Monday, January 8, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Dam Keeper

I have a big soft spot in my bookish heart for graphic novels. I grew up reading the Tintin stories and The Adventures of Asterix the Gaul over and over again, so perhaps this is not surprising. These days quite a few publishing houses are creating beautiful graphic novels, and one of my favorite houses is First Second. Today I bring you a review of one of their titles, which delighted me when I read it. It is the first book in a series and I can't wait to see what happens next.

The Dam KeeperThe Dam Keeper
Robert Kondo
Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi
Graphic Novel
For ages 8 and up
First Second, 2017, 978-1-62672-426-6
Sunrise Valley is a pretty place, and the residents lead peaceful, normal lives. Most of them don’t think about the fact that the only reason that they are able live as they do is because of the dam. Long ago Pig’s father invented the dam to keep out the fog. The fog is a deadly phenomenon that killed Pig’s mother and countless others. Beyond the dam the fog has laid waste to the world.
   For some reason that no one can understand, after teaching Pig how to maintain the dam, his father walked out into the fog and is presumed dead.
   Now Pig manages the dam alone, making sure that it does what it is supposed to do to blow back the fog every time the black cloud rolls in and bares down on the village. Being the dam keeper means that Pig is not quite like everyone else. He knows the danger that lurks beyond the wall of the dam, and lives with the responsibility that his father left him to shoulder on his own.
   Fox is the only young animal in the village who seems to like Pig, and her friendship makes all the difference in his life. Unfortunately, Fox is friends with Hippo, and Hippo loves to bully Pig. Fox insists that Pig just needs to spend time with Hippo to see that the big guy isn’t all that bad; which is why she brings Hippo to the dam on day to see Pig.
   Pig is not best pleased to see Hippo, but he tries to be accommodating for Fox’s sake. Which is when the fog rolls in, and this time the wave is enormous. So enormous is it that the dam does not hold. Pig, Fox, and Hippo are dragged out into the wasteland beyond the dam when the fog pulls back. For the first time ever, Pig’s father’s invention does not hold back the darkness.
   This remarkable graphic novel takes readers into a world where danger is never that far, though most of the animals in Sunrise Valley don’t realize it. We see how Pig has been shaped by the loss in his life, and how he tries to come to terms with the fact that all is not what it seems. It turns out that there is something beyond the dam after all.
   This is the first title in what promises to be a wonderful series. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of Out of wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

I always enjoy reading books that writers have written about other writers. Often the stories we encounter in such books are incredibly perceptive, and it is interesting to see how the authors get into the minds of their subjects. Today we will encounter a book written by poets in which they explore the writing styles and the lives of twenty-five wonderful poets. It is a beautiful book and the respect that the authors have for the people that they write about is tangible and warming.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating PoetsOut of wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Candlewick Press, 2017, 978-0-7636-8094-7
Kwame Alexander had the privilege of growing up in a house where books were treasures and “words came alive.” He grew up loving poems in particular because a poem is “a small but powerful thing.” Poems allow us to connect with the people who wrote them on a very deep level; they inspire us, and in our minds they evolve as we grow and change.
   For this collection Kwame and his co-authors, Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth, have chosen to focus on the lives and works of twenty-five poets who are “ interesting people” and who were, or still are, “passionately in love with their poetry.” They have written poems of celebration that reflect the styles of these poets, and they hope that we will use their creations “as stepping-stones to wonder.”
   The book is divided into three parts. The first section looks at poets who developed singular styles in their writing that poetry lovers have grown to recognize. For example, in the poem In Every Season, Marjory Wentworth beautifully captures the free verse style favored by Robert Frost. She takes us to a farm where we walk with the narrator “through fields and woods.”  We crunch on ice “through starless winter nights” and shake snow from the branches of trees.
   The second section celebrates poets who beautifully capture everyday moments. Here there is a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, a poem about a boy who dreams of becoming a basketball player who will “grab the world in my hands and /twirl a big ball of hope / from corner to corner.”
   The final section serves as a tribute to the poets who have written poems that delight Kwame, Chris, and Marjorie in a special and very personal way. The poets that they feature in this section make the authors feel that “the poet is speaking directly to us, as if we are in the middle of a private conversation.” On these pages we find poems like No Idle Days, which celebrates William Carlos Williams. We read of the man who had “two lives / crammed / into one.” William Carlos Williams worked as a doctor, and in his spare moments, the few that he had, he scribbled away on his prescription pads. He was a man who crafted “a new American voice,” for ordinary people.
   Throughout this title the extraordinary poems are paired with beautiful multimedia artwork to give readers a special book experience.
   At the back of this remarkable collection readers will find biographies of the twenty-five poets who lives and works are celebrated in the book. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of What do you do with a chance?

I used to be very fearful of trying to do something new. I did not like taking on anything when I couldn't be sure of what the outcome would be. Thankfully I learned that going through life without taking chances was not a good option; my life is richer because I have dared to embrace the unknown.

Today I bring you a book that explores what it feels like to be afraid of taking chances, and what it feels like to turn away from chances with they present themselves. It is a beautiful book that will resonate with readers of all ages.


What Do You Do With a Chance?What do you do with a Chance?
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Mae Besom
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Compendium Inc, 2017, 978-1-943200-73-3
One day a chance came flying up to a little boy, fluttering like a golden butterfly by his side. He had no idea why it was there, nor did he know what he was supposed to do with it. The chance seemed to want the boy to touch it, but he was “unsure and pulled back,” and in response the chance flew away.
   Later the boy thought about the chance that had got away, and he began to wish that he had taken it. Then another chance flew up and the boy, though he was still unsure and perhaps a little afraid, decided to try. He reached for the chance…and fell flat on his face. The boy felt so embarrassed and ashamed that he decided that he would have nothing more to do with chances. Whenever a new chance came his way he ignored it.
   Over time fewer and fewer chances flew near the boy until a day came when the boy realized that he hadn’t seen a chance “in quite a while.” Had he missed an opportunity that would never present itself again? Perhaps he should have overcome his fear the first time he encountered a chance. Well, now he had to decide if he was going to be brave just long enough to grab a chance, if one ever appeared again, or if he was going to give into his fear.
   This is the third inspirational book that Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom have created together. Just like the first two titles, What do you do with an idea and What do you do with a problem, this story will encourage readers of all ages to find that inner strength that will help them bring about positive changes in their lives. The story does not diminish the wariness and fear that we feel when chances come our way. Instead it acknowledges how strong these emotions can be and it encourages us to face our fears head on.