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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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Authors of books for young readers find so many ways to incorporate educational, things-you-need-to-know pieces of information into their writings. The author of today's poetry title has combined poetry, riddles, and nonfiction text in a unique and amusing way to explore the parts of the body. I was truly impressed with the creativity that was tapped to create this very special book.Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy riddles in verse
Illustrated by Mike Lowery
Peachtree Publishers, 2015, 978-1-56145-737-3
From an early age children start learning the names of parts of the body. People have even written little songs to help them learn where their forehead, nose, elbows, and toes are. When they get older they find out a little more about their stomach, their teeth, their eyes, their hair and other parts of their bodies, but do they really know as much as they think they know?
In this wonderful book the author offers young readers clever riddles written in verse to challenge their knowledge of anatomy. Each riddle is accompanied by a nonfiction section of text, which provides the solution to the riddle and offers up interesting pieces of information about the body part being described.
In a poem called Lunchtime
we encounter a “cauldron” in which “Choice ingredients” are mixed. Here “Flesh of fowl,” “Wheat paste,” and “Plant parts” are combined with a “pulverizing rumble.” What on earth could this body part be? It turns out that this rather stomach churning riddle is describing…the stomach, which, we are told, “churns food into a thick, liquidy shake called chyme.”
Further along in the book we encounter a sonnet that describes something that is cone-shaped and that is protected by a “cage of bone.” Apparently this body part is important, for in some way “the very stuff of life depends” on the way it works. The note that goes with this puzzle tells us that the riddle is describing the heart. This muscular vital vessel has four chambers and it pumps blood throughout the body.
In this incredibly clever title we see how a riddle can be a work of word art and a puzzle at the same time. Children will enjoy trying to figure out the solutions to the riddles, and they will be astonished to learn how the various body parts work.
I am lucky to have to some wonderful friends who are there for me in good times and bad, who make me laugh, and who understand where I am coming from. I miss them when I don't see them, and feel rich after I have spent time with them. Today's picture book is about a friendship that is similarly enriching and wonderful. As the pages turn, two little pigs who are very different, but who are also best friends, come to learn something about the relationship that they share.
Toot and Puddle
Picture Book Series
For ages 4 to 6
Little Brown, 2007, 978-0316365529
Toot and Puddle are a pair of pigs who live together, and they are the best of friends. One would think that they would have to be alike to be able to share a home, and yet they are actually very different. Toot loves to go off on adventures to all sorts of exotic places, while his friend prefers to stay home in comfy and homey Woodcock Pocket.
One day Toot decides to go on a trip around the world. While he is gone, Puddle has a wonderful time at home doing all his favorite things. At the same time he gets to share in Toot's adventures by reading the postcards that Toot sends him from Egypt, Africa, the Solomon Islands, India, and many other places.
However, even though he is having a good time at home, Puddle begins to miss his friend. He thinks about Toot as he goes about his daily activities. What he doesn't know is that Toot is having similar feelings.
In this book the author has created a tale with unforgettable characters, illustrations to pore over, and a simple yet powerful text that is a tribute to friendships of all kinds.
Sometimes we think that the perfect expressions of love or affection are the ones that are grand and extravagant. It turns out that often the best way to show someone that you care for them is by doing something for them that is simple, and yet powerful. In this picture book you will meet a bear who finds out that someone cares for him very much, someone who is shy, and kind, and thoughtful; someone who does little things for the bear that say an awful lot.Bear in love
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-4569-4
One morning, as per usual, a bear crawls out of his cave, he rubs his eyes, stretches, feels the morning sun touch his fur, and then looks around for his breakfast. On this particular morning he discovers that someone has left an orange “long and pointy” thing on a rock. The bear has never encountered such a thing before, and when he sniffs it he decides that is smells “nice,” and so he nibbles it. The thing turns out to taste very good indeed.
The next morning someone has left two of the orange, nice tasting things on the rock. The bear cannot help wondering who left them there. The morning after that three orange tasty things appear, and the morning after that there is a whole bunch of them sitting on the rock. The bear decides that someone must like him very much to leave him so many “good things.”
That day the bear discovers a bee nest in a tree, which he then proceeds to raid. The bear happily feasts off the honey comb and the honey. He could eat the whole lot, but he decides that he will save some for “the nice friend” who gave him all the orange treats.
The bear leaves the honeycomb on the flat rock and he tries to stay awake to see who his new friend is, watching from his cave. Unfortunately, the bear is not very good at staying up, and he falls asleep. In the morning his friend has left him a little gift. A pretty flower is lying on the rock where the honeycomb was. Once again the bear wonders and wonders who the mystery person could be.
This sweet story explores how a special friendship is built. With each gift, each act of kindness, the connection between the bear and his secret friend gets closer. Children will be delighted when they see how the story turns out, and when they discover what the bear, and his new friend, feel for each other.
I didn't really know anything about this book before I read it, though I knew from past experience than anything Sharon Creech writes is going to be marvelous. This book is indeed marvelous, on so many levels. It explores the discoveries that a young girl makes as the world around her shifts and changes and I, at least, grew very fond of her very quickly. Her voice is true and strong and it is delightful to see how she matures as the story unfolds.
HarperCollins, 2012, 978-0060540241
Change is a-coming in Annie’s life. Grandpa is now living with her family because he is becoming forgetful and frail and he needs to be cared for. Annie’s mother is pregnant, and Annie is both a little scared and excited at the prospect of having a sibling. There is something so awesome, and yet a little “creepy,” about the whole baby-growing-inside-her-mother thing.
The one thing that stays the same for Annie is her running. Whenever she can, Annie runs barefoot, just for the sake of running. For her, running is a joyous thing that she loves to do alone. Or mostly alone. Often Annie’s friend Max runs with her. They barely speak, and that is the way they like it. Lately though Max has become more withdrawn and angry. His father left the family and then his grandfather died. For Max, running is now more than just a hobby. It has become what he hopes will be a means to an end. He hopes to escape his hometown and his life through his running, and so now, during every run, there is the goal of going faster and being better. There is a drive that Annie appreciates and understands but that she wants nothing to do with. Max tries to get Annie to join the school track team but she refuses. She refuses even when the coach at school puts pressure on her.
Annie’s grandfather used to be a runner, and he has trophies in his room that show how he good he was. For some reason one day he stopped running and now here he is, a little old man, and parts of his memories are “vanishing every day.” At the same time his newest grandchild is growing, getting bigger and preparing for his or her arrival into the world. How strange it is to be losing something and gaining something at the same time. The world is sometimes a very confusing place.
As the days go by, Max gets more and more aggressive about his running. He needs to get a pair of proper running shoes because he is not allowed to compete running barefoot. Coming from a family where money is tight means that he cannot just go out and buy a pair of shoes whenever he wants to, and Annie worries about this. She wants Max to be able to race because he wants to do it so badly. She wants this for him even though his compulsion is creating a rift between them, and their friendship is suffering.
As the day of the birth approaches, Annie gets more nervous. She and her father are going to be present at the birth and they are going to need to help Annie’s mother through the process. Annie is not sure she is up for the challenge, but she does her best. She watches the birth movie (which makes her feel queasy) and studies the coaching manuals so that she will know what to do when the time comes.
As all these changes swirl around her, Annie dives into an art assignment that she has been given. She needs to draw an apple for one hundred days. She needs to create one hundred drawings of an apple, and at first she cannot imagine how she will manage it. Over time though she begins to see the apple in a deeper way, to appreciate the nuances of its shape and colors and she begins to understand why she was given the assignment in the first place. Learning how to see things, really see them, is an important skill to have if you are an artist. It also a valuable skill to have when you are a person who needs to find their place in the world.
This extraordinary book explores the way a twelve-year-old girl learns about the people in her world, and we see her trying to negotiate the trials that life throws her way. In the process, she starts to figure out what she wants and who she is, and she discovers that most people, and most challenges, are a lot more complicated than they at first seem.
In 2014, a wonderful wordless picture book called Flora and the Flamingo
won a Caldecott Honor. It is a delightful book that has charmed people all over the world with its wonderful artwork and its clever story. Since then Flora has gone on to meet a penguin, and now she is back strutting her stuff with a pair of peacocks. Flora has faced challenges before when she befriended the flamingo and the penguin, but these two peacocks present her with problems that are both new and difficult.Flora and the Peacocks
Chronicle Books, 2016, 978-1-4521-3816-9
Flora loves to dance, and somehow she tends to attract very lovely, very gifted characters who end up dancing with her, all of whom are birds. So far she has danced with an elegant flamingo and a charming penguin. This time Flora comes across a pair of peacocks.
Wearing a pretty teal, blue, and green outfit, and with a yellow fan in her hand, she bows to the two peacocks. One immediately starts to approach her, and it is clearly rather interested in sharing a dance with the little girl. The other peacock, with its beak in the air, and later with its face completely hidden, makes it clear that it is not interested in joining in at all.
Flora tries to reach out to the uppity, aloof peacock and she even starts to make friends with it, but then the first peacock takes umbrage and the next thing you know a very unfortunate situation is created.
Three can be an uncomfortable number when it comes to making friends. Flora and the peacocks certainly discover that there is no knowing what might happen when jealousy and an unwillingness to share surfaces. Children will appreciate why things go awry, and they will be delighted when they see how Flora and the peacocks resolve their problem.
This wordless book, with its flaps that open and lift ,and its pages that unfold, is a delight to the eye and the heart.
When I was five years old, a civil war broke out in the country that I was living in. Suddenly, and for reasons that I did not understand, people who had lived side-by-side were now killing each other. It was village against village, and neighborhood against neighborhood. To say that my experiences had a profound effect on me is an understatement. To this day I loath violence and hate-filled words.
Today's picture book shows, to great effect, how conflicts can grow out of petty disagreements. It is a book that children and adults alike can connect with.Why
Minedition, 2016, 978-988-8341-05-4
One day a frog is sitting in a meadow and it picks a beautiful flower. Having the flower makes the frog very happy, but someone else is not happy at all. Mouse wants the flower that Frog has picked, and so Mouse forcibly takes the flower from Frog.
Mouse does not get to enjoy ownership of the flower for long because soon Frog’s friends arrive on the scene and they chase off Mouse. The frogs celebrate their “victory” by gathering up all the flowers in the meadow and they dance around with joy. Their conquest is short-lived because soon Mouse returns with his friends. They roll up in an armed boot and chase the Frogs across a bridge, firing on them.
The mice think that they have won and that the frogs have been routed, but their victory is also short-lived because the frogs have a plan in place to give the mice a taste of their own medicine.
Children often ask grownups why wars start, and all too often the answer they get is long-winded and complicated. In this picture book the author shows readers of all ages that often the reason why people go to war is very simple, and very foolish. One act of violence begets a violent response, and the conflict escalates. Eventually both sides look across a scene of desolation and unspeakable loss and they cannot, for the life of them, understand how things got so bad.
There is a message in this tale, a powerful message, that readers of all ages will appreciate and hopefully carry with them. They will see that responding to a problem with violence is never the answer.
I wonder how many people have read or sung the Mother Goose rhymes to their children. Many thousands I am sure. The interesting thing is that though the world has changed so much since they were written, there is something timeless about the wonderful little rhymes. Today's poetry title is a board book which contains sixteen nursery rhymes that have been lovingly illustrated by Rosemary Wells.Snuggle up with Mother Goose
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-7867-8
The sun is up and it is time to wake up and get going for there are “Peas in the pot and a hoe-cake baking,” and soon we will start our day.
We need to brush our hair and warm our hands by the fire. Some of the men “are gone to plow” while others have gone to sea in a boat and maybe, in the evening, children will have “a fish / In a little dishy / When the boat comes in.” For those who stay at home there are dishes to wash and wipe, and tea that has to be made.
In this wonderful board book, Iona Opie has brought together sixteen nursery rhymes that carry us through a day from sun up to sunset. Some of them gentle and soothing, others are funny and sweet. The lines of verse celebrate the beauty of the written word, and introduce babies and little children to some of the gems in the English language that were written just for them.
I love libraries! When I was a child I would go to the local British Council library to spend an hour or so browsing the shelves. I would leave weighted down with a huge stack of books. I read about everything and anything. Except subjects that required me to do any kind of maths!
Today's picture book celebrates libraries and the joy of reading, and it is a delight.
Jumping off the library shelves: A book of Poems
Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Jane Manning
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Boyds Mills Press, 2015, 978-1-59078-924-7
A library is a special place. Some people think it is ‘just’ a repository for books, a storage place perhaps, but they are wrong. Thanks to the books in a library, people can find information, they can travel to distant lands, and have grand adventures. They can take a break from the world, and spend some quiet time immersed in wonderful words.
For this marvelous salute to libraries, Lee Bennet Hopkins has brought together poems written by a wonderful selection of poets. On the pages of this book we will meet children for whom their library is a special place. With their library cards in hand - the card that is “more powerful” than a cell phone, a TV remote, or a hundred apps - children find treasures that invite them “to explore” and “to dream.”
To help young readers in their search for a good read, there is the librarian who, by some magical ability, is always able to help a child find “the perfect book.” Somehow the librarian is able to read a child, like words on a page, and know what he or she needs.
The library is also a place where you will find storytellers who are able to make “words / leap from pages,” as they read out loud. With the storyteller for company, children make friends with frog and toad and they “walk / down a / yellow brick road.” During their storytimes they are able to believe in “once-upon-a-time” and “happily ever after.”
There is something for everyone in a library. On the shelves there are dictionaries, books of poetry, fairy tales and so much more. And when night falls and all the people have left the library, other little beings come out to partake of the library’s treasures.
This wonderful collection of poems take us into the world of libraries. We enter the library as “Morning pours spoons of sun” onto the shelves, and then leave when “night falls / outside / a / window.” As we close the book we are left with a comfortable feeling, and a yearning to visit our local library where book wonders await us.
Many children have imaginary friends, and sometimes we encounter such children in stories or films. We smile as they communicate with their invisible companions, who are often blamed when something untoward happens. In today's picture book story the focus, for a change, is on the imaginary friend instead of the child. On the pages meet an imaginary friend who needs one thing to make his life complete.
Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Little Brown, 2014, 978-0-316-19998-8
Beekle was born on an island where all the world’s imaginary friends come into being. The imaginary friends wait and look forward to the day when a child somewhere will imagine them, and then pick them to be their own. Beekle waits and waits, but no one imagines him and “his turn” never comes.
Eventually, Beekle feels that he has waited long enough, and so he decides to seek out his friend rather than waiting to be imagined.
The journey is a long one and it is full of “many scary things,” but the hope of finding his friend gives Beekle courage and finally he comes to the real world, which is a very strange place. Then, while he is standing on a sidewalk in a big city, surrounded by the legs of big people, Beekle sees an imaginary friend go by whom he follows. Soon he is a playground full of children and their imaginary friends, a wonderful place where surely he will find his
friend. Or maybe not.
It is hard not to fall in love with the main character in this story. His persistence and courage is inspiring, and one cannot help feeling a deep connection with the little, white imaginary friend who dares to do “the unimaginable.”
For many parents the Mother Goose nursery rhymes are the first poems that they explore with their children. Over time Little Miss Muffet, the cow that jumped over the moon, and Wee Willie Winkie all become members of the family. In today's poetry title these characters and others from the Mother Goose rhymes come together to attend a special event hosted by none other than Mother Goose herself!
Mother Goose’s Pajama Party
Illustrated by Virginia Allyn
Random House, 2015, 978-0-553-49756-4
One night Mother Goose flies out into the night sky on the back of her goose companion. In sparkles she leaves a message in the starlit sky inviting her friends to come to her house at half past eight for a story time.
The moon is the first to see the message and she shows it to the cow, who then goes on to tell Dish who passes on what she has been told to Spoon. Spoon then tells Cats about the invitation and Cat, being the musician that he is, “fiddled a tune.”
Mother Goose’s invitation is passed on from character to character, from Jack-a-Dandy to Wee Willie Winkie, and from Georgie Porgie to Little Bo-Peep. Finally Nimble Jack, with his candlestick, leads the way to Mother Goose’s house with all the other nursery rhyme characters following him. Along the way they collect the crooked man and the cooked mouse and they walk along “the final crooked mile,” until they come to Mother Goose’s door promptly at eight o’clock.
What follows is a wonderful evening that is full of treats that the guests and the hostess alike enjoy.
Written in wonderful rhyming verse, this picture book brings together some of the most well-known nursery rhyme characters, who take little children on a memorable bookish adventure that is full of joy, warmth, and finally comfort.
At the back of the book children will find the fifteen nursery rhymes that feature the characters that they met in the book.
Many people think that 'art' has to fit into one of three categories. It has to be a piece of music, a painting or a drawing, or a sculpture. However, there are other forms of art that might not fit into one of these pigeon holes. What about a piece of furniture or a quilt? What about a basket or a glass vase? What about a wrought iron gate or a musical instrument? What about a tree or shrub that has been clipped and clipped until it looks like an animal or some lovely shape? All of these things are also works of art, and all of them can, and do, enrich out lives.
In this picture book we see how a topiary artist manages, one topiary at a time, to bring beauty to the lives of people who so desperately need something in their world that will uplift them.
The Night Gardener
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-3978-7
Grimloch Lane is a rather sad place. The homes are ramshackle, weeds grow up through cracks in the sidewalk, and the people who live there don’t really connect with one another. One night, while everyone in the lane is asleep, a man gets to work on one of the trees that stands outside the Grimloch Orphanage.
When William looks out his window in the morning he sees that something is going on outside so he goes to investigate. What he discovers is that someone has clipped a tree next to the orphanage so that it looks like a beautiful owl. William is entranced by the topiary owl and he gazes at it all day long. When he goes to sleep that night he does so “with a sense of excitement.”
The following morning another tree on Grimoloch Lane has been turned into a work of art. This time the topiary makes the tree look like a cat at rest.
Each day a new topiary appears, and now the people living in Grimloch Lane have something to look forward to. They gather to admire their beautiful topiaries and “Something good” starts to happen to everyone who sees the special trees.
We tend to think that real change can only happen when something really big happens, but sometimes change can come about when a little piece of magic is added to our lives. As the story in this book unfolds, we see how the introduction of beauty affects the people who live in a place that has so little beauty and happiness to offer. Best of all, the instrument of change is not someone who is rich and powerful, instead he is a humble person who just happens to have a gift for turning already lovely trees into gorgeous works of art.
Cats are singular creatures. They are not as easy to understand as dogs, but once you develop a relationship with a cat you will soon see how much that relationship enriches your life. Today's poetry book introduces you to some colorful cat characters, and the poems also explore the ways in which those cats enhance the lives of the humans that they share their lives with.
Cats Vanish Slowly
Illustrated by Laura Seeley
Peachtree Publishers, 1995, 978-1561451067
Many cats live on Grandmother’s farm and she knows each and every one of them. Grandmother does not care if her cats are beautiful or “scrawny.” She does not care if they have too many toes, or if they are tailless. All the cats are welcome in her home and all of them are loved.
One of the best things about visiting Grandmother’s house is that there is always a cat there that is happy to be cuddled. If you have had a bad day, one dotted with scoldings and breakages, dullness or loneliness, then all you need to do is to visit Grandmother and hold an “affable cat.” With every purr and soft snuggle you will find “every bliss.”
One day a little, grey tabby cat arrived on the farm and she “graciously offered to stay.” The cat is loved by everyone and is soon very much at home. It is decided that the cat will be called Cougar, even though she is about as un-cougar-like as a cat can get. She is loving and sweet, playful and gentle. There are times though, when she is fast asleep, when perhaps, for a moment, she seems to live up to her name.
B.P is nothing like sweet, easy-going Cougar. He is a troublemaker, “a criminal cat,” who steals food, climbs the porch screen, and pulls clean washing off the line. When someone asks Grandmother if she has any cats available for adoption she offers up B.P. Six times the cat is taken to a new home, and six times he comes back to the farm. Like a “Bad Penny” the cat always “rolls back home.”
Grandmother lives with her sister and the two old ladies are as “different as sugar and salt.” One likes to grow flowers, while the other likes to plant vegetables. One loves to write poetry, while the other prefers to make pies or to cut back weeds. Though they are as “different as ribbon and string,” both ladies have a soft spot for cats. One stormy night the two of them together gather up three “half-wild” kittens and bring them into the warmth and shelter of their home.
This wonderful book serves as a tribute both to cats, and to the people who take them in and care for them. We meet a variety of cat personalities on the pages, and we also come to appreciate how special Grandmother is and how much of a haven she has created on her farm for felines, and for children who love felines.
Throughout this book the author’s poems are paired with beautiful paintings that perfectly capture the cats described in the text.
I used to be more of a dog person than a cat person, but then I adopted Katie, a tiny black and white kitten, who had been literally thrown away. Katie, who never weighed more than five pounds, taught me to appreciate the true nature of cats. Despite her rough start in life, she was loyal, strong-willed, sensitive, and loving, and I am grateful that she was part of my life for more than a decade. Though she was very small and not very strong, Katie never let anything get her down. She was an inspiration.
Today's poetry title explore one woman's relationship with her cat Boris, and through her narrative we get see how Boris shaped her life and how he helped her understand herself better.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, 0-15-205809-5
Not that long ago her last cat died, and she decided that she would not be getting any more cats. She would be a dog person from here on out and spare herself all the trials and tribulations that come with cat ownership. No more hairballs, no more worrying that the cat has been eaten by a coyote, and no more “howling, spitting fights.” No, cats will no longer be a part of her life.
Then the local shelter puts a storefront in town and she has to walk past that storefront every day; she has to see the cats sitting in the window, all of whom so badly want a home. She holds out for two months and then she goes into the store. She says that she will get one female cat “and no more.”
Not long after, she walks out of the store with two cats, a male and female. The cats are siblings and she could not bear to separate them. The male is Boris, a beautiful grey fellow who in his own quiet way promises that he will “be good.”
It isn’t long before Boris is a member of the family. The dogs accept him and when they go too far they get a swat across the nose to keep them in line. Of course it also isn’t long before she is worrying that the eagles might try to harm Boris. She asks him to never “stand on a beach / beneath them,” for surely if he does they will be measuring and assessing him to determine if he is too big and heavy from them to carry him off.
Boris is full of surprises. She knows that his former name was Hunter and imagines at first that it is a “designer-label sort of / name.” It turns out that Hunter was not some preppy name at all. The name describes what Boris is. He is a hunter and soon he is bringing her all kinds of furry and feathered gifts.
When a new cat moves in next door she is sure that Boris is going to take grave exception to the cat using the next-door deck that he has claimed as his own. She full expects to see fur flying, and yet this is not what happens at all. Boris takes the newcomer in hand, adopting him and treating him like a little brother who needs someone to show him what is what.
This magnanimity is not offered to an elderly cat that Boris and his owner meet when they are out one day. This time the hunter in Boris comes to the fore and he bowls over the poor old fellow without a thought. She is embarrassed, and the encounter gets her thinking about aging and what waits for them both in the future. Will they two be like the old cat who dared to walk on Boris’ path? Will they two stand against younger whippersnappers who try to bully them?
In this remarkable book, nineteen free verse poems take us into the world of the narrator and her cat. Through her interaction with Boris we find out about her own fears, worries and insecurities. We laugh with her as Boris watches, and bats at, birds that he sees on the TV screen. We laugh too when she describes how much she enjoys playing “spinnies” with her cat companion. Her pain is tangible as she tells us what it was like when Boris went missing for ten days, and we understand why she worries about moving to a new house that Boris might not approve of. Being owned by a cat is not for the faint of heart, but the experience teaches us a lot about ourselves, and through our cats we learn a great deal about love, patience, and compassion.
I think it is fair to say that these days many people have lives that are perhaps a little too full. They feel as if they are running on a treadmill, desperately trying to keep up, and to do all the things that are written on their to do lists. Adults are not the only ones who have this problem. Sometimes children find themselves struggling with a schedule that asks just too much of them.
For ages 5 to 7
Tundra Press, 2016, 978-177049-484-8
Andrew loves to perform in plays, and so he decides to join the school drama club so that he can “wear costumes and perform on a real stage.” Andrew’s best friend, Edie, helps him learn his lines as they walk home from school together. Sometimes they end up climbing a tree or playing a game along the way and that’s always fun.
Though Andrew is a natural when it comes to acting, his drama teacher suggests that he try public speaking so that he can learn how to project his voice more. Andrew joins the debating team so that he can work on making his voice stronger. It turns out that Andrew is so good at debating that his friend Calvin suggests that he join the chess club.
When Andrew has a hard time keeping up during the dance routines when he is rehearsing, he decides that what he needs to do is to “improve his coordination,” so he attends ballet and karate classes.
Somehow Andrew then finds himself joining the tennis team, working on the school paper, and learning how to play the bagpipes. He joins the French film club, takes singing lessons, and signs up for Spanish lessons because knowing another language is “just plain useful.” Up until now Andrew has been able to manage his extremely full schedule, but now he hits a wall. Andrew is just doing too many things.
Many people over-schedule their lives. They fill every spare minute with an activity of some kind until they barely have time to eat or sleep. They cannot have a social life and are constantly running from activity to activity.
With humor and sensitivity Ashley Spires (who brought us the graphic novels about Binky the cat) shows us how a young owl’s life turns into a nightmare when he takes on too many activities. Everything Andrew does is important and interesting, but together they are just too much. Children, and their grownups, will enjoy seeing how Andrew solves his problem and how he finds a schedule that works for him.
When I was growing up on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, I read many of the Greek myths. Some of the places mentioned in the myths I was even lucky enough to see in Greece, including Mount Olympus, where the Gods were said to live. In today's book readers will encounter some of these myths but in poetry form. And the poems they will encounter can be read in two ways, which makes this bookish poetry experience quite unique. Happy Poetry Month!
Echo Echo: Reverso poems about Greek myths
Illustrated by Josee Masse
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 8
Penguin, 2016, 978-0-8037-3992-5
Often we like to think that there is only one side to a story, the side that we believe in. The truth of the matter is that usually there are at least two sides to a story that often contradict each other, two perspectives as seen through the eyes of two very different people who are on opposite sides of the story.
In this very unique book of poetry the author takes us into the world of Greek mythology so that we can explore the two sides of some of Greece’s most famous stories. The myths were created so that people could explain the world they lived in, a world that was often full of chaos and unknowns, which is perhaps why so many people are drawn to them.
Chaos is certainly at the heart of the story about Pandora and her famous box. The story goes that Zeus gave Pandora a box telling her not to open it. Being human and curious, and prone to doing things that she is told not to do, Pandora opened the box and let loose “all the evils of the world.”
This is the first myth that is explored in this book. We are presented with two poems, placed side by side, and hear the story from two points of view. In one Pandora is blamed for what happened, and in the other we are see that Pandora could well have been Zeus’ pawn, that he planned the whole terrible businesses. What makes things interesting is that the second poem is the reverse of the first, with the last line of the first poem serving as the first line of the second.
In the poem King Midas and his Daughter, the story of the king whose greed led to his daughter being turned into a gold statue is told first from the point of view of the daughter and then from the point of view of the king. The daughter’s voice tells us how she was “so needy / so greedy” for a loving touch from her unaffectionate father. The father’s narrative tells us that he was “ so greedy / so needy” to have the magic touch that turned things into gold, and he paid dearly for the gift he was given.
The other myths explored in the book include the story of Arachne and Athens, the tragic tale of Narcissus and Echo, and the ill-fated story of Icarus and Daedalus.
The poems in this book show great creativity, and they certainly bring old myths to life, but they do more than that. This book shows, to great effect, how problems might arise when two people see the same thing from only one point of view.
For many of us waiting is a bore. Sometimes it is very frustrating and annoying. We feel that we are wasting time, time that would be better spent if we were not
waiting. Sometimes we are
wasting precious time, but there are many other times when waiting is actually a good thing, when the act of waiting offers up joys of its own. Today's picture book explores this idea in the most delightful way.
HarperCollins, 2015, 978-0-06-236843-0
There are five toys that sit on a windowsill and they are all waiting. The little pink pig with the umbrella is waiting for the rain. The owl is waiting for the moon. The little bear with the kite is waiting for the wind, and the puppy on the sled is waiting for some snow. The rabbit is not waiting for something special. He just likes to look out of the window. He just waits because he enjoys doing so.
The owl is lucky because the moon turns up “a lot.” The pig and bear also got to enjoy the rain and the wind regularly. Snowfalls are not as common, but they do happen, and when they do the puppy is very happy.
Life on the windowsill does not change a great deal. Sometimes one of the toys goes away for a while and sometimes they all sleep. Occasionally gifts appear, and once a little toy elephant came to stay. He, alas, fell off the windowsill and broke, which was very upsetting.
Through their window the little toys see so many things that add to their experiences, and then one day a new toy arrives and she has a little secret of her own.
Our lives are full of times when we have to wait, and all too often we do so with impatience, and perhaps even with frustration and annoyance. We want what we are waiting for to arrive now
In this gently paced, softly colored picture book, we explore the idea that sometimes the process of waiting is, in and of itself, a joy. If we take it all in as we wait, and enjoy the journey, there is a good chance that we will discover treasures that we might have otherwise missed. We don’t have to be doing a great deal, and rushing about, to discover so many of the experiences that life has to offer.
When I was about nine years old my parents had something shipped to our house that arrived in a very large box. I was thrilled when they said that I could have the box, which a friend and I turned into a house, complete with windows and a door that could open. We drew pictures on the wall and kept all our 'treasures' in that house for as long as it lasted. That box was a fantastic gift, and on this Picture Book Monday we celebrate boxes in all their wonderful charboardy glory.
What to do with a box
Illustrated by Chris Sheban
Creative Editions, 2016, 978-1-5685-46-289-9
When an adult looks at a box he or she sees a container something that can be used to store things in, or transport things from one place to another. In short, a box is a tool. A simple object. However, when a child sees a box he or she sees “a strange device” that can be opened many times and that offers up endless possibilities.
For one thing, a box is the perfect place to read a book. It could therefore be called a “library.” It is a safe place, a cozy “nook” from which to watch the world go by. These are more practical, down-to-earth uses for a box
If you are willing to trip down the road into the world of magic and imagination, a box can become a race car, a plane, a ship that can sail “off to Paris / and back.” Why, with a box in hand, you will have “the only / such magic / that you’ll / ever need.”
Ever since cardboard boxes have been around, children have played in them. Often parents, after going to a great deal of trouble to find the perfect gift for their child, find that their little treasure is happy to play with the box that the gift came in. The gift itself lies on the floor, ignored, while the box is turned into a house, a space ship, or a fort.
This wonderful book, with its minimal rhyming text and its gorgeous artwork, is a treasure that children will love. Grownups too will enjoy tripping down memory lane as the narrative unfolds, remembering how they too took long journeys and had grand adventures in boxes when they were children.
I love water in all its forms. For me, watching waves slap up on a beach is one of the most relaxing things in the world to do, even if it too cold to swim or sunbathe. Just the sound and sight of the moving water is a joy to experience. I think that today's poetry book captures the magic that is water beautifully, and it is a book that children and adults alike will enjoy reading, sharing, and exploring.
Water Music: Poems for Children
Photographs by Jason Stemple
Wordsong, 2003, 978-1590782514
We often take water for granted, but it is a precious resource. Water covers more of our planet than land does, and like our planet, it makes up most of our bodies as well. Without it, life on earth would not be possible. The amazing thing about water is that it is essential, precious, and also very beautiful. Whether moving in a stream, resting peacefully in a lake, crashing as waves on a seashore, or hanging from the eves of houses as long icicles, it is a joy to look at.
In this beautifully presented book, Jane Yolen’s poems are paired with her son’s photographs to celebrate water in all its remarkable forms. We begin near a lake where the water “is a magic mirror,” which serves to capture an image of the “earth and sky.” Frozen water appears in the next poem where we see an icicle, which hangs “like frozen time.” Its colors and shape are so unique that “It is itself a poem.”
When we turn the page we leave behind water in its quiet forms, and come to a place where “the incoming tide / Flings its angry waves upon the shore.” Here the author knows that there is “no hiding place” from the waves, and so retreats to a place where the water will no longer be a threat.
In the next poem Water Jewels
, we encounter water as little droplets sitting on the leaves of weeds. Here water is not in the form of huge waves of enormous power. Instead, water is a delight, beautiful thing, “raindrop diadems” that make our world more lovely.
A waterfall comes next, with words that tip down the page just like the water does in the accompanying photo. Pulled along by the fast moving water, “Leaves and sticks and twigs” get carried over the waterfall. The waterfall is a “rumbling, tumbling, cataracting fool,” which eventually lands in “its own quiet / pool.”
This is a wonderful book to share with children as it shows them the many forms that water takes. Sometimes water is peaceful and delicate, while at other times it is strong, powerful and awe-inspiring. Jane Yolen’s poems take many forms, and children and their grownups will wonder at the many remarkable ways that she finds to convey moments, places, and feelings so perfectly.
Today's picture book is very special indeed. It won the 2016 Newbery Award, which is very unusual because typically Newbery winners are novels. The story is so universal and powerful that I had to pause after reading it the first time to take in everything. Then I read it again.
Last Stop on Market Street
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-399-25774-2
Every Sunday, after church, CJ and his nana get on a bus and travel across town to Market Street. One Sunday CJ comes out of the church building and it is raining. He does not feel like going across town in the bus today. He resents the rain, he resents the fact that he and Nana cannot travel in a car, he resents the fact that they have to go to the same place after church every Sunday. In short, CJ is not happy with much of anything at the moment.
One would think that Nana would get annoyed by all of CJ’s complaining questions, but she doesn’t because that is not what Nana is like. Instead, she finds something good to appreciate in everything that CJ finds annoying. What would happen to the trees if they did not have rain to water them? If they had a car they would not get to meet Mr. Dennis the bus driver every Sunday, nor would they see the interesting characters on the bus. If they did not go to the same place every Sunday they would get to spend time with “Bobo or the Sunglass Man.”
Then a musician starts to play on the bus and CJ begins to experience the joy that Nana understands so well. He begins to understand that sometimes you need to look at what you do have instead of what you don’t.
This remarkable, award-winning title explores a simple idea through the eyes of a young child. Alongside CJ, on that battered bus, and in the dirty streets, we come to understand that there is beauty everywhere if you know how to look for it.
All to often we take the people we rely on the most for granted. It is a natural reaction to have, and yet this does not make it a good one. We need to be grateful for our loved ones. We also need to treasure the things that give us joy; things like our musical instruments, our sports equipment, and our beloved art supplies.
In this book a group of crayons decide that enough is enough and they tell the boy they belong to that his neglect of them is really upsetting and quite unacceptable.
The day the crayons came home
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-399-17275-5
One day Duncan and his crayons are enjoying a nice coloring session when Duncan gets a very odd packet of postcards in the mail. It turns out that the cards all come from crayons which, for one reason or another, are no longer in residence in Duncan’s room.
Maroon Crayon is downstairs, neglected and broken and wants to come home. Pea Green Crayon has changed his name and is running away. Neon Red Crayon was left behind during a family vacation and announces that, since Duncan has not seen fit to retrieve him, he will be walking home. Yellow and Orange are in the garden, melted together by the sun. One of the brown crayons was eaten by the dog and then “puked up on the rug.” He is downstairs on the rug and wants to be rescued. Glow in the Dark Crayon is in the basement.
The rest of the stories of crayon woe are just too painful to go into further. Suffice it to say that Duncan has a very large collection of postcards from his very unhappy crayons and he feels very bad about his poor neglected friends who really did not deserve being ill-used in such a dreadful way.
In this book children will have a wonderful time reading the postcards that the crayons in the story send to their owner. They may even wonder what kinds of postcards their crayons, markers and colors would send them if they could. Would their art supplies give them a hard time too?
People who don't have pets often imagine that one dog is pretty much like another, that the only thing that sets them apart is their appearance. This is not even slightly true. Dogs, like people, have personalities that are distinct. Some are shy, some love attention, some like their own space, and some are happy to spend time anywhere. In today's poetry title you will meet some wonderful dogs, each one of which is different. Their personalities will touch readers, make them smile, and perhaps even make them wish that they too had a dog - if they don't have one already!
Once I ate a pie
Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest
Illustrated by Katy Schneider
HarperCollins, 2006, 978-0-06-073531-9
The dogs that share our lives and our homes all have very different personalities. Even puppies in the same litter can have completely different natures, in the same way that human siblings do. In this delightful collection of free verse poems, the authors introduce readers to seventeen dogs, who tell their stories in their own delightful voices.
There is Mr. Beefy, a pug who thinks that he is “beautiful” even if he isn’t exactly “thin.” He is very honest with us, telling us that he likes to steal tubs of butter off the table when none of his humans and looking. Once he even stole and ate a whole pie.
Gus is the kind of dog who watches his people. He likes to know where they are at all times, and prefers it when they are in a group, “Like sheep.” When they wander off to do their own thing, Gus follows to find out if they are “all right,” and then herds them back to where they belong.
Lucy was a shelter dog and so she has a rather proprietary air about her. After being homeless and possession-less for a while, she now takes her new status in life very seriously. Lucy makes sure that we know that everything in her new home is hers. Even the people.
Pocket is a small dog who once was so tiny that she “used to sleep in a coat pocket.” Her coat, collar, dish, and water bowl are all tiny. She finds the whole situation rather confusing because she believes that she is “HUGE.”
Tillie and Maude are sisters, and though they look alike they have very little in common. Tillie is shy and well behaved, whereas her sister tends to be naughty and she gets into trouble. The only thing the sisters really have in common is their looks and the fact that they love one another.
Anyone who has shared their life with a canine will appreciate this wonderful collection of poems. There are touches of humor that will make readers smile, and sweet word images that will delight readers who have a soft spot for dogs.
Friendship is a funny thing. Sometimes our best friends are just like us. We are like two halves of a whole, and we know and understand one another completely. Sometimes our friends are very different from us, and they have habits and interests that we do not, or cannot, understand at all. In today's picture book title you will meet two friends who are very different, and who hit a rough patch that shakes their relationship to its core.
Gordon and Tapir
Translated by David Henry Wilson
NorthSouth, 2016, 978-0-7358-4219-9
One day Gordon the penguin is in the toilet when he realizes that there is no toilet paper. Not in the best of moods he waddles out of the toilet and follows the toilet paper trial, which leads him to Tapir’s room. When he opens the door, he sees that his friend and housemate is sitting in a room that is bedecked with toilet paper. Tapir is eating fruit and is clearly very content with the chaotic state of his living quarters. Gordon is not.
Gordon complains about Tapir’s slovenly habits and wonders how anyone can make such a mess. After all, Tapir isn’t “a wild animal.” Tapir responds by criticizing Gordon’s persnickety “love of tidiness.” Living with a neat freak is no picnic. Back and forth the friends squabble and then they go their separate ways to their bedrooms.
When Tapir gets up in the morning Gordon has already left the apartment, and when Tapir goes to work the next day Gordon is not in his usual place in the penguin exhibit at the zoo. When he gets home Gordon’s room is empty and Gordon has left Tapir a note. Gordon has moved out and found another place to live. This is rather upsetting for Tapir. He does not want to lose his friend.
Sometimes two friends are so unalike in their habits that living in the same house becomes a nightmare. Who is going to compromise? How can they prevent their friendship from falling apart? Living together can put a strain on even the closest of friendships.
In this delightful picture book we meet two animals who, at least as far as their lifestyles are concerned, are polar opposites. It takes courage for Gordon to find a solution that works for both animals, a solution that he hopes will save a relationship that they both care about deeply.
With expressive artwork and a very minimal text, Sebastian Meschenmoser gives readers a tale that is funny and sweet. Children will see that a friendship is a precious thing worth preserving, and sometimes one has to be creative to protect it.
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I first started getting interested in animals after I read a book called My Family and Other Animals,
which was written by Gerald Durrell. I then went on to read many other books about animals, and learned all kinds of fascinating things about how animals have adapted to different environments and circumstances. Camouflage is one of these adaptations and it takes many remarkable forms, which is why I was delighted to review today's poetry title. In this book readers will meet just a few of the animals who use camouflage to hide their presence from predators or prey.
Now you see them now you don’t: Poems about creatures that hide
David L. Harrison
Illustrated by Giles Laroche
Poetry Nonfiction Picture book
Charlesbridge, 2016, 978-1-58089-610-8
For millennia animals have been using camouflage to help them hide from predators, prey, or both. Being able to camouflage their appearance has given mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and other animals the ability to survive, an ability that they have passed on to their decedents.
In this stunning book, cut-paper relief illustrations are paired with nineteen poems, each one of which explores how camouflage helps an animal species to be successful. We travel from beaches to polar climes, from forests to swamps, from meadows to jungles. Some of the species are large and impressive, while others are very small, but are still worthy of our respect and interest.
We begin on a sandy beach where a ghost crab blends in perfectly with its environment. When danger threatens, the little crustacean freezes and waits until it is safe to “scurry, hide, / dig, hole, /dive, inside.” With its sand colored shell and appendages, the crab can hide in plain sight if it has to.
The octopus is a master of disguise. It can change the color of its skin to blend in with its surroundings. This ability helps it to hide from a passing fish that is looking for a meal, or so that it can grab passing prey in its “sucker arms.”
In a swamp or marshland, alligators float in the water with only their snouts and backs showing. The alligator waits, for all the world looking like a log or piece of debris. What potential prey animals don’t know is that “Hidden where / they never show,/ are teeth / and teeth / and teeth below.”
When you see a tiger in a zoo you cannot imagine that its bold stripes are actually a wonderful form of camouflage, but in its native habitat where there are “Dappled shadows, / waving grasses,” a tiger’s stripes allow it to blend in beautifully. From where it waits the tiger can watch and when the time is right it will attack like “striped lightning.”
At the back of the book readers will find further information about all the species featured in the book.