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.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Books of Hope - The Midwife's apprentice

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

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Dance is for Everyone

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

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

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


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


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books of Hope - Next Year

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

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

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


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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Away

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

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

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

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

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Seashore Book

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

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

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

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

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

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