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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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For many parents the Mother Goose nursery rhymes are the first poems that they explore with their children. Over time Little Miss Muffet, the cow that jumped over the moon, and Wee Willie Winkie all become members of the family. In today's poetry title these characters and others from the Mother Goose rhymes come together to attend a special event hosted by none other than Mother Goose herself!
Mother Goose’s Pajama Party
Illustrated by Virginia Allyn
Random House, 2015, 978-0-553-49756-4
One night Mother Goose flies out into the night sky on the back of her goose companion. In sparkles she leaves a message in the starlit sky inviting her friends to come to her house at half past eight for a story time.
The moon is the first to see the message and she shows it to the cow, who then goes on to tell Dish who passes on what she has been told to Spoon. Spoon then tells Cats about the invitation and Cat, being the musician that he is, “fiddled a tune.”
Mother Goose’s invitation is passed on from character to character, from Jack-a-Dandy to Wee Willie Winkie, and from Georgie Porgie to Little Bo-Peep. Finally Nimble Jack, with his candlestick, leads the way to Mother Goose’s house with all the other nursery rhyme characters following him. Along the way they collect the crooked man and the cooked mouse and they walk along “the final crooked mile,” until they come to Mother Goose’s door promptly at eight o’clock.
What follows is a wonderful evening that is full of treats that the guests and the hostess alike enjoy.
Written in wonderful rhyming verse, this picture book brings together some of the most well-known nursery rhyme characters, who take little children on a memorable bookish adventure that is full of joy, warmth, and finally comfort.
At the back of the book children will find the fifteen nursery rhymes that feature the characters that they met in the book.
Many people think that 'art' has to fit into one of three categories. It has to be a piece of music, a painting or a drawing, or a sculpture. However, there are other forms of art that might not fit into one of these pigeon holes. What about a piece of furniture or a quilt? What about a basket or a glass vase? What about a wrought iron gate or a musical instrument? What about a tree or shrub that has been clipped and clipped until it looks like an animal or some lovely shape? All of these things are also works of art, and all of them can, and do, enrich out lives.
In this picture book we see how a topiary artist manages, one topiary at a time, to bring beauty to the lives of people who so desperately need something in their world that will uplift them.
The Night Gardener
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-3978-7
Grimloch Lane is a rather sad place. The homes are ramshackle, weeds grow up through cracks in the sidewalk, and the people who live there don’t really connect with one another. One night, while everyone in the lane is asleep, a man gets to work on one of the trees that stands outside the Grimloch Orphanage.
When William looks out his window in the morning he sees that something is going on outside so he goes to investigate. What he discovers is that someone has clipped a tree next to the orphanage so that it looks like a beautiful owl. William is entranced by the topiary owl and he gazes at it all day long. When he goes to sleep that night he does so “with a sense of excitement.”
The following morning another tree on Grimoloch Lane has been turned into a work of art. This time the topiary makes the tree look like a cat at rest.
Each day a new topiary appears, and now the people living in Grimloch Lane have something to look forward to. They gather to admire their beautiful topiaries and “Something good” starts to happen to everyone who sees the special trees.
We tend to think that real change can only happen when something really big happens, but sometimes change can come about when a little piece of magic is added to our lives. As the story in this book unfolds, we see how the introduction of beauty affects the people who live in a place that has so little beauty and happiness to offer. Best of all, the instrument of change is not someone who is rich and powerful, instead he is a humble person who just happens to have a gift for turning already lovely trees into gorgeous works of art.
Cats are singular creatures. They are not as easy to understand as dogs, but once you develop a relationship with a cat you will soon see how much that relationship enriches your life. Today's poetry book introduces you to some colorful cat characters, and the poems also explore the ways in which those cats enhance the lives of the humans that they share their lives with.
Cats Vanish Slowly
Illustrated by Laura Seeley
Peachtree Publishers, 1995, 978-1561451067
Many cats live on Grandmother’s farm and she knows each and every one of them. Grandmother does not care if her cats are beautiful or “scrawny.” She does not care if they have too many toes, or if they are tailless. All the cats are welcome in her home and all of them are loved.
One of the best things about visiting Grandmother’s house is that there is always a cat there that is happy to be cuddled. If you have had a bad day, one dotted with scoldings and breakages, dullness or loneliness, then all you need to do is to visit Grandmother and hold an “affable cat.” With every purr and soft snuggle you will find “every bliss.”
One day a little, grey tabby cat arrived on the farm and she “graciously offered to stay.” The cat is loved by everyone and is soon very much at home. It is decided that the cat will be called Cougar, even though she is about as un-cougar-like as a cat can get. She is loving and sweet, playful and gentle. There are times though, when she is fast asleep, when perhaps, for a moment, she seems to live up to her name.
B.P is nothing like sweet, easy-going Cougar. He is a troublemaker, “a criminal cat,” who steals food, climbs the porch screen, and pulls clean washing off the line. When someone asks Grandmother if she has any cats available for adoption she offers up B.P. Six times the cat is taken to a new home, and six times he comes back to the farm. Like a “Bad Penny” the cat always “rolls back home.”
Grandmother lives with her sister and the two old ladies are as “different as sugar and salt.” One likes to grow flowers, while the other likes to plant vegetables. One loves to write poetry, while the other prefers to make pies or to cut back weeds. Though they are as “different as ribbon and string,” both ladies have a soft spot for cats. One stormy night the two of them together gather up three “half-wild” kittens and bring them into the warmth and shelter of their home.
This wonderful book serves as a tribute both to cats, and to the people who take them in and care for them. We meet a variety of cat personalities on the pages, and we also come to appreciate how special Grandmother is and how much of a haven she has created on her farm for felines, and for children who love felines.
Throughout this book the author’s poems are paired with beautiful paintings that perfectly capture the cats described in the text.
I used to be more of a dog person than a cat person, but then I adopted Katie, a tiny black and white kitten, who had been literally thrown away. Katie, who never weighed more than five pounds, taught me to appreciate the true nature of cats. Despite her rough start in life, she was loyal, strong-willed, sensitive, and loving, and I am grateful that she was part of my life for more than a decade. Though she was very small and not very strong, Katie never let anything get her down. She was an inspiration.
Today's poetry title explore one woman's relationship with her cat Boris, and through her narrative we get see how Boris shaped her life and how he helped her understand herself better.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, 0-15-205809-5
Not that long ago her last cat died, and she decided that she would not be getting any more cats. She would be a dog person from here on out and spare herself all the trials and tribulations that come with cat ownership. No more hairballs, no more worrying that the cat has been eaten by a coyote, and no more “howling, spitting fights.” No, cats will no longer be a part of her life.
Then the local shelter puts a storefront in town and she has to walk past that storefront every day; she has to see the cats sitting in the window, all of whom so badly want a home. She holds out for two months and then she goes into the store. She says that she will get one female cat “and no more.”
Not long after, she walks out of the store with two cats, a male and female. The cats are siblings and she could not bear to separate them. The male is Boris, a beautiful grey fellow who in his own quiet way promises that he will “be good.”
It isn’t long before Boris is a member of the family. The dogs accept him and when they go too far they get a swat across the nose to keep them in line. Of course it also isn’t long before she is worrying that the eagles might try to harm Boris. She asks him to never “stand on a beach / beneath them,” for surely if he does they will be measuring and assessing him to determine if he is too big and heavy from them to carry him off.
Boris is full of surprises. She knows that his former name was Hunter and imagines at first that it is a “designer-label sort of / name.” It turns out that Hunter was not some preppy name at all. The name describes what Boris is. He is a hunter and soon he is bringing her all kinds of furry and feathered gifts.
When a new cat moves in next door she is sure that Boris is going to take grave exception to the cat using the next-door deck that he has claimed as his own. She full expects to see fur flying, and yet this is not what happens at all. Boris takes the newcomer in hand, adopting him and treating him like a little brother who needs someone to show him what is what.
This magnanimity is not offered to an elderly cat that Boris and his owner meet when they are out one day. This time the hunter in Boris comes to the fore and he bowls over the poor old fellow without a thought. She is embarrassed, and the encounter gets her thinking about aging and what waits for them both in the future. Will they two be like the old cat who dared to walk on Boris’ path? Will they two stand against younger whippersnappers who try to bully them?
In this remarkable book, nineteen free verse poems take us into the world of the narrator and her cat. Through her interaction with Boris we find out about her own fears, worries and insecurities. We laugh with her as Boris watches, and bats at, birds that he sees on the TV screen. We laugh too when she describes how much she enjoys playing “spinnies” with her cat companion. Her pain is tangible as she tells us what it was like when Boris went missing for ten days, and we understand why she worries about moving to a new house that Boris might not approve of. Being owned by a cat is not for the faint of heart, but the experience teaches us a lot about ourselves, and through our cats we learn a great deal about love, patience, and compassion.
I think it is fair to say that these days many people have lives that are perhaps a little too full. They feel as if they are running on a treadmill, desperately trying to keep up, and to do all the things that are written on their to do lists. Adults are not the only ones who have this problem. Sometimes children find themselves struggling with a schedule that asks just too much of them.
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra Press, 2016, 978-177049-484-8
Andrew loves to perform in plays, and so he decides to join the school drama club so that he can “wear costumes and perform on a real stage.” Andrew’s best friend, Edie, helps him learn his lines as they walk home from school together. Sometimes they end up climbing a tree or playing a game along the way and that’s always fun.
Though Andrew is a natural when it comes to acting, his drama teacher suggests that he try public speaking so that he can learn how to project his voice more. Andrew joins the debating team so that he can work on making his voice stronger. It turns out that Andrew is so good at debating that his friend Calvin suggests that he join the chess club.
When Andrew has a hard time keeping up during the dance routines when he is rehearsing, he decides that what he needs to do is to “improve his coordination,” so he attends ballet and karate classes.
Somehow Andrew then finds himself joining the tennis team, working on the school paper, and learning how to play the bagpipes. He joins the French film club, takes singing lessons, and signs up for Spanish lessons because knowing another language is “just plain useful.” Up until now Andrew has been able to manage his extremely full schedule, but now he hits a wall. Andrew is just doing too many things.
Many people over-schedule their lives. They fill every spare minute with an activity of some kind until they barely have time to eat or sleep. They cannot have a social life and are constantly running from activity to activity.
With humor and sensitivity Ashley Spires (who brought us the graphic novels about Binky the cat) shows us how a young owl’s life turns into a nightmare when he takes on too many activities. Everything Andrew does is important and interesting, but together they are just too much. Children, and their grownups, will enjoy seeing how Andrew solves his problem and how he finds a schedule that works for him.
When I was growing up on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, I read many of the Greek myths. Some of the places mentioned in the myths I was even lucky enough to see in Greece, including Mount Olympus, where the Gods were said to live. In today's book readers will encounter some of these myths but in poetry form. And the poems they will encounter can be read in two ways, which makes this bookish poetry experience quite unique. Happy Poetry Month!
Echo Echo: Reverso poems about Greek myths
Illustrated by Josee Masse
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Penguin, 2016, 978-0-8037-3992-5
Often we like to think that there is only one side to a story, the side that we believe in. The truth of the matter is that usually there are at least two sides to a story that often contradict each other, two perspectives as seen through the eyes of two very different people who are on opposite sides of the story.
In this very unique book of poetry the author takes us into the world of Greek mythology so that we can explore the two sides of some of Greece’s most famous stories. The myths were created so that people could explain the world they lived in, a world that was often full of chaos and unknowns, which is perhaps why so many people are drawn to them.
Chaos is certainly at the heart of the story about Pandora and her famous box. The story goes that Zeus gave Pandora a box telling her not to open it. Being human and curious, and prone to doing things that she is told not to do, Pandora opened the box and let loose “all the evils of the world.”
This is the first myth that is explored in this book. We are presented with two poems, placed side by side, and hear the story from two points of view. In one Pandora is blamed for what happened, and in the other we are see that Pandora could well have been Zeus’ pawn, that he planned the whole terrible businesses. What makes things interesting is that the second poem is the reverse of the first, with the last line of the first poem serving as the first line of the second.
In the poem King Midas and his Daughter, the story of the king whose greed led to his daughter being turned into a gold statue is told first from the point of view of the daughter and then from the point of view of the king. The daughter’s voice tells us how she was “so needy / so greedy” for a loving touch from her unaffectionate father. The father’s narrative tells us that he was “ so greedy / so needy” to have the magic touch that turned things into gold, and he paid dearly for the gift he was given.
The other myths explored in the book include the story of Arachne and Athens, the tragic tale of Narcissus and Echo, and the ill-fated story of Icarus and Daedalus.
The poems in this book show great creativity, and they certainly bring old myths to life, but they do more than that. This book shows, to great effect, how problems might arise when two people see the same thing from only one point of view.
For many of us waiting is a bore. Sometimes it is very frustrating and annoying. We feel that we are wasting time, time that would be better spent if we were not
waiting. Sometimes we are
wasting precious time, but there are many other times when waiting is actually a good thing, when the act of waiting offers up joys of its own. Today's picture book explores this idea in the most delightful way.
HarperCollins, 2015, 978-0-06-236843-0
There are five toys that sit on a windowsill and they are all waiting. The little pink pig with the umbrella is waiting for the rain. The owl is waiting for the moon. The little bear with the kite is waiting for the wind, and the puppy on the sled is waiting for some snow. The rabbit is not waiting for something special. He just likes to look out of the window. He just waits because he enjoys doing so.
The owl is lucky because the moon turns up “a lot.” The pig and bear also got to enjoy the rain and the wind regularly. Snowfalls are not as common, but they do happen, and when they do the puppy is very happy.
Life on the windowsill does not change a great deal. Sometimes one of the toys goes away for a while and sometimes they all sleep. Occasionally gifts appear, and once a little toy elephant came to stay. He, alas, fell off the windowsill and broke, which was very upsetting.
Through their window the little toys see so many things that add to their experiences, and then one day a new toy arrives and she has a little secret of her own.
Our lives are full of times when we have to wait, and all too often we do so with impatience, and perhaps even with frustration and annoyance. We want what we are waiting for to arrive now
In this gently paced, softly colored picture book, we explore the idea that sometimes the process of waiting is, in and of itself, a joy. If we take it all in as we wait, and enjoy the journey, there is a good chance that we will discover treasures that we might have otherwise missed. We don’t have to be doing a great deal, and rushing about, to discover so many of the experiences that life has to offer.
I first started getting interested in animals after I read a book called My Family and Other Animals,
which was written by Gerald Durrell. I then went on to read many other books about animals, and learned all kinds of fascinating things about how animals have adapted to different environments and circumstances. Camouflage is one of these adaptations and it takes many remarkable forms, which is why I was delighted to review today's poetry title. In this book readers will meet just a few of the animals who use camouflage to hide their presence from predators or prey.
Now you see them now you don’t: Poems about creatures that hide
David L. Harrison
Illustrated by Giles Laroche
Poetry Nonfiction Picture book
Charlesbridge, 2016, 978-1-58089-610-8
For millennia animals have been using camouflage to help them hide from predators, prey, or both. Being able to camouflage their appearance has given mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and other animals the ability to survive, an ability that they have passed on to their decedents.
In this stunning book, cut-paper relief illustrations are paired with nineteen poems, each one of which explores how camouflage helps an animal species to be successful. We travel from beaches to polar climes, from forests to swamps, from meadows to jungles. Some of the species are large and impressive, while others are very small, but are still worthy of our respect and interest.
We begin on a sandy beach where a ghost crab blends in perfectly with its environment. When danger threatens, the little crustacean freezes and waits until it is safe to “scurry, hide, / dig, hole, /dive, inside.” With its sand colored shell and appendages, the crab can hide in plain sight if it has to.
The octopus is a master of disguise. It can change the color of its skin to blend in with its surroundings. This ability helps it to hide from a passing fish that is looking for a meal, or so that it can grab passing prey in its “sucker arms.”
In a swamp or marshland, alligators float in the water with only their snouts and backs showing. The alligator waits, for all the world looking like a log or piece of debris. What potential prey animals don’t know is that “Hidden where / they never show,/ are teeth / and teeth / and teeth below.”
When you see a tiger in a zoo you cannot imagine that its bold stripes are actually a wonderful form of camouflage, but in its native habitat where there are “Dappled shadows, / waving grasses,” a tiger’s stripes allow it to blend in beautifully. From where it waits the tiger can watch and when the time is right it will attack like “striped lightning.”
At the back of the book readers will find further information about all the species featured in the book.
Friendship is a funny thing. Sometimes our best friends are just like us. We are like two halves of a whole, and we know and understand one another completely. Sometimes our friends are very different from us, and they have habits and interests that we do not, or cannot, understand at all. In today's picture book title you will meet two friends who are very different, and who hit a rough patch that shakes their relationship to its core.
Gordon and Tapir
Translated by David Henry Wilson
NorthSouth, 2016, 978-0-7358-4219-9
One day Gordon the penguin is in the toilet when he realizes that there is no toilet paper. Not in the best of moods he waddles out of the toilet and follows the toilet paper trial, which leads him to Tapir’s room. When he opens the door, he sees that his friend and housemate is sitting in a room that is bedecked with toilet paper. Tapir is eating fruit and is clearly very content with the chaotic state of his living quarters. Gordon is not.
Gordon complains about Tapir’s slovenly habits and wonders how anyone can make such a mess. After all, Tapir isn’t “a wild animal.” Tapir responds by criticizing Gordon’s persnickety “love of tidiness.” Living with a neat freak is no picnic. Back and forth the friends squabble and then they go their separate ways to their bedrooms.
When Tapir gets up in the morning Gordon has already left the apartment, and when Tapir goes to work the next day Gordon is not in his usual place in the penguin exhibit at the zoo. When he gets home Gordon’s room is empty and Gordon has left Tapir a note. Gordon has moved out and found another place to live. This is rather upsetting for Tapir. He does not want to lose his friend.
Sometimes two friends are so unalike in their habits that living in the same house becomes a nightmare. Who is going to compromise? How can they prevent their friendship from falling apart? Living together can put a strain on even the closest of friendships.
In this delightful picture book we meet two animals who, at least as far as their lifestyles are concerned, are polar opposites. It takes courage for Gordon to find a solution that works for both animals, a solution that he hopes will save a relationship that they both care about deeply.
With expressive artwork and a very minimal text, Sebastian Meschenmoser gives readers a tale that is funny and sweet. Children will see that a friendship is a precious thing worth preserving, and sometimes one has to be creative to protect it.
People who don't have pets often imagine that one dog is pretty much like another, that the only thing that sets them apart is their appearance. This is not even slightly true. Dogs, like people, have personalities that are distinct. Some are shy, some love attention, some like their own space, and some are happy to spend time anywhere. In today's poetry title you will meet some wonderful dogs, each one of which is different. Their personalities will touch readers, make them smile, and perhaps even make them wish that they too had a dog - if they don't have one already!
Once I ate a pie
Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
Illustrated by Katy Schneider
HarperCollins, 2006, 978-0-06-073531-9
The dogs that share our lives and our homes all have very different personalities. Even puppies in the same litter can have completely different natures, in the same way that human siblings do. In this delightful collection of free verse poems, the authors introduce readers to seventeen dogs, who tell their stories in their own delightful voices.
There is Mr. Beefy, a pug who thinks that he is “beautiful” even if he isn’t exactly “thin.” He is very honest with us, telling us that he likes to steal tubs of butter off the table when none of his humans and looking. Once he even stole and ate a whole pie.
Gus is the kind of dog who watches his people. He likes to know where they are at all times, and prefers it when they are in a group, “Like sheep.” When they wander off to do their own thing, Gus follows to find out if they are “all right,” and then herds them back to where they belong.
Lucy was a shelter dog and so she has a rather proprietary air about her. After being homeless and possession-less for a while, she now takes her new status in life very seriously. Lucy makes sure that we know that everything in her new home is hers. Even the people.
Pocket is a small dog who once was so tiny that she “used to sleep in a coat pocket.” Her coat, collar, dish, and water bowl are all tiny. She finds the whole situation rather confusing because she believes that she is “HUGE.”
Tillie and Maude are sisters, and though they look alike they have very little in common. Tillie is shy and well behaved, whereas her sister tends to be naughty and she gets into trouble. The only thing the sisters really have in common is their looks and the fact that they love one another.
Anyone who has shared their life with a canine will appreciate this wonderful collection of poems. There are touches of humor that will make readers smile, and sweet word images that will delight readers who have a soft spot for dogs.
All to often we take the people we rely on the most for granted. It is a natural reaction to have, and yet this does not make it a good one. We need to be grateful for our loved ones. We also need to treasure the things that give us joy; things like our musical instruments, our sports equipment, and our beloved art supplies.
In this book a group of crayons decide that enough is enough and they tell the boy they belong to that his neglect of them is really upsetting and quite unacceptable.
The day the crayons came home
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-399-17275-5
One day Duncan and his crayons are enjoying a nice coloring session when Duncan gets a very odd packet of postcards in the mail. It turns out that the cards all come from crayons which, for one reason or another, are no longer in residence in Duncan’s room.
Maroon Crayon is downstairs, neglected and broken and wants to come home. Pea Green Crayon has changed his name and is running away. Neon Red Crayon was left behind during a family vacation and announces that, since Duncan has not seen fit to retrieve him, he will be walking home. Yellow and Orange are in the garden, melted together by the sun. One of the brown crayons was eaten by the dog and then “puked up on the rug.” He is downstairs on the rug and wants to be rescued. Glow in the Dark Crayon is in the basement.
The rest of the stories of crayon woe are just too painful to go into further. Suffice it to say that Duncan has a very large collection of postcards from his very unhappy crayons and he feels very bad about his poor neglected friends who really did not deserve being ill-used in such a dreadful way.
In this book children will have a wonderful time reading the postcards that the crayons in the story send to their owner. They may even wonder what kinds of postcards their crayons, markers and colors would send them if they could. Would their art supplies give them a hard time too?
Today's picture book is very special indeed. It won the 2016 Newbery Award, which is very unusual because typically Newbery winners are novels. The story is so universal and powerful that I had to pause after reading it the first time to take in everything. Then I read it again.
Last Stop on Market Street
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-399-25774-2
Every Sunday, after church, CJ and his nana get on a bus and travel across town to Market Street. One Sunday CJ comes out of the church building and it is raining. He does not feel like going across town in the bus today. He resents the rain, he resents the fact that he and Nana cannot travel in a car, he resents the fact that they have to go to the same place after church every Sunday. In short, CJ is not happy with much of anything at the moment.
One would think that Nana would get annoyed by all of CJ’s complaining questions, but she doesn’t because that is not what Nana is like. Instead, she finds something good to appreciate in everything that CJ finds annoying. What would happen to the trees if they did not have rain to water them? If they had a car they would not get to meet Mr. Dennis the bus driver every Sunday, nor would they see the interesting characters on the bus. If they did not go to the same place every Sunday they would get to spend time with “Bobo or the Sunglass Man.”
Then a musician starts to play on the bus and CJ begins to experience the joy that Nana understands so well. He begins to understand that sometimes you need to look at what you do have instead of what you don’t.
This remarkable, award-winning title explores a simple idea through the eyes of a young child. Alongside CJ, on that battered bus, and in the dirty streets, we come to understand that there is beauty everywhere if you know how to look for it.
I love water in all its forms. For me, watching waves slap up on a beach is one of the most relaxing things in the world to do, even if it too cold to swim or sunbathe. Just the sound and sight of the moving water is a joy to experience. I think that today's poetry book captures the magic that is water beautifully, and it is a book that children and adults alike will enjoy reading, sharing, and exploring.
Water Music: Poems for Children
Photographs by Jason Stemple
Wordsong, 2003, 978-1590782514
We often take water for granted, but it is a precious resource. Water covers more of our planet than land does, and like our planet, it makes up most of our bodies as well. Without it, life on earth would not be possible. The amazing thing about water is that it is essential, precious, and also very beautiful. Whether moving in a stream, resting peacefully in a lake, crashing as waves on a seashore, or hanging from the eves of houses as long icicles, it is a joy to look at.
In this beautifully presented book, Jane Yolen’s poems are paired with her son’s photographs to celebrate water in all its remarkable forms. We begin near a lake where the water “is a magic mirror,” which serves to capture an image of the “earth and sky.” Frozen water appears in the next poem where we see an icicle, which hangs “like frozen time.” Its colors and shape are so unique that “It is itself a poem.”
When we turn the page we leave behind water in its quiet forms, and come to a place where “the incoming tide / Flings its angry waves upon the shore.” Here the author knows that there is “no hiding place” from the waves, and so retreats to a place where the water will no longer be a threat.
In the next poem Water Jewels
, we encounter water as little droplets sitting on the leaves of weeds. Here water is not in the form of huge waves of enormous power. Instead, water is a delight, beautiful thing, “raindrop diadems” that make our world more lovely.
A waterfall comes next, with words that tip down the page just like the water does in the accompanying photo. Pulled along by the fast moving water, “Leaves and sticks and twigs” get carried over the waterfall. The waterfall is a “rumbling, tumbling, cataracting fool,” which eventually lands in “its own quiet / pool.”
This is a wonderful book to share with children as it shows them the many forms that water takes. Sometimes water is peaceful and delicate, while at other times it is strong, powerful and awe-inspiring. Jane Yolen’s poems take many forms, and children and their grownups will wonder at the many remarkable ways that she finds to convey moments, places, and feelings so perfectly.
When I was about nine years old my parents had something shipped to our house that arrived in a very large box. I was thrilled when they said that I could have the box, which a friend and I turned into a house, complete with windows and a door that could open. We drew pictures on the wall and kept all our 'treasures' in that house for as long as it lasted. That box was a fantastic gift, and on this Picture Book Monday we celebrate boxes in all their wonderful charboardy glory.
What to do with a box
Illustrated by Chris Sheban
Creative Editions, 2016, 978-1-5685-46-289-9
When an adult looks at a box he or she sees a container something that can be used to store things in, or transport things from one place to another. In short, a box is a tool. A simple object. However, when a child sees a box he or she sees “a strange device” that can be opened many times and that offers up endless possibilities.
For one thing, a box is the perfect place to read a book. It could therefore be called a “library.” It is a safe place, a cozy “nook” from which to watch the world go by. These are more practical, down-to-earth uses for a box
If you are willing to trip down the road into the world of magic and imagination, a box can become a race car, a plane, a ship that can sail “off to Paris / and back.” Why, with a box in hand, you will have “the only / such magic / that you’ll / ever need.”
Ever since cardboard boxes have been around, children have played in them. Often parents, after going to a great deal of trouble to find the perfect gift for their child, find that their little treasure is happy to play with the box that the gift came in. The gift itself lies on the floor, ignored, while the box is turned into a house, a space ship, or a fort.
This wonderful book, with its minimal rhyming text and its gorgeous artwork, is a treasure that children will love. Grownups too will enjoy tripping down memory lane as the narrative unfolds, remembering how they too took long journeys and had grand adventures in boxes when they were children.
For me going out into nature is a healing, calming thing to do. When everything else seems to be spinning out of control I go up into the hills above my town and spend time amongst the tall trees, the manzanita shrubs, the little wild flowers, the ravens, and the stellar jays. I feel very lucky that I am able to do this, and am quite content to trade the joys of city living for the wilderness.
Today's poetry title celebrates nature through poems and beautiful photographs. It is a book for anyone who has looked at a sunset, watched a wild bird. or admired a robust little flower growing up through a crack in the sidewalk.Book of Nature Poetry
Edited by J. Patrick Lewis
National Geographic, 2015, 978-1-4263-2094-1
Henry David Thoreau, who famously spent many months in a tiny little building next to a place called Walden Pond, felt that “I have a room all to myself; it is nature.” He knew that the pond and woods just outside his door were places that would give him inspiration and sooth his soul. Amongst the trees and flowers, and in the company of the woodland animals, he found the words that he so needed to share with others.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t take the time to connect with nature. If we are city dwellers we believe that nature is out of our reach and we don’t even try to seek it out. We are disconnected from the natural world, which is a terrible shame for many reasons.
More and more we humans are learning that being in nature is healing, and being able to spend time in nature is essential for our emotional, and therefore our general, wellbeing.
In this incredible book, poems written by poets from around the world are paired with gorgeous pictures of nature in all its glory. Readers are given an armchair journey to far off places, and to places that could be just outside their window. We travel to a beach in California, and a wood in Ireland, we see an African elephant in Mozambique, and a tiger in Bengal. We travel up into the sky, deep under the sea, across open lands, and through forests. We watch the seasons unfold in places all over the world. We also see what Mother Nature can look like when she is riled up. Avalanches, volcanic eruptions, great storms, earthquakes, giant waves, fires and floods are also a part of nature’s story.
For this collection J. Patrick Lewis, the former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, has brought together over 200 poems written in a variety of forms. Some of the poets’ names will be familiar, while others will be new to readers. Some of the poems will be old friends, while others will become new ones.
This is the kind of book that a young person can grow up with and cherish. It is a book that adults will also enjoy, and even people who are not naturally drawn to poetry will find the combination of photos and words to be captivating.
Many of us dream of things that we wish we could do. Some of us are brave enough to pursue these dreams. The problem is that more often than not our expectations and reality don't quite match up, which leads to disappointment. Perhaps our dream just isn't possible after all.
Today's picture book explores how a bear's dream - to learn how to fly - turns out to be not as impossible as it first seems, though it does not quite work out the way he imagined it would.
Bear Can Dance!
Boys Mills Press, 2015, 978-1-62979-442-6
One day Bear and Goose fire up the record player and they start dancing. As they dance, Bear tells Goose that he wishes he could fly. Bear would love to “swoop and glide and feel the wind in my fur.” Goose wishes she could help Bear fly but the sad truth of the matter is that bears just aren’t made to fly.
The Fox shows up and Fox is convinced that she can show Bear how to fly. She gives Bear her cape and goggles and she tells Bear to “flap, flap, flap, and whoosh around.” Bear does as he is told, but instead of feeling “whooshy” Bear feels “woozy,” which is not the same thing at all. The three friends then try sliding down a hill on the snow at full speed but instead of feeling “swoopy,” Bear feels “wobbly.” It would appear that bears really cannot fly after all.
In this clever, thoughtful, and delightfully sweet picture book, we see how sometimes the dreams we have, the ones that seem impossible, are actually not as impossible as they seem. The problem is that we can’t see them for what they are because they are not exactly as we envisioned them to be. Sometimes we have to open our eyes, use our imagination, and then we see that yes, the dream we have been seeking is right there. It has always been right there.
I have reviewed several books that explore collective nouns, and all of them have been interesting. What makes today's poetry book special is that the collective noun words presented to the reader are packaged with wonderful verse that is peppered with clever, and often amusing, word play.
An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns
Millbrook Press, 2015, 978-1-4677-1464-8
A group of humans does not really have a special name, but other animals do have collective nouns, which many of us use regularly. We know that sheep form flocks, and that a group of cows is a herd. The interesting thing is that there are so many other collective nouns for animals out there, many of which are deliciously wonderful and interesting.
For example, a group of giraffes is called a tower, a gathering of otters is a raft, and a crowd of rats is called a mischief. When you consider that giraffes are very tall, that otters spend much of their life swimming and floating about in water, and that rats are known for being mischievous, these collective nouns seem very appropriate.
It would be easy to describe these words in a clinical, dictionary sort of way, but in this clever picture book the author uses nonsense poems to introduce us to a delightful collection of collective nouns. For each set of verse she asks a question or two that will make young readers laugh. For example, she wonders if “When a murder of crows, / leaves barely a trace, /is a sleuth of bears hot on the case?” And what about a “parcel of penguins?” Can they be “sent in the mail?” If a “band of gorillas” set up to play a gig, will a “stench of skunks / scare them away?”
Children will love the clever rhyming questions that appear on the pages of this beautifully illustrated book. At the back of the book they will find a glossary that explores alternate meanings for the collective nouns that appear in the book, meanings that will help them see that some of the collective nouns perfectly match the animal species that they are associated with.
Life is full of unknowns. Sometimes even the things that you feel sure about are not as secure as you thought they were. One of the hardest things for children to cope with is when something happens to a parent. When there is a divorce, when a parent dies, or when a parent walks out, the ramifications for the children in the family can be considerable. Today's poetry title takes readers into the heart and mind of a young man whose father leaves suddenly. The narrative is moving and powerful, and it shows readers what it is like to be a child who is trying to cope with this kind of devastating event.
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Henry Holt, 2011, 978-0312661694
C.J. lives with his Momma, Daddy, Grandmomma, and his younger brother and sister. On the whole they have a happy life together, and C.J. admires his strong grandmother, his beautiful mother, and his dependable father who reminds C.J. to be proud of who he is. He loves Sunday afternoons, when he and his father and brother go out and do something together, just the three of them. Then Daddy loses his job and things start to change. Daddy tries not to show his pain and worry, but C.J. still sees it and every day he prays that his father will finally get a job. Every day Daddy comes home without a job. Then, one night, Daddy tells his family that he is going out. Somehow, the way he closes the door makes C.J. feel as if they are “vacuum-sealed inside” the room. Something about the way that Daddy closed that door feels wrong. Sure enough, that night and the next day Daddy does not come home and C.J. offers to get a job, to even leave school “until we get things squared away,” but Momma won’t hear of it. In fact she gets angry and slaps her son, only to hold him close and cry. As far as she is concerned C.J is too young “to be a man.” As the days go by, the gloom of Daddy’s absence spreads, and it touches everyone in C.J’s household. People start to think that Daddy is just another dead-beat dad who will never come back. Written using a series of blank verse poems, this touching book explores how a teenage boy feels when his father abandons his family. Feelings of disbelief, anger and fear swirl through C.J. as he tries to come to terms with the fact that nothing stays the same, and that even strong and loving fathers can get afraid when life deals them a blow.
When I was growing up, I was naturally drawn to stories that featured children who broke the rules. Eloise, and many of the 'naughty' characters from Roald Dahl's books were my heroes because they prevailed in spite of everything. In today's picture book you will meet a fish who does something bad. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he does it anyway. The ending is rather surprising, and perfectly perfect, under the circumstances.
This is not my hat
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-5599-0
One day a very small fish steals a hat from a very large sleeping fish. The small fish thinks that the large fish “probably won’t wake up for a long time,” and even when he does wake up the fish won’t notice that the hat is gone. After all, the hat is very small and the big fish probably barely felt it.
Just in case, the little fish decides to hide in a place where the plants are “tall and close together.” A crab sees where the little fish is going but it promises not to tell anyone where the little fish is hiding. The little fish justifies the theft of the hat, which he knows was a bad thing to do, because the hat was too small for the big fish.
The little fish makes it to his hiding place and swims in amongst the plants. He is so sure that “Nobody will ever find me,” but it turns out that many of the assumptions that he made were completely wrong.
This beautifully crafted book, with its simple tale and cocky main character, will delight young readers. Children will be able to see how wrong the little fish is as he talks about what he has done and how to plans to get away with the theft of the hat. They will see that the little fish’s confidence and optimism is, alas, misplaced.
Not long ago the American Library Association announced the winners of America's most prestigious children's book awards, which includes the Caldecott Award and the Newbery Award. Many of us in the children's literature world would love to see the winners of these awards on the Ellen Show. The staff at KidLitTV have created a short movie about their campaign that I would like to share with you.
We all tend to label people, even when we try not to, and often the labels come with a certain amount of judgement. All too often our preconceptions of people are way off the mark, and sometimes they are unkind and hurtful as well.
In today's picture book we see how the labels we like to put on people are a waste of time and counterproductive. All that really matters are the relationships that we build together.Buddy and Earl
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Groundwood, 2015, 978-1-55498-712-2
One rainy day Buddy is feeling “bored and a little lonely.” Thankfully, his person, Meredith, comes into the room where Buddy is sitting and life gets interesting again. Meredith is carrying a box, which she puts on the floor. She tells Buddy to “stay,” but the dog, after scratching an itch, forgets all about the command he was given and he goes over to the box to investigate. Inside the box there is a strange prickly thing, which Buddy sniffs and sniffs. He considers licking the thing but decides that this might not be such a good thing to do. Then the thing begins to snuffle and hiss. Buddy is thrilled. The brown, prickly thing is alive!
Buddy introduces himself and the thing says that he is called Earl. Earl then proceeds to tell Buddy that he is a racecar, a giraffe, a sea urchin, and a talking hairbrush. Buddy knows full that that Earl isn’t any of these things and he points out why Earl cannot
be a car, a giraffe or a sea urchin.
After this rather peculiar discussion, Earl then decides to try and guess what Buddy is. He is convinced that Buddy is a pirate, and before logical Buddy can explain that he is a dog and not a pirate at all, he and Earl are having a wonderful adventure on the high seas.
This wonderful book explores the nature of friendship, and it also looks at how important it is to connect with others in a meaningful way that sets asides labels. Children and adults alike will be touched when they see that Buddy eventually figures out who Earl is. It turns out that what really matters is not what
you are, but who
Today I am doing something that I have never done before. I am offering you two reviews! The reason for this is that I could not make up my mind which Valentine's Day book I wanted to tell you about. They are both wonderful. So, you are getting two picture book reviews instead of one
Here comes Valentine CatDeborah UnderwoodIllustrated by Claudia RuedaPicture BookFor ages 5 to 7Penguin, 2016, 978-0-525-42915-9Cat does not like Valentine’s Day and has declared his territory a “No-Valentine’s Zone.” The reason for this is that Cat thinks Valentine’s Day is “all mushy.” Cat’s friend – who happens to be the person narrating the speaking part of this story – suggests that Cat should make a valentine for a friend. Cat suggests that he could make a valentine for Squiddy, his stuffed toy squid, but the narrator gently suggests that Cat should give a valentine to someone who “isn’t a stuffed animal.” There is a problem with this suggestion though. Cat cannot think of a single person he would give a valentine to, which is rather sad when you think about it. The narrator then suggests that Cat should give Dog, who is new to the neighborhood, a valentine. Cat then gets grumpy because Dog throws a bone over the fence, which hits cat on the head. Apparently Dog has does this many times. Dog then throws a ball over the fence, which also hits Cat on the head. Cat then gets an idea, and the narrator starts to worry. Cat is cranky, and when Cat gets cranky he does things that could backfire in a big way. This laugh-out-loud funny picture book brings back Cat, the sometimes cantankerous feline who does not really always understand how to get along with others. The good news is that Cat does have a companion, the narrator, who helps Cat figure out how to navigate the tricky world of friendship and how to make the right choices in life.
Cat does not like Valentine’s Day and has declared his territory a “No-Valentine’s Zone.” The reason for this is that Cat thinks Valentine’s Day is “all mushy.” Cat’s friend – who happens to be the person narrating the speaking part of this story – suggests that Cat should make a valentine for a friend. Cat suggests that he could make a valentine for Squiddy, his stuffed toy squid, but the narrator gently suggests that Cat should give a valentine to someone who “isn’t a stuffed animal.”
There is a problem with this suggestion though. Cat cannot think of a single person he would give a valentine to, which is rather sad when you think about it. The narrator then suggests that Cat should give Dog, who is new to the neighborhood, a valentine. Cat then gets grumpy because Dog throws a bone over the fence, which hits cat on the head. Apparently Dog has does this many times. Dog then throws a ball over the fence, which also hits Cat on the head. Cat then gets an idea, and the narrator starts to worry. Cat is cranky, and when Cat gets cranky he does things that could backfire in a big way. This laugh-out-loud funny picture book brings back Cat, the sometimes cantankerous feline who does not really always understand how to get along with others. The good news is that Cat does have a companion, the narrator, who helps Cat figure out how to navigate the tricky world of friendship and how to make the right choices in life.
Creative Editions, 2013, 978-1-56846-247-9 A mouse is sitting, by itself, feeling lonely and bored. He starts picking at the paper he is sitting on and when the tear in the paper gets big enough, he peers through the hole it has created. There is something wonderful and amazing on the other side of the paper and the mouse jumps for joy. Quickly the mouse starts chewing at the tear and until he has created a little paper heart. Then he squeezes through the hole he has made and goes to the other side. Soon he is back and he stars chewing the paper again. Diligently he chews a big square and then smaller squares. Then he starts to fold and fold until… In this delightful wordless book, one of Monique Felix’s little mice finds a wonderful surprise behind a piece of paper, a surprise that inspires the lovelorn mouse to get creative.
For me music and my memories are closely intertwined. For example, I associate certain pieces of classical music with the hours that my father and I used to spend together because those pieces were often playing on the record player. Certain albums remind me summers when I listened to the albums over and over again. For me certain pieces of music or songs are also tied to dance, and every week I add to my dance memory library when I go to dance with the women in my hula group.
In today's poetry title we see how memories are tied to music and dance in other people's lives. We visit a music shop where the patrons tell us stories that are vibrant with music and the sound of dancing feet.Under the Mambo Moon
Illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck
Charlesbridge, 2011, 978-1-57091-723-3
On summer evenings Marisol helps her father in the family music store. Marisol’s Papi tells her that the “you can / read people’s souls by the music they listen to,” and that people come into their store to “buy dreams / and memories.”
A steady stream of people comes and goes, and they all have music related memories that they share with Marisol and her Papi. Mrs. Garcia is a house cleaner who, at the end of the day, comes home with a tired and aching back. She tells Marisol about her quinceanera, when she wore a pink dress and a tiara and when she danced to the mariachi band tunes all afternoon.
Catalina has been buying mangoes at the grocery store and she has her own music story to tell. She, unlike the many people who like to dance the waltz wearing formal gowns and suits, likes to dance the cha-cha-cha. In her party dress and pink high heels, she likes to “shine like a jewel” on the dance floor.
Professor Soto is missing his home in the Andes and he tells Papi and the other folk in the shop about a pan pipe player that he saw in park the day before. The musician has performed in concerts in five countries, and when he plays the haunting sounds of his pipes take listeners far away to his “highland home” where the wind whistles through the “cracks and crevices.”
Mr. and Mrs. Mayer then come in. Mrs. Mayer looks like “an old-time movie star,” and she and her husband know how to dance the tango. Papi asks her to give them a “quick tango lesson.”
In this wonderful book we go into a music shop and meet the people there, all of whom love the music, and often the dance, of Latin America. We hear about the rhythms of the music and see how talking about the music and dance brings people’s past, present and future to life. Together they share their stories in the shop and then, when the day ends, Marisol and her family create their own musical memories.
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I have the privilege of knowing a lot of people who have jumped into the unknown to pursue their dreams. It is wonderful to see their ideas come to life as they open up shops and businesses that are an extension of themselves. It takes courage to go after a dream, to dare to do something that perhaps other people tell you cannot be done. In today's picture book you will meet just such a dreamer. Peddles the pig wants more out of life, and he dreams of doing things that 'normal' pigs never even consider doing.
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-1691-7
Peddles is a pig who lives on a farm with lots of other pigs, all of whom do the kinds of things you would expect farm pigs to do. They eat from a trough, oink and root, sleep and well…you get the idea. Peddles is not like the other pigs. Though he ponders the same things that his pig friends think about, he thinks about them “differently.” He thinks about pizza instead of slop, and bathtubs instead of a mud puddle. He has ideas about what it would be like if he could fly like a bird or jump like a frog. Peddles even dares to imagine what it would be like if he could go out into space.
The other pigs think that Peddles’ dreams and ideas are ridiculous, and they advise him to “Get your head out of the clouds.” The thing is that Peddles cannot change who he is, and so he goes on having ideas and dreams, though none of them come to anything, which is rather disheartening.
Then, one night, Peddles sees a gathering of people in the barn and they are dancing, stomping their cowboy boots, and “twirling and whirling.” Peddles has an idea. A marvelous idea, and maybe this time it will be an idea that turns into something wonderful.
In this charming picture book, children will meet a superlative pig, a pig who has big aspirations. Unfortunately, he lives in a world where pigs are not supposed to want more out of their lives. They are supposed to be content with being ordinary pigs.
Children are going to love seeing how Peddles pursues a dream, and how his determination and hope affects the pigs around him and thus brings about a very real change.