Monday, December 29, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Dark

Everybody has something that they are afraid of. Some people are terrified of spiders, some find large bodies of water intimidating, and then there are those who are afraid of the dark. Today's picture book explores such fears in a clever way, showing us how one little boy confronts what he is afraid of.

The DarkThe Dark
Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Little Brown, 2013, 978-0-316-18748-0
Laszlo, like many boys and girls (and even some grownups) is afraid of the dark. The dark shares his house, and during the day it can be found is hiding in the closet, behind the shower curtain and in the basement. Nighttime is when the dark comes out from its hiding places. It presses up “against the windows and doors” of the house.
   At night a little nightlight keeps the dark away from Laszlo’s bedroom. Then one night the nightlight goes out and the dark visits the room and speaks to the little boy. It wants Laszlo to see something and so Laszlo, with his flashlight casting a beam of light ahead of him, goes to the place where the dark is waiting for him: the basement.
   Fear is a crippling thing, and a fear of the dark can be truly terrible because try as we might, we cannot keep the dark at bay. It is always there, somewhere, waiting for night to fall. In this beautifully paced picture book a boy learns that the dark is not what he thinks it is. He goes to the place where the dark is most noticeable, and he discovers something remarkable about the dark and himself.
  


Friday, December 26, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Poetry for young People: Robert Louis Stevenson

Years ago I watched a film about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and I found his story very intriguing. I then began to read his books and poetry, and somehow knowing what he had been like made my connection with his writings that much closer. Today's poetry title provides young readers with a wonderful picture of Robert Louis Stevenson's life and his poetry. 

Poetry for young People: Robert Louis Stevenson
Poetry for young People: Robert Louis StevensonEdited by Frances Schoonmaker
Illustrated by Lucy Corvino
Poetry Picture book
For ages 7 and up
Sterling, 2008, 978-1-4027-5476-0
From a very early age Robert Louis Stevenson spent much of his time in bed. He was a fragile little boy who was often sick, sometimes for months on end. Unable to get out of bed and play as other children did, Robert spent a lot of his time writing letters, reading, and making up stories. He grew to love reading books and writing so much that he gave up studying engineering at university, because he preferred to read and write. Later he gave up being a lawyer because spending his life defending people in court simply was not what he wanted to do. All he really wanted to do was to have adventures and write. Thankfully for us Robert was able to follow his heart. He spent most of his adult life crafting stories and poems that people of all ages still enjoy today.
   Many of the poems in this title come from Robert’s book A Child’s Garden of Verses. In this collection, Robert’s love for nature, for simple pleasures, and for journeys of the imagination comes through loud and clear. He seems to understand how children think, and how they perceive the world. For example, in Whole Duty of Children, he talks about how children should behave; how they should always tell the truth, speak when they are spoken to, and behave in a “mannerly way” when they are at the table. At the same time he understands that a child can only do these things “as far as he is able.” Children, like everyone else, cannot be expected to better than their best.
   We see Robert’s appreciation for the little joys in life when he tells us about what it is like to dig holes in the sand on a beach, and when he wonders, in the voice of a child, what will happen to the little boats he has made when he puts them in the river and watches them float away. Perhaps the boats will go “A hundred miles or more” and perhaps “Other little children / Shall bring my boats ashore.”
   In the poem Travel he tells us how he would like to go to “Parrot islands” and to “Where the Great Wall round China goes.”  He would like to see a “knotty crocodile” as it “Lies and blinks in the Nile,” and a place “among the desert sands” where a “deserted city stands.” He hopes when he is grown to travel to this city, where he will look at the pictures on the walls in an empty room “And in a corner find the toys / Of the old Egyptian boys.”
   Using his word wizardry Robert Louis Stevenson takes us into the lives, worlds and imagination of children, allowing us to be pirates, to visit a fairy land, to create a world on a bed quilt, and so much more. The collection concludes with his poem Requiem, the words of which appear on his grave, which lies on a mountain on Upolu Island in Samoa.

  


Monday, December 22, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes Santa Cat


Back in the spring Cat decided that he wanted to stand in for the Easter Bunny (you can read about his adventures in Here Comes Easter Cat). With Christmas just around the corner, Cat has now decided that he wants to be Santa. The thing is, being Santa is a lot harder than it seems.

Here comes Santa Cat
Here Comes Santa CatDeborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-4100-3
Cat is back and this time, wait for it…he is wearing a Santa suit. When he is asked why he is dressed up, Cat explains, using pictures, that he needs to be Santa so that he can give himself a present. Surely, Santa will do that. No. Apparently Cat does not think that Santa will be giving him anything this year because he has been naughty a lot of the time and nice only on a few occasions. Well, that makes sense.
   Okay, so Cat will be Santa, but does Cat know that he needs to come down chimneys, and does he happen to have some flying reindeer hanging around? It turns out that Cat does not much care for chimney climbing, and the jet pack he uses to fly is rather temperamental. Perhaps Cat would be better off giving up trying to be Santa. Instead, he can try being nice. You never know, Cat might even enjoy the experience.
   In this laugh-out-loud picture book Cat once again tries to take on the role of a holiday figurehead, only to discover that being such a character is not as easy as it seems. Readers will be delighted to see how the sometimes grouchy feline stumbles from one disaster to another, until, at long last, something happens that turns things around for Cat. Just in time.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole

Christmas is less than a week away and today I have a poetry title that will take you far away to the North Pole. You may not know this, but Santa likes to write poetry, haiku poetry, and in this title you will find twenty-five of these wonderful short poems that describe special moments in Santa's life. 

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North PoleSanta Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole
Bob Raczka                  
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lerner, 2014, 978-1-4677-1805-9
Everyone knows that Santa Claus (or Father Christmas as some people call him) is an amazing man. He makes wonderful toys, has flying reindeer that he trains, and he is able to crisscross the globe in a flying sleigh to make millions of toy deliveries all in one night. Here is one thing that you probably don’t know about Santa; he is a poet. Years ago his beloved wife gave him a book filled with Japanese haiku poems, and he loved this minimalist poetry form so much that he wrote some haiku of his own. Twenty-five of these haiku appear in this book, one for each day from December 1st to December 25th. Together the poems will give young Santa fans a wonderful picture of what Santa’s life is like.
   We begin on December 1st with a poem about the mail that comes into Santa’s “overfilled mailbox.” In fact, there are so many letters that it is as if “December’s first storm” has come blasting into Santa’s mailbox.
   On December 3rd we find out that in spite of her age Mrs. Claus sometimes like to behave like “a little girl,” She has a grand time making snow angels in front of her house in the snow. On December 11th she gives her husband kisses under a bunch of mistletoe and they “tickle like snowflakes.”
   As the days count down we read, among other things, about the working elves, the beauty of the Northern Lights, and how Santa and Mrs. Santa string popcorn on thread to hang on the Christmas tree. The poems describe these and so many other precious moments that make December at the North Pole such a joy for Santa, his wife, the elves, and the reindeer. We see how beautiful their world is, and how much they enjoy their lives.

   With lovely illustrations and gem-like poems on every page, this is a book that children and their grownups will enjoy sharing on the days leading up to Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of What Forest Knows


Today's picture book is one of the most memorable and lovely books that I have read in a long time. It perfectly captures the beauty that can be found in a forest, it gives a forest a voice, and it explores the connection that all of us should have with places in nature.

What forest Knows
George Ella Lyon
What forest KnowsIllustrated by August Hall
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-6775-0
Forest is wise and knows the ways of the seasons. It also knows the animals that live amongst its trees. In winter it “knows snow,” and knows that squirrels are sleeping in hollows and moles are “resting among roots.” Forest knows about waiting…waiting for that moment when life starts to flow through the trees once more and buds swell and open. It knows the voices of the birds as they build their nests in the trees.
   Forest knows the changes that come as spring spills into summer, and as summer drifts like falling leaves into fall. It sees the animals raise their young and then prepare for the winter that is coming.
   Forest is not the only one who knows of these things. There are others, a dog with a sniffing nose, and a boy. The boy and his furry companion have eyes that see, ears that hear, and noses that smell. They know Forest well.
   In this beautiful picture book we visit a wild place, getting to know the plants and animals that call it home. We witness the changes that take place as the seasons unfold, and we discover that Forest’s world, and other worlds in nature, are out there waiting for us. We are a part of them, and if we are lucky, they are a part of us.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of I and I: Bob Marley

When I was in Jamaica some years ago I heard a lot of Bob Marley's music. The Jamaicans are proud of their famous countryman, and with good reason. Back then I had no idea what Bob Marley had been like as a person, what his life had been like. I was therefore delighted to receive today's poetry title, which uses poems to tell the story of this special musician.

I and I: Bob MarleyI and I: Bob Marley
Tony Medina
Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee and Low Books, 2009, 978-1-60060-257-3
Several generations of people have grown up hearing the songs of Bob Marley, and even today’s young children know the tune that goes with the words “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright!” There is something about the words from his songs that have touched the hearts of many, a universality that spreads far from the shores of Bob’s Marley homeland in Jamaica. In this book the story of this remarkable man is told using poems that are constructed in such a way that we can almost hear the beat of music in the background. Throughout the book the author uses some of the elements found in Jamaica’s patois to give his poems a genuine authenticity. He also tells Bob Marley’s story using the first person so that we feel that we are hearing the musician speaking, or perhaps singin, to us.
   We hear about how Bob Marley is born in a small village, the son of a “country girl shy as can be” and a white man who “Rode off on a horse the color of a pearl” when Bob is still a very small boy. For a time Bob lives quietly in the country with his mother until his father “sends for me.” Dressed in his “church clothes” the boy travels to Kingston in a bus so that he can live with his father and go to school.
   He soon learns that his father has no intention of being his parent. The man leaves, and Bob’s elderly caregiver is so unwell that Bob is the one who takes care of the house and does the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Eventually, a year after his father left, Bob’s mother finds him and she takes him back to the family home in the village of Nine Miles.
   Several years later Bob, his mother, and her new husband come back to Kingston and live in a squalid ghetto called Trenchtown. Bob’s mother worries that her son will get into trouble if he hangs out with the “rude boys,” but he reassures her that he will “follow my own beat” and he is sure that “Music will get me out of the rubble.”
   With their evocative words and rhythm, the poems in this book tell a story of a man and capture a moment in time. At the back of the book readers will find notes that provide additional information about the poems and the story that they are telling.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Sheep go on Strike

Many of us tend to think that sheep are not very bright animals. They are followers rather than thinkers. In today's picture book you will meet some sheep who are intelligent and opinionated. In fact, they take a stand on an issue that is dear to them.

The Sheep Go on StrikeJean-Francois Dumont
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2014, 978-0-8028-5470-4
Every year the sheep are sheared and every fall they feel pretty chilly without their woolly fleeces. Some of them even get colds, and then they have to be seen by the vet, and we all know what happens when the vet comes; the sheep have to “swallow disgusting medicine and get shots.” After years of putting up with this state of affairs, the sheep have decided that they have had enough. None of the other farm animals get sheared for their fur, so why should the sheep put up with this treatment? There is only one thing to do: the sheep go on strike. 
   The sheepdog, Ralph, tries to round up the sheep and ends up having to run for it. The sheep are in no mood to be pushed around. On the farm some of the animals sympathize with the sheep, while others think that the sheep should stick to “tradition” because “that was how it was supposed to be.”
   The next day the sheep get ready to march on the road that runs from the end of the meadow to the goose pond. The farm animals watch as the sheepdogs from the neighboring farms gather for a meeting at Ralph’s doghouse. Afraid that they will lose their jobs, the dogs are determined to do what they can to stop the strike. No one imagines that the march and the kerfuffle that follows will cause a terrible schism to develop between the farm animals.
   We live in a world where people are often all too willing to resort to violence when things are not going their way. In this picture book we see how animals on a farm find themselves following this all too familiar human pattern until good sense prevails and they discover that there is always another way to solve a problem. A compromise offers them a solution that is clever, and for us readers, deliciously funny.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Poetry Friday with a review of Dear Wandering Wildebeest and other poems from the water hole


The first time I visited Africa I was bowled over by the beauty of the place and loved watching the wild animals. I saw a giraffe as my plane touched down in Nairobi, and there were bush babies in the backyard of the house that I was staying in. For a zoologist, which I was, this was sheer heaven. Today's poetry title will take readers to Africa, and they will get to spend a little time hanging out at a water hole where they will meet all kinds of wonderful creatures.

Dear Wandering Wildebeest and other poems from the water hole 
Dear Wandering Wildebeest and other poems from the water holeIrene Latham
Illustrated by Anna Wadham
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 2014, 978-1-4677-1232-3
If you visit an African savanna and want to see some of the grassland animals, the best place to go is to a water hole. All the animals need water at some point, and they often travel long distances to get to a water hole, where they gather during the day or night. Bush willow trees are often found growing near or around the water hole and they provide animals with shade, a place to rest, and even a source of food.
   The voice of the bush willow is heard in one of the poems in this book. It tells us how its “buffet never closes” for animals like giraffes, which feed on its leaves. We hear about how rhinos doze in its shade, and baboons “scramble up and down my trunk.” On its branches and truck animals such as owls, skinks, and ants make their homes and go about their business.
   We also read poems about some of the creatures that come to the water hole. There are several deadly snake species that may pay a visit, including the deadly and fast moving black mamba, the tree-living boomslang, the cape cobra, the saw-scaled viper, and the puff adder, which “rarely misses.”
   Here we see the fast and elegant impala, a deer that can leap great distances and whose “flawless flight” is a “dancer’s delight.” Elegance is not the way of the elephants who come to the water hole. They bathe and drink and then they have a wonderful “red-grit shower” rolling in the dust. The dust coats their skin and it protects them from the sun and biting insects. The rhino, another large animal, also comes to the water hole, though it only comes when the stars are high in the sky and when “moonshine” touches the land. The rhino, a solitary creature, “charges like a bull / at the rodeo” if it hears or smells danger.
   On the pages of this memorable poetry book readers will find poems that beautifully capture the sounds, sights, and smells of Africa. Readers will meet some of the animal characters who live in this captivating place. Accompanying every poem there is a section of text that gives readers further information about the animals (or plants) mentioned in the poem. The poems come in many forms and use different ‘voices’ so that readers are kept guessing. Who will come next? Will we get to read about a meerkat or a giraffe? What about lions? Will we get to meet them too?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Picture Book Monday with a review of Off We Go! A Bear and Mole Story

When I was little I was terrified of learning how to swim. I would not let go of the side of the pool, even if I was wearing my water wings, and even though I knew my water wings would allow me to float. Then a friend took the time to encourage me to swim freely. She made me feel that I would be fine and safe, and so I took that terrifying step and let go. I have loved swimming ever since. Today's picture book is about a little mole who take a similar step when he decides that he no longer needs training wheels on his bicycle.

Off We Go!: A Bear and Mole StoryOff We Go! A Bear and Mole Story
Will Hillenbrand
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Holiday House, 2013, 978-0-8234-2520-4
One day Mole decides that he no longer needs the training wheels on his bicycle. He asks his friend Bear to help him remove the wheels. Bear helps Mole take the wheels off, they make sure there is enough pressure in the tires, Mole pulls on his boots, and they attach a flag to the bike. Then Mole puts his library books in his bike pack and puts on his helmet. Finally Mole is ready.
   Mole kicks off and Bear pushes him and after a series of wobbles poor Mole crashes. Miserable Mole, tears streaming down his velvety face, announces that he is going to “quit,” but Bear tells him that he thinks Mole can do it. Encouraged by Bear, Mole decides to give it another go, never expecting that his bike ride is going to be quite sensational.
   In this delightfully sweet and funny book we see how a little encouragement and a dash of courage can go a long way when one is confronted with a daunting task. Little children who are facing their own challenges will find Mole and Bear’s story inspirational and supportive.