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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Reach for the Moon, Little Lion

Sometimes being different from everyone else is just plain miserable. For some reason other people like to make fun of those of us who are smaller, bigger, and smarter. They like to pick on people who they feel are more imaginative, more emotional, and more original than is 'normal.' In today's picture book you will meet a lion who is really small and who is teased because of his diminutive size. We also meet an animal who finds a way to give the lion just what he needs to feel better about himself.

Reach for the Moon, Little LionReach for the moon, Little Lion
Hildegard Muller
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Holiday House, 2016, 978-0-8234-3777-1
There once was a lion who was smaller than all the other lions. In fact he was so much smaller that the other animals teased him, calling out “Are you a lion or a mouse?” when we was nearby. The crocodile went so far as to say that the little lion was too small to be a lion at all. Lions are “very big,” so big in fact that they can “touch the moon with a paw.”
   That night the little lion sat on a hill and looked up at the moon, which was so far above his head. What would it be like to touch the moon, he wondered? One thing that he was sure of was that touching the moon was not something he would ever be able to do.
   A raven saw how sad the little lion was and asked him what was the matter. The little lion explain that he was sad because he wanted to be big, big enough to touch the moon. If he could do such a thing the other animals wouldn’t laugh at him anymore. Was there a way to make the lion’s wish come true?
   This charming little story introduces young children to the idea that anything is impossible, if you believe in yourself and use your creativity to find a solution to your problem. Children will be delighted when they see how the raven helps the lion. Perhaps they too can touch the moon if they want to.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Books of Hope - Creekfinding: A True Story

Creekfinding: A True Story
I am often inspired when I read or hear true stories about people who have done things to make the world a better place. They don't have to be world famous people, and the things they do don't have to have a huge international impact either. The fact that they have taken the step to do something that is bigger than themselves is enough to make me feel hopeful.

Today's picture book tells the story of a man who chose to bring back a creek that had been lost, and in so doing he brought back a rich ecosystem as well.

Creekfinding: A True Story
Jaqueline Briggs Martin
Illustrated by Claudia McGehee
Nonfiction Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 978-0-8166-9802-8
Many years ago a spring “burbled out of the ground and tumbled itself across a prairie valley” and it became a creek. The water was home to fish, insects, frogs, birds, and many other creatures. Then the creek was lost because a farmer used a bulldozer to fill it in with earth so that he could plant big fields of corn. Instead of running through a creek bed, the water from the spring flowed through a ditch and it no longer offered animals and plants a habitat where they can thrive.
   Many years after the creek was lost, a man named Mike bought the field. He wanted to replace the cornfield with a prairie once more. A neighbor told him that many years ago he had caught a brook trout that was swimming in a creek that ran right through the cornfield. Mike wanted to bring the creek and the brook trout back, but when he told people about his plan they thought it was “foolishness.”
   Using an old photograph, Mike figured out the creek’s path and then he called some friends who had excavating machines. For days the machines “carved holes, dug curves and runs, tamped rocks for the creek bottom.” It was a beginning, but there was still a lot of work to be done and no one knew if the water from the spring would find its old path. A lot of things had to happen before brook trout would be able to swim in the creek again.
   All too often when a habitat is lost due to farming or development it stays lost. Thankfully for Brook Creek, Mike Osterholm cared enough about it to restore it to its former glory. The restoration process took years to complete, and Mike had no way of knowing if his plan would succeed. However, he did not let this stop him from trying, and he worked hard to make his dream come true.
   We all need to hear stories like this one; true stories about people who have brought about change and made the world a better place through their actions. Hearing such stories lifts us up, and we are encouraged to do what we can to make our part of the world more beautiful.
   Throughout the book the author’s narrative is supplemented by little snippets of information that help us to better understand creek ecology and Mike’s restoration process.  The story is brought to life by the gorgeous, colorful and textured art created by Claudia McGehee. To help her create her art she visited Brook Creek in person so that she could see its vitality and richness for herself before she put pencil to paper.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Love is

Many of us have a very one dimensional idea of what love is. We take cues from films we see and from songs we listen to. In actual fact love is quite a complicated emotion, and when it is real it is incredibly powerful. In today's picture book readers will meet a little girl who grows to love a little duck that she cares for. We get to see how her love for the little duck comes in many forms and how, ultimately, this love gives her the strength to do something wonderful for someone else.

Love IsLove is
Diane Adams
Illustrated by Claire Keane
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Chronicle, 2017, 978-1-4521-3997-5
One spring day a little duckling in a park pursues a butterfly and ends up wandering away from its family and its home to chase the enticing insect. Luckily the duckling is found by a little girl who falls in love with the fragile baby, with its “tiny wings and downy head.” She takes the duckling home and becomes its mother, which turns out to be quite challenging.
   In spite of interrupted nights, splashy bath times, messes, and the general upheavals that taking care of a baby involves, the girl loves the duckling. Somehow even when it is being annoying love prevails.
   Then fall comes around and there is a change in the air. The little girl and the duck look out of the window and she knows that the time has come. She is going to love her duckling harder than ever so that she can do what it right.
   This wonderful picture book explores how love comes in many forms. It gives birth to patience, flexibility, and a willingness to accept a painful loss. It also gives us hope.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Books of Hope - Last Stop on Market Street

Many of us are prone to seeing our world through grey-tinted spectacles. I know that I have a tendency to do this. I see only the problems and deficiencies in my life and not the many gifts and wonders around me. In today's picture book you will meet a little boy who is feeling thoroughly discontented with his life. He has a terrible case of the my-life-sucks grumps. Thankfully, his grandmother has quite a different attitude. She shows him that hope and wonderful things are everywhere, if you just know how to see them.

Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Pena
Illustrator:  Christian Robinson
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Penguin, 2015   ISBN: 978-0399257742
Every Sunday, after church, CJ and his nana get on a bus and travel across town to Market Street. One Sunday CJ comes out of the church building and it is raining. He does not feel like going across town in the bus today. He resents the rain, he resents the fact that he and Nana cannot travel in a car, he resents the fact that they have to go to the same place after church every Sunday. In short, CJ is not happy with much of anything at the moment.
   One would think that Nana would get annoyed by all of CJ’s complaining questions, but she doesn’t because that is not what Nana is like. Instead, she finds something good to appreciate in everything that CJ finds annoying. What would happen to the trees if they did not have rain to water them? If they had a car they would not get to meet Mr. Dennis the bus driver every Sunday, nor would they see the interesting characters on the bus. If they did not go to the same place every Sunday they would get to spend time with “Bobo or the Sunglass Man.”
   Then a musician starts to play on the bus and CJ begins to experience the joy that Nana understands so well. He begins to understand that sometimes you need to look at what you do have instead of what you don’t.
   This remarkable, award-winning title explores a simple idea through the eyes of a young child. Alongside CJ, on that battered bus, and in the dirty streets, we come to understand that there is beauty everywhere if you know how to look for it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Toot and Puddle: You are my Sunshine

Good friends help one another out in good times and bad. They are there for us not matter what happens, ready to cheer us up when we feel down, and ready to encourage us when we need a little support. In today's charming picture book you will meet a little pig called Puddle whose best friend has a terrible case of the blues.

Toot and Puddle: You Are My Sunshine
Holly Hobbie
Picture Book  Series
For ages 4 to 6
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010, 978-0316167031
It is a beautiful day and yet Toot is very blue indeed, bluer than ever before in fact. Puddle and Tulip the parrot are worried about their friend, and yet they cannot undo Toot's glum mood and his case of the mopes. The try everything that they can think of to cheer up Toot. They arrange adventures, throw him a party, and bake a berry cobbler, and yet nothing seems to work. Then something very simple comes along and solves the problem for them.
   What is especially touching about this Toot and Puddle tale is that we can see very clearly how good friends can help one another in times of trouble. We can also appreciate that sometimes it takes something outside the friendship to fix things.
   You are my Sunshine is a thoughtful story which, like the earlier Toot and Puddle Books, shows us how enriching and precious a good friendship can be.

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
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.  


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 |  

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
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
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.