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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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1. Poetry Friday with review of Digger Dozer Dumper


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
Digger Dozer DumperHope Vestergaard
Illustrated by David Slonim
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
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.

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2. Picture Book Monday with a review of Any Questions?

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.

Any Questions?Any Questions?
Marie-Louise Gay
Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
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.

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3. Poetry Friday with a review of A Little Bitty Man and other poems for the very young

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 youngA Little Bitty Man and other poems for the very young
Halfdan Rasmussen
Translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
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.

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4. Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

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 PenguinFlora and the Penguin
Molly Idle
Picture Book
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.


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5. Poetry Friday with a review of Shiver me Timbers by Douglas Florian

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!Shiver me Timbers!
Douglas Florian
Illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
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.



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6. Picture Book Monday with a review of Winter is Coming

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 ComingWinter is Coming
Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
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.” 

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7. Poetry Friday with a review of Pug and other Animal Poems

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 poemsPug and other animal poems
Valerie Worth
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.

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8. Picture Book Monday with a review of This Orq (he cave boy)


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)
David Elliot
Illustrated by Lori Nichols
This Orq (he cave boy)Picture Book
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.

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9. Poetry Friday with a review of Poems I wrote when no one was looking


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 
Poems I wrote when no one was lookingAlan Katz
Illustrated by Edward Koren
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
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.

   

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10. Picture Book Monday with a review of Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie

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 BirdieCalvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie
Jennifer Berne
Illustrated by Keith Bendis
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
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.

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11. Poetry Friday with a review of Insectlopedia

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.

InsectlopediaInsectlopedia
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
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.

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12. Picture Book Monday with a review of Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

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 CreaturesJulia’s House for Lost Creatures
Ben Hatke
Picture Book
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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13. Poetry Friday with a review of Happily Never After

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 VerseHappily Never After: Modern Cautionary Verse
Mitchell Symons
Poetry
For ages 7 to 10
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.
  


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14. Picture Book Monday with a review of Doug Unplugs on the Farm written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

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 FarmDoug Unplugs on the farm
Dan Yaccarino
Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
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.


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15. Poetry Friday with a review of River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things

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 of ThingsRiver of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature ofThings
Introduced by Robert Haas
Edited by Pamela Michael
Poetry
For ages 10 and up
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. 

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16. Picture Book Monday with a review of My Pet Book, which was written and illustrated by Bob Staake

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 BookMy Pet Book
Bob Staake
Picture 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.


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17. Poetry Friday with a review of Super Silly School Poems

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 PoemsSuper Silly School Poems
David Greenberg
Illustrated by Liza Woodruff
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
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.

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18. Picture Book Monday with a review of Flora and the Flamingo

They say that imitation in the sincerest form of flattery. This may be true sometimes, but being imitated can also be really, really annoying. In today's picture book you are going to meet a little girl who decides to imitate an elegant flamingo and who soon learns that her actions are not appreciated. At all.

Flora and the FlamingoFlora and the Flamingo
Molly Idle
Wordless Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle Books, 2013, 978-1-4521-1006-6
Flora is a girl who is wearing a pink bathing suit, a yellow swimming cap, and black flippers. In the shallows of a pond there is a flamingo and Flora decides to copy it. When the flamingo stands on one leg so does Flora. When it makes several elegant ballet-like poses, Flora does her best to copy the bird’s moves. Though Flora tries not to be seen copying the flamingo, the wily bird soon sees what she is doing and with a firm squawk it puts a stop to Flora’s shenanigans. The startled girl ends up doing a forward roll and finds herself sitting on her bottom in the water with a flower on her head.
   This could very easily be the end of the story of Flora and the elegant flamingo, but the kind-hearted bird reaches out to the child and teaches her a little about dance and a lot about friendship.
   In this remarkable picture book the illustrator tells a riveting story without using any words or word sounds at all. The expression on the faces, and the body language, of the two characters is so expressive that no words are needed. Children will love seeing how Flora and the flamingo come to terms, and how something special grows out of their interaction.


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19. Poetry Friday - A review of On the Wing

Douglas Florian is a poet and artist who has created poetry picture books that explore a wide variety of subjects. Over the years I have greatly enjoyed reading these books, and it is interesting to see how he applies his considerable talent to take on a new topic that interests him.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 1996, 978-0152023669
Birds truly are remarkable animals. They come in a dazzling array of colors, live on every continent, and make their homes in all kinds of places. In this wonderful picture book Douglas Florian pairs short poems with his artwork to give readers a true celebration of birds.
   Over the millennia birds have evolved to suit many kinds of environments. Some birds, like the egret, sail on water and then rest on the beach making it seem as if there is a “feathered hat” lying on the sand. Dippers love to dip and dive in waterfalls. They are so aquatic that one wonders if they would be happy to “trade / Their oily wings for flippers.” They are such good swimmers that it is possible that the little birds might “think that they are fish.”
   Birds come in all shapes and sizes. The spoonbill is tall and thin with a beak that does indeed look like a long-handled spoon. In his poem about this rather odd looking species, Douglas Florian wonders if the spoonbill uses its bill “for stirring tea” or does it “use it as a scoop / For eating peas and drinking soup.”
   The stork has a bill that is perfectly suited for the environment it lives in. Wading through shallow water, the bird uses it rapier like bill to stab frogs and other creatures. Woodpeckers also have beaks that are perfectly adapted so that they can get to their chosen food - insects that live in wood and sap that runs through wood. Not only are these beaks perfect for creating holes, but woodpeckers also use them to communicate.
   With clever touches of humor and insightful descriptions, this collection of poems will give young readers a colorful picture of twenty-one bird speci

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20. Picture Book Monday with a review of Imagine a Day

The great thing about having an imagination is that it allows us to make things up, and sometimes the things we make up are weird, magical, wonderful, or some combination of all of these elements. In today's picture book the author takes us on a fanciful journey into the imagination, and the places she takes us really are special.

Imagine a DayImagine a Day
Sarah L. Thomson
Paintings by Rob Gonsalves
Picture Book
Ages 5 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2005, 0-689-85219-3
   The imagination can take anything from the everyday world and turn it in to something wonderful, something exciting. On a cloudy grey day the imagination can imagine a way to bring back a blue sky by filling the heavens with thousands of blue balloons. With the imagination a walk on the fence can turn into a daring walk between high rise buildings. Our imagination can make it possible for us to lay water down in slabs, much in the same way that one would tile a floor; and the coppery leaves of fall can be turned into a road that can be ridden on, high above the ground.
   In this wonderful book Sarah Thomson takes our imaginations on a journey. As we explore the pages we celebrate the imagination and all the wonderful things that it can do. It can make the dreary interesting, the commonplace remarkable, it can add spice to one’s life, and it can give one peace.  Rob Gonsalves has taken the simple text and has created paintings which make the mind stretch and wonder. The art is beautiful and intriguing, and it challenges one to look at the world though eyes that can see not just what is really there but what could be there. 

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21. Poetry Friday with a review of It's Raining Pigs and Noodles

Jack Prelutsky loves finding ways to hook children on poetry, and he has been creating poems that serve this purpose for years now. In today's poetry title you will see how he helps children to see for themselves that poetry can be great fun.

It's Raining Pigs & NoodlesIt’s Raining Pigs and Noodles
Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by James Stevenson
Poetry
For ages 6 to 8
HarperCollins, 2000, 978-0060291945
Life is too short for us to spend our days doing serious things and having serious thoughts all the time. A dose of silliness and goofiness is required every day at least once. Some of us find it hard to make the switch from being sensible to silly, which can be very trying. Where is that funny bone hiding and how do we get it to do what it is supposed to do?
   Thankfully for everyone who needs help finding their inner silly self, Jack Prelutsky has put together a collection of poems that are guaranteed to tickle the funny bone, thus bringing the silliness that lies within us all to the surface. Every single poem in this book is one hundred percent amusing, and readers can be sure that after a few pages they will be feeling a lot less serious.
   The poems begin with poem called It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles. If you like the idea of it raining pigs and noodles you should read the rest of the poem where the poet describes how “Assorted prunes and parrots / are dropping from the sky,” and these are followed by “a bunch of carrots, / some hippopotami.” The poem wraps up with the words, “I like this so much better / than when it’s raining rain.”
   A couple of pages later in The Chicken Club, we meet some people who are afraid of everything and anything, which is why they are members of this special club. The club members are afraid of thunder and shadows, creepy crawlies, and even their own reflections. In fact they are afraid of so many things that “we’ve even started clucking / and we’re sprouting chicken wings.”
   Children and their grownups are going to have a grand time dipping into this book and sampling a helping of poetry that will make them smile or chuckle.

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22. Picture Book Monday with a review of Mister Bud wears a cone

Not long ago one of my dogs had surgery and he had to wear a "cone of shame" for a while to make sure that he did not try to pull out his stitches. Poor Pippin hated the cone, and I had to work very hard not to laugh as he went around the house bumping into walls and furniture. It was funny, and it also was pitiful.

In today's picture book you will meet Mister Bud, who has to wear a cone and whose doggy housemate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of his friend's situation.

Mister Bud Wears the ConeMister Bud wears the cone
Carter Goodrich
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8088-9
One night Mr. Bud’s itchy hotspot starts itching like crazy. Poor Mister Bud chews and licks it, and in the morning his person sees that the hotspot is much worse. She puts some medicine on it which she hopes will make the hotspot go away. She is comforting and tells Mister Bud that she knows that “It’s no fun,” having such a nasty hotspot. Zorro resents the fact that Mister Bud is getting all the attention. Even worse the dogs’ schedule is “all messed up” because of Mister Bud’s hotspot.
   Before she leaves the house for the day Mister Bud’s person puts a cone on his head so that he won’t lick or itch his hotspot. Not surprisingly, Mister Bud hates the cone. He cannot see properly when he wears it, he walks into furniture, he cannot eat or drink properly, and he cannot stop Zorro from stealing his favorite toy. Wearing the cone is the worst thing ever and when Mister Bud accidentally breaks a lamp, he is convinced that he is going to be in big trouble. Zorro is thrilled and he is eager to see what their person says when she sees what Mister Bud has done.
   In this deliciously funny and sweet book we meet a dog who has to wear a cone and whose life is severely disrupted by the horrible thing. It does not help that his house mate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of the situation. Readers of all ages are going to laugh out loud when they see what happens in this memorable picture book story.


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23. Poetry Friday with a review of Knock at a star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry

Over the years I have looked at a lot of poetry collections. Some focus on one kind of poetry, or one topic, while others are collections of all kinds of poetry. Today's title belongs to the latter category, and I have to say that it is one of the best collections of this type that I have ever looked through. Poetry as a form of writing is explored in an interesting way, and readers of all ages will enjoy reading the poems and the sections of text that accompany many of them.

Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to PoetryKnock at a star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry
X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy
Illustrated by Karen Lee Baker
Poetry
Ages 7 and up
Little Brown, 1999, 978-0316488006
Many people have created poetry anthologies for children, and such collections give children the opportunity to experience and explore a wide variety of poems. Readers can open such books on any page and start reading.
   This poetry collection is a little different in that the poems are categorized into chapters. The authors use poems to show readers what poems do, what is inside a poem, the special kinds of poems there are, and they wrap up by showing us how to write our own poems. Throughout the book readers will find notes that help them better understand the poems and the people who wrote them.
   The purpose of poems may seem obvious, but in fact poems, like stories, can serve a variety of purposes. They can make readers smile either because they describe something funny, or because the poet uses words in a funny way, or both of these things. In Spring is Sprung, a poet deliberately used words incorrectly to give us a poem that is short and amusing. Ogden Nash’s The Termite tells us a short tale about how a termite tasted wood “and found it good.” We learn that the termite’s fondness for wood explains why “Cousin May / Fell through the parlor floor today.”
   Telling stories using poetry is something many poets enjoy doing. These stories can be humorous or serious, and they help readers see that story poems can be just as colorful and exciting as stories that are told in prose.
   Some poets like to use their poems to convey a message to their readers, presenting an idea or point of view that matters to them. Then there are the poems that allow their writers to share their feelings with the reader. Often these poems are very powerful because they are personal and heart felt. In Janet S. Wong’s poem Losing Face we read about a guilt-ridden girl who won an art contest using a picture that she traced. She so much wants to tell everyone what she did, but she doesn’t “want to lose / Mother’s glowing / proud face.”
   People can often be confusing. We don’t understand why they say and do the things they do. Some poets use their writings to help us understand people and their ways. Through them we learn that people come in so many shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. For example, in her poem My Mother we learn about a mother who is not “like / Some others.” Instead of being the kind of mother who bakes and cooks, this mother stays up late into the night “Reading poetry.”
   This is the kind of poetry collection that readers of all ages will enjoy exploring. Even adults who know a great deal about poetry will soon appreciate that this collection is truly a gift.


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24. Picture Book Monday with a review of Maple

In my family we like to plant trees on special occasions. Sometimes the trees serve as a memorial to someone we love. These trees almost become members of the family, but not quite. In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who has a tree for a friend who really is a member of her family.

MapleMaple
Lori Nichols
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-399-16085-1
Before she was born, when Maple was “still a whisper,” her parents planted a little maple tree in their garden for her and when she came into the world they named her Maple. As she grew, the little maple tree grew, and when she needed to be noisy, or sing, or pretend to be a tree, Maple went to be with her tree.
   One fall Maple saw that her tree was losing its leaves, so she gave it her jacket so that it would “stay warm.” No matter what else was happening, Maple always knew that she had her tree, and the tree had her.
   Then one spring something changed. A new little tree appeared in the garden and Maple’s mother had another little whisper growing inside her. Not long after, Maple became a big sister and she learned that life rarely stays the same. Change is inevitable and Maple had to figure out how to be a good big sister, which isn’t easy.
   In this heartwarming picture book we meet a little girl who develops a special connection with a tree. This may seem strange, but the tree and the little girl grew up together and shared many grand times. Young readers are sure to enjoy seeing how Maple deals with a very big change in her life. Thankfully, she has a friend who helps her sort out her problems.

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25. Poetry Friday with a review of On the Wing by Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian is a poet and artist who has created poetry picture books that explore a wide variety of subjects. Over the years I have greatly enjoyed reading these books, and it is interesting to see how he applies his considerable talent to take on a new topic that interests him.

Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Harcourt, 1996, 978-0152023669
Birds truly are remarkable animals. They come in a dazzling array of colors, live on every continent, and make their homes in all kinds of places. In this wonderful picture book Douglas Florian pairs short poems with his artwork to give readers a true celebration of birds.
   Over the millennia birds have evolved to suit many kinds of environments. Some birds, like the egret, sail on water and then rest on the beach making it seem as if there is a “feathered hat” lying on the sand. Dippers love to dip and dive in waterfalls. They are so aquatic that one wonders if they would be happy to “trade / Their oily wings for flippers.” They are such good swimmers that it is possible that the little birds might “think that they are fish.”
   Birds come in all shapes and sizes. The spoonbill is tall and thin with a beak that does indeed look like a long-handled spoon. In his poem about this rather odd looking species, Douglas Florian wonders if the spoonbill uses its bill “for stirring tea” or does it “use it as a scoop / For eating peas and drinking soup.”
   The stork has a bill that is perfectly suited for the environment it lives in. Wading through shallow water, the bird uses it rapier like bill to stab frogs and other creatures. Woodpeckers also have beaks that are perfectly adapted so that they can get to their chosen food - insects that live in wood and sap that runs through wood. Not only are these beaks perfect for creating holes, but woodpeckers also use them to communicate.
   With clever touches of humor and insightful descriptions, this collection of poems will give young readers a colorful picture of twenty-one bird species.

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