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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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Friendship is a funny thing because it is unpredictable and sometimes it can develop between two people (or characters) who really are nothing alike; on the outside that is. That's the thing though, isn't it? Two characters may seem very different on the outside, but deep down a connection forms that is special. This is what happens between the characters in today's picture book.
Stick and Stone
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 978-0-544-03256-9
Stick and Stone are both alone and lonely, and for both of them being alone is just “no fun. Then one day they are both at the park playing on the swings when Pinecone comes along and he makes fun of Stone when Stone falls off his swing. Stick cannot just stand by and let this just happen, so he steps in and tells Pinecone to “Vanish!”
Pinecone walks off in a huff, and Stone is really touched that Stick “stuck up” for him. Stick explains that that is what Sticks do. It is also what friends do, and that is what Stick and Stone become: the best of friends. Together they have a grand time playing, wandering and exploring. They “laze by the shore” enjoying the sun and the sea air and watch dolphins frolicking in the water. What they never expect is that in the very near future they will be ripped apart and once again they will be alone.
In this wonderful picture book we meet two characters who discover the joys of friendship, and who stand side by side through good times and bad. With its delightfully expressive illustrations and a minimal rhyming text, this book will charm children and their grownups and it serves as a tribute to the power of friendship.
Until about ten years ago I had never read a novel written in blank verse . The idea seemed rather strange at first, but then I had the privilege to review several wonderful books written in this style, and I started keeping my eyes open for such titles. Today's poetry title is one of these books, though in this case the story told is a true one and not a work of fiction. The narrative is powerful and often painful, and it beautifully captures the experiences a young girl had at a time when her world was falling apart.
The year of goodbyes
For ages 10 and up
Hyperion, 2010, 978-142312901-1
In the 1930’s many of the young girls in Germany owned a poesiealbum, a poetry album that their friends could write in. The girls would take a friend’s poesiealbum home with them, and in their best handwriting they would write a little poem for that friend. Often the little gifts of words were decorated with drawings or stickers of good luck motifs such as four-leaf clovers and ladybugs. Jutta Salzburg was one of these girls who had a poesiealbum. What made her album so special was that the little notes of love, support, and friendship written on the pages helped Jutta get through a time when life in Germany was very hard for many of its citizens.
Jutta’s story beings in 1938. Not that long ago Jutta’s life in Hamburg was ideal and full of happiness and hope. Then the Nazis came into power and ever since then the government has been eroding away the rights of Germany’s Jewish citizens. By 1938, Jutta and the other Jewish children had been forced out of the public schools and were now going to schools for Jews. The Jewish children can no longer play on the streets because it is not safe for them to do so. Jutta’s father no longer has a job, and he spends all of his time trying to find ways to get his family out of Germany to safety.
With every passing day the situation in Hamburg gets more and frightening. Jutta and her friends and family members try not to dwell too much on what is going on around them, but how can they pretend that everything is normal when brown shirts march in the streets; when Jewish families start disappearing; and when they live in fear that they will end up in something called “a concentration camp?”
In this remarkable book, Jutta Salzburg’s daughter pairs entries from her mother’s real poesiealbum with blank verse poems to give readers a picture of what it was like to be a young Jewish girl living in Hamburg in 1938. Sentiments or ideas mentioned in the poems are picked up and explored in the blank verse in the context of what was going on in Jutta’s life at that time. Presented chronologically, the blank verse help readers to see how Jutta’s life deteriorated as the Nazis set about ridding Germany and then Austria of its Jewish residents.
In an afterword the author tells us more about her mother’s story and the history behind the narrative. We also find out that she did her best to find out what happened to all the girls whose poems appeared in her mother’s poesiealbum. There is also a timeline to help readers see how the Nazi persecution of Jews escalated over time, and how their actions were tied into the story of Jutta’s life in 1938. Readers will also find a collection of Jutta’s photos that help us to see what the characters mentioned in the book really looked like.
When I was a child, going to the pool was one of my favorite summer pastimes. I spent hours there, jumping in with the other kids, playing Marco Polo, and, diving off the diving board. When I needed a little space, I would swim to the deep end and sit on the bottom for a little while. It was always so quiet and restful down there. Today's picture book will take readers into the deep end of a swimming pool where they will encounter wonderful sights and see a friendship develop.
Chronicle Books, 2015, 978-1-4521-4294-4 A boy arrives at the pool, which is empty and serene. Then, without warning, a pack of loud, boisterous people arrive with their balls, floating rings, and paddle boats. The pool is so full of people and their gear that the boy can barely see the water at all. Everywhere he looks there is chaos, and for a while he just watches. Then the boy dives in, going under the paddling legs of all the other people. Deep underwater the boy he meets a girl, and together they swim down into a magical world conjured up by their own imaginations. There, in the quiet away from the crowds, they find a place full of wonderful creatures, and in the process they find something that is priceless. The best thing about having an imagination is that it can take you anywhere. The sky is the limit. Better still, your imagination can brighten up a dull day and offer relief when something does not quite work out the way you hoped. In this wordless picture book the author takes readers into a world where anything is possible, and where something wonderful can happen that will last long after the threads of daydreams fade and drift away.
Until relatively recently all the poems I had seen looked the same; pretty much. They were presented as columns of text that were divided to create stanzas. With one exception. A poem that appears in Alice in Wonderland is curved so that it looks like the tail of a mouse. W
hen I saw it for the first time many years ago, I remember thinking that this was a very clever device . In the last few years I have noticed that more people are creating poems that are presented to create a 'picture.' Today's poetry title is full of such poems, poems that offer the eye something to look at.
Doodle Dandies: Poems that take shape
J. Patrick Lewis Illustrated by Lisa Desimini Simon and Schuster, 1998,
Most people are familiar with the form that poems usually take. More often than not they are divided into stanzas that are arranged on the page in a neat column. Readers have become so used to this format that they think that is how poems have to be presented. The truth is that there are no rules. Poems can be formatted in all kinds of ways, and perhaps the most ‘extreme’ formatting options are those used when creating shape poems.
Shape poems are arranged on the page to create an image, and the image somehow reflects the subject matter of the poem. Many years ago Lewis Carroll created a shape poem (also called a visual or concrete poem) called “The Mouse’s Tail.” The poem appeared in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
, and the words of the poem are presented in such a way that they look like a sinuous mouse tail that runs from the top of the page to the bottom.
In this book J. Patrick Lewis gives readers twenty poems that delight both the ear and the eye. For each poem the illustrator has created multimedia artwork that provides the perfect backdrop for the word pictures. For example, for the poem “Umbrella” there is a picture of a girl wearing a bright yellow rain slicker and above her, sheltering her from raindrops, is an umbrella-shaped poem. The poem tells us that the girl keeps her umbrella “in the closet till the clouds get fat.” Then she brings the umbrella out because it “loves a rainy day.”
Some of the poems are only a sentence or two long, while others offer readers more food for thought. The topics explored in the poems include a tiger, an oyster family, a snake, snow, and camels. The poems come in many forms. Some rhyme, while others do not, and you never know what the next page will bring.
This is the perfect book to share with young readers who don’t realize that when it comes to poems, the sky is the limit. There are not rules about how they should look and sound, and they can be playful, charming, amusing, and interesting.
When night falls in summer, something remarkable happens. The heat of the day starts to dissipate and new nighttime-only sights and sounds drift across lawns and streets. Today's picture book perfectly captures that special time when stars start to twinkle in the summer night, and when children and creatures come out of their homes to experience the magic of a summer night.
Song for a summer night: A lullaby
Illustrations by Qin Leng
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-493-0
The day has “left the stage” and now the night is waiting “in the wings” for the summer evening show to begin. As the last of the sun’s glow leaves the sky, children gather in the windows overlooking the park, waiting for the special daily gift to begin.
As the first stars appear in the sky, fireflies drift up from the grass and trees and fill the air with their “glint – glint” lights. Soon after, raccoons appear on the scene, waltzing onto the park stage in “tra-la-la time.” Owls add their hoots to the song of the night, as do the crickets. Even the local cats, with their “tails held high,” get into the spirits of things, adding their purrs to the “rhythmic refrain” as the light fades from the sky.
Dogs too “bounce” onto the grass of the park, where they are joined by some of the children who are “spellbound” by the night “music” that is swelling all around them.
In this beautiful book a lyrical rhyming lines of verse are paired with gorgeous illustrations to take us into a nighttime world that is full of magic and beauty. We see how precious the simple gifts of nature are on a summer night, and how the magic continues to resonate with children long after the sun has risen and a new day has begun.
Children and their grownups are going to love sharing this very special picture book.
Summer is truly here in southern Oregon with hot days, singing cicadas, the smell of dust in the air, and children standing on sidewalks selling lemonade. Today's poetry book beautifully captures the experiences, sights, sounds, and smells of summer as seen through the eyes of young children.
Lemonade Sun and other summer poems
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist Wordsong, 2001,
It is summer, which means that it is time for “Popsicle Stains” and “Fudgesicle Fun.” This is the time of year when children make lemonade, that elixir of sunshiny days that is a perfect treat to sip on a hot day. Children who have a strong entrepreneurial spirit set up lemonade stands where they offer cookies, cake and sweet lemonade to passersby. Waiting for custom can be a tedious business though, and children often wish “won’t somebody buy something, / please
?” as they wait.
Thankfully, summer is also a time when children enjoy all kinds of wonderful activities. Blowing bubbles, playing marbles, skipping rope and playing hopscotch are just a few of the things that children like to do during the long lazy summer days.
Then in the evening, under the light of the moon, fireflies are gathered until children have a “Twinkling treasure” in a jar. Stars “like splinters / of diamonds” sparkle overhead, and on special nights they are accompanied by the brilliant colors of fireworks, which explode in the sky with a “sparkle! flash” and a “CRACKLE- / POP!”
In this wonderful book, summer is celebrated by pairing delightful image-rich poems with warm, expressive illustrations. Children and grownups alike will enjoy exploring the verse, which seem to radiate with sunshine and happy laughter.
When I was a child, at the beginning of May, I would start looking forward to our first beach vacation of the year. We used to camp on a beach for two weeks or so in July, and those sun-filled days brought me some of the best memories of my childhood, which I still cherish today. Today's picture book perfectly captures the anticipation that a family of children experience when they set off for their summer beach vacation, and the joys that they share when they get there.
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Chronicle Books, 2015, 978-1-4521-2408-7
They have been waiting for a whole year, and now, at last, summer is here and they are going to the beach house. The van is loaded down with beach gear, suitcases, bikes, golf clubs, a surf board and who knows what else, and when the family arrives at the house, all that stuff has to be unloaded and put away. The ocean is calling as the children make beds and empty suitcases, as they look out of the window at the sand and the waves.
Then, at last, everyone heads for the beach. Carrying bags, pulling wagons, scampering and running, the two adults, three children, and the little dog begin their vacation. Games of Marco Polo are played, boogie boards are tried out, and castles with moats are built and washed away. As the sun sets they gather around a fire pit to roast hotdogs and toast faces. As the moon rises they wash off the sand and salt and fall into bed with “Rosy noses” knowing that outside the ocean and beach await them for another day of adventure.
With wonderfully lush watercolor illustrations and a magical rhyming text, this picture book perfectly captures the simple pleasures of a summer beach vacation. The excitement that the family members feel is almost palpable, and readers will probably start wishing, as the narrative unfolds and blooms, that they too could splash in waves, build castles, and soak up salty air and warm sun.
For the last few days it has been blistering hot here in southern Oregon. I can't even remember what it feels like to be cold, or what rain sounds like when it is landing on the roof of my house. It was such a joy to read today's poetry title because, for a while, it took me to to spring, fall and winter; the lines of verse made it possible for me to experience these other seasons through works.
Sing a Season Song
Illustrated by Lisel Jane Ashlock Creative Editions, 2015, 978-1-56846-255-4 It is winter and snow covers the ground and rests on the branches of the trees in the forest. An owl swoops through the air as a fox sleeps, curled up in its den. It is cold and “Icicle popsicles / drip, drop and dropsicles.” On the edge of the forest children are “snowballing” Then, at last, the temperatures start to rise. A “gossamer breeze” makes the flowers sway and the “pillows of lawn” ripple. Now is the time when we see baby animals everywhere and then, quite suddenly, spring is over and summer with its “shimmering days” is upon us. “Day shines at night” and “toes wiggle” where fish “wriggle.” Fireflies blink “off-again-on” in the dusk. After days of heat and warm nights, summer gently fades to be replaced by the golden colors, and busy days, of fall. In this incredibly lush picture book, Jane Yolen’s beautiful verse is paired with glorious, richly detailed illustrations to give readers a bookish experience of the seasons that is like no other.
Sometimes, when we take on a new cause, hobby, or interest, we have to make compromises to accommodate this new pursuit in our lives. If you want to play the piano, for example, you cannot have long finger nails. If you want to be a long distance runner, you have to work hard to keep keep your body lean and strong. In today's picture book you will meet a young bunny who wants to be a ninja. He has to work incredibly hard to attain his goal, and he makes rather significant changes in his life to do so.
Random House, 2015, 978-0-385-75493-4
Many of us have dreams of being something different, something heroic even. One young bunny is just such a dreamer, but he is not willing to just dream, he wants to really become “A Super Awesome Ninja.” He dons the clothing that is suitable for his new role in life, reads a book about how to become a ninja, and then he does his best to follow the ten rules of ninjadom.
Rule one says that “A super awesome ninja must always work alone,” and so the ninja bunny distances himself from his bunny friends. The second rule states that he must be “super sneaky.” Of course, there are times when being sneaky is not easy. For example, if you are being sneaky while you steal some carrots in the dark of night, you should not step on a rake that is lying on the ground and clock yourself in the face.
Rule two is not the only rule that can at times be problematical. Being very strong, creating ninja weapons, being able to climb things, maintaining perfect balance, being able to fly and being able to escape are all skills that have to be acquired. Over time. With care. As you learn to acquire these skills you might have setbacks.
Diligently the young ninja bunny works hard to learn the rules of his craft, only to discover that there is one rule that he cannot live by.
In this delightfully funny picture book we watch (sometimes wincing) as a young bunny does his best to become a ninja, and we see that the path to ninjahood is not an easy one. What we come to appreciate most of all is that even great ninjas cannot always follow every rule in the book. Sometimes rules need to be bent so that ninjas can have something that is even more precious than ninja skills.
Today I am going to introduce you to a poetry book that is full of poems that are "about just about everything." The beauty of a book of this kind is that it can be dipped into at random. No matter what kind of mood you are in you will find something on the pages that will work for you, a poem that will suit you perfectly at that particular moment.
Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems about just about everything
Henry Holt, 2015, 978-0-8050-9928-7
When it comes to books you can never quite be sure what kind of book mood you are going to be in on any particular day. Today might be a pirate adventure kind of day, but when tomorrow comes around you might be in the mood for a story about witches or wizards. Poems are the same way. Sometimes you are ready to take on a long, story poem full of rich language, and sometimes your brain is just too tired for such full-bodied material and you are eager to read something shorter and lighter.
The solution to this book mood problem is a simple one: have lots of books of different kinds so that you can always find something that appeals no matter what mood you are in. Another approach is to have one book handy that is full of different kinds of stories.
Calef Brown has taken the latter approach with this book. He has written poems about “just about everything” and they come in a variety of ‘flavors.’ Some of the poems rhyme and some do not. Some tells stories while others describe people, animals, or places. Most of the poems are humorous in some way, which gives the whole collection a warm and light-hearted feel. Having so many poems to choose from means that there will be always be something in this collection that readers will like, no matter what kind of day they are having.
The poems are divided into topical sections, which can also be handy if you know exactly what you are looking for. If you wake up one morning wanting to read poems about animals, then the “Critterverse” section is the place to go. Perhaps you have a particular interest in cars and other vehicles at the moment, which will mean that you should immediately go to the “Poems of a particular vehicular nature.” Other topics include poems about people, poems about insects, schoolish poems, poems that are fact-packed, poems that have fun playing with words, foodie poems, and a few that are miscellaneously silly.
Throughout the book the poems are accompanied by Calef Brown’s singular illustrations, which really do complement the poems to a T. Readers can dip in or browse, or they can read the book from cover to cover.
Most children, at some point, want to get a pet of some kind; usually they ask for a kitten, puppy, or a bird. All too often their precious hopes are dashed when a grownup tells them that having a pet is out of the question. Or they are told that they can have a pet, but it has to be something small; an easy-to-care for animal such as a goldfish or hermit crab. In today's book you will meet a little boy who wants a dog for a pet, but who ends up with a very unusual animal instead.
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-75140-7
Edgar wants a dog; a dog he can walk and train and spend time with. A dog who will chew shoes, chase cats, and eats dog biscuits. On his birthday Edgar does not get a dog. Instead, he is given octopus called Jarvis. Jarvis cannot behave like a dog at all, in part because he is a lot cleverer than the average dog. When Edgar takes Jarvis out for a walk, Jarvis gets him an ice cream cone. When Edgar tells Jarvis to lie down Jarvis puts on his jammies, gets a teddy and a pillow, and goes to sleep.
In short, Jarvis goes too far, and this drives Edgar crazy. All he wants is for Jarvis to behave like a dog. Is that too much to ask? Wanting to please Edgar, Jarvis tries very hard to be more like a real dog, and for a while he succeeds. Then Edgar takes Jarvis to the big dog show and Jarvis can “only be himself,” which means that he goes over the top and his behavior really embarrasses Edgar. After this disaster Jarvis decides to leave. In a good-bye note he says “I’m sorry I was a bad dog. Love, Jarvis.” When he sees the note Edgar realizes that what he was asking of Jarvis just wasn’t fair. Jarvis wasn’t a dog. Instead he was “the best octopuppy in the word” and now he is gone.
At some point all of us are guilty of trying to change the people who are close to us, or of wishing we could change them. This book explores this idea with humor and sensitivity and we see how Edgar comes to appreciate that his pet is just perfect the way he is.
Soon after I became a reviewer Sleeping Bear Press began to produce its wonderful alphabet books. What I love about these titles is that they combine poems, artwork, and nonfiction text to give readers a really different reading experience. The books can be enjoyed on many levels by readers of different ages.
Z is for Zookeeper: A Zoo Alphabet
Marie and Roland Smith
Illustrated by Henry Cole
Poetry and Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2005, 978-1585363292
In the past zoos were places of entertainment for people, who went there to laugh at the monkeys, to shiver when they looked at the snakes, and to gawp at the lions. Often they were not happy places for the animals that lived in them, most of whom had been captured in the wild. These days zoos are very different. They still entertain it is true, but they also educate visitors, and some zoos also serve as a powerful tool in the animal conservation toolbox.
In this wonderful alphabet book each letter of the alphabet focuses on one aspect of zoo life. For each of the twenty-six topics that we encounter on the pages, we are given a short poem to read, a piece of artwork to look at, and a section of text (in a side bar) to read. For the letter A we begin, not surprisingly, with animals and we learn that “Caring for creatures / is what zookeepers do.” The text in the sidebar tells us about how important zoos are in the effort to save certain animal species from extinction.
Zookeepers do all kinds of jobs, but one thing they do a lot is clean. They have to clean the animal’s living spaces every day so that the animals stay healthy and happy. With brooms (on the letter B page) and disinfectant (on the D page) they work hard so that their charges don’t get sick.
On the G page we learn about giraffes, and we also learn that animals are moved from zoo to zoo all the time. When babies are born in a zoo they are often sent, when they are old enough, to another zoo that does not have many or any of that particular species. Transporting a snake or a small monkey is not that hard to do, but transporting a giraffe presents some unique problems, which we can see when we look at the artwork on the page. Giraffes need to travel standing up and an adult can be up to 18 feet tall. How does one get such a tall animal under a low bridge or overpass?
The wonderful thing about the Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books is that they can be enjoyed on many levels. Little children can look at the pictures while the poems are being read to them and then, when they older, they can have the sidebar text read to them, or they can start trying to read these sections themselves.
This is one of the titles in a series of alphabet books that explore the kinds of topics children enjoy learning about. Other books in the series include H is for Horse, T is for Teachers, and G is for Galaxy.
When I was young, summer was a time when I spent most of my time doing three things: I went to the beach, read books, and went to the swimming pool. Reading books was not something that I did because there was nothing else to do. It was something that I did because there were so many books that I wanted to read that I did not have time for during the school year.
Today's picture book introduces us to some children who love books so much that it gets them into trouble!
The Children who loved Books
For ages 5 to 7
Kane Miller, 2013, 978-1-61067-145-3
Angus, Lucy and their parents don’t have much. They don’t have a television or a car, or a house. Instead they live in a caravan and get around using a bike with a wagon attached to it. They don’t have many of the things that other people think are essential, but one thing they do have are books. The children are voracious readers and their little caravan is stuffed with books.
Then one day the little caravan gives up trying to hold all the books that have been put into it. Books pour out of the door and windows. They spill on the ground, and Angus, Lucy and their parents find themselves sitting or lying in a flood of books. There is nothing for it; the books are going to have to go.
Anyone who has a fondness for books will love this story. As the story unfolds we can see that books become a necessity after a while, and that books can also bring people together. When a person has books to read and to share, that person is rich and very lucky indeed.
With a simple and timeless message and wonderful illustrations throughout, this is a picture book that readers of all ages will appreciate.
Adults often feel that they have to provide little children with lots of carefully organized activities to do. Sometimes such activities are needed, but often all a child really wants and needs is to have someone pay attention to them. Sitting quietly with a child in ones lap to share the beauty of language with that child can be an enriching activity for both the child and for the grownup.
Today's poetry title gives grownups the opportunity to share some wonderful rhymes with children in an interactive way.
This Little Piggy and other rhymes to sing and play
Edited by Jane Yolen, Music arrangements by Adam Stemple
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Poetry picture book
For infants to children up to four years of age
Candlewick Press, 2006, 978-0763613488
It is hard to imagine what it would be like to raise a child without the benefit of such wonderful little rhymes and games as Peek-a-boo, This Little Piggy, Patty-Cake, and The Eensy Weensy Spider. In this collection of "lap songs, finger plays, clapping games, and pantomime rhymes," adults who have children in their lives will find these firm favorites and many others to sing, clap to, and read out loud.
For each little lap song the author includes a little information about where the song comes from, and at the bottom of every page she offers up suggestions on how to fully experience the rhyme with a child. Little children will love being lifted, tickled, or bounced, and will clap enthusiastically as the song or rhyme is sung or said. To help readers learn the songs a CD has been included with the book. Simple yet attractive little arrangements of these old songs will quickly become firm favorites with young audiences and their grown-ups.
With this book in hand adults will be able to "Trot, Trot to Boston" and "Pease Porridge" on planes, trains, as they wait in a doctor's office, and as they sit cozily together at home. The book provides grownups with the means to share special moments with their children, and because of the cunning illustrations, it is also great fun to look through.
Many people feel at their most comfortable when they are doing what everyone else is doing. For them, being part of the crowd is the way to go. For them fitting in is very important. However, there are quite a few people in the world who are different; who march to a different beat, and who, try as they might, cannot be like everyone else. Today's picture book is about a giraffe who is unique, and who learns that he is wonderful just as he is.
Giraffes Can’t Dance
Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2014, 978-0-545-80435-6
Like all giraffes, Gerald had a long neck and long, thin legs. He was very good at reaching tender leaves on high branches, but when it came to running, he was rather clumsy. For some reason his knees had an annoying habit of buckling.
Generally Gerald’s clumsiness was not too big an issue but when it was time for the Jungle Dance to take place, his awkwardness was a huge problem. All the animals participated in this annual event. The warthogs waltzed, the rhinos “rock n’ rolled,” the lions did the tango, the chimps did a cha-cha, and the baboons did a Scottish reel. When Gerald walked out onto the dance floor the animals all made fun of him. “Giraffe’s can dance, you silly fool” they said, and poor Gerald walked away feeling sadder than he had ever felt before.
In a clearing Gerald looked up at the moon, which is when a cricket spoke up. The kindly insect suggested that “sometimes when you’re different / you just need a different song.” The cricket told Gerald to hear the natural music around him, and then the cricket picked up its violin and began to play for Gerald, which is when something remarkable started to happen.
If we were all the same, the world would be a rather dull place. Thankfully, we all sense and experience things in our own unique ways, which means that we don’t all dance, speak, sing, or create art in the same way. In this picture book, children meet a giraffe who cannot dance, until he discovers that he needs to find his own music and rhythm. When he does, Gerald the clumsy giraffe becomes a very different animal indeed.
With a wonderful story filled with hope, and charming illustrations, this is a picture book that children and their grownups will grow to love.
There are times when having a younger sibling is quite simply, a pain. Often little brothers and sisters have a limited understanding of what personal space is. They cannot fathom why their big brother or sister doesn't
want them around all the time. Then there are those times when a little brother or sister does something that is kind and cute, and somehow, at that moment, the annoying times seem smaller and less important.
Today's poetry title explores the relationship between two sisters and we see, to great effect, the emotional ups and downs that they experience from day to day.
Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems
Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Clarion, 2011, 978-0618428427
Sometimes having a little sister is a frustrating because your little sister seems to take over your life. People expect so much of you as well, as if what you want doesn’t matter at all. Jessica is rather tired of people saying “I’ll bet you’re / a very good big sister,” which means that they hope
she is a good big sister to Emma. Why doesn’t anyone ask Emma if she is being a good little
sister. No one ever does and it really isn’t fair.
The truth is that sometimes Emma is a really bad little sister. There was the time when she made a scene at Jessica’s soccer game and embarrassed Jessica so much that she pretended that she had no idea who Emma was. On the first day of school in fourth grade Jessica is late because Emma put rocks in one of Jessica’s shoes. When she gets home from school Jessica finds out that Emma has created a “Big spidey web” in Jessica’s room using yarn.
Of course there are those special times that only they share, and though she might not come out and say so, Jessica does value those moments that she has with her little sister. When Jessica reads her old picture books to Emma she feels as if she is “visiting / old friends.” Jessica knows that Emma loves her in part because Jessica is the only person who can remember the names of all of Emma’s rocks. When Jessica is feeling bad because she did poorly in a spelling test, Emma snuggles up to her and pats her big sister’s arm. She even gives Jessica one of her favorite stuffed animals to hold for a whole hour.
So, there are pluses and minuses to being a big sister. Sometimes though, the minuses outweigh the pluses, and sometimes this means that things go horribly wrong.
Using a series of wonderfully expressive poems, the author of this book captures the up and down nature of a relationship between two sisters. There are times full of friction and discontent, happy times, funny times, loving times, and really really bad times. Readers will find it easy to relate to Jessica, and they will understand how having a little sister can be both exasperating and enriching.
Sometimes, when people are afraid, they do the strangest things to protect themselves, actions that make no sense to outsiders, but that they feel are justified. Today's picture book shows us how ludicrous such actions can be, and how foolish fear can make us if we are not careful.
The Chickens Build A Wall
Eerdmans, 2013, 978-0-8028-5470-4
One fall day a hedgehog visits the farmyard. None of the farm animals have seen a hedgehog before and they all come to take a look at the rather unusual looking visitor. Frightened by all the noise and stares of the animals, the hedgehog rolls up into a ball. Zita, the littlest goose, suggests that perhaps the animal is startled by all the commotion, but no one listens to her.
Eventually the animals get bored of staring at the “chestnut with paws” and they wander off. By the morning the hedgehog is gone, and rumors start to fly around the henhouse. The hens are very bothered by the arrival and then disappearance of the strange animal. They worry about their chicks and eggs, which they quickly check. Even when it is clear that nothing is amiss, the hens fret and fuss. The rooster, wanting to take advantage of the situation so that he can gain influence in the farmyard, announces that they should “protect ourselves against prickly invaders” He suggests that they should build a high wall around the henhouse.
The hens get to work, even though the other farm animals make fun of them. The hens work and work until the wall is so high that “no one could see where it ended.” The chickens never consider that perhaps, just maybe, their wall might be a waste of time.
In this wonderfully simple, thoughtful, and funny picture book the author explores the way in which irrational fears can take over if we are not careful. As we ‘watch’ the chickens build their enormous wall, we come to appreciate that there are many people in our world who, like the chickens in this story, fear what they do not know. Their fears are fed by unfactual rumors, and all too often their response is extreme.
Readers will be delighted when they see how the story ends. Maybe there is a way to overcome our fears of the unknown after all.
I have had the privilege to share my life with many wonderful cats. Most of them have been mixed breeds of some kind, and all of them have been rescues. The only single breed cats I have had are Siamese, which are often slightly neurotic but always loving and interesting. Their beauty and singular ways have charmed people all over the world ever since the breed became available outside of Thailand, which is where they were first selectively bred.
Today's poetry picture book looks at a few of the world's most popular cat breeds. The haiku on the pages beautifully capture the quixotic and fascinating personalities of these wonderful animals.
The Maine Coon’s Haiku and other poems for cat lovers
Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Lee White
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-6492-3
Poets have been writing odes to cats for centuries; poems of many forms have danced off their pens and pencils as they have tried to understand the enigmatic, secretive, independent, and yet loving nature of one of man’s most beloved pets.
In this wonderful book Michael J. Rosen explores the lives of cats, capturing those special moments that delight, entrance and puzzle their owners. Each carefully crafted haiku is about a different cat breed, and each poem presents readers with a moment in time, a pause, when they can revel in three lines of words that capture an image, a moment, to perfection.
We begin with a Maine Coon which is indoors “crouched before the couch.” It is there because it has heard a sound that has its full and undivided attention. The cat has heard a mouse moving around.
The Ragdoll that we meet next is not in the mood for doing much at all at the moment. It lies, with its fluffy tail curled around it, “beneath the ivy.” The cat was busy not long ago though, for we can see that it “halved the blameless hearts,” tearing many of the plant’s glossy leaves to pieces.
Later, on the street, we meet a British Shorthair, an elegant grey feline who has planted “mud daisies / along the polished hillside” of some cars. There they are, little muddy paw prints weaving their way across hoods, roofs, and trunks.
Back indoors an Abyssinian has decided that the book on your lap is the only place it wants to be. You may want, perhaps even need, to turn the page, but the cat does not “care what happens next / now’s the only page,” which probably means that it may be a while before the next pages get read.
In addition to the wonderful poems, the author provides readers with further information about the twenty breeds of cats mentioned in the book. Reader swill find out, among other things, that Siamese cats were entrusted with taking care of their royal mistress’s rings. The rings would be placed on the cat’s tails for safe keeping. Norwegian Forest cats have been living in Norway’s forests since the time of the Vikings. Unlike many cats, these especially thick-coated animals can climb down a tree using their claws. Most cats who climb trees jump down in stages or get stuck!
Throughout the book the wonderful poems are accompanied by Lee White’s expressive artwork.
When I was a little child my best friend, Raff, and I used to make up games to play together. All too often one of us would come up with an idea, which the other would then try to take over. An argument would ensue. I saw this happen many times with my own child and her friends, and it was always interesting to see how they settled their differences.
Today's picture book is about a mouse who wants to write a story, and a frog who wants to be a part of the story writing process. The frog, alas, does not know how to respect his friend's creative process, and a situation arises that is rather uncomfortable for both the mouse and the frog.
By Mouse and Frog
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-670-78490-5
One morning Mouse wakes up and he starts writing “a brand-new story.” Carefully he tells his story in which a mouse wakes up early and sets a table. He then draws what he describes, a table with tea things on it. The next minute Frog jumps into the story. Frog contributes a cake to the story, which Mouse reluctantly agrees can be added to the tea table. Frog then rapidly goes on to add a king, and ice cream, and the next thing you know a dragon and fairy appear and poor Mouse’s story has been completely taken over. Mouse yells “STOP!” His poor story “is a mess!”
Frog is rather upset that Mouse says this, but Mouse is even more upset because Frog took over his story without so much as a how do you do! Frog explains that he was just trying to help and the two animals start over. The problem is that Frog, who is a very excitable fellow, isn’t very good at letting Mouse have a say in how the story is going to go.
In this deliciously clever and frequently funny book we see how friends often have to work hard if they want to collaborate on a project. They have to make compromises and be sensitive to each other’s wishes. Children are going to love seeing how Mouse and Frog draw their story and how, in the end, they create something that is uniquely theirs.
The history of humankind is peppered with the stories of men and women who have done their best to take away the rights of certain groups of people. Thankfully, the exploits of such individuals have been balanced, at least a little bit, by the actions of brave and selfless men and women who have fought hard to obtain equal rights for all people.
In today's poetry title the stories of some of these civil rights leaders are told.
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Right Leaders
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by five notable illustrators
Chronicle Books, 2013, 978-1-4521-0119-4
For centuries human societies have been rife with injustices and inequalities. Often change only happened when “The poor and dispossessed take up the drums / for civil rights – freedoms to think and speak, / Petition, pray and vote.” Often these uprisings, when the meek voices of the many became a roll of thunder, where led by one person, a person who dared to step forward and risk everything to speak out against injustice.
In this remarkable book J. Patrick Lewis presents readers with poems about seventeen people who fought “for the equal rights of mankind.” Many suffered deeply for daring to stand against the status quo, and some even died for their convictions.
On these pages we meet Aung San Suu Kyi who has fought for the rights of the Burmese people for decades. Often she was under house arrest, not allowed to see her friends and family members. For her courage she was awarded many prizes, included the Nobel Peace Prize “for defending / the rights of my people” against the generals who would oppress them. When she “refused food to protest my detention,” the general, her enemy “stuffed himself on mangoes / and banana pudding.”
Like Aung San Suu Kyi, Mitsuye Endo was held captive by her own government. A simple typist “nothing more,” she was taken to a Japanese internment camp after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. She had committed no crime and yet she was treated like a criminal. Many of the internees accepted their captivity without a murmur, but Endo did not. She spoke out and challenged the government’s right to imprison her and other patriotic citizens based on their ancestry.
Another person who spoke out against injustice was Harvey Milk, who dared to say that people who were gay should not have to hide who and what they are. He even became a “city father” so that he could contest the laws that “kept / boys and girls from living lives / that Life would not accept.” He felt that he had to do his part to fight against the “small-mindedness” that causes so much suffering.
Readers will be greatly moved by J. Patrick Lewis’s poems, some of which are written in the first person. Each one is a gem, a reminder that our rights should never be taken for granted. Somewhere someone had to fight for them.
At the back of the book readers will find further information about the seventeen activists who are featured in the book.
We live in a more-is-better world, a world where people often forget that sometimes less is more. In today's wordless picture book a magical story unfolds that readers of all ages will be able to appreciate. The artwork is simple without any frills or embellishments, and it is perfect.
For ages 3 to 5
Houghton Mifflin, 2007, 978-0618756391
It is a rainy grey day and a lonely little boy looks out of the window. He then kicks a red and white ball across the floor and its rolls away and down the stairs. The boy goes after the ball, and when he reaches under a chair to retrieve the ball his hand touches a key. Now the boy tries to find the key hole which matches the key.
After many tries, the boy discovers that the key unlocks a trunk. When he opens the lid of the trunk he sees a ladder, and being a normally curious sort of boy, he climbs down the ladder. At the bottom of the ladder the boy sees a tunnel which he proceeds to follow. Where does the tunnel go and what lies at the end of it?
Any child who has found him or herself wishing something, anything, would happen on a dull and lonely rainy day will be able to identify with the main character in this story. Indeed, most children will be intrigued as they watch the events unfold in the wordless book. They will be delighted to see that the magic which occurs on that first rainy day can be repeated, and therefore there is a strong message of hope on the pages.
Beautifully illustrated in bold and bright colors, this picture book is a celebration of magical places, the imagination, and much more.
Trying to explain what peace is to children can be problematical. You can't see, hear, smell, or taste it, and therefore children have a hard time understanding what this elusive thing that everyone seems to want is. In today's poetry title the author uses wonderful poems and beautiful photos of quilts (which she made) to help children appreciate what peace is and how precious it is.
Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace
For ages for ages 6 and up
Henry Holt, 2011, 978-0-8050-8996-7
Peace is an elusive thing. Throughout humanity’s history, many great people have tried to bring peace to human societies. Occasionally they have succeeded in a meaningful way, but all too often their efforts have not been long lasting. All too often this is because humans just cannot overcome their differences to find the road to peace. What most people do agree on is that world peace will not come about if we cannot have peace in our own homes and communities first. We need to start small and then hope that the peace, like a plant, will grow and spread.
In this remarkable book the author pairs her beautiful quilted creations with poems that explore peace in its many forms. She begins by wondering how peace will arrive. Will there be a fanfare of trumpets, “gold banners” and a “great noisy show,” or will peace “slip in quietly” and slowly fill us until we say, “Ahh … this is peace.”
Next we meet someone who endeavors so hard to bring peace into his or her home. The person wonders why peace is “such / an infrequent guest.” Anger is banished, fear is pushed away and selfishness is kept busy and yet peace does not stay.
Later on the book, for people who struggle to find that coveted prize, we find a recipe for peace. It is simple, and yet incredibly powerful. The ingredients are: at least two open minds, willing hearts, compassion, trust, forgiveness, respect, “A dash of humor” and, of course, hope.
Peace can also be found in nature. It is there as we paddle along in a river listening to “Awakening birdsong” in a space that is “serene” and away from “chaos.” Then there is the peace that lies inside us, the peace that is often hidden. With sensitivity and grace the author talks about the angry thoughts and words, the busy brain, and the inflexibility that often makes that inner peace impossible to find.
She also talks about the peacekeepers whose “tall and resolute” stance we should all try to emulate as best we can. They are the people who have dared to speak up and say that violence is not the answer, that peace is the only way forward.
This powerful and meaningful poetry title has something to offer everyone, words of wisdom that we would all do well to listen to and think about.
Sometimes I come across a book that is so well written that I can hardly bear to set it down. I just want to spend a quiet time, curled up in a corner, reading on and on. Of course, all too often, life does not allow me to have that quiet time. A dog wants to go out, a cat wants some attention, dinner needs to be cooked, a manuscript needs to be edited, a book needs to be reviewed and so on. It is so frustrating!
Today's picture book is about Roger, who really, really, wants some peace and quiet so that he can read his book. Unfortunately Emily has other ideas.
Roger is reading a book
Koen Van Biesen
Translated by Laura Watkinson
Eerdmans, 2015, 978-0-8028-5442-1
Roger is reading a book and he needs some peace and quiet. He sits on a stool, the glow from a reading lamp lighting up the pages of his book, and reads. His dog lies at his feet snoozing. Then, on the other side of the wall, Emily starts playing with a basketball. She bounces it and makes a lot of noise, which means that Roger has to get up to knock on the wall. He needs peace and quiet so that he can continue reading his book.
For a short while all is well until Emily starts singing. Roger knocks on the wall. Emily starts playing the drums, Roger pounds on the wall. Emily juggles, she dances, and she hits a boxing bag. Emily makes so much noise that Roger is in despair. Something has to be done about this situation.
This wonderfully clever book will delight young readers and will certainly resonate with their grownups who are probably very familiar with Roger’s predicament. The author finds a perfect way to solve Roger’s problem, and then presents us with another one that brings the story to a perfect close.
With a minimal text and lots of sound words, this is the kind of book young children will enjoy looking through on their own. They will love seeing what the dog does as the story unfolds, for the dog, in the end, steals the whole show.
There aren't many poetry board books out there, so I am delighted to be able to bring one of these titles to you today. Sharing poetry with very young children can be a wonderful experience for grownups, and their audience will enjoy experiencing language that has rhythm and rhyme.
Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to love with your baby
Selected By Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Alyssa Nasser
Abrams, 2015, 978-1-4197-1037-7
Sharing poems with very young children can be such a joyous thing for an adult to do. Babies and toddlers have a natural affinity for poetry because they are attracted to the cadences of the rhythm and rhyme.
In this wonderful board book readers will find thirty original rhymes that Lee Bennett Hopkins has carefully selected. They are arranged in five ‘chapters’ which are: family, food, firsts, play and bedtime. The topics chosen for the poems perfectly suit the interests and concerns of very young children, and are they are paired with illustrations showing animal children and their families doing everyday things.
In the first section, family, there are poems about parents, grandparents and siblings. In addition there is a poem called “My Name” by Madeline Kuderick. In this poem a little cat child talks about how his name is “everywhere” on “wooden blocks, / on my slippers, on my socks.” It is wonderful to see how the poem shows that the little cat child is a vital part of the family world that he belongs to.
In the next section, which is about food, there is a poem about how a child feels to be in a high chair. The toddler is “the king of the upper air,” with “All below me in my power.” There are also poems about breakfast cereal, milk, snack time, spaghetti, and watermelon.
Wonderful poets including Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, and Marilyn Singer wrote poems for this collection. There is warmth, humor, and softness on the pages, and little children will connect with the images and feelings that the poems and illustrations evoke.
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Our days are full of special moments, moments that most of the time go unnoticed and unappreciated. Today's picture book explores a sliver of time and shows a variety of incredible moments that take place in that fragment of a day.
The Silver Button
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-6437-4
At one minute to ten on Thursday morning Jodie is drawing a picture of a duck. She gives her lovely duck a top hat, a cane, and boots. Carefully she draws silver buttons on his boots. She is just about the draw the final button when her little brother, Jonathan, pushes himself to his feet for the first time. He sways, he frowns, he tilts forward and takes his first step.
At that very moment, in the next room, Jodie’s mother starts playing her penny whistle and a feather from a pigeon nest under the roof drifts past the window “like an autumn leaf.”
At that very moment, little Alice next door mails sticks and stones through the front gate and a jogger runs by. Not far away Bernard has his shoelace tied again, and a soldier says goodbye to his mother. In the park Sophie and her granddad make a house of leaves, and a homeless lady shuffles along, pushing a cart containing all her worldly possessions. Just as Jonathan is taking that first step, incredibly special moments, and everyday moments, are touching lives all over the city where Jodie lives.
In this wonderful picture book Bob Graham celebrates the precious moments that take place every day. He shows us how, while Jonathan is taking that first incredible step, all kinds of things are happening in the world beyond his home. By degrees, Bob Graham’s art takes us further and further out from Jodie’s home, allowing us to see her street, then her neighborhood, then the city and the ocean. We come to appreciate that there is something rich in the world he shows us. How incredible it is that his world is so much like our own. Could it be that we too live in a world full of wonderful moments?