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Results 26 - 50 of 16,817
26. Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea is a fantastic new book that is a perfect introduction to haiku for older readers and a wonderful book of poetry (and guessing game) for little listeners. I love haiku, but the often abstract nature of the poems can make teaching it to kids - as well as getting them to appreciate it - a challenge. The format of Caswell's book makes grabbing and keeping reader's interest easy. And, while Guess Who, Haiku is intended for toddler aged readers, her word choice is richly descriptive and varied, again, making this book a superb teaching tool.

The format of the book, as seen above, lets readers guess the subject of the haiku, always prompted by the sentence, "Can you guess who from her/his haiku?" A page turn reveals the subject of the poem with a jaunty illustration from Shea, who's bright, Easter egg palette and happy faces will definitely delight little listeners. After the first poem, following haikus are introduced by the subject of the previous poem, as such:

This bird has a haiku just for you.

from a lily pad
keen eyes spy a careless fly
a sticky tongue - SNAP!

Can you guess who from her haiku?

Guess Who, Haiku is so fun to read out loud. Caswell includes a final page about the structure of haiku that is easy to grasp. If you read Guess Who, Haiku with older children, be sure to have a paper and pen nearby as I have no doubt they will want to try writing their own haiku!

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27. Poetry Friday: Free Verse by Robert Graves

I now delight
In spite
Of the might
And the right
Of classic tradition,
In writing
And reciting
Straight ahead,
Without let or omission,
Just any little rhyme
In any little time
That runs in my head...

- from Free Verse by Robert Graves

Read the entire poem.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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28. Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths is the third book of this kind by Marilyn Singer and "target="_blank">Josée Masse, and the first I've read. I had heard of her first two books of reverso poems, Mirror Mirror and Follow Follow, especially because the subject is fairy tales, but I am happy to start with Echo Echo since Greek myths are just as engaging! Like fairy tales, themes in Greek myths are often black and white, good and bad, making them perfect candidates for a reverso poem.

But first, what is a reverso poem? When done well, it's a brilliant thing to behold, and Singer does reverso very well. Taking two characters, usually opposites, or sometimes telling two sides of one story, a poem is composed that, when read from top to bottom, shares one perspective and, when read from bottom to top (sometimes with a few changes of punctuation or capitalization) tells a different story. 

Icarus and Daedalus is a perfect example. An especially nice feature of this fantastic book is a text box at the bottom of each page that briefly and succinctly summarizes the myth in the poem. Icarus speaks first, describing the wonder of flight, ending with these apt words, "I know  / why / we burn to fly!" Reversing the poem, Daedalus begins his narrative with, "We burn to fly / why / I know / the glory of soaring." It's stunning the way that Singer can put the same words in the mouths of two different characters and have them come out so different. In Icarus's poem, you can feel the excitement and amazement at flying so high, so close to the sun. In Daedalus's poem you can hear a father's caution and wisdom. You will find yourself reading these poems over and over, wondering at the ways they are the same and different.

Pandora and her box

Arachne and Athena

If you are like me, you will be so surprised and intrigued by Singer's poems that you may not give Masse's illustrations the attention they deserve. However, if you linger over them, you will notice that Masse's illustrations embody the reverso theme as well. I have a growing number of students enthralled by Greek mythology and I can't wait to get Echo Echo into their hands, especially because, as English language learners, the straight forward presentation of the classic stories will make it more immediately graspable for them.

Singer & Masse's other books of 
reverso poems!

Source: Review Copy

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29. Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban

Maybe because I am the mother of two boys, but, more likely because I loved Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go as a child, I always love a good picture book with trucks and trains, of all kinds. And Old MacDonald Had a Truck by debut Steve Goetz, perfectly, marvelously illustrated by Eda Kaban, is a VERY good truck book. In fact, it's the kind of book that, after reading, will make you smack yourself on the forehead and wonder why you didn't think of this idea.

First of all, Kaban's endpapers show a fantastic assortment of tools that will grab any little truck lover's interest right away. Old MacDonald Had a Truck begins with a grey haired couple driving down a dirt road in a big, old truck. As they pull into the farmyard, we see that the animals are abuzz with activity. Tools are out, hard hats are on and something is definitely going on.

As the song/story unfolds, page turns reveal that Old MacDonald has TRUCKS and not animals on his/her farm. I read this out loud, for the very first time, to a class of kindergartners and their delight at the first page turn was palpable. They would have been completely happy for Old MacDonald to have a cow, but when they discovered he had an excavator, well, that was awesome. In fact, they loved it so much that we read it two times in a row.

Another awesome aspect of Old MacDonald Had a Truck are the movements that replace the animal sounds. Instead of quacking and mooing here and there, readers and listeners get to DIG DIG, PUUUSH PUSH and SPIN WHIRL, all of which lend themselves to great hand gestures. And, as happened to me, you may get so caught up in the rhythm of the story/song that you don't notice or forget that, instead of "E-I-E-I-O" as a refrain, Goetz changes it to match the purpose of each truck. So, as above, the bulldozer goes, "E-I-E-I-MOW," and so on, adding to the fun.

Steve Goetz was inspired to write this wonderful book by his son, who, while singing the classic song one day changed the lyrics so that Old MacDonald had a monster truck on his farm. Tweaking the song, Goezt brings it home by the end of Old MacDonald Had a Truck when it becomes clear that the construction equipment has been used to create a monster truck arena, complete with bleachers for the farm animals (who have foam fingers, popcorn and cotton candy) and the old red truck from the first page has been retooled into a monster truck. As if this whole scenario couldn't get any better, the refurbished monster truck, zooming off a jump, is driven by Mrs. Old MacDonald, a laughing Mr. Old MacDonald in the passenger seat!

Cool, fun, catchy and clever in all the best ways, Old MacDonald Had a Truck is such a fun book that is a joy to read!

Source: Review Copy

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30. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Hermione Winters is about to start her senior year of high school. As summer draws to a close, she heads off to cheer camp with her coach and her teammates, including Polly, her best friend and co-captain, and Leo, her boyfriend. Knowing this will be the last time she attends the camp, Hermione intends to make it the best one ever, to work hard, to enjoy the challenges and the routines and the music and the friendships, and to set a good example for her teammates and friends.

Then, on the night of the camp dance, Hermione is raped - her cup of punch drugged by a boy, she blacks out and wakes up in the hospital. The night holds no memories for her past the blackout. She cannot remember the face of her attacker, nor does she have any recollection of what he actually did to her. All she knows is what the doctors, nurses, and detectives have put together from examining her.

Her town is small; everyone knows what happened. The hallways of her school are filled with whispers and judgmental looks, and her relationship with her boyfriend dissolves. But Hermione doesn't withdraw from social interaction or change schools - the latter doesn't even occur to her. She doesn't like being the subject of gossip or scorn or pity. She remembers who she was, she knows who she is, and she is determined to stay true to herself while dealing what has happened.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston was above and beyond what I hoped it would be. Compelling writing, complex characters, realistic dialogue - there is much to praise here. This book could have been riddled with cliches; it was not. It could have been predictable or saccharine; it was neither. The events and reactions were feasible, believable, never farfetched or contrived. The story was layered and nuanced, allowing for warmth and humor sometimes when you least expected it (and most needed it).

Hermione tells her story in first-person narrative. She is an intelligent, resilient, mature young woman who is stronger than she knows. The characters that surround her are so vividly drawn - especially Polly, the fierce and loyal best friend who is equal parts fire and compassion - that any one of them could have a book of their own. And that is one of the loveliest things here: that the supporting characters are truly supportive of Hermione, that she is not dealing with this alone - and also that the supporting characters have their own arcs, their own problems and heartbreaks and priorities.

There is so much I want to say about this book. How it treats subjects such as sexual assault, doctor's visits, therapy, and victim shaming head-on, honestly and openly; how it encourages cheerleaders to be seen as athletes, not airheads; how it includes a variety of characters of various ages and personalities; and, most of all, how it allows its protagonist to be human, to wrestle with emotions and choices and ultimately emerge triumphant not because of or in spite of what happened/happens to her, but because of how she chooses to see herself, not a victim, not a statistic, not diminished, and how she chooses to live, unashamed, undeterred, always moving forward.

I knew before I was raped that this year would be the end of something. I just thought I'd be able to control the ending.

And, again, the magnificent writing: the choice of words, the steady pacing, the characterizations; the importance of a chair, a song, a friend; the details of a waiting room, a quiet house, an exuberant squad; the feeling of flying -- There is so much to applaud here.

Both thought-provoking and profoundly memorable, Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston is a triumph. I encourage people to read and re-read this book and to share it with others. Don't be surprised if you find yourself both crying and smiling as you turn the final page - and then start reading it all over again.

I included this book on my Tough Issues for Teens booklist and will undoubtedly include it on my Best Books of 2016 list.

If you like this book, you will also like Swollen by Melissa Lion and All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

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31. The Only Child by Guojing, 112 pp, RL: ALL AGES

The gorgeously rich illustrations, magic filled setting and wordless story of The Only Child by Guojing reminded me immediately of The Arrival by Shaun Tan. While Tan's book always feels deeply rooted in our world and the immigrant experience, despite the magical creatures and moments, Guojing's book beings in a foreign but familiar feeling city then flies off to a magic filled world of wonderful creatures and billowy clouds.

The Only Child begins with an author's note that frames the story perfectly. Guojing writes of growing up in China in the 1980s under the one-child policy. Her graphic novel grew out of a childhood experience that was common for children her age, which she refers to as a "very lonely generation." Put on a bus to her grandmother's as a six year old, Guojing fell asleep and woke up lost, crying and walking as she tried to find her way home. The Only Child begins with a cheerfully rumpled little girl waking in the morning just as her mother is leaving for work. A series of panels show her entertaining herself for a while, then looking at pictures in her scrapbook. A picture of her grandmother inspires her and she gets dressed, combs her hair, leaves a note and packs a tiny purse before heading out into the snowy, industrial, crowded city.

Guojing's illustrations of the city, the factories in the distance, the small houses, the tall apartment buildings, lumberyards, shops and the many electric bus lines are compelling, especially when viewed in the slightly grim sepia and grey tones of of the graphic novel.

The little girl falls asleep on the bus and wakes to a quiet, snowy forest. She begins to make her way through the forest, crying as she moves forward, until she sees a stag. Something about the beast encourages her to follow and soon she finds herself grabbing the horn of the stag and pulling herself onto its back. The two ascend a stairway of clouds to a pillowy land filled with play and exploration.

The pair find a new friend that looks a bit like a white otter crossed with a baby polar bear as well as an enormous, cloud surfing whale. These scenes create a quiet, ethereal world that is easy to sink into as you explore page after page, sunk in the atmosphere. It's even more amazing when you consider the limited palette that Guojing uses to evoke this blissful time. While fear, sadness and loneliness are part of the story, they feel far away for most of it. And the girl's return to her parents is, or course, a joyous one.

Describing it here, The Only Child sounds like a simple story, and in many ways it is. The unforgettable beauty of Guojing's book is everything she creates within the bounds of this simple story - the feelings she evokes, the memories, the warmth and the connection are anything but simple.

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32. Poetry Friday: Marigolds by Robert Graves

With a fork drive Nature out,
She will ever yet return;
Hedge the flowerbed all about,
Pull or stab or cut or burn,
She will ever yet return.

Look: the constant marigold
Springs again from hidden roots.
Baffled gardener, you behold
New beginnings and new shoots
Spring again from hidden roots.
Pull or stab or cut or burn,
They will ever yet return.

Gardener, cursing at the weed,
Ere you curse it further, say:
Who but you planted the seed
In my fertile heart, one day?
Ere you curse me further, say!
New beginnings and new shoots
Spring again from hidden roots.
Pull or stab or cut or burn,
Love must ever yet return.

- Marigolds by Robert Graves

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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33. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox, 400 pp, RL 4

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a fantastic set up for either a work of historical fiction or a fantasy novel. Intriguingly, it is both! Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson live in London with their parents and their Great-Aunt Margaret. As the bombing of the city increases, the Batesons take the first good opportunity to get their children to safety. In this case, it is Rookskill Castle in remote Scotland. The owner of the castle is Aunt Margaret's cousin, Gregor, the eleventh Earl of Craig. Recently married, the Earl is in need of money and also has recently taken ill. His new wife has converted the castle into a boarding school for a small number of evacuees. But, from the moment they arrive, Kat knows that there is something very wrong at Rookskill Castle.

While there are murmurs of a German spy hiding somewhere in the castle early on in the novel, another, more compelling story unfolds, starting in 1746. Lenore is the lady of Rookskill Castle but, unable to produce an heir for the lord, she fears for her life. On the edge of the forest in a crumbling hut, a magister offers Lenore hope - a charm for her chatelaine that will produce an heir. Over almost three hundred years, the Lady and her charmed children have existed on the outskirts of the castle grounds, the magister taking a part of the Lady with every new charm and replacing it with a clockwork mechanism that can only be seen in the moonlight. With the twelfth charmed child, the Lady, now called Eleanor, will have a power and security that she has longed for since her grim, painful childhood centuries ago.

Kat, eager to learn her father's trade - clock repair (not spying, as he now works for M16) is a practical child and skeptical of the dubious magic dotty Aunt Margaret promises when she gives Kat her own chatelaine before the children leave for Scotland. But, as Kat and her siblings, along with Peter Williams, an American transplant, suffer confusion, crankiness, and punishments as they get in the way of Lady Eleanor's plans, she begins to believe in the magic her aunt spoke of. With the instructors and staff at the castle under a spell, it is up to Kat to battle the Lady and rescue the souls of her friends and siblings.

I enjoyed this book, but I wished it had been a little bit more, despite being 400 pages long. Reading the blurb for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, I was very excited. Yet, it didn't come together quite the way I had hoped it would. Perhaps because I had recently read and been very impressed and moved by The War that Saved My Life (and watched a few too many BBC shows set during the war, like The Bletchly Circle and Land Girls) I expected more from the possible German spy plot, however, from the start, Fox makes it clear that Lady Lenore is looking to fill out her chatelaine and collect enough souls to continue living forever, making the spy subplot less than relevant. In fact, it is almost an aside when, near the end of the story, one of the instructors is revealed to be a German spy. Fox introduces a wireless, a father who is a spy and even an Enigma Machine, but they really don't contribute much to the plot. Neither do the two instructors who, 200 pages into the novel reveal that they are spies working for a special forces unit researching magical artifacts, the occult and paranormal experiences, especially anything that the Nazis might use to gain power.  This plot thread takes a (far) back seat to the story of Lady Lenore, but I think it could have added so much more tension and excitement to the plot. I also think that developing and deepening twelve-year-old Kat's character could have added so much to the story. She is so cookie-cutter, stereotypical at the start - dutiful big sister, dutiful daughter, a little bit of a crush on Peter and she doesn't really change much over the course of the novel, even if she does come to believe in Aunt Margaret's magic. Like the special forces spies who show up half way through the novel, Kat's genius math skills show up and allow her, through the tireless working of algorithms, to break the German code. The elements of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle are all wonderfully fascinating and together they make for a great story. For me, though, the story telling doesn't live up to the story elements.

Source: Review Copy

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34. Chuck and Woodchuck by Cece Bell

I love Cece Bell's kooky sense of humor, best on display in her Sock Monkey Trilogy. Bell is also a great storyteller, as her fantastic, award winning graphic novel El Deafo proves. With  her newest picture book, Chuck and Woodchuck, bell combines both these gifts for a silly, sweet story of friendship.

It's show and tell and our narrator, Caroline, has brought her grandfather's ukulele to share. Other kids brought a sombrero, a baseball, a tiny pencil and a tadpole to share. Chuck brought a woodchuck, saying only, "This is woodchuck." Woodchuck turns out to be a hoot - and helpful. Especially to Caroline. When Caroline is cold out on the playground one day, Woodchuck gives her a hat to wear. It turns out to be Chuck's, and he will not let Caroline give it back.

This kind of thoughtful, sweet behavior from Woodchuck, along with silence from Chuck, continues. Dropped cupcakes are replaced, paintings are replaced and lines are whispered during the school play as Woodchuck, by way of Chuck, helps out Caroline. Gradually, Chuck finds his voice and he, Caroline and Woodchuck end the book by walking home together, hand in hand.

Chuck and Woodchuck is a gentle story about  a friendship that blossoms with the help of an unforgettable, unexpected middleman. And, of course, Chuck and Woodchuck is a great reason to trot out the classic tongue twister!

Source: Review Copy

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35. little butterfly by Laura Loga

little butterfly by Laura Logan is a little bit of magic. While monarch butterflies, their migratory path and their recent comeback are infinitely fascinating, Logan's book is not about this aspect of these lovely creatures. In the author's note at the end of the book, Logan does touch on the journey of the butterflies, adding this quote from Aesop, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted," to give depth to experience of the main character in this wordless picture book. Instead, Logan and her main character, a little girl with a torn cape and an injured butterfly, have an imaginary migration of their own.

This beautiful illustration can be found under the dust jacket!

The palette for little butterfly is limited to oranges, greys and browns and the occasional dash of sky blue and the trim size is small, adding to the delight of the book. Arriving home from school and getting off the bus, the girl's cape snags and tears. As the bus pulls away, the girl abandons her backpack and runs across a field. A cat watches her and a monarch butterfly enters the scene.

Sitting in the grass with her cat, the butterfly flutters near and is injured by the playful cat. Protected by the girl, the butterfly is able to take off again and the girl and her cat curl up under her cape and fall asleep. As the girl sleeps, a flutter of butterflies sweeps over her and carries her away. Over land an sea, past a flock of geese and into a forest where thousands and thousands of butterflies are resting, like the many here in California, including this one in Pismo Beach.

The journey ends with the girl's cape becoming a pair of monarch wings before she is returned to the field where her journey began. The images in little butterfly can be mixed and not always adhering to the logic of the story, but as a wordless picture book, you can make whatever you want of them. It's better to just let the illustrations carry you along on the journey.

Source: Review Copy

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36. The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson, 367 pp, RL 4

Two years ago I enthusiastically, excitedly reviewed The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson, saying that it was the best fantasy novel I had read in quite a while. I also speculated about a sequel, hoping to learn more about the curious artifacts that arrive in the world of Solace by way of dangerous meteor storms. With The Secrets of Solace, Johnson delivers a novel that, while not a sequel to The Mark of the Dragonfly, is set in the same world and, if possible, even better than the first. And, best of all, The Secrets of Solace is takes place in the Archivists' Strongholds, where the artifacts are taken to be studied and experimented with. In the eight years since I began my blog, and in the fifteen years before that while working as a children's bookseller, I read a lot of middle grade fantasy novels, especially when the genre exploded after the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997. However, I hit a saturation point where, while the books were good and satisfied my love of traveling to other, magical worlds, they did not necessarily stand out or leave a mark on my memory. Johnson's novels stand out and are very memorable. She is a masterful world builder and her stories are seamless. Her characters are compelling, and her main characters are strong, curious, intelligent girls who are good with machines. If you are feeling a little burned out on middle grade fantasy novels, Johnson's books are the perfect palette cleansers.

The main character in The Secrets of Solace is Lina Winterbock, an orphan living in Ortana. Ortana is one of the three archivists' strongholds that abut the Hiterian Mountains, beyond which are uncharted lands. Lina is a junior apprentice to Zara, a teacher and member of the archivists' ruling council. The ruling council has been especially busy lately with the flood of refugees escaping the escalating war between the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territories, giving Lina lots of time on her own. Lina thinks of herself as a new breed of archivist, an "explorer archivist." She has spent so much time crawling through the air ducts and tunnels that thread throughout the mountain that she has been able to map them all as well as discover long lost workshops, overhear secrets and more. As Lina says of herself, she has been "hiding and listening for a long time." 

In fact, Lina has discovered a long lost workroom that was partially obscured by one of the frequent cave ins that happen on the mountain. Inside is an aircraft, something that the king of the Dragonfly Territories has been working on creating, something that would allow the inhabitants of Solace to explore uncharted lands. After twisting through the museum-like rooms and moss covered corridors of Ortana, Johnson's story takes off like a rocket when Lina encounters young Prince Ozben, the "spare heir" to the throne of the Merrow Kingdom. Ozben has been secreted away to Ortana and is in hiding from assassins. Together the two work to stay a step ahead of the assassins and the archivists who are growing weary of Lina's mishaps and suspicious of her behavior. Johnson includes an especially magical twist in the form of the aircraft, while also ramping up the dangers and complexities of impending war.

The Secrets of Solace was hard for me to put down, something that happens less frequently than I would like these days. Johnson does something that I especially appreciated in this novel, something that almost never happens in a middle grade fantasy: the hero of the story confesses to an adult who can help. I realize that it makes for good tension, but I often find myself feeling frustrated with characters in fantasy and adventure books who find themselves in deep and, for whatever fabricated (or real-ish) situation, do not turn to an adult for help. I think it is the mark of a truly good writer to be able to craft a plot that allows the main character to turn to an adult for help and continue on with a suspenseful climax to the story, which is exactly what Johnson does in The Secrets of Solace.

Source: Review Copy

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37. The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny by James Kochalka, 128pp, RL 2

The Glorkian Warrior has delivered himself a pizza, had his brains sucked almost dry by a baby alien and discovered the head of a Space Snake that spits out pie. Now, in the third and final book in this series, he and his pals face his biggest challenge ever - a possibly prophetic dream about a giant, flying mustache in The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny!

A post-dream, pre-Glork patrol cup of invigorating coffee that, naturally, GW thinks can talk when it's really Super Backpack, sets the story rolling. Along with a boisterous bunch of mini-Glorks that Gonk has invited in, GW and Super Backpack head out and inevitably end up in a giant hole. But, this giant hole leads to the Temple of Quackaboodle! 

And, in a rare appearance, the Glorkian Supergrandma arrives, beaming down a special light from her spaceship that turns Gonk's little pals into full grown, adult Glorkians! After some minor drama, Gonk gets beamed into adulthood also, now sporting a stunning stache. Kochalka brings everything home by bringing the baby alien, now mustachioed as well, back for a final appearance. The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny begins at chapter zero and ends with an epilogue. But, the book doesn't end there. As the final book in the trilogy, Kochalka shares a hilarious bonus comic and the very first Glorkian Warrior comic from 2007!

Source: Review Copy

Books 1 & 2 of the Glorkian Warrior

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38. Poetry Friday: Babylon by Robert Graves

The child alone a poet is:
Spring and Fairyland are his.
Truth and Reason show but dim,
And all's poetry with him.

- from Babylon by Robert Graves

Read the entire poem.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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39. Human Body Theater: A Non-Fiction Revue by Maris Wicks, 240 pp, RL 4

Human Body Theater: A Non-Fiction Revue, the new graphic novel by Maris Wicks is a fantastic way to learn a vast amount of information in a very fun format. Wicks is the illustrator of one of my favorite non-fiction graphic novels, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, written by Jim Ottaviani. In eleven acts, a skeleton takes readers through the main systems of the body, beginning with the skeletal system and working up at the excretory system just before intermission. After that, five more systems are visited, from the endocrine system to the reproductive, immune and nervous systems, ending with the five senses. And, as you can see, Wicks's illustrations are fantastic. Crisp and clear, with a bright color palette and images outlined in black, Human Body Theater is a treat to look at that you will find yourself poring over.

After a quick introduction to the hardworking stage hands, the cells, bones then muscles are explored. I'll be honest, I have vague memories of learning about the human body in my high school biology class and it was largely uninteresting and forgettable. However, Wicks's illustrations and presentation are so inviting that I genuinely enjoyed my trip through the human body! I guess giving faces and smiles to things like a cytoplasm, a Gogli body and atoms is just entertaining enough to keep my attention. To illustrate how the heart and the lungs work together to supply the body with oxygen, Wicks brings two, pink oxygen molecules in tutus on stage to dance readers through the process. 

The Blood Bus takes readers through the cardiovascular system and a peanut butter and banana sandwich explains carbohydrates then, with a note of glee exclaims, "But what's really exciting is that I'm going to get eaten!" The scene ends with the natural conclusion. There is a splash in the toilet on stage and the skeleton thanking the sandwich for an "informative performance." There are also brief forays into heartburn, constipation and the fact that stomach aches, constipation, vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by the brain and the benefits of relaxing and removing stress for the whole body.

Human Body Theater very tactfully covers the reproductive system, starting with the endocrine system and hormones. Wicks very tactfully uses descriptions rather than depictions for this scene. While there is a sperm and an egg with faces that talk, along with anatomical images of the sex organs, many readers might not even realize what they are looking at. Menstruation and erections are covered along with other changes that puberty brings, like body odor, pimples, hair growth, voice changing and breast development. The scene ends with pregnancy, birth and infancy. After a romp through the five senses, the skeleton ends the show by putting on some skin, then quickly stepping behind the curtain for some clothes.

In an excellent move, Wicks includes a glossary, with the ASL sign for each letter starting off each section, then a bibliography and suggested reading section!

Besides being a first rate author and illustrator and graphic novelist, Maris Wicks has a background in oceanography and education, having worked at the New England Aquarium where she taught children about marine science. This month she can be found on the R/V Atlantis doing research for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This all makes perfect sense because Wicks's next graphic novel, coming later this month, can be seen below!

Source: Review Copy

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40. Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, 224 pp, RL 4

I love it when I find a graphic novel that is as enjoyable as any by Raina Telgemeier, and Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova is right up there, along with Newbery Honor winner Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. Chmakova's illustration style is reminiscent of Japanese manga - her characters have exaggerated expressions that add to the humor and emotions of the story. And her color palette is pale yellows, pinks and blues with occasional pops of darker colors. The plot of Awkward shows good kids making bad choices and working hard to making things right. Above all else, the kids in Awkward are creators - they make, they build, they draw. Chmakova ends her wonderful story with these words, "Cardinal Rule #3 for Surviving School: Build. Build things. Build Friendships. Build yourself. Bit by little bit. It may feel like you're not adding that much . . . but in the end, it will add up to a lot."

But, before we get to those wise words, we need to go back about 200 pages to the beginning. Penelope Torres, known as Peppi, is new at Berrybrook Middle School. Not only does she suffer the humiliation of of tripping in the busy hallway and spilling all her books on her first day, overloaded and embarrassed, she makes a bad choice. Peppi's Cardinal Rule #1 for surviving school, "Don't get noticed by the mean kids."

When a friendly student stops to help Peppi, the mean kids start making fun of both of them and Peppi does the unthinkable. Without thinking, she pushes the nice kid and runs off, then regrets it almost every minute of every day afterward. 

Struggling in science class, but happily making new friends in art class, Peppi gets caught up in school club drama. The art club and the science club have to compete for the last table at the Club Fair. In the middle of all this, Peppi finds herself trying to apologize to Jamie, the nice kid she pushed, who just happens to be in the Science Club.

Chmakova layers lots of great details and characters into Awkward. There is Maribella, the president of the Art Club, who listens to Peppi's ideas but makes a few bad choices of her own that leave Peppi in a tough spot. There is a great field trip scene at the Natural History Museum and a thread that involves geocaching. And, of course, there are the art and science projects and the teachers who lead these clubs - the harried, paper wasting art teacher, Mr. Ramirez and the super-cool science teacher, Miss Tobins. Best of all, Awkward is not a quick read, which means that you have more time to savor it before starting it all over again.

Source: Purchased Copy

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41. The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson, 64 pp, RL 3

Victoria Jamieson is the author of the superb, Newbery Honor winner this year, Roller Girl. With her newest graphic novel, Pets on the Loose: The Great Pet Escape, Jamieson shifts from the rough and tumble world of roller derby to the dangerous lives of classroom pets. Jamieson's bright palette, way with edgy but cute creatures and attention to details make Pets on the Loose a treat to read - one you will want to read over and over while waiting for the sequel.

Before we get to chapter one, we get a close up look at the grim life of the narrator, a hamster who has been imprisoned for three months, two weeks and one day in a second grade classroom. Captured along with his friends Biter, a guinea pig, and Barry, a rabbit, GW (short for George Washington, something he is deeply embarassed by) has been plotting their escape. He has invented the Sunflower Slingshot (and there is a hilarious illustration of GW playing the sweet class pet, happily taking a sunflower from the fingers of a student) and the Rodent Catapult Transportation Device.
Once the kids are gone and the lights are off, GW is a different creature. The scenes of GW preparing for a jail break are fantastic and filled with little details, like bobby pins with pretty flowers on them, and the knit cap that GW dons. Sadly, busting out of his cage and then getting Biter and Barry free is not the liberating experience GW imagined. Barry, who has been living in a first grade classroom, has gone a little soft, tucking the toys in for the night and reading them a bedtime story. And Biter? Life in the kindergarten classroom seems to have sent him over the edge. When GW and Barry find him he's singing the theme song from the Barney show and sitting, happily in an unlocked cage!

Things go from bad to worse, including a run-in with Lucinda, the fifth grade pet (a snake) and her minions, the fourth grade pets (white mice) as well as the janitor and a bucket of filthy water. The climax finds the class pets in a very colorful food fight and imprisonment in a ring of green jello. The friends end up back in their cages, ready to plot their takeover of the school from Lucinda and her minions - after they take a nap...

Source: Purchased

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42. Apollo: The Brilliant One by George O'Connor, 80pp, RL 4

Second only to fairy tales, Greek mythology is a favorite of mine. A few years ago, I created a post featuring reference books, story collections and retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey for kids that you can read here. And, while I love Greek mythology, I am very picky about what I choose to read, give my kids to read and, now as a school librarian, purchase for my students to read. I am grateful to Rick Riordan for making Greek mythology interesting to kids in a huge way, but I am not always happy with the ways that he tweaks the myths. And, while my personal taste does not keep these books - or the graphic editions - off the shelves, I am thrilled that my students share my taste, making George O'Connor's SUPERB Olympians series of graphic novels the most checked out in my library.

O'Connor is a true scholar of Greek myths and this is evident in each of his books, from the various stories about each god and goddess that he chooses to present in each book to the way he frames these stories and connects them to the excellent back matter, starting with the Author's Note, god/goddess stats, "Greek Notes," which are footnotes that add a wealth of information to the stories, and discussion questions. The frontmatter always includes an extensive Olympians Family Tree. And, while I can't be sure if my students are reading these excellent extras, I do know that they are more likely to consume this information at the end of these graphic novels than they are to pick up D'Aulaire's Greek Myths or other collections, both because of its massive size and outdated appearance. Be sure to visit O'Connor's website,   Olympians Rule, where you can read excepts from each book and find more extras to go with each book in the series, like Reader's Theater scripts, an "Add Art or Text" feather that provides a page of illustrated panels with blank speech bubbles OR a page of speech bubbles allowing you to draw in your own gods and goddesses.

O'Connor begins Apollo: The Brilliant One with a quote from The Odyssey, "O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell a story." Apollo's story begins with one of the Mousai, the nine goddesses of inspiration, or, the Muses. As I read Apollo, I wondered how O'Connor chose the stories that he shares and what order to share them in. Happily, his Author's Note answered that question, which is lengthy but so illuminating. O'Connor writes, 

I felt I had to find the thread of what made Apollo compelling, not just as the central character of this book, but as a widely revered god in the ancient world. Ultimately, , inspiration did strike - the nature of the stories told about Apollo is exactly what makes him so interesting to others and to me. He is not some bland, perfect deity; he is conflicted, malicious, and spiteful. He is unknowable in his inhumanity, yet simultaneously relatable. Through research and immersion, the personality of shining Apollo revealed itself to me: an imperfect, proud, brilliant god, resplendent in his glory and unashamed of his pettiness.

For me, O'Connor's description of Apollo also perfectly explains why the Greek myths have endured for thousands of years and are still infinitely interesting and relevant, to both adults and children.

Born of  the she-wolf, Leto, and Zeus, Apollo and his twin sister Artemis's birth story is fascinating. As children, they are taken before their father who asked them what "gifts they desired, what they would become." Artemis, who was born first and, in the way that gods and goddesses do, helped Leto deliver her brother nine days later, wants to remain unmarried forever. She wants to hunt with a silver bow and arrows and run wild through the woods with her "own entourage of Oceanides, nymphs and hounds." Apollo refuses to answer. Zeus gives him a "bow to match his sister's. A golden tripod. A chariot pulled by swans to carry him wherever he wished."

The Muses get a nice bit of page time which includes listing the artistic endeavors they are the inspirations for. The story of Apollo and Daphne, subject of many works of art including Bernini's magnificent sculpture, and the story of Apollo and Hyacinth are both filled with action and emotion. My favorite tale is presented by Clio, the Muse of History, and so much of it is part of our everyday lives today. Apollo fell in love with a mortal woman, the Thessalian princess Koronis. He leaves a white crow to watch over her and, when this crow reports her infidelity, Apollo's rage "scorches the very air around him," which is why all crows are now black. Apollo's ego - and his deep love for his child (another crazy awesome birth story there...) make for a very compelling myth. Turns out, Asklepios, Apollo's son, is raised by Chiron, a centaur and great healer who basically trains Asklepios to be the first human doctor! In turn, Asklepios trains his daughters, Hygeia and Panacea (what what??) to be doctors! Asklepios's sad end is almost as gripping as his strange birth. But I'll leave that for you to discover!

God Stats, found in every book!

Olympians Rule!

Source: Review Copy

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43. Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling by Tony Cliff, 272 pp, RL: Middle Grade

When I reviewed Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff in 2013, I began by apologizing for the reductionist comparison between his insanely awesome character, Delilah Dirk, and Indiana Jones. But the thing is, Delilah Dirk is the closest I have found in all my reading to a girl character that I have no doubt could overcome the supposed reluctance boys have to reading books with main characters who are girls. But, this is all beside the point. The bottom line is that Tony Cliff has created a character and a world that is completely immersive and absorbing. Upon finishing Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, I felt as though I had read a 300 page novel and watched a fantastic movie. Seriously, these books are so beyond superlatives. I hope I can write about it coherently enough to convince you to give them a try! Enjoy several pages of Cliff's superb illustrations to find a short summary of book two in what I hope is a long series...

Of course I don't want to give away too much of the plot of Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, but rather tempt you with some key details. Delilah Dirk, daughter of a Greek mother and English father who was a foreign ambassador, allowing him to provide a well traveled and uncommon childhood for his only child, and Erdemoglu Selim, former Turkish janissary and killer tea maker, have been traveling companions for two years. While not avoiding conflict, sword fights and occasional gun battle, the two have been mostly staying out of trouble - until they cross paths with Major Jason Merrick in Portugal where the British are preparing to battle the French in the Peninsular War. Merrick decides to frame Delilah for his treasonous activities and she does not go lightly, taking a bullet to the arm in the process. Of course Delilah and Selim escape and she insists on returning to England to confront Maj. Merrick and restore her reputation. Selim is a loss to understand Delilah's insistence, but he follows her to a country and class of people who assume he is her servant. 

Cliff brings great character development to Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, both for Delilah and Selim. While there is plenty of action and fight after fight, the personalities, motivations and struggles both face are so compelling - as compelling as Delilah's strong jawline and voluminous hair. And, happily, with her return to England and her familial estate, we get to see where Delilah inherited these physical - and personality traits from!

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Source: Review Copy

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44. Keep Your Eyes on The Prize

The Pulitzer Prize, that is.

What does the list of shows below have in common?

2010: Next to Normal
1996: Rent
1985: Sunday in the Park with George
1976: A Chorus Line
1962: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
1960: Fiorello!
1950: South Pacific
1932: Of Thee I Sing

They represent the eight times the Pulitzer Prize in Drama has been awarded to a musical instead of to a play. It doesn't happen often, but it happens.... roughly about once a decade.

As the awards for Hamilton start to pile up, and with the 100th class of Pulitzer Prize winners being announced on April 18, I think it's time to start talking about the possibility of not just Tonys for Hamilton, but a Pulitzer.

The writing of Hamilton stands out from the writing so many plays and musicals. But unless you're in the room where it happens, and have done all the work the judges have, it's really hard to make predictions. So no hard feelings, Pulitzer folks, if it doesn't happen- but I won't be surprised if the list above becomes a list of nine.

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45. Poetry Friday: Carl Sandburg

The dome of the capitol looks to the Potomac river.
Out of haze over the sunset,
Out of a smoke rose gold:
One star shines over the sunset.
Night takes the dome and the river, the sun and the smoke rose gold,
The haze changes from sunset to star.
The pour of a thin silver struggles against the dark.
A star might call: It’s a long way across.

- Carl Sandburg

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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46. Red Ink by Julie Mayhew, 320 pp, RL: TEEN

Actress and playwright Julie Mayhew makes her literary debut with the YA novel Red Ink. Melon Fouraki has grown up in London with a challenging first name, a mother who is only 15 years older than her, as well as thinner and prettier, and a lifetime of stories her mother tells her about growing up and her family back on Crete. Stories about the melon farm where Maria grew up and her love of her family's land; stories of moving to London with her mother when Maria became pregnant as a teenager; stories about sitting on the top deck of the bus to find other Greek speakers in England; of making kollyva, the traditional dish of boiled wheat, for her mother's funeral and of the many Greek superstitions like never writing a letter to a person in red ink unless you wish them death. 

Melon begins narrating her story seventeen days after her mother is hit by a bus and killed. The chapters of Red Ink jump backward and forwards in time, always indicated by days since (her mother's death) tangling the plot in a compelling way that makes Melon's difficult character tolerable. Melon tells the reader and her therapist and social worker, as well as Paul, her mother's fiancé, a social worker just like Maria had been, that she is not grieving and does not miss her mother. At school, Melon lashes out at fake friends and bullies, realizing that Chick, the girl she considered her longtime best friend has no loyalty and no way to connect with Melon in her grief. But, she does "borrow" Chick's credit card to visit a swanky salon and get her long, curly hair chopped off. Melon does not cry at her mother's funeral, which Paul has tried to make as close to a Greek ceremony as possible, although she is surprised by all the people who turn out for it.

It is only when Paul brings home her mother's ashes that Melon begins to cry. As therapy, she has been trying to write down the story of her life, and her mother's life, as often told to her. When Paul and Melon travel to Crete to meet Maria's family and spread her ashes on the farm where she grew up, Melon learns the many falsehoods that made up the family story Maria always told her. Getting to this massive revelation was both a great anticipation and one that I didn't mind waiting for over the course of Red Ink. While Melon is an abrasive character, her voice feels so authentically adolescent that it was easy to forgive her and listen. The power of stories of the past and the power to change your own story and rewrite it in the present, as your life is unfolding, as explored in Red Ink are fascinating. This is especially so when you consider that Melon is at a point in her life when she is figuring out who she is and beginning to write her own story, which is exactly what she does by the end of the novel, and with a healthy dose of appreciation for the subjectivity we bring to our own narratives.

Source: Review Copy

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47. Lion & Tiger & Bear: Tag! You're It! by Ethan Long

Ethan Long's books have a great energy to them - a silly, slightly frenetic energy that reminds me of toddlerhood. Long's newest book, Lion & Tiger & Bear: Tag! You're it!, has that great energy paired with a great story and a delicious palette. The title of this book and the endpapers that are a map of Green Hills Hollow where the trio of animals live lead me to think that Lion & Tiger & Bear: Tag! You're It! will be the first in a series and I can't wait to see what this trio of friends gets up to next.

But first, inspired by the beautiful morning in Green Hills Hollow,  Lion is enjoying some time in his Alone Spot. He is immersed in painting a picture. But Bear and Tiger have other ideas. They want to play tag.

Over and over, Bear and Tiger try to draw Lion in. Lion becomes increasingly frustrated. There is one superb two page spread where we see the trio all over Green Hills Hollow, Lion trying out different places to paint and avoid his tag playing friends (in a tree, on a raft in the river, in a deep hole) and his friends finding him. It reminds me very much of the way a toddler will draw you in with relentlessness and an unending reserve of energy. Lion finally snaps and gets the time he needs to finish his masterpiece - a painting of the three friends! The final page shows Lion tagging Bear and running off...

Source: Review Copy

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48. Ninja Timmy, written and illustrated by Henrik Tamm, 224pp, RL 4

Ninja Timmy is the debut novel from Henrik Tamm. Tamm's day job is working as a conceptual designer in Hollywood, world building for animated and live-action movies like Shrek, the Chronicles of Narnia and Men in Black 3. And boy, does this guy knows how to build worlds. With illustrations. With words, he's got some catching up to do, but that is my adult critic opinion and I have no doubt that young readers will be as enthralled and enchanted by Tamm's story as I am by his artwork.

The world that Timmy lives in is old world European with a dash of steampunk and is inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, humans, and the occasional toy that has come to life. In the city of Elyzandrium, in a loft above a bakery, Timmy and his inventing crew, Simon, a handsome mink who loves the ladies, and Jasper and Casper, the piglet brothers, work to make machines that will simplify people's lives and line their pockets. Just when the crew has built a machine that will see them through the rest of the year (an automated orange peeler), things go very wrong.

Their machine is stolen by the Gribbles, warthog cousins, and delivered to Blue Rabbit, a toy turned bad who plans to steal the laughter from the children of Elyzandrium in order to give himself a soul. In the melee that follows, Timmy is almost thrown in jail before being rescued by a marvelous flying contraption, sent to his aid by a human, Alfred the toy maker. Alfred takes Timmy back to his workshop where they bond over their love of inventions, then Alfred takes Timmy to a magical series of caves where he finds a very rare flower that Alfred has only harvested once in his life, some forty years earlier.

Together with his old gang and new friends,  like Flores, the (girl, only girl) pilot, Timmy fights to stop the kidnappings of children happening around town with the help of the amazing machines and contraptions created by Alfred and Timmy. Tamm definitely has a gift for thinking up magical creations and Ninja Timmy is filled to the brim with them, from the clockwork creatures that Alfred creates (spiders, bats, helicopters and robots) to the Ziliosphere, a beautifully bejeweled blue orb that slows time, to the steampunk spy gear he makes for Timmy and his crew. Then there are the creepier contraptions that Blue Rabbit employs, from his steel hot air balloon with claw feet, to his steam-powered motorcycle riding reptiles, to the soul sucking machine.

While the evil Blue Rabbit is stopped in Ninja Timmy, there are always more inventions to build and villains to thwart, especially since this is a trilogy. Book 2, Ninja Timmy and the Journey to Sansoria, is already available in Tamm's native Sweden and should hit our shelves in 2017.

Source: Review Copy

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49. How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz

A seemingly familiar story of a pair of friends searching for buried treasure is anything but in the marvelously imaginative hands of Viviane Schwarz! How to Find Gold is the perfect pairing of text and illustrations and Anna and Crocodile are the perfectly paired friends who make this book even more delicious. 

How to Find Gold begins with Anna saying to her pal, "Let's find gold," to which Crocodile responds, "That would be dangerous and difficult." This suits Anna just fine. The planning stages are seriously hilarious. Anna and Crocodile take themselves and their quest very seriously, but their logic will have you smiling, if not flat out laughing, as you read. They practice making a "secret face" so that no one will know what they are planning and get to the gold before them. They practice carrying heavy things (in this case, Anna hoists Crocodile onto her shoulders because gold probably is not heavier than a crocodile) and they draw maps. Lots and lots of maps. They also take into consideration Crocodile's point that, "Not all gold is buried. There is also sunken gold."

Crocodile explains this with a drawing and then they find all the things from the drawing so that they can dive for gold. Admitting that finding sunken gold is a challenge, the pair decide to search the spot where "the sea is boiling and the clouds are like a tower and the fish are in the air." The imagination of Anna and Crocodile is endless!

As the pair dive for the treasure the illustrations changes. Where Anna, in her red dress, and Crocodile with his bright green skin, had been the main pops of color on the page, Schwarz begins to fill the pages with color and mixed media, making for bright, swirling, spreads that you feel like you could dive into yourself. 

Upon finding gold, the two quickly decide that it would be better not to spend it. Instead, they draw a map and bury it. Their map is so good that they decide to bury it with the treasure! Back at home, Anna tells Crocodile that he can stop making his secret face. He lets her know that this is actually his happy face, but they look similar. The congratulate themselves on finding gold, even when it was dangerous and difficult. Hand in hand, they head off, clearly to their next adventure.

Apologies for telling the whole plot of How to Find Gold, but it is just so completely charming that it was hard not to. I have been a longtime fan of Schwarz's work and a new book from her is always cause for celebration! I hope you will explore her other books by clicking here or by clicking on the titles below.

More books by Viviane Schwarz 
(and sometimes Alexis Deacon)

(a graphic novel)

Cheese Belongs to You!, written by Alexis Deacon

A Place to Call Home, written by Alexis Deacon

Source: Review Copy, but I totally would have bought this book...

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50. Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker: A Peek Through Story by Jessica Ahlberg

Published in 1986, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg remains one of my favorite children's books EVER. Discovered after I was a child but before I had children, it perfectly satisfies my love of fairy tales and absolute delight at seeing in a picture book mash-up of them. Even better, The Jolly Postman actually, literally delivers, with pages that are actual envelopes that hold letters, cards, fliers and other goodies the fairy tale characters send to each other. The Jolly Postman is a brilliant concept made even better by Allan Ahlberg's marvelous story and Janet Ahlberg's charmingly cozy illustrations. While the Ahlbergs ultimately created three books featuring the Jolly Postman as well as several picture books, including the magnificent Peek-a-Boo and Each Peach Pear Plum (again with the fairy tale mash-up) and illustrated chapter books, and won many awards, Janet passed away in 1994, leaving behind Allan and their daughter Jessica. I continued to read Allan Ahlberg's books (you can read reviews here), always pleased when he was paired with an illustrator with a style similar to Janet's. Happily, in 2004 Jessica Ahlberg illustrated a book written by her father. She went on to work with him and other authors and now, she has written and illustrated her first picture book, Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker: A Peek Through Story!

Like The Jolly Postman and Peek-A-Boo, Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker has a little extra going for it - peek through holes that reveal what is coming and what has passed wonderfully. The cover (which has a hole in it) opens to reveal Lucy beginning to read a story about a troll (The Three Billy Goats Gruff) to Mr. Barker in her absolutely adorable bedroom. But Mr. Barker would rather chase a butterfly out the window.

Soon enough, Lucy and Mr. Barker are wandering through fairy tale after fair tale, chasing that butterfly and escaping bears, wolves, giants, and children eating witches just in time.

Along the way, Lucy and Mr. Barker gather friends, from Goldilocks to the three pigs to Jack and Sleeping Beauty. The group ends up back in Lucy's cozy room where she offers to read them all a story. They all agree, as long as there are no, "fairies, no giants, no big bad wolves, and no bears!" Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker ends, delightfully, where it began, with Lucy reading, "Once upon a time there was a troll . . ." The final illustration shows a troll peeking in the window, Mr. Barker sticking his tongue out at him!

Jessica Ahlberg is definitely in the family business, I hope for a very long time!

More books by and/or 
illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg

Yucky Worms by Vivian French

Toon Tellgren's story collections

A page from EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM by Janet & Allan Ahlberg that reminds me of Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker

Source: Review Copy, but I would have bought my own anyway...

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