Friday, May 29, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of The Maine Coon’s Haiku and other poems for cat lovers

The Maine Coon’s Haiku and other poems for cat lovers
I have had the privilege to share my life with many wonderful cats. Most of them have been mixed breeds of some kind, and all of them have been rescues. The only single breed cats I have had are Siamese, which are often slightly neurotic but always loving and interesting. Their beauty and singular ways have charmed people all over the world ever since the breed became available outside of Thailand, which is where they were first selectively bred.

Today's poetry picture book looks at a few of the world's most popular cat breeds. The haiku on the pages beautifully capture the quixotic and fascinating personalities of these wonderful animals.

The Maine Coon’s Haiku and other poems for cat lovers
Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Lee White
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-6492-3
Poets have been writing odes to cats for centuries; poems of many forms have danced off their pens and pencils as they have tried to understand the enigmatic, secretive, independent, and yet loving nature of one of man’s most beloved pets.
   In this wonderful book Michael J. Rosen explores the lives of cats, capturing those special moments that delight, entrance and puzzle their owners. Each carefully crafted haiku is about a different cat breed, and each poem presents readers with a moment in time, a pause, when they can revel in three lines of words that capture an image, a moment, to perfection.
   We begin with a Maine Coon which is indoors “crouched before the couch.” It is there because it has heard a sound that has its full and undivided attention. The cat has heard a mouse moving around.
   The Ragdoll that we meet next is not in the mood for doing much at all at the moment. It lies, with its fluffy tail curled around it, “beneath the ivy.” The cat was busy not long ago though, for we can see that it “halved the blameless hearts,” tearing many of the plant’s glossy leaves to pieces.
   Later, on the street, we meet a British Shorthair, an elegant grey feline who has planted “mud daisies / along the polished hillside” of some cars. There they are, little muddy paw prints weaving their way across hoods, roofs, and trunks.
   Back indoors an Abyssinian has decided that the book on your lap is the only place it wants to be. You may want, perhaps even need, to turn the page, but the cat does not “care what happens next / now’s the only page,” which probably means that it may be a while before the next pages get read.
   In addition to the wonderful poems, the author provides readers with further information about the twenty breeds of cats mentioned in the book. Reader swill find out, among other things, that Siamese cats were entrusted with taking care of their royal mistress’s rings. The rings would be placed on the cat’s tails for safe keeping. Norwegian Forest cats have been living in Norway’s forests since the time of the Vikings. Unlike many cats, these especially thick-coated animals can climb down a tree using their claws. Most cats who climb trees jump down in stages or get stuck!
   Throughout the book the wonderful poems are accompanied by Lee White’s expressive artwork.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Silver Button

The Silver Button
Our days are full of special moments, moments that most of the time go unnoticed and unappreciated. Today's picture book explores a sliver of time and shows a variety of incredible moments that take place in that fragment of a day.

The Silver Button
Bob Graham
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-6437-4
At one minute to ten on Thursday morning Jodie is drawing a picture of a duck. She gives her lovely duck a top hat, a cane, and boots. Carefully she draws silver buttons on his boots. She is just about the draw the final button when her little brother, Jonathan, pushes himself to his feet for the first time. He sways, he frowns, he tilts forward and takes his first step.
    At that very moment, in the next room, Jodie’s mother starts playing her penny whistle and a feather from a pigeon nest under the roof drifts past the window “like an autumn leaf.”
   At that very moment, little Alice next door mails sticks and stones through the front gate and a jogger runs by. Not far away Bernard has his shoelace tied again, and a soldier says goodbye to his mother. In the park Sophie and her granddad make a house of leaves, and a homeless lady shuffles along, pushing a cart containing all her worldly possessions. Just as Jonathan is taking that first step, incredibly special moments, and everyday moments, are touching lives all over the city where Jodie lives.
   In this wonderful picture book Bob Graham celebrates the precious moments that take place every day. He shows us how, while Jonathan is taking that first incredible step, all kinds of things are happening in the world beyond his home. By degrees, Bob Graham’s art takes us further and further out from Jodie’s home, allowing us to see her street, then her neighborhood, then the city and the ocean. We come to appreciate that there is something rich in the world he shows us. How incredible it is that his world is so much like our own. Could it be that we too live in a world full of wonderful moments?
   

Friday, May 22, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to love with your baby


There aren't many poetry board books out there, so I am delighted to be able to bring one of these titles to you today. Sharing poetry with very young children can be a wonderful experience for grownups, and their audience will enjoy experiencing language that has rhythm and rhyme.

Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to love with your baby
Selected By Lee Bennett Hopkins
Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to love with your baby Illustrated by Alyssa Nasser
Poetry Board Book
For infants to age 3
Abrams, 2015, 978-1-4197-1037-7
Sharing poems with very young children can be such a joyous thing for an adult to do. Babies and toddlers have a natural affinity for poetry because they are attracted to the cadences of the rhythm and rhyme.
   In this wonderful board book readers will find thirty original rhymes that Lee Bennett Hopkins has carefully selected. They are arranged in five ‘chapters’ which are: family, food, firsts, play and bedtime. The topics chosen for the poems perfectly suit the interests and concerns of very young children, and are they are paired with illustrations showing animal children and their families doing everyday things.
   In the first section, family, there are poems about parents, grandparents and siblings. In addition there is a poem called “My Name” by Madeline Kuderick. In this poem a little cat child talks about how his name is “everywhere” on “wooden blocks, / on my slippers, on my socks.” It is wonderful to see how the poem shows that the little cat child is a vital part of the family world that he belongs to.
   In the next section, which is about food, there is a poem about how a child feels to be in a high chair. The toddler is “the king of the upper air,” with “All below me in my power.” There are also poems about breakfast cereal, milk, snack time, spaghetti, and watermelon.

   Wonderful poets including Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, and Marilyn Singer wrote poems for this collection. There is warmth, humor, and softness on the pages, and little children will connect with the images and feelings that the poems and illustrations evoke.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Roger is reading a book

Sometimes I come across a book that is so well written that I can hardly bear to set it down. I just want to spend a quiet time, curled up in a corner, reading on and on. Of course, all too often, life does not allow me to have that quiet time. A dog wants to go out, a cat wants some attention, dinner needs to be cooked, a manuscript needs to be edited, a book needs to be reviewed and so on. It is so frustrating!

Today's picture book is about Roger, who really, really, wants some peace and quiet so that he can read his book. Unfortunately Emily has other ideas.

Roger is reading a book
Roger is reading a book Koen Van Biesen
Translated by Laura Watkinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Eerdmans, 2015, 978-0-8028-5442-1
Roger is reading a book and he needs some peace and quiet. He sits on a stool, the glow from a reading lamp lighting up the pages of his book, and reads. His dog lies at his feet snoozing. Then, on the other side of the wall, Emily starts playing with a basketball. She bounces it and makes a lot of noise, which means that Roger has to get up to knock on the wall. He needs peace and quiet so that he can continue reading his book.
   For a short while all is well until Emily starts singing. Roger knocks on the wall. Emily starts playing the drums, Roger pounds on the wall. Emily juggles, she dances, and she hits a boxing bag. Emily makes so much noise that Roger is in despair. Something has to be done about this situation.
    This wonderfully clever book will delight young readers and will certainly resonate with their grownups who are probably very familiar with Roger’s predicament. The author finds a perfect way to solve Roger’s problem, and then presents us with another one that brings the story to a perfect close.
   With a minimal text and lots of sound words, this is the kind of book young children will enjoy looking through on their own. They will love seeing what the dog does as the story unfolds, for the dog, in the end, steals the whole show.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Peaceful Pieces

Trying to explain what peace is to children can be problematical. You can't see, hear, smell, or taste it, and therefore children have a hard time understanding what this elusive thing that everyone seems to want is. In today's poetry title the author uses wonderful poems and beautiful photos of quilts (which she made) to help children appreciate what peace is and how precious it is.

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about PeacePeaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace 
Anne Grossnickle Hines
Poetry Picture Book
For ages for ages 6 and up
Henry Holt, 2011, 978-0-8050-8996-7
Peace is an elusive thing. Throughout humanity’s history, many great people have tried to bring peace to human societies. Occasionally they have succeeded in a meaningful way, but all too often their efforts have not been long lasting. All too often this is because humans just cannot overcome their differences to find the road to peace. What most people do agree on is that world peace will not come about if we cannot have peace in our own homes and communities first. We need to start small and then hope that the peace, like a plant, will grow and spread.
   In this remarkable book the author pairs her beautiful quilted creations with poems that explore peace in its many forms. She begins by wondering how peace will arrive. Will there be a fanfare of trumpets, “gold banners” and a “great noisy show,” or will peace “slip in quietly” and slowly fill us until we say, “Ahh … this is peace.”
   Next we meet someone who endeavors so hard to bring peace into his or her home. The person wonders why peace is “such / an infrequent guest.” Anger is banished, fear is pushed away and selfishness is kept busy and yet peace does not stay.
   Later on the book, for people who struggle to find that coveted prize, we find a recipe for peace. It is simple, and yet incredibly powerful. The ingredients are: at least two open minds, willing hearts, compassion, trust, forgiveness, respect, “A dash of humor” and, of course, hope.
   Peace can also be found in nature. It is there as we paddle along in a river listening to “Awakening birdsong” in a space that is “serene” and away from “chaos.” Then there is the peace that lies inside us, the peace that is often hidden. With sensitivity and grace the author talks about the angry thoughts and words, the busy brain, and the inflexibility that often makes that inner peace impossible to find.
   She also talks about the peacekeepers whose “tall and resolute” stance we should all try to emulate as best we can. They are the people who have dared to speak up and say that violence is not the answer, that peace is the only way forward.
   This powerful and meaningful poetry title has something to offer everyone, words of wisdom that we would all do well to listen to and think about.



Monday, May 11, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Rainstorm


RainstormWe live in a more-is-better world, a world where people often forget that sometimes less is more. In today's wordless picture book a magical story unfolds that readers of all ages will be able to appreciate. The artwork is simple without any frills or embellishments, and it is perfect.

Rainstorm
Barbara Lehman
Picture Book
For ages 3 to 5
Houghton Mifflin, 2007, 978-0618756391
It is a rainy grey day and a lonely little boy looks out of the window. He then kicks a red and white ball across the floor and its rolls away and down the stairs. The boy goes after the ball, and when he reaches under a chair to retrieve the ball his hand touches a key. Now the boy tries to find the key hole which matches the key.
   After many tries, the boy discovers that the key unlocks a trunk. When he opens the lid of the trunk he sees a ladder, and being a normally curious sort of boy, he climbs down the ladder. At the bottom of the ladder the boy sees a tunnel which he proceeds to follow. Where does the tunnel go and what lies at the end of it?
   Any child who has found him or herself wishing something, anything, would happen on a dull and lonely rainy day will be able to identify with the main character in this story. Indeed, most children will be intrigued as they watch the events unfold in the wordless book. They will be delighted to see that the magic which occurs on that first rainy day can be repeated, and therefore there is a strong message of hope on the pages.
   Beautifully illustrated in bold and bright colors, this picture book is a celebration of magical places, the imagination, and much more.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders


The history of humankind is peppered with the stories of men and women who have done their best to take away the rights of certain groups of people. Thankfully, the exploits of such individuals have been balanced, at least a little bit, by the actions of brave and selfless men and women who have fought hard to obtain equal rights for all people.

In today's poetry title the stories of some of these civil rights leaders are told.

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by five notable illustrators
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Chronicle Books, 2013, 978-1-4521-0119-4
For centuries human societies have been rife with injustices and inequalities. Often change only happened when “The poor and dispossessed take up the drums / for civil rights – freedoms to think and speak, / Petition, pray and vote.” Often these uprisings, when the meek voices of the many became a roll of thunder, where led by one person, a person who dared to step forward and risk everything to speak out against injustice.
   In this remarkable book J. Patrick Lewis presents readers with poems about seventeen people who fought “for the equal rights of mankind.” Many suffered deeply for daring to stand against the status quo, and some even died for their convictions.
   On these pages we meet Aung San Suu Kyi who has fought for the rights of the Burmese people for decades. Often she was under house arrest, not allowed to see her friends and family members. For her courage she was awarded many prizes, included the Nobel Peace Prize “for defending / the rights of my people” against the generals who would oppress them. When she “refused food to protest my detention,” the general, her enemy “stuffed himself on mangoes / and banana pudding.”
   Like Aung San Suu Kyi, Mitsuye Endo was held captive by her own government. A simple typist “nothing more,” she was taken to a Japanese internment camp after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. She had committed no crime and yet she was treated like a criminal. Many of the internees accepted their captivity without a murmur, but Endo did not. She spoke out and challenged the government’s right to imprison her and other patriotic citizens based on their ancestry.
    Another person who spoke out against injustice was Harvey Milk, who dared to say that people who were gay should not have to hide who and what they are. He even became a “city father” so that he could contest the laws that “kept / boys and girls from living lives / that Life would not accept.” He felt that he had to do his part to fight against the “small-mindedness” that causes so much suffering.
   Readers will be greatly moved by J. Patrick Lewis’s poems, some of which are written in the first person. Each one is a gem, a reminder that our rights should never be taken for granted. Somewhere someone had to fight for them.

   At the back of the book readers will find further information about the seventeen activists who are featured in the book. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of By Mouse and Frog

When I was a little child my best friend, Raff, and I used to make up games to play together. All too often one of us would come up with an idea, which the other would then try to take over. An argument would ensue. I saw this happen many times with my own child and her friends, and it was always interesting to see how they settled their differences.

Today's picture book is about a mouse who wants to write a story, and a frog who wants to be a part of the story writing process. The frog, alas, does not know how to respect his friend's creative process, and a situation arises that is rather uncomfortable for both the mouse and the frog.

By Mouse and Frog
By Mouse and Frog
Deborah Freedman
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-670-78490-5
One morning Mouse wakes up and he starts writing “a brand-new story.” Carefully he tells his story in which a mouse wakes up early and sets a table. He then draws what he describes, a table with tea things on it. The next minute Frog jumps into the story. Frog contributes a cake to the story, which Mouse reluctantly agrees can be added to the tea table. Frog then rapidly goes on to add a king, and ice cream, and the next thing you know a dragon and fairy appear and poor Mouse’s story has been completely taken over. Mouse yells “STOP!” His poor story “is a mess!”
   Frog is rather upset that Mouse says this, but Mouse is even more upset because Frog took over his story without so much as a how do you do! Frog explains that he was just trying to help and the two animals start over. The problem is that Frog, who is a very excitable fellow, isn’t very good at letting Mouse have a say in how the story is going to go.
   In this deliciously clever and frequently funny book we see how friends often have to work hard if they want to collaborate on a project. They have to make compromises and be sensitive to each other’s wishes. Children are going to love seeing how Mouse and Frog draw their story and how, in the end, they create something that is uniquely theirs. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Happy May Day!


Poetry Friday with a review of Lend a Hand

In 1976 my family left our home in war-torn Lebanon and we traveled, on a freight ship, to the island of Cyprus. Like so many refugees, we had very little when we got to our destination. When you are fleeing a country you don't have time to pack up much. The first few months were hard, but what made them easier was the fact that people who barely knew us reached out to us. The people we met in Cyprus knew what it was like to be refugees, and they helped us as much as they could. Their kindness and compassion made a great deal of difference to us.

Today's poetry title explores the many ways in which people help one another. Even the smallest acts of kindness can have a huge impact.

Lend a HandLend a Hand
John Frank
Illustrated by London Ladd
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Lee and Low Books, 2014, 978-1-60060-970-1
Many people are eager to do something big with their lives, to make a noticeable difference in the world. What they sometimes forget is that they can have a meaningful impact by doing small acts of kindness every day. Doing these kinds of things are the “first steps to changing the world.”
   In this book we see the kinds of compassionate things people do for one another as they go about their day. Beautifully written poems capture these moments, showing readers how powerful such actions can be, both for the person who receives the gift of kindness and the person who gives it.
   We see how a child shares her sandwich with a new girl at school, who is sitting alone and lunch-less nearby. We meet a little boy whose is caring for a little puppy, a puppy whom he adores. In the not too distant future the boy will have to give the puppy away because the dog is going to be “someone’s eyes / one day.”
   Then there is the girl who has her long beautiful hair cut off so that it can be sent away “to be part of a wavy wig / worn by someone / whose hair / sickness stole.” Another young person reaches out to a stranger by writing to a soldier who is serving his country many miles away. The boy reassures the soldier that no matter what happens he will not forget the soldier or his service.
   Sometimes an act of kindness can be as simple as helping a boy make his bike work “as good as new” without charging him for the time it took to test the wheels and tighten a bolt here and there. It can be as simple as that same boy helping a woman load her grocery bags into her car and refusing to take any money for his time. It can be as simple as a kindness being handed on from person to person, on and on.
   In this empowering and meaningful poetry collection we see how simple it is to reach out and connect with others. It does not matter if we know them or not. It does not matter if we never even meet them. Our acts make the world a better place, one simple kindness at a time.