Monday, February 29, 2016

Picture Book Monday with review of What to do with a box


When I was about nine years old my parents had something shipped to our house that arrived in a very large box. I was thrilled when they said that I could have the box, which a friend and I turned into a house, complete with windows and a door that could open. We drew pictures on the wall and kept all our 'treasures' in that house for as long as it lasted. That box was a fantastic gift, and on this Picture Book Monday we celebrate boxes in all their wonderful charboardy glory.

What to do with a box
Jane Yolen
What To Do With a BoxIllustrated by Chris Sheban
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 7
Creative Editions, 2016, 978-1-5685-46-289-9
When an adult looks at a box he or she sees a container something that can be used to store things in, or transport things from one place to another. In short, a box is a tool. A simple object. However, when a child sees a box he or she sees “a strange device” that can be opened many times and that offers up endless possibilities.
   For one thing, a box is the perfect place to read a book. It could therefore be called a “library.” It is a safe place, a cozy “nook” from which to watch the world go by. These are more practical, down-to-earth uses for a box
   If you are willing to trip down the road into the world of magic and imagination, a box can become a race car, a plane, a ship that can sail “off to Paris / and back.” Why, with a box in hand, you will have “the only / such magic / that you’ll / ever need.”
   Ever since cardboard boxes have been around, children have played in them. Often parents, after going to a great deal of trouble to find the perfect gift for their child, find that their little treasure is happy to play with the box that the gift came in. The gift itself lies on the floor, ignored, while the box is turned into a house, a space ship, or a fort.
   This wonderful book, with its minimal rhyming text and its gorgeous artwork, is a treasure that children will love. Grownups too will enjoy tripping down memory lane as the narrative unfolds, remembering how they too took long journeys and had grand adventures in boxes when they were children.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Book of Nature Poetry

For me going out into nature is a healing, calming thing to do. When everything else seems to be spinning out of control I go up into the hills above my town and spend time amongst the tall trees, the manzanita shrubs, the little wild flowers, the ravens, and the stellar jays. I feel very lucky that I am able to do this, and am quite content to trade the joys of city living for the wilderness.
   Today's poetry title celebrates nature through poems and beautiful photographs. It is a book for anyone who has looked at a sunset, watched a wild bird. or admired a robust little flower growing up through a crack in the sidewalk.

 Book of Nature PoetryBook of Nature Poetry 
Edited by J. Patrick Lewis
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
National Geographic, 2015, 978-1-4263-2094-1
Henry David Thoreau, who famously spent many months in a tiny little building next to a place called Walden Pond, felt that “I have a room all to myself; it is nature.” He knew that the pond and woods just outside his door were places that would give him inspiration and sooth his soul. Amongst the trees and flowers, and in the company of the woodland animals, he found the words that he so needed to share with others.
   Unfortunately, many of us don’t take the time to connect with nature. If we are city dwellers we believe that nature is out of our reach and we don’t even try to seek it out. We are disconnected from the natural world, which is a terrible shame for many reasons.
   More and more we humans are learning that being in nature is healing, and being able to spend time in nature is essential for our emotional, and therefore our general, wellbeing.
   In this incredible book, poems written by poets from around the world are paired with gorgeous pictures of nature in all its glory. Readers are given an armchair journey to far off places, and to places that could be just outside their window. We travel to a beach in California, and a wood in Ireland, we see an African elephant in Mozambique, and a tiger in Bengal. We travel up into the sky, deep under the sea, across open lands, and through forests. We watch the seasons unfold in places all over the world. We also see what Mother Nature can look like when she is riled up. Avalanches, volcanic eruptions, great storms, earthquakes, giant waves, fires and floods are also a part of nature’s story.
   For this collection J. Patrick Lewis, the former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, has brought together over 200 poems written in a variety of forms. Some of the poets’ names will be familiar, while others will be new to readers. Some of the poems will be old friends, while others will become new ones.
   This is the kind of book that a young person can grow up with and cherish. It is a book that adults will also enjoy, and even people who are not naturally drawn to poetry will find the combination of photos and words to be captivating.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Bear Can Dance!


Many of us  dream of things that we wish we could do. Some of us are brave enough to pursue these dreams. The problem is that more often than not our expectations and reality don't quite match up, which leads to disappointment. Perhaps our dream just isn't possible after all.

Today's picture book explores how a bear's dream - to learn how to fly - turns out to be not as impossible as it first seems, though it does not quite work out the way he imagined it would.

Bear Can Dance!
Suzanne Bloom
Bear Can Dance! Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Boys Mills Press, 2015, 978-1-62979-442-6
One day Bear and Goose fire up the record player and they start dancing. As they dance, Bear tells Goose that he wishes he could fly. Bear would love to “swoop and glide and feel the wind in my fur.” Goose wishes she could help Bear fly but the sad truth of the matter is that bears just aren’t made to fly.
   The Fox shows up and Fox is convinced that she can show Bear how to fly. She gives Bear her cape and goggles and she tells Bear to “flap, flap, flap, and whoosh around.” Bear does as he is told, but instead of feeling “whooshy” Bear feels “woozy,” which is not the same thing at all. The three friends then try sliding down a hill on the snow at full speed but instead of feeling “swoopy,” Bear feels “wobbly.” It would appear that bears really cannot fly after all.
   In this clever, thoughtful, and delightfully sweet picture book, we see how sometimes the dreams we have, the ones that seem impossible, are actually not as impossible as they seem. The problem is that we can’t see them for what they are because they are not exactly as we envisioned them to be. Sometimes we have to open our eyes, use our imagination, and then we see that yes, the dream we have been seeking is right there. It has always been right there.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of An Ambush of Tigers

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns
I have reviewed several books that explore collective nouns, and all of them have been interesting. What makes today's poetry book special is that the collective noun words presented to the reader are packaged with wonderful verse that is peppered with clever, and often amusing, word play.

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns
Betsy R. Rosenthal
Illustrated by Jago
Poetry picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Millbrook Press, 2015, 978-1-4677-1464-8
A group of humans does not really have a special name, but other animals do have collective nouns, which many of us use regularly. We know that sheep form flocks, and that a group of cows is a herd. The interesting thing is that there are so many other collective nouns for animals out there, many of which are deliciously wonderful and interesting.
   For example, a group of giraffes is called a tower, a gathering of otters is a raft, and a crowd of rats is called a mischief. When you consider that giraffes are very tall, that otters spend much of their life swimming and floating about in water, and that rats are known for being mischievous, these collective nouns seem very appropriate.
  It would be easy to describe these words in a clinical, dictionary sort of way, but in this clever picture book the author uses nonsense poems to introduce us to a delightful collection of collective nouns. For each set of verse she asks a question or two that will make young readers laugh. For example, she wonders if “When a murder of crows, / leaves barely a trace, /is a sleuth of bears hot on the case?” And what about a “parcel of penguins?” Can they be “sent in the mail?” If a “band of gorillas” set up to play a gig, will a “stench of skunks / scare them away?”
   Children will love the clever rhyming questions that appear on the pages of this beautifully illustrated book. At the back of the book they will find a glossary that explores alternate meanings for the collective nouns that appear in the book, meanings that will help them see that some of the collective nouns perfectly match the animal species that they are associated with.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Peddles


I have the privilege of knowing a  lot of people who have jumped into the unknown to pursue their dreams. It is wonderful to see their ideas come to life as they open up shops and businesses that are an extension of themselves. It takes courage to go after a dream, to dare to do something that perhaps other people tell you cannot be done. In today's picture book you will meet just such a dreamer. Peddles the pig wants more out of life, and he dreams of doing things that 'normal' pigs never even consider doing.

Peddles
Peddles
Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-1691-7
Peddles is a pig who lives on a farm with lots of other pigs, all of whom do the kinds of things you would expect farm pigs to do. They eat from a trough, oink and root, sleep and well…you get the idea. Peddles is not like the other pigs. Though he ponders the same things that his pig friends think about, he thinks about them “differently.” He thinks about pizza instead of slop, and bathtubs instead of a mud puddle. He has ideas about what it would be like if he could fly like a bird or jump like a frog. Peddles even dares to imagine what it would be like if he could go out into space.
   The other pigs think that Peddles’ dreams and ideas are ridiculous, and they advise him to “Get your head out of the clouds.” The thing is that Peddles cannot change who he is, and so he goes on having ideas and dreams, though none of them come to anything, which is rather disheartening.
   Then, one night, Peddles sees a gathering of people in the barn and they are dancing, stomping their cowboy boots, and “twirling and whirling.” Peddles has an idea. A marvelous idea, and maybe this time it will be an idea that turns into something wonderful.
   In this charming picture book, children will meet a superlative pig, a pig who has big aspirations. Unfortunately, he lives in a world where pigs are not supposed to want more out of their lives. They are supposed to be content with being ordinary pigs.
   Children are going to love seeing how Peddles pursues a dream, and how his determination and hope affects the pigs around him and thus brings about a very real change.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Under the Mambo Moon

For me music and my memories are closely intertwined. For example, I associate certain pieces of classical music with the hours that my father and I used to spend together because those pieces were often playing on the record player. Certain albums remind me summers when I listened to the albums over and over again. For me certain pieces of music or songs are also tied to dance, and every week I add to my dance memory library when I go to dance with the women in my hula group.
   In today's poetry title we see how memories are tied to music and dance in other people's lives. We visit a music shop where the patrons tell us stories that are vibrant with music and the sound of dancing feet.

Under the Mambo MoonUnder the Mambo Moon
Julia Durango
Illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck
Poetry Book
For ages 6 to 8
Charlesbridge, 2011, 978-1-57091-723-3
On summer evenings Marisol helps her father in the family music store. Marisol’s Papi tells her that the “you can / read people’s souls by the music they listen to,” and that people come into their store to “buy dreams / and memories.”
   A steady stream of people comes and goes, and they all have music related memories that they share with Marisol and her Papi. Mrs. Garcia is a house cleaner who, at the end of the day, comes home with a tired and aching back. She tells Marisol about her quinceanera, when she wore a pink dress and a tiara and when she danced to the mariachi band tunes all afternoon.
   Catalina has been buying mangoes at the grocery store and she has her own music story to tell. She, unlike the many people who like to dance the waltz wearing formal gowns and suits, likes to dance the cha-cha-cha. In her party dress and pink high heels, she likes to “shine like a jewel” on the dance floor.
   Professor Soto is missing his home in the Andes and he tells Papi and the other folk in the shop about a pan pipe player that he saw in park the day before. The musician has performed in concerts in five countries, and when he plays the haunting sounds of his pipes take listeners far away to his “highland home” where the wind whistles through the “cracks and crevices.”
   Mr. and Mrs. Mayer then come in. Mrs. Mayer looks like “an old-time movie star,” and she and her husband know how to dance the tango. Papi asks her to give them a “quick tango lesson.”
   In this wonderful book we go into a music shop and meet the people there, all of whom love the music, and often the dance, of Latin America. We hear about the rhythms of the music and see how talking about the music and dance brings people’s past, present and future to life. Together they share their stories in the shop and then, when the day ends, Marisol and her family create their own musical memories.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Picture book Monday with a review of Here comes Valentine Cat AND The Valentine


Today I am doing something that I have never done before. I am offering you two reviews! The reason for this is that I could not make up my mind which Valentine's Day book I wanted to tell you about. They are both wonderful. So, you are getting two picture book reviews instead of one


Here comes Valentine Cat
Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2016, 978-0-525-42915-9
Cat does not like Valentine’s Day and has declared his territory a “No-Valentine’s Zone.” The reason for this is that Cat thinks Valentine’s Day is “all mushy.” Cat’s friend – who happens to be the person narrating the speaking part of this story – suggests that Cat should make a valentine for a friend. Cat suggests that he could make a valentine for Squiddy, his stuffed toy squid, but the narrator gently suggests that Cat should give a valentine to someone who “isn’t a stuffed animal.”
   There is a problem with this suggestion though. Cat cannot think of a single person he would give a valentine to, which is rather sad when you think about it. The narrator then suggests that Cat should give Dog, who is new to the neighborhood, a valentine. Cat then gets grumpy because Dog throws a bone over the fence, which hits cat on the head. Apparently Dog has does this many times. Dog then throws a ball over the fence, which also hits Cat on the head. Cat then gets an idea, and the narrator starts to worry. Cat is cranky, and when Cat gets cranky he does things that could backfire in a big way.
    This laugh-out-loud funny picture book brings back Cat, the sometimes cantankerous feline who does not really always understand how to get along with others. The good news is that Cat does have a companion, the narrator, who helps Cat figure out how to navigate the tricky world of friendship and how to make the right choices in life.
Cat does not like Valentine’s Day and has declared his territory a “No-Valentine’s Zone.” The reason for this is that Cat thinks Valentine’s Day is “all mushy.” Cat’s friend – who happens to be the person narrating the speaking part of this story – suggests that Cat should make a valentine for a friend. Cat suggests that he could make a valentine for Squiddy, his stuffed toy squid, but the narrator gently suggests that Cat should give a valentine to someone who “isn’t a stuffed animal.”
   There is a problem with this suggestion though. Cat cannot think of a single person he would give a valentine to, which is rather sad when you think about it. The narrator then suggests that Cat should give Dog, who is new to the neighborhood, a valentine. Cat then gets grumpy because Dog throws a bone over the fence, which hits cat on the head. Apparently Dog has does this many times. Dog then throws a ball over the fence, which also hits Cat on the head. Cat then gets an idea, and the narrator starts to worry. Cat is cranky, and when Cat gets cranky he does things that could backfire in a big way.
    This laugh-out-loud funny picture book brings back Cat, the sometimes cantankerous feline who does not really always understand how to get along with others. The good news is that Cat does have a companion, the narrator, who helps Cat figure out how to navigate the tricky world of friendship and how to make the right choices in life.


Mouse Book: The ValentineThe Valentine
Monique Felix
Wordless picture Book
For ages 4 and up
Creative Editions, 2013, 978-1-56846-247-9
A mouse is sitting, by itself, feeling lonely and bored. He starts picking at the paper he is sitting on and when the tear in the paper gets big enough, he peers through the hole it has created. There is something wonderful and amazing on the other side of the paper and the mouse jumps for joy.
   Quickly the mouse starts chewing at the tear and until he has created a little paper heart. Then he squeezes through the hole he has made and goes to the other side. Soon he is back and he stars chewing the paper again. Diligently he chews a big square and then smaller squares. Then he starts to fold and fold  until…
   In this delightful wordless book, one of Monique Felix’s little mice finds a wonderful surprise behind a piece of paper, a surprise that inspires the lovelorn mouse to get creative. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Buddy and Earl

We all tend to label people, even when we try not to, and often the labels come with a certain amount of judgement. All too often our preconceptions of people are way off the mark, and sometimes they are unkind and hurtful as well.

In today's picture book we see how the labels we like to put on people are a waste of time and counterproductive. All that really matters are the relationships that we build together.

Buddy and Earl
Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2015, 978-1-55498-712-2
One rainy day Buddy is feeling “bored and a little lonely.”  Thankfully, his person, Meredith, comes into the room where Buddy is sitting and life gets interesting again. Meredith is carrying a box, which she puts on the floor. She tells Buddy to “stay,” but the dog, after scratching an itch, forgets all about the command he was given and he goes over to the box to investigate. Inside the box there is a strange prickly thing, which Buddy sniffs and sniffs. He considers licking the thing but decides that this might not be such a good thing to do. Then the thing begins to snuffle and hiss. Buddy is thrilled. The brown, prickly thing is alive!
   Buddy introduces himself and the thing says that he is called Earl. Earl then proceeds to tell Buddy that he is a racecar, a giraffe, a sea urchin, and a talking hairbrush. Buddy knows full that that Earl isn’t any of these things and he points out why Earl cannot be a car, a giraffe or a sea urchin.
   After this rather peculiar discussion, Earl then decides to try and guess what Buddy is. He is convinced that Buddy is a pirate, and before logical Buddy can explain that he is a dog and not a pirate at all, he and Earl are having a wonderful adventure on the high seas.
   This wonderful book explores the nature of friendship, and it also looks at how important it is to connect with others in a meaningful way that sets asides labels. Children and adults alike will be touched when they see that Buddy eventually figures out who Earl is. It turns out that what really matters is not what you are, but who you are.
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