Friday, October 30, 2015

Poetry Friday with M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet

Happy almost Halloween everyone. In honor of tomorrow I decided to review a poetry picture book that celebrates monsters of all kinds. Halloween and monsters seem to go together!What is interesting about this title, and the others in this book series, is that all the poems in the book are accompanied by sections of text which gives readers further information about the topics explored in the book. If you have fondness for monsters then this is definitely a book for you.

M is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures AlphabetM is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by Gerald Kelly
Picture Book and Poetry Book
For ages 7 to 12
Sleeping Bear Press, 2014, 978-1-58536-818-1
All around the world there are stories about creatures that are beautiful, magical, monstrous, terrifying, or that are some combination of all of these things. Russia’s Baba Yaga is a horrific witch who flies around in a mortar using the pestle as a “steering wheel.” She seeks out children when she eats, and she lives in a horrible house that sits on chicken legs. In Scotland, a plesiosaur-type creature is said to inhabit Loch Ness, and though many people think that Nessie is a not real, many others love to believe that she really lives in the cold, dark depths of the lake.
    These are just two of the “Fantastic Creatures” who live on the pages of this splendid alphabet book. The author takes us through the alphabet, pairing a monster, creature or being with every letter of the alphabet. For each topic, readers are given an illustration, a poem, and a section of text describing the creature featured on that page.
   Some of the creatures we meet are found only in one place. Nessie is only found in Scotland, though sea serpents are said to live in other places as well. The Inuit people tell of Amarok, which is a fearsome wolf that will prey on any animal that is foolish enough to venture into the forest at night. The state of New Jersey even has its own monster, known as the Jersey Devil. The creature is said to have “batlike wings, a forked tail, and a piercing scream.”
   Other creatures are found all over the world, creatures like vampires, dragons, zombies and werewolves.
   Most of the beings and monsters that we meet in this book are, without a doubt, quite terrifying and are often dangerous to humans, but there are a few that are peaceable and maybe even friendly. Unicorns are usually portrayed as being beautiful ethereal animals that have “magical powers to cleanse poisoned water and heal sickness.” Elves can be friendly, but in some cultures they are often mischievous and when roused to anger they can be unpleasant. The phoenix is also a benign creature that lives out its bizarre life cycle quietly. It is often considered to be a “sign of renewal, / symbol courageous.”
   This splendid book, one in a series of alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press, can be enjoyed on many levels. Little children will enjoy looking at the beautiful artwork as the poems are read to them, while older children will be intrigued by the sections of text that are full of lore and stories about the creatures that are featured in the book.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of What do you do with an Idea?

A few months ago a friend of mine and I came up with an idea. It is a wonderful, scary, not-sure-of-we-can-do-it kind of an idea, but we have decided to pursue it anyway. Today's picture book explores how ideas grow from nothing, and how we sometimes don't really know what to do with the new ideas that we have. We see, by watching the little boy character in the story, how one can grow to love an idea, even when we are intimidated by it.

This is a book for everyone, on that is full of wisdom, humor, and truth.

What Do You Do With an Idea?What do you do with an Idea?
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Mae Besom
Picture Book
For all ages
Compendium Inc, 2014, 978-1-938298-07-3
One day a child has an idea, and out of nowhere there the idea is. The child does not know where the idea came from, why it is here, and what he is supposed to do with it, so he walks away from the idea, and acts like the idea has nothing to do with him.
   The idea, which looks like an egg on legs wearing a crown, is a determined little thing. It may be “strange and fragile,” but it does not give up on the child. The idea follows the little boy who, worried about people might say about the idea, tries to hide it away. The boy tries to pretend that the idea never came into his life in the first place.
   The thing is that the idea has come into his life, and soon he realizes that his life is “better and happier” because the idea is there. In spite of himself, the boy begins to care about his idea and he starts to protect and nurture it. All this attention makes the idea grow and thrive, and the little boy’s life grows richer as well.
   In this remarkable book a powerful text is paired with gorgeous illustrations to give readers of all ages a picture of what happens after an idea comes into the world. You cannot undo an idea once it is there so you have to learn how to live with it, love it and embrace it, even if it is strange and even if it scares you a little.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of 28 Days: Moments in Black History that changed the world

When I was growing up my parents bought me a book that was called something like "On this day in history." I loved the book because I could open it on any day of the year and find out what interesting event happened on that day through history. Today's poetry title reminded me a little of that book, though I think this title is more meaningful in many ways. I say this because it carefully explores events that took place on only twenty-eight days, and the information that we are given about those days is, in effect, focused. The narrative also describes events in history that many people might know about, and it gives voice to the accomplishments of African Americans, accomplishments that are still not getting their due in many history books.

28 Days: Moments in Black History that changed the world
Charles R. Smith Jr
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Poetry and Nonfiction Picture Book
Roaring Brook Press, 2015, 978-1-59643-820-0
Throughout history there have been moments that have had an enormous impact on what came after.  Often the moments we learn about feature white people, the stories of black people all too often being forgotten or removed from the record. In this very special title the author tells us about twenty-eight days when black people did things that left a lasting impression on the world long after that moment was over.
   The first day described in the book is the day when a free African-American man called Crispus Attucks was shot by British soldiers on March 5, 1770.  Crispus was a patriot who “struck / the first blow for liberty” on that day, standing up to the redcoats and getting shot for his audacity. He was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War.
   By day nine we have moved forward in time to the First World War. Here a poem tells the story of Henry Johnson, who fought off a platoon of Germans single-handedly to protect a friend. Henry was one of the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black regiment that served with courage with the French military. Though he was shot and injured, Henry kept on fighting until the enemy finally withdrew.
   For day ten we are presented with a eulogy which tells the story of Madame C.J. Walker. Madame Walker was the first free child to be born in her family, but for many years her life was incredibly difficult and full of hardship. Due to the stress of her life, Madame Walker started to lose her hair when she was only in her mid-twenties. Wanting to look her best, Madame Walker looked for a beauty product that would help her, and she then went on to found a company that made and sold beauty products that were created just for African-American women. Madame Walker worked very hard and her company became so successful that she became the richest black woman in America.
   Day 16 brings us to December 1, 1955, the day when Rosa Park decided enough was enough. When ordered to “move to the back” of a bus, Rosa refused, and her act of defiance inspired others to peacefully demonstrate against the Jim Crow laws that made life so hard for African- Americans.
   Poems, quotations, and sections of nonfiction text are brought together in this book to give readers of all ages a sense of how black people, even though they have been marginalized, have had a big impact on world history. To supplement the poems and quotations, additional material has been added to the pages for every day, providing readers with background information about the event or person being featured.  Some of the people mentioned in the book will be known to readers, people such as Martha Luther King Jr., Barak Obama, and Malcom X. Others will be new to readers and they will get to “meet” all kinds of people from history who were athletes, astronauts, scientists, politicians and more.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Bug in a Vacuum

Most of us, once in a while, experience a change in our life that has a profound effect on us. We lose someone we love, are forced to leave a job or a home, or get sick. For a time everything that once felt safe and familiar does not feel safe at all and we are temporarily adrift.

In today's picture book we meet a bug who gets sucked into a vacuum cleaner. To say that this is a terrible experience for the bug is an understatement. It is a life changing disaster, and the bug goes through a series of emotional upheavals as it tries to come to terms with what has happened to it. As they read this book readers will come to appreciate that any drastic change can tip anyone, even a bug, over the edge into a very scary place.

Bug in a VacuumBug in a Vacuum
Melanie Watt
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra Books, 2015, 978-1-77049-645-3
One day a bug decides to explore a house and it flies in a door. It buzzes through the bathroom, past the kitchen, across the bedroom and then finally alights on a globe that is sitting on a desk in the sitting room. What the bug does not know is that someone in the house is wielding a vacuum cleaner, and this person creeps up to where the bug is resting, and sucks the bug up using the vacuum cleaner’s wand.
   Now the bug is inside the canister of the vacuum cleaner and it has no idea where it is. At first the bug thinks that it is in a wonderful place. Then is starts to get suspicious when it realizes that the place it is in is dark and very quiet. The bug then decides that it is in a dream and it pinches itself so that it will wake up. The pinch hurts and convinces the bug that, in fact, it is not dreaming. It really is in a dark, creepy place all on its own.
   Next the bug determines that its current situation is all a big mistake. It calls out that “you’ve vacuumed the wrong bug!” It even promises (in writing) that it will “avoid my favorite handouts” if the vacuum will let it go.
   After trying to bargain its way out if its dire predicament the bug loses its temper. Now it is angry and it starts to shout very loudly. When all its shouting gets it nowhere, the bug sinks into the depths of despair. “I’m a prisoner forever” it says. Its situation is “hopeless.”
   The bug then decides that all it can do is to accept what has happened and “make the best of things.” What the bug doesn’t know is that the vacuum cleaner itself is about to experience a big change, and the bug will be going along for the ride.
   This unique, often amusing book take a look at the stages a bug goes through after experiencing an unexpected change in its life. It has lost its freedom and is trapped in a lonely dark place, and it experiences a range of emotions, which are collectively known as the five stages of grief.
   Readers are going to thoroughly enjoy seeing how the bug copes (and sometimes doesn’t cope) with what has happened to it, and they will enjoy seeing how the bug’s story ends

Friday, October 16, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Pieces: a Year in poems and quilts

Pieces: A Year in Poems and Quilts
I used to make quilts and loved taking dozens of small pieces of fabric and turning them into a beautiful piece of art that people could snuggle under on a cold day. I was therefore naturally drawn to this poetry book, and was amazed to see how the author created picture quilts that so perfectly complemented her image-rich poems.

Pieces: a Year in poems and quilts
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2003, 978-0060559601
Writers and illustrators have, over the centuries, found many ways to describe and celebrate the seasons. Poetry is often a format that writers are drawn to using, as the lyrical nature of poems seems to so beautifully ‘fit’ what they are trying to say about the seasons. Often these poems are paired with artwork or photographs that help encapsulate the image or feeling that the poet is trying to capture.  Anna Grossnickle Hines has done something a little different. She pairs the poems she has written with photos of quilts that she has created, and the effect is quite astonishing.
   The poet begins in spring with a poem called Ballet. In the blank verse poem she describes how a crow lands on a cedar branch and how the weight of the bird causes the branch to bounce and the bird to dance. A beautiful quilt shows the crow about to land on the branch, rectangles and triangles of sewn fabric in tones of green forming the fronds at the ends of the branches.
   Green plays a big role in another poem, Do you know Green? Here we see a scene that perfectly captures the colors and textures of spring. The poem describes how “Green sleeps in the winter,” until, with the warming of the sun it, “comes… / tickling the tips / of twiggy tree fingers.”
   In summer we see cows in a field. With a “Scrunch, / crunch, / munch,” they eat their lunch, their tails twitching. Summer is also a time when there is “a mass of wild confusion” of flowers blooming. The “rousing-raucous” celebration of colors and scents stirs us “to jubilation.” During the warms days, hummingbirds “zip zip” and “sip sip” amongst the flowers of the honeysuckle vine.
   Then the tone of the poems and the colors of the quilts shift for fall. Now the green has been replaced with reds, golds, and rusts. We see leaves drifting down singly or in groups, “swirling / and whirling / twisting / and twirling.” Other leaves “skip-a-dip” and others “just drop / flop.”
   Winter brings the greys and blacks of tree branch silhouettes, the pale yellow of a winter sun, and the whites and blues of snowfall. We read about how sometimes, when the author is sleeping at night, “outside / the world is turning / white.”
   At the back of the book the author explains how she created the remarkable quilts that illustrate her poems. We learn how much time and careful effort goes into creating the quilts, and how the author designs them. We learn too that often seams have to be taken out and redone to get the effect the author is looking for.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sloth Slept On

All too often, when we don't know what something is, we simply walk away. We can't be bothered to find out. We are too busy doing more 'important' things. In today's picture book readers meet some children who encounter an animal that they cannot identify. They could walk away from, it but they don't. Instead they try to find out what it is and then they do their best to help the animal.

Sloth Slept OnSloth Slept On
Frann Preston-Gannon
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sterling, 2015, 978-1-4549-1611-6
One day a group of children discover that there is a strange looking animal in a tree in the backyard. The children ask the animal its name, and they ask it what it is doing in their tree, but the animal does not respond at all because it is fast asleep on its branch.
   Wanting to know what the animal is, the children put in in their little red wagon and they “set off to find some answers.” They ask Dad about the animal but he is too busy to answer their questions. They look in books to try to find out what their new friend is, but find nothing. They know what is isn’t, but what it is remains a mystery. The children even imagine that he might be an astronaut, a pirate or a knight. Then one of the children makes a discovery, and they learn that that their new animal friend is very special indeed.
   With touches of pictorial humor throughout her story, the author of this book gives her readers a mystery that they will enjoy sharing. In the artwork we are given clues to the animal’s identity, so that, if we are looking hard enough, we know what the animal is before the children do. This memorable book comes to a close with an ending that is sure to delight readers young and old.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems

Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems
When I was six my parents and I moved to an island where families were big. When our neighbors had a family gathering so many people turned up that the party would spill out of the house and into the garden. My immediate family was small, but it was not long before we were 'adopted' by other families, and we too started having big gatherings that were wonderful affairs.

Today's poetry title celebrates families, and it is full of poems that are tender and amusing.

Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems
Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
Poetry Picture book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2001, 978-0316362511
Families come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as small as “One and another,” and they can be big enough to include dear friends who are so close that they too are family. Humans are not the only ones who have families either. “A pair like a kanga and roo is a family,” as are “A calf and a cow that go moo.”
   In this heartwarming picture poetry book Mary Ann Hoberman celebrates families, bringing readers a collection of poems that explore relationships and connections. She begins with a little boy who tells us about his baby brother. We can hear the love in this child’s voice as he tells us that his brother is “beautiful” and how “when he laughs, his dimple shows.” Another child tells us about the walks that he takes with his father. Often his father talks about “how it was when he was small” when he used to take walks with his dad, and how his dad took walks with his dad. Four generations of children in this family have gone down to the beach to watch the ships go by.
   In another poem a little boy introduces us to all his grandparents. We hear how one grandma bakes him birthday cakes and “rubs my tummy when it aches.” His other grandma knits clothes for him, and when he got the chicken pox “She let me have her button box.” One of his grandfathers, the stout one, is teaching him how to yodel; and his tall and thin grandfather is good at basketball.
   In a wonderful poem called Relatives we get to meet one little boy’s colorful family when they are all gathered together in his home. Each one has a comment to make about the boy, and they all talk “as if I couldn’t hear.” He hears about how he has got “Uncle Perry’s nose,” “He looks a tiny bit too thin,” and “has his mother’s knobbly knees.” By the end of the discussion the poor little boy wonders “who I really am.”
  As the pages are turned we hear about special moments in children’s lives that are touched by the actions of their relatives. There is the little girl whose mother cares for her lovingly when the little girl is sick, and then there is the child whose father now lives in a different house and has “another family.” Every time the child and the father get together they have a visit full of happiness, but when the father drives away the child always feels the loss.
   Throughout this book wonderful verse is paired with artwork to give us a taste of moments in children’s lives that are sometimes sweet and sometimes funny.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Lizard from the park

When one is something of a loner, making a friend can be a very big deal indeed. That friend can become the center of one's life, and a much needed presence. In today's picture you will meet a little boy who makes a very special friend indeed, and who then discovers that this friend creates some rather challenging problems.

Lizard from the ParkLizard from the park
Mark Pett
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4424-8321-7
Every week day Leonard walks home from school by himself, so it is not surprising that on that particular spring afternoon Leonard is walking home through the park on his own. In the deepest and darkest part of the park Leonard finds a very large egg, which he puts into his backpack and takes to his apartment home.
   For the rest of the afternoon Leonard plays with the egg and that night he even sleeps with it. The following morning the egg starts to “jiggle” and “crack” and then a little green lizard emerges. Leonard decides to call the lizard Buster and from that day on the two are inseparable. Leonard shows Buster all his favorite places in the city and they have a wonderful time together.
   Not surprisingly little Buster grows, but what Leonard does not expect that Buster keeps on growing until he is so huge that even a disguise doesn’t cover up the fact that he is very large and very green. Buster is going to have to stay in Leonard’s bedroom and this makes the lizard unhappy.  When Buster outgrows Leonard’s bedroom, Leonard has to reassess. Something has to be done about Buster.
    In this clever and charming picture book we see how a little boy develops a very special relationship with an animal, but in the end he realizes that his new friend cannot go on living with him. What makes this book especially clever is that we are given clues throughout the book that Leonard is not alone and that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who knows exactly how he is feeling.
   In this book beautifully atmospheric illustrations and a powerfully simple story are brought together to give readers a memorable story experience.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

It isn't often that I come across biographies that are written using poems. I am sure such books present the writer with a unique set of challenges. The author of today's poetry title rose to the challenge beautifully and created a book that is powerful and memorable.

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-6531-9
Fannie was born in 1917, the daughter of sharecroppers who lived and labored in Sunflower Country in Mississippi. Though the sharecroppers were technically free, their lives were terribly hard, for “Sharecropping was just slavery by a gentler name.” Fannie was only six when she started working in the cotton fields with her family members. Though they picked fifteen tons of cotton each season, they could never “get ahead” because “the scale was always tipped / in the owner’s favor.”
   Even as a young child, Fannie could see that there was no equality in her world. Whites had food, clothes and everything they needed, while blacks worked hard every day and still went hungry. Fannie’s mother taught her daughter that even if they had less than the whites, they were not lesser people. She wanted her youngest child to “respect yourself as a Black child.”
   Worn out by hard work, Fannie’s father died before she twenty-two and many of her brothers and sisters moved north where they hoped to find better paying work. Fannie would have joined them but her mother needed to be taken care of, so she stayed in the land of Jim Crow. Fannie got married and she and her husband did their best to get by, picking cotton in the fields, and selling homemade bootleg liquor.
   In 1962 one of Fannie’s friends told her that some young men were coming to their local church to talk to the congregation about voter registration. Not a single person in the congregation had ever cast a ballot but that did not stop eighteen of them, including Fannie, from volunteering to go to sign up and register. Fannie never imagined that the simple act of going to register to vote would have a huge impact on her life, but it did. The white establishment would not tolerate such behavior, and blacks who tried to sign up were punished over and over again. Fannie lost her job and her home; she was shot at; she had to move from place to place, and then, finally, she decided that enough was enough. Fannie was going to speak out and do her part to bring about change.

   In this memorable picture book biography, powerful poems bring Fannie Lou Hamer’s story to life. We see how she struggled, and how she stood up for what she believed in, even when it was dangerous to do so. The poems contain direct quotes from Fannie Lou Hamer, and at the back of the book an author’s note contains more information about this incredible woman’s life.