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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

As I’ve been on a quest for art books recently, I discovered along the way a few alphabet books rich in artistry, clever perspectives, delightful antics, and non-electronic play. Not much commentary here — I’ll leave it to you to discover the pleasures in each volume!

There are seemingly innumerable alphabet books out there. I chose this one…

 

An Artist’s Alphabet, written and illustrated by Norman Messenger
published in 2016 by Candlewick

…because there is such beauty on every creamy page, with letters transformed into a part of the artwork. You can see Hokusai’s wave-shape in the C’s on the book’s cover.

Here are Messenger’s imaginative N’s:

Luxuriously visual and a feast for the imagination.

The Alphabet From the Sky, by Benedikt Gross and Joey Lee
published in 2016 by Price Stern Sloan

…because bird’s-eye views are so intriguing! Look down upon earth from great heights to discover letter shapes within cityscapes and landscapes.

Each two-page spread presents one aerial view, identifies the U.S. location we’re looking at, and challenges us to locate one letter.

Answers and more spot-the-letter challenges are included. An ingenuous way to increase observation and new ways of seeing.

ABC’s on Wheels, written and illustrated by Ramon Olivera
published in 2016 by Little Simon

…because what child is not enamored with vehicles?

Ride along through these snazzy, stylized pages, cram full of vehicles, sprinkled with humor, and loaded with fun vocabulary and concepts that stretch little minds.

This is one you’ll read again, and again, and again…Olivera has an ABC on Wings as well.

B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet, written and illustrated by Hannah Viano
published in 2015 by little bigfoot

…because this book is dedicated to “all of those who let children run a little wild, climbing trees and splashing in puddles. It is worth all the laundry and lost mittens.” So — I fell immediately in love!

Gorgeous, robust cut-paper artwork reveals the natural world and its extraordinary pleasures.

Just one sentence per page quietly narrates this ode to getting out into the great outdoors. Moseying through this book makes me breathe a bit deeper and feel that wash of peace settling on me. It’s a small stunner.

For more of Hannah’s books and illustration work, see her lovely website here.

A Child’s Day: An Alphabet of Play by Ida Pearle
published in 2008 by Harcourt

…because Orange Marmalade loves imaginative, active, non-electronic play!

And because Ida Perle’s lovely, multi-racial cast of children is so full of joy.

Graceful figures, lovely colors, textures, and patterns, and 26 wonderful ways to grow brighter, happier, healthier, are here to enjoy over and over again. This book makes me happy!

If you love Ida’s art, head on over to her website for more lovely prints.

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Last month I posted a number of enticing books covering art history and appreciation for children. Those were broad titles, whetting our appetites for art and introducing the expanse of art- making around the world and through time.

Today I’ve got a few biographies that zoom in on just one artist, each one a work of art in itself.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
published in 2016 by Little, Brown and Company

Winner of the 2017 Caldecott Medal, this is a fresh, urban, vigorous look at the life and art of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Steptoe’s innovative illustration work, painted on rough, textured pieces of found wood scavenged from around New York City, sizzles with color, strength, and a contemporary, diverse world. His unconventional approach aptly conveys the ethos of Basquiat.

At the same time, Steptoe’s straightforward text narrates the tempests of Basquiat’s life and the powerful hunger he had to voice through his art what was in his soul — urgent, messy, painful, important ideas that required jarringly new forms, lines, and approaches.

Steptoe communicates all of this with enough subtlety to make it accessible to young elementary children, concluding his brief bio with Steptoe victorious. In his excellent back-matter, he provides more detail about the difficulties of Steptoe’s life including his death due to drug addiction at the age of 27. For many children, this artist’s life and work will reflect their reality with incisive clarity. For others, this keen book offers an essential bridge into the experience of many fellow travelers.

Mr. Matisse and his Cutouts, written and illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen, translated from the Dutch by Jan Michael
first published in Holland in 2015; English edition published in 2016 by NorthSouth Books

Matisse is a marvelous artist for young children to enjoy with his eye-popping colors and his can-do attitude that led him to one extraordinary artistic discovery.

This brief bio features a zesty text with words that sparkle. Its focus is Matisse’s adaptation to his great physical limitations and the momentous new art he created.

That all those glorious cut paper works of his are in response to illness — doesn’t that make the explosive gladness of them even more stunning?

Van Haeringen’s pages zing with the color and courage of Matisse himself. It’s a grand welcome into his artwork, with a short Author’s Note to fill in more details of Matisse’s life. Ages 3 and up.

Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, written and illustrated by Laurence Anholt
published in 2016 in the U.S. by Barron’s

Laurence Anholt has created a lovely series of artist biographies all featuring a child in the artist’s life. This one is his warm tribute to Frida Kahlo and a little girl named Mariana.

Mariana’s family were great friends of Frida’s and Kahlo painted each of their portraits. Mariana is anxious to have her portrait done as well, but everyone says she’s too young to sit still so long. Her brother takes it one step farther and tells her she’d be too scared to go to Frida’s house on account of the skeleton she keeps above her bed!

This does indeed squelch Mariana’s eagerness! When the day finally comes to go to Kahlo’s house for her portrait, Mariana is very nervous.

As the gracious Frida gets to know dear Mariana and paints her portrait, she tells her about herself, her tragic accident, and the way she started painting as a result of those lifelong injuries.

With it’s tropical-colored illustrations and brilliantly-composed narrative, this is an excellent introduction to a truly brave woman, for ages 5 and up.

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature, written by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale
published in 2016, Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company

One of the few children’s biographies of Ansel Adams, this well-crafted book introduces children to one of the greatest photographers whose fiercely-high energy propelled him out of doors and eventually into the art of photography.

Adams was a restless, fidgety kid who would likely be on meds were he in classrooms today. Instead his father pulled him out of school and pushed him into the great outdoors. Adams thrilled to the Pacific coastal area where he lived and learned an enormous amount through all his explorations.

When he arrived at Yosemite Valley at age 14, “it was love at first sight.” The roar of water and dramatic light spilling and splaying upon the rock walls transfixed him. Ansel’s parents gave him a camera on that trip, and the rest of the story is well known!

Beautiful cut-paper illustrations bring to life the rugged, dappled, soaring, wilderness as well as the running, leaping, energy of Ansel Adams. A lengthy afterword tells much more about his life and work. Ages 4 and up.

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, written by Kay A. Haring, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
published in 2017 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Drop into the contemporary art world with this affectionate, spirited exploration of Keith Haring’s innovative work. I love that this is written by his sister. She brings a unique, intimate knowledge of the inner-tickings of Haring and his lifelong zeal for drawing.

What pops off the page, besides the seemingly indefatigable artist, his bottomless spring of ideas and incessant experimentation, is his generosity of spirit. Haring died as a young man, but in his brief career he exploded onto the world art scene while simultaneously keeping his bearings as a fellow human being seeking to bring healing to the world through art. 

Neubecker’s robust illustration work is the perfect match for his subject. Lengthy afterwords tell lots more about Haring and the pieces of his art appearing in the book. Ages 5 and up.

What Degas Saw, written by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Pieropan
published in 2016 by The Museum of Modern Art

This handsome book exudes all the top production quality you’d expect from MoMA.

Gorgeous illustration work from Italian illustrator Pieropan spreads turn-of-the-century Paris before us with its cobblestones, wrought-iron tracery, horse-drawn carriages, and hustle-bustle. This is the world in which Degas lived. This is what he saw.

Samantha Friedman takes all of these sights and helps us see how they turn up in Degas’ famous paintings. A peek into the milliner’s shop metamorphoses into his At the Milliner’s.

His many visits to the Opera House of course turn into the ballerina paintings we know so well. Minimal text is needed here as the concept is so well conceived. Wondering-aloud types of questions serve to engage children even more in the paintings. It’s like an art appreciation lesson in a book, for ages 3 and up.

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“Great Piece of Turf” watercolor by Albrecht Durer

In celebration of Earth Day, 2017…

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, written by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jessica Lanan
published in 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press

When I was homeschooling my children, a fat, black book sat on our shelves ready to grab and consult about some new natural wonder happened upon. What are all those parts of a bee for? What do flickers eat? What wildflower is this, spreading like a white carpet in the springtime woods?

That book was Handbook of Nature Study. At almost 1000 pages, it expounds copious amounts of technical information, lyrically celebrates the world of nature, and proffers many more questions to ponder and explore than it even answers.

That masterpiece was written by Anna Botsford Comstock, “the mother of nature education” who in the 1800s realized the appalling lack of nature knowledge in our nation’s children and developed a model program at Cornell University, teaching nature-study to teachers.

This elegant biography of her life begins with her childhood delight in nature — a common theme for those who pursue environmental care so get your kids out-of-doors! — and follows her lifetime making important contributions to nature education, a critical piece of our children’s education that is still, sadly, endangered.

Gorgeous, sun-soaked illustration work by Jessica Lanan fills us with the joy of stars and doodlebugs, snowflakes and tadpoles, just like Anna. I love that Comstock’s work is heralded in this fabulous piece of nonfiction for ages 4 and up.

Trees, written and illustrated by Lemniscates
published in Spain in 2016; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick Studio

The blessing and wonder of trees is pondered and appreciated in tranquil text and dynamic, stylish illustrations in this gem coming to us from Spain.

It is more like my beloved A Tree is Nice than anything I’ve seen since that classic appeared in 1956.

Observing how trees live and grow, reflecting about the good things trees do for us, Lemniscates provides a lovely conversational text to give us pause, stir up rich thoughts, effect gratitude for trees. 

Her artwork as always soars with vitality and a lovely contemporary European vibe. A delight for ages 3 and up.

The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park, written and illustrated by Celia Godkin
published in 2017 by Pajama Press

 As one species after another enters endangered categories it is impossible for most of us to see what the ramifications of their loss will be, making it far too easy to dismiss as “just a turtle” or “just an agave plant.”

Yet the complex, interactive webs which rely on biodiversity are critical to a healthy planet and to our health as humans. Some species are keystones — kind of like the jenga block on the bottom of the pile. If we pull them out, a ripple effect occurs that damages an entire ecosystem. Such was the case with the wolves of Yellowstone.

By hunting those wolves to the point of near-extinction settlers unwittingly disturbed the timeworn balance that had allowed all sorts of plants, animals and waterways to flourish. This lovely book shows how each piece began to be renewed as wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone beginning in 1995.

Each turn of the page shows another glory of nature able to perform again its vivid song, as the positive, un-domino effect takes place. What a hopeful, gladsome journey! Share this with children ages 4 and up.

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth, written by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, illustrated by Molly Bang
published in 2017 by Blue Sky Press

This is the fifth book in this outstanding series about sunlight which I highly recommend from start to finish. Thus far we have learned how we transform sunlight into electricity, how plants use sunlight to make food, how the sun’s light sustains life in our oceans, and how fossil fuels are sunlight trapped under the Earth’s surface. What an awesome collection!

In this installment we investigate Earth’s precious, life-sustaining water and how sunlight moves it through its critical water cycle. Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm are word-wizards and illustration-magicians who make all of this as enticing as a juicy slice of watermelon. Your children — and you — will grasp the mechanisms of the water cycle in a way that fills you with wonder…

…and spills over into keen awareness of the gift that water is and the massive harm that will emerge if water sources are polluted, overtaxed, or altered by climate change. These grave matters are discussed briefly and quite lightly on the last two pages of our story, then covered more in depth in the six extra pages of notes — a fantastic resource which extends each aspect of the story at a level for mid-elementary and up. The bulk of this book is superb for ages 4 and up.

Trash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World, written by Michelle Mulder
published in 2015 by Orca Book Publishers

Of the 3 R’s in the environmental maxim — Reduce, Re-use, Recycle — the first is perhaps the most critical, most challenging, and least addressed.

We are a people shackled by consumerism. If we’re honest, we evaluate ourselves and others by our stuff — our homes, clothes, cars, gadgets, furnishings. We gather it like manna. We build bigger houses to accommodate it; rent storage space for the excess; and throw away astonishing volumes of it each year. Stuff does not make us happy, yet we keep buying — and trashing — more of it.

I think examining our relationship to stuff and trash is surprisingly vulnerable, indicting, illuminating. Michelle Mulder does just that in a non-shaming, yet direct way. The many facets of trash — the reason why we keep making more of it than past generations, the ways it damages our environment, and the intangible ways our habits affect not just the planet but our relationships with one another — will keep you turning the pages.

Gleaners at work, eliminating food waste from these fields.

Mulder inspires us to free ourselves from relentless consumerism and trash-making, encourages us with the innovative, heartening ways people are cultivating community and sustainability in one shot, and challenges us with information about the price to humans and our planet of so much trash.

Highly recommended for family discussions with kids ages 6 and up.

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, written and illustrated by Jan Thornhill
published in 2016 by Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press

Do you want to avoid depressing books about extinct animals? I know. It’s hard to bear these stories and much nicer to read success stories like the Yellowstone wolves. Don’t overlook this title, though. It’s tragic, yet Thornhill swings it around in the end to encourage and inspire. We really can learn from our mistakes, if we face up to them.

Thornhill’s evocative, icy blue and gray illustrations sweep us into frigid North Atlantic lands and seas where hundreds of thousands of “northern penguins” — the Great Auks — once lived.

Regaling us with descriptions of these flightless swimmers, she awakens a proper sense of wonder at their magnificence, then unfolds for us the ways in which human progress spelled their demise. Innocuous developments such as the Vikings’ knack for shipbuilding, and recklessness by the greedy collectors of eggs — many factors came into play in the extinction of this marvelous bird.

Your heart will ache, as mine did, at their avoidable destruction, yet Thornhill wisely uses the final pages of her account to detail some surprising ways in which the Great Auk still “lives on.” I love that she models for us a way of soberly considering harm, then moving forward to do good. A lengthy text for ages 7 and up.

There are gobs more fantastic books in my Subject Index under Science. Some are listed under the sub-heading “Environmentalism” but check out the Animals, Earth, and Plants listings as well for many more titles.

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My stack of books today glows budding-leaf green and robin’s-egg blue. Oh, what is as cheery and hopeful as spring? Soak up some gladness with these books, bursting with life, growth and new beginnings.

What Will Grow? written by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury

For the littlest crop of sweet potatoes, don’t miss this sweet ode to seeds. Susie Ghahremani’s lovely artwork sweeps across the pages with luscious hues of springtime, summer, fall, straight through to the blue-cold of winter. Along the way we peek at seeds — round wrinkly peas, stripey sunflower seeds, snug prickly pine seeds packed into a cone — and discover what will grow from them.

Jennifer Ward’s minimal text provides just the right, lilting clues. She cleverly describes each seed with just three or four words, wisely choosing not to weigh down the delight and wonder of the illustrations.

A few gatefolds along the way augment the thrill of discovery –such fun to see that tall sunflower stretching up-up-up! End pages tell how to sow each of the seeds mentioned. This is a beauty of a book to enjoy with ages 18 months and up.

Over and Under the Pond, written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books

Gliding along the quiet waters of a pond, observing the burble of life above the surface and the secret worlds below comes this elegant book.

The third collaboration between Messner and Neal, it’s as visually striking and wonder-filled as their previous titles which I’ve reviewed here and here.

Messner’s text revels in the jeweled glory of this watery world with skittering whirligig beetles, mussy busy beavers, ghostly-quiet herons a-stalking, and all the shimmering, dappled light. Neal’s handsome artwork captures the hush, the aqua-depths, the muck and reeds and secretive small worlds. Ingenuous changes in perspective keep every page fresh.

I’m thrilled that he places an African-American boy and mom in this wild, out-of-doors setting. Far too little diversity in children’s literature occurs outside of urban settings.

Learn more about each one of the species presented in several pages of  Author’s Notes. I have to say, as a boating enthusiast, I was bugged by the paddling faux pas here, but truly, this is another winner from this team for ages 3 and up.

Robins!: How They Grow Up, written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
published in 2017 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A couple of robin siblings narrate the story of their lives in this information-soaked, immensely-engaging book from one of the best picture book makers, Eileen Christelow.

From the migration north of their parents, through nest-building, egg-incubating, and all the care and feeding of those scraggly chicks, Christelow’s text brims with intriguing detail, perfect pacing, and the appealing voice of these young robins. This reads like a story — not a mite of dry, merely-factual tone.

Christelow tracks their growth as they leave the nest, learn to feed themselves, and at about five months of age take to the skies to fly south. True to the realities of nature, two of their fellow nestmates don’t make it that far. Those harsh episodes are taken in stride by Christelow. It’s a fabulous presentation.

Colorful, captivating watercolor illustrations dominate the pages, bringing us eye to beak with these awkward chicks, right into the nest as it were. An Author’s Note tells how Christelow became so enamored with these birds, plus there’s a glossary and a couple Q&A pages with more Robin Facts. A gem for ages 4 and up.

Plants Can’t Sit Still, written by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrations by Mia Posada
published in 2016 by Millbrook Press

The ravishing colors of Minneapolis-artist (woot!) Mia Posada’s cut paper collages are the first thing you’ll notice when you open this book and oh! they will enchant you!

The fresh-lime burst of green leaves, blushing apricot tulips, twilight-purple morning glories, the seductive red of berries lurking in the bushes — every page surges with color, texture, and beauty.

Rebecca Hirsch’s text is every bit as enticing because although you may think of plants as sitting still, rooted in place, Hirsch leads us on a waltz of discovering otherwise. In fact, plants squirm, creep, climb, snap, nod, tumble, fling, whirl, drift…why, they just can’t sit still!

Back pages tell lots, lots more about plants and the particular species discussed in this book.  Genius concept, brilliantly carried out by this team. Full of the wonder of discovery for ages 2 and up.

Pig & Goose and the First Day of Spring, written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

This charming early-reader knocked my socks off and warmed my heart. I don’t know if Rebecca Bond plans any more adventures for these too, but I have my fingers crossed!

The freshness of a spring morning has put Pig in a fine mood. A glorious sun and clear blue sky will do that! “Goody gumdrops!” Pig exclaims, and immediately makes plans for a picnic by the pond.

Pig soon meets up with Goose whose magnificent flying and swimming abilities make her wilt a bit with envy. Goose tries to coach Pig in these goose-y skills but…pigs really aren’t built for such things. Poor Pig! What is it she can do well?

Many things, it turns out, as she hosts a superb First-Day-0f-Spring party! Wow! You will want to be Pig’s guest at her next fiesta I’ll bet! Delectable details, spritzes of beauty, good humor, gladness of heart, and a dear friendship — that’s what’s here. Bond’s fetching watercolor work is the cherry on top. Readers who can manage Frog and Toad can read this on their own, or share it with listeners as young as 3. Lovely!

Wake Up! words by Helen Frost, photography by Rick Lieder
published in 2017 by Candlewick

This is the latest collaboration for poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder. Each one provides a breathtaking pause from the cacophony of noise, the jungles of cement, a step away, a redirect of our gaze towards the glorious spectacle of nature. All done in whisper quiet.

Feast your eyes and soul on the magenta swoosh of a peony, the emerald wetness of a frog, the fuzzy warmth of a newborn lamb. Wake up to manifestations of new life “exploding outside your door!”

I love the work being done by this team, simply bringing children up close to the wonders of nature, quieting them with few words, thoughtful questions, enticing them to wander out of doors. Find my reviews of two of their other titles here and here. Share them all with ages 18 months and older.

Birds Make Nests, written and illustrated by Michael Garland
published in 2017 by Holiday House

Michael Garland’s arresting woodcuts adorn the pages of this book and captivate us with the extraordinary wonder of bird nests.

Minimal text describes some of the vast variety in construction from a hummingbird’s tiny woven cup, to the giant mounds made by flamingos, and one house sparrow’s nest lodged in the pocket of a stop light.

The bulk of what we learn comes via Garland’s handsome prints, flooding the pages with earthy colors and rich texture. I love the minimal interference between the child reader and these wonders of nature. No back pages, even, with more info. Just — soak in the craftsmanship of both bird and artist. A lovely, leisurely wander for ages 3 and up.

First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew, written and illustrated by Robbin Gourley
published in 2011 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Children earnestly digging in the soil. Heirloom seeds passed down from Thomas Jefferson. Beehives and ladybugs, eggplants and blueberries. But no beets!

The story of Michelle Obama’s gardening initiative dances with the joy of the earth’s fruitfulness, the brilliance of children learning by digging, sowing, weeding, harvesting, and cooking delicious food in the White House kitchen!

Add in the history of White House gardening down through the centuries from John Adams’ first vegetable and fruit gardens through Patricia Nixon’s garden tours. Sprinkle atop some delicious recipes to try straight from the White House. Then illustrate with Robbin Gourley’s sunny, vivacious watercolors. Ta da! You’ve concocted this delicious book!

A delight to share with ages 4 and up. Plus, you can discover why there are no beets!

There are lots more spring-y titles listed in my Subject Guide. Look under Science: Seasons. And Happy Springtime to one and all!

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Take a piece of prose.

Filter out all sawdusty, throat-clearing, bush-beating, throw-away words. That rich, full-bodied elixir remaining? That’s poetry.

Small but mighty.

Whether you’ve shied away from poetry in the past or cherish poetry like the scent of a spring peony, I invite you to check out these superb new books, plum full of the power of words.

First up, for the youngest among us…

The Owl and the Pussy-cat, by Edward Lear, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
poem first published in 1871; illustrations copyright 2014; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick

Feast upon this classic, delectable verse accompanied by the gloriously swishy, Oz-ishly emerald, tropical illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Charlotte Voake.

What child can resist that beautiful pea-green boat, the moonlit guitar-strumming, a land sprouting up in Bong-trees, slices of quince and one mysterious runcible spoon?

Introduce children ages 15 months and up to the ticklish wonders of words, dancing rhythms, luscious colors with this thoroughly happy piece. It’ll nestle down in their minds and entertain them their whole life long.

Steppin’ Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times, written by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie DePaola
published in 2017, Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

This collection of small poems for small people radiates charm, simplicity, and childish innocence. Wide-eyed, we step outside our door to discover, greet, soak up the sparkling pleasures of life. What a lovely breath of fresh air!

The glory of the ordinary is here. Library visits and Sunday pancakes. A dipping, diving elevator and snippety barber shop. Friends. Grandparents. Ants. Rainy days. Lin Oliver captures the grandeur of the small in her light, playful rhymes.

Tomie dePaola needs no introduction. Eminently warm and friendly illustrations, with the marvelous diversity you’d expect from him; he makes each page sing. Perfect for preschoolers. I’ve reviewed an earlier volume by this team here.

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, poems by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

The sun’s just rising. Wooden crates of plump tomatoes and bundles of basil are loaded into the pick-up as this farm-fresh crew heads out.

All the bustle of an urban farmers’ market — stalls laden with colorful produce, tables groaning under mouthwatering bakery fare, earthy mushrooms, fiddling buskers, speckled eggs — calls to us from these short poems and sunny, lively watercolors.

While you’re enjoying the events narrated in the poetry, there are also a couple of dogs whose antics are revealed throughout the day — great fun for children to spy on. It’s an enticing, cheerful collection and a great way to get motivated to visit the farm-fresh markets popping up all over starting now. Ages 4 and up.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
published in 2017 by Candlewick

Take a look at that cover and you’ll get a taste of the explosion of wonder, the celebration of life that’s bound up in the pages of this stunning new collection.

Award-winning author Kwame Alexander here introduces us to twenty of his favorite poets —  a marvelously-diverse grouping as you would expect — by ingenuously riffing off of their famous styles, ideas, and ethos.

The innovative lowercase lackofpunctuation styling of e.e. cummings is adopted by Alexander in a blooming poem about shoes (but really companionship). A poem basking in the earthy loveliness of a Chilean forest echoes the subject matter of Pablo Neruda. An explosion of rainbow-sherbet color, a soaring joy, thunders from a poem expressing the indomitable spirit of Maya Angelou.

Twenty original poems; twenty homages to poets. Brilliant. But that’s not all, because the heartbreakingly-beautiful artwork of Ekua Holmes — Oh, I love her work!! — thrills, rejoices, commands every page. Excellent short bios of each poet take up six additional pages. A stunner for a wide age range — 6 through teens.

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids, illustrated by Christine Davenier
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing Group

One  of the poets featured in Out of Wonder, Emily Dickinson is an American treasure, a homebody with an outsized knack for observation, a naturalist who reveled in the beauties of nature surrounding her Massachusetts home, a gingerbread-baker who treated neighborhood children but kept herself mostly to herself.

This gorgeous volume of her poetry is part of a series from MoonDance Press and Quarto introducing a variety of poets to children. It’s arranged by seasons and includes almost 3 dozen of her small poems.

French artist Christine Davenier’s exquisite watercolors fill these almond-cream pages with gems of color, graceful line, fragments of fragile beauty, as well as exultant gladness. Beautiful layouts and typography add to the immense sensory delight. Several pages of explanatory notes aid in understanding the poems. Splendid for ages 8 and older.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, poems by Nikki Grimes, artwork by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E.B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, Elizabeth Zunon
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury

This phenomenal volume is so powerful, I really just want to say nothing more but urge you to experience it for yourself.

An amalgamation of the ideas and energy flowing out of the Harlem Renaissance, the poetic mastery of Nikki Grimes, and the artistry of a roster of gifted African American illustrators — that’s what’s bound up in this small, thought-provoking book.

I had never heard of the Golden Shovel form of poetry. Even if I tried to explain it to you, the audacious difficulty of it and ingenuous nature of it will not really land on you until you experience it in poem after poem here. Suffice it to say, it is another of the elaborate structures of poetry which frame poets in, force them to chisel and plane and bevel their words to fit the form, all of which ramps up their potency, augments the ideas.

You can see by reading down the bolded words that the Golden Shovel form involves repurposing lines from others’ poems, using them as the framework for something new. Illustration by Frank Morrison.

Grimes employs that in her riffs off of a number of poems by Renaissance poets. The original poem stands alongside Grimes’ innovation. These are deep, rich pieces with themes relevant to real children living in this challenging world. They are accompanied by gorgeous artwork in a wide variety of styles.

Illustration by Shadra Strickland

Short bios of each of the Renaissance poets and each illustrator, background on the Harlem Renaissance, and an explanation of the poetic form round out the volume. Highly recommended for ages 10 to adult. Many children will want to try their hand at this poetry form, I’m sure.

Many more wonderful volumes of poetry are listed in my Titles index — it’s the last section entitled Poetry and Lyrics.

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If Art History and Art Appreciation sound like dense, musty subjects full of incomprehensible notions and frame after frame of flowers in vases…

…well, prepare to be astonished and inspired!

There are some stylish, captivating, imaginative, exciting, vastly-informative titles out there which will revolutionize the way your children understand, appreciate, and experience art. And you as well, I suspect.

Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art, written by Michael Bird, illustrated by Kate Evans and with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

First up, this glorious art history book. Oh, I wish I’d had this when my children were young!

Over 300 pages of marvelously-narrated art history, from the first artists carving creatures out of mammoth’s tusks 40,000 years ago or sculpting enormous statues for emperors, through a worldful of religious art –medieval scribes, West African bronze workers, Muslim calligraphers — then on to the Renaissance, portraiture, neo-classical, romantic, and impressionistic works, modern art and contemporary artists right up to Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seed installation.

It is largely Western in emphasis, but I do appreciate that a number of non-Western works are here. And it is overwhelmingly male though there is, happily, a segment on Artemisia Gentileschi, and a few other female artists are represented in later time periods.

What’s enormously engaging is that there’s not a dry sentence in the book. Instead, this books reads like a collection of stories giving us historical context, biographical detail, technical insights that go down like a nice spiced chai on a hot day. My mind was sparking like a swarm of fireflies with ideas of how this book could be augmented with art projects and further reading to make history come alive for young children ages 5 and older.

One reproduction per artist is included, and then the pages are gracefully, beautifully illustrated in Kate Evans’ watercolors, helping us to see these towns and printing presses, galleries and ziggurats, soaring columns and war-torn countrysides and sunflower fields.

Included are a timeline, glossary of art terms, and listing of artworks which includes their dimensions and locations. Coming to us from the UK, this is a dream especially for homeschoolers or art teachers.

Are You an Art Sleuth? by Brooke DiGiovanni Evans, illustrated with art reproductions
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing
103 pages

Being an art sleuth means looking carefully at art and noticing all manner of things you might miss at first glance.

The paintings in this book each come with a list of items to find in them, and they’re not so easy! To find just one bracelet in a sea of Renoir figures, spot a pesky fly in a still life, track down 8 red hats in the Peasant’s Wedding or 3 mirrors in a lush interior takes time and patience and sleuthing!

That’s the first benefit of this book. Just the slowing down and careful looking, something that would transfer well to all of life. Noticing that there’s more to this than can be seen with the same rapidity as the zooming images in an electronic game. Learning to see.

After you’ve worked hard to find everything on the list, turn the page and read about the artist, the scene, the special qualities of this piece of art. Be enticed with some questions to use your imagination about the subject matter. In other words, learn to think, surmise, wonder, and understand art a bit more deeply.

This book relies solely on Western paintings, the majority from the 19th century. Inviting page lay-outs will draw in children ages 4 or 5 and up. It could be used independently by kids ages 7 and up to while away the time when traveling or otherwise waiting. Answers to all the puzzlers are included.

Where’s the Artist?: From Cave Paintings to Modern Art: A Look and Find Book, text by Susanne Rebscher, illustrations by Annabelle von Sperber
published in 2015 by Prestel Publishing

This book is a little trickier to use for those less familiar with art, yet it’s an engrossing, oversized book that practically immerses you in art and includes ideas to learn and wonder about together.

Each large, two-page spread ushers us into a new time period. Twelve jumps take us from prehistoric cave dwellers into our contemporary world.  There’s simply gobs to absorb in these illustrations. Surroundings, clothing, architecture, activities, all can be observed and enjoyed and talked about at leisure. Incorporated within these scenes are representations of art from that time — the towering statue of Athena, the girl with the pearl earring, Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. Even the overall pages have the flavor of the art period — a Mondrian-esque series of rectangles hold the images on one page while a surreal countryside of blue horses and lush wildly-colorful foliage comprises another.

this is just a small section of one large spread

There is no text on these pages. You are on your own to observe. The last pages of the book provide some context about each time period and its artwork — just a small bit. Our attention is drawn to a few particulars in some of the scenes and we’re challenged to find some elements.

The brevity of the text here makes this a great choice for those who want to dip their feet into art without being overwhelmed, while at the same time it means you will likely miss references to particular artists and works of art as there is no attempt to be thorough. That’s okay. Hopefully your appetite will be whetted for more. Ages 3 and up, depending on how you use the book.

Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs, by Joel Meyerowitz
published in 2016 by aperture
67 pages

This incredible guide to appreciating photography is unusual and insightful. I was fascinated by it and learned a lot, even though it calls itself a “kid’s guide!”

Meyerowitz has selected 30 photographs taken by a roster of photographers he has encountered over the 50+ years he’s worked in that world. He has constructed the book around principles or ways of seeing or tools that make a photograph special. Timing. Noticing something unusual. A sense of humor. Shadows. Perspectives.

Each two-page spread features one handsome photograph — some in color, others black-and-white. Such a wide range of subject matter and composition! Accompanying it are Meyerowitz’s keen remarks that serve to open the photo up for us, teach us to see what’s inside it and underneath it, to observe anew, to understand the remarkable nature of this particular shot.

The conversational tone of the text invites us to learn sophisticated ideas, fearlessly. Because of the author’s concision, he never overwhelms us. The page layouts are unusually elegant, terrifically inviting, pulling us to settle in, read slowly, and keep turning the pages to discover more. A fantastic choice for exploring with ages 7 and up.

Splat!: The Most Exciting Artists of All Time, by Mary Agnes Richards
published in 2016 by Thames & Hudson
92 pages

That’s a fairly heady claim within the title — the most exciting artists of all time?! — but we’ll overlook that and enjoy what is here.

And that’s a mix, a hybrid, between “fact pages” laid out for quick perusal, and “narrative pages” that dig a bit deeper. This format is geared, perhaps, to draw in slightly older children who love those stats and sound bites. For me, I did not love those overview pages. For each artist, we get one sentence (!) describing that artist’s main contribution, and a quick succession of who-what-where, background, and some mini-mini notebook pages with a few quick ideas associated with that artist. There’s also a full-page reproduction of one representative piece.

Turn the page and there are about four stout paragraphs of narrative text telling us about the artist and the piece on the previous page. Side bars  provide the added-bits-and-pieces approach to the subject which middle graders tend to devour.

This book is almost completely Western in focus, with only Hokusai and Kahlo breaking up the all-male, Euro-American club. A large portion of the book — about half — is devoted to modern and contemporary art. In fact the first artist is Michelangelo. So — much briefer than the first book but with a vibe that might appeal to older readers.

I hope you find something beautiful and useful here!

 

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All the books in today’s post have one thing in common: they make readers wonder.

 Children love to discuss crazy scenarios, what-ifs, and imagine-thats. Their funny bones are tickled by nonsensicalness. They love to stump one another with riddles. Children also mull all manner of existential ideas. Posing deeply philosophical and spiritual questions is not just something adults do.

All of it is rich food for the mind. Open up the gate to wondering with these curious titles.

Imagine a City, written and illustrated by Elise Hurst
originally published in Australia; first American edition published in 2014 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Elise Hurst’s marvelously imaginative realm opens up the boundaries between the real and the magical, fuses them together so seamlessly that you might expect to see rabbits reading the daily news on your next subway trip or carp-zeppelins zumming through the sky over your city.

Imagine this sort of place! Imagine fantastical bridges and a Narnia-like jumble of human and animal citizens. Imagine “a world without edges” and gargoyles taking tea.

Many illustrators would choose to use waterfalls of color to bring such a place to life, but Hurst masterfully captures our hearts with her gorgeous pen-and-ink work. Somehow that makes this dreamland all the more real.

With so much to absorb on every page and so much fantasy to expand our thoughts, this is a gem for ages 3 and up.

If I Was a Banana, written by Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
first published in New Zealand by Gecko Press in 2016

“If I was a banana I would be that one, all yellow and fat and full of banana.”

What a wonderful thought to think! Of course that would be just the sort of banana to be. Who would want to be one of those brown, oozy, gloopy ones? Yecch. A plump, bright banana would be my choice, too.

Alexandra Tylee clambers right inside a small boy’s mind and considers all kinds of ordinary pieces in his world — a bird, a cloud, a ladybug — from a refreshingly childlike perspective. The honest, artless, vulnerable thoughts here are precious as gemstones and offered only when there is leisure and trust and space for such things.

Rynhart’s handsome illustration work is, again, muted, displaying a commendable respect for these intriguing ideas which might seem otherwise merely shallow and silly.

Quietly happy, I’d love to see this one slow folks down to a pondering pace. Share it with ages 4 and up.

The Liszts, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
published in 2016 by Tundra Books

I am realizing as I write this post how international this group of authors and illustrators is! No Americans thus far. Hmmm…does that mean anything about this subject matter? I wonder. Here we have a Canadian author and Spanish artist. Fantastic.

This book is pure delight, from the marvelously eccentric characters created by artist Júlia Sardà to the highly-original story of these list-making Liszts.

This offbeat bunch, who somehow resemble a mash-up of Gatsby-era Russian aristocrats and the Addams family, love to make lists. Great lists. Ever-so-long lists of admirers and ghastly illnesses, kinds of cheese and dreaded chores.

The Liszts become so encumbered by their lists, however, that they are unable to entertain any person or notion not on the list. Their lists have become a barricade, as it were, to anything new.

Edward, the middle child (hallelujah for a heroic middle child!) makes quite a different sort of list, however. His is a list of questions. And because his mind is awash with questions and possibilities, his world opens up in startling, wonderful ways.

I love the way this off-the-wall tale unbolts the doors on an exultant, curious, open mindset that welcomes a thirst for new ideas. And I love the handlettered text and phenomenal illustration work here. A clear winner for ages 5 and up.

Why am I Here?, written by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin, translated from the Norwegian by Becky Crook
originally published in Norway in 2014; first US edition published in 2016 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

The most pensive book on today’s list is this highly-unusual title coming to us from Norway.

Crediting children with the deep, soul-searching thoughts which they do indeed muse about if given adequate time, space, and freedom from the noise and frenzy of our culture, Ørbeck-Nilssen poses the existential and important questions of a young child. Duzakin portrays the child in such a way that it could be a boy or girl — a nice touch.

He wonders why he is here, “in this exact place.” She asks what would it have been like if she had been born as someone else, in some far distant place?

What would it be like to be homeless? Or in a land where war rages? What would it be like to dwell in the desert or the Arctic? What would it be like if home was washed away in a flood? Why are we here, anyway? Why am I me?

These heartfelt concerns certainly land on young children, though they may not articulate them in just this way. What a beautiful tendency, to consider what life would look like in someone else’s situation. Duzakin’s dreamy, emotive illustration work conveys wonder and transports us masterfully into others’ scenarios. He imbues the pages with tenderness and respect. A lovely entry point into conversation and compassion for ages 6 and older.

The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t, written by John D. Fixx and James F. Fixx, illustrated by Abby Carter
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing

Finally, this quirky (American!) book features riddles — guessing games you might say — all leading to answers that are intangible. No chickens crossing roads. No orange-you-glad-I-didn’t-say-banana. These clues will lead you to answers such as darkness, breath, an itch, or yesterday.

There’s one for each letter of the alphabet. Traipse through the book reading the clues and guessing together — What is it? Flip the page to learn the answer and find out a little bit about air, reflections, fog, and other “things that aren’t” as well as the way we use these words figuratively.

Crammed with curiosity and the odd tidbits that tickle the mind, this book was begun by the author’s parents and lovingly brought to us with Abby Carter’s clever, friendly illustrations and appealing design. For little brainiacs, ages perhaps 5 and up.

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