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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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many of us tend to think that sheep are not very bright animals. They are followers rather than thinkers. In today's picture book you will meet some sheep who are intelligent and opinionated. In fact, they take a stand on an issue that is dear to them.
Eerdmans, 2014, 978-0-8028-5470-4
Every year the sheep are sheared and every fall they feel pretty chilly without their woolly fleeces. Some of them even get colds, and then they have to be seen by the vet, and we all know what happens when the vet comes; the sheep have to “swallow disgusting medicine and get shots.” After years of putting up with this state of affairs, the sheep have decided that they have had enough. None of the other farm animals get sheared for their fur, so why should the sheep put up with this treatment? There is only one thing to do: the sheep go on strike.
The sheepdog, Ralph, tries to round up the sheep and ends up having to run for it. The sheep are in no mood to be pushed around. On the farm some of the animals sympathize with the sheep, while others think that the sheep should stick to “tradition” because “that was how it was supposed to be.”
The next day the sheep get ready to march on the road that runs from the end of the meadow to the goose pond. The farm animals watch as the sheepdogs from the neighboring farms gather for a meeting at Ralph’s doghouse. Afraid that they will lose their jobs, the dogs are determined to do what they can to stop the strike. No one imagines that the march and the kerfuffle that follows will cause a terrible schism to develop between the farm animals.
We live in a world where people are often all too willing to resort to violence when things are not going their way. In this picture book we see how animals on a farm find themselves following this all too familiar human pattern until good sense prevails and they discover that there is always another way to solve a problem. A compromise offers them a solution that is clever, and for us readers, deliciously funny.
The first time I visited Africa I was bowled over by the beauty of the place and loved watching the wild animals. I saw a giraffe as my plane touched down in Nairobi, and there were bush babies in the backyard of the house that I was staying in. For a zoologist, which I was, this was sheer heaven. Today's poetry title will take readers to Africa, and they will get to spend a little time hanging out at a water hole where they will meet all kinds of wonderful creatures.
Dear Wandering Wildebeest and other poems from the water hole
Illustrated by Anna Wadham
Lerner, 2014, 978-1-4677-1232-3
If you visit an African savanna and want to see some of the grassland animals, the best place to go is to a water hole. All the animals need water at some point, and they often travel long distances to get to a water hole, where they gather during the day or night. Bush willow trees are often found growing near or around the water hole and they provide animals with shade, a place to rest, and even a source of food.
The voice of the bush willow is heard in one of the poems in this book. It tells us how its “buffet never closes” for animals like giraffes, which feed on its leaves. We hear about how rhinos doze in its shade, and baboons “scramble up and down my trunk.” On its branches and truck animals such as owls, skinks, and ants make their homes and go about their business.
We also read poems about some of the creatures that come to the water hole. There are several deadly snake species that may pay a visit, including the deadly and fast moving black mamba, the tree-living boomslang, the cape cobra, the saw-scaled viper, and the puff adder, which “rarely misses.”
Here we see the fast and elegant impala, a deer that can leap great distances and whose “flawless flight” is a “dancer’s delight.” Elegance is not the way of the elephants who come to the water hole. They bathe and drink and then they have a wonderful “red-grit shower” rolling in the dust. The dust coats their skin and it protects them from the sun and biting insects. The rhino, another large animal, also comes to the water hole, though it only comes when the stars are high in the sky and when “moonshine” touches the land. The rhino, a solitary creature, “charges like a bull / at the rodeo” if it hears or smells danger.
On the pages of this memorable poetry book readers will find poems that beautifully capture the sounds, sights, and smells of Africa. Readers will meet some of the animal characters who live in this captivating place. Accompanying every poem there is a section of text that gives readers further information about the animals (or plants) mentioned in the poem. The poems come in many forms and use different ‘voices’ so that readers are kept guessing. Who will come next? Will we get to read about a meerkat or a giraffe? What about lions? Will we get to meet them too?
When I was little I was terrified of learning how to swim. I would not let go of the side of the pool, even if I was wearing my water wings, and even though I knew my water wings would allow me to float. Then a friend took the time to encourage me to swim freely. She made me feel that I would be fine and safe, and so I took that terrifying step and let go. I have loved swimming ever since. Today's picture book is about a little mole who take a similar step when he decides that he no longer needs training wheels on his bicycle.Off We Go! A Bear and Mole Story
Holiday House, 2013, 978-0-8234-2520-4
One day Mole decides that he no longer needs the training wheels on his bicycle. He asks his friend Bear to help him remove the wheels. Bear helps Mole take the wheels off, they make sure there is enough pressure in the tires, Mole pulls on his boots, and they attach a flag to the bike. Then Mole puts his library books in his bike pack and puts on his helmet. Finally Mole is ready.
Mole kicks off and Bear pushes him and after a series of wobbles poor Mole crashes. Miserable Mole, tears streaming down his velvety face, announces that he is going to “quit,” but Bear tells him that he thinks Mole can do it. Encouraged by Bear, Mole decides to give it another go, never expecting that his bike ride is going to be quite sensational.
In this delightfully sweet and funny book we see how a little encouragement and a dash of courage can go a long way when one is confronted with a daunting task. Little children who are facing their own challenges will find Mole and Bear’s story inspirational and supportive.
When I was young I spent hours face down (wearing a mask and snorkel) in the Mediterranean Sea watching fish and other creatures go about their business. I also snorkeled in the Indian Ocean, and more recently off the shores of Kauai. There is something magical about watching these beautiful and fascinating animals from the surface, a part of their world and yet apart at the same time. Today's poetry picture book will take readers into that world.
In the Sea
Illustrated by Holly Meade
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-4498-7
The world’s oceans and seas are full of wonderful, beautiful, and sometimes downright bizarre creatures. Some can dive to the deep dark depths, going places that we humans cannot get to unless we are protected by the thick shell of a submarine. Others make their homes in the shallow, warmers waters where the sun dapples the sand and reef.
In this gorgeous picture book Holly Meade’s visually arresting woodcuts are paired with David Elliot’s poems to give young readers a colorful and every changing picture of some of the creatures that live in marine environments. We begin with a small and delicate seahorse, “dainty as a wish,” that does indeed look a little like a horse and yet it is “a fish.”
On the next spread we encounter a very different animal. With its strong tail propelling it through the water it seems to swim straight at us, its mouth agape showing off its many sharp teeth. This is the shark, the creature that inhabits some people’s nightmares “The terror… / of the dark within.”
We then turn the page to encounter the long arms of an octopus. Though it is rather funny looking, this animal should not be underestimated. It may seem like the clown of the sea, the oddity, but in fact it is the magician that can, without any warning, “vanish in a cloud of ink.”
Our next creature is a gentle, slow-moving beast, a starfish that crawls along making the world it lives in all the more beautiful by its five-fingered presence.
With beautiful word images and touches of humor, David Elliott shares his obvious love for the natural world with his readers, offering up a celebration of marine animals that is unique and beautiful.
Many of us wish we could have a pet. We image how wonderful it would be to have a cat or a dog who would always be happy to see us and who would eagerly greet us when we came home from school or work. We forget that having a pet is a lot of work. In today's picture book you will meet a delightful little mouse who shows us what it means to be a pet owner.I wish I had a pet
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-5332-6
Many people, children and adults alike, sometimes wish that they had a pet. They see someone walking along the street with a sweet dog at their heels, and think how nice it would be to have a dog to walk. Perhaps they see someone sitting on their front porch with a happily purring cat in their lap. How soothing it would be to have a cat like that, a furry purry presence who makes you feel special.
In this book a charming little mouse person asks you if you “wish sometimes…that you
had a pet?” She then goes on to talk about how important it is that you think about what it means to have a pet. For one thing you have to choose the right one, a pet that won’t be too big to handle, or one that won’t make you have an allergic reaction.
Once you have found the right pet, the pet that suits your lifestyle and personality, you have to make sure that you take care of it properly. A pet, even a fish or a roly-poly, takes a lot of work. You need to keep it clean, fed, exercised, and happy. You also have to clean up after your pet’s messes (no matter how nasty they are), and be willing to accept that sometimes pets are “very naughty,” especially if they are bored.
In this delightfully sweet and often funny picture book, Maggie Rudy shows people the joys and woes of pet ownership using her cunning little felt mice characters. On every spread we see a mouse character or two with bees, fish, beetles, lizards, frogs, and other mouse-sized pets. Backdrops that are mouse perfect present readers with so much to look at, and one almost wishes one could hop into the page and visit the characters in their world.
I am a big believer in recycling, but I have never thought about recycling words, reusing words that someone else has written and re-purposing them so that they become something new and different. This is exactly what the poems in today's book are; they are poems that were created using words that the poets found. It is fascinating to see the ways in which they created poetry out of slogans, advertisements, crossword clues and other pieces of found text.
The Arrow Finds its Mark: A book of Found Poems
Edited by Georgia Heard
Illustrated by Antoine Guiloppe
Roaring Brook Press, 2012, 978-1-59643-665-7
For centuries poets have been inspired by nature’s beauty. They have been inspired by animals and plants. They have told stories and described people. The inspiration for the poems in this book came from an unusual source; they were found. The poets were invited to find their poems within a piece of writing or spoken piece. They saw what they were looking for written on a subway wall, in a book, on a receipt, on websites, advertisements and other sources. They then “refashioned” the words they found (without changing, adding, or rearranging them) to create something completely new.
Lee Bennett Hopkins, Kai Dotlich, Jane Yolen and many others took on this challenge and created poems that are quite fascinating. In a poem called Pep Talk,
Janet Wong seems to be encouraging us to keep going, to keep trying, telling us to “Keep Cool” and “See a brighter solution.” Readers will be surprised to learn that the poet found these words on the box of a detergent cleaner. Similarly, in his poem First
, Lee Bennett Hopkins turned a Sprint newspaper advertisement into a poem about winning. In the poem we are told what it means to be first. The one who is first, “leads” and he or she “First takes us places / we have never / been before.”
Jane Yolen found the words for her poem, Cross Words
, within the clues for a newspaper crossword puzzle. What is interesting is that she has actually found phrases that sound angry or cross, phrases like “Do something!” “Shame!” and “Don’t ask me!”
Joyce Sidman found the words for her poem in a Greenpeace calendar. She took the text in the calendar, changed the layout of the sentences and created Song of the Earth
, a beautiful poem about our precious natural world.
Readers will be surprised when they see what the sources for these poems were. Who knew that catalogs, photo captions, book titles and other everyday pieces of writing could create such splendid poems. Readers might even be tempted to try writing their own found poems.
Children love to have secrets and in the book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary
we meet a little girl and a little mouse who have a secret. They become friends and knowing full well that their families would not approve of their friendship, they keep their times together a secret. In today's book you will meet Mouse Mouse and Mary again, and this time you will see that they are not the only ones in their house who have secrets.
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Random House, 2014, 9780-375-84423-2
Mary is a little girl who lives in a lovely house, and Mouse Mouse is little mouse girl who lives beneath the floorboards of this house. Mary knows all about Mouse Mouse because she and the little mouse are friends. The girls know better than to tell their families about their friendship. The human parents would get a cat, and the mouse parents would “flee to a hole in the ground.” The two girls therefore keep their relationship a secret.
One night Mary gets ready for bed by putting on her jammies, brushing her teeth and hair, and getting into bed. In her home under the boards Mouse Mouse is doing the same thing. Both girls call out for their mothers. Nothing happens. The mothers don’t make an appearance, so the two girls go looking for them, calling out “Mom” and “Mommy” as they go.
Mary searches the house and asks her father and brother if they know where Mom is. Mouse Mouse searches her home and asks her father and little sister if they know where Mommy is. The girls are starting to get worried.
In this delightful story, which began in the book Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary
, we get to go on a simple and yet very surprising adventure with Mary and her friend, Mouse Mouse. Barbara McClintock’s lovely illustrations capture the worlds that the friends live in in great detail, and children will particularly enjoy seeing the illustrations where the human house and the hidden mouse house are shown on the same spread.
Telling stories using poetry is something that poets have been doing for a long time. Often the stories are made up, but sometimes that are based on real events that took place in the past. In today's poetry title readers will find a collection of poems that are used to tell the story of the United States.
Hand in Hand: An American History Through Poetry
Collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Peter M. Fiore
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 1994, 978-0671733155
Poems come in many forms. They can describe a moment in time or describe a place. They can capture an emotion, and they can also tell a story. Sometimes the stories they tell are made up, but at other times these stories are based on real events that happened in the past. Many poets really enjoy telling the stories of important historical events. For this book Lee Bennett Hopkins has put together a collection of poems that will give readers a picture of the history of the United States.
The poems are presented in chronological order, beginning with those that tell the story of the early European settlers who came to America; the pilgrims who traveled to New England to build new lives for themselves. We read of their landing, which was witnessed by the ocean-eagle which “soared / from his nest the white wave’s foam,” where the “rocking pines of the forest roared.”
Then we move on to poems that tell the story of the American Revolution. Here readers will find Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride, and they can also read about Molly Pitcher, a woman who manned a cannon in a battle during the war and who, “since she had played a man’s full part,” had earned “A man’s reward for her loyal heart.”
The section that follows offers us poems that tell the story of America during the years when countless people began the journey west to settle the frontier lands. For the brave people who made the journey, the west offered new opportunities. For the native people who already lived in these lands, the arrival of the pioneers was a time of loss and bloodshed. The story of one young Native American is told in the poem Battle Won is Lost. The thoughts and feelings of the young man come through with painful clarity as he goes to war only to discover that those who said “To die is glorious,” had lied.
The story of the United States continues until we come to the section that is about “1900 and Beyond.” Here we read about the way in which Americans continued to voyage long after they had reached the Pacific Ocean. They went up into space to travel “from planet to planet and from moon to moon.”
On the pages of this remarkable collection readers will find the poems of Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Charlotte Zolotow and many other remarkable poets.
Many children's book authors and illustrators visit schools, and when they do the eager students often ask a lot of questions. One of the most commonly asked questions is some version of "Where do your stories come from?" In today's picture book this question is answered in a clever and often amusing way.
For ages 7 and up
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1554983827
Marie-Louise Gay is a much loved author whose books have delighted children (and adults) for many years. When Marie-Louise goes to talk to children in schools and libraries, they do what all children do. They ask questions. A lot of questions. Often the children want to know about Marie-Louise and her life, and then there are the questions that pertain to her stories and how she creates them. One of those questions that is often asked is, “Where does a story start?”
A story always starts with a blank page. If you stare at the page long enough, “anything can happen.” You might think that a blank piece of white paper cannot possibly inspire anything, but this is not true. For example, it can give birth to a scene that is full of a snowstorm. If you start with a piece of paper that is old looking and has a yellow tinge to it then you might end up telling a story about a time when dinosaurs walked the earth. Blue paper can lead to an underwater adventure and green paper can be the backdrop for a story about a jungle.
Sometimes stories don’t start with a color at all. Instead, “words or ideas” come “floating out of nowhere.” Bit by bit pieces of paper with words and thoughts written on them are collected and sorted, and then they are joined by “little scribbles and doodles,” which is when the kernel of a story starts to grow. Of course, sometimes an idea pops up on the page that simply does not work at all. When this happens an author has to search around for something that does work, which can take a little (or even a lot) of time to happen. These things cannot be rushed though, and eventually the right piece of story comes along and the author is off and running.
In this wonderful picture book, Marie-Louise Gay explores the writing process, answering questions that children have asked her over the years. She shows us how a story is built, how it unfolds, and we see, right there on the pages, how she creates a magical story out of doddles, scraps of ideas, and tidbits of inspiration. The little children and animals characters who appear on the pages interact with the story, questioning, advising, and offering up ideas.
This is a book that writers of all ages will love. It is funny, cleverly presented, and it gives writers encouragement and support.
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Using words to connect with our world is something we humans do all the time. Sometimes these words are directed at people or animals, and sometimes they are sent out into the universe with the hope that someone or something can hear what we are saying. In today's poetry title you will encounter some poems that will resonate with anyone who has, among other things, asked for courage, who has lost something, who has lost someone, and who has felt regretful.
What the heart knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin, 2013, 978-0-544-10616-1
We humans have been using words “to try to influence the world around us” for centuries. We have offered up prayers and chants to ask for kinder weather, to secure safe passage on journeys, and to be victorious in battle. We have sung songs to get the attention of our one true love, and to bless our sleepy children before they slumber.
We now know that songs and chants cannot save us from tornadoes, make our crops grow and protect us from the newest wave of the flu, and yet we still write down words that are essentially chants, charms or blessings, some of which are offered up in prayer or song. The creation of these offerings helps us to celebrate, to grieve and to process our anger. They allow us to communicate our feelings to the universe, and to even gain an understanding about ourselves in the process.
In this remarkable book Joyce Sidman offers us poems that will give readers much to think about. She begins with Chants and Charms: to bolster courage and guard against evil.
Here readers will find a chant to help repair a friendship, one in which the writer asks the reader to “forgive the past” and to give love, which “is vast,” a chance. The form of the chant is beautifully lyrical.
For those days when courage is in small supply or when doubt fills the heart there is Song of Bravery
, a poem that will help anyone facing a day that is full of grey clouds and possible pitfalls. Here readers will find the words of one who is unsure and perhaps even afraid, and yet who is going to step “into the glare of the arena / to face the lions.”
Occasionally we wish we could, with our words, “cause something to happen.” This is when the Spells and Invocations
section in this book will come in handy, and Joyce Sidman gives us several poems that will surely be useful. The first in particular will come in handy almost every day as it is an Invitation to Lost Things
. Here at last are the words we need to call out to those objects that are always going missing; those cell phones that seem to grow feet and walk away, and those pairs of things – such as earring and socks – that are constantly losing their mate. In her poem Joyce Sidman’s words are gentle and placating as she asks these wayward things to come back because without them “we are lost / in this big world of ours.”
Following the spells we come to the Laments and Remembrances
. Here we find poems that remember things, that regret those things that are no more, and that grieve for those who have left us. These poems are followed, very aptly, by Praise, Songs and Blessings
, which are poems that “celebrate, thank, or express love.”
This is a remarkable book full of poems that are rich with beauty and wisdom, and readers will want to read than again and again.