Friday, May 31, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems

The first concrete poem I encountered was The Mouse's Tale which appears in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  I thought it was a very clever poem and enjoyed reading it out loud with my father. I did not encounter another concrete poem until a few years ago, and I was delighted to see that this unique poetry form is becoming more and more popular.

Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Candlewick Press, 2005, 978-0-7636-2376-0
For most of us a poem is a form of writing where words are presented to the reader in creative ways to conjure up images, thoughts, and feelings. How the words look on the page is not really that important. Concrete poems are still a form of poetry, but their appearance matters a great deal. They are “visually arresting” because the poet has tried to create a visual effect with his or her words in addition to an intellectual and emotional effect.
   For this splendid collection of concrete poems, Paul Janeczko has chosen poems that are presented in unique pictorial ways. For example in Skipping Rope Spell by John Agard, the lines of the poem are not presented in well behaved rows that stretch from left to right. Instead, they swirl across the pages, twirling the way skipping ropes do when they are circling through the air.
   In Sylvia Cassedy’s poem Queue the words stand in a neat line down the page, one word under the other, just the way people stand in a line when they are waiting for a bus at a bus stop. Similarly, the words in the poem Popsicle are arranged to look like a popsicle, a rectangle of words describing the melting sweet summer delight that ends with the word “sticky,” which forms the popsicle’s stick.
  In Sky Day Dream, the poet Robert Froman creates pictures of floating thoughts that drift up the pages like clouds, getting smaller and smaller the higher up the page they go. Surely this is exactly what happens to our thoughts when we lie in the grass daydreaming about this and that.
   This is a perfect book to share with readers who are under the impression that poetry is dull and perhaps even inaccessible. The poems, paired with Chris Raschka’s multimedia artwork, show to great effect how visual, unusual, and funny poems can be.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Hugless Douglas and the big sleepover

Hugless Douglas is one of my favorite children's picture book characters. He is a big bumbling bear who often gets things wrong, but he is so sweet and lovable that no one really minds. In today's picture book title you will find out what happens when Douglas goes to a friend's house to spend the night.

David Melling
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Tiger Tales, 2013, 978-1-58925-116-8
Hugless Douglas the bear is very excited because he has been invited to a sleepover at Rabbit’s house. Douglas packs a bag and then he sets off full of hope and anticipation. Douglas gets stuck in a tree, and then he manages to get lost. He decides to climb a tree so that he can see where he is, but unfortunately the tree he chooses isn’t really suited to being climbed by a large and heavy bear. The tree bends lower and lower to the ground and then Douglas falls into a bush on top of Little Sheep.
Little Sheep knows the way to Rabbit’s House and Douglas is sure that there is more than enough room at Rabbit’s for one little sheep and a bear. Paw in paw they walk to Rabbit’s burrow and when they get there Douglas realizes that he brought more than one sheep with him. In fact there are ten sheep in all. Rabbit is not at all concerned about the arrival of so many guests. In fact, she is delighted to see all the sheep.
The sheep manage to get through Rabbit’s rather small doorway, but there is no way Douglas is going to be able to squeeze through the snug entrance. They are going to have to rethink their sleepover plan.
Readers who have enjoyed the other Douglas Douglas books are going to love this new adventure. Once again Douglas gets himself into a spot of trouble, and once again his misadventures are laugh-out-loud funny. The expressions on the faces of the characters and the situations they get into are deliciously ridiculous. This book is a must for anyone who needs a little pick-me-up.



Friday, May 24, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Poems to Learn by Heart

One Christmas, when I was around seven or eight, I was given a book of poetry. I remember that I was very disappointed with the book because it wasn't the collection of fairy tales that I wanted. Then my father started to read the poems to me and I heard about a tiger "burning bright," for the first time. We laughed at Lear's funny limericks and that book of poetry became one of my favorite books. I ended up learning a lot of the poems by heart and many of them are still with me. Every so often I dig them out of my memory and enjoy them.

Caroline Kennedy
Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Hyperion, 2013, 978-142310805-4
There was a time, not that long ago, when children and young people were expected to memorize reams of information and pages of text, both poetry and prose. Nowadays, thanks in part to the digitalization of our world, children think that memorizing quotes, passages from classic books, and poems is no longer necessary. The truth is that there is a good reason for having poems and pieces of literature at your fingertips. Caroline Kennedy feels that “a poem can remind us that others have journeyed far and returned safely home.” Poems can encourage and sustain us when life is throwing challenges our way. Firmly believing in the power of poetry to heal and support people, Caroline Kennedy has collected more than a hundred poems to memorize that will appeal to readers of all ages.
            She begins by giving her readers a simple and humorous poem called The First Book by Rita Dove. In the poem, the poet encourages us to open the book and “Dig in.” It might be a little hard to get started, but it will be worth it in the end and if you do, “the world as you think / you know it” will never be the same.
            After this warming up poem, we begin our journey in earnest. The book is divided into eleven chapters, each one of which focuses on a theme such as “Here I am and other poems about the self,” and “I’m expecting You! and other poems about friendship and love.” Readers will find poems to memorize that are only a few lines long, and others that are longer and perhaps more challenging. They will come across poems they have heard or heard about such as If by Rudyard Kipling and The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash. They will also discover many poems that are new to them, poems that vibrate with power and whose language delights the tongue. Perhaps a funny bone will be tickled, or perhaps an image will make the reader pause and think.
            As the pages are turned, readers will encounter the words of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, William Blake, William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes and many other wordsmiths who found a wide variety of ways to excite, amuse, and touch readers.
   All in all this marvelous collection is perfect for dipping in, and perfect for sharing. Jon K. Muth’s gorgeous watercolors provide a lovely backdrop for the poems and for Caroline Kennedy’s words.
            

Monday, May 20, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

I loved camping when I was a kid. Camping on the beach every summer was something I looked forward to for months. I would have had a hard time dealing with Scaredy Squirrel because he is is under the impression that camping is a highly dangerous activity. In fact, I am pretty sure he would have driven me crazy. Or perhaps not.

Melanie Watt
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 8
Kids Can Press, 2013, 978-1-894786-86-7
Some people love camping. They enjoy the simple life in the great outdoors, savoring such uncomplicated pleasures as sitting around a campfire at night, sleeping in a tent, and going for long invigorating hikes.  Scaredy Squirrel is not such a person. He prefers the comfort of home to the discomfort of camp life, and he knows that camping is fraught with such dangers as skunks, mosquitoes, quicksand, and zippers.
Scaredy decides that the way to enjoy camping is to do so vicariously, by watching “The Joy of Camping” on the television. There is a problem though.  Scaredy does not have an electrical outlet in his tree home. He is going to have to use a long extension cord and go to a nearby campsite to plug in the cord. Being the cautious (some might even say neurotic) fellow that he is, Scaredy dons his Wilderness Outfit. Scaredy does a little pre-expedition training and then, armed with pliers, tomato juice, a bag of cement and other supplies, Scaredy sets off. One thing he isn’t prepared for is a surprise, which is exactly what he finds.
Scaredy Squirrel is, without a doubt, one of the funniest picture book characters out there. What makes him so endearing is the fact that he is not perfect. He is afraid of just about everything and is committed to living life as safely as possible. He hates change in all its forms. The amusing thing is Scaredy is forced to deal with change, and it is delightful to see how he copes. Though he is decidedly overanxious, he is not, thankfully, unable to see the many gifts that life has to offer, and he manages to find ways to enjoy those gifts in his own very distinctive way.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Poetry Friday - Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a twist

When I was around eight years old I went on a fairy tale jag. I read every fairy tale I could get my hands on, and my godmother got me a set of books that I loved. In each book the author, Ruth Manning-Sanders, focused on fairy tales about one kind of magical being. There was a book about giants, one about magical animals, one about dragons, one about witches, and so on. The author retold the stories in creative ways giving readers wonderful descriptions of places and characters. In today's poetry title you are going to meet some familiar fairy tale characters, but their 'voices' are not going to be what you are used to. Have fun!

Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlitch
Illustrated by Matt Mahurin
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Boyds Mills Press, 2013, 978-1-59078-867-7
Fairy tales have been delighting and terrifying children for generations. The stories have played important roles in popular culture and many have been turned into plays, musicals, and films. The one thing that they have in common is that the “good guys” almost always win, and the “bad guys” usually get their just desserts. In a world that is full of chaos, unknowns, and unhappy endings, fairy tales can help us to feel comforted and secure.
Jane Yolen, the author and poet, clearly loves fairy tales, and she has written many such stories over the years. For this poetry collection she has collaborated with children’s book author and poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Together they have created poems that allow young readers to look at some classic fairy tales in a new way. Instead of telling the stories in the third person, which is the way most fairy tales are presented, they use the voices of the characters in the stories to present a fresh point of view. For every story there are two poems. Sometimes the poems are from the point of view of one character, and sometimes we hear from two characters.
For example, in Hansel and Gretel, Gretel begins by talking about how she and her brother should have guessed at once that they “were in deep, deep trouble” when they found the witch’s house with its “chocolate doorknobs” and “marzipan bricks.” Then we hear from Hans, who has quite a different approach. He is optimistic and says, “No worries, no need to fear.” He is convinced that he, Hans, will be able to save the day.
Sometimes we even hear from characters who do not appear in the stories, characters who surely might have popped out of the pages if someone had had thought to write them in. For example in The Three Bears,  the first poem we read allows us to hear not just bear voices and Goldilocks voice. We also hear the voice of Officer Bruin who has come to “view / The ruin.”
Readers of all ages who like fairy tales are going to enjoy exploring the thirty poems in this book. It is interesting to hear how different the voices of the characters sound and how many perspectives there are in one tale. Readers might be tempted to try their hand at writing some of their own fairy tale poems. What would Jack’s beanstalk have to say about being climbed, and what would Cinderella’s glass slipper have to say about the girl who charmed a prince?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of It’s Monday, Mrs. Jolly Bones!

I am an annoyingly organized person. Or so I am told. I do certain chores on certain days, like my mother does, and my grandmother did. There is something comforting about having a wash-the-linens day, and a do-the-food-shopping day. In today's picture book you will meet a lady who does a different task on each week day, but there is something unique about the way she does her chores, something delightfully odd.

Warren Hanson
Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2013, 978-1-4424-1229-3
Mrs. Jolly Bones has a full week ahead of her. Being an organized soul, she assigns a certain task to every week day. On Monday she does the laundry, on Tuesday she gardens, on Wednesday she cleans the house, on Thursday she does the grocery shopping, and on Friday she bakes.
   These chores sound pretty straight forward. They are the kinds of chores that men and women all over the world do every day, right? Yes they are, but it is unlikely that many people do their chores in quite the same manner as Mrs. Jolly Bones.
   For example, on Monday, when Mrs. Jolly Bones does the laundry, she gathers and sorts the laundry, she washes the clothes and dries them. Then she irons and folds everything. So far her laundry day has been very normal. What is rather unusual is that Mrs. Jolly Bones then takes all those clean fresh-smelling clothes and tosses them out of the window so that they will “brighten up the street.”
   If you think this is odd, wait until you see what she does after she cleans the house, or what she does with the groceries she buys on Thursday.
   Children love books that contain surprises, and this particular book is full of them. The story has a normal beginning and then it becomes clear that Mrs. Jolly Bones has her own way of doing things, ways that will keep readers guessing all the way through the book.
   Children are going not only going to enjoy hearing about Mrs. Jolly Bones and her strange behavior, but they are also going to love exploring Trish Tusa’s cunning and amusing artwork.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Face Bug

Imagine what it would be like to go to a museum where they were displaying a series of photos showing the faces of insects and spiders. If one were an insect or spider this would be like going to a portrait gallery. Today's book combines poetry and art to take readers into The Face Bug Museum, and it is quite a trip.

Face BugFace Bug
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrations by Kelly Murphy
Photographs by Frederic B. Siskind
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Boyds Mills Press, 2013, 978-1-59078-925-4
Come one, come all! The Face Bug Museum is open, and insects, spiders, and their guests are invited to take a look at the photographs that is on display. The photographers who took the pictures feel that “you never really know bugs till you look them in the eye,” which is why all the photographs focus on the heads and faces of insects and spiders. Bring your camera and be prepared to be amazed, and perhaps even shocked. Don’t worry if the faces make you feel faint. Tiny Vet is “standing by” to treat anyone who gets the heebie geebies.
   We begin with the Hickory Horned Devil, which is the larva of a moth. The creature in the photo looks like a cross between a porcupine and a “Country-colored coral reef,” and it is certainly scary, but in reality this caterpillar is a gentle creature and the only living thing that needs fear it are the leaves it snacks on.
   In the next photo we see the head of an Eastern Carpenter Bee. Though they look threatening, these bees are not a danger to anyone. They do like to drill holes in wood though, so you might find their holes in your home if it is made out of wood.
   Further on in the show you will meet the Bush Katydid. This rather showy insect is standing on a stage in front of its photograph and it has happy to talk about itself. It admits that it looks rather like a grasshopper, but its green body can make it look like a leaf in the right surroundings, which is handy in a world that is full of predators. In addition to being a master of camouflage, the katydid is a singer and a “petty thief.”
   In this memorable book Patrick Lewis’ amusing poems are paired with wonderful photos and amusing illustrations to give young readers a tour through a museum that is unlike any other. Information about each insect or spider species is incorporated into the poems. Readers will also find additional facts about the fourteen creepy crawlies featured in the show at the back of the book. Children will get to know the insect and spider characters that appear on the pages, and they may even finding themselves growing fond of them.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of The Museum

I still remember the first time I went to a real art museum. My father took me to the National Gallery in London. I was so in love with the lions and fountain and Trafalgar Square that he had a hard time getting me into the museum, but once I was inside I felt as if I had been transported to a magical place. It was a magical place, and I will never forget how much I enjoyed my time there.

Today's book celebrates art museums and it explores the nature of creativity.

The Museum
Susan Verde
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Abrams, 2013, 978-1-4197-0594-6
One sunny day a girl goes to the art museum and when she looks at a work of art she doesn’t just see the painting or the sculpture, she reacts to it. As she tells us, “something happens in my heart.” Her response to the art cannot be contained and her body “goes into action.”
   When she sees a painting of a ballet dancer she feels that she needs to pose as a dancer does and stand on her “tippy-toes.” A painting of swirling stars in a night sky makes her feel “twirly swirly,” while a painting of a sad blue face makes her feel lonely and down. A field of flowers makes her feel skippy, and abstract colorful swirls and squiggles give her a fit of the “giggles.”
   Then the girl comes across a large empty canvas. What does it mean? Is the non-painting “a joke?”
   In this delightful picture book the author and illustrator celebrate art museums and the journeys and adventures that they allow us to take when we look at the artworks in their galleries. The story also explores the way art can be created out of nothing, cajoled out into the open by inspiration and creativity. The emotions the little girl in the story experiences seem to bounce off the pages, and the ending will give readers of all ages something to think about.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of The year comes round: Haiku Through the Seasons

Traditionally haiku poems were used to capture precious moments, moments that were little gems from the natural world. Often the poems were seasonal in nature. In today's poetry title we travel through a year and the author gives us a haiku with a nature theme for every month.

Sid Farrar
Illustrated by Ilse Plume
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Albert Whitman, 2012, 978-0-8075-8129-2
It is wintertime and when we get up in the morning there is frost on the windows so that “Each windowpane’s a / masterpiece,” of delicate frost designs.  When snow falls, children build a snowman, who hopes that the “noon sun won’t / notice” that it is there.
   In the spring a mother robin’s eggs hatch and she has to get busy finding food for her chicks. Luckily food is plentiful and she is able to bring an earthworm “back to her nest to / meet her family.”
   Summer evenings bring careful watchers a special treat. As light fades “fireflies quietly blink / their secrets.” This is also the time of year when one is most likely to experience a violent thunderstorm. Fed by the heat and moisture in the air, “Thick, black clouds grumble” above the “parched earth below.”
   Haiku is a poetry form that traditionally uses words to capture a picture of something from the natural world, and the poems are often seasonal in nature. The author of this book follows the Japanese haiku custom by focusing on nature, taking readers through the twelve months of the year with gem like poems. The poems are paired with lovely illustrations and at the back of the book readers will find more information about haiku, and “The Cycle of Life.”

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