Friday, July 31, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of One Leaf Rides the Wind

I really enjoy reading haiku, especially the ones that focus on nature and those that describe the special little moments that make our lives richer. Today's poetry title is full of haiku of this kind. It takes us into a beautiful Japanese garden where memorable sights and experiences await us.

One Leaf Rides the WindOne Leaf Rides the Wind
Celeste Davidson Mannis
Illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2005, 978-0756952136
Japanese gardens are places that have been carefully designed to create an environment that is peaceful and beautiful. They give the visitor the opportunity to take a break from the rigors of everyday life, and to connect with nature. In such a garden visitors can find the quiet that they need to “find that world of peace and tranquility within themselves.”
   In this beautiful book readers can visit just such a garden with a little girl. In her company we see a leaf that “rides the wind,” and that moves so fast that she cannot catch it. We see two stone temple dogs, which she feels are “snarling over my shoulder.” The dogs will guard the garden from any kind of disaster.
   In the garden a collection of miniature bonsai trees make the little girl feel tall. She sees four birds take flight when a cat prowling on a roof scares them. The little girl visits a tea house where she finds a tray on which “seven sweet surprises lie.” After her snack she goes back outside where more delights await her.
   In this gorgeous book every spread offers readers a beautiful illustration, a haiku poem, and a short description of the garden feature that is being shown on those pages. A pair of notes at the back of the book tell readers what Japanese gardens are like, and what haiku poems are.
   This special poetry collection will give readers a taste of Japan that will stay with the reader long after the book has been read and its covers have been closed.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Stick and Stone

Stick and Stone
Friendship is a funny thing because it is unpredictable and sometimes it can develop between two people (or characters) who really are nothing alike; on the outside that is. That's the thing though, isn't it? Two characters may seem very different on the outside, but deep down a connection forms that is special. This is what happens between the characters in today's picture book.

Stick and Stone
Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 978-0-544-03256-9
Stick and Stone are both alone and lonely, and for both of them being alone is just “no fun. Then one day they are both at the park playing on the swings when Pinecone comes along and he makes fun of Stone when Stone falls off his swing. Stick cannot just stand by and let this just happen, so he steps in and tells Pinecone to “Vanish!”
   Pinecone walks off in a huff, and Stone is really touched that Stick “stuck up” for him. Stick explains that that is what Sticks do. It is also what friends do, and that is what Stick and Stone become: the best of friends. Together they have a grand time playing, wandering and exploring. They “laze by the shore” enjoying the sun and the sea air and watch dolphins frolicking in the water. What they never expect is that in the very near future they will be ripped apart and once again they will be alone.
   In this wonderful picture book we meet two characters who discover the joys of friendship, and who stand side by side through good times and bad. With its delightfully expressive illustrations and a minimal rhyming text, this book will charm children and their grownups and it serves as a tribute to the power of friendship.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of The Year of Goodbyes

Until about ten years ago I had never read a novel written in blank verse . The idea seemed rather strange at first, but then I had the privilege to review several wonderful books written in this style, and I started keeping my eyes open for such titles. Today's poetry title is one of these books, though in this case the story told is a true one and not a work of fiction. The narrative is powerful and often painful, and it beautifully captures the experiences a young girl had at a time when her world was falling apart.

The year of goodbyes The year of goodbyes
Debbie Levy
For ages 10 and up
Hyperion, 2010, 978-142312901-1
In the 1930’s many of the young girls in Germany owned a poesiealbum, a poetry album that their friends could write in. The girls would take a friend’s poesiealbum home with them, and in their best handwriting they would write a little poem for that friend. Often the little gifts of words were decorated with drawings or stickers of good luck motifs such as four-leaf clovers and ladybugs. Jutta Salzburg was one of these girls who had a poesiealbum. What made her album so special was that the little notes of love, support, and friendship written on the pages helped Jutta get through a time when life in Germany was very hard for many of its citizens.
   Jutta’s story beings in 1938. Not that long ago Jutta’s life in Hamburg was ideal and full of happiness and hope. Then the Nazis came into power and ever since then the government has been eroding away the rights of Germany’s Jewish citizens. By 1938, Jutta and the other Jewish children had been forced out of the public schools and were now going to schools for Jews. The Jewish children can no longer play on the streets because it is not safe for them to do so. Jutta’s father no longer has a job, and he spends all of his time trying to find ways to get his family out of Germany to safety.
   With every passing day the situation in Hamburg gets more and frightening. Jutta and her friends and family members try not to dwell too much on what is going on around them, but how can they pretend that everything is normal when brown shirts march in the streets; when Jewish families start disappearing; and when they live in fear that they will end up in something called “a concentration camp?”
   In this remarkable book, Jutta Salzburg’s daughter pairs entries from her mother’s real poesiealbum with blank verse poems to give readers a picture of what it was like to be a young Jewish girl living in Hamburg in 1938. Sentiments or ideas mentioned in the poems are picked up and explored in the blank verse in the context of what was going on in Jutta’s life at that time. Presented chronologically, the blank verse help readers to see how Jutta’s life deteriorated as the Nazis set about ridding Germany and then Austria of its Jewish residents.
   In an afterword the author tells us more about her mother’s story and the history behind the narrative. We also find out that she did her best to find out what happened to all the girls whose poems appeared in her mother’s poesiealbum. There is also a timeline to help readers see how the Nazi persecution of Jews escalated over time, and how their actions were tied into the story of Jutta’s life in 1938. Readers will also find a collection of Jutta’s photos that help us to see what the characters mentioned in the book really looked like.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Pool

When I was a child, going to the pool was one of my favorite summer pastimes. I spent hours there, jumping in with the other kids, playing Marco Polo, and, diving off the diving board. When I needed a little space, I would swim to the deep end and sit on the bottom for a little while. It was always so quiet and restful down there. Today's picture book will take readers into the deep end of a swimming pool where they will encounter wonderful sights and see a friendship develop. 

JiHyeon Lee
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2015, 978-1-4521-4294-4
A boy arrives at the pool, which is empty and serene. Then, without warning, a pack of loud, boisterous people arrive with their balls, floating rings, and paddle boats. The pool is so full of people and their gear that the boy can barely see the water at all. Everywhere he looks there is chaos, and for a while he just watches. Then the boy dives in, going under the paddling legs of all the other people.
   Deep underwater the boy he meets a girl, and together they swim down into a magical world conjured up by their own imaginations. There, in the quiet away from the crowds, they find a place full of wonderful creatures, and in the process they find something that is priceless.
   The best thing about having an imagination is that it can take you anywhere. The sky is the limit. Better still, your imagination can brighten up a dull day and offer relief when something does not quite work out the way you hoped.
   In this wordless picture book the author takes readers into a world where anything is possible, and where something wonderful can happen that will last long after the threads of daydreams fade and drift away.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Doodle Dandies: Poems that take shape

Until relatively recently all the poems I had seen looked the same; pretty much. They were presented as columns of text that were divided to create stanzas. With one exception. A poem that appears in Alice in Wonderland is curved so that it looks like the tail of a mouse. When I saw it for the first time many years ago, I remember thinking that this was a very clever device . In the last few years I have noticed that more people are creating poems that are presented to create a 'picture.' Today's poetry title is full of such poems, poems that offer the eye something to look at.

Doodle Dandies: Poems that take shape
Doodle Dandies: Poems that take ShapeJ. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Lisa Desimini
For ages 5 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 1998, 978-0689810756
Most people are familiar with the form that poems usually take. More often than not they are divided into stanzas that are arranged on the page in a neat column.  Readers have become so used to this format that they think that is how poems have to be presented. The truth is that there are no rules. Poems can be formatted in all kinds of ways, and perhaps the most ‘extreme’ formatting options are those used when creating shape poems.
   Shape poems are arranged on the page to create an image, and the image somehow reflects the subject matter of the poem. Many years ago Lewis Carroll created a shape poem (also called a visual or concrete poem) called “The Mouse’s Tail.” The poem appeared in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the words of the poem are presented in such a way that they look like a sinuous mouse tail that runs from the top of the page to the bottom.
   In this book J. Patrick Lewis gives readers twenty poems that delight both the ear and the eye. For each poem the illustrator has created multimedia artwork that provides the perfect backdrop for the word pictures. For example, for the poem “Umbrella” there is a picture of a girl wearing a bright yellow rain slicker and above her, sheltering her from raindrops, is an umbrella-shaped poem. The poem tells us that the girl keeps her umbrella “in the closet till the clouds get fat.” Then she brings the umbrella out because it “loves a rainy day.”
   Some of the poems are only a sentence or two long, while others offer readers more food for thought. The topics explored in the poems include a tiger, an oyster family, a snake, snow, and camels. The poems come in many forms. Some rhyme, while others do not, and you never know what the next page will bring.
   This is the perfect book to share with young readers who don’t realize that when it comes to poems, the sky is the limit. There are not rules about how they should look and sound, and they  can be playful, charming, amusing, and interesting.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Song for a summer night: A lullaby

When night falls in summer, something remarkable happens. The heat of the day starts to dissipate and new nighttime-only sights and sounds drift across lawns and streets. Today's picture book perfectly captures that special time when stars start to twinkle in the summer night, and when children and creatures come out of their homes to experience the magic of a summer night.

Song for a Summer Night: A LullabySong for a summer night: A lullaby
Robert Heidbreder
Illustrations by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-493-0
The day has “left the stage” and now the night is waiting “in the wings” for the summer evening show to begin. As the last of the sun’s glow leaves the sky, children gather in the windows overlooking the park, waiting for the special daily gift to begin.
   As the first stars appear in the sky, fireflies drift up from the grass and trees and fill the air with their “glint – glint” lights. Soon after, raccoons appear on the scene, waltzing onto the park stage in “tra-la-la time.” Owls add their hoots to the song of the night, as do the crickets. Even the local cats, with their “tails held high,” get into the spirits of things, adding their purrs to the “rhythmic refrain” as the light fades from the sky.
   Dogs too “bounce” onto the grass of the park, where they are joined by some of the children who are “spellbound” by the night “music” that is swelling all around them.
   In this beautiful book a lyrical rhyming lines of verse are paired with gorgeous illustrations to take us into a nighttime world that is full of magic and beauty. We see how precious the simple gifts of nature are on a summer night, and how the magic continues to resonate with children long after the sun has risen and a new day has begun.
   Children and their grownups are going to love sharing this very special picture book.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Lemonade Sun and other summer poems

Lemonade Sun and other summer poems
Summer is truly here in southern Oregon with hot days, singing cicadas, the smell of dust in the air, and children standing on sidewalks selling lemonade. Today's poetry book beautifully captures the experiences, sights, sounds, and smells of summer as seen through the eyes of young children.

Lemonade Sun and other summer poems 
Rebecca Kai Dotlitch
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Wordsong, 2001, 978-1563979446
It is summer, which means that it is time for “Popsicle Stains” and “Fudgesicle Fun.” This is the time of year when children make lemonade, that elixir of sunshiny days that is a perfect treat to sip on a hot day. Children who have a strong entrepreneurial spirit set up lemonade stands where they offer cookies, cake and sweet lemonade to passersby. Waiting for custom can be a tedious business though, and children often wish “won’t somebody buy something, / please?” as they wait.
   Thankfully, summer is also a time when children enjoy all kinds of wonderful activities. Blowing bubbles, playing marbles, skipping rope and playing hopscotch are just a few of the things that children like to do during the long lazy summer days.
   Then in the evening, under the light of the moon, fireflies are gathered until children have a “Twinkling treasure” in a jar. Stars “like splinters / of diamonds” sparkle overhead, and on special nights they are accompanied by the brilliant colors of fireworks, which explode in the sky with a “sparkle! flash” and a “CRACKLE- / POP!”
   In this wonderful book, summer is celebrated by pairing delightful image-rich poems with warm, expressive illustrations. Children and grownups alike will enjoy exploring the verse, which seem to radiate with sunshine and happy laughter.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Beach House

When I was a child, at the beginning of May, I would start looking forward to our first beach vacation of the year. We used to camp on a beach for two weeks or so in July, and those sun-filled days brought me some of the best memories of my childhood, which I still cherish today. Today's picture book perfectly captures the anticipation that a family of children experience when they set off for their summer beach vacation, and the joys that they share when they get there.

Beach HouseBeach House
Deanna Caswell
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2015, 978-1-4521-2408-7
They have been waiting for a whole year, and now, at last, summer is here and they are going to the beach house. The van is loaded down with beach gear, suitcases, bikes, golf clubs, a surf board and who knows what else, and when the family arrives at the house, all that stuff has to be unloaded and put away. The ocean is calling as the children make beds and empty suitcases, as they look out of the window at the sand and the waves.
   Then, at last, everyone heads for the beach. Carrying bags, pulling wagons, scampering and running, the two adults, three children, and the little dog begin their vacation. Games of Marco Polo are played, boogie boards are tried out, and castles with moats are built and washed away. As the sun sets they gather around a fire pit to roast hotdogs and toast faces. As the moon rises they wash off the sand and salt and fall into bed with “Rosy noses” knowing that outside the ocean and beach await them for another day of adventure.
   With wonderfully lush watercolor illustrations and a magical rhyming text, this picture book perfectly captures the simple pleasures of a summer beach vacation. The excitement that the family members feel is almost palpable, and readers will probably start wishing, as the narrative unfolds and blooms, that they too could splash in waves, build castles, and soak up salty air and warm sun.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Sing a Season Song

For the last few days it has been blistering hot here in southern Oregon. I can't even remember what it feels like to be cold, or what rain sounds like when it is landing on the roof of my house. It was such a joy to read today's poetry title because, for a while, it took me to to spring, fall and winter; the lines of verse made it possible for me to experience these other seasons through works.

Sing a Season Song Sing a Season Song
Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Lisel Jane Ashlock
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Creative Editions, 2015, 978-1-56846-255-4
It is winter and snow covers the ground and rests on the branches of the trees in the forest. An owl swoops through the air as a fox sleeps, curled up in its den. It is cold and “Icicle popsicles / drip, drop and dropsicles.” On the edge of the forest children are “snowballing”
   Then, at last, the temperatures start to rise. A “gossamer breeze” makes the flowers sway and the “pillows of lawn” ripple. Now is the time when we see baby animals everywhere and then, quite suddenly, spring is over and summer with its “shimmering days” is upon us.
   “Day shines at night” and “toes wiggle” where fish “wriggle.” Fireflies blink “off-again-on” in the dusk. After days of heat and warm nights, summer gently fades to be replaced by the golden colors, and busy days, of fall.
   In this incredibly lush picture book, Jane Yolen’s beautiful verse is paired with glorious, richly detailed illustrations to give readers a bookish experience of the seasons that is like no other.