Monday, November 28, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Pond

Children often feel very overwhelmed when they see all the problems in their world. Stories about wars, environmental disasters, famines, political conflicts, and social upheavals fill newspapers, news broadcasts, and social media. There is so much wrong out there that they often think that there is nothing that they can do that will have an impact on so much chaos. The truth of the matter is that every little effort that makes the world safer, kinder, and cleaner is a step in the right direction.

Today's picture book shows how some children bring about change for the better in their own little world, and that change, though its impact is not global, is still vital and precious.

Jim La Marche
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-4735-5
One cold winter day Matt is out walking when he comes to a place that he and his friends call “the Pit.” It is usually just an open space in the woods that is full of trash, but on this day he sees that a stream of water is bubbling its way out of the ground. Matt looks around and realizes that this neglected place was once a pond and he makes a decision. He is going to bring the pond back.
   Matt tells his sister Katie and his best friend Pablo about his discovery, and asks them if they are willing to help him clean the place up. Both agree and the very next weekend the three young people get to work. They pick up all the junk and trash and, with Pablo’s father’s help, take it all to the dump. Then they move rocks to create a dam.
   As the days go by and winter softens into spring, the pond starts to fill up. In the summer the children spend time by the water until they are driven off my biting insects and summer storms. Then Matt’s dad decides to help the children work on an old row boat so that it is seaworthy once again. Together they work at patching holes, sanding rough wood, and nailing down boards. The boat is named Dragonfly, and when the children take it out on the water it floats.
   As the months go by the pond offers Matt and his friends and family members all kinds of seasonal joys, and it also gives animals a place to call home.
   This wonderful book takes us through the seasons with a boy who, thanks to his imagination and hard work, is able to bring back a gift of nature that was lost. A neighborhood pond might seem like a small thing, but the special moments it gives Matt and his friends are precious. As they watch the pond grow and flourish, the children in the story grow to appreciate that sometimes the little things can become big things.
   Children who think that they are too small or too young to make a difference in the world will surely be empowered by this tale. They will see that they, like Matt, can bring about change for the better if they really want to.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of We found a hat

Learning to be unselfish is one of life's hardest lessons. For most of us remembering to think of others before ourselves is a daily battle, one that we sometimes lose. We know what we are supposed to do. We know that we are supposed to share with others and sometimes give up things we want for their sake, but doing so is just so hard.
   In this wonderful picture book we see what happens when a pair of friends find something that they both want. How will they resolve a tricky situation? Will they put friendship first?

We Found a HatWe found a hat
Jon Klassen
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-5600-3
One day two turtles are walking in a desert together and they find a wonderful hat, a tall, elegant Stetson. They both try the hat on and compliment each other on how “good” the hat looks. The hat “looks good on both of us,” they say but the problem is that there is only one hat and it would not be fair if one of the turtles had the hat and the other did not. There is only one thing to do. They are going to have to leave the hat where it is and “forget that we found it.”
   The two turtles walk to a nearby rock and settle down to watch the sunset. One of the turtles says that he is thinking about the sunset, the other says that he is thinking about nothing but we know that he is thinking about the hat, and looking back to where it lies on the ground. The pull of the hat is strong and the turtle is having a hard time staying true to his friend.
   Life is full of difficult choices and often the most hard-to-make ones are those that require that we make a sacrifice. In this wonderful picture book we meet a turtle who really wants something and he is forced to consider if the hat is worth more than the relationship that he shares with his best friend. Thankfully there is someone around who sets an example for him that helps him understand what true friendship is worth.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of One the Wing

I live on a ten acre farm on a hillside, and we get lots of bird visitors. Owls live in one of our outbuildings, and swallows spend the summer in our barn. We have seen bald eagles sitting in our trees, and red-tailed hawks often swoop over the house calling out to each other. I cannot help being charmed by the birds that I see and so I really enjoyed today's poetry book, and I hope many of you will enjoy reading it too.

On the WingOn the wing
David Elliott
Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2014, 978-0-7636-5324-8
Animals have inspired musicians, artists, prose writers, and poets for centuries. T.S Elliot, who loved cats, was drawn to creating poems about felines. Others have captured the majesty of a tiger, the gravitas of elephants, and the watchful nature of rabbits. Birds, perhaps more than any other animal - other than cats and dogs - have attracted the attention of poets. Perhaps this is because birds are found everywhere, in all kinds of environments. They are also often beautiful and come in so many shapes, colors, and sizes.
   In this excellent poetry title we encounter a wonderful collection of birds from tiny gem like hummingbirds that  are “Always / in a / tizzy” going back and forth and zooming to and fro busily, to the giant Andean Condor that could, if we are not careful “disappear,” taking with it the memories of ancient times that we humans are losing.
   Some of the birds we meet on the pages will be familiar. We see them in parks, on windowsills, and in gardens. These include sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, crows, and owls. Others are like the exotic Caribbean Flamingo who’s bright pink plumage seems to set the sky “alight” when they take to the air.
   This would be a wonderful book to share with children who have an interest in birds. Throughout the book the combination of wonderful poems and lush paintings gives children a special bird-filled experience.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Du Iz Tak?

Many people are convinced that the best stories are ones that are packed with a huge cast of characters, a constantly changing backdrop, a busy back story, and a great deal of drama. To be sure such stories are gratifying and engaging, but smaller, quieter tales can be incredibly rich and rewarding as well. Today's picture book story is just such a tale. The characters are insects, the setting never changes, and the events that unfold are not packed with grandiose spectacles. Instead, we are given a gem of a story that takes us into a small world where powerful and meaningful things happen on a small scale.

Du Iz Tak?Du Iz Tak?
Carson Ellis
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-6530-2
One day two elegant insects see that a green plant is growing out of the ground and they wonder what it is. A while later three young beetles turn up and the green thing has grown. They too would like to know what the plant is. The beetles climb to the first layer of leaves and they want to go higher to the second set but they cannot reach. They decide to go and ask Icky the caterpillar if they can borrow a ladder. The kindly fellow goes and gets his very long ladder and he props it up against the plant.
  With the ladder in place, the three beetles can now climb as high as they like, and when they get up into the higher branches of the plant– which is quite a way up now because the plant is still growing - they decide to build a tree house. Actually they build three tree houses at different levels, and life is wonderful. Then a huge spider builds a web around the houses and the plant, and the beetles can do nothing about the invader who has taken over their home.
   In this wonderful picture book, several backyard stories featuring insect characters unfold before our eyes. The insects speak their own language, which is not surprising when you think about it, but luckily we can figure out much of what they are saying and we have no trouble understanding what is going on. What is delightful about this story is that though the main characters are insects, and though the setting in the book is the same one throughout the tale, the story we witness is rich, charming, and satisfying.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of The death of the hat: A Brief history of poetry in 50 objects

One of the wonderful things about reading books that were written at different moments in time is they tend to reflect the culture and conventions of the era in which they were written. Stories and poems can give us a glimpse into the past and help us to get a picture of what life was like then.

In today's poetry title readers will find poems that were written long ago and not so long ago, and in each one the poet describes an object of some kind. Children and adults alike are going to enjoy exploring this book.

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 ObjectsThe death of the hat: A Brief history of poetry in 50 objects
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 to 12
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-6963-8
For almost as long as humans have been writing, humans have been creating poetry. Throughout history men and women all over the world have been using poetry as a means to tell a story, describe something, capture a moment in time, or expound on an idea or feeling that interests them. Like music, art, and prose writing, poetry has evolved over the ages and when we look at poems from different eras we can see the trends, conventions, and fashions that were popular at that time.
   In this very unique poetry collection Paul Janeczko explores how poets, over the ages, have described objects in their writings. The poems capture the flavor of the times in which they were written, thus making it possible for readers to get a sense of how styles and ways of expression changed over time.
   We begin in the early Middle Ages with a poem about a bookworm. The poem describes how a moth ate a word. The poet feels that it is curious that such an insect could “swallow the word of a man.” Like a “thief in the dark” it takes something profound and is not “A whit the wiser” afterwards.
   The Renaissance brings us the words of William Shakespeare and we are given a speech from Romeo and Juliet. The excerpt is Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab, who is a tiny fairy. In a chariot made of an empty hazelnut she travels across the faces of men while they sleep. Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, offer us a poem about the sun, and we read about how the sun breaks free of the bonds of winter, melting the ice on streams, and encouraging trees to dress their nakedness with “crisped heads.”
   In the romantic period we find poems by Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Here there are poems about the letter E, a mouse’s nest, an eagle, and snow-flakes.
   The Victorian era brings us poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson, among others. We can see how these writings were influenced by the creations of earlier centuries and then we can see how the writers of the modern period (from 1900 to 1945) took a very different path. Poets tried new forms and experimented with words. This experimentation, and the innovative path that went with it, has continued to the present day.
   What is interesting about this book is that it can be enjoyed on many levels. Readers can simply enjoy the poems, dipping into the book at random, or they can explore the historical aspect of the collection.
   An introduction at the beginning of the book provides readers with further information about the time periods that are mentioned in the text.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Penguin Problems

Like it or not, we all are, on occasion, prone to being a little self-centered. When the world does not give us what we want we whine and wail about how terrible our life is and how the system is out to get us. In today's book you will meet a penguin who is convinced that every aspect of his life is a disaster, a nightmare. And then someone comes along who helps him gain a little perspective.

This is a deliciously funny book, and it is also one that gives is a gentle, thoughtful reminder that we should take the time to look around so that we see what we are perhaps missing.

Penguin ProblemsPenguin Problems
Jory John
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Random House, 2016, 978-0-553-51337-0
One morning Penguin wakes up “way too early” and immediately he starts to complain. His beak is cold, the other penguins are making too much noise, and it snowed again the night before and he does not really like snow. Or the sun, which is too bright.
   Feeling hungry, Penguin heads to the ocean. He finds the water too salty and he does not think he floats enough. In short he sinks “like a dumb rock.” When he dives under water to look for fish he encounters a hungry orca, and a hungry seal, and a hungry shark.
   Though he is still hungry himself, Penguin gets out of the water because his flippers are tired from all the hard swimming he has had to do to avoid being eaten. It is hard work swimming when you are a penguin. It’s also hard work walking, or rather waddling, on land. If only Penguin could fly, but he can’t. If only Penguin could figure out which of the many penguins around him is his mother or father but he can’t because all the penguins look alike. If only….
   Then a walrus comes over to a now thoroughly upset Penguin and offers him a few sage words of advice.
   It is all too easy to get disgruntled about one’s life, to spend one’s days complaining about all the things that are not perfect, and to feel much put upon by one’s circumstances. However, behaving in this manner does not really make anything better. In fact, griping and grumbling more often than not just makes us feel worse.
   In this clever picture book we meet a very disgruntled penguin who is so busy being upset with his lot in life that he forgets to notice that there are many wonderful things around him, things that should be giving him joy. If only he would bother to notice them.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Presidential Misadventures:Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge

After months of media coverage and a great deal of discord, the lead up to Election Day is finally almost over. The end is almost in sight. I thought that I would offer my readers a little light relief on this poetry Friday. Today's poetry book looks at the lives of all the men who have been the president of the United States, from George Washington to Barack Obama.Using short and always amusing poems, the author makes fun of the Commanders in Chief in a creative way that readers of all ages will appreciate.

Presidential Misadventures: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in ChargePresidential Misadventures: Poems that make fun of the man in charge
Bob Raczka
Illustrated by Dan E. Burr
For ages 8 to 12
Roaring Brook Press, 2015, 978-1-59643-980-1
In 1890 a bored school boy called Edmund Clerihew Bentley was in science class listening to his teacher talk about Sir Humphry Davy, who was a famous English scientist. While the teacher talked, Edmund wrote a four lined poem about Sir Humphry, one that made fun of him. The form that Edmund used ended up becoming popular and today these poems that poke fun at famous people are known as clerihew poems.
   The rules for writing such poems are simple. They have to be four lines long and the first two lines have to rhyme, as do the last two lines. The first line should contain the name of the person who is being made fun of, and the meter in the poem should be irregular.
   Delighting in this poetry form Bob Raczka decided to write a whole book of clerihew poems which feature the presidents of the United States. Many of the poems that appear in this collection contain true facts about the presidents who have served the American people over the centuries. For example, the poem about William H. Taft tells us that the president, because of his rather large size, got stuck in the tub. This, is fact, really did happen. Similarly Richard Nixon did indeed tell “a lie he couldn’t fix,” and Ronald Reagan did have a fondness for jelly-beans.
   The author gives us poems for every single president, from George Washington to Barak Obama, and in each one clever touches of humor and word use offer future potential clerihew poets much to think about.