Friday, December 30, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Switching on the Moon: A very first book of Bedtime Poems

When my daughter was little she and I used to sing a little lullaby every night. The overhead light would be out, the unicorn nightlight would be glowing, and for those few precious moments she and I would sing the comforting rhyming lines. There is nothing quite like sharing poetry (sung or spoken) with a child last thing at night, and today I have a book for you that is packed with poems that are perfect for bedtime.

Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime PoemsSwitching on the Moon: A very first book of Bedtime Poems
Collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 3 to 5
Candlewick Press, 2010, 978-0-7636-4249-5
For many children around the world bedtime is synonymous with little songs and poems. The soft lilting cadence of rhymes is so well suited to helping children to settle down and prepare for sleep, and they also help children to connect with the grownups who share these songs and poems with them.
   In this wonderful book a variety of poems about bedtime are brought together so that children can enjoy the gift of beautiful language just before they go to sleep. The poems are divided into three sections. There are verses that describe those pre-bedtime moments, lullabies, and finally there are poems that capture nighttime sounds, moments, and experiences.
   The poems found in the collection are all very different, but one thing they all have in common is how soothing they are. Musings, words of love and comfort, and descriptions - all written by poets from around the world - offer children and their grownups a delightful journey into the world of beautiful language.
   Some of the poems found on these pages may be familiar, like Rock-a-bye Baby and The Man in the Moon. Many others will be new to readers, who will enjoy exploring the writings of Langston Hughes, Jane Yolen, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Lord Tennyson, Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Singer, and others.
   Throughout this wonderful volume, beautiful artwork accompanies the poems and makes this book a work of art that would make a wonderful gift for a family who has a new baby to love care for.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of A Warm Winter

I love seasonal picture books, because I love the way they connect us with what is going on outside at this particular moment. They connect us to a rhythm that is bigger than the one that many of humans seem to follow. Today's picture book takes us into a snowy, wintry landscape that is beautiful and stark. On the pages we meet a determined little mouse who is trying to collect firewood so that he can keep his family warm.

A Warm WinterA warm winter
Feridun Oral
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Minedition, 2015, 978-988-8341-29-0
One cold winter’s day Little Mouse leaves the comfort of his nest to go out into the snow to find some firewood. Trailing his red scarf, which is very long indeed for such a small animal, Little Mouse finds twigs, pinecones and sticks until he has a huge pile.
   Little Mouse ties up the pile with his scarf, rests a little and then he tries to pull his load across the snow. There is no way the pile is going to budge. Little Mouse is just too small to pull so much weight.
   Little Mouse asks his friend Rabbit for her help. Even when they “join forces” they cannot move the massive pile of firewood. The animals then ask Fox if they can borrow his sled, which he is quite happy to lend them. The firewood is piled on the sled and they all start pulling, but “the pile simply would not budge.”
   There is only one thing left to do; the animals are going to have to wake up Bear to ask for his help. The weather is getting bad and if they don’t get indoors soon everything will soon be buried.
   Bear, being a good fellow, is happy to help his friends, even though they woke him up. Together the four animals pull and pull until something very unexpected happens.
   This wonderful snowy picture book celebrates friendship, and shows to great effect how wonderful it is when people (or animals) work together to help one another.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Greetings


Poetry Friday with a review of Over the Hills and Far Away: A treasury of Nursery Rhymes

Like many children I got to experience nursery rhymes when I was little, often when I was sitting in someones lap. I was lucky because I was bilingual, and so I was given the gift of rhymes that were written in English and in French. In English many of the rhymes were from Mother Goose collections. The French books contained French nursery rhymes that many English speakers do not normally get to read. What I love about today's poetry book is that the editor has brought together nursery rhymes from all over the world. She thus allows us to experience rhymes that we have probably never heard before.

Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery RhymesOver the Hills and Far Away: A treasury of Nursery Rhymes
Collected by Elizabeth Hammill
Illustrated by more than 70 celebrated artists
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2014, 978-0-7636-7729-9
Many people living in Britain or the United States have grown up with a copy of Mother Goose’s rhymes on their bookshelf. The interesting thing is that often the rhymes one finds in these two countries are different in some ways, and yet the feel of the rhymes is the same. When you then look in other countries where English is spoken, you find other versions of Mother Goose rhymes that have taken on the flavors of the cultures in those countries.
   In addition to these Mother Goose verses, there are nursery rhymes that are unique to the countries where they were written and that capture the essence of the history and traditions in those countries
   In this collection Elizabeth Hammill brings together Mother Goose rhymes from around the world and presents them alongside rhymes that are African, Asian, Caribbean, Native-American, and Hispanic to give readers a truly diverse and rich nursery rhyme experience.
   Throughout the book the poems are paired with artwork that was created by seventy-seven artists from the English-speaking world. Some of the artists have been working in their chosen field for a long time, while others are newcomers to the illustration stage. All of the artwork was donated to this book project by the artists to support Seven Stories, Britain’s National Centre for Children’s Books.
   Our nursery rhyme journey begins with a short Native American verse which is then followed by an African nursery rhyme that captures a mother’s love for her baby. There are other mothers, the mother in the poem says, who would “like to have you for her child,” but they cannot have the baby because the precious child is “mine.” Many of the poems that follow celebrate a mother’s love for her child or baby, while others are nonsense poems, counting poems, poems about animals, poems about places, and poems that tell a story.
   This is a wonderful book to share with children, but it is also the kind of book that offers adults the opportunity to explore the world of nursery rhymes both historically and geographically. Readers are able to see how different cultures use words to comfort, amuse, and delight their children.
  
  


Monday, December 19, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Christmas Eve Tree

Christmas is less than a week away, and people all over the world are putting up and decorating their Christmas trees. There is something magical about seeing a tree, decorated with tinsel and ornaments, its lights shining in the darkness. Today's picture book is about a Christmas tree that ends up lightning up Christmas for those who need the light the most.

The Christmas Eve TreeThe Christmas Eve Tree
Delia Huddy
Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-7917-0
Years ago a grove of Christmas trees was planted. One of the little fir trees was blown sideways into its neighbor by the wind and did not grow properly. When the trees were harvested the little fir tree, which was “stunted” and “tangled with its neighbor” was taken to the big city. The other trees were bought and placed in a cathedral, in the middle of a square, on the stage “at a grand Christmas ball,” and in private homes where children and their families decorated them for the festive season. The little fir tree and its bigger partner ended up in a store. On Christmas Eve the big tree was bought and taken away and the little fir tree was now all alone.
   A poor boy came into the shop to warm up and he asked a store clerk, who was about to throw away the little tree, if he could have it. The clerk “handed it over,” and some time later the boy, with the tree ‘planted’ in a cardboard box full of beach mud, was sitting under the arch of a railway bridge, in the large cardboard box that served as his home. With a coin that a passerby dropped in his hat the boy bought some candles and matches and he decorated the little tree with the candles, creating a little pool of Christmas spirit in a rather bleak place.
   The boy was joined by other homeless people and a tree performer and soon they were all sharing Christmas songs, which drew more and more people to the little tree. Though the tree’s surroundings were very humble, it felt as if it would “burst with happiness” because for a while the hard circumstances of the boy’s life did not matter. For a while the tree gave the boy and many other people joy.
   In this beautiful picture book readers will find a story that is sure to become a firm favorite with readers of all ages. This is the kind of book that families will keep on their shelf and bring out every holiday season to share and enjoy.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Love that dog

When I first saw this book on a shelf in the library I thought it was going to be about a dog, which is a natural assumption to make I think. A dog does play a role in the narrative, but the story is really about a boy's relationship with (and discovery of) poetry. It is a fabulous book, a powerful book, a sometimes funny book, and I think readers of all ages will appreciate it.

Love That DogLove that Dog
Sharon Creech
Poetry
For ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 2001, 978-0060292874
Jack is in Miss Stretchberry’s class and he is not happy because she is expecting her students to write a poem. Everyone knows that girls write poems. It is a girly kind of thing to do. After claiming that his “Brain’s empty,” Jack finally condescends to write a poem about a blue car speeding down a road. He is rather put out when his teacher comments on how something is missing in his poem. If Robert Frost can leave his poems incomplete why can’t he?
   Miss Stretchberry then asks Jack to write a poem about a pet. Jack does not have a pet anymore and he does not want to write about the dog that he had. We can sense that doing so will be painful for Jack, and yet the boy does end up writing a description of how the yellow dog became a member of his family; how they got him from the animal shelter and saved him from being euthanized, which is what happens to the shelter dogs that are not adopted. Miss Stretchberry asks Jack if she can type up his poem about the yellow dog and share it with the class. He decides that she can if she wants to, though she cannot put her name on the piece.
   Next Miss Stretchberry introduces Jack and his classmates to concrete poems and these he likes a lot. In fact he even tries to create one called My Yellow Dog, and he arranges the words so that they look like a picture of dog on the page. Miss Stretchberry asks if she can type up his poem again and this time Jack is willing to let her put his name on it, which is a new development.
   Inspired by a poem that he loves that was written by Walter Dean Myers, Jack writes another poem about his dog Sky, and in it he captures the joy the dog brings into his life. It is a poem from the heart and Jack cannot help feeling pleased when his teacher shares it with the class again.
   When Miss Stretchberry suggests that Jack should write to Walter Dean Myers, Jack is appalled. Why would a famous writer like hearing from a kid? Surely he would prefer to hear from a teacher “who uses big words / and knows how / to spell / and / to type.” In the end Jack writes the letter, with many apologies to Walter Dean Myers for taking up his time. Jack even invites the writer to come to his school.
   As he waits to hear from Walter Dean Myers, Jack’s journey into the world of poetry progresses. He starts learning how to type and finally he writes (and then types up) a poem about what happened to Sky, though he is not sure about putting his name on it.
   This remarkable book takes us through a school year with a boy called Jack. As the months go by we see how this boy, who wants nothing to do with poetry at first, starts to appreciate the way words in poems can capture moments and feelings in a fresh and different way. Slowly, like a flower opening, he tries writing his own poems. By the time we leave Jack, with his memories of Sky, he is a very different child, and we, as witnesses to his journey of exploration, can celebrate the changes that have taken place in him. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Wish Tree

This is the time of year when children all over the world hold their wishes close, hoping that Santa, Father Christmas, or St. Nicholas will be able to read the wishes in their hearts and make them a reality. In today's picture book you will meet a little boy who wants more than anything to find a wish tree, which he is convinced is a real thing. Rather than waiting for someone to find such a tree for him, the little boy sets out to find the wish tree himself, and in the process he makes a lot of wishes come true for others.

The Wish TreeThe Wish Tree
Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Chris Turnham
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle, 2016, 978-1-4521-5065-9
One day Charles decides that he wants to find a wish tree. His older sister and brother say that “There is no such thing” as a wish tree, but Charles, and his friend Boggan, are convinced otherwise and so the next morning the boy and his toboggan set off.
   Together the friends climb a hill and sledded down to a “frost meadow” on the other side. Though they do not find a wish tree they do find a squirrel who needs help getting his haul of hazelnuts back to his home in a tree. Boggan and Charles are happy to help out.
   Later the friends help a beaver get a load of birch wood back to his lodge, and help a fox get some berries back to her burrow. Again and again Charles and Boggan assist the woodland animals who need help getting food and other materials back to their homes.
   The day begins to wind down and poor Charles and Boggan are no closer to finding a wish tree. They have seen so much during the day, except the one thing that they are looking for. Charles is so tired that he decides that he cannot search any longer. In fact he falls asleep on Boggan, which is when something magical happens.
   This wonderful wintery picture book will appeal to readers of all ages and backgrounds. Though it is certainly about a little boy’s quest, it is also about friendships that bloom during that quest. With delight we see how gifts are returned to someone who gives of himself so easily and freely. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Falling Up

I usually offer up a preamble before I jump into my reviews, but today's poetry title needs no introduction because Shel Silverstein needs no introduction. What is special about this particular edition is that it contains twelve new poems!

Falling Up SpecialFalling Up
Shel Silverstein
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2015, 978-0-06-232133-6
Poets have been writing nonsense and funny poems for children for many years, and have given their readers amusing characters and wonderful stories in verse to read over and over. A.A. Milne, Edward Lear, and many others have delighted young readers with their comical writings, but it has to be said that one of the most famous and well-loved humorous poets is Shel Silverstein. He left behind him a wonderful collection of poems for young readers, poems that children and their grownups have been enjoying ever since they came out in print.
   On the pages of this book young readers will meet a colorful collection of characters who often have very bizarre adventures. For example, there is a little boy who, when he tripped over a shoelace, fell up instead of down. He floated up into the sky and the experience would surely have been amazing except for the fact that he got so dizzy and sick to his stomach that he “threw down.”
   Then there are poems that capture moments in a child’s life that are very familiar. In Diving Board we meet a boy who has made sure that the diving board is “nice and straight” and that is can “stand the weight.” He has verified that it “bounces right,” and that his toes “can get a grip.” The only thing left to do is to dive, but we cannot help thinking that perhaps that is the one thing he won’t do.
   Writer Waiting captures another familiar situation to perfection. A child sits in front of a computer, a wonderful device that can do so many things that a writer does not need a “writing tutor.” The computer can spell and punctuate, “edit and select,” “copy and correct.” The one thing that it cannot do is figure out what you should write about.
   The cartoon style illustrations that accompany the poems in this book often add a great deal to the writing, and in some cases they provide a visual punchline that readers will thoroughly enjoy.
   This wonderful special edition volume includes twelve poems that were not included in the original 1996 copy of this title. The author’s family very kindly agreed to share these poems and their accompanying drawings with readers, and what a gift they have given us.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sleep Tight Farm

This morning I woke up to find that it had snowed in the night. The trees and shrubs in our garden, and the grape vines in the vineyard looked as if they had been tucked up under a cozy, fluffy eiderdown. I was grateful that I had managed to get everything ready for the colder months in time, though the baby olive trees in their pots still need to be put under cover so that they don't freeze.

Getting a farm ready for the winter is not an easy task, and in today's picture book you will get to spend some time with a family who spend many busy days putting their farm to bed for the cold season.


Sleep Tight Farm: A Farm Prepares for WinterSleep tight farm: A farm prepares for winter
Eugenie Doyle
Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2016, 978-1-4521-2901-3
It is December and the days are getting shorter and darker. The big hay and corn fields are empty, the trees are bare, and all is quiet, but at the farm the people are busy; it is time to put the farm “to bed” for the winter.
   Out into the cold morning they go to cover the strawberry plants with hay so that they will be protected from “winter’s frosty bite.”  Raspberry plants are also prepared for the winter, their canes cut back so they cannot be cracked by wind and snow.
   The last of the fall vegetable crops, kale, carrots, beets and potatoes, are harvested and stored in the barn. The hay was brought in weeks ago and now Dad goes out into the field to plant a cover crop so that the fields are replenished before the next season.
   Wood is chopped so that the house will be kept warm through the winter months, and the chicken coop and bee hives are winterized so that the chickens and bees will be warm and safe. This is much to do before the farm and it people can take a well-earned rest.
   In this wonderful picture book we see how the members of a family work together to get their farm ready for winter. There is a lot of work to be done, and at the same time there is a lot of gratitude to offer up for all that the farm has given the family in the spring, summer, and fall. The farm has been good to them and they have not forgotten this.
  

                                              

Friday, December 2, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Everybody was a baby once

Anyone who has watched a young child listening to someone reading a nursery rhyme to them knows that young children have a natural appreciation for rhymes and verse. Their minds are open to the wonderful possibilities that are inherent in poetry. Today's poetry title was written especially for young children, and it offers them the gift of humor and wonderful language.

Everybody Was a Baby Once: and Other PoemsEverybody was a baby once and other poems
Allan Ahlberg
Illustrated by Bruce Ingman
Poetry Book
For ages 2 to 4
Candlewick Press, 2010, 978-0-7636-4682-0
Poetry can enrich the lives of readers of all ages, but all too often older children and adults are reluctant to explore the world of poetry because they think that poetry is not for them. Thankfully, young children are more open to receiving the gift of poetry. Indeed, they often embrace the world of poems and have a natural affinity for them.
   In this splendid book young children will encounter a collection of poems that will beautifully resonate with their interests, their sense of humor, and their love of stories. For example, in When I was a Little Child they will ‘meet’ a child who tells them what life was like when he was young. When you are small the world you interact with is very different because of your size and because so much of what you see and experience is new and exciting. A bath is “like the sea” and a high chair is a “mighty tower.” Stairs seem to go to “mountaintops” and a father is “like a tree.”
   As they explore this book children will encounter some poems that provide them with information. They learn what to do if they meet a witch, and what monsters like to eat. For example at breakfast time monsters munch on “Tadpole toasties” and “Dreaded wheat,” and for dinner they have “moldy greens” and “Human beans.” Knowing such important facts about monsters is vital for one’s education after all.
   There are also story poems of all kinds that will surely amuse little children and their grownups. Who can resist a story about how snowmen used to be “In the good old days / When snow was snow,” and the one about a soccer match that took place between two teams of animals, with elephants on one side and insects on the other. One can only imagine how such a game would turn out.
   This is a wonderful book to share with young children. It not only introduces children to the magic of poetry, but it gives adults the opportunity to share some precious, bookish, time with the child or children in their lives.