Monday, September 28, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of A Lucky Author has a Dog

I am very lucky to have not one but two dogs in my life, and since I work at home they are my constant companions. They don't mind when I read reviews and stories out loud. In fact they are wonderful listeners! They don't mind when I mutter and fuss when things are not going well, and will press their noses into my hand when they feel that I need a little attention. They are wonderful work mates, which is why I was immediately drawn to today's picture book. Anyone who has a dog in their life is lucky, but I think we authors really need our dogs.

A Lucky Author Has a DogA Lucky Author has a dog
Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Steven Henry
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-51876-5
Every morning a dog up wakes its person with a kiss. The dog’s person is a little different from other people because she is an author, and authors tend to stay at home to work, which means that the dog has a companion all day long. The dog is therefore very lucky indeed.
   The interesting thing is that the dog is not the only one who is lucky. The author is lucky too because she has the dog. Dogs are wonderful partners who understand that what the author is doing is important even if the dog really “isn’t exactly sure what an author does.” The dog is an “encouraging friend” who is always there, and the dog knows when it is time for the author to take a break. Walks are good for the dog, but they are also good for the author as well because new sights, smells and sounds help feed a mind that is stuck and frustrated. In fact, a dog can really show an author “how to look and listen the way a dog does,” which can make all the difference in the world when you are a wordsmith and storyteller.
   In this unique picture book we find out what the life of an author is like, and we also come to appreciate that being an author’s dog is not a job to be taken lightly. As the narrative carries us through the day we see that the relationship between the author and her friend is special because both partners know that they are lucky to have each other.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Double Happiness


Moving to a new home can be hard for children. They often have to leave friends and family members behind and it can be scary not knowing what your new life is going to be like.

In this delightful poetry title the author uses a series of poems to tell the story of two children who are moving away from their home in San Francisco and going to a new house many miles away in a different state.

Double Happiness
Nancy Tupper Ling
Illustrated by Alina Chau
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle, 2015, 978-1-4521-2918-1
Gracie and her brother Jake are leaving their home in San Francisco and they are going to live in a new place far away from family members, and far from their “city house / by the trolley tracks.” Gracie is not happy about this change but her brother is excited about the prospect of having a new room with all kinds of ‘cool’ things in it.
   Before they leave, the children’s grandmother, Nai Nai, gives each of the children a box in which to put four items, treasures that will lead them “from this home / to your new.” The first item to go into Gracie’s box is her Nai Nai’s panda toy, which Nai Nai gives her. On the bus to the airport Jake finds a lucky penny, which goes into his box. As Gracie gets off the bus at the airport a eucalyptus leaf drifts down in front of her. The leaf is “the perfect treasure to remind me of home” so it is placed carefully into her box.
   As the journey to their new home unfolds, we join Gracie and Jake in their adventures as they visit the plane’s cockpit, try not to fall asleep, and then see their new home “from the sky.”  With their happiness boxes by their sides, the children experience change that is both painful and exciting.
   In this unique book the journey two children take is told in a series of poems. Some of the poems are from Gracie’s point of view, and some are from her exuberant brother’s. Some of them are told using both ‘voices,’ which beautifully capture how different the children are.
   Throughout the book the poems are accompanied by beautiful and emotive illustrations that capture the connection that the children have with their former home, and that also explore the hopes and fears that they have about their new one.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Welcome Autumn!

Autumn is finally here and I am really looking forward to cooler temperatures, colorful trees, sitting by the fire on Sundays, and getting out my knitting needles and yarn. Mind you, yesterday it was eighty degrees here in southern Oregon, which made the day feel more like summer than autumn, but one can hope that this situation will change soon.

Over the years I have reviewed many books about autumn. Some are stories, while others are nonfiction titles about this wonderful season. Do visit the Through the Looking Glass Autumn Days Book Collection page to find books that have a delightful autumn flavor.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Rufus the Writer

The amazing thing about writing stories is that the writing process ends up being a gift to the person who creates the story, and the story itself is a gift to those who read it. In today's picture book you will meet a boy who loves to write stories, and who happily gives his stories away to the people he cares about.

Rufus the WriterRufus the Writer
Elizabeth Bram
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2015, 978-0-385-37853-6
One day Rufus is lying in the grass looking up at the summer sky when he gets an idea. Instead of having the usual summer lemonade stand he will have a story stand. Rufus runs indoors to gather up what he needs, and he sets up a table outdoors, which he covers with a cloth. He makes a sign for his story stand and lays out paper, pencils, and colors. Rufus then goes and changes his clothes. After all, a writer has to look the part!
   Millie and Walter come by and they invite Rufus to go swimming with them. He explains that he has to take care of his story stand. Walter asks to buy a story and when he asks what the fee will be Rufus tells the little boy to bring him “a special shell from the beach.” After his friends leave, Rufus writes his fist story stand tale, one that will be perfect just for Walter.
   Rufus is working on illustrating his first story when his friend Sandy comes up with some wonderful news. His cat Rainbow has had kittens. Rufus offers to write a story for Sandy so that he can buy one of the kittens. Sandy says that Rufus can have the kitten for free, but Rufus still insists on writing a story in payment, and this is what he does. He writes a story all about a man who discovers that cats are far more important that things.
   The next story Rufus works on is for his sister Annie, who is going to be having her birthday the next day. A story will be a perfect gift; a personal gift unlike any other.
   In this charming picture book we meet a boy who understands how precious stories are. We watch as he carefully crafts tales that will suit the people he is writing them for. Children will enjoy seeing how Rufus’ stories are unique, and how each one has its own flavor, voice and illustrative style.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems

Getting used to a new school can be very unnerving. I remember how I felt when I moved from my familiar elementary school to the big high school. I was suddenly in school with much older youngsters (the seventeen and eighteen year olds were huge). I had to figure out how to get to many different classrooms, I had more homework, and I had to get used to being with children I did not know at all.

Today's poetry title explores what just such a transition is like for a girl who is going to middle school for the first time. The poems take us through her first middle school year and we share the may low and high points that she experiences.

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems
Swimming Upstream: Middle School PoemsKristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Debbie Tilley
Poetry
For ages 9 to 12
Clarion, 2002, 978-0618152506
It is September again and a new school year at a new school has begun. For some it is time full of dread, and for others it is a time that they have been looking forward to. Before the first bell rings, a girl sees friends whom she knew when she was in elementary school. Some look the same, and some have changed over the summer. Then the bell rings and “everyone scatters, / each of us going / our separate ways.”
    Now the confusion begins. A locker won’t open, she gets lost, she is late because she is lost, and by the time she finds her homeroom all she wants to do is to hide in “the last row.” Then, when the bell rings again, the confusion starts all over as she swims “upstream” against the flow of students to get to her next class. As the crazy day unfolds, even the inside of the girl’s locker start to look comfortingly cozy. At least the locker is “a space all my own.”
   At lunchtime she has no idea where to sit. Her friends from last year have changed and now there all these new people that she has to deal with, people she doesn’t know at all. She sees Margo, but Margo doesn’t see her and soon is gone. Then she sees Kori, the friend from second grade who moved away but who is now back. A familiar face at last!
   Middle school is different from elementary school on so many levels. Not only is it bigger, louder, and very confusing, but she is soon loaded down with homework, textbooks, and a musical instrument.
   As the days go by, some things, like math, friends, and books from the library, make her days brighter and better. Other things, like the flute that refuses to play properly, the gossips, and the snobs, make the days worse. Middle school is a very yes and no, good and bad, sort of place.

   Using a series of wonderful, relatively short, poems, the author of this book takes us into the world of a new middle school student. We follow as she falls for a boy, takes and aces tests, learns phrases in French and Spanish from her friends, and learns how to find her way around what, at first, is a very alien environment. With humor, candor and sensitivity, the author gives us slices of a year in the girl’s life, and we are left knowing that though there were hard times, she comes out of it stronger and happier than she went in. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Boom Snot Twitty: This way that way


When a group of friends get together to plan an outing of some kind it can, sometimes, be very hard to get those friends to agree on what they are going to do. One person wants to go shopping, another wants to go to a museum, yet another thinks that they should go for a hike. Today's picture book shows us what happens when two friends cannot agree about how to spend their day. Readers will be delighted when they see how this story works out.

Boom Snot Twitty: This way that way
Boom Snot Twitty This Way That WayDoreen Cronin
Illustrated by Renata Liwska
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin Random House, 2015, 978-0-670-78577-3
Boom the bear, Twitty the robin, and Snot the snail are all ready “to find the perfect spot to spend the day.” Boom is ready to set off “this way,” Twitty wants to go “that way,” and Snot, well Snot doesn’t say anything other than “Hmmm.”
   Boom says that he has got everything he needs to spend the day playing on the sand and in the water at the beach. Twitty has brought her hiking boots, binoculars, camera and rope so that she can go hiking in the mountains. Snot has brought snacks.
   Snot asks her friends what they want to do when they get to their perfect places and Boom and Twitty tell her. Then Boom and Twitty start to argue until Boom is hungry and Twitty is tired. It is only then that the friends, for friends they are even when they are not agreeing with each other, realize that Snot is missing.
   This sweetly funny book reminds children that even if your friends are not exactly like you, you can, if you make the effort, find common ground so that everyone is happy. After all, what you do when you are together does not really matter that much. What matters is that you are together, in each other’s company. Children will love the way in which Snot, the quiet one, is the friend who makes the right choice about where the perfect place is.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Poems in the Attic

When I was a child my Aunt D used to tell me stories about the childhood that she and my father shared in India. I love those stories because they helped me better understand who my father was and why he grew up to become such a thoughtful, bookish man who was fascinated by people.

In today's poetry title you will meet a little girl who gets to know her mother better by reading a collection of poems that her mother wrote when she was a child. The litter girl finds out about the adventures that her mother, had and about the challenges that she faced. The free verse and Japanese tanka poems that cover the pages in this book give readers the opportunity to shift between the child of the present and the child of the past.

Poems in the AtticPoems in the Attic
Nikki Grimes
Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon
Poetry Picture Book
For ages
Lee and Low, 2015, 978-1-62014-027-7
One day a seven-year-old girl goes into the attic in her grandmother’s house to explore. She finds a cedar box full of poems that her mother wrote when she was seven years old. As the daughter of a military man, Mama moved around a lot, and she had many memorable experiences. Now her daughter can read about these experiences in her mother’s poems.
   She reads about how her mama, when she lived in California, went to the beach with her father to see the Grunion Run. Together Mama and her father saw “slim fish, silver as new dimes” wriggling onto the beach where they laid their eggs.
   She reads about how Mama and Grandma made paper bag luminaries when they lived in Mexico, and how they used the bags, with their “scalloped” tops and happy painted faces, to decorate the path leading up to their adobe home. Grandma even teaches the little girl the “kind of magic she and Mama used to make / every December, in New Mexico.” Through their craft activity they have a wonderful time together connecting with the past.
   Looking through a photo album the little girl see a picture of her mother with a snowman “that stands taller than she.” The child also reads her mother’s poem, in which Mama describes how she used the skies her father gave her to shuffle around her back yard in the snow. In her dreams she was “flying downhill.”
   Often Mama’s father was away from the family for months, and when they lived in Colorado Mama had to bring a photo of her father to school for Bring Your Dad Day because he was away. The little girl is sure that Mama must have missed her father very much during those long separations.
   When she reads her mother’s poem describing how she and her family members went canoeing when they lived in Virginia, the little girl understands why her mother has so many pictures of kayaks and canoes on their walls at home.  
   In this remarkable book every spread gives readers a free verse poem that captures the little girl’s feelings as she gets to know her mother through her poems. On the facing page readers will find her mother’s poems. The mother’s poems are written in the Japanese tanka format, which use five lines. There are five syllables in the first and third lines, and seven syllables in the second, fourth, and fifth lines.
   It is fascinating to see how Nikki Grimes uses poems to tell a story that is powerful and poignant, and that celebrates the connection that a child shares with her mother; a connection that reaches back into the past.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Here comes the Tooth Fairy Cat

Many children are eager to meet Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. They are curious to see what these marvelous characters are like, and perhaps to even petition them for more presents, chocolate eggs, and money. In today's picture book you will meet Cat, a feline who is not content with getting things from these characters. Cat wants more; he wants to do their job for them and become the hero of the moment.


Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat
Here comes the Tooth Fairy Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-525-42774-2
Cat has lost a tooth and like all self-respecting people (and cats), he puts his tooth under his pillow so that the tooth fairy will come. In the morning Cat finds a coin under his pillow, but he is not happy because he was hoping that he would get to meet the tooth fairy. Cat, who is a very determined fellow and who likes scheming, decides that he is going to find a way to get the tooth fairy to come back. He does not have another tooth to leave under his pillow, so he puts the tooth of comb there instead.
   Not surprisingly, the tooth fairy does not come. Shame on cat for thinking he could trick her! Cat is scowling at the tooth from the comb when the doorbell rings. When he opens the door, Cat finds that there are two packages and an envelope on the doorstep. The envelope contains a letter from the tooth fairy. She commends Cat for trying the comb tooth trick, and then says that if he helps her “with a few deliveries” it might be possible for them to meet face to face.
   In the larger box Cat finds a tooth fairy costume, and in the smaller box he finds someone, Mouse, who is going to help him. It would appear that Cat is not the only one to try the comb tooth trick on the tooth fairy. Mouse did the same thing.
   Cat and Mouse are given the job of retrieving three teeth for the tooth fairy, but the jobs turn out to be a lot trickier than they imagined it would be. Not only are the retrievals difficult, but Cat and Mouse have to figure out how to work together!
   Once again Cat, who is naughty sometimes but who is also very lovable, is given the chance to take on a new role. Cat likes to think that he is pretty sneaky, but it turns out that this time there is someone around who is even sneakier than he is.

   Throughout the book the narrative is told in the form of a conversation between Cat and a hidden reader. This interesting format, and the wonderfully expressive illustrations, makes this a picture book that is sure to delight readers of all ages. In addition to exploring the nature of cooperation, it offers up a reminder that one should never try to pull a fast on a fairy.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to tickle your funny bone


I have been working very hard these last few days and am, therefore, rather stressed. I can feel it in my shoulders and know that I need to relax, but how? Last night my husband cracked one of his word pun jokes and made me laugh. It was almost as if someone had flipped a switch. I immediately felt less tight, and the feeling lasted. Clearly laughter really is good for you!

To help you bring laughter into your lives I bring you a book that was put together just so that you would laugh!

For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to tickle your funny bone 
For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your FunnyboneSelected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Random House, 1991, 978-0394821443
When he set about choosing poems for this collection, poet Jack Prelutsky was interested in finding poems that would make his readers “laugh out loud.” Actually, he wanted even more than that. He wanted his readers to “crow for weeks” and “laugh until you cry.”
   Now, this may seem like a rather peculiar thing to want to do, but making people laugh is a wonderful goal to have. Surely the world would be a better place if we all smiled, giggled, and chuckled a little (or a lot) more.
   Throughout the book poems of all kinds offer readers amusing anecdotes, stories, and descriptions to enjoy. There are limericks galore, and poems that parody other poems. There are long poems and short ones. There are poems by famous poets such as Michael Rosen, Jane Yolen, and Ogden Nash. There are poems that Jack Prelutsky himself wrote.
   The topics that the poems explore are varied, and often they are quite ridiculous, which is exactly what you would expect in a collection of this kind. We read about a man who collects pancakes and whose whole house is decorated with examples of his edible collection. What is nice about this man is that he is a generous collector who is quite willing to let visitors take some of his pancakes home with them; so long as they “say nice things about them.”
   The pancake collector is only one of many odd characters who appear on the pages. There is Hughbert who glued himself to the floor, and Chester who, when his sweater unravels, disappears altogether. Beanbag Jim is so loose and limber that he appears to be quite boneless.
   Readers will also find a recipe for rhinoceros stew, and will learn how to make a snowflake soufflĂ©. They will hear from a dodo who is terrible sick, and they will even find a poem that consists of a list of rules, one of which is, “Do not bathe in chocolate pudding.”
   This is the kind of book a reader can dip into at will. There will always be something that will appeal, no matter what kind of mood the reader is in; and there is always something that will, at the very least, make the reader grin.