Friday, July 29, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of The people of the town: Nursery-Rhyme Friends for You and Me

One of the things that makes nursery rhymes so appealing are the colorful characters that feature in them. Often the characters do wonderfully strange and amusing things that make us laugh when the rhymes are read to us. In today's poetry title we encounter some of the most charming characters that live in the world of nursery rhymes.

The People of the Town: Nursery-Rhyme Friends for You and MeThe people of the town: Nursery-Rhyme Friends for You and Me
Selected and illustrated by Alan Marks
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Charlesbridge, 2016, 978-1-58089-726-6
Nursery rhymes are packed with colorful characters; men, women, and children who do all kinds of things that delight us and often make us laugh. In this marvelous collection, Alan Marks pairs his wonderful artwork with some carefully selected nursery rhymes so that we can get to know a few of these nursery rhyme individuals. Some of them will be familiar to us, but some will be newcomers whom we have never even heard of.
   Our visit with the people living in the nursery rhyme town begins with Gregory Griggs. This fellow has a staggering twenty-seven wigs, and he wears them to impress the people in his town. The problem is that he has no idea which of his wigs he likes best.
   Then there is Mary whose pet lamb follows her to school one day. This is, of course, against the rules and so the teacher makes the lamb leave. The lamb, being a determined little creature, stays nearby and waits for its little mistress to appear. The children cannot understand why the lamb loves Mary so much, so the teacher explains that it is because “Mary loves the lamb, you know.”
  As the pages turn we encounter the grand old Duke of York who marched his men up and then down the hill. There is Dr. Foster who stepped into a puddle “Right up to his middle,” and Little Bop Peep who lost her sheep. There are little stories that make us laugh, and some that are delightfully peculiar. There are descriptions of things that people do, and finally there are rhymes that sooth and make us want to fall asleep.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Little Robot

Graphic novels have been around for a long time, but English language titles in this genre that are suitable for younger readers are a more recent phenomenon. Thankfully First Second books and other publishers are now creating many wonderful graphic novels for children and young adults. There are books that are suited to readers who are just starting their reading journey, and there are also books for readers who are comfortable with complex and rich stories.

Today's picture book title is a mostly wordless graphic novel that young children will find captivating. In the story there are robots, a strong-willed, tool-wielding little girl, and plenty of action-filled adventure. What more can one ask for.

Little RobotLittle Robot
Ben Hatke
Graphic Novel
For ages 6 to 8
First Second, 2015, 978-1-62672-080-0
One day a little girl sneaks out of her trailer home and she sets off to explore. She sees the other kids going to school, she plays on the swing set in an old man’s yard, and then she goes to a place where lots of old cars are piled up. She finds an old set of tools in a belt, which she takes and slings across her shoulder. Then she sees a box floating in a stream. She pulls the box out of the water, opens it, and finds out that it contains a strange metal canister. When she presses a button on the top of the canister it starts to open up.
   The little girl runs away to hide in an old car and watches as the canister opens up some more and then turns into a robot; a not very coordinated robot that tips over on its back when it tries to walk. It lies there with its legs flailing until the little girl takes pity on it and helps it get back on its feet. When the robot tries to walk again it falls flat on its face. Clearly the little machine needs help figuring out how to walk, and the little girl is the one who gives it that help. She also teaches the robot that a cat is not something to be afraid of, and that flowers are alive.
   What the robot and the little girl don’t know is that a machine in the factory knows that one of the robots is missing and a large and rather terrifying retrieval robot has been sent to find it.
   The next day the little girl and her new friend explore together again. The robot turns out to be very good at skipping stones and the two of them have a wonderful time.
   On the third day the little girl and the little robot have a falling out when the little robot seems to prefer hanging out with a broken down car than with her. The girl walks away in a huff. Luckily for the little robot the little girl sees something that makes her think that perhaps something is amiss. She runs back to her mechanical friend just in time to rescue him from being captured by the enormous retrieval robot. They manage to get away from the terrible machine, but their troubles are far from over. The machine is not going to give up without a fight.
   This delightful mostly wordless graphic novel tells the story of a special friendship We meet a courageous little girl whose skills with a wrench and screwdriver helps her to do something special. She is the quintessential heroine, and when they get to the end of the story readers will most certainly be left with a warm, fuzzy feeling in their hearts.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Early Moon

When I was growing up, not many writers were creating poetry for young readers. We are very lucky that there are so many marvelous poets today who are busy scribbling away so that our children have many volumes of poetry to choose from when them go to a library or a bookshop. I love seeing the new books appear on the shelves, but every so often I like to turn back the clock and go back to collections of poems that were written long ago. Today's poetry book is just such a title.

Early MoonEarly Moon
Carl Sandburg
Illustrated by James Daugherty
For ages 11 and up
Mariner Books, 1978, 978-0156273268
Over the centuries, many people have tried to explain what poetry is, and more often than not they end up posing new questions instead of answering the original one. Carl Sandburg, who was a marvelous poet, felt that “If poems could be explained, then poets would have to leave out roses, sunsets, faces from their poems,” which would be a terrible shame. These things and many others “have mystery, significance, and a heavy or light beauty, an appeal, a lesson and a symbolism that stays with us long as we live.” Perhaps it is better that poetry cannot be explained. Perhaps we should just enjoy it and leave it at that.
   The poems in this collection will certainly give the reader joy. They are divided into categories, which are: Pictures of today, Children, Wind and Sea, Portraits, Birds and Bugs, Night, and End Thoughts.
   On these pages we will meet a worker who “painted on the roof of a skyscraper,” and for him the people below “were the same as bugs.” We meet Dan, an Irish setter puppy who finds a sheltered corner where there is “all / sun and no wind.” Here Dan lies “dozing in a half sleep.” We hear about the people “who go forth before daylight,” the policeman, the teamster, and the milkman, who work while others are still asleep in their beds.
   Then there are the poems that capture special moments in time, each of which is significant in a unique way. In the poem Soup the narrator tells us about how he saw a man who was eating soup. The man was famous and was mentioned in the papers that day. Thousands of people talked about him, but to the narrator he was just a man “Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.” In Splinter we capture that moment when “The voice of the last cricket” is heard when the first frost touches the land. The insect’s song is like a goodbye, a “splinter of singing” in the cold air.
   This is a wonderful collection that will appeal to both children and adults. There is something here for everyone. On the pages readers will find little touches of childhood, descriptions, stories, odes to things lost, and so much more.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Buddy and Earl go exploring

Sometimes the people we love the most, our friends and family members, like to do odd things. Sometimes they have strange hobbies or habits that don't really make sense to us, but we go along for the ride because we care about them and want to be with them. In this picture book a dog goes on a very strange journey with his hedgehog friend. He does not quite understand what the hedgehog is doing or why he is doing it, but he goes on the trip all the same.

Buddy and Earl Go ExploringBuddy and Earl go exploring
Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2016, 978-1-55498-714-6
Buddy has had a long day and he is looking forward to snuggling down on his bed for a good night’s sleep. Buddy’s people put Earl the hedgehog in his nice new cage, and then they turn off the light and go to bed. Buddy closes his eyes and is just nodding off when Earl tells him that he is going on a trip.
   Buddy is very fond of Earl and does not really like the idea of his friend going off for an indefinite period of time, but Buddy does his best to be brave and he says goodbye to Earl and wishes him “Good luck!” Earl then climbs into his exercise wheel and starts running. He runs and runs and when he stops he sees that the place he has come to “looks eerily similar to the place I just left.” Which is not surprising.
   Earl is thrilled when he sees that Buddy is with him in the ‘new’ place. After all, “Exploring is always more fun if you do it with a friend.” Together they set off to explore, with Earl’s very fertile imagination leading the way. Somehow, in the kitchen, they encounter a silvery lake, they eat a feast, Buddy saves a “lovely lady hedgehog trapped in the jaws of a monster,” and in turn Earl saves Buddy from another monster.
   In this second Buddy and Earl book, Earl once again let’s his imagination run wild, and though Buddy is a rather literal dog, he goes along for the ride. Children will find it not to laugh out loud when they see how Earl takes the most ordinary of things and turns them into something wonderful. Best of all they will love seeing how the two very different friends stay true to each other no matter what.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders

There is something incredibly soothing about reading poetry. As it is not prose, the form of writing we are most used to, we tend to take our time with poetry, slowing down our reading so that we can take in the words. Of late the news has been full of awfulness of the worst kind and I have found myself taking refuge from the headlines by reading novels that are written in verse. For a while at least I get a break from violence, anger, frustration, and loss. For children, perhaps today's poetry book will offer a similar little break from the tension that is rippling through our world.

The Frogs Wore Red SuspendersThe Frogs Wore Red Suspenders 
Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
HarperCollins, 2005, 978-0060737764
One of the best ways to help children engage with poetry is to create poems that make them laugh, or poems that engage the imagination. Jack Prelutsky is a master when it comes to writing poems that contain just the right amount of delightfully silly fun to keep children coming back for more. He also paints pictures with his words to such great effect that children are also drawn to his gentler, more lyrical poems as well.
   In this poetry collection, animal and human characters do all kinds of delightful things, the kinds of things that children will enjoy reading about. We begin with a quintet of frogs (wearing red shorts with red suspenders) and a quartet of pigs (in purple vests) who are on a stage. They are singing to an audience of chickens and ducks, all of whom are sitting “upon their nests.” One would think that the noise would scare the birds away, but they are delighted by the croaky and oinky “serenade.” So much so in fact that they “laid enormous spangled eggs / and quacked and clucked with pride.”
   In I went to a store we meet a fellow who goes to a store where the storekeepers don’t have any of the things he wants. Instead, they sell him things that he really does not need at all. For example, instead of selling him a pear and a plum they sell him a drum, and instead of some cheese he ends up with a lamp. Clearly this is the kind of store that he should avoid in future!
   Then there is Sarah Small who grows all kinds of clothing in her garden. There are galoshes “short and tall,” as well as “Shirts of yellow, hats of red.” If you need pajamas, sweaters, ties, or mittens, shoes or stockings, this is the place to come, for Sarah Small has them all.
   This is a book where there is something for everyone, and for every mood. Readers will enjoy dipping into to this poetry collection, and they will come back to it again and again.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Good Night, Baddies

When I was young I read a lot of fairy tales. I was given a collection of books written by Ruth Manning Sanders that were full of stories about giants, witches, fairies, ogres and other baddies. I loved those books and I was particularly fond of the tales where the baddies turned out not to be so bad after all. In today's picture book you will encounter the softer side of some baddies, the side that emerges at the end of the day when they are tired and in need of comfort and friendship.

Good Night, BaddiesGood Night, Baddies
Doborah Underwood
Illustrated by Juli Kangas
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-0984-1
The sun is setting and the baddies in the kingdom, worn out by all the bad things that they have done that day, head for the castle that they call home. In ones and twos a giant, an evil queen, a dragon, wolves, witches, a troll, a gnome and others arrive on foot, and through the air. As they enter the castle, they share their news. Did the giant catch Jack the giant killer? Was a treasure that was stolen found?
   After a meal is eaten together in fellowship and harmony, the various baddies head off to prepare for bed. The queen takes off her crown and puts on her pajamas. She puts away her poisoned apple, which she will give to Snow White on “another day.” The troll, who has spent so much time waiting for the three goats gruff under his bridge, is having a long bubble bath.
   Dressed in their pajamas, Rumpelstiltskin and a wolf settle in front of a crackling fire to read a story, “one that’s sweet, not grim or gory.” One of the other baddies gives the dragon a drink.
   When it is time for bed, the witches check under the giant’s bed to make sure that there are no princesses there. After all, they don’t want their large friend to be scared and therefore sleepless. 
   Most of us are used to booing and hissing at the baddies that we encounter in fairy tales. We route for Little Red Riding Hood, and are pleased when the wicked queen fails to kill Snow White. In this picture book these same baddies that we love to hate are presented to us in a different light. They are tired and weary baddies who, now that their daily baddie work is complete, want the same comforts of home that the rest of us like to enjoy. Children will be tickled to see wolves behaving politely at the dinner table, and a gnome waiting to have a bath, a rubber ducky under his arm. They will find themselves feeling sorry for the giant who is afraid of princesses under his bed, and be comforted by the ways in which the baddies look after one another. It would appear that even baddies have a side that is not-so-bad.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Butterfly Eyes and other secrets of the meadow

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow
Nature is full of beauty. It is also full of fascinating stories that describe the ways in which plants and animals have adapted over time to perfectly fit into their environment. These stories have always captivated me, which is why I was drawn to today's poetry title. In this book readers will find poems and real-life stories about the plants and animals that make their homes in meadows.

Butterfly Eyes and other secrets of the meadow
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, 978-0618-56313-5
The first touches of dawn’s light touches the plants and the trees in the meadow. In this time of “almost-light,” something lies on leaves, grass blades, spider webs, and on the wings of insects. When the sun’s warmth touches these things, the drops start to disappear. What are these “jewels of the dawn?”
  At this same time of day a creature waits to be warmed by the sun, for only with that warmth can it start to move, to “flex” and loosen, and to prepare for that first leap of the day. What is this creature?
   When they read the text that follows these two poems, readers soon find out that the “jewels of the dawn” are drops of dew, and the creature who so needs the warmth of the sun is a grasshopper. We learn what dew is, and why the grasshopper is sluggish until it is warmed up. 
   In the next poem we encounter some small sleeping creatures that are furry and that have long ears. As they sleep they have their “Paws folded close beneath whisker and chin.” Not far away is another creature that is already up and about. He trots through the meadow, on a mission. What are these animals?
   On the next page we learn that the mysterious “He” we met a moment ago is a fox, and the sleeping bundles of fur are baby rabbits that are safe from foxes and other predators in their nest of grasses and fur. 
   In this wonderful poetry picture book the poet offers readers two poems in which she describes something, and then she poses the question “What am I?” or some version of that question. She then answers the questions on the next spread, and thus we learn about all kinds of wonderful things that can be found in a meadow in summer. Among other things, we learn that spittlebugs create nests of spit that look like little patches of foamy bubbles, and that monarch butterflies are immune to the toxins in milkweed plants. In fact, their caterpillars are even able to safely eat the leaves. 
   Some of the poems in this beautifully illustrated collection rhyme and some do not. There are concrete poems and poems that seem to hop and skip back and forth across the page. In fact the poems come in so many wonderful forms that readers never know what is going to come next. 
   This rich and powerful gathering of poems and prose will give readers a sense of the wonder that the author clearly feels for nature. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Amber was Brave, Essie was Smart

When I was a child I lived in a country that was being torn apart by a civil war. Often my parents were busy trying to work, trying to find supplies, trying to figure out what to do next, and I had to spend a lot of time alone. I think those times would have been easier to bear if there had been another child around to share my fears with.

In today's poetry title we see how two sisters lean on each other during hard times. They squabble of course, but mostly they help and support one another. Together they are better able to face an uncertain future and loneliness.

Amber was Brave, Essie was SmartAmber was Brave, Essie was Smart
Vera B. Williams
For ages 8 to 10
HarperCollins, 2004, 978-0060294601
Amber and Essie are sisters, and though they have their differences they are very close. Their mother works long hours, and so they only really spend time with her on Sundays, which is her full day off each week. On the other days, after school, they go to a neighbor’s house for two days and a cousin’s house for two days. On Saturdays they are mostly take care of each other, which they are pretty good at doing.
   Some time ago Amber and Essie’s father was arrested for forging a check and now he is in prison. Times have been hard ever since. Sometimes the phone bill doesn’t get paid, and often there really isn’t a lot to eat in the apartment. The girls do the best they can, taking refuge in their bed when it is cold or when they are sad, curled up against each other so that they are like a “Best sandwich” with Wilson their teddy bear between them.
   Using a series of poems, Vera B. Williams take us into the lives of two little girls. We see the good times and the painful ones, and it isn’t long before we start hoping that Amber, who isn’t afraid of the rat that lives behind the wall, and Essie, who can cook toasted cheese sandwiches, will get the happiness and security that they deserve. This special book serves as a powerful celebration of siblinghood.