Friday, December 8, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote

I have been lucky enough to read and review a wide variety of children's books over the last fifteen years or so. During that time I have really enjoyed seeing how authors and illustrators take on new challenges, and present stories and information in fresh and creative ways. Poetry books in particular have come a long way, and I really look forward to seeing the new titles that come out. In today's poetry title the author uses a series of poems to tell us the story of Miguel Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. The poems are beautifully written and are accompanied by lovely illustrations.

Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don QuixoteMiguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and his Dream of Don Quixote 
Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Raul Colon
Historical Fiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Peachtree Publishers, 2017, 978-1-56145-856-1
Miguel’s father is a barber surgeon who has a nasty gambling habit, and he is constantly having money problems. Eventually his debts are so big that he is thrown into a debtor’s prison. Miguel’s poor mother loses everything, including hope. She and her children have nothing, and they have no idea where their next meal will come from. In his empty home, Miguel takes refuge in his imagination, where a brave knight lives. The knight rides out on his horse to “right / all the wrongs / of this confusing/ world.”
   Mama finds work and she manages to take care of her family until her husband is released from prison. Then family then travels from place to place, and sometimes Miguel is able to attend school. The teacher reads to the children and Miguel wishes that he too could have a book to read, but books are few and far between, and only the teachers “are allowed to hold the books.”
   Knowing how precious books are Miguel is horrified when he witnesses a book burning. The books are being destroyed because they contain imagined stories. Miguel knows that his knight, the one that is hidden away in is imagination, would “rescue the flaming pages” if he were real.
   Papa gets work cutting hair and trimming beards, pulling teeth and treating wounds, but he also continues to gamble and so the family has to move again and again to run away from debt collectors. During the hard times, when they have to move, and when the plague comes to the land, Miguel turns to his knight for comfort. The knight rescues those in dire straits, and dashes to the rescue with his “chubby friend riding beside him / on a clumsy donkey.”
   Despite of his father’s ways, Miguel manages to learn to read and write in one of the schools he attends. The boy learns to write his own plays and poems, and when he is older one of his teachers includes four of Miguel’s poems in a book that is published.
   In this beautifully illustrated book a series of image-rich poems tells the story of Miguel Cervantes, and it is easy to see how the idea of Don Quixote might have grown in Miguel’s imagination when he was a child. He needed to believe in something good when his own life was so hard and so full of uncertainty.
   At the back of the book readers will further information about Miguel Cervantes and his famous knight character.

  


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Books of Hope - Adventures in Brambly Hedge

When times get hard, people often take a break from their lives so that they can rest and refresh. They go on a trip, go for a run or a hike, get out into nature, and spend time with the people that they love best. They knit or make music, work with wood or sew a quilt. Many of us dive into the pages of a book so that we can take a breather.

One of my favorite series of books that I turn to when I need a pick-me-up are the Brambly Hedge stories. The characters in these tales are mice and voles, and they live in a beautiful countryside world working, playing, and celebrating together. When you enter the world of Brambly Hedge you are immediately wrapped in a cozy blanket of friendship and good cheer. Here problems are solved through hard work, creativity, and cooperation. Life is simple and rich. When your visit is over you will return to the 'real' world warmed through, hopeful, and ready to face what comes next.

In the last few years two collections of these little books have been republished. One box set contains four adventure story picture books, and the other contains four seasonal story picture books. I am lucky enough to have one of these sets and today I bring you a review of one of the stories in the collection. All four of the stories in the set are a joy to read and share.

Jill Barklem
Picture Book
Ages 5 and up
HarperCollins, 2014, 978-0-00-746145-5
   In just a few short hours the Midwinter celebration is going to take place. All the Brambley Hedge mice are busy preparing for this big event. In the Old Oak Palace, Primrose and her friend Wilfred are trying to find a quiet place where they can practice the recitation that they are going to give in the evening. They also need to find something to wear for their performance; something special.
   Luckily Primrose’s mother is very knowledgeable and she advises the little mice to go up into the attics. There they will be able to practice in peace, and it is very likely that they will find some good costumes to wear as well.
   While they are exploring the attics, Primrose and Wilfred discover a hidden door, and behind it there is a long winding staircase. At the top of the staircase the mice children find the most beautiful and elaborate room. In fact, there are a whole set of rooms up there that are packed with fascinating things to look at. Wilfred and Primrose have their very own secret house to play in and to explore.

   Young readers will be hard put not to feel very envious of  the young mice friends in this Brambly Hedge tale; what a delightful adventure they have. With a wonderful story and beautiful illustrations that are packed with cunning little details, this is a book that young readers and their families will treasure. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Letters to a Prisoner

We like to think that we live in a world where people can speak out and say what is on their mind whenever they want to. Sometimes, and in some places, this is the case. However, in many countries around the world, too many of them in fact, people are either imprisoned or permanently silenced when they express opinions that governments, regimes, or dictators do not agree with.

Today I bring you a book that is a tribute to the people who dare to speak out against the powers that be. These are people who risk losing their freedom or their lives when they express their opinions. The story is also a tribute to the people and organizations who support the prisoners, who write to them, and who refuse to forget them.

Letters to a PrisonerLetters to a prisoner
Jacques Goldstyn
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Owlkids, 2017, 978-1-77147-251-7
One day a father and his little girl attend a peaceful demonstration. Or at least that is what it is supposed to be. The protestors are peaceful, but the soldiers who confront them are not. They attack and the father is struck on the head and thrown into a van that drives away. His poor little daughter witnesses the whole horrific event.
   The father is cast into a prison and there he languishes day after day. He feeds a bird who comes to his window, and a mouse who visits his cell. He draws a picture of himself and his daughter on the wall and remembers the good times.
   Then the bird he fed brings him a letter, a letter which makes him weep. Unfortunately, the guard sees the father reading the letter and he takes it away. He takes away all the other letters that the bird delivers. The guard burns the letters, sending smoke and fragments of paper up into the air. Perhaps he imagines that he has won this battle. But he has not.
   This extraordinary book was inspired by Amnesty International’s Writes for Rights letter-writing campaign. The human rights organization encouraged people from around the world to write to people who had “been unjustly imprisoned for his or her ideas.” The author wrote to prisoners, and being a part of such a meaningful effort made him want to tell a story; this story.
   Children who follow the story in this book will see how many voices can indeed bring about change. They will come to appreciate that everyone, anyone, can make the world a better place if they try.

Thank you

Image result for vintage children's illustrations public domain

Dear Friends:
I apologize for being silent for so long. I have a chronic illness which, for some reason that I do not understand, has been creating havoc with my health for a while now. The last few weeks have been particularly trying. I coped very well for years, but now the careful balance of work and rest that I have developed for myself no longer seems to be working. Hopefully I will figure out what the new balance is soon and I will be able to bring you posts of reviews consistently and on time. Thank you all for your patience and for your friendship.

With all my love,


Monday, November 6, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Book Of Gold

On Friday I brought you a poetry book that celebrates books and the written word. Today we have a picture book that also focuses on how marvelous and special books are. Bob Staake tells the story of a boy who, when we first meet him, hates books. In fact, this boy does not like much of anything. He has no interest in the world, and no curiosity. Then someone tells him about a very special book, and something rather magical starts to happen.

The Book of GoldThe Book of Gold
Bob Staake
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Random House, 2017, 978-0-553-51077-5
Isaac’s parents love books. They love the way books smell and how books feel when they are in their hands, and they love all the fascinating information that books contained. Books are so full of possibilities.
   Unfortunately, Isaac does not care for books at all. In fact, he is not much interested in anything and it would not be unfair to say that he is a rather dull child.
   One day Isaac’s parents take him to visit the New York Public Library. The idea of going into a building full of books thrills them, but Isaac does not feel the same way at all. He has no interest in books and so it isn’t long before the family heads for home. On the way they stop to look in a shop that contains all kinds of curios. Isaac’s parents are hoping that they will find something that will make a suitable birthday gift for Aunt Sadie. Isaac sits on the cold floor to wait. Nothing in the fascinating store attracts his almost non-existent curiosity. 
   The shopkeeper tries to find something that will interest Isaac and when she fails she tells Isaac about a book called the Book of Gold. She explains that the book contains “all the answers to every question ever asked, and when it is opened, it turns to solid gold.”
   The idea of having a book made of gold really appeals to Isaac and he decides to look for it. He goes to a bookstore. He picks up a book left in a diner. He picks up a book that a woman drops, and finds another that is left on a trolley seat. None of the books he finds turn to gold when it opens them.
   For months Isaac searches and searches. Then, one day, as he is looking at a book that is called The Seven Wonders of the World, a question pops into his head. It is the first of many questions that come to him as he opens books looking for the Book of Gold. Without even meaning to Isaac begins to discover that books bring forth questions, and they also answer them.
   This marvelous book shows readers that books are more than paper and board covers. They excite our curiosity in the world, open up our horizons, and they can even lead us on a voyage of discovery that can last a lifetime. This is a book that will delight adults and children alike. It is a magical tale that is timeless and ageless.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Read! Read! Read!

Here in southern Oregon it is a grey, wet day and I love it. We had a long Indian summer in October and I was feeling thoroughly sick and tired of warm, sunshiny days. Though sunny days can get wearisome, I never, ever get tired of reading books; it is always always a wonderful thing to do. Today I bring you a poetry book that celebrates the written word. It is a delightful title that will appeal to anyone who has a love for reading.

Read, Read, Read!Read! Read! Read!
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Wordsong, 2017, 978-1-59078-975-9
Reading is something we do all the time and yet we often forget what a gift words are. When words are strung together to give us a story, they “sing / into your soul / like soothing / summer rain.”
   Many children are eager to learn how to read for themselves and they “pretend” to read at first. They don’t realize that by tracing the letters with their fingers in their pretend reading, they are actually starting the process of learning. Then comes that wonderful day when reading is no longer something that other children do. Finally they too can claim the words that not so long ago were “confusing.”
   Though books are quite the best vehicle for words, they are also wonderful when they appear on cereal boxes, on the sports page, on maps, on road signs, cards, magazines, and other places. In a birthday card one child finds a poem penned by his grandfather; it is a poem that captures, in just a few words, how loved the child is. The child treasures the card and puts it, as always, in a box where “fall leaves / letters / and love” are kept.
   Books of course are the crème de la crème of written materials. They can turn us into explorers, and take us to marvelous places where we witness extraordinary things. They can teach us things, and perhaps best of all they help us to have “an open heart / an open mind;” after all, an “open book / will make you kind” if you are willing to allow its words to work their magic.
   This wonderful poetry title beautifully captures the joys that reading can bring us in our everyday lives. Through the eyes of the child characters that we see on the pages, we are reminded of the fact that books and other written materials really do enrich our lives.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Duck and Goose Honk! Quack! Boo!

As I write this post my seventeen year old daughter is making a witch's broom to go with her Halloween costume. She is going to be Kiki, the character from the film, Kiki's Delivery Service. Halloween was not  celebrated in the country that I grew up in, so I did not get to dress up when I was a child. After I moved to the U.S. when I was twenty-one I started participating in Halloween festivities and it has been so much fun.

Since Halloween is tomorrow, today I am offering you a festive picture book title to read. In the story  two little birds have an adventure that is funny, with just a little touch of Halloween spookiness to keep young readers guessing and wondering. 

Duck and Goose Honk! Quack! Boo!Duck and Goose Honk! Quack! Boo!
Tad Hills
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House, 2017, 978-1-5247-0175-8
Tomorrow is Halloween and Duck is curious to know what Goose is going “to be” on the festive day. Goose explains that he is going to be himself as usual, which is when Duck explains that Halloween is the one day when you should not be yourself.
   Thistle then appears on the scene and she tells her friends that her Halloween costume is a secret. They will have to wait until the next day to see what she is going to dress up as. As she leaves, Thistle tells Duck and Goose to “beware the swamp monster,” a comment which puzzles them greatly. It also makes both Duck and Goose feel decidedly worried. Neither of them likes monsters.
   The next day Duck, dressed up as a ghost, and Goose, dressed up as a super hero, go trick-or-treating together in the forest. They both hope that they are not going to see a swamp monster on this special night and are very relieved when all they see are other young animals trick-or-treating.
   All goes well until the moment when an owl dressed up as a daisy says that a swamp monster is looking for Duck and Goose. The friends are horrified. What are they going to do?
   Children are going to love this charming little Halloween tale, which features Tad Hills’ wonderful little bird characters.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet

Soon after I started reviewing children's books, I encountered an alphabet book that was created by a small publishing house in Michigan. The book was unique in that in it poetry, artwork, and sections of nonfiction text were brought together and presented in an alphabet book format. When the publishing house, Sleeping Bear Press, brought out more alphabet books using the same format I was delighted. What a wonderful way to engage young readers. Today I bring you one of these alphabet book titles. Readers can read the poems first, and then they can go back to the beginning of the book and read the nonfiction text.

A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet
Richard Michelson
Illustrator:  Ron Mazellan
Nonfiction and Poetry Picture Book  Series
For ages 6 to 12
Sleeping Bear Press, 2013, 978-1585363223
Trying to understand the rules, traditions, and history of a faith is never easy, even if you are of that faith. For people outside the faith, the stories and customs can be confusing, and the nuances of meaning can be lost. In this splendid picture book, Richard Michelson explores the Jewish faith in a new way. Using the format of an alphabet book the author tells his readers about some of the things that make the Jewish faith unique and interesting.
   For every letter of the alphabet Richard Michelson focuses on some aspect of Jewish life. For the letter B he tells us about Bar and Bat Mitvahs, the coming of age ceremonies that signify that a young person is no longer a child. For the letter C he tells us about challah, a special bread that Jews eat on the Jewish Sabbath. This braided bread is a just one of the many special foods that Jews make.
   This book can be enjoyed on several levels because each topic includes a poem, an illustration, and then a longer section of text. Young children can look at the pictures, and they can either have the poems read to them, or they can read them themselves. Older children will enjoy reading the more involved sidebar text. It is here that they will find out further details about Jewish religious practices, history, and customs.
   This is just one in a splendid collection of alphabet book published by Sleeping Bear Press. Other topics covered include cats, poetry, and music.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Books of Hope - Ruby's Imagine

When I first started reading today's book, I was sure that it was going to be depressing. A story about a young person who is cared for by an unkind family member, and who has to live through a hurricane does not promise to be cheerful. I did not take me long to realize that the main character of the story, Ruby, is not the kind of person who allows life's hardships to put her down. As I read, Ruby's attitude, her voice, and her magic made me feel empowered and hopeful. This was an amazing, amazing book and everyone, teens and adults alike, should read it. 

Ruby's ImagineKim Antieau
Fiction
For ages 13 and up
Createspace, 2012, 978-1478238379
When Ruby is only five years old her parents are killed in a car crash and she goes to live with Mamaloose, her maternal grandmother. Mamaloose is a cold and angry woman, and when Ruby does or says things that she does not like, Mamaloose beats the child with a leather belt. At first Ruby does not know what will set Mamaloose off. She talks about remembering her parents. She speaks of a house in the swamp where she lived with Daddy and Momma and her two sisters, Opal and Pearl. Mamaloose says that these are just “Ruby’s imagine,” and that they are not true memories.
   After a while Ruby learns to keep silent about these images that she is sure are from her past. It is better that way. She also learns to kept silent about the connections that she has with the creatures and plants around her. On some deep level Ruby can communicate with butterflies and trees, hummingbirds and other life forms. The only person who really knows about her gift is her friend JayEl.
   The amazing thing about Ruby is that she has managed to resist Mamaloose’ efforts to turn her, Ruby, into another angry and cruel person. Ruby isn’t even angry with Mamaloose. Instead, she feels sorry for her, and steadfastly refuses to take on the old man’s unhappiness. Instead, she is a warm and loving person who is close to her neighbors and the people she works with at the bakery. Soon Ruby will be going to college and then she will be free of Mamaloose for good.
   One day a butterfly conveys a message to Ruby, one that the Big Oaks shared with the insect. Apparently a Big Spin is on its way and it will soon be time to hunker down if you are foolish, or to get out of its way if you are sensible. Ruby shares this message – in an oblique way not mentioning where it came from – with Mamaloose. The old woman isn’t worried. She has survived countless storms and hurricanes. Ruby also tells JayEl about the butterfly’s message. JayEl asks Ruby if she thinks that this is going to be “the one,” the storm that will “bury us in water.” Ruby says that she gets the sense that this hurricane is going to rip off “the veil” that lies over the city.
      It isn’t long before it becomes clear that the coming hurricane is indeed going to be a big one. People start boarding up their homes and businesses, and on the radio the mayor says that “we strongly advise people to leave at this time.” Some people do pack up and leave, but others decide to stay. Many of the folks in Ruby’s neighborhood, including Mamaloose, have no place to go and very little money to spare. They certainly cannot pay for motel rooms. Ruby tries very hard to convince Mamaloose that they need to get to higher ground because where they live is below sea level, but the old lady pays her no heed.
   In the end Ruby and Mamaloose stay put. When they go to bed it is raining and windy. When Ruby wakes up she goes to check on her grandmother downstairs only to find out that water has come into the house and it is rising. Ruby and Mamaloose take refuge upstairs and then they go up into the attic. Part of the roof is ripped away, and as they huddle together in a corner, not knowing if the next gust of wind is going to cause the house to collapse, Mamaloose finally tells Ruby the true story of her family. To say that Ruby is shocked is an understatement. She has always known that Mamaloose was a hard person, but it turns out that she did things that were, in Ruby’s eyes, downright cruel. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Out of the Blue

Many of us, when we see someone in trouble, tell ourselves that is not our problem, not our business. We don't want to be inconvenienced; we don't want to have to deal with drama or difficulties that are not our own. This is a very unfortunate state of affairs, to say the least. If we were the one struggling, would we want everyone to turn their heads as they walk by us so that we are left to cope alone? No, probably not.

In this wonderful wordless book we see how the actions of a few good people saves an animal that is in dire need of assistance. We also discover how rich and powerful stories can be when the narrative is presented to the reader through art alone.

Out of the Blue
Out of the BlueAlison Jay
Wordless picture book
For ages 4 to 7
Barefoot books, 2014, 978-1-78285-042-7
On the coast right next to a sandy shore there is an island, and on that island there is a lighthouse. A little boy lives in the lighthouse with his father, a dog, and a cat.
   One beautiful sunny morning the little boy heads out carrying his bucket and spade and soon he is on the beach. He finds a pretty shell and a little girl comes to look at his find. Then the two children go off together. They find a fish in a tide pool, and using the little girl’s net they catch the fish, carry over to the sea, and let it go. By this time the wind has picked up and so the children, along with everyone else on the beach and in the sea, head for home. A storm is on the way.
   That night the rain pours down, lightening forks across the sky, waves crash against the island, and the little boy and his father are safe and warm in their cozy lighthouse.
   In the morning they find a very large surprise waiting for them outside. The storm has beached an enormous squid on the sand. The poor creature is all trussed up with a fishing net and it is still very much alive. The boy and his friends have to do something to help the poor creature.
   This delightful wordless picture book has a main story that is engaging, and it explores the idea that we all need to do our part to help others. In addition, there are several little stories in the artwork to follow, many of which are amusing.



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Books of Hope - The Friend Ship

Everyone has days when they feel blue and despondent. Things are not going well for some reason or another, and the future looks far from rosy. At times like these our friends are often the ones who support us. They remind us that bad times don't last forever. and encourage us to hold onto hope and to keep on going. Today's Book of Hope perfectly captures the way in which hope can be kept alive when one has friends by ones side.


The Friend ShipThe Friend Ship
Kay Yeh
Illustrator:  Chuck Groenink
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Disney-Hyperion, 2016, 978-1484707265
One day Hedgehog is lying curled up in a ball in “the lonely little nook of a lonely little tree” when she hears two animals taking about her. One animal tells the other that Hedgehog seems lonely, and then the other animal says that things will be better when Hedgehog finds friendship. All she has to do is to go and look for it.
   Hedgehog is inspired by this overheard conversation. The “Friend Ship” is out there waiting for her and now she has to find it. Hedgehog quickly gets to work and builds a boat. A beaver comes a long and asks her what she is doing. Hedgehog explains that she will soon be setting off to find The Friend Ship. The beaver, who wants a friend, asks if he can join Hedgehog in her quest, and she happily agrees.
   The two travelers don’t travel far in their boat when they come across four deer. Hedgehog asks the deer if they have seen The Friend Ship. The deer like the idea of being on such a vessel; they would like to have friends too, and so they ask if they can join Hedgehog and the beaver, who are happy to welcome the deer on board.
   Hedgehog and her companions sail north and south. The head east as well, and every time they ask someone if they have seen The Friend Ship the answer is no. Every time Hedgehog is asked if an animal can join her quest she (and everyone else) always says yes.
   After a few days of searching and asking, Hedgehog begins to lose hope, but the animals on the ship with her don’t let her give up. They support and comfort her, telling her that they will “stick with you till the end.”
   This wonderful picture book shows readers, in a sweet and gentle way, how sometimes the one thing that we want the most in life can sometimes be found right under our noses. In company with Hedgehog and her fellow travelers, we go on a wonderful voyage of discovery and hope.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Fog

What feels like a long time ago I worked for environmental organizations, and environmental causes were dear to my heart. They still are, though these days I find different ways to make a difference where I can. One of the things I do is to seek out books for young people that help them understand that they can do something about the environmental problems that we face. Today's book is just such a title. The message is subtle, but powerful at the same time. It is a book readers of all ages will enjoy.

The FogThe Fog
Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Kenard Pak
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra Books, 2017, 978-1-77049-492-3
Far to the north there is an island covered in ice, and its beauty is so remarkable that people from all over the world come to visit it. There is a bird, a little yellow warbler, who lives on the island. Unlike the other birds Warble is very interested in the humans who come and go. In fact, he is a “devoted human watcher” and keeps careful records of all the human types he sees.
   Then one day a warm fog rolls in and by evening the fog is so thick that no one can really see anything. Warble waits and waits for the fog to lift. He talks to the other birds about the problem, but none of them, except the ducks, seem to care. In fact, many of the birds forget that there was a time when the island wasn’t wrapped in fog all day long.
   Warble does not forget about the pre-fog days, and he also notices that the ice on the island is melting. Something is really wrong. Feeling alarmed, Warble does his best to talk to the other birds about his concerns. However, none of them want to listen to him and the fog spreads further.
   Then one day Warble sees a small human, a “red-hooded spectacled female (juvenile)” to be exact. Warble and the human meet and then they discover something remarkable; they can understand one another. Perhaps together they can figure out what to do about the fog.
   All too often, when something is wrong, people try to ignore it, or pretend that it isn’t there. Solving a problem takes work and effort and they can’t be bothered. This book is a tribute to all those wonderful people (and birds) who are bothered, and who understand that it is important to see, and confront, the problems that face us all.
   With its subtle environmental message and its charming characters, this picture book will charm adults and children alike.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of A Good Story

There are some people in this world who think that books have no value; that they are even irrelevant in today's world. Stories, both true ones and fictional ones, have no place in their lives it would seem. The very idea of not having books in my life makes me feel sick to my stomach and cold all over. I have always loved books, and I have always wanted to have books around me.

In today's picture book you will meet a pig who lives in a world where words are not valued at all. Numbers rule, and everyone is expected to follow the rules and behave in a predictable and logical way. The pig does his best to live by the rules, but it turns out that he just isn't cut out for a humdrum life.


A Good Story
Zack Rock
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Creative Editions, 2017, 978-1-56846-280-6
Assistant Bean Counter No. 1138 is a numbers pig. He wrangles numbers all day, and in the world he belongs to “something only matters if it can be counted.” Though his co-workers seem to thrive on this life, Assistant Bean Counter No. 1138 does not feel as if he fits in. In fact, he has never felt like he belongs. In his world everyone is expected to toe the line “without question,” to follow the “old story” that controls everything. However, try as he might to be happy with what is “orderly and ordinary,” this pig cannot help giving in to his impulses to do things that are out of the ordinary.
   One rainy day the assistant takes refuge in a strange shop that is full of books. There are no numbers in the place. Only words. He is astonished when he discovers that the books contain the most remarkable stories, and through the stories he is transported to incredible worlds where anything can happen.
   While he is perusing one of the volumes the pig encounters something that captures his interest. He reads about an acrobat. The description of what an acrobat is tugs at him, but the old story that dictates that he must avoid anything out of the ordinary pulls him in the opposite direction.
   It is not easy to follow your own path in life, and to find the courage to turn away from what is expected of you so that you can follow your heart. This powerful book explores how one little pig discovers that he does not have to follow the crowd if he does not want to. Other options are out there, if he is willing to step off the beaten path.
   Readers of all ages will connect with this tale as it explores a timeless, ageless, and universal theme.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Stay: A girl, a dog, a bucket list

A little over fourteen years ago I brought home a sick, miserable little bundle of fur. Pippin was a puppy mill rescue and he became one of my best friends. He went where I went, and loved me unconditionally, even when I was not at my best. He put up with sharing his home with a young child, a pig, and numerous cats and dogs. He even had to contend with grumpy docks patrolling his garden. He was love personified and his friendship mean a great deal to me. Knowing how precious such a friendship is, I decided to share this review with you. It perfectly captures how powerful the bond between a human and a dog can be.

Stay: A girl, a dog, a bucket list
Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket ListKate Klise
Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Feiwel and Friends, 2017, 978-1-250-10714-5
From the moment Astrid was born Eli was a part of her life. He was her first friend and he went on to become her bodyguard, her favorite pillow, and her roommate. It did not matter in the least that Astrid was a little girl and that Eli was a boy dog. They were besties.
   Then Astrid began to notice that she was getting bigger than her large furry friend. As she was getting taller Eli was getting older, and by the time Astrid was six Eli was an old dog who walked more slowly than he used to.
   One day, when they were in the park, Astrid shared her popcorn with Eli and then she took him on the slide with her so that he could try it. When they got home she put together a bucket list of all the things Eli should do before he was too old to do them. She and Eli would go through the list.
   Together the two friends rode on a bike, they went to the library where they borrowed lots of books that were about dogs, they went to a movie theatre, they slept outside, and Astrid let Eli sleep under the covers in bed with her. Astrid even gave Eli a bubble bath and brushed him for a whole hour afterwards. Astrid then added one more thing to the list because she knew that her dear friend was slowing down.
   Best friends are precious things, and in this special book Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise give us a story that is a celebration of friendship. Their tale also serves as a reminder that we should enjoy our time with loved ones to the fullest. As the story unfolds, we get to see how the relationship between the child and the dog changes over time. The child who was cared for is now the caregiver.

   

Monday, September 18, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Professional Crocodile

I have a special place in my heart for wordless books. I am attracted to them in part because they are such a pure form of storytelling through art. I am also love the fact that anyone can enjoy 'reading' them. Readers of all ages and all nationalities can follow the narrative and interprate it in their own way.

Today I bring you a wordless picture book that has such a beautifully paced narrative, and such a clever ending, that I smile every time I think about it. I also happen to really like the main character. There is a sweetness about him that is irresistible.

Professional CrocodileProfessional Crocodile
Giovanna Zoboli
Illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Wordless Picture Book
For ages for ages 4 to 7
Chronicle Books, 2017, 978-1-4521-6506-6
Crocodile is woken up when his alarm goes off. Bleary eyed he gets out of bed, opens the curtains, gets dressed, has breakfast, and then heads out to work. Through the busy streets he walks, stopping to look in a shop window or two. He buys a newspaper before he heads down to the subway.
   Crocodile patiently waits for his train, and then he gets on board. For a while he reads his newspaper, but then more people get on board and he is wedged in so tight that reading the paper is just not possible.
   Finally crocodile gets to his destination. He quickly trots up the steps to the street, buys some flowers, buys a roasted chicken, greets a shopkeeper, and then delivers the flowers to a friend. It is time for crocodile to go to work.
   In this intriguing book readers will thoroughly enjoy sharing Crocodile’s commute, during which they get to see the interesting people that he encounters along the way. Many of the people are quite ordinary looking —though of course who can never tell what a person is like from their outward appearance— but some of them are decidedly different. Best of all, young readers will be quite surprised when they find out what line of work Crocodile is in. Perhaps he is a dentist? Maybe he is a roast chicken connoisseur?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Bravo! Poems about amazing Hispanics

I have a confession to make. I do not know much about the Hispanic community here in the U.S. I really have never had the opportunity to learn much about Hispanics, and I know that this is a shame. I therefore was delighted when I came across today's poetry book. On its pages I got to 'meet' some extraordinary Hispanic men and women who have made the world a better place.

Bravo!: Poems About Amazing HispanicsBravo! Poems about amazing Hispanics
Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Poetry nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Henry Holt, 2017, 978-0-8050-9876-1
The United States has been, and is, home to some remarkable Hispanic men and women. Some of them came to the U.S. as refugees or immigrants, while others were born here. Many of these people speak multiple languages, and they stay connected to their native or ancestral land through the meals that they cook, and the festivals that they celebrate.
   For this book Margarita Engle has written poems about Hispanic men and women who achieved great and meaningful things. Some of them are famous, while others are not. All of them are “amazing people.”
   The first person we ‘meet’ is Juan de Miralles. Juan grew up in Cuba, and when he was a grown and successful businessman he visited the United States to help the Americans gain their independence from England. Juan was friends with George Washington, and was with him at Valley Forge when George Washington’s soldiers were suffering due to a lack of warm clothing and other supplies. One of the illnesses that they suffered from was scurvy, and so Juan sent some of his ships to Cuba to bring home limes and guavas, which serve as an excellent cure for scurvy.
   Felix Varela also came from Cuba, and he chose to become a priest. He was outspoken, and preached “against cruelty, speaking out in favor / of freedom for slaves, and freedom / for the colonies of Spain.” Felix’s words made him so unpopular in Cuba that he had to flee, and he took refuge in the United States, where he took up the cause of the Irish immigrants who had fled Ireland because of the potato famine. The Irish immigrants had so little and needed help, and they also needed someone to protect them against prejudice. Felix helped the Irish build schools, he took care of their sick, and protected their children from bullies.
   Louis Agassiz Fuentes was the son of a Puerto Rican father and an American mother and he was born in New York. Though Louis’ father wanted him to become an engineer, Louis loved birds and he wanted to paint them. Unlike many bird artists, Louis refused to kill and pose his beautiful subjects. Instead he learned “to paint quickly” while the birds flew “in the wide / wondrous / sky.”
   In all we meet eighteen Hispanic men and women in this book who are writers, activists, artists, scientists, teachers, musicians, and more. At the back of the book the author provides her readers with further information about the people she writes about in her poems.
   This is the kind of the book that people who are not familiar with Hispanic history will find fascinating. They will discover many truly special people on the pages, people who have made the world a richer and better place. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Books do not have wings

I freely admit that I enjoy watching films and programs on the television and on my ipad. I have a Kindle, and I use it all the time. However, I am still a devotee of books. I buy them regularly, and there are books in practically every room in my home. I know that books can offer me things that I cannot get from a screen, and I relish my reading time. Books educate, they comfort, and they entertain. They open doors to different worlds, and show us that there are so many possible paths to take in life.

Today I bring you a  picture book that celebrates all the things books give us.

Books Do Not Have WingsBooks do not have wings
Brynne Barnes
Illustrated by Rogerio Coelho
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Sleeping Bear Press, 2017, 978-1-58536-964-5
When you pick up a book what do you see? You see something that has a cover, a spine, and pages. You know that the book has a writer and perhaps an illustrator as well, and that it has readers “like you.” Perhaps you think that this is ‘just’ a book, but you would be wrong. There is nothing ‘just’ about a book, because a book “can do anything / that you want it to do.” 
   Though a book technically does not have wings and does not have an engine or other remarkable moving parts, it still is a marvelous “work of art” that “plumps up your thinker / and fills up your heart.” It is more than a cover, a spine, and pages. It is “more than a book.”
   Through its words a book can become a ship that takes you on a grand adventure with pirates. It can dip under the ocean waves and we can take a journey in a submarine, exploring fascinating undersea worlds that are full of extraordinary sea creatures.
   With a book for company we can watch a witch stirring her brew, and gaze upon a dragon that is resting on a cloud deep in slumber. We can marvel as flocks of fairies dance around the leaves of trees in a forest.
   Perhaps the most amazing thing of all about a book is the fact that if you have the wish to explore the book with an open heart and mind, and have eyes that are eager to discover what comes next, a book can be just about anything,
   In the glorious picture book a lyrical rhyming text is paired with rich and magical illustrations to take readers on a journey that shows them that books are extraordinary things. They should not be taken for granted, nor should we ever think that they are ‘just’ a book. Once we open them up and start to read, the stories and narratives in books can take us into marvelous worlds that are ruled by the imagination, or knowledge, or both.



Friday, September 8, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of You can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen

First and second person narratives in historical fiction can give readers a very powerful reading experience. These types of stories can bring history alive so that we can get a sense of what it was like to live in the past. Today I bring you a piece of historical fiction that is presented to the reader in the form of blank verse. It is a remarkable story that everyone, even people who don't care for history, will find interesting.

You can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen
Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Poetry
For ages 9 to 12
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1481449380
Becoming a pilot is not easy, and if you are a person of color it is particularly hard. There are only 130 black pilots in the nation after all, and thousands of people who think that you “not fit to fly” because of the color of your skin. You cannot give up on your dream though. “The engine of your ambition will not brake / for walls of injustice – no matter how high.”
   So off you go to the Tuskegee institute with a Bible and a “box lunch from your mama,” and there you spend your days being told what to do by Chief Anderson. Chief Anderson knows how to fly and how to train pilots, and it turns out he also knows how to win the favor of the First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt goes up in his plane and she sees first hand that black pilots can fly. Eleanor tells her husband the president about her experience and he insists that black pilots should be given “a shot.”
   Thus it is that the Tuskegee Experiment begins and it is up to you and the rest of the cadets to prove to the world what you can do. There are only thirteen of you, and your officers are all white; they are all eager not for the medals of a general, but for the opportunity to make history. They have a lot to prove and they are counting on you to prove that they were right to put their faith in you. They are not the only ones who are watching. Indeed, “The eyes of your country are on you,” and the “hopes of your people / rest on your shoulders.” It is a fearsome burden.   
   Days, weeks, and months of classwork and training go by and then you hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor and suddenly more is at stake. A lot more. You are eager to do your part and you follow the war news, and yet nothing happens. You wait and then, at last, the words that you have been waiting for, “Move Out,” are finally heard. You join four hundred of your fellow pilots from the 99th Fighter Squadron and get on a train bound for New York.
   Written in the second person using a series of poems, this truly special book shows readers what it was like to be a Tuskegee airman before, during, and after WWII. Readers will come to appreciate the challenges that faced African-Americans who wanted to be licensed pilots. They will read about the obstacles that were put in their way even when they wanted to serve their country during wartime. It is sobering to realize that these pilots, who did not lose a bomber in 200 of their 205 missions, and whose military records were exemplary, came home only to face racism and segregation.



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Books of Hope: My Beautiful Birds

For the last few weeks I have felt as if the world really is struggling to stay 'upright.' Everywhere I look I see news about hurricanes and wildfires. My own beautiful valley has been shrouded by a fog of heavy, eye-burning, wildfire smoke that leaves me wheezing and exhausted. Then there are all the political conflicts that are disrupting people's lives all over the planet. In a way these are even worse than the challenges that Mother Nature tests us with because they are preventable, and the long-term effects of these kinds of events can last for decades.

What is happening in Syria is a perfect example of these man-made disasters. Today I bring you a book about a little boy who loses everything he holds dear when his home is destroyed and he becomes a refugee.

My Beautiful BirdsMy Beautiful Birds
Suzanne Del Rizzo
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Pajama Press, 2017, 978-1-77278-010-9
When their town is bombed and starts to burn, Sami and his family have no choice but to leave. War has destroyed their home and now they are refugees carrying all that they own on their backs and in their arms. Sami is brokenhearted not just because he has lost his home, but also because he has lost the pet pigeons he loved and cared for. Sami’s father reassures his son that the pigeons “escaped too.” His words gives Sami a little comfort.
   Sami and his family members walk for several days until they finally come to a refugee camp. Here at last they will be safe. They are given a tent to live in, and it is not long before Father plants a garden, Mother starts cooking meals, and the camp’s children start attending a school that is set up for them. Just like before, the children sing songs, they do math, they play soccer, and they paint pictures, but Sami cannot enjoy doing any of these things. He is too broken-hearted about the loss of his home and his birds.
   One day Sami is lying on the roof of a building looking up at the sky and daydreaming when four birds arrive. They are refugees in the desert, just like Sami.
   When you live in a peaceful place where there is no war or conflict, it is hard to imagine what it is like to lose everything. It is hard to imagine what it is like to be a refugee. Unfortunately, today more people have been displaced by conflict and natural disasters than ever before.
   One of the places where these displacements are taking place is Syria, a country that has been ripped apart by war. In this story we meet a Syrian child whose whole life is turned upside down when his hometown is destroyed. We watch as he struggles to adjust to his new existence in a refugee camp, and as he longs for what he used to have.
   Beautifully written, and illustrated using polymer clay and acrylic, this picture book serves as a tribute to all those families who have had to venture out into the unknown when their homes have been taken from them.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Here Comes Teacher Cat

In many places the new school year has started. Lazy summer days are over and it is time to begin a new chapter. Today I bring you a book about Cat, a character who is funny and sometimes rather opinionated. In the story Cat is asked to stand in for a teacher who has to go to a doctor's office, and he discovers that being a teacher is both challenging and rewarding.

Here comes Teacher Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-399-53905-3
Cat is fast asleep and when the narrator wakes him up Cat is not pleased. The narrator insists that “this is an emergency,” which it surely is. Ms. Melba, the teacher at Kitty School, had to go to the doctor and Cat is going to have to step up and help out. Cat is not keen on the idea at all. In fact, he tries to sneak away, but then the narrator reminds Cat about all the nice things Ms. Melba has done for him.
   Very reluctantly Cat goes to Kitty Elementary. He actually tries to hide under the teacher’s desk, but the narrator finds him out. Cat is going to have to do something to engage his eager little students and he decides to start with a music lesson. He gives his students drums, a horn, a sax, an electric guitar, a bass, and a keyboard to play. The music is great and they are all having fun but - there always is a but - it is too loud. Cat is going to have to find something else to do.
   Next Cat and his little charges build something, and then they create some art. Both activities are a great success except for the fact that Cat gets a little carried away. Actually, he gets very carried away and the result is a terrible mess in Ms. Melba’s classroom. What is she going to think when she gets back from the doctor’s office?
   Cat is never one to do things in moderation. When he gets involved in a project he jumps in with all four paws. Children are going to love seeing how he copes with being a temporary teacher, and how his day actually turns out to be quite enjoyable, all in all.
   This is the fifth Cat adventure, and once again Cat and the narrator have a wonderful relationship that readers will find amusing and entertaining. You can always trust that Cat will get up to something when you meet him. That’s just how he is, and we love him for it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis

Many years ago I was sent a manuscript of a novel that was written in blank verse. I will honestly say that I was dreading reading it, but as soon as I began I was hooked. It was so beautifully written, and at times I was in tears as I turned the pages (I was still getting printed manuscripts in the mail at this time.) Since then I have sought out novels written in verse and have spent many hours exploring this wonderful form of writing.

Today I bring you an extraordinary example of this poetry genre. The narrative tells the story of a young woman who had to overcome a great deal in her life. We know very little about her, but thankfully we can still look at some of the beautiful sculptures that she created (see an example of her work below the review).

Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia LewisStone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis
Jeannie Atkins
Poetry
For ages 13 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1-4814-5905-1
The American Civil War is raging and there is a lot of uncertainty and change in the air. Thanks to all the discussion about race, and through the efforts of abolitionists, a few people of color are now being offered the opportunity to get a higher education. One of these people is Edmonia, a half African-America half Ojibwe girl. She is a student at Oberlin College in Ohio where both people of color and women are being accepted as students.
   The theory is that Edmonia is supposed to be just another student, but this is not really how it is. In reality she has to very careful to behave in an exemplary manner and not do anything to draw attention to herself. Edmonia’s roommate Ruth is very hard working and conscientious and warns Edmonia not to associate with some white girls that Edmonia thinks are her friends.
   It turns out that Ruth’s warnings are justified. One night the girls add a little something to their mulled cider and get very sick. Edmonia, because she was there and served the girls their drinks, is blamed for what happened, and is even accused of trying to poison the girls. Before she can really grasp what is happening to her, Edmonia is told she cannot leave her dorm and cannot attend classes until her case comes up before the judge.
   Though she is not supposed to go outside, Edmonia does so any way, needing the solace of nature to help her feel grounded and connected to who she is. While she is out she is assaulted by a group of men and comes back to the room she shares with Ruth bleeding and shocked. The girls decide not to tell anyone about what happened. It would not do to give the people who are out to get Edmonia more ammunition to use against her.
   In the end the case against Edmonia is dismissed due to insufficient evidence. That should be the end of the whole business but it isn’t. The clouds that hung over Edmonia in the days leading up to the trial still seem to be there. Then Edmonia is accused of stealing some paints and though she is told “Not a single trustee believes you are a thief,” she is also told that it would be better if she didn’t come back next semester.
   There is no doubt that losing her place at Oberlin college is a huge blow to Edmonia, but it turns out that her change in fortune ends up being a good thing in the long run because it gives her the opportunity to work with an artist, which then leads to her becoming a sculptor.
   We know very little about Edmonia Lewis’ life story and so the author of this book chose to create a novel in verse so that she could fill the gaps in history with scenes and people born in her imagination. The format suits her purpose beautifully, and she captures Edmonia’s personality, and her reactions to the events that impact her, in a powerful and memorable way.     

Image result for edmonia lewis
Hiawatha's Marriage by Edmonia Lewis 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of The adventures of Piratess Tilly

Today's poetry title is a real treat. I have never encountered a tale quite like it, and am delighted to share it with you. The narrative is told using a series of haiku, which just happens to be a poetry form that I really love. In the tale we meet a young girl who goes on a voyage of zoological discovery with some friends. Together they see and experience all kinds of wonderful things.

The Adventures of Piratess TillyThe Adventures of Piratess Tilly
Elizabeth Lorayne
Illustrated by Karen Watson
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
White Wave Press. 2017, 978-0-9979098-4-5
Piratess Tilly has formed a family of sorts, and together they sail “the high seas” seeking out knowledge about the natural world. With her are seven boys who hail from seven countries, and then there is Yuki, a koala that she rescued from Australia. Inspired by the work of Charles Darwin and Beatrix Potter, the young naturalists set out on a voyage of discovery using an heirloom compass and nautical charts.
   Up goes the mainsail and with Tilly at the helm and Yuki and his map beside her, the crew of the Foster set sail for the Galapagos Islands. Many days travel lie ahead of them and Tilly takes the time to do research and create sketches.
  Finally land is sighted! Humpback whales breach in the ocean and Blue-footed boobies fly overhead, their “beaks full of fish.” The adventurers see marine iguanas and sea lions, and happily study sea life in the blue waters of the ocean. Then Yuki sees something that upsets them all. Pirates are stealing baby giant tortoises! The friends decide that they have to rescue the little reptiles before it is too late.
   In this delightful picture book, gorgeous illustrations are paired with carefully crafted haiku to take young readers on an adventure during which they meet avid young naturalists who travel the world. At the back of the book young readers are provided with biographies of Charles Darwin and Beatrix Potter, naturalists who celebrated the natural world through their writings and artwork.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Books of Hope - Next Year: Hope in the Dust

Every year Americans experience natural disasters. There are floods, wild fires, earthquakes, storms, hurricanes, and landslides. Homes, business, and lives are lost, and sometimes it takes the affected areas years to recover. In the 1930's a natural disaster of epic proportions struck the United States. The Dust Bowl brought misery and loss to hundreds of thousands of people, and millions of acres of land became infertile due to drought and huge dust storms. Millions of people moved to other parts of the country to get away from the devastated areas.

There is no doubt that, for the people who lived through the Dust Bowl, it was a heartbreaking time. And yet some of them did not give up. They held onto their land hoping that good times would return.

Today's Book of Hope takes us into the life of a young man whose whole world is turned upside down by the Dust Bowl. It is remarkable to read about his experiences, and see how, in spite of it all, he finds the strength to keep going.

Next YearNext Year: Hope in the dust 
Ruth Vander Zee
Illustrated by Gary Kelley
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Creative Editions, 2017, 978-1-58646-282-0
On April 14th, 1935, the sun comes up and a beautiful, cool, and clear morning is born. Calvin runs over to his cousin’s house and the children play together, delighting in the “hopeful day.” Alas, in the late afternoon a dust cloud blows in, a wall of blackness that blots out the sky and the sun. Calvin cannot see where he is going as he heads home, his hand on a fence so that he does not get lost.
   When he walks in the door of his home he is met by another cloud, a deep feeling of despair. His mother stands ankle deep in sand, and his father sits at the table looking like “a beaten-up kid.”
   Not that long ago Calvin got to enjoy clear skies, rain, and the sight of golden wheat ripening in the fields. He got to enjoy seeing his mother’s pretty smiling face, to drink milk that wasn’t gritty, and to sleep on a clean pillow every night. Then, four years ago everything changed when the rain stopped and dust storms scoured the land. Crops withered or were eaten by hungry rabbits, cattle had to be sold before they perished, and children started dying of dust pneumonia. Year after year Calvin’s dad said ‘“Next year it’s gonna get better,”’ but it hasn’t got better.
   Worn out by disappointment and heartache, Calvin’s dad is desperate, and so Calvin sets about learning everything he can about better methods of farming. Perhaps if they change their practices the land will heal and the rain will come back. Perhaps he can save the farm in spite of everything.
   This powerful picture book brings to life what it was like to live through the dust bowl years on a farm that was affected by this appalling natural disaster.  We are witnesses to the suffering that Calvin and his family are subjected to, but we also witness the way in which Calvin does his best to bring about change. Somehow he clings to hope, even when everything feels hopeless.
   Throughout the book a lyrical text is paired with beautiful artwork to give readers a reading experience that is both deeply moving and memorable. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Also An Octopus

I love to review books that contain stories that celebrate books and storytelling. Today I bring you a picture book that appealed to me on so many levels. It is about how stories are crafted, it features a ukulele playing octopus ( I play the ukulele so I am drawn to stories that feature ukuleles), and it also looks at how dreams can come true. What more could one ask for.

Also an OctopusAlso an Octopus
Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2017, 978-0-7636-7084-9
You may imagine that stories come into this world half or even fully formed, but this is not the case. All stories start the same way, with a blank page that has nothing on it. So, you have a whole load of nothing to begin with.
   You begin building a story by finding a character; one that will excite you, and one that will encourage you to develop your story. You could chose to write about a little girl or a cute little white rabbit, but an octopus who plays the ukulele would be even better.
   Now, the next thing that you will need to do is to figure out what your main character wants. The octopus could want a sandwich or a friend; these are perfectly reasonable things to want. Or it could want a “shining purple spaceship capable of intergalactic travel.” That would be a great thing to want, because a spaceship isn’t the kind of thing that you can just pick up in a local shop. The octopus is going to have to build the spaceship. The problem is that this particular octopus, though it is can play the ukulele, is not skilled when it comes to building a spaceship. Perhaps what the octopus need is the help of a friend. Let’s bring that cute little white rabbit into the tale to see what he can do.
   It turns out that whereas sweet white bunnies do indeed make excellent friends, it does not follow that they are rocket scientists.
   Not surprisingly the ukulele playing octopus is now feeling very down and one could even say it is “despondent.” At this rate it is never going to be able to travel to distant galaxies in a shiny, purple spaceship.
   The wonderful tale in this book is a joy to read. At first it seems to be about how stories are created from nothing, but then you realize that it is also about how dreams can come true, even when ones dream seems to be hopelessly unattainable. In the story there are delightful touches of humor, a narrative that is full of surprises, and a loveable main character - an octopus who plays the ukulele is irresistible.
   This book celebrates the creative process and the hopes that make dreams come true.




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Books of Hope - The Sandwich Swap

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of There, There

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

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book of Hope - Someday a Tree

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

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Family Reunion


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

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


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