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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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When I was young I did not fully appreciate what true bravery meant. Then I saw a friend do something that terrified him. He was afraid of heights and yet he climbed a tree to retrieve a wayward kite for someone else. I never forgot his courage and compassion.
Today's book is about a beast who, though preferring a quiet life, goes into the frightening unknown to help others. This is a beast I would be happy to have as a friend.
The Brave Beast
Andersen Press USA, 2013, 978-1849395618
One day the Beast is having a relaxing bath in his lovely garden when he is interrupted by the arrival of a plane, which lands nearby. The pilot comes running up to the Beast and tells him that the people on his island need the Beast’s help. Apparently a loud and terrifying noise is coming from the middle of their island, and the residents are so frightened that they have left the island altogether. There must be “a truly ferocious monster” somewhere on the island and they want the Beast to help them get rid of it.
The Beast is very large and rather frightening looking himself, but he is actually a very gentle soul and the idea of facing a dangerous monster frankly scares him, but he is kind and wants to help out, so he goes with the pilot. They fly over the island, the Beast jumps out over the sea, and then he swims to land. Bravely he walks through the empty village to the middle of the island where there is a mountain. He makes his way through a twisty tunnel until he comes to the other side of the island. Then the Beast walks through a “spooky” forest, which in when he hears the noise, a noise that makes him run “round and round the forest in fright.”
Often we fear things that we don’t really understand because they seem overwhelmingly terrifying; but when we face them, we realize that they are not as bad as we thought. In this wonderfully amusing picture book, we see how the Beast, who is scared just like everyone else, finds the courage to face what frightens him, which is when he makes a rather surprising discovery.
This is the second book about the Beast, and just like the first, it will delight young children and their grownups.
I have always loved poetry anthologies, and the one I have reviewed for this poetry Friday is a wonderful collection of poems that children will be drawn to.
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Arnold Lobel
For ages 6 to 9
Random House, 1983, 978-0394850108
Some people call anthologies treasuries, which is an excellent name to use for books that are full of written treasures. This book is indeed a treasury, packed with no less than five hundred and seventy-two poetry treasures, each one of which is unique and special. The poems are categorized into fourteen sections, so that children can find poems that suit their mood. These categories include “The Four Seasons,” “The Ways of Living Things,” “Nonsense! Nonsense!” and “Where Goblins Dwell.”
Each section is introduced by a poem written by Jack Prelutsky, a poet who is also the person who selected the poems that are included in this collection. Jack Prelutsky has visited schools and libraries for years and he has noticed that though little children have a natural affinity for poetry and love their nursery rhymes, older children seem to “find poetry boring and irrelevant.”
Jack Prelutsky has worked hard to figure out which kinds of poems appeal to this more critical audience, and he has determined that poems that amuse or surprise, those that “paint pictures” and that “reawaken pleasure in the sounds and meanings of language,” are the ones that these children tend to like. Armed with this knowledge, Jack Prelutsky set about putting together this collection, which he feels best suits elementary school children. He focused on poems that are relevant today, which means that long narrative or “inspirational” poems that appealed to audiences in the past were not included.
The collection begins with poems about nature, and here we find poems of all kinds that capture the beauty found in nature. Some of them are gently humorous, while others have a more serious, contemplative feel. There are poems about plants and trees, the wind, rivers and the sea, snow and rain, and those that look at the night, the moon and the stars. The transition from subject to subject is smooth and has a flow all of its own.
In “The Four Seasons” we journey through the year looking at the months, holidays, and the weather as the year unfolds. We experience the joys of each season, and appreciate that each one has something special to offer.
Furry animals come next in “Dogs and cats and bears and bats.” Here we meet creatures great and small. Bears, mice, foxes, elephants, seals, and pigs all appear on these pages, and children will encounter story poems, descriptive poems and so much more. Insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds follow in “The ways of living things.”
The poets whose creations appear on these pages are both modern poets and poets whose work was written many years ago. For example, Lewis Carroll’s poetry rubs shoulders with verse written by Bobbi Katz. Many familiar names appear, names such as Roald Dahl, Edward Lear, Shel Silverstein, Jane Yolen and Russell Hoban, among others.
On every page, illustrations break up the columns of text to give the eye something new to look at, and the pictures beautiful complement the poems.
Most people are afraid of things that they are not familiar with, and they are willing to believe the frightening stories that they hear about those things. All too often the fears that we have can be confronted, if only we have the courage to do so. In today's picture book you will meet a little mouse girl who is afraid of a cat. but who still wants to see what it is like.
Jenny and Lorenzo
Illustrated by Eve Tharlet
Translated by Kathryn Bishop
For ages 5 to 7
Minedition, 2013, 978-988-8240-76-0
High up in the clouds, “close to nowhere in particular,” is the land of Howodo. In this land, behind a big duck pond and in a small house, lives a curious and very sweet little girl mouse called Jenny. Jenny constantly asks her parents’ questions, and she delights them with her funny ways.
Jenny’s mother tells Jenny all about Lorenzo, the cat who likes to eat “mouse on toast.” Not surprisingly, Jenny decides that she simply must go and see this cat for herself. Jenny is scared, but “since she always faced her fears and followed her curiosity,” Jenny sets off to find Lorenzo.
As she walks through the countryside Jenny encounters some ducks and three piglets. They all warn her about Lorenzo and tell her to go back home before it is too late, but Jenny will not give up and on she goes, until she comes face to face with Lorenzo himself.
The author of this delightful book builds up the suspense in a masterful way, making us worry on Jenny’s behalf, and making us think that perhaps Jenny should follow the pigs’ advice and go home. It turns out that Jenny has a secret weapon that, in the end, brings her adventure to a surprising close.
Throughout the book the text is written in both prose and in verse. It is accompanied by Eve Tharlet’s deliciously lovely illustrations, which capture the emotions of the characters perfectly and give the tale a whimsical feel.
Most of us are fascinated by stories of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, giant squids and other mysterious creatures, though we may deny it vehemently. In today's poetry title you will meet these creatures and others, beasts that are bizarre and sometimes dangerous.
Bigfoot is missing!
J. Patrick Lewis and Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrated by Minalima
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Chronicle Books, 2015, 978-1-4521-1895-6
Cryptozoology is the study of animals that no one has definitively proven exist. People all over the world claim that they have seen these cryptids, but so far no one has provided us with evidence that proves, once and for all, that they are real. Of course, this does not stop many of us from having a great interest in cryptids, and in this book we get to meet eighteen of these creatures.
Some cryptids, like the Beast of Bodmin Moor for example, are not that bizarre looking and one is inclined to believe that they could exist. The Beast is a large black wildcat and we encounter it on these pages in a rather unusual way. A person is texting a neighbor to say that something in the neighbor’s garden is “disturbing the peace.” The friends text briefly about what the something might be, and then the neighbor hears that something is scratching at his or her door. We come to realize that this foolish person opened the door, and that this was not a good thing to have done.
Another not too outrageous creature is the Kraken, and we find out about it on the classified pages of a newspaper where there is an advertisement. Apparently someone who owns a ship is in need of sailors, “Call today!” because the last crew went missing. Anyone who applies must we willing to work hard with “No slackin’” and they also must be “prepared to work with Kraken.”
In the same classified section of the paper we see an ad for plastic Gambo life jackets. The Gambo is a toothy dolphin-like creature that is problematic to say the least. Mind you, it is not as bad as a Luscas, which is half octopus and half shark. According to another advertisement someone is eager to give baby Luscases away, “free to a good home.” We are told that they eat fish and ships, and that they “bite much worse than bark.”
Then there are the cryptids that are quite frightening, creatures like the chupacabra, the lizard man, and the dingonek. These are beasts that you would not want to meet under any circumstances.
In this delightfully original book, two Poet Laureates give us poems that are incredibly creative and unusual. The poems are paired with clever artwork so that they are incorporated into a text message conversation, a notice on a milk cartoon, classifieds, a sign, labels on plastic bottles, a book entry, a wanted poster and more.
At the back of the book readers will find further information about the cryptids that are mentioned in the poems.
Though Valentine's Day is passed, I could not resist reviewing this book and sharing it with you. I think what endears this book to me is the way in which the main characters use poems to communicate. Slugs that are wordsmiths! How perfectly perfect.
Slugs in Love
Illustrator: Kevin O'Malley
For ages 4 to 8
Marshall Cavendish, 2012, 978-0761453116
Marylou is a very shy slug who loves one thing more than anything else. Maylou loves Herbie, a slug whom she thinks is incredibly handsome and charming. Unfortunately Marylou cannot bring herself to tell Herbie how she feels. Instead she writes a poem describing her feelings on the side of a watering can. Herbie sees the poem and writes one back asking Marylou to come forward but Marylou does not see his message and poor Herbie is still in the dark as to who she is.
Back and forth the messages go between the lovelorn Marylou and the mystified Herbie. Maylou writes her loving verses and Herbie sees them. Herbie writes back but by sheer bad luck Marylou never sees his words. Is this a love that is doomed to die before it has had a chance to begin?
Children and their grownups will laugh out loud at this funny, often sweet, and very unlikely love story. There can be no doubt that Herbie and his Marylou deserve each other, and their wistful little poems say it all. Who says romance is dead?
A lot of people don't like pigeons, but I have to admit that I rather admire them. They thrive, even in places where the odds are against them and where so many people dislike them. Today's poetry picture book is a wonderful bouncy celebration of pigeons and their world.
City Beats: A Hip-Hoppy Pigeon Poem
S. Kelly Rammell
Illustrator: Jeanette Canyon
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Dawn Publications, 2006, 978-1584690771
If you have ever lived or stayed in a city you will know that there are often pigeons flying about in-between the tall buildings. You might see them roosting on a window sill or eating crumbs on a sidewalk. They are a part of city life and we are going to spend a day with them; we are going to explore their city world and see what the city looks, sounds, and smells like as they experience it.
Down on the ground pigeons see a forest of legs and all kinds of different shoes walk by as they nibble on stale doughnuts. Up above, from the air, they see trains rush past, trucks rumble across bridges, and great machines raise buildings from the ground in a cacophony of sound and steel.
They smell all the treats that street vendors sell: popcorn, ice cream, pizza and hot dogs. They find the parks and the gardens where flowers bloom and bees hum. They even hear the strains of music floating up from the streets, music halls, and clubs.
In this unique book, children will be able to experience the rhythms, sounds, sights, and smells that fill the streets of cities all over the world. A rhyming text flows from page to page, the words packed with noises and images that almost seem to dance with vitality.
With her extraordinary three dimensional polymer pictures Jeanette Canyon has created art which perfectly compliments the text. Vibrant colors and extraordinary details make this a book which readers will look at again and again
Personal stories are powerful things, and children in particular are drawn to them. When I was little I used to beg my aunt to tell me about what her life in India was like when she and my father were little, and the stories she told me help me to understand my father better. Today's picture book is about a dandelion who wants to share her story with others, and about a sparrow who wants to help her achieve this goal.
The Dandelion's Tale
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
Random House, 2014, 978-0-375-87032-3
One beautiful summer’s day Sparrow is out flying when he sees a dandelion growing in a meadow all by itself. He stops to rest on the branch of a nearby tree, which is when he hears that the dandelion is crying. Sparrow asks Dandelion what is wrong and she explains that she worries that one day, quite soon, “no one will know I was ever here.” Dandelion no longer has her yellow petals; instead, all she has are ten seed pods, and soon enough they will blow away. She wants someone to hear her stories, and yet there are no dandelions nearby to whom she can tell her tales.
Since Dandelion cannot move, Sparrow offers to write down all her stories in a patch of earth nearby and soon he is busily writing down all the things that Dandelion wants to share with others. She talks about how much she likes “the smell of the meadow after it rains,” and how much she enjoys “talking with the squirrels as they look for food in the morning.” Sparrow hears about all the things that Dandelion has “seen and loved.” Sparrow reads back what he has written down and Dandelion is very happy.
As evening falls Sparrow says goodbye, promising that he will come back the next day, but that night there is a big storm and when Sparrow returns to the meadow Dandelion is gone, blown away by the wind and rain. To make matters worse, Dandelion’s story, which Sparrow wrote in the earth, has also vanished. Poor Sparrow is heartbroken.
This beautifully written picture book celebrates the power of stories, which, when they are shared and told, keep the lives and experiences of others alive. Children will be delighted when they see how the story unfolds and how, after all, Sparrow is able to honor Dandelion just as she would have wished.
Finding poems that appeal to children is not easy. They have to be just the right length, have the right tone, and the right kind of rhyme. Thankfully, there are people out there who are willing to do what it takes to find out what works for children. One of these people is Bruce Lansky, and today I have a review of a book that he worked one, a book that is packed with poems that children chose.
Kids Pick the Funniest Poems
Illustrated by Stephen Carpenter
Meadowbrook, 1991, 978-0671747695
Most of the time the poems in poetry anthologies are chosen by adults. For this collection the editor, Bruce Lansky, asked children what their favorite poems were. He then read through all the poems that were chosen, twenty thousand in number, and then chose five hundred that he thought would best interest young readers. Bruce then presented these five hundred poems to a panel of three hundred elementary school children and they told him which of these they liked best. The interesting thing about this process is that all the poems that were chosen are funny. Some were written by famous poets such as Dr. Seuss and Ogden Nash, while others were written by wonderful poets who are not as well known.
The collection is divided into nine topic sections, each one of which focuses on one particular subject. The topics chosen include parents, siblings, friends, disasters and monsters, which are the kinds of subjects that children are interested in.
We begin with poems about “Me,” which are all written from the point of view of a child. In the first one the narrator is “glad that I am me.” Even though people stare at him when he behaves in ways that other people consider odd, he is determined that he is “not going to change and be someone I’m not.” In another me poem another child daydreams about all the things he would like to do and say to the grownups who inflict things on him. He’d like to “give the nurse the shot” and “send my mother to her room,” and best of all he dreams of being able to say “‘Cause I said so!”
The next topic in the book is one that all children will appreciate because it is about parents. It explores the ways in which parents curtail children’s activities and make them do things that they, naturally, think are very unreasonable; things like eating liver and learning good manners. Some of the poems tell deliciously funny stories about parents whose children somehow get the better of them.
The humor found in these poems is sometimes subtle, and sometimes it is just all out funny. Children will enjoy dipping into the book to find an amusing poem that lifts their spirits and that helps them to remember that though life has its trials, it is also full of good times, good books, and wonderful poetry.
Every so often I come across a picture book that lifts my heart because of the quality of the book's story, and because of the message it conveys. Today's review title is just such a picture book.
Sarah S. Brannen
For ages 5 to 7
Albert Whitman, 2014, 978-0-8075-4905-6
Madame Martine lives in Paris, in an apartment not far from the Eiffel Tower. Every day she walks the same route, and she does her shopping in the same shops. Every week her schedule is the same and this is how she likes things to be. Madame Martine has never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, because she thinks that doing so would be a waste of time.
Then one Saturday, when she is out, she finds a small miserable looking dog hiding under a bush. When she offers the dog her hand it licks her and Madame Martine begins to think that maybe the dog “might be nice.” Then Madame Martine does something that is quite out of character. She picks up the dog and takes it home where she bathes it, feeds it, and gives is a name. The next day Madame Martine buys Max a collar, a leash, dog food, and a bowl and she takes him shopping with her.
One Saturday Madame Martine and Max are out walking near the Eiffel Tower when Max sees a squirrel. He pulls the leash out of Madame Martine’s hands and takes off up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. Desperate to retrieve her dog, Madame Martine buys a ticket and starts climbing the stairs.
Many of us fall into a routine because it is easy and comfortable. We don’t like to do new things that will disrupt our schedule, and yet when we restrict ourselves by doing this we lose something. We don’t have the kinds of adventures that make our lives richer.
In this wonderful picture book we see how Madame Martine’s new companion teaches her a valuable lesson about the importance of having adventures and trying new things. Throughout the book gorgeous illustrations are perfectly paired with a timeless story to give readers a tale that is powerful and heartwarming.
One of the reasons why I love my work is because I love words and language. In today's picture book children will encounter a delicious collection of words and wonderful rhymes, which are presented in a clever alphabet book type format.
The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z
Illustrated by Roz Chast
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Flying Dolphin Press, 2007 ISBN: 978-0385516624
Alphabet books are more varied today than they have ever been. Some are straightforward ABC books that use pictures and single words to help children to learn their alphabet. Others are packed with information about a variety of subjects. In this unique title the author and illustrator have chosen to entertain their audience while they show them that there is a wonderful world of words out there.
For every letter of the alphabet Steve Martin has created a funny nonsense rhyming couplet in which he introduces some characters who are doing things that are amusing, downright outrageous, or deliciously naughty. In each line of verse Martin uses plenty of words beginning with the letter of the alphabet that is features on that page. On the H page for example we meet Henrietta the hare who "wore a habit in heaven" and who had a "hairdo" which "hid hunchbacks: one hundred and seven."
Readers will laugh at loud when they read the descriptive couplets, and they will also discover that the accompanying illustrations are packed with things whose names begin with the letter being featured. Thus, on the L page we not only read that Lovely Lorraine is discovering that long Louie has Larry's locket, but in the artwork we see, among other things, a lamppost, a boy licking a lollipop, a loudhailer, and a lawyer.
As they turn the pages, children will have a wonderful time reading the rhymes out loud and searching the illustrations for hidden objects and words.
These days the news is full of stories that seem to indicate that in some places the divide between people of different cultural backgrounds is getting wider and wider. Too many of us are getting less tolerant and accepting of people who not like us. I find this trend to be both disturbing and very discouraging. One way to counter this trend is to help our children to understand and appreciate people who are culturally different from them. Books that celebrate diversity can help parents, teachers, and librarians to explore how our lives are made richer when our communities are heterogeneous. Today is Multicultural Children's Book Day and below you will find out why this event was created by two women who want to open hearts and minds one book at a time. Visit the Multicultural Children's Book Day website to find out more. Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom have teamed up to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event. On January 27th, Jump into a Book and Pragmatic Mom will be presenting yet another Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a way of celebrating diversity in children’s books.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day will include book reviews from noted bloggers all over the world, giveaways and book-related activities for young readers of all ages. The MCCBD team will also be partnering with First Book
to create a Virtual Book Drive for the event, and with The Children’s Book Council
to offer readers quality resources along with fun and informative author visits.
Together the MCCBD team hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.
Some people like to think that it is easy being a small child, but there are so many mistakes that one can make when one is very young and inexperienced. In today's picture book you will meet a young dodo bird who is constantly putting his rather large feet into it, and we cannot help laughing at the mistakes he makes.
Boyds Mills Press, 2013, 978-1-59078-9259-2
Dodo is a little dodo bird who has very large yellow feet, a little feather dusterish white tail and a large beak. Today he and his Mama are going for a walk. Dodo’s feet, like the feet of many little birds, have a mind of their own. Dodo is so taken with how talented his toes are that he forgets to pay attention to what he is doing and he walks straight into his mother’s backside.
Dodo sings loudly for everyone to enjoy, only not everyone is pleased by the noise he is making. A mama bird who has chicks in her nest angrily shushes him. Next, Dodo decides to start a “funny-shaped rock collection.” He collects all kinds of rock like objects, including a knobbly green rock. Dodo soon discovers that the rock is not a rock at all. It is a tortoise who is not really interested in being part of any collection.
Just like so many little children, poor Dodo goes from one uh-oh moment to another as he follows his mother. Everything he does is well intentioned, but somehow things go wrong and Dodo ends up in some kind of pickle.
Young children are going to love the uh-ohs in this book, many of which are sweetly funny. They will easily connect with the little bird who tries to play with the wrong animal, hugs the wrong legs, and eventually wears himself out completely.
Sharing stories with children is something many grownups do by reading aloud in libraries, classrooms, and at home. Doing this not only entertains children, but it also helps them to discover that the written word is a powerful thing. Today I have a review of a book packed full of poems that are perfect for reading aloud.
Read-Aloud Rhymes for the very young
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Marc Brown
Random House, 1986, 978-0394872186
Babies, even before they come into the world, are attuned to rhythmic sounds. They hear the beat of their mother’s heart before they are born, and can also hear the rising and falling sound of her voice. They therefore come into the world with a natural inclination to listen to sounds. Rhythmic sounds such as the purr of a car engine and the rumble of a dryer send them to sleep, and bedtime lullabies make them feel loved and safe. Since songs are “nothing more than poetry set to music,” children have an affinity for poems and they enjoy having poems read to them, especially ones that have a lilting rhyme.
In this collection of two hundred short poems grownups will find verses that were written especially for little children. The poets have taken the short attention span of their audience into account, and they use language that will resonate with their young listeners.
Some of the poems tell little stories that will amuse children, others describe activities that children enjoy doing, things such as jumping, playing hide and seek, blowing bubbles, playing in that mud, and having a bath. There are also poems that describe animals, places and things that children encounter as they go about their day.
In addition there are poems that explore the ways in which children can use their imaginations to make their world magical and full of adventures. For example in Wild Beasts
a child talks about how “I will be a lion / And you shall be a bear.”
So often things seen through the eyes of a wondering child gain a depth and a significance that adults no longer know how to find. Many of these poems capture that wonder, and celebrate the marvelous in everyday things and situations. For example in Home
, a child describes how he or she collects shells and then goes home. There are only four lines in the poem and yet the scene and the child’s pleasure comes through loud and clear.
Throughout this splendid book, Marc Brown’s storytelling illustrations and sweet artwork vignettes are paired with the poems.
I really like my alone time. In fact, I need some alone time every day, otherwise I start to feel squirrely. In today's picture book you will meet a bear who is trying to have a little time alone, a little time when he can be quiet and calm. The problem is that his friend Goose does not really understand why Bear needs this.
Boys Mill Press, 2014, 978-1-62091-736-7
One day Fox and Goose are sitting together when Fox asks his friend where Bear is. Goose says that Bear is not far away sitting alone. Fox is surprised when he hears this and Goose has to explain that sometimes Bear like to be alone. Fox, who is a friendly little fellow, goes over to Bear and asks him if he is “sad” or “mad” or “lonely.” Bear is none of these things. He is just having “some quiet time.”
Fox says that he likes quiet time too, but it turns out that Fox’s quiet time is nothing like Bear’s quiet time. Fox hums, twirls, and whooses “like the wind,” and poor Bear is not at all happy. He just wants some quiet. Some real
Some people need quiet time on their own. They are not upset about anything, they just need some space to enjoy being with themselves. The problem is that other people don’t always understand why they need this time, and they don’t understand what quiet time means. In this sweet picture book Suzanne Bloom’s expressive and minimal illustrations are paired with a spare text to give young readers a story that explores how three very different characters find a way to be alone, and quiet, together.
Many children like to watch animals in zoos and on television. They like to read about real animals in books, and many picture book authors and illustrators use animals as their main characters because they know that their young readers are will be drawn to their creations. Poets too like to write about animals, and today's title is literally packed with animal poems of all kinds.
Book Of Animal Poetry
Edited by J. Patrick Lewis
National Geographic, 2012, 978-1-4263-1009-6
Many poets love to describe nature and animals in the poems that they write. Some like to go a step further and they “try to imagine the secret lives of animals.” What is it like to be an animal, and to see its world through the eyes of that creature?
In this remarkable collection of two hundred poems we encounter animals that have just come into the world, those that are big, those that are small, the winged ones, the ones that live in water, the strange ones, the noisy ones and the quiet ones. Some of the poems were written many decades ago and capture the feeling of a different time. Others are more modern and reflect a more contemporary approach to poetry writing. There are poems that rhyme and those that are written in blank verse. Some are funny and others are more completive.
What makes this collection so special is that the poets don’t only write about animals that are commonplace. They embrace the whole animal kingdom from big whales “always spouting fountains,” to little ladybugs, “Smaller/ than a button, / bigger than a spot.” We drift on the wings of “six geese / rowing across a full moon” and plunge deep into oceans with a seal who “swims / With a swerve and a twist, / a flip of the flipper, / a flick of the wrist.”
Some of the animals are strangely creepy, like the piranha who will consider “you’re meat” should you ever encounter it. Others are weird but funny, like the baby porcupine who, though it cannot yet climb trees can still raise its quills “and pirouette.” Then there is the armadillo which “From head to tail / It wears a scratchy coat of mail.” Meerkats, anteaters, frilled lizards, sting rays and other oddities also appear on the pages.
Throughout the book the poems are paired with stunning full-color photographs to give readers an extraordinary journey into the world of animals. The photos provide a wonderful backdrop for poems written by Jane Yolen, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost, Hilaire Belloc, Michael J. Rosen, Ogden Nash and others.
Today's picture book is one of the funniest books I have read in a while. I literally laughed out loud as the story unfolded. The characters in the story are so delightful, and readers will find it impossible not to feel sorry for them AND laugh at them at the same time.
Mr. Squirrel and the Moon
For ages 4 to 6
North South, 2015, 978-0-7358-4156-7
One day a man who is transporting some big yellow cheeses in a cart stops to take a rest. While he is having a picnic meal with his little boy one of the cheeses rolls out of the cart and rolls down the hill. The little boy chases the cheese, but it is going so fast that he can’t catch it. Then the cheese flies off a cliff and is gone.
Down in the valley Mr. Squirrel is woken up when the moon (the wayward cheese) lands on the branch right outside his front door. Mr. Squirrel has no idea why the moon has left its place in the sky. Perhaps someone stole it and then lost it. Perhaps people will think he stole it, and then he will “be arrested and thrown into prison.” The idea is too terrible to contemplate. There is only one thing Mr. Squirrel can do. He has to get rid of the moon as quickly as possible. Using every ounce of strength he has, Mr. Squirrel pushes the moon off the branch ... and it lands on Mrs. Hedgehog, where it gets very very stuck. Now both Mr. Squirrel and Mrs. Hedgehog are both going to get arrested for stealing the moon. This is a disaster!
Readers of all ages are going to love this deliciously funny picture book. One cannot help sympathizing with Mr. Squirrel, but at the same time it is hard not to laugh at the mess he and his animal friends get into. As the story unfolds the situation gets worse and worse, and funnier and funnier. It is hard to be know how things are going to turn out.
When I was in university in England, two events had a big impact on all of us students. We watched the Berlin wall come down, and we saw Nelson Mandela being released from prison. Many of us demonstrated outside the South African embassy in London (including me) calling out for the the South African government to release all political prisoners. All of us grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and it was extraordinary to see the wall come down, knowing that this was the beginning of a new era.
For many young people growing up in the United States during the 50's and 60's, the events associated with the civil rights movement changed their lives. Today's poetry title tells the story of the March on Washington through the eyes of these young people.
Voices from the march on Washington
J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon
Boyds Mills Press, 2014, 978-1-62091-785-5
Many of us live in places where people of different races, religions, and cultural backgrounds live together. We embrace the fact that our streets, restaurants, schools, offices, and other places are full of people who are from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. We recognize that diversity makes our towns and cities richer. This was not always the case. For decades most of the south and some places in the northern parts of the United States were strictly segregated. African Americans could not use the same schools and other public places that white people used. They could not go to swimming pools, could not eat in restaurants, and had to sit at the back in buses. They were second class citizens.
Then a movement, put into motion by Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers, began to bring about change. In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. By 1963 the civil rights movement had begun to unravel the Jim Crow laws, and on Wednesday August 28 of that year thousands of people gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington.
What would it have been like to be a part of this historic event? What would it have been like to organize it? In this remarkable book of poetry we meet some people who went to the march, who worked hard to make it a success. Some of people we encounter are fictional, while others were really present on that day.
One of the first people we meet is Myrtle Hill, a school teacher, who experiences fear when stones are thrown at the bus she is travelling in from Baltimore, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. A window is broken and passengers scream. People dive for the floor of the bus, and then one of the women starts to sing. Soon more voices join hers and thus the people throw songs at the people who threw rocks.
Soon after, we meet Annie Ross, a nineteen year old college student from Georgia who went to Washington. Sixteen year old Dan Cantrell is also from Georgia, and he goes to the march even though his father tells him not to. Raymond Jarvis also comes from the south. He is from Texas and has suffered at the hands of white supremacists. Ruby May Hollingsworth is only six years old, but she and her family travel all the way from Arkansas. Ruby does not really understand what is going on, but when she is allowed to drink from the same water fountain as a white girl she begins to realize that something important is happening around her.
Emma Wallace travels all the way from a farm in Iowa. She wants to be a part of history, to see what is happening in her country for herself. She is encouraged by her father to see the “national powwow” and perhaps witness the event that will “shame the past / and shape the future.” Renee Newsome, who lives in Washington D.C also has a father who encourages her to be a part of the march, and she goes to the Mall with him and her grandmother.
The stories of these six characters are told in a series of poems, and we are able to see what being on the march meant to them all, how it changed their lives in meaningful ways. We also hear the voices of other people, people like the singer Lena Horne, Coretta Scott King and Charlie Jackson, who was a policeman.
The voices that speak to us from the pages of this book bring the March on Washington to life, helping us to experience this extraordinary time in a personal and powerful way. We come to understand why this event meant so much to so many, and we give thanks that its impact is still being felt today.
These days many children grow up in in blended families. Often, in the beginning, many of the adults and children find the new situation confusing or complicated. In today's picture book we meet a blended family that it very unusual indeed and we see how the children in the families concerned figure out how to solve their problems.
No Ordinary Family
North South, 2013, 978-0-7358-4149-9
Before all the trouble started they were an ordinary bandit family. The many children (seven in number) played and roughhoused, Dad read the paper, and Mom counted their loot. Then, for some reason, Mom and Dad began to argue. Pots and pans flew through the air, voices were raised, and the children looked on with wide eyes. Dad moved out and the children missed him because now their “life was only half the fun.” The children decided that something needed to be done, so they packed up some bags and went to visit their father. From that day onwards the children moved back and forth between the houses of their parents.
Then one day they got to Dad’s house only to discover that a princess and her children were in residence. The interlopers were “prim and prissy” and none of the bandit children like them. There was nothing they could do about the situation though because the princess was there to stay. Now the bandit children had two families to live with. Having two Christmases and two birthdays was great, but they did not like the fact that they never had their father to themselves. Sometimes Mom was unhappy, or Dad was unhappy, or the princess was unhappy. The little bandits decided that the only thing to do was to get rid of the princess and her offspring. They thought that that doing this would solve all their problems, but it didn’t.
Families come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and when families blend there is often a settling-in period that no one enjoys. No one knows quite what to expect, tempers gets frayed, feelings get hurt, and often many of the family members wish they could turn back the clock. Figuring out how to make things work takes time, creativity, and lots of patience.
This sweetly funny picture book explores how several families come to terms with change, and how the young members of these families learn that love is limitless. There is always plenty to go around.
When I was in Jamaica some years ago I heard a lot of Bob Marley's music. The Jamaicans are proud of their famous countryman, and with good reason. Back then I had no idea what Bob Marley had been like as a person, what his life had been like. I was therefore delighted to receive today's poetry title, which uses poems to tell the story of this special musician.
I and I: Bob Marley
Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Lee and Low Books, 2009, 978-1-60060-257-3
Several generations of people have grown up hearing the songs of Bob Marley, and even today’s young children know the tune that goes with the words “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright!” There is something about the words from his songs that have touched the hearts of many, a universality that spreads far from the shores of Bob’s Marley homeland in Jamaica. In this book the story of this remarkable man is told using poems that are constructed in such a way that we can almost hear the beat of music in the background. Throughout the book the author uses some of the elements found in Jamaica’s patois to give his poems a genuine authenticity. He also tells Bob Marley’s story using the first person so that we feel that we are hearing the musician speaking, or perhaps singin, to us.
We hear about how Bob Marley is born in a small village, the son of a “country girl shy as can be” and a white man who “Rode off on a horse the color of a pearl” when Bob is still a very small boy. For a time Bob lives quietly in the country with his mother until his father “sends for me.” Dressed in his “church clothes” the boy travels to Kingston in a bus so that he can live with his father and go to school.
He soon learns that his father has no intention of being his parent. The man leaves, and Bob’s elderly caregiver is so unwell that Bob is the one who takes care of the house and does the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Eventually, a year after his father left, Bob’s mother finds him and she takes him back to the family home in the village of Nine Miles.
Several years later Bob, his mother, and her new husband come back to Kingston and live in a squalid ghetto called Trenchtown. Bob’s mother worries that her son will get into trouble if he hangs out with the “rude boys,” but he reassures her that he will “follow my own beat” and he is sure that “Music will get me out of the rubble.”
With their evocative words and rhythm, the poems in this book tell a story of a man and capture a moment in time. At the back of the book readers will find notes that provide additional information about the poems and the story that they are telling.
Today's picture book is one of the most memorable and lovely books that I have read in a long time. It perfectly captures the beauty that can be found in a forest, it gives a forest a voice, and it explores the connection that all of us should
have with places in nature.
What forest Knows
Illustrated by August Hall
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-6775-0
Forest is wise and knows the ways of the seasons. It also knows the animals that live amongst its trees. In winter it “knows snow,” and knows that squirrels are sleeping in hollows and moles are “resting among roots.” Forest knows about waiting…waiting for that moment when life starts to flow through the trees once more and buds swell and open. It knows the voices of the birds as they build their nests in the trees.
Forest knows the changes that come as spring spills into summer, and as summer drifts like falling leaves into fall. It sees the animals raise their young and then prepare for the winter that is coming.
Forest is not the only one who knows of these things. There are others, a dog with a sniffing nose, and a boy. The boy and his furry companion have eyes that see, ears that hear, and noses that smell. They know Forest well.
In this beautiful picture book we visit a wild place, getting to know the plants and animals that call it home. We witness the changes that take place as the seasons unfold, and we discover that Forest’s world, and other worlds in nature, are out there waiting for us. We are a part of them, and if we are lucky, they are a part of us.
Christmas is less than a week away and today I have a poetry title that will take you far away to the North Pole. You may not know this, but Santa likes to write poetry, haiku poetry, and in this title you will find twenty-five of these wonderful short poems that describe special moments in Santa's life.
Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole
Illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Lerner, 2014, 978-1-4677-1805-9
Everyone knows that Santa Claus (or Father Christmas as some people call him) is an amazing man. He makes wonderful toys, has flying reindeer that he trains, and he is able to crisscross the globe in a flying sleigh to make millions of toy deliveries all in one night. Here is one thing that you probably don’t know about Santa; he is a poet. Years ago his beloved wife gave him a book filled with Japanese haiku poems, and he loved this minimalist poetry form so much that he wrote some haiku of his own. Twenty-five of these haiku appear in this book, one for each day from December 1st
to December 25th
. Together the poems will give young Santa fans a wonderful picture of what Santa’s life is like.
We begin on December 1st
with a poem about the mail that comes into Santa’s “overfilled mailbox.” In fact, there are so many letters that it is as if “December’s first storm” has come blasting into Santa’s mailbox.
On December 3rd
we find out that in spite of her age Mrs. Claus sometimes like to behave like “a little girl,” She has a grand time making snow angels in front of her house in the snow. On December 11th
she gives her husband kisses under a bunch of mistletoe and they “tickle like snowflakes.”
As the days count down we read, among other things, about the working elves, the beauty of the Northern Lights, and how Santa and Mrs. Santa string popcorn on thread to hang on the Christmas tree. The poems describe these and so many other precious moments that make December at the North Pole such a joy for Santa, his wife, the elves, and the reindeer. We see how beautiful their world is, and how much they enjoy their lives.
With lovely illustrations and gem-like poems on every page, this is a book that children and their grownups will enjoy sharing on the days leading up to Christmas.
Back in the spring Cat decided that he wanted to stand in for the Easter Bunny (you can read about his adventures in Here Comes Easter Cat). With Christmas just around the corner, Cat has now decided that he wants to be Santa. The thing is, being Santa is a lot harder than it seems.
Here comes Santa Cat
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-4100-3
Cat is back and this time, wait for it…he is wearing a Santa suit. When he is asked why he is dressed up, Cat explains, using pictures, that he needs to be Santa so that he can give himself a present. Surely, Santa will do that. No. Apparently Cat does not think that Santa will be giving him anything this year because he has been naughty a lot of the time and nice only on a few occasions. Well, that makes sense.
Okay, so Cat will be Santa, but does Cat know that he needs to come down chimneys, and does he happen to have some flying reindeer hanging around? It turns out that Cat does not much care for chimney climbing, and the jet pack he uses to fly is rather temperamental. Perhaps Cat would be better off giving up trying to be Santa. Instead, he can try being nice. You never know, Cat might even enjoy the experience.
In this laugh-out-loud picture book Cat once again tries to take on the role of a holiday figurehead, only to discover that being such a character is not as easy as it seems. Readers will be delighted to see how the sometimes grouchy feline stumbles from one disaster to another, until, at long last, something happens that turns things around for Cat. Just in time.
Years ago I watched a film about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and I found his story very intriguing. I then began to read his books and poetry, and somehow knowing what he had been like made my connection with his writings that much closer. Today's poetry title provides young readers with a wonderful picture of Robert Louis Stevenson's life and his poetry.
Poetry for young People: Robert Louis Stevenson
Edited by Frances Schoonmaker
Illustrated by Lucy Corvino
Sterling, 2008, 978-1-4027-5476-0 From a very early age Robert Louis Stevenson spent much of his time in bed. He was a fragile little boy who was often sick, sometimes for months on end. Unable to get out of bed and play as other children did, Robert spent a lot of his time writing letters, reading, and making up stories. He grew to love reading books and writing so much that he gave up studying engineering at university, because he preferred to read and write. Later he gave up being a lawyer because spending his life defending people in court simply was not what he wanted to do. All he really wanted to do was to have adventures and write. Thankfully for us Robert was able to follow his heart. He spent most of his adult life crafting stories and poems that people of all ages still enjoy today. Many of the poems in this title come from Robert’s book A Child’s Garden of Verses. In this collection, Robert’s love for nature, for simple pleasures, and for journeys of the imagination comes through loud and clear. He seems to understand how children think, and how they perceive the world. For example, in Whole Duty of Children, he talks about how children should behave; how they should always tell the truth, speak when they are spoken to, and behave in a “mannerly way” when they are at the table. At the same time he understands that a child can only do these things “as far as he is able.” Children, like everyone else, cannot be expected to better than their best. We see Robert’s appreciation for the little joys in life when he tells us about what it is like to dig holes in the sand on a beach, and when he wonders, in the voice of a child, what will happen to the little boats he has made when he puts them in the river and watches them float away. Perhaps the boats will go “A hundred miles or more” and perhaps “Other little children / Shall bring my boats ashore.” In the poem Travel he tells us how he would like to go to “Parrot islands” and to “Where the Great Wall round China goes.” He would like to see a “knotty crocodile” as it “Lies and blinks in the Nile,” and a place “among the desert sands” where a “deserted city stands.” He hopes when he is grown to travel to this city, where he will look at the pictures on the walls in an empty room “And in a corner find the toys / Of the old Egyptian boys.” Using his word wizardry Robert Louis Stevenson takes us into the lives, worlds and imagination of children, allowing us to be pirates, to visit a fairy land, to create a world on a bed quilt, and so much more. The collection concludes with his poem Requiem, the words of which appear on his grave, which lies on a mountain on Upolu Island in Samoa.
Everybody has something that they are afraid of. Some people are terrified of spiders, some find large bodies of water intimidating, and then there are those who are afraid of the dark. Today's picture book explores such fears in a clever way, showing us how one little boy confronts what he is afraid of.
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Little Brown, 2013, 978-0-316-18748-0
Laszlo, like many boys and girls (and even some grownups) is afraid of the dark. The dark shares his house, and during the day it can be found is hiding in the closet, behind the shower curtain and in the basement. Nighttime is when the dark comes out from its hiding places. It presses up “against the windows and doors” of the house.
At night a little nightlight keeps the dark away from Laszlo’s bedroom. Then one night the nightlight goes out and the dark visits the room and speaks to the little boy. It wants Laszlo to see something and so Laszlo, with his flashlight casting a beam of light ahead of him, goes to the place where the dark is waiting for him: the basement.
Fear is a crippling thing, and a fear of the dark can be truly terrible because try as we might, we cannot keep the dark at bay. It is always there, somewhere, waiting for night to fall. In this beautifully paced picture book a boy learns that the dark is not what he thinks it is. He goes to the place where the dark is most noticeable, and he discovers something remarkable about the dark and himself.
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I can still remember the first concrete poem that I read. It was Mouse's Tail,
by Lewis Carroll, which appears in his book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
I thought the poem was very clever and showed it to my father. Nowadays lots of poets are trying out this clever poetry form and it is interesting to see what they are creating.
Ode to a commode: Concrete poems
Illustrated by Andy Rowland Millbrook, 2015, 978-1-4677-4412-6 Most of the time poems are written so that words are in horizontal lines that go across the page from left to right. We are used to this format and comfortable with it, but some people like to write poems that are a little different. They write concrete poems, which are poems that look like the thing (or things) that the poem is about. The letters of the poem “are arranged on the page to form a picture” of that thing. Thus a poem about a pair of scissors might be arranged on the page so that the words in the poem form the picture of a pair of scissors. Concrete poems are fun to create and they don’t have to rhyme, so they are a wonderful poetic form for novice poets to try. The first poem we encounter in the book is Ode to a commode,and the words on the page are arranged in a spiral so that they look like water swirling in a toilet after it has been flushed. It is hard not to laugh as we follow the words round and round until “the bowl fills back up in a minute.” Next there is No Wonder he is so Quiet and we see a poem that looks like a pair of glasses. We can tell at once that the writer has a just got new glasses. He or she is thrilled to be able to see everything so clearly, and now the writer knows why his or her friend is so quiet. It turns out that the friend “was really a tall potted plant.” A little further into the book we encounter a poem called A twisted Tale and we can see straight away what the poem is about because the words are arranged on the page so that they look like a pretzel. We read how some pretzels are soft, “chewy and warm” while others are “hard and you crunch.” The great thing is that no matter what texture they are, pretzels are “always delicious with lunch.” Wonderful touches of humor, amusing artwork, and a delicious moments of word play make this book of poetry a must for young readers who appreciate poetry in all its forms.