Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Books of Hope - The Sandwich Swap

The events in Charlottesville last weekend left many people feeling very angry, upset, and discouraged. How, they ask, is it possible that there are still such enormous divisions in our country? Why are so many people fueled by hate instead of compassion?

Today's book shows to get effect how two school girls discover first hand how prejudice can change the way they see a person. They discover how important it is to think about your feelings instead of blindly reacting to them.

The Sandwich Swap
Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator:  Tricia Tusa
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Hyperion , 2010, 978-1423124849
Lily and Salma are the best of friends. At school, they draw together, play together, and eat lunch together. The girls are so much alike, except that they eat very different foods for lunch. Salma has a hummus and pita sandwich, and Lily has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Salma thinks Lily’s lunch looks “strange and gross,” and Lily thinks Salma’s lunch looks “weird and yucky,” but both girls keep their feelings to themselves.
   Then one day Lily can no longer keep her opinion to herself, and she tells Salma what that she thinks Salma’s food looks “yucky.” Not surprisingly, Salma’s feelings are hurt and she gets angry, and she responds by saying that Lily’s food “looks gross, and it smells bad too!”
   That afternoon the girls avoid one another, and the next day they don’t have lunch together. Worse still, some of the kids in school are supporting Lily, while others are supporting Salma, and a state of war reigns in the lunchroom. Then, to Lily and Salma’s horror, a food fight breaks out. How did their silly disagreement create such an unfortunate situation?
   It is all too easy to negatively judge people who are different simply because they are different. With their wonderful story, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan and Kelly DiPucchio explore the idea that the first step towards tolerance and understanding is to have an open mind and to be willing try new things. All too often, people decide that something is “yucky” without even trying it. They decide that a person is “weird” because they look and sound different.
   One hopes that many children and their families will read this picture book, and take in the important message it contains.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of There, There

I am very lucky because I have wonderful friends and family members who are kind and patient, and who support me when I am feeling sorry for myself because of my health issues. I mostly manage to stay cheerful, but sometimes I get crabby and fussy and that's the truth. In today's book you are going to meet a hare who is being whiny. There really is not other way to describe his behavior. Luckily, the hare has a wonderful friend who puts up with his annoying behavior. Up to a point.

There, ThereThere, There
Tim Beiser
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra, 2017, 978-1-77049-752-8
It is a summer, the season for outdoor games, frolics, and picnics, and yet on this summer day it is pouring with rain and the hare is very upset that he is forced to bide indoors. “Rain is boring” he says to his friend and den mate, the bear. The bear, being a good friend, comforts the hare by saying “Poor thing! There, there!”
   The hare, unlike his friend who is doing his best to keep busy by baking some muffins, goes on to whine and fuss about the rain. He even goes so far as to kick a chair in a fit of pique, which of course hurts his toe and makes him cry. Then the hare goes too far. He accuses his friend of not caring, which is clearly not the case. The bear has been very sympathetic and patient, but now his patience has reached a breaking point. Soon the hare finds himself out in the rain where he is introduced to a creature whose life is considerably less pleasant than his own.
   It is all too easy, when things are not going our way, to become ungrateful and grumpy. In this book readers will meet a hare who takes his rainy day frustration a little too far. Children will laugh as the narrative in verse unfolds, and they will appreciate the comical ending.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book of Hope - Someday a Tree

Losing someone or something that you love is never easy. In today's Book of Hope you will meet a little girl whose favorite tree gets sick. She has to go through the painful process of letting it go, but then she finds something that offers her hope that perhaps all is not lost after all.

Someday a Tree
Eve Bunting
Illustrator:  Ronald Himler
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Clarion, 1996, 978-0395764787
Alice and her family love the big oak tree that stands across Far Meadow. They can see it from their house, and it has been there for as long as Alice can remember. Alice has had countless picnics beneath the tree, heard lots of stories under its leaves, and she has napped with her dog Cinco on the cool grass in its shadows many a time. Now something is wrong with the oak tree. Someone has poisoned it and the tree is very sick indeed.
   The whole community pitches in to try to save the tree. The poisoned soil is taken away and is replaced with clean soil. The tree is shaded with sunscreens and the leaves are washed. Get well gifts are sent. There comes a time though when Alice has to accept that her beloved tree is not going win this fight and she feels as if her heart is going to break. Then she remembers that she has a treasure sitting on her dresser in her bedroom. Perhaps there is some hope after all.
   In this picture book Eve Bunting shows her readers that a tree is not just a piece of wood with some leaves stuck to it. It is a beautiful living breathing thing that provides all kinds of creatures with a home. Trees also provide people with a place to meet and play, they give families memories and stories, and when something happens to them, their loss is often keenly felt.
   The strong environmental message in this evocative picture book will help young readers understand that what we put into the earth greatly affects plants and animals. She tempers her message by giving her readers hope. Though Alice cannot save the tree, she can do something to honor its memory in a special way.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Family Reunion

I don't come from a big family, and the family members I do have are spread out all over the world so I don't see them very often. I often wish my cousins, uncle, and mother lived closer so that we could get together every so often. Thankfully I had a growing adopted family in my town and so we get together on a regular basis to spend time together. There is nothing quite like these times, when I look around my dinner table and see the faces of the people who are near and dear to me.

Today I bring you a poetry book that tells the story of a family reunion. We meet the family members and share in their special day from start to finish, and the experience is a delightful one.

Family Reunion
Marilyn Singer
Family ReunionIllustrated by R. W. Alley
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 1994, 978-0027828832
It is August, and sixty-two members of a family are going to be gathering for a family reunion. The night before the big day a little girl and her parents anxiously look at the television to find out what the weather will be like. Will their grand and much anticipated reunion be washed out or will the sun shine?
   The next morning the sun is out and everyone heads for Small Park, which is not small at all. They come laden down with toys, babies, food, chairs, and grills. Pulling wagons and holding onto the hands of toddlers they come. The family members have come to the park by bus, airplane, car, train, wheelchair, and every other conveyance that you can think of.
   Tables are covered with tablecloths and the food is brought out. The little girl notices that everyone eats corn in a different way. Aunt Alicia, who is always so prim and proper, cuts the kernels off using a knife and fork. Baby Ben takes one bite out of five cobs, and Uncle Henry talks while he chomps away, “spraying pith and corn juice / on everyone nearby.”
   Bobby goes under the table where the five grandmas are sitting and yells “Yo, Grandma.” Naturally all five grandmas look up and try to find the source of the call. This is the fourth time that Bobby has played with particular trick on the grandmas and every time he laughs.
   Cousin George is an altogether different kind of person. He is not a trickster or a joker, he is an arguer. He will argue about anything and everything just for the sake of it. He insists that a dandelion is a daisy, and that a Pekingese is a poodle. When he insists that an insect is cicada and not a centipede he gets Max so angry that Max puts the insect down Cousin George’s back. Now Cousin George is too busy wriggling and jumping around to argue with anyone.
   This wonderful collection of poems allows us to share a special summer day with a very large, colorful, exuberant, and interesting collection of people. A meal is eaten, games are played, and in the end the family members are left with a glorious memory, and a family photo, that they will cherish for years to come.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Books of Hope - The Midwife's apprentice

The Midwife’s Apprentice
In today's Books of Hope title you will meet a character whose life is quite miserable and hopeless. In her world people like her are rejected by society and their prospects for a happy life are few. Then something unbelievable happens and she is given the opportunity to change her path; if she can learn to adapt and grow.

The Midwife’s Apprentice
Karen Cushman
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
HarperCollins, 1996, 978-0064406307
When we first meet her the girl is a cowed, filthy little person who is taking refuge in a dung heap where there is warmth. Homeless, unwanted, and unloved, she wanders from village to village, often persecuted by the village boys, frequently hungry, and always aware that she is a nothing and a nobody.
   By chance the girl asks the village midwife for a piece of bread which the midwife, Jane Sharp, agrees to give her if the girl will do some work for her. The arrangement becomes a permanent one. The girl - whom everyone calls Beetle or Dung Beetle - cleans, cooks, collects and prepares herbs, and works hard for the midwife. In exchange she has shelter and adequate, though never quite enough, food.
   Over time Beetle gains confidence. She discovers that under all the dirt she is not an unattractive girl, and that she has curly hair and pretty dark eyes. She decides that she will no longer be called Beetle and names herself Alice. Quite by chance Alice is the only person available when one of the village women needs helps delivering her baby, and though the ordeal is a long and hard one, in the end Alice brings a healthy baby girl into the world. Alice is now ready to think that she can do anything. Perhaps she too can be a respected and valued midwife one day. Then alas, Alice has a setback and because of this event Alice begins to think once again that she is a nobody who has nothing to offer. She has yet to learn that life is full of setbacks and that her only hope is to keep on trying no matter how many times she is challenged.
   In this powerful, often touching, sometimes humorous book, Karen Cushman once again takes her reader back in time. In this instance we visit to a medieval English village where life is hard, and where a homeless orphaned child has a very hard time finding a place she can call home. Alice has to earn the respect of those around her, and she also has to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Is she Alice, the Midwife’s apprentice, or is she Beetle, a lonely little waif who takes what life throws at her?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Dance is for Everyone

A few years ago I joined a hula dance school and I love being a part of this unique community. One of the many wonderful things about this school is that everyone is welcome. We are young and not so young, tall and small, slender and curvy. Some of us have health issues, but we dance anyway. We help each other out, and accept everyone into our ohana, our family.

Today I bring your the story of another dance school where all are welcome. In this particular case the newest student is rather unusual, and she also presents the teacher with some unexpected problems to solve.

Dance Is for EveryoneDance is for Everyone
Andrea Zuill
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Sterling, 2017, 978-1-4549-2114-1
One day a rather unusual new student comes to Mrs. Iraina’s ballet class. The student is a very large and very green 450-pound alligator. Not surprisingly no one makes a fuss when the alligator starts working at the barre with the other students. Although the alligator does not understand human speech, she is very good at following along and so that is what she does.
   The students get used to having the alligator in the class and they even decide to give her a name. They call her Tanya because she looks rather like a famous prima ballerina called Tanya Prefontaine. The problem with Tanya is that she is too strong, and her tail has a habit of getting in the way. She really is too big for Mrs. Iraina’s human-sized dance studio.
     In short, Mrs. Iraina and her students have a problem and they have no idea what to do about it. They don’t want to hurt Tanya’s feelings because this might make her “grumpy or bitey.” And even if they did try to talk to Tanya about her wayward tail and supersized strength, there is no way to convey what they want to say because none of them speak alligator.
   Mrs. Iraina and her students are going to have to come up come up with a solution that will work for everyone.
   Sometimes someone joins a group who is a little different and who perhaps does not quite fit in. All too often this person is made to feel that they don’t belong and cannot be a part of the group. In this delightful picture book a ballet teacher and her students find a creative way to make an alligator feel welcome in their dance class. They choose the path of inclusion rather than exclusion. Of course, they also show very good sense because we are, after all, talking about an alligator, and upsetting an alligator is probably not a good idea!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of When Green becomes tomatoes: Poems for all seasons

I love living in a place where there are four seasons. I look forward to the crisp air of the fall, the cozy days by the fire in winter, the first signs of life in spring, and the bright skies and warm sun of summer. Each season is packed with gifts that I can anticipate and then enjoy. Today's poetry title celebrates some of these gifts using beautiful language and charming illustrations.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All SeasonsWhen Green becomes tomatoes: Poems for all seasons
Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
For ages 6 to 8
Roaring Brook Press, 2016, 978-1-59643-852-1
We live in a world where we are constantly being told that we need this thing or that thing to be happy and to feel fulfilled. The truth of the matter is that often the things that truly make us happy are the simple ones, the ones that are all around us and often free for the taking: seeing the first daffodil in spring, tasting the first bite of summer watermelon, jumping in a pile of leaves in the fall, and watching the snow fall in winter. These are seasonal gifts that are both priceless and precious.
   In this wonderful poetry collection Julie Fogliano brings us delightful little poems that are paired with expressive illustrations to take us through the year a season at a time. We begin in spring when a bird perching on a snow-covered tree branch starts to sing, “each tweet poking / a tiny hole / through the edge of winter.” Another messenger of spring is a little crocus “a tiny, blue hello” that sends its little blossoms up through the snow.
   In summer we have “a day that drips / hot and thick like honey,” and on that day the narrator will find respite from the heat by swimming in the river. Summer is the season of fireflies, ripening tomatoes, and picnics on the beach, where plums and peanut butter sandwiches are “a little bit salty / and warm from the sun.”
   No matter how much we love “sunshine and swimming and sea / and strawberries,” when September arrives many of us are eager to “move on / to something that’s new.” This is the time when we wait for sweater weather, “when notebooks are new” and when leaf jumping is around the corner.
   Then in December, we wake up one morning to see that the first snow has fallen; “just like magic” it has arrived “on tiptoes / overnight.” Under a canopy of snow, pretty trees become stunning and things that we would consider unattractive are “suddenly beautiful / with snow on top.”
   Though minimalist in nature, the poems in this collection are rich with emotion and imagery.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books of Hope - Next Year

When I began to read today's Book of Hope I was appalled by the suffering that the main character, a child, was subjected to. He was living on a farm that was located in the dust bow,l and almost everything that he held dear, the things that made life worth living, were gone. I asked myself how I would have coped if I had been in his shoes. Then, as the story unfolded further I began to see glimmers of hope. The boy who should have been ground down by years of suffering was instead held up by something powerful and unstoppable.

Next YearNext Year
Ruth Vander Zee
Illustrator:  Gary Kelley
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Creative Editions, 2017   ISBN: 978-1568462820
On April 14th, 1935, the sun comes up and a beautiful, cool, and clear morning is born. Calvin runs over to his cousin’s house and the children play together, delighting in the “hopeful day.” Alas, in the late afternoon a dust cloud blows in, a wall of blackness that blots out the sky and the sun. Calvin cannot see where he is going as he heads home, his hand on a fence so that he does not get lost.
   When he walks in the door of his home he is met by another cloud, a deep feeling of despair. His mother stands ankle deep in sand, and his father sits at the table looking like “a beaten-up kid.”
   Not that long ago Calvin got to enjoy clear skies, rain, and the sight of golden wheat ripening in the fields. He got to enjoy seeing his mother’s pretty smiling face, to drink milk that wasn’t gritty, and to sleep on a clean pillow every night. Then, four years ago everything changed when the rain stopped and dust storms scoured the land. Crops withered or were eaten by hungry rabbits, cattle had to be sold before they perished, and children started dying of dust pneumonia. Year after year Calvin’s dad said ‘“Next year it’s gonna get better,”’ but it hasn’t got better.
   Worn out by disappointment and heartache, Calvin’s dad is desperate, and so Calvin sets about learning everything he can about better methods of farming. Perhaps if they change their practices the land will heal and the rain will come back. Perhaps he can save the farm in spite of everything.
   This powerful picture book brings to life what it was like to live through the dust bowl years on a farm that was affected by this appalling natural disaster.  We are witnesses to the suffering that Calvin and his family are subjected to, but we also witness the way in which Calvin does his best to bring about change. Somehow he clings to hope, even when everything feels hopeless.
   Throughout the book a lyrical text is paired with beautiful artwork to give readers a reading experience that is both deeply moving and memorable.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Around the World Right Now

When I was little calling up someone who lived on the other side of the world was a big deal. I remember how we carefully kept track of how long we stayed on the line because international calls were so expensive. These days we think nothing of connecting with someone who lives far away because there are new technologies at our disposal that make communication so easy. The world has grown smaller, and yet it is still a big place. A place so big that there are twelve time zones spanning our planet.

Today's picture book takes children on a journey through these time zones, and we see how alike, and also how different the people in distant parts of the world are. We get a sense of how big and varied our world is; and how marvelous and beautiful it is.

Around the World Right NowAround the world right now
Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard
Illustrated by Olivia Beckman
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2017, 978-1-58536-976-8
Many of us have family members and friends who live in other states and countries, and we understand that this means that we do not share the same time zone. What we frequently don’t fully understand is that there are twenty-four times zones around the world, and “each and every one of them is happening right now.” What an extraordinary idea!
   In this clever picture book the author takes us on a trip around the world, one time zone at a time, beginning in San Francisco and going west from there. It is six o’clock in the morning when we begin in California. The cable car is going by with a “clickety-clack” as it makes its way to Fisherman’s Wharf.
   When we travel west we come to Santa Fe where it is seven o’clock in the morning. Here the sun is higher in the sky, shining down on an artist who is painting in the Plaza.
   While he is painting his masterpiece, it is eight o’clock in New Orleans, and people are sitting in the Café Du Monde sipping coffee and eating beignets. Jazz musicians are playing nearby. At exactly the same time, in New York City, people are busily crossing the streets in throngs, heading to work.
   On we go around the world, visiting people in Canada and Brazil. We land on an island in the Atlantic, stop in Greenland, and then go on to London, Rome, and Cape Town. We see people playing, working, eating, and exploring their worlds.
   With every step west that we go, we encounter a new culture in a new time zone, and we get to see how varied these places are. We also get to appreciate that a thread of commonality connects us all, no matter where we live. We may be getting up in the morning while someone in India is going to sleep, but we all have hopes and dreams, and we all love our friends and family members.
   The authors and illustrator of this book have found a creative way to explore time zones, while at the same time celebrating the beauty and diversity of our world.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Out and About: A First book of Poems

There are some children's book authors and illustrators out there who have a gift for capturing golden childhood moments; moments like the joy of playing in puddles, and the happiness that children experience when they spray each other with a garden hose. These are everyday experiences, and yet they are precious all the same. Shirley Hughes is one of these author illustrators, and today I bring a poetry picture book that she created. The title is packed with those glorious moments that make life rich and worthwhile.

Out and About: A First Book of PoemsOut and About: A first book of poems
Shirley Hughes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0763676445
It is spring and a little girl, wearing a pair of shiny, new wellington boots, runs down the front path, a stick in hand, eager to “scamper and shout.” There is so much to do and see at this time of year, and the little girl is delighted when she finds some wonderful mud puddles. There is nothing like playing in mud that is “slippy, sloppy, squelchy.”
   Of course, mud only comes about when there is rain. All too often spring is a rainy time of year. It is a time of “Wet umbrellas” and, alas, the “Running noses, / Damp feet” that often go with wet weather.
   Soon enough, overcast skies fade away and the sun comes out. Summer arrives, the days get warm, and the little girl can indulge her love of water, this time by going to the swimming pool, by sloshing it out of buckets and spraying it out of a hose. A baby pool full of water in a garden offers hours of entertainment for the little girl, her little brother and their friends. Spraying hoses produce lots of “shrieks,” laughter, and wonderful “Squirting rainbows.”
   Fall is a time for “feasts” for people and animals alike. The little girl goes to the farmer’s market with her mother and brother to get “juicy plums and stripy marrows” and pumpkins for Hallowe’en. Mice gather grains of barley, birds eat berries, and squirrels “hoard nuts.”
  Winter brings misty mornings and sometimes sick days, which are hard to bear. All the little girl can think about as she lies in bed, fretting, is “When will I be better? / When can I get up?” Thankfully this is also the time of year when Christmas comes, bringing with it “Decorations / On a tree,” “hot mince pies” and “A Christmas surprise!”
   This lovely collection of little poems beautifully captures the joys and woes of a little child’s life as the seasons unfold. Delightful, heart-warming illustrations take us in to the little girl’s world and they remind us that so many gifts wait for us when we are out and about.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Books of Hope - Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging

On Monday of this week, everything seemed to go wrong, and by the time the day started to draw to a close I was feeling stressed, grumpy, and convinced that the world was out to get me. I was, in short, a mess. I could not see all the good things in my life because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. And annoyed.

Luckily an episode of The Big Band Theory saved me. I laughed so much that I was brought to my senses. I saw that my attitude needed an adjustment, and I was able to make that change. Thank goodness for the things in life that make us laugh. They give our mood a lift, give us a break from our woes, and ultimately give us hope that all is not lost.

Today I bring you a book that made we howl with laughter when I first read it. If you are having a hard time and need a pick-me-up, I suggest you give this book a try.

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal SnoggingAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging
Louise Rennison
Fiction  Series
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2000, 978-0060288143
Georgia Nicolson has a pretty normal life. She goes to school, she has a best friend, her parents are an embarrassment, and she thinks her teachers are on the planet to make her life a misery. Pretty normal teenage stuff. Of course, Georgia has her own quirky personal crises going on. She thinks she is ugly and that her nose is too big. Her little sister sometimes pees in Georgia’s bed, and Georgia has humiliated herself by dressing up as a stuffed olive for a costume party. In addition there is Angus, Georgia’s wildcat, who terrorizes the neighbor’s poodle. No one really knows what to do with him.
   Georgia stumbles along worrying about the first day of school, her looks, and other teenage preoccupations. Then everything gets a lot more complicated. It begins when Georgia’s friend Jas falls for Tom, a boy who works at a local shop. Georgia goes to the shop with Jas one day – so that Jas can ‘accidentally’ run into Tom - and she meets Tom’s brother, a “Sex God” who makes Georgia feel weak at the knees. Suddenly Georgia’s deficiencies in the looks department and her lack of experience with boys become a huge problem. Trying to win the Sex God is now one of the most important things in Georgia’s life.
   Georgia starts taking kissing lessons, and she tries to find ways to make herself more alluring. She spies on the girl the Sex God is going out with, and she dreams about what it would be like to be the Sex God’s girlfriend. Will Georgia’s dreams come true, or will she have to settle for being a nun?
   In this hilarious book, we get to meet an English teenager who is, like most teenagers, utterly wrapped up in her own world. To Georgia, her problems with the Sex God are the most important thing ever. The whole world should be aware of the trials and tribulations that she has to deal with.
   Louise Rennison has written Georgia’s story in the form of diary entries, and readers will have a hard time keeping a straight face as they follow Georgia’s triumphs and misadventures. Anyone who wonders what goes on in a teenager's head will get the shock of their life when they read about this irreverent, droll, and utterly lovable girl.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Away

Leaving your family for the first time to have a sleepover, or to go to summer camp, can be a little frightening for a child. Even though you are told what to expect, you still cannot be sure what awaits you. In today's picture book you will meet a mother and child who have a unique, and often amusing, way of coping with an upcoming separation.

Emil Sher
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2017, 978-1-55498-483-1
Summer vacation is just around the corner and soon a little girl will be heading off to summer camp for the first time. She does not want to go. At all. She and her mother are both busy people, and so they leave sticky notes for each other around the house. In her notes the little girl makes it clear that she is not going to camp, “Not EVER!”
   Back and forth the notes between the two go. Mom tells her daughter that she has got her bug spray, which everyone knows is a necessity at camp. Her daughter, in response, tells her mother that she cannot leave Lester, the family cat, because he needs her too much. On the family calendar Mom adds a sticky note indicating that she and Lester will have a “movie night” while the little girl is gone.
   Then Mimsy, Mom’s mother, comes to visit, and the little girl finds out that when Mom left for camp she cried. Mom explains that her tears “didn’t last” and her memories of sleepover camp are still “as warm as biscuits.”
   Going away from home to attend summer camp for the first time can be hard at first. This wonderful story shows us how a mother reassures her little girl about the upcoming adventure. We also see how the two of them have a warm and loving relationship that is full of humor, patience, and good times. Children will enjoy seeing how Lester the cat manages to get himself included in most of the scenes in the story. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of W is for Woof: A dog alphabet

For many people their dogs are much loved and valued members of the family. We humans spend a great deal of time caring for our dogs, and we often take them with us wherever we go. There is a very good reason for all this: dogs are marvelous companions. They freely give us their loyalty and devotion; they forgive us for our failings and love us unconditionally. I have wonderful dogs in my life, so I am delighted to bring you a book today that is a bookish celebration of all things canine.

W Is for Woof: A Dog Alphabet W Is for Woof: A Dog Alphabet
Ruth Strother
Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Nonfiction and Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008, 978-1585363438
Though dogs come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, they all belong to the same species, Canis familiaris. Over the centuries, humans have bred dogs for certain characteristics, which is why there are so many different kinds today.
   These facts are just a few of the things you will learn about dogs when you read this book. Presented in the form of an alphabet book, this title looks at a wide variety of topics that relate to dogs. For each letter of the alphabet, the author has chosen a topic that is explored using a short four line rhyming poem, an illustration, and a section of text.
   For example the letter D is for “domestication.” A short poem explains what domestication is, and the text expands on this concept by explaining that some scientists think that dogs were domesticated by humans 40,000 to 135,000 years ago. Our pet’s ancestors were probably wolves who were drawn to the settlements of humans, and who were tamed and bred to guard and hunt.
   The letter L is for “love.” Anyone who has had a dog in their lives will know that one thing that you can always count on when it comes to dogs is that they will be your companion and they will love you. As the poem on the L page says: “You can count on this love to always be true.” The love and devotion of dogs is one of the biggest reasons why so many humans choose to share their lives with these wonderful animals.
   Packed with fascinating information, this picture book can be enjoyed on several levels. Young readers will enjoy the poems and the artwork, while older readers will find the longer sections of informative text interesting. This is just one of many alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press, and like all the other titles, it is a book that children can grow up with.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Seashore Book

For me, summer is synonymous with beach time. I grew up on an island in the Mediterranean, and from June until September I went to the beach most weeks. There is nothing like the smell of the sea, the feel of sand between your toes, the sun-touched tiredness that you experience at the end of a day spent at the beach. Today I bring you a picture book that beautifully captures that beach experience in lyrical prose and evocative artwork.

The Seashore Book
The Seashore BookCharlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2017, 978-1-58089-787-7
One day a little boy who lives in the mountains, and who has never seen the sea, asks his mother what the seashore is like. With a smile the little boy’s mother takes her son to the seashore with her words.
   It is early morning at the beach and at this time of day “it’s hard to tell where the sea stops and the sky begins.” At first the sea and the sky are a “smoky gray,” and then the mist starts to change color until the sun breaks through. The little boy runs across the sand, and where the land and the water meets he finds a polished stone and shells, one of which is still occupied by a small animal. Together the mother and son build a sand castle, which the waves then wash away.
   Feeling tired the little boy lies in the warm sun and dozes off. When he wakes up he looks out at the ocean, and watches a little sailboat disappear over the horizon. Then the mother and son have their lunch, and as they eat they watch “small brown sand crabs squiggling at our toes.”
   When the wind starts to cool and clouds start to form in the sky, the mother and son head for home.
   With its emotive text and gorgeous illustrations, this picture book will take readers from their homes and transport them to a beach where seagulls mew, where waves lap at their feet, and where little crabs scuttle into holes in the sand. Just like the little boy who has never been to the seashore, we are taken to a magical place that is peaceful and beautiful.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of I, too, sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry

Many of us take education for granted. It does not occur to us that being able to go to school and university is a privilege. Not that long ago, African Americans were not allowed to learn how to read and write, and even when the doors of schools were finally open to them, the education that they received was mediocre at best.

Luckily for us many African Americans found their voices in spite of racism, segregation, and inequality. They learned how to read and write, they went to school, they put up with all kinds of privations, and they created marvelous stories and poetry. Today's poetry title is a celebration of African American poetry, and the book is packed with poems that delight the ear and excite the mind.

I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American PoetryI, too, sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry
Catherine Clinton
Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
For ages 9 and up
Houghton Mifflin, 2017, 978-0544582569
The slaves who were brought to America were subjected to unspeakable cruelties. Deprived of their family members, their community, their history, their culture, and their language, they were cut off from everything that was familiar. After being sold, they (and many of their descendants) were denied the right to learn how to read and write, but countless creative African Americans found ways to bring glorious language into their lives through song. Then there were those who learned how to read and write in secret; others were lucky enough to be working for enlightened people who allowed them to become educated.  
   In this wonderful book, readers will encounter the stories and the writings of African American poets, beginning with those who were brought to the United States as slaves, and ending with poets who are creating poems for present day readers.
   The collection begins with the story of, and a poem written by, Lucy Terry. Lucy was born in Africa, sold into slavery, and then she went to live in a community in Massachusetts that was greatly affected by an Indian raid which took place on the twenty-fifth of August in 1746. Lucy wrote about the raid in her poem Bars Fight, in which she memorializes the people who died in the attack. The poem was passed down orally from person to person for generations until it was published in 1855.
   Phyllis Wheatley, who was born in the Gambia, was special in that she was greatly supported in her writing journey by the people who bought her. She learned to read and write English, and was only fourteen when her first verse was published. She went on to learn Latin, and a patron helped her find a London publisher for her collection of verse. Phyllis even made the journey across the Atlantic so that she could meet some of her admirers in England. Her poem Liberty and Peace captures her belief in “the principals that fuels the American Revolution and the antislavery movement…”
   We go on to meet George Moses Horton, who, unlike Phyllis, was denied an education and so he wrote his poems in his head. He shared his writings with students who were studying at the nearby University of North Carolina. George’s patrons wanted to buy his freedom but his master refused to allow this. George did find a way to learn how to write, and in all he wrote three volumes of poetry. In his poems George often openly spoke about the “agony of bondage and the desire for liberty” which we can see for ourselves when we read his poem On liberty and slavery. The poem is an appeal that is heartfelt and powerful.
   Other poets whose stories and poems appear in this collection include W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni.
   Readers of all ages will be captivated by this extraordinary collection. We get to know each poet a little by reading their biographies, and then get to experience their writing through their poems. It is interesting to see how the styles and subject matters in the poems changed as the years went by, and to see how the poems were influenced by what was happening in the world at the time when they were written.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Books of Hope: She persisted: 13 Women who changed the world

Sometimes, when our dreams seem hopelessly out of reach, the best thing to do is to listen to stories about people who have kept on trying, kept on dreaming. Hearing about their triumphs over adversity helps us to keep the faith.

Over the centuries many groups of people have found it particularly hard to pursue their dreams because people have stood in their way and have prevented them from moving forward towards their goals. One of these groups has been women, who have been told that they are lesser people because of their gender. Thankfully, some women refused to give in or give up. They persisted!

Today's Book of Hope offers us inspiring stories about women who would not accept the words of doubters and naysayers.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the WorldShe persisted: 13 Women who changed the world
Chelsea Clinton
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2017, 978-1-5247-4172-3
For centuries society has told women that they could not get an education, could not work outside the home, could not own property, could not drive a car, could not do the same jobs as men, could not vote. They have faced a wall of could nots and should nots. And yet they have persisted and did those things that mattered to them most, in spite of it all.
   In this book readers will meet thirteen women who refused to toe the line; who refused to accept that they were lesser people because they were born female. The first woman we meet is Harriet Tubman, who escaped from a life of slavery and who then chose to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Every time she helped someone escape to freedom Harriet risked her own freedom, and every person she assisted “arrived safely.”
   Nellie Bly was a reporter, and in part she took on the challenge of reporting the news because a male writer said that working women were “a monstrosity.” These words made Nellie want to prove that women could do anything that they wanted to. She set about exposing shocking stories to help others. For one story she pretended to be a patient in a mental hospital so that she could tell the world about the horrific way the patients were treated.
   Oprah Winfrey’s grandmother expected that her granddaughter would follow in her footsteps and become a maid. Being both female and African American meant that very few doors were open for Oprah to step through. Oprah refused to be locked into a life that she did not want, and through hard work and determination she became “a media superstar.”
   For each of the thirteen women featured in this book readers will read a little about their life, and they will find a quote that beautifully captures each woman’s fighting spirit. Throughout the book evocative pieces of artwork accompany the text to give readers an altogether memorable reading experience.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The mermaid's Purse

One of my favorite things in this world is a room full of wonderful books. My office has shelves from floor to ceiling on most of the walls for my work books, and one day soon (I hope) I will have a family library as well for all my non-work books. The books we have cover a wide range of topics. Of course there are novels in abundance, but there are also nonfiction titles about gardening, oriental rugs, Siamese cats, biographies, histories, and atlases. There are books about trees, birds and flowers, and titles about trains, wine, food, and so much more. My books make me feel rich and I love them.

Today's picture book title is about a girl's love of books, which she shares with the people around her. The interesting thing to see is how her love of books spreads as people learn to appreciate what books can do for them.

The Mermaid's PurseThe mermaid’s purse
Patricia Polacco
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Penguin, 2016, 978-0-399-16692-1
In 1883, during a fierce storm, a baby girl was born just as a clap of thunder shook the air. The baby was still in the birth membrane when she came into the world, which many people considered to be a sign that the baby was blessed. The baby was named Estella and it soon became clear that she was indeed a blessed child. She walked and talked sooner than most children did, and she taught herself to read at a very young age.
   Estella’s love for the written word was a powerful thing. Every penny she earned she used to buy books. Often she traded paintings she created for books as well. Soon Estella’s book collection filled the upper floor of the farmhouse that she lived in. Her father thought he would soon have to “build you your own library for all these books!” and one day this is exactly what he did. With the help of friends, Estella’s father built his daughter a little building where she could house her book collection.
   Some of the men who helped build the library “scoffed” at Estella’s books, which troubled her a great deal. How could anyone not like books? Estella’s father explained that many of the men who had helped with the library project had probably never even read a book. Being a very determined young girl, Estella decided that she would take books to the neighboring farms, and so she loaded up some of her books into her goat cart and went from farm to farm. Though the local children seemed eager to enjoy her books and her storytelling times, the farmers simply did not accept that Estella’s books were relevant to them. Until she proved how wrong they were.
   This delightful and powerful tale is based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, Estella Barber, who built a library, shared her love of books with others, and taught hundreds of children. Readers will discover, through the story, how valuable book knowledge can be both in good times, and during emergencies.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Animal Ark

I have been an animal lover all my life. When I was very young and living in a small Lebanese mountain village I used to feed the wild tortoises and hedgehogs. I spent hours lying on my belly so that I could watch ants going about their business, and knew where all the tadpole pools and beetle hideouts were. I begged my parents to get me a donkey (after all my friend had one) but they said no and broke my heart.

I still have not had a pet donkey, but a wonderful parade of creatures have been a part of my life. There have been dogs, cats, guinea pigs, Gracie the potbelly pig, Scout and Jemima the ducks, and Nelson, the grumpy one-eyed turtle.

Because I am such an animal mad person I was thrilled to get today's poetry book in the mail. In this book beautiful lines of verse are paired with photographs of wild creatures that could, if we are not careful, become extinct.

Animal Ark
Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and PicturesKwame Alexander
Photographs by Joel Sartore
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
National Geographic, 2017, 978-1-4263-2767-4
We share our planet with a dazzling, remarkable array of animals. The smallest little beetles with their iridescent wing cases; the striped tiger, that “grandfather of the hunt;” the elephant with its “giant stomping feet;” and the tiny beach mouse that goes “scurrying inside dunes” on little pattering feet. All are marvelous and precious, and all need to be saved.
   In this remarkable book the gorgeous and vibrant photos of Joel Sartore are paired with Kwame Alexander’s beautiful, lyrical haiku to create a powerful ode to the “chorus of creatures” that live on this planet of ours. The photos show us a bird that dances, a frog that leaps, and tortoises that steadfastly trundle along carrying their “homes of courage / on humble backs.” We see panda babies snuggled together, and a bird sleeping with his feathers fluffed. We gaze into the eyes of a slow loris, which are as “big as two sunsets.” There is the sweetness of a baby tapir, and the “tiny growls” of a clouded leopard cub.
   All these remarkable living creatures are part of our family, and we are connected to them in countless ways. With these connections come responsibilities. We must protect these “secret siblings” that are all too often adversely affected by our actions. We need to “listen to the earth” and take care of our precious family before it is too late.
   At the back of this beautiful and memorable book, readers will find notes from the photographer and the author, information about haiku, and a directory that gives us the names of the animals shown in the book and the places that they come from. Each one of these thirty-two species are in peril to a greater or lesser degree.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Midsummer Tomte and the Little Rabbits

The summer solstice, midsummer, is only a few days away and in honor of this day I bring you this delightful picture book in which we meet a grumpy tomte. Tomtes are little gnome-like people who are often found living in human homes and on farms. If their human hosts give them a little kind consideration, the tomte will become attached to their people and take care of them in their own small way. The tomte in this story does not have a family anymore, until something happens that turns his life upside down.

The Midsummer Tomte and the Little RabbitsThe Midsummer Tomte and the Little Rabbits 
Ulf Stark
Illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Translated by Susan Beard
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Floris Books, 2016, 978-178250-244-9
Early summer has arrived and change is in the air. Grump the house tomte cleans the farm cottage, just as he does every year, even though the family has not lived there in a long time. He scrubs the floors, shakes out the linens, and polishes the gong in the hall. When he bangs the gong, memories of what the house was like when the family lived there wash over him, and he feels their loss.
   Grump’s mood does not improve when his friend the bee announces that it is time for him to leave. Grump tries to persuade the bee to stay but the bee is eager to be off and he flies away, leaving Grump all on his own. Grump feels that making friends with the bee in the first place was a mistake because it meant that he became attached to the little animal. He has been too friendly and not grumpy enough, he decides. Something has to change.
   Not far away the rabbit family members are busy doing chores and learning about plants. The rabbit children are reminded of the wonderful Christmas celebration that they shared with the tomte and they wish that they could have another festive gathering. Mother Rabbit explains that Christmas will not come around for many months, which is when Uncle Nubbin tells the little rabbits about Midsummer.
   Eager to find out what a Midsummer celebration is, the rabbits go to visit Owl. Owl tells them that Midsummer is a time for wearing hats, dancing, playing, and kissing. It is also “full of magic and love and mystery.”
   Then a summer storm hits and even the rabbits’ safe home under the big oak tree is flooded. Dozens of animals are homeless, drenched, and miserable, and there is no safe place for them to shelter. Then the younger rabbits suggest that they take refuge in Grump’s cottage, and off they go. Soon they are joined by Grump’s bee friend, who also needs a safe and dry place to rest. Grump, who does not want to form attachments, suddenly finds himself surrounded by friends.
   Midsummer is only a few days away and some of the animals think about celebrating. Then they discover that one of their own is dangerously sick. No one can think about having a party when Rory’s life hangs in a balance. Even Grump, who tries not to feel things, is sad and upset.
   This wonderful picture book takes readers into a delightful woodland world where the rabbits and their friends, and a grumpy house tomte, live. Divided into short chapters, the story takes us into the lives of the characters, and we get to watch as they discover new things about love, magic, and friendship.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Books of Hope - The House at Pooh Corner

I have said it before and I will say it again: these are trying times. For the most part the news is full of stories about loss, suffering, and evil-doing. It is depressing. What does one do in such times? Eating a lot of chocolate is a good place to start, but, alas, the pleasure eating chocolate gives does not last long, and the consumption of said delight inevitably leads to feelings of guilt.

I am firm believer in the therapeutic power of books, and so I always find myself turning to old book friends in times of trouble. One of my favorite book friends is the book The House at Pooh Corner. One cannot read this book without cracking a smile, which then leads to one experiencing a softening of the edges feeling. By the time the last page is read, the heart is eased, and hope starts to gather itself up once more,

The House at Pooh Corner 
A. A. Milne
Illustrator:  Ernest H. Shepard
Fiction  Series
For ages 5 and up
Penguin, 1988, 978-0525444442
It seems as if we have only just begun to get to know Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, and yet here we are having to prepare ourselves to say goodbye already. And yet there are still a few more stories that need to be told before we leave. The stories include, among others, a tale about a Heffalump, one about the search for Small, and we hear about how Tigger comes to the forest.
   Indeed, Tigger features quite prominently in this collection of tales. He arrives in the middle of the night, full of enthusiasm and bounces. He tells Pooh that Tiggers like to eat everything, but they soon find out that this is not quite true. Tiggers do not like honey, nor do they care for haycorns. And as for thistles, well they are far too hot and have “too many spikes.” It becomes clear that it is going to be no easy task to find out what Tiggers do like to eat.
   Thankfully, Tigger does find out what his favorite food is and, to the relief of everyone, he goes to live with Kanga and Roo. Then the bouncy animal and Roo get into a spot of bother when the two friends decide to climb a tree. It turns out that that Tiggers are very good at getting up trees but they are not very skilled at getting down.
   There can be no doubt that this book will appeal to readers of all ages. Children will love to hear about the simple adventures that Pooh and his friends have. Older readers will discover that Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood world is not that different from the one that we live in. The mistakes that are made and the confusions that are occur sound awfully familiar. As for the characters, well they are so like real people that we almost expect to see Rabbit living next door. After all, we all know people who like to be admired – like Rabbit – and others who like to pretend that they know more than they actually do – like Owl. There are those quiet and shy little folks who dream of being a hero one day – like Piglet, and finally there are those who don’t realize that they have a lot more to offer the world than they think they do – like Pooh himself.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Niko Draws a Feeling

I once had a teacher who thought that his interpretation of a poem, play, or novel was the only interpretation that was worth anything. When I tried to offer up my ideas about what I thought the writer was saying, I was firmly shot down. I found this very annoying. Everyone brings their own perspective to the table when it comes to interpreting a piece of writing, a piece of music, or a work of art. Similarly, writers, musicians, and artists perceive the world in different ways.

In this picture book readers will meet a little boy who loves to draw feelings, and unfortunately no one really understands his art. His friends and family members think he should be drawing things rather than emotions, and they are confused by his creations. They do not understand that Niko has a different way of seeing and interacting with his world.

Niko Draws a Feeling Niko Draws a Feeling
Bob Raczka
Illustrations by Simone Shin
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Carolrhoda, 2017, 978-1-4677-9843-3
Niko loves to draw pictures and he is constantly being inspired by the things that he sees around him. The thing about Niko is that he likes to draw feelings, sounds, and sensations rather than things. Instead of drawing the ice cream truck, he draws the ‘ring-a-ling’ sound that the ice cream truck bell makes. Instead of drawing the autumn sun, he draws the sensation of the sun’s warmth on his face. Instead of drawing a mother robin that is hard at work building her nest he draws her work, her labors as she builds her nest.
   Niko loves his unique creative process and the way in which inspiration comes to him, but he cannot help feeling a little sad that his friends, parents, and teacher don’t understand his art. Not being able to share what he is doing with others is hard, and life is a little lonely for the boy. One day he draws a self-portrait of his feelings and he puts this portrait behind a door. No one will understand it anyway.
   Then, one day a girl called Iris moves in next door, and something truly remarkable happens.
   This wonderful book celebrates the creative process and explores the idea that people see and experience the world in different ways. The important thing to remember is to be open to those differences, because you never know what new wonders you will discover if you do.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Darkest Dark

Facing your fears is never easy to do. Imagine what it would be like to be a chef who is afraid of knives, or a doctor who has a fear of needles. In this clever picture book biography you will meet a little boy who loves to pretend that he is an astronaut and who is fascinated by space. Perhaps he even dreams of going up into space one day. There is a problem though; the little boy is afraid of the dark.

The Darkest DarkThe Darkest Dark
Chris Hadfield
Illustrated by the Fan Brothers
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra Books, 2017, 978-1-101-91862-3
Chris loves pretending that he is an astronaut. In fact, he is often so busy flying around in his cardboard rocket, saving the planet from aliens or visiting Mars, that he has a hard time making time for baths and bedtime. After all “An astronaut’s work is never done,” and they don’t like wasting time on sleep. The problem is that Chris’ parents do like to sleep and so they are not best pleased when Chris climbs into bed with them. Nor are they too thrilled when he tells them that the darkness in his room is the kind that “attracts the worst sorts of aliens.”
   Some parents might give in at this point and let their son sleep with them, but Chris’ parents are putting their feet down. Chris will get over his fear of the dark and he will sleep in his own bed. They check to make sure that his room is “100 percent alien free,” they turn on his night light, and they even give him a bell to ring if he gets nervous. Then they take the bell away.
   Chris is then told that he needs to stop his fooling around because if he doesn’t he will not be able to attend the special event that is going to take place at their neighbor’s house the next day. Being able to go next door the next day is so important to Chris that he stays in his bed, and after a long time he falls asleep. What Chris does not know yet is that his experiences the next day will change how he feels about the dark, and it will influence the choices that he makes in his life in the future.
   Written by the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space, this wonderful picture book shows young readers how a single event can change ones perspective and even change one’s life. In Chris’ case what he saw that on that special night at his neighbor’s house planted the seed of a dream in his heart, and it was a dream that he never gave up on. He worked hard until the day came when he finally got his chance to go into space.
   At the back of the book young readers will find further information about Chris Hadfield. They can also read a message from Chris, and see photos of him when he was a little boy and when he was an adult working in space at the International Space Station.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Books of Hope - The Year the Swallows Came Early

There are many things that, when they take over our lives, take away our ability to hope. One of these things is anger. Anger is an ugly, burning emotion that destroys hope, and it can truly warp a person until he or she has completely forgotten how amazing life can be. Today's Book of Hope celebrates the way in which forgiveness can triumph over hate, and as the story unfolds we are able to see how this shift makes it possible for hope to grow and blossom.

The Year the Swallows Came EarlyThe Year the Swallows Came Early
Kathryn Fitzmaurice
For ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2004, 978-0061624971
Groovy Robinson's father has been arrested and taken to jail. This is terrible and devastating thing to happen, but what makes it even worse is the fact that Groovy's mother was the one who had him arrested. Feeling shocked and betrayed, Groovy cannot understand why her mother would do such a thing, and she feels as if her whole life has been turned upside down.
   Groovy loves cook and to think about food. In her opinion one can match food to situations and to people. Groovy loves cooking so much in fact, that she hopes to go to culinary school when she gets older. Groovy's great-grandmother Eleanor left Groovy some money, which Groovy hopes to use to pay for her schooling. She is therefore devastated when she learns that the reason why her father is in jail is because he took her inheritance out of the bank and gambled it away
   Some years ago the mother of  Frankie, Groovy's friend, abandoned him. Frankie refuses to forgive his mother and has become very bitter as a result. Not wanting to become like Frankie, because she can see how damaging his anger is, Groovy tries very hard to stay positive, even though she does not understand why her father stole from her. She starts working on raising money by making chocolate covered strawberries, which she sells. However, despite her good intentions, when the depth of Groovy's father's betrayal is revealed, Groovy's anger takes over. Now she is in real danger of turning into a bitter person, just like Frankie.
   This powerful and meaningful book explores the nature of forgiveness, the meaning of true friendship, and the love of family. The author beautifully weaves her message into the rich and warming story. Sprinkled with vivid and incredibly genuine characters, this story will delight readers with its unique style and its compelling narrative.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kickstart every child into a lifetime love of reading with the Gecko Press Curiously Good Book Club

Kickstart every child into a lifetime love of reading

Gecko Press, the pint-sized Wellington-based independent publisher of curiously good children’s books, is starting a new club with the aim that every child discovers the love of reading.

“We want reading to be seen as fun, accessible, visible and important – and so we are starting the Curiously Good Book Club,” says Publisher Julia Marshall. 

“The club will be a place where people can talk about the books they love to share with kids, find out about books, access real and online events, share knowledge and experience – all designed to get kids' noses into books,” she says.  

“We’re not worried about the rise of digital books – but we are worried about the effect of digital distraction on reading,” says Marshall. “At Gecko Press we think it’s time to encourage people who love books to get loud about reading. We want to take reading out of the bedrooms and onto the streets!”

The Curiously Good Book Club will include activities for kids, physical events and an online platform. It aims to be a digital and real life community for people who love children’s books, where they can share knowledge about great books (not just Gecko Press books) and find creative ways to encourage children to love to read. 

It will cost at least $50,000 to get the club off the ground. Gecko Press is investing $15,000 for the next phase and crowdfunding the remaining $35,000 by offering tangible rewards. 

“Most of this money will go to improving the digital experience and backbone of the club, so we can offer fun things like events, reading incentives – such as tiny reading journals and stickers – and ways to share knowledge of great books,” says Marshall. 

“The digital side is too expensive for us to do on our own. The idea of the club really changed for me when I realised that we don’t just want people reading Gecko Press books – we want them reading all good books. We want our booksellers to thrive, and libraries and schools, and we want children to really rate reading.”

Gecko Press is offering surprise packs of books and regular book parcels that can be sent directly to a favourite school, library or child.

There are some big-ticket options for enthusiastic supporters, who can choose a mix of books, discounts, signed books and book donations to a school or library of choice.

“The aim of the Curiously Good Book Club is to kickstart every child into a lifetime love of reading,” says Marshall. “Sometimes all it takes is one good book, or the right book for the right child at the right time. It doesn’t matter what that book is or where you find it – but it does matter that children love to read.”

Gecko Press is an independent, international publisher, based in Wellington. Gecko Press publishes a small number of edgy yet proven – curiously good – children’s books from the best writers and illustrators in the world, translated into English. We want to make reading accessible and visible. Our aim is that every child discovers the love of reading.

For more information about the Curiously Good Book Club or the Gecko Press PledgeMe campaign, visit or contact Faustine Tillard – 04 801 9333.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of How the Queen found the perfect cup of tea

For many people a cup of tea offers comfort in times of stress and tribulation, and the making of a pot of tea gives others something to do at such times. People all over the world begin or end their day with a cup of tea, and in some places the making of tea is a ritual that is treasured.

Today's picture book introduces us to a queen who decides that she needs to find someone who can make her the perfect cup of tea. In the process, she discovers something that brings about a big change in her life.

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea How the Queen found the perfect Cup of tea
Kate Hosford
Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Carolrhoda, 2017, 978-1-4677-3904-7
Every morning the queen gets up and her maids dress her and do her hair. Her butler makes her tea, which she drinks alone. Over time the queen’s morning tea ceases to give her any joy or pleasure. In fact, with every passing day it tastes worse and worse until she decides that she simply cannot drink the tea any longer. She “must find the perfect cup of tea,” and soon enough the queen and her long-suffering butler, James, are floating across lands and seas in a hot-air balloon.
   The queen decides when they have gone far enough and James brings the hot-air balloon down. The queen then meets a little girl called Noriko who announces that the queen is just in time because her cats would like to be snuggled. The queen instructs James to tell Noriko that she does not snuggle anything. Most people would back down at this point, but Noriko does not. She feels that this is the perfect time for the queen to try snuggling.
   Before the queen quite knows what is what she is snuggling, and being snuggled, by Noriko’s cat. The queen finds the whole experience “rather strenuous,” and she asks Noriko if she might have some tea. Noriko is happy to make some tea, though she expects the queen to help, which the monarch, who has never even made the effort to help in the tea making process, manages to do.
   Noriko makes the tea, using the methods favored in her native land of Japan, and then the little girl and the queen partake of their refreshment, talking all the while.
   The queen then says her goodbyes and she and James sail off in their balloon. Though Noriko’s tea was delicious, it was not the perfect cup of tea and so the quest must continue.
   All too often, when something is not quite right we blame something or someone else for the problem. We never consider that maybe, just maybe, the problem lies with us. In this delightful picture book we meet a cold, rather stuck up queen who takes a journey and discovers that sometimes what we are looking for is right under our noses.
   What is charming about this book is that in addition to the engaging story we also get to learn about the tea traditions in three countries. At the back of the book the author also offers us an author’s note in which she tells us about tea, and about the journey that she took as she wrote this book.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Fresh-Picked Poetry: A day at the farmer’s market

Here is southern Oregon it finally feels as if summer is on its way. One of the things many of us look forward to during the warmer months are our local farmer's markets. Our weekly market reopened recently, and it was wonderful to see the familiar faces again, and to get big hugs from the mushroom man and from the pie lady. Today's poetry title gives us the opportunity to visit a farmer's market and to experience the many treats that such markets offer visitors.

Fresh-Picked PoetryFresh-Picked Poetry: A day at the farmer’s market
Michelle Schaub
Illustrated by Amy Huntington
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2017, 978-1-58089-547-7
It is market day, which means that while you are asleep “snuggled tight,” farmers are up and about harvesting, sorting, washing, and loading their crops. Then they “Hit the road / Just as dawn / pinks the sky.” By the time we arrive, with baskets and bags at the ready, their tents are up, and their tables are loaded with their wares.
   Some of the farmers, like Farmer Rick, like to arrange their produce so that it looks beautiful. He creates “cauliflower towers” and “pyramids of peppers,” and everything is always laid out in “perfect symmetry.”
   Fruits and veggies are not the only things you can buy in a farmer’s market. Take a deep sniff and it is likely that you are going to pick up the aroma of mouth-watering baked goods. Floating over the market comes “a whiff of vanilla, a whisper of spice.” We follow our nose to find tables laden with cupcakes, pies, bread, croissants, and muffins, all of which are still warm from the oven.
   Often musicians play at the market, entertaining the shoppers with their songs and melodies. Children can get their faces painted, and they can choose a dress-up costume from a big chest to wear. While they play, their grownups wait in lines to shop and to have their knives and scissors sharpened by the knife sharpener.
   When the market closes the musician’s “notes are hushed,” and the produce crates are empty. In their homes people unload their fruits and veggies, their eggs and baked goods, and their jars of honey.
   This wonderful book of poetry takes readers out into the fresh air and sunshine where they get to experience the smells, sights, and sounds of a farmer’s market. Poems written in many forms allow us to enjoy the market vicariously; from dawn to the moment when the market closes down and the farmers head home.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Books of Hope - Sidewalk Flowers

Some people think that the only way to really make other people happy, the only way to make a difference and give them hope, is to do something for them that is big, grand, and splashy. The truth is that sometimes small acts of kindness can have a huge impact on others. Making eye contact with a stranger and sharing a smile can make their day feel brighter. Calling or writing to a friend who is feeling blue can make them feel that they are not alone. Checking in on someone who is ill can make them feel that they are not forgotten. These are not big acts of kindness in terms of time, money, or effort, and yet their impact can be very big indeed.

Today's Book of Hope is a wordless picture book that shows, to great effect, just how powerful little act of kindness can be.

Sidewalk FlowersSidewalk Flowers
JonArno Lawson
Illustrator:  Sydney Smith
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1554984312
One day a father and his little daughter are walking home after doing the shopping. As they walk down the busy sidewalks in the city, the little girl sees a small flowering plant that is growing at the base of a pole. She picks one of the plant’s yellow flowers and then on she and her father walk.
   Further along she sees another flower, a purple one this time, growing out of a wall and she picks that. Near a bus stop there is a second yellow flower, which the little girl gathers up as her father talks on his cell phone. A little later the girl sees a flower that is growing near a stone lion and another pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk.
   The father and his daughter, who is now holding a bouquet of flowers, then walk into the park. The girl sees the body of a little bird lying in the path and she carefully places some of her precious flowers on the bird, her tribute to the life that was lost. She tucks flowers into the shoes of a homeless man who is sleeping on a bench, and places some under the collar of a dog who wants to be friends. With care the little girl leaves little gifts of flowers in her wake as she and her father make their way home.
   This incredibly special wordless picture book explores the way in which accidental flowers, flowers some people even consider weeds, can bring color and brightness to a city world. What is perhaps even more powerful is the way in which the little girl gives the flowers she picks to others. Some of the recipients of these gifts may not even notice the flowers, but their lives are brightened by them all the same. The world we see in the story is made better because the kind little girl choses to give things she loves to others.