Monday, May 15, 2017

The Key Lime (Monday Poem)

by Campbell McGrath

Curiously yellow hand-grenade
of flavor; Molotov cocktail
for a revolution against the bland.

From Florida Poems by Campbell McGrath
2002, HarperCollins

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Ever-Constant Sea (Monday Poem)

by Rod McKuen

Once upon a time
loving set me free.
Free as any bird who ever heard
the wind blow in the trees.

After love had gone
I had merely me
and my only friend
the ever-constant sea.

We’ve been through it all
my old friend and me.
Summertime and fall have shown us all
the world there is to see.

So, if I love again
if love is good to me
I’ll share it with my friend
the ever-constant sea.

From Listen to the Warm by Rod McKuen
1967, Random House

Thursday, May 4, 2017

It's Fun to Say, "It's Mother's Day!" (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Although these Mother’s Day books have been on the scene since the late 1980’s, the collective delight from both children and adults in the sharing of these well-told, much-loved, beautifully written, and enchantingly illustrated stories seems never to fade away. The enduring appeal of these captivating tales is not lessened by their focus on our beloved mothers. Have fun sharing with your own beloved young ones.

The Mother’s Day Mice 
by Eve Bunting 
illustrated by Jan Brett
            Illustrator Brett dresses her characteristically appealing small animals in colorful clothing to balance author Bunting’s lively story, set on a cool early spring morning. Three brave mouse brothers set out to find the finest gifts for their mother. Their search is a dangerous one: readers see a hidden snake, a prowling fox and a swooping owl.
            The underbrush, ferns and toadstools appear large, painted skillfully to suggest a mouse’s perspective. The ripe red strawberry is large enough that Middle Mouse sets it down to take a rest. The dandelion fluff ball looms over Biggest Mouse.
            Littlest Mouse wants to get honeysuckle from the cottage where cat (midnight black with a menacing, brilliant red mouth) lies yawning. But Littlest changes his plan when he hears someone playing “Twinkle Little Star” on the piano inside. Ultimately, his gift, a song they all can sing together, is the most surprising.
            This tender story is sweet, but not syrupy. Its carefully detailed illustrations, expressive language, and the animated pleasure of the mice that delight in their thoughtful gifts make this tuneful tale an utterly satisfying picture book to share.

Clarion, $5.95 (paperback) $15.95 (hardcover)
Interest Level: Pre-School – Grade 2

Hazel’s Amazing Mother by Rosemary Wells
            Author-illustrator Wells timeless animal characters are cuddly, but still get into trouble. Hazel, the title character, is a young badger who makes a wrong turn during an errand. Three bullies, led by Doris, a large beaver, surround her and her doll, Eleanor. They knock the stuffing out of poor Eleanor, and ride the doll carriage down the hill. It splashes into the pond.
            When Hazel calls, “Mother, I need you!” the magical part of the story is set in motion. Wells’ whimsical ink and watercolor illustrations pop with color and action. Hazel wears a bright yellow shirt that makes her stand out on each page. As the bullies tease her, the sky darkens with a raincloud.
            Hazel’s mother is blown by the wind and rain across town, grasping a picnic blanket. She arrives in time to direct the bullies’ clean up.
            As the chastened bullies complete the tidying, the sun comes out and the clouds slip away. Hazel’s mother finishes the repairs on Eleanor, and they enjoy their picnic before returning home. Love powers this fantasy for young children, charming Mother and child pairs who read this cheerful picture book, daydreaming imaginative rescues of their own.

Penguin, $5.99 (paperback) $16.00 (hardcover)
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1

Koala Lou by Mem Fox, illustrated by Pamela Loft
            In this surprising tale, with animal characters familiar in Australia, author Fox creates a captivating book as a gift to her native country. A baby koala, loved by all (including an emu and a platypus), is loved most by her mother. “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” her mother says, again and again.
            But, as new siblings are born, her mother gets busier, and doesn’t “have the time to tell Koala Lou that she loved her. Although of course she did.”
            Koala Lou decides to enter the Bush Olympics and “compete in the gum tree climbing event.” When she wins, she imagines her mother will “fling her arms around her neck and say again, ‘Koala Lou, I DO love you!’”
            Lofts uses a bright palette, snuggly animals, and energetic movement in her illustrations. Each double-page spread is loosely arranged within a frame, although parts of the painting escape from the edges and spill across into the text. This dramatic method ties the reader intimately to the tale.
            Koala Lou begins training; jogging, lifting weights, doing push-ups; even hanging from a branch with one claw. And, of course, climbing the tallest tree she can find. “Over and over and over again.”
            Yet, in spite of her planning, and training and hoping, Koala Lou comes in second. She goes and hides, crying her heart out. When she creeps back home, her mother is waiting for her: she flings her arms around her neck, and says the words Koala Lou has been longing to hear. This warm-hearted ending to a universal wish is a memorable conclusion.
Harcourt, $7.99 (paperback) $17.99 (hardcover)
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 1

Monday, May 1, 2017

Invitation (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . . 
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

From Where the Sidewalk Ends: 
the poems and drawings of Shel Silverstein
1995, HarperCollins

Monday, April 24, 2017

Where Do You Get the Idea for a Poem? (Monday Poem)

by Karla Kuskin
Where do you get the idea for a poem?
Does it shake you awake?
Do you dream it asleep
or into your tiny tin head does it creep
and pop from your pen
when you are not aware
or leap from your pocket
or fall from your hair
or is it just silently
In a beat
in a breath
in a pause
in a cry 
one unblinking eye
that stares from the dark
that is deep in your head
demanding attention
until it is written
until it is rotten
until it is anything else but forgotten
until it is read.
From Moon Have You Met My Mother?: 
The Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin,
2003, Laura Geringer Books

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Road Not Taken (Monday Poem)

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

From Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost, edited by Gary D, Schmidt

1994, Sterling Publishing

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Surprising Biographies of Amazing Creativity (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Pick up a picture book biography of someone you may never have heard of to inspire you and a young person in your life. These outstanding books introduce us to people whose lives and enrich our own, giving us models and opportunities for conversations! Have fun!

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey 
by Lesa Cline-Ransome 
illustrated by James E. Ransome
            The story of local Liberty City Miami talent, Robert Battle, is inspiring. It celebrates the African-American experience of family, faith and art.
Only the third artistic director for the highly respected and well-loved Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Battles’ early struggles, and warmly supportive family form the framework for this strong picture book biography. He overcame the need for leg braces as a young child. Also, his experiences of the music and faith of his church community, plus his youthful practice of music, dance and martial arts, were important in preparing him for dance classes. These latter seized his heart, mind and body, giving direction to his sense of himself.
            Ransome’s pastels capture family scenes, karate, and studio practice sessions. Especially important in Battles’ experience and dramatic for his future, is the double page spread of the Ailey dancers he watched onstage. This performance was featured as a high school field trip with his after-school dance class. The colors, costumes and fluid movements of the dancers’ bodies’ in Ransome’s illustrations, partner seamlessly with (wife) Cline-Ransome’s liquid language.
            This beautifully conceived and executed life story includes a foreword with photos from Battles himself. There are also an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, bibliography, website, and further reading included at the end.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99
Interest Level: Grade 2-5

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel  
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis 
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
            George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., a civil engineer who was a designer of bridges, tunnels and roads, had a dazzling idea. He wanted to create a structure for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that would rival France’s Eiffel Tower from the previous event. Although, Ferris’ decided that his structure would move!
            He and his engineering partner, William Gronau worked on a design that used steel as a framework instead of solid walls. This innovative project was devised during a time period that tempted inventors to show off new technologies. However, George had difficulty convincing officials of its safety. Still, there was nothing else that emerged to compete with George’s design. So, officials agreed to his plan, but granted him no money to build his proposed structure.
            George tried with no success to get banks’ assistance. Since time was running short, he became persistent in getting funding, supplies, parts, and workers in place. The successfully completed Ferris Wheel became a World’s Fair sensation.
            Digital mixed media, ink and watercolor illustrations in a somewhat cartoon-like style use colors to evoke an era before electricity. Also featured is the stylized electrical magic of the new invention at night. It could be seen from miles away!
            Not a typical biography, this nonfiction picture book is fascinating, well written and researched. Sidebars enhance the story, or explain parts of the text. Sources, bibliography and websites are included at the end.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi 
by Rachel Rodriguez 
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
            Beginning with Gaudi’s early life, readers see his delight in the natural world and his involvement in his family’s business as a metalsmith. Throughout his life - he trained as an architect – he includes nature both inside and outside his creations. Several of his imaginative, playful constructions, are featured. Among these are Vicens House, Guell’s Palace, Casa Batllo, and Casa Mila.  Descriptions use inviting twists of language and are partnered with sparkling, intricate illustrations.
            The gouache artwork is colorful, flowing, wild, and beautifully strange. The storyline is similarly simple and lyrical, with crazy details that suggest Gaudi’s colorful, striking and original structures.
This picture book biography is an inviting exploration into a daring artist’s feats of elaborate creativity. An author’s note, websites, and selected bibliography are important back matter.

Henry Holt, $19.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 4