Monday, November 23, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Strictly no Elephants

When I was in elementary school, a group of boys who I played with decided to form a boy's only 'club.' I was told very firmly that I could not be a member and that I should "buzz off!" Needless to say, my feelings were very hurt by this rejection.

When I read today's picture book I was reminded of that time when being excluded made me feel so alone. This book explores what it is like to be left out, and we see how some children deal with the problem.

Strictly No ElephantsStrictly No Elephants
Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2015, 978-1-4814-1647-4
Having a little pet elephant in your life is wonderful, but an elephant is such an unusual pet that sometimes it can cause a problem because you “never quite fit in.” The truth of the matter is that no one else has a pet elephant. All the neighbors have dogs, cats, fish and birds. In other words, they have traditional pets.
   Not fitting in exactly what happens to one little boy and his pet elephant. Every day the little boy takes his pet for a walk, and when the elephant refuses to cross the cracks in the pavement because he is afraid of them, the little boy picks up the elephant and carries him across the cracks because that is what friends do for each other; they help each other out.
   One day the little boy dresses himself and his elephant in red scarves and they head out for Number 17 because it is Pet Club Day. When they get to the little green house they see that there is a notice on the door and it reads: “Strictly no elephants.” The boy and his pet are truly upset by this and they walk off in the rain, sadness resting on their shoulders. Then they see a girl who is sitting on a bench. The girl has a skunk in her lap and the boy learns that the other children don’t want her to join their games either. The boy then suggests that they should start their own pet club, one that will be all inclusive.
   With sweetness and gentle humor this picture shows children how painful it is to be left out when you are different in some way. Thankfully, the little boy in this story is not as alone as he thinks he is, and he and his new friend find a solution to their problem.
   Children will love the charming illustrations and cunning animal characters in this book, and grownups may find that odd questions start popping up around the dinner table. Questions like, “Can I get a pet elephant?” and “Where can you buy a pet skunk?”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Over the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and in my household preparations have already begun for the big day. Shopping lists have been made, a menu has been planned, and firewood has been chopped. We plan on doing our shopping tomorrow and then all we have to do is wait for our  out of town guest to arrive and cook the meal.

Being able to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family is what makes the day special for me, which is why I chose to share today's poetry title with you. The poem is more than a hundred years old and yet it still resonates with readers of all ages. It is a wonderful celebration of the times that we spend with the people we love, and the little life adventures that we share with them.

Over the River and Through the WoodOver the River and Through the Woods: A Thanksgiving Poem
Lydia Maria Child
Illustrated by Christopher Manson
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
NorthSouth, 2014, 978-0735841918
A little boy and his parents are setting out for his grandparent’s house on a cold snowy day riding in a sleigh pulled by a "dapple-grey" horse. Bells jingle and as they drive on the well-known road, and the boy sees children playing on the ice, a boy fishing on the ice, a man pulling a load of firewood up a hill, and the blacksmith working in his forge.
   Best of all, the boy soon sees "Grandmother’s cap" and it isn’t long before the family is sitting down together for a delicious Thanksgiving feast.
   Lydia Maria Child wrote this poem in the mid 1800’s and it has remained a firm Thanksgiving favorite since that time. This beautifully illustrated version of the first six verses of the poem brings to life the special celebratory feel that we all enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. The illustrator also gives the reader an intimate look at what life was like in the country on a cold winter’s day in nineteenth century America. The richly colored and textured woodcuts beautifully complement the lyrical rhyming text.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Moletown

Every so often I come across a picture book that will appeal to both children and adults. Today's picture book is just such a title. It is mostly wordless, and the artwork is incredibly rich and detailed. Adults will see that the story is similar to our own human story, and they will appreciate how the moles in the tale come to understand that they need to take responsibility for their own environment. There is a cautionary note to the tale that children and adults will recognize and hopefully learn from.

MoletownMoletown
Torben Kuhlmann
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
North South, 2015, 978-0-7358-4208-3
One day a mole set up house, underground of course, in the middle of a beautiful green meadow. At first he was alone but soon other moles arrived and they began digging homes for themselves as well. As the mole community grew, so did the mole’s technological advances. They invented machines that could convey loads of earth to the surface, and they built a digging device that could dig tunnels for the moles so that they did not have to do the hard manual labor themselves any longer. Soon several little mounds of earth were scattered across the meadow.
   It wasn’t long before the moles had created a whole world for themselves underground, complete with trains to convey moles around the town (that moved horizontally and vertically) and huge digging machines. The moles now had TVs, sound and gaming systems, telephones, and all kinds of other devices. The also had congested streets and overcrowding. Above ground the meadow was gone. In its place was a wasteland dotted with mounds, derricks, and clouds of filthy smoke. Only one small patch of grass remained.
   In this mostly wordless book Torben Kuhlmann explores how a society changes as it becomes more and more industrialized. For a while the quality of life in the town improves, but over time it degrades until the moles come to a point when something needs to be done.
   Children will love the cunning details in the artwork, and older readers will appreciate the meaningful environmental message that is conveyed in such a fresh way.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Amazing Places

Most of the poems I read when I was young were story poems of some kind, or they described animals. Not many of the poems I encountered described places. Thankfully, these days poets for young people are exploring all kinds of topics in their writings, and today I bring you a collection of poems that take us to some of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States.

Amazing PlacesAmazing Places
Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Chris Soentpiet and Christy Hale
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Lee and Low, 2015, 978-1-60060-653-3
The United States is a huge country, a country where there are enormous mountain ranges, deep lakes, hot and dry deserts, muggy swamps, bustling cities, and huge forests. It is a place where people can visit museums full of works of art, and where stories from the past are told. It is a land where children and adults alike can visit places where they can play together and watch spectacles that dazzle them. It is a place where the beauty of nature is magnificent and awe inspiring.
   In this wonderful poetry picture book, readers will encounter an array of poems, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, that give us a picture of just a few of the amazing places that we can visit in the United States. Some of the places are man-made while others a gift from nature.
   We begin in Denali National Park in Alaska, where a mother and daughter are sitting by a campfire next to a lake. The reflection of mountains lies across the water as the mother, who when she was little “could build a fire / with sparks from rocks,” tells her daughter to bring her a stick. Then the mother reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a treat. It is time to toast some marshmallows.
   Later on in the book we visit the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas, and see a display that tells visitors about a man called Langston Hughes. Langston once was just a boy delivering newspapers in a small town, but he grew up to become a poet whose poems about “rainy sidewalks and “his dust of dreams,” would one day touch the minds and hearts of thousands of readers.
   Still further in the book we find ourselves sitting in seats at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. This is one of the most famous baseball parks in the world and the oldest in the Major League. Here a child and her grandfather “sip clam chowder / on a crisp fall night,” and then “cheer as a ball / takes off in flight.”
   In all, children who look at this book will visit fourteen places in the United States, all of which are unique and interesting in their own way. Poems written in a variety of styles by Nikki Grimes, J. Patrick Lewis, Linda Sue Park and others are accompanied by marvelous illustrations, and in the back of the book readers will find further information about the Amazing Places featured in the book.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Picture Book Monday with a review of Sidewalk Flowers

Many of us are so busy, so wrapped up our lives, that we don't see the little gifts that life has to offer. We are so focused on ourselves and what we are doing that we don't take the time to connect with people we don't know. Why should we bother?

In today's picture book, which has won several awards over the last few weeks, we see how precious the little gifts are, and how vital it is to be aware of the people, and the animals, around us. The connections that we make with these individuals is important. This book is beautiful to look at, and its message will appeal to readers of all ages.


Sidewalk FlowersSidewalk Flowers
Jon Arno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-431-2
One day a father and his little daughter are walking home after doing the shopping. As they walk down the busy sidewalks in the city, the little girl sees a small flowering plant that is growing at the base of a pole. She picks one of the plant’s yellow flowers and then on she and her father walk.
   Further along she sees another flower, a purple one this time, growing out of a wall and she picks that. Near a bus stop there is a second yellow flower, which the little girl gathers up as her father talks on his cell phone. A little later the girl sees a flower that is growing near a stone lion and another pushing its way through a crack in the sidewalk.
   The father and his daughter, who is now holding a bouquet of flowers, then walk into the park. The girl sees the body of a little bird lying in the path and she carefully places some of her precious flowers on the bird, her tribute to the life that was lost. She tucks flowers into the shoes of a homeless man who is sleeping on a bench, and places some under the collar of a dog who wants to be friends. With care the little girl leaves little gifts of flowers in her wake as she and her father make their way home.
  This incredibly special wordless picture book explores the way in which accidental flowers, flowers some people even consider weeds, can bring color and brightness to a city world. What is perhaps even more powerful is the way in which the little girl gives the flowers she picks to others. Some of the recipients of these gifts may not even notice the flowers, but their lives are brightened by them all the same. The world we see in the story is made better because the kind little girl choses to give things she loves to others.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Poetry Friday with a review of Here’s what you do when you can’t find your shoe

Creating inventions that solve problems or meet a need is something we humans are good at doing. We have invented machines that transport us over long distances, that allow us to communicate over long distances, that heal our bodies when they are sick or damaged, and so much more. But what about those small problems that drive us crazy almost on a daily basis? Often we do not address these issues, and year after tear people still spend time trying to find missing shoes, and still spend hours trying to keep their gardens free of leaves.

In today's poetry title you will see how some people have chosen to take on these challenging problems, with excellent results.

Here’s what you do when you can’t find your shoe
Andrea Perry
Illustrated by Alan Snow
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Simon and Schuster, 2003, 978-0689830679
Every day we are confronted with problems that are infuriating and that take time to resolve. For example, many people lose one of their shoes when they are in a rush to get out of the house, which just happens to be the most inconvenient time to lose a shoe. They spend ages searching the house for that one, irritating, maddening shoe. Then there is the problem that afflicts children all over the world: Their parents insist on buying vegetables at the grocery store. Can nothing be done to stop this horrible behavior?
   Other people have problems that are associated with the work that they do. For example, zoo keepers have a unique problem. They love the animals in their care but no matter what they do the animals tend to create a stink. People won’t come and visit the zoo if “the caribou cage has a stench.”
   Luckily for people with lost shoes, too many veggies, and smelly zoo enclosures there are inventors out there who create devices (or provide services) that take care of these and many other problems. If you are afflicted with lostshoeitis, then all you need is a Sure-footed Shoe Finder and all your problems go away. All you have to do it to place “the shoe that is missing its mate” in the device and it will set off “on its shoe-finding search” on your behalf. Using its Foot-Odor-Sensitive Vent it seeks out the missing shoe.
   To get rid of unwanted veggies in your family grocery cart all you need to do is to spray it with Veggie Be Gone, a “produce repellent you simply spray on.” What could be easier! Once a cart is sprayed with this ingenious stuff any vegetable that is dropped into the cart will “bounce right back out.”
   Zookeepers need not despair about the niff, pong, or stench that comes from their animal’s enclosures. All they need to do is to ring the Stink Stoppers, a tireless team of specialists who will fight all bad smells “until all are ex-stinked.” Armed with cleaning equipment galore they get to work. They “wipe down each walrus again and again,” and will “brush tiger teeth” and “trim hippo nails.” These fearless cleaners will have any zoo smelling sweet and clean in no time at all.
   Children and adults alike are going to laugh out loud as they read the poems in this delightful book. Comical inventions solve twelve problems that readers will immediately identify with. Yes, wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Crumbunny to eat the crumbs that we leave in, around, and under our beds. And yes, of course we would love to have a machine that could really suck up all the fallen leaves in our yard every autumn.
   With wonderfully funny rhyming verse and amusing illustrations, this is a book that will appeal to readers of all ages.
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