Monday, December 24, 2012

WISHING (Monday Poem)

by Leland B. Jacobs

I wish I had a kitten,
I wish I had a dog,
I wish I had a crocodile,
Or a pollywog.

I wish I had a magic hat,
A magic cloak and stick,
I wish I had an uncle
Who could do a magic trick.

I wish I had a sailing ship
That had a jolly crew--
I wish I had a wish, for once,
That really would come true.

from Is Somewhere Always Far Away? Poems About Places by Leland B. Jacobs, illustrated by Jeff Kaufman, 1993, Henry Holt and Company

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Humorous and Heartwarming Books for the Holidays (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Ready to snuggle with some dears for storytime?  Try these charmers and make some holiday memories.  Merry! Merry!!

The Night Before Christmas Deep Under the Sea 
by Kathi Kelleher
illustrated by Dan Andreasen 
Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-7

            In a lively and humorous parody of the familiar holiday rhyme, this picture book is set in an underwater world of oysters, kelp and seaweed, with an expressive lobster as narrator.  The rhyming text is a perfect rhythmic imitation of Clement Clark Moore’s Christmas poem -- “The moon shells they glimmered like pearls from the glow / Of luminescent jellyfish gliding below” – the whiskered walrus rides in on a “conch shell sleigh,” pulled by “eight lively sea horses,” whose sea creature names, like urchin and snail, he shouts with merry delight.
            As he slides down the poop deck, carrying a bag full of goodies, the red rubber suited blue walrus looks “like a pirate come hauling his loot.” And the somewhat cautious lobster has his fears put “to rest without words being said,“ by the “gleam in his eye and a nod of his head.”
            The double page illustrations are oil paintings combined with digital underpainting, generating an exuberant, animated undersea scene with color zones and underwater bubbles to accompany the vivid, jolly language.  After delivering the gifts, “the flotilla ascended, he bellowed quite clearly,” the timely and timeless message, “Merry Christmas, my friends! I love you all dearly!”  This book is a clever and playful addition to holiday story times.

The Carpenter’s Gift:  A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree 
by David Rubel
illustrated by Jim LaMarche 
Random House, $17.99, Ages 6-9

            Beginning as a reminiscence, this Christmas tale shows readers an aging Henry, who recalls Christmas eve 1931, when as a young boy (on the facing page), he helps his unemployed dad cut and sell evergreen trees from a grove near their unheated shack.  Using a borrowed truck to drive an hour into New York City, they park and unload with permission and assistance from the workers at a construction site, earning “enough money to make the trip a success.” 
            Giving the remaining trees to the construction workers, they help set the largest tree at the site and decorate it with handmade and found objects, creating a magical moment for young Henry, who keeps a pine cone from the tree, to remember the day.  In a lovely circling manner, the Rockefeller Center workers show up the next day with leftover wood, supplies and tools to build a new house for Henry and his family.  In gratitude and hope, Henry plants the pine cone, which grows into an enormous spruce in whose shade he works and plays with his own family.
            But there’s more!  And here’s where the tradition of holiday trees for the Rockefeller Center meets the purpose of Habitat for Humanity – whose objective and mission is to build simple decent homes for those without, using volunteer labor.  A collaborative story, showing the transformative power of giving, this picture book with its luminous watercolor and colored pencil illustrations captures the wonder, not only of the enchanting tree, but of the faces of the individuals who care to invest their time and energy, changing the world.
            Helpful end matter tells “About the Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller Center” and “About Habitat for Humanity International.”

Together at Christmas 
by Eileen Spinelli
illustrated by Bin Lee 
Albert Whitman, $15.99, Ages 3-7
            On Christmas Eve, that most bewitching of nights, a family of ten mice
shiver in the snow.  Counting backwards, this rhyming story shows each mouse finding a cozy place to stay warm – some locations are traditional, like a fallen nest and a milkweed pod – others are more whimsical, like cattail fluff for an overcoat. 
Well-loved author-poet Spinelli’s light-hearted language frames the contrasts between the bitter-cold night and the refuges found by each mouse to cuddle and nestle. Illustrator Lee’s snow-lit settings counter the sleet-driven darkness, producing a bright, whirling energy, subtly supporting the cozy, affectionate tone of this tale, in spite of frigid conditions. 
Ultimately the mice opt to be together even before one of them discovers a hollow log, with a “stash of berries” and “room for everyone!”

Monday, December 10, 2012

SOMEWHERE (Monday Poem)

by Leland B. Jacobs

Where, oh where,
Can somewhere be?
In outer space?
Beneath the sea?

Is somewhere
Always far away?
In other lands?
Beyond today?

Is somewhere
Always farther still?
Beyond the woods,
Beyond the hill?

It's difficult
To be aware
Of somewhere else
Until you're there.

from Is Somewhere Always Far Away? Poems About Places by Leland B. Jacobs, illustrated by Jeff Kaufman, 1993, Henry Holt and Company

Monday, December 3, 2012

MY OWN DAY (Monday Poem)

by Jean Little

When I opened my eyes this morning,
The day belonged to me.
The sky was mine and the sun,
And my feet got up dancing.
The marmalade was mine and the squares of the sidewalk
And all the birds in the trees.
So I stood and I considered
Stopping the world right there,
Making today go on and on forever.
But I decided not to.
I let the world spin on and I went to school.
I almost did it, but then, I said to myself,
"Who knows what you might be missing tomorrow?"

from The Family Read-Aloud Holiday Treasury selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Marc Brown, 1991, Little, Brown and Company

Monday, November 26, 2012

FALL WIND (Monday Poem)

by Aileen Fisher

Everything is on the run --
willows swishing in the sun,
branches full of dip and sway,
falling leaves that race away,
pine trees tossing on the hill --
nothing's quiet, nothing's still,
all the sky is full of song:
"Winter's coming.  Won't be long."

from The Sky is Full of Song selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer, 1983, Harper & Row

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Autumn Bonanza of Tempting Tales (FAMILY magazine reviews)

As the hours of daylight decrease, and the harvest season tilts away from the heat of summer, these energetic stories offer a simultaneously invigorating and reassuring advance, into an interval of robust intensity.  Add relish to your story times with these affectionate tales.

George Flies South 
by Simon James 
Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 3-8

            Although winter is on the way and birds are flying south, and it’s time for bird George to learn to fly -- he’s not quite ready!  Ink and watercolor illustrations show the gusting wind and the unstable nest, while George waits for Mom to bring some worms.
            As daily life in the autumn city progresses, George, in his nest, becomes airborne!  Pastels color the cars, grass, sky, people’s clothing, and more, giving the slightly cartoonish illustrations an energetic liveliness, and adding movement to the story.
            The dialog between George and Mom keeps the story centered:  and like a child learning to walk, shows excitement on his part, and encouragement from her.  In an especially reassuring vignette, Mom is perched on an under-construction building piling, watching over a sleeping George as night arrives, and grey-blue shadows fall. 
            Curled in the nest as it travels from car top (blown from the original tree), to a boat, carrying wooden planks (after floating off the auto as it crossed a bridge), later lifted by a crane to the high-rise, George has rather enjoyed his adventure – due, in large part, to mom’s fluttering nearby, and, just as important, his nest.  When he’s launched once again, the nest disintegrates, and he must, finally, rescue himself.
            The satisfying ending, simultaneously reassuring and intrepid, features Mom’s predictable “I knew you could do it,” followed by George’s final words, “I’m ready to fly south now.  Let’s go! I hope there’s lots of worms . . . “

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray
illustrated by Marla Frazee 
Simon & Schuster, $16.99, Ages 3-7

            Night is not the only place to find stars, although it is the place where this lovely book begins – and ends.  Award-winning illustrator Frazee, using graphite, gouache, and gel pens, opens with an expanding evening sky, amplifying images evoked by author Ray’s lyrical text. 
            Multiple figures on a single page summon readers’ into the story – as a child draws a star to keep in a pocket, share with a friend, or use to augment imagination.  While double page spreads show “days you don’t feel shiny,” a profusion of snowflake energy and dandelion stardust.  The skilled fusion of sometimes dancing paintings with lilting language, stirs memories, conjures experiences, and kindles anticipation.
            You can find stars -- on mossy tree trunks, on plants that promise a later season’s fruit, or seeds -- if you lose yours.  Or, perhaps you can earn stars.  Even buttons or snowflakes are star reminders.   But it’s the immensity of the night sky, both with and without fireworks, that truly captures not only the author’s and artist’s attention, but draws the reader toward the “Every night. Everywhere” ending of profound restorative abundance.

Frisky Brisky Hippity Hop  
based on a poem by Alexina B. White
with new verses by Susan Lurie
photographs by Murray Head  
Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 3-5

            Adapted by children’s book editor and author Lurie, from a favorite poem for younger children -- first published more than 140 years ago by White -- this lively book uses spirited language to match perfectly with Head’s vigorous photos.  Rhythmic rhymes define New York City’s Central Park squirrels, whose images celebrate both the park itself, and its most popular, and agile, residents.
            Capturing the vivacious rodents throughout the day, readers (through the photographers camera eye) can glimpse these creatures hopping, scampering, wiggling, and nearly flying as they evade a predatory hawk, play in pairs, nibble a peanut, build a nest, and tuck away to sleep.  The brief text, seamlessly integrates new verses with old, and flawlessly links with the close-up photos to concentrate readers’ attention on the acrobatic stars.  This perfect book features the exuberance of autumn, ably demonstrated by one of nature’s best-known mammals.

Monday, November 12, 2012


by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Keep a poem in your pocket
and a picture in your head
and you'll never feel lonely
at night when you're in bed.

The little poem will sing to you
the little picture bring to you
a dozen dreams to dance to you
at night when you're in bed.

Keep a picture in your pocket
and a poem in your head
and you'll never feel lonely
at night when you're in bed

from The Family Read-Aloud Holiday Treasury selected by Alice Low, illustrated by Marc Brown, 1991, Little Brown

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Harvest of Haunting Books (FAMILY magazine reviews)

During the Halloween season, when our culture symbolically steers us through both legitimate and imagined fears, we and our children prize stories that can help us laugh at our bugaboos and give us courage to face them.  This small collection of titles builds up bravery, and strengthens nerves, giving us the grit and guts to face a dread that makes us flinch in dismay.  Take two (or more) and stride forward in the morning!   

The Boo! Book by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer
illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli 
Atheneum, $17.99, Ages 4-8
            Although not many people know this, begins the story, “there are almost as many book ghosts as there are house ghosts.”  Book ghosts meddle with stories, turn them upside down, and scramble words. 
            What follows are descriptions of how to know if a book is haunted, what to do if you discover you’re reading a haunted book, when NOT to read a book that’s haunted, and what to do if you’re trapped in a haunted book.  Cast in blues -- to stage the more fanciful moments -- and greens for more realistic bedroom scenes, this story features many delight-filled imaginings.
            To accompany author Lachenmeyer’s sometimes spooky, and often reassuring text, artist Ceccoli creates appealing light blue, round-faced ghosts who ‘swim’ through a book’s pages. She uses a mix of techniques -- plasticine, digital photography, acrylics on paper and Photoshop – to take young readers through a collection of dream-like sequences: like a snowy night sky sprinkled with stardust, or a bubbling underwater world containing strange undersea creatures.             
            Lachenmeyer’s occasionally cryptic language is cheerfully hair-raising; the fantasy is buoyant and gleeful.   Also, the concluding caution; that a ghost becomes bored when a haunted book is left “unread for too long,” is a ready reminder that from time to time we all enjoy a haunting.

Boo to You! by Lois Ehlert  
Simon & Schuster, $7.99, Ages 3-7
            The mice and their friends are in a frenzy of preparation for a harvest party.  And while they don’t mind an occasional squirrel or raccoon, they have a plan for getting rid of “the creep” they “didn’t invite.”   As they create and decorate, night falls.  They put on masks, arranging to scare the cat who’s coming to crash their bash.
            Award winning author/illustrator Ehlert delights the youngest set and their adults with her hallmark collage illustrations to partner her energetic, rhythmic, rhyming text.  A variety of papers in earthy autumn colors, combine with photos of edible ingredients, plus twine and string to bewitch young readers.
            Gather fall materials and supplies to accompany this brief but peppy picture book, as young listeners will likely be eager to craft their own montage.   


Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books 
by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya
illustrated by Susan L. Roth
Dial, $16.99, Ages 6-9
            Although within the walls of the beautiful and famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina there has always been safety to read, think and whisper about freedom, people “were not free to speak or vote as they wished” outside in their daily lives. When Egypt’s young people began marching for freedom in January 2011, first in Cairo, and later of Alexandria, demanding the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, who had been Egypt’s president for thirty years, there were fears that protesters might be angry enough to hurt each other or their library.
            Separated from the shore of the Mediterranean Sea by only a wide highway, the spectacularly beautiful Alexandria Library symbolically represents the sun of knowledge shining on the world.  It was during eighteen days of protest, when marchers joined hands with Dr. Ismail Serageldin, the library director, to protect the glass building from harm, that the Egyptian people demonstrated not only their determination to create a better world by helping spread democratic ideals, they also safeguarded the space where stories are held and books are valued, participating in a ring of protection that brought people together.
            Using her “international palette of papers,” illustrator Roth’s distinctive collage style emphasizes the crowds, the clasped hands, the circles of power, the emblematic Egyptian flag, and even the granite blocks carved with letters or signs from five hundred different alphabets.  The vitality of the “will of the people” to prevent vandals from destroying and ransacking the house of treasures the library represents, is evidenced not only in the seamlessly combined spirited text and vigorous illustrations, but also confirmed by back matter which includes photos from actual events, pages of information about both the ancient and modern library, several paragraphs about the revolution itself, a few words in flowing Arabic script from protest signs (with pronunciations, and English translations), and drawn together with an important concluding author’s note.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

RAGS (Monday Poem)

by Judith Thurman

The night wind
rips a cloud sheet
into rags,

then rubs, rubs
the October moon
until it shines
like a brass doorknob.

from The Sky is Full of Song selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer, 1983, Harper & Row

Monday, September 24, 2012


Little Miss Tucket
Sat on a bucket
Eating some peaches and cream.
There came a grasshopper,
Who tried hard to stop her,
But she said, "Go away or I'll scream."

from The McElderry Book of Mother Goose: Revered and Rare Rhymes compiled and illustrated by Petra Mathers, 2012, Simon & Schuster

Monday, September 17, 2012

MY GUITAR (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

Oh, wouldn't it be a most wondrous thing
To have a guitar that could play and could sing
By itself -- what an absolute joy it would be
To have a guitar . . .  that didn't need me.

from A Light in the Attic poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1981, Harper & Row

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pets Are Perfect (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Back to school is the perfect time for sharing stories not only about vacation and travel, but funny stories about family experiences and pets.  The books below offer a sampling of animal adventures and pet pals.  Try them!

Wanted! A Guinea Pig Called Henry 
by Wendy Orr 
illustrated by Patricia Castelao  
Henry Holt, $15.99, Ages 7-10

            Although the book is, as the title says, about guinea pig Henry, the story actually begins with a stumpy-tailed little brown dog named Nelly, who has the ability to calm frightened animals, even a terrified white cat and a shy kindergarten boy.  However, before we learn about Henry, we meet Sam who surprises herself and her parents by saying she would rather have a pet than a party for her birthday.
            Author Orr, who lives in Australia, has written several books in a series, called the Rainbow Street Shelter, in which the animal shelter plays an important part in the lives of the people and animals, who meet on its premises.  Henry is the third in this series.  And the story takes Sam and her family to the shelter for a visit where she meets, holds, pets and feeds several small animals, as she considers what pet she might choose to bring home with her the following week on her birthday.
            As Sam thinks about, dreams of, decides on, prepares for, chooses and plays with her pet, she and her kindergarten age brother, Liam, are also getting ready for school to begin.  Although Sam has always struggled with speaking and her arms and legs seem to refuse to do what she wants, her brain works just fine and she loves school.  But Liam is shy and doesn’t want to read with so many kids around, despite the fact that he’ll talk to, and read a book to Nelly every time their family goes to the shelter.
            Watching Liam and Nelly, gives Sam an idea – and her planning for and talking with the several adults to bring her idea to reality, draws the book to its satisfying close.  Illustrator Castelao’s black and white drawings arch the Rainbow Street Shelter icon over each chapter heading, giving the story shape and continuity.  The interspersed full-page and partial page images move the story, heightening its impact, and adding to its emotional authenticity.

Princess Posey and the Next Door Dog
by Stephanie Green
illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Putnam, $12.99, Ages 5-8

            Posey uses her pink tutu, her necklace with the pink beads, her magic veil with the stars, her belt with purple flowers, and her princess wand to give her Princess Posey bravery – to “go anywhere and do anything.  All by herself.”  She decides to meet the dog with a huge WOOF! who has moved in next door, because she is supposed to write about “your pet” or “the pet you hope to own” for an assignment in first grade. 
            Secretly, Posey is afraid of dogs, ever since one knocked her over to lick her ice cream when she was little.  By making the decision to take this important action, she confronts her fears, while Gramp’s wise words echo in her memory.
            Author Green has written this third in the Princess Posey series with her own ear tuned to early readers and uses the princess theme with a charming twist of courage that can make even the most ardent anti-princess cult member give this book a second look.  Short sentences and readable word choices are expressive without being choppy and, accompanied at pivotal intervals by Sisson’s black and white illustrations; together create appealing representative detail for new readers.
            Despite being afraid, Posey notices the dog is whimpering like a baby -- its paw is caught under the fence where it’s been digging.  After Posey frees his paw, the new neighbor, Mrs. Romero, thanks her for being “Hero’s hero,” introduces them and with the dog on the leash, comes to meet Posey’s mom and her brother Danny.  Not only does Posey show Hero to Tyler and Nick, the neighbor boys who have teased her about not being a “big kid,” but she has a story to read at school the next day.

by Eric Kimmel  
Holiday, $16.95, Ages 8-12

            Omar wants a snake.  He has passionately done his research online, not only about the kind of snake he wants, but how to care for and feed it, and where and how to keep it at home.  He’s even negotiated to purchase necessary equipment from a kid whose snake died, and has located a trustworthy place to purchase the corn snake of his dreams. 
            From a multi-racial and –ethnic family, Omar hears snake stories from his father’s village experiences growing up, and abstractedly feels the important contribution snakes made historically, by killing rodents who ate the community’s store of grain.  But he doesn’t fully understand the depth of his mother’s fear and loathing of snakes – in spite of her grudging acceptance of the snake in the home as long as she doesn’t have to see it or the frozen mice that are its diet – until it disappears.              With a curious younger sister, and a helpful school friend adding to the mix of complications, award winner Kimmel steps outside his familiar folktale mode of storytelling, and using his characteristic vivid writing style, captures for readers of this realistic middle grade novel, Omar’s sense of confusion when the snake makes a surprising reappearance in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

OVERDUES (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

What do I do?
What do I do?
This library book is 42
Years overdue.
I admit that it's mine
But I can't pay the fine---
Should I turn it in
Or hide it again?
What do I do?
What do I do?

from A Light in the Attic poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1981, Harper & Row

Monday, September 10, 2012

SEPTEMBER (Monday Poem)

by Lucille Clifton

I already know where Africa is
and I already know how to
count to ten and
I went to school every day last year,
why do I have to go again?

from The Sky is Full of Song Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 1983, Harper & Row

Monday, August 27, 2012


by Shel Silverstein

She wanted to play the piano,
But her hands couldn't reach the keys.
When her hands could finally reach the keys,
Her feet couldn't reach the floor.
When her hands could finally reach the keys,
And her feet could reach the floor,
She didn't want to play that ol' piano anymore.

from A Light in the Attic poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1981, Harper & Row

Monday, August 20, 2012

HERE COMES (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

Here comes summer,
Here comes summer,
Chirping robin, budding rose.
Here comes summer,
Here comes summer,
Gentle showers, summer clothes.
Here comes summer,
Here comes summer,
Whoosh -- shiver -- there it goes.

from A Light in the Attic poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1981, Harper & Row

Monday, August 13, 2012

HOW MANY, HOW MUCH (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

How many slams in an old screen door?
     Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
     Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
     Depends how good you live 'em.
How much love inside a friend?
     Depends how much you give 'em.

from A Light in the Attic poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1981, Harper & Row

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Salute to Super Heroes & Heroines (FAMILY magazine reviews)

If the newest Spiderman movie sparked your imagination, try any or all of these champion picture books for their characteristic intrepid courage, classical ideals, and notable adventures.  While perhaps not all of celebrity status, these daring, determined and spirited individuals demonstrate sturdy personalities and plucky tenacity.  Any or all are worthy role models for young people in need or hope of a suitable hero or heroine.  Touché!

Zero the Hero by Joan Holub 
illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld 
Henry Holt, $16.99, Ages 6-11
            Zero thinks of himself as a superhero, but his friends the other numbers?  Not so much.  Zero is out for the count – he simply isn’t included in counting numbers.  He seems to have value only with other numbers (as in 10, 20, etc).
            He’s especially worthless when it comes to addition, subtraction            or even division.  But he shines when it comes to multiplication -- until he realizes “A real superhero wouldn’t multiply his friends into nothingness.”  And as he considers whether he is in fact a villain instead of a hero, he loses confidence and rolls away.
            Lichtenheld’s clever cartoon characters are differentiated using ink, colored pencils and watercolors to identify and distinguish each personality.  And Holub’s straightforward storytelling text is augmented both by her agile use of language, and witty comments spoken by individual numbers in dialog balloons.
            After Zero leaves, the other numbers note his absence as they play games; adding themselves together, rounding up or down, even comparing themselves to letters.  They don’t realize they are being surrounded by Roman soldiers/numerals until they are forced into a gladiator ring, doubling as a clock.
            When Zero hears his friends calling for help (note the whimsical use of numbers to spell out the word), he hurries to the rescue, outwitting the Roman numerals by demonstrating his skill with multiplication.  This ingenious picture book is a math gem with an inventive resolution.  

Ladybug Girl at the Beach 
by David Soman and Jacky Davis  
Dial, $16.99, Ages 4-6
            Husband and wife team Davis and Soman are spot on with this book from their well-known series about a girl who loves her ladybug costume and wears it often!  Lulu (alias Ladybug Girl, the brave) loves the beach -- however, as her older brother points out -- she’s never been before. 
            Initially impatient “to go swimming in the waves,” when Lulu races to the water’s edge and is confronted with huge loud breakers and seemingly endless ocean, she reacts with a young child’s usual response -- choosing to build sand castles, fly a kite, and plead for ice cream.  Later, watching others play in the water at the sea’s edge, Lulu and her dog, Bingo, decide to get their feet wet, and are nearly knocked over, although no one around seems to notice a problem. 
            Pen and ink watercolor illustrations, with subtle, yet artful use of both brights and pastels, convey a crowded sunlit beach on a breezy summer day, even to the rosy sky at day’s end.  Of special note is the double page spread in the early part of the story: the enormity of the pounding sea dwarfs the girl and her basset hound companion, successfully setting the stage, and resulting in Lulu’s need for her Ladybug Girl courage, to rescue her errant purple pail when the tide comes in much later, as she and Bingo are exploring, digging for pirate treasure.
            Knee-deep in the ocean, having conquered her fears (a watchful Mama standing in the background), Ladybug Girl’s splashing play in the water with faithful Bingo completes the day, lending authenticity to the closing comments with her brother, and making for a satisfying final scene.

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy 
by Jacky Davis 
illustrated by David Soman  
Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-5
            Sam (Ladybug Girl’s sidekick and friend) makes remarkable use of his sizeable imagination during his adventures as Bumblebee Boy – first with Greenbeard the Pirate, later with Fire Dragon, and again with “Giganto, the Giant Saber-Toothed Lion.”   However, Owen, his younger brother, who wants to play “soup hero, too!” repeatedly interrupts.  Sam knows he’s not supposed to be mean, but Owen “doesn’t get it; Bumblebee Boy wants to fly alone!” 
            Once again, Davis and Soman (Ladybug Girl’s co-creators) combine their considerable talents with the use of repetitive language (Bum Ba Bum BUM!) and signature ink and watercolor illustrations.  Owen’s use of his own imagination to foil the “bank robbers” Bumblebee Boy is chasing, and then Sam’s recognition that he is unable to defeat imagined aliens without help, shapes the dilemma. 
            The polarity between Bumblebee Boy in energetic full color, contrasting double page spreads, and the white space-filled pages of literal reality as Owen brings Sam back to the living room of daily life dramatizes the distinction, fuels Sam’s hope to play separately, and ultimately makes the harmonious finale even more convincing. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer's Here! (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Looking for summer stories and activities for the younger crowd?  Look no further!  Try any or all of these titles to get the little ones moving, or even to settle them down for a nap after swimming or soccer.  Great choices are listed below to keep campers occupied and involved as the summer progresses.  Enjoy!

Camp K-9 
by Mary Ann Rodman
illustrated by Nancy Hayashi
Peachtree, $15.595, Ages 4-8

            On the bus to summer camp, Roxie meets the resident bully, a poodle named Lacy who, Roxie fears, will discover her secret – that she brought her blankie along.  When Lacy shows up in Roxie’s cabin, she takes the bunk bed Roxie has chosen, at dinner Lacy “accidentally” knocks someone’s plate off the table with her pooch pouch, at campfire time she jumps out from behind a tree during a spooky story, scaring the entire group, and then is missing at the dock the next day, for paddle time. 
             Muted watercolor, pen and colored pencil illustrations accompany the dramatic text, showing the anthropomorphized dog characters involved in familiar camp activities, with clever dog identifiers like chow time, Barks & Crafts, a dogtrot.  Additionally, the repetition of the bully’s apology, “’Sorry,’ says Lacy,” followed by Roxie’s’ observation, “but I know she’s not,” gives readers a feel for Roxie’s view of what’s really going on.  Meanwhile Roxie’s refrain, “I want my blankie.  I want it right now!” supplies a sense of how painful it can be to keep something important hidden.
            When Roxie discovers Lacy’s secret, Roxie recognizes the possibilities for friendship that can emerge, when secrets are shared.  

You Are a Lion:  And Other Fun Yoga Poses 
by Taeeun Yoo 
Penguin, $16.99, Ages 3-7

            Want a fun yoga book for young children?  You’ve come to the right place with author-illustrator Yoo’s active non-rhyming picture book in verse for young children.  Pretend you are a lion, a butterfly, especially a dog, even a snake, and you will be off on a journey of imagination to find a mountain of engaging movement for the youngest set.             
            Linoleum block prints and pencil drawings are enhanced with Photoshop, creating bright, colorful illustrations of children from multiple ethnicities, to accompany the rhythmic text.  Beginning with stretching in a morning garden, single pages of brief instructions follow, leading to double page spreads of a child in a yoga position, beside an animal actually looking like the pose.  The children’s clothing hints at the creature they will imitate.  A concluding rest brings the playful yoga session to a close. 

Hop, Hop, Jump! 
by Lauren Thompson
illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Simon & Schuster, $14.99, Ages 3-5

            This brief action-packed, camp-based picture book sets readers up for vigorous movement and games.  Not only are the activities named and the multicultural children in the cheerful acrylic illustrations eager participants in the high-spirited romp, but the parts of the body involved in performing the lively amusements are identified as well.
            Short rhythmic verbs, and bold typeface are coupled with smiling campers demonstrating sports and activities from hiking, swimming and tumbling, to dancing, photography and bowling.  From fingers and toes, through elbow, knee and shoulder, to eye, waist and heel, readers are invited to “groove it” and “goose it” with their friends, through a series of rollicking images and a near-exhaustive listing of body parts.

Monday, July 9, 2012

EGGS RATED (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

These eggs
Are eggscellent.
I'm not eggsaggerating.
You can tell by my eggspression
They're eggceptional--
Eggstra fluffy,
Eggstremely tasty,
Cooked eggsactly right
By an eggspert
With lots of eggsperience.
Now I'll eggsamine the bill . . . .
Ooh--much more eggspensive
Than I eggspected.
I gotta get out of here.
Where's the eggxit?

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins

Friday, July 6, 2012


by Shel Silverstein

That story is creepy,
It's waily, it's weepy,
It's screechy and screamy
Right up to the end.
It's spooky, it's crawly,
It's grizzly, it's gory,
It's the awfulest story
(Please tell it again).

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hugs are NOT Just for Dads (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Let’s get ready for Father’s Day with a few of the new books available to show our love.  What we do with and for our daddys is often a mirror of Dad’s actions with his children.  As we create memories for the future, we want also to honor the best in the past, holding a special place in our hearts for times we treasure with Dad. 

When Dads Don’t Grow Up 
by Marjorie Blain Parker
illustrated by R. W. Alley
Dial, $16.99, Ages 4-6

            Kids are lucky who have dads like the ones in this list book -- these dads know how much fun it is to pop bubble wrap and watch cartoons.  And they don’t worry about looking silly -- see the dunk tank picture -- or wearing mismatched clothes.  While not actually a story, the engaging text nevertheless, leads readers into an ode to fathers; especially papas who take every opportunity to be with their offspring in sometimes silly, but always loving, circumstances. 
            Featured in the paintings, several dads reappear throughout the book in an assortment of adventures.  Although the book is charming and does not suffer in quality from the lack, it is disappointing to note that all but one of the dad/kid combinations are light skinned.  The text itself clearly allows for a range of cultural representations, and more cultural variety would have both enriched the reader’s experience, and extended the potential audience.  
            Humorous, energetic language is companioned by laugh-out-loud illustrations, lending a comic quality to the paintings done with pen and ink, watercolor and colored pencil.  And the font makes for easy reading, changing at times from large to smaller, italic and even giant size, for emphasis.  This is a great lap-book and makes a strong bid for repetitive readings without boredom.

Big Hugs, Little Hugs 
by Felicia Bond
Philomel, $16.99, Ages 2-4

            Well-loved author/illustrator Bond, best known for her series of books beginning with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, has extended her artistic reach in these appealing illustrations.  Making strategic use of colorful handmade paper enhanced by pen and ink line drawings, Bond shows a range of hugs.
            Beginning with “Everyone hugs all over the world,” Bond samples animals, both known and less familiar – cats, dogs and bears – also dinosaurs, bats and penguins – and moves from naming hugging animals to naming and showing animals in paired opposite settings – upstairs/downstairs, inside/outside, day/night in another successful list book. 
            The conclusion circles back around to repeat the beginning phrase; this time illustrated by an earth, surrounded by groups of hugging animals in a picture book that goes well beyond Father’s Day to include the entire planet in a sphere of loving hugs.  Perfect for bedtime.

 The Night Before Father’s Day 
by Natasha Wing
illustrated by Amy Wummer
 Grosset & Dunlap, $3.99, Ages 3-5

            Using the Christmas poem by Clement Moore as her guide, author Wing has written a clever take off for Father’s Day in this newest book from her series based on the Night Before.  While Dad goes for a bike ride, the kids and Mom clean out the garage and wash the car, as part of a gift that includes a homemade card and breakfast in bed the next morning.
            Artist Wummer has chosen cheery primary colors for her animated watercolor wash and colored pencil illustrations.  The active paintings show family members busy at work, making order from chaos and dirt.
            Dad is appropriately pleased and surprised, laughing at the card details, and inviting everyone for a Sunday ride in the newly clean car as a conclusion to a Happy Father’s Day. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


by Shel Silverstein

The ham's on your pillow,
The egg's in your sheet,
The bran muffin's rollin'
Down under your feet,
There's milk in the mattress,
And juice on the spread--
Well, you said that you wanted
Your breakfast in bed.

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins 

Monday, May 28, 2012

THE WEAVERS (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

I was sittin', I was knittin'
On a sweater I could wear.
When I finished, I said proudly,
"Hey, I've done some weavin' there."
But ol' spider on the wall said,
"Can you do it in the air?
Can you spin it out of gossamer
From the ceiling to the stair?
Can you let the wind blow through it
So it sways but doesn't tear?
Then can you grab onto it
And swing lightly on a hair?
When you can -- then you may truly say,
'I've done some weavin' there.'"

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


by Shel Silverstein

All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
Layin' in the sun,
Talkin' 'bout the things
They woulda-coulda-shoulda done . . .
But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
All ran away and hid
From one little did.

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mother's Day is NOT Just for Mothers (FAMILY magazine reviews)

With these books we honor the mothers in our lives, whether they are our own, or chosen; whether living near or far, or no longer alive; whether young or old, rich or poor.  They have given us life, helped us, and many times accompanied us during our own life journey.  May they continue to hold a cherished place in our hearts.  

My Teacher
by James Ransome
Dial, $16.99, Ages 5-8
            Although not every teacher supplies a mothering role (nor should they), this heartwarming story is homage to dedicated teachers who give something extra for their students, such as is written in the dedication.  Teaching three generations of children, as does the teacher in this book, is a conscious decision to make an investment in the development and education of young people. 
            The identified student, a girl with hair in cornrows, makes a series of observations, in these pages, about why her teacher continues to teach in the same school.  When she could easily retire or teach across town.  Award winning artist Ransome reveals multiple talents as both writer and illustrator of this irresistible storybook with active school-centered paintings to accompany graceful text about a teacher who encourages her students to use their talents.
            She loves reading and she helps her students love reading too; she talks with students about the things that are important to them; she demonstrates ways to help others in need; she thinks outside the lines and encourages this in her classroom; she makes it possible for her students to showcase what they know, and helps them to make their dreams come true.  Students in her classroom not only make their own contributions in class but they also hear stories from her of previous students, once in this same classroom, who are now a significant influence in the local community.  Including their very own teacher!!

Princess of Borscht 
by Leda Schubert
illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
Roaring Brook, $17.99, Ages 4-9
            Recovering from pneumonia, Ruthie’s Grandma reports that she’s starving because the hospital food is awful.  Ruthie wants to make homemade borscht, but Grandma falls asleep before Ruthie can write down her recipe.  Dad doesn’t even like borscht, and despite Ruthie’s searching, she can’t find Grandma’s secret recipe.
            Across the hall from Grandma’s apartment lives Mrs. Lerman who is the Empress of Borscht -- she gets the beets started cooking while Dad’s napping.  Soon Mrs. Rosen, the First Lady of Borscht from down the hall, arrives and advises Ruthie to add onions.  And then the Tsarina of Borscht, from the apartment next door, recommends lemons.  Soon the three are arguing about whether to add salt or sugar or honey.
            When they leave, Ruthie thinks the soup is missing an important ingredient, and adds a pinch of something that smells like pickles.  She wonders if she added the right thing as she and Dad take the soup in a thermos, meeting up with Mr. Lee at the corner store.  He gives them Grandma’s favorite sour cream topping, and Ruthie imagines he is the King of Borscht.
            Arriving back at the hospital, Ruthie’s Grandma is pleased and claims to be Queen of Borscht, but Ruthie declares herself Princess of Borscht because she discovered Grandma’s secret ingredient without ever finding Grandma’s recipe.
            Loving relationships are clear not only from the colorful paintings of cozy surroundings, but also in spite of the friendly bickering and gentle teasing demonstrated in both text and humorous multimedia illustrations in this beguiling family story.             

Meet Me at the Moon 
by Gianna Marino
Viking, $16.99, Ages 3-6
            Mama Elephant tells Little One she must climb the highest mountain to ask the skies for rain, because the land is dry.  And like many young ones when their mamas must go away for whatever reason, Little One objects.  The wise mother elephant is encouraging:  “You will feel my love in everything around you.”
            Each time Little One asks a question or raises an objection about her leaving, Mama’s answer reassures with a comment about the natural world; “But Mama, I won’t be able to see you.” “Find the brightest star . . . . it will be as if we are seeing each other.”
            Sunlit illustrations range from morning into night, even including a double page spread of welcome rain.  Young children will be especially drawn to the loving interactions between Mama and Little One, sometimes resembling a dance.  And the alert giraffes and zebras from the background move protectively into the foreground when Mama leaves. 
            The artist’s use of rounded shapes enhances the power not only of the rising yellow sun, and the brilliance of orange sunset, but especially the brightly lit moon, as it seems to touch the earth, where mother and child meet.  Kind giraffe faces, energetic zebras, curving elephant shapes, rolling clouds, plus animal shadows and silhouettes against the horizon, add texture and tone to lyrical text, in an African setting that feels as universal as mother love.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012


by Shel Silverstein

So what if it drizzles
And dribbles and drips?
I'll splash in the garden,
I'll dance on the roof.
Let it rain on my skin,
It can't get in---
I'm waterproof.

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


by Shel Silverstein

Balancing my ABCs
Takes from noon to half past three.
I don't have time to grab a T
Or even stop to take a P.

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins

Thursday, May 3, 2012

by Shel Silverstein

Oh this shiny new computer--
There just isn't nothin' cuter.
It knows everything the world ever knew.
And with this great computer
I don't need no writin' tutor,
'Cause there ain't a single thing that it can't do.
It can sort and it can spell,
It can punctuate as well.
It can find and file and underline and type.
It can edit and select,
It can copy and correct,
So I'll have a whole book written by tonight
(Just as soon as it can think of what to write).

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins

Monday, April 30, 2012

Just in Time for Earth Day (FAMILY magazine reviews)

If we are not in awe of the beauty in the world around us with its vast variety of life, it is long past time for us to learn about what we do not know.  To quote Sylvia Earle, whose biography is included among the books this month, “You can’t care if you don’t know.”  We must care, we must take care, if this spaceship planet we inhabit is to survive and thrive.  Take this opportunity to read, learn, enjoy, and most important, act.

Energy Island: How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed Their World 
by Allan Drummond 
Farrar Straus & Giroux
$16.99, Ages 6-10
            The island of Samso, “in the middle of Denmark,” and “in the middle of the sea,” is also the home of the Energy Academy, a learning center “where kids and grownups from all over the world come to learn . . . and to talk about new ideas for creating, sharing, and saving energy.”  It’s also where the island’s people each have an energy independence story to tell.
            Author-illustrator Drummond shares the story of how the people on the windy island of Samso, who saw themselves as ordinary, worked together as a community.  It started with the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy, which “chose Samso as the ideal place to become independent of nonrenewable energy.”  A person who saw himself as ordinary, teacher Soren Hermansen was chosen to lead the project.
            He began by talking with his students in class.  They were very excited, but the adults on the island were less so.  There were local meetings, and people came to agree it was a good idea, but nothing changed.  Then one small and one large wind turbine project began, but nothing else happened until a dark winter night when all the electricity went out, EXCEPT the wind turbine in Brian Kjaer’s house.  Now there are farms with solar panels, a biomass furnace, and electric cars powered by windmills, to mention a few.
            The cartoon-like illustrations are colorful and energetic, to accompany the fast moving, engaging text, and occasional sidebars of additional information are sprinkled throughout to enhance the content.  Plus an Author’s Note is included at the end.

The Family Tree 
by David McPhail
Henry Holt
$16.99, Ages 5-8
            Using his familiar and well-loved warm watercolors and ink, author-illustrator McPhail supplies readers with a sense of the past and the passing of time, in this story of one family’s generation-to-generation life on the land.  McPhail’s trademark style begins the story in pictures on the title page, where readers see a covered wagon pulled by oxen coming through a deep forest, even before the words commence; “Many years ago, a young man came to the wilderness to start a new life.”
            Despite the need to fell trees for making boards and beams, planks, posts and rails to build his house, barns, and fences, he chooses one tree for shade from the hot summer sun and shelter from chilly winter winds.  And this is the tree that appears on every page following, accompanying the wife’s arrival, the child’s coming, neighbors, traffic, even a gravestone to mark the changes and passing of time.
            It is, however, the great-great-grandson’s friendship that ultimately protects his family’s cherished swinging tree, when the workers come with ax and chainsaw.  Needing assistance to prevent the tree’s destruction, the boy and his dog are soon surrounded by bear, moose, raccoon, and wolf, summoned by a flock of birds, roosting in the beloved tree.  The workers confer and devise a new plan for widening the road “that would work for everyone.” 
            With a seamless merging of text and pictures, McPhail has created a successful tale, blending family life with environmental protection.   

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle 
by Claire A. Nivola
Farrar Straus & Giroux
$17.99, Ages 6-9
Award winning author-illustrator Nivola has once again skillfully designed a biography for young children that captures the inspiring life of a world-renowned environmentalist whose training and experience as a scientist draw attention to an aspect of our world currently under assault largely due to ignorance and carelessness.  As a young child, Sylvia Earle “investigated” (as her mother called it) the pond, a fallen tree, and explored the outdoors around her rural New Jersey home.  Until the family moved, when she was twelve, to a new home north of Clearwater, on Florida’s Gulf coast. 
Sylvia’s curiosity took her not only snorkeling into the grassy water to “investigate” again, but into scuba diving, “walking on the ocean floor in an aqua suit that looked like a space suit,” “descending 3,000 feet” into the Pacific Ocean in a “spherical bubble” she helped design, and “13,000 feet underwater in a Japanese submersible” to see the ocean’s wonders – these being only a few examples of her intrepid explorations!
The pages about the whales and Sylvia’s experiences observing them and being observed by them are akin to the interactions between Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees with whom she has lived and worked for decades.  Accompanied by watercolor paintings in rich, bright colors, the illustrations give evidence of the astonishing variety of undersea life.   Especially on the whale pages, the graceful, dance-like movements of these largest of the world’s creatures are also rendered in careful proportion to a tiny image of Sylvia herself to assist readers’ understanding of the ocean’s immensity and humans’ small part of the diversity of life on earth and in its waters. 
This lovely nonfiction book is also a well-written, well-told story of one woman’s pursuit of her passion.  Back matter includes an Author’s Note and Selected Bibliography.

Monday, April 16, 2012

THE VOICE (Monday Poem)

by Shel Silverstein

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
"I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong."
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you -- just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.

from Falling Up poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein, 1996, HarperCollins