Monday, June 27, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Bob the artist

Most of us have something about our bodies that we don't like, that we wish we could change. Our hair is too straight/curly. Our legs are too fat/skinny. Our lips are too plump/thin. In this book you will meet a bird who, thanks to the remarks of others, thinks his legs are too thin. You will also see how, thanks to a fortuitous visit to an art gallery, the bird finds a very unique solution to his problem.

Bob the ArtistBob the artist
Marion Denchars
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Laurence King, 2016, 978-1-78067-767-5
One day Bob the bird decides to go for a walk. It is a beautiful day and he sets off in good humor on his “fine legs.” Unfortunately, Bob seems to be the only animal who thinks his legs are fine. Cat thinks that they are skinny, and Owl thinks that Bob has a “funny stick walk.” Worse still the other birds all make comments about how “puny” Bob’s legs are. Not surprisingly, all this teasing makes Bob feel rather blue. He decides that what he needs to do is to do lots of exercise to make his legs bigger.
   Bob goes to the gym and he diligently lifts weights, runs, and does yoga poses. When that does not work, he tries eating a lot to gain weight, but, as so often happens, the weight ends up all around his middle and none of it goes into his thin legs.
   Bob finally determines that the only thing to do is to hide his legs under clothes, but the leg warmers, skirts, and coats just make him feel “ridiculous.”
   Bob then visits an art gallery. The colors and designs that he sees on the canvasses inspire him to do something unique and creative about his leg problem.
   Children are going to love seeing how Bob finds a wonderful, and colorful, solution to a problem that makes him very unhappy. Art therapy comes in many forms and this one is truly unique.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of E. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life

All too often, when we read a story or a piece of poetry, we have no idea who the author is or what kind of life he or she lived or is living. I chose to review today's poetry book because it gives readers some poems to read, of course, but it also gives readers a picture of what the poet who wrote those poems was like. I found that this format helped me appreciate the poems all the more.

E. E. Cummings: A Poet's LifeE. E. Cummings: A Poet's Life
Catherine Reef
Nonfiction
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 2006, 978-0618568499
Many of us imagine that poets are gentle souls who are quiet, bookish people living safe and secluded lives. Edward Estlin Cummings was not such a person at all . It is true that he began to write poetry from a very early age, and he did read a great deal, but he also believed that it was essential for a person to experience life to the fullest. He therefore traveled a great deal, he was a red-cross driver during World War I, and he insisted that he should do his duty when he was called up to be a soldier during that same war, even though he was a pacifist. Summings also left the comfort of his home in New England to live in Greenwich Village in New York City, where he could share in the lives of fellow writers, painters, poets, and thinkers. He did not want a life of safety and sameness. He wanted to feel and discover, he wanted to stretch himself.
   And this is just what he did. He also stretched the boundaries of poetry in ways that no one had seen before. Estlin changed all the rules, removing punctuation, capitalizations, the form of the words on the page, and so much more. He challenged his readers to look at the words in a whole new way and he made them think about his ideas. Some people loved what he created. Others could not stand his radically different concepts. Why, they asked, did he make his words slide across the page in that messy way? Why did he use the lower case i all the time? Estlin had his reasons, and he was part of a movement that was challenging people to look at poetry, writing, and art in a new way.
   This wonderfully written title gives readers a thorough and often startling picture of the life of E.E. Cummings, and it also give readers a picture of an era; of a time of great change when people of all kinds were looking for new ways to express themselves. The author makes great use of Cummings' poems to demonstrate what he trying to do with his writing, and thus she gives her readers a taste of the poet's work at different points in his life.
   Well written, and very carefully researched, this book is an excellent example of how a biography for older children should be crafted and presented.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Mr. Hulot at the beach

When I was growing up on the island of Cyprus, summer was all about going to the beach. Here in Oregon we have lots of beaches, but only nutters venture into the water because it is so cold. Sunbathing isn't really an option either much of the time because it is too chilly. Still, the beaches are beautiful and we all enjoy walking and tide pooling, and my husband spends hours looking for rocks.

Since summer is now officially here, I thought I would kick things off with a beach book. Enjoy!

Mr. Hulot at the BeachMr. Hulot at the beach
David Merveille
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
NorthSouth, 2016, 978-0-7358-4254-0
It is a sunny day at the seaside and Mr. Hulot is going to spend some time on the beach. He has a deck chair, an umbrella, a tennis racket and everything else a gentleman might need for such an expedition. He buys a newspaper and then heads for the sands, where he fights with the deck chair for a while trying to get it to cooperate. Which it does. Sort of.
   As he reads his newspaper, an inflated beach ball lands on Mr. Hulot. Some people might get upset by a disturbance of this sort, but Mr. Hulot does not mind. He kicks the ball to the little boy it belongs to and, in the process, Mr. Hulot’s shoe comes flying off and lands in the water. He manages to rescue the shoe (using his shrimping net) and then puts it on top of his umbrella to dry.
   A passing seagull sees the shoe and decides that it is just what it needs. It swoops down and carries off the shoe, with Mr. Hulot in hot pursuit. Causing a great disruption at the hotel, Mr. Hulot climbs up onto the roof of the building to retrieve the shoe, only to find that the seagull has laid some eggs in it. There is nothing for it. Mr. Hulot returns to the ground shoe-less.
   One would think that this escaped would be more than enough of an adventure for one man to have during a sojourn at the seaside, but Mr. Hulot is not your average man and so more misadventures lie in wait for him after he returns to the beach.
   Inspired by the work of the French comic actor and filmmaker, Jacques Tati, David Merveille brings Tati’s wonderful Mr. Hulot character to life in this, his second, Mr. Hulot book. The story is wordless and takes readers on a wonderful series of mishaps that are sweetly funny.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Nibble Nibble

I really enjoy reading and reviewing poetry collections that focus on one subject or theme. Today's poetry title offers readers five poems that feature rabbits. Each of the poems conveys a different mood and sentiment to the reader. The book is wonderfully illustrated throughout by Wendell Minor, a skilled illustrator whose love of nature comes through in his artwork.

Nibble NibbleNibble Nibble
Margaret Wise Brown
Wendell Minor
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
HarperCollins, 2007, 978-0060592080
In 1959 five poems written by Margaret Wise Brown where published and shared with the world.
In this wonderful poetry picture book those five poems are paired with Wendell Minor’s beautiful art. Wendell’s deep and abiding love of nature comes through in the illustrations, and children will almost be able to hear the soft hopping sound of bunny feet and the hum of a summer evening as they turn the pages.
   The poems capture moments in the lives of some rabbits. In two we see the ways in which they move about their world. Another is a kind of song, complete with repetitive, lilting sound words, about the love that one person feels for another. There is also a poem that takes us through the year from April until September, capturing the essence of those warm weather months when young bunnies and robins leaves their nests, when fireflies float above the grass, and when caterpillars, “creep / Out of summer / And into sleep.”
   The collection wraps us with a poem called Cadence, which describes a music that the poet has heard “In the cadence of the word / Not spoken yet / And not yet heard.” This poem is a beautiful conclusion to a poetry journey that children will want to revisit again and again.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of Tupelo Rides the Rails

Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy looking for a place that we can call home. Often what we are really looking for are the right people, the people who can make anyplace a home for us because they are there. Today's picture book tells the story of a dog who is looking for a place to call her own. It is a sweet and life affirming story that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Tupelo Rides the RailsTupelo Rides the Rails
Melissa Sweet
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008, 978-0-618-71714-9
One day Tupelo’s humans dump her, and her sock toy, on the side of the road. Tupelo cannot understand why they would do such a thing, and does not know where she should go next. Not being the kind of dog who gives up, and believing that “Everyone belongs somewhere,” Tupelo picks up her toy, Mr. Bones, and she sets off to find her place.
   At first none of the animals she encounters is interested in having her join “their tribe,” but then Tupelo picks up the whiff of something wonderful. She follows the scent and comes across a pack of dogs that are taking part in a bone-burying ritual. They all make a wish to Sirius, the Dog Star, and then bury a bone as an offering to him. The dogs believe that the ritual will bring them “good luck and fortune.”
   Under the glimmer of Sirius the dogs all make their wishes and then bury their bones. All of them except Tupelo. She has no bone to bury and she cannot bear to bury Mr. Bones. Instead of wishing, Tupelo decides to follow the dog pack. The dogs are fed by a hobo called Garbage Pail Tex and then the man and all the dogs hop on a train. The hobo tells the dogs about famous dogs from history, dogs like Lassie and Toto. He sings them a bedtime song too, and Tupelo wishes that the ride will “last forever.”
  When they arrived in Hoboken, Garbage Pail Tex and some of his hobo friends set about reuniting the lost dogs with their families, and finding homes for the others. One by one the dogs go off to be with people who will love and cherish them. Finally, Tupelo is the only one left and she is alone once more with no one for company except Mr. Bones.
   In this lovely story about a dog who is looking for a home, Melissa Sweet combines her charming multimedia artwork with a narrative that readers of all ages will love. Anyone who has felt lost and alone at some point will appreciate how Tupelo feels as she tries to find her place.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes

I am sorry to say that I was in my thirties before I encountered the poetry of Langston Hughes. For some reason my education in a school on the island of Cyprus did not include studying his powerful words. Still, better late than never as they say. I have had, and will continue to have, a wonderful time getting to know Langston Hughes' writings, and I am delighted to be able to bring you this splendid book on this poetry Friday.

Poetry for Young People: Langston HughesPoetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
Edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad
Illustrated by Benny Andrews
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 9 and up
Sterling, 2013, 978-1454903284
When Langston Hughes started writing poetry, he chose to do so using a voice that used “the speech of ordinary Americans,” and he “sought his material in the world around him.” The people and places that he wrote about were familiar to him on a personal level. He also chose to allow his own concerns and beliefs to filter into his writing. For example, he wrote about “the dignity and beauty of African American identity” because he felt that his people, and all people, needed to see and recognize this beauty. In addition, he used his poems to address the social injustices that he saw around him, the injustices that African Americans had lived with for so long.
   In this wonderful collection of poems ,the editors offer young readers some of Langston Hughes’ wonderful poems. Some of them, like the poem called Aunt Sue’s Stories were inspired by Hughes’ own life experiences. When he was a child Hughes was raised in large part by his grandmother. She would place her little grandson on her lap and tell him stories that were rooted in real life, narratives that spoke about “people who wanted to make the Negroes free.” Aunt Sue’s Stories is an homage to that grandmother and her tales, and we hear about how Aunt Sue would sit on the front porch and tell the “brown-faced child” on her lap about black slaves and their lives. The child knew that the stories he was hearing were “real stories,” that “Aunt Sue never got her stories / Out of any book at all.”
   In My People, Hughes explores the beauty that is found in African Americans. To him “the faces of my people” are as beautiful as the night, and their eyes are as beautiful as the stars. Just like the sun, “the souls of my people are beautiful.” Such words were particularly powerful when they were shared with a world that could not, did not, or would not see the beauty found in African American people.
   Langston Hughes sought to combine poetry and the blues in his writing, and several of his ‘musical’ poems appear in this book. In both The Weary Blues and Homesick Blues there is a rhythm that suggests the sway and lilt of a musical style that he most identified with. In other poems formats used in the blues can be found.
   This is a wonderful collection of poems for readers who are familiar with Langston Hughes’ writings, and for those who are coming to them with fresh eyes. Each poem is accompanied by an editorial note, which provides the reader with further information about the poem and about what inspired Hughes to write that poem. Notes are also offered beneath some of the poems that further clarify words and phrases that were used.
  



Monday, June 6, 2016

Picture Book Monday with a review of A family is a family is a family

I grew up in a rather conservative place where families typically consisted of a mother, a father, and two children. Because many mothers had to work (so that their children could go to university) grandmothers were often a part of the family. They helped raise the children and did some, or all, of the housework. It was only when I moved to the U.K that I saw other family formats, and now I live in a town where their are all kinds of family units. Today's picture book celebrates the family, in all its forms, and the narrative shows how love is the common denominator that connects them all.

A Family Is a Family Is a FamilyA family is a family is a family
Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Groundwood, 2016, 978-1-55498-794-8
Today the children in a class are talking about families, and the teacher asks her students what they think makes their families “special.” One little girl wants to go last because her family is not like anyone else’s and she has no idea what she is going to say. What she does not know is that each of the twelve families she is going to hear about is unique, just like hers.
   The first little girl tells her classmates that her parents have been best friends since first grade and that they are really fond of one another. They even kiss in public, which is “kind of gross.” The little girl who goes next has lots of brothers and sisters. A little boy then tells the class that he has two mothers, both of whom are terrible singers. However, this does not stop them from singing very loudly. Another little boy has two dads, one of whom is very short and the other who is tall. They both “give good hugs.”
   Then there is the little girl who is being raised by her grandmother, and a little girl whose parents are separated. She spends one week with her mother, and one week with her father, which she things is right because “Fair’s fair.”
   When it is finally the little girl’s turn to tell her classmates and teacher about her family, she is able, with a smile on her face, to tell them about a special moment that she shared with her family.

   This wonderful book celebrates the many kinds of families that there are out there. Alongside the little girl we come to appreciate that families come in so many sizes, forms, and formats, and every single one of them can provide a child with a loving environment in which to grow.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Poetry Friday with a review of Runny Babbit

I don't know about you, but I definitely have days when I am not in the mood for reading something deep and meaningful. My brain is tired and too full of 'stuff', and I just need to relax and enjoy a book. This is true of all kinds of books, including poetry. Some days I am happy to delve into the words written by Maya Angelou or Emily Dickinson, but on others I need something lighter, and today's poetry book fits this bill perfectly. The poems in the book are deliciously amusing and Shel Silverstein's clever way of writing makes it unique and great fun to read.

Runny Babbit: A Billy SookRunny Babbit: A Billy Sook
Shel Silverstein
Poetry
For ages 7 to 9
HarperCollins, 2015, 978-0060256531
Down in the green woods, for some reason that no one can really explain, the animals “do things and they say things / In a different way.” The animals choose to invert the letters in certain words when they speak, and so “purple hat” becomes “hurple pat.” Similarly, instead of saying read a book they say “bead a rook.” To understand it you just have to remember to switch a letter here and there. At first, it can be a little difficult to get the hang of it, but in time one gets used to it, and translation becomes automatic.
   In this book Shel Silverstin takes us into the green woods and introduces us to some of the animals there. The poet brings their stories to life and, wanting to be true to the ways of his subjects, uses their singular way of speaking in his writing.
   One of the families who lives in the green woods is Bunny’s family. He has “A sother and two bristers, / A dummy and a mad.” Bunny’s mamma feeds her family “marrot cilk” and “parrot cie,” and they are very happy living in their “cozy hunny butch.”
   Bunny, like any other child, has all sorts of adventures. For example, one day he “mets guddy” and is then washed and hung out to dry, just as if he were a piece of clothing. Not surprisingly, Joe Turtle is rather surprised to see his friend hanging from a washing line by his ears, and he asks Bunny what he is doing. Bunny, not being one to let the opportunity for a little pun to pass him by, says that he is “just rangin’ hound.”
   We go one to read about how Bunny cuts his own hair, how he takes up knitting, and what happens when he jumps over a “jandlestick.” We hear about what happens when Bunny decides to pretend to be a cowboy, and what he gets up to when he visits Mount Rushmore.
   In all there are forty-one poems in this book featuring Bunny and his friends, and children are going to laugh out loud as they try to figure out the green wood way of speaking. It should be noted that this way of speaking often leads to readers saying rather amusing things without even meaning to.

  


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