Monday, October 31, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Shy

For many of us, talking to people we do not know is a very hard thing to do. Even when we really want to make friends, taking that step to connect with someone new seems almost insurmountable, especially if it takes us out of comfort zone and forces us to go somewhere that we are not familiar with.

Today's picture book beautifully captures the journey that a character takes when he has to leave the place he knows, to seek out something that he desperately needs.

Deborah Freedman
Picture Book
For ages
Penguin Random House, 2016, 978-0-451-47496-4
Shy is happiest when he is “between the pages of a book,” when he can go to “a land far away” and experience “once upon a time.” Shy particularly loves books about birds, where he happily reads about their beauty and their songs. The sad thing is that Shy has never heard real bird song because the birds in books cannot sing.
   Then one day a little yellow bird flies by, a real bird that sings. Shy is delighted, and overwhelmed. He would love to talk to the bird but has no idea how to do so. What if he makes a mess of things, what if he makes a fool of himself, what if…
   And then the bird is gone.
   Shy so wants to follow the bird, but he has never left his safe little hiding place within the pages of books. He has never ventured out into the world. Though he is afraid, Shy leaves his home for the first time in his life and what he sees as he seeks out the bird amazes him. There are all kinds of animals, and there are birds, lots of birds. Shy hears the song of his bird and follows, and then comes that moment when he needs to speak, to connect with the bird, but Shy cannot get the words out and then…
   The bird is gone again and Shy is alone once more.
   Many of us find it very hard to venture away from the places that make us feel safe, the places that we are used to. If we are lucky, something comes along that pulls us out of our safe areas, and we enter a world full of marvels and possibilities, the most precious of these being friendships and connections with others. This remarkable picture book explores the journey a very shy character makes when something from the outside world touches him so such a degree that he has to follow; he has to leave the safety of his book for the sake of something wonderful.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Make Magic! Do Good!

Writing, both prose and poetry, comes in so many forms. Sometimes we read stories or poems that entertain us, or we choose tales that allow us to escape into another world for a while. At other times we want to engage with a piece of writing in a book that encourages us to think and consider. Today's poetry title is just such a book. Each poem offers up an idea that explores a powerful concept, and that inspires us to think about important and meaningful life messages.

Make Magic! Do Good!Make Magic! Do Good!
Dallas Clayton
Poetry Picture Book
For ages
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-5746-8
Writers create their stories and poems for a number of reasons. For some they have a narrative in their head that they just have to get down on paper. Others see or experience something that they feel the need to describe. Sometimes writers create because they want to make their readers laugh or because they want to teach them about something. Then there are the writers who want to convey a message that they feel their readers need to hear.
   This poetry book fits into the latter category. Dallas Clayton is a person who understands that we all need, at times, to be gently reminded of the things that really matter. For example, did you ever realize that it takes the same amount of effort to think about good things as it does to think about things that are bad? Which means that it takes the same amount of energy to make people sad or to make them happy. So do you want to be the kind of person who covers the walls of a building with angry thoughts about “who’s to blame,” or do you want to create and give away pictures that will make people happy instead.
   In her poem Try! the author exhorts us to do all kinds of things like “ride in a helicopter,” “tame a whale,” or “race / up to outer space.” It is possible that we might fail in our attempts, but we should try anyway.
   In another poem, one called Real Live Dragon, a narrator tells us about how he or she once found a dragon. The problem is that there are many people out there who just do not appreciate dragons. They want to lock them up, and problems arise when people get jealous and argue over who found the dragon first. The narrator realizes that the only way to keep the dragon would be to keep it hidden, and it does not make sense to do this. After all, what is the point of having something as ‘cool’ as a dragon if “there’s no one else / there to share it?”
   This carefully created poetry collection offers readers a great deal to think about. Sometimes a poem needs to be read a few times to capture the full meaning therein, but as the words sink in and thoughts coalesce, readers will come to appreciate what the author is saying, and her words will stick with them as they go about their day.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of They all saw a cat

So many of the world's problems arise because we think everyone thinks and sees things the way we do. We dare to think that they if they don't see things our way, then they are in the wrong. We forget that who we are - our life experiences and our background - hugely affect our perceptions.

This amazing picture book shows us how different characters all see the same thing in very different ways. Their viewpoints are startling, visually, and give us cause to pause. As we look at the artwork we are gently reminded to think about how we perceive our world.

They All Saw a CatThey all saw a cat
Brendan Wenzel
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2016, 978-1-4521-5013-0
A cat, wearing a red collar that has a little yellow bell attached to it, goes out into the world with its whiskers ready and its tail in the air. The cat is seen by a child, a dog, a fox, a goldfish, a mouse, a bee, a bird, a flea, a snake, a skunk, a worm, and bat. One would think that they would all see the cat in the same way, but this is not the case.
   To the child the cat is a smiling, benign animal that is there to be patted. The dog sees the cat as a lean, mean looking creature. The goldfish, from its watery home in a fish bowl, sees a blurry shape with enormous yellow eyes. For the poor mouse the cat is a monstrous beast with yellow, slit eyes, huge claws, and sharp fangs. The bee, with its compound eyes, sees a pointillist cat, a vague figure made up of lots of colors. The bat, flying in the night sky, also sees a shape made up of dots, but the dots it sees are white in color.
   Every animal sees the cat differently depending on its perspective and its place in the food chain. The kinds of eyes and senses they have also determine what the cat looks like to them. How does that cat see itself?
   This wonderful picture book takes children on a journey into the imagination. It also presents them with the idea that different characters will see the same thing in widely different ways. We all view the world through eyes that are touched by our biases, interests, and backgrounds, and therefore we have to be sensitive to the fact that other people’s perceptions are not like our own.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Animal School: What Class are You?

I have been reviewing books since the early 2000's and over the years I have noticed changes taking place in the children's book world. These changes include the rise of ebooks, the growth of the graphic novel world, and the advancement of what I call nonfiction poetry. These days poets are using their writings to both entertain and educate their readers, teaching them about history, science, geography and other subjects through their poems.

Today's poetry book is just such a nonfiction poetry title. It helps young readers to get to know the animal family that we humans belong to.

Animal School: What Class Are You?Animal School: What Class are You?
Michelle Lord
Illustrated by Michael Garland
Nonfiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Holiday House, 2014, 978-0-8234-3045-1
We humans belong to a group of animals called vertebrates. All the animals in this group have spines, and they are divided up into what are called “classes.” The classes that belong in the vertebrates group are mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Some fly and some swim, some have fur, while others have skin, scales, or feathers. The number of vertebrate species that live on earth is enormous, and they are very diverse, but they are all nevertheless connected because they have a string of bones running down their back.
   In this splendid poetry picture book, the author uses poems to introduce us to the classes of animals that belong to the vertebrate family. She begins with the reptiles, telling us what makes reptiles special. We learn, for example, that turtles rely on the sun to warm them up, and when they need to “chill out” they find some cool mud to dig into. Reptiles are interesting because they can either lay eggs or give birth to live young. Many reptiles, like cobras, leave their babies to fend for themselves, but some adopt a different strategy. Alligator mothers are very protective of their young, and when their babies are very small the large and fearsome looking mamas carry them around in their mouths.
   We next move on to fish. These animals are able to get oxygen from the water that they swim in. They have smooth skin that is sometimes “cloaked / in flaky scales,” and are cold-blooded animals, like reptiles.
   The next class the author explores in the one we humans belong to; the mammals. Unlike reptiles, fish, and amphibians, mammals are warm-blooded and they always give birth to live young. Most of them get about on legs and they have “stick-out ears,” which none of the other vertebrates have.
   The author then goes on to tell us about birds, creatures with “hollow bones” and “Feathers that take them / through the sky.” Amphibians follow. Though these animals come in many shapes and sizes, they are have to be born in water, and most need to be in or around water their entire lives.
   This book helps children to better understand the family of animals that they belong to. They will see how the animals in the classes are different and yet also the same, and how they have adapted to occupy the niches that they live in. On the pages readers will see pictures of tadpoles and frogs, a rabbit, a sea horse, an iguana, a congregation of alligators and more. They will see the marvelous variety that can be found in our invertebrate family.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Imagine a City

The imagination is a powerful thing. Indeed, if people did not have an imagination many books, pieces of music, and art would never be created. Today's picture book celebrates the imagination in a unique and exciting way. Readers of all ages may find themsleves wishing that they too could create a city, through their imagination, that is like the one that they visit in this title.

Imagine a CityImagine A City
Elise Hurst
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2016, 978-1-101-93457-9
Imagine if you can what it would be like to get on a train, a train that is going to take you to the city so that you have a special outing. It is an ordinary train that stops at an ordinary train platform. You get on board and off you go. It is not long before a waiter comes around and serves you a luscious tea. You sit on the comfortable seats sipping hot tea and eating delicious little cakes and treats. Perhaps you notice that one of the passengers in the car has rather long ears, and paws instead of hands. Or perhaps you don’t.
   When you get to the city ordinariness disappears. Here humans and animals live side by side, and there are many strange and wondrous things going on. The pictures in a gallery that you visit refuse to be contained by their frames. Here the buses are fish instead of machines and they swim through the sky above the streets. Here the stories in books, like the pictures at the gallery, will not lie down quietly on the paper. Instead they hop off the pages and sometimes you get quite a shock!
   When you stop for a bite in a little restaurant you find that the tables and chairs are little trees. In addition to the now no longer unusual assortment of animals, there are gargoyles partaking of drinks and snacks.  It is important to remember that when you can imagine a city there is no accounting for what might happen.
   In this visually stunning picture book, the author takes us on a journey full of wonderful impossibles and glorious imaginings. A minimal, lyrical text accompanies the art, and together they capture the sense of a place where adventures lie around every corner and where “The World is your teacher.”
   This celebration of the imagination will delight readers of all ages, many of whom will wish that they could jump into the pages and visit the land that lies therein.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Applesauce Weather

Every September I look forward to fall. I am eager for cooler days, rain (after weeks and weeks of dry weather), and the treats that the fall season brings. Apples, pears and pumpkins start to appear in the farmer's market, and I start thinking about making apple and pumpkin breads and coffee cakes. It is a time of change and new beginnings for me.

Today's poetry title tells the story of a young girl whose uncle has suffered a great loss, and who comes to visit her and her family as the apples are starting to fall from the tree in their yard. For him this is a time for reflection, and though he does not know it at first, it is also a time for new bittersweet beginnings.

Applesauce WeatherApplesauce weather
Helen Frost
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
For ages 8 to 10
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-7576-9
Faith has been waiting for this day, the day when the first apple falls from the apple tree that Aunt Lucy planted all those years ago. Over the years Uncle Arthur and Aunt Lucy would always arrive at Faith’s house on this day. Somehow they always knew when the first apple fell. Then Aunt Lucy died and Faith’s parents and brother believe that maybe Uncle Arthur will not come this year. Little Faith does not lose hope though. She waits for Uncle Arthur.
   At his home Uncle Arthur thinks about his beloved Lucy and remembers how his wife always knew when the first apple had fallen, when it was time to gather with the family to pick apples and make applesauce. He does not know if he can bear to go without her, or if the family is even expecting him.
   Faith’s big brother Peter thinks Faith is being silly. She should give up waiting and accept that Uncle Arthur is not coming. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Faith’s faith in Uncle Arthur is rewarded, and in the evening of that day the old man arrives.
   Every year Faith asks Uncle Arthur what happened to his missing finger - he only has four and half fingers on his right hand – and every year he tells her another story (a tall story) of what happened to his finger. This year he seems reluctant to tell the stories so beloved by everyone in the family. This year he is quieter. He is wrapped up in the memories of the times he shared with the girl and woman who became his wife. He remembers how he and Lucy, who were neighbors, became friends, and how their friendship grew into love when they were teenagers. He looks at the house where she used to live and remembers how he used to wait at night to see a light blinking in her window, which was her message telling him that she loved him.
   Faith seems to know that Uncle Arthur is feeling lost and so she holds his hand, the one missing half a finger, and she says nothing. Faith wonders if her uncle has no more stories to tell but she does not ask. Instead, she walks down the road with him every day and she tells him that Peter is sweet on the girl who is living in the house that Lucy lived in all those years ago. Once again a boy in her house, Uncle Arthur’s old house, is falling for a girl who lives in the house a few doors down. Uncle Arthur smiles and he starts to tell them a story, a true story about how he got a knife when he was Peter’s age and how he used the knife to carve his initials, and Lucy’s, into the bark of the apple tree. The initials are still there.
   The apples start ripening “faster / than we can pick them” and Faith and Peter go to the tree to collect as many as they can. Uncle Arthur then indicates, in his own way, that a story is in the offing and so Faith sits with him on the bench under the tree and asks the question that they have all been afraid to ask: “what happened to your finger?”
   This wonderful story is told from the points of view of Faith, Peter, and Uncle Arthur. We also hear from Aunt Lucy, who gives us a wonderful picture of what her life with Uncle Arthur had been like. The narrative is presented in the form of rhyming and blank verse poems, and we are taken on a journey that spans decades, and also on a journey that encompasses a few autumn days when the apples are ripening. We see, through the words of Faith, Peter and Uncle Arthur, how healing after a loss can begin and how there is much joy to be found in stories. Sometimes these stories help us to connect with the people who are no longer with this, making it possible for us to stay linked to them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Madeline Finn and the library dog

When I was a child I struggled to understand mathematics. Numbers became my worst enemy and it did not help that I was often ridiculed by my peers when I made mistakes. I even had a teacher who made fun of my struggles, which was terrible. If only I had had the kind of help the little girl in today's book gets when she is trying to learn how to read. Kind, non-judgmental support goes a long way when it comes to learning how to do something that is difficult.

Madeline Finn and the Library DogMadeline Finn and the library dog
Lisa Papp
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Peachtree Publishers, 2016, 978-1-56145-910-0
Madeline Finn does not like to read. At all. Anything with words, including the menu of the ice cream truck, is to be avoided. Reading out loud is the worst because then people can hear how she sometimes struggles to make sense of the words, and on occasion they “giggle” when they hear her mistakes. No matter how hard she tries, Madeline Finn’s teacher never gives her a star sticker. Instead, she gets a heart-shaped “Keep Trying” sticker, which is so frustrating.
   Madeline Finn wishes very hard that she will get a star of her own, but day after day her reading efforts just aren’t good enough. On Saturday Madeline Finn and her mother go to the library. Madeline Finn reminds the librarian that she does not like to read, which is when the librarian, Mrs. Dimple, shows her a surprise.
   The children’s reading area is full of dogs. Real live dogs, and apparently they are there to be read to. Mrs. Dimple introduces Madeline Finn to Bonnie, a beautiful, big, white dog who is apparently a “great listener,” and in spite of herself Madeline Finn decides that she would like to try reading to the dog. She never imagines that Bonnie is going to be more than a good listener.
   This wonderful, heartwarming picture book explores one little girl’s reading journey. It is a journey that is full of struggles, frustration, and heartache, but it turns out that a patient and accepting dog is just want the little girl needs.
   With an authentic first person narrative and wonderful illustrations, Lisa Papp tells a story that will resonate with everyone who has struggled to learn how to do something new.