Monday, December 26, 2011


by Emily Dickinson

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul!

from Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson Edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin, 2000, Scholastic

Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE STARFISH (Monday Poem)

by Douglas Florian

Although it seems
That I'm all arms,
Some other organs
Give me charm.
I have a mouth
With which to feed.
A tiny stomach
Is all I need.
And though it's true
I have no brain,
I'm still a star--
I can't complain.

from in the swim poems and paintings by Douglas Florian, 1997, Harcourt

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


by Marchette Chute

We have been helping with the cake
And licking out the pan,
And wrapping up our packages
As neatly as we can.
And we have hung our stockings up
Beside the open grate.
And now there's nothing more to do

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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Anticipation of the Holidays (FAMILY magazine reviews)

When hard times come, we often turn to traditions that have served us well in the past. Gatherings of family and friends, food to share, and tales to tell, are among the treasures of memory making we can use to moderate trying periods. Make use of any or all of these fascinating books to enhance the season!

Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World
by Douglas Wood
illustrated by Barry Moser
Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 7-10

Not a good student in school, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was nonetheless a tenacious bulldog, inspiring defense of Great Britain through grim years of war against Nazi forces. His trip to the United States in December 1941was to plan, with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, how to confront the Nazi threat felt around the world.
The US President, who despite polio, had continued to guide and encourage the people of the US through the Great Depression, had met previously and begun a working friendship with PM Churchill and the two were pleased to meet again for this important work. The task of creating the largest alliance in history, coupled with fighting a World War, required much discussion, negotiation, and decision-making.
However, the most charming elements of this nonfiction picture book are the humorous anecdotes author Wood peppers throughout. One example is the time Franklin enters Winston’s room as he is getting out of the bathtub, and celebrated illustrator Moser captures the PM bent over and wrapped in a towel. The watercolor illustrations are, in large part, based on cropped and modified photographs and have the life-like qualities of realism characteristic of Moser’s work.
Capturing the celebration of Christmas at the White House, press conferences, and even Churchill’s address to the US Congress, this is a masterful tale, told of two powerful and dedicated men in a charged and difficult period of history. An Afterword lists the accomplishments of these two leaders during the weeks they spent together in December 1941 and January 1942. An Author’s Note, Bibliography, and a note about the illustrations are appended.

Lighthouse Christmas
by Toni Buzzeo
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Dial, $16.99, Ages 5-8

Inspired by a New England tradition, this holiday story begins with Peter and Frances as they plan and hope for Christmas. The lighthouse, where they live with Papa, is located on an island, and the supply boat is late. When Aunt Martha radios that she will send a dory for the children, they must decide if Papa will stay alone for the holiday, since someone must keep the light burning.
When a storm blows up, a fishing boat with an injured man overturns in the water, and the wind blows out the light. Frances must re-light the lamp, while her Papa rescues the fisherman. In addition, there will be no trip to the mainland in the storm.
Using pen and digital media, acclaimed illustrator Carpenter matches her palette to the text, in this 1930’s era picture book. She creates a light-filled house and deftly contrasts the darkness of the storm and its choppy wind and high waters, with the brightness of the Light.
Younger brother Peter is very upset about the lost trip to the mainland, until he and Frances determine how they will celebrate Christmas in the lighthouse. Heightened by the unexpected arrival of an airplane circling overhead, to drop a package from the “Flying Santa,” this cozy, intimate story concludes with a warm, happy gathering of the “Ledge Light family” as Peter has named them, including the one-eared cat that Papa doesn’t like and the rescued fisherman. An Author’s Note at the end explains the Flying Santa Service, launched in 1929 and continuously active ever since (except for the war years, 1941-1944).

The Flying Canoe: A Christmas Story
by Eric A. Kimmel
illustrated by Daniel San Souci and Justin San Souci
Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 6-9

On a Christmas Eve long ago six French fur traders squeeze around a tiny fire in Ontario, far from families, wishing they were home in Quebec. A magical figure is suddenly among them, offering to transport them to Montreal in one night. His only condition is that they may not speak until they are home. They agree, knowing they are able to use Indian sign language to communicate.
Celebrated author Kimmel, known for his award-winning folktales, has based this retelling on a French Canadian legend, with roots in Norse mythology. This story chronicles the trip as the trappers pass over places they recognize; “paddling” their canoe through the air, they “fly” through a blizzard, hear Niagara falls below them, and as they drop lower over Montreal, recognize some of their loved ones.
The San Souci’s, father and son artists, combine their talents to create enchanted illustrations, peopled with fur traders whose dress, head coverings and facial hair are reminiscent of Snow White’s dwarfs. Using both traditional and digital media, the illustrators companion the text with gleaming snow, ice-coated mountains, and cloud cover to conjure this crisp winter tale, in a skillful play of light and dark, for a story whose main action occurs during nighttime hours.
Casting the canoe’s shadow in the shape of the full moon’s brilliance, the illustrations show a happier conclusion than many versions. Since the agreement is, of course, broken, Kimmel’s text is a salute to “miracles” that often lay claim to the entrancing wonder of Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BOOKS (Monday Poem)

by Mordicai Gerstein

All sizes, all colors,
"Come inside!"
"Come inside!"
Printed words
are a mystery.
How can they be
full of sounds?
How can you
look at this page
and hear my voice?
Read this and see
a green parrot
with a
bright red head
and long
Words can frighten.
Words can sing.
Words can tickle.
Words can sting.
Words show us
never seen before.
Read this
and see
golden waves
on a crimson shore.
And don't forget . . .
books smell good

from Dear Hot Dog by Mordicai Gerstein, 2011, Abrams

Thursday, November 17, 2011


by Karma Wilson

We go peeking, peeking, peeking
in the broken-down, old window.

We go sneaking, sneaking, sneaking
up the stairrway, throught the door.

Old boards start cracking, creaking
as we walk on tippy-toe.

A mouse starts squeaking, squeaking
in his hole there by the floor.

Wait, a voice is speaking!
Deep and dark, it says so clear,


We go shrieking, shrieking, shrieking
down the stairs, back out the door!

And I promise, we aren't going to
that haunted house no more!

from What's the Weather Inside? by Karma Wilson, illustrations by Barry Blitt, 2009, Simon & Schuster

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


by Vachel Lindsay

There was a little turtle.
He lived in a box.
He swam in a puddle.
He climbed on the rocks.

He snapped at a mosquito.
He snapped at a flea.
He snapped at a minnow.
He snapped at me.

He caught the mosquito.
He caught the flea.
He caught the minnow.
But he didn't catch me.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


by Rowena Bennett

When you talk to a monkey
He seems very wise.
He scratches his head,
And he blinks both his eyes;
But he won't say a word.
He just swings on a rail
And makes a big question mark
Out of his tail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monkey Tales (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Especially during November, we often turn our thoughts toward spending time with family and giving thanks. Among many things for which we are thankful are family experiences of storytelling and reading together. This month we show off several books for reading together – specifically about monkeys, these are folk tales, stories to spark imagination, and one in particular, about a family of monkeys from the rainforest. During this season of thanksgiving, remember to take time to read and laugh together.

Cloud Tea Monkeys
by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham
illustrated by Juan Wijngaard
Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 5-8

More than a picture book, co-authors Peet and Graham have based this intriguing story on an ancient legend of tea-picking monkeys. Beginning with Tashi, a small girl, whose mother becomes too ill to harvest tea from the plantation near the mountain village where they live, this book takes readers to the long-ago and far-away in its opening sentence and initial painting.
The overseer, an unpleasant man with sharp eyes and a temper, intimidates the tea pickers -- women all -- and chases away the monkeys who usually arrive mid-morning, coming down from the mountains. Hidden under a large tree at the edge of the tea bushes, Tashi often shares her lunch with the monkeys she begins to recognize and name.
Deft ink and gouache illustrations capture contrasts in the expressive text; mist-cold morning (“light the color of lemons, soaking into the sky”), hazy burning midday sun, and especially the dappling light cast by tree-shade. Illustrator Wijngaard’s subtle use of color conveys the vast sweep of fields, sky, clouds and mountains; while perceptively highlighting the colors of clothing, headgear and even the textures of leaves, hair, rocks and baskets. From the overseer’s mean smirk, to the cautious expressions of the women workers, accenting Tashi’s smiling pleasure, the monkeys’ fearful grins -- and indeed the faces made as the Royal Tea Taster tests the flavor of the tea leaves from Tashi’s basket filled by the monkeys -- the artist makes astute use of brush and palette to reveal movement, emotion, and even pain on the sick mother’s features.
An Author’s Note at the end explains briefly, the difference from today’s easily accessible items, how dangerous the paths often were, to acquire goods for trade, making them costly because they were so precious – as are the origins of this rare tale.

Meet the Howlers
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Woody Miller
Charlesbridge, $16.95, $7.95, Ages 4-7

Award-winning author Sayre introduces her readers to howler monkeys from the rainforests of Central and South America in this playful picture book poem. These noisy animals live together in family groups and travel through the trees, climbing and leaping, even in the rain.
Rhyming verses are printed in a larger font while prose, in smaller print on the same double page spread, supplies additional information about howler monkeys’ habitat, diet and behavior. Miller’s soft-focus illustrations are done in an almost tactile fuzzy/furry-looking acrylic with watercolor crayon and colored pencil in rainforest shades of green and brown.
The repeating lines of a rhythmic rhyming chorus furnish readers with the howlers’ call and an opportunity to howl along: “Woo-hoo-hoo! AH-UH-OH!” This is especially appealing to youngsters and is a careful matching with the active creatures whose energy moves across the pages to the accompanying text (except, of course, the pages where they’re sleeping!).
A map and “More about Howler Monkeys” pages are included at the back of this fascinating nonfiction book about a little known mammal.

Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India
by Gerald McDermott
Harcourt, $16.99, Ages 3-7

The sixth and final book in author/illustrator McDermott’s series of trickster tales, this story comes from the Buddhist tradition, and written originally in Sanskrit, is one of a well-known collection of legends and fables called the Jataka Tales. Fast moving Monkey, who lives in a tree along a river, is a mango-lover. Hoping to eat Monkey for dinner, Crocodile offers Monkey a ride to an island in the middle of the river where there are ripe mangos. Eager Monkey hops on Crocodile’s back.
As Crocodile swims, he drops lower and lower in the water until Monkey, frightened, warns Crocodile that he cannot swim. Right, agrees Crocodile, explaining that he wants to eat Monkey’s heart. Clever Monkey answers that his heart is back in his tree, convincing Crocodile to return, where Monkey scampers to safety, taunting his former captor.
Using fabric paint and ink to hand-color textured paper, and choosing vigorous colors, characteristic of India, to accent the action, McDermott’s double page collage spreads are alive with vivid movement, a seamless match of text and illustration. Monkey’s clever solution to eating luscious mangos and escaping hungry Crocodile is three-fold: Downriver, Monkey discovers rocks in the river between the trees on the bank and the mango tree on the island, and is able to reach the fruit he desires without Crocodile’s assistance; when Crocodile decides to imitate a rock, hoping to catch unwary Monkey, he teases Crocodile into speaking, proving that Crocodile is not a rock after all; and finally, agreeing that Crocodile’s suggestion to hop on him like a rock is a good idea, Monkey instead tosses a mango into Crocodile’s open mouth, leaping on Crocodile’s nose, after he snaps closed his mouth, and arriving safely on the riverbank. This lively tale will mesmerize the youngest children and, keep adults captivated even as they read it aloud.

Maggie’s Monkeys
by Linda Sanders-Wells
illustrated by Abby Carter
Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 3-5

A “family of pink monkeys” has moved into the refrigerator, reports Maggie’s big brother. Although he is never named, his frustration is palpable as he describes first how his dad, then his mom, and finally his older sister Kate, buy into younger sister Maggie’s imagined monkeys, playing along. He unsuccessfully approaches each one, offering his opinion that pretending has gone “too far.”
Author Sanders-Wells uses imaginative language to show each family member’s creative response to Maggie’s monkeys: when he takes out the mayonnaise, Dad carefully closes the door to avoid the monkeys’ tails; Mom fills a bowl with banana pudding just for the monkeys; Kate helps dress the monkeys in imaginary clothes. When the older brother attempts to adapt, he sits in one monkey’s lap and is scolded by Maggie; he tries talking in monkey, and Maggie explains that they speak English; and when he chooses a book about the zoo to read to the monkeys, Maggie is appalled and says so.
Artist Carter varies her illustrations with borders to define the black colored pencil and gouache paintings, or to confine text, and sometimes both or neither. This use or not, of borders, supplies a framework for the story, and when bright double page spreads anchor the story at pivotal stages, this strategic arrangement increases both energy and movement. This is especially true when Calvin and Grady, the brother’s friends come over and begin to laugh about the monkeys in the refrigerator.
Cartoon-like illustrations keep the humor high in this imaginative tale of a reality obsessed sibling and his reality challenged younger sister, Maggie.

Monday, October 24, 2011


by Christina G. Rossetti

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

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

Saturday, October 15, 2011

WIND SONG (Monday Poem)

by Lilian Moore

When the wind blows
the quiet things speak.
Some whisper, some clang,
Some creak.

Grasses swish.
Treetops sigh.
Flags slap
and snap at the sky.
Wires on poles
whistle and hum.
Ashcans roll.
Windows drum.

When the wind goes --
the quiet things
are quiet again.

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, October 12, 2011


B Black beetle
E Easily
E Enters and
T Turns
L Left to
E Escape

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

School Stories (FAMILY magazine reviews)

School is the work kids do. And relationships are an important foundation. For children and the adults who love them, these stories offer opportunities to explore the establishment and strengthening of long-lasting friendships. From bullies to gender identity, to exclusion and welcome, we all need determination and gumption to make our way in the world. These books will make you laugh in recognition and appreciation. Have fun and take heart!

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
by Laura Murray
illustrated by Mike Lowery
Putnam, $16.99, Ages 4-7

Especially if you are a fan of the famous Gingerbread Man tale, this version by author and former teacher Murray is perfect for introducing students to school staff members. Beginning the story, children mix and roll and bake; then after he’s done, they pull out the pan, and it’s time for recess. When they leave to go outside, he races after shouting, “I’m the Gingerbread Man, and I’m trying to find the children who made me and left me behind.”
This attempt to find the children takes him on a series of adventures, introducing him to the coach, the school nurse, the art teacher, and even the principal, who helps him relocate his class. Lowery’s cartoon-like illustrations use pencil, traditional screen-printing and digital color to grab attention and sustain a high level of energy. Additionally, a couple maps give readers an idea of the school’s geography, and enhance the rollicking rhythm and rhymes of Murray’s text.
A poster, similar to ones the children make in the story as an attempt to locate the missing Gingerbread Man, is included inside the back cover, with activities and a gingerbread recipe.

Pirates and Princesses
by Jill Kargman & Sadie Kargman
illustrated by Christine Davenier
Dutton, $16.99, Ages 4-7

Based on an actual kindergarten incident, author Kargman and her eight-year-old daughter Sadie, team up to share a spirited playground story. Ivy and Fletch have grown up together since they were infants, born a day apart. Pregnant at the same time, the moms spent time together, and the two babies played with each other, from babbling to crawling, to preschool.
But when they get to kindergarten, things change. During recess the girls play with the girls, and the boys with boys. Initially Ivy and Fletch play together, as always, on the swings. But, the boys invite Fletch to play pirates, while the girls persuade Ivy to join them in the princess palace.
Veteran illustrator Davenier uses colored pencils, watercolors and oil pastels, especially pinks and blues, to establish typical gender identities. The lines and designs give shape and form to support the text, establishing personality with facial expressions and movement in this energetic picture book.
Fletch and Ivy almost forget each other, they are having so much fun. Until the pirates decide to RAID! Pirates and princesses chase each other and Ivy is captured! At first this is fun, and Ivy doesn’t mind. But when the princesses can’t rescue her, Fletch realizes it’s not fun anymore. Together he and Ivy change playground expectations.
This cheery tale of gender differences, trumped by imagination, friendship, and shared history, supplies kids and parents with samples of the importance of sharing swings and cupcakes for overcoming obstacles to getting along.

You’re Mean, Lily Jean!
by Frieda Wishinsky
illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Albert Whitman, $16.99, Ages 5-8

Carly and Sandy always play together, using their imaginations as only sisters can. And then ---- Lily Jean moves in next door, and wants to play only with Sandy. At Sandy’s insistence Lily Jean agrees that Carly can play if she’s the baby. Then, if she’s the cow. And again, if she’s the dog.
With watercolors, acrylic ink, oil crayons, gouache and salt, award-winning illustrator Denton deepens the text with her characteristic blend of colors, expressive faces, and motion to show Carly’s inventive solution to transforming a bully into a friend. (With her sister, Sandy’s help, of course!)
While its characters are three girls, this brief, bouncy tale is accessible to both genders, since the games are not specific to girls only, and open-minded boys will not be put off by girly games.

Back to School Tortoise
by Lucy M. George
illustrated by Merel Eyckerman
Albert Whitman, $15.99, Ages 5-8

Tortoise is nervous about school. Maybe he will trip and fall, or hate his lunch, or the kids will be mean to him. He gets to school, but sits down by the door and doesn’t go in.
Sunny illustrations show Tortoise’s preparations for school and his anxious imaginings about potential problems. As his imagination changes, his uneasiness abates. He begins to think about the possible fun and new friendships. He takes a deep breath, opens the door, and bravely greets everybody with a “good morning!”
The ending will surprise you and make you laugh! And remind us all that courage is something required of adults and children alike.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PAPA SAYS (Monday Poem)

by Libby Stopple

Says rain
Makes things grow.

I stood out in the rain
All morning
With my toes in the mud,
But Grandma says I really
Didn't get any Bigger.
It's just that my pants

Monday, September 19, 2011

TAKING TURNS (Monday Poem)

by Norma Farber

When sun goes home
behind the trees,
and locks her shutters tight--

then stars come out
with silver keys
to open up the night.

from The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry edited by Bill Martin Jr with Michael Sampson, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Let's Celebrate Hispanic Heritage (FAMILY magazine reviews)

For the month between September 15 and October 15, Latinos, especially those whose family roots are in Central and South American countries, take time to honor their ancestry by paying tribute to those whose passion and commitment secured liberty, equality and self-government as a legacy for future generations. Here are a few titles whose stories salute this inheritance. Enjoy! Disfruta!

A Mango in the Hand: A Story Told Through Proverbs
by Antonio Sacre
illustrated by Sebastia Serra
Abrams, $16.95, Ages 5-8

When Francisco wakes on the morning of his saint day, his father approves him as old enough to go alone for the first time to pick his favorite fruit, mangos, for Francisco’s contribution to the family feast. Excited, the young boy discovers this initially delightful task is not as easy as he expected.
The pencil and ink illustrations use a digital infusion of color to support the folkloric sensibilities of this story. Artist Serra, who lives in Spain, makes use of important details, such as a soccer ball, guitar, dominoes, chilies and hats to create a Latino setting. He also includes common elements of daily life like a swing set, cats, flowers and bicycles, making important use of background features to amplify the text.
Author Sacre’s storytelling skills sparkle in his use of Spanish language proverbs that glow with humor and universal appeal as Francisco is distracted by bees and family members in his attempts to bring the mangos home. Making adept use of English to carry the proverbs, this delightful tale infuses family relationships, problem solving, and independent thinking into an absorbing story of love and acceptance. A glossary of Spanish words and phrases is included at the back.

The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred
by Samantha R. Vamos
illustrated by Rafael López
Charlesbridge, $17.95, Ages 5-8

A bilingual adaptation of the familiar “House That Jack Built,” author Vamos “cooked” up this yummy version in her kitchen. Using ingredients for rice pudding (Arroz con Leche), this scrumptious communal concoction is a favorite for many, whether or not it’s part of a family’s history. In this cumulative tale, the repetition is highlighted in Spanish as a sweet repetition of the English translation, announcing the ingredient as it’s added to the pot (cazuela).
Rose and golden acrylics characterize the double page spreads in this vivid picture book, emphasizing the sunlit radiance of a Central American daytime. Each animal makes an important contribution, and is given prominence as they prepare ingredients, and add to the music while the pudding is cooking. This is in distinctive contrast to the animals in another familiar folktale –The Little Red Hen – where the main character invites several others to participate, and each time is rejected. Award winning artist López once again furnishes an experience of fiesta, harmonizing text and illustration, in a tale well suited to community celebration. Back matter includes recipe and glossary of Spanish words.

No More, Por Favor
by Susan Middleton Elya
illustrated by David Walker
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.99, Ages 3-5

The rain forest – selva -- is filled with wonderful, tasty things to eat. It’s also full of baby animals deciding they are fed up with the usual. Author Elya’s rhymes tell an amusing story of picky eaters and parents who fix a fiesta to change things up.
With glossary and pronunciation guide at the beginning, adults who read aloud to the youngest children will introduce their listeners to a lilting combination of English and Spanish language. Large double page spreads with bright and pastel acrylics illustrate some of the Spanish words, making it easy for non-Spanish speakers to infer meaning.
Elya makes wise use of rhymes; matching only English words together, and only Spanish words together (with a single exception, finito, an Italian word, matched with the Spanish, Quetzalito). This humorous take on a frequent family problem will tickle grownups and entertain even the most finicky of youngsters.

Welcome to my Neighborhood! A Barrio A-B-C
by Quiara Alegría Hudes
illustrated by Shino Arihara
Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 4-7

Without glamorizing inner city problems, this engaging alphabet book, opens cultural doors for readers with descriptive rhyming language (“G is for graffiti right beside the subway grate. H is for the hoop. It used to be a crate.”). Creating a panorama of authentic urban neighborhood life – “M is for los muralistas” – the dynamic language mix of English and occasional Spanish words, pairs seamlessly with active realistic gouache paintings. Pastel highlights add energy and build interest from start to finish.

Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York!
by Edie Cólon
illustrated by Raúl Colón
Simon & Schuster, $16.99, Ages 4-8

Just published, this thoughtful, tender reminiscence is based on the author’s childhood in Cuba, and enhanced by her acclaimed, Puerto Rico-born, illustrator husband’s “memorable” paintings. With watercolor, colored pencils and lithograph pencils, artist Cólon evokes an earlier era, using sepia tones in backlit paintings, and featuring clothing, house and school furnishings, hairstyles, and even eyeglasses, notable for the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Author and elementary teacher Cólon writes with an easy mix of English and Spanish, sharing her carefully crafted story of growing up in two cultures. This beautiful picture book blends text and illustration in a seemingly effortless partnership, to bring this sensitive story to young readers and listeners. An Author’s Note and a brief dictionary of Spanish words are located at the end.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

METAPHOR (Monday Poem)

by Eve Merriam

Morning is
a new sheet of paper
for you to write on.

Whatever you want to say,
all day,
until night
folds it up
and files it away.

The bright words and the dark words
are gone
until dawn
and a new day
to write on.

from The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry edited by Bill Martin Jr with Michael Sampson, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Brown Anole

Anole races on sticky feet,
stopping only to breathe and eat.

Watch the red throat fan under its chin,
as the dewlap peeks out, then in.

Hungry Anole moves tongue and eyes
to capture and eat ants and flies,

Catch Anole, the tail detaches!
It re-grows, no need for patches.

It looks like a gecko, don't you think?
When you see it, don't wink or blink,
'cause it moves swiftly and can escape,
hiding from you in the landscape.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

SHOES (Monday Poem)

by Mordicai Gerstein

You sleep under my bed,
yawning at dawn
when I wake you.
You swallow my feet
for breakfast.
You love to run
and though I'm fast
you always
want to run faster
and faster.
Do you wish I were
a horse?
Do you want to be
when you grow up?

from Dear Hot Dog by Mordicai Gerstein, 2011, Abrams

Monday, August 29, 2011


by Ann Wagner

We don't have wars.

We have

preemptive strikes.

We don't have soldiers.

We have

peace keepers

We don't have mistakes in combat.

We have

friendly fire
flawed intelligence

And we don't have death.

We have

loss of life
collateral damage.

What we do have is

a careful vocabulary.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Sunday, August 28, 2011


When it's first born as a tiny black grasshopper, less than half an inch long, with a single red stripe across its back, it's one of about fifty babies. It loves to eat the leaves and bulbs of amaryllis flowers. As it grows, its colors change to green, yellow, and orange just like the one in this photo. I took this picture of the grasshopper on the stem of a large white-flowered lily. It munches on the lily leaves turning them into tattered green lace. Come visit in March to watch the black babies after they hatch!

Monday, August 22, 2011


by Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Black Lizard

This lizard was on the porch outside our room on Casey Key, Florida's west coast, where we were last weekend. So far unsuccessful locating what kind of lizard.

To grandboy Layton, who is nearing his three-year birthday, and interested others, let's name it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

DREAMS (Monday Poem)

by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chicago Zen Garden

Bark crackles --
a sharp ironic contrast --
on an arch
curved by disaster.

What do you see? Please share.

Monday, August 8, 2011

MISSING (Monday Poem)

by Cynthia Cotten

My brother is a soldier
in a hot, dry,
sandy place.
He's missing--
missing things like
baseball, barbecues,
fishing, French fries,
chocolate sodas,
flame-red maple trees,
blue jays,
and snow.

I'm missing, too--
his read-out-loud voice,
his super-special
banana pancakes,
his scuffed up shoes
by the back door,
his big-bear
good night

There are people
with guns
in that land of sand
who want to shoot
my brother.

I hope
they miss him,

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Friday, August 5, 2011

Numbers Can Tell Stories (FAMILY magazine reviews)

If you’re looking for summer ways to engage your brain, these books are both absorbing and entertaining.

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature
by Sarah C. Campbell
photos by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Boyds Mills Press, $17.95, Ages 5-11

First written about in India, the pattern of numbers found in nature and featured in this book is actually named after an Italian mathematician, Fibonacci. Starting with a small photo of a seed, the text gradually leads readers into a beginning understanding of patterns formed in the natural world. As this nonfiction book unfolds, the author and her husband make intriguing and careful use of photos of plant and animal life to expand the text, featuring the famous chain of numbers as spiraling shapes of building blocks.
Using blocks of boxes to demonstrate the pattern of increasing numbers, this compelling book shows spiraling shapes in pinecones, pineapples, sunflowers and more. Campbell’s text shows the different number effects created as parts of plants spiral first in one direction and then in a different direction.
Demonstrating the pattern using the outside sections of a pineapple, the author shows how these sections actually grow in three different directions and can be counted as 5,8, and 13 in the familiar sequence. The author/photographer invites the reader/listener into her exploration and discovery of the literal building blocks in creation.

How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale
retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah
illustrated by Carol Liddiment
Albert Whitman, $16.99, Ages 5-7

Jouha, the famous wise fool or trickster beloved in many Middle Eastern cultures (called Goha in Egypt, Hodja in Turkey, and the Mullah in Iran), is the main character in this retelling from Saudi folklore. Taibah, and well-loved master storyteller MacDonald, collaborate to shape this tale from Taibah’s family. Although variants of this folktale can be found in cultures as widely spread as Syria, Romania, Spain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, India, and Indonesia, this Saudi version is especially amusing.
Before leaving for a market trip, Jouha asks his young son to help him count his donkeys loaded with dates to sell. The Arabic words for the numbers from one to ten are included along the bottom of several double page spreads, reading from right to left, perfect for children in a storytelling circle to count along with the storyteller/reader. (A pronunciation guide is included on an early page.)
Enroute, Jouha forgets to count the donkey he is seated on, especially when he stops for water, for lunch, at the market itself, and sleeping on the way home. Someone is always there to remind him to “Count again, Jouha!” Especially his son when he gets home and thinks he’s lost a donkey on the return trip.
Artist Liddiment uses bright colors in her sunny paintings, capturing the light and shadows as Jouha crosses the desert and arrives at the shady oasis and later, the tree covered marketplace. It’s a silly tale, but one which young children love because, unlike Jouha, they can see the dilemma in the illustrations, as Jouha gets on and off his donkey.

Mary’s Penny by Tanya Landman
illustrated by Richard Holland
Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 7-10

In this feminist retelling of a traditional tale, award-winning author Landman sets her story in the “long, long ago, golden, olden days.” A farmer father devises a clever plan for determining which of his two sons will inherit the farm. He does not intend to include his daughter, Mary, in this competition, since “everyone thought girls couldn’t run farms.”
In this long past era, the value of purchases is quite different from today and each of the sons uses a penny gift from their father to purchase something to fill the entire house. The eldest, Franz, buys a load of straw, but it’s not enough. Neither is the load of feathers, bought by the second son, Hans. The family sleeps in the barn each night. And the farmer becomes sad and anxious about what to do and what will happen to the farm when he is gone.
Holland’s mixed media illustrations supply important information; worried, relieved, happy facial expressions, bright red and yellow accents to contrast with greys and tans, background details especially at the market, and a comedic sense of timing. Adding to the book’s folkloric quality is the simplicity and lack of clutter in the double page spreads and the use of multiple font stylings, including a strategic use of capitalizations, lower case letters and cursives.
Finally when Mary asks, her father reluctantly gives her his “very last penny.” After her trip to market and when dark falls that night, she lights a candle and plays a melody on her knife-shaped river reed. The farmer takes her hand, speaking quietly, “You have filled the house many times over . . . . You shall run the farm . . . .”
While this book makes use of simple math and money ideas, it also communicates that intelligence and wisdom require a different measure. Text and art together craft a satisfying ending in this beautifully cadenced storybook with a “nugget of old wisdom” at its heart.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

TO YOU (Monday Poem)

by Karla Kuskin

I think I could walk
through the simmering sand
if I held your hand.
I think I could swim
the skin-shivering sea
if you would accompany me.
And run on ragged, windy heights,
climb rugged rocks
and walk on air:

I think I could do anything at all,
if you were there.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oregon Coast, Netarts Bay

Earlier this month, I spent a writing week along the Oregon coast. It was nearly thirty degrees cooler there than most of the rest of the continental U.S. Although the photo does not do justice to its rocky beauty, I found it a magical place.

Space and time breathe, compressing and expanding. Fog alters reality. Stones reflect weather. Tides change visibility. Shells create memories.

Want to write a title for this photo? Please share it.

Monday, July 25, 2011


by Pablo Neruda

On the sand
with a sandy tail.
a leaf,
a leaflike

From what planet,
from what
cold green ember
did you fall?
From the moon?
From frozen space?
Or from
the emerald
did your color
climb the vine?

On a rotting
tree trunk
you are
a living
of its foliage.
On a stone
you are a stone
with two small, ancient
eyes of the stone.
By the
you are
silent, slippery
a fly
you are the dart
of an annihilating dragon.

from The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan, 2010, Scholastic

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Preparing for Hurricane Season (FAMILY magazine reviews)

With the close of school for the summer comes the arrival of the storm season in South Florida. This selection of books for young people includes a variety of stories to appeal across a range of ages for the time that spans vacation. Whatever you need, choose from these books to make use of easily accessible information or to get lost in the grasp of a sweeping story.

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
by Margarita Engle
Henry Holt, $16.99, Ages 10+

Cuban-American author Engle seamlessly blends her talents as journalist, poet and novelist to bring historic figures and settings to life. With her distinctive writing style, she again treats her readers to poetry in each characters’ voice, allowing them to tell their own story, while simultaneously showing how the Spanish-Indian slave boy who, used by his pirate captain master as a translator, escapes during a hurricane shipwreck to safety. And further, learning to live again on land, helping a pair of young lovers, and ultimately deciding the fate of his former pirate/owner Talavera, and Talavera’s conquistador hostage, Ojeda, this former slave creates a new life and a new name for himself.
A fictionalized account divided into six parts, it is by turns suspenseful, captivating, ill fated, and stirring as readers are led into the age of Spanish exploration and conquest, which also includes islands in the Caribbean, and the Cuban/Taíno love story of Caucubú and Naridó. Award-winning writer Engle has woven family ancestry, hurricanes, slavery, pirates, shipwrecks, forbidden love, caves, and island spirits into a poetic feast of historic fiction. An Author’s Note, Historic Note, and References are added at the end.

Ready, Set . . . Wait! What Animals Do Before a Hurricane
by Patti R. Zelch
illustrations by Connie McLennan
Sylvan Dell, $8.95, Ages 4-9

Humans are not the only ones who prepare for a hurricane – animals, in South Florida author Zelch’s first picture book, sense and prepare for oncoming storms too. Zelch’s use of poetic language and simple repetitive phrases, brings her readers into the moments before a howling storm arrives: “Sharks explode from the shallows” of a bay, birds “huddle among the twisted roots” of mangrove islands, “rabbits race across the land,” instinctively (“They know!”) moving into their own safety range.
Award-winning illustrator McLennan’s paintings spread across double pages, ushering readers from human land preparations, into shallow ocean reef waters, then to the open sea and safety in deeper water. She uses her varied color palette to show animals on their island homes, in inland rivers and grasslands, and both offshore and along sea shorelines.
Informative back matter includes answers to questions, What is a Hurricane?, maps, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, Preparations for the Storm, and Animal Behavior. Perfect for a home or classroom setting, this nonfiction book is an excellent choice both for before a storm or following a hurricane to assist families as they respond to these powerful tempests.

Hurricane Song: A Novel of New Orleans
by Paul Volponi
Viking, $15.99, Ages 11-14

Hurricane Katrina arrives in New Orleans about two months after Miles moves from Chicago, where he’s been living with his remarried mother’s new family, to live with his jazz musician father. Miles believes his father’s first love is his trumpet and playing jazz, and he becomes both angry and disappointed when his father’s birthday gift to him is an African drum, instead of new cleats and a football.
In bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway out of the city, Miles’ uncle’s car dies, and the three end up hiking to the Superdome in the rain. At this super shelter they, and another jazz musician friend they meet up with later inside, decide not to become involved in other people’s dramas. But along with a woman, her father, and her two young daughters, plus a preacher and his family, they begin to form a small community of safety and comfort, drawing together in the sharing of music as an antidote to loss and grief.
This becomes even more necessary when Miles meets up with a couple of boys from his new high school football team. Initially he’s pleased because they are both seniors, and he thinks he’ll be part of the social chain in school if he hangs out with these guys – until they bully themselves into the food line and later, want protection money from the people in Miles’ section.
Headlined by verses, both known and new, of the jazz spiritual often characteristically used as a funeral march in New Orleans, each of the twelve chapters (plus a prologue and an epilogue) is also captioned by a date and time, and chronicles the painful experiences of three days in the before and after of Hurricane Katrina. In this short but gripping story of nightmarish tragedies and profound hope, Volponi’s passionate writing is a careful crafting of contrasts -- gritty language and sensitive interactions -- in this tale of a desperate time, as a son and his father discover each other in new ways and begin to feel like a family.

Additional titles to consider:

by Gail Gibbons
Holiday House, $17.95, Ages 7-9

Discover how hurricanes form, how to prepare when you learn a hurricane is coming, what kinds of damage results, and how information is gathered to forecast and track hurricanes. Brief descriptions of several famous historic hurricanes, including Hurricane Andrew (1992), and Hurricane Katrina (2005) are included. (Nonfiction)

Hurricane Wolf
by Diane Paterson
Albert Whitman, $16.99, Ages 5-8

Noah learns about and helps prepare for approaching Hurricane Anna, which he calls a hurricane wolf, because it’s scary like a big bad wolf trying to blow down houses. The family plots the hurricane’s course on a map, while it batters the house, and Noah asks questions: “Can it see us?” he whispers when it gets suddenly quiet; his mom explains the silence as the eye, the center of the storm. Information about hurricanes is included at the end as a “book” Noah makes with help from his mom: the Saffir-Simpson Scale, a sample Hurricane Plan, Hurricane Kit, and what to do After the Storm. (Fiction)

Ellie Ever
by Nancy Ruth Patterson
illustrations by Patty Weise
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15.99, Ages 7-10

After a hurricane in which nine-year-old Ellie and her mother lose her father, her beloved Saint Bernard, Pandy, their house and all their possessions, they move to Virginia for her mother to complete a farrier’s apprenticeship at a mansion, which also houses stables for retired horses. Ellie is accepted into Twin Creeks Preparatory School and discovers the other girls in her fourth grade class think she’s a princess because she lives at the mansion. This tender, restrained story shows a family’s steady recovery from the huge losses of a big storm. (Fiction)

Monday, July 18, 2011

BOMBS AWAY (Monday Poem)

by Sara Holbrook

It happens when
the weather warms.
The sky explodes
in thunderstorms.

Cloud puffs change
from white to gray.
The sun retreats,

Forget those ten umbrellas,
the hat,
or the place to hide.
When storm clouds start to grumble,
I want
a good friend
by my side.

from Weird? (Me, Too!) Let's Be Friends by Sara Holbrook, 2010, Wordsong

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

WHAT'S IN A WORD? (Monday Poem)

by Siv Cedering

Say "bird,"
and a sparrow appears
inside you and ruffles
its feathers.

Say "cardinal,"
and the bird turns red.
Suddenly it is winter.
With a lot of snow. And look!
There are sunflower seeds
in the feeder.

from How to Write Poetry by Paul B. Janeczko,1999, Scholastic

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

THIS BOOK (Monday Poem)

by Avis Harley

This book is the best--
I woke up to read it
Before getting dressed.

This book is so cool--
It's the first thing I grabbed
When I rushed in from school.

This book is a winner--
I forgot I was hungry.
I almost missed dinner.

This book is just right--
I'm reading by flashlight deep into the night
Deliciously thirsty to see how it ends.

Books are such mind-thrilling
Spine-tingling friends.

from I Am the Book selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2011, Holiday House

Monday, June 27, 2011

RAIN (Monday Poem)

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,

It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

from A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1978, Random House

Friday, June 24, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

THE SWING (Monday Poem)

by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees, cattle and all
Over the countryside. --

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown--
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

from A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1978, Random House

Monday, June 13, 2011

WHAT WAS THAT? (Monday Poem)

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

What was that
that made me blink?
Made me wonder,
made me think?

Turned me inside
upside down;
under, over
all around?

What was that
that I just heard?
A treasured tale,
a magic word?

A breathless thought
inside my head--
what was that
that I just read?

from I Am the Book Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2011, Holiday House

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Rate Father Figures (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Fathers can help us fashion who we are from our dreams. Choose from these great storybooks to celebrate the father you adore.

My Side of the Car

by Kate Feiffer

illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 4-7

Readers of this funny, quirky picture book see the difficulty Sadie has had trying to get to the zoo – her mom trips and they must go to the hospital, Pasha the dog gets lost and the family looks for him all day, the grandparents make a surprise visit and prefer the museum. But finally Sadie and her dad are on the way, having a great time, until her father notices it’s raining. “No, it’s not raining on my side of the car,” says Sadie, again and again, in answer to her father’s concern.

Modeled on a trip the author, Kate Feiffer, and her father, Jules Feiffer, the illustrator, once took to a nature preserve, the watercolor and pencil paintings explicitly capture images of a rain-soaked landscape in contrast to a bright sunny day, with the red car serving as the dividing line between. From Sadie’s comments, one is never entirely certain whether her observations are based in reality or hope. But the text and images complement each other fully; as it becomes clear that Sadie is determined, nothing will keep them from the zoo today.

When they finally arrive however, and Sadie gets out, she declares she doesn’t want her father to get wet from the rain on his side of the car. They make a big turn, and after passing some boring roads, her dad observes that it’s not raining on his side of the car now. The satisfying final scene is complete with them “going to the zoo. At last!”

(Appended is a comical discussion between daughter and father about the real-life event – it’s clear there is, to this day, no agreement about whether it was raining!)

Passing the Music Down

by Sarah Sullivan

illustrated by Barry Root

Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 5-8

When a young boy travels from Indiana to Appalachia mountain country, it’s to meet the old fiddler whose playing he admires. The two become fast friends, working in the old man’s garden, sharing meals, and playing fiddle tunes together. To strengthen the relationship, rooted in the music they both love, the boy’s family moves to a neighboring county.

Accenting the title by recurrent use of the phrase, author Sullivan, a West Virginian, like the musicians and the traditional folk music she admires, keeps readers connected to the characters by favoring a ballad-like storytelling style with poetic images – “Like a katydid in the spring, the boy’s heart dances.” Illustrator/musician Root’s sunlit watercolor and gouache images emphasize the mountain setting by liberal, yet delicate choices of yellows, oranges and greens, merging with the text for a timeless composition.

Inspired by the true story of Melvin Wine and Jake Krack, the combined talents of author and illustrator smoothly convey the power of a passion for great fiddling and long-lasting fiddle tunes to shape a bond between generations – the tradition of “passing the music down” in this lovely lyrical story.

Helpful back matter features an Author’s Note, explaining the remarkable story behind the book; A Note on the Tunes; and Resources, which include: Books and Articles, a Discography, Videos, and Websites.

These Hands

by Margaret H. Mason

illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Houghton Mifflin, $16.99, Ages 6-9

Using the “yes, I can” phrase, famous from Barak Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, as a refrain, the loving African American grandfather in this story tells about his life, subtly encouraging his grandson to develop his own skills. With a repetitive “Did you know . . . .?, author Mason’s lyrical language shifts the grandfather’s remembering from the simple art of tying shoes, and joyful singing at the piano, to card games and baseball, and the inequity of being prevented from making bread at the Wonder Bread factory because, “white people would not want to eat bread touched by these hands.”

In just a few brief phrases, the storyteller moves the reader from hands that “were only allowed to sweep the floors and work the line and load the trucks,” to hands that joined with other hands to write petitions, carry signs and raise voices together, fashioning changes that make it possible for any hands now, to “mix the bread dough, no matter their color.”

With his characteristic “erased” oil wash, an artistic styling which gives both depth and texture, illustrator Cooper also effectively suggests another era, by his choice of sepia tones and a soft focus. Hands are prominent without being dominant, and the expressive faces add dimension, structure and drive to the story.

This latter is especially true as the rhythmic language transfers to the grandson who, discovering what his hands can do now, brings the grandfather along to share the conclusion that “those hands can do anything. Anything at all in this whole wide world.”

An Author’s Note at the end shares some of the oral history of bakery factories, where workers, who joined together to fight for fair treatment in their jobs, established labor unions.


by Karla Kuskin

So I picked out a book
on my own
from the shelf
and I started to read
on my own
to myself.
And nonsense and knowledge
came tumbling out,
whispering mysteries,
history's shout,
the wisdom of wizards,
the songs of the ages,
all wonders of wandering
wonderful pages.

from I Am the Book Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2011, Holiday House

Monday, May 30, 2011

WHO'S RICH (Monday Poem)

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Who's rich?
The boy with a book he hasn't read yet.
The girl with a tower of books by her bed.
She opens and opens and opens.
Her life starts everywhere.

Who's rich?
Anyone befriended again & again
by a well-loved book.

This is a wealth
we never lose.

from I Am the Book Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2011, Holiday House

Monday, May 23, 2011


by Sara Holbrook

Day by day
a tightrope,
walking on the boundaries
of change.
One step--
firm, familiar.
The next step--
shaky, strange.

Some friends will dare danger,
mock or push each step.
Some friends
knock your confidence.

Real friends
form a net.

from Weird? (Me, Too!) Let's Be Friends by Sara Holbrook, 2010, Wordsong

Monday, May 16, 2011

RAIN, RAIN, RAIN (Monday Poem)

by Karma Wilson

Oh, the rain is such a pain
when it's falling from the sky
and we want to be out playin'
and we'd like a little dry.

Oh, the rain is such a pain.
And it wouldn't come, I bet,
if our garden were a-wiltin'
and we'd like a little wet!

from What's the Weather Inside? by Karma Wilson, 2009, McElderry Books

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Soccer Counts (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Written by three moms, these books demonstrate the strength of a game and the power of a good story to make connections, sustain friendships, and engage kids of all ages in the unifying experience of play.

My Name is Sangoel

by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed

illustrated by Catherine Stock

Eerdmans, $17.00, Ages 6-8

Sudanese refugee Sangoel, whose father was killed in the war, leaves the refugee camp and arrives by “sky boat” in the United States with his Mama and younger sister, Lili. They learn to cross the street safely, eat with forks, and use the phone. But the doctor, the teacher and even the soccer coach cannot pronounce his name correctly.

Veteran author/illustrator Stock chooses both vivid and muted colors to convey the contrast between the refugee camp and the busy, noisy US city with its cold weather, and crowds. The sunlit illustrations, showing Sangoel acting on his “bright” idea follow immediately after the dark despair of the shadowed bedroom, where dreams disturb his sleep. This juxtaposition increases the power of the text and escalates the impact of the story’s climax.

With a deft combination of dialog and narrative, the authors show readers the enormous changes Sangoel and his family experience. Although he feels the freedom and openness in the US, Sangoel also suffers what feels like the loss of his name. Coming as a refugee without a country or even a home, pride in his Dinka name is nearly the only inheritance that survives of Sangoel’s knowledge about himself.

Sparked by Lili, Sangoel takes an idea from his soccer team shirt, and using an almost-white shirt from the bag of donated clothing, fashions a message about his name. Under the words, My name is, he draws a sun above a soccer ball in the goal net. When his classmates solve the rebus-like sentence on his shirt, correctly pronouncing Sun-goal, they each begin to create a name rebus. The teacher’s approving comment supplies the quiet Sangoel with a chance, finally, to explain the value of his name. (Using simple language, a brief Author’s Note at the end explains what can cause people to become refugees and why the ancestral name can be important.)


by Mina Javaherbin

illustrated by A. G. Ford

Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 7-9

In a South African township alley, six boys play soccer with a ball won by the one who is its owner, as a “prize for being the best reader in class.” They kick, they dribble, they run, they shoot for their goal, between two dented water buckets. They are champions, even in streets that are not safe.

They take turns guarding against ruffians by drawing sticks. But when Badu, the rooftop guard, jumps down to help solve a disagreement about a corner kick, bullies on bikes arrive to steal the ball.

Iranian immigrant and debut picture book writer Javaherbin, uses short, staccato sentences to energize a story with universal appeal. While repetitive language reinforces safety issues, oil paintings show brilliant blue skies, and varied textures -- of the dusty street, the proud new black and white patches on a federation-size football, and even the beat-up shanties.

Although conversation drives the story, the illustrations supply skin tones to reflect the sun’s glow, as body postures and faces reflect laughter, fear, intimidation, and especially triumph. Together, painting and text create a strong picture book whose resilience lies not only in the friendship among the boys, but also in the magic of the world’s most popular team sport. An Author’s Note is appended.

Pelé King of Soccer

by Monica Brown

Illustrated by Rudy Gutiérrez

HarperCollins, $17,99, Ages 5-9

Beginning in the middle of a game, just as the featured soccer player is about to score, this book about the life of Brazil’s superstar shifts easily between commentary about specific games, and following him from his early days as a shoe-shine boy on the streets of Três Corações, helping his family earn money. His relationship with his father, the times he and his friends played soccer – sometimes with a grapefruit or an old sock, stuffed with newspapers, sometimes barefoot – and including his invitation to try out for a professional team at the age of fifteen, are all highlighted.

Combining the award-winning talents of author Brown and artist Gutiérrez, this fast moving biography features Pelé’s famous bicycle kick. Also, playing with his team and winning the first World Cup for Brazil at the age of seventeen, traveling all over the world to play and teach soccer, and scoring his one thousandth goal are emphasized.

Gutiérrez uses bold, sunlit colors and curved lines to frame the words of this bilingual picture book in English and Spanish. He energizes Brown’s already lively text by pulling and stretching images of city streets, balls, Pelé himself, stadiums, and even the word, GOAL. Primitive designs, plus smaller images of people’s faces – some famous -- add action to this book about a remarkable player and a beloved game.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


by Alice Walker

We have to live

or we
will die
in the same

old ways.

I call on all Grand Mothers
on the planet
to rise
and take you place
in the leadership
of the world

Come out
of the kitchen
out of the
out of the
beauty parlors
out of the

Step forward
& assume
the role
for which
you were
To lead humanity
to health, happiness
& sanity.

I call on
all the
Grand Mothers
of Earth
& every person
who possesses
the Grand Mother
of respect for
protection of
the young
to rise
& lead.

The life of
our species
on it.

& I call on all men
of Earth
to gracefully

stand aside
& let them
(let us)
do so.

from Hard Times Require Furious Dancing, by Alice Walker, 2010, New World Library. Printed in MS. MAGAZINE, Fall 2010, p.50

Monday, April 25, 2011


by Sara Holbrook

My pencil broke.
See my point?
I didn't set out to

Give me a break
and lose that look.
It's library day;
I forgot my book.
My alarm slept in.
No time to brush.
My mom was in a mood.
I whacked my shin
trying to rush.
The bus driver was rude.
Okay, a little late,
but just my luck,
my zipper stuck.
I only could find one glove!
How 'bout a little love?

turned the wrong way
down a one-way street with
bird poop on its shoulder.
If you don't mind,
can we make a deal
and start this whole day over?

from Wierd? (Me, Too!) Let's Be Friends, by Sara Holbrook, 2010, Wordsong

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

WHAT'S JUST (Monday Poem)

by Sara Holbrook

Just deny.
Just postpone.
Just press forward, just delete.
Didn't see it.
Not my mix.
Couldn't care.
Cannot fix.
So whatever.
I'm just so not into this.

Except . . .
just some sweat on my forehead,
just this bite on my lip.
Except . . .
just this clench in my eyebrows,
just this scream in my throat.
I should just walk away.
This is just not my fight.

Except . . .
my voice just escaped,
and I just have to say
just isn't right.

from Wierd? (Me, Too!) Let's Be Friends by Sara Holbrook, 2010, Wordsong.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Earth Day Books for Poetry Month (FAMILY magazine reviews)

These poetic books are perfect for the month of April when poetry is particularly celebrated, and when we honor our planet for Earth Day and beyond. With the youngest among us hopping, growling, or flapping we can tune along -- while older children might prefer to follow the path of a plastic bag, or join the youngster who’s saving salamander lives.

Big Night for Salamanders

by Sarah Marwil Lamstein

illustrated by Carol Benioff

Boyds Mills Press, $17.95, Ages 7-9

On the first warm rainy night of spring – Big Night – spotted salamanders emerge from the forest tunnels where they’ve spent the winter, to return to the pools where they were born. Many must cross a road, and volunteers with flashlights, like Evan in this story, keep watch to help these small amphibians to safety.

Similar to volunteers who help egg laying turtles on east coast Florida beaches, by putting protective fences around the nests, and turning off street lights so newly hatched turtle babies can find their way to the ocean by moonlight. The salamander volunteers near forests in North America stand watch to warn motorists of the migration.

Using two different fonts to follow the two tracks of this book helps readers understand the path of the migrating salamanders, while simultaneously showing young Evan’s excitement at helping the small creatures to safety. Benioff’s colorful gouache brightens paintings of the rainy night. Flashlights and automobile lights contrast with darker colors showing the forest path, as the rain falls. Evan’s solution to protect the salamanders even after he goes to bed suits the rainy night elements of the story, and demonstrates the passion many feel as they work to protect creatures in our world.

This engaging picture book includes two pages explaining the Life Cycle of the Spotted Salamander, a few paragraphs about Big Night and Vernal Pools, plus a Glossary, Index and Resources at the back.

If You’re Hoppy

by April Pulley Sayre

illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic

Greenwillow, $16.99, Ages 2-5

The award-winning author of numerous books for children about science and natural history, Sayre brings her rollicking brand of humor and creativity to this rhyming picture book, based on the traditional song “If you’re happy and you know it.” Whether you act like a frog, a bunny or a cricket, hopping happiness abounds, as does flappiness as a bird, butterfly or pterodactyl.

The craziness doesn’t stop with pterodactyls, but moves quickly into being sloppy or growly, and starts to include “slimy and scaly and mean,” as illustrator Urbanovic’s watercolors, outlined in ink, leap and growl across the double pages in bright colors. The light green frog with red legs and tongue from the early pages is especially captivating, as are the unexpected bird choices of a large white pelican with widespread wings, and the almost laughing pterodactyl.

The slightly scary purple pages with slimy, scaly and mean descriptors turn out to be the frog making shadows in front of a flashlight, immediately reducing any potential anxiety for young children. The final pages shower readers with movement using both words and pictures, circling back to the dancing frog that wants to be with YOU!

Bag in the Wind

by Ted Kooser

illustrated by Barry Root.

Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 5-8

Set during a cold early spring, this windy story begins in a landfill with a yellow onion-colored, two-handled plastic grocery bag, escaping as air fills it, to get caught on a chain link fence with other trash. Showing the bag as it bounces over the fence to catch on a tree branch, where a redwing blackbird finally pecks it free, the story follows the bag, as it rolls along the ground, and snags on a barbed wire, where a girl grabs it for carrying cans to recycle, at a nearby gas station.

After the bag is emptied, it gets wedged under the door to keep out the wind, until a small truck with bags full of leaves for the landfill arrives. Freed once again, the bag tosses in the wind, and when it’s captured this time, it’s by a homeless man’s crutch. Later, it blows away on the nearby stream, and floats into a river, then alongside a dock, where another homeless person grabs it, and loses it again.

The recycling is complete when a man picks up the bag, and with other bags, sells it to a second-hand store for the owner to use. When the first little girl buys a baseball and glove there, her purchases go with her in the same ordinary two-handled bag.

The watercolor and gouache paintings use subdued yellows and oranges, to cast the late winter in colors that supply the requisite overcast chills of the changing season. Accompanying the tonal qualities of re-use, the illustrator captures the essence of earth-care as each aspect of the bag’s journey reflects another phase of the recycling processes that show care for our planet.

A Note About Recycling Plastic Bags is included at the end.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Terns Galore

by Jane Yolen

At the seaside, terns galore,
One tern, one tern, one tern more.
I tern. You tern.
My turn to fly, tern,
Overhead and high, tern,
Underneath and 'bye, tern.
Why, tern, why turn?
Turning terns are all returning,
There upon the shore.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


by Jane Yolen

Up the
In the
Not the
Time to
Flick and
Look for
As I

Monday, March 28, 2011

Candle Flame

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Watch carefully
the candle
its yellow dance,
its curvy wave . . .
an oven on
one leg of wick.
High above we shape
our lips into an O, then blow
its fire dance away,
then say good night
to butter-bright
and candlelight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

come spilling
than blue;
cool buckets
of giant's tears
over tops of mountains
into the gurgling laps
of rivers.

Monday, March 14, 2011


by Bob Raczka



(another poem using the letters from the one word title)

Monday, March 7, 2011


by Bob Raczka


(Using letters in the title word, the author has crafted a poem -- part anagram, part rebus, part riddle. Try it.)

Women Create Her-Story (FAMILY magazine reviews)

The women whose lives inspire these picture books have worked hard and with intention to achieve. Their histories, or her-stories, challenge readers to set and seek goals, making the journey as significant as the destination.

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

by Roxane Orgill

illustrations by Sean Qualls

Candlewick Press, $17.99, Ages 8-11

Biographer Orgill uses her award-winning talents as a writer about music to capture the rhythm and beat that characterizes Fitzgerald’s musical and dancing abilities, beginning as a young child. Ella and her friend Charlie practice on the Yonkers streets, take a trolley to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom to watch, learn and dance some more, and later get a few dancing jobs in neighborhood clubs.

But after her mother dies and she must live with her aunt, Ella’s raggedy toughness gets her in trouble and sent to a school for orphans up the Hudson River, where she is mistreated before she runs away. Back in Harlem by 1934, Ella’s experience of being homeless and out of work is not uncommon, and she gets by on soup at the Baptist church, used clothing and more toughness. What is uncommon however, is Ella’s courage, persistence and determination to audition for Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater and later at the Harlem Opera House, where she wins first prize both times.

Her big break comes when, despite being dressed in big second-hand boots and raggedy clothes, Ella holds her beloved mother’s memory in her heart and, using her voice with a dancing beat, convinces the reluctant Chick Webb to offer her a chance to swing with his band at the Savoy. It’s a few successful years later that her idea to record a swing version of the children’s game tune, “A Tisket, A Tasket,” brings the band its first number one hit song on the radio.

Illustrator Qualls brings his much honored skills with acrylic, pencil and collage to set the pages for the dancing text, with words from Ella’s music interspersed. Flat paintings with bubbles and ribbons of color provide a rhythmic backdrop for action throughout this story, contrasting the poverty of Ella’s early life with the sparkly gowns, jewelry, shoes and stage lighting of her later success. A Bibliography for Further Reading, Listening, Viewing, and Web searching is included at the end.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

illustrated by Brian Floca

Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, Ages 7-11

While this is initially the story of Martha Graham’s dance about America, it is ultimately a collaboration of three artists whose collective work produces a masterpiece. However, “before it was a dance it was a story.” And although Graham begins by writing her story as a script, fundamentally the story is told through movement and music.

Graham asks composer Aaron Copeland to create music for her ballet. And as he begins, a lilting old Shaker melody, “’Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free . . . seems to draw out the story, winding its way through his musical score, which also includes a Virginia reel and rodeo themes. As Martha constructs steps and patterns for her ballet, she and her dancers allow Copeland’s music to suggest movement. They listen to their bodies, imagining and trying many different kinds of motion, searching for what works, by discovering what doesn’t.

Graham contacts her friend, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, who is skilled at transforming materials like wood, and stone into art. She hopes he will be able to transform an empty stage into a space where dancers can perform.

With its angular shapes, slanted steps, and thin skeleton-like edges, Noguchi’s invented stage set is something of an obstacle course for the dancers as they practice and perfect their movements. Graham’s title for the ballet comes from a poem, and it is ready for the premier performance, at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC on October 30, 1944.

Award winning artist Floca, with authors Greenberg and Jordan, in a cooperative effort reminiscent of the story itself, adroitly uses his signature watercolors to bring both the crafting of the ballet and its performance to life. Motion and power are contrasted with quieter moments of rocking a baby as the painter uses line and color to generate a sense of energy, celebration and hope that characterize this artistic love letter.

As a frontier story, Appalachian Spring is a “legend of American living,” showing how pioneer families put down roots in a new home, and create a new family and a new life. As a favored masterpiece, it is performed year after year, a continuing synergy of teamwork. At the end are biographies of the three featured collaborators and a list of source notes.

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx

by Jonah Winter,

illustrated by Edel Rodriguez.

Atheneum, $16.99, Ages 5-9

Effectively written in both English and Spanish, (including front and back covers and flaps) this picture book biography of the first Latin American to be seated as Supreme Court justice follows the life of a little girl from New York City whose parents were born in Puerto Rico. Comparing her to a moonflower growing next to an abandoned building, best-selling author Winter shows readers how Sonia’s mother worked hard, despite only a third grade education herself, to make it possible for her children to go to school. She set high standards for herself, and Sonia and her brother stretched to reach their own high goals, following their mother’s loving example.

Although the children’s father died when Sotomayor was only nine years old, the extended family surrounded the three with much love, good food, wonderful parties and game nights. Sonia also read books, lots of them, all the time, or at least as much as she could.

She began to think about the power held by a judge in her favorite TV show, Perry Mason, a courtroom drama. As her interest bloomed, she continued to study harder, winning a highest achievement award in high school, and being accepted as a student at Princeton University, where later, after continuing to study rigorously, Sotomayor again graduated with highest honors.

Rodriguez’s bright illustrations, with their sunny orange cast, use pastels, acrylics, oil-based inks and spray paint to fill many of the double page spreads. The latter gives, especially the partial page paintings, a soft focus, with contrasting shadings and texture, even on the night pages.

Her work as a judge brought her recognition, and later attention from President Barack Obama who nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, where she works as a justice, proud to be Latina. (An Author’s Note, also in both English and Spanish is included at the back.)