Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

Wishing you a Happy New Year


Friday, December 29, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of That is my dream

Now that the year is coming to a close, many of us start to think about the year that has been and the year that is in the offing. Will the coming year be 'better' than the last one was? Today I offer you a poetry book that is all about hoping for what could be. Imagine what our world would be like if people could set aside their differences. Imagine the lives our children could lead.

That Is My Dream!That is my dream
Langston Hughes
Illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2017, 978-0-399-55017-1
One day a little African American boy sets off for town on a bus with his mother and sister. They have to sit in the back of the bus, because this is how it is in the segregated world that he lives in. In town he watches as a white boy drinks from the “whites only” water fountain. He has to drinks from the fountain that is labeled “colored only.” Then, as the day fades, they greet the father of the family whose work day has come to an end. The family have a picnic “Beneath a tall tree” as the “night comes on gently.”
   As he watches the dark seep across the sky, the little boy dares to dream of the world he wished he lived in, a world where he and the little white boy he saw in town could play together and ride on the backs of birds. Together, the little white boy and his sister, and the little black boy and his sister, would celebrate as the night appears, “coming tenderly.”
   This is a powerful interpretation of the poem Dream Variation by Langston Hughes. The illustrator beautifully combines a gorgeously illustrated pictorial narrative with the poet’s words, to give young readers a picture book that is timeless. The book celebrates what could be, and dares to hope of a time when all children can play in a world free of divisions.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas

Wishing you a 

Merry Christmas



Picture Book Monday with a review of The Call of Swamp

For many people, today is a day to spend with loved ones. It is a day to look around at the people we love best and give thanks for them. In today's picture book you will meet a charming little creature who is not really sure where he belongs and who he belongs to. He ends up taking a journey, and in the process he figures out something very important about what home is.

The Call of the SwampThe Call of the Swamp
Davide Cali
Illustrated by Marco Soma
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2017, 978-0-8028-5486-5
Before they found him, Boris’ parents tried to have a baby of their own, but doctors told them that they would not be able to have a child. They had given up hope that they would be able to become parents, so when they found Boris on the edge of the swamp they were delighted. They could not care less that the baby had gills. They did not care where he came from even. All that mattered was that he was now theirs.
   Boris grew up to be a perfectly normal boy except that he had gills, and eyes that were a little bigger than usual. His life was happy, or so he thought.
   Then one day Boris picked up the scent of the swamp on the air. The aroma tugged at him and questions rattled around in his head. Was he really living the life that he was supposed to be living?
   One morning Boris left home and began to walk, pulled along by the smell that was haunting him. Finally Boris came to the swamp, and at last he felt complete and at home. In the swamp he belonged, and he fitted in with the other creatures who were like him.
   Boris was happy for a while until he began to realize that he was not exactly like his neighbors in the swamp. He began to feel homesick, and he wondered if he really was in the right place after all. Should he go home or should he stay in the swamp?
   This wonderful, magical picture book explores the idea of what a home is. The unique artwork offers a stunning backdrop for a text that is powerful and memorable. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of B is for Blue Planet: An Earth Science Alphabet

For me, the holiday season is a time to give thanks for all the wonderful things that I have in my life. One of these things is my home, my planet, which is such a beautiful, remarkable, and precious place. I have been lucky enough to see some incredible wild places in my life. I have seen the Himalayas, the Great Rift Valley, the Alps, and the Grand Canyon. I have seen a desert in Jordan, a rain forest in India, and a pristine coral reef in the Indian Ocean. What a diverse and rich planet we live on. In honor of our home, today's poetry book celebrates the Earth, the blue planet.

B is for Blue Planet: An Earth Science AlphabetB is for Blue Planet: An Earth Science Alphabet
Ruth Strother
Illustrated by Bob Marstall
Poetry and Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2011, 978-1-58536-454-1
We live on a remarkable planet, a place where there are oceans and mountains, where precious gems can be found underground, where earthquakes shake the earth, and where glaciers creep down valleys. There are wonders everywhere we look, if we look hard enough. It is a place that is changing all the time, sometimes in small ways that we don’t even notice, and sometimes in terrifying ways that turn our lives upside down.
   In this wonderful alphabet book we get to explore some of the features of our planet. For each letter of the alphabet we explore a topic in verse and in prose, and these sections of text are presented alongside a wonderful piece of art.
   For the letter C, for example, we visit a coral reef, a place where “Color, shape and size astounds.” We look at an illustration that captures the diversity of life, and the rich colors and textures, found on a coral reef. A poem tells us a little about these marvelous ecosystems; a sidebar full of text gives us a lot more information about these fragile, and precious places that “provide a rich habitat for around 25 percent of all ocean life that we know of.”
   For the letter H we find out about hurricanes, those powerful storms that build over warm ocean water and then, sometimes, come “straight for land – oh what a scare!” The informational text that accompanies the poem tells us how big hurricanes are, how they form, and what happens when hurricanes make landfall.
   Other topics that are explored in this book include “A is for Amber,” “D is for Deserts,” “O is for Oil,” and “T is for Tides.”
   This is the kind of book that a child can grow with. Young readers will enjoy looking at the pictures and having the poems read to them. An older reader will get a lot out of the informational text that builds on what the poem tells us.
   Alphabet books’ sole purpose used to be to help children learn their ABC’s. Now such titles help children learn about so many topics that are relevant to their lives. By combining artwork, nonfiction information, and poetry, the creators of this book give children a singular reading experience.



Monday, December 18, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of Santa Calls

In a week it will be Christmas Day. At this time next Monday we will be putting our meal in the oven, and then perhaps we will take the dogs for a walk to build up an appetite for the feast to come. It seems very fitting therefore that today's picture book should be a book about Father Christmas or Santa Claus. It is a wonderful story that I think truly captures the spirit of the season. Plus I cannot resist books by William Joyce. How I love his retro style art.

Santa CallsSanta Calls
William Joyce
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1-4814-8959-1
It was just before Christmas Day when a most mysterious looking box appeared outside the home belonging to Art Atchinson Aimesworth’s aunt and uncle. Art and his little sister Esther had been orphaned, and they now lived with their aunt and uncle on their farm in Abilene, Texas. Art and his best friend Spaulding examined the box with great interest, and when they poked it the words, “Open the box. Assemble the contents. Come NORTH. Yours, S.C.” appeared on it.
    Santa Claus himself had summoned them! No one in their right mind would consider ignoring an invitation from the great man, and so the boys set about assembling the machine that they found inside the box. It was not long before the flying machine that was going to carry them to the North Pole was ready – with one big modification. At first Art was determined that Esther would not go on the trip, but in the end he allowed her to join the adventure.
   Soon enough the children arrived at the North Pole, and they were welcomed by the captain of the Santarian Guard, who came to collect them in a dogless sled. They did not get far before they were attacked by an army of Dark Elves. The Queen tried to kidnap the children but all three of them were very handy their sling shots and snow balls, and Esther even managed to hit the Queen herself.
   When they reached Toyland, and what a wondrous place that was, they met Mrs. Claus and then Santa. Art was eager to know why Santa had summoned them, but the wonderful man only said, “Some mysteries are best left unsolved.” He then invited the children to go on his famous Christmas Eve ride, which they were happy to do. Unfortunately, they did not get far before the Dark Elves kidnapped Esther and carried her off.

   William Joyce has a gift for creating delightful stories that have a delicious retro feel. Children will be thrilled when they see the rich worlds that cover the pages of this book; worlds that take us back in time, and that also take us to the fantastical place that Santa calls home. The purpose of Art’s visit to Toyland is kept from us until the very last moment, when all is revealed. Then we can smile, knowing that Santa always listens to the hopes of dreams of little children.    

Friday, December 15, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Daytime Nighttime: All through the Year

On our farm we get animal visitors all day and all night long. Owls live in our barn and soon after it gets dark they come out to look for food. Skunks also come out at night, and we have to be careful not to get too close to them when they are waddling around. During the day the scrub jays rule the roost, yelling at anyone who wanders into their territory. In today's beautiful poetry picture book we get to explore what are animals are doing during the day and at night. We also get to take a journey, month by month, through the year to see how the lives of animals are impacted by the changing seasons.

Daytime Nighttime, All Through the YearDaytime Nighttime: All through the Year 
Diane Lang
Illustrated by Andrea Gabriel
Nonfiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Dawn Publications, 2017, 978-1-58469-607-0
When you have a very full life it is so easy to forget that you are not the only one who is busy. There are little (and sometimes big) creatures around you who have full days too. Many species of animals have busy nights instead because they are nocturnal. While we are fast asleep in our beds, they are out and about looking for food, taking care of their young, and building their homes. All year long animals are active, day and night.
   In this beautiful book the author takes us through the year, month by month, and she shows us what animals are up to. We begin in January and we see a bald eagle “On a clear Winter’s day,” that is diving through the air down towards a snow-covered landscape. The powerful bird is just about to scoop a fish out of a river with its talons. In the evening a pack of coyotes make their way to the top of a ridge, and there they raise their noses into the air to howl into the sky.
   By the time March comes around the snow is gone, the trees have new leaves, and on a bright morning we can see the “silken design” that a spider spun. When the sun sets, a pair of skunks comes out to “Dig for plump worms” in the soft soil.
   In July quail parents, with their small, fluffy babies following them in a line, spend the daylight hours “searching for grass seeds / On which they will dine.” When the moon comes up the quail are resting, but the crickets climb up blades of grass to sing by the light of the full moon.
   Throughout this singular book, beautiful lines of poetry are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. Together they take us into the lives of all kinds of creatures. We marvel at the rich scenes that we are offered, and perhaps seeing these moments in time will encourage us to look for similar ones in our own wild places. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Antlered Ship

Taking a leap into the unknown is scary, and yet people all over the world do it every day, and have been doing it for centuries. Explorers have set off to seek out new lands, and inventors have dared to put forward their ideas, not knowing how they would be received. Writers have written books about controversial subjects, and artists and musicians have pushed the boundaries of artistic expression.

In this beautiful picture book we meet a group of animals who embark on an adventure to visit a place they have never been to. They soon discover that adventures can be rather uncomfortable things, and they have to decide if adventuring really is a good fit for them after all


The Antlered ShipThe Antlered Ship
Dashka Slater
Illustrated by the Fan Brothers
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1-48145160-4
Marco lives in the Land of the Foxes, and his brain teems with questions about the world. When he asks the other foxes his questions they don’t know what to think of Marco. All they care about is their stew. What do Marco’s questions have to do with that?
   Marco decides to head for the harbor to greet the antlered ship that has just arrived. Three deer disembark and they freely admit that they need some help. It turns out that they are not “very good sailors.”
   Hoping to find the answers to his questions, Marco volunteers to join the deers’ crew. A flock of pigeons would also like to join as they want to have some adventures. The Captain, Sylvia, explains that they are headed for a wonderful island.
   The antlered ship sets sail and it is not long before they encounter a storm. Everybody on board is miserable and unhappy about the conditions. The deer begin to think that they should have stayed in the woods, and the pigeons decide that they should have stayed in the park. Marco comments on how foxes are not meant to be vegetarians, and yet he still thinks that they should all do “the best we can.”
   That evening he cooks everyone a warming stew, and then they all consult the charts to figure out how to get Sweet Tree Island, which is their destination. Finally, the storm dissipates and they are able to raise the sails under a beautiful full moon.
   In the morning they come to the Maze of Sharp Rocks. They could easily get wrecked on the rocky shoal, but the pigeons fly ahead and find a clear path for the ship to follow. The travelers are getting close to Sweet Tree Island when they are waylaid by a pirate ship. Adventures seem to be waiting for them around every corner.
   Young readers are going to love this delightful and richly illustrated picture storybook. They will appreciate the fact that adventures sometimes have uncomfortable and even frightening moments, but that does not mean that one shouldn’t take them in the first place.
  


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,