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.