Thursday, September 13, 2018

From Unfriendliness and Anger, Books Transform Understanding - FAMILY magazine reviews

As we advance into the season, and the school year begins, it’s an important time to consider classroom and playtime relationships and how we support our children’s growth toward managing difficult emotions. The books included in this short list are wonderful stories, with the added bonus of strengthening the connections we make as we develop bonds with others in new settings. Don’t hesitate to share these remarkable stories and invite conversations with the young people you love!

Each Kindness 
by Jacqueline Woodson
illustrated by E. B. Lewis
            This forceful, muscular picture book about the other side of bullying – is told by the bully, using quiet straightforward language. When a new student arrives in class, the teacher introduces her as Maya, and seats her next to Chloe. Along with most of the silent class, the African-American narrator, doesn’t smile a welcome, and moves herself and her chair farther away from the girl in the raggedy shoes.
            Chloe and her friends whisper secrets, turn down Maya’s offers to play jacks, cards, dolls, pick up sticks, and call her “Never New” because her clothes are obviously secondhand. Lewis’ watercolor paintings demonstrate his skilled use of light and dark, windows, pools of water, playground perspectives, and the expressive faces of children from a variety of unexpected views. His gently controlled, realistic illustrations supply important details to complement Woodson’s intense, elegant, economical free verse.
            Later, the teacher invites students to drop a pebble into a large bowl of water, to watch “what kindness does.” How “each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.” But Maya’s family moves away and Chloe feels the heartbreaking tension of her casual cruelty, as a lost opportunity to make it right.
The combined talents of this author-illustrator team welcome youngsters of all economic backgrounds to examine the sadly, near epidemic practice of excluding those less fortunate. This emotionally resonant story with its remorseful narrator reveals the withholding of friendship with haunting depth and authenticity, offering readers conversational and empathetic opportunities to reflect.

Penguin, $17.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Steps and Stones: An Anh’s Anger Story 
by Gail Silver
illustrated by Christiane Kromer
            Anh’s favorite part of the day is recess, in a sequel to Anh’s Anger by this talented author and illustrator team. But his friends run past him to play ball. Charlie says, “Digging is for babies,” when Anh calls out that he’s brought shovels. Anh feels like he’s “been punched in the stomach.”
            As a tearful Anh leans against a shady oak tree, Anger explodes into his awareness as an animated collage of colors, shapes, designs and sharp teeth. This flashy personification of Anger offers Anh a chance to tell Charlie, “I’m no baby!” and then grab the ball and throw it at him.
Eager to go, Anger flashes off, but Anh wants to slow down. Walking deliberately together, breathing in with one step, and breathing out with the next step, Anh and Anger begin to count their steps, also at Anh’s suggestion.
             This walking meditation helps Anh to control his strong feelings. And, as the counting increases, Anger's size decreases and his vivid colors begin to fade.
            The appealing collage illustrations are combined with brush and pencil drawings in a bright palette of mostly greens, yellows and browns, with a winning variety of perspectives. Especially engaging is a double page spread from above as the two begin their unhurried pace together.
            Based on teachings about mindfulness and Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh, this unconventional and irresistible visual story simplifies the oftentimes heavy topic of dealing with strong feelings, especially anger. Gentle and wise, this winsome picture book shows the transforming magic of an habitual practice.

Plum Blossom Books, $16.95
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 3

by Jan De Kinder
            It starts small – just a blush. Yet, the title encompasses the complexities arising from the narrator’s comment to her friend, Tommy, “You’re blushing . . .”
She notes, with regret, how this minor observation escalates into bullying. “This isn’t funny anymore,” she adds several pages later, “I want it to stop . . .”
            First published in Belgium, De Kinder’s quietly powerful story shares the narrator’s inner battle: Her fear of Paul, who advances the initial giggling into pushing, conflicts with her wish to stand up for Tommy, who she thinks is “pretty nice.”
            The expressive illustrations created with pencil, charcoal, ink, aquarelle, acrylic, and collage effectively use red color to highlight the rising tension. Also, several double page spreads feature shadowy figures with sharp edges, grasping hands, and pointed teeth to demonstrate the potent threat of the strong words and actions.
            Red print intensifies the force of the text, especially as the teacher questions, “Who saw what happened?” Initially, no one responds, except Paul, who grins. Ashamed faces, awash in red, are contrasted with the narrator -- lit bright for her ultimate bravery in raising her hand wordlessly in response to the teacher’s continued questions. Soon others are talking all at once, “I saw it too.” The support is immediately felt by the narrator, “I can breathe again,” she acknowledges.
            And when Paul storms over with his fists up to confront the narrator, other children stand beside her. While the story doesn’t show the bully learning from this experience, it does show the red-cheeked narrator and Tommy in reversed positions, a sturdy child-authentic conclusion.

Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, $16.00
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Poem Can Sing (Monday Poem)

by Douglas Florian

A poem can sing
A poem can sting
A poem can shout
Or leap about
A poem can yell
Or sink or swell
A poem can talk
Or take a walk
A poem can wail
A poem can sail
A poem can wing
A poem can sing

from Poetry Aloud Here! Sharing Poetry with Children in the Library
by Sylvia M. Vardell, American Library Association, 2006

Monday, September 3, 2018

Sips of the Sea (Monday Poem)

by Avis Harley


from Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems
by Avis Harley
2006, WordSong


Monday, August 27, 2018

The New Colossus (Monday Poem)

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles, From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

from A Poem of Her Own: Voices of American Women Yesterday and Today
Edited by Catherine Clinton
2003, Harry N. Abrams

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Milky Way (Monday Poem)

by Michael Hettich

If we could imagine that every word we speak
were an animal or insect, the last of the species
ever to be born, that the very act of speaking
brought extinction even before our words
had been heard and replied to, we might get a feeling
for the vanishings we witness but don't see. And if every
conversation were understood as a kind
of holocaust denuding whole landscapes, some people
would simply fall silent--as far as they could--
while most others would keep chattering on. Just imagine
the vast forests of lives, the near-infinity of forms
brought to a halt with a simple conversation.
And I would be one of the talkers, despite
the fact that I knew what my talking destroyed.
And so I would mourn every word I said,
even while I argued passionately for silence
and for learning to honor the sacred diversity
of life. Just imagine watching the stars
go out on a dark night in the far north, a clear night,
one after another until the sky was black.

Once, when I was taking out the garbage, just walking
dully across my backyard, a huge bird--
as big as a vulture but glittering and sleek--
rose from the grass and flew into my body,
knocked the breath out of me, then flew up and away
with a powerful pull of its wings. I could hardly

see it in the darkness. And then it was just gone.

From The Frozen Harbor by Michael Hettich
2017, Red Dragonfly Press

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

On the Hunt for Bear (Stories) - FAMILY magazine reviews

The strength and power of bears have intrigued humans for generations, from teddy bears to bears living in wild lands and in zoos. The books included in this small collection show the humor that children’s book writers and children themselves feel in the enjoyment of inventive stories to delight our imaginations.
Big Bear, Small Mouse 
by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
            Once again Wilson’s delightful rhymes grab attention, this time with a focus on opposites. The rollicking rhythms of this jaunty picture book are captivatingly simple and engaging for the youngest listeners. Bear and Mouse, Badger, Hare, Wren, Owl, Mole, Gopher and Raven are all involved in demonstrating opposites; cold/warm, quiet/loud, high/low, slow/fast, small/big.
            Chapman’s breezy acrylic illustrations are an animated back and forth of white space that shows the contrast between the opposites demonstrated in this story and the happy animal adventurers as they romp through the blue and green woods to bear’s lair where everyone comes in out of the weather for a cozy conclusion.

Simon & Schuster, $16.99
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1

There’s a Bear on My Chair 
by Ross Collins
            Another perfect story for the nursery set begins with a large polar bear seated on small mouse’s chair. Collins matches his playful rhymes with large double-page digitally created spreads, that show the mouse doing nearly all the talking about the bear: “I understand that bears are rare. I know they need the utmost care. I know all that. I am aware. But still I cannot stand this bear.”
            This book is great fun to read aloud. The text is printed on one side of each spread, with a large font to magnify the intensifying drama. Solid color backgrounds concentrate attention on the expressive faces, body language and perplexing situation for the two characters.
When finally, the mouse has had it, and leaves, the bear wordlessly gets up off the chair and heads home to his igloo. The final page spread is the twist that makes the story - at last the bear speaks - for a satisfying conclusion!

Candlewick Press, $7.99 (board book) $16.99 (hardcover)
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1

How to Share with a Bear 
by Eric Pinder
illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
            When Thomas makes a cozy cave, it attracts a small bear. Clever Thomas uses blankets, pillows, and cushions to create this comfy den in the living room. But when he leaves to get a flashlight to read, bumping and thumping noises from inside lead to the discovery of a bear when he returns.
            Thomas makes a trail of blueberries “leading away from the cave” because “Everyone knows that bears like berries.” It works! – For a while. But when he gets back with his books. He’s too late! The bear is there!
            Thomas tries to think like a bear – and lures him away with a back scratcher, fish bath toys in the bathroom sink, a bowl of honey oat cereal in the kitchen – all of which are fleetingly successful. But once Thomas is inside the cave, there’s no room for the bear, who begins to cry. Fortunately, there’s a cave-in!
The bear and Thomas giggle, and rebuild a bigger cave! Youngsters can finally see the bear is Thomas’ younger brother!
Pinder uses simple engaging language to tell of the kindness of this older brother. Graegin’s blue and gold palate of absorbing details in the accompanying illustrations guides the youngest listeners along this sweetly generous journey. This captivating story includes simple instructions at the end, for the nursery crowd, on “How to Build a Cave.”

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1


Monday, August 13, 2018

Hurry (Monday Poem)

by Eve Merriam

Hurry! says the morning,
don't be late for school!

Hurry! says the teacher,
hand in the papers now!

Hurry! says the mother,
supper's getting cold!

Hurry! says the father,
time to go to bed!

Slowly, says the darkness,
you can talk to me . . . .

from Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart
Selected by Eve Merriam
2012, Little Brown and Company