to the ground. Poor Martin is feeling “so low” that the children decide to take him in hand. There must be something that they can do to help their friend.
   Sometimes something we want very badly indeed seems completely out of reach. No matter how hard we try, that coveted something is unattainable. This charming, funny, and delightfully sweet picture book story will remind readers of all ages that one cannot give up hope. With a little help from our friends, we can achieve just about anything our heart desires, even when our wings seem too small for the job.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors

There are so many animal species on our planet today that sometimes we forget to remember that millions of species have gone extinct over the millennia. The ones that here now are the survivors, the ones who had that little something that made it possible for them to survive climate change, meteorite strikes, and the rise of humans. Today's book of poetry celebrates some of these survivors, and it is a wonderful book to explore and to share with others.

Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beckie Prange
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Houghton Mifflin, 2010, 978-0-618-71719-4
Four point six billion years ago Earth was a glowing ball floating in space; it was newly formed and was therefore, a place where living organisms could not survive. Then the seas began to form, and when the right conditions occurred, tiny single-celled organisms evolved. These bacteria were simple creatures, and yet they helped make our planet home suitable for the plants and animals that appeared later in Earth’s story. They were, in short “miraculous.” In fact, all the plant and animal species that exist today are miracles. Ninety-nine percent of all species that have appeared on Earth have gone extinct, which makes the one percent that are sharing Earth with us true survivors.
   Many millions of years after bacteria appeared shelled organisms called mollusks arrived on the scene. These animals have soft bodies that are protected by a shell. We often find the empty shells of these animals on beaches, and admire the beautiful cones and swirls. The pearly interiors of the shells look so lovely that we wish we could climb inside and knock on the shell’s
“tiny door / and ask to meet the mollusk” that made the shell.
   The author of this book then goes on to introduce us to several other families of living things that have been very successful here on Earth. These include the lichens, sharks, and diatoms. The poem about sharks is a delightfully clever concrete poem, and the one about diatoms is beautifully simple.
   Next, the author looks at several species that have survived on earth for many millions of years. We meet a gecko who can shed its tail when a predator threatens it. The fallen tail end wiggles and distracts the predator for long enough that the gecko has time to flee. These extraordinary animals wipe their eyes with their tongues, and they can climb straight up smooth walls thanks to tiny hairs on their feet that work rather like Velcro.
   Another species that we meet are ants, who “never seem to play at all,” and who form complex societies that have fascinated scientists for years. Later on in the book we come across a page dedicated to dandelions. It may seem strange that they are here, but then we remember how hard it is to get rid of dandelions in our lawns and gardens. These hardy plants can grow in many kinds of environments and are so successful that they can take over an area in no time at all.

   Throughout this book superbly crafted poems are paired with gorgeous illustrations and sections of informative text. Each piece of text includes information about how long the featured species or family has been around, which some people will find particularly interesting. Who knew that dandelions have been populating our planet for five million years!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of Look! Another Book!

Seek-and-find books are a wonderful invention. I often use them to get children who are bookaphobic to look at books, to give books a chance. Often, to their surprise, these children discover that the books I give them are entertaining and even funny. Bob Staake's seek-and-find books are an excellent example of this genre because the artwork is full of stories. Children can have a grand time coming up with their own tales as they explore the pictures.

Look! Another Book!Look! Another Book!
Bob Staake
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Little Brown, 2012, 978-0-31620459-0
It wasn’t that long ago when there were no seek-and-find books for children. Then the author of the Waldo books, Martin Handford, began creating his delightful titles, and authors and illustrators were inspired to create a wide variety of seek-and-find books.
   In 2011 Bob Staake unleashed Look! A Book! on the world, and children (and adults) got to enjoy exploring his unique, colorful, and often funny illustrations.  Now we have another Look!  title that once again encourages readers to “Discover things, both small and large,” on the pages. Words play a minor role in the book and we are promised that there are more pictures “than you’ve ever seen.”
   Sure enough, the pages are covered with colorful scenes that are jam packed with bizarre looking characters. The first scene is in a mall. A mall? A boring mall? No, this mall is nothing like any mall you or I have ever seen. In this mall, animals, humans, and robots are walking around, selling things, shopping, eating, and having adventures. There is a pirate ship - complete with a pirate - in the middle of a decorative pond. A sporting goods store and an antiques store are housed in houses, and in the food court there is a place where you can buy a honey baked haggis. There is a man who has a bat flying out of the top of his hat, and a boy wearing a cowboy outfit is riding on the back of a dolphin.
     Well that certainly was wild! Perhaps the next scene will be more ‘normal.’ Here we are looking at a school and the school yard. It is recess time and the children are out running around and playing. Actually, there are animals here too. And robots. And a ghost and a monster. Is that an alien peering around the side of the school? It would appear that this scene is just as wonderfully bizarre as the last one.
   In all there are seven scenes to explore in this book and each one is full of things to find. In addition, there are things going on in the artwork that encourages storytelling. For example, in the zoo scene there is a crab in a pot of fondue and for some reason the zoo keeper is walking a little green monster on a leash. Why are these things happening? Why are all the animals out of their cages and walking around? Children can have a little fun coming up with little stories to explain why these things are going on.
   After readers are convinced that they have found all they can, they can go to the back of the book where there is a list of more things to find, things that are “MORE tough” to locate. Who can resist a challenge like this?
   With a wonderful rhyming text, die-cuts on many of the pages, and remarkable illustrations, this is a book that will provide readers with hours of entertainment. This book demonstrates very well that pictures are indeed “worth A LOT!”