Friday, September 30, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Rufus and Friends School Days

Over the years I have encountered several poetry collections where poets have take other people's writings and have changed them in little ways to make them accessible for young readers. Often the changes add touches of humor to the poems. In today's poetry title, Iza Trapani does this to great effect, taking young readers into the school life of a little dog character.

Rufus and Friends: School DaysRufus and Friends: School Days
Iza Trapani
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2010, 978-1-58089-249-0
It is a rainy day, Rufus is off to school, and he “can’t wait,” because “My teacher and my friends are great.” As he hops on the school bus he invites us to join him. When they arrive at school the little dog children march into the building and head to their classrooms, though Rufus has to pause for a moment “to suck his thumb.”
   Once Rufus and his friends are in their classroom they begin their day. They have a “busy day” ahead full of writing, reading, drawing, and will learn “some things worth knowing.”
   Presiding over the classroom is a “neat little clock” which “points to the time / With its two little hands.” The clock always has a clean face and those hands are always ready “To do what is right.” One can hope that the children in the class will have similarly clean faces and ready hands, but sometimes things do not go “as we planned” and the students, despite all their good intentions, end up with paint and glue in unexpected places.
   After several hours of laboring away, the children have lunch, which is most unappetizing, and then they go outside to play. The children jump rope, throw a ball around, or play on the swings and slide, but Joan, who loves “books a lot” finds a spot under a tree to read a book. With a book in hand Joan never feels alone.
   In Mrs. Alegro’s music class the children have a grand time playing musical instruments of all kinds. Tom-Tom is a wonderful flute player and he tootles away to the delight of his classmates. Later, in the library, the children are not as well behaved as they should be. They talk, wriggle, and giggle. They are rambunctious and the librarian is not at all happy.
   In this splendid poetry picture book Iza Trapani presents children with some traditional poems which she has “extended” in creative ways. Taking us through the school day, she gives us familiar poems such as One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, and songs such as The Ants go Marching. There are also poems that children may not be familiar with, but which offer readers wonderful opportunities to enjoy the written and spoken word.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of It's a book

For many young people today a book is digital file on a tablet. Print books just aren't a part of their lives. I read books in both formats but I generally prefer a printed book. There is something about how a book feels, how it looks sitting on a shelf, and even how it smells that I love. I have books in almost every room in my home, and book cover images appear in frames on my walls.

In today's picture book you will meet a character who has no idea what a print book is. He is puzzled by the book that his friend is reading because it cannot be twitched on, it doesn't noises, nor can you play games on it. What is the point of a book he wonders. What indeed!

It's a BookIt’s a book
Lane Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Roaring Brook, 2010, 978-1-59643-606-0
One day Jackass comes over to where Monkey is reading. Jackass asks Monkey what he has in his hands. Monkey explains that it is a book. Jackass is not sure what a book does so he asks Monkey a lot of questions about the strange object that he is holding.
   Jackass wants to know if you can scroll down with a book or blog with it. Does it have a mouse? Can it make characters fight? Does it tweet or use wi-fi- or make noise like Jackass’s laptop? It turns out that a book cannot do any of these things. Monkey shows Jackass that the book he is reading has a story in it about pirates. In Jackass’s opinion there are too many words. As he takes the book and goes to sit down, Jackass learns that the book does not even have a screen name, nor do you need a password to read it. How bizarre!
   This wonderful book shows young readers all the things that a book isn’t. Then, in a sneaky and completely silent way, it shows us the wonderful magic that can be found in an object that does not need a power cable, upgrades, or a mouse pad.
   With a minimal text, delightful characters, and touches of humor, Lane Smith gives readers a fantastic reading experience.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Beastly Verses

Animal characters play important roles in many children's books, allowing authors to connect with their young readers on many levels. Children begin with Babar the elephant in picture books and work their way up to to the gripping animal-rich adventures in the Redwall novels. Poets also love to write about animals, and in today's poetry title animals of all kinds can be found on the pages to offer children a wonderful poetry-filled book experience.

Beastly VerseBeastly Verse
Poems selected and illustrated by Joohee Yoon
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Enchanted Lion, 2015, 978-1-59270-166-7
Children love poems about animals, especially ones that are about creatures that a big and scary. Over the years poets have chosen to write poems about animals of all kinds, including those that we love to be afraid of. In this collection Joohee Yoon has brought together some of these poems and paired them with her colorful print illustrations.
  We begin with Lewis Carroll’s poem about the “little crocodile” who seems to grin so “cheerfully” and who “neatly spreads his claws.” So friendly does the crocodile seem that it is as if he is welcoming fish to swim into his “gently smiling jaws.”
   Another creature with claws and teeth is a tiger and William Blake’s famous poem about a tiger perfectly captures the awe that the poet feels for the animal that has fire in its eyes. He wonders what “immortal hand” created the tiger’s “fearful symmetry.”
   The mood is lightened in the poem that follows, where we meet a happy hyena. This animal can play the concertina and is very particular about his appearance. A master of sartorial elegance, the hyena even has a flower stuck into his lapel.
   A few pages later we encounter someone who is trying to tell us about an elephant who “tried to use the telephone.” It turns out that a trunk is not the best of appendages to use when one is trying to make a telephone call. It also turns out that the narrator of this poem cannot help getting his or her words frightfully, and hilariously, mixed up.
   For children who fancy having an unusual animal for a pet there is the poem The Yak. In it we hear about how a yak is a perfect pet for young people. After all it “will carry and fetch, you can ride on its back, / Or lead it about with a string.” The Tartars who live in Tibet have been keeping yaks as nursery pets for centuries, so if they can do it why can’t you?
   Animal loving children are sure to love this clever collection of poems. On the pages they will find verses that are often humorous, that offer up wonderful descriptions, and that sometimes give readers cause to pause.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Fuddles and Puddles

Not long ago we brought a new kitten into the household. Our two dogs were thrilled to bits to have a new playmate, but the two cats were appalled and disgusted. They behaved as if a fate worse than death had been placed upon them, and were rude and anti-social for days. Thankfully, the kitten's charms have started to wear down the older cats' standoffish behavior. There is only so much you can do when a little furry person snuggles up against you.

In today's picture book you will see what happens when a large and indulged cat called Fuddles gets a new housemate who is.....prepare yourself.....a puppy!

Fuddles and PuddlesFuddles and Puddles
Frans Vischer
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-3839-1
Fuddles is a fat, lazy, and utterly content cat. His people spoil him rotten and that is exactly how things should be. According to Fuddles. Then one day Fuddles wakes up from a nap, he goes into the kitchen, and he sees that there is a puddle on the floor. Worse still there is a little dog that goes with the puddle. A dog that barks and drools, and makes puddles. Fuddles is “disgusted” and he wants nothing to do with the dog.
   Unfortunately, Puddles does not seem to understand how much Fuddles dislikes him. The little dog follows Fuddles everywhere, even to the litterbox. Fuddles hardly gets a break from the little pest and one day, when Fuddles catches Puddles eating his food, the cat loses his temper. He has had enough, and so he yowls and is so frightening that the dog runs away and he stays away. Fuddles is “delighted.” He has got rid of the dog pest and now life can settle down and go back to the way it was.
   All is well until Fuddles gets himself into a dreadful situation; a situation that means that he needs help and he needs it quickly.
   Many of us hate it when change comes into our lives, especially when that change brings inconveniences and perhaps a little chaos with it. What we often don’t realize is that change can actually be a good thing; it can bring unexpected gifts with it that we did not even know about.  
   With wonderful touches of humor and an appreciation for human (and cat) nature, Frans Vischer brings us a third Fuddles story that will delight readers of all ages.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Somewhere Among

Many adults and children in the Unites States can remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked targets in the United States using commercial airplanes. What we sometimes don't realize is that the ripple effects of the tragedy spread far from our shores to people all over the world, many of whom were profoundly effected by what happened.

Today's title is a novel in blank verse that takes us to Japan where a young girl, a half Japanese and half American girl, is facing a lot of personal problems of her own in the months leading up to the September 11th attacks. The appalling events of that day add to what is already a painful situation, and we see, through her eyes, how violence damages people's ability to hope, and takes away their ability to feel safe.

Somewhere AmongSomewhere Among
Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-3786-8
Ema lives “between two worlds.” Her father is Japanese and her mother is American, and sometimes being “half this / half that” is not easy to manage.  Though her mixed heritage makes her life interesting at times, the fact that she is different also means that at times she feels “alone / on an island / surrounded by multitudes / of people.”
   Every August Ema and her mother go to California for a month to spend time with Ema’s maternal grandparents. This year is going to be different. Ema’s mother is pregnant and it has been a very hard pregnancy with scares and all-day-long morning sickness. Her mother has lost babies in the past and so this time they are going to be very careful, which means that the family is going to go and stay with Ema’s paternal grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan, until the baby is born. Thanks to these new arrangements Ema will miss six months of fifth grade in her school, she and her Papa will not be having a vacation by the sea, and she and her Mom will not being to California.
   Ema and her parents travel to western Tokyo to Obaachan’s house, and it isn’t long before Obaachan stars fussing, criticizing, and complaining. She likes everything to be just so and she has very strong opinions about how things should be done. Often she does not understand that Ema’s mother, being an American, does things differently. For example, Mom does not like to use bath water that other people have used, and she prefers western cakes to Japanese desserts. The differences between the two women creates tension and this tension only becomes worse when Ema’s father goes back to the city. Commuting to and from his parent’s home simply isn’t going to work and so Ema and her mother are going to have cope being in Obaachan’s world as best they can. Ema often wishes that she and her mom could be back at home, even though home is only a small one-room apartment. At least the TV is not on all day long, and at least there they don’t have to deal with Obaachan and her persnickety, old-fashioned ways.
   The summer is hot and hard on everyone but when school starts things get even harder for Ema. There is a boy at school, Masa, who goes out of his way to make Ema miserable. He hits her, steals the NASA space pen that Grandpa Bob gave her, trips her, and is generally disagreeable as much as possible. Ema is not sure how she is going to cope with this and then something happens that makes everyone forget about the little things. Terrorists attack the Twin Towers in New York City and in two other places. Mom is distraught, Ema is upset, and everyone is in shock over what has happened. Ema, Papa and the grandparents all worry that the anxiety and distress that Ema’s mother is experiencing will hurt the baby. How can all the hurt, both in their home, and in the wider world, not affect them? Ema wants to protect her mother but it would seem that there are some things that she cannot prevent. Sometimes Ema wishes she could escape the world and go out into space where she won’t have to “see or hear or feel / any more sadness.”  

   This remarkable book takes us into the life of a Japanese child whose world is in a state of flux. The things that make her feel safe and secure are taken away from her and then, just to add to her distress, the attacks on 9/11 take place. Written in blank verse, this extraordinary narrative is touching and often painful, but ultimately Ema comes to learn something very valuable that she is able to pass on to the grownups in her life.  Anyone who has had their life disrupted by change and loss will appreciate what Ema goes through.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Return

In 2013 a wordless picture book called Journey came out and it caused quite sensation in the children's book world. In this debut book Aaron Becker tells the story about a little girl who uses magic crayons to go on an adventure. In his next book, Quest, the little girl goes on another journey, one that is packed with even grander adventures, and this time she has a companion with her. Today's picture book is the final title in the trilogy, and just like the first two books in the series, it is wonderfully rich and suitable for anyone who loves beautiful art and storytelling.

Aaron Becker
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-7730-5
One day a little girl tries to get her father to spend some time with her, but he is so busy working at his drafting table that she finally gives up, goes downstairs, and uses her magic red crayon to draw a doorway on her bedroom wall. Her father finally realizes that she has gone and so he goes downstairs to investigate, which is when he sees the red door in her bedroom.
   The father goes through the door and finds himself in a beautiful forest where lamps hang from the trees. His daughter’s red ball is sitting at the end of a wooden dock. The father picks up the ball, which is when a self-propelled boat sails up the river. The man gets on board and by the light of the moon he travels to a fantastic city. He can see his daughter, who is sitting in a little red rowboat, on the river ahead of him.
   When the father finally catches up with his daughter she is with a boy, the king of the land, and a beautiful purple bird. The girl is clearly upset with her father for his neglect earlier and she has no interest in trying to make up with him. Just then the boat the father arrived in opens up and soldiers come out of it. They threaten the king, who responds by using a yellow crayon to draw a sword. The king tries to defend himself, but one of the soldiers uses a special device to suck up the sword, the yellow crayon, and the other crayons the king has. The king and the magical box are then whisked away by the enemy.
   The boy quickly draws a large purple gryphon with his crayon and then he and the girl and her father climb on the animal’s back. They fly in pursuit of the kidnappers. They are close to the enemy when one of the soldiers opens the device to suck up the gryphon. The boy is captured by the enemy, but the purple bird, father and daughter fall through the air and land in the water far below. How are they going to save the king and the boy now?
   This is the third book in a trilogy that tells the story of a pair of children who use magic crayons to travel to a world that is full of marvels and adventures. Once again the children are called upon to save the day, but this time the girl’s father also has to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter, who is clearly sorely disappointed in her parent.
   Readers of all ages are going to thoroughly enjoy this rich and exciting wordless picture book.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of What a day it was at school!

For many children a new school year has started and they are getting used to new schedules and teachers, and making new friends. When they get home many children chatter away busily, telling their grownups about the things that they did during the day.

In today's poetry picture book you will meet a little cat who has some wonderful school stories to share with his mother when he gets home.

What a day it was at school!
What a Day It Was at School!Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Doug Cushman
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
HarperCollins, 2009, 978-0060823375
The school day is over and the little cat heads home. When he gets there, he and his mother sit at the table and the little cat has some milk and cookies. As he sips and snacks, the little cat tells his mother about his day, the details of which are all noted down in his journal. Now the journal is full of stories and commentaries that we get to read.
   In the first one we get to hear about how put upon the young cat feels because his “backpack weighs a thousand pounds.” Sometimes it is so heavy that he tips backwards and has to stop and rest by leaning against a wall. No matter how much he pleads, his teacher refuses to let him “lighten” his load.
   In another entry we hear about how the cat and his friends had a loud and rambunctious time making music together. They shook maracas, beat drums, tooted on kazoos, and played every noisy percussive instrument that they could get their paws on. They had a wonderful time, and to them the sounds they made were “so sweet.”
   The cat also tells us about a field trip that he went on the day before. This year the field trip was “really special” because they visited a factory “To watch candy being made / And saw a million lollipops / On colorful parade.” They saw so many fabulous things, and got lots of samples to try. One can only imagine what the experience was like for their teacher and for the people who worked at the factory.
  During library time the little cat read a book about knights. Having a powerful imagination he began to imagine that he was the one who was a “knight / On a powerful steed.” He would be the kind of fellow who would “conquer a dragon” and “vanquish a troll.”
   Children are going to thoroughly enjoy this collection of poems. Each poem is accompanied by amusing illustrations, and together they capture moments in a little cat’s school day, some of which are everyday sort of events, and some of which are deliciously outrageous.