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A blog written by the editor of Through the Looking Glass Book Review, a monthly online children's book review journal.
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Telling stories using poetry is something that poets have been doing for a long time. Often the stories are made up, but sometimes that are based on real events that took place in the past. In today's poetry title readers will find a collection of poems that are used to tell the story of the United States.
Hand in Hand: An American History Through Poetry
Collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Peter M. Fiore
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 1994, 978-0671733155
Poems come in many forms. They can describe a moment in time or describe a place. They can capture an emotion, and they can also tell a story. Sometimes the stories they tell are made up, but at other times these stories are based on real events that happened in the past. Many poets really enjoy telling the stories of important historical events. For this book Lee Bennett Hopkins has put together a collection of poems that will give readers a picture of the history of the United States.
The poems are presented in chronological order, beginning with those that tell the story of the early European settlers who came to America; the pilgrims who traveled to New England to build new lives for themselves. We read of their landing, which was witnessed by the ocean-eagle which “soared / from his nest the white wave’s foam,” where the “rocking pines of the forest roared.”
Then we move on to poems that tell the story of the American Revolution. Here readers will find Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride, and they can also read about Molly Pitcher, a woman who manned a cannon in a battle during the war and who, “since she had played a man’s full part,” had earned “A man’s reward for her loyal heart.”
The section that follows offers us poems that tell the story of America during the years when countless people began the journey west to settle the frontier lands. For the brave people who made the journey, the west offered new opportunities. For the native people who already lived in these lands, the arrival of the pioneers was a time of loss and bloodshed. The story of one young Native American is told in the poem Battle Won is Lost. The thoughts and feelings of the young man come through with painful clarity as he goes to war only to discover that those who said “To die is glorious,” had lied.
The story of the United States continues until we come to the section that is about “1900 and Beyond.” Here we read about the way in which Americans continued to voyage long after they had reached the Pacific Ocean. They went up into space to travel “from planet to planet and from moon to moon.”
On the pages of this remarkable collection readers will find the poems of Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Charlotte Zolotow and many other remarkable poets.
Children love to have secrets and in the book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary
we meet a little girl and a little mouse who have a secret. They become friends and knowing full well that their families would not approve of their friendship, they keep their times together a secret. In today's book you will meet Mouse Mouse and Mary again, and this time you will see that they are not the only ones in their house who have secrets.
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Random House, 2014, 9780-375-84423-2
Mary is a little girl who lives in a lovely house, and Mouse Mouse is little mouse girl who lives beneath the floorboards of this house. Mary knows all about Mouse Mouse because she and the little mouse are friends. The girls know better than to tell their families about their friendship. The human parents would get a cat, and the mouse parents would “flee to a hole in the ground.” The two girls therefore keep their relationship a secret.
One night Mary gets ready for bed by putting on her jammies, brushing her teeth and hair, and getting into bed. In her home under the boards Mouse Mouse is doing the same thing. Both girls call out for their mothers. Nothing happens. The mothers don’t make an appearance, so the two girls go looking for them, calling out “Mom” and “Mommy” as they go.
Mary searches the house and asks her father and brother if they know where Mom is. Mouse Mouse searches her home and asks her father and little sister if they know where Mommy is. The girls are starting to get worried.
In this delightful story, which began in the book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary
, we get to go on a simple and yet very surprising adventure with Mary and her friend, Mouse Mouse. Barbara McClintock’s lovely illustrations capture the worlds that the friends live in in great detail, and children will particularly enjoy seeing the illustrations where the human house and the hidden mouse house are shown on the same spread.
I am a big believer in recycling, but I have never thought about recycling words, reusing words that someone else has written and re-purposing them so that they become something new and different. This is exactly what the poems in today's book are; they are poems that were created using words that the poets found. It is fascinating to see the ways in which they created poetry out of slogans, advertisements, crossword clues and other pieces of found text.
The Arrow Finds its Mark: A book of Found Poems
Edited by Georgia Heard
Illustrated by Antoine Guiloppe
Roaring Brook Press, 2012, 978-1-59643-665-7
For centuries poets have been inspired by nature’s beauty. They have been inspired by animals and plants. They have told stories and described people. The inspiration for the poems in this book came from an unusual source; they were found. The poets were invited to find their poems within a piece of writing or spoken piece. They saw what they were looking for written on a subway wall, in a book, on a receipt, on websites, advertisements and other sources. They then “refashioned” the words they found (without changing, adding, or rearranging them) to create something completely new.
Lee Bennett Hopkins, Kai Dotlich, Jane Yolen and many others took on this challenge and created poems that are quite fascinating. In a poem called Pep Talk,
Janet Wong seems to be encouraging us to keep going, to keep trying, telling us to “Keep Cool” and “See a brighter solution.” Readers will be surprised to learn that the poet found these words on the box of a detergent cleaner. Similarly, in his poem First
, Lee Bennett Hopkins turned a Sprint newspaper advertisement into a poem about winning. In the poem we are told what it means to be first. The one who is first, “leads” and he or she “First takes us places / we have never / been before.”
Jane Yolen found the words for her poem, Cross Words
, within the clues for a newspaper crossword puzzle. What is interesting is that she has actually found phrases that sound angry or cross, phrases like “Do something!” “Shame!” and “Don’t ask me!”
Joyce Sidman found the words for her poem in a Greenpeace calendar. She took the text in the calendar, changed the layout of the sentences and created Song of the Earth
, a beautiful poem about our precious natural world.
Readers will be surprised when they see what the sources for these poems were. Who knew that catalogs, photo captions, book titles and other everyday pieces of writing could create such splendid poems. Readers might even be tempted to try writing their own found poems.
Many of us wish we could have a pet. We image how wonderful it would be to have a cat or a dog who would always be happy to see us and who would eagerly greet us when we came home from school or work. We forget that having a pet is a lot of work. In today's picture book you will meet a delightful little mouse who shows us what it means to be a pet owner.I wish I had a pet
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-5332-6
Many people, children and adults alike, sometimes wish that they had a pet. They see someone walking along the street with a sweet dog at their heels, and think how nice it would be to have a dog to walk. Perhaps they see someone sitting on their front porch with a happily purring cat in their lap. How soothing it would be to have a cat like that, a furry purry presence who makes you feel special.
In this book a charming little mouse person asks you if you “wish sometimes…that you
had a pet?” She then goes on to talk about how important it is that you think about what it means to have a pet. For one thing you have to choose the right one, a pet that won’t be too big to handle, or one that won’t make you have an allergic reaction.
Once you have found the right pet, the pet that suits your lifestyle and personality, you have to make sure that you take care of it properly. A pet, even a fish or a roly-poly, takes a lot of work. You need to keep it clean, fed, exercised, and happy. You also have to clean up after your pet’s messes (no matter how nasty they are), and be willing to accept that sometimes pets are “very naughty,” especially if they are bored.
In this delightfully sweet and often funny picture book, Maggie Rudy shows people the joys and woes of pet ownership using her cunning little felt mice characters. On every spread we see a mouse character or two with bees, fish, beetles, lizards, frogs, and other mouse-sized pets. Backdrops that are mouse perfect present readers with so much to look at, and one almost wishes one could hop into the page and visit the characters in their world.
When I was young I spent hours face down (wearing a mask and snorkel) in the Mediterranean Sea watching fish and other creatures go about their business. I also snorkeled in the Indian Ocean, and more recently off the shores of Kauai. There is something magical about watching these beautiful and fascinating animals from the surface, a part of their world and yet apart at the same time. Today's poetry picture book will take readers into that world.
In the Sea
Illustrated by Holly Meade
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-4498-7
The world’s oceans and seas are full of wonderful, beautiful, and sometimes downright bizarre creatures. Some can dive to the deep dark depths, going places that we humans cannot get to unless we are protected by the thick shell of a submarine. Others make their homes in the shallow, warmers waters where the sun dapples the sand and reef.
In this gorgeous picture book Holly Meade’s visually arresting woodcuts are paired with David Elliot’s poems to give young readers a colorful and every changing picture of some of the creatures that live in marine environments. We begin with a small and delicate seahorse, “dainty as a wish,” that does indeed look a little like a horse and yet it is “a fish.”
On the next spread we encounter a very different animal. With its strong tail propelling it through the water it seems to swim straight at us, its mouth agape showing off its many sharp teeth. This is the shark, the creature that inhabits some people’s nightmares “The terror… / of the dark within.”
We then turn the page to encounter the long arms of an octopus. Though it is rather funny looking, this animal should not be underestimated. It may seem like the clown of the sea, the oddity, but in fact it is the magician that can, without any warning, “vanish in a cloud of ink.”
Our next creature is a gentle, slow-moving beast, a starfish that crawls along making the world it lives in all the more beautiful by its five-fingered presence.
With beautiful word images and touches of humor, David Elliott shares his obvious love for the natural world with his readers, offering up a celebration of marine animals that is unique and beautiful.
When I was in elementary school on the island of Cyprus, we kids had to line up in the playground when break (recess) was over and then we had to quietly walk to our classrooms. The teachers walked at the head of the lines, and I remember thinking many times over that I felt as if I was a baby duck following its mother, or a soldier in formation. How I longed to just run or skip or hop instead of having to walk "quietly."
In today's picture book you will meet a goose who cannot seem to walk in step. She, unlike me, wants to be like everyone else, but for some reason she has a hard time fitting in.
The Geese March in Step
For ages 5 to 7
Eerdmans, 2014, 978-0-8028-5443-8
Igor is a goose who leads his flock to the pond every morning. He insists that all the geese should march in step so that their webbed feet hit the ground “perfectly in synch,” and their rumps waddle “together in time.” No one can remember why the geese do this. All Igor cares about is that their orderly march is “tradition” and tradition matters.
Then one day, during the march to the pond, Igor notices that something is amiss. One of the geese is not properly in synch. It turns out that Zita, who recently joined the flock, is having trouble marching in step. Igor tells her that she cannot go to the pond with the flock. She will have to join them later.
Sadly Zita goes back to the farm, and then after waiting for a while, she sets off down the road to the pond once more. She cannot understand why she can’t march in step. It isn’t hard to do, and yet Zita cannot seem to manage it. As she walks, crying and sniffing, Zita starts to create a rhythmic pattern tune with her feet, tears, and sniffs, a “Splash, sniff splash and splash again sniff splash” sound. The tune is so catchy that a woodpecker joins in without even realizing it, adding a knocking noise to her song.
Raymond the rooster is similarly attracted to Zita’s tune, which he thinks “makes you want to shake your tail feathers!” He too, without making a conscious effort to do so, joins the little goose’s tune with pecks.
All too often the world expects us to toe the line and march to a certain drumbeat. Some people are able to do this, but others do not find it easy to do what everyone else is doing. They have their own style and have to go their own way.
This wonderful picture book celebrates those who have an independent spirit and who dare to embrace their individuality.
What I like about today's book, which is one title in a series of books about poems, is that in addition to giving us a splendid collection of poems to read, the author also tells us how haiku and lantern poems are constructed. Children can use this book to learn how to write their own short and sweet Japanese-style poems.
If it rains pancakes: Haiku and Lantern poems
Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Andy Rowland
For ages 6 to 8
Millbrook, 2014, 978-1-4677-4412-6
Haiku poems have been around for more than four hundred years. For many of those years westerners had no idea that these gem-like short poems existed. Haiku were not really appreciated and created by westerners until the early 1900’s. These days haiku are popular with children and adults alike. Every haiku has three lines, with the first line having five syllables. The second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five. Traditionally haiku poems focus on something that exists in nature, but in this book the author also give young readers poems about animals, food, school days and much more.
After reading twenty haiku poems, readers get to learn about lantern poems, which is another short poetry form that originated in Japan. The first line in these poems has just one word, which is always a noun and must have one syllable. The next four lines describe that noun with 2 syllables on the second line, three on the third, four on the fourth, and one syllable on the last line. After reading a description of what a lantern poem is, children can go on to read fifteen of these spare poems which look at bees, a cat, a hug, stars, a bed, dawn, and much more. Some of the poems are lyrical in nature, while others are amusing.
What is wonderful about this collection is that the author describes in detail what haiku and lantern poems are and then he gives us many examples of each poetry form. We are able to see how such poems are written, and some young readers may even be inspired to write some haiku and lantern poems of their own. As the author says, “Poetry’s not just a spectator sport.” Anyone can write poems that explore or describe things that they care about.
Where I grew up, on the island of Cyprus, Halloween wasn't something that people celebrated. I had to wait until I moved to the States before I was finally able to enjoy Halloween. Mind you, it wasn't until we moved to Oregon that I really got into the spirit of things and started dressing up. Unlike poor Scaredy Squirrel, I love Halloween, though some of the costumes people around here wear are definitely scary.Scaredy Squirrel prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies
Kids Can Press, 2013, 978-1-894786-87-4
Scaredy Squirrel is the kind of creature who likes to be ready for every possible event. Really
ready. He loves “lists, plans and safety equipment,” and hates “danger and unpredictability.” Because of these loves and hates, Scaredy Squirrel has put together this guide to help people who are like him. As far as Scaredy is concerned Halloween decorations are “nerve-wracking” and Halloween itself makes him “pass out.” If you have a similar reaction to Halloween then this guide was written for you
. The guide is divided into eight chapters, and it is “designed to help you prepare for and survive Halloween, all in one piece!”
In the first chapter Scaredy shows his readers how to get their living area ready for Halloween. Scaredy provides us with an illustration that shows us how to use garlic, a scarecrow, a blender, bug repellent, caution tape and a doghouse to make our home safe from werewolves, creepy crawlies, ghosts and goblins, black cats and witches, and vampires. Who knew that such everyday items could be so useful!
Next, Scaredy tackles the subject of Halloween decorations. Scaredy appreciates that Halloween jitters might cause you to experience decorating problems, so he shows you how to carve a pumpkin safely, how to decorate your front door so that it is “inviting,” and how to make your living room “ghoulish” but “not too ghoulish.”
Choosing a Halloween costume is not easy, but Scaredy’s ingenious ideas you are sure to help you to find something that suits your personality. He looks at costumes that are classics, some that are fun, and a few that will appeal to people of action. There are also hero and villain costumes, fairy tale and science fiction costumes. He considers the advantages of makeup versus masks, and he shows us how to make three do-it-yourself costumes.
The next four chapters look at “Halloween trick-or-treating,” “Halloween candy,” “Halloween Notes,” and “Halloween Fun.” Then Scaredy wraps up with a chapter titled “If all else fails …” which does not need to be described as the title says it all.
For readers who know Scaredy Squirrel already, this new title is sure to reinforce the connection that they have with this delightful little animal. For readers who have never met Scaredy before, this title will show them what they have been missing!
Many years ago I visited a friend who was living in Nairobi with her husband and two little sons. One of the boys kept on calling out "Digga!" when we drove around town, pointing at the vehicles that were hard at work on road construction projects. As far as he was concerned the diggers, dumper trucks, and other machines he saw were the bees knees. He would have loved today's poetry title.
Digger Dozer Dumper
Illustrated by David Slonim
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-5078-0
There is something about trucks, diggers, cement mixers, and other big vehicles that young children find irresistible. They love the loud engine noises these machines make and will watch them at work for hours on end. In this book children will meet eighteen of these wonderful machines and they can figure out which of the machines is most like them. Are they “slow and steady” or “really strong?”
The first machine that sweeps across the page is…you guessed it, the street sweeper. Though this machine is perhaps not very glamorous, it is vital to getting rid of all the things that make the streets in a busy town or city dirty or messy. The street sweeper’s “steely whiskers whisper / as they gather dust and dirt,” and the sweeper is “quiet and determined” not to “miss a spot.”
After getting to know a garbage truck who “adores his work,” we meet a dump truck and a backhoe. These hard working machines are vital to the success of a project that requires the removal and placement of earth, rock and other materials. The dump truck is “precise” and does not dump his load “just anywhere.” The backhoe is amazing because it is two machines in one. Its “front end pushes dirt and rocks; / his back end digs out muck.”
Unlike the dump truck and backhoe, the skid-steer loader does not have a steering wheel. Instead, it has two levers and being small it can zip and turn almost on the spot. It can drill, push, lift, and dump.
As they read the delightful poems in this book, children are going to enjoy looking at the artwork. The vehicles described in the poems all have large eyes and very definite personalities, and the people and dog that we meet on the first introductory spread appear in all pictures thereafter. Children will enjoy seeing where the dog will turn up next. Will the girl with the black curly hair be driving the next vehicle or will the boy with the glasses? The clever ending perfectly wraps up the narrative, giving children something to think about.
Children are often eager to find out how writers go about creating their stories, so Marie-Louise Gay decided to create a picture book that would help children to appreciate how the writing process works. In the book she answers the kinds of questions she is asked when she visits schools, and she also gives readers some insights that will amuse and entertain them.
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1-55498-382-7
Marie-Louise Gay is a much loved author whose books have delighted children (and adults) for many years. When Marie-Louise goes to talk to children in schools and libraries, they do what all children do. They ask questions. A lot of questions. Often the children want to know about Marie-Louise and her life, and then there are the questions that pertain to her stories and how she creates them. One of those questions that is often asked is, “Where does a story start?”
A story always starts with a blank page. If you stare at the page long enough, “anything can happen.” You might think that a blank piece of white paper cannot possibly inspire anything, but this is not true. For example, it can give birth to a scene that is full of a snowstorm. If you start with a piece of paper that is old looking and has a yellow tinge to it then you might end up telling a story about a time when dinosaurs walked the earth. Blue paper can lead to an underwater adventure and green paper can be the backdrop for a story about a jungle.
Sometimes stories don’t start with a color at all. Instead, “words or ideas” come “floating out of nowhere.” Bit by bit pieces of paper with words and thoughts written on them are collected and sorted, and then they are joined by “little scribbles and doodles,” which is when the kernel of a story starts to grow. Of course, sometimes an idea pops up on the page that simply does not work at all. When this happens an author has to search around for something that does work, which can take a little (or even a lot) of time to happen. These things cannot be rushed though, and eventually the right piece of story comes along and the author is off and running.
In this wonderful picture book, Marie-Louise Gay explores the writing process, answering questions that children have asked her over the years. She shows us how a story is built, how it unfolds, and we see, right there on the pages, how she creates a magical story out of doddles, scraps of ideas, and tidbits of inspiration. The little children and animals characters who appear on the pages interact with the story, questioning, advising, and offering up ideas.
This is a book that writers of all ages will love. It is funny, cleverly presented, and it gives writers encouragement and support.
Not that many poetry titles for young readers are published every year and so I went to the library looking for some older titles to review when I came across today's book. The artwork and the poems have a nostalgic feel that is charming.
A Little Bitty Man and other poems for the very young
Translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Candlewick Press, 2011, 978-0-7636-2379-1
Children live in a world where simple things can be magical, and magical things can be commonplace. It is a rather wonderful place where the imagination can make anything possible, and where the little things that adults don’t appreciate anymore still seem wondrous.
In this beautifully presented poetry picture book the innocence, silliness and curiosity that children have comes alive in thirteen poems. Some tell a little story, while others explore everyday things that happen in children’s lives.
In A Little Bitty Man
we meet a very small man who rides around on a snail and who finds himself in a place, “Littlebittyland,” where he builds a life for himself. There is also a poem about a little cloud which goes out for a walk. As if drifts across the sky it looks down on the world below and all is well, until it realizes that it needs ‘to go’ and it doesn’t have “a potty.” Just like a little child, the cloud has an accident and when it gets home it gets “a scolding from its mom.”
Some of the poems contain the kind of common sense wisdom that children come up with, much to the embarrassment of their grownups. For example in Those Fierce Grown-up Soldiers
a child tells adult soldiers “who shoot guns and fight” that they should do what children do. They should battle with toys and then “if your war won’t end,” they should tickle their enemy until he or she becomes a friend.
Poems like these are little gems, gifts that should be shared with children who will appreciate the tone and flavor that infuses every line. To accompany the poems Kevin Hawkes has created wonderful illustrations that are rich with detail and full of expressive characters.
When I was a child for some reason illustrators did not create wordless picture books. These days I encounter books of this type several times each year and some of them are truly amazing. Today's picture book is a wordless title and it was created by the illustrator who brought us Flora and the Flamingo, which was a Caldecott Honor title this year. Just like Flora and the Flamingo this story features a little girl and a very personable bird, and the way in which the story is told is quite magical.
Flora and the Penguin
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle, 2014, 978-1-4521-2891-7
The ice is frozen and Flora is going skating. Bundled up in warm clothing, she sits on the ice to tie the laces of her skates. Not far away there is a hole in the ice and the tip of something orange is poking through the hole. When Flora goes to investigate she sees that a penguin is coming through the hole in the ice, and in no time she and the very elegant bird are greeting one another.
Soon the new friends are skating across the ice. Perfectly synchronized they glide and twirl, jump and spin. Their beautifully coordinated performance is joyous until something beneath the ice captures the penguin's attention and with a dive and small splash the bird is gone. Flora is left all alone until the penguin pops up through the hole in the ice again. It has a fish in its beak, which it offers to Flora as a gift. Not surprisingly the girl does not appreciate her present. In fact she throws it back into the hole in the ice, shocking the penguin who then makes it very clear that Flora is in the penguin equivalent of the dog house.
Sometimes we do things that hurt our friend's feelings and have to make amends as best we can to show them that we are sorry and that we appreciate them. In this wordless picture book Molly Idle tell a story that captures the ebb and flow of a new friendship. As the story unfolds we see how hurt feelings can be repaired if one is little creative. Readers will be delighted to explore the compelling art work and, on some pages, they will find flaps to lift. The story ends with a grand fold out page that carries us forward to a perfect ending.
Many young readers go through phases when they read every book that they can find that explores a topic that interests them. Dinosaurs are one of the topics that kids get passionate about, and pirates are another. Not long ago I was working with a little boy in a reading program and we read nothing but pirate books for three months! He eventually moved on to books about dogs, but he would have loved today's poetry title.
Shiver me Timbers!
Illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Simon and Schuster, 2012, 978-1-4424-1321-4
In real life pirates were (and still are) rather dangerous and certainly frightening people, but we don’t tend to think about that much. No, we think about the ‘cool’ pirate stuff, like eye patches, pet parrots, pirate slang, treasure hunts, sword fights, and robbing ships at sea.
In this splendidly piratical poetry picture book, we get the opportunity to celebrate the things that attract children and adults alike to pirates and pirate stories. We begin with a poem called Pirates wear Patches
, which is about pirate accessories and pirate attitudes, and what a great place to start it is. After all, anyone who dresses up as a pirate makes sure he or she has an eye patch. It is one of those piratish things that we all know about. As we read the poem we find out that there other items of clothing and accessories that pirates would not be seen dead without; things such as white shirts with “big puffy sleeves,” tricorn hats, “scraggly” beards, and hooks. Once you have these things all you have to do to be the perfect pirate is to give “dirty looks,” “wear smirks” and “evil grins,” and be ready to “shoot first / And ask questions later.”
Of course, you also have to make sure that you know your “Pirate Patter.” Thankfully the second poem in this book covers this topic so that you know how to talk like a pirate. You will learn that you have to greet people by saying “Ahoy, matey,” and that “grog” is what pirates drink. If you want to insult someone you can call him a “scurvy dog.” It is also important that you know pirate terms so that you can stay out of trouble when you are around pirates. For example, if a pirate threatens to send you to “Davy Jones’s locker,” you should get out of town.
You may not know this but pirates lived by the code of conduct when they were at sea, a code which were surprisingly fair and democratic. The code of conduct that you will find in this book is quite different. It is delightfully silly and children may even try to force their parents to adopt it. The code includes things like “Don’t take a bath,” “Tell lots of lies,” “Act rash and rude,” and “Yell, “Thar she blows!””
Other things that you will learn about as you read these poems are (among other things) pirate names, how pirates were hired, what they ate, and pirate flags.
In this poetry book Douglas Florian’s delightfully funny poems are paired with often amusing illustrations to give readers a light-hearted piratical experience that will no doubt cause young readers to decide that the pirate life is, for certainly, for them.
Though fall is only just starting to make itself here in southern Oregon, the wild animals in the woods and fields are already getting ready for the winter months. In this gorgeous picture book we see, through the eyes of a young girl, scenes that capture animals in their natural habitats as they prepare for the cold months of the year.
Winter is Coming
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-9900-3
It is a cold fall day and a young girl senses that winter is coming because she can feel that “ice is in the air.” The girl climbs up to her tree platform with a pad of paper, some pencils and a pair of binoculars. From there she sees a red fox and becasue she manages to stay very quiet, the fox goes about its business below her
Next a mother bear and her cub arrive on the scene, walking through the trees on the fallen red and gold leaves. The two animals snuffle around looking for food. Winter is coming and they need to eat as much as they can now.
In October the girl is lying on her platform when a family of skunks waddles around the base of her tree. Lying on her stomach she watches as the mother skunk and her three babies look for food.
One morning the girl gets up at dawn and she is lucky enough to see a pair of woodpeckers drilling holes in a tree. Diligently the two birds fill the holes they made with acorns that they have collected. They know full well that winter is coming and they are going to need those acorns in the months to come.
In this remarkable book a lyrical, image-rich text is paired with beautiful illustrations to give us a wonderful journey through the months of fall. From her perch in the tree the girl sees all kinds of animals preparing for winter, and she shares with us the wisdom she has learned from her family members about animals and their ways. She knows that there is a lot that she can learn from animals “About patience. About Truth. About quiet. About taking only what you need from the land because we are its keepers.”
Poets have been writing poems about animals for centuries and though they have written about cats. dogs, tigers, dinosaurs and countless other animals in hundreds of different ways, poets still find ways to write poems about creatures (wild and domestic) that are fresh, amusing, insightful, and memorable. In today's poetry collection you will meet an interesting variety of animals in a series of poems that are presented alongside Steve Jenkins' extraordinary artwork.
Pug and other animal poems
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013, 978-0-374-35024-6
The world is full of beautiful and amazing animals, all of which perceive and interact with their environments in distinct and fascinating ways. When they encounter humans many of them run away, preferring not to get too close to us. Others are more curious, and they observe us from a safe place to see what we are going to do next. Then there are the animals that like to connect with us, like our pet dogs and cats.
In this special poetry picture book Valerie Worth takes us into the lives of eighteen animals, most of which are wild creatures, and some of which share our homes with us. Some of the wild animals that we meet on the pages are creatures that we see in our yards and parks, or we catch a glimpse of them flying above our heads.
The first animal we meet is a fox, a creature that we see only brief glimpses of, if we are lucky. It is such a reclusive animal that it is “Nearly a / Myth.” We may see its “Fiery tail” streaking by and perhaps hear the rustle of its “flickering / Feet.”
Rabbits, though cautious, are less retiring and if we are quiet and still we can see them in the evening in the garden feeding on tasty nibbles of weeds and grass. They are pensive animals and seem to spend their time “in / Peaceful thought.”
Quite different to these wild animals are pugs and dachshunds, dogs whose very appearance makes us smile whether we want to or not. Pugs have “googling / Eyes,” and “wrinkled / Brows” that give them a somewhat worried expression. They are solid, tough looking little dogs. Dachshunds are quite different, being long with little legs “Front and Back,” but “nothing / Propping up / The middle.”
Throughout this book Valerie Worth’s expressive and image-rich poems are paired with Steve Jenkins’ extraordinary cut paper artwork. The striking language and gorgeous images give readers a picture of animals that they will remember long after the book has been read and put away on a shelf.
I have read hundreds of picture books, many of which feature unusual characters, The main characters in today's picture really captured my attention. I don't believe I have ever read a picture book whose main character is a cave boy, and I am sure that I have not reviewed one that features a cave boy AND a mammoth.
This Orq (he cave boy)
Illustrated by Lori Nichols
For ages 4 to 6
Boyds Mills Press, 2014, 978-1-62091-521-9
Orq is a cave boy and like all cave boys he carries a club and lives in...well... a cave. Of course. Orq has a pet baby woolly mammoth called Woma and he loves him dearly. Just like all baby pets, which grow into grownup pets, Woma gets bigger and bigger. Unfortunately, the fact that Orq loves Woma does not mean that Orq's morther loves the mammoth. She thinks Woma sheds and smells and the fact that Woma is not house-broken only makes the situation worse. Orq's mother insists that Woma ahs to leave the family cave.
Orq does not want to have to give up his pet, so he decides that the best thing to do is to convince his mother that Woma is “smart” and “cute.” Maybe if Woma learns some tricks Mother will see how special and loveable Woma is. Or maybe not.
Written in cave person pidgin, this delightful story will appeal to anyone who has (or has had at some point) a much-loved pet. Even when they are having accidents in the house they are still loved and wanted by their people. Young readers and their grownups are going to thoroughly enjoy seeing how Orq and Woma save their friendship despite fierce opposition from Orq's determined mother. It turns out that shedding and smelly mammoths that are not house-broken can be rather useful at times.
Just like writers of prose, poets like to find ways to keep their readers interested and engaged. Sometimes they do this by using unusual formats, and sometimes they play with language in creative ways. Sometimes the poems in a collection are so varied and clever that the reader never knows what is going to come next, which is what you will find if you read today's poetry title.
Poems I wrote when no one was looking
Illustrated by Edward Koren
Simon and Schuster, 2011, 978-1-4169-3518-6
Things that make us laugh fit into two general categories. There are things that are created like jokes, funny stories, and funny shows. And then there are those everyday kind of funny situations that just seem to happen. If you just pay attention to what is going on around you, you will see that there are lots of people who do amusing things or say amusing things without even meaning to. Sometimes these kinds of amusing things are very simple, commonplace things that tickle our funny bones and make the world a brighter, happier place. Poems can be like this too. They can tell us about something goofy or silly, or they can tell us about something that is very ordinary, but which is, for some reason, funny.
For example, the first poem in this book, Brushing Up,
presents us with an everyday situation that is comical. We are told that a little baby and her grandpa “are the best of chums.” They also have something in common. When they smile, they present the world with toothless gums. The difference between them is that the baby will grow some teeth soon enough, but Grandpa’s teeth are “upstairs in a glass.”
Anyone who has gone to a coffee shop will appreciate the second poem. In the poem we meet a mother who orders a very specialized coffee. Somewhere in the name of her order are the words “mocha,” “decaf,” and “skim.” The order goes on and on and by the time the mother has finished adding her toppings and her other coffee personalizations, the barista says “Sorry, closed.” Is the coffee shop closed because her order took too long and the coffee place really is closing, or it is closed because the poor man cannot remember what she said?
Later on in the book we encounter another familiar scenario. A mother is telling her child to turn off the T.V. He replies that he will watch “Just till commercial.” This sounds reasonable so Mom agrees. The thing is that the child has pulled a fast one on his mother. He is watching a program on a commercial-free public T.V. station, which means that he can watch for as long as he likes. Sneaky fellow.
Mixed in with these funny everyday kind of happenings poems, there are nonsense poems and story poems. Together the different kinds of poems keep our funny bones giggling away, and keep our interest going because we never know what is going to pop up next.
For as long as there have been books, there have been bookworms, people who love books and who are happy to spend hours reading them. Sometimes bookworms get so wrapped up in the books that they read that they have trouble connecting with the real world. In today's picture book you are going to meet a big who is just such a bookworm.Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie
Illustrated by Keith Bendis
Sterling, 2010, 978-1-4027-7323-5
Calvin is a young starling and he lives under the eaves of an old barn with his siblings and all his cousins. When the young starlings explore the ground for the first time, Calvin’s siblings discover worms, grass, dirt, and water. Calvin discovers a book, and from that moment he is hooked on the written word. While Calvin’s brothers and sisters are chasing insects, Calvin is learning to read, and when they are taking flying lessons, Calvin is at the library reading books. Though Calvin does not know how to fly, “his mind soared” when he reads books. Books can take “him to places wings never could.”
Though Calvin’s cousins tease him and called him names, Calvin does not give up his love of books. Instead he sadly goes to the library, the one place where he feels happy. He spends his summer reading and learning, soaking up information about everything and anything.
Then summer turns into fall and the starlings prepare to fly south. There is just one problem. Calvin cannot fly, which means that he will have to stay in the barn for the fall and winter. All alone.
In this wonderful picture book we see how important it is to follow your heart, even if it means that you don’t always fit in with your peers. Readers will be delighted to see that in the end, Calvin’s love of books turns out to be an asset for him and his extremely large family. Being a bookworm might not, in some people’s opinion, be ‘cool,’ but the rest of know better.
For many children school will be starting up in a few days time. Hopefully they are looking forward to school, but if they are feeling anxious about what is to come, they might want to take a look at today's poetry title. The poems in this book are funny and they will certainly chase away their worried feelings.Super Silly School Poems
Illustrated by Liza Woodruff
Scholastic, 2014, 978-0-545-47981-3
For many years children’s lives revolve around their school and the people they meet there. They have wonderful experiences that they treasure, and then there are those incidents that they would like to forget as soon as possible. For this picture book David Greenberg has written seventeen poems that explore school life in creative and amusing ways.
Every child has days when they realize that they have forgotten something, something that they know they need to take to school that day. In the poem Something you Forgot
we meet a boy who has remembered his art project, his new markers and his backpack. He has his video game and his lunch money. He remembers to brush his teeth and yet there is still that something that he has forgotten. He gets “terribly distressed” because he just cannot remember what the something is, and then he looks in the mirror and realizes that he has “forgotten to get dressed.”
Further along in the book we encounter a poem that will surely resonate with young readers. The poem describes what it is like when you go to the grocery store and see something truly shocking. There is your teacher. Shopping. For food. How can this be? After all, “Teachers live at school,” and that is where they belong. Who is responsible for letting the teacher out?
Other topics in this book include school lunches, homework issues, show-and-tell, the school bathroom, and the way in which teachers seem to be adept mind readers.
Throughout the book the humorous poems are paired with illustrations that perfectly capture images that appear in the poems.
Taking care of a traditional pet, one that has fur or feathers, scales or fins, is a big responsibility. Pets need to be fed and entertained. You need to clean up after them and take them to the vet. Of course, you could have a pet rock or a pet plant. Such pets are easier to take care of, but they are not very interesting. What would happen if you decided to have a book for a pet? Now that might be an interesting experiment.
My Pet Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2014, 978-0-385-37312-8
Most people have dogs, cats, birds, fish, or rodents for pets. Some even have snakes, turtles, or hermit crabs in their homes. In Smartytown there is a boy who has a very usual pet, and it is a little book. Since he did not like dogs, and was allergic to cats, the boy’s mother suggested that he should get a pet book. His father agreed that a pet book would be perfect. After all “no pet book / Had ever run away.”
The boy and his parents go to a bookshop and at first the boy is overwhelmed by all the choices, but then he sees a little red hardcover and he knows at once that this book, with its “pages crisp, the printing fine / Its spine so very taught,” is the pet for him.
Unlike traditional pets, the little book does not shed, does not have fleas, and does need a bath or meals. It never gets sick, does not make any noise, and doesn’t “even poop.” Best of all, the book is full of fantastic stories that are so captivating that the boy feels as if he is in the stories and not just reading them.
Like all pets, the book stays at home when the boy goes to school. One day he comes home and he discovers something truly terrible; his book has gone. Something has happened to his beloved pet!
In this wonderful picture book we meet an usual boy who has a very usual pet. As their story is revealed we come to appreciate how much the little boy loves his book, and we begin to wonder if, just maybe, some of our books are pets too. Are they, like the little boy’s book, “a friend?” Are they dear to us, and would we be upset if we lost them? Of course they are special, and of course we would miss them if they disappeared.
I very rarely review books that were written by young people because not many such books get published. For this Poetry Friday I have a review of a collection of poems that children wrote and I am thrilled to be able to share this title with you. These poems are quite exceptional and they focus on a subject that is dear to my heart: the environment.River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature ofThings
Introduced by Robert Haas
Milkweed, 2008, 978-1-57131-685-1
In 1995 Pamela Michael and poet laureate Robert Hass founded River of Words. Every year since 1996 this non-profit organization has hosted a poetry and art contest that focuses on nature, specifically on watersheds. Children participating in the contest have sent in thousands of pieces of art and thousands of poems since the contest was launched, and in this book readers will get a taste of some of the poetry and artwork that they created. The hope would that in creating their poetry and art young children would develop “an informed understanding of place that would help them grow into active citizens.” The hope is that as they look at the natural world around them, children will learn to see its beauty and its fragility, and that they will begin to realize that it belongs to them and that they need to take care of it.
In this remarkable collection readers will find little poems written by kindergarteners and longer poems written by teens who are on the cusp of becoming adults. We begin with the poems that were written by the youngest poets. First of all we hear from Elijah, a five year old who describes how a waterfall greeted him that day. “The river also talked” to him, wanting to make sure that he knew that his name is important.
Nine-year-old Richard captures a moment in time, gathering together images of nature into eight lines of verse that are powerful and beautiful. We see a green snake “Slithering on a dirt path,” and a robin sitting in a tree. We watch as the “sun floats down,” and then “the moon’s white eye” can be seen.
In her poem Royal Oaks
thirteen-year-old Lauren takes us on a journey so that we see a redwood, a slough, and a meadow, and she shows us why these places are her special places and why she claims them with the words, “This is where I live.”
Every so often in the book, readers will encounter one of the many pieces of artwork that were entered in the contest. They will see pictures that are lifelike, and those that are stylized. Some explode with color and movement, and some are quiet, thoughtful pieces.
This is a collection that children and adults alike will enjoy exploring. It is a collection of voices that belong to young people who all have their own individual picture of the natural world.
Being the parent of a teenager means that I have to, on occasion, separate her from her phone and/or her computer so that she actually spends some time in the real world. I am relieved that she usually does not make a fuss when I do this. In today's book you are going to meet a charming little robot who discovers the joys of being unplugged.Doug Unplugs on the farm
Random House, 2014, 978-0-385-75328-9
Doug is a boy robot who lives in the city with his parents. One day Doug and his parents set off for the country where Doug’s grandbots live. When they get in their car, Doug and his parents “plug in” so that they can “learn all about farms on the way.”
As they drive fast fields and barns plugged in Doug learns about pigs, horses, cows, apple trees, chickens, and sheep. Then a flock of sheep runs across the road and Doug’s family car ends up in a ditch. When Doug sees that the farm girl needs help to retrieve her escaping sheep, he offers to help round them up. After the sheep are back where they below, the girl asks Doug if he would like to help her complete the rest of her chores. Doug is happy to help out and he discovers that experiencing farm animals and farm chores first hand is more rewarding that he expected it to be.
These days many of us “Google” the Internet when we need some information. It is easy, and we can even use our phones to do it. Often the things we want to know are purely informational in nature, but sometimes we use the Internet to experience things as well. Instead of just reading about what it is like to make bread, we could try making a loaf. Instead of reading about tree planting, we could try planting a tree. We miss so much when we don’t experience these activities for ourselves.
This wonderful book celebrates the joys that come with learning how to do things by doing them. Experiencing sounds, smells, tastes and textures when we are learning about something make the process richer and more meaningful.
When I was young I came across a very old book at a church sale and for a laugh I bought it. The story was about a terrible child who was punished by life because she was such a terrible child. The 'lesson' was very heavy handed and I confess that I laughed my way through the narrative. Soon after, my father told me about Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales
and he found me a copy at the library. I really enjoyed the poems, which we read together. Today I have a review of an updated version of these tales that readers of all ages will appreciate.
Happily Never After: Modern Cautionary Verse
Random House, 2013, 978-0-857-53270-1
In the 1800’s adults were fond of writing tales for children that essentially told them that they should always be good and obedient. The stories would describe how bad children came to sticky ends, and there was always a moralistic ending. These stories were called cautionary tales and many children were forced to read the dreadful things.
In 1907 Hilaire Belloc decided that enough was enough, and he wrote eleven rhyming tales that made fun of the old cautionary tales. The parodies in Cautionary Tales for Children: Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years
are wonderfully funny, but they are, to the modern reader, rather dated.
Mitchel Symons grew up reading Belloc’s wonderful poems, and when he ran across his old copy of the book not long ago he wondered if anyone had written modern cautionary tales. He was shocked to find out that no one had, and in the end he decided to try his hand at writing one. It turned out that he is rather good at writing rhyming couplets and telling the stories about children who suffer terrible fates, and thus this book was written.
The first poem in the collection is about Tiffany “Who couldn’t put down her mobile phone and died a horrible death.” Tiffany, like so many girls, spends hours on her phone surfing the Web, tweeting, texting, updating her Facebook status, and talking. As far as she is concerned her phone is an extension of herself, and she feels that she has to keep in touch with others all the time. One day she is texting one of her friends as she is crossing the road and is hit by a car. “When car hits girl, the former wins” and Tiffany’s days came to an abrupt end. Which just goes to show you that you should “listen to parents and not get vexed / When told not to phone and not to text.”
Another girl who has a terrible fault is Chelsea who likes to make herself feel big and important by bullying “by exclusion.” She tells people that she is having a party and then explains why they are not invited. Chelsea’s reasons are always cruel and mean, but in the end Chelsea ends up getting a taste of her own medicine.
Readers are going to enjoy seeing how Mitchell Symons was able to use an old-fashioned storytelling device to create tales in verse that modern day readers can enjoy. At the end of this deliciously funny collection readers will find a few treats that wrap up the cautionary tale experience perfectly.
I have a soft spot for animals that no one wants, which is why I end up with cats and dogs who have been ill-used and thrown away. These cast off always become dear and loving pets. In today's picture book you will meet a young girl who takes in rather unusual creatures who need a home.
Julia’s House for Lost Creatures
For ages 5 to 7
First Second, 2014, 978-1-59643-866-8
One day Julia’s house, carried on the back of a large tortoise, comes to town and settles on a hill by the sea. That evening Julia sits by the fire sipping tea and reading a book. All is still and cozy. All is quiet. Julia sits there and realizes that her home and her life is too quiet, so she runs to her workshop where she makes a sign. Then Julia hangs the sign outside her front door. The sign says: Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.
Julia does not have to wait too long before there is a scratch at the door. When she opens the door, Julia sees a fabric, and much patched, cat sitting on the other side. The cat moves in and all is well. Then there is another knock at the door and when Julia and Patched Up Kitty go to see who is there they find a very large, and very sad, troll standing on her front porch. The troll has lost its home under the bridge and needs a place to stay until he can “get back on his feet.”
A short while after, Julia’s door is assaulted by a variety of bangs, bellows, scratches and whines. Waiting outside there are “lost and homeless creatures of every description.” Julia is run off her feet taking care of her house guests and she is driven to distraction by their messiness, their noise, and their sometimes peculiar ways. Eventually Julia snaps. She has had enough and something has to change.
Readers of all ages are going to love this unique tale. It is clear from the very beginning that Julia is an unusual person, but it turns out that she is also very clever and that she is a skilled problem solver, even when one problem leads to another one. Readers who like the idea of having lots of different and unusual friends will be captivated by the creatures who move into Julia’s house.
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I have no idea why so many people dislike insects and spiders. It is true that some of them bite or sting, but most of them don't and many insects and spiders are fascinating and even beautiful animals. In today's poetry title Douglas Florian celebrates insects and spiders by allowing us to get to know a few of them.
Harcourt, 1998, 978-0-15-201306-6
Most people have a definite aversion to insects and spiders. They are put off by all those legs, the wiggling antennae, and the way in which insects can fly into homes and make a nuisance of themselves. There is also the fact that some insects and spiders can bite or sting.
In this clever poetry book Douglas Florian pairs his multimedia paintings with twenty-one poems that introduce us to a very varied collection of insects and spiders. As we read, we come to appreciate that insects and spiders are interesting creatures, even if they scare us a little. What probably helps is that Douglas’ poems are often funny, and some are written in the first person from the insect’s point of view.
For example, in The Dragonfly
, we hear from the creature that sees itself as “the dragon / The demon of skies.” It is a voracious predator that “For lunch I munch / On flies and bees,” and it also dines on mosquitoes. We also meet whirligig beetles, who tell us how they “whirl,” “twirl,” “skate,” and “glide” on water. They swim like little toys, but unlike toys they don’t needs “windup keys,” and they make no noise. What makes this poem special is that the text is presented in a circle, giving us a sense of movement, the movement that these cunning little insects make as they spin on the surface of water.
The inchworm’s narrative is another poem that visually captures one of the insect’s characteristics. Not surprisingly, this poem is shaped like an inchworm inching its way across a surface. We are told how it arches its body and marches along, but it does so so slowly that it never gets “speeding tickets.”
All the poems in the book are short, full of imagery, and beautifully crafted. Children and adults alike will appreciate the way in which Douglas Florian presents his insect characters. Readers will, at the very least, have to admit that the insects and spiders are certainly remarkable, though we might not consider them to be cute.