Monday, January 16, 2017

A Popcorn Song (Monday Poem)

by Nancy Byrd Turner

Sing a song of popcorn
When the snowstorms rage;
Fifty little round men
Put into a cage.
Shake them till they laugh and leap
Crowding to the top;
Watch them burst their little coats
Pop!! Pop!! Pop!!

from Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems, selected by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Eva Moore, Mary Michaels White, Jan Carr, 1988, Scholastic 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Among the heroes in our nation’s history, we recognize one whose adult life invites us to think about the important freedoms we cherish. The Reverend Dr. King, Jr. led a movement that inspires us today. Many civil rights we now often take for granted required work to pass laws that guarantee us those freedoms today. These books are among many that tell us stories about the often hidden history of people and their struggles for freedom. Take time to share these inspiring picture books, and have a conversation about our country’s history. Enjoy!

Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons 
Illustrated by Don Tate
            When Papa goes to fight in the war against slavery, he gives Hope a conch shell. He tells her to hold it to her ear and listen for the sound of freedom. “Nothing can stop it from coming. Nothing,” he tells her. Time passes but he has not returned. Hope, her brother, and her mother miss Papa terribly. Life is hard, especially when Hope has to work in the cotton fields. There is whispering among the slaves about freedom coming.
            Colored pencil and gouache illustrations are simple, but beautifully rendered with faces and bodies expressing sadness, fear, love, anger, hope, and celebration. The story highlights the contrasts and similarities between Papa’s leaving to fight for freedom and the Master’s leaving his daughter to fight for slavery. Each leave-taking is painful for each child. Award-winning art seamlessly matches the matter-of-fact text.
            One day Hope sees soldiers dressed in Union blue, among them, Papa! Finally back, bringing the promise -- freedom is near. This is a gentle but powerful story of separation, love, and sacrifice. An Author’s Note is at the end.

Putnam, $16.99
Interest Level: Grades 1-3

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story 
by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud 
Illustrated by John Holyfield
            Based on a true story from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, a small African American community in Alabama is featured in this low-key story with powerful change at its center. While he’s waiting on his mother, young Alex watches an old mule eat collard greens from a neighboring garden. An older woman tells a story to explain why Belle, the mule, is a hero and can eat what she wants.
            The residents of Gee’s Bend (called “Benders”) were very pleased when the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr came to encourage them to register to vote. They took the ferryboat across the river to Camden in such great numbers that the local authorities closed the ferry. So, with help from the mules, they arranged heir own transportation. They had to do it again when they went to vote. When some of them lost their jobs as a result of voting, together they created beautiful quilts.
Vibrant colorful acrylic artwork pairs with the carefully researched and well-written language of the story. Following Dr King’s assassination, the Benders were once again called on for assistance. Dr King had requested that mules pull a farm cart carrying his casket. The Benders took two mules, one of them Belle, and found a solution to barriers the authorities once again put in their way.
This thoughtful story includes readers, as we listen to Miz Pettway, along with young Alex, showing how ordinary people can change the world. At the end is an Author’s Note.
Candlewick Press, $16.99 (hardcover) 
$7.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Grades 1-3

Preaching to the Chickens: The story of young John Lewis 
by Jabari Asim 
Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
            Living civil rights legend and Georgia congressman John Lewis was once an Alabama farm boy who cared for his family’s flock of chickens. He knew them by name and recognized them by their actions. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he would tell the ones fighting over breakfast.                         
As their protector, he rescued them when they fell into the well, and even brought back to life a nearly drowned chick. He also figured out a way to trade with a local businessman without losing one of his chickens.
Sunlit spring mornings are featured in illustrator Lewis’ signature watercolor illustrations. The lively chickens and young John’s tender care are highlighted in this engaging picture book. Appealingly blended impressionistic art and affectionately written text feature young Lewis’ faith and family as cornerstones in his growing years. At the conclusion of the story is an Author’s Note about his conversations with former Freedom Rider and U.S. Representative John Lewis.

Penguin, $17.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 4

Monday, January 9, 2017

Snowflakes (Monday Poem)

by David McCord

Sometime this winter if you go
To walk in soft new-falling snow
When flakes are big and come down slow

To settle on your sleeve as bright
As stars that couldn't wait for night,
You won't know what you have in sight --

Another world -- unless you bring
A magnifying glass. This thing
We call a snowflake is the king

Of crystals. Do you like surprise?
Examine him three times his size:
At first you won't believe your eyes.

Stars look alike, but flakes do not:
No two the same in all the lot
That you will get in any spot

You chance to be, for every one
Come spinning through the sky has none
But his own window-wings of sun:

Joints, points, and crosses. What could make
Such lacework with no crack or break?
In billion billions, no mistake?

from Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems, selected by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, Eva Moore, Mary Michaels White, Jan Carr, 1988, Scholastic 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sea Fever (Monday Poem)

by John Masefield

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking
And a gray mist on the sea's face and a gray dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

from Time for Poetry: A Teacher's Anthology, compiled by May Hill Arbuthnot, 1951, Scott Foresman and Company

Monday, December 26, 2016

Trains (Monday Poem)

by James S. Tippett

Over the mountains,
Over the plains,
Over the rivers,
Here come the trains.

Carrying passengers,
Carrying mail,
Bringing their precious loads
In without fail.

Thousands of freight cars
All rushing on
Through day and darkness,
Through dusk and dawn.

Over the mountains,
Over the plains,
Over the rivers,
Here come the trains.

from Time for Poetry: A Teacher's Anthology, compiled by May Hill Arbuthnot, 1951, Scott Foresman and Company 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sea Gull (Monday Poem)

by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth

The sea gull curves his wings,
The sea gull turns his eyes.
Get down into the water, fish!
(If you are wise.)

The sea gull slants his wings,
The sea gull turns his head.
Get down into the water, fish!
(Or you'll be dead.)

from Time for Poetry: A Teacher's Anthology, compiled by May Hill Arbuthnot, 1951, Scott Foresman and Company

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Winter Holiday Books to Share (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Holidays come and go, but time spent reading wonderful stories together with young ones most dear to us makes memories that remain to comfort us in dark times and to cheer us on happier days. Merry, merry!

Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
Although nothing in the title of this unique and tantalizing tale gives it away, a certain animal’s head is on the cover. A gorgeous painting of this same animal in acrylic and gouache spreads across the copyright and dedication pages, before the words of the story even begin. Noting these details, an attentive reader will likely expect a moose to be involved in this picture book.
The story does not disappoint, showing what it’s like to live in Alaska where winter is high on snow and low on daytime. Also, where a large and lonely moose might decide to eat the trees in someone’s backyard.
An unnamed young girl shares her experiences. She worries about her blue swing, hanging from the same tree, which the moose has begun to use for dinner. Carrots, cookies, or even apples tossed his way by the girl and her mother do not distract the moose. Neither is the narrator distracted by Hanukkah presents in the mail. Nor when she and her friends act like dreidels spinning in the snow.                     
            On the last night of Hanukkah, her father takes them outside to watch a stunningly colorful display. The girl has a clever idea of how to lure the moose out of the yard.
            Both visual and textual climaxes of the story come together in her ending observation, “Hanukkah can be pretty funny in Alaska, and miracles can happen in a lot of different ways.”
            Hanukkah facts and information about the aurora borealis are included in an Author’s Note at the end.

Henry Holt, $16.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 2

Santa’s Book of Names by David McPhail
            Although Edward is good in math, he’s having trouble learning to read. His teacher is concerned, but his mother suggests, Patience. On Christmas Eve, as his dad is reading a story about Santa delivering presents, Edward wonders how Santa remembers names. Perhaps the names are written in a book, guesses his mom.
            That night Santa invites Edward to help him deliver presents. On this fantastic adventure, Santa loses his glasses, when they fall into the sea. Edward must help by reading from Santa’s book, the names and what each child’s gift is.
            Beautiful watercolor and ink paintings feature cozy indoor Christmas scenes in contrast with snowy moonlit winter nightscapes. Shadowy darkness gives way to a “dawning sky.”
Sounding out the words, Edward is able to give Santa the help he needs. In the morning Edward wakes up on the sofa with a book from Santa on the floor nearby. When Dad offers to read it, Edward smiling, says, “Let me read it to you.”

Little, Brown and Company, $6.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift by Dara Goldman
            In this retelling, for youngsters, of O’Henry’s classic tale, “The Gift of the Magi,” Boris and Stella are a perfect match. “They both like hats and scary movies.”
Boris is from a Russian family, which celebrates Hanukkah. Stella’s Italian family celebrates Christmas.
            A baker with only a few coins, Stella decides to sell her potted pine tree, a gift from her family, to buy Boris something special for Hanukkah. She wants him to know that she cares, choosing a dreidel from Israel as a gift.
            Boris, a pianist, is so glad to have Stella in his life; he wants to show her by choosing something special for her tree as a Christmas gift. Also, without many coins, he sells his dreidel collection, yearly Hanukkah gifts from his parents.
This rare and generous blending of Jewish and Christian holiday traditions features two cuddly bears. Warm golds and blues light up the illustrations concluding with a celebratory dinner on the last night of Hanukkah, also Christmas Eve.
When they realize what they have done, Boris knows “exactly what to say to make Stella feel better.” This is the beginning of our magnificent “new dreidel collection,” he says.
When Stella notices a small pinecone with seeds “that had dropped from
her tree,” she also knows how “to make Boris feel better.” She tells him, “We will grow a new Christmas tree!”
Sleeping Bear Press, $15.99 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 3

More Outstanding Holiday Titles:

Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale
by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Disney Hyperion Books, $16.99 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

The Christmas Boot
by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Dial Books, $17.99 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

The Christmas Eve Tree
by Delia Huddy
Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Candlewick Press, $16.99 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

The Christmas Magic
by Lauren Thompson
Illustrated by Jon Muth
Scholastic, $16.99 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins 
by Eric Kimmel
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Holiday House, $17.95 (hardcover) 
$7.99 (paperback) 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Too Many Tamales
by Gary Soto
Illustrated by Ed Martinez
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99 (hardcover) 
$7.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2