Friday, April 28, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Hate that cat

I honestly cannot remember a time when I did not love to read. Books have been my dearest of companions since I was a child. I have always loved stories and the characters that inhabit them, but it wasn't until I was in school that I really understood the power of words. One of my teachers read Martin Luther King's I have a Dream speech to us and I was bowled over by it. Today's poetry book explores the idea that words and the ideas they impart can really change a person. In this case a boy learns to change his mind about something, and he also starts to understand that words, either spoke or read, can build connections between people.

Hate That Cat: A NovelHate that cat 
Sharon Creech
Poetry
For ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 2008, 978-0-06-143092-3
Another school year has started and Jack is once more in Miss Stretchberry’s class and once again they are exploring poetry. Last year Jack wrote some amazing poems about his dog Sky, who was killed by a car. Miss Stretchberry asks Jack if he has any more Sky poems to share but he doesn’t. He has no more Sky poems in him, though he thinks he could write about a cat, a “crazy mean fat black cat.”
   Jack mentions that his uncle Bill does not think that the poems Jack has written thus far are proper poems because they have no rhyme, a regular meter, symbols, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and all the other things that uncle Bill thinks a poem should have. Hearing this makes Jack want to “punch” his uncle.
   Luckily, Miss Stretchberry has a more enlightened view of what constitutes a poem, and knowing that she is on his side makes Jack feel a lot better. Mind you, she does get her students to explore what alliteration and onomatopoeia are, and Jack starts to enjoy the process. He creates a poem in homage to one that was written by Edgar Allen Poe, and in his poem he uses lots of sound words. Exploring what onomatopoeia can do for a poem makes Jack wonder what it would be like to read a poem that is full of sound words if you could not hear. How would you perceive a yip, a squeak, and a buzz if you could not hear them?
   Thanks to a cat that lives in his neighborhood, the “mean” cat, Jack does not like cats, but he does enjoy studying a poem about cats. Then Miss Stretchberry brings in her kittens, and Jack cannot help feeling that they are “fantastically funny.” He insists that he would not like one though because kittens grow into cats and cats are “creepy.” We then find out why Jack hates cats. He tried to rescue one and got clawed for his pains.
   As he continues to explore poems, Jack finds out that many people like cats. Even his hero, the author Walter Dean Myers, has a soft spot for felines. In spite of himself, Jack’s anti-cat feelings begin to soften round the edges. Maybe just a little. When Jack’s parents give him a kitten for Christmas he softens completely.
   As the days unfold Jack dives into exploring more and more poems. Poems about cats, of course, and poems that have stories, and sounds, and so much more. What he never expects is that the glorious words in poems will help him build a new bridge between himself and his mother; his loving mother who cannot hear words at all.
   This remarkable book takes us through a young boy’s year, a year full of exploration, discovery, and new beginnings. We see as his eyes are opened to so many new possibilities as he learns to love cats, to connect with his mother in new ways, and to appreciate fully the glory of the written word.

   

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Books of Hope - The Odd Egg

Often we give up hope because we believe that our dreams cannot possibly come true. They are unrealistic and unattainable, we think as we set them aside. Sometimes they are unrealistic, but should we give up completely or should we adjust our goals and keep trying? In today's book of hope title you will meet a duck who does not give up on his dream. He refuses to, even when the odds are stacked against him. This duck is inspiring!

The Odd EggThe Odd Egg
Emily Gravett
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2009, 978-1416968726
All the birds have laid an egg except for Duck. Then Duck finds an enormous egg that he thinks is "the most beautiful egg in the whole wide world." Alas for Duck, for the other birds do not agree with him at all. In fact, some of the birds even laugh at the big egg.
   One by one, the eggs began to hatch, to the delight of their doting parents. Soon Duck's egg is the only that has not hatched, but Duck refuses to give up. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is going to prevent Duck from staying true to his egg.
   In this perfectly paced, minimal, and deliciously funny picture book, children get to meet a duck who is not a quitter and who refuses to be swayed by naysayers. Instead, he maintains his resolve and in the end, he gets his just, and perfectly wonderful, reward. With its surprising ending and its cleverly layered pages, this picture book is sure to delight little children.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Little Fun Club Blog Tour and Giveaway

Little Fun Club blog tour. A subscription box for children's books. Great for kids ages 0-12.

There is nothing quite like getting a parcel in the mail, and for many of us a parcel full of books is a special treat. 

A few days ago just such a parcel was delivered to my house. I opened the box to find that it contained a carefully wrapped package that was neatly tied up with a blue ribbon. I carefully opened the package and in it there was a wonderful selection of  books for children. For toddlers there was Wolf Crunch, a novelty board book that has tabs to pull and a delightful, and surprising, ending. For older children there was Last Stop on Market Street, an award winning picture book that shows us that joy can be found in the most unlikely of places. Finally, there was a beautifully illustrated edition of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which would suit teenage and adult readers. 

The parcel of books was a sample of what Little Fun Club offers, and a subscription to this service would be a wonderful gift to share with children. 

About Little Fun Club:

Little Fun Club is a subscription box for children's books. It's ideal for kids ages 0-12. When you sign up, your child will receive a box containing three adventurous books every month. The books are tailored to your child's age, so you can rest assured they will always have quality, age-appropriate reading material. Each book is hand selected for your child, and no two boxes are the same.  

How it Works:

  1. Join Little Fun Club and let them know your child's age so the box can be customized for them. You can include up to three kids per box and they'll customize it accordingly.
  2. Get three adventurous books every month for as little as $25/month.
  3. Grow with Little Fun Club. As your child gets older, the books change accordingly — so you'll always receive age-appropriate books for your kids.
 

Good to Know:

  1. You can add a note to your child's account with reading preferences so the box can be tailored to their interests.
  2. Shipping is FREE on all boxes.
  3. Little Fun Club selects books based on merit. Books go through a rigorous selection process and are read and reviewed by the Little Fun Club team before being considered.
  4. If you receive a book that you already own, just let Little Fun Club know about it. They'll replace the book in the next box! You don't have to return anything.
  5. You can cancel or put your subscription hold at any time.
  6. A Little Fun Club subscription makes a wonderful gift for birthdays, holidays, or just because.
The final product is a box filled with education, fun, and opportunities for positive child development. They make sure each box is just right before it is sent out.  

Prices:

1 month - $29/month 3 months - $27/month 6 months - $25/month   You can see what types of books Little Fun Club offers by visiting their website.

  $50 Cash Giveaway | batchofbooks.com  

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive $50 in PayPal cash Open to US and Canada Ends May 12, 2017 Use the Rafflectoper to enter. Entrants must be 18 or older or have their parent/guardian enter for them. The winner will be chosen randomly. Winner must respond to my email within 48 hours or a new winner will be chosen. No purchase necessary to enter. This contest is void where prohibited by law.  

Blog Tour Schedule
April 17 - The Mommy Island 
April 18 - Writing My Own Fairy Tale 
April 19 - The Kids Did It 
April 20 - Feed Your Fiction Addiction
April 21 - Book Review Mama 
April 24 - Homebound but Hopeful 
April 25 - Looking Glass Review 
April 26 - Kristi's Book Nook 
April 27 - Natasha Reads Books 
April 28 - Create With Joy 
May 1 - That's What She Read 
May 2 - Tee and Penguin 
May 3 - Bookworm for Kids, This Kid Reviews Books 
May 5 - Word Spelunking 
May 8 - Babies to Bookworms 
May 9 - The Tangled Yarn 
May 10 - Geo Librarian 
May 11 - Savings in Seconds 
May 12 - Kid Lit Reviews

Friday, April 21, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of The Barefoot Books of Earth Poems

Happy almost Earth Day! Tomorrow millions of Americans will finds ways to celebrate the fact that we live on a beautiful planet. Many will talk about what we can do to protect it. Others will actually do things to make our natural environment cleaner and healthier by committing to driving their cars less, by starting recycling programs, and by picking up rubbish in parks and on beaches. 

Today's poetry title serves as a tribute to Earth's many beauties, marvels, and gifts. 

The Barefoot Books of Earth Poems
Complied by Judith Nicholls
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Barefoot Books, 2003, 978-1-78285-278-0
Nature is a powerful force in our world and over the centuries its beauty and majesty has inspired countless poets to “represent the sights and sounds of nature, and the feelings that nature evokes in us.” Through their poems, these writers have celebrated nature. Some have also asked their readers to appreciate what is around them, and to look after the natural world so that it might be enjoyed by future generations.
   For this collection Judith Nicholls has brought together poems that were written by people from all over the world. We begin with the words of Mary Kawena Pukui, a Hawaiian poet, whose poem celebrates the fact that birds, flowers, trees, and ocean creatures remind us that our planet is a truly “lovely world” no matter where we live.
   In Father and I in the woods David McCord uses spare language and dialogue to remind us that the best way to be a part of nature is to walk instead of run, to be silent instead of talking, and to just “be” so that we can observe the “sky and brook and bird / And tree.”
   In Everything’s Wet we experience a rainfall, and in Winter we read of a “white horse” that brings the snow, which “filled the land with its spirit.” We encounter stars and the sun, a lark rising up into the air and filling the sky with its song. We are told about Forest, a living entity that keeps her counsel, who dreams of the world when “the earth was young,” and who is woken by the howl of the howler monkey in the morning. Just as Forest keeps her secrets, we in turn must “keep Forest.”

   The poems in this collection are beautifully varied and constantly surprising. They delight they ear, and are accompanied by beautiful artwork which delights the eye. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Books of Hope - Tarra and Bella: The elephant and dog who became best friends

One of the things I love about books is the way in which stories can uplift us. A happy ending makes us feel that good things can happen in this world, especially if the story we are reading is true. Today's Book of Hope contains just such a story. It is about an unlikely friendship that exists between two very different species of animals. Through the story we see how friendship can grow and prevail even in the most unlikely of situations. This is a powerful thing to see because, after all, friendships based on mutual respect and love really do help to make our lives worth living.

Carol Buckley
Nonfiction Picture Book
Ages 4 to 8
Penguin, 2009, 978-0-399-25443-7
Tarra the Indian elephant lives on the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. She was the first elephant to live at the sanctuary, and she likes to welcome all the new arrivals personally. Every elephant who arrives at the sanctuary soon develops a special relationship with another elephant. Winkie and Sissy are best friends, as are Dulary and Misty. However, Tarra has never found that special elephant friend and she is alone.
   One day Tarra meets a stray dog called Bella. When Tarra walks off, Bella follows her and Tarra is delighted by this development. The friendship between these two very different animals flourishes, and Tarra and Bella become inseparable. Then Bella gets very ill and the friends were separated, which makes both the animals extremely unhappy.
   As they read this very moving picture book, readers will discover that friendship can truly cross extraordinary boundaries. Though they are very different in size, and speak different languages, and eat different food, and have very different histories, Tarra and Bella have connected on a special level.
   With a simple text and wonderful full-color illustrations, this is a picture book that will charm readers of all ages.




Monday, April 17, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Not Quite Narwhal

One of the things that many children struggle with is finding out where they belong in the complex society that often dominates their social life. When I was young I certainly had a hard time figuring out where I fit in. The story in this beautiful picture book describes the journey that a young narwhal makes. Through him we get to see that sometimes the best way to solve the "where do I belong" problem is to follow your heart.

Not Quite NarwhalNot Quite Narwhal
Jessie Sima
For ages 5 to 7
Picture Book
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1-4814-6909-8
Kelp was born in the ocean and it soon became clear that he wasn’t quite like the other narwhals. His horn was short, he did not like eating squid, and his swimming skills were not of the best. This was not really surprising when you consider that he did not have fins and a big flat tail suitable for swimming. Instead, Kelp had a flowing tail and legs, which was rather odd. Thankfully, none of Kelp’s narwhal friends minded that he different, and so “Kelp decided he wouldn’t either.”
   One day Kelp was swept away by a current and was carried to the surface. When we poked his head out of the water he saw that he was very close to the land, and standing on a headland, illuminated by the moon, was an animal that looked just like him.
  Kelp overcame his fear of the land, figured out how to walk on it, and then began to explore, hoping to find the creature that he had seen on the headland. Eventually, after walking through a forest, he found the creature and many others like it. Kelp thought that the animals with manes, tails, and legs were land narwhals, but it turned out that they were unicorns. And he was one too!
   Kelp was delighted to get to know the unicorns and to find out things about himself that he did not know, but there was a problem. He missed his home in the sea and the friends that he had there.
   In this incredibly sweet and heartwarming picture book story, we watch as a little animal struggles to figure out where he belongs. Many people face this very same problem, and seeing how Kelp finds a solution is uplifting. This story is a celebration of acceptance and inclusivity.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Over and Under the Pond

Nature is full of miracles, big and small. For me, being out in nature is soothing, healing, and grounding. For this reason I review a lot of books about the natural world, and I was delighted when today's book arrived in the mail. The book takes us on a journey of exploration. Paddling around in a canoe with a boy and his mother, we see the creatures and plants that can be found under and above the water in a pond.

Over and Under the PondOver and under the pond
Kate Messner
Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Chronicle, 2017, 978-1-4521-4542-6
One day a mother and her son climb into their canoe and paddle out onto the pond. Looking into the water, and seeing something moving beneath the surface, the boy asks his mother “What’s down there?” She tells her son that beneath them is a “whole hidden world” full of creatures of all kinds.
   As they paddle past rushes, whirligig beetles skate across the surface of the water. Below, minnows swim in the grassy forests where brook trout wait for them. The boy and his mother see painted turtles sunning themselves on a log and watch as they drop into the water as the people approach.
   Among the cattails a red-winged blackbird carries grass in her beak to build a nest. Below, on the bottom of the pond, a caddisfly larva builds a nest around herself using sand and little pebbles.
   The visitors see a moose standing in the water munching waterlilies, and beneath the surface a beaver gathers tasty roots to eat. Young animals above and below the surface prepare to take the next step into adulthood: a goldfinch readies itself to fly, and tadpoles transition into becoming frogs.
   All around the boy and his mother, as the day changes from morning to afternoon to evening, above and below the surface of the pond, animals go about their business seeking out food, avoiding predators, caring for the babies, and building their homes.
   This wonderful book takes readers through a day spent paddling across a pond. We get to know the birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, mammals, and fish that call the pond their home, and see how they coexist in their beautiful environment. At the back of the book readers will find further information about pond ecosystems and the animals mentioned in the book.



Friday, April 7, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Animal Naps

Most people will admit (more or less freely) that when they see a sleeping child or animal they get a little squishy feeling inside. I am one of these people, and therefore my Facebook page is crowded with photos of my sleeping cats and dogs. I was therefore attracted to this book from the very start. I saw the cover and had to suppress an immediate "awwwww." The fact that the book pairs gorgeous photos of sleeping animals with beautiful poems made it a must-read title for me. I hope you get the chance to read the book for yourself.

Animal NapsAnimal Naps
Catherine Ham
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Earlylight Books, 2011, 978-0-9832014-1-0
There is something incredibly appealing about a sleeping animal, even an animal that is normally considered scary. At that moment, with their eyes closed, they are vulnerable and even cute. At that moment we can admire them (or gawp at them) knowing that they are not going to run, fly, or slither off.
   In this wonderful book the author pairs beautiful photos of sleeping animals with poems, giving us a unique frozen moment in time to look at all kinds of animals when they are dozing, snoozing, and napping.
   She begins with a trio of shar pei puppies that are piled up, their wrinkly skin loose and rippled, their eyes scrunched shut. She asks us if we think that “maybe they’re dreaming / of growing to fit into their skin.”
   Next there is a fox and we learn from the poem that foxes on their own don’t sleep in a den. As far as the lone fox is concerned “Almost any place will do.” The fox settles down on the ground and drops off after it has wrapped its “warm tail around his face.”
   Koalas are a little more particular about where they sleep. They tend to prefer a fork in a tree that offers them a secure place to nap, which they do for many hours every day.  
   Sloths also sleep in trees, which is not surprising as they rarely come down to the ground. These strange animals favor sleeping upside down. The author wonders if we should “give that a try, you and me?”
  In all, the author of this book gives us twenty-four animal portraits to enjoy. In many of the poems she provides readers with information about the featured animal, telling us about their habits, what they eat, where they live and more. The poetry forms she uses vary greatly, and readers will be delighted at the touches of humor that can be found in many of the verses.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Books of Hope - What Goes up

Have you ever noticed how many You Can't and You Shouldn't people are out there? There are a lot of them. They are the ones who tell us that our wishes can't come true, and that we shouldn't even try to make them a reality. They are the ones who tell us that we are the wrong shape to be dancers, that we are too old to learn a new skill, or that we are too young to build something from nothing. They are negative people who pull us down. Thankfully, there are a lot of people out there who are the opposite. These are the people who support us and encourage us; they often help us to pursue that thing that matters to us.

In today's Book of Hope you will meet a dragon who has a dream. He wants to fly. The problem is that Martin the dragon has wings that are so small that they can't even get him off the ground, let alone propel him through the air. Martin does not give up on his dream, and neither do his friends.

What Goes UpWhat Goes Up
Paula Bowles
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Tiger Tales, 2013   ISBN: 978-1589251199
Martin the dragon is sad, and the children in the village, who love Martin, are worried about their scaly friend. When they ask him what is wrong, Martin explains that he wishes he could fly. Unfortunately, his wings are just too small to support his body, and inevitably “What goes up, must come down.”
   Then Martin sees a bumblebee buzz by and he gets a splendid idea. “Stripes must be the key to flying,” he says and he quickly paints some stripes on his body. Alas, stripes are not what Martin needs.
   After Martin sees autumn leaves drift by on the breeze he decides that what he needs to do to fly is to be in a tree. Then he, like the leaves, will be carried off by the wind. After sitting in the tree for quite some time, Martin determines that dragons and leaves do not behave in the same way.
   Martin tries to be fluffy like a cloud, but when he - wrapped in dandelion fluff - leaps into the air, he and his fluff crashes to the ground. Poor Martin is feeling “so low” that the children decide to take him in hand. There must be something that they can do to help their friend.
   Sometimes something we want very badly indeed seems completely out of reach. No matter how hard we try, that coveted something is unattainable. This charming, funny, and delightfully sweet picture book story will remind readers of all ages that one cannot give up hope. With a little help from our friends, we can achieve just about anything our heart desires, even when our wings seem too small for the job.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Hank has a dream

Stories are powerful things, and sometimes the best gift we can give to those we love are the stories that we know. The sharing of a tale becomes a shared experience, and it is also allows us to give someone we care about our time and our companionship.

Today's book, with its gorgeous photographic artwork and its charming main character, celebrates the joy that storytelling gives to the teller and the listener.

Hank Has a DreamHank has a dream
Rebecca Dudley
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Peter Pauper Press, 2014, 978-1-4413-1158-0
One morning Hank wakes up and he runs to tell his friend the hummingbird all about the wonderful dream that he had. In the dream, Hank, who is alone, flies up into the sky in a hot air balloon. One would expect that little Hank might be afraid to go on such an adventure up into the sky, but he is not afraid at all.
   Hank shows his little friend how, in his dream, he sailed down a path, a path that is much like the real path that wends its way through their forest home. As he sits on a little bridge over a stream Hank tells the hummingbird how the path led “all the way to the sea.”
   In his dream Hank went higher and higher; he went far away, “past the trees” and up into the clouds, and then above them. Then he came “whooshing down” again. Hank never imagines that the description of his dream is going to have a profound effect on his little avian friend; that his dream is going to become a story worth hearing over and over again.
   This charming picture book brings back the little monkey that we met in Hank Finds An Egg. This time Hank shares something precious with a best friend, and at the end of the narrative we see how he goes on to give his friend an even greater gift.
   Using handmade characters made of fabric and felt, and wonderful backgrounds using paper, fabric and other materials, the author of this book has created an atmospheric picture book that will charm readers of all ages.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Underneath my bed: List Poems

I have always been a list writer. Lists help me focus, and crossing things off my lists makes me feel as if I have accomplished something. In all the years that I have been writing lists, it never occurred to me that they could actually be creative. I was therefore tickled pink when I came across today's poetry title. It turns out that a list can actually be a poem! Who knew.

Underneath My Bed: List Poems Underneath my bed: List Poems  
Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Richard Watson
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
Millbrook, 2017, 978-1-4677-9343-8
A list is just a list, right? There is nothing creative about a list because it is utilitarian; unless it is a list poem. A list poem is a list that is turned into something more. The words in such poems can rhyme or not, and they can “range in tone from serious to silly.”
   In this excellent introduction to list poems the author begins by telling us what list poems are. Then he presents us with lots of samples of this poetry form to read. For example, we visit a bus stop where we meet a group of people, all of whom are doing different things. Tonya is texting while “Tony twirls like a ballerina.” Chloe is reading, and “Luke listens to tunes.” This list may not seem like much but after you read the poem a time or two you realize how effectively it captures a moment in time, giving us a picture of the people who are who are waiting at the bus stop.
   Further on in the book we encounter a poem called Summer Camp. In it a narrator lists all the woes of summer camp life, which include, among other things, the stinging and biting insects, the “corny songs and no TVs,” and let’s not forget the bunkmate who cries every night due to an acute case of homesickness. There is no doubt that camp can really be “a bummer,” and yet the narrator still “can’t wait till I come back next summer!”
   The topics covered in these poems will certainly resonate with young readers. There is a poem about the ties a teacher wears to school, one about the stuff a child stashes under his bed, another about the reasons why dinosaurs went extinct, and much more.
   All in all this is a wonderful poetry collection. Perhaps best of all, young readers will see that something as mundane as a list can be turned into something creative, amusing, or thought- provoking.
 
 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Books of Hope - Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Sometimes life gives us so many knocks that we give up hoping that good things can happen. Our cynical outlook protects us from being disappointed when things go wrong. If we are really lucky something or someone comes along that changes our attitude. We learn that living without hope and optimism, love and laughter is not living at all.

Today's Book of Hope title introduces us to a squirrel, who by some miracle, comes into the life of a girl who desperately needs to relearn how to live again.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresKate DiCamillo
Illustrator:  K.G. Campbell
Fiction
For ages 8 to 12
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0763660406
There was a time when Flora was happy, when she perhaps dared to let a little hope to sneak into her heart. Now, since her parent’s divorce, Flora has become a true “natural-born cynic.” She expects nothing good to happen, and unfortunately most of the time this is exactly what happens. She lives by the words “do not hope: instead, observe.”
   Then one day something happens that turns everything upside down. It all begins when one of the neighbors, Mr. Tickham, gives his wife Tootie a new vacuum. She is not thrilled by the gift and does not really want to try it out but he insists. Since it is a “multi-terrain” device, they take it outside, where it goes berserk. Flora is reading an issue of her favorite superhero comic and she looks out of the window just in time to see the vacuum cleaner suck up a squirrel.
   In spite of her determination not to get involved in other people’s issues, Flora runs outside and she manages to get the squirrel out of the vacuum, and then she does CPR on the little creature. The squirrel, who is in the process of dying, reverses his journey and comes back to the land of the living. The thing is that he has changed. He still thinks a lot about food, which is what squirrels think about most of the time, but he also understands human speech and appreciates beauty and love.
   Flora quickly realizes that the squirrel, whom she calls Ulysses, is special. She realizes that he understands her, and they become instant best friends. Flora, Tootie, and Tootie’s great-nephew William soon find out that Ulysses loves words. During his first night living with Flora, Ulysses discovers her mother’s typewriter and he writes a poem, carefully typing out the words. Later he writes another poem on Tootie’s computer. Tootie, William, and Flora are thrilled. Flora’s romance-novel-writing mother, Phyllis, is not. When Flora’s father, George, comes to take Flora out for the afternoon, Phyllis insists that George “put the squirrel out of its misery.”
   George has no real intention of killing Ulysses, and after the squirrel saves him from a vicious cat, George becomes yet another person who grows fond of Ulysses. Will his support be enough to convince Phyllis that Ulysses should stay with Flora?
   In this charming, sweetly funny book Kate Di Camillo explores the nature of love and friendship. We watch as Ulysses, who has his own peculiar form of magic, helps the humans he encounters by showing them how to accept and to give love to others.
   Throughout the book the text is complimented by illustrations and by sections of graphic novel type art.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Tree: A Fable

Many of us go through life not properly thinking about how our actions affect nature. We pave over a wild meadow, cut down trees, and throw trash out of car windows without considering that doing these things will change the lives of countless animals and plants.

Today's picture book in very minimal and yet it shows to great effect how two people learn that sometimes we need to change our plans to accommodate the needs of others.

The Tree: A FableThe Tree: A Fable
Neal Layton
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-8952-0
On the side of a mountain there is a tall tree, standing on its own. The tree provides many different kinds of animals with a home. A bird’s nest sits high up near the top of the tree. Lower down there is a squirrel’s nest, and in the trunk of the tree a family of owls lives in a hollow. Deep beneath the tree a family of rabbits lives in a series of burrows.
   What these animals don’t know is that the tree is standing on a piece of land that is for sale. One day a young couple drives up in a pickup truck that is loaded down with building supplies and tools. They have bought the land and they plan on building their dream house right where the tree is standing. The first thing that they are going to have to do is to get rid of the tree, and so they start sawing away at the trunk.
   As they saw through the wood, their cuts makes the tree’s trunk vibrate. The parent owl flees from its hollow, the bird nest falls to the earth, and the rabbits rush out from their burrow and run away. The couple looks down and they see the nest full of baby birds lying on the ground. They are expecting a baby of their own and seeing the little babies in such dire straits breaks their hearts. What have they done?
   All too often we humans do not see that our actions have a negative impact on the environment. We do not see the homeless animals and the scarred landscape. This incredibly simple yet powerful story shows to great effect how important it is to have compassion for all living things, and how, with a little creativity, we can cohabit with our wild animal neighbors.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of One minute to Bedtime: 60 Second poems to send you off to sleep

When by daughter was little, every night we would go through a series of rituals. She would have her bath and put on her jim jams, and then she brush her teeth and her hair. Then, up in her bedroom, she would choose the stuffed animals she was going to sleep with, and the book she wanted me to read to her. After story time we would turn out the main light and she and I would sing our goodnight song together. Of course, Elise would try to find ways to prolong her bedtime. She would ask for another story, another round of our song, a different stuffed animal...and so on.

Today's poetry title was written for children of course, but it was also written for all those wonderful, patient grownups who have to put procrastinating little ones to bed every night. The book is packed with short little poems that are perfect for those "just one more" moments. They give little children a little something extra before they finally close their eyes and go to sleep.

One Minute till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You off to SleepOne minute to Bedtime: 60 Second poems to send you off tosleep
Selected by Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrated by Christoph Niemann
Poetry Book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2016, 978-0316341219
Many grownups hear, on a regular basis, the words “just one more!” at bedtime; one more story is required before the light can be switched off. The child in their life is sleepy, warm, and cozy in bed, and yet he or she is not quite ready to fall asleep. Almost, but not quite.
  This book of poems is just the thing to pull off the shelf when those words are uttered. The collection is packed with short poems that “feed the imagination, fuel the love of reading,” and send the child “off to sleep in a snap.”
   We begin with a poem called Whew! which takes us through the evening and bedtime rituals of a young child. Dinner is eaten, the trash is taken out, the child gets clean, and teeth are brushed. Pajamas are slipped on, pillows are fluffed, and Ted is picked up and carried off to bed. It is only after all these things are done that the child is at last free “to read.”
   Then there is a poem about how every book we read “makes a home inside your head.” In another a child tells us how much he or she likes “old stories” that are full “inky drawings of  / enchanted castles, clanking chains, / pirate treasure” and many other marvelous things. The child does not mind that the storybooks that contain these tales are dusty, and that they have tattered pages. After all, the stories that lie between the covers might be old, but once, perhaps many years ago, they “were new.”
   In addition to books and stories, bedtime would not be complete without stuffed animals. In the poem Stuffed Animal Collection by Eileen Spinelli, we encounter a child who has so many stuffed animals that the mother calls her child’s bedroom a zoo.
   In this book there are poems of every flavor, color, shape, and size. In short, there is something here for every mood and inclination, and each one is a perfect gem that is just right for that, almost-asleep-but-not-quite interlude.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Books of Hope - Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse

Throughout my life I have turned to books when the real world has been grim and dark. When things look hopeless, and when it feels as if nothing is going right, I have turned to stories where characters do remarkable things, where dreams come true, and where darkness is vanquished by light. Sometimes when we are down, reading about other people's successes lifts us up. I certainly felt this way when I read today's Book of Hope. In this tale a little mouse does something that really should be impossible. He finds a way to fulfill a dream that is dear to his heart by using his brains and by drawing on his courage.

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse
Torben Kuhlmann
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
NorthSouth, 2014, 978-0735841673
There once was German mouse who was curious about the world. In fact he was so curious that he read all kinds of books that the humans wrote about history, inventors, science and other topics. Unfortunately, there came a day when the little mouse made his way home only to realize that the humans had waged war on his kind by using mouse traps. For weeks the mouse could not find any other mice and then he realized what had happened: the mice in his city had all left. After seeing some newspaper articles, the mouse decided that his fellow mice must have boarded ships and gone to America. America, after all, was a land full of promise for humans and mice alike.
   The mouse tried to board a ship bound for America but was prevented from doing so because “hungry cats guarded the ships like fortresses.” If he wanted to get to America, the mouse was going to have to find another way. Then the mouse saw some bats while he was moving through the sewers. He was intrigued by the creatures that looked so much like mice, but that had wings. Inspired by the abilities of his “strange flying relatives,” the mouse decided that what he needed to do was to build a flying machine. He would fly to America!
   In this remarkable picture book we meet a mouse who, despite his diminutive size and the many enemies who would like to kill or make a meal out of him, is determined to fly to a America. Readers will be charmed to see how the mouse deals with the many setbacks that inventors and innovators face, and they will read on, with hope in their hearts.
    With its gorgeous illustrations and its remarkable main character, this is a book that readers of all ages with enjoy and appreciate.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Fox Wish

Having our wishes come true is a wonderful thing, especially since our wishes are not granted that often. What many people don't realize is that making other people's wishes come true is pretty wonderful too.

In this incredibly charming picture book, we see how a little girl is able to do something for someone else, and how her act of kindness ends up enriching her life in a very special way.


The Fox WishThe Fox Wish
Kimiko Aman
Illustrated by Komako Sakai
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Chronicle Books, 2017, 978-1-4521-5188-5
One day Roxie is having her snack at home when she realizes that she left her jump rope in the park earlier that day. Roxie and her little brother Lukie go back to the park to retrieve the jump rope only to find that it is no longer hanging from the tree branch where Roxie left it.
   They hear the sound of children playing and go to investigate. Instead of finding Thomas and Samantha, who they expect to find, they discover that the children’s voices they heard belong to a group of little foxes who are playing jump rope.
   It is soon clear that the foxes are not very good at jumping rope. They keep tripping on their tails and falling to the ground in a heap. Though the two watching children try not to laugh (it would be impolite to do so), Lukie cannot help himself, and a little laugh escapes from his lips. The children come out from behind the tree where they were hiding and to Roxie’s surprise the foxes are not frightened of them. In fact, one of them asks the little girl if she can teach them “how to jump rope without tripping.”
   What follows is a delightful interaction between the fox children and human children, and out of the blue Roxie has the opportunity to see “wishes come true.”
   Sometimes the best gifts aren’t the ones that we receive. Sometimes giving to others is so rewarding and heart-filling that we feel rich and lucky. This delightful picture book contains a story that will warm hearts and remind readers of how wonderful  it is to grant other people’s wishes.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Duck! Rabbit! in honor of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

The world has lost a wonderful writer and a very special human being. This morning Amy Krouse Rosenthal passed away after a valiant battle against ovarian cancer. I have read, reviewed, and loved Amy's books for years now, and am deeply grieved that we have lost a writer who had a such unique sense of humor and thoughtfulness. Thank you, Amy for your wit, your warmth, and your big heart. You will be greatly missed.

 In her honor I bring you a review of one of Amy's most beloved children's books.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrations by Tom Litchtenheld
Picture Book
Ages 4 to 8
Chronicle Books, 2009, 978-08118-6865-5
Have you ever looked up at the clouds and seen a cloud that looked like a cat? And did your best friend tell you that the very same cloud looked like a car and not a cat?
   If this scenario sounds familiar to you, then you are in the right place. On the pages of this book you are going to meet – in a manner of speaking – two people who look at the same object and who see two very different things. When one person looks at the illustration on the page, they see a duck, and when the other person looks at the same illustration, they see a rabbit. Who is right?
   With splendid humor and creativity Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who brought us Little Oink. Little Pea, and Little Hoot, explores the idea that there are times when there is no right answer. Sometimes we just have to accept that someone else sees things in a different way, and that is perfectly all right.
   With wonderful artwork and a memorable text, this is a picture book that readers of all ages will enjoy.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Leave your sleep

I came across today's poetry book when I was visiting the library not long ago, and I fell in love with it. The art was the first thing that caught my eye. I am a huge fan of Barbara McClintock's work and always pick up a book when I see her gorgeous creations on the cover. Then I started to read the poetry and the preface to the book. Natalie Merchant put her heart and soul into this title, and let me tell you, it shows!

Leave Your SleepLeave your sleep
Natalie Merchant
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Poetry Picture book (with an audio CD of songs)
For ages 5 to 7
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2012, 978-0374343682
In 2010 singer and songwriter Natalie Merchant released a two-disc album. For the album she adapted 19th and 20th century American and British poetry for children and turned them into new songs. The project took five years to complete, and was a true labor of love that Natalie Merchant immersed herself into, heart and soul. Natalie chose poems that were “parables with lessons on human nature and bits of nonsense to challenge the natural order of things...”
   After the release of her album, Natalie was contacted by Frances Foster, an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who wanted to take her songs and turn them into a picture book for children. Thus it was that Natalie’s songs, which are a celebration of the written word, were paired with Barbara McClintock’s lush, colorful, and wonderfully detailed artwork.
   On the pages of the book readers will travel with a little girl to the land of Nod, as described by Robert Louis Stevenson. The little girl wanders beside streams and “up the mountain-sides of dreams,” and sees all manner of strange and sometimes “frightening sights.” The sad thing is that try as she might, the little girl can never get to the land of Nod “by day.” Nor can she “remember plain and clear / The curious music that I hear.”
   Then there is the tale of Isabel, who met an enormous bear, an old witch, a “hideous giant,”
and a “troublesome” doctor. All of these encounters could have ended very badly for Isabel, but thankfully the little girl was not the kind of child to worry or “scream or scurry.” In every instance, Isabel very firmly, yet calmly, dealt with the threat.
   This book is, without a doubt, a real treasure. It is a joy to read and a delight to look at, and would make a wonderful addition to a child’s library of ‘treasured books’.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Books of Hope - The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.

It is very easy, when things do not go the way we hoped they would, to give up on our dreams and to settle for what is an acceptable 'second best.' Seeking out those dreams, heading out into the unknown, takes courage and perseverance. It is a scary proposition and we have no idea if will will find what we are seeking. Indeed, the whole journey might be a complete waste of time.

In today's book of hope you will meet a little fellow called Beekle who does not give on his dream. He dares to hope that the one thing he wants more than anything else in the whole world is out there somewhere. He is an inspiration.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary FriendThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Dan Santat
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014, 978-0316199988
Beekle was born on an island where all the world’s imaginary friends come into being. The imaginary friends wait and look forward to the day when a child somewhere will imagine them, and then pick them to be their own. Beekle waits and waits, but no one imagines him and “his turn” never comes.
   Eventually, Beekle feels that he has waited long enough, and so he decides to seek out his friend rather than waiting to be imagined.
   The journey is a long one and it is full of “many scary things,” but the hope of finding his friend gives Beekle courage and finally he comes to the real world, which is a very strange place. Then, while he is standing on a sidewalk in a big city, surrounded by the legs of big people, Beekle sees an imaginary friend go by whom he follows. Soon he is in a playground full of children and their imaginary friends, a wonderful place where surely he will find his friend. Or maybe not.
   It is hard not to fall in love with the main character in this story. His persistence and courage is inspiring, and one cannot help feeling a deep connection with the little, white imaginary friend who dares to do “the unimaginable.”

Friday, March 3, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Guess Who, Haiku

When is a haiku more than a haiku? When the haiku is a puzzle that we need to solve. In this clever little book we are presented with ten haikum and in each case we need to guess what the haiku is describing. I love how playful and accessible this book is, and I imagine it will delight and charm little children with its clever imagery, its artwork, and its puzzles.

Guess Who, Haiku Guess Who, Haiku
Deanna Caswell
Illustrations by Bob Shea
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Abrams, 2016, 978-1-4197-1889-2
These days we see words everywhere. They are on signs, on our television and phone screens, on food packages, and, of course, in books. Sometimes we take words for granted and forget that they are a gift. They give us information, help us to connect with others, and in the case of stories and poems, they enrich our lives with language that amuses, transports, and delights us.
   For this charming little collection of poems, Deanna Caswell puts together words to give us haiku that offer readers a puzzle to solve. Each haiku describes an animal of some kind, and we have to guess what the animal is from the clues we are given.
   The poet begins by saying “Here’s a haiku just for you,” and on the facing page is her gift; a little three-line poem that describes an animal that lives “on a farm,” that moos, and that produces “a fresh pail of milk.” She then asks “Can you guess who from this haiku?” When we turn the page we find the answer to this question; the animal we just read about is a cow.
   The poet then goes on to give us nine more haiku puzzles to solve, the animals we meet serving as our hosts as we go from page to page. At the end of the book the author tells us a little about haiku and how they are written.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Books of Hope - Waiting for Magic

When life throws us a curve ball, many of us have no idea what to do. We hold in our pain and anger, we don't talk about what is going on, and we go around feeling confused and lost. Often, at times like this, the only ones around who make us feel better are our pets. They understand that we are upset, and they offer up their unconditional love and acceptance. Even when we are being foolish.

In today's Book of Hope you will meet some animals who give their humans this kind of support, and they also teach them a thing or two about communication, forgiveness, and magic. I have to say that this book warmed me with its sweetness and gentle humor. It reminded me that hard times pass, especially when we have the courage to face our fears.

Waiting for the Magic
Patricia MacLachlan
Fiction
For ages 7 to 9
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4169-2745-7
Early on a summer morning Will’s parents have an argument which ends with Papa leaving the house. He leaves Will and his sister Elinor notes telling them that he is going “off to do some writing,” and that is it.
   Soon after William and Elinor find their notes, Mama tells them that they are going out. The three of them get in the car and Mama announces that they are going to get a dog. Papa never wanted a dog and so now that he has walked out (no one knows for how long) Mama is going to get a dog.
   This is a pretty dramatic turn of events, which gets even more dramatic when Mama adopts not one dog but four. And a cat. The family comes home with Bryn, Bitty, Grace, Neo and Lula the cat, and in no time they all settle in. Neo takes it upon his big puppy self to look after Lula the cat. Grace is Elinor’s shadow, and Bryn is completely devoted to Mama. Mama mentions that she wishes Bryn could do some of her chores for her and Elinor comments on how it would be magic if Bryn could do such things. William firmly believes that “There is no such thing as magic,” but Elinor, who is only four, is wise enough to know better. Elinor has not lost her ability to tap into magic yet, and she knows that magic is real because she can understand what the animals say.
   One morning, at the breakfast table, Mama tries to talk about Papa’s behavior but it is hard for her. Elinor has no problem asking questions, but Will cannot seem to say anything because the situation is so confusing and quite frankly it scares him. The dogs understand that the boy is struggling, that he is afraid that if he speaks freely he will make his mother cry. Will is trying to protect his mother and sister as best he can by saying nothing.
   When Gran and Grandfather come for lunch one day, Elinor finds out that they too can hear the animals. They even talk about it. Will thinks that they are making the whole thing up, but Gran explains that Will is simple not young, not old, or “not brave enough” to be able to access the magic around him. Will has no idea how to respond to this.
   On another morning Mama once again gathers the family around the breakfast table and, with great difficulty, she tells her children that she is going to have a baby. Will is surprised that Mama has not told Papa the news yet. In fact he is upset that she hasn’t, and he tells her that it is not fair to keep the news from Papa. He finally speaks up, even though he knows his words might upset Mama.
   Will tries to explain how he feels, which is when he hears words in his head, the perfect words that he wants to share with Mama. Will looks at Neo and he knows that the dog is the one who gave him those words. Will has heard Neo because he is speaking up and being brave. The magic is now there for him too.
   The next morning Papa comes to visit. Mama told him the news about the baby and he has come home. Will does not know what to think and he wonders if Papa will stay. He does, though he sleeps on the sofa at night. The dogs watch over Mama, and Papa seems to understand that this is the way things are going to be. He accepts the new order in the house quietly. After all, he was the one who walked out.
   Will wants to understand why Papa left and Papa tries to explain, but he is not very good at it. He wanted to have some space so that he could write a book, and he thought he needed to leave home to find that space, to find the “magic” to create something. Some time ago Neo, who once lived with a writer, told Will that writers need to work hard to write a book. Magic has nothing to do with the process. Will shares these words of wisdom with Papa, who agrees that Will is probably right.
   It turns out that Papa does, in fact, ending up finding magic, but not in the way he expects. Just like Will, when Papa finds the courage to do something hard, the magic finds him.
   This truly magical book explores how a family copes when one of their number loses his way. Thankfully, help is at hand. Four dogs and one cat set about helping the family members to come back together, and to find the inner courage that they need to share their feelings, to be true to themselves and others, and most importantly of all, to freely give their love.
  


Monday, February 27, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of: The Bear and the Piano

Many of us, when we juggle bills, contemplate a car that needs replacing, work in a job that is often tedious or boring, imagine what it would be like if we could turn what we love doing into a career that would bring us fame and fortune. How grand it would be to be a master gardener who wins huge prizes, or a virtuoso musician who plays in concert halls all over the world. We assume that 'success' will bring us happiness, but what if success and happiness do not necessarily go together?

The Bear and the PianoThe bear and the piano
David Litchfield
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Clarion Books, 2016, 978-0-544-67454-7
One day a young bear cub finds a strange object standing in a clearing in the forest. It is made of wood and there are black and white keys running down the length of it. The cub touches the keys with his paws and makes a dreadful sound. The little bear leaves, but he comes back the next day, and the next.
   For weeks, months, and years the bear comes to tap the black and white keys every day. By the time he is a grown up grizzly, the bear can make beautiful music when he plays the piano, for that is what the object in the forest is.
   The bear’s playing attracts the attention of the other bears in the forest, who all come to the clearing every night to listen to him play. Then a father and daughter hear the bear play and they invite him to go to the city with them where he will be able to play pianos for “hundreds of people and hear sounds so beautiful they will make your fur stand on end.”
   The bear goes to the city and it isn’t long before he is the toast of the town. Everyone wants to hear him play, and his concerts are sold out. He records albums, wins awards, and is feted by everyone he meets.
   Though he is a great success in the city, the bear could not help feeling, deep inside, that something is missing in his life.
  This beautiful book, with its gorgeous atmospheric artwork, takes a look at what can happen when you seek out fame and fortune. If you are a successful celebrity does this mean that you have everything you need to be happy? Or is there is something more precious than wealth, recognition, and success?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Everything on it

Most of us experience days when we are upset, out of sorts, or grumpy. What does one do on such a day? A little self care is always a good place to start, and for me dipping into a book is often the perfect way to counter an unhappy mind and heart. Children experience blah days too and for them a book that is full of giggles and smiles is often just what they need. Packed with funny and wacky poems, today's poetry title is a perfect book to share with a child when he or she is having a hard day.

Every Thing On ItEverything on it
Shel Silverstein
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2011, 978-0-06-199816-4
Have you ever ordered a hot dog with everything on it? Perhaps you have and have experienced a hot dog loaded down with chili and onions and cheese and relish and…. Perhaps you even liked it. But, what would you have done if you ended up with a hot dog with literally everything on it? Everything including a parrot, a rake, a fiddle, and a front porch swing? Probably you would have refrained from making such an order again.
   In this wonderful collection of poems, there is a little bit of everything. There is the poem about the person who orders a hot dog with everything on it. Then we hear from a dentist who invented “trick or treat” so that children could fill their mouths with all kinds of sweet treats that would, ultimately, lead to them having to visit the dentist. Rather a clever trick don’t you think?
   We also meet a genie who, instead of granting wishes to the child who opened his magic flask, is a “meanie.” The genie is the one who tells the child what to do instead of the other way round, and the poor little girl labors all week long cleaning, cooking, and washing the genie’s “yucky undies.”
   Then there is the person who has a dreadful disease called lovetobutcants. This is an affliction that makes it impossible for the person to help put out the garbage can, carry a bag of groceries, cut grass and hedges, paint, wash dishes, and close doors. In fact the person cannot do anything that could be considered a chore. Though the person would “love to join the work,” the disease simply does not allow it.
   There is the kind of collection that readers can dip into at will. No matter where the reader begins there is always something on the page that will amuse and delight. Amusing stories, funny descriptions, and goofy characters fill this book, and the poems therefore serve as the perfect panacea for a case of the blues or blahs.
  


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Books of Hope - One Happy Tiger

I read and reviewed this book only yesterday and I am still thinking about it. When I first saw it I thought that it was just a counting book, but I was wrong. It is so much more. This book show us how a lonely tiger finds something in the world around him that first engages him and then gives him joy. He finds hope simply by watching, taking in, and finally connecting with the living creatures around him. The beauty and sheer joy found in much of the artwork makes me wish I could mount the pages of the book on my walls.

One happy tiger
One Happy TigerCatherine Rayner
Board Book
For ages 2 to 4
Tiger Tales, 2017, 978-1-58925-234-9
Just like humans, animals can convey a great deal in their body language. The little twitch of an ear tells us that a dog that looks as if it is asleep is actually listening. The flick of a tail tells us that a cat is on alert, ready for whatever happens next.
   In this beautiful and thoughtful board book we meet a tiger; a “sad” tiger, sitting all by itself with its back to us. We can tell that it is sad and lonely just by its pose. Thankfully, when we see the tiger next it is “thoughtful” as it watches two bugs crawling on a leaf. Then it is “watchful” as it watches three colorful birds that are perched on a branch just above the tiger’s head.
   By the time we get to the number eight in this counting book our tiger friend is “smiling” in the company of eight buzzing bees. The tiger is stretched out, relaxed and with its eyes closed. There is smile on his whiskered face.
   This gorgeous counting book tells us the story of a tiger who slowly, by degrees, comes out of its shell to interact with the wonderful world around it. In the process, the tiger sees things that delight and intrigue it, and it also acquires something that is wonderful and precious.
   With its beautifully expressive art and its loveable tiger character, this charming little book will delight both children and adults.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Every Color

Sometimes the best way to appreciate what you have is to get away from your home for a while. I know this certainly is true for me. I often come home from a vacation and see my home and my life through fresh eyes. I see that I am rich in many ways.Today's picture book explores the idea that sometimes you have to adjust the way in which you see things before you can truly appreciate the world around you.

Every ColorEvery Color
Erin Eitter Kono
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin, 2016, 978-0-8037-4132-4
Bear lives “at the top of the world” in a place that is covered with white ice and snow. Though there is beauty in his white homeland, Bear longs to see color, and gets very depressed because there is no color to be seen where he lives.
   Bear’s friends do their best to cheer him up, and when that doesn’t work a passing seagull decides to help. The seagull visits a little girl it knows and she sends Bear a colorful picture of a rainbow. The gift delights Bear, but it does not “take away his discontent.”
   When the little girl gets Bear’s thank you note, she decides that she needs to go to see him. Across the ocean she goes in a little boat and when she gets to the frozen, white north she tells the bear that she knows what he needs. She is going to take him on a trip.
   Together the little girl and the bear sail around the world and see many wondrous, and colorful, things, and the bear paints color-rich pictures of the things he sees. Each of his paintings are then placed in an envelope and they are sent off, via the seagull, to an unknown destination.
   All too often there are wonderful things in front of our eyes that we simply do not see because we don’t know how to. It would appear that there are ways of seeing that are not always accessible to us at first.
   This wonderful picture book explores a bear’s journey as he learns how to see, how to be open, and how to set aside discontent so that his eyes and heart are able to ‘see’ the world in a new way.
 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Lonely Giant

Many people imagine that writing the text for a children's picture book story is easy. It isn't. Writing the text for a picture book story that is going to convey a 'message' is even harder. How does one share a message without being didactic or preachy? In today's picture book the author beautifully conveys a powerful message to her readers by giving us a storybook character who is engaging and lovable. Who can resist a giant who is essentially kind but who, like us, makes mistakes sometimes. We feel sorry for the giant and hope that he can fix the problems that he has created. We want to read on because we want the giant to have the happy ending that we feel he deserves.

The Lonely GiantThe lonely giant 
Sophie Ambrose
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2016, 978-0-7636-8225-5
In the middle of a huge forest, on top of a crag, there is a cave, and in the cave there lives a giant. Every day the giant does what all giants do: he pulls up trees “as though they were weeds” and throws them, and he has a grand time “smashing and mashing” the mountains.
   Not surprisingly, the giant’s destructive activities begin to take a toll on the environment around him. The animals move away, and the forest gets “smaller and smaller” until all that is left are a few trees, no animals, and a lot of quiet. The “songs of the forest” have disappeared, and the giant realizes that his world is no longer the place that he loved. In the quiet he gets lonelier and lonelier.
   Then one day the giant see a little yellow bird and he is delighted when she sings to him. So happy is he that he catches the bird, puts her in a cage, and carries the cage up to his cave. The problem is that the bird does not like to be caged, and soon she is so sad that she does not sing at all. The giant knows that there is only one thing to do, and he frees the little bird, who flies away and disappears. The giant is alone once more.
   We like to think that the things we do only affect us, but the truth of the matter is that our actions often affect the people and the places around us. The giant in this story learns, the hard way, that his tree-throwing and mountain smashing activities come with a price. The question is, what is he going to do about it?
   With great skill the author of this book brings us a story that is simple and yet powerful. We see very clearly how a beautiful place can be changed when it is ill-used, and we see too how owning up to our mistakes can bring about change for the better.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Moo

Writing a novel written  in verse is a challenge most authors would think twice about taking on. The wonderful thing is that this writing form seems to be gaining popularity. I see more and more novels written in verse every year, which I think is wonderful. Sharon Creech is a master of this form and I am delighted to bring you my review of her latest book, Moo. On these pages you will meet a stubborn cow, a difficult old lady, and two children who somehow have to figure out how to get along with them both.

Moo: A NovelMoo
Sharon Creech
Poetry
For ages 8 and up
HarperCollins, 2016, 978-0-06-241524-0
One summer’s day Reena, her brother Luke and her parents are sitting in the family car stuck in a traffic jam. The noise, smells, and heat of the city throbs around them. Reena’s mother then asks her husband a question, one that ends up having huge consequences later. The question is, “do you still like reporting?” It turns out that Reena’s dad doesn’t really like his work anymore. Renna’s mother then suggests that they should “get out of here,” and when her husband asks where they should move to, Reena is the one who says that they should move to Maine.
   To everyone’s surprise that is exactly what they do. They sell up, pack up, and drive north, and soon enough they are living in a small coastal town where Reena and Luke can safely ride their bikes everywhere. They ride past a farm and watch as groups of teenagers work with the animals, taking care of them as needed. Including the cows. The cows that are so big and intimidating.
   Reena’s mother gets to know an elderly and rather eccentric lady called Mrs. Falala and she asks her children to take her some books. Neither Reena or Luke want to go because the old lady scares them, but they do as they are told. The visit does not go well. Mrs. Falala upsets Luke, Reena comes to his defense, and both the children are told to leave.
   As a result of this unfortunate encounter, Reena and Luke are volunteered (against their will) to help Mrs. Falala “for a while.” What does that even mean? Reena is almost afraid to ask. The first task the children are given is to shovel up piles and piles of cow manure. To say that it is a disagreeable job is an understatement. It is horrible, and Mrs. Falala does not thank the children for their help. Instead, she tells them “Tomorrow: cow.” What does that mean? Then there is the fact that they know “ZERO about cows.” The children’s parents think that this is a perfect opportunity for Luke and Reena to learn about cows. Of course they do.
   Sure enough the next day, after they have done a lot of chores, Luke and Reena see Zora the cow, and Reena even pats her on the head. Cautiously. Mrs. Falala tells the children that the following day they will “meet Zora for official.”
   Reena and Luke’s official first encounter with Zora shows the children that Zora is not a friendly beast. Or a nice one. Or a compliant one. She is an ornery animal who refuses to cooperate when Reena goes to bring her to the barn. Zora dodges the rope Reena tries to throw over the cow’s head, chases the children, and even head-butts Reena. When Mrs. Falala says that the children are “babies,” Luke loses his temper, takes the rope, and neatly drops it over the cow’s head. Then Renna is told to bring the cow into the stall. This does not go so well.
   Roping and bringing Zora into the stall is bad enough, but the next day Mrs. Falala says that she is expecting the children to show Zora at the fair. Surely this is a joke. Reena and Luke know nothing about showing cows at fairs. They have never even been to an agricultural fair.
   With each day that they spend at Mrs. Falala’s place, the children learn something new about cows, and farms, about Mrs. Falala, and about themselves. They never imagine that their interactions with the crabby old lady and the difficult cow will end up making their lives richer.
   Written using a combination of blank verse and prose, this wonderful book explores the ways in which the lives of two children change when they move away from the city and discover country living, and cows, for the first time. It is fascinating to see how the children’s attitudes change as they get to appreciate their new home, and how having new people and animals in their lives helps them to grow. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Books of Hope - The Mole Sisters and the Rainy Day

I have a confessions to make. I have a soft spot for mole characters in children's literature. I was therefore naturally drawn to the stories about the Mole Sisters. Once I started reading these books I came to appreciate that these sweet stories about two very delightful mole characters have much to offer readers. Each of the books in the Mole Sisters series offers up a little gentle wisdom. Today's title reminds us that we must not give up hope during dark days. We must seek solutions and remember that dark days are always followed by sunny ones.

The Mole Sisters and the Rainy Day
Roslyn Schwartz
Picture Book  Series
For ages 3 to 6
Annick Press, 2001   ISBN: 978-1550376104
It is “lovely day” and the mole sisters are taking a walk. Unfortunately, their pretty sunny day turns into a very rainy day. The mole sisters are quite sure that the rain “won’t last” but is does. In fact, it comes pouring in sheets and the two little furry creatures have to make a run for home.
   At least at home they can be out of the rain. Or perhaps not. The mole sisters have a leaking roof. Now what are they to do?
   Once again the mole sisters find a wonderfully creative way of dealing with a problem. They also never give up hope that their situation will improve, and that is exactly what happens. Delightfully soft illustrations and a simple little story will charm young readers and remind them that even the most fierce of storms will pass. All you have to do is make the best of things and wait for the sun to come out again.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of A Taste of Colored Water

Over the years I have been able to add reviews of many wonderful books to my Black History Month Feature. Many of these books tells the stories of brave and steadfast African-Americans who made the world a better place even though the odds were so strongly against them.  Today a bring you a book that is a little different. It is about two little Caucasian children who know nothing about racism when we first meet them, and who later see the ugliness of bigotry first hand. When we look through the eyes of innocent children we truly see how cruel and unacceptable racism is on so many levels.

A Taste of Colored WaterA taste of colored water
Matt Faulkner
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2008, 978-1-4169-1629-1
Abbey Finch recently went to the big city with her mama to go shopping, and while she was there she saw a water bubbler that had a sign hanging over it that said “Colored.” She tells the kids back at home about what she saw and they all think she is “crazy.” Why would anyone have colored water coming out of a water fountain?
   The kids are inclined to think that this story is yet another of Abbey’s fibs, but they cannot help thinking how wonderful it would be to see a fountain that spouts forth colored water. Lulu and her cousin Jelly decide that they really have to see this marvel, and by some miracle they soon get the opportunity. Uncle Jack needs to get a part for a tractor he is working on, and the two children pester the man to take them with him until he gives in. Of course, Lulu and Jelly know better than to tell Uncle Jack why they really want to go to the big city so badly.
   Now, Lulu and Jelly have never been to the big city before, and the sight of all those tall buildings, the streets, and the lack of fields and trees is rather overwhelming. Uncle Jack finally gets to his destination, a shop across the street from city hall, and he goes to get the tractor part that he is looking for, telling the children to “Stay put” while he is gone.
   Of course they don’t. The colored water bubbler is right there and so they go and investigate, never expecting that what they will experience on that hill next to the city hall will put a crack in their world view that will change them forever.
   Children are naturally open and accepting of everyone. Until someone teaches them to be fearful of people who are different from them, they more often than not do not really see or care about another child’s skin color, hair color, eye color, or eye shape. For them a kid is just a kid.
   In this thought-provoking book Matt Faulkner gives young readers a story about two children who have no idea that a whole section of their society, African-Americans, are forced to live separately, and are denied rights that white people take for granted. In just a few minutes the children discover that in the adult world there are lines and boundaries that cause anger, pain, and frustration.
   Seeing the world through Jelly and Lulu’s eyes will remind adults of that time when they, like these two children, were free of prejudice. The story will give those adults the means to have an open dialogue with the children in their lives about racism.