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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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School is about to start, or has just started, for children all over the world. Now that a new school year is here, somehow it seems very appropriate to post my review of Neon Aliens Ate my Homework and other poems
. After all, it won't be long before the homework blues will start, when children will be wishing that they could find a handy alien to conveniently 'eat' their not-yet-done homework assignments.
Neon Aliens Ate my Homework and other poems
Scholastic 2015, 978-0-545-72281-0
Ever since he was a boy, Nick Cannon has loved poetry, and poetry’s musical cousin, rap. He wrote his first rap-style poem when he was eight, and has been writing, in one form or another, ever since. Inspired by Shel Silverstein and by “the storytellers of the street,” Cannon has worked to create unique rhyming poems that will appeal to young readers. His hope is that his audience will discover for themselves how freeing it is to write.
Cannon begins by honoring the man who had such a huge impact on his life. In his poem Remembering Shel
, he thanks Shel Silverstein who “changed my life with just his words.” Cannon encourages readers to pick up one of Shel’s books and to discover for themselves the wonders that lie within.
The poem that follows, Neon Aliens Ate my Homework
, takes us into a story that is funny and that has a wonderful twist at the end. The poem is told through the eyes of a boy who is abducted by aliens from his home. The boy, fearing that the aliens are going to eat him, gives them his notebook and school backpack to munch on; but, alas, the aliens are still hungry. The boy then has no choice but to give them his “totally finished algebra worksheet.” Only them do the aliens let him go home.
We go from this alien tale to a poem about the Gabulous Gazzor. This device is a five-armed robot that that does every chore that it is given. It can clean floors, do the grocery shopping, wash dishes and windows, and so much more. This seems all too good to be true but “just wait! There’s more!” because the machine does all these things without being a nuisance in any way. In short, folks, this is a machine that is “one of kind” and you should get one right now.
Interspersed amongst the humorous poems, are poems of a different kind that address big world issues such as creativity, people who are “haters,” following in the footsteps of a much respected father, and lending a hand to those in need. These poems are both thoughtful and thought provoking. They give us a sense that though Nick Cannon loves to amuse his readers, he also likes to give them something to think about as well.
Throughout the book the poems are illustrated by street artists who have shown their work “on walls all over the world.”
Many of us love new gadgets. We want the newest phone, the newest computer tablet, the newest e-reader that has all the most up-to-date bells and whistles. We get so caught up in the new tech buzz that we forget that sometimes new technologies make our lives more complicated. Sometimes they even get in the way of things that make our lives happier and richer.
In this second Tweedles book, Monica Kulling brings back the wonderful family whose members are living in a time when new technologies are around every corner. Seeing how they cope with these technologies is amusing, and their experiences also serve as a reminder that we need to control our gadgets and not be controlled by them.
The Tweedles Go Online
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2015, 978-1-55498-353-7
One day Mama is preparing to make pickles when her neighbor, Gladys Hamm, comes rushing in and she is in a very excited state. With great pride Glays tells Mama that she now has a telephone installed at her house. She uses the newfangled device to order her groceries and to talk to her sister whenever she wants to.
That evening Mama announces that the Tweedles are “going online;” they are going to get a telephone. Her daughter Franny is delighted, but her husband and son are less sure about the wisdom of getting a phone. Frankie is far too interested in taking care of the family’s electric car to care about a telephone, which cannot even be driven. Papa doesn’t like the idea that people will be able to hear his conversations. The idea of a telephone, with its lack of privacy, does not appeal to him at all.
Soon enough the telephone is installed in the hall. When it rings for the first time fearless Franny answers it and then her mother talks to Gladys. She talks to her for so long that when she hangs up everyone else is the family has gone to bed.
It soon becomes clear that the telephone may not be such a wonderful idea after all. Even Franny, who has wanted a phone for a while, begins to see that the machine might be more of a nuisance than a convenience.
It is all too easy to become more than a little addicted to new and interesting technological devices. The problem is that they can take over our lives and cause us to miss out on the things in life that really do matter. With humor and sensitivity, Monica Kulling explores how one family copes when a new telephone is brought into their household. As the story unfolds, readers can see the writing on the wall, but they cannot be sure how the Tweedles are going to respond to this new technological crisis.
These days many of us take artificial lights for granted. It is only when the power goes out that we realize what it is like not to have lights turn on at the flick of a switch. Here in southern Oregon we have been sitting under a pall of wildfire smoke for several weeks now, and though we still have electric lights, the sun is a pale hazy thing in the smokey sky, and often we cannot see the moon and stars at all. I miss nature's lights, which make our world such a beautiful place.
Today's poetry title celebrates lights of all kinds and I think I will go and light a candle now, to add a touch of bright sunshine to this room.
Illustrated by Nancy Davis
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003, 978-0618311026
Light, in its many forms, has a huge impact on our lives. The sun’s light greets us in the morning, and on many nights moonlight sends us off to bed. Under the covers children read another chapter of their new book by flashlight, while the flickering lights of fireflies dance in the darkness outdoors.
In this unique poetry collection the author explores the many ways in which light touches us as we go about our days and nights. The poems are concrete poems, which means that the words are arranged on the page in such a way that they create a picture.
For example, in her poem Candle
, the text is placed so that it looks like the post of a candle, with the word candle at the top forming the flame. The poem that creates the word picture is beautifully composed telling readers of how the “quick, / exotic light, / a dancing / vision of the night” “helps erase” the darkness that is “slyly creeping / up my back.”
In Cresent Moon
, we see a simple poem smiling out at us from the page, a thin sliver of yellow in the night sky, and in Birthday Candles
the words are arranged so that they look like a birthday cake, complete with four candles. The words that serve as the candles on the cake form the phrase “Happy Day” (twice) and the icing words describe how the candles are “Like shooting stars / that blaze the dark.” Even when the candles have been blown out the light from the faces “circled near” is still there.
Other topics covered in these poems include the sun, a firefly, a match, a lightning bolt, a light bulb, a porch light, stars and the full moon, a spotlight, the light inside a fridge, a lighthouse light, and a lamp.
Children will enjoy seeing how a poem can titillate both their eyes and their eyes, and they might even be inspired to write a light-filled concrete poem of their own.
Jon Muth is an author and illustrator whose work is so beautiful and powerful that I feel very humbled every time I get to experience one of his creations. Today's picture book title is the third of his Zen books, and once again Stillwater the panda bear features in the narrative.
Jon J. Muth Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-16669-0 Leo and Molly love living in their neighbourhood, and one of the reasons why they like living where they do is because Stillwater lives across the road. Stillwater is a panda bear and he is a gentle, kind, and wise friend. One day Molly invites Stillwater to come outside to dance with her, and soon she and the bear, both clad in tutus, are happily doing ballet on the front lawn. Molly plans on becoming a ballet dancer like her aunt, and she will get her dream by practicing all day. She tells Stillwater how she will become famous and will “get flowers and lots of blue ribbons and tiaras and my name will be on posters with lots of glitter!” Stillwater suggests that it might take some time to attain this dream, but Molly is in a hurry to get the skill and fame she seeks. Stillwater then tells Molly a story about a young fellow called Jiro who wants to become a great swordsman like his father; so Jiro goes to see Banzo, the master swordsman, to learn from him. Jiro is impatient and eager to learn as fast as he can but instead of teaching him swordsmanship, Banzo makes Jiro work all day doing chores. Only after three years have passed does Banzo start to teach Jiro the skills he needs to have to wield a sword. Molly understands what Stillwater’s story means. She needs to practice diligently for “as long as it takes.” She must not rush a process that requires both hard work and patience. This lesson in patience is only one of many things that Molly and Leo learn from Stillwater. Through his actions and his stories, Stillwater helps the children understand that the root to happiness is not about getting “all the best things for ourselves.” They also come to see that we must keep doing the right and kind thing, even when it looks as if our actions seem inadequate in a world full of problems. In this, his third, Zen book, Jon, J. Muth helps us see how little life experiences can help us learn about the world and each other. Wisdom is there for us to find if we just take the time to look around and open our eyes.
When I was young some of the first poems I got to know well were Edward Lear's limericks. Limericks are funny, easy to learn poems that children cannot help liking; and since they are short, they also are fun to write.
Something Sure smells around here: Limericks
Brian P. Cleary Illustrated by Andy Rowland Millbrook, 2015, 978-1-4677-2044-1 What do you get when you combine a short rhyming poem with a joke? A limerick. These five line poems always have a rhythm, and the words at the ends of the first, second and last lines always rhyme. Though they are short, these amusing poems always tell a story of some kind that end with a ‘punchline’ that make readers smile, laugh…or groan. The author of this engaging book begins by offering his readers a description of what a limerick is and how such poems are constructed. In fact he walks us through the process, explaining what the “rules” of limericks are so that readers can write their own. He wraps up by reminding us that we should “have fun” when we are creating limericks. We then get to see for ourselves how much fun limericks are because the rest of the book is full of these laughter-filled poems. They all tell a humorous little story, and the closing line in each one will certainly put a smile on every reader’s face.
This book is one in a series of titles about the many forms that poems can take.
The first day of school, especially ones first day of school ever
, can be a little scary. Figuring out what the rules are, learning where everything is, and getting along with children one has never met before is challenging. In today's picture book you will meet a little girl who is dinosaur mad, and who expects everyone else to be as dinosaur mad as she is. The problem is that the other children in her new class have other interests and therefore the point of connection that she expects to have with them just isn't there.
Ally-Saurus and the first day of School
Sterling Children’s Books, 2015, 978-1-4549-1179-1
One morning, bright and early, a mother comes into her daughter’s room to wake up her up. It is the first day of school and she doesn’t want Ally to be late. Ally, from under her covers, tells her mother that her name is Ally-saurus. When she gets dressed, Ally-saurus puts her pants on backwards so that her “dinosaur tail can stick out,” but Father makes the little girl put them on the right way round.
When Ally-saurus gets to school she tells her new teacher to call her Ally-saurus rather than just plain old Ally. At every opportunity during the morning Ally-saurus talks about dinosaurs. She eats like a dinosaur at snack time, her nameplate for her cubby is dinosaur shaped, and when they talk about the weather she says that a cloud looks like a dinosaur. She even says that the word dinosaur begins with an A even though she knows perfectly well that the word begins with a D. Ally-saurus just loves dinosaurs, but it turns out that not everyone does. Tina and her two friends like princesses not dinosaurs, and it isn’t long before Ally-saurus starts to wish that she was back at home eating lunch with her toy dinosaurs.
This delightful picture book celebrates the power of a child’s imagination. It also explores the way in which children learn how to accept each other’s differences, and how those differences make our lives richer and happier in the long run. Children will also appreciate seeing the way in which Ally-saurus and the other children manage on their first day of school.
The arrival of a new baby is an exciting and often a somewhat chaotic time. Schedules are turned upside down as the new member of the family makes his or her needs known to all, and yet, of course, the baby is treasured and loved. Today's poetry title is a celebration of that new family member and most of the poems are told through the eyes of infants.
Who’s that baby: New-Baby Songs
HarperCollins, 2005, 978-0811852319
When a new baby arrives in a household, parents are usually overwhelmed with joy and confusion. There is so much to learn about how to care for the baby - this little person who seemingly came out of nowhere to fill their lives with so many experiences and emotions.
In this very special picture book Sharon Creech celebrates the arrival of a new baby. Her poems are so musical and lyrical that when they are read they are like a lullaby, a song just for a baby to listen to.
Most of the poems are told from the point of view of the baby, which is charming and unusual. We hear from a little girl baby who is a “pearly girl / a bella, bella pearl am I.” Of course, we also hear from “a little boy / so full of joy.”
This is the kind of poetry book that grownups will love to share with the new baby in their life. It was certainly written for babies and toddlers but it also feels as if was written for the grownups as well.
One little baby tells us about how it is bundled up like a “baby burrito,” and another tells us about the way in which his father tosses him in the air as if he were a football. Yet another new arrival tells us about its grandmothers, two big ladies who look at the baby “smiling their great big smiles.” We also meet a father who plays music for his infant “’cause he loves me,” and a mother who is warm, has “soft skin, “bright eyes,” and a “sweet smile.” The baby tells us how much it loves to be held close so that it can hear its mother’s “beat-beat heart.”
At some point almost everyone decides that they wish that they were different or like someone else. They wish they had curly hair, that they were taller, that they were rich, that they were athletic, that they were.... On and on it goes. In today's picture book you will meet a frog who wishes he were something else. He does not realize, at first, that being a frog might have its advantages.
I don’t want to be a Frog
Illustrated by Mike Boldt
Random House, 2015, 978-0-385-37866-6
One day a frog tells his father that he wants to be a cat. His dad explains that he can’t be a cat because he is a frog. The frog child announces that he does not want to be frog anymore. Being a frog is “too Wet.”
The little frog then says that he wants to be a rabbit. He would be a perfect rabbit because he can hop. Long-suffering Dad points out that the little frog doesn’t have long ears, and you cannot possibly be a rabbit if you don’t have the right ears. Dad feels that being is frog is a perfectly fine thing to be, but the young frog thinks that being a frog is “too Slimy.”
The young frog goes on to say that he would like to be a pig or an owl, and the father frog patiently explains why a frog simply cannot be these animals. Then a wolf comes along and he asks why the young frog is “so glum,” and the young frog explains why it wishes it could be a cat, rabbit, pig, or owl. They wolf responds by helping the frog to see that being a frog might have its disadvantage, but when a wolf is in the neighborhood it is a very good thing to be.
All too often we wish we were something else. Being who we are is boring and not very interesting, and surely being someone else would be better. In this clever and deliciously funny picture book the author and illustrator show to great effect that sometimes the best thing to do is to embrace who you are right now. Others may seem to have a better life than you do, but they might not be as well off as they seem.
I really enjoy reading haiku, especially the ones that focus on nature and those that describe the special little moments that make our lives richer. Today's poetry title is full of haiku of this kind. It takes us into a beautiful Japanese garden where memorable sights and experiences await us.
One Leaf Rides the Wind
Illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Penguin, 2005, 978-0756952136
Japanese gardens are places that have been carefully designed to create an environment that is peaceful and beautiful. They give the visitor the opportunity to take a break from the rigors of everyday life, and to connect with nature. In such a garden visitors can find the quiet that they need to “find that world of peace and tranquility within themselves.”
In this beautiful book readers can visit just such a garden with a little girl. In her company we see a leaf that “rides the wind,” and that moves so fast that she cannot catch it. We see two stone temple dogs, which she feels are “snarling over my shoulder.” The dogs will guard the garden from any kind of disaster.
In the garden a collection of miniature bonsai trees make the little girl feel tall. She sees four birds take flight when a cat prowling on a roof scares them. The little girl visits a tea house where she finds a tray on which “seven sweet surprises lie.” After her snack she goes back outside where more delights await her.
In this gorgeous book every spread offers readers a beautiful illustration, a haiku poem, and a short description of the garden feature that is being shown on those pages. A pair of notes at the back of the book tell readers what Japanese gardens are like, and what haiku poems are.
This special poetry collection will give readers a taste of Japan that will stay with the reader long after the book has been read and its covers have been closed.
Friendship is a funny thing because it is unpredictable and sometimes it can develop between two people (or characters) who really are nothing alike; on the outside that is. That's the thing though, isn't it? Two characters may seem very different on the outside, but deep down a connection forms that is special. This is what happens between the characters in today's picture book.
Stick and Stone
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 978-0-544-03256-9
Stick and Stone are both alone and lonely, and for both of them being alone is just “no fun. Then one day they are both at the park playing on the swings when Pinecone comes along and he makes fun of Stone when Stone falls off his swing. Stick cannot just stand by and let this just happen, so he steps in and tells Pinecone to “Vanish!”
Pinecone walks off in a huff, and Stone is really touched that Stick “stuck up” for him. Stick explains that that is what Sticks do. It is also what friends do, and that is what Stick and Stone become: the best of friends. Together they have a grand time playing, wandering and exploring. They “laze by the shore” enjoying the sun and the sea air and watch dolphins frolicking in the water. What they never expect is that in the very near future they will be ripped apart and once again they will be alone.
In this wonderful picture book we meet two characters who discover the joys of friendship, and who stand side by side through good times and bad. With its delightfully expressive illustrations and a minimal rhyming text, this book will charm children and their grownups and it serves as a tribute to the power of friendship.
Until about ten years ago I had never read a novel written in blank verse . The idea seemed rather strange at first, but then I had the privilege to review several wonderful books written in this style, and I started keeping my eyes open for such titles. Today's poetry title is one of these books, though in this case the story told is a true one and not a work of fiction. The narrative is powerful and often painful, and it beautifully captures the experiences a young girl had at a time when her world was falling apart.
The year of goodbyes
For ages 10 and up
Hyperion, 2010, 978-142312901-1
In the 1930’s many of the young girls in Germany owned a poesiealbum, a poetry album that their friends could write in. The girls would take a friend’s poesiealbum home with them, and in their best handwriting they would write a little poem for that friend. Often the little gifts of words were decorated with drawings or stickers of good luck motifs such as four-leaf clovers and ladybugs. Jutta Salzburg was one of these girls who had a poesiealbum. What made her album so special was that the little notes of love, support, and friendship written on the pages helped Jutta get through a time when life in Germany was very hard for many of its citizens.
Jutta’s story beings in 1938. Not that long ago Jutta’s life in Hamburg was ideal and full of happiness and hope. Then the Nazis came into power and ever since then the government has been eroding away the rights of Germany’s Jewish citizens. By 1938, Jutta and the other Jewish children had been forced out of the public schools and were now going to schools for Jews. The Jewish children can no longer play on the streets because it is not safe for them to do so. Jutta’s father no longer has a job, and he spends all of his time trying to find ways to get his family out of Germany to safety.
With every passing day the situation in Hamburg gets more and frightening. Jutta and her friends and family members try not to dwell too much on what is going on around them, but how can they pretend that everything is normal when brown shirts march in the streets; when Jewish families start disappearing; and when they live in fear that they will end up in something called “a concentration camp?”
In this remarkable book, Jutta Salzburg’s daughter pairs entries from her mother’s real poesiealbum with blank verse poems to give readers a picture of what it was like to be a young Jewish girl living in Hamburg in 1938. Sentiments or ideas mentioned in the poems are picked up and explored in the blank verse in the context of what was going on in Jutta’s life at that time. Presented chronologically, the blank verse help readers to see how Jutta’s life deteriorated as the Nazis set about ridding Germany and then Austria of its Jewish residents.
In an afterword the author tells us more about her mother’s story and the history behind the narrative. We also find out that she did her best to find out what happened to all the girls whose poems appeared in her mother’s poesiealbum. There is also a timeline to help readers see how the Nazi persecution of Jews escalated over time, and how their actions were tied into the story of Jutta’s life in 1938. Readers will also find a collection of Jutta’s photos that help us to see what the characters mentioned in the book really looked like.
When I was a child, going to the pool was one of my favorite summer pastimes. I spent hours there, jumping in with the other kids, playing Marco Polo, and, diving off the diving board. When I needed a little space, I would swim to the deep end and sit on the bottom for a little while. It was always so quiet and restful down there. Today's picture book will take readers into the deep end of a swimming pool where they will encounter wonderful sights and see a friendship develop.
Chronicle Books, 2015, 978-1-4521-4294-4 A boy arrives at the pool, which is empty and serene. Then, without warning, a pack of loud, boisterous people arrive with their balls, floating rings, and paddle boats. The pool is so full of people and their gear that the boy can barely see the water at all. Everywhere he looks there is chaos, and for a while he just watches. Then the boy dives in, going under the paddling legs of all the other people. Deep underwater the boy he meets a girl, and together they swim down into a magical world conjured up by their own imaginations. There, in the quiet away from the crowds, they find a place full of wonderful creatures, and in the process they find something that is priceless. The best thing about having an imagination is that it can take you anywhere. The sky is the limit. Better still, your imagination can brighten up a dull day and offer relief when something does not quite work out the way you hoped. In this wordless picture book the author takes readers into a world where anything is possible, and where something wonderful can happen that will last long after the threads of daydreams fade and drift away.
Until relatively recently all the poems I had seen looked the same; pretty much. They were presented as columns of text that were divided to create stanzas. With one exception. A poem that appears in Alice in Wonderland is curved so that it looks like the tail of a mouse. W
hen I saw it for the first time many years ago, I remember thinking that this was a very clever device . In the last few years I have noticed that more people are creating poems that are presented to create a 'picture.' Today's poetry title is full of such poems, poems that offer the eye something to look at.
Doodle Dandies: Poems that take shape
J. Patrick Lewis Illustrated by Lisa Desimini Simon and Schuster, 1998,
Most people are familiar with the form that poems usually take. More often than not they are divided into stanzas that are arranged on the page in a neat column. Readers have become so used to this format that they think that is how poems have to be presented. The truth is that there are no rules. Poems can be formatted in all kinds of ways, and perhaps the most ‘extreme’ formatting options are those used when creating shape poems.
Shape poems are arranged on the page to create an image, and the image somehow reflects the subject matter of the poem. Many years ago Lewis Carroll created a shape poem (also called a visual or concrete poem) called “The Mouse’s Tail.” The poem appeared in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
, and the words of the poem are presented in such a way that they look like a sinuous mouse tail that runs from the top of the page to the bottom.
In this book J. Patrick Lewis gives readers twenty poems that delight both the ear and the eye. For each poem the illustrator has created multimedia artwork that provides the perfect backdrop for the word pictures. For example, for the poem “Umbrella” there is a picture of a girl wearing a bright yellow rain slicker and above her, sheltering her from raindrops, is an umbrella-shaped poem. The poem tells us that the girl keeps her umbrella “in the closet till the clouds get fat.” Then she brings the umbrella out because it “loves a rainy day.”
Some of the poems are only a sentence or two long, while others offer readers more food for thought. The topics explored in the poems include a tiger, an oyster family, a snake, snow, and camels. The poems come in many forms. Some rhyme, while others do not, and you never know what the next page will bring.
This is the perfect book to share with young readers who don’t realize that when it comes to poems, the sky is the limit. There are not rules about how they should look and sound, and they can be playful, charming, amusing, and interesting.
When night falls in summer, something remarkable happens. The heat of the day starts to dissipate and new nighttime-only sights and sounds drift across lawns and streets. Today's picture book perfectly captures that special time when stars start to twinkle in the summer night, and when children and creatures come out of their homes to experience the magic of a summer night.
Song for a summer night: A lullaby
Illustrations by Qin Leng
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood Books, 2015, 978-1-55498-493-0
The day has “left the stage” and now the night is waiting “in the wings” for the summer evening show to begin. As the last of the sun’s glow leaves the sky, children gather in the windows overlooking the park, waiting for the special daily gift to begin.
As the first stars appear in the sky, fireflies drift up from the grass and trees and fill the air with their “glint – glint” lights. Soon after, raccoons appear on the scene, waltzing onto the park stage in “tra-la-la time.” Owls add their hoots to the song of the night, as do the crickets. Even the local cats, with their “tails held high,” get into the spirits of things, adding their purrs to the “rhythmic refrain” as the light fades from the sky.
Dogs too “bounce” onto the grass of the park, where they are joined by some of the children who are “spellbound” by the night “music” that is swelling all around them.
In this beautiful book a lyrical rhyming lines of verse are paired with gorgeous illustrations to take us into a nighttime world that is full of magic and beauty. We see how precious the simple gifts of nature are on a summer night, and how the magic continues to resonate with children long after the sun has risen and a new day has begun.
Children and their grownups are going to love sharing this very special picture book.
Summer is truly here in southern Oregon with hot days, singing cicadas, the smell of dust in the air, and children standing on sidewalks selling lemonade. Today's poetry book beautifully captures the experiences, sights, sounds, and smells of summer as seen through the eyes of young children.
Lemonade Sun and other summer poems
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist Wordsong, 2001,
It is summer, which means that it is time for “Popsicle Stains” and “Fudgesicle Fun.” This is the time of year when children make lemonade, that elixir of sunshiny days that is a perfect treat to sip on a hot day. Children who have a strong entrepreneurial spirit set up lemonade stands where they offer cookies, cake and sweet lemonade to passersby. Waiting for custom can be a tedious business though, and children often wish “won’t somebody buy something, / please
?” as they wait.
Thankfully, summer is also a time when children enjoy all kinds of wonderful activities. Blowing bubbles, playing marbles, skipping rope and playing hopscotch are just a few of the things that children like to do during the long lazy summer days.
Then in the evening, under the light of the moon, fireflies are gathered until children have a “Twinkling treasure” in a jar. Stars “like splinters / of diamonds” sparkle overhead, and on special nights they are accompanied by the brilliant colors of fireworks, which explode in the sky with a “sparkle! flash” and a “CRACKLE- / POP!”
In this wonderful book, summer is celebrated by pairing delightful image-rich poems with warm, expressive illustrations. Children and grownups alike will enjoy exploring the verse, which seem to radiate with sunshine and happy laughter.
When I was a child, at the beginning of May, I would start looking forward to our first beach vacation of the year. We used to camp on a beach for two weeks or so in July, and those sun-filled days brought me some of the best memories of my childhood, which I still cherish today. Today's picture book perfectly captures the anticipation that a family of children experience when they set off for their summer beach vacation, and the joys that they share when they get there.
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Chronicle Books, 2015, 978-1-4521-2408-7
They have been waiting for a whole year, and now, at last, summer is here and they are going to the beach house. The van is loaded down with beach gear, suitcases, bikes, golf clubs, a surf board and who knows what else, and when the family arrives at the house, all that stuff has to be unloaded and put away. The ocean is calling as the children make beds and empty suitcases, as they look out of the window at the sand and the waves.
Then, at last, everyone heads for the beach. Carrying bags, pulling wagons, scampering and running, the two adults, three children, and the little dog begin their vacation. Games of Marco Polo are played, boogie boards are tried out, and castles with moats are built and washed away. As the sun sets they gather around a fire pit to roast hotdogs and toast faces. As the moon rises they wash off the sand and salt and fall into bed with “Rosy noses” knowing that outside the ocean and beach await them for another day of adventure.
With wonderfully lush watercolor illustrations and a magical rhyming text, this picture book perfectly captures the simple pleasures of a summer beach vacation. The excitement that the family members feel is almost palpable, and readers will probably start wishing, as the narrative unfolds and blooms, that they too could splash in waves, build castles, and soak up salty air and warm sun.
For the last few days it has been blistering hot here in southern Oregon. I can't even remember what it feels like to be cold, or what rain sounds like when it is landing on the roof of my house. It was such a joy to read today's poetry title because, for a while, it took me to to spring, fall and winter; the lines of verse made it possible for me to experience these other seasons through works.
Sing a Season Song
Illustrated by Lisel Jane Ashlock Creative Editions, 2015, 978-1-56846-255-4 It is winter and snow covers the ground and rests on the branches of the trees in the forest. An owl swoops through the air as a fox sleeps, curled up in its den. It is cold and “Icicle popsicles / drip, drop and dropsicles.” On the edge of the forest children are “snowballing” Then, at last, the temperatures start to rise. A “gossamer breeze” makes the flowers sway and the “pillows of lawn” ripple. Now is the time when we see baby animals everywhere and then, quite suddenly, spring is over and summer with its “shimmering days” is upon us. “Day shines at night” and “toes wiggle” where fish “wriggle.” Fireflies blink “off-again-on” in the dusk. After days of heat and warm nights, summer gently fades to be replaced by the golden colors, and busy days, of fall. In this incredibly lush picture book, Jane Yolen’s beautiful verse is paired with glorious, richly detailed illustrations to give readers a bookish experience of the seasons that is like no other.
Sometimes, when we take on a new cause, hobby, or interest, we have to make compromises to accommodate this new pursuit in our lives. If you want to play the piano, for example, you cannot have long finger nails. If you want to be a long distance runner, you have to work hard to keep keep your body lean and strong. In today's picture book you will meet a young bunny who wants to be a ninja. He has to work incredibly hard to attain his goal, and he makes rather significant changes in his life to do so.
Random House, 2015, 978-0-385-75493-4
Many of us have dreams of being something different, something heroic even. One young bunny is just such a dreamer, but he is not willing to just dream, he wants to really become “A Super Awesome Ninja.” He dons the clothing that is suitable for his new role in life, reads a book about how to become a ninja, and then he does his best to follow the ten rules of ninjadom.
Rule one says that “A super awesome ninja must always work alone,” and so the ninja bunny distances himself from his bunny friends. The second rule states that he must be “super sneaky.” Of course, there are times when being sneaky is not easy. For example, if you are being sneaky while you steal some carrots in the dark of night, you should not step on a rake that is lying on the ground and clock yourself in the face.
Rule two is not the only rule that can at times be problematical. Being very strong, creating ninja weapons, being able to climb things, maintaining perfect balance, being able to fly and being able to escape are all skills that have to be acquired. Over time. With care. As you learn to acquire these skills you might have setbacks.
Diligently the young ninja bunny works hard to learn the rules of his craft, only to discover that there is one rule that he cannot live by.
In this delightfully funny picture book we watch (sometimes wincing) as a young bunny does his best to become a ninja, and we see that the path to ninjahood is not an easy one. What we come to appreciate most of all is that even great ninjas cannot always follow every rule in the book. Sometimes rules need to be bent so that ninjas can have something that is even more precious than ninja skills.
There are times when having a younger sibling is quite simply, a pain. Often little brothers and sisters have a limited understanding of what personal space is. They cannot fathom why their big brother or sister doesn't
want them around all the time. Then there are those times when a little brother or sister does something that is kind and cute, and somehow, at that moment, the annoying times seem smaller and less important.
Today's poetry title explores the relationship between two sisters and we see, to great effect, the emotional ups and downs that they experience from day to day.
Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems
Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Clarion, 2011, 978-0618428427
Sometimes having a little sister is a frustrating because your little sister seems to take over your life. People expect so much of you as well, as if what you want doesn’t matter at all. Jessica is rather tired of people saying “I’ll bet you’re / a very good big sister,” which means that they hope
she is a good big sister to Emma. Why doesn’t anyone ask Emma if she is being a good little
sister. No one ever does and it really isn’t fair.
The truth is that sometimes Emma is a really bad little sister. There was the time when she made a scene at Jessica’s soccer game and embarrassed Jessica so much that she pretended that she had no idea who Emma was. On the first day of school in fourth grade Jessica is late because Emma put rocks in one of Jessica’s shoes. When she gets home from school Jessica finds out that Emma has created a “Big spidey web” in Jessica’s room using yarn.
Of course there are those special times that only they share, and though she might not come out and say so, Jessica does value those moments that she has with her little sister. When Jessica reads her old picture books to Emma she feels as if she is “visiting / old friends.” Jessica knows that Emma loves her in part because Jessica is the only person who can remember the names of all of Emma’s rocks. When Jessica is feeling bad because she did poorly in a spelling test, Emma snuggles up to her and pats her big sister’s arm. She even gives Jessica one of her favorite stuffed animals to hold for a whole hour.
So, there are pluses and minuses to being a big sister. Sometimes though, the minuses outweigh the pluses, and sometimes this means that things go horribly wrong.
Using a series of wonderfully expressive poems, the author of this book captures the up and down nature of a relationship between two sisters. There are times full of friction and discontent, happy times, funny times, loving times, and really really bad times. Readers will find it easy to relate to Jessica, and they will understand how having a little sister can be both exasperating and enriching.
Many people feel at their most comfortable when they are doing what everyone else is doing. For them, being part of the crowd is the way to go. For them fitting in is very important. However, there are quite a few people in the world who are different; who march to a different beat, and who, try as they might, cannot be like everyone else. Today's picture book is about a giraffe who is unique, and who learns that he is wonderful just as he is.
Giraffes Can’t Dance
Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2014, 978-0-545-80435-6
Like all giraffes, Gerald had a long neck and long, thin legs. He was very good at reaching tender leaves on high branches, but when it came to running, he was rather clumsy. For some reason his knees had an annoying habit of buckling.
Generally Gerald’s clumsiness was not too big an issue but when it was time for the Jungle Dance to take place, his awkwardness was a huge problem. All the animals participated in this annual event. The warthogs waltzed, the rhinos “rock n’ rolled,” the lions did the tango, the chimps did a cha-cha, and the baboons did a Scottish reel. When Gerald walked out onto the dance floor the animals all made fun of him. “Giraffe’s can dance, you silly fool” they said, and poor Gerald walked away feeling sadder than he had ever felt before.
In a clearing Gerald looked up at the moon, which is when a cricket spoke up. The kindly insect suggested that “sometimes when you’re different / you just need a different song.” The cricket told Gerald to hear the natural music around him, and then the cricket picked up its violin and began to play for Gerald, which is when something remarkable started to happen.
If we were all the same, the world would be a rather dull place. Thankfully, we all sense and experience things in our own unique ways, which means that we don’t all dance, speak, sing, or create art in the same way. In this picture book, children meet a giraffe who cannot dance, until he discovers that he needs to find his own music and rhythm. When he does, Gerald the clumsy giraffe becomes a very different animal indeed.
With a wonderful story filled with hope, and charming illustrations, this is a picture book that children and their grownups will grow to love.
Adults often feel that they have to provide little children with lots of carefully organized activities to do. Sometimes such activities are needed, but often all a child really wants and needs is to have someone pay attention to them. Sitting quietly with a child in ones lap to share the beauty of language with that child can be an enriching activity for both the child and for the grownup.
Today's poetry title gives grownups the opportunity to share some wonderful rhymes with children in an interactive way.
This Little Piggy and other rhymes to sing and play
Edited by Jane Yolen, Music arrangements by Adam Stemple
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Poetry picture book
For infants to children up to four years of age
Candlewick Press, 2006, 978-0763613488
It is hard to imagine what it would be like to raise a child without the benefit of such wonderful little rhymes and games as Peek-a-boo, This Little Piggy, Patty-Cake, and The Eensy Weensy Spider. In this collection of "lap songs, finger plays, clapping games, and pantomime rhymes," adults who have children in their lives will find these firm favorites and many others to sing, clap to, and read out loud.
For each little lap song the author includes a little information about where the song comes from, and at the bottom of every page she offers up suggestions on how to fully experience the rhyme with a child. Little children will love being lifted, tickled, or bounced, and will clap enthusiastically as the song or rhyme is sung or said. To help readers learn the songs a CD has been included with the book. Simple yet attractive little arrangements of these old songs will quickly become firm favorites with young audiences and their grown-ups.
With this book in hand adults will be able to "Trot, Trot to Boston" and "Pease Porridge" on planes, trains, as they wait in a doctor's office, and as they sit cozily together at home. The book provides grownups with the means to share special moments with their children, and because of the cunning illustrations, it is also great fun to look through.
When I was young, summer was a time when I spent most of my time doing three things: I went to the beach, read books, and went to the swimming pool. Reading books was not something that I did because there was nothing else to do. It was something that I did because there were so many books that I wanted to read that I did not have time for during the school year.
Today's picture book introduces us to some children who love books so much that it gets them into trouble!
The Children who loved Books
For ages 5 to 7
Kane Miller, 2013, 978-1-61067-145-3
Angus, Lucy and their parents don’t have much. They don’t have a television or a car, or a house. Instead they live in a caravan and get around using a bike with a wagon attached to it. They don’t have many of the things that other people think are essential, but one thing they do have are books. The children are voracious readers and their little caravan is stuffed with books.
Then one day the little caravan gives up trying to hold all the books that have been put into it. Books pour out of the door and windows. They spill on the ground, and Angus, Lucy and their parents find themselves sitting or lying in a flood of books. There is nothing for it; the books are going to have to go.
Anyone who has a fondness for books will love this story. As the story unfolds we can see that books become a necessity after a while, and that books can also bring people together. When a person has books to read and to share, that person is rich and very lucky indeed.
With a simple and timeless message and wonderful illustrations throughout, this is a picture book that readers of all ages will appreciate.
Soon after I became a reviewer Sleeping Bear Press began to produce its wonderful alphabet books. What I love about these titles is that they combine poems, artwork, and nonfiction text to give readers a really different reading experience. The books can be enjoyed on many levels by readers of different ages.
Z is for Zookeeper: A Zoo Alphabet
Marie and Roland Smith
Illustrated by Henry Cole
Poetry and Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2005, 978-1585363292
In the past zoos were places of entertainment for people, who went there to laugh at the monkeys, to shiver when they looked at the snakes, and to gawp at the lions. Often they were not happy places for the animals that lived in them, most of whom had been captured in the wild. These days zoos are very different. They still entertain it is true, but they also educate visitors, and some zoos also serve as a powerful tool in the animal conservation toolbox.
In this wonderful alphabet book each letter of the alphabet focuses on one aspect of zoo life. For each of the twenty-six topics that we encounter on the pages, we are given a short poem to read, a piece of artwork to look at, and a section of text (in a side bar) to read. For the letter A we begin, not surprisingly, with animals and we learn that “Caring for creatures / is what zookeepers do.” The text in the sidebar tells us about how important zoos are in the effort to save certain animal species from extinction.
Zookeepers do all kinds of jobs, but one thing they do a lot is clean. They have to clean the animal’s living spaces every day so that the animals stay healthy and happy. With brooms (on the letter B page) and disinfectant (on the D page) they work hard so that their charges don’t get sick.
On the G page we learn about giraffes, and we also learn that animals are moved from zoo to zoo all the time. When babies are born in a zoo they are often sent, when they are old enough, to another zoo that does not have many or any of that particular species. Transporting a snake or a small monkey is not that hard to do, but transporting a giraffe presents some unique problems, which we can see when we look at the artwork on the page. Giraffes need to travel standing up and an adult can be up to 18 feet tall. How does one get such a tall animal under a low bridge or overpass?
The wonderful thing about the Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books is that they can be enjoyed on many levels. Little children can look at the pictures while the poems are being read to them and then, when they older, they can have the sidebar text read to them, or they can start trying to read these sections themselves.
This is one of the titles in a series of alphabet books that explore the kinds of topics children enjoy learning about. Other books in the series include H is for Horse, T is for Teachers, and G is for Galaxy.
Most children, at some point, want to get a pet of some kind; usually they ask for a kitten, puppy, or a bird. All too often their precious hopes are dashed when a grownup tells them that having a pet is out of the question. Or they are told that they can have a pet, but it has to be something small; an easy-to-care for animal such as a goldfish or hermit crab. In today's book you will meet a little boy who wants a dog for a pet, but who ends up with a very unusual animal instead.
For ages 5 to 7
Scholastic, 2015, 978-0-545-75140-7
Edgar wants a dog; a dog he can walk and train and spend time with. A dog who will chew shoes, chase cats, and eats dog biscuits. On his birthday Edgar does not get a dog. Instead, he is given octopus called Jarvis. Jarvis cannot behave like a dog at all, in part because he is a lot cleverer than the average dog. When Edgar takes Jarvis out for a walk, Jarvis gets him an ice cream cone. When Edgar tells Jarvis to lie down Jarvis puts on his jammies, gets a teddy and a pillow, and goes to sleep.
In short, Jarvis goes too far, and this drives Edgar crazy. All he wants is for Jarvis to behave like a dog. Is that too much to ask? Wanting to please Edgar, Jarvis tries very hard to be more like a real dog, and for a while he succeeds. Then Edgar takes Jarvis to the big dog show and Jarvis can “only be himself,” which means that he goes over the top and his behavior really embarrasses Edgar. After this disaster Jarvis decides to leave. In a good-bye note he says “I’m sorry I was a bad dog. Love, Jarvis.” When he sees the note Edgar realizes that what he was asking of Jarvis just wasn’t fair. Jarvis wasn’t a dog. Instead he was “the best octopuppy in the word” and now he is gone.
At some point all of us are guilty of trying to change the people who are close to us, or of wishing we could change them. This book explores this idea with humor and sensitivity and we see how Edgar comes to appreciate that his pet is just perfect the way he is.
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Today I am going to introduce you to a poetry book that is full of poems that are "about just about everything." The beauty of a book of this kind is that it can be dipped into at random. No matter what kind of mood you are in you will find something on the pages that will work for you, a poem that will suit you perfectly at that particular moment.
Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems about just about everything
Henry Holt, 2015, 978-0-8050-9928-7
When it comes to books you can never quite be sure what kind of book mood you are going to be in on any particular day. Today might be a pirate adventure kind of day, but when tomorrow comes around you might be in the mood for a story about witches or wizards. Poems are the same way. Sometimes you are ready to take on a long, story poem full of rich language, and sometimes your brain is just too tired for such full-bodied material and you are eager to read something shorter and lighter.
The solution to this book mood problem is a simple one: have lots of books of different kinds so that you can always find something that appeals no matter what mood you are in. Another approach is to have one book handy that is full of different kinds of stories.
Calef Brown has taken the latter approach with this book. He has written poems about “just about everything” and they come in a variety of ‘flavors.’ Some of the poems rhyme and some do not. Some tells stories while others describe people, animals, or places. Most of the poems are humorous in some way, which gives the whole collection a warm and light-hearted feel. Having so many poems to choose from means that there will be always be something in this collection that readers will like, no matter what kind of day they are having.
The poems are divided into topical sections, which can also be handy if you know exactly what you are looking for. If you wake up one morning wanting to read poems about animals, then the “Critterverse” section is the place to go. Perhaps you have a particular interest in cars and other vehicles at the moment, which will mean that you should immediately go to the “Poems of a particular vehicular nature.” Other topics include poems about people, poems about insects, schoolish poems, poems that are fact-packed, poems that have fun playing with words, foodie poems, and a few that are miscellaneously silly.
Throughout the book the poems are accompanied by Calef Brown’s singular illustrations, which really do complement the poems to a T. Readers can dip in or browse, or they can read the book from cover to cover.