Friday, May 27, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy riddles in verse

Authors of books for young readers find so many ways to incorporate educational, things-you-need-to-know pieces of information into their writings. The author of today's poetry title has combined poetry, riddles, and nonfiction text in a unique and amusing way to explore the parts of the body. I was truly impressed with the creativity that was tapped to create this very special book.

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in VerseRandom Body Parts: Gross Anatomy riddles in verse
Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Poetry Book
For ages 7 to 9
Peachtree Publishers, 2015, 978-1-56145-737-3
From an early age children start learning the names of parts of the body. People have even written little songs to help them learn where their forehead, nose, elbows, and toes are. When they get older they find out a little more about their stomach, their teeth, their eyes, their hair and other parts of their bodies, but do they really know as much as they think they know?
   In this wonderful book the author offers young readers clever riddles written in verse to challenge their knowledge of anatomy. Each riddle is accompanied by a nonfiction section of text, which provides the solution to the riddle and offers up interesting pieces of information about the body part being described.
   In a poem called Lunchtime we encounter a “cauldron” in which “Choice ingredients” are mixed. Here “Flesh of fowl,” “Wheat paste,” and “Plant parts” are combined with a “pulverizing rumble.” What on earth could this body part be? It turns out that this rather stomach churning riddle is describing…the stomach, which, we are told, “churns food into a thick, liquidy shake called chyme.”
   Further along in the book we encounter a sonnet that describes something that is cone-shaped and that is protected by a “cage of bone.” Apparently this body part is important, for in some way “the very stuff of life depends” on the way it works. The note that goes with this puzzle tells us that the riddle is describing the heart. This muscular vital vessel has four chambers and it pumps blood throughout the body.
   In this incredibly clever title we see how a riddle can be a work of word art and a puzzle at the same time. Children will enjoy trying to figure out the solutions to the riddles, and they will be astonished to learn how the various body parts work.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Toot and Puddle

I am lucky to have to some wonderful friends who are there for me in good times and bad, who make me laugh, and who understand where I am coming from. I miss them when I don't see them, and feel rich after I have spent time with them. Today's picture book is about a friendship that is similarly enriching and wonderful. As the pages turn, two little pigs who are very different, but who are also best friends, come to learn something about the relationship that they share.

Toot and Puddle
Holly Hobbie
Picture Book  Series
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2007, 978-0316365529
Toot and Puddle are a pair of pigs who live together, and they are the best of friends. One would think that they would have to be alike to be able to share a home, and yet they are actually very different. Toot loves to go off on adventures to all sorts of exotic places, while his friend prefers to stay home in comfy and homey Woodcock Pocket.
   One day Toot decides to go on a trip around the world. While he is gone, Puddle has a wonderful time at home doing all his favorite things. At the same time he gets to share in Toot's adventures by reading the postcards that Toot sends him from Egypt, Africa, the Solomon Islands, India, and many other places.
   However, even though he is having a good time at home, Puddle begins to miss his friend. He thinks about Toot as he goes about his daily activities. What he doesn't know is that Toot is having similar feelings.
   In this book the author has created a tale with unforgettable characters, illustrations to pore over, and a simple yet powerful text that is a tribute to friendships of all kinds.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Bear in love

Sometimes we think that the perfect expressions of love or affection are the ones that are grand and extravagant. It turns out that often the best way to show someone that you care for them is by doing something for them that is simple, and yet powerful. In this picture book you will meet a bear who finds out that someone cares for him very much, someone who is shy, and kind, and thoughtful; someone who does little things for the bear that say an awful lot.

Bear in love
Bear in LoveDaniel Pinkwater
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-4569-4
One morning, as per usual, a bear crawls out of his cave, he rubs his eyes, stretches, feels the morning sun touch his fur, and then looks around for his breakfast.  On this particular morning he discovers that someone has left an orange “long and pointy” thing on a rock. The bear has never encountered such a thing before, and when he sniffs it he decides that is smells “nice,” and so he nibbles it. The thing turns out to taste very good indeed.
   The next morning someone has left two of the orange, nice tasting things on the rock. The bear cannot help wondering who left them there. The morning after that three orange tasty things appear, and the morning after that there is a whole bunch of them sitting on the rock. The bear decides that someone must like him very much to leave him so many “good things.”
   That day the bear discovers a bee nest in a tree, which he then proceeds to raid. The bear happily feasts off the honey comb and the honey. He could eat the whole lot, but he decides that he will save some for “the nice friend” who gave him all the orange treats.
   The bear leaves the honeycomb on the flat rock and he tries to stay awake to see who his new friend is, watching from his cave. Unfortunately, the bear is not very good at staying up, and he falls asleep. In the morning his friend has left him a little gift. A pretty flower is lying on the rock where the honeycomb was. Once again the bear wonders and wonders who the mystery person could be.
   This sweet story explores how a special friendship is built. With each gift, each act of kindness, the connection between the bear and his secret friend gets closer. Children will be delighted when they see how the story turns out, and when they discover what the bear, and his new friend, feel for each other.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Heartbeat

I didn't really know anything about this book before I read it, though I knew from past experience than anything Sharon Creech writes is going to be marvelous. This book is indeed marvelous, on so many levels. It explores the discoveries that a young girl makes as the world around her shifts and changes and I, at least, grew very fond of her very quickly. Her voice is true and strong and it is delightful to see how she matures as the story unfolds.

Sharon Creech
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2012, 978-0060540241
Change is a-coming in Annie’s life. Grandpa is now living with her family because he is becoming forgetful and frail and he needs to be cared for. Annie’s mother is pregnant, and Annie is both a little scared and excited at the prospect of having a sibling. There is something so awesome, and yet a little “creepy,” about the whole baby-growing-inside-her-mother thing.
   The one thing that stays the same for Annie is her running. Whenever she can, Annie runs barefoot, just for the sake of running. For her, running is a joyous thing that she loves to do alone. Or mostly alone. Often Annie’s friend Max runs with her. They barely speak, and that is the way they like it. Lately though Max has become more withdrawn and angry. His father left the family and then his grandfather died. For Max, running is now more than just a hobby. It has become what he hopes will be a means to an end. He hopes to escape his hometown and his life through his running, and so now, during every run, there is the goal of going faster and being better. There is a drive that Annie appreciates and understands but that she wants nothing to do with. Max tries to get Annie to join the school track team but she refuses. She refuses even when the coach at school puts pressure on her.
   Annie’s grandfather used to be a runner, and he has trophies in his room that show how he good he was. For some reason one day he stopped running and now here he is, a little old man, and parts of his memories are “vanishing every day.” At the same time his newest grandchild is growing, getting bigger and preparing for his or her arrival into the world. How strange it is to be losing something and gaining something at the same time. The world is sometimes a very confusing place.
   As the days go by, Max gets more and more aggressive about his running. He needs to get a pair of proper running shoes because he is not allowed to compete running barefoot. Coming from a family where money is tight means that he cannot just go out and buy a pair of shoes whenever he wants to, and Annie worries about this. She wants Max to be able to race because he wants to do it so badly. She wants this for him even though his compulsion is creating a rift between them, and their friendship is suffering.
   As the day of the birth approaches, Annie gets more nervous. She and her father are going to be present at the birth and they are going to need to help Annie’s mother through the process. Annie is not sure she is up for the challenge, but she does her best. She watches the birth movie (which makes her feel queasy) and studies the coaching manuals so that she will know what to do when the time comes.
   As all these changes swirl around her, Annie dives into an art assignment that she has been given. She needs to draw an apple for one hundred days. She needs to create one hundred drawings of an apple, and at first she cannot imagine how she will manage it. Over time though she begins to see the apple in a deeper way, to appreciate the nuances of its shape and colors and she begins to understand why she was given the assignment in the first place. Learning how to see things, really see them, is an important skill to have if you are an artist. It also a valuable skill to have when you are a person who needs to find their place in the world.
   This extraordinary book explores the way a twelve-year-old girl learns about the people in her world, and we see her trying to negotiate the trials that life throws her way. In the process, she starts to figure out what she wants and who she is, and she discovers that most people, and most challenges, are a lot more complicated than they at first seem.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the peacocks

In 2014, a wonderful wordless picture book called Flora and the Flamingo won a Caldecott Honor. It is a delightful book that has charmed people all over the world with its wonderful artwork and its clever story. Since then Flora has gone on to meet a penguin, and now she is back strutting her stuff with a pair of peacocks. Flora has faced challenges before when she befriended the flamingo and the penguin, but these two peacocks present her with problems that are both new and difficult.

Flora and the Peacocks
Flora and the Peacocks
Molly Idle
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2016, 978-1-4521-3816-9
Flora loves to dance, and somehow she tends to attract very lovely, very gifted characters who end up dancing with her, all of whom are birds. So far she has danced with an elegant flamingo and a charming penguin. This time Flora comes across a pair of peacocks.
   Wearing a pretty teal, blue, and green outfit, and with a yellow fan in her hand, she bows to the two peacocks. One immediately starts to approach her, and it is clearly rather interested in sharing a dance with the little girl. The other peacock, with its beak in the air, and later with its face completely hidden, makes it clear that it is not interested in joining in at all.
   Flora tries to reach out to the uppity, aloof peacock and she even starts to make friends with it, but then the first peacock takes umbrage and the next thing you know a very unfortunate situation is created.
   Three can be an uncomfortable number when it comes to making friends. Flora and the peacocks certainly discover that there is no knowing what might happen when jealousy and an unwillingness to share surfaces. Children will appreciate why things go awry, and they will be delighted when they see how Flora and the peacocks resolve their problem.
   This wordless book, with its flaps that open and lift ,and its pages that unfold, is a delight to the eye and the heart.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Why?

When I was five years old, a civil war broke out in the country that I was living in. Suddenly, and for reasons that I did not understand, people who had lived side-by-side were now killing each other. It was village against village, and neighborhood against neighborhood. To say that my experiences had a profound effect on me is an understatement. To this day I loath violence and hate-filled words.

Today's picture book shows, to great effect, how conflicts can grow out of petty disagreements. It is a book that children and adults alike can connect with.

Why? Why
Nikolai Popov
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Minedition, 2016, 978-988-8341-05-4
One day a frog is sitting in a meadow and it picks a beautiful flower. Having the flower makes the frog very happy, but someone else is not happy at all. Mouse wants the flower that Frog has picked, and so Mouse forcibly takes the flower from Frog.
   Mouse does not get to enjoy ownership of the flower for long because soon Frog’s friends arrive on the scene and they chase off Mouse. The frogs celebrate their “victory” by gathering up all the flowers in the meadow and they dance around with joy. Their conquest is short-lived because soon Mouse returns with his friends. They roll up in an armed boot and chase the Frogs across a bridge, firing on them.
   The mice think that they have won and that the frogs have been routed, but their victory is also short-lived because the frogs have a plan in place to give the mice a taste of their own medicine.
   Children often ask grownups why wars start, and all too often the answer they get is long-winded and complicated. In this picture book the author shows readers of all ages that often the reason why people go to war is very simple, and very foolish. One act of violence begets a violent response, and the conflict escalates. Eventually both sides look across a scene of desolation and unspeakable loss and they cannot, for the life of them, understand how things got so bad.
  There is a message in this tale, a powerful message, that readers of all ages will appreciate and hopefully carry with them. They will see that responding to a problem with violence is never the answer.